Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:38 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 1:38 pm, 4th July 2019

It is a pleasure to speak, and I thank my hon. Friend 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 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.