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Ultra-low Emission Vehicles

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 12 January 2017

Mr Speaker, I waited to rise to build excited anticipation. We want the UK to be the world leader in the take-up and manufacture of ultra-low emission vehicles. Last year, more ultra-low emission vehicles were sold in the UK than in any other country in Europe.

The British built Nissan Leaf continues to be one of the most popular electric cars in the world, but what are the Government doing to support the uptake of other types of vehicles?

Like Cicero, we believe that the good of the people is the chief law, so it is for public wellbeing that we want to see low emissions from all types of vehicles. Just yesterday, I announced the results of the low emission freight and logistics trial, which will see the Government providing no less than £24 million to help place about 300 low and zero-emission vehicles into commercial fleets across the UK.

One rather wonders whether the results of the trial were communicated to the right hon. Gentleman’s hero, Cicero.

The Minister says that he wants to see emissions reduced in all types of vehicles, so will he explain to the House why just 160,000 of the polluting cheat devices in Volkswagen cars have been remediated out of the 1.2 million cheat devices that are currently on the roads in the UK? At this rate of reparation, it will take three years to clean up Volkswagen’s dirty diesel cheat devices.

The hon. Lady is right. Volkswagen needs to do more, which is why I am going to meet its representatives at the beginning of next week to tell them exactly that. I insisted that the company paid £1.1 million, which we received on Christmas eve—I demanded it as a Christmas present—because that was the money that taxpayers had to spend as a result of the emissions scandal.

I am sorry to say that, since Transport questions began, news broke in my constituency that another person has lost their life as a result of a fatal car accident. I hope that the Minister and the House will join me in offering condolences to the family and friends of the victim.

I welcome the fact that the Government will be doing an awful lot more to encourage the use of ultra-low emission vehicles. However, councils such as mine want to introduce a low emission zone, and they will struggle to introduce electric car charging points and new enforcement cameras without planning and regulatory changes. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that these issues will be at the top of his agenda with the Department for Communities and Local Government?

To start with—road safety is a concern of the whole House. My hon. Friend was right to mention the tragedy that he did.

Charging points are vital. One of the great challenges for industry and Government is to ensure that there are adequate numbers of charging points across the whole country. That particularly applies in rural areas such as the one I represent. There may be a need for legislative change to that effect, and we are considering that. We are introducing a modern transport Bill, in which we will address the issue of charging points.

I hold no candle for those businesses that do not do right by consumers or, by the way, by their workers. The actions that have taken place in the United States, which I guess is what the hon. Gentleman is referring to and the actions that are being considered by Volkswagen customers oblige the Government to think again about what further steps we can take, and we are doing so. I have not ruled out a further investigation. I will discuss that with the Secretary of State and raise it with Volkswagen at the meeting I described.

Constituents tell me that one of the barriers to their buying electric vehicles is the complexity and variety of public charging facilities, which require them to carry numerous cards and forms of payment. Does the Minister have any plans to bring some regulation to this market to simplify it and make it more accessible and to encourage more people to purchase electric cars?

Indeed. Was it not Ronald Reagan who said that the future does not belong to the fainthearted? We must be big-hearted and far-sighted in respect of electric vehicles, and that does mean more charging points. We will create a regulatory regime sufficient to provide those charging points and, therefore, to assuage the public doubts to which my hon. Friend has drawn the House’s attention.

Despite all the inducements, only 3% of new car sales are of electric cars. Should the Minister be doing more to encourage liquefied petroleum gas switching or hydrogen fuel cell cars?

The hon. Gentleman will know about our Go Ultra Low campaign, which is match funded by industry, and which is designed to encourage the kind of learning he described. We need to persuade people that that switching is desirable. It is partly about charging points, partly about battery reliability and partly about people simply knowing that electric vehicles can be good for them. We will continue that campaign in exactly the spirit he recommends.

The VW emissions defeat device cynically deceived 1.2 million vehicle owners in the UK, and I declare that I am one of them. I am delighted that the Minister is going to have VW in next week, because drivers in the UK are being tret unfairly compared with VW drivers in the US. In the absence of any action by the Government so far, UK motorists are having to pursue private group litigation against VW. I want the Minister to understand how badly let down UK VW drivers feel because it appears that the Government are letting VW off the hook, although I hope that that is not the case. Will he, even at this late stage, offer support to the motorists in the UK pursuing their own action?

Yes. I am actually on the same page as the hon. Lady. By the way, I am glad we have moved on from the belligerent bombast of earlier—I do not think it did the Opposition any favours—and she makes her case reasonably. There is a case for further steps. That is partly about the retrofit described earlier by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), it is partly about the payment of taxpayer money I described, and it is partly about the consumer. We should consider further steps and, having considered them, take them as and when necessary.