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Automated Vehicles Bill [HL]

Volume 836: debated on Monday 19 February 2024

Third Reading

Scottish and Welsh Legislative Consent sought


Moved by

My Lords, before I begin, I will briefly update the House on our engagement with the devolved Administrations. In line with the Sewel convention, the Government are seeking legislative consent Motions from the devolved legislatures of Scotland and Wales. The legislative consent Motion process is engaged for Scotland and Wales in relation to automated passenger services and the powers under Clause 40 to require reports from the police and local authorities. The Welsh Government laid their legislative consent memorandum in November. I am grateful for their constructive engagement to date. The Scottish Government laid an initial memorandum in December and we are awaiting a supplementary memorandum, outlining their recommendation on consent, later this month. UK government officials are working closely with their Scottish counterparts to clarify questions and provide support. The devolved Governments are rightly taking a close interest in this legislation, and we will continue to work constructively with them to progress the consent process.

A privilege amendment was made.


Moved by

My Lords, I will make a short speech, conditioned by my being a former pilot with experience of Boeing, probably the most sophisticated company in the world on unmanned aircraft. The net result so far has been that 346 people died recently, although, thankfully, nobody died in the Alaska experience. Given that situation, although this Bill is supposedly about safety on the roads, we need to take great care; I recognise that we need a framework here, but I hope my noble friend will listen to what the noble Lord suggested earlier in the debate and have the Office of Rail and Road help oversee this Bill as it is implemented in relation to vehicles on the road.

I briefly congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing this useful, modest and largely technical Bill to its completion. The Government have expressed optimism that the arrival of automated vehicles in large numbers on our roads is going to have no effect whatever on how the rest of the road system and other road users operate. It is the principle on which the Bill is based but, to me, it seems to be credible only in the somewhat artificial reality of your Lordships’ House.

My noble friend the Minister and his department still need to address a worry many of us have. He has stated that nothing will change—that facilities for pedestrians, for example, will not be affected—with the arrival of these vehicles, but it is clear that is not wholly credible. The people who have invested in automated vehicles will find that pedestrians and other road users are obstacles to the rollout of their plans, and they will then turn up at the ministry and say, “We have spent all this money, so now you have to do something to make it work for us”. At that point, officials will roll over, Ministers will wave their hands and the money will decide what the policy is. All of this will happen without a parliamentary debate considering the effect of the vehicles and what they mean for road users, especially in urban environments. I hope my noble friend the Minister will find an opportunity to allow us, and the public, a debate about what the vision of our cities is when automated vehicles are operating in large numbers as the Bill makes provision for.

My Lords, in line with the usual courtesies of the House, I thank the Minister and his team, all of whom were exceptionally helpful and willing to give their time and expertise in some useful meetings with myself and my Liberal Democrat colleagues. I also thank my noble friends Lady Brinton and Lady Bowles, supported by Sarah Pughe in our Whips’ office, for their work. Finally, I thank noble Lords across the House: there was exceptional co-operation in improving the Bill, and one of the outcomes was the amendment of the Minister which clarified the statement of safety principles.

The Bill was a logical progression from 2018, and I would predict that this second Bill will be followed, I am sure, by a third Bill to try and get this right. There are still unanswered questions, and I will briefly list them. There needs to be a fresh look at the legislative framework affecting delivery vehicles that are already on our streets. Those who operate them are concerned about lacunas in the legislation.

We are also particularly concerned about the issue of disabled access, which is where my noble friend Lady Brinton worked closely with the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said,

“the promise of automated vehicles is accessible mobility for all”.— [Official Report, 6/2/24; col. 1585]

It is, therefore, deeply disappointing that the concept of disabled access—from the physical space of the vehicle to the software that drives it—is not to be built in from the start. It always costs more to adapt things later, and I believe this is yet another missed opportunity.

Finally, it is a great pity that the vote on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, was lost so narrowly. It was just the kind of thing an advisory council could provide a sense of direction on. I hope the Minister will reflect on the need for certainty on the future structure of appropriate bodies to provide advice and regulation.

We remain concerned, in particular, about data protection in respect of the Bill, which is predicated on a future conglomeration of personal and commercial data, and data associated with the security of the state. It will come together in an unprecedented way. It would enable a massive intrusion of personal privacy, but in its entirety would offer massive power to a malign foreign power or even to a clever, meddling, individual hacker. Although it is well intentioned, the Bill hardly starts to tackle the dangers of that accumulation of data.

Having said all that, I thank the Minister again for his co-operation, assistance and leadership on the Bill.

I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for the time he spent explaining things on the Bill. I support everything that has been said in this very short debate. I am also sad that the advisory committee did not get voted through. My idea of having an independent regulator was the same thing.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, made the most important point—that behind the technology for this will be very large companies with enormous balance sheets. When equipment starts operating on the road, if the Government and Parliament have to consider how to balance the interests of those companies with disabled people, cyclists, or pedestrians, it will be very hard to do that and resist the pressure from these big companies without some kind of independent scrutiny. As other noble Lords have said, we look forward to the next Bill with interest.

My Lords, I echo the thanks to my noble friend the Minister and his team for all the work they have done on the Bill. I also echo the thoughts that this is just one Bill. We are on a journey with this technology and these vehicles, and where it will be going.

I would like to address some of the comments that have been made from all sides of the House, because I hear the fear, worry and concern, as technology takes a giant leap forward. We worry about the implications for the world as we see it now. However, the world changes and adjusts. I understand the questions the noble Baroness had about data, its ownership, its power and the responsibility. When we launched the Oyster card in London in 2003, the first time data would be captured en masse—tracking peoples’ individual movements—I remember similar challenges being made as to what we would do with it.

We have come a long way in 20-plus years. We understand a lot more about the power of data and how it can be used for the benefit of people, as much as the challenge there is to keep it safe. I hope that will be echoed in the usage of data with these vehicles.

Additionally, I hear the voice of my noble friend Lord Moylan. We worked together many a year ago at TfL, bringing in implementations. Back then, there was a significant challenge to another change we were implementing. We were told pedestrians would be vulnerable; we were told accessibility would be reduced; we were told safety would be jeopardised. What was the change we were bringing in? It was bicycles: the cycle hire scheme for London. There are always challenges to bringing in new schemes. They are always seen as having many problems on safety and security, and vulnerabilities. As I say, this is in the context of the world as we see it, not maybe as we can amend it and make it better.

This is the journey. There will be more Bills, and we will scrutinise further the use-cases and the opportunities that this technology will bring, for the benefit of designing the future with safety in mind, I hope.

My Lords, I thank the Minister and his team for their co-operation on the Bill. I thank my co-spokesman, my noble friend Lord Liddle, and Grace Wright, our researcher.

When I wrote these few lines down, I was full of unbridled optimism for the Bill—but I had better come back a bit. I am sorry that the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, have not been satisfied; they were good and proper concerns, but I am sure that they will be properly considered.

Proceedings on the Bill have been very much the House of Lords at its best, and that was very much facilitated by the Minister. Like the Lib Dems, we had several meetings with him, and issues were generally treated on their merits. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, is not more reassured by the changes we made to the safety standard. I believe that the safety standard that is now in the Bill is a good one that regulators will be able to work with and that is robust enough to stand up to enterprises with a great deal of money. I, for one at least, say that we have a better Bill of which this House can be proud.

My Lords, it is nearly three months since the Bill had its Second Reading in this House. I am hugely grateful to colleagues on all sides for the very detailed scrutiny and challenge that they have provided over that period, as has already been alluded to. I heard what noble Lords have said.

The Bill has seen real benefit from the open and positive manner in which the opposition Front Benches have engaged. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Tunnicliffe, for the series of constructive discussions we have held on safety and other matters. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, brings with him many decades of experience in the world of transport safety, and I am pleased that we have been able to draw on that during the Bill’s passage. I am grateful too to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her contributions, both in the Chamber and in our separate meetings. I also thank those who joined me for our two round-table sessions on data and accessibility, particularly the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Brinton, and my noble friends Lord Holmes and Lord Borwick.

I am also grateful to the teams at Wayve and Oxa, which have been so accommodating in welcoming me and colleagues across the House to experience self-driving technology in action. For those who have not yet had the chance, I can tell them that riding in one of these vehicles is simultaneously astonishing and—for want of a better phrase—reassuringly dull.

I am sure that colleagues will join me in thanking the countless policy officials and legal experts standing behind this piece of legislation. I am very grateful to the Bill team: Josh Kossoff, Marty Zekas, Dani Heard, Fran Gilmore and John Latham. My thanks also go to the policy leads Jenny Laber and Catherine Lovell; to Sam Cook, our drafter; and to Adam Lawless and Sean McGarry in my private office.

Finally, I pay tribute, one last time, to the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission. Their painstaking review is the foundation on which this legislation is built, and we have felt the benefit of their expertise throughout our debates. In particular, I thank the review’s lead lawyer, Jessica Uguccioni. The Bill receiving its Third Reading today is, in no small part, the product of more than half a decade of her work.

At Second Reading, I spoke of the potential benefits of bringing self-driving technology to our roads: safety, connectivity and new economic opportunity. Thanks to the careful and considered scrutiny of this House, the Bill now moves to the other place all the better able to make those benefits a reality.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.