Public charging points: access and connection

Part of 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.