Photo of Rupa HuqRupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton  4:50 pm, 26th May 2021

I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will be suspensions between debates. I remind all Members that they must arrive for the start of a debate in Westminster Hall. I think we do have one person missing, Danny Kruger. I think that, theoretically, he is not allowed to participate; anyway, we will see what happens if he shows up.

The next item on my list does not apply because no one is participating in this debate virtually. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before leaving the room. I remind Members that Mr Speaker has deemed that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall until you are speaking. If you can email your speeches to hochansardnotes@parliament.uk, that is very helpful for our colleagues in Hansard. Members attending physically who are in the latter stages of the call list—this may not apply—should use the seats in the Public Gallery initially and move forward as seats become available. Members should sit only where there are microphones—I think everyone is doing that.

Photo of Ben EverittBen Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North  4:51 pm, 26th May 2021

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the potential merits of driverless cars.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and to have had the privilege of introducing this important debate on the future of driverless cars. In Milton Keynes, we are familiar with the sight of robots roaming our city as they bring food deliveries to almost 200,000 residents, and I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the e-scooter trials. We are a tech-focused city; we are at the heart of the technical evolution of our country; we are a centre of innovation. We have the UK’s largest self-driving car project, Autodrive, and local manufacturers—Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata—are supporting that. Last year, we also had the HumanDrive project, culminating in the longest autonomous journey in Britain—230 miles, from Milton Keynes to Sunderland.

Now, at Stadium MK, we will be hosting a Government-funded trial to potentially introduce driverless taxis and a self-driving bus. I know that it might come as a surprise to many people watching this debate that we could have self-driving cars on our roads later this year, but this is just part of the exciting work that is under way, and has been for years and years, to develop connected and autonomous road vehicles, or CAV, as I will call them for the rest of this speech. That is in addition to automated lane-keeping systems to keep the cars literally on the straight and narrow.

To date, £400 million has been jointly invested with industry for those technologies developed by UK companies, companies right here in Britain, and more than 80 groundbreaking, Government-funded projects have taken place, including the ones in Milton Keynes that I have mentioned. We get a bit of stick for using the phrase “world leading”, but I will not apologise for it in this instance, because I know that my colleagues at the Department for Transport have established the world-leading, £200-million CAM Testbed UK ecosystem, to test the technology safely and to test the regulatory environment. The landmark consultations in these areas have been published; that work has been led by the Law Commission. In addition, the foundations of the world’s first comprehensive safety and security assurance process are being laid.

Photo of Christian WakefordChristian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

Being a keen follower of my hon. Friend, I have seen many of his tweets and followed many of his speeches—we all know too well the fears of judgment day. Seeing the robots on the streets of Milton Keynes actually being fed by children, how do we know that the robots will not bite back and will actually be safe for everyone involved?

Photo of Ben EverittBen Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

I am very grateful to my good and hon. Friend for that intervention. Fears of the robot apocalypse may be a little overblown when it comes to issues of artificial intelligence, driverless cars, automated connected communications and mobility solutions, but there is always the problem that technology goes wrong. We recently saw a case in the United States where a driverless car in driverless mode effectively went rogue. That is why it is so important to test properly, to put a safety regime around the technology and to regulate, and why we have been consulting and working with the industry for years and years.

Safety and security are incredibly important. Over the last seven years, industry leaders, experts and manufacturers have learned an incredible amount about the benefits of self-driving cars and the part they can play in delivering our priorities to boost the economy, to reduce congestion, accidents and carbon emissions, and—the buzz words— to build back better. They will play an important part in our future as a country.

CAV technology has the potential to remove the cause of over 85% of road traffic accidents that are down to driver error. Let us break that down—that is 47,000 serious accidents that happen when we nip to the shops, we go to work or we go out on the school run. If we break that down further, that has the potential to save 3,900 lives over the next decade. I know colleagues here can sympathise with feeling tired, stressed out and distracted at the wheel, especially when there are kids in the back singing and arguing.

Photo of Christian WakefordChristian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

My hon. Friend is being very kind in giving way, but I will correct him because in AXA’s figures 90% of road traffic accidents were caused by driver error. When we also factor in figures regarding drug and alcohol impairment, as well as the impact on pedestrians, this could be a huge innovation and be world leading in terms of not only keeping our roads safe but keeping Britain safe.

Photo of Ben EverittBen Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

I am grateful to be corrected on that. I am pleased that the figure has gone up rather than down. My hon. Friend’s point is well made: robots do not get distracted or have a bad day and get grumpy.

As well as reducing accidents, the technology can reduce congestion and create cleaner and more efficient roads across Britain. These vehicles will be able to communicate with traffic lights, to keep traffic flowing. They will reduce the number of idle cars and significantly improve air quality in our towns and cities. As the technology develops and more CAVs are on our roads, we could reduce the average delay by 40%. So, fewer accidents and fewer delays—what’s not to like?

A report, which I am sure we all saw as it was emailed to us this morning by campaign groups, by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showed that 50% of those polled who had personal mobility issues feel that their mobility is restricted and 48% said that CAVs could reduce the stress of driving. They can help people with disabilities become more mobile; vitally improve access to employment and healthcare; give 1 million people in the UK better access to higher education; and, potentially, unlock £8 billion of value to our economy. Creating swifter and safer journeys could boost productivity in some regions by up to 14%.

In addition, given the work now happening in Milton Keynes, I have seen first hand how this can generate skilled jobs, technical and professional positions. That is, of course, not just in Milton Keynes. Connected and autonomous technology could create around 320,000 new jobs in the UK by 2030, worth £42 billion by 2035. I am interested to hear more from the Minister about the Government’s plans to build on our proud history of British car manufacturing and how that is going to propel us forward.

I have focused on roads, but this technology has the power not just to revolutionise roads but can be used in sectors from agriculture to nuclear power facilities. The technology can support and transform different labour sectors as the UK captures the global CAV, research and development, and manufacturing markets.

Back in 2015, KPMG estimated that the potential overall economic benefit for Britain could be £51 billion per annum by 2030—a huge prize is there for the taking. However, as we plan the next generation of automated vehicles and deploy them on our roads, we must put safety first. The idea of self-driving vehicles is something that we are more used to seeing in sci-fi and futuristic films than on the M1 in 2021. I am sure I am not the only one present who thinks it seems contradictory that taking one’s hands off the wheel and one’s eyes off the lane could actually make our roads safer.

Later this year, we will not be seeing KITT from “Knight Rider” or Lightning McQueen swooping through our streets, but the first tentative steps will ensure that automated lane-keeping systems are used only in the single slow lane of the motorway. It will be limited to 37 mph. A vehicle must receive a quality approval and have no evidence to challenge its ability to safely self-drive. Realistically, an early form of self-driving technology is unlikely to be commercially available for our constituents before 2025, and I know my colleagues will be monitoring it at every stage.

Although I look forward to seeing the Government’s response to the recently closed consultation that proposes amendments to the highway code in order to ensure that we can work with the automated lane-keeping systems and hopefully give everybody the opportunity to have their say, we are also aware that there are a number of issues with connected and autonomous vehicles. From public perception to cyber-security and the legal and regulatory framework, which is fiendishly complicated, it all needs a serious assessment by the Department. Although it is absolutely key that we secure the UK’s place as a global science superpower, as the Minister has said, we must put road safety first.

I am extremely grateful to see that so many Members are present. Connected and autonomous technology has the potential to bring so many benefits to our constituents by boosting British businesses and transforming our journeys. As we embark on this futuristic venture, it is definitely something that has to be slow and steady to start with. We need to put safety first, but I look forward to hearing more from the Minister on what is under way to build the best regulatory framework to deliver this opportunity for the future.

Photo of Rupa HuqRupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

I intend to call the three Front-Bench spokespeople, starting with Gavin Newlands, at no later than 5.25 pm, so I hope there will not be any need for a time limit. I call Nick Fletcher.

Photo of Nicholas FletcherNicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley  5:02 pm, 26th May 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under you today, Dr Huq, and I thank my hon. Friend Ben Everitt for an excellent speech and for securing the debate.

When I was a young man—many, many years ago—Saturday afternoon and early-evening TV was “The Dukes of Hazzard”, “The A-Team” and “Knight Rider”. “Knight Rider” was definitely my favourite. It was a great show, and I thoroughly enjoyed tuning in, as I am sure many other Members present did, too. The star of the show was not David Hasselhoff—the Hoff—who played Michael Knight, or even Patricia McPherson, the glamourous mechanic who never got her hands dirty. No, the star was KITT, a talking driverless car. With its flashing red lights and numerous toys, it really was the star of the show, so Members can imagine my excitement 40 years later when I took delivery of my very own KITT, my new Tesla Model 3, back in 2019—what a wonderful year 2019 was. It is a wondrous machine with many tricks, and although it cannot hold a conversation with me, it can drive itself. The summon feature enables me to park my car with my phone, which is a great party trick when seeing friends.

For those who do not know much about this topic, autopilot on a Tesla pretty much drives the car by itself, but people have to keep their hands on the steering wheel. I have used this many times, and it is a great feature. If I remove my hands from the steering wheel, it informs me to put them back on. However, it has its limitations. Tight country roads are not always a successful experience, and the driver obviously needs to be in control at junctions, roundabouts, traffic lights and so on, but the technology is definitely getting there.

Today, however, we are talking about automated lane-keeping systems and the Government’s plan to allow that to happen. I am afraid I believe that it is a little early. I am sure that many Members have seen the dangers of allowing ALKS to operate without driver assistance when swerving for debris or other immediate obstacles on the road. It just is not safe to do so with the technology that we currently use.

The software is available, although—at least to my knowledge—the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has not allowed it to be used. That means that it cannot be downloaded in European countries. My recommendation is to change the regulations that stop that happening. Let us use the software for a safe period of time, with the driver still fully in charge of the vehicle. It is important to highlight that that is precisely how planes operate. A computer flies the plane, but the pilot is always responsible and can take control at any moment.

To clarify, we need to put the regulations in place that allow the available software to be downloaded to our vehicles, and then use the system with the driver still fully engaged and responsible. The software learns from every mile driven, and if we have to intervene, the disengagement is noted by the system, meaning that the fleet learns—that is, all the cars that are on the road using the system. The number of disengagements will be recorded. The data can be reported back to the Government so that they can make an informed decision on how little or how much driver engagement should be legally required.

By adopting that policy, the UK can remain at the cutting edge of the technology, making the whole experience much safer. I believe that Tesla is doing that now in the USA, capturing billions of miles of data each month, thus continually improving the driving experience. The industry as a whole thinks that driverless cars, once perfected, will be much safer, create less congestion and generally be a better experience for drivers. I tend to agree with that assessment. I also believe that in the not-too-distant future we will debate whether we allow humans to drive cars and not just computers.

On that note, think of every driving job that may well disappear, which is food for thought. I do not think that we can stop the technology, nor do I want to; yet we must be ready for the implications that it will bring. Let me finish by saying that I love “Knight Rider” and the star KITT, so much so that I call my Tesla “KITT”, but as much I love the thought of the technology its implementation into everyday life needs to be done cautiously and using all the available technology, not just some of it.

Photo of Marco LonghiMarco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North  5:08 pm, 26th May 2021

It is a great pleasure to contribute to the debate under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I thank my hon. Friend Ben Everitt for introducing the debate, as I am a keen proponent of advancing new technologies where they are available to us.

We live in an age where there appears to be no bounds to the possibilities offered by technology to virtually every aspect of our lives. That is certainly true of transportation. The ability to take off, fly and land aircraft with several hundred passengers aboard is one example that has been available to us for decades. For that reason, it is at least to some extent surprising that we are only now starting to make meaningful advances in the technology around driverless cars. That probably has something to do with manufacturers understanding their markets better than most and realising that public perception is a significant obstacle to overcome, so the question for me becomes more one of how we address the gap in public acceptance rather than whether there are technological solutions.

Identifying the issues —I was going to say the drivers—behind that gap is key, and understanding how we can bring certainty to ameliorate the fears arising from them is even more important. The UK often leads the way in innovation, but can often fall at the implementation phase, leaving the door open for other countries to, effectively, copy and implement. We have seen that happen many times over the past century. Let us hope that this is not one such case and that we can actually benefit from the technologies that we have in our hands and that we are developing in our country.

Photo of Christian WakefordChristian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South  5:10 pm, 26th May 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq.

While we are talking about the names of our cars, let me say that I have not named mine KITT; being a fan of “Star Wars”, I have named it the Falcon. Members have talked about the programmes they watched growing up, and I do not have as many years as my colleagues, but we all remember our first experiences of seeing driverless vehicles, whether it was KITT in “Knight Rider” or the Johnnycabs in “Total Recall”, or in the future scenes in “Demolition Man”. These are not the greatest films in the world—that would have to be “The Empire Strikes Back”—but all are examples of driverless vehicles on our screens, going back decades.

This is, however, not just about bringing the world of science fiction into the modern day through our fantastic research and development and manufacturing. Driverless vehicles are a natural advancement in society, especially when they are linked to the advances that have been made in electric vehicles and battery capacity, making this a natural evolution from the internal combustion engine.

As I said earlier to my hon. Friend Ben Everitt, research shows that roughly 90% of road traffic accidents are caused by driver error, and that is before we factor in other human error, whether from pedestrians, drug or alcohol impairment, or even tiredness. Removing the driver from the equation can potentially lead to much safer roads for us all. Speaking as a Member who has lost family members and seen others severely impacted due to road traffic accidents, that is surely a big positive that means this technology is inevitable. Yes, there may well be problems when we are in a transition period, during which we have a mixture of driverless vehicles and vehicles still operated by drivers, but things will progress.

Linked to this is the problem of insurance: who is responsible in the event of an accident if there is no act of negligence? Is it the owner or the manufacturer? I appreciate that these conversations are all ongoing, but we need answers sooner rather than later, before we start having these vehicles on the road.

Vehicles becoming automated also potentially cuts down on the number of vehicles on the road. That should be applauded, because it leads to not only a cleaner, greener road network, but the ability to remove the scourge of congestion. As a Member with one of the most congested roads in the country in his constituency —Bury New Road in Prestwich—I think that this, too, needs exploring. Congestion drives people away from our town centres—excuse the pun—at a time when we need them back more than ever, so we need to be doing what we can to invest in not only our road network but our towns.

Photo of Ben EverittBen Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

Is there anything specific in my hon. Friend’s constituency that he would seek to improve to make it fit for driverless cars and the transportation of the future?

Photo of Christian WakefordChristian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

My hon. Friend has mentioned building back better. This entire innovation is about building back greener and fairer to allow more people to get back into employment. He mentioned mobility issues in his opening remark—being able to get people back into adult education, higher education and employment, and helping them to access health opportunities that they have been denied because of mobility—and we need to explore those issues around the table with as much enthusiasm as possible. When we factor in the time lost through accidents and in congestion—I refer to the road I mentioned earlier, and I think we all realise the number of hours it takes us to get out of London as we head back to our constituencies—this innovation will inevitably lead to quicker and more efficient journeys, which is one way to increase the productivity of Great Britain, while improving the ability of many to get back into employment.

This is arguably the best innovation we can make for the economy, because it is not about building back better but about building back stronger. In doing so, we are making sure that we are a mobile, safe and green nation.

Photo of Rupa HuqRupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

I call the first Front-Bench spokesperson, and the last man in the debate, apart from Ben, who gets to answer at the end: Gavin Newlands, for the Scottish National party.

Photo of Gavin NewlandsGavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)  5:14 pm, 26th May 2021

Thank you very much, Dr Huq; it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair—and I am calling you by your proper name for a change as well. I congratulate Ben Everitt on securing this important debate and setting out so well not only the challenges that the connected and autonomous vehicle sector faces but, crucially, the huge economic and social opportunities that CAV adoption can bring.

Many Members have made excellent and pertinent points. I am not sure if he looks it, but Nick Fletcher must be of a similar age to me, with his love of “Knight Rider”. He spoke of a future where we might be debating whether humans should be allowed to drive. Given some of the drivers on the road today, it could probably be argued that that debate should be brought forward. I should declare that I also own an electric car, which was bought recently, but unlike others mine does not have name, so I will need to speak to my children and sort that out forthwith.

The SNP obviously welcomes innovation and understands the potential benefits of driverless cars in terms of ushering in a new era of sustainable and advanced transportation that seeks to reduce traffic accidents and prevent harm. The journeys of the future could ease congestion, cut emissions and reduce human error, but we must ensure that, despite the dizzying pace of technological advancement, safety remains paramount and regulations are of the highest standard. As we have heard, automated driving systems could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save nearly 4,000 lives over the next decade through their ability to reduce the single largest cause of road accidents—human error.

It has been referenced already, but I am grateful to the organisations that sent briefing material ahead of today’s debate: AXA UK, Cycling UK, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, representatives of the insurance industry, other road users and the car industry itself. That is a pretty good balance or perspectives, and it has to be said that all are positive about the potential for autonomous vehicles, with some caveats. I am also grateful that the SMMT provided a glossary of the various acronyms and abbreviations involved. The main one being discussed today is ALKS—automated lane keeping system—which AXA describes as a form of conditional automation, based on existing driver-assist technology, and can be described as level 3, using the SAE definition. That is a lot of acronyms.

There is concern that these systems may not be capable of undertaking all the functions of a competent, attentive driver—for example, swerving debris; the minimum risk manoeuvre, or MRM; stopping in the lane of travel; and —an issue I have a question for the Minister on—complying with UK road signage. In 2018, there were 70 accidents caused by cars driving in a closed lane on smart motorways in England. The SMMT said that ALKS was designed to read and respond to roads signs and speed limits, and to comply with traffic rules in the country of operation. However, AXA suggests that current ALKS, including radar sensors, could only monitor short distances and would likely be unable to recognise a red x signifying a closed lane. In summing up, can the Minster say what her understanding of the issue is, please?

Another challenge we must overcome if these things are to become a feature on British roads is resolving the issue of how automatic vehicles can be insuredInsurance companies are concerned that the goal of being a leader in autonomous vehicles could backfire unless automators and regulators spell out the current limitations of the technology available today. We would welcome action to ensure that vehicle insurance policies facilitate automated vehicles in the future, but we are concerned about the potential costs to policyholders and contention over liability between manufacturers and insurers.

I only have a short time, so I do not want to dwell on the challenges. As we have heard, this country is a world-leading location for the mass market potential of CAVs, with the Department for Transport estimating that the UK CAV market could be worth nearly £42 billion by 2035, creating 40,000 skilled jobs. But—you know me, Dr Huq; I hate to be negative—we have been here before. This country was a world leader in renewable technologies, and still is when it comes to the form of wave and tidal in Scotland, but the UK Government allowed that leadership to be lost on wind technology. We must learn the lessons and, on this issue, remain a tech maker rather than a tech taker.

We are on the cusp of a driving revolution, but the UK Government must get into gear and put their foot down for sustainable transportation. The technology could not only unlock vast opportunities for the UK economy and jobs market, but significantly improve the safety and efficiency of how we travel in the coming decade. The Scottish Government have already stepped up investment in AV, EV and sustainable future transport infrastructure. The CAV road map is aligned with Scotland’s future intelligent transport systems strategy and our draft national transport strategy, which sets out a compelling vision for the transport system over the next 20 years—one that protects our climate and improves lives.

The strategy highlights the potential for Scotland to become a market leader in the development and early adoption of transport innovations. The Scottish Government are committed to developing an integrated, sustainable, accessible and—importantly—environmentally friendly transport system. That was backed up again today by the First Minister in her statement of Government priorities, which include reducing car kilometres by 20% by the decade’s end; removing half of combustion engine buses from the fleet by the end of 2023; free bus travel for those 21 and under and 60 and over; spending 10% of transport capital on active travel; and encouraging drivers to swap to zero-emission cars through enhanced incentives, including interest-free loan schemes for both new and used electric cars. I should declare that, having just bought an electric car, I made use of one of those interest- free electric car loans from the Scottish Government.

Scotland is getting on with building the sustainable transport network of the future. In supporting and echoing much of what hon. Members have said in the debate, I urge the UK Government to get on and do the same. [Interruption.] That’s timing.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Kerry McCarthyKerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Transport)  5:35 pm, 26th May 2021

I congratulate Ben Everitt on securing this debate. He represents an area that I know pretty well, as my sister and her family live there, although they are in the old part—the railway town of Wolverton—but I have seen the robots whizzing around the streets. In fact, the first time I saw them, I thought they were speed cameras and got quite worried at the little things going along the pavement flashing at me as I was driving along the road. It is quite exciting.

It is right that the motion refers to the “potential merits” of driverless cars, and that note of hesitancy is probably about right at the moment. There is potential; driverless cars could mean safer, more efficient travel on the roads through better regulation of speed, less congestion and less risk of human error, which accounts for 90% of road traffic accidents. As has been said, the SMMT says that they could prevent 47,000 serious accidents over the next decade, and save 3,900 lives. It also said that they would open up new mobility opportunities for those with disabilities and the elderly, create 420,000 jobs and contribute £62 billion to the economy by 2030. That is all pretty exciting. I am probably not alone in finding it slightly hard to get my head around the idea of being in one of those cars and not being entirely in control, but I am very keen to test out the technology at some stage to see how it would work.

I want to be clear that Labour is generally supportive of the introduction of autonomous vehicles and of moving things ahead, but I echo what has been said by other hon. Members about ensuring safety. One of the key concerns is that there are different types of autonomous vehicles. As we have heard, the type that has been considered for introduction to UK roads in the immediate future—the automated lane keeping system vehicles—are not fully autonomous. The automation merely regulates the speed and direction of the vehicles, but still requires a driver to be attentive in order to perform emergency manoeuvres and lane switching.

I have spoken to various companies, including in the insurance world about this issue. We have to be clear what the driver’s responsibilities are, and how these things will affect drivers’ behaviour. If a driver feels that they are not responsible, I can imagine that they could take their eye off the ball as far as certain things are concerned. Will they be as vigilant as they should about the things that they should very much keep their eye on? If we do not get this right, the safety gains risk being outweighed by accidents involving drivers who have not operated the vehicle in the correct manner.

I am glad that the Government are considering the issues. One the mechanisms is the consultation on updating the highway code, although I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that; as I understand it, the proposed changes do not distinguish between different types of autonomous vehicles. I wonder whether that is the right approach. I would also welcome clarification on what measures will be taken to ensure that those who purchase or operate an ALKS vehicle are fully aware of driver responsibilities for that vehicle type. Indeed, what steps will be taken to make sure that any driver of any category of autonomous vehicle realises the extent of their responsibilities? That may be accidents and the insurance side of things, or just what is expected of them behaviour-wise. Would they, for example, have to take an additional driving course on top of the standard test? Will there come a point when the standard test is amended to take these things into account? Could there be a situation where somebody has not got the standard driving licence but is able to drive an autonomous vehicle because less responsibility is required from them?

It is disappointing that the Government have chosen not to wait until the findings of the Law Commission’s regulatory review into autonomous vehicles are released later this year. That will be crucial in determining responsibility when accidents occur, which we have discussed, and in advising on that regulatory framework. I understand the desire to open up this new market, but as Nick Fletcher said, it is perhaps a bit early to race ahead. Forgive me—it is impossible to avoid puns about driving, in the same way that we suddenly start talking about being “on track” and “on board” and so on when we talk about rail.

Finally, I want to express my concern about how this fits in with the decarbonisation agenda. Obviously, we need to do much more to green our transport system. The switch to electric vehicles, and the ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles from 2030 and of hybrids from 2035, are really important. As I understand it, autonomous vehicles could lead to emissions reductions by reducing congestion or because people go for an electric model, but they would not necessarily all be electric. Researchers at Imperial College London have highlighted concerns that automated vehicles could actually lead to an increase in global transport emissions if they are mostly fuelled by petrol and diesel, and if more people feel able to use them on the roads.

Although driverless cars are an exciting prospect and something to encourage, they are not the answer to the immediate need for better public transport, for investment in a comprehensive electric vehicle charging network, for making electric vehicles affordable for more people, and for encouraging people to use private vehicles less and to walk and cycle more. I know that the Government are considering all those issues. I would welcome clarification from the Minister on how those problems will be addressed, and reassurance that the Government are not speeding ahead without the necessary regulation and consensus on the policy area.

Photo of Rachel MacleanRachel Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)  5:41 pm, 26th May 2021

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I heartily congratulate my hon. Friend Ben Everitt on securing this important debate, which has achieved a hugely welcome degree of cross-party consensus —that is very positive. I am delighted to have this opportunity to discuss with hon. Members the numerous potential benefits of self-driving cars. In his capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on connected and automated mobility, my hon. Friend has done an extremely good job of setting out the policy landscape.

I assure all hon. Members, because everyone has raised this point, that the Government are absolutely committed to realising those benefits for the UK, but for that to happen, the public must have confidence that safety and security are at the heart of how the technology is deployed and developed. Our code of practice for trialling automated vehicles on public roads states that there must be a safety driver who is ready to take control if needed. That means that the technology can be tested in a way that ensures safety and responsibility.

When highly automated driving technology is ready for public use, we must have a way to check that the vehicles are safe and secure by design, not only for passengers, but for all road users. That is why my Department is progressing, alongside some of the investments that my hon. Friend rightly mentioned, a programme of work that will adapt our assurance processes for self-driving vehicles.

A number of Members referred to the fact that it is a complex landscape of regulation and legislation, and of manufacturers and Government working together, but I assure everyone listening that as manufacturers bring new self-driving vehicles to the market, they will have been extensively tested by the regulator.

Photo of Christian WakefordChristian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

We have talked about the improvement of the economy thanks to driverless vehicles but, with the introduction of the super deduction and freeports, what does the Minister think the impact on manufacturing will be?

Photo of Rachel MacleanRachel Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

That is an extremely fair point, and one that a number of people have raised with me. In fact, in my experience and from my discussions with manufacturers, industry experts, academics and other researchers, all the indications are that the technology and the industry have the potential to create jobs. Of course, those jobs will change because we will shift some of them from one particular skillset to another, but as Members have set out, we see this as a boost to the economy, and that means the creation of new high-skilled jobs. This is a massively exciting opportunity to level up the UK, including my hon. Friend’s Bury South constituency, which I am sure will be eager to take part.

The regulation programme that we have created is called CAV PASS. It is one of the most comprehensive programmes of its kind in the world. More widely, as Kerry McCarthy mentioned, we have asked the Law Commission to undertake an extensive review of transport legislation to support the safe deployment of automated vehicles. We expect recommendations by the end of the year, which will inform future regulatory reform.

The work we have undertaken so far has earned us a reputation as a world leader in policy and regulation. It ensures that we are ready for this step change in transport. We are acting to seize the opportunities for the UK. As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North will be aware, the Government are supporting a portfolio of exciting self-driving vehicle technology projects, including investing nearly £20 million into autonomous vehicle projects within Milton Keynes alone. Last autumn, I had the great privilege of a comfortable and enjoyable ride through the Milton Keynes countryside in one of the Government-supported self-driving Nissan HumanDrive vehicles.

On that point, the hon. Member for Bristol East talked about being in such a car. I would encourage her to do so. I am sure that Nissan would be happy to give her a ride. It is not only incredible and amazing, but very underwhelming at the same time, because it feels incredibly safe. It feels like going in a normal car. As soon as people experience it, they can definitely see the potential to transform the way we move around.

Government investment in self-driving vehicles spans the country from Cambridge and Milton Keynes to the west midlands, up to Scotland and across to the west of England. We have enabled joint public and private investment of £400 million in vehicle innovation since 2014. A vast number of potential benefits for the UK could help our world-leading automotive industry develop in the future, including safety on our roads—as everybody highlighted—reducing congestion and improving productivity through more efficient use of road space. There is the potential to improve access to transport for everyone, including people with disabilities, as the hon. Lady rightly said.

As we focus on building back better following the pandemic, the potential economic benefits of self-driving vehicles in the UK are vast. It is predicted that, by 2035, 40% of new UK car sales could have self-driving capabilities, with a total self-driving market value of £42 billion and the potential to create 38,000 new highly skilled and well-paid jobs. We have already seen millions of pounds of private investment coming into British small and medium-sized enterprises, which are leading the way on automated vehicles.

On supporting existing jobs, I know how important the automotive industry is to the west midlands and to my constituency of Redditch. Just as we support the UK’s automotive logistics and mobility service companies in their transition to zero emissions, we help those sectors to get ahead in the global race to harness self-driving technology and to ensure that the new jobs of the future come to the UK, rather than go elsewhere. Gavin Newlands mentioned that point, and I hope to reassure him that that is absolutely the UK Government’s objective. In short, I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North that this technology can help to make our journeys safer, greener and more reliable.

To talk a bit about the technology, this futuristic technology is already here. That is why we recently announced that the automated lane keeping system—the ALKS—could be the first legally defined self-driving technology to be allowed on the road.

Photo of Christian WakefordChristian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

I thank the Minister for kindly giving way a second time. On the ALKS—apologies for the abbreviations, I think we are all tired of them in this conversation—what assurances will she give that, given the motorway improvements we have seen throughout the country over the past few years, such as smart motorways and concrete central barriers, in trying to address a problem, we are not creating another one and giving more heartache to drivers?

Photo of Rachel MacleanRachel Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

That is a totally accurate and important question. We will not allow any self-driving vehicles on to the roads unless they comply fully with the regulatory regime set out by the UNECE organisation—the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. That includes being able to recognise and respond to any signs, whether smart motorway signs or any other signs that would appear in the domain in which they are legally licensed to operate. To be clear, we will not let anything on the roads that cannot operate safely under any condition that it might find itself in.

The ALKS system is designed to be used in slow-moving motorway traffic, such as a traffic jam. When the traffic speeds up, the vehicle will require the driver to take control again. Crucially, that is a step beyond what is already available, because it will allow the driver legally to disengage while the autonomous system is driving the vehicle. We will list models with ALKS technology as automated on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that they are safe and meet the legal requirements. The vehicle is only half of the story, because all of this means changes for drivers as well, and they must know their role. That is why we are consulting on amendments to the highway code to clarify the responsibilities of drivers of automated vehicles.

Before I conclude, I will refer to the comments that Members have made. I thank everybody for their extremely well-informed contributions and for their interest in the debate. They have all displayed encyclopaedic knowledge of cultural history and vehicles of the past, but I must confess that I am a bit more of a fan of David Hasselhoff than the cars. He was definitely a teenage heart-throb of mine.

I thank my hon. Friend Christian Wakeford, who pointed out the benefits of reducing congestion. We in the Government absolutely agree that it would be a benefit of the technology. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley highlighted some safety concerns. He is right to do so, but I reassure him that we are a full member of UNECE, the international organisation that sets the overarching rules and frameworks, and we contribute to those. We work closely with the organisation, so we are fully aligned with all its safety requirements, which are stringent and rigorous. My hon. Friend Marco Longhi also mentioned safety, and I agree that the perception of safety is equally important as safety itself.

I reassure the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North that we will absolutely not be listing any vehicles that cannot respond to the red X signs on smart motorways or anywhere else. He is right to highlight the opportunities that the technology offers the whole of the United Kingdom, and the investment that we in the Government are putting into Scotland and the rest of the country is a huge benefit of our Union.

The hon. Member for Bristol East obviously has great knowledge of this area, and I thank her for her interest and support. She made some very good points, and I hope to continue constructive discussions with her. She made a good point about the importance of driver education, and we are working closely with the industry on that. At the point of purchase, drivers and purchasers need to be fully informed about the vehicles and their capabilities. She also mentioned the vital role that such vehicles have to play in our decarbonisation agenda. She is right to say that not all of them will be green vehicles, but there is huge potential for vehicles to share data and travel in a way that has much less impact on the planet.

Photo of Gavin NewlandsGavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

The Minister mentioned decarbonisation, so she will not be surprised to hear me ask this. When may we see the transport decarbonisation plan?

Photo of Rachel MacleanRachel Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Member for asking that. We intend to publish that plan shortly.

Photo of Kerry McCarthyKerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Transport)

We were all led to believe that the plan would be published in the spring. When does the Minister think spring officially ends?

Photo of Rachel MacleanRachel Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

That is one of those questions that I am not qualified to answer, but I assure the hon. Lady that we are committed to publishing the plan shortly.

I hope that I have set out the wide range of Government efforts to make the UK the best place in the world to develop and deploy self-driving vehicles safely. The coming years will prove crucial in securing the many benefits of self-driving vehicles for the UK—for our economy, for the environment and for safe and accessible travel for all citizens. I thank everybody for taking part in the debate.

Photo of Rupa HuqRupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Having led the debate, voted twice and motored back from those two votes, I call Ben Everitt to respond.

Photo of Ben EverittBen EverittConservative, Milton Keynes North 5:54 pm, 26th May 2021

Thank you, Dr Huq. Unfortunately, I came back under my own steam and not by any self-driving car. I thank the Minister for her comments, and I am very grateful for the contributions from everybody who has taken part in the debate.

I think I may have heard something like an invitation to have a ride in a driverless car in the Minister’s speech —yes please, I will bite off both of her arms.

I will talk very briefly about some of the comments that have been made. It has been an incredibly constructive debate. I am grateful to everybody, and to the Chair for allowing such a positive atmosphere.

My hon. Friend Nick Fletcher made an interesting suggestion relating to using machine learning for AI fleets, in relation to driver engagement, which I think is something that we should be taking on board. My hon. Friend Christian Wakeford, in his typically colourful way, alluded to a robot apocalypse. There is definitely some public perception around allowing AI to make decisions in relation to cars that conjures up those images. He then alluded to the battery technology that we will need to run these cars and the jobs and the boost for industry we will get as a result.

Referencing a future where we debate whether humans should be allowed to drive cars is probably the nub of this argument. The Opposition spokesperson, Kerry McCarthy, mentioned that caution should be the watchword in this debate, but we should be cautiously optimistic and cautiously ambitious in the way we approach this.

My hon. Friend Marco Longhi mentioned that the UK leads in innovation, but often falls at the final hurdle of implementation. This is an opportunity for us to do the whole lifecycle—the thinking, the regulation and the insurance, and to build these units and get them on our roads, in a safe and cautious manner.

Gavin Newlands gave a very thoughtful and constructive contribution—I am very pleased—especially in highlighting the alphabet spaghetti of acronyms involved in this debate, and specifically the acronyms in the definition of an acronym. That was wonderful and I thank him.

We have covered all the ground that was not covered before. The debate has shown that, although there are ongoing concerns about driverless cars, connected to autonomous vehicle technology—I know we are looking at addressing those—we have a huge opportunity to do something quite special. We have already seen this in Milton Keynes, as the Minister referenced. It is an exciting field. It has the power to decongest our roads—to get people into new jobs, to get people out and about, to reduce air pollution, to boost jobs and our economy. I thank everybody for their time this afternoon, for indulging my voting habit, and thank you, Dr Huq, for your chairmanship.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the potential merits of driverless cars.

Sitting adjourned.

This feature was sourced from https://www.theyworkforyou.com/

This debate can be found here https://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2021-05-26a.173.0&s=Motor+Vehicles+Insurance#g179.2

Well worth signing up for on a number of issues that go through parliamentary debate.

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly

Tim is a highly qualified Independent Engineer with over 20 years experience as an Engineering Assessor of damaged vehicles.