Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill

Westfield Sportscars in my constituency is a family-owned firm. The company was built on building sports cars and kit cars, but it has now expanded into electric and autonomous vehicles. I was pleased earlier this year to welcome the Secretary of State for Transport and the Government Chief Whip to Westfield to see the new autonomous pods it is now exporting. Working with Ordnance Survey and a range of academic and commercial partners, Westfield has created a world-beating product. Westfield has told me that the Bill is necessary for it to develop the next generation of world-beating autonomous vehicles.

Westfield Sportscars concluded a deal with a regional government in South Korea earlier this year, and I was pleased to welcome a delegation from South Korea to Westfield in March. The firm is now supplying autonomous pods as an urban transit system in a £30 million contract that is potentially worth far, far more. Westfield is now working with Emirates to introduce similar pods airside, which has enormous potential—Emirates is looking at 3,000 vehicles.

This small family firm based in the Black country is delivering cutting-edge autonomous vehicles across the world, but until the Bill is enacted Westfield is unable to supply many of its pods for use right here in the United Kingdom. This Bill provides the stability, the supportive regulatory framework and the clear insurance market that not only firms such as Westfield need but that consumers need if they are to have confidence in this emerging market. Legislation introduces a basic legal framework and it is not appropriate to expect it to have great detail—that will appear later in statutory instruments. However, we must make sure that the legislation we are considering at this point does not preclude later secondary legislation from creating the clear framework that a successful industry will need.

Let me briefly touch on a few points that I hope the Minister will consider in this legislation and the regulations to follow. We need to consider the retention of vehicle and safety data. I am talking about things such as gravitational readings, as well as internal and external cameras, and how they can be made available to investigators and to insurers in cases of accidents and near misses to establish what went wrong and where any fault might lie. For that to be useful it will be necessary for the data to be retained for six years, in line with personal injury limitations.

Similarly, we need to make sure that we are properly logging versions of vehicle software that is safety critical. It may be remotely updated. That is one issue that has not yet been considered in the Bill. Where the software is remotely updated, we need to consider how that can be recorded and made available to vehicle operators and to insurers so that we can be sure what software was running at the time of any incident.

Thirdly, on the question of sensor payloads, the Minister will be aware that the pace of advancement in technology means that sensors may be out of date within six months. I therefore ask him to consider whether the duty should be placed on the original equipment manufacturer to upgrade the vehicles to the latest specifications and then to inform insurers, in a similar way to what happens in the aviation industry. I hope Ministers will consider those three elements as this legislation proceeds and in the regulations that will follow, adding more detail to this regulatory framework.

The key message coming from industry is that this legislation is needed quickly so that we can protect Britain’s place in leading the world in autonomous vehicles.