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 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 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.