Large fuel retailers etc: provision of public charging points

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 16 March 2017.

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Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:15, 16 March 2017

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 10, page 7, line 2, at end insert—

“(2A) Regulations under subsection (1) must provide exemptions for retailers and operators in instances where adhering to such regulations would—

(a) require an expansion of land, or

(b) result in any other disproportionate costs for retailers and operators.”

This amendment ensures that there are exemptions for operators with limited forecourt space who are unable to accommodate public charging points without an expansion of land and that retailers and operators do not incur disproportionate costs for complying with regulations.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 13, in clause 10, page 7, line 4, at end insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State must publish, in draft, the criteria and definition of “large fuel retailers” and “service area operators” at least six months before regulations under subsection 10(3) are made.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult on and publish criteria to be used for the definitions of “large fuel retailers” and “service area operators”. This will make clear to the industry which kinds of companies are covered by these regulations.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

I will focus first on amendment 13. As it stands, the Bill allows the Government to impose requirements on what are described as “large fuel retailers” and “service area operators”; the problem is that Ministers have yet to define or outline the definitional criteria for what those actually are. It is a bit “Alice in Wonderland”—the requirements will apply to large fuel retailers and service area operators, and the definition of those is what the Government say they are.

The policy scoping notes say that “evolution of the market” and other factors mean that the Government are not yet in a position to apply the powers that they are taking in the Bill, and they may not even be in a position to start doing so for a year or two after Royal Assent. Paragraph 3.10 of the scoping notes says:

“It would not be appropriate to develop draft regulations before it had been decided to regulate”,

but on page 2, the notes say that Ministers will “produce draft regulations” relating to part 2 of the Bill before it reaches the Lords in the summer. There appears to be something of a contradiction in the Government’s logic. I know that this is a changing and emerging scene, but we need more clarity from the Government on when they will be in a position to produce draft regulations relating to this part of the Bill, who they will apply to and who they will consult. This relates to when they will actually apply the powers given to them by the regulations that they will bring in.

Amendment 13 goes some way towards trying to address that. It requires the Government to publish in draft the criteria for and definition of large fuel retailers and service area operators that they intend to use. In light of the policy scoping notes, arguably the amendment does not go far enough in asking for that clarity and those definitions. Will the Minister table amendments on Report to provide greater clarity on the sequencing of draft regulations, the application of powers and consultation, and on the timing of what the Government envisage?

In the meantime, it is worth pausing to consider some definitional points, as amendment 13 tries to do. What is a large fuel retailer? Going by the Government’s impact assessment, how large a fuel retailer is seems to be based on market share. That makes sense in a way, but I am not sure whether Ministers have missed a trick. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West said on Tuesday, there could be a case for removing the word “fuel” altogether from the definition of a large retailer, so that the Bill could apply the mandating of the availability of charge points to a much larger operator.

We know from some of the evidence we heard on Tuesday that mandating charging infrastructure requirements on motorway services areas and the like is only one part of what needs to happen. Indeed, in the evidence sessions, one of the things that came over clearly to me is that getting the right incentives in place for home charging is just as important as anything that happens in motorway services areas. I therefore question whether the cuts that Ministers have made to the plug-in car grant and other consumer incentives are consistent with that objective.

It is also just as important to address how charging infrastructure can be expanded in supermarkets, shopping parks and workplaces. In the evidence session, Quentin Willson urged us to focus on how the UK can get ahead of the game in getting connectivity for wireless on-street charging in place. He also urged us to look at how street lamps can be converted into charging points. All those things seem to go well beyond the kind of charging infrastructure that the Bill envisages and covers.

When the Minister replies on this group of amendments, I hope he will give us some reassurance that the Government are looking at those kinds of initiatives, even if they are not covered by the Bill. If they are not to be covered by the Bill, who will be responsible for making those kind of initiatives happen and come into being? Who will be charged with looking at whether we can have charging points up and down the country on lamp posts? When and how will they be charged with doing that? The Bill does not address those kinds of issues. Between now and Report, will the Minister reflect on whether something can be done? Perhaps something can be put into the Bill to at least start addressing some of the broader issues before it completes its passage.

In the meantime, it is worth putting on record that companies are concerned about what the Government taking the kind of powers conferred by the Bill will mean for them. These are much more immediate practical issues, but the Government’s impact assessment lays out the potentially significant cost to the operators affected by this part of the Bill, which could run into many millions of pounds.

That brings me on to amendment 11. As we heard on Tuesday, fuel retailers, particularly those with limited forecourt space, are worried that they simply will not be able to meet the requirements of the regulations that the Government bring in, particularly if—returning to the previous debate—they have to accommodate a variety of different charging and connecting points. Inevitably, some fuel retailers will not have the space to implement those changes without expanding the land they have available. The amendment would provide an exemption in such instances, when meeting the regulations would result in disproportionate costs to the retailer.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

With amendment 13, I agree that it makes sense to ask the Government to provide that absolute clarity, but how is “disproportionate costs” defined in amendment 11? One thing that struck me was that the people giving evidence were very reticent to install the charging points anyway. There is a risk that people would hide behind a definition of “disproportionate costs”. Is there any way that that could be firmed up?

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I will be clear: amendment 11 is worded to probe the Government’s intentions and to ask the Minister to provide greater clarity on these issues so that the operators of motorway and other service areas know a bit more about who is likely to be affected, what will be required of them and how much it will cost. The hon. Gentleman is right; what might be disproportionate to one operator will certainly not be to another.

I am certainly not saying that the profits of motorway service areas should come before the public interest in rapidly expanding the charging infrastructure available on motorways and in other areas, but in acknowledging that hierarchy of what the Bill covers it is also important to validate the concerns expressed to us on Tuesday as real. A number of operators are concerned about the costs involved. They are concerned that they will not have the forecourt space that they might need to install this kind of charging infrastructure, and they are worried about the future. I hope that in responding the Minister will therefore acknowledge the need to give them greater clarity and certainty on such matters. On amendment 13 and the broader question of the scale and scope of the powers that Ministers are seeking, I hope that he will ensure that before those powers are enacted there will be full consultation with stakeholders.

As I said earlier, I hope the Minister will use the opportunity to clarify the issues relating to home charging, on-street charging and other such things, which are not covered by the Bill. How does he envisage that those issues will be addressed to make sure that the expansion of the charging infrastructure that this country needs will be realised in practice, rather than its remaining something about which we have really interesting discussions in our evidence sessions and today but that is a long way from being realised on the ground up and down the country?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South 4:30, 16 March 2017

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield for raising this important matter for clarification. If I may, I will add one additional concern that was reported to me in a discussion with Western Power Distribution in my constituency a week or two ago. There is a potential additional cost if the proposed retailer currently requires only minimal distribution network facilities. If there were to be many charging points located at that retailer because of the regulations, there might be significant additional costs to the grid and distribution networks to ensure the relevant level of supply. The concern that some of those costs might be disproportionate was flagged up. I seek an assurance from the Minister that they will be taken into consideration when he is drawing up the regulations.

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

Edmund Burke said,

“Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.”

Although I would not describe any of the comments as indicative of fear, it is certainly true that what I might describe as dutiful doubt and honest hesitation can be a helpful thing to Government when we are trying to navigate as yet uncharted waters, as one is bound to do in respect of this kind of legislation, given that it is about rapidly changing technology. So I am grateful for the tone that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield set in allowing us to explore these matters with that kind of dutiful and honest hesitation. We should hesitate, think and consider, and then act.

This is a very important debate. I have made clear and have been very open about my own determination to make sure that we have a spread of charge points, because we want electric vehicles to be as easy as possible to refuel as a petrol or diesel vehicle is now. That will require a wide spread of infrastructure to support many thousands more electric vehicles—indeed, ultimately tens of hundreds of thousands more. Similarly, we understand that regulation will not always be the right approach. Sometimes, a carrot is more important than a stick.

I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South and indeed the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said about cost. There is an argument for Government support. I have nothing to announce today, but I hear what is said and I think that there is an argument for it, in particular to get the spread that I want—small village post offices, village shops and those sort of places spring to mind.

Similarly, it is important that the larger petrol retailers that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield described are properly defined. I hear what he said and we will need to clarify that, too, during the passage of the Bill. He made a fair point, and I will do that. The Bill sets out the principle, but it seems to me that he is right that further definition is required. We are looking at that closely, as he will have assumed, and we are in discussion with the industry.

We are considering regulations to take account of a whole range of issues: the commercial viability of fuel retailers and their forecourts and service areas; the effect that mandatory electrical refuelling infrastructure would have; the space available, given total land taken by existing facilities; the capacity of the local electricity grid in the case of charge points—we spoke a little about that in the evidence session—and the existing or future proximity of electrical vehicle infrastructure within the proximity of the fuel retailer or service area. There may well be other factors as well, because the area is complex, so we are working closely with fuel retailers, service area operators and infrastructure providers to bring forward those necessary regulations.

The hon. Gentleman pointed out that clause 15(3) specifically commits the Secretary of State to consult with appropriate persons before making regulations under this part of the Bill. He asked for greater clarity about the timetable. I think that is fair. We could set out at least an indicative timetable. In this letter I am going to send to the Committee, which is growing ever more exciting and detailed, perhaps I will suggest how we might do that. Committee members will be waiting by their post boxes with eager anticipation.

Given that the powers to mandate provision of charge points and hydrogen are bold and ambitious, concentration would need to be thorough and wide-ranging. To some degree—again there is a slightly point of difference between us on this—that is why I do not want to be too particular about whom we consult. I am certainly happy to talk about the categories of people whom we might consult, but I do not want to narrow the discussion—if anything, rather the opposite. I want to have as wide-ranging a consultation as we can, for some of the reasons that I have already offered.

Following such consultation, regulations could come into force much earlier than the six months suggested in amendment 13. We can be more ambitious than that. For that reason, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that amendment, because we can do more and do it more quickly.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification. I do not think that I have ever been accused of dutiful doubts and honest hesitation. Given that he reckoned that they were probably good qualities to have in relation to the Bill, I accept the description.

The amendments are trying to deal with two sets of concerns. The first is about the kind of operators that the Bill will mandate to provide charging infrastructure down the line through regulation. A range of practical issues relating to the definition of operators, such as forecourt capacity, cost and other things, need to be addressed. I am pleased that the Minister has committed to consult and introduce draft regulations on the matter as soon as possible. I assume, therefore, that he does not believe the policy scoping notes’ description in paragraph 3.10 that it will be difficult to do anything on that until towards the end of this decade necessarily needs to be the case. Perhaps it could be done a lot earlier. I am grateful for that ambition on the part of the Minister.

The second thing that the amendments are perhaps more implicitly trying to get at is those areas of infrastructure that the Bill does not address. What about home charging, lamp posts, on-street charging and wireless charging? Is there any ambition and framework by which we can try to ensure that the UK is ahead of the game in providing such infrastructure, just as much as ensuring whether WH Smith or the motorway service area on the M42 near where I live provide the necessary infrastructure?

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

Let me explore that a little, because it is another important point. I suppose it is yet another balance, and there are several aspects to the balance that we attempt to strike in the Bill. The balance in this respect is about how much we mandate, how much we encourage and how much we provide incentive in the end. I am looking at all those matters. Of course I have met the providers of on-street charge points. Some of this involves relations with other Government Departments because of planning issues, and some of it involves the competition on design that I mentioned. Yes, I do accept that certain matters are not in the Bill, but do not assume for a moment that they do not matter to us and that we are not doing something about them.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am pleased that the Minister is seized of those issues. On Report, will the Bill at least give a nod to the need to do something on those infrastructure matters?

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

I have listened carefully to the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Would he also consider adding to his useful list new housing and what regulations might be required in terms of charging points, as well as existing local authority car parks and other car parks, where there is great potential to expand the number of charging points?

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman makes a really good point, and it underlines that we are in an entirely different game. Until now, we have had a very narrow view of what the refuelling of a vehicle entails; it means going to a place called a service station, which might be down the road or on the motorway, where there are fuel pumps, and that is about it. What is proposed under the Bill is a complete change to that practice. Certainly, those conventional filling stations will still need to be there, but if we are truly to incentivise the big switch to zero-emission vehicles that we need to achieve, convenience of charging must be the watchword. Yes, that means the filling stations, but it also means the supermarket and the car park, and homes. The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire is right that it also means looking at the planning requirements for new homes and the availability, or provision if necessary, of charge points is an important consideration.

I do not expect the Minister to be able to provide in the Bill every bit of detail on how that will be done, although I am sure that he would love to be able to do that. That will not be possible and the Bill will inevitably concentrate fairly narrowly on the idea of the filling station, but I hope that it will at least acknowledge that there is a broader agenda. As the Bill progresses, I hope that the Government will make it clear that although it may not cover those broader issues, they intend to do so. I hope that they will provide the timetable for doing so, outline how they will ensure liaison between the different Government Departments involved and identify the outside bodies that they intend to talk to. If that is the outcome, we could be dealing with something very exciting.

On the basis of the reassurances and commitments that the Minister has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

Some of what I intended to say has been foreshadowed and I will not repeat it all, you and the Committee will be relieved to hear, Ms Ryan. When we heard from Robert Evans, who is the chief executive of a specialist research and technology organisation and represented the UK Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Association, he addressed the issue of train stations, airports and so on. More pertinently, we also heard on Tuesday afternoon from Teresa Sayers, the chief executive of the Downstream Fuel Association, who said:

“We represent the non-refining companies and major supermarkets.”––[Official Report, Vehicle Technology and Aviation Public Bill Committee, 14 March 2017; c. 35.]

When I questioned her about the wording of clause 10, she said:

“Our apprehension about the wording is all about the location of the EV charging point on a forecourt, for the reasons we have discussed.”––[Official Report, Vehicle Technology and Aviation Public Bill Committee, 14 March 2017; c. 41.]

I said to her:

“The word “fuel” in “large fuel retailers” is causing you to scratch your head a bit?”––[Official Report, Vehicle Technology and Aviation Public Bill Committee, 14 March 2017; c. 41, Q73.]

She replied, “Yes, absolutely”, and agreed that “large retailers” would be better.

I look forward to the Minister’s design competition, which he announced today and which is wonderful. I suggest that, for the design that is ultimately decided upon, rather like we have Belisha beacons, we could have “Hayes hook-ups” or something similar. As the hon. Member for Bedford said, we need to think more broadly about planning permission and building those into planning requirements for new buildings, and possibly about a requirement for three-phase electricity and that sort of thing for more rapid charging.

We need to look at the regulations for the franchise specifications for motorway service station operators. They have a franchise that, I would guess for most of them, requires them to open for 24 hours a day. We do that as a public good. For motorway service station operators, providing coffee at three in the morning is a public good, but it is probably not profitable; however, providing coffee over 24 hours is profitable. As a society we say we want that, because we want motorists to drink coffee and stay awake on the motorways. Electric charging points could be part of a motorway service area franchise, because—surprise, surprise—we get on to clause 10 and the Government are quite willing to intervene in a market that hardly exists now. Good; they are coming over to the socialist side. There is a role for Government in making markets that, honourably and commendably, the Government, as represented by the Minister today, are seeking to fulfil.

In terms of making markets, I suggest to him that clause 10 does not need, and should not include, the words “large fuel retailers”; I did not table an amendment to that affect because I came to that view only after I heard the evidence on Tuesday. We do not, and should not have, the word “fuel”; in fact, if regulations are made, as the clause provides for, that will provide definitions, we do not actually need the word “large” either. Ministers never want excess wording in Bills; I understand that.

We understand from the Bill’s wording, which could be usefully removed, the Government’s idea that little corner shops that would not be subject to the regulations. Corner shops are retailers and almost all of them have a little parking area, even in rural areas. I think we understand that the concept of large fuel retailers would not cover, for example, my local BP station, which is a one-minute walk from my house and has five parking spaces; some cars parked for a quick, 30-minute charge will clog things up there. We went through the evidence on that on Tuesday. We ought to be looking at retailers and at supermarkets in particular, because very broadly most people go there, park their car, go off and do their shopping for half an hour or 45 minutes and come back. Their car could be charged during that time.

Now is the perfect time to do this because the business rates revaluation is still going through the House in the Local Government Finance Bill. Many supermarkets—not all—are winners under the business rates revaluation, so they will be paying lower business rates, which is a bit of a windfall for them. The Government could taketh away through the Bill by saying, “Well, you’ve had your windfall on business rates, but you have got to invest that for the benefit of our society by providing electric charging points. You are large retailers, not fuel retailers or service area operators. But, for the public benefit, as a Government our public policy to drive the market is that supermarkets or such operations that have a lot of parking should be providing public charging points, as clause 10 seeks to do for large fuel retailers.”

When I had a discussion with the Minister about that outside the Committee, he was positive and said that he would think about it. That is all I ask of him today. I hope he will feel able to stand up—if he catches your eye, Ms Ryan—and say that he will consider the point of broadening out the clause by removing “fuel” as a concept, because that gets us from forecourts and so on—many areas with limited parking spaces—and more into the scenario of supermarkets, train stations, airports and so on, which is much better, more amenable and would provide a better service to those we seek to represent.

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

I will be brief. We have had a good, detailed debate on this aspect of the Bill. I hope that my determination to broaden the number of points at which people can charge vehicles is clear from my earlier remarks. Equally, my parallel determination is to ensure that while we mandate the provision, we do not do so in a way that is not reasonable or affordable.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and I will return to it in a second. I suppose the reason why “fuel” is there is that it is not unreasonable that the people who are likely to benefit should make some contribution. If we think of motorway service areas—by the way, they are already taking this on—there are charge points at most of them now, and in some cases they are trialling hydrogen refuelling points, too. Given that they are likely to benefit and they are already investing, it does not seem unreasonable to pursue that avenue.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

Will my right hon. Friend enlighten us about the economics of charging points? I confess that I am ignorant as to the average payback for the capital cost of putting in a charging point. We are talking about mandating, but it may be that they are profitable goldmines for the businesses concerned, who will be eager to put in as many as possible.

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

A rapid charge point currently costs about £50,000 and a hydrogen refuelling installation is perhaps a little more. It is expected that hydrogen refuelling will be introduced more gradually, given that higher cost and the state of market development. However, as I think I said earlier, because of my even-handedness on this, I would not want to preclude that roll-out. The answer to the question about how those who have already installed them see the analysis of income is that I do not know what the cost-benefit analysis is, but if I can get more detail on that I will happily make it available to my hon. Friend and other members of the Committee. It is an interesting point that will inform our discussions.

I was very open earlier about the other kinds of provision. Although we do not want to mandate smaller businesses, those that are more remote and those that would find such a cost far too onerous, neither do we want to deprive them of the opportunity that having these facilities might provide. We want to ensure an even spread of charge point so there is a good case for finding a mechanism that is not legislative to encourage and incentivise other kinds of place that could put in a recharging point. I see this as only a first step.

The compromise I can strike with the hon. Gentleman and others is to say that we are establishing a framework, and we are doing so because these are the places where people typically go now to fuel their vehicles. However, it is not an exclusive framework. As this policy area develops, we will look at means of encouraging and supporting the roll-out that he and I both want, including considerations of the kind that my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire raised. We are already in discussion with the Department for Communities and Local Government about this; as I said, there is a planning and housing issue, and on-street facilities will continue to be critical. Of course, many people will charge at home—they do now, and they will continue to do so—but it is important that we also have a really robust policy in place to increase considerably the number of places where people can charge their vehicles, and we will certainly do so. I assure hon. Members who contributed to this short debate that I am mindful of the desire to create what I described earlier as breadth as well as depth.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11