I beg to move,
That this House has considered ultra-low emission vehicles.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I am grateful to have been granted this debate. Before I begin, I should say that in a conversation I had earlier today with the Minister’s colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes)—I understand that this is his policy area—he agreed to have a meeting with me shortly on this issue, and I am grateful for that.
It is nearly five years since I initiated a debate on ultra low emissions vehicles in the Chamber. I have strongly championed the new technology throughout that time. In my debate in May 2011, I said that the issue mattered for four main reasons: first, because it is part of the answer in tackling climate change; secondly, because it is at the heart of creating the new industries of the future; thirdly, because it helps the United Kingdom respond to the challenge of energy security; and fourthly, because it helps our constituents reduce the cost of driving. In that debate, no one, including me, mentioned the important contribution that ultra low emissions vehicles can make in improving air quality, which is an issue that is rapidly rising up the political agenda, not least because 40% of local authorities are currently breaching air quality guidelines. A quarter of children in London are breathing illegally polluted air, meaning that their lung capacity may never recover. The air quality in London last week was worse than that in Beijing.
One of my local schools is in an area that breaches the limit. In fact, my constituents, particularly those living off the North Circular Road, are breathing some of the worst air in London, if not the country. Does my hon. Friend recognise that the highest cost to the health of Londoners and those across the country is paid by those in our most deprived communities, who on average are exposed to 25% higher levels of air pollution than people elsewhere?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. It is often the most disadvantaged communities that suffer the worst air quality. That is another reason why the issue is so important.
In May 2011, there were 57,000 ultra low emissions vehicles on our roads. Nearly five years later, that figure has increased to 87,000. The Government’s central projection of 5% of all cars in the UK being ultra low emissions vehicles by 2020 means that we need to have 1.6 million such vehicles on our roads by then. The Committee on Climate Change recommends that 9% of the cars on our roads should be ultra low emissions by 2020. That equates to 2.8 million cars. Even 9% is unambitious compared with Japan, which has a target for 20% of all its cars to be ultra low emissions vehicles by 2020. While I am very happy to give the Government due and proper credit for what they have done in this area, my purpose in holding the debate is to challenge them to lay out a much clearer road map as to how we are to get to at least 1.6 million ultra low emissions vehicles on our roads by 2020.
In response to a parliamentary question I asked recently, the Department for Transport declined to indicate how many ultra low emissions vehicles it expects to be on our roads by the end of this year, in 2018 or in 2019. I think it would be helpful to have a more detailed road map of how we will achieve the 2020 target.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the correct approach is a balanced one? Encouraging the greater use of low emissions vehicles should not mean that we should ban historic vehicles from our roads. I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group on historic vehicles.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He has a long record of campaigning on this issue. We should help people transition to the new, cleaner vehicles that we see on our roads, and his point is well made.
Will my hon. Friend give way again?
If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, there are quite a few other Members who wish to speak.
I will be brief. Can I place on the record the fact that historic vehicles comprise 0.7% of all licensed vehicles, so their impact on the environment is negligible?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He has done a service by putting that figure on the record.
Do the Government intend to influence the choice of public sector vehicles that taxpayers pay for, such as local authority school buses, police cars, ambulances and so on? Installing many more charging points, both for home charging and for charging en route, is critical to the increase in ultra low emissions vehicles. The modern transport Bill will enable the UK to make further progress. Issues that should be addressed include the standardisation of sockets and plugs for charging, and the ease of payment among different charging providers. Only last week, a Central Bedfordshire councillor who has an electric car shared his frustration with me at not being able to plug it in to charge in some locations and not being able to pay for the charge in others. The Government need to take a lead.
I am glad my hon. Friend has mentioned councillors. Does he agree that local authorities have a vital role to play? What they can do can magnificently help low emissions vehicles.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Convenience store representatives have asked whether any charging point investments they may be required to make can be offset against their business rates. While we must have more charging points, we must act fairly towards small businesses. What steps are the Government taking to expand electric vehicle car sharing services, which have been introduced in Paris, Indianapolis and Singapore? Have they given any thought to the steps that need to be taken to establish a healthy second-hand ultra low emissions vehicle market, the lack of which is currently holding back growth?
Is there anything the Minister can say to reassure Guide Dogs, which is concerned about increased injuries to pedestrians as a result of ultra low emissions vehicles’ quietness? Volkswagen, BMW and Ford plan to set up a European network for the speedy charging of electric vehicles. Their technology will apparently be significantly faster than the current arrangements. Will the United Kingdom benefit from similar private sector investment in the latest and fastest technology?
The United Kingdom has the largest market in the European Union for ultra low emissions vehicles, which is something we should all celebrate, but I note that a quarter of all the vehicles in Norway are already electric or hybrid electric. The Netherlands, along with Norway, plans to completely phase out diesel vehicles by 2025. Last year, China produced 517,000 new energy vehicles, as it calls them, and it expects to quadruple its new energy vehicle output to 2,000,000 vehicles by 2020. This year, it will also install another 800,000 public charging stations. I appreciate that China is a much larger country than the United Kingdom, but a smaller country can still aim for the same trajectory of growth, and that is what I would like to see the United Kingdom do to become and remain a world leader.
It is important that when we refer to ultra low emissions vehicles, we do not just refer to what comes out of the exhaust. There are, I understand, estimated to be 84,000 transport refrigeration units powered by highly polluting diesel engines that are not yet regulated. That is a significant omission in the urgent battle that the Government need to fight to significantly improve the United Kingdom’s air quality. What action will the Government take on transport refrigeration units?
When we refer to emissions, we should include nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. It is important to realise that particulate matter comes not only from exhausts, but from tyres and brakes. What research are the Government commissioning to reduce emissions from tyres and brakes? For the industry to continue to invest, there needs to be long-term commitment from the Government. The plug-in car grant is a critical lever to developing that market and continuing commitment to it is important, as is continued investment in charging infrastructure. Taxation is a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury, but can the Minister say anything about representations made to Treasury Ministers on the research and development tax credit? That needs to be internationally competitive to demonstrate ongoing commitment to the industry over the next decade. Can the Minister say anything about changes to vehicle excise duty and company car tax to reflect the amount of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emitted in addition to the levels of carbon emitted?
Has the hon. Gentleman seen last week’s air quality audits from the Mayor of London’s office? Does he welcome the recommendation to move school entrances and play areas away from areas with idling vehicles, and the idea of “no engine idling” schemes to reduce harmful emissions during school time? Perhaps the Minister could take those points on board too.
I referred to last week’s very bad levels of air quality. The hon. Lady is right; as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said, local authorities absolutely have a role.
If the Government are to meet their legal air quality obligations, change is necessary. We need to make sure that there are affordable, cleaner alternatives for people on low incomes to switch to. What estimate have the Government made of the ability of compression engines to mix diesel and hydrogen in vans and lorries to reduce emissions? It is excellent to see the Liverpool-based technology firm ULEMCo working with the University of Liverpool and Huazhong University’s Wuhan New Energy Institute to do exactly that. It is also good to see the Scottish company Alexander Dennis partnering with Chinese vehicle manufacturer BYD—it stands for “Build Your Dreams”—to put electric buses on our roads and Zhejiang Geely making electric taxis in Rugby for the streets of London.
Would the hon. Gentleman perhaps like to add to his ask list the issue of local authorities that are grappling with air quality issues? Five local authorities are under infraction and, with the Department, are dealing with a plan for low-carbon development to counter poor air quality caused by transport. The Department’s response may well be to provide funding to, for example, convert taxi fleets, local authority vehicles and public vehicles to low-carbon usage. Would he encourage the Department responsible to make sure that grants go to those local authorities?
What is happening in London with taxis for the future is excellent, and I am sure we would all like to see more cities across the United Kingdom making progress. The hon. Gentleman has a long record of interest in this area, and I thank him for putting that point on the record.
What discussions are the Government having with local authorities to roll out ultra low emissions buses and taxis more widely across the United Kingdom? As the UK seeks new markets and trading arrangements, I want to see this country excelling in that area, with high take-up in our home market and massive exports around the world. I am extremely grateful to colleagues who have come along to take an interest in this important matter today.
Order. There are some people standing to indicate that they wish to speak who did not submit their names for the debate. I warn all those who would like to speak that I intend to go to the Front-Bench spokespeople at 10 past five.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) for bringing forward this debate and for his work championing this issue, which began long before I got to this place. I will split my speech into two parts—first, why we need to encourage more electric and hybrid vehicles on to the road and, secondly, the framework that we need to enable that to happen.
It is really obvious now why we need to make the switch to electric nationally and with all speed. It is because of the shocking air quality statistics that we have all highlighted recently. Only last week, the levels of air pollution in London overtook those in Beijing. One would hardly credit that that could be possible in this nation, but it is true.
I have taken part in two air quality inquiries. The first was as part of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the second as part of the Environmental Audit Committee. The statistics that we were presented with were quite shocking. We have failed our nitrogen oxide and particulate matter targets miserably, and the impact has been a terrible knock-on effect on health. We are told that something like 40,000 to 50,000 people die every year as a result of air pollution. I believe that the statistics could be higher, and that is a shocking indictment of how we are running our society.
We should consider the impact on children. Bowes Primary School in my patch is 66% over the legal limit. The issue is whether an ultra low emissions zone, which could be extended by the Mayor, would help on the north and south circular routes. It may lead to further congestion and other problems. Has the hon. Lady looked at ultra low emissions zones to see whether they are a good solution to the problem?
I will say a bit about those zones later, but I think all local authorities will have to consider them. I hope the Minister will have some guidance on that later.
Even in Taunton Deane, which people might consider a beautiful rural area with a few urban centres, there are two pollution hotspots. One is on East Street, which is a busy road going right into the centre of Taunton. The other is on the famous A358—I have spoken about getting an upgrade for that road ever since I arrived in this place—where there is a pollution hotspot in a village called Henlade. We need to tackle that and, although I believe local authorities have the powers to tackle such issues—I have questioned Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers about that—they do not have the know-how on how to put measures in place. More particularly, they do not have the funds to tackle the issue even if they would like to.
I welcome the fact that the Government will produce their consultation on air quality fairly soon, and we look forward to seeing what is in it. I urge the Government—this is particularly a point for DEFRA—to adopt World Health Organisation rules on air quality, as they are far more stringent than the European rules that we have nevertheless shockingly contravened.
I come on to the real reason for today’s debate, which is encouraging the use of electric cars to help tackle air quality. As we have heard, the electric car market is growing substantially. There are many models available on the market now. Some are extremely well designed and are built to last. Many could be built not exactly as kit cars but on a much more local basis. Perhaps that might spawn new industries in our constituencies that could manufacture those cars. I would welcome the Minister’s views on whether we should have some sort of incentive to kick-start those industries.
There are already some world leaders in the industry. Formula 1, which is largely based in this country, has already been driving electric racing cars—there is a new league called Formula E, where they are raced at venues around the world. If we increased productivity and innovation in an industry that we already invest in, we could become world leaders. There would be spin-offs for our industrial strategy, and for technology and innovation, as we leave the EU, and it would work to improve our environment and help to build an environment that works for everyone—a point that the Government have to address. There will be spin-offs all round.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. I entirely agree that we have to improve air quality. The 9% target—I think it was provided by the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change—is one that we really need to aim for. Is one of the biggest barriers to the growth of low emissions vehicles not the high depreciation costs that are incurred at the moment? Does my hon. Friend have any ideas about how the Government could help overcome that?
I will leave the Minister to come up with some answers on that.
I have been having discussions with a company called EV Hub Global, which has a 21st century idea: a hub —a filling station—for electric cars, run on a membership basis. We cannot increase our use of electric cars by the numbers that have been predicted unless we have the right infrastructure in place to refuel them. At the moment, there are 1,000 rapid chargers available in the UK and approximately 100,000 electric vehicles, and 50,000 taxis have got to be off the road by 2020. If they are all going to go electric, and if we are all going to buy electric cars, we have to have a framework in place to recharge them. Those hubs can help.
People I have talked to in the industry suggest that we should focus on fleet vehicles first—buses, taxis, vans and lorries—and then the domestic car market will follow. I appreciate that we have to be very careful not to create economic difficulties for businesses that use vans; it is a very fine line.
Networks are important, and ideas for incentivising fleet businesses to convert to electric vehicles are crucial. Our electric charging facilities have to get faster. People do not want to spend an hour charging up—they want to spend 30 minutes or less—so we need innovation to help that. Equally, we need storage for the charging facilities so that they do not have an adverse impact on or disrupt the grid. Charging hubs or extra facilities need to be where we most need them, so we should focus on cities and airports first. There will be a new runway at Heathrow, so it will be important to focus on that. We must plan how we will work these ideas into towns such as Taunton, which has just been given green town status, to reduce high-emission cars. There are some big opportunities here.
I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire for bringing this subject to our attention and for giving us the opportunity to speak. There are huge opportunities, so we should be positive about the world of hybrid and electric cars, but the framework has to be in place. I very much welcome the Minister’s view on how he will enable that. Over and above everything else, we have to tackle this dreadful air pollution.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing the debate.
I agree with all that has been said about the need to promote ultra low emissions vehicles. It is clear that we have to do so to meet the carbon targets that we have committed to and because air quality is increasingly featuring in the public conscience. Court cases about air quality may force the Government’s hand more quickly than the requirement to meet our carbon plans.
Our plans to reduce transport emissions by 2020 are already quite challenging. The Energy and Climate Change Committee, on which I previously served, produced a report that looked at how the Government are progressing towards meeting those targets. It was apparent that hitting the targets we set for 2020 will be very difficult indeed. The transition to biofuels will help, of course, but there are real challenges to achieving that transition, given the capability of some of the cars currently on the road. Obviously the quickest way to meet those targets, both for 2020 and beyond, is to adopt ultra low emissions vehicles.
The technology is hugely exciting. When the Select Committee visited California just before we finished compiling our last report, we visited Tesla. Seeing the vehicles there, I came to understand that they are no longer golf carts or milk floats; they are proper cars that will really excite people the world over and will achieve significant saturation, even if the market is left to its own devices. A small plug: I am delighted that Tesla is going to come and speak to the all-party parliamentary group for Globe UK, which I chair, in a few weeks’ time to explain its vision to colleagues in Parliament. Of course, other manufacturers are doing great things, too—it is not just Tesla—but I have seen that factory, and what it is doing really is very impressive.
The argument for such cars is compelling. They are not milk floats. They have all the gadgets and oomph—I think that is the technical term—that cars need to turn the heads of proper petrolheads. They are also amazingly cheap to run. Of course, they now accelerate like proper cars and have all the gadgets inside like proper cars, but it is the fact that they can run for hundreds and hundreds of miles for pence that makes the real difference.
I agree with colleagues that the existence of a second-hand market is important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane rightly said, the Government should focus their attention on really screwing down on the fleets to ensure that they are aggressively encouraged to become ULEV fleets as quickly as possible. Vehicles are invariably in fleet service for only a very short time—a year or two—and it is those vehicles that filter through to the second-hand market most quickly.
The Government need to address three barriers to the roll-out of electric vehicles, which the Minister has heard me talk about previously. First, we need to get the charging network right. The challenge is not the charging network at service stations on motorways and trunk routes, because service stations all over the country now have electric charging points. Nor is it the charging network on driveways at people’s homes, because the Government’s excellent grant scheme ensures that when someone buys an electric vehicle they can install a charging point on their private land. It is residential curbside charging, particularly in areas of high population density. If someone goes out in any direction from here, it will not be long before they find high concentrations of people living with no private parking. Having a curbside charging network—probably buried in the curb stone—would be an extraordinary infrastructure project.
My hon. Friend is making a serious point. Is that not where the hubs that I talked about could be useful? We could have hubs in various areas in cities so that people do not need to park and charge on the curbside; they can go to the hub, which they join on a membership basis.
I, too, had the pleasure of meeting EV Hub, and its initial model focuses on commercial fleets. The reality is that, if every vehicle has to go via one of those hubs when it leaves its parking spot each morning, the scale of the demand will be unworkable. We have to find a solution to curbside charging for those who do not have off-road parking of their own.
We also need to find a way of incentivising businesses to install electric vehicle charging points in their work car parks. When we visited California, a number of businesses made a great virtue of that and let people charge their cars for free while they were working. It would be worthwhile to find a way of encouraging businesses to do that.
The second barrier is the preparedness of the energy system itself: quite simply, do we have the generation capacity to meet the likely increase in electricity need? Is the energy system—the wires and switches—capable of dealing with the clusters in demand when a lot of EVs are charged in one street or neighbourhood at the same time? Is the system smart enough yet? Has it been digitised so that we can mitigate that clustering in both time and space by load-shifting, so that cars are charged when the energy is available at the cheapest possible point? We risk exacerbating the peak energy price in the evening if we do not have that digitised load-shifting capability in place. If everybody comes home and lazily plugs in their car before they go inside, alongside switching on the kettle, cooking supper and all the other things that go on in homes when people first get home at night, demand will increase massively.
Thirdly, people will need certainty about the future tax regime for how we charge people to drive cars. It is blatantly obvious that Her Majesty’s Treasury is not going to give up the receipts it currently gets for fuel duty without a compensating tax in place, and I suspect that that will be very pricey. If we are really going to encourage people to go for electric vehicles, we need to be very clear—perhaps in a Green Paper alongside the modern transport Bill—about what we are thinking of for an alternative way of raising tax from motoring once people transition and we lose the fuel duty.
We can work through all that, but the Government need to be clear about their role in encouraging the transition. The grants that are in place are doing an excellent job and, as a result, people are being encouraged to look at EVs in particular. The more EVs come down in price and, crucially, the more they increase their range, the more people will see them as a viable option and be incentivised by the grants. The size of the grants will be the indicator of how serious the Government are about facilitating the transition.
My plea, however, is that we do not penalise the drivers of diesel cars. I declare an interest as the driver of a diesel car, who thought I was doing the right thing by buying one, because it produced low emissions and was efficient. We have our diesel cars now and, if we are to be incentivised to transition away from them, the Government need to recognise that we did not do the wrong thing by buying them—quite the contrary, we thought we were doing the right thing.
The transition is happening, the technology is compelling and Government intervention is the throttle in the process. To meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, however, we surely require the Government to put their foot down fully on the accelerator.
Order. I have 10 minutes before I need to call the Front Benchers, so I will ask the three gentlemen standing to be very circumspect with their time. I can allow them a little more than three minutes each.
Thank you, Mrs Moon. It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on initiating it.
In my younger days—and, probably, those of everyone in the Chamber—we walked to school, the shop and church, and we took the bus anywhere else. Time has moved on, and families may have one, two or more cars, which has led to the many problems with pollution and effects on the environment.
The Volkswagen transmission issue is still an ongoing problem. The week before last I met some of my constituents who informed me that after the new software had been installed the cars did not go well. Has the Minister had the opportunity to find out exactly where we are? Also, I understand the Government’s initiative to reduce road tax for newer and more eco-friendly cars, but what is being done to encourage young people to take up such opportunities?
Without fear of contradiction, I hope, I can say that I live in the most beautiful constituency in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We want to keep Strangford that way and have corrected environmental damage caused to beautiful old buildings, for example. The council has also designated car-charging points. Those are all steps in the right direction.
Some information and stats on ULEVs have already been given, such as the numbers registered recently. To put the figure into perspective, however, some 43,000 ULEVs have been registered for the first time in Great Britain, compared with some 3.4 million cars registered overall. There is still a long, long way to go. The Minister has stated:
“Plug-in vehicle registrations reached a record high in 2015…more than the past 5 years’ totals rolled into one”.
Some 29 models are now available, which gives a lot of variety and choice for those who wish to go that way.
We need to have plug-in points available for people to charge their cars so that the fear of running out of power is not valid. The Government have a role in providing grants for businesses, such as shopping centres, or in ensuring that all council facilities, wherever they may be, have at least one power point. Will the Minister outline any such initiatives or plans for initiatives? Also, what discussions have taken place with the Assemblies and devolved Administrations?
I am conscious of the time, Mrs Moon, given the challenge you set us. These days, people want to travel further and we try to provide a good public transport system at a cost. We also have an opportunity to outlay funds for the benefit of all. I support any measures that will incentivise those who wish to be more environmentally sound to be able to make that choice financially. I also take the opportunity to caution the Government about enforcing such a choice or removing choice for others. We may all want new cars to be ultra low emission, but those who wish to choose standard cars must be allowed to do so and not be financially penalised. Whatever the Minister’s response, I urge him to be aware of the difference between incentivising and penalising.
I thank the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who introduced the debate, for the opportunity to talk about something apart from Brexit for once.
When we talk about this subject in Transport questions, I often intervene. I do not know whether the Minister has noticed, but I sound a slightly sceptical note, simply because I am not wholly convinced of the case for electric cars. The roll-out is slow, the product is expensive and there are a lot of long-term uncertainties, including maintenance—when a car is no longer to be seen by the franchise dealer but goes to the local garage—and supply issues. The hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) alluded to the difficulty of getting the grid and supply of electricity right and ensuring that not everyone in London goes home at 6 o’clock and plugs in electric cars at the same time.
There is also the issue of exactly how the electricity is generated. The Chinese are indeed making lots of electric cars, but they are building a lot of coal-fired power stations as well. Furthermore, a degree of optimism bias exists in the business with regard to where battery technology will take us, so the absence of much consumer confidence means that most people prefer a hybrid car to an electric- only one. There is also a lack of clarity about what success would look like when we are all driving electric cars. The vision was partly sketched by the hon. Member for Wells, but I do not think that we are at all clear.
The one point that I want to make is that at one time the Department used to express itself as being technology-neutral, but—probably under the influence of Liberal Democrat Transport Ministers as much as anything else —we started to talk almost exclusively about electric cars. Many other viable alternatives are around, such as hydrogen cars, which are being developed by Honda and Toyota. I believe that the Metropolitan police are thinking of ordering some, and I have driven in one. Hydrogen cars fuel up much more quickly than electric cars, a charging-point structure is not needed and the costs have been coming down. They are a very viable alternative.
Other alternatives are already around, and they are what I might describe as under-supported—for example, liquefied petroleum gas. I do not want to be a spokesman for petrolheads, but the LPG infrastructure is already there. Manufacturing capacity is already in place at Ellesmere Port, where we make LPG for export. We rarely incentivise it appropriately—someone will get £10 off in tax each year, which is a minimal incentive. There is little benefit to drivers from converting, unless they hang on to the car for a very long time. The duty on LPG, as opposed to straightforward petrol, is uncertain.
There is one big problem with electric cars that fuel cells, or even hydrogen fuel cells, will not cut into effectively. At the moment, if we put a battery big enough into a lorry to drive it and let it do what it has to do, that is basically the payload of the lorry. Lorry drivers will not be driving electric vehicles any time soon, so we need to incentivise them to use the cleanest possible fuel—and that is not diesel.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing the debate, on keeping a spotlight very much on air quality and on bringing in ultra low emission vehicles.
We have to remember that, in hotspots in this city and throughout the country, 80% of the nitric oxide that turns into nitric dioxide is produced by transport. We really have to deal with that. At issue is private cars, and we have to put in place the right systems of grants and encouragement for the public to buy. For example, charging points must be not only available, but very fast, so people do not have to wait all day for their car to charge up if they are going long distances.
I agree with the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) that lorries will be difficult to turn electric. Delivery vans, taxis and buses can reduce their emissions dramatically, not just through electricity but other fuels. Unless we target such high areas of pollution, we will not be doing enough for air quality. The lives of thousands of people out there in our inner cities are being shortened by air quality.
Yes, electric vehicles carry great incentives now—we are talking about 4p a mile in running costs—and I congratulate the Government on the initiatives in place, but only 1% of vehicles are electric and ultra low emission, while in Norway the figure is 25%. The key now is to ensure that people have alternative vehicles, not only purely electric ones, but hybrid vehicles, which allow drivers to use petrol or diesel over long distances and the batteries when they get to the inner cities. That could perhaps also be done with hybrid lorries, so that lorries’ engines charge on the journey into London and they are able to make deliveries in central London using their electric motors.
We must stop these vehicles—from taxis to buses and delivery vans. Given our lifestyles, we all like to order our shopping online with a click from Tesco, Sainsbury’s or wherever, but all that has to be delivered by a van, which again means emissions in our inner cities. We must tackle the issue head-on, and tackle the hotspots in particular, by incentivising people to ensure that we take diesel polluters out of our city centres, and I am confident that the Minister can do that.
Order. The Minister has been asked a large number of questions. I would like to give him as much time as possible to respond, so will the Front-Bench spokesmen also be very tight with their time? I call Alan Brown.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on bringing forward this debate and sticking to a theme that he has raised before—it is obviously close to his heart.
We have heard much about air quality and the need for action. Just today, I read in the newspapers that according to the United Nations special rapporteur on hazardous substance and waste, air pollution is a crisis that plagues the UK, particularly for children, and urgent Government action is required. In November 2016, for the second time in 18 months, the Government lost a court case on their proposals to tackle air pollution. ClientEarth, which took the Government to court, states that over-optimistic modelling of diesel car fumes was used rather than actual road emissions. The Government clearly need to take proper action. It has also been widely reported that up to 40,000 deaths per year arise from air pollution. Air pollution is a killer, and we need to tackle it head-on.
Transport alone accounts for 23% of CO2 emissions; transport and electricity generation are the joint largest net contributors to those emissions. That highlights the scale of the problem that needs to be tackled. Over the years, Governments of different colours have introduced a series of initiatives to encourage low emissions vehicles. Many of those initiatives seemed logical at the time, but Governments and their initiatives change, and that has hindered progress in people purchasing low emissions vehicles and the roll-out of the infrastructure that is required to support them.
In January last year, the Minister said he reckoned that the sale of ultra low emissions vehicles had reached a tipping point, and in September 2016 the Department for Transport issued a triumphant press release that said there had been a 49% increase in registrations of ULEVs compared with the previous year. That sounds great, but 805,000 new vehicles were registered and fewer than 10,000 of those were ULEVs, so they actually account for only 1.2% of new vehicles. As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said earlier, we need a massive increase in the sale and registration of these vehicles to reach the 5% target by 2020, and we are behind schedule. It is good to hear praise for the wee independent oil-rich country also known as Norway, where ULEVs have a market share of approximately 20%. What lessons does the Minister think can be learned from Norway, and what are the Government doing to replicate its success?
I appreciate the Government’s grant scheme. On the face of it, the scheme is good—it is attractive and the figures look good—but clearly there are still not enough people purchasing ULEVs, so perhaps it needs to be reviewed. Perhaps the Government just need to raise awareness and encourage the public to take up those grants. The Scottish Government have introduced a low-carbon transport fund, which, as well as grants, allows people to access interest-free loans of up to £35,000, which are repaid over six years. Businesses can access interest-free loans of up to £100,000. That is another way of encouraging people to purchase these vehicles. Again, perhaps the UK Government could do more.
The Scottish Government have spent £13 million in the last five years to support bus operators, and Aberdeen actually has Europe’s largest fleet of hydrogen-powered buses. Some 15% of charge points in the UK are in Scotland, which shows that Scotland is ahead in providing that infrastructure.
Does my hon. Friend also recognise that Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government did a lot of work during the Commonwealth games to install lots of charging points in sports venues around the city where people may want to go?
Yes, and I welcome that work, although ironically, I was contacted by a constituent who is concerned that Glasgow City Council will charge people for using parking bays while they charge their cars, which is actually a disincentive. The council needs to take that on board.
As we have heard, we need to get diesel vehicles off the road. Similarly to the example that the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) gave, I have been contacted by constituents who are concerned that they will be penalised for having purchased diesel vehicles in good faith. Will the Government look at compensation or find other ways to fully incentivise those people to move to ultra low emissions vehicles? We must find a way to disincentivise people from buying diesel cars. There were good proposals in the Government’s consultation on the modern transport Bill, but the Bill has been delayed. When will it come forward, and will it contain proper measures, as we have discussed?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who has campaigned for a clear road map for ultra low emissions vehicles for some time, on securing the debate.
Ultra low emissions, electric and alternative fuel vehicles and technologies offer huge opportunities for UK plc. The UK automotive sector added £18.9 billion in value to the UK economy last year, supporting 169,000 people in manufacturing directly and 814,000 across the industry and throughout the supply chains. If we are to sustain those numbers, we must strive for further growth and investment in more high-skilled design and engineering jobs. Supporting our ULEV market must be a priority for this Government.
A strategic approach to ULEVs must be a priority not just for growth’s sake but for the sake of public health and the environment. However, the Government have presided over nothing other than an air quality crisis that is poisoning our towns. We know about the 40,000 deaths in the UK every year. Brixton Road in London breached its annual pollution limit for 2017 after just five days, and the Government are legally required to produce a strategy for improving air quality by 24 April, following a judicial review in which a High Court judge described the two previous plans of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as “woefully inadequate”.
Sadly, the Government are failing on the environment. Yes, new registrations for electric, hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles are increasing year on year, but the Government are more than 1.5 million registrations short of their 1.6 million target for 2020. The UK is also legally bound to provide 10% of transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020, and it does not look like that target will be met, given that the proportion of energy from renewable sources fell last year from 4.93% to 4.23%.
Labour believes that clean air is a right, not a privilege. I will address some of the barriers, but we must consider all the levers for change. It is imperative that the Government recognise that the transition towards a low-carbon sustainable future is a journey in itself. The future vehicles market is still young and emerging, and we need a properly structured pathway. That means focusing not on purely electric cars but on all cleaner cars, including hybrids, and thinking about how taxation and grants can effectively incentivise uptake.
It is clear that the Chancellor’s changes to vehicle excise duty lacked any consultation, and the industry is calling for the changes that are due to take place in April to be delayed. Will the Minister review those concerns with his counterparts in the Treasury and consider whether focusing on CO2 alone remains rational? There are also concerns that cuts of £500 and £2,500 to plug-in grants for electric and hybrid cars and home charge points may not be allocated as effectively as they could be. Will the Minister outline how those cuts help to encourage motorists to shift to lower-emissions vehicles?
The prominence and accessibility of the wider infrastructure is also key to shaping consumer choices. We recognise some of the Government’s work towards that and welcome their broad aims for the imminent modern transport Bill. It is essential that we have a good network of smart and easy-to-use charging points, and it is key that charging stations offer common standards and appropriately accommodate drivers. We must be wary that, at least initially, even rapid charging might take much longer than filling up a petrol car. Preparing for the wider impacts of a surge in use of low emissions electric vehicles is also key. Will the Minister therefore outline what the modern transport Bill will include and when it will be published?
Does the Minister have a plan to address the concerns of the Institute of the Motor Industry, which warns of the huge skills gap in licensed technicians—just 1,000 of 250,000 are currently trained to fix such vehicles? We must ensure that all small garages and mechanics have an opportunity to upskill and are not left behind. Without action, insurance premiums and waiting times for maintenance will be higher, not lower. Will he also update the House on developing operation restrictions through the clear air zones plan and his Government’s third attempt at an air quality plan?
The key for the industry is uniformity; a patchwork of different plans would be troublesome. Given the size and weight of heavy goods vehicles, the technology is far more problematic for such vehicles, but their impact is huge—they contribute between 20% and 30% of emissions. The Minister will know the importance of the Automotive Council, introduced by the previous Labour Government to get things moving. Hopefully he can work with it.
Labour is pleased that the Government are taking seriously the transition to ultra low emissions vehicles, which will be the single biggest incremental change in transport for a century. However, we need effective consumer incentives and a customer-centred approach to upskilling and infrastructure as well as making full use of the public sector’s procurement power. Only then can we hope to reap the full benefits of the migration to ULEVs.
I will go at some pace and not take any interventions, because I have many points to make and an astonishing number of questions to answer. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing the debate. He has a long and distinguished record of campaigning on this issue. In terms of health and carbon emissions, and from balancing our grid and the move to renewables to ensuring that our automotive sector, which has been so powerful, is busy building the vehicles of the future, not of the past, we can all see the benefits of this fantastic new technology.
How will we achieve our objectives? We are investing a significant amount of money to support the ultra low emissions vehicle market. In 2015 the Chancellor committed more than £600 million to the market, and in the 2016 autumn statement that was boosted by a further £270 million.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire mentioned the requirement for a plan. We have a plan, called “Driving the future today”, which was set out in 2013, and we are on track. Significant progress has been made: we have supported the purchase of more than 80,000 plug-in cars through the plug-in car grant, and we expect that figure to reach 100,000 soon. That is a strong start, but I have no doubt that the scale of the challenge ahead is quite big. We will continue to support other vehicle types as well, through the plug-in van and plug-in motorcycle grant schemes. Last month we announced the winners of £20 million of funding for a low emissions freight and logistics trial.
To start on the questions, my hon. Friend raised the issue of transport refrigeration. Air Liquide was one of the winners, which will trial five refrigeration units that will use a prototype liquid nitrogen system. I confirm that the Government have been actively involved in developing new legislation at a European level, and a new regulation was recently agreed that will mean that any new transport refrigeration unit powered by a combustion engine will be subject to strict new emissions limits from 2019.
Colleagues have highlighted the importance of tackling air pollution, particularly in our larger cities and towns. To make some progress there we need to see change in the bus and taxi markets. We will continue our support for buses through the low emission bus scheme. We have seen £30 million invested there to convert 325 buses in a clean, new infrastructure. For taxis, we have the £20 million taxi infrastructure scheme. The TX5 from the London Taxi Company and the Metrocab from Frazer-Nash are being built here in the UK, which is a very positive story. We therefore have progress to build on.
In the 2016 autumn statement the Chancellor announced a further £150 million of new funding to help local authorities introduce more clean buses and taxis to our roads. Indeed, as was suggested, we are liaising with authorities all over the country. We will make announcements—hopefully quite shortly—on how that money will be invested, and I encourage all authorities to seize the opportunity to transform their public transport fleets. We are already supporting some cities through the Go Ultra Low City scheme, which we wish to become global exemplars in the deployment of ultra low emissions vehicles.
Many colleagues highlighted the importance of having the right type of infrastructure. Our evidence suggests that the majority of drivers will want to charge their vehicles at home overnight, but that is not what everyone needs—there is also range anxiety—so we need more publicly accessible charge points. Through a mixture of public and private funding we have created more than 11,000 charge points across the country and more than 900 of those are rapid charge points—that is the largest network in Europe. I reassure my hon. Friend that the current plans of vehicle manufacturers to build a Europe-wide fast charging network do indeed include the UK, as one of Europe’s leading markets. Regulation is clearly a part of this issue. A modern transport Bill is coming shortly, which will include many points raised by colleagues.
I will now move on to the questions. Do the Government seek to influence the choice of public sector vehicles? Yes. We are currently reviewing the Government buying standards for new vehicles, and the new standards will encourage the purchase of ultra low emissions vehicles in the public sector. On convenience stores and charge points, we have been carefully considering all the responses in the consultation on the modern transport Bill, and that will be sensitive to the potential costs as well as the benefits for any business, so that will be picked up.
On the expansion of electric vehicle car sharing schemes, as we have seen in other parts of the world, we have supported through funding the development and expansion of car clubs in England and to date we have helped to launch, expand or develop 24 car clubs across the country.
My hon. Friend asked whether the Government have considered the second-hand market. Yes, we have. When electric vehicles first went on sale there were concerns about the durability of the technology. As that has become much less of a concern the market has stabilised. However, my officials are watching that carefully and will continue to do so.
On electric vehicle noise, an EU regulation will require sound generators on new types of electric and hybrid vehicles from 2019, but of course manufacturers can choose to fit sound generators at any point if they so wish before that—that is the last date, not the first date.
On VWs and the corrections, well, I have a VW with a defeat device and I received a letter inviting me to have my VW corrected only a few days ago. I am interested to hear that the process might not be working quite as smoothly as was hoped. I will pick up that point with my ministerial colleagues to take forward.
We certainly are taking a cross-UK view. My officials regularly speak with colleagues from all the devolved authorities and Governments and local authorities. The key thing is that we want to make progress as the UK, and progress can only be made when everyone is involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) mentioned EV Hub. We are in contact with many charge point providers, including EV Hub, and we are funding rapid charging hubs through the Go Ultra Low City scheme.
In response to the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), the Government are indeed technology-neutral. We are backing ultra low and zero emissions vehicles however that is best achieved, and that does include hydrogen. I have opened a hydrogen fuelling station in south-west London and saw the benefits of that technology.
That was a real scamper across the debate. There were many other points that I was unable to make or answer in this speech, but we are very busy promoting an exciting agenda. We have many more initiatives but there is clearly a long way to go. The debate has shown that we share a common goal: to make our country a global leader in ultra low emissions vehicles.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister, who I know cares passionately about and is a genuine enthusiast for this area. I am grateful to him for answering all the questions he did. May I ask him to have his officials go through the contributions so that if any were unanswered he can kindly write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House so that interested colleagues can pick it up?
I am happy to do so.
I am grateful. I was reassured by much of what the Minister said. However, the one issue I would bring him back to is the interim targets. It is great to hear that he thinks we are on track, but will he provide us with the detail to ensure that we really are, to scrutinise—
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).