Public charging points: access and connection

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:00 pm, 16th March 2017

I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 9, page 6, line 33, at end insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State must consult charge point operators and vehicle manufacturers on the prescribed requirements for connecting components (before regulations under subsection 9(1b) are made).”

This amendment requires consultation with charge point operators and vehicle manufacturers on the requirements for connecting components for the charging of electric vehicles.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I have a few words to say about the policy scoping notes that we have received. Most Committee members saw them for the first time today because they were circulated last night. They are helpful, particularly in relation to part 2, from clause 9 onward, and they address some of the issues that our amendments probe. It is reassuring to know that Ministers are thinking about those things, but I have to say that producing those notes last night, so that we saw them today for the first time as we were going into the first sitting of line-by-line scrutiny, was really not the right way to do things.

The Government’s sequencing and timing for this part of the Bill were wrong. They should have started with a consultation on the infrastructure issues that they were trying to address in order to create the infrastructure for the zero-emissions future that we all want. After that consultation, they should have scoped out the policy options that would lead to that outcome. Having reached consensus on those, they should have published a Bill with adequate safeguards in it, especially if a large part of that Bill involved powers to make secondary legislation down the track.

That is how it should have been done. Sadly, the Government have done it another way. They certainly started with a good consultation on what they described at the time as “Modern Transport”, but they then went from that consultation to a Bill that leaves a large number of questions unanswered, particularly in part 2. Then, in the middle of our discussion of that Bill, we see what should have been the second stage: the policy notes scoping out the policy options. The recurring theme of these notes—it is particularly relevant to this amendment and clause 9—is that Ministers are, perfectly reasonably, not sure what regulations they will need to introduce to achieve the objectives of the clause. The Government say in the policy notes that they will produce those regulations in draft before the Bill reaches the Lords, by summer.

Ministers have not made it easy for us to get the clarity that we need at Committee stage, so the theme of the amendments to this part of the Bill that we have tabled and will pursue is to press the Government, first, on the definition of the issues that the Bill is trying to address; secondly, on what criteria they will use in addressing them; thirdly, for clarity on whom they intend to consult on those issues; and fourthly, on how far they are prepared to review in the light of experience how the Bill’s provisions, when enacted, will operate in our rapidly changing environment. I hope that the Minister will be responsive as we pursue amendments on that theme.

On amendment 12, I am sure that we all agree that the market presents a significant opportunity for the UK to lead globally in encouraging uptake of electric vehicles. Making the most of that opportunity will require action in a number of areas; one is availability and interoperability of charging points. As we heard in the evidence sessions on Tuesday, there is some concern about differing design standards for charging points. The Government’s response to their “Modern Transport” consultation recorded that concern from several quarters, and those Committee members who own plug-in vehicles or have constituents who do will know how irritating the absence of common or universal standards is in the charging infrastructure and the specifications of different electric or plug-in vehicles.

In the response to the “Modern Transport” consultation, the Government advised us that the relevant measures will be covered by a European Union directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure, which should mandate a minimum common charging connection and socket outlet for relevant recharge points while allowing charge point manufacturers to include other connector types. Common European standards will still need to be implemented, and their delivery will rest heavily on manufacturers. That is what the Government are getting at in the regulations on connecting components in clause 9. We are not opposed in principle to the regulations or the use of secondary legislation to introduce them. The purpose of the amendment is to probe a little deeper to ensure that the Government consult properly and widely on the final form and implementation of those connecting components, specifically consulting recharge point operators and vehicle manufacturers.

My first question to the Minister is this: what discussions have taken place so far between Government, vehicle manufacturers and charge point operators? Secondly, what pan-European working groups are the Government engaging with to ensure that the solution there is shaped sooner rather than later? It is important to avoid a situation in which vehicles have a wide range of different connecting components, because they will have to be reflected on forecourts. A wide range of different connecting components will be impractical and create confusion on forecourts. It seems to me that the Government must also ensure, particularly with Brexit coming down the tracks, that regulatory divergence regarding those connecting components does not develop between the UK and the EU, and that consistency with the EU regulations and standards that are being and will be developed will be maintained. How will that be done?

That is all essential if the UK is to be the vehicle manufacturers’ location of choice for the development, testing and deployment of electric vehicles. It is important that the Government get the details right on the specification and harmonisation of connecting components. The other point to reflect on in relation to the amendment is what will happen to existing electric vehicles that do not yet have those common connectors that we hope will be on future vehicles. Do the Government intend that charge point operators should provide adapters for those vehicles as well?

The amendment and the others we have tabled are designed to find out a bit more about the criteria on which Ministers will make those kinds of decisions, how they will consult before making them and with whom. I hope the Minister will be able to address some of those issues and concerns.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s first contribution to the Committee. He and I have worked together in similar circumstances in the past to produce, I hope, effective legislation.

Let me deal with hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks about the order in which the Government have gone about our business. He is right to draw attention to our consultation. I think the document is available to all members of the Committee, but I draw their attention to it once again. This is our response to the consultation, which is available from my Department and which deals with a number of issues that he raised. He is also right that after consulting we moved to legislate, but not without considerable dialogue with the industry. The communication that he requests is regular; I meet the industry on an extremely regular basis. I was with representatives of the industry yesterday evening, and I held a roundtable meeting with them on Tuesday before our witness session to discuss these and other issues, but we focused on the Bill.

Of course, automated vehicles’ electric charging infrastructure is a matter of real concern to manufacturers, because the absence of good infrastructure is a barrier to entry for many consumers; it is not the only challenge they face, but it is one of them. So our determination to put into place effective infrastructure is shared by manufacturers. It is an important means by which they will encourage more people to buy the electric cars they make. We also engage regularly—I would go so far as to say routinely—with the providers of charge points. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about the need to move to common standards. It is really important that we establish the certainty that comes from good standards.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to draw attention to the directive—I will start in a moment to deal with notes I have in front of me, rather than sharing my own views. That is the trouble, Ms Ryan—I am just one of those Ministers who says what he really believes. He is right to draw attention to that directive, and we are looking closely at how we should deal with it. We are working to consult on the transposition of the directive and the Bill measures in in parallel. He sensibly points out that not to do so might imply a contradiction, so it is really significant that we ensure they are synergous. We will work on that final transposition of the directive as soon as possible. I commit now to informing Committee members as the Bill makes progress of our thinking on that synergy.

The hon. Gentleman is right also to highlight the concerns of his constituents and others. I have a particular concern about the breadth of provision. It is possible that we might end up with many charge points in some places and very few elsewhere. I know Members from north of the border will have that in their mind, as will rural Members. I represent a rural constituency that is a long way from motorway services stations, and many of my constituents live a fairly long way from major retailers. I do not want those places to be excluded from provision. We need to think imaginatively about how we can get a roll-out that provides breadth as well as depth. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the Committee’s attention to that issue and he does a service in doing so. He allows me to make a point that I have made in my Department emphatically—I nearly said persuasively, but that is a matter for others to decide.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 4:15 pm, 16th March 2017

As someone who is proud to represent a constituency that consists of three market towns and 14 villages, I offer the Minister my wholehearted support on this point. We want this technology across the whole of the United Kingdom, and not just in big urban centres. It should be for everyone.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend is a great friend, was an outstanding Minister and is a valued colleague. I welcome his remarks.

I completely agree that we must consult a wide range of stakeholders with a view to making regulations. I said—the shadow Minister was enthusiastic about this—that as well as standardisation of connection, I would like there to be some standardisation of design. I think it is important that charge points are instantly recognisable. As people drive about, particularly in places they do not know, they should know what a charge point looks like. I am inclined to run a design competition to elicit something of beauty and efficacy. We will do that as a result of the conversations we have been having formally and informally.

I do not think it is right to specify which organisations should be consulted—this is where there may be a point of detailed difference between us. As we develop the regulations under the clause, there needs to be a wide consultation, but I would not want to be too specific about with whom and when. It is ongoing, and it needs to be wide-ranging. On that basis, I have a difference with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield about the specifics of the amendment, but I absolutely assure him that the spirit of all he said is entirely consistent with my view on these matters. On that basis, I hope he will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

As I said at the outset, the purpose of the amendment is to probe the Government’s intentions. I am grateful that the Minister acknowledged that the compatibility of charge points’ connections will be the making or the breaking of whether they incentivise the switch to plug-in vehicles. I am also pleased that he recognised that there is a European dimension here. Whatever happens on Brexit, we must not get a range of specifications for charge points, be they in motorway services areas or anywhere else in this country, that simply do not work on the continent of Europe, and vice versa. Those two things must be done in parallel.

Although the Minister did not specifically address this in his response—I am sure he will—I hope he will also take on board the point about the current specifications of connectors, before the kind of commonality that we all want has been achieved. We must ensure that public charge points are able to provide adapters or some other means to enable early adopters of electric and other plug-in vehicles to charge their vehicles, even when we have got to a much better situation of harmonised and compatible charging points.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister is nodding, and I am grateful to him for that. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10