Skip to main content

Electric Vehicles

Volume 661: debated on Tuesday 11 June 2019

In May I announced an additional £28 million, from the £250 million Faraday challenge, for the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, where industry will test next generation world-leading technologies.

Does the Secretary of State agree that for electric vehicles to thrive additional capacity will be required, and that energy efficiency measures to bring every home to an energy performance certificate C standard are vital in delivering that, as they will reduce energy consumption by 25% and free that capacity for electric vehicle use?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. She is right to point out the connections between our energy systems and the future of mobility in how we drive cars. That is why the industrial strategy sets up both as grand challenges and why the Faraday Challenge addresses both of them.

The Welsh Government are also promoting the development of electric vehicles, including the associated network of electric charging points. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure liaison across the border between England and Wales to deliver the best possible distribution of electric vehicle charging points?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is clear that if drivers are to have the confidence that they will be able to charge their vehicles, every part of the United Kingdom needs to be a part of that. My hon. Friends and I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government, and the roll-out of the charging network is in all parts of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State knows that many of my constituents work in the automotive industry and how serious the situation is with Brexit. Constituents are writing to me to ask why there are so few charging points in the Wirral. This is a huge issue. Will he do something that this Government really have control over and take action now on the business rates impact on the automotive industry, so we can at last have some positive news for the automotive industry in Britain?

I think the hon. Lady knows that I have regular discussions with Vauxhall and its owner PSA. In fact, PSA has invested very substantially. One of its most recent major investments in Europe was to strengthen the Luton plant with the next generation of technology. We talked to it about investment in Ellesmere Port, which she knows is important.

In terms of charging points, we have one of the best charging networks in Europe, but we need to expand it further. As the hon. Lady knows, through the automotive sector deal we have a very close relationship with the industry and work jointly with it.

May I press the Secretary of State on yesterday’s statement from the Secretary of State for Wales in relation to Ford? There is capacity in the Bridgend plant and it would be a very good way to keep it open. Will he work with the Welsh Government to ensure that electric batteries can be constructed at Ford, to help to keep the jobs in and around my community?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I am delighted he was in the discussion that we had yesterday and that he will serve on the taskforce that has been established. The quality of the workforce, its facilities and connections represent a fantastic opportunity for new investment, whether by Ford or by others in the automotive sector. We work very closely to bring in those investments.

I commend the Secretary of State and the Department for the Faraday challenge and the development of battery technology. However, does he agree that to have successful battery technology in the UK we need a successful automotive manufacturing sector, and that to do that we need a very close relationship with the EU for frictionless trade and everything that goes with it?

My hon. Friend is right. In his time, he worked very hard to secure some of the investments that have been made. The automotive industry, along with many others, has always been clear that the strengths of the UK are at least in part drawn from our ability to export and import components very flexibly without delay. It is vital that that should continue.

Sales of electric cars in the UK in 2018 hovered at just 2.7%. In Norway, they rose to 31.2%, up from 20.8% in 2017. What lessons can the UK learn from a successful, driven, small independent country?

The take-up of electric vehicles is growing very quickly in this country. The investment that we are making in the charging network, with 17,000 public charging points, is a very important contribution to that. In the weeks ahead, the hon. Gentleman will see further announcements on how we can accelerate the deployment of charging technology.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State has received his invitation to the reveal of Lotus’s new electric hypercar on 16 July. It is the world’s first electric hypercar—designed, engineered and built in Britain. In a week when the motor industry has had some difficult news, does he agree that this is a great shot in the arm for the UK motor industry?

It is indeed a great shot in the arm and I hope that I will see my hon. Friend there to celebrate it. It is fair to reflect that this is a difficult, challenging time for the automotive industry around the world, but through the decisions that we took in the industrial strategy to emphasise battery electric vehicles and the new technology, and connected and autonomous vehicles, we have made the right judgment about how to attract the jobs and companies that will be expanding in the future.

Given the ongoing problems in recent years regarding the UK automotive sector and the ongoing problems affecting Tesla, is there not an opportunity for the Minister and the Government to approach Tesla and the UK automotive industry to see whether some acquisition could be arrived at to produce electric cars in this country?

We have many discussions. Just a few days ago, I had a major potential investor in battery technology in my office to discuss a potential investment. Through the Automotive Council, we work very closely with the sector, and the national battery manufacturing centre is a collaboration between the players in the industry that gives them confidence to be able to invest for the future in the UK.

It is UK Government policy to end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, but do we really have to wait 21 years to achieve that objective?

It is important that we have a realistic move to the new fleet that we need. The targets were adopted in consultation with the industry. A lot of the capital investment needs to take place over a substantial period of time, and I would not want a situation in which we lost jobs and opportunities by setting a target that was not deliverable and feasible for manufacturers.

Might I begin by expressing my support for the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) in bringing forward her Bill today to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050? To achieve that, supporting our automotive industry will be vital, but Ford had warned that leaving the EU would add hundreds of millions to its costs, and after the vote, it said that it was considering closing plants. This warning has come to pass. Ford is now saying that another 6,000 jobs could be at risk in the event of no deal, which is particularly concerning now that it looks likely that the next PM will actively pursue it. What direct support has the Secretary of State offered Ford to reverse its decision, and has he considered the impact of a no deal on manufacturing when deciding who to back as the next Prime Minister?

We have led the world and the cross-party consensus across the House on our move to net zero. The hon. Lady will know that just this week, the International Energy Agency described the Government’s efforts as

“an inspiration for many countries who seek to design effective decarbonisation frameworks.”

When it comes to Ford and the automotive sector, she is right that companies in the sector have been crystal clear that we need to leave the European Union with a deal that allows us to continue to trade without frictions so that we are able to grasp the opportunities that we will have in the future. All my efforts are directed at securing that deal.

I actually asked about what support had been offered to Ford. Last night I spoke to a Bridgend councillor, who said

“We don’t need taskforces, commissions or working groups, we desperately need investment in Bridgend now.”

Sadly, it is not looking like any of the candidates for PM will support our car industry going forward. One thinks he knows more about car manufacturing than the boss of Jaguar Land Rover. Another said that there will be a stronger manufacturing base if we leave. Another denies that Nissan’s decision to pull the X-Trail was about Brexit, despite the company highlighting uncertainty; and the one who is allegedly the most reasonable has said that he is prepared to leave without a deal if there is a straight choice. Is it not the truth that whoever takes over as PM will drive manufacturing into the ground with their reckless approach to Brexit and that the Secretary of State’s legacy will sadly be decimated industries across our country?

If the hon. Lady talks to people in the sector, she will know that the work we do with all companies in the sector is well respected and well regarded, whether that is the Faraday challenge or the support for individual companies such as we have seen in recent years. That support is available to Ford just as it is to any company working in the sector. As part of the work we are doing with the Welsh Government, we will attract a new investor to make use of those facilities and keep jobs for the future.

In terms of the relationship with the European Union, most, if not all, automotive suppliers want to see us reach a deal. That is my view, and I hope it is the hon. Lady’s view. In fairness, they have also said that the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister should have been approved. It is therefore of regret to me that that advice was not followed.