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Road Transport (Emissions)

Volume 493: debated on Thursday 4 June 2009

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions arising from road transport. (277919)

I join in the congratulations offered to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his partner on the birth of their son. There are regular discussions between Departments. Indeed, on 19 May, the Secretaries of State discussed carbon budgets.

The Minister may be aware of the Chinese company BYD, which is spending billions on developing the battery-powered cars of the future. My concern is that the UK may miss out on that important market. Will he join me in congratulating Vauxhall on its superb Ampera model, which most people will be able to drive most of the time while producing hardly any carbon emissions? What action are the Government taking to install more public recharging points around the country to enable this incredibly important market for the future to develop here?

A number of companies are taking the initiative to develop electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles, which are plug-in and rechargeable. We need to encourage such development not only in the UK, but worldwide. I congratulate Vauxhall on the work it has been doing and on the Volt, which is another General Motors product. That company has problems, but at least some real research and development work is being done. Increasingly, not just the energy companies, but some petrol and diesel suppliers, are recognising that they need to install plug-in points so that cars can be recharged. We are seeing the beginning of what, over the coming decade, is likely to become a vastly expanding industry, with thousands of such vehicles coming on to our roads.

Is there not a powerful argument for not producing carbon dioxide from transport emissions? May I alleviate the concerns of sceptics such as the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) by saying that we cannot go on acidifying the sea because the changes in that environment have gone way too far? That powerful argument for reducing carbon dioxide emissions is rarely used.

My hon. Friend is right that we need to ensure that we are aware of the acidification of the sea and that we recognise it as part of the overall development of a transport and environment policy.

The Government have been clear about the fact that we want real investment to go into developing vehicles that are less polluting—indeed, are low polluting—of the atmosphere. That is why we put £100 million into supporting research and demonstration of new vehicles and £250 million has been announced for consumer incentives in coming years for lower-carbon vehicles. There is a £20 million procurement of low-carbon vehicles for the Government and a £2.3 billion package of support for the automotive sector in the downturn, which has been tailored to support the development of low-carbon products.

Does the Minister agree that his Government’s proposal to expand Heathrow will inevitably lead to increased road transport and increased carbon dioxide emissions?

As part of the process of developing our transport policy, particularly in relation to Heathrow, we have ensured that we have clear targets for emissions reduction. Clearly, bringing aviation into our climate change policies is part of that. In relation to road transport and Heathrow, we want to ensure that we develop policies on hybrid and electric vehicles that will reduce overall emissions from motor vehicles in the coming decades.

Will the Minister of State convey our warmest congratulations to the Secretary of State and Justine on the birth of their son? We wish them much joy during the years ahead. I am lost in admiration for the meticulousness of Ed’s planning: he has provided himself with an excuse to go to ground this weekend that is even more convincing than John Major’s toothache.

Can the Minister of State say which electric vehicles will qualify for the £5,000 voucher announced the week before the Budget?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations, which I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We will consult shortly on how the funding that we have announced will be best distributed. We want the growth in the use of electric vehicles to be a key area for development. The initiative will help to put electric vehicles within the reach of ordinary motorists, by providing help worth between £2,000 and £5,000 towards buying the first electric and plug-in hybrid cars when they hit the showroom, which we expect to occur from 2011 onwards, although some companies are indicating that an earlier date might be possible.

Is it not the truth that no electric vehicle is available now, or will even be available in 2011, that will qualify for the voucher? If we want to build support for a low-carbon economy, is it not essential that we avoid such gimmicks and stunts?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman sees the development of electric vehicles and support for consumers to purchase those vehicles as merely a stunt. There are already electric vehicles that are fine for short trips in the city rather than long-distance trips. We are prepared to put in place the incentives that will ensure that the technology improves—it appears that he would not do that were he ever in government. However, we are taking steps now to provide funding for research and development, and to identify funding, which the car makers and manufacturers will know will be in place, to provide incentives for consumers in future to buy the vehicles we want manufacturers to produce.

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) was looking for congratulations to Vauxhall for developing a new type of vehicle, which might well—we must wait and see—meet some of the criteria. If the Government were to change, however, it appears that Vauxhall might well be severely disadvantaged, and his constituents would be disadvantaged by re-electing him. Conservative Front Benchers seem to be abandoning Vauxhall and its workers.