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Transport Sustainability

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 24 October 2019

I want to echo the sentiments expressed yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister regarding the awful events in Grays, Essex. Inquiries are ongoing, but, having worked with the haulage industry over the past few months, I feel keenly the tragedy that has taken place, and the Department stands ready to assist in any way we can.

On 15 October, I announced that the Government would develop a world-leading transport decarbonisation plan. That will bring together the bold and ambitious programme of action across transport that is needed to achieve our net zero target by 2050.

I associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State about the terrible tragedy yesterday. The Scottish National party and Members across the House have been deeply shocked by it, and we hope that matters will be investigated thoroughly so that those who are guilty of this terrible crime are brought to justice as quickly as possible.

The Government’s electric car strategy is obviously not working, with sales still only at approximately 2%. Transport for London figures confirm that any successful scrappage scheme requires central Government support. The SNP has been calling for such support for years. When will the UK Government invest in a proper diesel scrappage scheme?

The figure is 2.6% for low emission and electric cars, and the hon. Lady will be aware that there has been an 122% increase in sales of electric cars this year compared with last year—indeed, I am proud to make up one small percentage of that percentage by owning one. Electric cars are fantastic, and for that reason we are about to see a big increase in the number of them on the road. There are already more public charging locations than there are petrol stations, and we will be doing a whole host of things—40 or 50 different measures—that I will describe in the decarbonisation plan. I think the hon. Lady will be pleased with a lot of the things that she sees coming along.

On aircraft emissions, will the Government agree to incentivise the use of aviation biofuels? Does the Secretary of State have ambitions similar to those of the Scottish Government, who are seeking to introduce electric aircraft in the highlands and islands?

The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that just the other day I went to see the aircraft that is being developed at Cranfield University by Britten-Norman for electric flights in the highlands and islands. The day before yesterday I had a meeting about biofuels, which are very important for meeting our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 in aviation.

Road improvements are a key part of making transport sustainable for the future. The A30 goes all the way from London to my home town of Penzance, and part of it runs through villages and has traffic lights. Will the Minister meet me to ensure that improvements to the A30 are included in road investment strategy 2?

My hon. Friend has been fighting hard on this issue, and I would be more than happy to meet him, with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who has responsibility for roads.

Sustainability also includes safety. Last November, my constituent Priscilla Tropp suffered a fatal fall at Mill Hill Broadway station. Staff did not follow the emergency plans, and people walked over her as she lay dying. At her inquest, Govia Thameslink said it would introduce a new local incident response plan, but that has not been introduced. Can the Secretary of State advise whether that is the responsibility of the Office of Rail and Road, or some other organisation, because sustainability and safety at stations is not happening?

I am very concerned to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituent Priscilla and the way that that incident unfolded. Rail safety, in all its forms, is clearly a big concern to Members across the House, and I propose a meeting between my hon. Friend and the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), on this issue.

More than half of total carbon emissions in the UK come from cars on our roads, yet so far the UK Government have refused to introduce mandatory E10 fuel, which would reduce emissions. Unlike in Scotland, the UK Government remain wedded to cars that use fossil fuels until 2040. Will the Secretary of State heed the assertion by the Committee on Climate Change that action is required if the UK is to meet its targets for 2025 and 2030, let alone have zero emissions by 2050? What corrective measures will he take, and will he tell us about the exiting new measures that he spoke about earlier?

For the record, let me correct the figures given inadvertently by the hon. Gentleman. About a third of emissions come from transport, and about 90% of those are from vehicles. On the specifics, and E10 in particular, yes, I intend to move on the issue very soon.

Norway has the highest per capita sales of electric vehicles in the world, and an average of 50% of new cars sold there in the first half of this year were electric vehicles. Second and third in the world are Iceland and Sweden. The UK still hovers at an average of about 2%, although the Secretary of State said 2.6% earlier. Is it not the case that Scotland could fulfil its ambitions and commitments like those Scandinavian countries if it was only independent?

The interesting thing about the countries the hon. Gentleman cites is that largely they do not produce cars. It is very, very easy if you are not a car manufacturer to introduce all sorts of measures that essentially mean that only electric cars will be favoured and sold. In this country, we have a big car manufacturing sector and we export 80% of the cars we produce. I am very anxious to move the sector to a faster timetable, but to protect jobs as well as the environment it is a question of doing that at a programmed pace. We have managed to do that so far.

May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks concerning the terrible tragedy in Essex? The nation is reeling from that abject horror. We send our sympathies to all the families of the deceased, wherever they may be across the world. I reassure the Secretary of State that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition will want to co-operate and work with him to take whatever steps are necessary, legislative or otherwise, to reduce the likelihood of this terrible event ever happening again.

We are in a climate crisis. Transport is the most emitting sector of the economy and the only sector where emissions have risen in recent years. Given that the Government have slashed subsidies for electric vehicles and failed to invest money promised for charging points over two years ago, does the Transport Secretary seriously believe his announcement earlier this week for a consultation on whether to introduce green number plates for electric cars is really going to save the planet?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the events in Grays, Essex yesterday. We will work together on that.

Green number plates are just one very small part of a very, very large package that includes £1.5 billion to subsidise the take-up of electric cars; £400 million on a charging infrastructure investment fund, which I announced earlier in the summer, to help to supercharge the number of charge points; and many, many other activities. As I say every I time I stand at the Dispatch Box, electric cars are fantastic. They are available new and on the second-hand market. The cost of ownership overall, because it costs £5 or £6 to drive from here to Manchester and refuelling with those charge stations is much easier, is something that everybody can invest in now.

I am afraid the Transport Secretary ignores my warnings, but will he listen to the Government’s own advisers when they say the UK is way off track to meet their climate targets? Labour would invest £3.6 billion in charging networks, introduce 2.5 million interest-free loans for the purchase of electric vehicles, and target a 2030 phase-out for the sale of new diesel and petrol cars. The Government are attempting to disguise their lack of action on the climate crisis with a lick of green paint. Is the Secretary of State not embarrassed at his poverty of ambition?

As I have already said, I passionately believe in bringing this forward. I have already said that I am going to investigate moving forward from 2040 to 2035 a commitment given before the 2050 net zero, and I have a package of measures, which I was referring to before, that will be in the decarbonisation plan to ensure we meet all those targets.