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Chamber and committees

Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 19, 2024


Automated Vehicles Bill

The Convener

Our next item of business is an evidence session with the Scottish Government on the UK Automated Vehicles Bill.

The bill implements the recommendations of a joint report by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission on the regulation of automated vehicles. On 20 December, the Scottish Government lodged a legislative consent memorandum that reserved its position on whether the Scottish Parliament’s consent should be given. On 29 February, a supplementary memorandum was lodged, which recommended consent to all the provisions outlined in the LCM, other than clause 50. I note for the record that there seems to be a difference of view between the Scottish and UK Governments about whether certain clauses require legislative consent and that clause 50 is one of those.

Our committee has been designated lead committee for scrutiny of the LCM. In the limited time that is available to report, we are having this one evidence session with the Scottish Government. We have also had written evidence from the Confederation of Passenger Transport.

I am pleased to welcome Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet secretary for Transport. She is joined today by Liana Waclawski, a Scottish Government lawyer; Jim Wilson, the licensing team leader for the Scottish Government; Oi Hang Chu, the UK bill and legislative consent manager for Transport Scotland; and George Henry, the operational manager for road safety policy and education for Transport Scotland. Thank you all for joining us today.

Cabinet secretary, I will give you the opportunity to make a brief opening statement.

Fiona Hyslop (Cabinet Secretary for Transport)

Thank you for inviting me to discuss the LCM and supplementary LCM for the UK Government’s Automated Vehicles Bill.

The bill implements the recommendations of a four-year review of regulation of automated vehicles that was carried out jointly by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission. The bill prescribes a new framework for the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles in Great Britain.

Autonomous vehicles represent a vital part of mobility of the future, and the focus on public safety is required to support that. I welcome the necessary legislative framework, albeit that there is concern over some clauses. The late engagement by the UK Government on the bill has also been challenging, given the complexity, novelty and technical nature of the bill. The Scottish Government considers that a number of provisions engage the LCM process.

Clause 40 will require Scottish ministers to provide the Secretary of State with reports from police and local authorities. That is in line with our current policy on sharing safety information with partner agencies to allow us all to learn from incidents. Therefore, we recommend consent.

Clauses 46 to 51 establish the legal liability of the “user in charge”, who is a person in a position to exercise control of a vehicle that is being operated by an authorised automated function. The Scottish Government is in disagreement with the UK Government, as we consider those clauses to relate to devolved matters. Our view is that determining the liability of a user in charge, or any other person, for devolved offences involving the use of a vehicle would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. However, we agree with the policy position of the user-in-charge provisions and recommend consent to clauses 46 to 49 and clause 51 only.

Clause 50 provides the Secretary of State with the power to change or clarify existing legislation, including acts of the Scottish Parliament, without a mechanism to get consent from or consult the Scottish Ministers or Scottish Parliament, so we do not recommend consent on clause 50.

Clauses 82 to 90, excluding clause 86, provide new powers for Scottish ministers in relation to a system of interim passenger permits over the use of automated vehicles within the private hire and taxi regulatory regime. Those clauses are an appropriate approach that reflect the devolved nature of private hire and taxi licensing and, therefore, we recommend legislative consent.

I conclude by saying that extensive engagement has been taken forward by officials with the UK Government’s Department for Transport, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Police Scotland. That ensured that we were provided with the expert advice to allow us to consider and take an informed view on the policy intent of the bill.

Thanks, minister. Committee members have some questions, the first of which will come from Mark Ruskell.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

Good morning, and thanks for that explanation.

I want to ask about clause 50. My understanding is that there might be certain traffic regulations that the UK Secretary of State for Transport could choose to amend. Could you go into a bit more detail about what the scope of that power might be and what your concerns are, specifically around the nature of those regulations and the changes that may or may not happen in Scotland as a result?

Fiona Hyslop

I ask you to bear with me as I explain the position. I might bring colleagues in, too, as the issue is fairly complex.

Clause 50 contains a broad power for the Secretary of State to change or clarify the application of existing relevant legislation, including acts of the Scottish Parliament, to a user in charge, and states that that legislation is relevant if it relates to the driving or use of a vehicle. The UK Government maintains that those provisions are reserved because they relate to the subject matter of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which is reserved under the Scotland Act 1998, in so far as it is concerned with the use of vehicles on roads. The UK Government acknowledges that the provisions will apply to devolved dynamic driving offences but considers that impacts on devolved matters are incidental to that reserved matter. In the most recent letter—as you can appreciate, there has been correspondence back and forwards between us and the UK Government—dated 13 March 2024 from the UK Government, this has been summarised as the reserved policy on use of automated vehicles on roads.

The Scottish Government considers that that takes too broad a view of the reservation. Any and all regulation of the use of conventional vehicles is not reserved. For example, traffic regulation under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 is not reserved. Therefore, any and all regulation of the use of automated vehicles is not a reserved matter. Our view is that the provisions in the Road Traffic Act 1988 that are quoted by the UK Government in relation to the construction and use of vehicles are connected with the regulation of minimum standards for the safe use of vehicles. That is why part 1 deals with the regulatory regime.

I will conclude on this point. The provisions of this user-in-charge immunity, which is dealt with in clauses 46 to 51, do not appear to relate to the regulation of minimum standards for the safe use of vehicles. Instead, the Scottish Government’s view is that the primary purpose of those provisions is to clarify liability for traffic offences. In the case of clause 50, that is civil penalty contraventions of persons in an equivalent position to the driver of a conventional vehicle. Accordingly, modifying offences to remove or clarify liability, which clause 50 gives powers to the UK Government to do in reserved and devolved areas, cannot be incidental. Rather, it appears to be the primary reason why those provisions are being made. Some examples of what would be in the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament include issues in relation to civil penalties, but also bus-lane issues, things that are to do with offences under devolved legislation and offences that would be part of devolved areas. Those are the areas that the provision would allow the UK Government to legislate on or to make provision for in the future in relation to the user-in-charge immunity.

I know that that is quite complex and I apologise to colleagues if I have not quite got that right—they can correct me if that is the case—but that is the explanation of what the difference of opinion is. We think that it is a genuine issue of concern. I know that the committee stage of the bill is taking place today, and that is one of the issues that is being debated there, as well.

Mark Ruskell

I am just wondering whether there is any more detail or any more examples that you can give. Is there a potential for divergence in the way that that liability is treated across the UK? There is a point of principle here, which is that the Scottish Parliament needs to be able to decide on this, but I am just wondering whether there are any practical issues that may arise in relation to that liability regime.

Fiona Hyslop

My colleagues can give any examples of practical issues that they want to mention, but I will say that this is a framework bill. There is a desire to have a consistent approach across the UK for what is a new policy area for automated vehicles. We agree with that approach, which makes sense. However, when it applies to devolved areas that is where we think that there needs to be, at the very least, consultation of Scottish ministers about issues that may impact on us. Of course, the user-in-charge immunity is a brand-new concept, but the issue about what can happen to the vehicle in respect of devolved areas is similar to what might happen in respect of a vehicle if it had been driven by a human being. Therefore, it is the consequences of that and the penalties or the civil offences that are at issue. I will ask colleagues—

The Convener

I ask you to help me, as this issue seems quite abstract. I am still trying to get round the fact that I will get into a car and there will be no driver and I will put my life in the hands of a computer, which I have some fears about—although people may say that about my driving anyway. What I am trying to work out is what an example of an offence would be. If one of your officials could give a real-life example that I can understand, it would probably make things less abstract for me.

Fiona Hyslop

I was about to bring in George Henry, who will, I hope, help to illustrate what this could mean in practice, which might bring it to life. I know that, conceptually, this might be quite a challenging area, but we do need to move with the times, convener, and there are already automated vehicles in use, so we need the framework legislation, but we also need to set it out in a sensible way and anticipate what the implications will be.

George Henry (Transport Scotland)

This will include various devolved legislation in the criminal sphere in relation to dynamic driving offences such as contraventions to traffic orders under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Speed limits could be one of them, as well as other examples, including low-emission zones as well as parking and bus-lane contraventions. If the user in charge in the vehicle is travelling along a road and the speed limit is different, they could end up having a speeding offence that is attached to them when they have not been in charge of the vehicle. Again, that relates to devolved powers that sit within the Scottish Parliament.

The Convener

Just help me. The user in charge is muggins—me—driving the vehicle, and, if I park in a bus lane or I enter an LEZ, I will have committed an offence. However, if it is an automated vehicle, I am not in charge of the vehicle, so the responsibility lies with somebody else. Is that what you are saying?

George Henry

Yes—responsibility will lie with the manufacturer.

What I do not understand is why there is any difference or why there is a difficulty here.


Fiona Hyslop

We agree with you, because we think that, conceptually, it is the same thing, whether the act involves you as an individual or the automated vehicle. However, the UK Government is saying that there is a difference and that, because there is an automated driver, the offence does not apply in the same way. You are right; that is why we agree with you that—

The Convener

No, I understand that if you have one vehicle that is designed to be used across the United Kingdom and it an offence is committed because of some fault in the software, the responsibility cannot lie with the person who is nominally in charge of the vehicle but not driving it at the time.

Fiona Hyslop

Yes, that is correct, because the problem would be with the vehicle and the manufacturer of the vehicle. The issue with clause 50 is about changes to devolved legislation. It would give the UK Government powers over speeding or other aspects that would be offences.

Did the 1988 act anticipate automated vehicles?

Fiona Hyslop

That is the problem. I suspect that it did not. Therefore, this is retrospective. How do you fit in what is novel legislation in a situation where you are bolting it on to existing traffic provisions? Quite clearly, many of the existing traffic provisions are devolved. All we are trying to do is to respect those devolved issues. You bring up an important point that I have not referenced, which is the need to review the legislation precisely because it is new legislation. It is an issue that we have raised with the UK Government.

The UK Government says that clause 38 is sufficient because it reviews the practice and the experience of automated vehicles, whereas we think that, because this is a framework bill, the secondary regulations will be important areas as well. The UK Government has said that it will engage with Police Scotland and the Crown Office, but it is new territory. Therefore, we think that a more established formal review of the legislation will be needed precisely because we have a new piece of legislation that is working with old pieces of legislation in a brand new area that is novel to us all.

We could get into the inadequacies of framework legislation if you like, but I trod on George’s toes, as it were, when he was speaking. Sorry, George—do you want to complete what you were saying?

George Henry

I will just try to provide an explanation or an example. There will be devolved legislation that has been brought in either by roads authorities or even through the Scottish Parliament that clause 50 allows the Secretary of State to change. That is the reason why we are not supportive of that. This Parliament could make a decision to implement a measure for good reasons—such as a low-emission zone in an area—that could potentially be changed through clause 50.

Thanks. Mark—it was your question, so back to you.

Mark Ruskell

It was my question, indeed—you have done well to dine out on it.

The position is clear from my point of view. It is a complex area, and it is a new and emerging technology, but it would be odd to have two sets of rules, effectively: a set of rules for automated vehicles and a set of liabilities and regulations relating to that; and a completely different set of rules for everybody else. It feels like there is the potential for mismatch. I hope that that would never happen, but clause 50 raises the spectre that that might happen, which would be problematic. If that summarises your concerns, along with the real examples that you have just given us, I can understand where the Scottish Government is coming from.

Yes, it does.

I think that clarity is what is needed right now rather than a confusing introduction of a technology that apparently has a different set of rules from everything else.

Fiona Hyslop

There is the potential for change in the future, and, if we are to have consistency across the UK, there should be a basic assumption that the UK Government will talk to us about those changes or consult us formally. That is all that is being asked for by the Scottish Government. We do not think that that is unreasonable, bearing in mind that we are giving consent to the rest of the bill. The UK Government would probably not want to consider clauses 46 to 51, for example, to be LCM issues, but we do, although, as it happens, we agree with the policy content, so we are not objecting to the them, apart from clause 50, for the reasons that you have set out.

There are lots of questions. Next, we have Monica Lennon followed by Ben Macpherson, then Bob Doris.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I think that my questions will be quite boring now, compared with what we have just heard.

We know that the bill will create a new system for the regulation of bus and taxi services that are provided using automated vehicles. Cabinet secretary, can you tell us a little bit more about the Scottish Government’s consultation of bus and taxi industry representatives on the proposals? What key issues emerged from that and how have any concerns been addressed?

Fiona Hyslop

With regard to the consultation, you will remember that this work has taken a number of years; it was the Scottish Law Commission that did the work and conducted the consultation, and there is probably a list somewhere of the people whom it consulted.

We should remember that this is a UK Government bill. Quite often legislation comes out of Law Commission reports, and this legislation has come out of its recommendations, too. However, I will bring in Jim Wilson to talk about the issues and what I suspect will be a need for on-going attention to be paid to licensing issues with regard to the taxi and bus industry in this respect.

Jim Wilson (Scottish Government)

I thank Ms Lennon for the question.

We have had pretty strong engagement with a range of stakeholders in relation to taxi and private hire car policy more generally, so we have that pool of key stakeholders that we can tap into for regulations that will come further down the line.

Some of the concerns from a policy-making perspective that I want to highlight to the committee generally revolve around the need to think about unintended consequences. Perhaps I can use an analogy from the retail sector; I am sure that, when self-scanning till points came in, retail workers would have had some concerns about the impact on their jobs and livelihoods if the store’s intention was simply for the customer to go to the self-scanning point. Similarly, what about those who rely on taxis and private hire car licensing and who make some provision in their communities for travel from point A to point B? What if, suddenly, there is a real desire for behavioural change so that no driver is required? We need to be mindful of the impact not only on citizens but on the taxi sector more generally.

Indeed, I remember a debate in Parliament many months ago on the challenges with providing taxi services in Glasgow. From an employment perspective, technology might be a wonderful thing, but we need to be mindful of the sectors that will be directly impacted by it.

Perhaps I can give you a flavour of some of the key stakeholders with whom we are engaging. In view of the fact that this would disapply the taxi and private hire car licensing provisions, we have a strong working relationship with Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators in Scotland, which provides the legal advice to licensing boards for alcohol and licensing authorities for civic licensing, including taxis and private hire cars. We also have good engagement with a range of other stakeholders, including representatives from Unite the union, private hire car operators and some key taxi stakeholders, too.

I will be brief, but for me, there are two key points, the first of which is in relation to accessibility. I appreciate that the devil will be in the detail when it comes to the regulation-making powers, but we just want to ensure that there are no unintended consequences and that services that have no driver do not have an impact on accessibility for those who want to use them. We need to look at policy development through that equality lens, as we go forward.

Secondly and more generally—this picks up on Mr Ruskell’s point—I would say that another concern is consistency of approach. If we have an interim permit regime, it will look odd to an operator with a UK-wide presence if the system in England and Wales is completely different from that in Scotland. We absolutely need to do what is right for Scottish policy interests, but we must also closely collaborate and work with the Department for Transport on the make-up of the regime.

The communication channels are well in place with regard to engaging with taxi and private hire car stakeholders but, as I have said, we need to go wider than that and ensure that, when we are trying to develop or design a new system, we place users at the heart of that development.

Monica Lennon

Thank you, Mr Wilson. That was helpful. I am encouraged to hear that there has been perhaps not formal consultation but wide engagement. You also mentioned a number of key stakeholders including unions, whose involvement is important.

Given what you have said, I have a wider question. Obviously, there are the provisions in this bill—which is not a Scottish Government bill—but, more generally, concerns have been raised about the impact of automated vehicles on workers. Jim Wilson gave the good example of self-scanning checkouts in supermarkets. I am sure that we have all had our ups and downs with those.

I believe that, in Scotland, there was a trial involving self-driving buses in 2023, and concerns were raised about what such a move might mean for workers not just from a safety perspective but for future workforce planning. Cabinet secretary, could you speak to the issue of workforce planning? We know that there is a shortage of bus drivers, but have you picked up on any other particular issues? On Mr Wilson’s point about the importance of collaboration and discussion with the Department for Transport, are you satisfied that there is good dialogue with the UK Government on these matters?

Fiona Hyslop

There were quite a lot of questions in there, and I will try to recall a number of them.

The CAVForth project ran from May 2019, with the bus service itself operating from May to August 2023. The partners in the project were Fusion Processing, Stagecoach, Alexander Dennis, Edinburgh Napier University and Bristol Robotics Laboratory, and I think that it was supported through Innovate UK. Transport Scotland has not been directly involved in anything subsequently, but a number of trials are taking place in different parts of the UK, so exchange and monitoring in that respect will be really important.

I am trying to remember your other questions. Jim, do you want to come in on anything that you might have been asked about?

Jim Wilson

Ms Lennon asked two questions about the workforce ramifications, which is a hugely important point that needs to be worked through.

Again, it will come as no surprise if I say that, when I was thinking about the opportunities offered by this framework bill—and they are significant—I was thinking, too, of the need to be mindful of the safety aspect. When they take this leap of faith and go into a vehicle without a driver, citizens will want to have absolute confidence that safety is at the heart of the permitting regime.

I will be brief, but I think it worth drawing the attention of committee members to one of the key recommendations in the Law Commission report, which called for

“A new in-use safety assurance scheme to provide regulatory oversight of automated vehicles throughout their lifetimes to ensure they continue to be safe and comply with road rules.”

We recognise safety of passengers, and certainly those who use private hire cars and taxis, as being paramount and, as the bill progresses, there will be an opportunity to have wide-ranging discussions with the Department for Transport on ensuring that safety remains at the heart of the process. A change will be required if we are to persuade the general public that this is the right way to go, because I think that there will be nervousness among certain individuals about moving from the safety of the vehicles that they drive to jumping into a vehicle that has no driver.

Fiona Hyslop

I think that that is where the user-in-charge aspect becomes quite important, because it means that somebody else is in the vehicle. The vehicle might be automated, but there will be times where there might be an instruction from, say, the computer that there needs to be a transition and a person needs to take over, because of whatever circumstance. As for deployment of people and the issue of drivers working, I think that there is likely to be a transition, with control going to a user in charge instead of the vehicle just driving itself, with no other human there.

With regard to socialising the issue around the implications for jobs, we all have a responsibility to raise such matters. Last June, I think, the Parliament had a debate, in which I took part as a back bencher, on artificial intelligence and what it means generally. We cannot give you all the answers, because it is a developing area, but if we do not prepare for it and anticipate things, the market will just take over. That is the interesting aspect—that is, how you regulate in this sphere—and that is what the UK Government has done after the law commissions’ quite extensive study of the issue and report.

Thanks, Monica. I call Ben Macpherson, to be followed by Bob Doris.


Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

Good morning to the cabinet secretary and her officials.

I want to go back to clause 50 of the bill, about which I share the concerns that you have expressed on behalf of the Government. You said that there had been some engagement and correspondence prior to the bill’s publication, but I would be grateful if you could comment further on how meaningful that engagement with the UK Government was on clause 50, both prior to and since publication, and what the timescales were.

Fiona Hyslop

The bill was announced in the King’s speech, and it is fair to say that it is moving quite rapidly, even though it was anticipated as a result of the collective work of the law commissions. The time period in that respect has been quite tight.

There are issues not just for ourselves but for the Crown Office, Police Scotland and policy officials. In that short period of time, there has been as much engagement at official level as there could be; I have to say, though, that I had not spoken to the minister in charge—although we have had various pieces of correspondence, some of which came in the past week. If that correspondence has not been copied to the committee, I am happy to have that done.

In our engagement, the main points that we have been reinforcing include the fact that clauses 46 to 51 fall within devolved areas—although I say again that we will agree to them all from a legislative consent point of view. The UK Government, though, disputes our view. There are also issues with regard to review and clause 38 not being sufficient, because it reviews only what is happening on the roads rather than whether the legislation is fit for purpose or needs to be reviewed.

That has been the tenor of our engagement. We have been as co-operative as we can be. Nevertheless, as I have been trying to explain, the regulations and secondary legislation will, I suspect, be as important as the substantive framework aspects of the UK bill. That legislation will be needed.

As I have said, the bill is moving fairly rapidly; indeed, it had been in its committee stage in the House of Commons this morning. I suspect that this is a staging post in what will be a continuous dialogue, but perhaps my other colleagues might want to add something.

The Convener

Before you bring anyone else in, cabinet secretary, I want to go back to your generous offer with regard to the correspondence that you mentioned. The committee would like to see that, because I think that it would be useful for us.

Ben Macpherson

I also want to add that if the Government wants to relay any further comment to the committee following the committee stage in the House of Commons, we would be interested in that, too.

It strikes me that the engagement prior to the bill’s publication with regard to devolved matters was not as meaningful as it could have been. Would that be a fair assessment?

Fiona Hyslop

It could have been better, but I recognise that this is a complex area. At the heart of this is a failure to differentiate between the technology of the automated vehicle and the rules of the road. The rules of the road are, in effect, devolved, whereas the monitoring of the technology is, as we appreciate, a reserved matter under the provisions in the Road Traffic Act 1988 on standards of vehicles. The issue is that now there is this bridge to the vehicle becoming the driver as opposed to what happens in the cars that you and I drive, regulation of which is reserved. The issue is the interaction with the rules of the road.

I do not want to put officials in the position of having to say where they are with that discussion. To be fair, it is a challenging area.

We empathise on the challenge.

Fiona Hyslop

I am just disappointed that there is no appreciation from the UK Government that, in such a challenging, new and novel area, there must be a good understanding of such issues and some preparedness to consult us on clause 50. That addition would show that it understood the difference with regard to devolved competence under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which is the traffic offences legislation—that is, the rules of the road. Those rules are still devolved matters, not reserved, and that clause opens up an opportunity for them to become reserved.

I do not even know whether that is the UK Government’s intention. It might well be, but we might start to get completely conspiratorialist about the reach of the UK Government’s powers. Perhaps I will just leave it at that.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

Mr Henry was very helpful in bringing clause 50 to life, because it can be quite abstract until we see the detail. When I was listening to some of the explanations, I was furiously googling bus-lane infringements to see what the clause could mean in practice and I think—I could have it wrong—that the Scottish Parliament sets the maximum fine for breach of a bus lane by statutory instrument to a maximum of £60, with variations of £30 if you pay early and an additional 50 per cent if you do not.

In the rest of the UK, the fine is £130 in London, and I think it is up to £70 elsewhere. Just hold that thought for a second. If clause 50 was applied to automated vehicles and used to set the fines regime for infringement across the UK, could we end up with a two-tier system in Scotland, in which drivers of vehicles pay one set of fines and the liable individual for the automated vehicle pays under a different fines regime? Is that a two-tier system that would be undesirable within Scotland?

Fiona Hyslop

Yes, and that is exactly what clause 50 could lead to. I am not saying that it will lead to it, but it could.

Some local authorities have requested to increase the amounts of fines for bus-lane infringement in Scotland, which are a devolved matter. What you have described is a good example of what the UK Government bill, as it is currently drafted, would enable. If you had a judgmental view about trying to drive the market towards use of automated vehicles, for example, you might want a differentiated system, but I do not think that that makes sense.

On the point about the rules of the road, it would be easier for everybody if they are consistent and there will be a period where there will be hybrid use. There will be us, then there will be everybody else as well as user-in-charge vehicles and so on. There will be a period of hybrid activity and I do not think that it would make sense for that differentiation between rules of the road, fines and so on, to happen.

I am not saying the UK Government would do that, but it is exactly what clause 50 would enable and allow.

Bob Doris

That is helpful. Just for clarity—Mr Henry might want to come in on this—I will give an example of a two-tier system in Scotland between automated vehicles and vehicles that have to be driven in the way that Mr Mountain would drive his vehicle, or perhaps in a safer way than Mr Mountain would drive his vehicle. We could have a two-tier system for bus-lane fines, and for parking infringements, speeding and low-emission zone breaches. The list of where there could, within Scotland, be a two-tier system for vehicles committing the same infringements is quite extensive.

Yes. George Henry may want to come in on that. Is that a good explanation, George?

George Henry

I agree with you, Mr Doris—that is exactly what clause 50 could do, which why we do not accept that it is the right thing to do. From the point of view of the rules of the road, the understanding of Scottish motorists and road users, and safety, I do not think that a two-tier approach is beneficial.

I am sorry for labouring the point, but I had to be clear in my own head. Thank you.

We are running short of time, but I am going to give Mark Ruskell a short question.

Mark Ruskell

Further to that, I was thinking about speed limits. Could there be two tiers on speed limits for automated vehicles and conventional vehicles? In the devolved context in Wales, there is a national speed limit of 20mph in built-up areas. Could automated vehicles be run at different speeds under a different set of rules of the road under clause 50?

That would be allowed if the UK Secretary of State were to use his powers under clause 50 to do that. That would be a policy decision in that hypothetical situation.

So, in theory, clause 50 would grant those powers.

George Henry

I just want to be clear on that. If the Secretary of State was to change the speed limit on a road, the change would apply to all vehicles, not just automated vehicles, because changing the speed limit on the road changes it for everything. There is a bit of concern about speed limits because we are going through the national strategy for reducing the speed limit to 20mph in built-up areas in Scotland at the moment. If there was a suggestion of a change in UK legislation, that could impact on legislation that we have already approved in Scotland.

Mark Ruskell

Okay, I will let that sink in a bit.

I have a final question about the broader policy context. I will play devil’s advocate and say that I see automated vehicles as a bit of a costly distraction. Where do they sit within the Scottish Government’s transport policy? We have major issues with infrastructure investment for conventional bus travel and I know that the Government is working hard to support the bus sector in that. Is bus operators investing in automated bus technology a realistic tangible option right now? Will the cost of redesigning streets and systems to accommodate such vehicles not be astronomical? I am interested in where we are right now and where we think this might be going in the future.

Cabinet secretary, I would be happy if you answer that question briefly. The issue is not part of the LCM but I think that it is a legitimate question for a two-sentence answer.

Fiona Hyslop

We will all have to consider those things as we go forward, as AI and automated vehicles increasingly become part of our everyday life. As I say, it is a journey for everybody to go on. Is that sufficiently short for you, convener?

The Convener

That is definitely short enough for me. I think I am with Jim Wilson; I am a bit concerned about the whole thing, anyway.

I am looking around the room but it does not look as though there are any further questions. I have two questions for you, cabinet secretary. You said that the Scottish Law Commission had been involved from start to finish. Does it have a view on clause 50, if it has been involved?

Liana Waclawski (Scottish Government)

It would not be for the Scottish Law Commission to do that kind of analysis. What aspect of clause 50 are you thinking of?

The Convener

Clause 50 seems to me to be like hypothetical bears hiding behind trees becoming a threat. It is hypothetical. If the Scottish Law Commission has been involved throughout the process, does it share the Scottish Government’s fear or is it more sanguine about it on the basis that the situation is developing and what happens today could change tomorrow, with the speed of AI development?

Liana Waclawski

I am not aware of the Scottish Law Commission’s having taken a particular view. I understand that its recommendation was for the bill to contain a power that would enable clarification of the application of existing legislation to the new concept of a user in charge of an automated vehicle, as you say, because once the operation starts, it will become apparent where there are gaps and where existing legislation does not make sense with regard to the user in charge. I think that is the intention of clause 50, but the issue is how that will apply to devolved offences and devolved legislation in the sphere of civil sanctions. In so far as clause 50 would be used to amend that legislation, the Scottish Government’s view is that that engages the LCM process.

I understand that. What do they think about this in Wales? Are the Welsh signing up to it?

I have a briefing about where Wales is, but I would rather come back to you on that. I do not want to misrepresent the Welsh position.

Yes—that is a dangerous thing to do, cabinet secretary. I am trying to find out whether other people share the Scottish Government’s concerns, or they are just the Scottish Government’s concerns.

Fiona Hyslop

Remember, however, that Wales has different devolved and reserved responsibilities. I am not an expert on Welsh traffic legislation. I am happy to come back to the committee on your question once we have checked it out. I think that we have some indication of their general views, but I do not want to misrepresent the Welsh.

Okay. I think that Wales would say that they have rolled 20mph speed limits out across Wales quicker than we have in Scotland, so they must have some powers that could be affected by this.

I assume that they have, but you asked me about what their view is about clause 50 and I do not want to misrepresent them on that.

We must write a report by next week. Things are moving that quickly, so a quick response on that and the correspondence would be helpful.

We will get the correspondence to you right away. We will check what we know about the Welsh position and if we do not know about it, we will also let you know that.

The Convener

Thank you very much, cabinet secretary. That concludes our evidence session. As I said, we will consider and agree a short report to the Parliament next week. Thank you for your time this morning.

I briefly suspend the meeting to allow a changeover of witnesses.

09:45 Meeting suspended.  

09:50 On resuming—