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Electric Vehicles

Volume 647: debated on Thursday 11 October 2018

It is always a pleasure to answer a question from such a distinguished former Transport Minister. I know that my right hon. Friend will be excited by the progress we are making with the Road to Zero strategy. Our ambition is for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero-emission by 2040, supported by a package of demand, supply and infrastructure measures and £1.5 billion of funding. He will also be interested to know that we hosted in Birmingham recently the world’s first international zero-emission vehicle summit, which was attended by countries from all around the world.

Mr Speaker, you know, and the Secretary of State does too, that in my time as Minister of State I sought to electrify the Department, this House and our country. To make the future electric, we need charging infrastructure sufficient to build confidence in those who, unlike the liberal bourgeoisie, do not have space to charge vehicles at home. Will the Secretary of State set out plans for how we will have widespread on-street charging infrastructure that is accessible, recognisable by its beauty and has a common payment method? I say that not to guarantee my own political legacy, but in the national interest and for the common good.

None the less, Mr Speaker, you will recall that in the debates in Committee on the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, such infrastructure became affectionately known as “Hayes hook-ups”, and we expect to see them spreading round the country shortly. Quite apart from the work we are doing with local authorities to ensure, for example, that lamp post installations contain the facility for on-street charging, what is particularly exciting is the progress being made towards high-speed, high-voltage charging, which I think within a relatively short number of years will lead to the ability to charge a vehicle in under 10 minutes. That is when we will see the breakthroughs that spread electric vehicles all across our society.

Can I offer the Secretary of State a really good opportunity for a win on electric vehicles? The biggest fleets in our country are the waste trucks that pick up waste from every house in every street in every part of our country every week, and they are polluting vehicles. This is a great opportunity. Dennis Eagle, a British manufacturer, is now producing a battery-operated waste truck. If we could get electric trucks to pick up the waste in this country, we would have a fantastic decline in pollution in our cities.

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), is already working with manufacturers on transforming the local delivery fleet network, but we will certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. I was not aware that that vehicle had been produced. If we are going to meet air quality challenges, we need to make the kind of change he describes.

One of the great prizes of the electric vehicle revolution will be autonomous vehicles, but for them to bring all the great advantages they can bring to all of us, and particularly disabled people, we need to have public trust in that technology. What is the Department doing to establish that public trust?

A number of trials are taking place around the country, which are paving the way for this revolution. I pay particular tribute to Andy Street, the Mayor of Birmingham, who is working with the industry in the west midlands—the heart of our automotive industry—on on-street trials on all kinds of roads there. This revolution is going to transform lives. It is going to create real opportunities for people with disabilities and the elderly. We are a way away from an automated vehicle being able to go up and down a single-track road with passing spaces, but the reality is that in and around our major towns and cities, this revolution is going to start happening very soon.

Electric vehicles need to be dependable. Can the Secretary of State outline what consumer protection and consumer care will be in place for those with electric vehicles who have an issue with charging that leaves them stranded? I am aware of that happening.

It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman and I had better have a conversation about that, so that we can look at specific cases. It is clearly important that consumers with electric vehicles have the benefits of the same consumer protections as any other kind of vehicle driver.