(1 year, 9 months ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move,
That this House calls on the Government to bring forward the date by which the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be ended.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee for producing the inquiry that inspired it. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for presenting a report from the Transport Committee. That demonstrates the role that Select Committees are currently having in the life of our politics, and the importance of this Chamber in the absence of a lot of Government business.
Every transition in technology, or indeed social progress, generates resistance. Some people like to focus on the negatives and challenges, and use those as a reason for resisting or delaying change. I want to use this debate as an opportunity to talk about what needs to be and can be done, and shine a light on the many positives that will come from the move to electric vehicles.
Discussion of EVs usually starts with a focus on infrastructure or climate change, but as we are discussing what is ultimately a consumer product in a nation of car lovers, I will start by talking about the driving experience itself. I will start with what, in this day and age, is a confession: I love cars and I love driving. I am a proud member of the Association of Advanced Drivers and Riders, and I love watching Formula 1. Some time ago, however, a conflict began between my head and heart. My heart loved being a car owner and the freedoms that came with that, but my head knew the damage it was doing, and that by living in the centre of a city with a fantastic and award-winning bus service, I could afford to live without driving if I tried.
A decade ago I sold my car, and since then I have been an extremely happy user of the Brighton & Hove bus company, and an often irate user of Southern trains. Crucially, however, I have never regretted the move, particularly as new scientific data emerges on the impact that vehicle emissions are having on the quality of our air and on global warming.
As part of the BEIS Committee inquiry, not only did we undertake the normal avenues of parliamentary investigation, we also got out and about. We travelled to Norway to understand its outlier status as the world’s most successful country in the transition to carbon-free transport. We went to the Milton Keynes’s Electric Vehicle Experience Centre, where anyone can go to try out electric cars for themselves. As somebody who loves driving, I must admit that I was not really looking forward to it. I expected a sluggish, dull experience that pointed to a future in which people who enjoy driving will have to sacrifice their enjoyment for the sake of our environment.
I could not have been more wrong. All questions about range anxiety and charging times go straight out the window once you get going. The first thing you notice is how different the car’s interior is. Losing the need for a driveshaft and traditional gearbox means that designers and engineers have far more freedom to rethink the space used to enhance driver comfort and the passenger experience in an electric vehicle. Then you cannot help but notice how fast they are. There is no need to wait for the process of combustion in an EV, so initial acceleration, even in an entry-level model, is startling. I got a test of this when the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), who is in his place on the Government Benches, and I were going down the dual carriageway. I was on the inside lane and he shot past me on the outside lane. He certainly got around the first roundabout in Milton Keynes before me. You then become aware of the noise or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Few of us can afford cars whose engine noise is a thing of beauty, so doing without it altogether is a godsend.
Finally, because of the use of the reclamation engine to reclaim energy when decelerating, all but the most severe breaking is done by lifting the accelerator pedal. It makes for an incredibly smooth ride, much smoother than that of the current automatic cars, although I cannot attest to the smoothness of the hon. Gentleman’s journey that day.
In short, we should not guilt drivers into electric cars. We should start by pointing out how brilliant they are. That is also borne out by the evidence.
When my hon. Friend was on his mystery tour, for want of a better expression, did he visit the Jaguar Land Rover plant and look at the electric cars there, or did he go to look at the black cabs made just outside Coventry, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Rugby, and try a ride in one?
I am extremely grateful for my hon. Friend’s characteristically generous and insightful contribution. The Committee visited JLR—I was not on the visit—and the London Electric Vehicle Company plant. Indeed, the hon. Member for Rugby was a participant in that visit, for obvious reasons. I will talk a little later about that experience and the contribution that that company is making to the streets of London, our capital city.
The proof that driving an electric vehicle is an exhilarating experience and one that consumers enjoy is also borne out by evidence. In Norway, where 30% of new cars sold are electric, 96% of first-time buyers say that they would never consider going back to conventional cars. Evidence also shows that prior to buying an EV, potential customers have concerns about range anxiety. New electric car customers, however, report feeling liberated from petrol stations. Evidence shows that people who buy EVs love them and promote them to friends. People like me who have experience driving them soon aspire to own one.
Just as electric vehicles provide a great consumer experience, we should also see the opportunity they provide for British business, which has not only challenges but huge opportunities in this regard. British industry has already proven itself a world-leading EV maker with the Nissan Leaf, Europe’s best-selling electric car, which is made right here in Britain, in Sunderland.
Our fantastic start is not being sustained, however, and there is no time to waste if we are serious about using the conversion to electric as an opportunity for British industry. Low domestic demand, Brexit and unambitious policy have meant that Britain has lost out on the world-class manufacturing opportunities we should be snapping up. Honda is closing its car assembly plant in Swindon to make its electric cars in Japan. BMW, Vauxhall and Toyota are shipping their high-value parts, including batteries, from abroad rather than making them here. Once these global patterns are established, it will become really hard for British industry to break in.
On that point, Cogent Power’s Orb plant in my constituency makes very high-quality electrical steel and it is very keen to be a part of this industry in the future. What it needs from the Government is support for smaller companies to help to grow the supply chain. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government could help industry in this way?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, which is fundamental to not only saving the industry but exploiting it. It is about not just car manufacturers but the supply chain. It is part of a comprehensive industrial strategy that our country cannot afford to miss out on. We will only succeed in the way she mentions, and succeed in achieving the kind of ambition she has for her local industry and her local businesses, if the Government are an active participant in making that happen. That is the lesson we have learned repeatedly in recent decades and repeatedly in the past year alone.
Jaguar Land Rover is investing a lot of money in making electric batteries at its research and development centre in my constituency, but not enough has been done to create the infrastructure for electric cars that is badly needed. Does my hon. Friend not agree that more could be done in that area?
I am very grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will be pleased to hear that I have got my speech down to 12 minutes. Interventions allowing, I will crack on.
My hon. Friend makes another very good point. It is great that we are making batteries in this country and I thank the Government for launching the Faraday challenge, which is important in inspiring and nurturing the sector, but we need to do a lot more. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The ambition of operators needs to be matched by the ambition of the Government for the electrical vehicle infrastructure itself. Otherwise, it will not succeed.
Right now, trends are emerging globally. We therefore have a window of opportunity that we cannot afford to lose. We must not miss out on this opportunity to establish Britain as a world leader in design, manufacture, assembly, and distribution for electric vehicles and their component parts. Industry cannot do that alone. As the interventions I have taken prove, the industry needs the Government to be an active and generous partner at these nascent stages of one of the world’s most significant emerging consumer trends.
Increasingly, electrified transport will become a normalised part of British life. People will experience it for themselves regularly from now on. As they do so, suspicion of its practicality will fall away. For example, in just 18 months’ time there will be 9,000 fully electric black cabs on the streets of London. As part of our inquiry, we visited the London EV Company and saw for ourselves the cutting-edge skills and technology being deployed by this great Coventry-based firm. Its product sets new standards, raising the bar on passenger comfort. Cab drivers love it, too. Next month, Brighton and Hove takes delivery of its first fully electric bus, and London already has several on the roads. When I was walking through Westminster a little while ago, I heard an extraordinary squeaking noise. I turned around and there was a double-decker bus. The only thing I could hear was the squeaking of the tires as the bus made its way down the road. These are extraordinary innovations, which will transform not only our ability to tackle climate change, and the passenger and driver experience, but our lives in cities, because of the lack of the noise pollution that goes along with the combustion engine.
Our Government have a target of “almost every car and van” being zero emission by 2050, and for new cars and vans to be “effectively” zero emission by 2040. Our Committee found several faults with those targets. First, the phraseology used by the Government leaves plenty of room for interpretation. It is too vague to have bite. Secondly, the target dates themselves are miles behind other nations. China, India and Norway will all phase out petrol and diesel vehicles over the next decade, so why cannot we? Perversely, we are not even managing to beat countries within our own United Kingdom—Scotland has a target of 2032. Moreover, the motor manufacturers themselves are not hanging around for our targets. Honda will be producing electric-only vehicles within seven years, Porsche by 2030.
All those factors lead me to believe that when it comes to electric vehicles, the ambition of consumers, operators and manufacturers is outstripping that of our Government. If the UK is serious about being an EV world leader, as our Government claim to be, we must bring forward a clear, unambiguous target to achieve zero emissions from cars and vans by 2032. To achieve that target, Government will need far more ambition not just in its rhetoric, but in its action on the ground.
We need a revolutionary approach to charging infra- structure —not the incremental one that we have right now.
I cannot disagree with my hon. Friend, particularly in an era when councils like Brighton and Hove City Council have experienced cuts of over 45% to their budget. We are investing massively in new infra- structure, but maintaining it will be a crucial challenge. We need to share the costs with the people who make money from the charging infrastructure, such as the electric companies, and the people who use the service. We also need to ensure that, for the sake of our climate change objectives, these things are subsidised as well. The cash must be there in the system.
Government has absented itself from the opportunity to become the driving force in making access to publicly available charging stations ubiquitous, and has instead devolved responsibilities to cash-strapped local authorities. As a result, a quarter of local authorities have not installed a single EV charging point in the last year. That is simply not good enough.
In the coming months, Brighton and Hove City Council will install 200 charging points across the city. Next week, I shall be joining one of the teams to see for myself what it takes to create a modern charging network. I am pleased to say that a representative of Brighton and Hove City Council who is leading on the programme is here with us in the Chamber today—I welcome Pete Turner to our debate.
Some 60% of EV charging takes place at home, which is why so many people feel liberated from being dependent on fuel stations; but for those of us who, like me, live in flats or high-density housing, on-street charging is essential. My street is scheduled to have two charging points installed in the coming months. Several London boroughs are converting street lights into charging stations.
So we know that the technology and expertise exists, and we really need to get on with it. My fear is that cities like Brighton and Hove will become exemplars in public charging facilities but others will not. That is great for people who want to drive to our city, but unless surrounding towns, cities and destinations are suitably equipped, it will not be great for people who live in Brighton and Hove who want to get out and about in their cars. Charging a car should not be a postcode lottery. EV owners should not have to do research before setting out on a trip. Infrastructure should be ubiquitous and should be evenly distributed throughout our country, and only active Government participation can make that happen.
Until EVs reach the scale of production that we have seen for conventional vehicles, their cost will remain higher. Until then, Government also needs to level the playing field with incentives. Tax breaks and other incentives work—there is no escaping that fact. Last October, when the Government suddenly cut the plug-in scheme, growth in sales of plug-in hybrids plummeted from 29.5%, which we had achieved in the previous 10 months, to just 1.7%. That was highlighted just an hour ago on the BBC website, where it was reported that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders had said that
“sales of plug-in hybrid cars had halved”
in the last year,
“while hybrid electric vehicle sales were down 4.7%.”
Transport accounts for 26% of our CO2 emissions, adding another layer of urgency to the need for electrification of our road transport.
As all of us who sat on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee inquiry learned, the transition to electric vehicles is about a lot more than just cars on the road. Its impact will be far and wide. It will change patterns in daily life for most citizens. Implications for policy makers range from the infrastructure of our nation, such as electricity generation, to the distributional challenges for our national grid—and the ability to capitalise on new resources with millions of batteries to be drawn down on at peak times, just as we need to charge them at others. People’s homes will adapt, so that people can fuel their car from home.
Also, of course, the transition is inextricably linked to our ability to tackle climate change and the climate emergency, to meet levels of CO2 emissions reduction that our country and planet need from all of us. That is why this debate is so welcomed and so important. It is also why it is the start, not the end, of what I hope is ongoing parliamentary involvement from this point forward.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who during our inquiry became the most vociferous advocate for electric vehicles, drawing attention to the difference in the driving experience. I shall focus my remarks on the impact on my constituency and some of the business opportunities that arise as we run down the sale of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.
I was an enthusiastic participant in the inquiry and I support the target that the Committee decided on—to bring forward to 2030 an end to the sale of new cars and vans powered by internal combustion engines. That will put the UK in the first tier of EV transition and will help harmonise objectives across the UK. That puts real pressure on some of our manufacturers, but it also provides some very serious opportunities.
I want to talk about commercial vehicles. As the hon. Gentleman said, this is not just about private vehicles but about commercial vehicles too. I shall refer to the London Electric Vehicle Company, which manufactures taxis in my constituency. I also want to make some remarks on charging infrastructure and some of the problems that we are experiencing in my constituency.
I admit at the outset that I am not a driver of an electric vehicle. I have recently been in the market for a new car, but I prefer it if somebody else takes the initial depreciation, so I run a car that is maybe one or two years old. There is not yet an effective market in second-hand electric cars, and there is some concern about the life of batteries. I know that an internal combustion engine car that has 20,000 miles on the clock at two years old is approximately a fifth of the way through its life. We do not yet know that about electric vehicles, and that market will develop. I am also put off by the capital value. On a like-for-like basis, the electric vehicle is currently approximately £10,000 more than the equivalent with an internal combustion engine, although I do very much recognise the lower running costs. I shall refer to those in respect of taxis.
I am also a little concerned about range anxiety. I use a car for travelling short distances around my constituency, but on occasions want to drive 100 miles or so to Westminster or 200 miles to visit friends, and I am concerned about being able to charge the car. I shall return to the subject of infrastructure later.
I am delighted by the opportunities for the west midlands economy and welcome the news in respect of Jaguar Land Rover, which is about to build on the I-PACE vehicle, currently on the market, by developing an all-electric XJ—its big saloon. That will be available in 2020 with 300 miles between charges, and provide a UK-manufactured opportunity to compete with Tesla. I know that the XJ is the car of choice for our Ministers and I very much hope that the Minister at the Dispatch Box will be driving an electric XJ immediately when they become available. It is good news for motor manufacturing at a time of Brexit uncertainty, and it is good news that the batteries will be manufactured at Hams Hall in Warwickshire and the motors will be built at JLR’s engine complex in Wolverhampton. That provides many opportunities for the supply chain.
I mentioned the London Electric Vehicle Company. I am delighted that it is in my constituency. It has produced 2,500 vehicles at Anstey in my constituency, and there are almost 2,000 on the streets of London already. If you see a taxi rank now, there is a pretty good chance that more than half of the taxis will be electric. Each such taxi reduces the CO2 emissions by 9.7 metric tonnes a year, compared with a diesel, and drivers can see savings of up to £100 a week because they no longer have to spend money on diesel.
One of the critical points about electric taxis is that for many people their first ever journey in an electric vehicle is in a taxi. It gives the taxi a pioneer role, and it is important that that is a good experience that people consider when they are purchasing. I was delighted to see the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) driving a London taxi on the campaign trail only last week. We must encourage the switch, but the London Electric Vehicle Company has told me that lack of infrastructure is still a concern for drivers.
A second company in my constituency to benefit from the move to electric vehicles is Automotive Insulations. It is an important player and in many ways the go-to company for UK manufacturers in the supply of acoustic and thermal solutions. Acoustic material is what deadens the noise. In an internal combustion engine the acoustic material needs to deaden the sound of the engine, but the engine often masks other sounds, such as road noise, battery whine in electric vehicles and the noise made by other moving parts. So electric vehicles need different insulation material and Automotive Insulations is an expert in the field. It already supplies LEVC and the JLR I-PACE. It is also working on the new XJ. It has solutions designed for the Volvo Polestar, whose owners Geely also own LEVC, and is also working with Mercedes-Benz and BMW on developments. It is great to have its expertise in my constituency.
Grid infrastructure poses several challenges. An SME in my constituency provides extra power in the short term when there is inadequate power in the grid for people to recharge their vehicles. It supplies to two locations of interest, the first of which is Oxford Bus. Oxford has a low emissions zone. For visitors who want to tour the city and see the sights on a bus, Go Ahead needed to find a way to electrify its bus fleet. Its depot had insufficient power capacity and development would have taken too long and come at a prohibitive cost. Off Grid Energy in my constituency was able to provide a battery storage system to control the power available, limit the peak load on the network and store energy ready to recharge buses when they returned to the depot.
Off Grid Energy installed a similar system in Camden to provide power for a parcel delivery depot with 170 electric vans. If they all came back to the depot at the same time and wanted to recharge, there was not enough power in the grid, so Off Grid Energy’s batteries draw down power over time, giving the capacity to recharge. Those opportunities will continue to arise.
Charging is the key to solving the problem, and we need to make sure that we build in enough charging facilities for the growth in the market, especially if our objective is to go all electric by 2032. Rugby is at the centre of England and at the crossroads of the motorway network. It is great news that junction 1 of the M6 is getting a brand new motorway services, operated by Moto. I have made it my business to look at the provision of electric charging at the new service area. We might think that a new motorway service area would be an ideal place to include an extensive range of charging for people on their journeys, halfway between Manchester and London, but when it opens in July next year it will have just two charging points. That is extraordinary, and I have talked to the operator, Moto. It has an ambition to have 24, but it will open with just two. That issue needs to be addressed and I hope that the Minister will talk about how National Grid and Western Power, the power provider, can provide what people will need.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on opening the debate and the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) on his speech.
Our 2018 Joint Select Committee report on air quality began by setting out the impacts of air pollution, and they bear repeating. Some 40,000 lives across the country are cut short every year, with an annual cost to the UK of £20 billion. The health of babies, children, older people and those with existing medical conditions, including lung problems and asthma is put at great risk. We noted in that report that successive Governments had failed to act and violated our obligations to ensure safe, clean air to breathe. Of course, air pollution is just one of the environmental challenges that we face. I welcome the recognition in this place that we face a climate emergency, but it demands urgent and radical action to end our contribution to global carbon emissions. It is therefore particularly timely for us to debate the Government’s plans to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.
Road transport is responsible for 80% of NOx emissions—air pollution—at the roadside, and 65% of the emissions come from diesel and petrol cars and vans. While there has been a significant reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions, that is primarily as a result of changes in energy generation. Progress on emissions from transport has been stuck in the slow lane. Not only have transport emissions not fallen in recent years but they rose between 2013 and 2017, and the sector is now the UK’s largest generator of greenhouse gases, making up 27% of the total. Even though individual cars are becoming more fuel efficient and reducing their individual emissions, that is far surpassed by the increase in the number of vehicles on our roads, which is getting higher and higher.
The case for action is clear. The Government’s plans, however, are sadly lacking. The joint report welcomed the commitment to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, but the target date of 2040 is not ambitious enough. It is too distant to produce the step change that is needed in industry and local government planning and, as my hon. Friend has said, it lags behind the commitment made by other countries and car manufacturers. Norway has committed to selling only zero-emission vehicles by 2025 and a host of other countries have set the target of 2030. Even Scotland is on 2032.
The target is about banning the sale of vehicles. We know that the replacement of the whole vehicle fleet would take 10 to 15 years. If we aim for the end of the sale of vehicles only in 2040, we will have no hope of meeting zero carbon by 2050. Are we really prepared to wait 15 years after the end of the sale of vehicles to eliminate those vehicles that emit polluting carbon from our roads? I do not think that we are.
If we are to change the set-up, industry needs clarity on what will be required and when. There is undoubtedly an opportunity to move more quickly, as the Committee on Climate Change has recommended. The National Infrastructure Commission has called for a similar ban on the sale of new diesel HGVs by 2040. It is a real challenge to decarbonise our freight sector, but we should go faster and further where we can and we need more research on how we can do that.
Setting a more ambitious target of 2030, 2035 or even sooner is not enough in itself. The Government must also take steps to ensure that that target is met and that they have the policies to support businesses and people in the switch to cleaner vehicles. We know that many consumers are confused—the RAC’s motoring survey has confirmed that—so clear guidance is needed. There are simple options such as vehicle labelling, which is very welcome and should be extended to, for instance, the second-hand market.
As has already been said, we need a rapid roll-out of charging infrastructure. The Government should work with National Grid in relation to electricity demand, and liaise with local authorities to identify the barriers and take steps to overcome them. Of course, the Government are themselves a major fleet provider, and are able to ensure that their fleets consist of cleaner and greener vehicles. However, as we start demanding that people use electric vehicles and do so rather more quickly, we should be conscious of social justice, especially when we know that clean air charging zones are being introduced in some of our most polluted towns and cities. The Government must act to help those who are least able to afford to replace polluting vehicles with ultra low emission vehicles. They should consider the role of scrappage schemes, and target support at low-income households and small businesses.
I must sound a note of caution about the limitations of this debate. Electric cars and vans are not a panacea, and they are not the whole answer to air pollution or the climate crisis. First, even electric cars’ brakes and tyres produce dangerous particulates that have an impact on health, so simply changing to a cleaner vehicle is not the answer. Secondly, cars are not the only issue. I have to say that in our air quality report, we largely neglected to consider the rail network. While it is not a significant contributor at a national level, we know that emissions from diesel trains pose a serious problem in stations and depots. The Government have talked about decarbonising the railway, but they are also still talking about bi-mode trains, which, when they are not under the wires, are simply diesel trains.
The most important point, I think, is that air pollution and carbon emissions are not our only challenges. Inactivity and obesity are huge public health challenges, and congestion is a blight in nearly all towns and cities. We could move from dirty, polluting traffic jams to clean, green traffic jams, and that would not be right. We need more people to get out of their cars and on to public transport—this is Catch the Bus Week, and low emission buses have an enormous role to play—but we need even more people to be walking and cycling. Some 60% of journeys of one to two miles are undertaken by car, and that has to change if we are serious about securing a happy, healthy future for our country. Yes, we need cleaner vehicles, but we need so much more.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who, as ever, advanced cogent arguments in support of electric vehicles.
Last month the House agreed unanimously to set a target of 2050 for net zero carbon emissions. Concern was expressed in some sections of the press that the decision had been made “on the nod”, and that insufficient thought had been given to how it would be delivered and the economic consequences. I hope this debate will show how wrong that concern is. There is not only a political awareness of the steps necessary to deliver our commitment, but the political will to take those steps, even if they require difficult decisions.
One of the difficult decisions that we must take is to bring forward the date by which the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will end. That is supported by the Committee on Climate Change and, indeed, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, of which I am a member. I note that in addition to our call, similar requests have been made by four other Committees, which have cited the impact on health and air quality as well as the environment, and the need to support low- carbon industries. I am delighted that the Conservative Environment Network has joined those calls, asking for a 2035 target.
The price of electric vehicles is expected to reach parity with that of internal combustion engine-powered cars by the mid-2020s—not on some far-flung date in the future, but in just a couple of years. A little further down the line, in the 2030s, sales of electric vehicles are expected to overtake petrol and diesel sales. There are now more electric vehicle charging locations in the UK than petrol stations. Despite that milestone, however, the network is not fit for purpose, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), and poor provision of charging infrastructure is one of the main barriers to the growth of the market.
As it said in its report last year, the BEIS Committee found that my region contained just 244 publicly funded charging points, which equates to nearly 29,000 people per point. Although that is substantially better than the ratio across the border in Wales, where there are 98,806 people per charging point, it pales in comparison with the ratio in the north-east, where the figure is fewer than 4,000 people. Those three regions, which stretch across the UK, demonstrate the serious risk that access to sufficient charging points will become a postcode lottery, with someone from Newcastle standing a far better chance of being able to charge an electric vehicle than someone from Newport, Newquay or Knutsford.
A visible and extensive network of ultra-fast chargers is not just good for existing electric vehicle owners. Our Committee heard evidence that
“The principle reason people are put off buying an EV, is no longer range anxiety, but the lack of a viable national/urban Rapid Charger infrastructure.”
We also need to think more carefully about how to standardise the infrastructure. If we are to develop an electric vehicle network that mirrors the advantages of petrol cars, we need to ensure that all EVs and charging points are inter-operable. That does not just mean that charging points need to charge all EVs; it means that data and information sharing must be standard as well.
I recognise that the passage of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 has empowered the Government to take the necessary steps, but, as the report states, they will require full use of the powers in the Act to deliver a network of this kind. That is why I am troubled that they have handed responsibility for the development of this vital national infrastructure to local authorities. That would not happen with HS2 or Crossrail. Local authorities have demonstrated that they have a big role to play in this project, but why do we expect them to deliver such a vital network with limited Government support and oversight?
I welcome the Government’s acceptance of our recommendation for planning guidance on the number of charging points installed in new buildings, which will help local authorities, but the Government need to recognise their responsibilities and take a lead in co-ordinating the financial and technical support that councils need to build charging infrastructure. Failing to do that will imperil the future of the entire electric vehicle sector.
Only yesterday, I received an email from a constituent about that very issue. He rightly pointed out:
“Given the importance of changing to electric cars in line with the Government’s climate change policy, I am amazed that building regulations only required the installation of a 16amp consumer unit in our detached garage which was built with our house only 18 months ago. This is insufficient to power a 7kw charger which requires a 32amp supply. As from July 1, in order to meet OLEV’s grant requirements a minimum of a 7kw charger must be installed—a 3.6kw/16amp charger is no longer allowed. Given the huge cost involved in increasing the amperage of a consumer box—i.e. cabling & trenching etc.—this may well prove to be a deterrent to purchasing an electric car.”
Unless our regulations are forward-thinking and focused on the future, there will be a risk of each generation of electric vehicle adopters being left behind in just a matter of years, which would fracture the user base and deter new entrants. That is doubly true in rural areas such as my constituency. All too often, the latest and greatest technology, from Uber to Deliveroo, has been rolled out in cities, only for my constituents to look on enviously as we wait for the once or sometimes twice-daily diesel bus.
I have set out some concerns about how the green revolution might leave rural communities behind in a book, “Britain Beyond Brexit”, edited by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman). I would strongly support Ministers should they adopt the recommendation of CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation, for there to be a right to request an electric vehicle charging point. That would give rural communities a chance to show that there is the demand necessary to make one viable. I would also be grateful if Ministers focused more heavily on how to build EV infrastructure for those who live and work in rural areas rather than just for those who travel through those areas as they go from big city to big city—after all, it will not be possible to decarbonise our country unless we decarbonise countryside.
If we can decarbonise our transport sector, the prize on offer is substantial: we would not only meet our climate change targets, but see improvements in health and air quality while supporting the British car industry, which is the jewel in our manufacturing crown.
A high-tech, clean future is possible, but unless Ministers help local authorities deliver the charging infrastructure, we risk being left behind as the rest of the world rushes to embrace this technology, and our world-leading position could be squandered by a lack of co-ordination.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing this debate and commend him on what he said about the experience of driving an electric vehicle. He is also right that ambitious targets are important if road transport is to make the contribution it needs to if we are to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. But he rightly spent a lot of his time also talking about pathways to get there, because no target, however ambitious, implements itself: it requires action.
We have a mixed picture in that regard, however. There is good news: there was an increase of nearly 30% in the sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles last year. But more sobering is the fact that alternatively fuelled vehicles still account for only 6% of new vehicle sales, and electric vehicles—battery electric—and fuel cell vehicles account for just 0.7%. It is clear that a step-change is needed in the take-up of such vehicles if we are to meet the targets envisaged by the Committee on Climate Change that my hon. Friend talked about. That means that people need to feel confident enough about driving an alternatively fuelled vehicle.
The fact is, however, that anxiety about running out of power is still a barrier to both private and fleet buyers in making the shift to electric. The good news is that the range of electric vehicle batteries is growing exponentially. I am pleased to say that the Government have been more proactive than before in providing investment to speed up research and development to further advance battery technology here in the UK, but we are late to the game compared with some other countries, and I say to the Minister that a lot more needs to be done to stimulate that.
As has been said, infrastructure is a key part of the picture. Again, there are some welcome initiatives. The fact that we now have legislation in place allowing the Government to mandate provision and inter-operability of rapid charging points is good, but there is so much more yet to do if we are to achieve the step-change in charging infrastructure necessary to provide the confidence for a step-change in the take-up of electric and other alternatively fuelled vehicles. That must include providing answers about who is going to pay for the investment in the charging infrastructure at the scale needed and who is going to maintain it; my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) made that point earlier. It also requires tackling the issue of how to enable home charging, particularly for those who do not have off-street parking. We also need to see a lot more activism from the Government on the grid: how to avoid overload and how to make it easier for vehicles to become energy sources as well as energy users, given that the majority of their time is spent parked rather than on the move.
If people are to make the shift to electric, they also need to be able to afford to do so, and the price of new electric vehicles is still beyond the reach of most people. Solving that is not entirely within the gift of Government, but Government can help with the right consumer incentives. Ministers say that the fact that the numbers of electric vehicles and other alternatively fuelled vehicles being sold has gone up means that they can cut back on the plug-in car grant for electric vehicles and scrap it entirely in the case of plug-in hybrids. However, this market is still fragile and volatile—my hon. Friend the Member for Hove made that point very well—and customer incentives help stimulate both private sales and, crucially, the fleet market, whose turnover in new EVs is critical to driving the used car market, in which most motorists buy their cars. I say to the Minister that now is not the time to be reducing those customer incentives.
The pathway to net zero is not only about how to make sure there is a step-change in the number of alternatively fuelled vehicles on the road; it is also about the transition and how to ensure that on the way there the petrol and diesel vehicles on the roads are as clean as they can be to protect air quality and produce as little CO2 as possible. The good news is that a great amount has already been achieved in that regard. Technological advances mean that emissions from new vehicles on the road are just a fraction of what they were just a few years ago. But the picture is not all positive: last year, aggregate CO2 emissions from new cars rose for the first time in a decade. That happened not because the environmental performance of new vehicles has taken a dip; average new car CO2 emissions are 31% lower than in 2000. The biggest factor has been a nearly 30% drop in the sale of new diesels.
That drop is partly a consequence of the injury the automotive industry inflicted on itself through the VW dieselgate scandal, but it is also partly a result of the confused messages that have been coming out of Government about newer diesel engines—not least in the vehicle excise duty regime, which penalises the cleanest diesels on the road while leaving older dirtier diesels untouched. Little wonder, then, that both private motorists and companies leasing new vehicles have delayed plans to replace vehicles, with detrimental consequences for both CO2 and air quality.
There are lessons for the Government here about the need to end those confused messages, and those lessons particularly need to be learned in the approaching comprehensive spending review. I urge the Minister to look again at vehicle excise duty rates in relation not only to the supplement on new diesels, but, even more significantly, to the impact on vehicle taxes if the worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure, or WLTP, is applied unchanged to current VED rates. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders estimates that consumers would face an increase in costs totalling about £500 million, based on the size of the current new car market, if WLTP figures are applied to current rates of VED. It is difficult to see how that could add up to anything other than a depression in sales, and the sales that would be hit would be those of the most environmentally efficient conventionally powered vehicles.
We must also remember that if sales are down, that hits the health of the automotive sector, which is already rocked by the uncertainties of Brexit. If the industry is hit, the pace of investment in developing new generations of alternatively fuelled vehicles is also hit, undermining the very thing we are trying to achieve in the first place.
My plea to the Minister is to listen to what the sector is saying, to make sure that the policies adopted on vehicle taxation support rather than damage the market for cleaner petrol and diesel vehicles, and to support rather than damage the sector’s ability to invest in the way that is needed to enable the shift to electric and other alternatively fuelled and zero emission vehicles: by making them a more realistic and attractive option for many more people than they are now.
It is a pleasure to speak, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) for introducing this timely debate so well.
Using phrases that I hope will soon be consigned to the history books I want in my remarks to encourage the Minister to get the revs up, to find the bite and to accelerate our action on ending the sale of new petrol and diesel engines, and I want to speak very briefly about the three C’s in relation to this: the crisis, the context, and then the choice that we have.
We all know about the crisis: the climate crisis that this Parliament declared put clearly on the political agenda that we must take bolder, swifter and more radical action. That has happened in language, but not yet in deeds. We need Ministers to be bolder and swifter. I welcome the announcement that we will achieve net zero—that is a good ambition—but I am concerned that it is at risk of falling into the trap of being easy to say and hard to match. That is why we need to ensure that people find it easier to say “net zero” than “Paris climate change commitments” and that the actions are commensurate with that greater ambition. We must be much more honest about the enormous economy-transforming fundamental changes that are required to deliver net zero, not many years away but now, if we are to do that.
We are already missing out on our fourth and fifth carbon budgets as a country, and although the Ministers in the Department heap praise on achieving the carbon budgets as we are now, we need to do more heavy lifting to achieve those fourth and fifth carbon budgets, as was required before the net zero commitment, and now that we have that commitment, we must go faster still. That means reappraising policies made before the net zero announcement, and that must mean bringing forward the date for ending the use of petrol and diesel engines.
The context is also important. We are lagging behind our friends and other countries in banning petrol and diesel engines, and we are slower than many of our peers in rolling out hybrid, hydrogen and electric vehicle charging points, but it does not need to be that way. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hove has said, we are already a global leader in this area, so we are at risk of throwing away that natural advantage.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said, we need to be clear on the two dates in this debate: the date for banning the sale of new petrol and diesel engines and the date on which there can be no more use of diesel and petrol engines on our roads in Britain. The Government are lacking ambition on both those dates, and I encourage the Minister to bring them forward. We cannot afford to wait until 2040 and 2050 in that respect. We must be bolder in our ambition, and that means not only putting forward an ambitious date but ensuring that that date is legally binding, because I do not want this simply to be a mission, as outlined by Ministers in 2018. I do not want it to be a vague hope or a chance encounter with reality. I want it to be a legally binding date that will focus the minds of industry and ensure that the Government of the day have a plan to incentivise the early retirement of these engines and ensure that EV charging points become the norm nationwide and not just in areas of best practice.
There is another element that we have not mentioned so far, and that is autonomy. By the early 2020s, more and more cars on our roads will be autonomous. They will not have a driver in charge of them. As we get into the 2030s, nearly all our cars will be autonomous, and they will be electric, as they should be. That is what must happen here, but it will mean a fundamental change. That autonomy will change the way we interact with our vehicles—cars, buses, trucks and vans—and we need to be clear that autonomy is in many cases quite scary. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove spoke about the fear of going into an electric vehicle for the first time, and many people will certainly fear using an autonomous electric vehicle, but they will reduce accidents and, in theory, create greater capacity on our roads.
We will have more cars on our roads, however, because at the moment we only have cars travelling on our roads with people in them. That sounds like a very basic point, but with autonomous vehicles, we will have cars, vans, trucks and buses on our roads with not a single person in them. The number of cars on our roads will also increase due to population change. I support the measures to encourage more people to walk, run, cycle and use public transport, but we must be honest and acknowledge that in many parts of the country, public transport systems do not have the volume and frequency necessary to achieve that change. That is why we need to recognise that the greater number of vehicles on our roads must be matched by a reduction in petrol and diesel engines.
In the 2107 general election, I put forward the idea of extending the M5 from Exeter to Plymouth to ensure that Plymouth can harness jobs and investment opportunities. I am glad that Labour Front Benchers have committed to undertake a study of that extension when in power, but we must be sure that it is accompanied by the quid pro quo of ensuring that no diesel or petrol engines are used on the motorway extension. We need to take action on climate change, while recognising that there will be an increase in the amount of cars on our roads.
In relation to the points raised earlier, I just want to add one thing. It is about how we deal with planting. This is not directly about petrol and diesel engines, but rubber crumb and brake pad emissions must also be built into this process, and if we are re-engineering and reimagining our whole transport system based on more electric engines and on ending diesel and petrol use, we need to be more inventive about how we plant alongside our roads. We need taller trees, mid-level bushes and low-level shrubs to capture particulates, to muffle noise and to ensure that there is a carbon offset.
All these things can be done if we have the ambition to do them, and I know that the general public want politicians to have more ambition here, so I ask the Minister to please bring forward the date to end the sale of diesel and petrol engines and to make it legally binding, so that the entire country can know that there will be no more diesel and petrol engines used on our roads.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it, and I thank those hon. Members who have pushed for it. The Government have finally acknowledged that there is a climate crisis, but the 2050 net zero emission target and the ending of sales of fossil fuel vehicles in 2040 are too late. I support the movers of this debate in proposing to bring forward the date at which we stop selling new diesel and petrol cars to 2030. The shift does not just impact on our CO2 emissions; many people across the country, including many in my constituency, are exposed to toxic air, and they want to see changes. Tens of thousands of people are dying from air pollution now, and the poorest people in society are being affected the most by air pollution.
Last week, I had the pleasure of joining the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, in unveiling the Chiswick oasis, a 400-foot screen wall that protects at St Mary’s Primary School and William Hogarth Primary School in Chiswick from the toxic air from the A4 next door. People from across the community came together and showed that they want to see action to stop the air pollution epidemic. Mayor Sadiq Khan has also introduced London’s ultra-low emission zone, which is set to reduce air pollution in central London by 45%, and his leadership in implementing low and zero emission bus fleets is already showing significant reductions in pollutants on roads such as Chiswick High Road.
We need to see national leadership now, however, and I come back to the type of fuels that cars, vans and other vehicles are using. We have to speed up the production and use of electric vehicles as a proportion of the fleet mix. We also have to help people to make changes to make this happen. Let us make it easier to scrap older and polluting cars through a Government-funded wide-scale scrappage scheme for polluting vehicles, to bring some income equality into the change that is needed, and let us have more electric car charging points. The Government provide some grants to plug-in vehicles and support for the roll-out of electric charging points based at home and at work, but for commercial vehicles—this debate is about vans as well as cars—and for users who are driving for most of the day, probably for work, fast charging points are essential.
Last month, research showed that there are just under 9,000 public charging points in the UK, of which only 1,500 are rapid charging points—those that can recharge a car battery to 80% in around half an hour. The roll-out of public and particularly rapid charge points needs to run ahead of the supply of new electric vehicles; otherwise, the demand for new electric vehicles will slow down. Overall, 29,000 charging points will be needed across Britain by 2030, of which about 85% will need to be either fast, 22 kW, chargers or rapid chargers, which are more than 43 kW. This will need Government help, such as grants to install rapid charge points, particularly in the less commercially viable places away from the town centres and major roads where there is a business case that is quite easy to prove for those schemes. We need schemes similar to the home charging and workplace schemes that are already in place for standard charging.
Tesla has raised a different concern with me: not a shortage of grants in this case, but our ancient common law. Tesla has a showroom in my constituency, and I was able to drive one of its cars to the West Drayton depot a few miles up the A4. I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle): yes, it was fun. Tesla is concerned because high-voltage cables will need to be installed for the rapid charging points, and our ancient wayleave laws make it difficult to run high-power cables across private land. The more landowners there are, the more complicated the process becomes. I am sure that the Government are addressing this.
Moving on, I share the note of caution mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who chairs the Transport Committee on which I serve. While the shift to electric vehicles will reduce our CO2 emissions, she noted that it does not answer the problem. Some of the particulates that pollute our urban environment, such as those from brake linings and tyres, will still be present even with electric vehicles, so we do need to address that issue and put in more mitigation where we cannot get away from using vehicles.
I have concerns about the assumption that we are talking about a straight switch from one type of private car to another. We are still over-dependent on large, single-person metal boxes on wheels to get around. However private cars are powered, they still take up room, cause congestion, emit harmful particulates and are expensive to own. Car use among young people has been in decline over the past 20 years, and that is set to continue. Cars militate against using active forms of travel that keep us fitter and are cheaper. We could do so much more to reduce our dependence on private cars and vans to make our cities and towns more sustainable and pleasant places to live.
Urban areas have seen a bigger roll-out of battery-powered cargo bikes, which can move quite large loads around our cities and could be used much more with Government incentives. We need to get on low-emission buses and cycle and walk more, and the Government could do more to provide cheap and easy alternatives, particularly for sub-three-mile journeys. Buses play a key role in helping us to reduce our dependence on the private car, but as the Transport Committee has found, 3,000 bus routes have been axed since 2010 and subsidies have fallen by £20 million in the past year, following cuts to local government grants.
In London and other cities, many people want to cycle for short journeys, but we need dedicated cycle lanes, better cycling infrastructure, such as storage, and stronger laws to protect cyclists. The Government need to ramp up the amount of investment in cycling infrastructure.
Finally, by moving forward the deadline for net zero CO2 emissions, we need to inject much-needed urgency into the policy. The clearest message that I have heard from the hundreds of people who have contacted me about climate change is that they want us to take urgent action. They do not want just more warm words; they want us to take the lead. Let us put the UK at the front of the global fight against climate change and air pollution by taking much bolder steps.
It really is a pleasure to speak in this debate today, because it is on an issue of great importance not only to our environmental commitments, but to the continued success of the UK’s automotive industry. As people will no doubt be aware, because I bang on about it, it is also important to my constituency, which is home to Nissan’s UK car plant. Just last month, the plant became the first in the UK to build its 10 millionth vehicle—an astonishing achievement and a real testament to the efficiency of the facility and the dedication of the workers.
Despite that good news, the overall picture for the automotive industry is worrying. A decline in sales of diesel vehicles, continuing uncertainty over Brexit, fears of a no-deal outcome, and the shift towards electric cars and autonomous vehicles are just some of the key factors that have led some in the sector to describe the current situation as a crisis. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, British car production fell for the 12th month in a row in May as output dropped to 15.5%. It is now clearer than ever that we need an urgent resolution to the ongoing Brexit stalemate and one that avoids the UK crashing out without a deal, which would be disastrous for the automotive industry.
While we must recognise the challenge that the transition towards electric vehicles presents to the automotive industry, it is important to see it as a great opportunity. Climate change is rightly back on the top of the political agenda, partly due to recent protests, including last week’s successful “The Time is Now” mass lobby. The deadly heatwave that swept across Europe last week should also focus our minds on tackling this issue. According to scientists, it was at least five times, and possibly a hundred times, more likely because of climate change.
As the shadow Public Health Minister, I am hugely concerned by illegal and harmful levels of air pollution across the UK, especially here in the capital. Air pollution damages the health of millions of people and is hugely dangerous for children, babies, older people, and those with existing health conditions. Successfully transitioning to electric vehicles is just one way of combating the climate crisis.
Nissan has been leading the way in developing EVs and the battery technology upon which they rely. The Nissan Leaf, made in my constituency, was the best-selling EV in Europe last year. The plant in Washington is also the only volume car manufacturer making a pure battery EV and has the first UK battery plant. Disappointingly, uptake of EVs in the UK lags behind other European countries, and the Government must be held partly responsible. They have failed to create an environment in which the EV market can thrive. Grants for EVs have been cut, and investment in the charging infrastructure has been insufficient, as we have heard from several hon. Members.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the Government continue to hold an unambitious phase-out date for new petrol and diesel models of 2040. By comparison, Norway’s target is for all vehicles sold to be low emission by 2025, the Netherlands and Sweden are aiming for 2030, and Scotland’s target is 2032. Although opinions vary on what the target should be, many in the industry have told me that the sector could absolutely cope with our target being brought forward to, say, 2035. The Committee on Climate Change recently called for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to be banned by 2030, so does the Minister agree with the CCC?
If companies such as Nissan are to build on their successes by producing and selling EVs, the right conditions must be in place for consumers to feel comfortable about making that transition. Two of the key barriers to consumer uptake are concerns around sufficient charging infrastructure and the high price of purchasing an EV compared with a petrol or diesel vehicle. Last year, the Government cut the grant for EVs from £4,500 to £3,500, which Labour strongly opposed. We simply cannot expect people, many of whom were encouraged to buy diesel cars not that long ago, to be able to afford new EVs when they can cost up to £10,000 more than a petrol or diesel vehicle. Even if they cost less to run over time, that initial outlay is the barrier.
As for charging infrastructure, Sunderland is well served, as is the north-east as a whole, as the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) pointed out. I attended the launch of our new Fastned charging station in Sunderland just last month, for example. As she said, the current market-led approach could lead to an unequal and inefficient distribution of charging points, and if the Government expect consumers to make the change to electric, they need to set out a national strategic infrastructure plan for charging points and further support individuals with home charging.
Although it is welcome that, as of 1 July, all electric car charge points installed via the official homecharge scheme must now have smart features, that means that chargers installed outside of the scheme will not have to be smart. In order for the electricity grid to ever be able to cope with this new future of high levels of EV charging, the systems in place need to be as efficient and smart as possible, not only in homes, but in workplaces and public locations.
The SMMT published figures today showing that the UK car market is in decline for the fourth consecutive month and that alternatively fuelled vehicle demand fell for the first time in 26 months. It is clear that the EV market in the UK can thrive with the right conditions in place, and the Government should be ensuring that the transition away from petrol and diesel vehicles is seen as an opportunity by all.
I congratulate the sponsors of today’s debate on securing time to discuss this important issue.
I start in a similar vein to the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) by declaring, or admitting, my love of cars, driving and motorsport—not just Formula 1 but all kinds of motorsport. Perhaps worst of all, I own a 2.2 litre diesel car but, not just for the purposes of this debate, I am looking to change it as soon as possible.
Earlier this year, Scotland’s First Minister declared that
“there is a climate emergency. And Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.”
That means real and practical action across our whole society in how we go about our daily lives, and it means a positive role for Government in building up the infrastructure and support available to us all as we transition to a low-carbon economy. In Scotland we are creating the infrastructure that the future requires.
The UK Government’s words are warm, but their actions get nowhere near to matching them. As we have heard, Scotland aims to phase out fossil fuel-based vehicles by 2032, eight years ahead of this Government’s current plans. The average distance to the nearest charging point in Scotland is fully one third less than the UK figure, despite our much smaller population density, and we lead the world in our commitment to carbon neutrality by 2045, five years ahead of the UK Government’s commitments. Our commitment is clear, and our transition to a low-carbon society is well under way.
The Scottish Government have invested in one of the most comprehensive and widespread charging networks in Europe, with nearly 1,000 publicly available charging points. That is a great start but, obviously, there is much more to do. Another 1,500 charging points are in the pipeline through Scottish Government funding, and work on the first ever electric trunk road is well under way. The plans for the electric A9 are not only ambitious but are a transformational game changer and will turbo-boost the capacity and coverage of electric vehicles across a huge swathe of Scotland, including in communities where going electric simply has not been feasible or practical until now.
To put it in context, the A9 is Scotland’s longest road and stretches 273 miles from beginning to end. It serves as Scotland’s spinal road, linking the central belt to the highlands, passing through one of Europe’s fastest-growing and, in my view, best cities, Inverness. It also connects some of the most sparsely populated areas of Scotland.
Vehicles will be able to come off the Orkney ferry—an apt starting point given Orkney’s world-leading marine energy research programme—and be charged while overlooking John o’ Groats, before travelling the length of Scotland from Tain to Tomatin, from Dingwall to Dunkeld, and from Pitlochry to Perth using renewable, clean energy over every mile. Such practical action is needed across these islands to play a part in tackling the climate emergency we all face.
It is also instructive to look at what our neighbours in Norway have done. This year will see electric vehicles make up a majority of new car registrations in Norway, a world first, after years of already leading the way on electric car take-up. Electric car sales in Norway, with a population not dissimilar to Scotland’s, already outstrip those in the UK, with a population 11 times the size, and are forecast to grow further.
Norway is an energy-rich, progressive, independent country with the sovereign power to take the kind of radical action needed to promote low-carbon transport. The lessons for Scotland could not be clearer. In contrast, the UK Government’s track record on low-carbon transition has been nothing short of abysmal. The scrapping of plans for carbon capture and storage at Peterhead shows the lack of good faith on offer. The Tories’ 2015 manifesto was clear in pledging £1 billion for carbon capture and storage, which they ditched six months later. Perhaps if the plant had been due to be built in a Democratic Unionist party constituency, we might have seen a tad more support from the Government.
The report of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee could not be clearer about the importance of CCS, saying that
“the UK could not credibly adopt a ‘net zero emissions’ target in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5° C aspiration.”
The report demands that the UK Government
“move away from vague and ambiguous targets and give a clear policy direction to ensure the UK seizes the industrial and decarbonisation benefits of carbon capture usage and storage”.
If the UK Government do not want to seize those benefits, instead preferring to fall further behind the rest of the world, they should not drag Scotland down with them. Time after time, we have seen this Government, who have the power to drive real change, do very little to use that power. The Scottish Government, in contrast, are forced to weave their way through the Scotland Acts to show real ambition by setting targets and then meeting them.
We have seen the solar feed-in tariff scrapped, casting asunder an industry beginning to make real inroads and achieve critical mass. We have seen total underinvestment in our electricity grid, resulting in our power infrastructure creaking as more and more renewables come on stream. Much worse, we have seen the continued farce of clean, renewable energy from Scotland, particularly the north and the highlands, being penalised with exorbitant transmission charges, while gas and coal-fired power stations in the south of England carry on regardless. The decarbonisation of transport and the roll-out of electric vehicles now, alas, seems to be facing similar gridlock. This Government are stuck in first gear, meandering in the slow lane and being overtaken by the rest of the world, including the EU countries on which they want to turn their back.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for Hove and others in calling on the UK Government to recognise the leadership that the Scottish Government have shown over the years on electric vehicles and decarbonisation overall, and to ensure that we have the powers to work, as Norway has, towards a carbon-free transport network in preparation for joining Norway as a modern, progressive, independent European state.
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) on securing and introducing this incredibly important debate, the context of which is the climate crisis and this Government’s failure to respond to it with any real ambition.
As my hon. Friend mentioned at the outset, while we have been debating the issue the BBC has reported that sales of low emission cars have fallen for the first time in more than two years—I think I am right in saying that sales have fallen by 4.9% on last year.
The Committee on Climate Change, the Government’s own advisory body, has stated that the UK is “way off track” on meeting its own carbon emission targets in the 2020s and 2030s. Those targets were set under the Climate Change Act 2008 introduced by the previous Labour Government.
The Government are even further off track on their Paris climate change agreement commitments, to which we must adhere if we are to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change impacts. Transport is the worst performing sector of the economy. It accounts for a third of all carbon dioxide emissions and is now the UK’s largest source of greenhouse gas. Emissions are just 3% lower than in 1990, and they have risen since Labour left office in 2010.
Although vehicle technology has improved, reductions in transport emissions have been frustrated by growth in vehicle miles travelled on our roads. Between 1990 and 2018, vehicle miles travelled on our roads increased by 28% to 328 billion a year. If the Government wish to reduce transport emissions, in line with the UK’s targets, they must reduce the number of vehicle miles travelled on roads, which means giving greater support to public transport and active travel to encourage fewer car journeys. Unfortunately, the Government are heading in the wrong direction, with rising car use and falling public transport use.
We must decarbonise road transport by transitioning to electric vehicles and decarbonising the production of the electricity on which those vehicles rely. Reducing vehicle miles travelled on roads and switching to electric would also address poor air quality, which is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, as long-term exposure to air pollution can cause chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer, which lead to reduced life expectancy. We know that poor air quality is responsible for between 30,000 and 50,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, and the Environmental Audit Committee estimates that the total health cost of air pollution ranges between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year.
In order to improve air quality, it is necessary to reduce the number of vehicle miles travelled on roads in areas of poor air quality, to transition to electric vehicles and to improve internal combustion engine technology. The Government have not been doing these things, as evidenced by the fact that the UK has been unlawfully breaching nitrogen dioxide limits since 2010. Road transport is responsible for some 80% of roadside NO2 concentrations, but the Government air quality strategy dodged road transport and instead focused on wood-burning stoves. The Government should understand that their failure to invest now will have damaging long-term economic, social and environmental costs. The climate crisis and the air pollution crisis require bold and immediate action, which is not forthcoming from the Government.
The motion that we are debating is right to bring to our attention the lack of progress and ambition on electric vehicles. By international standards, the Government’s current phase-out date is unambitious. No country that has adopted a phase-out date for the sale of new diesel and petrol vans and cars has chosen a date later than 2040. Norway has a phase-out date of 2025, while Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands all have a phase-out date of 2030. The Government’s commitment that all new cars and vans will be effectively zero emission is also vague. The policy should be more ambitious and should require vehicles to be fully, rather than effectively, zero emission.
Phase-out dates are important, because they give manufacturers, businesses and consumers the clarity they need to inform the investments they will have to make. The view that the UK should have a more ambitious phase-out date is shared by the cross-party Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, whose report “Electric vehicles: driving the transition” recommended a date of 2032.
Although phase-out dates are important, what matters in reducing vehicle emissions is to ensure that as many as possible of the vehicle miles travelled on UK roads are completed in electric vehicles, as soon as possible. A phase-out date in and of itself will not ensure that that happens, which is why it is vital that the Government provide the necessary support to accelerate the transition. That means breaking down the barriers that are frustrating the growth of the EV market, and cost is one of the most important discouraging factors. I speak as the owner of a little Renault Twizy, which is completely electric.
Market projections suggest that EVs could reach price equivalence with internal combustion engine vehicles by the mid-2020s. In the meantime, however, financial incentives will be required to help to bridge the gap if the Government are to deliver on their ambition of growing the EV market. Vehicle costs remain a major barrier to EV uptake in the UK. The up-front cost of most electric vehicles is substantially higher; they cost up to £10,000 more than their internal combustion engine equivalents, even after the Government support.
I am heeding your instruction and advice to me earlier, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wanted to mention a few other points, especially the Government fleet, private fleets and the industrial strategy, but given the time constraints, I shall leave my remarks there.
I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have contributed to today’s debate, especially the mover of the motion, the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who eloquently set out the joy of driving an EV and spoke about the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s work in this area; the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who chairs the Transport Committee and has considerable expertise; and my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), who also played important roles on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee inquiry into electric vehicles last year. I am also delighted that the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) was able to contribute, never missing an opportunity to remind us that the Nissan UK car plant is in her constituency. I will try to address many of the points that were raised in the debate, but given the time constraints, I hope Members will accept that I will have to limit the number of interventions I take in order to allow time for the next —very emotional—debate on assisted dying.
The dangers of climate change are helping to drive a revolution in road vehicles, and everyone who spoke today shares the Government’s ambition that the UK should lead the way. We can all be proud of the fact that on 27 June, the Government set a legally binding target for the UK to achieve net zero by 2050, making us the first major economy in the world to legislate for a net zero target and continuing a proud tradition of leadership when it comes to tackling climate change. Achieving that target will mean working together across political lines and encompassing all parts of society. We will need clear, considered strategies, backed up by action.
Let me be clear from the outset that the Government and I share the ambition of all colleagues from across the House to have all new vehicles delivering as many zero emission miles as possible, as fast as possible. As has been said, the current targets are that by 2040, all new cars and vans will be effectively zero emission; and that by 2050, almost every car and van in the UK will be zero emission. We set out clear steps towards achieving the 2040 target in our strategy “The Road to Zero”, which was published almost exactly a year ago. We believe that 2040 is an ambitious but achievable target, which represents the right balance between environmental ambitions and deliverability, recognising the need for a period in which industry can develop the necessary products and we can address some of the barriers about which hon. Members have talked at length today.
Does the Minister recognise that it takes 10 to 15 years to replace the fleet completely? If we do not end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles until 2040, we will simply not be able to decarbonise transport by 2050. How will he address that issue?
I will come on to that, but I think we are making good progress on a range of fronts, although significant barriers remain. Our wider commitments on climate change have been bold, and we have achieved a faster reduction in our carbon emissions than any other country in the G20 has done. There is no reason why we cannot go faster than the targets that we have set ourselves. Meeting those targets requires an adequate supply of ultra low emission vehicles, a strong consumer base and a fit-for-purpose infrastructure network.
Government cannot deliver our ambitions alone. At the heart of our strategy is a commitment to working in partnership with industry, business, academia, environmental groups, devolved administrations, local Government, consumers and international partners. We need new charge points in homes, workplaces and public places. The consumer experience of public charging needs to be improved. The system must be easy to use, affordable, efficient and reliable. That is why we passed the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, which allows us to regulate further in this area; that is why on Monday the Prime Minister asked OLEV to undertake a review, setting out our vision for a core national network of rapid charge points along the country’s key roads; and it is why we are encouraging people to charge at home overnight, both on and off street.
On Tuesday this week, I attended a roundtable convened at 10 Downing Street with companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, LEVC, Tesla, PSA and the National Grid to discuss how we can best build on our core infrastructure network for electric vehicles in the UK. Those who were present were supportive of Government schemes, such as the up-front £500 off the cost of installing a domestic charge point; the provision of grants to businesses for workplace charge points; and the provision of grant funding to local authorities to install charge points for residents who lack off-street parking. We accept that we need to go further and faster; for example, by ensuring that all new homes are electric vehicle ready. We will soon consult on requiring every new home to have a charge point where appropriate.
We are already in a strong position. Government funding and leadership, alongside private sector investment, has supported the installation of more than 20,000 public charge points to date. That includes more than 2,000 rapid charge points—one of the largest networks in Europe. We want to build on that and encourage private sector investment to build and operate a self-sustaining public network.
Overall, we are investing nearly £1.5 billion between 2015 and 2021 to support ultra low emission vehicles and address the barriers to uptake. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) mentioned, we have grants available to offset the up-front cost of ultra low emission vehicles, which currently cost more than petrol or diesel equivalents. As an incentive to make the switch, our plug-in grants offer up to £3,500 off the purchase price of an electric car, up to £7,500 for a taxi and up to £8,000 for a van. We are also funding the development of new cleaner technologies. With £300 million of funding from OLEV, we are supporting vehicle manufacturers, technology companies and academia to deliver a major programme of research and development in the UK.
I am pleased to say that a year on from the publication of our strategy “The Road to Zero”, we are making progress against our ambitions. In 2018, the UK was the second largest market in the EU for ultra low emission vehicles, and there are now more than 200,000 of them on our roads. We are also building in large numbers—last year, one in five electric cars sold in Europe was made in the UK—and I am proud to say that Europe’s best-selling electric vehicle, the Nissan Leaf, was made in Sunderland, as the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West mentioned.
Let us not forget that this sector is hugely important to the UK economy: with a £77.9 billion turnover, it directly employs 165,000 in manufacturing alone. As someone from the north of England, that is particularly important to me. Manufacturing is still a major employer in my constituency, with companies such Wardle Storeys, part of Uniroyal Global, employing more than 150 people in Earby, making automotive components. That is why I am keen to see the industry’s rapid evolution, rather than revolution, supported by our automotive sector deal, which was published last year. As I speak, the Automotive Council, which I would have attended were it not for this debate, is meeting just down the road.
It has been a real privilege of my role to see at first hand some of the technologies and innovations that are already delivering for us on the Road to Zero. Just last week, I visited the BMW Mini plant in Oxford, and I have also visited Bentley in Crewe; the Advanced Propulsion Centre in Coventry, where I got to sit in—they would not let me drive it—the first all-electric Aston Martin, which will be built in St Athan, south Wales; and McLaren in Wokingham. We are supporting innovation in the sector, with the Advanced Propulsion Centre, the Faraday battery challenge and the connected and autonomous vehicles programme, focusing on the key technologies that will drive the global transition to low-carbon mobility and form the basis of future vehicle supply chains in the UK.
Battery technologies are of course integral to the market, which is why we have committed more than £270 million to the Faraday battery challenge, to ensure that the UK builds on its strengths and leads the world in the design, development and manufacture of electric batteries. In May, I announced additional funding for the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry, a project in which we have so far invested more than £100 million and which will provide a stepping stone in our ambitions for a gigafactory in the UK. The Government and industry have committed around £1 billion over 10 years through the Advanced Propulsion Centre, to fund the research, development and commercialisation of the next generation of low-carbon technologies and keep the UK at the cutting edge of low-carbon automotive innovations.
We have reached the tipping point with the ULEV market and made a strong start on the Road to Zero, but we cannot be complacent. The closer that we can work together across Government, manufacturers, innovators and industry, the quicker we can make that transformation and allow future generations to enjoy the benefits of cleaner air, low carbon emissions and a thriving low emission automotive sector.
That is another shocking example. In the Road to Zero strategy, a copy of which I can lend to my hon. Friend, the Government announced that we would look into the best options for ensuring the adequate provision of electric-capacity connections at motorway service areas, and that work is under way. The key task over the next year is to sustain and strengthen our collaboration in the sector, as we stride towards our ambitious emissions targets for road vehicles and beyond.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House calls on the Government to bring forward the date by which the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be ended.