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Electric and Hybrid Electric Cars

Volume 612: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2016

I beg to move,

That this House has considered electric and hybrid electric cars.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. It is great to see the Minister, who I am sure is very interested in electric cars.

I look forward to having electric cars running all along the A303 and A30, with that road, along with the A358, completely dualled—that is an aside for the Minister, but I am sure he has already got the message.

The electric and hybrid electric car market is booming in the UK, with the number of hybrid electric cars increasing by 31% and the number of electric cars by 52% in the past year alone. Electric vehicles decrease emissions, reduce noise pollution and, critically, can help to dramatically improve air quality in our city centres.

I declare an interest as chair of the all-party historic vehicles group and the owner of several historic vehicles. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not accompany the incentivising of electric vehicles with a penalty against those who seek to keep part of Britain’s motoring heritage on the road?

If we can dramatically reduce pollution levels by using electric cars, particularly in our city centres, we should be able to allow—dare I say it?—a little pollution from older vehicles. It is a matter of balance, and I agree with my right hon. Friend. I prefer a carrot for people to move over to electric cars, rather than a stick for those who do not.

The April 2016 report on air quality by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that each year there are between 40,000 and 50,000 early deaths due to air quality problems. Polluting vehicles are part of the problem, especially in our inner cities. The UK has a legal obligation under EU directives to address air quality. Of course, we can probably now have our own directives, but most people in this country would agree that it is good to set a target to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels to 40 mg per cubic metre or less and to ensure that, particularly in our inner cities, not only our cars but our vans and lorries—the vehicles that are actually polluting—are electric or hybrid.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that such measures would dramatically change areas, such as Bradford on Avon in my constituency, that suffer heavily from air pollution problems due to huge levels of congestion? Small pockets like that, as well as the big cities, could be dramatically transformed.

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. People who drive an electric car, especially a pure electric car, are not starting and stopping their engine in queues of traffic, where the highest levels of pollution are often found. It will take a little while to get to the number of electric cars that we want, but it will make a dramatic difference in areas such as Bradford on Avon, which she represents so well.

Now that we have left the EU, it is vital that the Government double down on air quality issues. [Interruption.] Well, we are about to leave—it is rumoured that there was a referendum. The new targets that we set must be as rigorous as those set by the EU. During the referendum campaign, nobody on either side argued against that—before the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) glares at me, I was actually on the remain side. We must set tough targets on both the location and levels of pollution, because we all want a clean environment. The Mayor of London has outlined even tougher measures to address the problems, including a £10 pollution charge and a faster roll-out of clean buses, so everyone is working towards that aim.

I will now talk about the Norwegian model—not for entry to the single market, but for electric cars. Some 25% of all new cars in Norway are plug-in electric vehicles, which compares with 1.3% in the UK. Although we have had interesting increases in the number of electric cars, which I mentioned earlier, those increases were from a low base. The increase in Norway was due to a long-term infrastructure drive launched in 2009-10 and incentives for electric cars, which include the abolition of import tax; reduced annual registration tax, or road tax; no purchase taxes; road toll exemptions; 0% VAT; access to bus lanes; free access to road ferries; and guaranteed financial incentives until 2018. Norway has been very ambitious, and I expect the Minister to be equally ambitious.

My hon. Friend is delivering a passionate exposition of his case. Will he join me in welcoming research such as that taking place at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in my constituency? The centre is particularly researching batteries, not only for electric cars but for driverless cars. The new generation of batteries that are being produced will power such cars for even longer.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Battery capacity affects mileage, the length of time between charges and, of course, how long the batteries last. One problem with the early hybrid cars was that their batteries did not last long enough. Such research is therefore key, as is research on hydrogen cars.

The two main barriers to increasing the number of electric cars are the number of charging points and the cost. According to, the UK currently has some 11,400 charge points at 4,000 different locations. By comparison, Norway has 6,500 charging stations at 1,580 locations. Norway has only a thirteenth the population of Britain, so comparatively it has many more charging points. The UK cannot be left behind. In Britain, on average, there are 4 miles between each public charging point; in Wales, it is a full 12 miles. Clear and visible charging points are a crucial way of encouraging more members of the public to invest in electric cars. The Government should commit to installing public electric chargers within 1 mile, on average, of every home in Britain—that is what the Minister has to do.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has mentioned Wales, and I am sure the Welsh football team will be in everyone’s thoughts tonight. Many right hon. and hon. Members, and indeed the Minister, will know that Riversimple, a hydrogen-based car company in my Brecon and Radnorshire constituency, was out in New Palace Yard just a few weeks ago. I hope the Minister will tell us how the Government can support such interesting schemes and businesses. Such home-grown technology can help Britain to lead the way.

I could not agree more. Although this debate is about electric cars, hydrogen will also play a really important role. May I take this opportunity to wish Wales all the very best for tonight? May they get through to the final, because England cannot seem to manage to do it. I hope Wales do very well.

A project in my constituency in Devon is currently considering a car hire hub at junction 27 of the M5. People will be able to come by train to Tiverton Parkway and hire electric cars. It has not been built yet but I hope it soon will be, because it is a really good idea for Devon and for the countryside.

It is also vital that the Government ensure that many of the new charging points offer rapid charging, either by alternating current or direct current. Rapid AC chargers can charge an electric vehicle up to 80% in 30 minutes. That is essential, because one reason why people do not always buy electric cars is that they fear they will take a long time to charge and that they do not travel a great distance. In 2015, only 20% of UK chargers were rapid chargers. When the Government roll out new charging points, they need to ensure that the majority of them are rapid, so that drivers can quickly recharge and continue their journey. The Government should ensure that every petrol station has rapid charging facilities.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Our hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) secured a similar debate in this Chamber a few weeks ago, in which I made the point that when the petrol combustion engine was rolling out at the beginning of the last century, the cars came before the petrol stations. Rather than focusing on the provision of charging points, the Government should focus on incentivising the take-up of electric cars. The charging points will surely follow.

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and I shall move on to incentivising people to buy electric cars to get more of them on the road. However, I emphasise that the two aspects need to come largely together. The shortage of charging points may be one reason for people not buying the cars in the first place. We have to have both.

Actions the Government have taken include the plug-in grant of up to £5,000 for cars and £8,000 for vans; setting up the Office for Low Emission Vehicles; additional conversion funding for vans and lorries; funding for all Government car fleets to go electric—I see the odd Land Rover and Range Rover here outside, but I think all Ministers ought to be in electric cars—and tax benefits and exemptions for electric vehicles.

The Government should supercharge their efforts to incentivise electric vehicles. The Chancellor has rightly cut fuel duty since 2010; the Brexiteers raised the prospect of exempting fuel from VAT during the referendum campaign, but they seem to have gone remarkably quiet about it since then. There should be a similar push to incentivise the use of electric and hybrid vehicles in the Department for Transport and in Government more widely.

What about future policy development? Some innovative towns and cities, such as Milton Keynes, have new schemes—free parking, charging hubs, bus lane priorities—to boost electric vehicles. The Government should copy local authority best practice on electric cars. They must recognise that electric vehicles are part of the future of our transport. Electric car registrations are predicted to outstrip petrol and diesel vehicles by 2027, and it would be good to achieve that before then. Private car ownership is dropping in many cities, including London, with a move towards car sharing, car pooling and taxi services. Shared transport becoming cheaper should encourage the business community to adopt rapid electric cars more quickly. Transport businesses support electric vehicles, because they are reliable and efficient. The Government must be alive to incentivising businesses, through better infrastructure and lower cost, to move their car fleets over to electric vehicles.

To ensure that electric and hybrid vehicles, which are much quieter than conventional vehicles, are safe for blind and partially sighted people, we must make sure that they make some sound so that people know they are coming. It is a huge advantage to have very quiet vehicles, but if they are too quiet there can be a danger.

I am now getting to my recommendations—I am sure the Minister will be pleased that I have made a few along the way. Electric and hybrid vehicles are the future; they are cleaner, quieter, greener and go a long way to reducing air quality problems. The Government should greatly enhance current programmes. Fewer than 1% of cars on British roads are hybrid or electric vehicles at the moment, so we need to go much faster. The Government’s modern transport Bill will offer a great opportunity to take the necessary steps. I know we have heard this many times over recent months, but let us copy the Norwegian model. If we put the infrastructure in place and create the incentives, electric car usage will rocket.

Let us have a Government commitment to rapid AC or DC chargers within an average of 1 mile of every home in Britain, not the current 4 miles; proper, generous incentives for electric vehicles for both business and private ownership, including tax breaks, toll exemptions and access to bus lanes; an integrated part of the website that shows every electric public charging point in the UK and how many rapid charging points are available; and a statutory obligation for every new petrol station to contain electric car charging points. Let’s get this show on the road. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Turner. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this debate. One quite good thing about Westminster Hall debates is that they give me a chance to agree with Conservative Members, and I pretty much agreed with everything he said, including his recommendations and conclusions. He mentioned the need for continued tough regulations and targets on climate change and air quality after Brexit. I agree with that, but from a Scottish perspective I hope Scotland will remain in the EU, as the Scottish people wish.

The standard motion in a Westminster Hall debate is “That this House has considered” the topic. By default, for electric and hybrid cars, the answer is yes. The House has already considered the matter, and there have been different Government policies on it. However, those policies have changed, which is part of the reason why electric vehicle uptake is not as high as was originally predicted.

Everyone agrees that electric cars are good for the environment and they have the bonus that their running costs are estimated at 2p to 3p per mile, which is way cheaper than 16p per mile for the average family car that runs on conventional fuels. But, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton pointed out, up-front costs are a barrier to many people being able to purchase these cars, so the uptake has been way too small for us to start to make inroads in climate change targets. The Government need to take more action, and that action has to be joined up across the entire energy sector if it is to contribute to meeting climate change targets. I emphasise that I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s recommendations.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another barrier to many of us leading by example and using an electric car is the range of the vehicle? If he or I wanted to travel from our constituencies to Westminster by electric car, we could not currently do so without breaking the journey to recharge it.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The point was made earlier that the up-front cost is one barrier, but another is the availability of charge points and the distance cars can travel. I hope to touch on that a little later.

In 2011, the coalition Government published their strategy paper for electric vehicles, which predicted that between 1% and 2% of new car registrations in 2015 would be electric. That was a very modest target, but sales for the third quarter of 2015 were less than 1%—effectively, the target was missed by 100%. Between 2010 and 2015, only 42,700 out of 3.4 million new cars registered were electric. That is only 1.3%, so there is a long way to go. A 2050 horizon for nearly every car being electric is a reasonable timeframe and an acceptable target for the Government but, if we are to achieve that, instinctively, it feels that we need a much higher uptake than we currently have. To achieve that will require more Government action. Will the Minister explain what additional steps are planned?

We heard earlier that that wee independent oil-rich country called Norway has managed to achieve a market share for electric vehicles of 18%—that is what my notes say; if it is 25%, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton said, that is even better—so there are clearly lessons to be learned.

The all-party group on energy heard last week from Statoil, the Norwegian state oil company. It said that, although setting tough targets on emissions is important, we really need to take action to change people’s behaviour. Does my hon. Friend agree that Norway is making a huge contribution in that regard? If we could mirror what Norway is doing—for example, by taking similar fiscal steps—that would be a good model on which the UK could base its plans.

I totally agree. It is ironic that Norway has made so much money from oil but is now re-investing it and planning for the future by reducing emissions. There are clear lessons to be learned from how Norway set up an oil fund for future investment.

I return to Government policy. Further proof of inconsistency is shown by the fact that in March 2011 the coalition Government stated that by June 2011 they would publish a strategy to deliver 8,500 charging points throughout the UK. Come June 2011, the emphasis was on how charging would mainly take place at people’s homes. That was seen as a retreat from the original commitment. I agree with the logic—most people would prefer to charge their cars overnight at a charge point in their home—but in cities in particular that option is not available to many people. It is now July 2016, and there are still only 4,094 connection points, so it is clear that the planned accessibility is not there and that, as we have heard from other Members, that is a barrier to the increased use of electric cars.

In 2014, it was pledged that there would be a rapid charge point at every motorway station and a network of 500 rapid chargers throughout the country by the end of 2014. In 2016, there are still only 689 rapid chargers, so it is fair to say that that target was missed. Can the Minister update us on the status of the plan for a rapid charger at every motorway station?

General availability is patchy as well. Some 33% of connectors are in London and the south-east. I am pleased to say that Scotland is punching above its weight, with 15% of the UK’s total. That is partly thanks to the Scottish Government’s investment of £11 million in 900 publicly available charging bays. There seems to be ambiguity about charge points, which are the locations, and the number of connectors. That ambiguity seems to suit the Government when they answer questions, because the number of chargers gets conflated with the number of charge point locations.

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that certain authorities, such as Wiltshire unitary authority, have led the way and are ensuring that there are multiple charging points? In fact, there are many in my constituency. I agree that coverage is patchy in certain areas, but there are areas that we should hold up as beacons of how to do it right.

Order. I should inform Members that, when the hon. Gentleman has finished, there will be five minutes for each speaker.

I will take that as a cue to hurry up, Mr Turner. I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan): good practice should be held up and rolled out.

There is no doubt that the Government can and do drive behaviour. Things just cannot be left to the free market. Previous changes in road tax certainly led me to select a hybrid electric vehicle as a company car—the tax was lower—but for others diesel cars are currently more financially accessible and are seen as having great mileage coverage. We know, though, that the flip side is that diesel vehicles cause the highest pollution in terms of particle emissions. That is further proof that a better long-term strategy is required.

Yes. Sorry, Mr Turner.

It needs to be about more than just cars. The Scottish Government have led the way—Aberdeen now has Europe’s largest fleet of hydrogen-powered buses—and are working towards a low-carbon economy, as the UK Government should be. This debate is related to renewables targets, which have not been helped by the removal of subsidies for renewables. Finally, if the use of electric vehicles increases, we need a regulatory framework for their maintenance and a qualification regime for the technicians who will be working on them. A 500 V hydrogen cell battery cannot be tinkered with lightly.

Order. Members should note that three people are down to speak and they have until 5.10 pm, when I shall call the Front Benchers. I am sure Members can work it out for themselves.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) for bringing this important subject to our attention. As a member of both the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which my hon. Friend chairs, I have been involved in two air-quality inquiries. The statistics are absolutely stark. We have to take action to improve air quality, not only on environmental grounds but very much on health grounds. Something like 40,000 to 50,000 people die every year because of air pollution, which is absolutely shocking.

I commend the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for taking steps towards a clean air strategy. I welcome that, but we need to do a lot more. In this brave new post-EU world, I urge the Government to bring all that legislation on air pollution back here under our own hat and keep to all the stringent targets that have been set. I am sure the Minister will take that on board because it is really important.

Even in Taunton Deane we have two serious air pollution hotspots. I know the Minister will be interested to hear that one is on the A358—a road the upgrade of which we are desperate for and the Minister has assured me we will get—at Henlade. The upgrade we are hoping for should help to tackle the congestion. The other hotspot is in East Reach. Such problems do need to be tackled, which is where this debate comes in.

Electric and hybrid cars will really help—some are totally emission-free—but we need to encourage people to drive them. A Department for Transport survey showed that only 5% of people in the UK drive an electric car. The survey also found that 56% of people had never even thought about buying an electric car, so we have a long way to go and need to spread the message further.

What is the way forward? We need financial incentives and many of the things referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton. I particularly urge the Government to consider the Norwegian methods. We must also remember that education is important in getting the messages across. People do not realise how cheap electric and hybrid cars are to run and that the purchase prices are not as expensive as they think. Per mile, electric cars are five times cheaper to run than an average car. They carry no vehicle excise duty and the costs can be as little as 2p a mile. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) has an electric car and told me in the Tea Room that it costs only £8 to charge it fully—and she runs miles on that. It is really a no-brainer. In Parliament, we have two fast chargers and quite a lot of slow charging points, but it is still not enough.

On the subject of charging, there is currently no requirement for local authorities to provide electric charging points. Although it would be useful to receive revised guidance from the Minister, would it be preferable if local authorities were obliged to provide charging points, so that anybody who decided to go electric would never face the threat of running out of power mid-journey? Does the hon. Lady accept that point?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter because I was about to move on to it. It is such an important point and other people have already referred to it. In Taunton Deane, for example, I was involved in the launch of the first ever charging point. That was in 2012 and it was at Hestercombe Gardens, which is now an internationally famous landscape and gardening site. The person launching that charging point was Michael Eavis himself, from Glastonbury, and he was driving the very first all-electric car; he was trialling it.

Although that was a great start, there is a dearth of charging points in my constituency. There are some at the park-and-rides and I think there is one at an electric bike shop, but sadly that is it. How can we expect people to buy these cars if they are uncertain about whether they can get from A to B? For example, on Friday I am venturing to Dorset to talk about ancient trees, but how can I set off in an electric car if I do not know whether I will get back or not because I cannot charge it up on the way? In these rural areas, there are no charging points.

This is a really big issue, but I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton has raised it today. As a result of my raising it with the leader of my council, he has realised that it is a big issue and he is now feeding it into the new district centre plans and future transport strategy to ensure that the council addresses the issue, because it is really important.

I will end with a few upbeat facts about electric and hybrid cars. I went to the test of the car in New Palace Yard the other day and it was absolutely fascinating. I thought the car was quite trendy and state-of-the-art. I could see myself in it; it was rather lovely.

A lot of these models are well-built and designed to last; they are not throwaway culture, like a lot of our other cars. They are all about miles, so they have less impact on the environment, consideration of which I am particularly keen to encourage. Many of the models are designed to be built locally, so we could have them built in our own constituencies. They are not exactly kit cars, but we could bring back the industry and make it local. In our brave new post-EU world, perhaps we will have to think about that, rather than being quite so tied to the German car industry. There could be great mileage in that idea.

Thank you, Mr Chairman; I am absolutely about to draw my remarks to a close.

Electric and hybrid cars are a great way forward for a new and sustainable future. I fully support my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, and I really hope that the Minister is going to think about some of the incentives. Get sparky about this and get electrically charged.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing it. He does excellent work in the other Committees that he chairs and it is good to know that he is also knowledgeable about electric cars.

In the very short time that I have, I will make a few comments. The global race to get ahead in the hybrid car game is really heating up. An example of that, as the hon. Gentleman said, is the hydrogen car that we had here just the week before last. I believe that there is an incentive from competition when it comes to performance of such cars and their price.

Let me take a few examples from the continent to show what other countries are doing in the race to consolidate the electric and hybrid cars industry. Some of them are from the EU; I have to say that I am glad that we are out of the EU, but I know that we cannot ignore the very important things that are happening within the EU. The German Government are giving a €1 billion subsidy to boost electric cars. There is a €4,000 incentive for each electric car, with a €3,000 incentive for a plug-in hybrid car. At present, there are 50,000 electric cars in Germany, but they hope to increase that figure. German automotive companies such as Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW have signed up to a programme that is open to all German brands and foreign brands.

The Netherlands is another country that has done a lot, although I have to say, in all honesty, that some have perhaps been a bit extreme. They were trying to vote through a motion calling on the country to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars, starting in 2025. That has not succeeded—at long last there is some sense when it comes to passing legislation—but the fact that they were considering that is an indication of how far they are prepared to take these matters.

Record numbers of electric vehicles continue to be sold in the UK year on year. In the last five years, more than 60,000 plug-in models have been registered. I say this to the Minister: credit where credit is due. The Government’s “Go Ultra Low” scheme estimates that by 2027 electric-powered cars could dominate the market. I am not entirely convinced by that, but that is what the stats seem to indicate, with some 1.3 million sold every year. If that is the case and if that is what the Government are aiming at, it would be good news.

I am sorry, but it would be unfair on the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), who is following me.

The Government-backed plug-in car grant scheme has been instrumental in giving buyers an incentive to switch to electric power. I am conscious of the time, Mr Turner, so I will make this my last point. I have said this before in questions to this Minister and others with responsibility for the issue—I think another hon. Member also referred to this in an intervention—but what I want to know is: what comes first? Is it the plug-ins and the charging points or is it the new cars? They both have to go together. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? They have to go together, so let us look at that.

We cannot do it in Newtownards or in Northern Ireland, even though the Government have given a large amount of money to Northern Ireland through the Assembly to incentivise the process. I welcome that, but if we really want to do things in a constructive way, we need to have the charging points in the streets, to incentivise us as vehicle drivers to want to have an electric car, because we know it will get us from here to Coleraine and back or from here to Belfast. If we can do that as cheaply as the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) suggested, I believe that is something we should do.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this debate.

I am enthusiastic about electric vehicles but realistic about the pace at which they can be rolled out, so while I will of course talk about the digitised and electrified nirvana that awaits, it is important to recognise that biofuels will probably need to do the heavy lifting in the meantime, as we try to meet our decarbonisation targets on the roads. I want to talk briefly about three areas of Government policy: fuel duty, low-carbon generation capacity and the preparedness of our energy system.

On tax, road duty is worth about £27.2 billion a year, which is about 4% of the Exchequer’s money. That is a significant amount of money that Her Majesty’s Treasury will not be ready to give up in a hurry. As far as I can work out, there are just over 30 million cars on the road, driving just under 400 billion kilometres a year, which means an average of about 13,200 kilometres, 760 litres of petrol and therefore about £460 of fuel duty per vehicle. The big challenge for the Department for Transport is to work out how that £460 of fuel duty per vehicle can be transferred to some other tax, be that car tax—although then we could be talking about paying £500 or £600 of car tax per vehicle—or a road pricing scheme. However, there is no way that I can see the Treasury giving up that tax take all together, so surely the DFT has a plan for what might go in its place.

On generation capacity, Bloomberg envisages that, on current expectations, by 2040 electric cars will require about 1,900 terawatt-hours of electricity around the world. That represents about 10% of what we are currently generating globally. That is quite a challenge, because the easiest thing to do is to build gas-fired power stations or, worse, coal-fired stations to meet that increased requirement for generation immediately. However, then we would not actually be achieving any sort of decarbonisation, because the cars would be charged with electricity that has been produced from dirty fuels, which are potentially more polluting and send more carbon into the atmosphere than using some modern petrol engines.

Therefore, we need to be focused on creating the renewable generation capacity to meet that increase in demand. However, people will want to plug in their car and charge it when it needs to be charged. They will not be willing to do so only when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, so in parallel with embracing the opportunities provided by EVs, we need to ensure that we are considering the opportunities for storage of power and demand-side response within our energy system, so that renewables can be made to work.

Finally, on the preparedness of our energy system, Ofgem’s “My Electric Avenue” trial has demonstrated that there are significant limitations in the ability of our current distribution networks to provide charge, particularly when cars are clustered. As I understand it, around 30% to 40% of our energy system would immediately need to be improved if we are to make sure that charging is realistic. This is not just about the number of charging points; it is about the ability of the energy network behind those charging points to carry the energy to the required areas so that cars can be charged.

The Secretary of State has been to see the Energy and Climate Change Committee, on which I sit, on many occasions, and she has told us of a mythical cross-departmental Cabinet-level working group that is working on all these things. We have pushed her quite hard on who sits on it, how often it meets and where we can see the minutes of those meetings, but they do not seem to be forthcoming. Will the Minister reassure us that the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Transport and the Treasury are working on these issues in parallel? If he can give us an update on any of the issues I have raised this afternoon, that would be helpful.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Turner. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on bringing this important subject for debate today. I agree with a lot of what he said. This is an opportunity for us for the future. I also reflect his ambition to see electric cars going up dualled carriageways. In my constituency, I am delighted that the Scottish Government are investing in dualling the A9, and I am looking forward to seeing electric cars on it soon. He is also right about the contribution of clean air and carbon reduction and mitigation effects. He is also right to call for faster action. There is an imperative to move more quickly to ensure that more people can take advantage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) talked about the impact of energy policy on the ability to use these vehicles, which I will come to. He was right to point out that Scotland has 15% of UK rapid chargers. We are punching above our weight, as he said. He made an important point about ensuring that there is some maintenance regulation. The safety of people working on these vehicles—the kind of voltages that these vehicles carry have the potential to kill instantly—must be a priority going forward.

The hon. Members for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) rightly talked about infrastructure being vital. If we are to encourage the use of such vehicles, we have to see infrastructure coming forward. The hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) was absolutely correct that the journey is not only for electric vehicles; alternative fuels will be involved, and I will touch on that if I have a moment or two. I do think, however, that it is a bit of a stretch of the imagination to ask the UK Government to come up with a plan for these things.

The Scottish Government have an ambitious climate change target that includes phasing out all petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles by 2050, although I am sure we will continue to see classic car events to look at the history. The electric vehicle road map, “Switched On Scotland”, which was published in 2013, sets out the Scottish Government’s ambitious vision to free Scotland’s towns, cities and communities from the damaging emissions of petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles by 2050. This year has already seen the introduction of more than 200 electric vehicles across Scottish local authorities.

To support the delivery of that vision, the Scottish Government have invested more than £11 million since 2011 in the development of ChargePlace Scotland—a network of more than 900 publicly available electric vehicle charging bays. We are also supporting electric vehicle uptake through our “Switched On Fleets” initiative, which offers free, evidence-based analysis of public sector fleets, in turn identifying new opportunities for the cost-effective deployment of electric vehicles. A total of £2.5 million of grant funding is being offered to each of the 32 community planning partnerships between 2014 and 2016 to help them to buy or lease electric vehicles. Through that scheme, we expect to introduce more than 250 new electric vehicles into the public sector fleet, reducing fuel use and emissions in the process.

The “Switched On Scotland” road map focuses specifically on battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which are collectively referred to as plug-in vehicles. Electric vehicles have a positive impact on health, wellbeing and the environment. They can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve local air quality and reduce noise pollution. In Scotland, a third of all car journeys are less than two miles long, and nearly a quarter of all trips are one mile or less. Regular cars making those journeys emit a disproportionate amount of carbon into the air, whereas electric vehicles provide a cleaner method of transport.

I do not have time to go into all the issues, but I want to point out that the Scottish Government have been a key funding partner, along with the European Union, in the Aberdeen hydrogen project, which has seen Europe’s largest fleet of hydrogen-powered buses entering service on two routes in the city. As has been mentioned, we fully intend to reflect Scotland’s overwhelming democratic vote and retain our EU status, and we look forward to continuing that into the future.

Electric vehicles require power to run them, and the Scottish Government have done an incredible amount of work to ensure that renewable energy powers 100% of our energy use by 2020.

I am just coming to the finish, Mr Turner.

That work is not being helped by the Tory Government’s policies on renewable energy. They need a rethink.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. It is also a great pleasure to respond to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who was as perspicacious as ever in introducing the debate. He has been plugging away at this issue for quite some time—no pun intended. I also welcome the contributions of the other Members who have spoken, particularly the sheer enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) and the analysis of the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), who made an important contribution to the debate.

The 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act 1956 came this week. The hon. Member for Taunton Deane was absolutely right to refer to the number of people who die from polluted air in this country—the figure is 52,500 per annum. If that was the number of people dying from road accidents each year, the Minister would not still be in his place. The Government would have a crisis on their hands, and they would have had to respond, but because air pollution is a silent killer it has not got real traction in government.

I welcome the opportunity that this debate gives us to raise the issue up the agenda, particularly since the Mayor of London launched his air quality campaign on the landmark occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act. The former Mayor of London, sometimes known as the former future leader of the Conservative party, pledged in May 2009 that 25,000 charge points would be installed across the capital by 2015. The actual figure today is fewer than 1,000. In fact, the Government have said that they are committed to

“ensuring almost every car and van is a zero emission vehicle by 2050.”

I welcome that, but a target without a plan is just a wish, and so far the Government do not have a plan.

The Committee on Climate Change’s progress report to Parliament last week showed that the UK is set to miss its legal climate commitments for the 2030s by 47%. That is a staggering shortfall. Boiled down, the reason is that outside the power sector there has been

“almost no progress in the rest of the economy”.

One of the principal reasons that the committee gives for that slow progress on decarbonising is the lack of progress on decarbonising transport. It says that

“improved vehicle efficiency has been offset by increased demand for travel as the economy has grown and fuel prices have fallen.”

The committee notes the progress on funding being made available for electric vehicles up to 2018, but highlights that there are no vehicle efficiency standards beyond 2020. The long-term target of 2050 is simply hot air without a medium-term delivery plan.

I want to respect the Minister’s time, so I will move over a number of comments that I wished to make, but I will pick up on the important points that the hon. Member for Wells made about the structure of the network and the importance of capacity. He is absolutely right in what he said about power generation—there is no point in running clean cars on dirty fuel.

The interesting point about battery technology is that it is now moving on at such a pace that the modular packs will be able to be fitted to the properties and, if we have a disaggregated grid, localised solar and wind will feed into each house when it is being produced and into the modular pack. Those packs can then be used to charge the vehicles overnight in the home. We are moving to a structure in which that is possible, but it requires the Minister to do precisely what he was challenged to do by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) with the mythical inter-ministerial group on clean growth. Will the Minister speak with his colleagues across Government to make sure that there is an integrated solution and not simply a transport solution?

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing the debate and on imaginatively including the dualling of the A358, the A303 and the A30 in his speech. It is great to see the level of enthusiasm for electric vehicles. They can deliver a huge environmental benefit for our country and secure the future success of one of Great Britain’s great leading industries. That is why we are committed to positioning the UK as a world leader in electric vehicle uptake and manufacture.

As colleagues have articulated, electric vehicles deliver many benefits. We are all aware of the air quality challenges in our towns and cities. We will introduce clean air zones in five cities to urgently tackle the worst locations, encourage greener transport and introduce targeted access charges where necessary. We have already seen some changes made by the new Mayor of London, such as the ultra-low emission zone.

I am under extreme time pressure. If I have any time, I will come right back to my right hon. Friend.

The UK is not alone in addressing the environmental impacts of road transport. Action is taking place on a global basis to compel manufacturers to bring forward an increasing choice of cleaner and more efficient vehicles, to meet growing consumer demand and expectations. Our automotive sector has a great history of innovation, and we are seeing some of that now. With the help of a strong domestic market, we are in a great position to benefit from global demand for electric vehicles as the transition takes hold in the coming years.

A number of Members have mentioned the referendum. Let me be clear that our determination on electric vehicles and standards is not in any way changed by the result of the recent referendum. The drivers of transition to zero emissions are global in nature and will continue to apply regardless of our place in Europe.

The benefits of electric vehicles include securing the manufacturing of the future and health benefits. Let me run through the actions that we are taking. In our manifesto, we committed to the goal that by 2050 nearly every car and van on our roads should be a zero-emission vehicle. That will require all new cars and vans on sale to be zero-emission by around 2040. We have in place one of the most comprehensive support packages anywhere in the world, with committed funding of more than £600 million in this spending review period. Progress to date puts us in a very encouraging position. Vehicles that used to be exotic are now considered commonplace on our streets. In total, about 28,000 ultra-low emission vehicles were sold in the UK last year, which is more than in all the years since 2010 combined. We have had more than 70,000 claims for our plug-in car and van grants. I am particularly pleased that many of those vehicles are manufactured by Nissan at its Sunderland plant, which last year produced 20% of all electric cars sold in the EU.

A number of colleagues have spoken about the importance of charge points. There is an ever-expanding network of charge points for electric vehicle drivers. We have more than 11,000 public charge points, including 850 rapid charge points—the largest network in Europe.

I note the comparisons with Norway. Norway’s record is very impressive, and we work with the Norwegians and other leading markets. Our £40 million city scheme will introduce some of the measures that have been mentioned, such as bus lane access, free parking and rapid charging hubs. It is also worth noting that Norway has very high levels of vehicle taxation, which I am not generally in favour of. Many colleagues have spoken about that today.

There are 60,000 domestic charge points, which offer the cheapest and easiest way to charge up. Latest statistics suggest the average distance to the nearest charge point is just over 4 miles in Great Britain. I want to increase that density and reduce the distance even further.

One of the most important measures in support of electric vehicles is the plug-in car grant scheme, which provides a direct discount to consumers on the cost of an eligible plug-in car or van.

No, I am running short of time.

The grant currently stands at £8,000 for vans, £4,500 for pure electric vehicles and £2,500 for plug-in hybrids. We are spending at least £400 million on the scheme in the current spending review period, and with further incentives through the tax system, there are clear financial benefits to assist consumers with the up-front costs of electric vehicles.

The initial provision of charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure for electric vehicles, which many Members have spoken about today, is also something with which the Government must assist. Continued growth is possible only if the public have confidence in the infrastructure network. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) asked, what comes first, the car or the charge point? It is neither—we have to do both. That is the Government policy: doing both in parallel, to address the consumer concern. Drivers expect reliable, affordable, available and easy-to-use infrastructure.

The good network that we have in place has already been supported with more than £30 million of investment in public charge points since 2011. The electric vehicle homecharge scheme offers drivers £500 towards the cost of a private home charge point. There are public charge points in Parliament and two charge points in Downing Street. The ministerial fleet was mentioned. There are four UK-built Nissan Leafs in that fleet and many more across the public sector, and an initiative is in place to increase that number.

Highways England has a £15 million budget to ensure that there is a charge point every 20 miles across 95% of the strategic road network, which should be a rapid charge point if possible. As vehicles’ ranges increase and infrastructure provision grows, it will be increasingly easy to travel the length and breadth of the UK in an electric vehicle.

Hydrogen vehicles have been mentioned. It was interesting to see the Riversimple vehicle, brought to Parliament in partnership with my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies). I had previously met representatives of the business at the London motor show. We are technology-neutral and I see hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles playing an important role in decarbonising road transport. Because we are technology neutral, I prefer to talk about ultra-low emission or zero-emission vehicles rather than electric vehicles. The Government are providing £5 million to help develop 12 hydrogen refuelling stations to support the roll-out of fuel cell vehicles. All 12 stations are being commissioned this year and will provide a significant step in the refuelling network.

Working with eight leading car manufacturers, our “Go Ultra Low” communications campaign has started to address the attractiveness of these vehicles. Nobody has mentioned that they are quite fun to drive. The driver puts their foot down and there is power; there is no delay. That is a key part of the attractiveness message.

Our agenda is about tackling the infrastructure, providing incentives to purchase and communicating the benefits. Colleagues have raised many questions, including about duty. Mercifully, that is a question for the Treasury, but I will highlight Members’ concerns. These issues are being discussed at cross-departmental groups, particularly with the Department of Energy and Climate Change, because it is clearly understood that we only really see the benefits of moving to electric vehicles if we have sustainable power generation.

There are benefits that can be brought by different parts of local and national Government, including the “Go Ultra Low” city schemes—I am visiting Milton Keynes tomorrow. It is not a question of local government or national Government. It is a question of partnership, and using all our available levers to deliver these fantastic products.

I hope I am as enthusiastic about this agenda as colleagues have been throughout this debate, which has been great to see. This is an important part of our transport mix. We can see what the future looks like: it is connected and autonomous vehicles powered by electric motors. We can see the benefits to the public in air quality, cost and congestion. I want those benefits to come to people in this country as quickly as possible, which is why we have an attractive and powerful set of initiatives to deliver that.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered electric and hybrid electric cars.

Sitting adjourned.