Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:44 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth 1:44 pm, 4th July 2019

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 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 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.