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Transport Decarbonisation

Volume 685: debated on Thursday 3 December 2020

What recent assessment his Department has made of the implications for his policies of (a) opportunities and (b) requirements for transport decarbonisation to achieve the Government’s net zero carbon emissions target. (909705)

What recent assessment his Department has made of the implications for his policies of (a) opportunities and (b) requirements for transport decarbonisation to achieve the Government’s net zero carbon emissions target. (909707)

Our forthcoming transport decarbonisation plan will set out a credible pathway to achieving net zero emissions across transport by 2050.

One of the most effective and impactful ways of helping the UK to achieve its decarbonisation goal of net zero is the electrification of transport. Against a backdrop of austerity and a global pandemic, the Scottish Government have a proud record on delivering rail electrification across Scotland. The majority of such works in Scotland’s central belt are now complete, with work beginning on extending this programme both north and south. Does the Minister agree that the Department for Transport should be following the Scottish Government’s lead in this area if the UK’s long-term goal of net zero is to be realised?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is probably worth the House reflecting that in the 13 years of the previous Labour Government, 63 miles of electrification took place, compared with 1,110 miles during our tenure.

The energy from major offshore wind farms will flow ashore into my constituency, but few jobs will currently be created. Hydrogen schemes offer opportunities not just for transport, but for tackling global warming and creating employment in East Lothian. What resources will the Minister commit to ensuring that hydrogen schemes are part of Britain going forward, and that East Lothian gets its fair share of onshore employment?

The Government are committed to hydrogen as a technology. I recently announced the Tees valley as a hydrogen hub. We have invested £121 million into hydrogen innovation, including the hydrogen buses that are currently running in Glasgow.

The pandemic has understandably dominated the headlines, but we cannot forget that we are still in a climate emergency and that green, efficient transport must be the future. Transport is now the largest contributing sector to UK emissions, and air pollution contributes to upwards of 36,000 deaths a year. How we move goods in and around the country—from international incoming freight moving around our national network, to local deliveries—is important, particularly as last mile deliveries have boomed during the pandemic. But even before the pandemic hit, the number of diesel vans had doubled over two decades. What is the Government’s plan, above what has already been announced, to get air pollution down and to address the growing impact of last mile deliveries?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, which is that 28% of all CO2 now comes from transport, and it is critical that we get it down. I thought he was going to go on to mention that since we last stood at these Dispatch Boxes, we have said that we are going to have a 2030 target for the end of sale of petrol and diesel cars, which will obviously help tremendously. That also includes diesel vans, which will be a very big contributor to assist in this, alongside the £2.8 billion we are putting in to help that switch take place.

With respect, that is just not ambitious enough. There are organisations that have really boomed in the pandemic. Online retailers—the big giants—are part of that, and they should be required to do far more to make sure that they bring down air pollution.

In a written parliamentary question to me, the Government admitted that the comprehensive spending review cut Network Rail’s enhancement budget by £1 billion—10%. At the same time, the order books for new greener aircraft have stalled. This all adds up to a very dismal approach as we get towards COP26 in Glasgow next year. Before that embarrassment comes, will the Secretary of State come forward with a comprehensive plan to decarbonise freight, which starts with reversing the cuts to Network Rail?

Right at the beginning of the pandemic—I can understand if the hon. Gentleman missed it—we published the document “Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge”, which will lead into a transport decarbonisation plan that we will publish by the spring. In that, we will describe the many measures that we are taking to make the UK a global leader in cutting carbonisation and decarbonising the economy, not just through the 2030 pledge but through, for example, introducing 4,000 zero-emission buses, and much else besides.

The Transport Secretary was right to reference COP26.

Last year, sales of ultra-low emission vehicles grew by 46% in Scotland—40% faster than in England—in large part due to the enhanced home charging point grant and the interest-free loans, both provided by the Scottish Government and unavailable in England. Does the Secretary of State agree that he too should adopt the success of Scotland’s electric vehicle strategy and learn the lessons that are needed to ensure that England is not being left behind?

The hon. Gentleman and I share a very keen interest in these matters. I remember that when I got my electric car, 1% of cars sold were electric. The figure now across the UK is 6.5%. There have been tremendous advances in the number of electric charging points available. The £2.8 billion that we pledged at the spending review will help that to happen, with more money going into charge points and into the infrastructure investment as well. I am pleased that Barnett consequentials are being sensibly spent to increase charging in Scotland.

I am grateful for that response. I should say, for the record, that my household has come down from a two-car household to one car, and we are hoping to switch to an electric car in the new year as well. [Interruption.] It is a bit too far out for an e-bike.

The Prime Minister announced in February that £5 billion was being made available for 4,000 zero-emission buses, which the Secretary of State mentioned, but to date we have not seen much evidence of that money being spent, and jobs continue to haemorrhage in the bus production sector. So how many of the promised 4,000 zero-emission buses have actually been delivered thus far?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point that out, but he will recall that the pandemic in between has created problems not just for the bus sector but for the entire economy, which has, by necessity, meant that a huge amount of money—hundreds of millions of pounds—has gone into supporting buses operating at all. The pledge for 4,000 buses remains, and £120 million was announced at the spending review to get on with the first several hundred of them.