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Parliamentary Estate: Electric Vehicle Charging Points

Volume 818: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2022


Asked by

To ask the Senior Deputy Speaker what progress has been made with enabling electric vehicles to be charged on the Parliamentary Estate; and how many electric vehicle charging points are available to members of the House of Lords.

My Lords, despite what the Order Paper says, clearly, I am not the Senior Deputy Speaker. The noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, has asked me to reply as chair of the Services Committee— lucky me.

The Services Committee has considered proposals for electric vehicle charging points to be installed in the House of Lords’ part of the estate. Unfortunately, the scheme we considered did not offer value for money and, regrettably, there are currently no charging points for Members in the House of Lords’ part of the estate. However, we are totally committed to finding a solution and will continue to look at how to provide Members with access to charging facilities.

My Lords, I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, who has the unfortunate task of answering for a bureaucracy straight out of “Yes Minister”. I may have the answer: many of us in this House have been arguing for this for four years, during which time the costs have risen by 700%. Noble Lords can imagine how surprised I was to discover that, at Christmas, eight charging points were put in Speaker’s Court for ministerial cars. I was even more surprised to find that the government car service will not allow them to use them, as of yet. Would it not be possible for your Lordships’ House to use these, and for the ban on our using the underground car park to be lifted, which I understand is in force to allow equipment for restoration of the House to be stored on two floors?

I think the noble Lord is ready to organise a raiding party. He raises an important point. The director of facilities contacted the Speaker’s Office about the charging points in Speaker’s Court, and it responded by saying, “There are four charging posts providing charging for eight cars. Access to the points is currently managed by Mr Speaker’s Office. The points are intended for use by Mr Speaker, ministerial cars and visiting dignitaries.” I say to the noble Lord that I intend to raise this more formally and seek a full dialogue with the Speaker’s Office. If we can find a way forward to help noble Lords in this House to access that facility, we will certainly do so.

My Lords, is it not a poor example to the country as a whole that here at Westminster we do not have the facility to charge electric vehicles? We are encouraging the whole country to buy electric vehicles and setting targets for the reduction of carbon, yet here at Westminster we have no facilities, other than for those my noble friend mentioned. I apologise for asking him a difficult question, since he is a good colleague and friend—which I cannot say about many Ministers—but, here of all places, where we should be setting an example, we are signally failing to do so.

I could not agree more with the noble Lord. We passed the legislation; we should be setting an example. However, in this case of the scheme we recently looked at, we must consider value for money. We could not justify going ahead with the scheme at that time because we could not justify the cost of it to this House or to the wider public whose money we are spending. That was the scheme we recently turned down. We will continue to look at opportunities and ways of finding provision for your Lordships to charge their cars on this site. It is a priority. We have to be seen to be doing what we are asking others to do.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, referred to the two EV charging points in the underground car park. I must declare an interest as I have used them on several occasions. We can no longer use them. Can the noble Lord explain whether he has had any conversations with the authorities of the other House about us being allowed to use those in future in the same way that Members of that House are able to?

Following discussions with Black Rod, representations were made to the Serjeant at Arms about the facilities at the other end, which the noble Baroness mentions. This has been given active consideration and we were given to understand that this would be looked at on a case-by-case basis. I say to the noble Baroness that I am hopeful that we might see some progress on that matter before too long but, as it stands, we are not able to use those chargers.

My Lords, I have intervened on this subject on previous occasions. May I ask the noble Lord to enlarge slightly on “value for money”? I totally support the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham. Surely, we must set an example in the House and have these charging points so that we can use all-electric cars?

My Lords, it is difficult because the Services Committee agreed that it wished to proceed with a plan for EVCs. In April last year, it was decided that a business case had to be made. That is the proper way to consider these matters. In July last year, the design authority revised the scheme it was submitting for the business case, having identified, hitherto, construction problems when it put in the EVCs in Speaker’s Court. By September, the committee was advised that the original estimate of £53,000 had increased by 700% and was now £370,000. For that reason, it was decided in November that we could not go ahead. Those are the reasons that the last plan was scrapped but we continue to try to find an option now to progress. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, who just asked this question, is on the edge of getting an all-electric car and I hope that by the time he gets it we will have somewhere for him to charge it.

May I invite the noble Lord to come down to Chancellor’s Court with me? He will find four 13-amp charging points similar to what one might have on the side of one’s house, but they are weatherproof. Who can use those and could not a similar design be used for other courts? They may not look that good but an electric power lead outside the office next door and an external socket would surely be a very good start.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his earlier comments about these matters and the discussions we have had. Yes, we have looked at Chancellor’s Court. The standard office electrical circuits like the one in Chancellor’s Court are not designed to provide the level of power continually that we need for EVCs. Chancellor’s Court is also used, of course, for building projects and storing project cabins and machinery. I can tell the noble Lord that in the continuing review we are not going to look at Chancellor’s Court as a long-term alternative; rather we will look at the Peers’ car park and Royal Court.

My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Borwick, and two of the staff were kind enough to take a walk around with me to look at various options that had not been considered. I am saddened that, for example, Chancellor’s Court has been excluded, apparently because it would be inconvenient for contractors who might need to reconfigure some future plans they have for some temporary cabins. We found many a location where this could be done appropriately and cheaply to bring in the facility in that £50,000 range. May I just say that the contractors do not run this House? The issues of net zero are far more significant and I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, could take that back to the staff and ask them to approach the problem as a way to enable us to have the facility and not to think through what every obstruction might be, even if hypothetical.

At the outset, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, for walking the estate with me and our technical people, looking at their ideas and trying to find solutions. I am pleased that one of the solutions that we had been discounting, about plugging into lamp posts, now has proper, active consideration as a result of their efforts. Chancellor’s Court concerns me, because it is the access through which school parties come to visit. It is not the best access for vehicles. Royal Court, on the other hand, has sufficient electricity supply; it is easy to access and it has plenty of parking space. I will not discount what the noble Baroness says. I will have another look at it, but I think that we perhaps have better options and I hope that the Committee will consider them as well.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the recent discovery of an electrical duct directly in the middle of the Peers’ car park actually gives great hope that this problem can be solved quickly and easily?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, as I said, and the noble Baroness, for coming round with me and coming up with these ideas. I have seen the exchange of emails that the noble Lord has had with the principal electrical engineer. I do not want to raise hopes too high at this stage, but while there is no doubt that the ducts in their current state could not be used, I can tell the noble Lord that the complete survey that we are carrying out now will be presented to the Services Committee as a possible option, depending on the results. That is down to his efforts. I pay tribute to him, as a former member of the Services Committee, as hugely hard-working and diligent, and for the refreshing ideas that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, have managed to give to this whole enterprise.