Skip to main content

Electric and Autonomous Vehicles

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 7 November 2017

6. What steps he is taking to support businesses that are developing connected and autonomous vehicles through the Midlands Engine. (901639)

Our industrial strategy capitalises on our strengths as we build the next generation of motor vehicles. In July, we committed £246 million to the Faraday Battery Challenge to make Britain a centre for the development of battery storage. I have also announced £51 million to fund automated vehicle testbeds across the country. I am delighted to say that in October Ford opened its new European Mobility headquarters in Britain.

Whether lorries or tractors, it is in rural areas where autonomous vehicles have the potential to make a particularly profound impact. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the research that he is funding will look in particular at rural areas rather than simply focusing on our very well connected cities?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right in saying that, if this is to apply right across the country, the opportunities in rural areas are very important not just for the vehicles he describes, but for public transport. He will know that at the University of Lincoln, not far from him, excellent work is being done through the Centre for Autonomous Systems on the future of mobility. I hope that it will be a participant in this great wave across the country of research and development in the technologies of the future.

Silverstone Technology Cluster supports many thousands of jobs in and around Northamptonshire, including in companies such as Cosworth in my constituency of Northampton South. What steps are the Government taking to support the Silverstone cluster?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the choice that some of the world’s best motor manufacturers make to locate in the cluster reinforces our reputation. Last year, we launched the Aylesbury Vale enterprise zone, which supports the Silverstone high-performance technology cluster. It provides an environment that is helping to deliver new jobs in this sector. The local growth fund for his area includes an innovation centre, which is geared to automotive technology in the enterprise zone.

I urge the Secretary of State to say something to leading engineering businesses and the University of Huddersfield where we are doing a lot of research on autonomous vehicles, because they might have listened to “Today” on Radio 4 this morning and heard another Secretary of State using a mysterious kind of language. He was talking about “a new post-Brexit trade policy” and “a new trade remedies body”—what is a new trade remedies body?

I do not care what a new trade remedies body is. All I am concerned about is autonomous vehicles—electric or otherwise. Let us hear about the matter.

The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. It is absolutely right that the researchers at the university will have huge opportunities in this area. The reputation for excellence that has been established in that university is well known not just across the country, but around the world. The Prime Minister and I had the privilege of attending a roundtable of the leading managers across the motor industry, including the supply chain. They are united in their excitement about what is the biggest change in mobility since the invention of the petrol and diesel engine. We are replete with these possibilities, and it is increasingly recognised that we are establishing a reputation for being the place in the world to come for them.

Whether it is exporters of autonomous vehicles or other exporters within the automobile industry in my constituency, what they need going forward is a consistent regulatory framework. What kind of guarantees can the Secretary of State give to exporters such as those in my constituency as we leave the EU?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The predictability of the regulatory environment is extremely important for future investment. It is one reason why we have introduced the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which will be ahead of the world in establishing the right regulatory environment for electric and autonomous vehicles. Again, this is something that has commanded the attention of the world, and it is exactly in line with what he says.

As we take steps to grow the economy and decrease emissions, will the Secretary of State commit to working with all businesses involved on the noise that autonomous and electric vehicles make, as highlighted by my deaf and blind constituents, and to working with the disabilities agenda as this new technology moves forward?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the advantages of the new technologies is that they give particular hope to people who find it difficult or impossible to use conventional vehicles. Part of the point of putting together the research in the automotive, renewable energy, healthcare and social care sectors is that we can join the benefits of all of them in a single programme.

If we are going to have these electric vehicles, these autonomous vehicles, and everything else is going to be wonderful, why bother with £100 billion on HS2?

Because we need both. Our ambition is to make this country one of the best connected in the world so that it is possible to go from the capital to our midlands, northern cities and beyond quickly and efficiently, and have more capacity to move freight around the country. I would have thought, given the importance of the motor industry to Derbyshire, that the hon. Gentleman, as a Derbyshire MP, would welcome the investment and progress in the sector, including £250 million invested by Toyota in its excellent plant.

Germany has said 2030; Norway and Holland are aiming for 2025. The Chinese owners of Volvo say that all their new models will have an electric motor from 2019. As the climate conference in Bonn begins, does the Secretary of State consider that the UK Government’s plan to ban the sale of fossil fuel vehicles from only 2040 is somewhat lacking in ambition, failing to provide strong leadership, or downright pathetic and making the UK a laughing stock?

If the hon. Gentleman reflects on our reputation in the world, he should know that, for international leadership on climate change, it is very strong. He would do well to commend rather than undermine that. In the past few weeks, we launched the clean growth strategy, which commits, across a range of areas, not just to meet our legal commitments and generate jobs in those important technologies, but to lead the world in exports. I would have thought that he would use his time at the Dispatch Box to commend the Government for a document that has been well received across the world.