House of Lords
Wednesday 9 May 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.
Retirement of a Member: Earl Baldwin of Bewdley
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I thank the noble Earl for his much-valued service to the House.
Brexit: North-East of England
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to undertake further work on the impact of Brexit on the economy of the north-east of England.
My Lords, we are committed to getting the best possible deal for the United Kingdom, a deal that works for all parts of the UK, including the north-east. The Government are undertaking a wide range of analyses, looking at the implications of UK withdrawal from the EU. We continue to engage with businesses and industry bodies from all sectors of the economy and all regions and nations of the UK in order to inform our negotiations.
My Lords, only a year or so ago the Brexit Secretary was saying that he could get a deal that would deliver exactly the same benefits as those we enjoy under EU membership, yet we now know from the Government’s impact assessments, which they sought to hide from us in February, that the picture is very different. The north-east, in particular, is forecast to be the worst hit, taking an 11% hit to its economy even under the Government’s preferred approach and, if we exit without a deal, incurring an 18% hit. These figures have been backed by the London School of Economics, Birmingham University, the Durham University Business School and others. So the question is very simple and straightforward: does the Minister accept his Government’s assessment of the situation and the consequences of his approach to Brexit on the region of the country that both he and I belong to?
Of course, I share with the noble Baroness ambitions for the north-east of England. I thought she was being unduly pessimistic. She might have recognised that unemployment in the north-east is down to 5.2%, the lowest rate for 40 years. The north-east economy is doing extremely well. It is an exporting area: exporting to Europe, yes of course, but also to other parts of the world. We are committed to getting the best possible deal for frictionless trade. The analysis that she referred to was an incomplete analysis. Importantly, it did not analyse the type of deal we are seeking, which is a full and comprehensive free trade agreement, the most ambitious anywhere in the world, with the EU.
My Lords, does my noble friend welcome the proposal from Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor of Teesside, for a free trade zone in that area, and other exciting ideas that are being developed for the north-east?
It is an excellent idea put forward by Conservative colleagues in the region who are setting the agenda for the north-east becoming a global manufacturing hub exporting to all parts of the world. I think it is an excellent proposal and we are looking at it very closely.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that a few days ago the Business Secretary spoke in the north-east of England and said that he favoured,
“a soft Brexit that does not hurt businesses in the region”.
He advocated a trading relationship free of tariffs and free of frictions. Does the Minister agree with the Business Secretary? Will he tell the House how the Government plan to achieve this outside the single market and a customs union?
Of course, the Business Secretary comes from the north-east of England, as does the noble Lord. I totally agree with him that we want an agreement that brings the lowest possible tariffs—if possible, no tariffs at all—and frictionless free trade. That is good for the north-east, as it is for all parts of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, we have been pouring money into the north-east ever since Lord Hailsham went up there in his cloth cap and I fought Emanuel Shinwell in the 1960s in Easington, and yet nothing much seems to change. Surely that can only get better after Brexit.
Things are getting better for the north-east of England. I cited the unemployment figures. I would have thought that the Labour Party, as the party that is traditionally supposed to be concerned about these issues, would have welcomed—I will repeat it—the lowest unemployment for 40 years. It is a record that the coalition Government and the Conservative Government should be proud of. The area is booming under a Conservative Government.
My Lords, whenever the Government attack on the economy, they always cite the employment figures. They seem to have forgotten their elementary economics. Employment is a lagging indicator, reflecting demand for labour in the past. If they looked at current and leading indicators such as growth and investment intentions, they would see a very bleak picture. As the Minister no doubt knows, growth is less than 0.5%, whereas it is 3% on average in the European Union. The most recent CBI Investment Intentions Survey showed that 48% of companies had cut back their investment intentions from two years ago and only 2% had increased them. These are very serious matters. Do the Government not look at these matters and think that they are in some way responsible for the decline in the British economy as a result of their disastrous Brexit policies? If not, what is the cause of this divergence between our economic experience and that of the rest of the European Union?
My Lords, I make no apologies for talking about our record levels of employment in a region of which I am proud to be a part. I am sorry that the noble Lord does not seem to recognise that. Unemployment is continuing to fall. There are record levels of investment. Last year, Nissan announced a new £57 million investment in the region, to last for 25 years. It said it was going to continue to produce cars in the region for many years to come. The region is booming; it is doing well. Unemployment is falling, and I am sorry that the Labour Party does not want to recognise that.
My Lords, the Minister sought to rubbish the figures given by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, on the basis that they represented an incomplete analysis. Can he tell the House whether the Government have produced a complete analysis and, if so, what does it show?
I did not rubbish the noble Baroness’s figures. They are contributing to the debate. I said it was an incomplete analysis and did not model the preferred economic outcome that we are seeking. We are continuing to conduct a range of economic analyses of all exit scenarios for all parts of the United Kingdom, and we will share all the appropriate analysis with Parliament when we have negotiated a final deal.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware, apart from the fact that the short-term economic forecasts put out by Project Fear have already been proven to be false, that serious academic studies have shown that medium and long-term economic forecasts are not worth the paper they are written on? Is he aware that I was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time that Nissan had to decide where it was going to put its European headquarters? I remember the discussions very well, and Nissan was not at all concerned about our membership of the European Union. It was concerned about the quality of the workforce, our regulatory system and, above all, our tax system. It decided to come to this country, which has been a huge success for it.
The people of the north-east of England will be profoundly in debt to the noble Lord and of course to Baroness Thatcher for the role that they played in bringing Nissan to the north-east in the first place. The Labour Party might want to disparage that, but it was another tremendous achievement for the region, carried out under a Conservative Government. As a resident of the north-east, I am grateful to the noble Lord, as are many other people. I am sorry that opposition Peers want to laugh at him for that.
Will the Minister join me in saluting the wisdom and shrewdness of the people of the north-east who, generation after generation, have sent huge numbers of fine Labour MPs to the House of Commons and who voted 58% to leave the European Union?
I can agree with the noble Lord’s latter point, but am maybe not so keen on his former one.
Manifesto to Strengthen Families
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the policies recommended in the Manifesto to Strengthen Families, published on 6 September 2017; and what steps they plan to take in response to those recommendations.
My Lords, it is crucial that we seek to ensure that all children grow up in stable, nurturing families. As my noble friend knows, this is a wide-ranging, cross-cutting area. This Government have a broad set of policies to support families, including our childcare and early years offers, through to the DWP’s programme on parental conflict. We are considering the manifesto’s recommendations and will respond in due course.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I know he is enthusiastic about family support. He spoke about it in his maiden speech during the debate on it. In my efforts to rally support for a strengthening family strategy, I have had several conversations with Ministers and civil servants who have expressed frustration at the lack of clarity about who leads this vital agenda. They are concerned that they are stepping on to other Ministers’ territory, which is preventing any real progress being made. When will the Government appoint a Cabinet-level overlord who can co-ordinate family policy across government?
My Lords, as I mentioned, the Government are actively considering the recommendations set out in my noble friend’s manifesto. In my preparation for this Question, I spoke to an official in Downing Street who had had at least six conversations with my noble friend. Officials are treating this very seriously. The model of a specific brief—such as an equalities brief—being attached to a Cabinet Minister is a good one and deserves careful scrutiny. We shall continue to engage with my noble friend on this issue. I know he has also recently met my honourable friend the Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi and discussed elements of the recommendations with him.
My Lords, we know that the stress created by poverty and hardship can undermine families. Can the Minister explain what the Government’s policy of abolishing benefits—tax credits and universal credit for children after the second child—will do to strengthen families?
My Lords, since the coalition and this Government took office, we have focused on the more disadvantaged families. For example, the troubled families programme is budgeted to spend £920 million helping nearly 290,000 families in most need. What is interesting is that the number of children defined as children in need has declined by 14% after they have been involved in this programme for 12 months.
Will the Minister say what specific steps the Government propose to take to support the mental health and well-being of children affected by high-conflict parental separation, particularly those who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence and abuse?
My Lords, this Government have committed £1.4 billion to the mental health of families and children. We know that this is extremely important. Parental conflict is three times more likely to occur in poorer families than in those who are better off. This is why we are focusing on this area.
My Lords, prior to publication of the manifesto, the previous Prime Minister declared that a family test would be applied to all government policy. Would this not require not just a Cabinet-level overseer but for each department to have someone responsible for applying the family test? Does that exist?
My Lords, the family test was introduced in 2014. It includes five questions. I will not go through all of them but I will mention a couple just to illustrate what we are trying to do: first, what kind of impact might the policy have on family formation; and, secondly, what kind of impact will the policy have on families going through key transitions such as becoming parents, getting married and so on? So the test is already operating on a voluntary basis. We are cautious about making it statutory because that would very much remove flexibility in how it was used.
My Lords, the document in question seems to yearn for a return to an age when the nuclear family was ubiquitous. Social norms have moved on a bit in the past 50 years, and to advocate, as the document does, tax benefits for married couples alone unfairly stigmatises not just single parents but the children in such families. The manifesto of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, also advocates family hubs. These already exist; Labour created them with the Sure Start programme, and by 2010 there were some 3,600 children’s centres, reaching almost 3 million children and their families. Those figures are now halved as the result of a succession of budget cuts. Will the Minister explain how that squares with the Conservatives’ claim to be the party of families?
My Lords, we recognise the value of family hubs. We have perhaps slightly shifted the emphasis with, for example, the introduction of 15 hours’ free childcare for the most disadvantaged children in this country. In the last two years participation has gone up from 58% to 71%, and 500,000 children now benefit from it. We believe that is a very effective mechanism to work alongside children and family hubs.
My Lords, do the Government recognise the need for an alcohol strategy as part of maintaining family integrity, given the figures showing that when there is dependency there is physical abuse in over one-third of families, which falls to 10% during recovery programmes, while mental health issues in other family members presenting to clinical services fall from two-thirds of families to one-third when there are adequate programmes in place?
My Lords, we recognise the damage that alcoholism can do to families. We estimate that there are some 200,000 children living in households where alcohol dependency is a problem. We have launched a number of initiatives: the DWP has announced a £4.5 million innovation fund aimed at local authorities to support them in implementing evidence-based interventions; there is a £1 million fund for the voluntary sector and not-for-profit organisations to take forward projects to build capacity nationally; and there is a £500,000 fund for the expansion of an existing helpline to increase the support available to children with alcohol-dependent parents.
Asylum Seekers: Students
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many young asylum seekers have been required to cease studying as a condition of immigration bail, following the recent introduction of new provisions; and whether that condition will be applied to all asylum seekers.
My Lords, we have management information figures but these are not robust. I assure noble Lords that the new immigration bail provisions are not designed to be used to prevent children and asylum seekers studying. The Home Office is proactively looking to identify cases where this has been applied inappropriately, and will issue a new bail notice to the individual.
My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. The Minister will know it is widely believed that there is a blanket ban at present on asylum seekers accessing education, although an assurance was given during the passage of the legislation that it would be used merely to specify where education was accessed. In any event, what is the objective of applying this condition? Is a ban on study necessary? What does it achieve?
My Lords, I must stress that there is not a blanket ban and it is not mandatory to impose a ban on studying. The cohorts of people who might be prohibited from studying are adult immigration offenders—for example, overstayers who are not asylum seekers; adults whose appeal rights have been exhausted, other than care leavers receiving local authority support; adults being deported; foreign criminals who have not made an asylum claim; and all adults for whom a deportation order is signed and enforceable.
I do not know whether the Minister can help with a historic problem, which I hope has improved. I was listening just a year and half ago to care leavers who had been unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; the majority of them were not able to access education, and they were turning to the black economy to continue living here. If the system was not effective in removing them, they were unable to access proper care-leaving services, so they were falling through the cracks. How is that being addressed now?
My Lords, I stress to the noble Earl that anyone under the age of 18 in the UK has a right to study. That covers asylum-seeking children and children who are dependants of migrant workers. The following people can also study: care leavers, to whom the noble Earl alluded, former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children without standing claims, appeals or ongoing litigation concerning their asylum application, and any adult asylum-seekers without standing claims and/or appeals.
My Lords, what the Minister says does not quite seem to accord quite with some of the tales that have been coming out. There have been some really sad and shameful stories of young people who have been totally affected by this ban on education. What, if any, inquiries are made of the individual before deciding to impose this condition on them?
Because of the nature of the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I can say that there may be cases that have fallen foul of a study restriction. As I said, it is not mandatory to impose a restriction on study, and it should be imposed only where appropriate. We are proactively looking at cases that might have been affected and are issuing new immigration bail notices.
My Lords, I am not clear about the thought process involved in this. There may be a case to argue in individual cases, but what is it? What is the thought process that makes someone decide that Bill Smith should stop studying?
My Lords, I outlined to the noble Baroness earlier who might be in the cohort, and who might have to stop studying, but it is up to the First-tier Tribunal to impose the immigration bail conditions on an individual. It is certainly not mandatory to impose a condition against study.
Can the Minister tell us how many young people caught up in the backwash of the Windrush scandal have been denied student loans because of uncertainty about their residency position in this country?
I cannot give the noble Lord that information. As I have said to the House previously, the Home Office is proactively looking at anyone of the Windrush generation who might have been inadvertently caught up in the issue we have been talking about over the last few weeks. I am sure that those figures will ultimately come to light, but I do not have them here today.
My Lords, the Minister’s contribution today is obviously different from some of the cases we all know about of who might have been caught up in this restriction. What is the Government’s timescale to sort out this issue?
As I said earlier, officials are proactively looking at these cases that might inadvertently have been caught out where the imposition of study bans have happened as a result of immigration bail. The answer is that it is immediate and I hope that this issue will be sorted out very quickly. In addition, new guidance has also been issued.
When the Minister was replying to the noble Lord, Lord Christopher, she referred to cohorts of students. Can she tell us how that word creeps into the answer, as it implies that there is some group of students for whom there is a collective exclusion?
My Lords, the noble Lord might like to check Hansard. I was referring not to cohorts of students but cohorts of individuals who might be prohibited from studying.
When an immigrant child reaches the age of 18, they lose their protected status. What efforts are there to make sure that every young person reaching that age is fully aware of their legal obligations and their opportunities? Many of them are on the verge of going to university but could be deported. What are we doing to make sure that does not happen?
My Lords, an immigrant child could fall into several categories. I am sure, given his history, that the noble Lord is talking about an asylum-seeking child. Any asylum-seeking child coming up to the age of 18 will have their case looked at again.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to seek to prevent further fighting and loss of life in the Syrian province of Idlib.
My Lords, we agree on the need to prevent a military assault by the Assad regime on Idlib, which would risk a humanitarian disaster. We have discussed the situation with Turkey and the United Nations, as the international actors best placed to facilitate dialogue and humanitarian assistance. We call on all parties to comply immediately with the ceasefire mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 2401.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that the situation in Idlib is potentially explosive because of the number of militants, including al-Nusra, who are already there? Is there an existing agreement between the regime, Turkey and Russia about that province? Will it be possible to transform any agreement into a permanent truce with disarmament, supervised by the United Nations?
Taking the noble Lord’s second question first, the UN resolution provides for the very result he has alluded to. The United Nations has that basis, because it was a resolution that was passed by the Security Council with unanimity. He referred to agreements that may have been reached by the regime and other players within Idlib. That is not something that we would comment on, but I stress that one of the key players in that context is Russia, which is also a signatory to that UN Security Council resolution.
My Lords, it is highly probable that Assad will remain in power after this bloody, brutal and long civil war. Is it not time for Her Majesty’s Government to have some diplomatic representation in Damascus and to be talking to people? For goodness’ sake, we talk to many people internationally whom we do not like. Surely what is important is peace.
We can all relate to the final point of my noble friend. Sometimes we all have to talk to people we do not like. I accept that principle. In the context of Bashar al-Assad, the position of the Government is clear. We believe in a transition away from the Assad regime to bring about the kind of resolution we want to see in Syria, which is one of unity, keeping the country intact and ensuring there is proper representation. On his question about a diplomatic mission, I repeat an answer I have given consistently: we do not have any plans to open a mission in Damascus. Within the Geneva accords there are of course representatives of the Assad regime, and we continue discussions with them as part of the overall settlement we hope we can reach on Syria in Geneva.
My Lords, the key element of this is establishing peace talks that have no preconditions, so we can get all the players around the table. Aside from that urgent need, we also have a situation in Idlib where the Syrian Government are saying that everyone is a terrorist. There are terrible crimes against humanity taking place because the civilian population, as a consequence of this war, has gone from 1.5 million to 2.6 million people. The people who are being bombed are the civilians, which is against international humanitarian law. How will we hold people to account for these terrible crimes?
I agree with the noble Lord that what is required is a comprehensive settlement that has all partners around the table. I thank Her Majesty’s Opposition for also alluding to that. The need for the Geneva talks to succeed is important, because everyone is represented there. On his other point, again I agree totally with the noble Lord. We must ensure accountability for those who are perpetuating these crimes. As I have said before and say again, let us not forget who began this civil war and who has committed the atrocities that we currently see to their greatest extent in Syria. To accept that this person somehow has a future unifying role and representative voice—of course I refer to Bashar al-Assad—is not something I subscribe to. It is important that we see the transition we all desire in Syria.
My Lords, we know that there are a number of militant groups active in Idlib, and that there have been recent reports of unexplained violence—car bombings and so on—within Idlib. Are the Government talking to some of those in the Gulf who have previously sponsored these groups, and to other Middle East countries, about what we do about the future of those militants now holed up in Idlib as part of moving towards a settlement? We know that, as with the remnants of al-Qaeda, those people are not going to change their mind very easily, and they have to be dealt with and resettled somewhere.
As the noble Lord will know, one of the major extremist terrorist groups that has been operating in Syria is Daesh. In that regard, the universal coalition against Daesh of 70-plus countries has seen the defeat of that particular organisation. That sets the precedent for how you can defeat extremist and terrorist voices. I assure the noble Lord that we are speaking to all players within and across the region to ensure that we can reach the settlement that we all want to see.
My Lords, this is a very difficult area, but what is the point in refusing to talk to the Assad regime? How on earth can we expect to have influence if we simply do nothing but throw bombs at them? We talked to Stalin, we talked to Mao Tse-Tung and we talked to Idi Amin, a man who kept human heads in his refrigerators. The art of diplomacy means dealing with some very difficult people over some very difficult issues. At the end of the day, salving our consciences should not be the main question—it is the ability to save as many lives as possible and restore stability to Syria as quickly as possible.
I assure my noble friend that I agree with him on his final point—of course, that has been the intent of the Government consistently on Syria, in terms of the humanitarian support worth £2.71 billion that we have provided. On his first point, as I said earlier—and perhaps I should re-emphasise it—this is about a transition away from the Assad regime. However, his representatives are present in Geneva, which is why we need to ensure that, yes, his representatives, as well as those of the Syrian opposition and all international players, are heard in discussions, so that we can reach the resolution that we all want to see, which is peace and unity in Syria.
Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee
Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities Committee
Rural Economy Committee
Bribery Act 2010 Committee
Intergenerational Fairness and Provision
That it is desirable that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the long-term implications of government policy on intergenerational fairness and provision, and that the Committee do report by 31 March 2019.
Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities
That it is desirable that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the regeneration of seaside towns and communities, and that the Committee do report by 31 March 2019.
That it is desirable that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the rural economy, and that the Committee do report by 31 March 2019.
Bribery Act 2010
That it is desirable that a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report on the Bribery Act 2010, and that the Committee do report by 31 March 2019.
Iran Nuclear Deal
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made today by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, I will make a statement on the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, officially known as the joint comprehensive plan of action. The Government regret the decision of the United States Administration to withdraw from the deal and re-impose American sanctions on Iran. We did our utmost to prevent that outcome: from the moment that President Trump’s Administration took office, we made the case for keeping the JCPOA at every level. Last Sunday, I travelled to Washington and repeated this country’s support for the nuclear agreement in meetings with Secretary of State Pompeo, Vice-President Pence, national security adviser Bolton and others, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Trump last Saturday.
The US decision makes no difference to the British assessment that the constraints imposed on Iran’s nuclear ambitions by the JCPOA remain vital for our national security and the stability of the Middle East. Under the agreement, Iran has relinquished 95% of its low-enriched uranium, placed two-thirds of its centrifuges in storage, removed the core of its heavy water reactor—thus closing off the plutonium route to a bomb—and allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to mount the most intrusive and rigorous inspection regime ever devised, an obligation on Iran that lasts until 2040. The House should not underestimate the impact of these measures. The interval needed for Iran to make enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb is known as the breakout time. Under the deal, Iran’s breakout time has trebled or even quadrupled from a few months to at least a year, and the plutonium pathway to a weapon has been blocked completely.
For as long as Iran abides by the agreement—the IAEA has publicly reported its compliance nine times so far—Britain will remain a party to the JCPOA. I remind the House that the JCPOA is an international agreement, painstakingly negotiated over 13 years—under both Republican and Democratic Administrations—and enshrined in UN Resolution 2231. Britain has no intention of walking away; instead, we will co-operate with the other parties in order to ensure that while Iran continues to restrict its nuclear programme, its people will benefit from sanctions relief in accordance with the central bargain of the deal. I cannot yet go into detail on the steps we propose to take, but I hope to make them available as soon as possible, and I spoke yesterday to my French and German counterparts.
In his statement on 12 January, President Trump highlighted important limitations of the JCPOA, including the fact that some constraints on Iran’s nuclear capacity expire in 2025. Britain worked alongside France and Germany to find a way forward that would have addressed the President’s concerns and allowed the US to stay in the JCPOA, but without reopening the terms of the agreement. I still believe that that would have been the better course, and now that our efforts on this side of the Atlantic have not succeeded, it falls to the US Administration to spell out their view of the way ahead. In the meantime, I urge the US to avoid taking any action that would hinder other parties from continuing to make the agreement work in the interests of our collective national security. I urge Iran to respond to the US decision with restraint and to continue to observe its commitments under the JCPOA.
We have always been at one with the United States in our profound concern over Iran’s missile tests and Iran’s disruptive role in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen and Syria. The UK has acted to counter Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region, and we will continue to do so. We remain adamant that a nuclear-armed Iran would never be acceptable to the United Kingdom; indeed, Iran’s obligation not to “seek, develop or acquire” nuclear weapons appears—without any time limit—on the first page of the preamble to the JCPOA.
Yesterday President Trump promised to work,
“with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat”.
I have no difficulty whatever with that goal; the question is how the US proposes to achieve it. Now that the Trump Administration have left the JCPOA, the responsibility falls on them to describe how they, in Washington, will build a new negotiated solution to our shared concerns—a settlement that must necessarily include Iran, China and Russia as well as countries in the region. Britain stands ready to support that task, but in the meantime, we will strive to preserve the gains made by the JCPOA. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. Of course, as every independent inspection has confirmed, the nuclear deal is working; Iran is complying in full, so to suggest otherwise is simply false. On the back of the success of this deal we also have a platform to make real progress on the issues the Minister referred to: in particular Iran’s ballistic missile programme, its regional activities and its human rights record. In the other place Boris Johnson said that the US has decided that there is another way forward. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to get from the US exactly what that way forward is and what it means for international peace and security. The Minister also referred to the fact that there are signatories to this international agreement. One of the sad things about this is that the opinions of those in Iran who shout, “Never trust the West” will be reinforced by this decision.
Alistair Burt said on the “Today” programme that the UK strategy was to de-escalate and hold to the agreement, as the Minister said. However, that requires Britain, the EU, China and Russia to act in concert. Can the Minister tell us exactly how we will work in concert with them to urge Iran not to respond in kind to this confrontational act, but to work with all the signatories to the international agreement? Not least, how will we work with partners in the agreement to ensure that firms trading with Iran do not face financial penalties? We need to ensure that this agreement holds; we can only do that by working collaboratively with every signatory. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us just what the Foreign Secretary is doing to work with our EU allies, Russia and China.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement and welcome the fact that it is refreshingly frank and clear. On these Benches we share the widespread and huge concern over Donald Trump’s decision. We share the view that the JCPOA—to quote the Statement—remains “vital for our national security and the stability of the Middle East”. It is indeed ironic that the agreement with Iran is being jeopardised at exactly the same time as attempts are being made to de-escalate matters in North Korea. The Iran nuclear deal was hard-fought for; I pay tribute to our fellow Member of the House of Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for her determination in seeing this through when others thought it was not possible. I am glad this is an area in which we are in lockstep with our European partners. Will the Minister say more about how we will make sure that Germany, France and the United Kingdom speak with one voice, and that China and Russia are in lockstep as well? If we are to stop Iran from walking away, that is surely vital.
Does the Minister agree that this situation plays into the hands of the hardliners in Iran, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has indicated? What assessment has been made of that? Does he agree that this is an incredibly dangerous time in the Middle East, with so many countries involved in Syria as well as a series of key anniversaries coming up? Could he confirm that the Government believe Iran was indeed in full compliance with the agreement and that this is indeed the view of the International Atomic Energy Agency? Does he agree that, if the United States or Israel had any evidence to the contrary, they needed to report that to the International Atomic Energy Agency?
What action is being taken to liaise with the US Administration, who clearly include some returning hardliners as well as most who have no influence whatsoever over the President? What discussions are occurring with Iranian officials? What plans are being made to tackle Iran’s potential development of nuclear weapons should the JCPOA collapse? Is there any clarity over whether UK companies would face legal proceedings in the United States if they remain involved in Iran—and what is being done to support them? What happens if they are in consortia with American companies or American parts in their supply chain? What happens if Iranian oil is removed from the global market? How are we addressing the impact of that? Can the Minister also comment on Saudi Arabia’s role? What assessment is being made of the risk that, should Iran pull back from this deal, Saudi Arabia will wish to proceed with its own nuclear programme?
This is a crisis where, once again, we see the enormous importance of our EU partners. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that this continues?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their support for the Government’s position. I assure them both that the Government remain very committed to this agreement and to working with international partners to ensure that it is sustained. As I said in repeating the Statement, it has reaped benefits, particularly by stopping the development of nuclear weapons in Iran.
I shall take some of the questions in turn. I assure both the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that we will continue to work very closely on the E3 front with our partners in Germany and France. In that regard, as I said in repeating the Statement, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to their Foreign Ministers. All noble Lords will have seen that the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend Theresa May, the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany issued a joint statement immediately after the announcement. How that plays out in Iran is important. It is very easy to say that you are against the West, but the West is a broad group of nations, of which we are one. I often hear the words “Islam against the West”, but I am a Muslim of the West. Does that make me a contradiction? No, it does not. The point is that we cannot speak too generally on this matter.
We have seen unity among the E3. When President Macron and Chancellor Merkel visited the United States, they consistently raised their wish to see the US remain a part of the nuclear deal, and it is extremely regrettable that it has not done so. As I said, it now remains for the US to clarify further the requirements that it wishes to see, but the framework of the deal must remain. In that respect, the noble Baroness asked a specific question about compliance. As was pointed out in the Statement, on nine occasions, the last being in February of this year, it was reported back by the appropriate agencies that there was compliance, and that continues to be the case.
The noble Lord asked about dealings with Russia and China. Through various organisations, including the United Nations, we will continue to have conversations in this regard, but they remain equally committed to this agreement as the stability of the region depends on it.
The noble Baroness asked about dealings with Iran. I can inform the House that earlier today my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Zarif to assure Iran of our continued commitment. I am sure many noble Lords heard President Rouhani’s statement. We often hear about the different voices in Iran but President Rouhani has underlined Iran’s commitment to stay within this deal.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness both asked about the implications for British companies, particularly those with United States counterparts. The Office of Foreign Assets Control in the US, which looks at how sanctions regimes apply, has already issued guidance to the financial services sector and we are currently evaluating that. As an initial step, we have issued immediate guidance to UK companies about reviewing their legal position with lawyers to ensure that they are compliant. At this juncture, I can share with noble Lords that there is a deferment date of between 90 and 180 days before the sanctions that the US imposes unilaterally become applicable. However, I will endeavour to keep your Lordships’ House informed about the implications of this decision, particularly for companies that may currently be investing or looking to invest in Iran and have international obligations.
My Lords, the Minister will no doubt have had his attention drawn to the rather surprising reports in the Israeli media that in recent weeks there has been an unexpected visit by a senior member of the Saudi royal family. As far as I know, that has not happened for a long time, if ever. Are the Government concerned that a new alliance between the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia might be planning much more aggressive actions against Iran than we have seen previously?
There is speculation about different associations. What is required in that region is a degree of taking stock of what this decision means. We call on not just Iran but all the players in that region to take heed of the need to ensure stability as a priority and to show due restraint. I have made it very clear that Iran has complied with its obligations under the treaty, but the United States has raised particular concerns about the sunset clauses. However, we remain very much committed. We have seen the results and the benefits of the treaty. For other players in the region—my noble friend mentioned several countries—it is also important to reflect on what has been achieved thus far, and the importance of remaining firm on the principles of the treaty and ensuring that we can work with Iran for continued stability in the wider region.
My Lords, we stand on the brink of a disaster in the region. There is no doubt that, prior to the JCPOA, Israel was within days of carrying out an attack on what it thought were all the nuclear facilities in Iran. It is highly likely that if this falls apart, which it could, Iran will start work on a nuclear weapon again. What happens then? I am sure Israel will not allow that, and will attack—and if it attacks, people will assume that America is part of it and that we are part of it, and goodness knows what will happen in the entire region. Have we thought through what could happen, and what actions we need to think about taking? Inevitably, in a military sense, we will be pulled into this if that happens.
I think everyone is concerned about the stability of the region. Let me assure the noble Lord that we have raised our concerns with both Iran and Israel to ensure that there is a de-escalation, and no further escalation, in this conflict—which, as the noble Lord points out, will not only destabilise the region itself but have much wider implications. Let us be clear: a regional conflict is in no one’s interests. We recognise Israel’s national security concerns, but we also implore Israel to show due restraint, and Iran, too, to show restraint in its extended influence in various conflicts in the region, notably in places such as Yemen and Syria. What is needed now is restraint across the board, and we will continue to work with all parties to ensure that that prevails. The noble Lord highlights the very challenging situation that we are currently confronting.
My Lords, will the Minister accept a view from me personally: my congratulations to the Government on the role they have played in the lead-up to this lamentable decision by the US Administration? I do not believe we should mock what happened to the representations we made. They were properly and well made, both in the press and directly. What conclusions do the Government draw about a US Administration who have treated their three closest European allies with contempt, and have not felt the need to say a single word of remorse, when taking that decision, for ignoring the expressed views of their main allies? What conclusions do the Government draw from that?
I thank the noble Lord for his comments about the efforts that the United Kingdom Government made. As I said, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made both calls and, in the case of the Foreign Secretary, a visit, to Washington to ensure that the US stayed part of the Iran deal. On the noble Lord’s second point, about the way the US has conducted itself with its European allies, of course it is deeply regrettable that the case made not just by the United Kingdom but by Germany and France did not get the result that we desired. However, I stress that the US and the United Kingdom remain important and strong allies. We have said clearly to the US that, while we recognise its concerns and the issues around the sunset clauses, it is now for the US to come forward and present what it believes to be workable solutions, while stressing and ensuring that the nuclear deal on the table remains intact.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Conservatives.
My Lords, as my noble friend the Minister says, the task now is to persuade the American Administration to work on a new replacement agreement which embraces issues such as ballistic missiles and other destabilising and sinister activities by Iran. We all understand that. When we get on that path—as I hope we do—will he encourage his colleagues to point out two things to the Americans? First, if sanctions are reintroduced on a larger scale they will be immediately undermined by the Chinese, who already supply substantial amounts to Iran. They will soon supply substantial amounts of arms as well, quite aside from the wider dangers that the noble Lord, Lord West, has pointed out. Secondly, under American law the American Government are constrained from taking early and immediate actions and measures which lead to a substantial destabilisation of oil supplies in the oil market. This would certainly happen if Iran had to cut its exports from 2.9 million barrels a day down to fewer than 1 million barrels a day, and the result in oil markets would be chaos.
I agree with my noble friend’s suggestion. It remains our position and that of our European partners, the French and the Germans, whatever proposals the United States wish to put forward. Of course we will continue to work with the United States but, equally, it remains important that the nuclear deal stays on the table and that Iran is part and parcel of that.
On the issue of the United States and sanctions, my noble friend again makes an important point. The US has now confirmed that there will be a wind-down period before the sanctions take effect of either 90 or 180 days depending on the specific sanctions. The detail of how this will be impacted is still to be seen. My noble friend’s point on China is also well made.
The nuclear deal took a long time. It went through different iterations. It took both the Democrats and the Republicans in the United States and, as was acknowledged, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and others—I put on record my thanks to them—played a sterling role in bringing it to the table. It was a difficult deal to get done. Was it perfect? No, but it worked. It was having results. That is why we and our European partners remain committed to making it work by ensuring that Iran continues to remain part of the deal. The consequences of pulling away from the deal are all there and clear to be seen.
My Lords, there are a number of deeply disturbing and worrying aspects to this matter. The most powerful country in the world has broken an international agreement, and that is deeply destabilising for everyone. The cause of moderation in Iran and the position of Rouhani personally may have been undermined, which would not be in the interests of stability either. Particularly seriously, there is now a major rift between the United States and its European allies. The Government have taken exactly the right line on this, though the decision to send Boris Johnson to Washington, a man who is generally regarded as a slightly ludicrous figure—his previous intervention in Iran was certainly disastrous—was a tactical mistake. Can the Minister tell the House how it is going to be possible to prevent British or other European companies from being, in practice, so intimidated by the threat of fines from the United States Treasury as to de facto observing the US embargo whatever the British Government’s wishes on the matter might be?
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary expended a great deal of energy focusing on whatever negotiations could take place and conducting last-minute meetings with various members of the Administration over this past weekend. I pay tribute to his efforts to seek an agreement and that should be recognised by your Lordships’ House.
On sanctions, as I said earlier, we have looked at the announcement from the United States and are evaluating its implications. The noble Lord raises a valid point about the threat of sanctions and the fear of what that may mean for companies operating in Iran. That is why the initial advice we have given is for companies to take legal advice on their individual cases as to the nature of what this would mean. Whether it will have an impact on their business boils down to a commercial decision they will need to take, having evaluated the risks in front of them. We will continue to look closely at the situation and if further advice is needed it will be provided on the Foreign Office website at the appropriate time.
My Lords, I do not wish to repeat much that has already been said, but there are two matters that I would like to draw to the attention of the House. First, this was a deliberate breach of Resolution 2231 of the Security Council of the United Nations. It also occurs at the same time that the embassy of the United States is being located in east Jerusalem, contrary to international law. Will the Government impress upon our American colleagues that it is very difficult to maintain a special relationship dependent on shared values if there are serious breaches of international law that is respected, on the other hand, by the United Kingdom?
The noble Lord makes important points. The robustness and application of and adherence to UN Security Council resolutions are part of ensuring the vital international rules-based system that we all subscribe to. That is a point that we continue to make to our colleagues, our friends and our allies—that is, the United States. I think that we continue to have a very deep, meaningful and strong partnership with the United States on a raft of different issues, and we continue to wish to see direct engagement from the United States. That is important, not just for our bilateral relationship but for the security and stability of various regions in the world. Therefore we will continue to engage in a very positive vein on this issue.
In the same context, we look towards the United States, our strong ally. We will work constructively and co-operatively with it to address the wider concerns, be it on the issue of ballistic missiles or sunset clauses, ensuring that the nuclear deal stays live.
Would my noble friend assist the House in this regard? If the United States seeks to impose sanctions on UK firms trading with Iran after it has reactivated the sanctions regime, would the United States then be in breach of any international treaty, law or rule? If so, what does the United Kingdom propose to do about that?
Again, my noble friend raises an important and pertinent point. As I have already alluded to, our immediate advice to UK companies impacted as such has been to take specific legal advice on their individual cases. The full implications of how these sanctions will translate is still being evaluated. Once more detail is available we will share that with the companies, as appropriate; but I cannot stress enough that any company in the United Kingdom that feels or believes it is impacted should take legal advice now.
My Lords, I wonder whether the greatest danger here is that the approach of President Trump is completely counterproductive, in precisely encouraging the more hard-line and reactionary elements in Iran. Given that there has in fact been some good movement in the past year, with President Rouhani being re-elected against the more hard-line candidate and some changes on the legal front in the last six months, the danger is that this is going to provoke a deep anti-American, anti-western reaction that is precisely contrary to our fundamental thrust, which should be to promote the moderate elements in Iran. If so, what can we do—quite apart from the issue around the treaty—to promote the more moderate elements in Iran, which have a real traction when it comes to elections?
The right reverend Prelate raises an important element within the context of how the American withdrawal from the deal will be perceived in Iran. We have taken a very progressive, constructive and vital step forward, through the showing of strength of E3 unity. The President of France and the Chancellor of Germany, together with our Prime Minister, have issued a joint statement in that regard. As I said earlier, that translates the fact that not all the West shares the opinion of the United States in pulling away from the deal. It is important to communicate that effectively, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary did today to Foreign Minister Zarif, and we continue to make that point consistently in all our dealings with Iran. On there being different voices within Iran, we saw President Rouhani step forward and give his commitment. We will continue to support all efforts to keep Iran within the deal and all international efforts to ensure that the deal itself remains alive.
My Lords, the Minister said that the agreement has worked, but has it? It might have worked for the nuclear agreement, but has it worked for sanctions? Hundreds of millions of dollars are now in the hands of the Iranian Government. It has not gone to the people at all. It has gone into causing mischief in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in those countries. I would be interested in the Minister’s comments.
I share the noble Lord’s concerns. I was quite specific on which elements of the deal have worked. I also said that the deal is not the perfect deal. There are limitations on it, some of which have been highlighted by the US in stating its reasons for withdrawing from it. That said, we still believe it to be an important part of ensuring that Iran does not progress down the route of acquiring nuclear weapons.
The noble Lord alluded to Iranian influence in the wider region. Again, we strongly condemn Iran and call on it to pull back. It has shown its hand in places such as Lebanon and Yemen, with support for the Houthis, and it continues to do so in Syria. This is not helping the situation in the wider region. It is destabilising. It is important that Iran recognises that its interventions in other parts of the region are viewed as far from helpful; they are extremely destabilising to the region and to peace generally. I assure all noble Lords that we continue to make this point very strongly to the Iranian authorities, its President and Foreign Minister on all occasions that we have these discussions. Iran has been destabilising in the region. That has to be recognised.
On our continued support, everyone would regret the fact that the Iranian people themselves need support. They have embarked on a difficult journey that is far from complete. It is important that we continue to show our support for them in the hope that we will see the kind of representation we all desire in Iran itself.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I commend the Government for standing four-square behind the JCPOA and I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. But with all due respect, businesses that are conducting perfectly legal business with Iran need more than advice. The Foreign Secretary said today in the other place:
“We will do our utmost to protect UK commercial interests”.
On 24 April, in the context of a Private Notice Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, I asked a very specific question about this issue, asking what the Government intended to do in the light of developments at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting in the EU to bolster and support our businesses, which were already concerned about the reimposition of US sanctions and secondary sanctions. I was not given an answer, but I was given an assurance that I would be written to. I await that letter; I am content about that. But surely the time has now come for us to tell businesses more than that they should take some legal advice and await further advice. We need to give them some specific indication of the extent to which the Government are willing to go to protect their interests from the devastating effect of these potential sanctions.
On the noble Lord’s first point, I will ensure that there is a response, although that response no doubt will reflect the decision just taken. As I said earlier, the United States itself has issued specific guidelines in this respect, which we are currently evaluating. What I said about taking immediate legal advice was just that: immediate and initial advice. We will follow this up.
Of course we remain committed. We believe in strengthening trading ties with all countries across the world, but in this case we have continued to encourage commercial ties with Iran to try to build and progress that country to a more progressive future. We will look at this very carefully. Let me assure UK companies that are impacted that we are looking at the situation closely. The advice was issued only yesterday. We want to make sure we are evaluating it fully to ensure that we can subsequently give whatever advice and level of support we can after we have fully considered the implications. This is not just about telling businesses to get legal advice, but the first step must be—and I was in business for 20 years—to talk to your lawyers to make sure what you are doing and currently trading is in the context of international law and adherence to whatever sanctions regime might prevail.
My noble friend earlier raised an important point about the implications in terms of the United States decision on international law. That also has to be evaluated, but let me assure all noble Lords that we are looking at this very carefully. It is a very sensitive issue, but the interests of British companies are going to be protected.
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill
Committee (1st Day)
Clause 1: Listing of automated vehicles by the Secretary of State
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert “including vehicles manufactured and purchased outside Great Britain,”
My Lords, I am very pleased to see that we have, after several weeks’ delay, reached the Committee stage of this Bill. As I said in the previous debate, I welcome it. I was reminded, however, of its very narrow scope when I tried to devise some amendments which seemed to me useful and straightforward but seemed to the clerks, quite rightly, to be out of the scope of the Bill.
I understand the Government’s desire to deal with insurance as the low-hanging fruit of automated vehicles first of all. As we are told, however, that these vehicles will be on our roads in two to three years—and indeed as they are widely being trialled across the world and in parts of Britain—the Government, I fear, are going to have to run very fast to catch up on this issue given the pace of development of technology. I know that the Law Commission is looking at other aspects beyond insurance, at such matters as criminal responsibility and the wider issue of pedestrian and driver behaviour, but there is a serious danger of being overtaken by events. In moving Amendment 1, I want to concentrate our minds on the issue of vehicles manufactured and purchased or simply manufactured outside Britain and the importance of their being properly and fully reflected on the Secretary of State’s list.
The amendment’s intention is to ensure that this list is fully robust. Up to now, our insurance system has coped with imported cars simply because a car is a car. Whether a car is manufactured abroad and imported here prior to sale or manufactured and sold abroad and then imported into this country for use, either temporarily or permanently, this list has to be clear and comprehensive. How do the Government intend to ensure that the list is truly comprehensive? The world is a very big place, and we have a large number of people living in this country with links to other countries who might choose to import cars from abroad. There are also many hundreds of thousands of cars—indeed, millions—being driven on our roads that were manufactured abroad.
Amendment 2 stresses the importance of the Secretary of State’s list being aligned with definitions used in other countries—indeed, that goes for the whole Bill. The insurance industry has produced what it calls the 10 commandments, or 10 points, that a vehicle needs to adhere to in order to be considered automated. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, or UNECE, deals with global transport issues in relation to safety and is currently discussing international definitions of automation. I am told that the Department for Transport is taking a leading role in this.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is concerned that the Secretary of State’s list should follow the internationally accepted criteria as spelt out by UNECE and should not be just a UK-specific definition. For this reason, it is keen that this legislation should use the internationally accepted levels used across the world within the industry. These standards were established by the Society of Automotive Engineers International and are apparently used everywhere across the world.
The Government intend the Bill to apply to levels 4 and 5, but, as written, it could apply to some vehicles at level 3. I want to draw attention to a recent court case in which a man was prosecuted for driving a Tesla S down the M1 near Hemel Hempstead while sitting in the passenger seat—there was no passenger in the driver’s seat. He was on autopilot. That is described by Tesla as a suite of driver assistance features including traffic-aware cruise control, which assists with acceleration and deceleration, and auto-steer. Although the reports I read did not specify it, I imagine that the vehicle also has automated emergency braking, because that is quite common in a range of cars. That is level 3, but it meets the definition in the Bill at Clause 1(1)(b), that vehicles are,
“capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving themselves”.
Clearly, the argument here is whether that was safe, but I fear that the Government might find themselves involved in a great deal of protracted court procedure on the definition of “safe” After all, level 3 cars are certainly on our roads.
If I go into a little detail about the difference between the levels, the Committee will see how narrow that difference is and how the Government’s definition in the Bill could be misleading. In level 3, the vehicle controls all monitoring of the environment. The driver’s attention is still needed, but can disengage from safety-critical functions such as braking. Many level 3 cars currently available require no human attention to the road at lower speeds. At level 4, a vehicle tells its driver when it is safe to be automated and when not. The vehicle is capable of steering, braking, accelerating, monitoring other vehicles and the road, and responding to traffic. It can determine when to change lanes and signal but it cannot cope with traffic jams. That is sometimes referred to as the, “mind off” level. At level 5, a steering wheel is optional—there is no need for a steering wheel—no human intervention is required and you do not need brakes or pedals. It is a totally new design of car.
I have gone into that in some detail because I fear that the Government’s definition of automated vehicles as being,
“capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving themselves”,
is oversimplified. They need instead to rely on internationally accepted definitions. The reason the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is concerned is that the levels are so well established and widely used across the world and within the industry that even if technology advances further, as it probably will, all they will do is add a level 6. It is rather inconsistent of the Government. I understand that they want some all-embracing definition that is not subject to change, but in the second part of the Bill, for example, which relates to electric vehicles, the Government are happy to refer to “fast and rapid charging”. That is the same kind of technological term currently in use—the current jargon.
I believe, and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders also suggests, that this could lead to a blurring of definitions. It could lead to legal challenge and the Government could spend a lot of time defining what is safe. Amendment 33, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also deals with the definition of safe driving. I welcome it especially because it touches on the crucial issue of hacking: I am sure we will come back to that in later debates. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 33 and comment briefly on the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. The debate today will cover several areas, but one of them will be safety and I shall speak more about that later. My amendment covers safety, and lights particularly upon hacking. This is not a controversial Bill as I see it: virtually all the amendments are probing amendments and I hate to say it to the Minister but I think the speaking part on this occasion will be principally hers rather than mine.
Clause 7 sets out the terms for when a car is deemed to be driving itself, or in automated mode. However, it makes no mention of what happens if the vehicle is designed or manufactured faultily, or if it is hacked due to a failure by the manufacturer to install adequate software safeguards. While we all welcome the opportunities that this new technology will bring, we also have to recognise that it will bring new risks. A lot of these risks will be around the software used and therefore may be harder to pick up than in a conventional vehicle. This is a good opportunity to put in safeguards to give protection around this area now, rather than later down the line.
The amendment tightens up this area of the Bill by setting out when an automated vehicle is capable of driving itself safely. This would give the driver protection with regard to liability if it was proven that there was a manufacturer’s fault or the vehicle had been hacked. The purpose of the amendment is to get a general debate started in relation to this area, particularly on the hacking element.
My Lords, with regard to Amendment 1, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and I are in complete accord that the Bill is far too narrowly drafted. We have here a sizeable opportunity for the United Kingdom and one that is part of our industrial strategy, yet we are introducing a very narrow Bill for a very fast-moving technology, which will, as the noble Baroness pointed out, likely be outdated within a year or so, when we could be passing something which gives the Government a much broader remit to introduce rules and regulations to enable them to continue promoting this technology for some years to come.
I very much hope that we will manage to get agreement around the Committee that, if the Government do not table their own amendments to broaden the Bill, we will send it back to the other place with some widely agreed amendments which do that. It is enormously important that we take this opportunity because legislative opportunities are few and far between. It is unusual for this House to insist on the Government having more powers than they propose to take, but this is an occasion when we should consider that. I look forward to conversations with the Benches opposite to see if we can agree some way of doing that. I would be even more delighted if the Government were to come forward with their own proposals, but they have not yet shown any signs of doing so.
I hope that the noble Baroness will not press Amendment 2, because I think there is a large opportunity for level 3 vehicles as a replacement for trains on what are currently railway tracks. Let us imagine a large number of vehicles that will fit about eight people each running in place of trains; whether that is on the rails, which has advantages in terms of cost—both the energy cost of running a vehicle and the cost of maintaining the highway—or on a smooth surface on rubber tyres, which has advantages in terms of braking capability, meaning that you can run vehicles more closely together, seems an issue for the technicians.
If you used that space currently occupied by Southern Rail, in my case, on which the Government—because they own it—manage to run infrequent services at an average speed of 45 mph, for automated vehicles travelling at very safe intervals, perhaps two seconds apart, with individual vehicles stopping only at stations that the occupants wanted to stop at, probably travelling at 70 mph or 80 mph between stops, you would get a much better service. We would be able to get the Brighton main line back to the sorts of speeds they were used to in the 19th century; we might even be able to exceed them. For me, stuck down at the end of the Eastbourne branch, the service would be immeasurably better, both locally along the south coast and up into London. You would be able to reopen the second route from Brighton to London; the main route is frequently cut because of the age of the line and the difficulty of maintaining the tunnels—indeed, we are enduring two weeks of complete blackout this summer so that some work gets done on the tunnels.
There are all sorts of reasons why using level 3 vehicles—current technology—on the space currently occupied by Southern Rail would give everybody a much better service. You would not have to go for a scheduled train. There would be a vehicle there when you wanted to leave. There would probably be one leaving every minute. They would be faster and more reliable—because an individual vehicle, particularly if it is on rubber tyres, can just steer round your average cow which is what appears to cause the most frequent problems. You would not have these eternal delays caused by some minor obstruction on the line because that problem would no longer exist.
The advantages of this technology are known to the Government, Network Rail and other authorities. What we have all thought of as the disadvantage of being stuck with Southern Rail suddenly becomes the opportunity to have a really large network of autonomous vehicles, way ahead of anything else in the world and at a scale the rest of the world cannot match. It would provide a much better service than commuters and users get at the moment, probably at a lower cost, and a base for autonomous vehicle technology to work from in this country. I think it would prove enormously attractive to international business since it is very unlikely to be replicated elsewhere.
This is level 3 technology. You do not need anything more. You have a space where humans are not admitted. You do not need the sorts of capabilities a vehicle has to have to travel on the roads. Indeed, you might make these vehicles such that, when they got to a station, a human could take over and drive on. This technology might work. All sorts of things might work because you could try them as little add-ons to a large system. It would be much more efficient than what the Government are having to do at the moment—a whole series of minor experiments in little, confined areas, trying out different bits of technology without being able to integrate them properly. This is a really big opportunity, but it requires that we list and license level 3-capable vehicles because, even at this level, we need a proper amount of control over what is going on.
I like the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. We will have to be really cute in making sure that the software on these vehicles is up to date. One vehicle approaching another will have to know what software the other is using and, therefore, how that vehicle will behave in case of difficulty—such as a wheel falling off—so that they become predictable. To allow random collections of software, randomly updated, is just not going to work in an autonomous world.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, remarked in the course of her speech on Amendment 1, this Bill needs to be broader so that the Government can have the sort of powers they will need to regulate a fast-expanding industry, using as yet unknown technology. We need to give the Government flexibility. It is important that they have the tools necessary to make this industry succeed. I very much hope that this is something the Government will recognise in this Bill.
My Lords, I was on the Science and Technology Committee and we discussed automated vehicles. After our session, I met some industrialists—people making and selling cars—in the context of automated vehicles. One of the things it was suggested that the Secretary of State might consider—it would come under Clause 1, referred to earlier—is that people purchasing vehicles, particularly those that are partially or wholly automatic, should understand the properties of the vehicle. There were some examples this year or last year when someone had a blackout and the vehicle took over control and moved them. So it seems that already some of these level 3 properties are not well understood by the people buying the cars. For some people, as I understand it, once you have paid by credit card or hire purchase the car arrives at your front door and off you drive. Even Tesla makes you have 95 minutes of training before you buy and use one of its cars. This is an area covered by subsection (1)(b) that the Secretary of State should be considering very strongly.
My Lords, I should first make an unusual declaration of interest: namely, an investment that does not exist at this moment but which will almost certainly be made in the next few days. I will have an equity interest in the Penso group of companies and become its chairman. Penso is a manufacturer of very high-tech carbon fibre parts for the automotive, aerospace and rail industries, and produces the Vito London taxi for Mercedes in Coventry. The investment is likely to complete in the next few days, making the interest declarable as its product is very relevant to the lightweight future of electric cars. I should explain that none of my amendments seeks to confer exclusive benefits on the company and that I am moving them because I believe them all to be in the public interest.
Unfortunately, the grouping of the amendments in today’s debate is slightly unusual and many groups contain amendments that do not naturally fall together. Some of my later amendments overlap with, and propose different ways of achieving the same ends as, the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. I apologise if the Minister has to repeat the same points in different sections.
Although I support the noble Baroness’s Amendment 1, we may yet hear from the Bill team that Amendment 2 is just not the way in which they wish to go with this definition. I must say that I believe that that is a mistake, because, although the Society of Automotive Engineers standards may change and the Government normally like to be in complete control of the definition, the choice here is between a vague definition that could be interpreted in different ways by different lawyers and an international standard developed by the SAE and adopted worldwide. Chinese vehicle producers will adopt the SAE regulations, as will producers all over the world. There seems therefore to be a great deal of merit in sticking to the worldwide standard rather than inventing our own because we believe that our choice of English will be so elegant that we can achieve it.
There are other ways of achieving the definition from those used in the Bill, and I will come to them in my later amendments. However, were the Government to change their mind and support the noble Baroness’s Amendment 2, I would immediately support it as well.
My Lords, I support the first amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. It is important that we keep the scope of the Bill as wide as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Borwick, mentioned manufacturing in China. I suspect that by the time many of these cars and technologies have come on to the market, a very large proportion of the equipment will come from China anyway. There has to be some world standard—I am not sure which; we will come to that later—otherwise we will be in dead trouble. I also share the noble Lord’s concern about Amendment 2.
I was interested in the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about turning railways into roads. We heard this before, about 30 years ago.
It was not about turning railways into roads; it ends up with turning roads into railways. It is just a different method of moving people on railways.
I am grateful for the noble Lord’s explanation. It depends on whether the road is as defined in Clause 1(1)(a),
“roads or in other public places”,
on whether or not it will be a railway.
I want to point out that autonomous railways are happening at the moment. The centre section of the Thameslink railway is effectively driverless. It does not go very far—from Kings Cross St Pancras to Blackfriars—but it does not need a driver. Of course, a driver is there, but that is the state of technology on the mainline railways, and the underground railways and metros have done it for a long time. Whether the same number of passengers could be taken by these autonomous pods up a railway, road or whatever, compared with a 12-car train every two minutes with people standing is a debate we can have. But I am not sure that I would support widening this Bill to get that far.
I have also been studying a few issues related to the content of the Bill, and recently met the author Christian Wolmar who has written a book, Driverless Cars: On A Road To Nowhere. I recommend that the Minister and other speakers to read it; I am not going to give it away today. Without necessarily supporting what he says, there are issues relating to the human reaction to automation that are quite useful to study, including how close a vehicle can get to the one in front, and all the things we spoke about on Second Reading, which I shall not repeat today. It may take rather longer than some noble Lords think for all this to come about. We are certainly right to debate it now and to concentrate on common standards.
I certainly support my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. I think he was speaking to Amendment 8, which I did not know was in this group, but he made a good speech and I certainly support it.
My Lords, at the outset of this debate today on automated vehicles, I think it is helpful to set out what this Bill is trying to achieve. The provisions within the automated part of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill extend compulsory motor vehicle insurance to cover the use of automated vehicles when operating in automated mode, so that victims of an accident caused by an automated vehicle while driving itself will be covered by the compulsory insurance in place on the vehicle. The insurer would be initially liable to pay compensation to any victim, including to the driver who had legitimately handed control to the vehicle. The insurer then would have the right to recover costs from any liable parties under existing UK common law and product liability law.
The Bill therefore requires the Secretary of State to publish a list of automated vehicles which are,
“designed or adapted to be capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving themselves”.
The purpose of this power is to allow manufacturers, owners of vehicles and insurers to know if the extension to compulsory motor insurance in this legislation applies to their vehicle. This will provide certainty to the automotive and insurance industries, as well as clarity to the public. The scope of the Bill applies to highly and fully automated vehicles only—that is, vehicles for which, when driving themselves, there is no monitoring or controlling role required of the driver.
This is broadly equivalent, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, to levels 4 and 5, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers—the SAE—and does not apply to vehicles with lower levels of automated technology or utilising advanced driver assistance systems, no matter how sophisticated. It does not apply to level 3 vehicles, and the Tesla vehicle the noble Baroness mentioned would not be covered. We will come to this point later, but level 3 cars still require monitoring by a driver, so they are not fully automatic and are not covered by the Bill. It also only applies to automated vehicles that are or might lawfully be used on roads or in other public places in Great Britain.
I acknowledge the point made by many noble Lords on the narrow scope of this Bill. It was designed with a specific purpose in mind, and I look forward to hearing the views of noble Lords from across the House on the amendment from my noble friend Lord Borwick introducing more powers for the Government.
Regarding the first amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the inclusion of vehicles manufactured and purchased outside Great Britain, there is already a long-established process, along with guidance on the GOV.UK website, which covers the permanent use of foreign-registered vehicles in the UK. As part of this process, any vehicle which drives on UK roads must already be type-approved. For temporary use of vehicles on our roads, through the Motor Insurers’ Bureau we operate a Green Card scheme—an international certificate of insurance to make sure that victims of accidents involving foreign-registered vehicles are covered. We think this process would be the same for automated vehicles and, therefore, do not think the amendment is necessary at this stage because all vehicles manufactured and/or purchased outside Great Britain will be covered by the existing text.
The Bill does not define automated vehicles by SAE levels, as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, in Amendment 2. This is because the SAE levels are generalised industry categories describing a broad capability, which could change over time. The type approval of an automated vehicle, the criteria of which have not yet been agreed, will not be carried out according to SAE levels of automation. Noble Lords may find it helpful to note that the UNECE working parties that set the international standards by which vehicles will be type-approved and used have rejected the SAE definitions because they do not meet the level of precision needed for regulation. Instead, they simply set out broad definitions.
The categories set out by the SAE are under continual revision. A direct link to the levels creates problems if the definitions move away from what is needed for the proper functioning of the Bill. I want to be clear: we are not rejecting the SAE levels. They are helpful, but they do not—the UNECE agrees with us here—meet the level of precision needed for type approval and regulation.
Could the noble Baroness explain what she means by “manufactured in Great Britain”? She is aware of all the Brexit debates about certificates of origin, and that bits and pieces and components go right across the world and back again. What exactly do we mean by “manufactured in Great Britain”? Is it just the name on the front?
Happily, the Bill covers vehicles manufactured in Great Britain and abroad: it covers any vehicle. I am afraid I do not have an exact definition, but I imagine that it is when the majority is manufactured in the UK. As I say, the Bill will cover all vehicles, wherever they are manufactured.
On Amendment 33, I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that we must ensure that all new automated vehicles are safe and secure for use in Great Britain. We have many amendments to come on that. We are working at the United Nations level to develop international requirements for vehicle manufacturers on both vehicle safety and cybersecurity. These standards, which are still being developed, will then form the basis of the type approval process which automated vehicles, like conventional vehicles today, must pass before they can be sold for safe use on British roads or in other public places, or get on to the Secretary of State’s list for insurance.
Based on the international UNECE standards, which the UK is actively contributing to, and our evolving domestic regulatory programme, we expect it to be very clear which vehicles, including their software, can safely operate in automated mode. We do not think it appropriate at this early stage to set too precise criteria.
You are still not explaining how people will understand and be informed of this. Is there no regulation for that? As I understand it, even manufacturers are conscious of this being uncontrolled. When you buy such a car, you do not know what kind of information you will have and how you are going to be taught about it. As I mentioned, British cars are being provided with little information, unlike the Tesla car. Even for that complicated car they apparently need an hour and a half or whatever it is for training. Is anything being done about that?
As the noble Lord rightly says, for level 3 partially automated cars there is a training system in place before the vehicle is used. For levels 4 and 5 that is something we are working on. We have not seen these vehicles yet, but I agree it will be essential to ensure that people who use these vehicles are able to use them safely. That is part of what we will be looking at, as we put together the regulations.
We think that we need to maintain flexibility to ensure that all the vehicles relevant to Clause 1 can be identified and included in the list, so that we can give insurers the clarity over which vehicles require insurance.
On hacking, we are working with the UK security agencies, including the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, and the new National Cyber Security Centre, to engage directly with industry, raising awareness and promoting best practice. Cybersecurity, including for automated vehicles, has been identified as a top priority in the national security strategy. Of course, it is essential that all parties involved in the manufacturing supply chain, from designers and engineers to retailers and executives, are provided with a consistent set of guidelines that support the industry. As part of this work, we developed, consulted with industry, and published in August last year the Principles of Cyber Security for Connected and Automated Vehicles, a guidance document for the automotive industry on good cybersecurity. Those principles are now informing the work that we do at UNECE level on the taskforce on cybersecurity, which is developing standards, practices, directives, and regulations concerning cybersecurity and their applicability to the automotive industry. We have also set up an automotive information exchange to promote sharing of intelligence and best practice for effective cybersecurity.
I very much agree with the intention of the amendment, but we think that both the safety and cybersecurity requirements of automated vehicles will be covered in future regulations, once agreed at this international level. I hope that, given those arguments, the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.
The Minister made a very important statement at the beginning, so I want to make sure that I heard it correctly. I think that she said that the responsibility of the Secretary of State would be to list the vehicles that could safely be driven automatically or would safely drive themselves automatically on the roads. Does that mean that the Secretary of State will effectively be certificating these vehicles as being safe?
The vehicles will be certified through the type approval process, following what has been agreed at international levels. That is what will decide whether or not those vehicles are safe. Once that type of approval process has happened, those vehicles will then go on the Secretary of State’s list, which is purely for insurance purposes, so that insurance companies and purchasers of vehicles can understand whether those vehicles require automated vehicle insurance. So it will be a separate process to the list on exactly how those vehicles are certified, which is what is subject to ongoing conversations at international level. We do not yet have those standards, but we are working towards getting them, which will certify whether a vehicle is safe. Given that, I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.
What is the timetable for this to be done?
I am afraid that we do not have a specific timetable. Obviously, technology is developing all the time, and we do not yet have the technology available for type 4 and type 5 vehicles. We are working closely, as I say, at United Nations level, and are also working as part of that with both vehicle and software manufacturers to be able to define those standards. Given that we do not yet have the technology, we are not yet able to define the standards, so I am afraid that it will slightly depend on how things progress. However, we play a leading role in this and, as soon as these international standards are set, we will then be able to use them for our type approval for standards within the UK and declare it legal and safe for those vehicles to be driven in the UK.
I thank noble Lords and the Minister for her comments, and particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, for his support on the need for a more precise definition.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I clarify that I have specified levels 4 and 5 because that is what the Government have said that the Bill applies to. If the Government want it to apply to level 3 as well, that is fine. The principle is the need for a clearer definition; the use of levels rather than the definition is what I am suggesting.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked how long it would take to get used to automated vehicles. If you drive a minibus, it comes as a bit of a shock to find that you are sort of on top of the car in front of you, in comparison with driving a car, when you expect to have a bonnet in front of you. We are getting used to new ways of driving. As I have mentioned before to noble Lords, I have an electric car, and that is a totally different style of driving. We will get used to it more quickly than perhaps some people think.
The Minister said that at level 3 a car still requires monitoring by the driver. But it also does at level 4 in some driving situations. You can go from cruising nicely down a motorway to being in a traffic jam, where a level 4 car would need to be monitored. You could quickly go from one situation to another. The Government need to go away and think about the definition they have supplied us with and check it out, stress-testing it in a number of situations.
The Minister said that the levels may change. The motor industry assures me that the levels will not change. The cars will change and technology will advance, but the levels reflect those levels of advance. The Minister also said that UNECE has rejected these levels. What has it said? Does the Bill precisely mirror its definitions? If it has now reached a conclusion to its discussions—they must be fairly recent, because that was not the information I was given last week—it must have produced precise definitions, and we need to shadow that.
I assume that other countries are also tackling this through similar legislation. What definitions are they using? To go back to Amendment 1, in the Secretary of State’s list we need to use the same definitions otherwise a car could be considered automated in Australia and non-automated in Britain. That goes back to my original point that we all have all known that a car is a car is a car, but in future we may be arguing about whether an automated car is an automated car.
My Lords, can I argue against crisp definitions? We do not yet know what will happen. Maybe we can evolve a system where the ordinary car we use at home can switch into fully automated mode for, say, travelling around the railways, and then when it is not part of a railway, it will come off. Sometimes it is a car and at other times it is a rail vehicle. If we are to take a lead in this industry, we will need to continuously shape and reshape definitions. We do not want to be hamstrung by what we can think of now. I agree that we ought to share definitions around the world, but they ought to be based on technology as it evolves. It ought to be fast moving. We ought to equip ourselves with legislation which can move as the industry moves.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked me whether there would be capacity constraints. No, there would not be; if you transfer to rubber wheels, you can manage much higher traffic densities because you do not have the braking distance problems, and you can fit with the current level of autonomous safety. I am not saying that one could manage high-speed lines, but Southern rail is all low-speed. The fast services on the London to Brighton line manage 45 miles per hour. If, with autonomous vehicles, you are managing to go 70 or 80 miles per hour, just by doing that you are doubling the capacity. Therefore there are no capacity constraints on using these routes for autonomous vehicles. It will probably be managed by Network Rail because you need the consistency, predictability and safety constraints that go with rail services. However, we are talking about much smaller vehicles and different technology—about providing a basis for the whole of autonomous vehicle technology to evolve. Under those circumstances, you have to move definitions to keep up with the technology.
Level 3, as I read the definition, seems to provide a pretty good base: there are times when the vehicle can be autonomous but then it gets to a point where it says: “Hang on, I can’t be autonomous here, I need the driver to take back control”. That seems to be the sort of technology you might well try to put on a rail service so that, without having to get to levels 4 and 5, you can provide room for individual vehicles to travel on the service and provide the connections that people want beyond a railway station. We do not know yet; we have not got there. We have to allow the Government the breadth of definition that will allow us to experiment and to lead the field.
The noble Lord talks about looking at the future and says we have not got there. With all due respect, we have got there. I have been in a driverless car—technologically, they exist. They are being trialled in parts of this country and indeed across the world. However, the noble Lord is right that we are crystal ball gazing over exactly how they will be used. In what circumstances will we use them? Will we all own our own little pod or will we summon up a pod to collect us and take us to work, or whatever, whenever we wish it? There is a great deal of debate here; undoubtedly the initiative has already been taken by taxi companies, for example, in this area.
However, I return briefly to Amendment 1 and the points made about definitions. I am not slavishly devoted to levels 3, 4 and 5—or 4 and 5. If the Minister says this has been rejected, that is contrary to what I was told, but I am happy to go with what has now been accepted. The definition needs to be precise enough for this not to end up in a lot of court cases. I say that because the whole of this part of the Bill is about insurance; we all know that insurance is always mired in legal definitions, so the Government need to be on firm ground. Having said all that, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out “or adapted”
My Lords, removing the two words “or adapted” would mean that the Secretary of State’s list would not include vehicles manufactured for conventional driving and adapted for autonomous mode. Those involved in the motor industry regard the concept of adapting vehicles as extremely dangerous. The technology companies—the people who write and design the software for cars—also regard it as very dangerous. The point they make is that their software is specifically tailored to individual car design. The fact that their technology works safely in one car does not mean that it can be shoe-horned into another model, even a similar model.
The clause as written would include individual adaptations by enthusiasts, which would be a very uncertain path to go down. Indeed, if a car manufacturer decided to adapt a current level 3 model—for example, the Tesla S, to which I referred earlier—to a level 4 car, I am absolutely sure that Tesla, in line with standard motor industry practice, would call it the “Tesla S Elite” or something similar. It would be a different model and therefore it would not be an adaptation in the meaning set out in relation to the Secretary of State’s list. What I am really pointing out here is that the concept of “adapted” vehicles would narrowly include those adapted on a one-off basis by individual enthusiasts, and therefore it would not seem reasonable to expect the Secretary of State and the Department for Transport to have the expertise to know whether that was safe.
I want to refer briefly to Amendment 29, which is in this group and stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. A big section of it is very similar to the amendment tabled by Labour in the Commons to the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord on having managed to get this amendment accepted. I could not think of a way of doing it, but he has done very well.
Amendment 29 addresses crucial issues associated with the proper repair and maintenance of automated vehicles. In particular, it goes into detail on the need to establish properly accredited training schemes for those who repair and maintain them. Rather like the repair of electric vehicles, the process is totally different from traditional vehicle repair. I spoke at Second Reading about the need for a process similar to the old CORGI gas safety scheme. That was a highly respected, universally acknowledged scheme and came about as a result of the Government working with the industry. We need the Government to work with industry in the same way on automated vehicles, and I am very grateful that the noble Lord has raised it in his amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 29 in my name. I accept the noble Baroness’s congratulations on behalf of my staff—which is one quarter of a very able lady—who managed to get this past the Public Bill Office. The proposed new clause would protect insurers against accidents caused by vehicles repaired by unauthorised technicians. It would also require the Government to establish a scheme for the authorised inspection, repair and maintenance of automated vehicles by licensed and accredited technicians.
The automotive industry already relies on hundreds of thousands of individuals who support work on and maintain vehicles. As the technology develops, so too must the skills of those working on them. We are already aware of an existing skills gap in the industry. As the technology develops, that gap may well worsen but, as it stands, the Bill does not address a worsening skills gap. If we do not start planning for this now, we will be left with a huge hole in the support structures for these new vehicles.
I am of the generation where I was privileged at the age of 17 to buy a car for seven pounds and 10 shillings. The car was seven years older than me. It tended to go only about 10 miles before having to have its plugs cleaned and so on—which made courting my wife a bit difficult at times. But we were of a generation when the skill of looking after automotive technology was very straightforward, and widely understood by a large section of the population. Now I drive a Prius, and I would not dare touch anything on it. Not only is it unduly complex, but it could be very dangerous, with the very high voltages involved and so on. There is nothing I could do to that car that would do anything other than worsen its performance.
That has happened in two or three generations. We have gone from a relatively straightforward skill widely shared among the population, from which the industry, almost like cottage industries, could draw, to vehicles which, when they are on the road, will be very specialised and require very specialised skills. Noticing the noble and gallant Lord over there, I would say that those vehicles will be more akin to modern military aviation than to the sort of basic engineering that cars used to represent.
We believe, as do a number of stakeholders, that the Government should introduce an accreditation scheme for technicians to work on future vehicles. If they are not proactive, the UK will not be able to support growth in these new technologies. So will the Minister look at bringing in such a scheme, not only to address the skill shortage but as a wider set of protections for insurers against unauthorised repair and maintenance of such vehicles, as set out in the new clause?
My Lords, I support Amendment 29 in the name of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. He is right about the need for such an authorised inspection regime, and in his worry about unauthorised repairs. The Committee may or may not be aware that a lot of trucks, and probably many modern trains and other big pieces of plant and equipment, are already remotely monitored. Where I live in Cornwall, outside the front door of the house is a 200-tonne gantry crane that operates on rubber tyres. It was manufactured in Italy and erected in Cornwall, and if the driver does the wrong thing, or the wrong person drives it, the people in Italy know exactly what is happening and they will stop it: they will prevent it from operating. If it tries to lift 300 tonnes when it is capable of lifting only 250 tonnes it will be stopped, so that the equipment does not get severely damaged. That is very common, so my noble friend’s amendment is absolutely right. I hope that the Minister will see the need for some kind of scheme to cover at least the specialist equipment that will be in the vehicles.
I worry about Amendment 3 and the suggestion by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the word “adapted”. She said that adapting a vehicle would probably be done in a back yard somewhere, by somebody who probably would not know what they were doing, and could therefore be dangerous. That is certainly a worry. But the word “adapted” would also cover current vehicles adapted for people with certain disabilities—for example, if someone cannot use a brake pedal so there has to be a brake behind the steering wheel. I know we are talking about a different technology, but the word “adapted” will be difficult. I suggest to the noble Baroness that, if Amendment 29 were accepted, all vehicles, whether specialist, adapted or not, would have to be covered by the authorised “inspection, repair or maintenance”, so it would be better to go down that route rather than inserting the word “adapted”, as she suggests in Amendment 3.
My Lords, I too have some difficulty with the word “adapted”. I understand that modern technology is more difficult to handle than when the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and I were pulling our Austin 7, or whatever it was, apart. Nevertheless, you cannot totally slam the door on any form of cottage or other industry which was set up in order to help individuals to produce an adaptation of a particular vehicle. I do not support this amendment in the way in which it is drafted.
My Lords, I too have some difficulty with this because I drive, I must confess, a Skoda. I am told that a brand new Skoda is built to my specifications when I order it, not before. It is not produced on a line but only when I order it and, therefore, each adaptation is my instruction to the manufacturer. Whether or not that is an adaptation I do not know, but we have to bear it in mind when considering this amendment.
My Lords, while I respect the opinions of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the way that the automotive industry works is through a large number of companies of various sizes, some of which believe they have the only solution that makes a positive change to the industry. They may approach a big car company and try to persuade it that their creation of a level 4 vehicle software is better than that produced by Ford or General Motors. I do not think they will succeed, but they will want to try it out—and that process will involve adapting an existing vehicle. That would be much harder than it is at the present stage if the amendment suggested by the noble Baroness were accepted.
It is a reality of life that the world is filled with brilliant engineers who have their own suggestions. Some of them are nutters and some of them are geniuses, and it is only by trying out their suggestions that you can work out which one is which.
The noble Lord will remember that, when we were considering this issue in the Science and Technology Committee, it was suggested that one of the first uses of a fully automated vehicle would be in agriculture, with it going up and down a field. A story was told of a van suddenly appearing at the back of a field and the farmer going up to two men and asking, “What are you doing here?”. They said, “We are from Germany, and we are here because the big end on your combine harvester is about to go”.
The point is well made. It is an immensely complicated industry and, effectively, prohibiting adaptions would send it backwards.
On the issue of maintenance of these vehicles, there is a host of health and safety regulations which should cover many of the points raised. It is indeed extraordinarily dangerous to start dealing with high-voltage DC cables on the inside if you are not trained to do so. However, because of my interest in electrical vehicles in the past, I have gone through the training, the basic lesson of which is to stay as far away from it as you possibly can. It is extraordinarily dangerous, and I entirely support the training of people as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.
My Lords, if we imagine a future with a lot of autonomous vehicles around, one of the things that such a vehicle needs to do is predict how other autonomous vehicles will react in particular circumstances—that is, if faced with a sudden unexpected obstacle, the priority will be to veer to the left, say. That knowledge can come only on the basis of a shared understanding of the software that each of them has and of the capabilities in terms of awareness of the local picture and the wider picture that are built into the vehicle. To allow those things to be tampered with by back-street garages and amateur electricians seems to me to go against the whole advantage of moving towards autonomy. Therefore I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, is aiming at. I think we need really clear control of the quality of maintenance.
I can see what the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is aiming at in removing “or adapted”; we do not allow people to adapt Boeing 747s in a random sort of way. They might do it to trial things and have a bit of their own airspace to wander around in while they are doing it, but we should be really cautious in allowing widespread adaptation. Every adaptation introduces another complication that every other autonomous vehicle would have to be aware of. Adaptation should be confined to test areas and test tracks, and what appears on the public scene should be a well-understood, well-documented vehicle—and not too many different kinds, please.
My Lords, I will first address Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, regarding the removal of “or adapted” from Clause 1(1). It may be that in the future vehicles could be adapted to be capable of driving themselves safely. It could also be the case that some future vehicles are designed to be ready for full automation at some point after their sale but not yet fully capable.
I do understand the concern around this, as we have not yet seen such vehicles in the marketplace, but, given that we cannot predict how these vehicles will evolve, it is important to ensure that we do not prematurely preclude such technology—or, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, put it, slam the door on potential innovation. Happily, it would not be up to the Secretary of State or, indeed, the Department for Transport, to decide whether an adapted vehicle was safe. Whether it was a vehicle adapted by an enthusiast in their back yard, or with a software update from Tesla, it would be subject to the same type of approval process before it could be legally used on our roads. So I can reassure noble Lords that a vehicle with any such adaptation would be on the Clause 1 list—and therefore have insurance, and be on our roads legally—only if the adaptation was considered safe.
On Amendment 29, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, is of course absolutely right to be concerned that automated vehicles meet appropriate safety standards and that the inspection, repair and maintenance of an automated vehicle is done in an authorised way. Motorists with these new vehicles will clearly expect the same level of knowledge and customer service they have come to expect for conventional vehicles. However, we believe that at this stage it is too early to develop a full training, licensing, and accreditation scheme for automated vehicles, or to legislate on how automated vehicles are inspected, maintained and repaired.
As I have said, the Bill is focused on ensuring a sensible insurance regime, and we do not believe that it is the right time to legislate further on maintenance in the manner outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, given that the UNECE harmonised technical safety standards have not yet been agreed for these vehicles. As I said in debate on previous groups, these conversations around safety standards are ongoing, with the UK actively participating in these important discussions.
Might the noble Baroness meet us half way by giving us an assurance that at an appropriate time such a scheme will be developed?
I am happy to give the noble Lord that assurance. I think that, in order for the UK to remain a leader in the development and deployment of AV technology, we will of course need the right skills. If we are to secure an automated future we will need them in ongoing repair and maintenance as well as in design and technology.
We are working with the relevant technology and professional bodies on this issue, alongside the DVSA. We are also working with the Automotive Council on improving skills in the sector by developing new trailblazer apprenticeships and targeting areas where there are skills shortages, as well as co-ordinating work across the sectors. As the professional body for the automotive industry, the Institute of the Motor Industry is well placed to help the Government understand the challenges of ensuring that automated vehicle maintenance and repair is carried out in a professional and safe manner. We hold regular meetings with the IMI, at both official and ministerial level, to discuss the potential models of regulation that we will need for AV skills testing.
As I said, I understand noble Lords’ concern in this area. As the technology develops and matures we will consider such an accreditation scheme and what, if any, government intervention would be needed to ensure that we have enough skills to make sure that the industry can develop. We fully expect there to be other pieces of regulatory and legislative reform in due course as part of our wider programme.
While I can reassure noble Lords that the work on training and accreditation is progressing well, I am afraid—I feel I will be saying this a lot today—that, as the Bill concerns an insurance framework, we do not feel it is an appropriate place to include such an amendment. But I hope that the reassurances I have given on the work that is ongoing in this area, and that in due course we will be looking to implement such a scheme, will allow the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I accept that my Amendment 3 is a very simple and straightforward device. It was an attempt to approach one aspect of the safety issue. Amendment 29 is a much more complex and comprehensive approach. If Amendment 29 or something like it were adopted, there would be no need for Amendment 3.
I was trying to begin to talk about safety and to raise the issue that if you allow adaptations, the Secretary of State will have to devise a way to apply a wide and rigorous range of safety tests. Currently, if you build your own car in a garage you can test it pretty straightforwardly and take it on the road. You could be stopped by a policeman and you could take it to a garage and it would or would not get its MoT on a series of straightforward yes or no tests with no doubt about it. But, if we are talking about adaptations to autonomous vehicles, the danger in these adaptations will almost certainly be in the software, which it is very much more difficult to test. We have only to look back at the Volkswagen scandal. Volkswagen installed the so-called defeat device in the software of its diesel cars that kicked in only when it detected that it was being tested. It was therefore able to mask the true extent of emissions. That is a very complex operation. To test software we would have to go through very lengthy, all-situations style testing to make sure that a vehicle is truly safe. It is not just a case of putting your foot on the brake and saying that it stops quite quickly and it is fine.
Would the noble Baroness be tempted to press the Minister to have a meeting on these issues before Report and come back with a much shorter text than Amendment 29 with the intention of covering these issues? I think that would give many noble Lords who have spoken in the debate quite a lot of comfort.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, puts forward a very good idea. I know that the Minister is always very generous in providing opportunities to discuss issues. We already have two issues that we need further information on. I am sure that there will be other amendments later where we will need a meeting or, at the very least, a fairly lengthy letter—but it would be better to discuss it.
I readily acknowledge that the approach taken by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, is a more thorough approach to the issue of safety. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, leave out “, in at least some circumstances or situations,”
My Lords, we have here a portmanteau group of about three different subjects which have in common that they are all proposed by me, but that is about it. I will start with Amendments 4, 5, 6 and 7. These address the alternative to using the SAE definitions that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and I think are probably the right solution to the problem.
The first amendment deals with the phrase,
“in at least some circumstances or situations”.
As has been mentioned, the Science and Technology Committee did a very good study on autonomous vehicles, let down, in my mind, only by the fact that we were not allowed to entitle it “Goodbye, Mr Toad”. This was supported by a large number of people because the phrase encapsulates one of the greatest advantages of autonomous vehicles: bypassing bad driving. In the future automated vehicles will drive better than human beings.
“in at least some circumstances or situations”,
will certainly open discussions as to whether some downright unusual vehicles such as agricultural autonomous vehicles will fall under that description. I fear that in the Secretary of State’s opinion, they will not, and somebody will undertake a judicial review as to whether the Secretary of State was right. The net result will be wealthier lawyers rather than a clear definition.
Similarly, the meaning of the word “safely” is very unclear. One man’s “safely” is another man’s “dangerously”. Putting such ambiguous words into legislation opens up the possibility of somebody’s saying, “That autonomous vehicle was involved in an accident; it therefore cannot have been driving safely. If it was not driving safely, it should not have been on the list, and is therefore not covered by the insurance that it was thought to be covered by”. I hesitate to say that putting in the word “safely” is dangerous, but it opens the possibility of a bunch of litigation which is unnecessary because the clause works without it.
I know that the word “safely” is part of the Government’s attempt to differentiate between what we would call level 3 and levels 4 and 5. It comes from the Government’s determination not to use those terms. If the Government were to change their mind on that, the need for subjective words such as “safely” would disappear.
Amendments 31, 32 and 34 deal with the meanings in Clause 7 of “being controlled” and “driving itself”. The Bill states that,
“a vehicle is ‘driving itself’ if it is operating in a mode in which it is not being controlled, and does not need to be monitored, by an individual”.
There is a lot of uncertainty as to what phrases such as “be monitored” mean. Amendment 34 tries to identify that more clearly. On Amendment 32, there is again some uncertainty as to what “an individual” means. Does it mean an individual who is licensed to drive that vehicle? Does it mean an individual who is capable of driving, with a driving licence, or one who is not drunk or fast asleep? There is a lot of uncertainty in these words. The Minister may say that the wording will be sorted out in the detailed regulations, but it could be changed to deal with such problems at the start.
On Amendment 35, “roads” has not been defined in the Bill and could easily be defined to tie up with the Road Traffic Act 1988 so that a creative lawyer does not come up with an alternative definition for their own benefit. I hope that all the amendments are helpful in clarifying the meaning of these phrases. I beg to move.
My Lords, I went through the process of devising amendments with a lean approach to the wording. Once again, the amendments take a more comprehensive approach to the same issue I raised regarding the definitions. I understand the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, about there being some overlap in the grouping of amendments. That is because this is a highly technical Bill and the aim of the amendments is not always obvious. In this case, the aim is clearly the same as the one I was approaching, and it underlines the point I made when speaking to my first group of amendments: that definitions will be central.
Many years ago, I was a justice of the peace. I sat through many motoring cases at a basic level in the magistrates’ court where clever lawyers spent ages examining the definitions of simple words. There were many cases where people avoided apparently obvious judicial process because of a definition. The Government need to look again at the definitions used in the Bill.
My Lords, we should welcome these attempts to clarify the wording of the Bill, but I suspect that it is a more or less hopeless task to agree on it. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, did not want to change,
“does not need to be monitored”,
because that is a subjective question. For example, if you are in a taxi, are you happy if no driver is there? If you are flying in a plane, it will be on autopilot most of the time, but are you happy if there is no pilot there who can take over and is monitoring? The question whether one feels the need to have someone there monitoring is ambiguous. To say that there is no need for someone to be monitoring is going to be very subjective. For that reason, I suspect it will be a very long time before level 4 or level 5 automation will be perfectly acceptable.
Another complication concerns the word “individual”. If driverless cars are to be able to cope with driving on ordinary roads, such as country roads where things are changing all the time, then in order that they should not use a computer more powerful than their engine, they are going to have to communicate with other driverless cars and build up enough data and information in that way: they are not individuals, they are communicating with a cluster of other cars. I make these points because they are technically relevant and indicate the subjectivity of trying to decide whether there is a need for monitoring.
My Lords, I want to speak briefly to Amendment 35. Having a definition of “road”, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, is essential. I know there are lots of different definitions of roads within the various road traffic Acts, but I happened to come across a case a few years ago where somebody who was driving a 4x4 on a road which did not appear to be a road within the definition of the road traffic Acts was arrested and charged with drink-driving. He was convicted in the end and it is quite clear, which I did not understand before, that that offence can occur anywhere—in a field, a factory, or anywhere else—because it is not particularly a road traffic offence: it is being drunk in charge of a vehicle. I do not know whether that will be reflected when we get to who is in charge of these vehicles, but it demonstrates the importance of having a definition of “road” where such legislation will apply.
My Lords, I think there is a difficulty with what my noble friend’s Amendment 4 proposes. There is no reason to suppose that we will not have vehicles that are dual-capable—capable of being driven by people and driven autonomously—maybe as part of the evolution to a fully autonomous system. I do not suspect that a farmer will want their Land Rover to be autonomous for a long time in the future, except when it is on a roadway and switching between two modes may become quite important. Therefore, a vehicle that is capable of switching between the two modes, and is therefore not always autonomous, will be an important part of the evolution to autonomous vehicles.
I also suspect that once a vehicle is autonomous, it will not ever be truly not in someone’s charge. If you have a set of vehicles which are essentially public vehicles—small buses, which are just picked up on the street and you take one to wherever you are going—some kind of alarm system will be necessary. There will probably be some oversight in case of a known problem: you will want to say, “Right, all vehicles within a particular radius shall slow down or stop because there appears to be some problem developing here”. Defining who is in charge of a vehicle where those capabilities exist will be quite problematic. This comes back to my wanting the Government to give themselves the flexibility to adapt the regulations as circumstances change, our knowledge improves and systems move.
The picture the Government paint of a Bill every year is just not feasible: government does not work that way. This sort of backwater gets a Bill every four years if we are lucky. We absolutely have to reckon that this Bill has to last the rest of this Parliament and probably the first year or two of the next. There is not the space in a Government’s life for off-centre Bills on a regular basis. The Bill is underpowered for the mission it sets out to achieve.
My Lords, as I mentioned in the debate on the first group of amendments, the scope of the Bill applies only to highly and fully automated vehicles; that is, vehicles for which, when driving themselves, there is no monitoring or controlling role required of the driver. I appreciate my noble friend’s efforts to clarify the language in the Bill in this series of amendments. I will try to help with the definitions, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Rees, said, these terms are highly subjective.
On Amendment 4, it is anticipated that the first automated vehicles to reach the UK market will be able to be used in automated mode only in specific circumstances or situations. These could include instances where vehicles have been geo-fenced, and are therefore able to operate only in specific, defined areas, or systems that would operate only on motorways and other high-speed roads, or indeed in the way my noble friend Lord Lucas described earlier. These vehicles may not be capable of driving safely in all situations, so we believe it is essential that the wording,
“in … some circumstances or situations”,
remains within the Bill so that such vehicles can get on the Secretary of State’s list and get insurance.
The Minister keeps talking about “vehicles” and not “cars”. Vehicles are already being used in agriculture. They do have to go on roads, however; for example, to go from one field to another. Is that part of the definition?
I know that this issue came up in the noble Lord’s committee. It is something we are looking at. Again, we will probably equate it to the existing situation with agricultural machinery: only if it needs to be lawfully insured at the moment will it need to be lawfully insured as an automated vehicle.
On Amendment 5 and the proposal to remove “safely” and Amendment 34 to define “monitoring”, as my noble friend said, the Bill uses “safely” to distinguish between vehicles with high or full automation, which are covered by the Bill, and conditionally automated vehicles, which are not. Conditionally automated vehicles need the human user to monitor their driving at all times. Highly and fully automated vehicles do not need such monitoring in automated mode: they can operate safely without it.
That is why we think we need “safely” in the definition in Clause 1 that highly and fully automated vehicles are,
“capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving themselves”.
The definition of “driving itself”, given in Clause 7, is,
“in a mode in which it is not being controlled, and does not need to be monitored, by an individual”.
So the Bill covers vehicles that have been designed to be able to drive themselves—safely, with no monitoring needed, in at least some situations. Without “safely”, we think that the Bill would cover—incorrectly—vehicles in which the driving tasks are shared conditionally. However, I have listened to the arguments made in this and earlier debates and will look at the definition in the Bill and see if there is anything we can to do clarify it further.
On Amendment 6, it is certainly our intention that only vehicles that are considered safe at the time at which the list is made or updated are included. I will consider the arguments made today and see whether we can make a clarification here.
On my noble friend’s Amendments 7, 31 and 32 regarding control, we think there are risks in using more specific terms at this stage, given that we cannot predict how the technology will evolve. I ask noble Lords to take account of this point throughout today’s debate. It is important to utilise broad language at this stage. We have used general terms to reflect the policy intent in establishing the compulsory insurance framework. As the scope of the Bill applies to vehicles for which, when driving themselves, there is no monitoring or controlling role required of the driver, we do not feel that we need to further define “control” at this stage.
On the subject of roads, my noble friend Lord Borwick raised an interesting point in Amendment 35 —he was backed up by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—regarding the definition of “road” in the context of Section 192 of the Road Traffic Act. I think we can clarify this further to make it explicit in the Bill. I will look at tabling an amendment on that ahead of Report.
I have attempted to clarify the definitions here, but following the points made in this and earlier debates, I will look at the definition in Clause 1 to ensure it is clear that only vehicles that can be lawfully used in self-driving mode will be included in the list.
In response to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, in the previous debate, I will follow up this session with a detailed letter, as well as a meeting ahead of Report to discuss the issues further. Given these reassurances, I hope that my noble friend feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her comments. Clearly, a lot of conversations should take place between now and Report, and they should include a wide variety of Peers who have expressed an interest in the Bill. I look forward to those discussions. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendments 5 to 7 not moved.
8: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—
“(1A) The Secretary of State must consult on and publish the criteria that they will use to determine whether, in their opinion, a motor vehicle is designed or adapted to be capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving itself without having to be monitored by an individual.(1B) The Secretary of State may not change the criteria under subsection (1A) until they have consulted vehicle manufacturers, insurers and other such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”
My Lords, before moving Amendment 8, I would like to reflect on the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that this backwater of transport gets a Bill only every two or three years. I think the Minister and I are locked in our fourth transport Bill in as many months. If you extrapolate from that, we will be here for ever.
Amendment 8 improves the Bill because it requires the Government to consult on and publish criteria for the definition of “automated vehicles” that will be used by the Secretary of State. The current drafting of Clause 1 puts the onus on the Secretary of State to define, in his or her opinion, what constitutes an automated vehicle without having to consult the sector. The Bill will be vastly improved if there is a requirement to consult and publish the criteria by which an automated vehicle is defined. It would also prevent the Secretary of State changing the criteria without consulting vehicle manufacturers, insurers and other such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
It is crucial for manufacturers, vehicle owners and insurers to know whether they are making, buying, loaning on or insuring an automated vehicle, and whether the scope of the legislation applies to their vehicle. There are concerns that the Bill, as currently drafted, leaves the Secretary of State with total discretion as to what is an automated vehicle. The amendment therefore provides greater clarity and will help the Government by ensuring that relevant persons and organisations would be sufficiently involved, allowing that to inform the Secretary of State’s list of automated vehicles. The additional clarity provided by the amendment would help create a more reassuring environment which encourages the development and uptake of automated vehicles.
I will just touch on the whole area of safety. I have spent a life in safety-critical environments. The first thing that does is give one an aversion to the word “safe” because it is used in a binary sense: things are either safe or unsafe. In practice, nothing is absolutely safe. In my experience, most regimes are developed by one of two routes. One is the “crash and regulate” route, which has served aviation quite well. Hundreds of aeroplanes crashed in the early days, and we have now got to a situation where regulation refined by those experiences has produced the safest aviation environment in history. The motor industry has also essentially been a “crash and regulate” environment. Crashes have occurred, other incidents have occurred, regulations have been developed and safety has generally improved decade on decade. But in other areas the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 criteria have been used; that is, pursuing the objective of reducing risk to as low as is reasonably practical. That is a much more philosophical approach.
I hope that in developing these criteria the department, in its participation in international discussions, looks at both approaches, particularly the philosophical, proportional approach. When we move into this automated phase, it will be like the beginning of motoring all over again. We will be in an entirely different environment. For decades, we have relied on eyes and ears to be our interface senses; in this situation, we will be trusting a whole new series of senses, and the possibility of multiple interface failures has to be very high. I hope the department will take this seriously and actively develop its skills in looking at this whole safety environment so that we can play an important role in getting the right regulatory regime for automated vehicles. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 10. This amendment follows on nicely from Amendment 29 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. We had a useful discussion on that. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, made an excellent case for why we need a properly organised maintenance regime. My noble friend the Minister agreed and said that we would commit to legislate in due course. Why do we not legislate now? When we legislate for something such as a maintenance regime in a fast-moving area—as this will continue to be—we give the Government powers to create one under regulations. We do not specify it or try to pin it down with a lot of detail, because it is too fast-moving an area, too new and too unknown.
The only way we can ever legislate for something such as an Amendment 29 regime is by giving the Government the ability to create regulations. I do not see any reason why we cannot do that now. When the Government get to the point where they consider a maintenance regime is needed, there could be other primary legislation in the queue. It may take a year or two to get a slot, a year to get the Bill through Parliament, and then there is the whole process of producing and consulting on the draft regulations. It may take the Government two or three years to get to the point where they have a maintenance regime in place. If we give them the power in this Bill to create a maintenance regime if and when they think it is needed, the whole process will be much shorter.
This is an industry where we ought to be caring enough about the economy and the future of this country to be giving the Government a lot of flexibility in what they do. If we get to the point of autonomous vehicles being on our roads, we can anticipate that we will need to say something about their ability to deal with level crossings. I do not think that we would ever try to deal with that sort of thing in primary legislation. If we are going to give the Government that sort of power in secondary legislation, why not do it now?
It is absolutely clear that we are going to have to deal extensively with the way in which data is handled and shared. Again, whenever we choose to legislate, it will be in a fast-moving, fast-changing, unpredictable set of circumstances. We will give the Government reasonably broad powers to keep updating the regulations without primary legislation being required at each turn. I believe that we can frame those regulations now.
We are going to have to produce regulations that restrict the ability of autonomous vehicles to drive in particular ways in particular circumstances. Those will keep changing as the capabilities of autonomous vehicles improve, as our experience of them improves, and as the way in which we as a society choose to deal with them improves. We are never going to try to deal with that sort of thing through primary legislation. Let us make this a fast-moving, adaptable Government, in a crucial area for the economy, by giving them the power now. We know that we want up-to-date software. We have already covered that today. Let us give the Government the ability to make sure that that is the case.
We know that we have to provide for human/autonomous changeover. It is unclear what that will look like. It will continue to change and adapt as technology moves. Let us give the Government the power now to deal with those things. When we look at our practice in this House, we know that we are not going to pin the Government down with primary legislation. We know that we are going to give them a sensible set of powers to create secondary legislation. There is nothing we need to know more than we do now in order to draft the required legislation. I hope that the Government will take these powers voluntarily—but, if not, I think we should be prepared to insist that they have them. The Government will then be much more responsive to the needs of the economy in terms of pushing this forward and putting ourselves into a position where international companies choose to do part of their autonomous vehicle development here because the environment is right and adaptable.
I understand—and one can judge from the admirable brevity of the Minister’s replies—that this is not in current contemplation by the department. That is why we may need to insist on an amendment or two. In conversations between Committee and Report, I hope that we may be able to agree what such an amendment might look like. We must put ourselves in a position where we are seen internationally not as an environment where change is slow and difficult because it requires primary legislation but rather as one which is quick and adaptable because we have already made the necessary provisions.
My Lords, I am speaking to my Amendment 11 is in this group—a probing amendment, again on the subject of safety. I noticed that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee considered a Department for Transport memorandum which stated that,
“the Secretary of State will need to have regard to whether vehicles or types of vehicles have met international or domestic standards on the safe functioning of automated vehicles that will need to be met before the vehicles can lawfully be used on the roads”.
It went on to say about safety requirements that they were,
“likely to be recorded in a vehicle’s registration document”,
“could therefore be identified either by type … or by reference to information in the registration document”.
Does that not overlook other essential safety requirements, such as the one I mention in my amendment—an MoT of the vehicle after so many years since new? Will the addition of greater and greater computer control and software mean that the current three years since new and yearly MoT thereafter will still be sufficient?
My amendment, and the much more comprehensive considerations mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and by other noble Lords about safety requirements, suggest that, for a vehicle that is included on an approved list, there will be additional safeguards to consider before it can be legally insured for on-road use. I instanced an MoT as just one example of a safety issue that may have to be considered for the vehicle to be listed. Alternatively, can the Minister confirm whether existing or additional safety regulations may be required and are to be introduced in parallel with the Bill before a fully automated vehicle is insured for on-road use?
It is perhaps worth mentioning at this point that some test of competence might be required of the owner-occupant of a driverless vehicle. How might this bear on the issue of insurance cover for the individual in or in charge of the vehicle? I noted that a recent report, which the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned, suggested that, even if the vehicle is travelling under automated lane control, for example, as is possible today, the driver’s seat has to be occupied and the occupant is responsible for retaining ultimate control of the vehicle, maybe without even briefly letting go of the steering wheel. From the Minister’s opening remarks, though, I now understand that this level of vehicle automation is not to be covered by the Bill. How then are the insurance arrangements for these types of vehicle to be taken care of—or are they already taken care of by existing legislation?
The departmental memorandum that I mentioned says that the Secretary of State’s decision is administrative in nature and so could be open to judicial review. In respect of introducing new technology, this could be a troublesome legal minefield, as the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, has already mentioned. So I should be grateful to hear from the Minister about her department’s thinking on these safety issues.
My Lords, I support Amendments 8 and 10 and the associated Amendment 22. I feel that I need to declare my interest as I am an employed member of the Environmental Defense Fund Europe, an advocacy group that promotes solutions to climate change and air quality.
While I am speaking to this part of the Bill, it is fair to say that my interest lies in Part 2, but I feel that the Bill ought to be seen in its entirety as a tool that the Government can use to reach their aspirations to see a huge transformation in the transport sector. We are anticipating and looking forward to the publication of the government strategy, Road to Zero. We hope it is a road to zero, not a road to nowhere; I hope it contains ambition. We hope the narrow parts of the Bill are stepping stones and that additional policies and consultation will be launched with the document, which we hope we will see before Report.
Amendment 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, covers a very important aspect. I hope and suspect that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the consultation will indeed be forthcoming in the documents that we expect from the department. It is really important that we have that debate about how we are helping the Secretary of State to ensure that he or she is drawing on the very best information available, as this is quite a complex and technical area. There must be wide consultation on definitions in order for this list to be relevant and useful for every part of the community, including the insurers but also the users of the cars.
On Amendment 10 and the associated Amendment 22, many of us have been playing a game with the clerks in order to enable us to have a debate that is broader than the clauses before us. The short title of the Bill appears very wide but when it comes to it we are allowed only a very narrowed-down debate. I have put my name to Amendment 10 just to be able to talk about standards for autonomous vehicles. I understand that the nature of our debate, because it is linked to insurance, means that it has been mainly about the fear of accidents and safety, but there is an important additional element to autonomous vehicles, which is their environmental value. If we do not consider this at the outset then there is a chance that, no matter how well meaning we are in encouraging the use of autonomous vehicles and transport as a service more generally, we could see a period when these vehicles are overlapping with existing vehicles and we see more congestion, higher quality impacts and indeed greater impact on climate change.
I have a question for the Minister. Clause 1 of the Bill says:
“The list may identify vehicles … in some other way”.
When considering the list, could we interpret that as meaning we will have additional information about the environmental impact of these vehicles? There is an assumption that autonomous vehicles will be cleaner—and indeed that they will be electric, which would speak to both parts of the Bill—but there is no requirement or necessity for that to be the case. In the setting of and consulting on standards for these vehicles, could we include from the outset environmental standards that mean we do not have unintended consequences? Through our efforts to boost this industry, see inward investment and create jobs and financial flows, we do not want inadvertently to encourage lots of highly polluting vehicles using as many cheating devices as software engineers could come up with, in delivering the service through autonomous vehicles. We saw this in our drive to try to increase the efficiency of vehicles that has led to a big push to diesel.
That is why I support the amendment. As I say, I ask the Minister to give us some words of reassurance that more is to come. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has mentioned, this is a slightly underpowered Bill for the task that it is undertaking. I doubt that this is the last time we shall come to this topic—I hope it is not—but legislative time is limited, so if the Government were able to broaden the scope in the time remaining in this House, I would certainly support that and I know many other noble Lords would too. I look forward to maybe discussing with the Government what is possible in the time remaining.
I will stop my comments there. I apologise that I cannot stay until the end of the debate this evening, but I will be here for the second day of Committee.
My Lords, I have been surprised by the Bill and the discussions on it because it is fairly unusual to find circumstances where there is the kind of debate that will happen on the next set of amendments about “must” and “may” regarding what the Government can do. Normally the Government suggest that the wording should be that they “may” do something while Back-Benchers push for it to be that they “must” do something. Here we have entirely the reverse of that problem. Similarly, when my noble friend Lord Lucas proposes that the Government should have the right to regulate on safety standards—I have a similar amendment coming much later—normally it is a matter of the Government wanting to have the powers to regulate and the Back-Benchers suggesting that they should not. Here again we have the reverse of that standard, but this is a new industry and perhaps we have new ways of legislating for it.
The points that my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, make are entirely right: we need standards. However, I think so many things are happening with this that the power to make regulations should be wider than just in respect of standards. That is why I have tabled Amendment 30, which will be dealt with towards the end of our debate today. I support my noble friend’s amendment as far as it goes. I think my amendment is slightly better than his but we can deal with that problem later.
My Lords, I fully appreciate that we will see fast-moving technological developments in this area in future. With that in mind, I understand the intent behind noble Lords’ amendments on safety criteria and standards. It is going to be critical to ensure that automated vehicles are safe for effective deployment on UK roads. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, rightly points out, their safety will also need to be maintained throughout the vehicle’s lifespan, as is the case for conventional vehicles today.
There is a long-established process in place for setting vehicle standards, which we have touched on before. The UNECE’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations is tasked with creating a uniform system of regulations for vehicle design in order to deliver high levels of vehicle safety and environmental protection and facilitate international trade. These UN regulations, of which there are over 140 in number, contain the provisions for vehicles, their systems, their parts, their equipment related to safety and environmental aspects. So they provide the legal framework, allowing member countries such as the UK to establish harmonised international-level UNECE regulatory instruments concerning motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. They include performance-oriented test requirements as well as the administrative procedures. The latter address the type approval of vehicle systems, parts and equipment, the conformity of production and the mutual recognition of the type approvals granted by member countries.
The standards by which automated vehicles will be approved safe for sale and use are still being discussed internationally at this UNECE working group, where the UK plays a leading role. We expect them to follow the way in which conventional vehicles have been judged safe to use. I will certainly look carefully at the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, to help inform our approach in those negotiations. We work with bodies such as the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, which participates in these discussions in a consultative capacity. We think that this is likely to form the basis of the type approval process which automated vehicles, like conventional vehicles today, must pass to be sold for safe use on UK roads.
Based on international standards and our evolving domestic regulatory programme, we expect it to be very clear which vehicles, including their software, can safely operate. The vehicles approved as safe by type approval will then go on to the list, so that our domestic insurance framework is clear which vehicles need which insurance products. The Clause 1 list of automated vehicles will not be the mechanism by which automated vehicles are regulated in relation to safety and security. That will be governed by future laws and technical standards, which we expect to be developed with the appropriate level of scrutiny and consultation, just as current road traffic laws and vehicle standards are developed.
On the important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, about consultation, these changes to domestic legislation, including road traffic laws and vehicle requirements, will generally undergo public consultation and have impact assessments carried out. They are subject to parliamentary scrutiny when amending legislation is laid in the House. Throughout the development of our policy in this area, we have consulted closely with industry. Given the understandable interest in this new area, we fully expect there to be full consultation when we see the regulations appear for automated vehicles. So I agree with the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, to consult on the standards that will be set for automated vehicles. That is something that we plan to do, but I am again afraid that I cannot agree that this Bill, which relates to insurance provision only, is the right place for it.
I fully expect that future regulations for automated vehicles will cover many of the points in Amendment 10, including environmental issues, but we think that legislating in any way further in the absence of the more detailed knowledge of the ultimate international design standards, risks us regulating ineffectively, potentially creating barriers to the use of this technology in the UK and therefore impeding innovation.
As the new technologies reach the point of market readiness, we will be able to set and define the standards, both internationally at a UNECE level and, depending on the outcome of the international discussions, domestically as part of our ongoing regulatory programme. As I have said, we fully expect this to be subject to full consultation.
I wanted to ask the Minister whether she thought there was value. I understand that there will be lots of ongoing discussion, but there may be value in taking some enabling powers now so that we can move forward quickly. This is quite a competition among many nations, and it would be a great shame if we were to lose this parliamentary opportunity to take some enabling powers now.
I agree with the noble Baroness that this is a fast-moving industry, and we absolutely want to position ourselves at the front of it. As my noble friend pointed out, I am in an unusual situation of being offered powers to Government. This is a narrow Bill, which I acknowledged at the beginning. We have been trying to ask only for powers which we know how we will use in the future. We have an amendment from my noble friend coming up on that, and it has been interesting to hear people’s views. At the moment, the Bill is focused entirely on insurance, but I will be interested to hear views from everybody around the House ahead of Report.
In Amendment 11, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, is right to be concerned that vehicles must meet the appropriate safety standards, both before they are sold and to ensure their ongoing roadworthiness. They are important issues that will require attention from the Government, and we certainly expect safety throughout the vehicle’s life to form the basis of future regulation. We do not yet know, because of the technology, the timescale to expect for regular vehicle checks. As the standards have not yet been set, I am afraid that we are unable to introduce those detailed regulations at this time and in this Bill.
On that point, the Minister says that the Government cannot introduce regulations at this time. Will it be primary legislation to do that, or does existing legislation give them the opportunity to produce regulations as and when required?
Under the construction UNECE regulations, which are how we deal with conventional vehicles, we are able to introduce regulations, which is a potential future for automated vehicles. We have asked the Law Commission to do a far-reaching review on our regulatory framework for automated vehicles. That is designed to promote the safe development and use of automated vehicles, identify areas in the law that may be barriers to the use of automated vehicles, and propose potential solutions. One of those barriers was that we did not have an insurance framework, and those vehicles could not be insured. That is the purpose of the Bill. We are working with the Law Commission to understand where we need to make further primary or secondary legislation. As and when appropriate, the Government will come forward with legislative and regulatory proposals, and will absolutely consult on the detail.
I turn to the role of the insurer and my noble friend Lord Lucas’s Amendment 22. It is the policy intent of the Bill that it mirrors existing processes as closely as possible without making complex legislative changes to the existing framework. A vehicle is insured if there is in force, in relation to the use of the vehicle on a road or other public place in Great Britain, a policy of insurance that satisfies the conditions in Section 145 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is the contractual obligation of the insured person to provide accurate information to the insurer. Failure to do so may result in the policy being voided.
I understand that there is concern that we are proposing an insurance framework before we have agreed the safety standards, and before we are sure how we will regulate for those, but as I said, the Bill is designed to enable insurers to begin developing new insurance products, in response to a request from the insurance industry. We want those insurance products to be developed now so that it will encourage further investment and research in automated vehicles in the country—something I am sure noble Lords are in favour of.
I hope that these words have assured noble Lords that there will be comprehensive safety standards, which will be informed by consultation, to ensure that only automated vehicles that can be used safely will be placed on the list. Again, I am afraid, as the Bill is solely considering a list in relation to the insurance framework and not these safety standards at this stage, I hope the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, before the noble Lord deals with his amendment, may I say that I am sad that I was right that the Government are determined to keep the Bill within its current scope? They are missing considerable opportunities in regard to my noble friend’s description of what the Bill would do: enable the insurance industry to develop new products, and enable us in this aspect to be ahead of the game and part of the international conversation. She talks about the advantage of legislating now, but the Government will not legislate now in other areas where they could simply and where I think the House would be inclined to give them quite wide powers to get on in this area. I am disappointed that the Government are taking this action. If I find opportunities beyond today to do something about it, I look forward to taking them.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I shall study the Minister’s response with great care, and I look forward to possible contacts between now and Report, and will decide whether to table further amendments then. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
9: Clause 1, page 1, line 17, leave out “must” and insert “may”
My Lords, as I mentioned a moment ago, in tabling these amendments, I felt that the legislation imposes an unnecessary and potentially damaging duty on the Secretary of State that he or she “must” produce a list. Governments hate being told that they must do something. It is normally a case of taxpayers “must” do something, but rarely Governments.
It seems ironic that Back-Benchers are offering amendments to say the Government “may” do something, but the Government themselves are insisting that they must. What if, through some administrative or IT failure, the Secretary of State did not produce a new list every time there was a single addition? I am assured by the Bill team that the mechanics of this list are such that there will be automatic updates with subsequent publication, and that the DVLA will act on behalf of the Secretary of State to ensure that it is not the imposition I suggest it might be. However, I still believe it important to note that, if lists are produced, they should include the vehicle registration. This is why I propose a detailed new clause in Amendment 12.
Insurance companies need to be able to check, against the list, whether an insurance application is for an autonomous vehicle. This insurance is likely to be cheaper than for normal vehicles, so fraudulent applications need to be easily identified and caught. While I can concede that a list must be maintained, I would suggest that a discretionary power—the use of the word “may” in my amendment—will allow the Secretary of State to take steps to impose fines upon manufacturers and other producers of autonomous vehicle kit that do not register vehicles appropriately under Clause 1. I believe that the Government need to be told by manufacturers that they have produced a new autonomous vehicle, and that is why I have suggested Amendment 12.
The advantage of Amendment 9 changing “must” to “may” is that it gives the Government the opportunity to be flexible that my noble friend suggested earlier that they needed. “Must” is a red rag to a lawyer; it suggests that, because the Government have not done something, there is some liability knocking around that they can attach a claim to. I am therefore worried about this requirement that the Secretary of State “must” produce a list and that it “must” include this or that. It would be much better for the Government just to take the power and decide in the future to what extent they want to produce this list. I beg to move.
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, about “must” and “may”. It is interesting that the Government like to put “must” on its own. I am sure the Minister will have a view on that.
I have a short comment on Amendment 12, which is in this group. I support it. The Minister may say it is too early but, if you are going to have a written notice under proposed new subsection (2), surely the documentation, certificates or anything relating to not only the vehicle but the software, control system and everything else should be included.
My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend on further regulatory powers in the Bill. As I said, I would be interested to hear views from noble Lords from across the House on further regulatory powers later but, at this stage, we are just not ready to make further regulation. That is why we have not asked for the powers.
The purpose of the list in Clause 1 is to allow manufacturers, owners of vehicles and insurers to know if the extension of the compulsory motor insurance in this legislation applies to their vehicle. The aim is to provide certainty to the automotive and insurance industries, as well as clarity to the public. As I have said, the list itself is not a mechanism to approve which vehicles are safe to use. This will be determined by future regulation, most likely based on international standards. The list in Clause 1 is simply to inform the insurance industry which vehicles require automated vehicle insurance.
My noble friend Lord Borwick’s Amendment 9, which replaces “must” with “may”, would imply that preparing, updating or publishing this list might be at the Secretary of State’s discretion. We believe it is right that the Bill imposes a duty on the Secretary of State, who “must” ensure that the list, comprising any vehicle that may lawfully be used when driving itself on roads or other public places in Great Britain, is published and kept up to date. If the list is not updated, people may obtain the wrong type of insurance, leading to difficulties for victims in securing compensation quickly and easily. As I said, this aims to provide certainty.
In order for the Bill to deliver the insurance framework that it is intended to—this is after consultation with the insurance industry—it is important to maintain the list as a duty on the Secretary of State. Perhaps this is something we can discuss further before Report.
Amendment 12 concerns the duty of a manufacturer to notify the Secretary of State. I understand my noble friend’s intention but, at this stage, it is not appropriate to legislate in this regard. There are already existing processes in place when registering a vehicle or notifying changes regarding a status of the vehicle, and we are working with the DVLA on how to replicate these processes for automated vehicles. We have yet to complete that work, so we do not feel it is the right time to legislate in this regard. I hope that, given this explanation, my noble friend is able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw that amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendments 10 to 12 not moved.
Clause 2: Liability of insurers etc where accident caused by automated vehicle
13: Clause 2, page 1, line 22, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—
“(a) damage is caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself,(b) the vehicle that caused the damage is insured at the time of the accident, and”
My Lords, we have reached halfway through the list before us today. This is a discussion about the difference between accidents and damage. I feel that, sometimes, the legislation as drafted moves fluently between the words “accident” and “damage”. I fear that that is open to misinterpretation, as an opportunity, by lawyers in the future.
It is critical that “caused” be defined in this Bill. A lack of a test of cause of an accident or damage to a person or vehicle will lead to years on end of appeals in cases. The Bill therefore has the opportunity to provide for a measure against a reasonable standard. The focus should be on what or who caused the damage, rather than the accident causing the damage. By doing this, the Bill could be a world leader in clarifying such a test, as has never been done before. We must accept that the public are nervous about this new technology, and the Bill should clarify what happens before, during and after an accident. It will clearly demonstrate that we have the citizen at the forefront of our minds.
The problem of leaving “caused” undefined is that, in so many processes, the Ministry of Justice is trying to reduce the amount of litigation. As has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the magistrates’ courts are filled with motoring cases of liability for damage caused by somebody’s unreasonable behaviour. If we are careful with the drafting, we could help reduce that litigation in future. Therefore, I beg to move these amendments.
My Lords, I wish to speak to my Amendment 17. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, on this. The key issue is what sort of standards we can expect from automated vehicles. We are told, as has already been said, to expect far higher standards and few accidents. The estimate is an 80% reduction in the number of road traffic accidents once automated vehicles are fully established. After all, we know as humans that even very good drivers sometimes have a bad day, and we are not all very good drivers, but automated vehicles should always be on the ball. However, undoubtedly there will still be accidents, especially during the lengthy transition period, when some cars have drivers and others do not. There are even worrying tales of some pedestrians, in areas where automated vehicles are being trialled, playing chicken by testing how close you get to the cars by stepping out in front of them, to see how quickly they will stop.
Legal advice we have received indicates that under the Bill as drafted, the insurer would be liable when an accident happens, even if damage is not caused or the damage caused is not the fault of the automated vehicle. My Amendment 17 would lower the standard by which the automated vehicle is judged to that of a reasonable driver. This, of course, removes the double standard the Bill would create—that an automatic vehicle is always safer than a manually driven car. It would therefore lower the burden on insurers.
I am not entirely sure about the term “reasonable” driver; I wondered whether “competent” might be a better word, but I was assured that “reasonable” is an accepted legal term and would be understood. I have tabled this simply as a probing amendment because we need clarity from the Government. After all, millions of insurance policies will rely on this Bill and the structure it creates. The Government have written the Bill expressly to prepare the insurance market for AVs, so it is vital that we have clarity on how the Government view the system they plan to create.
The amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, in this group, replace “accident” with “damage”. This is an issue of technical legal terms, on which I would welcome clarification as well. I am very pleased to see that he has tabled his amendments.
I should perhaps earlier have declared my interest as chairman of the advisory board for the Gateway autonomous vehicle in Greenwich project, which has done a lot of work on the subject that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned—the habit of pedestrians testing autonomous vehicles. They found that in time, that habit reduces, not because the relevant pedestrians are squashed by the autonomous vehicle but because they get bored with the test. They might try it once, as a teenager, but they do not bother to try it again: it is a boring process. Boring a teenager is not something we should use as the basis of a safety standard, but it is a powerful factor in this matter. I very much support the amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and myself.
My Lords, my noble friend’s Amendments 13, 14, 15,16, 18 and 24 seek to clarify the definitions of “damage” and “accident”, terms which are already in common use in road traffic legislation and case law. It may help if I set out how we have intended the provisions in this Bill to work. They are intended to mirror the existing conventional vehicle compulsory third-party insurance framework, found in the Road Traffic Act 1988, for automated vehicles. However, the Bill’s read-across with the Road Traffic Act has to be adjusted at times to allow for the lack of a driver when an automated vehicle operates in automated mode, which means that the Bill makes use of the word “accident” as a way of introducing the word “damage”, which in turn is defined in the Bill in a way that mirrors the meaning of “damage” in the Road Traffic Act 1988. Again, as I said, the aim of the Bill is to provide consistency with conventional vehicles in the 1988 Act.
“Damage” is defined within Clause 2 as,
“death or personal injury, and any damage to property other than … the automated vehicle … goods carried for hire or reward in or on that vehicle or in or on any trailer (whether or not coupled) drawn by it, or … property in the custody, or under the control, of … the insured person … or … the person in charge of the automated vehicle at the time of the accident”.
As I highlighted earlier, the policy intent of the Bill is that it mirror existing processes as closely as possible without making complex legislative changes to the existing framework. I appreciate the challenge from my noble friend in testing the Bill’s wording, but we believe that the task of mirroring the existing processes in the 1988 Act is best done by the wording as it currently stands.
On Amendment 17, the process of determining and apportioning liability in the event of an incident will remain the same as now, with the courts ultimately making judgments based on the facts. That will include taking account of evidence as to whether the human driver or the automated vehicle system was in control at the time of the accident, and related issues. I recognise that this is a new area, but our courts have a long history of making complex judgments in the determination and apportionment of liability, including following the introduction of new and emerging technologies. For this reason, we believe they are best placed to make judgments in that area, but of course, it is an incredibly complex one. As part of the Government’s wider continuing regulatory programme for automated vehicles, it may become necessary to legislate further when we know more about the technology, and it could be that the Law Commission makes recommendations in that regard.
We absolutely do not want to add to the concern of the legal system and want to make sure that the Bill is as clear as possible, given that many of thousands of insurance policies will be based on this framework, as the noble Baroness said. We believe that the language as it stands is the best way to replicate the conventional vehicle in the Road Traffic Act. I hope I have helped to clarify the situation but, again, this may be an issue to discuss further ahead of Report—the exact definitions and how we use them in this Bill. Based on that, I hope that my noble friend feels able to withdraw his amendment.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Amendments 14 to 18 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3: Contributory negligence etc
19: Clause 3, page 3, line 3, after “begin” insert “or continue”
My Lords, Amendment 19 addresses the problem at the back-end of subsection (2), where it says,
“allowing the vehicle to begin driving itself when it was not appropriate to do so”.
The problem may be that it might have been right for the vehicle to start off on a nice sunny day in London, and it then drives to Scotland, where it is snowing, and it is no longer appropriate. However, it was appropriate at the start of the journey, and it would certainly be right for the driver to allow the vehicle to begin driving itself at that time—but not right for him to allow it continue to drive. That would be a simple change in the wording, which I have put in Amendment 19.
In Amendment 20, I address the question of what “not appropriate” means, when we could use the phrase “avoidable and unreasonable”, which I think is much more in keeping with legal custom than the word “appropriate”, because it can be argued as to what it means. Those are my two amendments in this group, and I leave to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, Amendment 21. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 21 in this group. The Bill as currently drafted means that the insurer or owner of an automated vehicle is not liable where the event was caused by a person allowing the vehicle to drive itself where it was not appropriate to do so. However, it does not define when it is or is not appropriate to do so. This amendment requires the Government to provide regulatory guidance for when it is and is not appropriate for a person to allow an automated vehicle to drive itself.
It would clearly not be appropriate in some circumstances for vehicles to drive themselves: for example, early automated vehicles might be deemed safe to use only on motorways and not on some urban roads. Another example would be that a software issue might arise so that using the automated function at that point would be inappropriate. Clause 3(2) is not clear enough in its intentions. Does it even apply to fully automated vehicles or bimodal vehicles? We need more clarity on this.
One of the primary purposes of Part 1 is to provide a framework to give insurers, manufacturers and potential users greater clarity, providing confidence and encouraging progress on automated vehicles. However, it is still not clear from the Bill what the Government have in mind about when their use would be appropriate. We are asking for regulations to be brought forward to better define those circumstances, because we cannot afford to have confusion here. People must be clear about where their obligations lie. If we are to see the growth in the industry we all wish for, we do not want to leave this issue hanging over it.
My Lords, I will make what I hope is a helpful suggestion to my noble friend in connection with Amendment 21. The most appropriate authority to make these regulations would be the Office of Rail and Road. It is responsible for safety on the railway; it should be responsible for road safety, but we have not got there yet. Maybe the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would support me on that one. However, I hope that is a helpful suggestion.
My Lords, given Network Rail’s safety record over the last 10 years, I would absolutely support that recommendation.
My Lords, as we deal with a set of amendments dealing with handover, it is perhaps appropriate to give my noble friend a break, and I move over from the passenger seat. However, I assure the Committee that my noble friend remains in control.
The transferring of control of an automated vehicle between a human driver and the automated vehicle’s system will be an important factor in ascertaining how a vehicle safely and appropriately operates on UK roads. Straightaway I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, who spoke to his Amendment 21, that of course we recognise the need to put in place a proper regulatory framework to ensure both the safe deployment and safe use of automated vehicles—I will say a bit more about that in a moment.
It is likely that the first automated vehicles to reach the market will be able to be used in automated mode only in specific circumstances or situations, with vehicles capable of full automation arriving further into the future. My noble friend Lady Sugg said a little more about that when we debated Amendment 4. For example, she said that these circumstances could refer to vehicles that have been geo-fenced—able to operate only in a very specific, defined area—or to systems that would operate only on motorways and other high-speed roads. It is likely that these vehicles will be designed to allow handover only in these very specific circumstances: for example, from the driver to the vehicle when the vehicle enters that geo-fenced area, and from the vehicle to the driver when it leaves, in a safe manner and when appropriate to do so.
It is anticipated that the relevant international regulations at UNECE level will reflect these limited use cases and handover process. It is possible that these regulations will contain requirements for the vehicle to be able to detect where it is so that the system cannot be used in other situations. These standards and regulations will be likely to form the basis of the type approval process which automated vehicles, like conventional vehicles today, must pass to be sold for safe use on UK roads or in other public places. They would then be covered by Clause 1.
At the moment, the powers we have are sufficient. We can use existing powers in the Road Traffic Act 1988 to revise existing, or create new, road vehicle construction and use regulations to transpose or reinforce new iterations of the global regulations as they appear. However—I repeat what we have said before during this debate—global regulations for automated vehicles have not yet been decided, and so it is not clear what changes in our domestic framework would be needed at the present time. It would be premature to ask for primary powers in a Bill that is just about automated vehicle insurance without more detailed knowledge of the ultimate design standards to which these vehicles will be held, or without knowing the outcome of the Law Commission review of the existing legal framework —which, again, my noble friend mentioned.
As regards handover of the driving to an automated vehicle, my noble friend Lord Borwick has proposed a different test from that in the Bill: that the handover must not be “avoidable and unreasonable”. These two words would be applied conjunctively by the courts, and the result would be that a person could be found to be negligent only provided both “avoidability” and “unreasonableness” were both shown to be present. The Bill’s test makes for a lower threshold on the insurer by placing a stricter burden on the driver not to hand over in situations when it would be inappropriate to do so. While the technological and wider regulatory framework here is still very new and developing, it would be prudent to set a strict standard and relax it if appropriate once more is known. Therefore, in the Government’s view, the original text of the Bill should stand.
To insert “or continue” into Clause 3, as proposed in Amendment 19, would in effect legislate for the possibility of the user having some residual role in the driving task after the handover to self-driving mode is completed. When a vehicle leaves a geo-fenced area or comes off the motorway, it is anticipated that there will be a safe handover back to the driver, and the details of this will be covered by international safety standards. However, my noble friend’s amendment does not fit with the Bill’s definition of an automated vehicle, because this requires no monitoring while the vehicle is driving itself. I hope this explanation reassures him that his amendment is not necessary.
While, as I have already said, I am sympathetic to the intent of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, in Amendment 21, we think that we do not need these powers, as the definition of when it is appropriate for the vehicle to drive itself will be covered elsewhere in regulations. I hope that, given that assurance, the noble Lord will feel able not to press his amendment.
Can the Minister expand on where else in regulations these powers will be available?
I think I said when I was speaking to the amendments that at the moment the powers we have are sufficient. We can use existing powers in the Road Traffic Act 1988 to revise existing, or create new, road vehicle construction and use regulations to transpose or reinforce new iterations of the global regulations as they appear. However, as has been the case with other regulations we have debated, on safety and other issues the Government will bring forward the appropriate legislative framework in due course if we do not already have powers under existing primary legislation.
My Lords, the Minister has mentioned the Law Commission report several times. Can he give any timetable for when the Law Commission will report on various issues? I am not just thinking about this one. One report on railway level crossings was completed about five years ago. I know that you are supposed to wait two years after a report has been produced before it is introduced into legislation. However, if one waits three, four or five years, the report’s conclusions may get out of date. I remember threatening the last coalition Government with putting the whole Law Commission report on level crossings down as amendments to a suitable Bill—it would have been about 50 pages long, but that was not the problem—in order to get the coalition Government to do something. My impression is that, because of all the Brexit legislation, everything has come to a grinding halt. I am not necessarily suggesting that the Minister will be able to answer my detailed question, but if he or a colleague could write to me on that, I think it would be a useful subject for discussion later.
I understand that the Law Commission work on the issue that we are debating now is a three-year programme. I am not sighted on the level crossing review, but either I shall write to the noble Lord or, perhaps later on, during one of our debates, we can update the exact timescale of the Law Commission review of the existing legal framework for automated vehicles. Obviously, automated control is not in operation.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for his comments. I think it would be useful between this stage and Report to talk more about the nature of “continue”. There will still be a duty, either on the vehicle to monitor itself, or on the passenger to monitor it; that person will be aware of conditions changing, and there will undoubtedly be differences as a result of a snowstorm occurring. I think the drafting could use some improvement—I am not sure mine is exactly the right phrasing—but I look forward to discussing it with my noble friend. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 19 withdrawn.
Amendments 20 and 21 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.02 pm.
Learning Disabilities Mortality Review
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question given yesterday by my honourable friend the Minister for Care on the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Programme annual report.
“The Government are absolutely committed to reducing the number of people with learning disabilities whose deaths may have been preventable, and have pledged to do so with different health and care interventions. The Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Programme was established in June 2015. It was commissioned by NHS England to support local areas in England to review the deaths of people with a learning disability. Its aims were to identify common themes and learning points, and to provide support to local areas in their development of action plans to take forward the lessons learned.
On 4 May, the University of Bristol published its first annual report of the LeDeR programme, as it is known, covering the period from July 2016 to November 2017. The report included 1,311 deaths that were notified to the programme and set out nine recommendations based on the 103 reviews completed in this period.
The Government welcome the report’s recommendations and support NHS England’s funding of the programme for a further year at £1.4m. We are already taking steps to address the concerns raised, but the early lessons from the programme will continue to feed into our work, and that of our partners, to reduce premature mortality and improve the quality of services for people with learning disabilities”.
I thank the Minister for repeating that briefing. He may find that the decision about the date of the publication was actually that of NHS England and, frankly, publishing it on the Friday before a bank holiday is either incompetent or shameful. However, seven years after the Winterbourne View scandal and five years since the avoidable death of Connor Sparrowhawk, the findings of this review show a much worse picture than previous reports about the early deaths of people with learning difficulties. One in eight of the deaths reviewed so far show there have been abuse, neglect and delay in treatment and gaps in care. Women with a learning disability are dying 29 years younger, and men 23 years younger, than the general population; 28% of the deaths reviewed had occurred before the age of 50, compared with just 5% in the general population. This is a terrible situation.
I would like to ask the Minister two questions. First, almost one in 10 of the people who have died have been in out-of-area placements, without the support of family, friends, or any local, familiar community support. The Government have repeatedly said that such placements must be avoided, so will the Minister tell the House what action is being taken to ensure that government statements and guidance on this matter are being followed? Secondly, will the Minister expand on the last part of the Statement, and tell us what action the Government are taking to address the alarming gap in life expectancy of people with learning difficulties?
I thank the noble Baroness for her questions and agree with her that it is a troubling report; it paints a troubling picture of the shockingly poor outcomes that people with learning disabilities have in terms of their mortality and morbidity. I would not disagree with her about that picture and I will come to the actions we are taking to try and address it.
On the publication, I agree with her that the timing was less than ideal. The department did not have sight of it; it was an independent report commissioned by NHS England. We are investigating that, but I agree it was not done as it should have been and we will endeavour to ensure that this does not happen again. On the areas of policy that she referred to, on out-of-area placements there is a programme called Building the Right Support, which is trying to increase the amount of care delivered in community settings, bringing people with learning difficulties, disabilities and autism out of in-patient care to more suitable care in the community. The intention is to reduce the use of in-patient beds for people in mental health hospitals by 35% to 50% between March 2015 and March 2019. It is an attempt to locate much more of that care in the community.
The noble Baroness also asked about other actions we are taking to improve outcomes. I want to focus on the annual health checks that are now available for adults and young people from 14-plus years. That is happening every year. We know the use of these checks is increasing; it has increased by 17% year on year up to 2017-18. There is a real ambition to raise that further by 64% in 2018-19 compared to 2016-17. We know this group does not always feel equipped to come forward and bring health issues to the notice of the health system. It needs extra support; it needs people to be on their side, checking in with them to make sure their issues are addressed. I think this is one way in which we will make some difference.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of a learning disability charity that provides services for 2,500 adults in England. This report makes for uncomfortable reading for anyone involved in the sector and it should shock the general public. We are judged by how well we as a society care for those who are weak and vulnerable. On this count, we have failed. Each year, the deaths of 1,200 people with learning disabilities are avoidable. The standard of their care is not fit for purpose. There are not enough learning disability specialist nurses in the NHS and support staff are no longer being funded to support people with a learning disability in a healthcare setting.
I have three questions for the Minister. Do either the Department of Health and Social Care or Health Education England collect figures on how many health professionals attend training in dealing with people with a learning disability? What guidance is given to staff about the provision of written material in an accessible format? Finally, once admitted, learning disabled patients lose their funding from the local authority so they have no one who knows or understands them and they are left frightened and alone. Does the Minister believe this should be the case?
I thank the noble Baroness for raising excellent questions. We know that there is a need for more specialist nurses, and indeed that is one reason for the expansion of the number of nurse training places. The education and training of staff is a focus of the recommendations of this report and, equally, of the Mencap report. If noble Lords have not read that, I commend it too. Because it is a very good point, I will look into whether we are tracking the number of people who access training. Certainly there is now, and has been since 2016, an education and training framework for the care of people with learning disabilities. I believe that there is also one to follow for adults with autism, and that is welcome. However, as the noble Baroness says, it is about making sure that the staff use that training.
On the noble Baroness’s point about advocacy, I did not realise the funding issue that she raised existed. I will take that back and investigate it. I know that NHS England, the LGA and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services have put out joint guidance on advocacy for this group of people, but I will investigate the funding point and write to her.
My Lords, I declare my interest as the chair of a social enterprise that creates communication resources for people with learning disabilities. My own research more than 25 years ago uncovered very similar shocking inequalities. The noble Lord has responded to a question about education but is it not now time for there to be mandatory education for all healthcare professionals? This is not a specialist matter. Does he agree that such training should be co-delivered by people with learning disabilities in order to reduce the fear and lack of understanding among health professionals when it comes to making reasonable adjustments? What action will be taken now?
The point that the noble Baroness makes about the involvement of people with learning disabilities in this process is critical. I did not respond to a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, about communications with people with learning disabilities. Having written a manifesto in the past and having had it translated into the Easy Read format, I know that this is critical. I know that there are attempts to make sure that communications are made in that format where it is helpful to do so.
On the noble Baroness’s question about training, we have a really good template which my honourable friend Caroline Dinenage mentioned in the other place yesterday, and that is dementia training. It is tiered, with tiers 1 and 2, and it has been rolled out very broadly across the health and care sectors with great success. Therefore, I think that we have a template for doing this, and I know that my honourable friend is taking that forward. It was a specific recommendation in the report by the University of Bristol. My honourable friend committed to take forward with NHS England all those recommendations, and that is what we will endeavour to do.
My Lords, given that the report recommends that there should be a named healthcare co-ordinator, yet there is a serious shortage of experienced learning disability medical and nursing staff and it will take some time for trainees to feed through the system, have the Government considered discussing with the GMC and the Nursing and Midwifery Council ways of attracting back into the service older, currently retired professionals who might have a great deal of wisdom and might be motivated to work in a specific area, act as a person’s advocate and provide on-site teaching in conjunction with the person? They could take on the role of communicator and navigator to develop a strategic pathway for the person with learning difficulties or disabilities, and they could also have a role in teaching people about the signs of sepsis, pneumonia and so on, so that there are early alerts.
The noble Baroness makes an excellent point. Clearly there is a need to recruit healthcare co-ordinators. One positive thing that I would highlight is a recommendation in the report from the University of Bristol regarding the sharing of health action plans between health and care agencies. That is already happening and is one positive step. Her idea about bringing back into the profession more experienced professionals to act as advocates is a very good one. A concerted effort is being made to do that through the Return to Practice programme. I do not know whether there is a specific strand relating to people with learning disabilities but I will take that away and investigate it.
On her point about signs of sepsis, pneumonia and other diseases, which are among the causes of this early mortality, some good progress is being made. NHS England is creating new pathways in those areas specifically designed for people with learning disabilities, and I believe that it will be publishing some of them this year.
Renewal of G4S Contracts
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question given by my right honourable friend Victoria Atkins MP:
“The Government have agreed a short-term continuation of G4S’s contract to run the Gatwick immigration removal centres while further work is carried out to identify a long-term manager. The Home Office will launch a further, full competition later this year after the outcome of two independent reviews.
The contract for the management of Brook House and Tinsley House, which was due to expire this month, was put out for tender in November 2016. However, after careful consideration of the bids, it was decided that G4S would continue with the contract for a further two years. This will provide sufficient time to reflect on the two independent reviews’ conclusions, conduct a new procurement exercise and mobilise the successful provider. As with any procurement process, the Home Office has undertaken a robust evaluation of all bids, supported by a comprehensive due diligence process.
I recognise that the Government have taken this decision against the backdrop of the BBC “Panorama” programme on Brook House, which was broadcast in the autumn of last year. The previous Home Secretary made it clear at the time that the behaviour on display from some G4S staff was utterly unacceptable and set out our expectation that G4S would take urgent action to address the serious issues the programme uncovered. G4S has put in place a comprehensive action plan and this has quickly delivered improvements at Brook House. My right honourable friend the Immigration Minister has met G4S to review progress and visited the two Gatwick centres on 18 January.
Detaining those who are here illegally and who refuse to leave voluntarily is key to maintaining an effective immigration system, but, regardless of status, all immigration detainees must be treated with dignity and respect. Please be assured that we will always demand the highest standards from those we entrust with the safety and welfare of those in detention”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question given by her honourable friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle in the other place yesterday.
We were all shocked at the appalling abuse at Brook House uncovered by the “Panorama” programme. As the noble Baroness said, regardless of status, all immigration detainees must be treated with dignity and respect. I agree with that entirely. However, I do not think that a further extension of two years can in any way be presented as a short-term continuation of the G4S contract to run the Gatwick immigration centres. Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether any other options to this extension were considered—and, if not, why not? If they were, what were they, and why was it still felt that this was the best option? Further, can she tell us what measures the Home Office has put in place to ensure that there will be no repeat of the appalling abuse of detainees during this two-year extension? It is clear that whatever measures were in place before failed. The abuse was brought to light only by the “Panorama” programme and those involved should be congratulated on the work they did to expose the abuse at Brook House.
I cannot disagree—in fact, I do not think that anyone would disagree—with the noble Lord that watching the “Panorama” programme was very uncomfortable. It was shocking, and I do not think that anyone would disagree with that. He asked why the contract was extended for two years and whether other options were considered. The two-year extension to May 2020 was to allow for the reprocurement of services. It is not an unusual amount of time when such a reprocurement is being undertaken.
The procurement and the longer-term contract will be for the provision of the operation, management and maintenance of Brook House and Tinsley House and the pre-departure family accommodation at Tinsley House, as I pointed out. It is to allow the Home Office to consider any relevant conclusions from the independent reviews by Stephen Shaw and Kate Lampard. The Home Office has received the Stephen Shaw report, and both are due to be published in the summer. All bidders in the current competition were told of this decision on 4 May.
The noble Lord rightly asked what the Government are doing in the light of the shocking findings by “Panorama”. Since the programme aired, the Home Office has worked closely with G4S to ensure that it responds vigorously and at pace to the issues highlighted by “Panorama”. The former Home Secretary, and Ministers Brandon Lewis and Caroline Nokes, have met G4S senior managers regularly to review progress, and that oversight will be maintained. We have set out very clear expectations for G4S in responding to the issues at Brook House highlighted by “Panorama”, and we are currently satisfied that G4S has responded well. It has appointed a new manager and dismissed nine members of staff; enhanced staffing levels with recruitment and training plans in place; introduced body-worn cameras for staff to provide more transparency and assurance around procedures there; refreshed and promoted its whistleblowing procedures, with additional training provided at the centre by the Jill Dando Institute; put in place an improved drugs strategy; and, as I mentioned, commissioned the independent review by Kate Lampard, which will report this summer. I think I have now answered all the noble Lord’s questions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer. The Government’s explanation for releasing this information on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend—because the decision was made during purdah—begs the question: why was it made during purdah? Can the Minister explain how granting a two-year extension to G4S to run these facilities, despite the undercover BBC report, is consistent with the fact that the new Home Secretary no longer wants a hostile environment for illegal immigrants? Whoever gets the contract, is this not what happens when people are detained not knowing how long they are going to be detained, and with more than 160 people a year being detained for four months or more? Surely an absolute limit on immigration detention, as exists in most civilised countries, would provide the incentive the Home Office clearly needs to resolve these cases quickly one way or the other.
I thank the noble Lord for his questions. He asked why there is a two-year extension, especially when G4S was the subject of the “Panorama” programme. I hope I have outlined to the noble Lord, through my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, what the Government’s expectations of G4S will be in this period—and the full reprocurement will provide a solid basis for further progress on all the issues I have outlined. We will continue to monitor the progress and the performance carefully. The conclusions, in due course, of Kate Lampard’s review and Stephen Shaw’s wider follow-up review will provide further opportunities to learn the lessons and embed good practice, both at Gatwick and across immigration detention more widely.
The noble Lord made the point about the hostile environment, and I have said several times since the new Home Secretary has been in post that that is not a term he wants to see, because of the connotations. He is more interested in a compliant environment, with people complying with immigration rules. As for people not knowing how long they will be detained, we are clear that people are detained for as short a time as possible. It must be noted that 92% of people in detention are not there for more than four months. Indefinite detention is against the law: it is not something that we do. Therefore, people are in detention for as short a period as possible.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that at the root of this problem is, possibly, not having a rigorous enough selection process for staff? The make-up of staff—for example, their attitude to immigration—is vital. I know that it is difficult to find the right staff, but it is absolutely essential if we are to change the culture of how we look at people in detention.
I totally agree with the noble Lord about the rigorous selection of staff. He will have heard me saying that nine staff have been dismissed in the light of the programme. However, going forward, it is not so much about those nine staff having been dismissed as about the staff who will be employed. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has also talked about a humane environment. Humanity is at the heart of this: these are people, and they must be treated properly and humanely. I also talked about the whistleblowing procedures and the internal whistleblowing policy, which have been refreshed and reinforced. The engagement between case workers and detainees is a very important relationship that must be treated sensitively. The new arrangements will also strengthen our capacity to oversee the contract effectively. I totally agree with the noble Lord’s point.
Order. It is Labour’s turn.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that this whole horrible saga has once more raised the strategic question of how far commercial culture can satisfactorily replace the tradition of public service, with its concentration on people? Has there not once again been too much concentration on targets and systems? We are dealing with people in crisis. It is difficult to imagine the turmoil and trauma that they and their families are going through. However firm our policy—and I am certain that it has to be firm—does the Minister not agree that we must have people in place who understand human relations and the predicament of the people with whom they are coping?
The noble Lord always speaks with great humanity on such matters. It is probably fair to say that public outsourcing is not necessarily all good and private outsourcing is not necessarily all bad. What is important is that the service delivered meets the highest standards. The noble Lord is absolutely right to say that human beings are at the centre of this issue and that some of them will be traumatised when they come into detention, so it is all the more important that they are treated sensitively.
Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Consequential, Transitional, Transitory and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2018
Motion to Regret
That this House regrets that the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Consequential, Transitional, Transitory and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2018 do not provide sufficient independence for the Office for Students (OfS) from Ministers; do not enable the OfS to engage effectively with students, student unions and the National Union of Students; do not enable the OfS to protect the institutional autonomy of universities, or the autonomy of the OfS board; and overemphasise the marketisation of higher education (SI 2018/245).
My Lords, these regulations relate to the establishment and operation of the Office for Students, the new regulator of higher education institutions. The OfS has replaced both HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access, which as a result of the regulations ceased to exist on 1 April this year, with the OfS taking on their statutory functions. I do not seek to challenge the passage of these regulations, but I welcome the opportunity to debate the establishment and future of the OfS at a time of major turbulence in our higher education system. We have seen the tripling of fees, the introduction of loans and the ending of maintenance grants promoted by a Government driven by a neoliberal ideology which places such faith in markets to the detriment of everything else.
What has been the outcome in practice? There is no competition in fees; students are leaving university with debts of around £50,000, a large majority of whom will not pay them in full; we have the most expensive undergraduate courses in the world; there has been a complete collapse in part-time provision; and a reduction in home-based postgraduate students. There is a huge uncovered gap in the public finances. The Education Policy Institute calculates that the contribution of student loans to net government debt is forecast to rise from around 4% of GDP today to over 11% in the 2040s.
Nor is it clear in what direction the OfS is going to take higher education. It is ironic that alongside the Government’s genuflection to free market ideology with the creation of the OfS, it brings with it the tools of what could be a heavy-handed regulator. It is an intention we have seen all too clearly in the character of the last Education Minister. One moment he was extolling the virtues of the market and new private providers; the next, threatening the same institutions with draconian punishments if they did not do what he, as the Minister, wanted. I fully accept that intervention in the pay of vice-chancellors might be justified in the public sector, but it sits rather uneasily in the competitive market that Mr Johnson was so keen on.
My key concern is whether Ministers, instead of promoting scholarships, encouraging research or a concern for truth, have as their goal turning the UK’s higher education system into a market-driven one at the expense of both quality and the public interest. This is not a broken system that needs shoring up and intervention; it is the second most successful higher education system in the world with four universities ranked in the top 10.
I imagine the Minister will refer to the regulatory framework for the OfS published in February this year. It certainly makes interesting reading and there are some positives. First, I am glad that it starts with an affirmation that our universities provide a world-class higher education sector. I am also glad that at page 15 it states that the regulatory approach is designed to be principles-based and that the imposition of a narrow, rules-based approach, with numerical performance targets or lists of detailed requirements, would risk leading to a compliance culture that would stifle innovation and prevent the sector flourishing. Spot on.
If the Minister wants to see a regulatory system that has all the wrong characteristics, look no further than the NHS, which seeks to combine the legal framework of a competitive market with intense micromanagement by Ministers and a plethora of regulatory bodies all pulling in different directions.
I welcome the statement, again on page 15, that once the regulatory framework is established its implementation will reduce bureaucracy and unnecessary regulation. My reservation is that in that framework I did not see what contribution the OfS would make to enhance the world-class status of our universities. Indeed, I could not see what the added value of the OfS was meant to be. I hope the Minister is able to explain that. The framework document seems to have an excessive belief in creating a market to drive competition, but nowhere have I seen evidence to suggest that this will enhance the sector overall.
The most depressing characteristic of the framework is that the language of the market is used so much. The use of the word “provider” is objectionable. No longer are Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Sheffield or whatever to be regarded as universities or higher education institutes—they are to be called providers. Why on earth are we not using “university” or “higher education institute”? If it is because the Government’s legal framework is designed to allow tin-pot little institutions to be suddenly called universities, I cannot think of a worse reason for introducing market ideology into a sector which has shown itself to outshine country after country. The one thing I would ask the Minister to do is expel the use of the word “provider”. It is a typical government approach to markets they do not understand, and which threatens to reduce the integrity of our university sector.
I come now to the OfS and its independence. It has to be seen as an independent institution if it is to have credibility and inspire confidence among the public, students and universities. It has had a poor start. It was clearly complicit in the shambolic and over-political approach taken by Ministers to the board appointment process. It was not a good start by its chairman. The appointment of Mr Toby Young and his subsequent resignation was followed by an investigation by the Public Appointments Commissioner. He identified a number of problems, including all-male appointment panels, failure to provide information to the commissioner in good time and—this is the key point—risking the independence of the board by a too partisan approach to appointments. He found that the governance code was not followed, itself a breach of the ministerial code.
This is important because the composition of the board remains highly controversial even now. There is no active further education sector representative on the board, there is no one from the NUS and there is no voice for staff. The appointments process has been symptomatic of a Government who are clearly trying to use the OfS to pursue a deeply ideological agenda. At the moment the chairman seems to show no signs of resisting the Government’s intervention in the activities of this body.
On access and participation, which is the subject of this statutory instrument because of the changes it makes, the recent end-of-cycle report from UCAS offered concerning statistics, stating that young people from the most advantaged backgrounds are still 5.5 times more likely to enter a university with the highest entrance requirement than their disadvantaged peers. Les Ebdon, the outgoing director of Fair Access, said in response last month that,
“people with the potential to excel are missing out on opportunities”.
This is an unforgiveable waste of talent.
Within the new OfS structure we are to have a Director for Fair Access and Participation, but will that person have enough clout within the OfS to make a real impact on this problem? Will that person have a direct line to Ministers, and not simply report to members of the OfS board and the chief executive? Importantly, can I take it that that person will be directly available to parliamentarians?
The term Office for Students—which is slightly Orwellian—suggests that it is focused on outcomes for students. That we will see. However, a recent Treasury Select Committee report noted that without adequate information, an efficiently functioning market will struggle to develop. Prospective students face the unenviable task of determining whether to participate in higher education based on increasing quantities of university marketing material coupled with a lack of proven, reliable metrics for judging the quality of courses. Can the Minister say what the intentions of the regulator are in this regard?
I refer the Minister to Universities UK’s submission to the current review of post-18 funding, which made some very good points. First, it says that while students understand the general long-term benefit of entering higher education, they are much less certain of how that translates into benefits that relate to them personally and how benefits vary according to the choices they make; secondly, that government, in partnership with universities, should provide more targeted information to prospective students on the cost and benefits of higher education; and thirdly, that universities could develop their value-for-money statements to better explain how pricing decisions for undergraduate courses are arrived at. Those should explain how the university uses income from tuition fees and other sources of income to fund the student experience and other activities, such as research.
Finally, I come to private providers. In the Government’s desperation to promote new private providers, they are already playing fast and loose with the term “university”, handing it over without proper scrutiny or oversight. Every time the title “university” is given to a new provider, without ensuring that it provides a good education, that not only risks students and taxpayers being ripped off, but potentially damages the integrity and reputation of the whole system. The initial conditions of registration are designed so that providers do not need a track record in delivering higher education; nor do they need evidence of financial performance.
Those of us with some experience in the education sector know what happens when you do not have sufficiently strong entrance qualifications. I fear that we are going to see a train crash here. I come back to my original question about why the Government are putting the international reputation of our universities at risk. The health of those institutions is of crucial importance to the UK. Clearly, we need to do nothing that would put that position at risk. The OfS has a clear role in mitigating that risk, but it must respect the institutional autonomy of universities and resist the temptation to micromanage every corner of university life. Obviously, I wish it well, but I believe that its performance needs to be kept under close scrutiny. This debate is a good start. I beg to move.
My Lords, statutory instruments are never the most exciting things to debate because there is very little we can do to them. However, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for raising this, because it gives us an opportunity to raise concerns about the benighted Higher Education and Research Act and to ask the Government to clarify their position.
The noble Lord has expressed concern about many of the issues, which I share. The report of the Commissioner for Public Appointments into the OfS revealed a blatant cronyism in the appointments process, which was influenced heavily by the Prime Minister’s own special advisers. Apparently, special advisers at No. 10 blocked several nominees for the “student experience” role on the OfS board because they had been previously involved with student unions or had expressed opposition to the Prevent strategy. The report concludes that,
“the decision on whether or not to appoint one candidate in particular was heavily influenced, not by the panel but by special advisers”.
It concluded that there was a “clear disparity” in the treatment of different candidates, and parts of the process,
“had serious shortcomings in terms of the fairness and transparency aspects”,
of the code governing public appointments. That was a complete failure of process that ignored due diligence procedures.
We know that Toby Young was, until March, CEO of the New Schools Network, which received several sizeable grants to provide advice to sponsors setting up a free school. Ministers say that that support is now under review, and the Liberal Democrats have been calling for a reassessment of whether the award of those contracts followed due process. His appointment to the board was rescinded, but it should never have been allowed to get that far, both on his credentials and on the offensive views he had expressed.
I absolutely concur with the noble Lord that, given the large number of HE students who take their courses in FE colleges, it is really disappointing that the board did not appoint anyone from the FE sector. It is a highly valuable and important part of our education system, which is all too frequently overlooked and underfunded. Having a representative on the board we see as not only desirable but essential.
The appointments process has undermined confidence in the board of the OfS. Universities no longer see it as independent of Ministers and its fitness to regulate the sector must be called into question. The OfS must operate in a way that is proportionate, risk- based and truly independent of government. It must also have regard to its statutory duty to uphold institutional autonomy. The Minister will well remember the concerns voiced in this House over universities’ autonomy.
The regret Motion reiterates the lack of confidence in the OfS, but also reflects wider concerns raised by Labour, Liberal Democrats, Cross-Benchers and, indeed, by Conservatives during the passage of the then Higher Education and Research Bill. For example, the Government may still use the teaching excellence framework to vary fees from 2020. That may promote a multi-tier university system where poorer students are deterred from going to higher-rated universities. New providers will be able provisionally to award degrees from day one and have full degree-awarding powers after three years. Without proper scrutiny, that could erode academic standards and threaten the reputation of UK universities. The OfS must have a constructive relationship with the QAA as the designated quality body to ensure that the integrity of the use of university title is maintained. On the TEF, it is important that the independent reviewer is appointed soon, with enough influence that the Government will listen and enough time to incorporate findings into the TEF as it progresses. On subject-level TEF, there are considerable concerns about the time that will take and the quality of the information. Will all the academic time it will take make a real difference to institutional practices or to student decision-making?
The OfS has a “deeply ideological agenda”, which is reflected both in its appointments and its duty to promote competition between providers. I entirely agree that the term “provider” is not one that sits comfortably in the world of universities. Indeed, many universities thrive because of collaboration rather than competition. It may take a narrow perspective on value for money, based on employability, ignoring many other factors important to students, such as quality of provision and individual aspirations. There are issues with how the student panel will contribute to the regulator’s strategy in practice—and, indeed, where has the term “scholarship” gone in all this debate?
Under the new framework, the OfS loses two key powers that HEFCE and OFFA possessed, namely to intervene when providers are in financial difficulty, and to negotiate directly with universities when approving or rejecting access and participation plans. What will happen to those powers? The new OfS regulatory framework does not come into effect until the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year. However, because HEFCE and OFFA ceased to exist in April 2018, the Government have transferred the powers of HEFCE and OFFA to the OfS and UKRI for the remainder of the 2017-18 academic year and the entire 2018-19 year. The Government said that that will offer HE providers a transitional period where they continue to be regulated under the old framework but can prepare their registration with the OfS ahead of the 2019-20 academic year.
In that transition period, the OfS will regulate HEFCE-funded providers—sorry, I cannot help using the word “providers”; it crops up so often, but does not sit comfortably—with the department continuing to regulate alternate providers until 2019-20, at which point power transfers to OfS. The OfS will prepare HEFCE and OFFA’s accounts for their last financial year of operation; enable the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to continue to investigate complaints made against HEFCE and OFFA before they were closed; and amend charity law so that the OfS, rather than HEFCE, regulates the charitable status of HE providers.
That is all happening in a short timescale for decisions which will radically affect our higher education sector—a sector held in worldwide esteem, which we can ill afford to undermine. I ask the Minister: does the OfS have the staffing and the skills to carry out all these tasks? We hear the advice of Universities UK that an independent review of the OfS should be undertaken in September 2022. It may be necessary to bring that forward if there turn out to be more challenges for this highly influential body that need sorting out. Our universities are already deeply concerned about the damage that Brexit might inflict—the potential loss of EU staff and students, which is already happening, and access to Erasmus, Horizon 2020 and the world-renowned research that we have achieved in collaboration with our European neighbours. To inflict further damage through any ill-thought-through proposals in this legislation would be unforgivable. I hope the Minister can reassure us that no hasty measures will be taken before all the implications have been assessed and that the Government will consult at every stage with universities and will always have the best interests of our great universities at the heart of their decisions.
My Lords, the scrutiny of these regulations, which are consequential on the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, provides an opportunity to take another look at the developments in the governance of UK universities and to consider where they are taking us. The education Act of 2017 encapsulated a modern view of the purpose of universities that is greatly at variance with a conception that prevailed for most of the 20th century. In the traditional view, which accompanied the expansion of universities that began in the 1960s, universities’ purpose was to create an educated population and to give it full access to our cultural and intellectual heritage, with no limit initially on the number of participants. Anyone who was capable of profiting from a university education should have been able to do so.
Nowadays, it is generally agreed among members of the Government and senior management of universities that universities should be regarded as institutions for training the workforce and for making discoveries for pursuing developments that might stimulate economic growth. The universities Act of 2017 attempted to direct the activities of universities to these ends via a plethora of regulations and initiatives that fall under three headings: the research excellence framework, the REF; the teaching excellence framework, the TEF; and latterly the knowledge exchange framework, the KEF. Work is under way to develop metrics to enable the Government to judge the successes and failures of institutions in each of these three areas and to award the available funds to support their activities accordingly. There has been a hypertrophy of university administration, which has arisen largely to service the demands of Governments. In most institutions, administrators now outnumber the academic staff.
The declared objectives of Governments have been mutually antagonistic and largely counterproductive. To recruit sufficient numbers of students in the increasingly competitive open market environment created by the present Government, UK universities are indulging in what has been described as an amenities arms race. They have been spending exorbitantly on student union buildings, swimming pools, sports centres and student accommodation. Things have had to give way to enable these developments. The university to which I am affiliated as an emeritus professor has declared the objective of reducing its salary bill by 20% to provide the funds for capital investments.
It is clear that there has been a conflict of objectives in the context of the teaching excellence framework. The assessments are based largely on measures of customer satisfaction. The provision of student amenities is liable to enhance this satisfaction. The reduction in the numbers of permanent teaching staff and their replacement by casualised teachers has provided some of the necessary funds. The casual workers are mainly drawn from among the postgraduate students but they include a growing number of post-doctoral teaching fellows on temporary contracts. This is bound to affect the quality of the teaching.
The research excellence framework involves a quinquennial competition among university departments to determine where they should be ranked in terms of their research output. Once more, the effect has been dysfunctional. These assessments are based on a so-called peer review by senior academics. Departments can guess what sort of research will be most favoured by closely examining the adjudicators’ research output. Innovative research and interdisciplinary research in particular tend to be discouraged.
The principal effect of the research excellence framework has been to compel academics to maximise their published output. They have learned to write several papers for the price of one good idea by contriving never completely to finish a research paper. In this way, there will be something left over on which to base a subsequent paper. A small voice used to remind me, whenever I became enthused by the prospect of a new research avenue of enquiry, that I could not afford to indulge in speculative research. My mission instead was to write papers. Only when I had produced a sufficient number of papers was I free to pursue the research.
The research excellence framework has also militated against the objective of doing applied research of a sort that might lead to industrial innovation. Such research is liable to be sponsored, in part, by an industrial enterprise. For that reason, it is often subject to industrial secrecy. An academic who seeks promotion through the excellence of their publications would be advised to steer away from such applied research, which might not see the light of day for many years. This is one way in which the research excellence framework comes into direct conflict with the objectives of the knowledge exchange framework, which aims to encourage the practical application of academic research. One cannot impose these contradictory requirements upon academics without driving them to despair. Nor can academics evade these demands, which are being placed upon them at the behest of the Government by university administrators. Vast amounts of time are liable to be spent in meeting the demands of the various assessment exercises, to the detriment of teaching, research and the transfer of knowledge.
The mantra of the present Government is to induce market competition into the university environment. University life is already very competitive. Hitherto the competition has been largely academic. Now there is intense competition to win research grants, since their acquisition is liable to be an important factor in achieving promotion. A young statistician in my department was able to make rapid headway on the basis of a grant from the Medical Research Council to pursue a very ordinary epidemiological investigation, which would not have incited any interest among his more cerebral colleagues. His preferment created intense jealously. Maybe that is too personal a story to dwell upon, but there is a point to be made. Applied research of this nature is best conduced in research establishments that are devoted to the relevant lines of inquiry, be they in medicine, pharmacology, telecommunications, aviation or whatever.
Britain was once endowed with many splendid research establishments within the public sector. These had strong relationships with universities, as well as with industry. Many of them were abolished in the 1970s and 1980s. It is wrong to expect universities to fill the gap that has been left, which is what the knowledge exchange framework is intended to force them to do.
I believe that the Government’s policies towards our universities are self-defeating. They are liable greatly to diminish the quality of our universities and their status in the world of learning.
My Lords, I am very glad that I gave way to my noble friend because that was a very important speech. By the same token, I applaud my noble friend Lord Hunt’s speech. He reflected my own misgivings very powerfully. I should declare an interest because I have been, over many years, involved, and still remain involved, in the governance, in the widest sense, of some of our university institutions.
We applaud the standing of British universities. We cannot reflect enough on how that standing and admiration across the world has been achieved. It has certainly not been achieved with the language of “providers”, or of “customers” instead of “students”. In other words, it has not been involved in the context of an overriding commitment to market ideology. It has been achieved because of a long-standing and continuing commitment to scholarship, to learning and to the concept of the value of education as an end in itself, not as a means to an immediate end.
In the long run, the well-being of humanity, not to mention that of the individual student, and incidentally the well-being and success of our economy depend upon originality. In that context, original, pure research is crucial. It depends upon the scholarship of those who are teaching and leading the universities, but it has always also depended upon the concept of the ideal, to which I hope we can return—I do not give up on this because I think if we do we are in trouble—of the university as a community of scholars in which students and scholars are together in the exciting enterprise and challenge of this learning and scholarship experience.
It is against those considerations that we have to judge and assess how the new arrangements are working. I am sure we shall need to hear reports from the regulator soon, and we shall need to be confident that the regulator can speak to the wider public and also to government as well as the system itself. It is also why it is so important that the reviewer for TEF is soon appointed so that the reviewer can get on with the job of assessing how relevant the system is and how well it is working in the context of the objectives of education, about which I have just given my own views.
I think there is a confusion at the moment in talk about education and in writing about education. It is a confusion between training and education or scholarship. Training is not necessarily, in the widest, fullest sense, education. Training is preparation for a particular function. Of course we need training. We need training systems second to none and adequate to meet the challenges of our time, which are very great. Education remains about the wider context of scholarship, the widest concept of excellence, the wider concept of what society is about.
These are the considerations which are preoccupying me, and I will look very earnestly at how the new system is operating in order to judge whether it is up to the task. In the immediate situation, I simply cannot understand, whatever my misgivings, which should be self-evident, about the board and its role, how a board is expected to do a job adequately and properly if it has no representation from the academic community and no representation from the students. This is quite simply ridiculous.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for giving us this opportunity to consider progress made and to mull over some of the issues. Over the course of the past six months or so, I have put down several Questions to the Minister on higher education matters, and I want to come to some of those. I am grateful always for his detailed replies.
Of course, the Office for Students did not get off to a very good start with our Foreign Secretary’s confidant being appointed to that board. The board has the title of Office for Students but does not seem to have students at the heart of what it does. It should have included somebody from the NUS and someone from further education.
Fear not for vice-chancellors, because the former chief lobbyist for vice-chancellors was appointed to the board. As one vice-chancellor recently put it, no doubt with a smile on his or her face, “For us, this is far better than having a former vice-chancellor on the board. We now have 130 vice-chancellors as our regulator”.
Six months ago, “Panorama”, which we have heard mentioned in the previous Statement, reported on some of the problems of higher education, particularly those of private colleges. I was quite hopeful that the Office for Students would deal with some of these issues. I have not been reassured. As for the responsibilities, it talks about a “light touch” in monitoring and self-regulation. It says:
“Further changes will make it quicker and simpler for new providers to enter the market, with an expectation that greater competition may mean some providers will exit”.
I do not want a light touch on some of these issues.
I have had several emails from various individuals who have attended a college. I am not going to name the college, but I want to give a flavour of this, and I am quite happy to hand these over to the Minister. One student says that the college charges money from students to forge their attendance record and to make assignments for them; the college makes fake timetables and uses names of its full-time staff members on the timetables in their ignorance and uses fake assessment schedules where names of staff members are used as assessors without their knowledge. The college charges students a proportion of their total student loan grant available to students in one year as a token of the college’s services to students, fakes pages and records on student assessments and uses the name of the Ministry of Defence and the RAF et cetera on its website in order to facilitate its dirty business. And so it goes on.
That really is not good enough. We talk about having the finest higher education system in the world, but practices like that do not help our reputation, and we need to do something about that. It cannot be just a light touch here and a light touch there. Proper action has to be taken.
I will turn to a few issues that I have also raised, such as essay mills. I moved an amendment on that to the Higher Education and Research Act and was assured that, if we could not get this under control, we would look at legislation. I was grateful for the Minister’s reply. He said—and I think it is important to put it out there—that he expects the Office for Students to encourage and support the sector to implement strong policies and sanctions to address this important issue in the most robust way possible. That gives me hope. Now that we have said that, we can come back in 12 months or so and see whether that has happened.
One of the issues we talk about is degrees of private colleges particularly being validated by our universities. Again I put a Question down about how the Government ensure that a consistent and professional level of external examiners appointed for degrees are validated by universities but not delivered by those universities. The Minister’s replied that these institutions are subject to a rigorous, risk-based approach to quality assurance. That did not happen at Greenwich College. Its degrees were validated by Plymouth University, which allowed the practices to go on. When those degrees were validated, I did not see that institution being subject to a rigorous, risk-based approach. Again, I hope that the Office for Students will tackle this issue properly. My noble friend Lady Garden and I have met the new chief executive of the Greenwich School of Management, which was the subject of that programme and where some of the most appalling practices were highlighted, and we were reassured by the approach that it is putting in place. We have been invited to visit the college in the summer.
Responsibility for equal opportunities is also conferred on the Office for Students. It is equal opportunities in its widest sense: equal opportunity of access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and equal opportunities for young people with special educational needs. Some fantastic work is going in terms of special educational needs. I came across a student who had completed her first degree at Leeds University and was going on to do a master’s degree. She had mild cerebral palsy and some other issues as well. That university has been stunning in the support that it has given her. Sometimes, when we moan about things, it is right and proper that we highlight good practice as well. Perhaps the Office for Students can take good practice and ensure that other universities highlight it as well.
I shall now give some examples of bad practice—again, I have put a Question to the Minister about this. Let us imagine that a student from a deprived community manages to get to a top London university. They get a first; their family is so proud of them and the ceremony to award their degree comes about. Suddenly, that young person from a deprived community is charged £45 for each ticket for their family—that is on top of having to pay for their gown and their photograph. That is absolutely disgraceful. We are talking about a top London university. It should not happen. When I wrote to the vice-chancellor, I was told that it did not even have a bursary award to support students in such a situation.
When we were talking about TEF, I remember being concerned that we might see universities going down the road of schools and hanging out banners equivalent to those saying, “Ofsted regard us as an outstanding school”. The prediction came true, because I was driving past Hope University in Liverpool and nearly crashed the car when I saw banners hanging outside the university—incidentally, Hope University is the only ecumenical university in Europe—declaring: “Hope has got a gold standard”, with leaflets given out here and there.
At Second Reading of the higher education Bill, the Benches opposite were packed out. I think that I was the only person who did not declare an interest—there were vice-chancellors, former vice-chancellors, chancellors and masters. They are not here now. I thought at the time, “It’s a pity we haven’t got a student standing up, because we need to listen to students”. For students, universities are about getting a job, getting an experience and getting a qualification. I hope that the Office for Students will be plugged into students and will hear what students want loud and clear, because that is what it must be about.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling this Motion. It is clear from it that the regulations are not in themselves at the heart of what troubles noble Lords and that, as the noble Lord said, this debate is intended instead to go somewhat broader on a number of issues, many of which have been raised previously in this House, not least during the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act, or HERA as it is known. Indeed, we spent about 110 hours debating the Act in both Houses, had more than 1,300 amendments and made at least 31 major concessions. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity again to touch on the issues raised in the Motion.
I want to put on record as a reminder what the regulations will enable. In particular, they enable the Office for Students and UK Research and Innovation to exercise the statutory functions previously exercised by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which we know as HEFCE, and the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education. This will be for a transitional period between 1 April 2018, when HEFCE and DFA ceased to exist, and 31 July 2019, after which the new regulatory system under HERA will be fully functioning and the old system will in essence fall away for good. The transitional period allows for a smooth progression to the new system of regulation introduced by HERA, so minimising any disruption in the sector. The consultation on the OfS regulatory framework explained how this transition would work and the proposals were met with general approval by those responding.
Let me now address the four key issues that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt has raised. I want to spend some time on them, despite the Benches opposite being not exactly full for this debate as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, pointed out. On the first issue, the independence of the Office for Students from Ministers, I remind your Lordships that the House voted for the OfS to be an operationally independent statutory body, responsible and accountable for a much broader suite of functions than was its predecessor, HEFCE. Let me be quite clear: in regulating all registered higher education providers, it is the OfS, and not the Secretary of State, that determines and publishes the registration conditions applicable to providers, the registration categories and its own regulatory framework. The Secretary of State’s powers to attach terms and conditions to OfS grant funding and to give directions to the OfS are limited. The OfS is required only to have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State and not to follow it. However, I think that noble Lords will agree that it is important that the OfS has obligations to report to the Secretary of State, and these are set out in HERA. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the OfS also has obligations to produce annual reports and accounts, and these are publicly available.
A recent example will help me illustrate the reality of the OfS’s independence. While the department started off the consultation exercise on the conditions and regulatory framework, working with the then future OfS chair, CEO and Director for Fair Access and Participation, once the OfS was established in January 2018, it did not simply adopt the proposals outlined in the consultation document produced by the department. The published framework differed from the consultation draft in some significant respects. For example, taking into account responses to the consultation, the OfS decided to drop the registered basic category of the register which the department had proposed. I hope that this small example helps to reassure noble Lords that the OfS acts, and will continue to act, independently from Ministers.
On the second issue raised by the Motion, I might begin by laying out exactly how the OfS engages with students. The Office for Students’ approach to regulation and its statutory duties, as set out in the regulatory framework it published in February, is bold, student-focused and risk-based. It is consistent with its statutory duties, which, again, this House voted for.
We expect all members of the OfS board to engage with students to ensure they really understand the issues that they face and have these as considerations when making decisions and exercising their functions. HERA ensures that there is to be at least one OfS member with experience of representing or promoting higher education students’ interests, either individually or generally. However, I am pleased to say that the OfS went one step further: it should be a further reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that it has set up a student panel where all 13 members are either students, prospective students or recent graduates. This membership includes current undergraduate and postgraduate students, part-time and international students, prospective students at GCSE and sixth-form ages, and a representative from the NUS. This provides a direct channel into the OfS itself, bringing a diverse range of views and perspectives. It is also worth noting that the current student representative on the board is also a full member of the student panel.
It bears repeating that HERA sets out the requirements to be met in appointing OfS members, and the desirable criteria for the make-up of that membership that the Secretary of State must consider. These statutory requirements were all subject to a rigorous parliamentary debate in this House about whether particular representation was necessary to enable the board of OfS members to operate effectively. Parliament concluded that there should not be a requirement for specific representation from every single part of the sector. Instead, the criteria to which the Secretary of State must have regard include experience of providing higher education, and from a broad range of different types of English higher education providers. We consider that the current OfS membership meets these criteria.
I recognise that the appointments process for OfS members has not necessarily been as smooth as one would have hoped, a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, with some further criticisms. I reassure your Lordships that the department has looked carefully and seriously at all the recommendations of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and we have already made improvements to the DfE diligence processes in line with the Commissioner’s advice. To further ensure the robustness of these processes, we have established a DfE nominations committee, to ensure adherence to the Government’s code on all future public appointments. I will also update noble Lords on the couple of appointments still to be made. The competition for the OfS member with student experience is to be launched shortly, as the current appointment is on a short-term basis only. We will run a separate competition for the vacancy left by the resignation of Toby Young later in the year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, has raised on a few occasions, including today, her wish for a representative from the further education sector to be on the board: I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised this as well. We encourage such representatives to apply when the competition is launched. We also, of course, continue to communicate with the Commissioner for Public Appointments on these appointments.
I move on to that old chestnut of institutional autonomy: the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, should be reassured that I remember it. It was debated at length during the progress of HERA through both Houses of Parliament, but it bears repeating: after amendments by your Lordships, HERA brought in the most robust statutory protection for institutional autonomy that has ever existed in our modern higher education system. It placed new and explicit protections for the freedom of English higher education providers. I do not think anyone disagrees about the importance we place on institutional autonomy and academic freedom, and this is reflected in the duty of the Office for Students, in carrying out all its functions, to have regard to the need to protect the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers. That duty also applies to the Secretary of State when issuing guidance, giving directions by regulations and determining terms and conditions of grants to the OfS. This means that the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to protect the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers when exercising any of these functions.
The final issue within the Motion refers to the overemphasis on making the higher education sector more of a market. I would like to put this in a slightly different way. Students are surely better protected when we make them aware of their rights in relation to their education, including their rights as consumers. I use this word with some caution because I know from previous debates that this is a term that does not best please a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Judd, but I use it nevertheless. I make no apology for what the noble Lord refers to as “marketisation”. Surely the House will agree that students should rightly expect the best quality and robust standards in their higher education study and experience, and equally be protected from concerns about governance and financial stability. The OfS sets clear expectations about how providers should go about this, through conditions of registration. For example, the OfS has now introduced a registration condition for student protection plans, to set out what students can expect to happen should a course, campus or institution close, to ensure that students can complete their courses or be compensated if this is not possible.
I turn to questions raised during this short debate, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, who spoke about the word “provider”. Let me say that not all higher education providers are universities. “Provider” includes universities, but the terms are not interchangeable. There are special protections attached to the use of university title and providers have to meet tests in order to call themselves a university. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, asked whether the OfS has the expertise necessary to undertake the vast number of tasks that it has been set or that we gave it. The OfS combines the expertise of its diverse board, its student panel and its staff with the experienced leadership of its chair, Sir Michael Barber, and its CEO, Nicola Dandridge. It is well placed to perform its functions, we believe, during the transition period and beyond.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, spoke about the TEF external review and the subject TEF. I reassure the House that the TEF review is going to take place and, of course, I have said from this Dispatch Box that we need to move to a subject-level TEF. By extending the test to the subject level, the Government aim to help prospective students compare the different courses on offer across institutions. This will shine a light on course quality, revealing which universities are providing excellent teaching and which are perhaps coasting or relying more on their research reputation.
I would also like to raise myself the issue of essay mills, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Storey. I know he has raised it on other occasions in this Chamber. I start by saying, and I am sure the whole House will agree with me, that cheating of any kind at any level is completely unacceptable, particularly to the department and to the country. We have given the new regulator, the OfS, the power to take appropriate action where this is happening, including fines, suspension from the OfS register or, ultimately, deregistration of the provider—the highest possible punishment. We have given the OfS the power to impose fines when it is fully operational. The Government have already taken action to ensure that universities know their responsibilities and have instructed leaders across the sector, including the NUS, the QAA and UUK, to create new guidance, which was published last year, as the noble Lord may know, setting out their roles when it comes to cheating. However, we are reviewing its effectiveness, particularly because of the seriousness of this issue. The Department for Education has ensured that the parliamentary passage of the Bill did not rule out legislating in the future: that is a measure of the seriousness with which we take it.
I listened carefully to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, who spoke about what he called an amenities arms race. We believe that investing in the student experience via new facilities and by other means is a good thing, but rest assured that the TEF and the regulation provided by the OfS still puts the greatest stock on teaching quality and provision.
Finally, I think it is worth reflecting on what has happened since the Higher Education and Research Act received Royal Assent. As planned, the OfS was up and running from 1 January 2018 and officially launched on 1 April 2018. In the meantime, the designated quality body and designated data body were announced after recommendations by the OfS. The OfS published its regulatory framework and registration conditions on 28 February and the Secretary of State’s guidance was issued shortly before that date. The OfS has established and convened the aforementioned student panel to advise on strategy and activity. The OfS is now registering providers with early student recruitment cycles, and on Monday 30 April published its strategy and business plan for 2018-19.
To conclude, clearly there are strong views still on all sides of the House. I am thinking particularly of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I will review Hansard to be sure that I have covered many of the points he made. Understandably perhaps, he used a broad brush to cover a range of issues, including tuition fees. He will know that the post-18 review is looking at the funding of tuition fees. I will look carefully at what noble Lords have said, and indeed what I have said, and if a letter is merited, I will certainly write to noble Lords and leave a copy in the Library. I hope that I have reassured noble Lords about the reasons for this order and on the questions they have raised. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will withdraw his Motion, but of course that is entirely his decision.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his full response, and to other noble Lords who have spoken. As the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, said, at the heart of this is our concern about the autonomy of our universities and the independence of the OfS. These become ever more important because marketisation increases the risk of perverse incentives being put in place, as well as the temptation to do so.
The Minister, commenting on what my noble friend Lord Hanworth said about the amenities arms race, said that you have to ensure that students have a good experience. I agree, but he said that when the reviews of students’ attitude to their university are done, which then feed into the teaching quality, often it will be the amenities that they judge. If those amenities are developed at the expense of investment in academics and the casualisation of those academics, with all the insecurities that that brings, it is a matter for some concern and at least debate.
My noble friend Lord Judd talked about the international standing of our universities, which he said depended on scholarship, learning and education as goods in themselves. I have seen nothing to suggest that the OfS has any understanding of those values, which is why we are so concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, raised the important question of these new private colleges—call them what you will—which are to be given university title and allowed into the sector without appropriate scrutiny of whether they are capable of taking on the awesome responsibility they have been given. So far, from what I have read of the OfS approach, the risk seems to be that colleges such as Greenwich will actually come under a lighter-touch regulation than institutions which have provided wonderful excellence over decades or hundreds of years. That is the charge that I put to the Government: why are these wretched private institutions to be given such an advantage when they come into a sector that is universally recognised as brilliant? The Minister has not answered that question. As for the gold star for Liverpool Hope University, the Minister forgets that it would have to be “Liverpool Hope Provider”.
I am grateful to the Minister for his very full response, which is always appreciated. He said that the OfS will be operationally independent and the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention are limited. The OfS has to show that it is independent. The chairman could have shown he was independent by resisting the intervention by special advisers in the appointment of Mr Toby Young. He did not. That is why his own position and judgment are in question and why he has an awful lot to do to show that he can carry out his job effectively. People are put to the test. He was put to the test. I do not think he succeeded.
Of course it is important to engage with students and the students’ panel is welcome, but it is no substitute for having somebody on the board of the OfS who can actually represent the views of the NUS. It remains a big issue for the credibility of that body.
On the core issue of marketisation, the Minister said that surely students have the right to good information. I totally agree and anything we can do to provide that information is to be welcomed; Universities UK’s evidence points to the direction. But students’ right to information does not equal a market or marketisation. That is why “provider” is such a pejorative term. For the sake of a few tin-pot organisations that are going to be allowed into the sector, we eradicate the concept of university and call them all providers. At the least that shows rather limited thinking.
At the end of the day the OfS has our good will. We hope it will do a good job. But we remain concerned that the Government’s intent is, in effect, to damage the university sector, with huge consequences for our country. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill
Committee (1st Day) (continued)
Clause 4: Accident resulting from unauthorised software alterations or failure to update software
Amendment 22 not moved.
23: Clause 4, page 3, line 12, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
“(b) the manufacturer of the automated vehicle (or owner or registered keeper retrofitting or modifying the vehicle to become an automated vehicle) failing to ensure that latest safety-critical software was automatically installed before that vehicle was moved from a parked and deactivated position.”
My Lords, as we go through this Bill, it is remarkable how many amendments overlap each other. It was not necessarily apparent at Second Reading, but we have all from our different directions come out with the same answers. One of them is in the update of safety-critical software.
This Bill seems to have taken some time to go through another place and then to arrive here. Since we first heard about it, it has changed its name on various occasions. It has had aviation included and then taken out. During this period—which I have variously heard has been two or five years—things have changed. The Bill is written as if it is the job of the insured person to update the software. That might have been true five years ago, but nowadays the software is updated automatically. We are, after all, talking about an automated vehicle—the software should be updated automatically.
I believe that the drafting, as we have it, of Clause 4(1)(b) should be changed to the wording in Amendment 23. It is perfectly easy to programme the software so that the vehicle will demand itself to be updated and will not move unless it is done. Given that this is safety-critical software, we ought to make certain that this vehicle itself has enough ability to know whether it is up to date. It can easily do that with modern software systems. So making certain that the vehicle updates itself before it moves from wherever it is in a parked and deactivated position will be perfectly easy. Nowadays, with the design of the Tesla vehicle, all the updating is done automatically—sometimes without the knowledge of the owner or driver. It is easy for the manufacturers to do and a much more modern way of looking at it than the drafted wording in this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 25 in my name and—
The noble Lord should speak to the amendments.
You are quite right. I am a pedant as well, and proud of it. I shall start again.
I rise to speak to Amendments 25 and 28 in my name. The first concerns insurance, which is what the Bill is supposed to be about. As the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, has said, because of the time this Bill has been in gestation, the language is not perhaps as we should like. It has effectively defeated me. If you look at Clause 4, for instance, we have:
“an insured person … an insured person who is not the holder of the policy …someone who is not insured under the policy in question”,
and then we have, simply, “that person”. I got lost working my way through it.
What this amendment tries to do is to protect the innocent party. What we need from this Bill is that, when an innocent party is injured or their property is damaged by an automated vehicle, they get the money without quibble and all the legal battles take place between the insurance company and whomever may be responsible for the event. It may be that the Bill, as drafted, achieves this. I shall be happy if the Minister tells me that, provided she accompanies it with a plain language explanation as to how the clauses and subsections get us to that point. I do not think this Bill is going to win a crystal mark for clear English.
The purpose of this amendment is to protect the victim or damaged party. We must be clear that the insurance system put in place for automated vehicles is designed in such a way that it does not cause any delay or question over the payment of compensation to the victim, if there is any dispute between the insured person and the insurance company over responsibility for the accident. As the technology becomes more complex, so too could the decision about who is to be held responsible. I understand that this Bill aims to set out the liability of insurers for automated vehicles. So I am seeking clarity from the Minister on this point to ensure that the victim of any potential accident is at the front of our minds when we are discussing these issues.
I shall now speak to Amendment 28. Under the current drafting of the Bill, people would be able to drive their automated vehicle on the roads without having the latest updated software, which could lead to safety risks. The clause would require the Government to introduce regulations requiring automated vehicles to be up to date in order for their automated functions 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. It makes sense that an automated vehicle would similarly present an increased safety risk if its operating system were not updated.
Without the new clause, people would be able to take an un-updated vehicle on to our roads, either by accident or on purpose. Insurance companies could surely factor the increased risk into premiums, which would be higher as a consequence. Most people with smartphones or computers are likely to have software that prevents them from being used until it is updated. There does not seem to be any reason why a similar mechanism could not be included in automated vehicles. By preventing un-updated vehicles from being used, we would achieve safer roads and cheaper insurance.
The primary benefit of AVs is that they reduce the likelihood of human error, yet one of the few areas where 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. The new clause would address that.
My Lords, it seems that the Government have not thought widely enough about the issue of how software operates these days. Certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, said, there is an element here of the concepts being slightly out of date.
My car’s software is automatically downloaded. We became aware a few months ago that it had been updated and now, no matter where we went, it told us that we did not have enough electricity to get there—which is taking range anxiety to its extreme. The problem is that, two visits to the repair shop later, they still have not been able to fix the problem. I would be pretty upset if this were an automated car and people said it was my fault when clearly I had faulty software.
It is also important to remember that, even though software might be automatically downloaded, individuals still have a responsibility, and that responsibility is not to interfere with it. It is not beyond imagination that software on automated cars might impose a maximum speed of 90 miles per hour so that you could not go any faster. It would not be impossible for someone who was pretty clever at interfering with software and writing their own to override this. Clearly there needs to be something in the Bill that expresses the fact that owners, drivers and users of these vehicles should not interfere with the software.
My point is that the Government need to rethink this, about a year or 18 months on from when it was originally thought about, and look at it from the modern perspective of the issues that we are all aware of now in relation to software.
My Lords, these are interesting amendments. When my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe was speaking to Amendment 25 and mentioned the word “victim”, I began to think, “Well, who is a victim? Can a car be a victim, or only a person?” I think it is too late tonight to start a long debate on that, but perhaps the Minister could think about that some time.
I turn to Amendments 23 and 28. My worry about Amendment 23 is: what happens if the manufacturer has gone bust? In other words, the manufacturer does not actually have to be the person who supplies updates; it can be anyone. My gut feeling is that my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe’s Amendment 28 is better because it just says that the vehicle may not be operated unless the application software relating to the vehicle’s automated function is up to date. I think that would cover what Amendment 23 covers but in a better way.
What nobody has mentioned tonight, which the noble Baroness touched on, is what happens if the software does not work and you are stuck on a motorway or in a one-way street and cannot move the car? Again, I think that is a debate for another day, but I hope the Minister will have some response to the points made by many noble Lords, particularly about who updates the software.
My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Borwick that software updates should be the responsibility of the manufacturer. They are capable of updating it, and of making it automatic that it is updated. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that systems need to be better than they are at the moment. I note that my iPhone issued by this House is automatically updated with software. About two weeks ago it deleted all my telephone contacts and it resists all efforts by all our excellent people in this House to restore it to normality, because Apple takes no responsibility for this, of course. It just produces the update and there is no recourse to make the thing work properly.
In the case of automated vehicles we absolutely need to have recourse to the manufacturers, and they need to know that that is where liability for these things rests. It is their responsibility to make sure that their fleet of their vehicles on the roads is up to date and functioning as expected. This reflects back into other aspects of the Bill that we have already discussed, as to who should be allowed to make modifications and how the whole fleet of autonomous vehicles should communicate with each other.
I am also happy with Amendment 25; it is an excellent thing. I would only point out in the drafting of Amendment 28 that it refers to “public roads” whereas the Bill refers to “public spaces”. With reference to a conversation I had earlier with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that presumably includes the airspace above public spaces, so the Bill includes your future Amazon drone wandering along six feet above the pavement to drop your parcel over your gate. I see nothing in the Bill that excludes airborne vehicles—or indeed waterborne vehicles—so I presume that both are included in that definition of public spaces. I do not know which definition of public spaces is being referred to. The ones I can find in legislation are pretty vague and not really related to this subject, but I would assume that at the same time as thinking we are dealing with road vehicles, we are also dealing with ones that could be airborne—at least within reasonable reach of the ground.
My Lords, I think I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about Amendment 28, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, being better than my Amendment 23. It is better because the point about manufacturers going bust had not occurred to me—so putting it into the passive is a much better way of doing it.
Amendment 25 seems to be approaching a sort of strict liability basis, with the automated vehicle’s insurer responsible even if that vehicle was not responsible in any way for the accident. I refer him to the accident that was reported a couple of days ago with a Waymo vehicle in which another car went into it. It was absolutely not the fault of the automated vehicle; it was hit by a manually controlled car. In that case it would seem to be particularly unfair that the insurer of the automated car had to pay out and then recover from somebody else. That was an entirely innocent case where the automated vehicle was totally not responsible for the accident.
A lot of this will come out in due course as we learn more. It is a problem at this stage that we have to legislate to get the insurance right in an industry that is developing.
My Lords, the provisions in the Bill will ensure that victims of an accident caused by an automated vehicle that is driving itself will be covered by the compulsory insurance in place on the vehicle. It is the intent that the victims of such accidents will get quick and appropriate compensation.
In Amendments 23 and 28 my noble friend Lord Borwick and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, raise the important issue of safety-critical updates to vehicles. It is not the function of the Bill to provide software standards or requirements for automated vehicles. The Bill provides an insurance framework so that victims have quick access to compensation in line with existing practices, and is just one element of a wider regulatory programme to ensure that people and businesses in this country can benefit from the safe introduction of automated vehicles.
The purpose of Clause 4 is to deal with the relationship between the insurer and the insured person in certain circumstances. This addresses the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. It exists specifically to deal with the insurer’s freedom to exclude liability in the small number of potential situations where the owner needs to act to install a safety-critical software update and knowingly chooses not to install it, or the owner makes unauthorised software alterations, thus putting themselves and others in harm’s way. The clause is designed specifically to deal with that. It mirrors the situation for the compulsory insurance of conventional vehicles, where a driver would not be protected if they drove a vehicle that they knew was unsafe or not roadworthy.
Perhaps the Minister could help me a little here. If a vehicle is not insured today, and a pedestrian is harmed, say, who had no responsibility at all, my understanding is that they will get an instant payout from some sort of collective fund. Is that correct? If it is, is it the intention of the Bill to have a similar situation, including possibly defective software?
I am pleased that the noble Lord has allowed me to address this point, because it goes to defective software. As the noble Lord said, it would be a legal requirement that all automated vehicles must be insured, but there will be instances when vehicles are driven illegally, as we see today. I will take this opportunity to clarify that the Motor Insurers’ Bureau will continue to play the same role as it does now with uninsured and untraced drivers, so that victims involved in collisions with uninsured automated vehicles will have quick and fair access to compensation, in line with conventional insurance practice. This arrangement is not currently covered in legislation nor included in this legislation; it is covered through an agreement between the Secretary of State and the Motor Insurers’ Bureau. We are discussing what changes are needed to that agreement to sufficiently and appropriately incorporate automated vehicles within the existing process.
On software updates, Clause 4 anticipates that vehicle manufacturers will want to ensure that their vehicle systems are as safe as possible for consumers. As my noble friend Lord Borwick said, we expect that most updates will be done automatically and will be the responsibility of manufacturers. This is something that manufacturers acknowledge. Vehicle safety standards, which include software, as I have mentioned before, are still being discussed at the UNECE level. The requirements for system updates form part of the international discussions on the standards that will ultimately form the basis of the type-approval process that the vehicles must pass before they are sold in the UK.
There will be robust standards in place before these vehicles arrive to market, which will include the updating of safety-critical software. I can reassure noble Lords that vehicles will have to meet these standards before they are made available on the market. I fully appreciate the noble Lords’ intention to ensure that automated vehicles’ software is up to date, so that they are functioning safely—but, as with our previous debate on standards, we do not think it is right to act unilaterally at this time.
All noble Lords, including myself, are in the same place on this. We expect that vehicles will not be deemed safe to use, and therefore will not be placed on the list and covered by insurance, unless the safety-critical software is in place. It is a complex issue; we still do not know exactly how the software is going to work. We see some good examples from Tesla and Apple, but this is part of extensive conversations at an international level, with manufacturers and other countries, to understand how best to deal with this.
Amendment 25, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, requires the insurer to pay out first and then recover from the liable party. I hope that I can say this in plain English. Subsections (3) and (4) of Clause 4 already work with Clause 2, where the insurer has a first-instance liability to pay the injured party. I believe that Clause 2 is clear on that, and where the liabilities of insurers are when the accident is caused by an automated vehicle. I think that the current wording fulfils the intention behind the noble Lord’s amendment.
As I have said, the policy intent of the Bill is to mirror as closely as possible the existing framework for conventional vehicles. The insurer would be initially liable to pay compensation to any victim, including to the driver who had legitimately handed control to the vehicle. The insurer would then have the right to recover costs from the liable party under existing common and product law. I think that that is covered.
My noble friend Lord Lucas asked about drones. I do not actually think that they will be covered by the Bill, because of the definition in Clause 1(1) that it is,
“a list of all motor vehicles that … are or might be used on roads or in other public places in Great Britain”.
I cannot preclude the fact that there may be some kind of drone in future that may be able to travel on public roads and then move into the air, but this Bill specifically deals with motor vehicles, and we have yet to see such a drone.
On software updates, we believe that it is too soon to legislate in these areas, and we do not believe that this Bill is the right place for it. However, I reassure noble Lords that the conversation is ongoing at an international level, because we are all aware that we do not yet have a solution to it and we want to make sure that we set standards in the right place. On liability, we believe that the provisions in the Bill already provide for the policy intent behind Amendment 25. Based on that, I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 23 withdrawn.
Amendments 24 and 25 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
26: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Right of insurer to data and control
(1) An insurer may require, as a condition of insurance, that an automated vehicle transmits to the insurer when requested, at specified intervals or in real time, such data as the insurer may specify.(2) An insurer may require, as a condition of insurance, that an automated vehicle behaves in a fashion specified by the insurer on receipt of electronic instructions from the insurer.”
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 26, which has at its heart the flow of data between a driver and the insurer—but, more particularly, between an automated vehicle and the insurer. It suggests that the insurer should have the right to require data flows to be made in ways that are specified by them to support the contract for insurance. I am particularly thinking of data that might flow at the time of an accident so that the insurer can capture the full dataset at that point rather than risking it being destroyed, perhaps by a later fire or some other consequence of the accident. But we might also get a situation in which insurances flexes with the state and use of the vehicle. To go back to an aspect of my earlier Amendment 10, data flows are an important part of how we consider our relationship with automated vehicles.
My Lords, Amendment 27 is a probing amendment, triggered when I first read this Bill, which happened at about the same time as the very first fatal accident in America from a Tesla vehicle, when it was it was speculated in the press that Tesla would not release the data from the vehicle because it had proprietary value to Tesla. In fact, as I understand it, Tesla released the data in due course. However, I could imagine circumstances in which the owner or manufacturer of an automated vehicle believed that the less which was found out about this accident, the better for them.
One of the greatest advantages to the insurance industry of the automated vehicles is the enormous quantity of data that will be available from them. Not only will there be the product of six or more cameras facing every single direction but all the other information picked up about speeds can and will be stored in the vehicle as it goes by. Maybe the industry would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that to delete such data would be the offence of perverting the course of justice. However, in the meantime I wanted to propose the amendment.
Amendment 30, the next one in this group, is on the question of regulations, which has already been touched on in earlier debates about standards. However, I believe that the range of aspects of automated vehicles that we have discussed this evening is very great, and there is clearly a lack of knowledge on the part of noble Lords such as myself, not just about the sheer detail of this but about the industry and what is coming on. So many different things are happening, and each of them is an outstanding opportunity for the country. We need a legislative background that can cope with completely new circumstances, not only prohibiting things that are brand new and thoroughly bad but permitting things which are brand new and have not been invented yet.
On the suggestion that we can revert to new primary legislation, given the number of years it has taken to develop this legislation and the constant pressure on legislative time in both Houses, it would be wise for the Government to take regulatory powers to come up with new regulations to deal with new matters. Therefore, these limited new regulatory powers are proposed in Amendment 30.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to ask the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for a little more information about his intention with regard to this amendment on transmission of data. One can see advantages to that flow of data, and one knows that it would naturally take place, because technically it can take place. However, there are huge issues about privacy. I am not entirely sure that I would want—to grasp an example from the air—information to be in someone else’s hands about the fact that I go swimming every week, so that suddenly a department store starts trying to sell me swimsuits every day of the week. I do not want that unnecessary invasion of my privacy. There could be very much more sensitive issues. I could be visiting a hospital and wanting to keep my medical condition private—that kind of thing. There have to be rules about what this data is used for, how it is kept, and so on. Is it the Minister’s view that current legislation on data and privacy going through this House would cover that sort of issue, or will we need other legislation to cover it? Does the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, envisage a sort of situation akin to the black box that some drivers use now to reassure their insurance company that they are driving safely and within speed limits, and so on, which, in return, keeps their insurance premiums down? I am interested in that point.
Finally, I will make a comment about Amendment 30. I am not usually keen on giving the Government delegated powers but there are some sensible limits on this here. I understand that we are envisaging a future; we cannot predict every requirement accurately and we cannot wait around on every occasion for primary legislation—so, as far as that goes, it seems a sensible proposal to me.
I share the noble Baroness’s admiration for my noble friend’s Amendment 30, which puts things in a very simple and clear way and is well worth having in the Bill. As far as the insurance amendment is concerned, I was looking for a way within the narrow confines of the Bill of illustrating the need for the Government to go further now. Even dealing with the subject of insurance, there are matters that need to be discussed now which we may need to bring into secondary legislation to enable things to operate properly. We should make provision for these things to be done in the Bill. I do not have answers to the questions that the noble Baroness has asked. I imagine that, in an automated world, having a dump of the data for the quarter of an hour before an accident and through as far as the machine keeps recording would be a useful way of establishing what happens during an accident; it really ought to be something we are thinking about, even in the narrow confines of this Bill.
I turn to what my noble friend said about motor vehicles. I presume the Bill will somehow, through the atmosphere of legislation, pick up the definition of motor vehicle from Section 185(1)(c) of the Road Traffic Act 1988:
“a mechanically propelled vehicle, intended or adapted for use on roads”.
However, I think the Bill uses motor vehicle in a slightly different sense, as vehicles that,
“are or might be used on roads”—
that is okay so far—
“or in other public places”.
Clearly, we have a different definition of motor vehicle here from the one in the Road Traffic Act. Therefore, we are somewhat adrift; we are dealing with things that might be used in public spaces and therefore presumably might interact with footpaths, crossing all sorts of land; they could include the sort of thing that mows golf courses too, which might very well go automatic, or the farming equipment my noble friend was referring to. If you have a footpath across the land and one of these vehicles is trundling across it, it is occupying a public space at that point; we are encompassing a wide range of vehicles beyond the definition in the 1988 Act. This might be something worth resolving at some stage.
My Lords, the co-pilot is in charge of this group of amendments. As my noble friend Lord Lucas said, our transport networks are becoming increasingly digital. The regulation of the collection, sharing, use and deletion of data will be vital. Several stakeholders, including the insurance industry, have highlighted the need to ensure access to automated vehicle data, not least because it will help determine who is liable in the event of an accident, as my noble friend has just said.
While we certainly recognise the potential value and use of data, especially for vehicle insurers—and the need to look at the subject of data generated from automated vehicles—as with many previous amendments we do not consider that now is the correct time to start making provision for access for insurers, as suggested by my noble friend in Amendment 26. Nor do we believe that this is the right time to consider new offences regarding the deletion of data, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Borwick in Amendment 27. However, I shall seek to give both noble Lords some reassurance.
It is likely that the international UNECE regulations underpinning the type approval system, which allows vehicles to be sold in the UK, will require the use of a data collection and storage system in automated vehicles. In response to my noble friend’s Amendment 26, it is of course important that insurers have access to the data they need in order to establish liability for any accident. I hope that he finds that reassuring. However, to balance the needs of industry and consumers, we still require detailed engagement on which parties will require access to this data and how it should be shared. It is clear that some data collected by automated vehicles, such as location information, may constitute personal data and will therefore need to be handled appropriately—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Therefore, there is a need to balance the personal privacy of automated vehicle users with the public good, and this is an area that will most likely need to be resolved internationally to help ensure consistent standards.
I assure noble Lords that the Government, like others around the world, are investing heavily in automated and connected technologies that will assist in providing evidence of what minimum data recording and sharing requirements might be needed. At a very minimum, the vehicle should store information about who or what was in control of the vehicle at the time of a collision. I hope that that addresses Amendment 27, in the name of my noble friend Lord Borwick. Further work must be carried out on an international level before we start introducing legislation for offences, but I hope that he will be reassured by the fact that officials from the Department for Transport are working within the UNECE to ensure that international vehicle standards support connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, including on data recording, storage and retention.
On my noble friend’s specific concern, we will of course need to give proper consideration to the need to avoid data deletion, and this is something that will be discussed as part of our ongoing work. The deletion of data could already be unlawful depending on the circumstances and if the accident is subject to legal proceedings.
The Department for Transport will continue to participate fully in these international fora, equipped with the views of the UK manufacturing and insurance industries and with evidence from UK trials currently taking place and the first automated technologies that are coming to market.
With regard to data in general, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that the House has recently debated the Data Protection Bill, which is currently in another place. That Bill will modernise the data protection laws in the UK to make them fit for purpose for our increasingly digital economy and society. It will ensure that modern, innovative uses of data can continue, while at the same time strengthening the control and protection that individuals have over their data. It is those terms, along with the international standards for vehicle data, that we will have to consider when we legislate domestically—but now is not the time to do so.
Turning to proposed new subsection (2) in Amendment 26 on the right of the insurer to control the behaviour of an automated vehicle, we do not think that it would be appropriate for insurers to set the behaviour of automated vehicles. The commercial drivers underpinning insurance decisions may not accord with the wider interests of society as a whole. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this is most appropriately carried out internationally through the UNECE, primarily through Working Party 29, the world forum for the harmonisation of vehicle standards, but also through Working Party 1, the Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety. Where appropriate, this will be legislated for domestically as part of our ongoing regulatory programme.
I assure noble Lords that vehicles that appear on the Secretary of State’s list will be able to drive themselves safely. We will act to ensure this through our active role in the international negotiations shaping these standards and through the development of our domestic road traffic laws and guidance as part of our ongoing regulatory programme.
I appreciate the helpful and well-intentioned Amendment 30, tabled by my noble friend Lord Borwick, proposing a delegated power to create further legislation for automated vehicles. However, I am mindful of the Government’s ongoing need to be clear and transparent about delegated powers to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny and of the reservations in many parts of the House about Henry VIII-type powers. At this stage the Government are unable to say how the power proposed by my noble friend would be used. However, I have listened carefully to the arguments from all sides of the Committee and will consider this again ahead of Report.
As part of the continuing regulatory programme relating to AVs, it will no doubt become necessary to legislate further when more is known about the technology. The Law Commission may make recommendations in this regard. Perhaps I could just say a word in response to questions that have been raised consistently through our debates about what happens next. We already have the power, through the Road Traffic Act, to amend our vehicle construction and use regulations, along with updating rules and guidance within the Highway Code, to support the development of AVs.
At this stage we do not know what other powers we will need, which is why the Law Commission is carrying out a far-reaching review of our regulatory framework with respect to AVs. This is a three-year project, launched on 6 March this year. It will produce a scoping report, as the first stage in identifying and consulting on future areas of regulation, towards the end of 2018, and this will inform the Government’s next moves. So although I understand and appreciate the intention behind the amendments, we do not consider that they are appropriate for this Bill—and against the background of the assurances I have given, I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. I will assume that included in it, but not vocalised, was a promise to write to me about the definition of motor vehicles. I like my moments of pedantry as well as the next man, and I would be interested in pursuing that subject in correspondence.
On the main points, I am delighted that my noble friend found at least half a warm word for my noble friend Lord Borwick. I think there is a real opportunity here that, with a little persuasion and some crafting of the amendment, we might, unusually, find ourselves supporting the Government in giving themselves some powers that they do not yet know how to use, within this limited area, because it would have such a potentially positive effect on the economy of the UK. I beg leave—
Before the noble Lord sits down, is he aware that there are now reasonably big drones delivering goods? They trundle along pavements and across level crossings and so on, appearing to behave a bit like pedestrians. I have been thinking about what the noble Lord is saying, and he is raising a good point. What is the difference between a drone delivering an Amazon parcel and a driverless van delivering an Amazon parcel? The only difference is probably the size, so there will have to be some definition of a cut-off point—unless we are going to insist that drones are insured, in the same way as vehicles.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her whether she really thinks that drones trundle along pavements?
I have indeed seen them. There are experimental systems that are wheeling along pavements.
Not in Wales, no—in London. We are not that advanced in Wales.
The noble Baroness raises a very valid point. What we seek to regulate is autonomous automated vehicles that are likely to interact with people. That will include delivery drones, whether they are flying or trundling on the pavement. It would be quite useful in parts of London to be able to go amphibious and drop into the Thames for a bit, run up the river and then back on to the bank. We are talking about things that will interact with the public. I hope we are looking at a wide definition here and not just talking about things that are supposed to confine themselves to the road. One of the virtues of automated vehicles is that they do not have the same need to do that as other things, and they might well turn out to be quite versatile. I look forward to learning in correspondence where we are on the definition, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 26 withdrawn.
Amendment 27 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.