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Science And Tech Nology—Electric Vehicles

Volume 414: debated on Tuesday 11 November 1980

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4.30 p.m.

rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Electric Vehicles (1st Report, H.L. 352).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is with a keen sense of honour and considerable humility that I present the first report of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology—a report on electric vehicles. Your Select Committee chose this subject because of the evident public interest in the potential of electric vehicles to make an important contribution to the solution of the energy problem. It proved a very involved subject, combining many disciplines of science and technology and compounded with very complex fields of energy and transport. But, because of the broad span of the subject, I think this study—and I hope this report—demonstrates the unique capability of your Lordships' House to provide a very considerable wealth of knowledge and experience in support of such a Select Committee. I should like to pay tribute to the members of the committee for their very valuable contributions. I should also like to record the excellent response that your committee had to its request for evidence, and to say how pleased we were with the very high quality of both written and verbal submissions.

The electric vehicle provides an enigma in that, although it has a considerable history back to before the middle of the 19th century, and although it is evident in every day use, particularly in the milk float and fork lift truck, it is really in advance of its time, both in the state of the art of the technology and in demonstrating a viable economic proposition.

It is the problem of storing electricity—the battery—which lies at the root of the enigma. The battery currently in use for vehicle application is the lead acid battery, a system which has dominated the vehicle field for the best part of this century. Although the lead acid system has been developed over the years to provide a very reliable battery, as is demonstrated by its use as an auxilliary in the modern motor car, the lead acid battery is heavy and has a comparatively low power density. The effect of these limitations on the electric vehicle is to restrict its range and speed, although to a limited extent one can be increased at the expense of the other. There are however advantages of the electric vehicle such as zero emission, low noise and particularly simplicity of drive systems, which give rise to extremely flexible operation; but they do not compensate for the limitations in the wider application.

In a narrow field, this flexibility of operation, combined with the other advantages, has given rise over the years to the electric vehicles which are familiar to us today: the milk float and the factory vehicle, especially fork lift trucks. It is immediately obvious that in both cases they operate within a small radius of their base and flexibility is the principal criteria, although lack of noise and exhaust fumes is of equal importance for the factory-operated vehicles. There are of course many other possible applications within the concept of short range delivery and service vehicles, especially in the urban scene; but as we are well aware, the speed of the electric milk delivery vehicle is not really compatible with modern traffic requirements.

Recent and projected development of the lead acid system has made possible the development of a traffic-compatible general purpose delivery and service vehicle capable of a useful payload. A number of these vehicles have already been tried out at the prototype stage, and plans have been made for limited production. These vehicles are approaching the limit of economic viability and really need some degree of launch assistance, which we hope the Government will continue to provide; but even this welcome initiative by industry provides for only a tiny part of our total transport, and here I return to the question of the enigma of timing.

There is no doubt that within the two decades that are left in this century, liquid hydrocarbons, from whatever source, that provide the fuel for the great majority of our transport will be less available and a good deal more expensive. The electric vehicle is capable of playing a much greater part in reducing our reliance on these fuels. It gives access quickly to the energy of coal and nuclear power via the existing electric generating system and with night time charging, this can be done without any additional capital expenditure on extra plant. The electric vehicle is also the only possible route for the use in transport of the renewable

energy sources—wind and wave, et cetera. There is undoubtedly a wider future for the electric vehicle, but we have the problem of how to get there from now. Your committee believe that a number of steps should be pursued, which we have listed in detail in the report under some 15 headings; hut, for brevity, I will collate them and speak about them under four headings:

The first one I have already touched on is the continued development and launch of vehicles within the existing technology and the present-day economics. As I have said, we hope the Government will continue their encouragement of all forms in this field; and, furthermore, we hope they will encourage the various Government agencies, including the Post Office and hospital service, to make full use of the potential of the electric vehicle. It is however also important for the future wider use of electric vehicles that the major vehicle manufacturers should take more interest at this stage, and we welcome the evidence submitted by British Leyland Technology, which indicated their awakening interest.

The second area I would mention concerns research activity. One can readily foresee that when the economics of fuel change, there will be considerable demand for all forms of electric vehicle. But there is another route to increase demand—that is, improved performance—and there is no question that improved performance requires the development of new battery systems. Although the United Kingdom has established a world lead in the use of electric vehicles through the peculiarities of our milk delivery system, there is now, as you are aware, my Lords, a very considerable worldwide interest, and in the major western countries, the development of a new battery system is an important feature of national programmes. Many of these countries, including Japan and America, are devoting considerable resources to this field. None the less, we believe that due to the initiative of industry via Chloride and Lucas, supported by the Government, and the Electricity Council, two of the better potential systems are under development in this country, and within the limit of our resources, of scarce technical effort and money, we have probably got it right, whatever claims may be made elsewhere, although we should be prepared to take advantage of any change of circumstances should the breakthrough come elsewhere in the world. There is no guarantee when a new battery system may become available for traffic use. Your committee consider we are probably some 10 years away from this event, but we sincerely hope that the Government and their agencies will continue their assistance at current levels. In addition to the development of a more effective battery, there is also a need to develop efficient energy conversion systems, particularly electric motors, and we are encouraged by the work that is carried out by the universities in conjunction with industry and assisted by Government. We particularly hope that this activity will continue and increase.

The event of North Sea oil has cushioned the United Kingdom against some of the economic and political problems of the world oil supply; but for those countries in the world who have no indigenous supply, or who face a falling rate of supply, the question of alternative energy source for transport is more urgent, and this is demonstrated by the level of resources which are being applied, particularly to the electric vehicle. At this point in time in the United Kingdom we have a world lead, particularly in the technology of drive systems and components. Your committee believes that this presents an important export opportunity and we would impress upon the Government the need to foster and encourage those involved in this industry wherever the initiative may come from.

May I turn now to the final recommendation regarding hybrid vehicles. The hybrid is a vehicle deriving its energy requirements from two or more sources and there are a number of combinations possible—fly-wheels, external electric source, battery, internal combustion engine et cetera. The hybrid, by combining two energy sources, provides a possible route to overcoming the major limiting factors restricting the development of the electric vehicle: that is, range and speed. On the other side of the account, it does increase the complexity of the vehicle and, therefore, the cost. After taking into account all the factors involved, your committee considered that a combination of battery and internal combustion engine could provide a considerable potential to overcome the time-gap and improve performance.

Your committee further considered that for use on the United Kingdom road network a series type hybrid may be the most useful. This is a vehicle with a battery that is charged overnight and which receives a supplementary charge during the day from a small internal combustion engine running at constant speed and constant load. The vehicle retains the flexibility of electric drive, and the internal combustion engine can be run under the most efficient conditions which produce very remarkable economy of fuel. The engine can be silenced very effectively and run with precise emission control. The vehicle would use the technology of today and is, therefore, very attractive. Whether such a vehicle is more cost-effective today, or in the immediate future, than a battery-only vehicle is something your committee believes should be established as soon as possible and, in this case, we would ask the Government to take the initiative to further develop and establish the potential.

I hope I have said enough to promote a wider reading of your committee's report and I will finish by quoting the final paragraph:

"It is still possible that electric transport will never get over the many technological obstacles in its way. Nevertheless the committee consider, on balance, that the odds are in favour of e.vs. and that soon after the end of the century they will make a valuable contribution to road transport, particularly in urban areas. I.c.e. vehicles, powered by natural or synthetic fuel, will certainly stay as one of the main forms of transport, and probably the most important. Whether the present trend of small-scale manufacture, using urban delivery vehicles to penetrate the market will allow e.vs. to realise their potential, however, is another matter. It will certainly be exceedingly slow. It will come up against the central problem facing e.vs: most of the advantages accrue to society as a whole or to the electricity generating industry; most of the disadvantages fall on the owner. In such circumstances to rely on pure market forces to build up an e.v. industry is not practical. Growth will be stunted. Some help from Government and the public sector, including the Electricity Boards, is called for. The committee recommend that it should be given. Electric transport is a serious long-term option; it will one day have a significant, though probably not dominant, role; and it is in the national interest to have a home-based transport industry capable of meeting market needs in the 21st century."

I look forward to the debate and particularly to hearing the Government's response. I beg to move that the First Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Electric Vehicles be noted.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Electric Vehicles (1st Report, H.L. 352).—( Lord Gregson.)

4.44 p.m.

My Lords, we would all wish, I am sure, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for the admirable way he has summarised and presented to us the report on electric vehicles. I would wish particularly to thank hint for the (shall I say?) masterly way in which he conducted the study on which the report is based—a study made by a sub-committee of which he was the chairman. As the noble Lord has said, this is the first report of your Committee on Science and Technology.

That was a committee which was set up about a year ago and of which I have the honour to be chairman. It seems to me, although I do not wish today to enter into detailed discussion of any of the points in the report, that it is perhaps incumbent upon me, as chairman, to give the House some indication of the aims of this Select Committee, as I and my fellow members see them.

We were set up with exceedingly broad terms of reference. We were simply told to consider science and technology. That is quite a large order, and within this very broad field it seemed to us that our function should be in fact to carry out inquiries into the matters with which Parliament at least ought to be concerned and to report back to the House. But even within this limited field we have still had to be selective. There are subjects such as, for example, nuclear energy, which are much too large to be dealt with in the time and with the resources we can command; and in any case such large subjects are usually dealt with by a variety of other competent bodies. This, of course, will not mean that from time to time we may not find certain aspects to which we would like to draw your Lordships' attention, but for the most part we would expect to deal with rather specific subjects with a high technological content: subjects which, for one reason or another, are matters of public concern. We would seek, by studying them, to present your Lordships with an unbiased assessment which may assist you in making judgments on them.

Bearing in mind these points, we started out by choosing two topics, each of which we reckoned could be studied in some detail by a sub-committee. The subjects we chose were, on the one hand, electric vehicles and, on the other, forestry in the United Kingdom. These may seem rather different, but, each in a different way perhaps, they do form good examples of the kind of thing a select committee like ours should be studying.

The potential of electric vehicles, as the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, has said, is a matter which is frequently discussed in the press and elsewhere, but very little is generally known of the present position regarding their development, and even less is known about the research that is going on in the field. Yet it is by no means impossible that for environmental reasons or a shortage of suitable fuel for internal combustion engines, or perhaps both, electrically propelled vehicles, at least for urban use, could become of very great importance in the not too distant future.

In a somewhat different way, the study of forestry is something which we should be concerned with, or that your Lordships should be concerned with. We are studying not only the scientific aspects of forestry but the scale and nature of the research being done in this field. This is a matter of very considerable importance, not just to agriculture and commerce but also to the whole problem of land usage in the public interest, and all that apart from the purely scientific interest which there is in forestry and which is quite considerable. We hope to report on the subject of forestry in the very near future, when the report on it is presented by our other sub-committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield.

In pursuance of these objects we have now commenced a further study which will come before your Lordships in due course. That is a study of the treatment and disposal of hazardous waste—a matter which I am sure your Lordships would agree is one of very considerable public concern these days. It is not our intention to deal with nuclear waste, the disposal of which is being intensively studied by other bodies elsewhere. But some non-nuclear waste can also be extremely dangerous and it is important that we should avoid any possibility of disasters, such as have occurred recently at Love Canal in the United States. For this reason, I believe—and my colleagues on committee believe—that a study of present British practice and of research which is going on into methods of waste disposal would appear to be very timely, and I hope your Lordships will agree with us on that.

4.51 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Todd, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, on leading his team, which was selected from the Select Committee of your Lordships' House on Science and Technology, and on producing this report. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, and the noble Lord, Lord Todd, will not mind my mentioning at this early stage what a great help in preparing this report they had from Paul Hayter, the Clerk to that Committee, and his team.

I strongly support the main conclusion of this report, which is based on many grounds which have been amplified in the cogent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gregson. The main conclusion, as it seems to me, is that it is now in the United Kingdom's national interest to increase the production of electric vehicles in the near future. In many places in this report, as Lord Gregson has pointed out, a very interesting fact emerges from the evidence, of which your Lordships may well be proud. It emerges without doubt that the United Kingdom leads the world in the field of electric vehicle design and in the equipment, including batteries, associated with those vehicles. Thus the 1979 population of 45,000 such vehicles in the United Kingdom is greater than that of any other country.

The National Research and Development Corporation, of which the noble Lord, Lord Schon, was such a distinguished chairman for many years, assisted in pioneer research work in relation to fuel cells associated with the production of electric vehicles. Their evidence is that two large American firms took out licences under their patents and that those patents have many years to run and are potentially a useful asset to the United Kingdom.

Again as a result of recent research, the United Kingdom has a world lead in the development of high performance delivery vans and in sodium sulphur batteries. This evidence is to be found, for example, in the report of the Department of Industry on pages 162 and 178 of this report, and in the evidence of the Electric Vehicle Association on page 131.

In the comments on the report that I propose to make to your Lordships this evening, I shall speak in the context that the United Kingdom has such a world lead and that that lead must not be lost. In my submission, that lead should provide the basis for encouraging positive and early action by the United Kingdom industry, in active collaboration with the United Kingdom Government and local government authorities, and perhaps with the EEC authorities, in the further development and production of electric vehicles. I suggest that this could perhaps be achieved more readily in certain limited fields. Such action would be bound to lead to the creation of more jobs, and a substantial increase in revenue from the export of electric vehicles, and associated equipment and know-how, to the benefit of the United Kingdom's economy.

It is, of course, industry that ultimately has to take the risk in assessing the market in the face of many factors, including, for example, the price of electricity and oil and, possibly, social factors affecting the environment. The general field of the development of electric vehicles is, fortunately, evolutionary, rather than a field which can be completely changed by some new development, as often happens in certain technical developments. The objective, as stated at page 166, must be for industry to apply technology and production positively to the demands of the market as these demands manifest themselves, or where they can be created.

The noble Lord, Lord Scholl, who, as I have said—and I am very glad to see him in his place—was for many years chairman of the National Research and Development Corporation, and did so much to encourage invention, stated so aptly during part of the evidence that it is essential for British industry to push as hard as it can, and to give the leadership and pressure required to sell more equipment or to get more people into jobs. I endorse that view for a more militant commercial approach.

The Electricity Council pointed out, as recorded at page 96 of this report, that a major obstacle in electric road vehicle development is to overcome the volume production problem. Major demonstrations should, therefore, be arranged to develop production methods and to obtain the advantages of scale production. I was interested to see only this morning two pamphlets indicating that there is to be a demonstration of these vehicles at County Hall in the near future. I was also informed that the charge for viewing those demonstrations is to be of the order of £74, which will certainly prohibit my attendance and, no doubt, that of several of my business acquaintances.

As was pointed out by the representative of BL Technology Limited at page 61, it is essential now to bridge the gap between speculative research in regard to electric vehicles and commercial reality. That appears to me to be the major challenge to the industry and to the Government at the present time, which must be overcome. My noble friend Lord Tanlaw is recorded in the evidence as saying, something very apt, and I should like to quote his words from page 77. He said that,
"expenditure of funds … allocated to academic research papers, could be more profitably used to develop prototype systems for public evaluation and acceptability [of electric vehicles]. Feedback from this type of operation could be rapid ".
I strongly support that practical view.

Accordingly, I should like to make a few suggestions as to the areas where industry and Government could take the initiative, so as to make more electric vehicles available commercially. The first is that more electric vehicles would be very useful in rural areas which at present lack adequate local transport. This lack of transport in rural areas is an increasing social problem. This problem was emphasised by my noble friend Lord Tanlaw when giving evidence which is recorded at page 81 of the report. He pointed out the interesting fact that in rural areas around small towns with 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants there are many small villages and hamlets with totally inadequate transport facilities, but the private mileage of those people in travelling to work or for essential shopping averages less than 12 miles per day. That short distance is well within the capabilities of the present day development of electric cars and batteries, and I feel strongly that industry, with positive marketing methods, could produce a vehicle at economical prices for such use. In addition to this obvious use in rural areas, I should welcome more active development of small bus services, such as have been introduced in Bournemouth, and also the project for electric mobile libraries and vans which is under way in Cambridgeshire, as recorded at pages 144 of this report.

I should also like to refer to the evidence of the Electric Vehicle Association, whose able president is my noble friend Lord Ironside who is to follow me in this debate. Lord Ironside mentioned, as recorded at page 131, that the Americans were seeking licences to manufacture from some United Kingdom manufacturers. Surprisingly to me, he added that his association was not aware of any particular links with companies in countries such as the United States of America, Germany and Japan where, as the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, mentioned, very considerable developments are taking place in regard to electric vehicles.

Lord Ironside pointed out that his association was of course not in a position to try to go into the market itself. However, I should like to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, that perhaps it would be very helpful in maintaining the lead of the United Kingdom in this field if his association would consider, as many research associations do now, how it can assist its members in relation to licensing and exploiting the inventions, the patents and the know-how so as to increase the wealth of the United Kingdom in the field of electric vehicles.

If I may quote Lord Schon once again, he is recorded at page 137 as saying that one of the biggest problems he always had in encouraging innovation in the United Kingdom was to prevent British firms and technicians giving away their know-how and expertise to foreigners for nothing. That, sadly, has been my experience of many United Kingdom industries and their technical personnel There is an appalling lack of expertise in some industries, and in Government departments, as to how to exploit the results of their research It seems to be a matter eminently suitable for the Electric Vehicle Association to consider in the context of electric vehicle manufacture and production.

I should have disclosed earlier that I have the honour to be a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology under the chairmanship of the distinguished noble Lord, Lord Todd, President of the Royal Society, but I was not a member of the sub-committee whose chairman was the noble Lord, Lord Gregson.

It may be appropriate if I add a few words to what the noble Lord, Lord Todd, said about the ambit of consideration of the Select Committee, as this is the first report to be presented to this House. This Select Committee does not exist as a general channel for communicating scientific and technological development to the public at large. Its role is to draw attention to the significance of the subject investigated. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will agree with that statement, as I extracted it from one of the earlier reports he made to that Select Committee when it was set up about a year ago. The report of Lord Gregson has certainly accentuated the significance and the importance of electric vehicles. I support its recommendations.

5.4 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for introducing this report and, one might say, for making Parliament "go electric". First, having run with the fox, giving evidence, I should also like to thank him for allowing me also to hunt with the hounds and be with the committee. This first quarry of the Select Committee could not have been better chosen. I believe that the noble Lord ran it to earth after a search which went very wide and deep.

The report itself has declared my main interest, but I have others. In addition to being president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Great Britain, I am also president of the European Electric Road Vehicle Association. My company, IRD, has carried out a worldwide survey for the Department of Industry on hybrid vehicles and has identified, among other things, the objectives and technical options of many of the programmes in other countries and also has laid down guidelines for new projects in the United Kingdom. I was fascinated by the ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, for the use of hybrids, particularly in rural areas.

I have been closely involved for several years with electric vehicle developments and I have been connected with many of the actions which have taken place, so I am grateful for the opportunity to speak now. An immense amount of detail is laid out in the Select Committee report, and I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, on the thoroughness with which he has worked.

We do not know with any certainty exactly how our road transport needs are going to be met in 10 or 20 years' time, but what we do know is that unless we prepare some of the ground now for alternative forms, such as electric vehicles, we shall be forced to accept from other parts of the world solutions which do not wholly suit our needs. Energy needs differ widely from country to country and it follows that the resulting solutions to problems in each country will be different. Basically, we want to satisfy our own needs, and a well developed industrial base in electric vehicles will help to do this and to satisfy overseas demand. But it can be seen that there is already a risk that the massive national programmes in America and Japan can pose an import threat to us, as they are both commercialisation programmes backed by Government money and effort.

The sceptics say that electric vehicles are always just round the corner and never here on the spot when they are needed. They refer to the car, I think. The trouble with corners is that they come in two sorts: those you are forced into and those which are difficult to see round. I do not want to see the electric vehicle industry forced into a corner, and my purpose now is to try to take a look at the electric road round the corner.

Electric vehicles are on the road now—as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, said, 45,000 of them—but it is a road which is geared to the needs of a transport mode which draws on the finite fuel assets of this world which now have a premium price label upon them. It may be argued that syncrude produced from coal, which is a far less finite resource, will not suffer such a premium, but syncrude may well turn out to be a feedstock both for the chemical plant and the coal refinery. Because of this, it may end up suffering a double premium tag.

The energy issue in transport is the most compelling. The success of the electric milk float has established a strong design and production base in the United Kingdom over a great many years. As has already been said, this has proved to be a unique and very important asset; but a wider range of much improved products must also be brought to the road and we must ensure that the United Kingdom electric vehicle industry is able to retain its lead in the world so as to serve the overseas markets and the wider home market which we now see lying ahead.

The committee makes the point that the economic case for the electric vehicle is at the moment very weak, except for door-to-door deliveries and service rounds involving town work. In fact, the case for the electric vehicle as an urban work horse is particularly strong. On a one-for-one basis, in the one to two-tonne payload bracket, it competes very well with its internal combustion engined vehicle counterpart. In fact, there would not be 45,000 electric vehicles on our public highways if they did not compete. As the cost advantage of electricity over oil-based fuels grows, the economics of the electric vehicle improve. We can expect this trend to grow in England, with 75 per cent. of the electrical load coming from coal-fired power stations.

I think that the committee brings this out very clearly, but it also brings out the black mark against electric vehicles at the moment. There are three things which they lack: First, range—the vehicle lacks range. It takes a long time to charge the battery and the initial cost of a vehicle is high because it is only made on a batch production basis or to order. If the batteries were not as large as double beds and there were smart chargers—to use an American term—the electric vehicle would be much more popular by now.

I will not bore the House with any details, but the technical barriers will be hard to cross and it will take time. Nevertheless, I am tempted to say something about batteries as other people have done. The lead acid traction battery has a lot of design stretch in it. Something approaching a two to one improvement is now on the cards, and it will still be a highly favoured option for most of this decade. The life cycles of 1,500 give four years or so of good use and this is an important economic factor to the operator. Real success will depend of course upon the new batteries—the sodium-sulphur couples and the lithium-sulphur couples which have been developed in America, which pack four or five times more power per unit mass. And if they are successful—and there is still an "if" factor in this—then passenger car electrics will certainly take off.

What I am saying is that we are well placed to exploit the goods van market for electrics now because we know that the lead-acid traction batteries are cost-effective and there is a lot more mileage in them yet. Luckily, however, there are other options to consider, such as battery exchange stations to speed up refuelling and the adoption of biberonage or the bottle feeding technique for the battery, with gulps of energy taken at convenient times during the day. Because there are breaks in the motoring day it would be possible to plug in at a charging point at the roadside or on a parking lot or in a garage to get a fill, which would extend range and limit and limit the size of the battery pack. The dual-mode buses which are now on trial in Germany—at München-Gladbach, I believe—can pick up charges through their pantographs at set points along the road. That is proving effective.

A lot is said about electric vehicles but very little is said about the electric road, and if we are going to see more electric vehicles on our roads we shall have to ensure at some point that we can provide for their fuelling and for their servicing. There is nowhere I know of where one can buy these services at the moment. There are some operators with electric vehicle fleets, but they fill up and carry out servicing at their own vehicle depots, which have been specially equipped.

This debate is taking place not quite a month after the first international conference and exhibition on electric vehicles in Europe. It was called Drive Electric 80 and was arranged by the Electric Vehicle Association of Great Britain, of which I have the privilege to be president. The event, which took place a month after the publication of the Committee's report, highlighted a number of points which came over to me very strongly, but first I should like publicly to acknowledge the great interest that the Government have taken in Drive Electric 80 through Lord Trefgarne's right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Energy and Industry, who, with their personal interest, have given great encouragement to the members of my association and have demonstrated to all the foreign visitors that the Government attach great importance to the development of electric vehicles.

I should also like to thank the Electricity Council for organising Drive Electric 80 and I am assured that they intend to make very much greater use of electric vehicles within the electricity supply industry itself and to promote the use of cost-effective electric vehicles by public authorities and fleet operators. The committee also referred to the massive United States Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research Development and Demonstration 1976 Act, the Japanese programme and some European programmes, particularly that in Germany, coupled with the indirect actions of the Commission in Brussels.

These programmes have teeth which are beginning now to show. The US programme, like the Japanese one, is a commercialisation programme and two small-scale production companies which have had US Government money have now to my knowledge plans to set up manufacturing plants in the United Kingdom. Each of them exhibited last month at Drive Electric 80 at Wembley and were offering comparable products to the existing British electric vehicle builders' range in the commercial van field, but the prices are much lower by comparison with the traditional United Kingdom ones for electric vehicles, by a factor of two. Daihatsu from Japan exhibited a range of four electric vehicles at the 1980 motor show and at Drive Electric 80, all in the £5,000 to £6,000 bracket on a six months delivery basis. Their plan is to penetrate markets in the USA, Australia and here. Their prices are 30 to 40 per cent. lower than the United Kingdom counterparts built to traditional long-life standards. The effect of all this on customers cannot yet be judged, but people that I have talked to in my own association have a high regard for what the Japanese have done in the battery field and with their control electrics which were displayed at Wembley.

The Japanese prices are sharp. We do not know whether they contain hidden subsidies and we still cannot judge their technology which could eventually prove to be unsound, but Daihatsu have now been on the development trail for 15 years in electric vehicles and they are now demonstrating a solution to the volume production problem which shows signs of hitting British manufacturers. I believe that the Wembley event has shown that there is a good case for sharpening up our efforts here in the national context, and I am happy to see the way in which Chloride has joined with Dodge Trucks in the Talbot group and Lucas with Vauxhall to put development vehicles on to the road.

This is important, as has been shown already in the "London Goes Electric" scheme, where the batteries and drive systems of the new traffic compatible fast electric vehicles are on trial. Comparisons with their internal combustion engined counterparts show that the reliability factor is good and getting better. These trial schemes are vital in the context of launching vehicles incorporating new technologies on to the market and the Commission in Brussels has financed similar projects, in Dublin, with 350,000 European units of account and in Odense in Denmark with 50,000 units of account and in a volume production project with Fiat in Italy with 150,000 European units of account. This particular project with Fiat will not be confined just to the use of in-house batteries and drive-lines. It will look at the volume production problems as a whole. It is the most important problem and we wish to solve this in a way that both the technology and the price must be got right if the electric vehicle is to stand on its own feet and compete with other types of vehicle for similar duties.

In evidence to the committee the Department of Industry said that a proposal is expected from British Leyland involving electric vehicles. I do not yet know whether one has been put up and I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Trefgarne whether any proposal has been put forward. I believe that British Leyland are well placed to take such a project on board and I hope that the Government will find a way of supporting them, so that they can start research and development work alongside other and new successful engineering ventures which they have just launched. I think there is certainly room enough for both Lucas and Chloride with their own partners as well as British Leyland to have an involvement in the electric vehicle field, because it is important that each should complement the other in their efforts to ensure that there is a range of vehicle options as well as the incentives for component suppliers, which include all electrical ancillaries as well as batteries. Lucas have announced that the Sherpa van has joined their electric test fleet and I hope this will show the way to British Leyland.

Members of my association now believe that the Japanese challenge is real, but that the US challenge, in spite of its large financial backing from the Government, still lacks complete credibility. However, the United States are pushing ahead hard and fast on their own, but there are no signs, I think, even after what Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran has said, that they are really picking up any British technology to help them. I said when I was giving evidence that I thought there was, but evidence which has come into my hands since Drive Electric 80 has shown that this is hardly true.

British innovations are significant, and there is evidence that the Government technological support measures to date are showing results. As Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran said, I think there is a very good case for research associations and research companies to assist with the licensing problem, and I think perhaps we should pay very much more attention to this to ensure that British technology is introduced into these other national programmes, if we can. But all the technology that has recently come to the surface in conference sessions and in the exhibition at Wembley has shown me that the case for continued Government support is now much stronger than ever before if we are to face the challenges from overseas programmes.

The programmes in all other countries are totally directed at commercialisation. The markets are not yet rolling, and the use of public funds is justified under these circumstances where the industrial risk is high and there is no market to generate investment for research and development. The honours in the market will be won in the technology stakes running up to commercialisation. I should like to see us remain up in front, and Government encouragement and finance is, I believe, needed to help British manufacturers get their advanced technology into the pipeline and down to Japanese and United States price levels.

In the European dimension, the European Electric Road Vehicle Association, under my presidency, is studying, under contract for the Commission in Brussels, the changes required to make the 43 or so transport directives applicable to electric vehicles. They were drafted for internal combustion engined vehicles and they penalised the electric vehicle. For example, the tachograph directive is one case where electric vehicles suffer a penalty, because the threshold for fitting tachographs is geared to gross vehicle weight, which includes batteries, in the electric vehicle case. Thus, a one-tonne payload diesel van with a gross vehicle weight under 3½ tonnes does not require a tachograph, but its electric counterpart may do so because its gross vehicle weight will exceed 3½ tonnes. Yet the driver cannot exceed permitted hours because his vehicle needs charging after 50 miles use.

This madness bears heavily on the electric vehicle operator in having to keep totally unnecessary records, and there are now examples of vehicles in the "London Goes Electric" scheme used by Initial Towel Services in which these tachographs have to be fitted and records kept. It is not only the cost of keeping records, but it is the cost of having the tachograph fitted in the first place which has to be considered by a potential operator and may deter him from going electric. All. I can say is thank goodness the operator does not have to arrange for a man to carry a red flag in front of the vehicle. Noble Lords may well say this directive applies to all countries, but in this country we are unique because we have 45,000 electric vehicles on our highways, and there is no case in any of the other Community states where I know of more than about 200, and these, I believe, escape the regulations because they are there for trial.

Now in Europe developments are taking place in Germany, France and Sweden where hybrid vehicles are being developed, and to my knowledge there is no hybrid public service vehicle project under way in the United Kingdom. The Committee consider that we should pay much more attention to hybrid developments here, and I think they are quite right and that there is a case for building prototypes to test their performance. I can assure noble Lords that I think hybrids have a lot of merit. My father was the user of a hybrid which he owned between 1920 and 1930, and this was a petrol-electric hybrid in which he did 250,000 miles in the United Kingdom and in India.

Public funding to look more carefully at the fuel economy data for various hybrid combinations and applications is, I believe, justified, and there is a case for looking particularly at the public service vehicle field mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, where the efforts in other countries are concentrated. I think that the Lucas development of a series hybrid vehicle will help lead the way into the hybrid and electric markets for passenger vehicles as well as public service vehicles, because part of the technology is already there and range flexibility can be demonstrated and is needed in both the public service vehicle and passenger vehicle. In both cases the driver wishes to be free to use his vehicle for long or short journeys according to his pleasure or his duty. There is a lot of merit in taking hybrids more seriously, and I believe that we have the resources available to do it.

The committee conclude that, on balance, the odds are in favour of electric vehicles, but the time-scale remains still in doubt. The case for help from Government at the present stage is certainly justified until the markets get off the ground. All the people I have talked to have welcomed this report, which allows us to identify priorities upon which the Government can respond in partnership with the manufacturers.

The electric vehicle must compete on level terms with internal combustion engined vehicles if it is to succeed, and getting the vehicles placed in the market for trial with a Government subsidy will be very important in order to put them on the same price footing as diesel engined vehicles to encourage the buyer until a market is established at competitive levels. I should like to see public purchase programmes in the public sector; as a bulk purchaser and major user the public sector can influence product development with its financial clout. The price of diesel fuel will be a sensitive parameter and on this score a break-even point between fast diesel and electric vehicles may be reached by 1986 or when the diesel fuel price has reached £1.90 as opposed to the £1.30 which is the present level.

In the case of Lucas and Chloride efforts, approximately £2 million per annum should cover the overall needs of both these groups in the production engineering ventures and in placing vehicles on trial in the 3½ and 7½ gross vehicle weight ranges. British Leyland's role must be an additional consideration, taking into account that as the major British volume production manufacturer they are now committed to another new and successful engineering project.

The smaller established manufacturers who have already shown the way serve an annual market of some 1,200 vehicles, and they must not be forgotten. They offer a service in depth to the customer, and they have won their custom in competition with internal combustion engine vehicle suppliers, but in no way can they compete directly with the vehicle manufacturing giants. They have a proper place in the market, and we do not want to see them edged out of any Government support programme purely on the basis of their smallness. I believe that the electric vehicle industry in England is something we can be proud of, and I think this report identified the priorities and the necessary action through which Government can ensure that the country stays ahead.

5.29 p.m.

My Lords, may I at the outset declare that I have—contrary perhaps to some thoughts in your Lordships' House and certainly outside—no connection, no involvement whatsoever, with electric vehicle manufacturers or component manufacturers, or, indeed, any company so involved. I was a member of this sub-committee, and may I say what a pleasure it was to serve under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, who displayed a good deal of personal energy and a great deal of personal charm in ensuring that members of the committee kept firmly to the subject-matter rather than diving off into the realms of energy and other associated problems, which it was so easy for us to do.

I think that at the same time I would like to pay my tribute to the very long list of witnesses who gave evidence both orally and written and with such willingness. I observed very little evidence of commercial confidentiality in what we were told and what we were shown. However, I think that there was perhaps more the suggestion of an element of wishful thinking in some of the things that we were told—wishful thinking which, if my noble friend Lord Ironside will permit me to say so, was very much echoed in his speech this afternoon, but as President of the EERVA that is understandable.

I did not find at the conclusion of our deliberations as much to enthuse about as I had originally hoped for. I think that it is fair to say that, while the oil companies—that is, really the petrol companies—maintain their near monopolistic hold on petrol supplies, coupled with the vested interests of the vehicle manufacturers in IC engines and diesel engines, progress towards an alternative fuel for road transport will inevitably be slow. It might be fair in parenthesis to say that that interest of both the oil companies and vehicle manufacturers is perhaps understandable when one sets against the argument their huge capital investment.

My noble friend Lord Ironside appeared to rest a major part of his argument on the energy case. I do not believe that that is necessarily so. There is no doubt that an alternative supply will come about at some time, but even if we doubled, trebled or quadrupled our usage of electric vehicles in this country from the current 45,000 or so a year, it would make a minimal impact on both primary energy usage and fuel-oil usage. In fact, road transport takes up 23 per cent, of total United Kingdom oil usage and a doubling of electric vehicles would only make less than 1 per cent. difference to that.

The environmental benefits of electric vehicles are set out quite well in paragraphs 19 to 22 of the report. They are undoubtedly true, but I would suggest that they do not appear to outweigh the costs involved. I think that that is really quite understandable, because when one has to put one's hand in one's own pocket to preserve or maintain some pet theory, sometimes the enthusiasm disappears. I believe that, while the cost of buying and operating electric vehicles remains so totally disproportionate to that of petrol and diesel engines, the environmental demand will be less heard. Even if one accepts the statistic which is widely broadcast that 93 per cent. of the 14 million motor cars on the roads cover something less than 60 miles a day—well within the range of an electric vehicle—I believe that range, performance and price restrictions are paramount in the minds of the private user as well as the commercial user. There is in fact no national attitude towards an alternative fuel-using vehicle or an environmentally pollution-free vehicle.

The Americans, on the other hand, make great play of their new federally mandated regulations that come into force in 1985 requiring the vehicle manufacturers to have an average fuel efficiency rating of 27·5 mpg. That sounds very good, but it has been pointed out that as an electric vehicle uses no fuel it means that if one takes the top end and the bottom end of the scale they could quite easily continue building what are popularly called "gas guzzlers" and still come within the average bracket.

We in this country have adopted a rather different stance in that we have accepted the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' paper published a couple of years ago—we debated it in fact in one of our energy debates—in which they have promised great fuel economies which can be monitored. They have now hedged their bets somewhat in saying that, of course, the environmental requirements of the motor vehicles offset some of the savings that they then saw. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, in his speech to us this afternoon who mentioned this national interest to further electric vehicles. I suggest that one of the areas in which Government can play a leading and not necessarily expensive role is the fostering of the national interest in the whole area—not only energy conservation but pollution-free vehicles and the alternatives.

In paragraphs 36 and 107 of the report we refer to the commercial vehicle usage and the various advantages which might be allowable which would foster the interests of the commercial user. It is in that area that all speakers identified—and, indeed, the report identifies—the greatest growth. I think that one should not deny the Government's response in the last budget in dispensing with vehicle taxation for electric vehicles. But there are a number of other measures set out in that report, and, indeed, which my noble friend Lord Ironside mentioned, which could be brought into play. On the other hand, there is great ignorance among commercial users and their transport managers of the benefits, advantages and the options open to them as transport operators in the area of electric vehicles. It is disappointing to note that although the Road Transport Industry Training Board and other Boards have provided seminars and other instructional courses, the take-up has been very small. The Electricity Council, one of the great newspapers, the dairy people and, I think, Initial Towel Services were mentioned among many others as users of electric vehicles. The more we get them into use, the greater will be the depth of development and the greater will be the ultimate success.

The noble Lord, Lord Gregson, mentioned the awakening interest of manufacturers. Indeed, I do not think that it is sufficient to commend the manufacturers, either in this country or in other countries, for an awakening interest, but we should criticise them for their general attitude to this problem. The awakening interest would have to be transmitted very sharply into a change of attitude. I do not believe that in this country it is at all possible to foist the responsibility of using an alternative type of vehicle on to such manufacturers of components and battery systems as Lucas and Chloride or, indeed, to expect the smaller specialist production companies to lead the way. It is our great vehicle manufacturers who have to take a more positive role.

However, I wonder—and I say this with some diffidence—whether, in fact, our great motor manufacturing industries are poised to take advantage of those opportunities which present themselves today. Will they ever be able to take advantage of those opportunities which may well present themselves tomorrow?

During the course of the inquiry I think that my greatest impression was in the area of the technological development in motors, controllers, drive systems and charging systems. This is referred to in some detail in Part VII of the report. It seems to me that, while our country is in its present economic position, we should concentrate on the greatest and the most immediate benefits that are available as a result of electrical vehicle technology. It is in that area that I believe we can reap the greatest benefit.

From talking to the people involved I was very disappointed to learn of the great shortage of electrical engineers in that industry. Therefore, it seems to me that some of the engineering institutions, the colleges, the universities and—right at the beginning—some of the careers advisers might very well learn a little more of this industry and promote young men and women to this branch of industry. I believe that success here could bring very rich rewards to the United Kingdom in exporting the technology alongside the components, which I believe we shall be able to manufacture for other people's manufacturing industries where the electric vehicle has a greater acceptance and usage.

On the question of funding, there is only one remark that I should like to make. It is perhaps prompted by the pleas that my noble friend Lord Ironside made. I do not believe that it is any good asking the Government to provide very much more than that which is already being provided. Although the community may very well benefit as the technology advances, it is the makers and the commercial operators who will reap the rewards. They must, as at present, provide most of the money. However, if encouragement can be given through the Government by the wider use of the vehicles, then we may very well advance a little more quickly.

If and when an opportunity presents itself for a greater participation of Government monies to support what I believe are new job opportunities and the furtherance of a new wealth-creating industry, which we shall need tomorrow, that is the time when the Government should provide more funds. But at this moment I think that it is their encouragement and a realisation of the wider fields that are involved that are needed, thereby introducing something of a national attitude to one sector of the market.

5.45 p.m.

My Lords, I think that we must all be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for giving us the chance to have this debate today. I have listened to it carefully and it seems very clear to me from what he said and also from what the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, said that what would help this project more than anything would be another major commercial outlet. There is a chance of one which I can see most strongly and which I now wish to advocate; it is the commercial use of electric engines for inland waterways craft. I believe in this so strongly that I am sticking my neck out and having my own canal motor cruiser converted to electric drive; that is being done at this moment. I am doing this because it seems to me, not that the electric drive is something for the future, but that it is something for this very day in relation to inland waterways craft.

I should like to quote some figures which have been given to me by the original boat company of Evesham which seem to show that the electric engine is already viable as against the diesel for waterways craft. This is a firm which operates 50-feet long hire canal boats, and which in fact operates both diesel and electric craft—exactly similar craft with the alternative drives.

On the prices of boats, both are much the same. The electric drive boat is a little more, but if the market became large one could expect its price to fall. On propulsion unit life the diesel engine is quoted as having a life of three to five years and some of its components shorter lives; whereas the battery electric boat, with batteries which can now be installed in it, has a battery life of 10 years. I shall not bother your Lordships with all the detail on maintenance, but it works out that much less maintenance is needed on the electric boat. On fuel costs the difference is really significant. On a round 100-mile trip—which is what the company supplies to its hirers—diesel consumption is roughly 15 gallons, which works out at rather more than £15; but electric current for the same job and charged at standard rates, not cheap night rates, works out at £3·50. That is a colossal difference, and it is one of which we should take a great deal of account.

In addition, the disadvantages of the electric motor are not so serious on canals. As everybody knows, the main disadvantages are the heavy weight of the batteries, the slow speed and the difficulty of getting recharged. The weight of batteries is important on a road vehicle, but it is almost totally unimportant on a canal boat. Many canal boats in fact carry ballast, and there is no difficulty in carrying batteries instead. On distances run before recharging, a canal boat can run on her batteries for about three to four days because she simply is not going so fast.

At the moment there are too few outlets on the canals where canal boats can get fuel, but this should surely be put right. The electricity suppliers should certainly see to it. Also I should have thought that it would be in the interests of the British Waterways Board. Apart from that, there is one glorious fact about the canals; that is, that there is always a wharf beside some convenient pub just about every 10 miles. This is a result of course of the habits of the old horses which used to pull canal boats. He was almost the perfect trade unionist. He would do his 10 miles, you could not make him do overtime, and the result was that you had to have stabling for him every night.

Many of those little pubs have now turned again to the waterways to supply the wandering motor cruiser. It is possible to lie alongside their little wharves for the night and enjoy yourself, and there is no reason why these pubs should not let you put a cable ashore able to recharge on a normal 13 amp charger and suck electricity all night. Some of these may be tied houses, but one thing I am sure of is that they will have no objection to having tied customers, and that is what I am proposing.

There is one other disadvantage of the road vehicle that, as a matter of fact, when it comes to canal boats is an advantage; that is, speed. Too many of our inland waterways people are going too fast. To be kept down to four miles an hour, which is the speed that the Inland Waterways Association suggests, is a very good thing indeed. What is more, as we have already heard, you can get more speed but at a cost of higher amperage, which means you run your batteries flat much quicker. In other words, there is an incentive to electric boat owners to keep their boats down to a reasonable speed. I am sure that this is the kind of incentive that the Government appreciate.

There are several further points on this. One is that the British Waterways Board finds that the upkeep of the waterways under the wash of heavy, fast-moving boats is becoming enormously difficult and expensive. It would cost them much less if what was operating was fleets of electric boats. I do not want to suggest any particular expenditure from the Government. As everybody knows, my head is positively stuffed with good ideas for benefiting this country, the difficulty being that they all cost money. I am sure the same is true of all the rest of your Lordships. But speaking as an independent I may say for myself that I will not press any expensive ideas on Her Majesty's Government until things have very much altered financially. Therefore, I am a bit diffident.

I should like to suggest that the British Waterways Board might charge less in licences for electrically driven craft on the ground that they did less damage to the waterways. I should like to suggest that where hire cruiser fleets were organised with electric craft that they should be given more of the very limited number of licences to operate craft which are now doled out to the operators of hire cruiser fleets. These are ways of pushing things on.

I know that, unless we go to extensive electrification of inland waterways craft, we are soon going to run into a difficult position on the waterways because the waterways are now fairly crowded. The craft are doing a lot of damage to the waterways, and what is more they are getting to the point where they are annoying the other users of the waterways and their various preservation societies. There is undoubtedly going to be a demand from the preservation societies, as there should be, that we get craft which make less noise, put less oil on the water, make less air pollution, go slower, and do not damage the banks. All this is certainly going to be pressed on the Government, even more so now that this subject has become more in the public view.

For all these reasons we should look most seriously at the question of developing the electric engine for inland waterways craft drive. It is a different field as a start, and this is one of the things which we need in this matter. Hammering away at the same field means that you do not get some chances of research; where you go into a different field you get a different look at things. You look at things from a different angle. You have to deal with different kinds of equipment. You get different lines of research going, and it may well be that if we can develop the electric drive on the waterways we may find it having a spin-off in the fact that it is running different lines of research on the other uses of electric vehicles. For all these reasons, I would wish the Government to push on with this line which, I believe, is a great opening if we can use it.

5.57 p.m.

My Lords, I also should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for initiating this debate on such an important subject. I have always been interested in all forms of transport and have driven various types of electric vehicles over the years, but I have to admit that the only one I have ever owned was an electrically driven golf trolley, driven by a 12 volt car battery. I walked beside it, but the awful groans it made spoilt the tranquility of the golf course, and its reliability left much to be desired. If it broke down on the far side of the course it was far too heavy to pull along unaided. I do not hold this against the modern electrical vehicle.

I have listened with great interest to the previous speeches which held out cautious hope for the future while appreciating the difficulties which still have to be overcome before electric vehicles are a practical means of transport for the average motorist. Many years ago, in 1899 to be precise, at a private park at Acheres near St. Germain, Jenatsy took the world's land speed record at 65.79 miles an hour over a kilometre in his electrically powered torpedo shaped car which was called La Jamais Contente. At the end of his short run the batteries were completely discharged. He did in actual fact try for the record a few months before, but unfortunately the time keepers forgot to start the watches, and Jenatsy, who had a flaming red beard which bristled with anger, had not enough power to drive back so he had to run back, and he had much to say on the subject.

Although all this happened more than 80 years ago the range of electric vehicles still relates to the speed at which the vehicle is driven, so its comparatively meagre range can be extended if only low and constant speeds are used. In the very early days of motoring the electric town carriage was very popular, but as petrol engined cars became quieter and smoother, and petrol cheaper, the electric car lost out and has never since regained its position.

The next stage in the electric vehicle story was the petrol-electric vehicle whereby a petrol engine supplied the power to a generator which in turn drove the electric motor. This system proved very popular for use in commercial vehicles and buses in the early part of the century, from 1903 to the early 1920s. If the petrol-electric system was revived it would give the vehicle the ability to travel long distances, which deals with one of the major disadvantages of the present battery-driven vehicle. The engine itself could be made very economical, for it need not be large and would run at a constant speed, rather like an emergency generating set one might have in one's house. If a dual system combining an engine and batteries were used, then for short journeys the batteries only would be used, so keeping the advantages of an electric vehicle when used in town conditions.

Although most of the electric vehicles on the road are light commercial ones of the milk-float type, the Japanese Diahatsu company have an electrically propelled version of their Charade small family saloon which runs with only eight 12-volt batteries of the lead acid type and will give a speed of 47 miles an hour and a range of nearly 50 miles. The same company are experimenting with batteries made of nickel iron and these are reputed under test to be giving 70 miles an hour with a range of 95 miles, which of course is very much more acceptable. The price is about 50 per cent. more than the petrol-engined Charade. Unfortunately, the fact that electric vehicles are so much more expensive will limit their popularity in the same way that diesel-engined cars also suffer from higher first cost, but not to the same extent.

One of the main disadvantages of the EV is the very high cost of replacement batteries, which may be necessary every three years or so. It would be all too easy for a private motorist to disregard this point while enjoying the otherwise cheaper running costs. I believe in the future of electric cars, particularly of the hybrid type, but I realise that there is a long way to go, with only 45,000 registrations out of a total of 17 million in this country. I do not think that in the end the vast sums of money which have been spent all over the world to further the cause of electric vehicles will prove to have been spent in vain.

6.3 p.m.

My Lords, to me this has been a most fascinating debate. I put my name down rather late in case there were some threads which from my experience I could pick up to contribute to your Lordships' consideration. I must say that the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, is an indication of how we can find something that is not even in the report at all. I have been interested in the subject of electric vehicles for many years and an enthusiast within the limits of the vehicle with equipment as it is available to us today. Accordingly, I welcome the debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for introducing it. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, for the work of his organisation, with which he has been kind enough to keep me in touch as the years go on. I feel that any step which leads to electric vehicle development is worth while taking.

I have only a few comments to make. They are concerned largely with service vehicles, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, referred, their importance being mainly to urban areas and where their environmental advantages of absence of fumes and silence are exceptionally valuable. Electricity boards' distribution systems are always in difficulty there in terms of the parking of vehicles and the supply of staff for services and so on. One thing that I feel is worth mentioning in terms of electricity service vehicles is the question of cities and towns with hills. What is being done about regenerative braking in terms of using electricity service vehicles in places where there is this problem of steep grades? Do the electricity boards take part in the deliberations of the Electric Vehicle Development Group which is referred to in page 145? I feel there is a great deal they could do in experimental work.

When one considers the recommendations of the committee, their recommendations (i) and (j) seem to me to be outstanding. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, pointed out that we could hardly expect much more assistance from Government in terms of finance. But I think there are possibilities for enormous amounts of research to be done by electricity boards in their actual work and with using different types of vehicle on the job. This is what really affects the user, the practical man of business. The noble Lord, Lord Ironside, said there is a good case for "sharpening up our efforts" in this country. We could go on from hybrid trolley-buses to electric golf buggies; but I will not turn to them.

I was concerned with the electric supply industry in Western India. Two of our companies involved densely populated urban areas with narrow bazaar streets and a concentration of sub-stations belonging to the supply companies. We bought two service vans from Austins of Longbridge in 1937 and they were still running when I retired from India in 1952. They were built to our design and I cannot resist telling your Lordships the story of how I went down to try out the first one. There was a wooden seat on the bare chassis. The first thing I learnt, to my surprise, was that they go just as fast backwards as they do forwards. I nearly pushed it through the factory wall. Apart from that, the experiment was satisfactory in that I found that the steering lock could be made very much tighter without interfering with the efficiency of the vehicle and yet greatly assisting its use in urban areas for service work.

I do not know how many of your Lordships remember the fleet of electric vehicles that Harrods had on the road for years. I am particularly concerned with that because one of our companies was diesel powered and we subscribed to a worldwide association of diesel generating stations. The most efficient in the world was Harrods because they had this fleet of electric vehicles. During off-peak periods they were able to keep the machines on load charging up the delivery vans. I wonder whether British Leyland can trace the Austin records of the vehicles of which I spoke earlier.

The noble Lord, Lord Ironside, referred to costs. My recollection was that they were very rough and ready. The big item of expenditure was, of course, the battery. The advances since then have been extraordinary and they continue from day to day. But the vehicle itself seemed to me to be very simple. The only complexity, which I have referred to already and which I do not know anything about, is this possibility of regenerative braking. The debate has been extremely interesting. I look forward to hearing further contributions and I feel, as the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, said, that everything should be done to push on within our means with investigation of this form of transportation which in the years to come will become more and more important as fossil fuel disappears from the possibilities of commercial development.

6.10 p.m.

My Lords, we have had such a thorough debate and such an excellent account from my noble friend Lord Gregson that I propose to delay your Lordships for only a few minutes, having been a member of the committee, and I wish at the outset to comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Todd, said about the work of the Select Committee. When I originally proposed the setting up of that committee, it was based largely on the high quality of many of your Lordships and the work already of the committees under the chairmanship of the noble Lords, Lord Todd, Lord Sherfield and Lord Gregson, which shows that in the course of time the Select Committee will be able to make some valuable contributions. We began, as Lord Todd made clear, with a rather discrete area, one we reckoned we could handle and get a report out quickly, and I am told by the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, and others that we have produced a very satisfactory report.

When one thinks of the vast area the Select Committee can look at, obviously it will be difficult to tackle the whole wide field of science and technology. I have no doubt, however, that the committee will make contributions. Indeed, we shall probably need to make further demands on manpower, when manpower is available, for our work, and I fear we shall probably take up—this is a point committees must always remember, not least in another place—a lot of time of civil servants, and that is bound to add to the cost.

I was interested in the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. I suppose a canal boat is a vehicle, although we did not think very seriously about it. I am only sorry that the noble Viscount did not give us evidence. We invited evidence widely and I assure him that I am anxious to encourage him. I thought he gave at least an interesting sideline and, since everybody has been anecdotal, those of my generation will remember that, if one went to Skindle's at Maidenhead in the early 'thirties and wanted to take somebody out on the river, one could hire an electric canoe, which was not nearly as stable as a punt for whatever purpose one had in mind.

The report is, I believe, worth while. I was moderately sceptical—I still am a little—in that I am not quite satisfied that the energy equation will in the long run provide the incentive for the development of electric vehicles, but that argument has been used about electricity in other contexts. The advantages socially and environmentally are so great that, as the report makes clear, one of the problems is that the disadvantages fall on the user, proprietor and purchaser while the advantages go to the community at large, and that is where a certain adjustment is necessary. Indeed, the Government have already taken steps by adjusting the balance in regard to cost and tax very much in favour of the electric vehicle. The question is how much more the Government should do. The fact is—this comes out clearly—that in certain respects we lead the world, but we will not lead it for much longer if we are not careful, and I say that as somebody who has been involved in exports recently; so often one sees missed opportunities. The fact that the United States, Japan and other countries are spending so much more money than we are on these developments suggests that we must think very hard indeed, if we are not prepared at least to sustain the present degree of support and perhaps encourage it further.

The committee did not rely on battery breakthrough. The sodium sulphur battery, which is a hot contender, sounds a nasty and dangerous animal to have in a vehicle—operating at a temperature of 360 degrees centigrade—but I suppose the argument could have been used about the early railway trains that they were nasty and dangerous vehicles. Zinc chlorine—if the refrigerator does not work it in theory emits poisonous clouds of chlorine which could poison the neighbourhood, or the driver—also sounds unattractive, but I do not think these problems cannot be overcome technologically. We deal with so many dangerous substances now that in the long run they may provide some of the breakthrough, although certain of the claims seem to me to be rather unlikely.

I therefore urge the Government, who I am sure will take the report seriously, at least to go as far as we recommend. I would not wish to press them too hard at a time when they are pursuing policies of economy of a kind to which I am not entirely sympathetic. However, I do not regard this as a party political occasion and I understand that the Government must follow the policies to which they are committed.

I believe the case has been well made. Despite its caution and criticism, the report has given great encouragement to people who need encouragement, and I echo the credit that has been given to, for example, Chloride and Lucas for the risks they have taken. It shows that industrialists in this dangerous age are still prepared to spend money on research in their fundamental area of activity which may in the end pay off. I hope it will pay off for them and for all of us, with quieter and more convenient vehicles.

I would mention only one new aspect, one which I came across in the last month. I was recently in Southern Africa where I visited one of my company's mines, an advanced copper mine where they shifted no less than 500,000 tons of rock in one day. They are about to go on to trolley-assisted trucks, huge 250-ton trucks which will be trolley-assisted; in other words, hybrid vehicles. The trolley and the hybrid are two areas where further support may be necessary.

6.18 p.m.

My Lords, I wish to begin by adding my tribute to the Select Committee oil Science and Technology, whose sub-committee wrote the report we are now considering. Looking at the list of distinguished members of that committee, I am not surprised that the first report from its sub-committee is of such excellence. Indeed, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the sub-committee on their report. It is perhaps the most comprehensive and comprehensible review of electric vehicle development and technology ever to have been published. Had it no other purpose, I am sure it would be of inestimable value as an authoritative source of information and opinion to practitioners and laymen alike. It has other purposes too, and your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss them this evening. The Government have been considering their response to the report and reviewing their policy in the light of the recommendations, and today's debate enables us to set out their views.

Before I do that, may I add to the anecdotal flavour of the debate, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred, be recounting an anecdote of my own? I was very anxoius indeed to be the Minister responding to the debate from this Dispatch Box because it happens that I and my brother once built an electric vehicle in our garage at home. Therefore I can speak of the problems of the electric vehicle industry with particular personal knowledge. I recall that we had the greatest difficulty with the brakes. The only way that we could stop it was by putting it into reverse. Then it shot back in the other direction, and at the same time there was considerable heat in some of the wires, which caused all kinds of difficulties.

First, let me say that it is difficult to quarrel with the well-balanced argument of the report, and indeed the Government are in full agreement with the main thrust of the recommendations. However, we are faced, as was the committee, with the dilemma of trying to decide where and when electric road vehicles will become commercially viable and the whole emphasis which should be placed on the technology, as compared with other work in the fuel and transport fields at a time when money is so short.

Clearly for the longer term it is important for us to maintain, and if possible broaden, our existing options for transport and related fuel supply, and work in the field of electrical vehicles is one of the alternatives open to us. Conventional oil is likely to have an important continuing role for many years, but we are all too well aware that these supplies are finite. In the medium term and beyond we can expect that oil will be increasingly reserved for its premium uses for transport and for petrochemicals, but as supplies become more scarce, less secure, and more expensive, there is likely to be an increasing need for alternatives. Having our own oil will not insulate us from the rest of the world. Our reserves are limited, and we are likely once more to be returning to the world market for imports from the 1990s.

Our main options for longer-term road transport are synthetic fuel from coal and, if progress can be made in developing the technology meanwhile, electric vehicles. It is for that reason that the Government are encouraging research and development of electric vehicles and battery and component technology. As a further measure of encouragement we abolished excise duty on electric vehicles in the March 1980 budget.

The pace at which electric vehicles will become an attractive alternative to the internal combustion engine will depend upon a number of things, including the relative cost of vehicles and the necessary service infrastructure. Above all however it will depend upon the development and availability of advanced batteries. The lead acid battery has served us well and must continue to do so for some time, but it is heavy and places severe limitations on range and performance. This is a matter which many noble Lords have mentioned this evening.

About a third of the weight of the familiar milk float is accounted for by the battery, and even the more modern batteries used in new urban delivery vehicles take up far too much of the payload. Until advanced batteries are available, the acceptable road use of electric vehicles will be confined to urban transport and probably to urban delivery vans. As the committee points out, research and development is continuing, particularly at Harwell with particular emphasis on sodium sulphur batteries which offer the prospect, but not yet the reality, of an improvement in the power storage capability by a factor of two or even three. Other types of advanced battery are under investigation by both Government and industry. The long-term future of electric traction in road transport will depend upon the outcome of this work perhaps more than on any other factor.

It is against that background that I turn to the recommendations of the committee and note with satisfaction that the committee thought that we and previous Governments had got the level of support about right. We have now reviewed our future policy and have come to the conclusion that the committee is also right to say that we should continue to provide similar support. In practice this means that electric vehicle technology may do rather better than some other areas at a time when the general level of Government expenditure is being held down. Within this expenditure we shall of course have to allocate priorities, and here again we are grateful to the committee for its help. Broadly, we believe, with the committee, that the main emphasis should be on drive train components; by this I mean controllers, motors, transmissions and batteries—or in other words, the works. We have come to this view because we believe that our industry has a lead in this area and that it is here therefore that the best prospects of early commercial exploitation exist.

Manufacturers of drive trains have the chance to supply their products to vehicle manufacturers at home and abroad and by concentrating on this area can establish a base from which to widen the areas of application beyond their current uses in delivery vehicles. This is particularly important at a time when, although the most promising application in this country is the urban delivery van, there seems to be a larger and earlier demand for other vehicles, including the electric car, else- where in the world. We also agree with the committee that it is important to make sure that electric vehicles are adequately demonstrated through user trials. However, our principal objective in all this is to help this nascent industry find its commercial feet as quickly as possible.

As I said a few moments ago, the wider use of electric vehicles will depend to a very considerable extent upon the development of advanced batteries which overcome the range and performance limitations of lead acid systems. We note the committee's view that work in this field should be continued, and we are currently carrying out the detailed review of options which the committee recommends.

We have also taken note of the committee's view that there may be commercial advantages in working through larger firms, and its reference to applications for support from Lucas and Chloride. We are in discussions with the companies concerned with a view to arriving at arrangements which will ensure the most effective use of both industrial and public funds. We shall not however lose sight of the important contributions that have been made, and will I am sure continue to be made by smaller firms and indeed individuals in this field. My noble friend Lord Ironside asked me about that point. He also asked me in particular—I think that it was my noble friend Lord Ironside—whether British Leyland has made any proposals to the Government. I understand that outline proposals have been received from British Leyland and that the Department of Industry is now in discussions with the company.

The Government are very conscious of the effects that legislation and other direct action can have on the development of the market for electric vehicles, and as I said earlier, the Chancellor recognised this in his last Budget. The Department of Transport is keeping the position under review and would respond sympathetically to any specific information from a manufacturer or user who felt that he was being inhibited by regulations. Indeed I can assure my noble friend Lord Ironside in particular that we are currently considering representations about tachographs in that context. However, in this instance, we have to consider not only our own wishes, but the attitude of the European Community whose Directive on tachographs the previous Administration were reluctant to implement.

So far as parking is concerned, which was a matter raised by the committee, the local authorities already have the powers to make provisions of the kind suggested by the committee—for example, for disabled badge holders—and it is for them to decide whether to single out electric vehicles for special treatment in this way. No doubt they will have noted the committee's recommendations, as indeed will public purchasers and the Electricity Council. In the context of public purchasing we shall be prepared to consider what part central Government can play at the appropriate time.

Finally, let me turn to one area where we differ slightly from the committee. This concerns the recommendation for additional support for hybrid vehicles. It is by no means clear to us which, if any, of the wide variety of potential hybrids is likely to prove a winner. All add complexity to the construction and use of the vehicles and carry the weight and cost penalty of calling for dual systems. At the extreme the problems and shortcomings of hybrid power systems were only too clear in the early days of the conventional submarine, for example. We accept however that at least so far as the car is concerned, internal combustion and electric configurations help to overcome the range disadvantages currently suffered by the pure electric private vehicle. We are keeping in touch with current work and thinking and we would be prepared to consider requests for help, but I cannot promise that this area of development will command a high priority at this time.

Attention has been given mainly to hybrid vehicles using batteries, but we are aware that there is interest overseas in trolley buses with auxiliary diesel engines, which I think was what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was referring to for the use in his mining interests. Although these may not be economic in this country, there is a possibility that export markets might open up for British manufacturers, and we shall bear this in mind. I cannot pretend that my noble friend Lord Strathcarron will be very pleased with that reply, but I hope that he at least understands our position.

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, in his most interesting and fascinating speech, raised a number of interesting points about the use of electric boats, particularly on inland waterways. I must confess I was very encouraged to hear what he was saying, because, at the risk of boring your Lordships with yet another anecdote, I myself inquired some years ago about the possibility of buying an electric-powered cruiser to operate on the little river near where I live and I found that there was none available on the market at that time. I am encouraged to hear what the noble Viscount said about having his own boat converted in this way. However, I am informed that the Department of Industry has provided some financial support to at least one project in this field, of which I shall be glad to give details at some other time to the noble Viscount.

In conclusion, let me say that the committee's second recommendation summarises the Government's attitude to support for the development of electric vehicles better than I can. It is indeed our objective to allow the electric vehicle to prove whether it can compete with the internal combustion engine vehicle on equal terms before oil supplies run down. We believe, with the committee, that the work which has been supported so far has been of value and we intend to maintain a solid level of support for electric-vehicle work in the future.

My Lords, first, I should like to thank all the noble Lords who took part in this debate. I think it has shown the value of this House in being able to contribute to such a subject in such a masterly manner and showing such a wide range of experience. I should also like to thank the Minister for his response. I now realise of course that we should probably have called him for evidence if I had known about his previous activities in the field. I am sure that the Select Committee will study the Minister's words most carefully. Finally, I think I can fairly say that the Select Committee on Science and Technology is now set on a road to play a significant part in the future proceedings of your Lordships' House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.