Driverless cars

May 2, 2017Articles, Assembly Issues0 comments

Plenary Tuesday 02 May 2017


Spoken Contribution – 15:06:21

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Thanks to the Minister for his statement today. Nick Ramsay made the point that this report may well not end up being the talk of pubs and clubs throughout south Wales—throughout Wales, rather—and I think he could well be right. And I think, to a few Members here in the Chamber, it all remains a little bit mysterious, even to us. And the process by which we’ve arrived at having a future generations commissioner and a future trends report: it all seems to me somewhat arcane. I have read through the report today. It’s a reasonably hefty report, but I struggle to find any guide in it for meaningful Government action, so I am still slightly puzzled by it all. We did have Sophie Howe, the commissioner, appearing before the equalities committee, and she was a very efficient witness before the committee. She did engage with the committee, but I feel she wasn’t really there for long enough to answer all of the questions that we would have wanted to ask her and to ascertain quite how her role will influence Government action, because she is looking at covering a wide range of potential Government activity. For instance, 44 public bodies are covered by the Act. She herself—Sophie herself—talked about the difficulty of implementing legislation and the need to avoid tick-box exercises, but how are these meaningfully going to be avoided when we have public bodies that, in her own words, already feel beleaguered because of all the statutory requirements that they have to fulfil, as it is, before the future generations Act is even taken into account? Added to that, there is the fact that some of the regulations emanating from the different statutory requirements contradict others. She cited, herself, the example of the need for health boards to have three-year plans, which contradicts the future generations objective of long-term planning. So, I wonder how the Welsh Government will resolve these apparent contradictions.

Looking at the practical issues that may arise from this report, there is an issue of climate change, which is referred to. Now, we know that the climate is changing. There are differences of opinion in the Chamber as to what may be causing those climate changes, but I think, on the whole, we agree that climate is changing. There is increasing desertification. The Sahara is spreading. Areas of Spain and other parts of southern Europe are becoming too arid for agriculture. Given that this is happening and there is less land likely to be available for farming, it would therefore make sense, in the UK, to hang onto our agricultural land. This is long-term planning relating to food security. Why, therefore, are we allowing councils to build on the green belt land? For instance, in the Vale of Glamorgan, there is land that has been farmed for hundreds of years that is now going over to housing. Surely long-term planning considerations should prevent building on green belt land in Wales. So, if you now have a report on the future generations that is going to be in any way meaningful, are you now going to give out advice and guidance to councils to prevent them or to warn them off from building on green belt land? That would be one practicality arising from your purported idea of having long-term planning. Other issues: automation. Thirty-five per cent of jobs—actually, I think it is 30 per cent—are predicted to be at risk in Wales due to automation. So, the working population in Wales needs therefore to be upskilled if this prediction is in any way accurate. More vocational training, I would suggest, would help. So, would you agree that we need to move away from a blanket approach to education in Wales? Do we need to look at the effectiveness, for instance, of the comprehensive school system?

Driverless cars are mentioned. Now, this completely mystifies me. I know that we are supposed to be having driverless cars. Sophie Howe, when she appeared before the committee, suggested that the M4 relief road project should have taken into account the issue of driverless cars. I’m not sure what difference that will make in terms of congestion on the roads. Although we are going to have driverless cars, won’t we just have the same amount of cars on the road? So, how would this actually affect anything? I am puzzled by this. Maybe you can—[Interruption.] Ah, stopping distances. Okay, there may be technical aspects that, as a non-driver—[Interruption.] Okay, thank you. There may be technical aspects I haven’t taken into account, so apologies for my ignorance, but the answers would be good.

Now, you also, rather amusingly, looked at the problems of futurology, and Mike Hedges came up with an example as well—you came with examples relating to horse manure and telephonists, which were quite amusing in themselves. There was also a chap in the early 1960s called Dr Beeching, who seemed to think that there would be no need for passengers to travel on the railways in a few years’ time. That one turned out to be a bit wrong, didn’t it? Anyway, thanks for the report. If you could cast any light on the issues I’ve raised I would be grateful. Thank you.