This amendment would allow the Bill to cover hydrogen fuel used to power internal combustion engines.
I would not dream of pressing the amendment to a vote, but I would like to probe the Government on their position. Currently, the definition of “hydrogen refuelling point” is
“a device intended for refuelling a vehicle that is capable of being propelled by electrical power derived from hydrogen”.
My amendment would leave out “electrical”. The reason for that is the evidence we heard from witnesses in oral evidence.
I put it to a witness that we could have a dual-fuel vehicle, or indeed a vehicle propelled entirely by hydrogen, just as we could have liquefied petroleum gas vehicles and keep the internal combustion engine. I know it is not very fashionable at the moment—I know we are mostly looking at battery power, possibly with an option on fuel cells—but it is important that we ought not to unnecessarily constrain the use of hydrogen.
I am well aware that hydrogen possibly has a disadvantage as a fuel—what I believe is called a low calorific density—but the point for me is that some of us really enjoy our driving. We have started to forget that some of us love our motoring—we enjoy our motoring and our motorcycling —and some of us might wish to preserve vehicles that one day may be considered historic: vehicles with an internal combustion engine. I would like to leave open the possibility of converting those magnificent petrol engine vehicles to run on hydrogen and to use hydrogen refuelling stations. In order for the Bill to apply in such circumstances, we need to leave out “electrical”, so that a hydrogen refuelling point and so on is possible. The capability of being driven by power derived from hydrogen is a simple proposition, and we can simply leave open greater scope for innovation, which might assist those of us who love our motoring.
I want to speak in support of the amendment, not least because of something we have to bear in mind during the passage of the Bill, which is the pace of change of technology. It is likely that the move to electrical vehicles, whether battery or hydrogen, will be very fast over the next two or three decades. We will be left with the legacy of an enormous number of internal combustion engine vehicles—millions and millions of them.
The ability to convert a petrol-powered car to hydrogen internal combustion is quite easy—it is not that hard to do—and in fact dual fuel is possible with two tanks, one of hydrogen and one of petrol, which would allow someone to compensate for the sparsity of hydrogen refuelling facilities. Having that ability for non-electrically driven cars to refuel would mean that instead of having millions of cars that people need to recycle or dump, and whose value will suddenly fall off a cliff as the new technologies come through, they can opt to convert them to internal combustion driven by hydrogen.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said, we would therefore be able to preserve some of those historic vehicles and, frankly, to extend the life of existing petrol vehicles, which would be more environmentally friendly than simply dumping them.
The essence of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, which reflects the exchanges that we enjoyed in the evidence sessions, in which a number of Members played their part, is to query whether the Bill is insufficient in respect of fuel types such as hydrogen. At this juncture, I perhaps ought to make it absolutely clear that the Bill is technology neutral. We recognise that a number of technologies are emerging. Given the scale and nature of the change we are enjoying, it is not yet clear which will become pre-eminent, but it is certainly true that there is investment in hydrogen. That was pointed out by a number of my hon. Friends during the evidence sessions. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire has taken a keen interest in such matters for a considerable time.
Raising the issue of extending the definition of a hydrogen refuelling station is important. The proposed redefinition away from
“a device intended for refuelling a vehicle that is capable of being propelled by electrical power derived from hydrogen” to one that includes hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engines, however, is more challenging. I will explain why. I recognise that there are all kinds of ways of propelling vehicles. As I have said, a number of those would have a beneficial effect on emissions, in essence producing zero tailpipe emissions, just as electric cars do. I also note what my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said about the adaptations that could be made to an internal combustion engine. I did wonder what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire would think of that, but he made no move or sign. There was no change of expression on his face, but I could not help wondering—
Is my right hon. Friend aware that converting a petrol engine to run on hydrogen is not that easy if the engine involved has a carburettor and is not fuel injection? That is the case for most historic vehicles.
Whether I was aware of that or not, I am now. It is certainly the case that the adaptation of an internal combustion engine to allow it to use hydrogen varies according to the character of the vehicle. That is partly dependent on the vehicle’s age. In many cases, it produces only a limited advantage in respect of emissions. It is not true that adapted hydrogen vehicles always produce as efficient a result as vehicles that are designed to run on hydrogen fuel cells. At least that is what I am advised, but I can tell that I may be about to obtain different advice from my hon. Friends.
I am hesitant to give the Minister a chemistry lesson, but the combustion of hydrogen does not produce anything like as much CO2—no carbon is involved, necessarily, in the combustion of that—and it produces significantly less NOx emissions, so there is a huge advantage in the internal combustion of hydrogen over that of a carbon-based fuel, such as petrol or kerosene.
As I said, I am always prepared to receive advice on these matters. I acknowledged in advance that my hon. Friend has great expertise in this field, so far be it from me to flatly disagree with him, but perhaps I am about to get another chemistry lesson.
Of course when we burn hydrogen the result is water. However, when we took evidence on this subject, we were cut lamentably short for entirely understandable reason. The witness was really talking about dual-fuel vehicles, which run on both petrol and hydrogen. We were not able to explore fully what it would mean if vehicles were to run with internal combustion engines entirely on hydrogen. The reason behind dual-fuel vehicles is that there is a limited supply of liquefied petroleum gas around the country, so vehicles still need to run on petrol. However, if there was hydrogen everywhere, one might potentially dispense entirely with petrol in such engines. Vehicles could then run entirely on hydrogen and they would never burn a carbon-based fuel.
Despite the overtures from my hon. Friend, the witnesses were singularly unenthusiastic about hydrogen, particularly Mr Willson. He said:
“I believe hydrogen is too far away yet to get consumers interested in or excited about it.”––[Official Report, Vehicle Technology and Aviation Public Bill Committee,
However, it is clearly not too far away to excite my hon. Friends the Member for North West Hampshire and for Wycombe, but they are at the apex of excitement at all times.
I will make a little progress and then give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I want to be clear that, in seeking the powers, the Government are mindful of the need to strike a balance between encouraging the development of the refuelling infrastructure for hydrogen fuel cells and electric vehicles while ensuring that any impacts on the market are managed properly. I want to emphasise that we are by no means unresponsive or unimpressed by the argument for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. I will personally ensure that the comments that have been made here and elsewhere—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is an enthusiast for this too, will add to them in a moment—are taken fully into account as we take further steps to improve the infrastructure that the Bill is designed to reinforce.
I think that one of the problems with the way the discussion was going a moment ago was about whether or not hydrogen conversions of petrol engines are the way to go. Surely the point about the amendment, which I think has merits, and this part of the Bill is the question of whether or not the Government should have the capacity to introduce regulations that would cover this area, or whether that capacity should be restricted to the kinds of propulsion systems currently set out in the Bill. From what the Minister said, can I take it that he is receptive to the argument that the Government should not be hemmed in by the technology and that perhaps between now and Report some form of words could be considered that would expand matters a little further?
As I enjoyed a very light and healthy lunch in between the two sittings of this Committee today, I was able to have a very brief informal conversation with Members of the Committee on exactly that subject. We discussed the risk of being “hemmed in”, as the hon. Gentleman put it, which is certainly not the Government’s intention.
I want focus on ultra low emission and zero-emission mobility, of course, because that is very much in accord with the Government’s policy and strategy, but it is right that we do not close off technological options that have merit. With all technological change in its early stages—at its cusp, as it were—it is important to retain an open mind. I could give many examples from the technological changes that have occurred in my own lifetime of decisions that, if we took them now, would be rather different, because we were not sufficiently open-minded about the kind of developments that the hon. Gentleman has described, so I am certainly open-minded. I do not want to close down options, but I am heavily focused on low and zero-emissions mobility. That is the formula that we will adopt.
On that basis, and with what I thought was a rather more enthusiastic welcome for my hon. Friend’s predilections and, may I say, prejudices—without meaning to sound in any way pejorative—I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
I thank the Minister for his indulgence. This has been an interesting debate; I have to say that I think it has been a diversion, almost completely irrelevant to this Bill. The long title of this Bill says it is a Bill to:
“Make provision about automated vehicles, electric vehicles, vehicle testing and civil aviation”.
Then it has some stuff about lasers, and so on. If—
With your indulgence, Ms Ryan, I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West said, because I wondered whether this was the right place to make an amendment, given that the actual title of part 2 is “Electric Vehicles: Charging”. This clause is all about the charging of electric vehicles; it is not actually about internal combustion engines, so I would suggest that perhaps it is not the correct place to make this amendment.
Also, the Government Members of the Committee are some of the greatest free marketeers. If we move to this position where hydrogen internal combustion engines are the future, hopefully the free market will help to drive that as well, because we have all these petrol filling stations that can no longer sell petrol and they may have an opportunity to convert their petrol tanks to hydrogen tanks. There is still a future, but I think we are a wee bit way off it yet.
I seek a brief clarification of the definition of “charge point” in subsection (1)(a). My understanding is that there are currently about 11,000 charge points in the UK, of which only about 800 are fast charge points. I cannot see any distinction between normal and fast charge points anywhere in the Bill. Hon. Members will remember that in the Committee’s evidence session on Tuesday fast charge points were described as the “game changer” that we will need to propel ultra low emission electric vehicles forward in the way that we seek. I would be grateful if the Minister told us whether the Government will use their powers under the Bill to ensure that there are sufficient fast charge points around the UK.
We had some debate about this in the evidence session. Clause 8 provides several definitions relating to the charging of electric vehicles. It gives a precise definition not only of “charge point”, as my hon. Friend said, but of “hydrogen refuelling point”, and it specifies what qualifies as a “public charging point”. This is so that the effect of the powers matches their intent and so that their intent is made clear to the public. Any other necessary definitions will be set out in secondary legislation, but we wanted to be clear about the framework. To answer his perfectly fair question, the definition of “charge point” covers both rapid and normal charge points.