Strategy for encouraging uptake of electric vehicles

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 21 March 2017.

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The Secretary of State must, within 12 months, lay a report before Parliament setting out a strategy to further encourage the uptake of electric vehicles in the United Kingdom.

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to bring forward a broader Government strategy to address the issue of encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles in the United Kingdom.—(Richard Burden.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:15, 21 March 2017

I beg to move, That the clause be read a second time.

We are back to electric vehicles. I am sure the new clause will find agreement on both sides of the Committee for what it is trying to get at, because we all want to increase the uptake of electric vehicles—and, indeed, zero-carbon and ultra low emission vehicles generally. To me, it is important that the Government have a strategy to encourage that uptake across the board, but it must go further than what is in the Bill. That is important not only to future-proof our economy and society but to assure the industry and consumers that investing in that new generation of vehicles is the right thing to do. We must make electric vehicles and other low-emission vehicles more widely available and affordable to kick-start a shift in thinking about car ownership and, perhaps most importantly, to address the air quality crisis that is choking towns and cities in the UK, with all the public health implications that it involves. I will come on to that issue in the next few minutes.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Conservative, North West Hampshire

I am slightly confused. Is the hon. Gentleman attempting to legislate for what is essentially a political decision? [Interruption.] It is for the Government to decide to have a strategy, but he is attempting to legislate for that decision, which is surely within the Minister’s ambit. I am confused. This is presumably, as far as I can see, a political decision.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

Call me old-fashioned, Ms Ryan, but I do not think it is the job of anyone other than Parliament to make that decision. If a political decision is a decision based on what Members of the legislature, in their judgment, think is the right thing to do, there is nothing wrong with that.

May I just say that the new clause would not have been selected if it were not in order for the Committee to be debating it?

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

Thank you, Ms Ryan.

If the hon. Member for North West Hampshire is suggesting that we should not encourage the uptake of such vehicles, he is entitled to that view, although it is not one that I share. Throughout our debates on the Bill so far, there has been consensus across the Committee that, whatever else we do, encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles should be part of the picture.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Conservative, North West Hampshire

I completely understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I agree. I am a convert to electric vehicles—hydrogen electric vehicles, as it happens. I just think it is for Ministers to put out a strategy, and they take their chances with the House if they do or do not.

On a point of order, Ms Ryan—forgive my legislative inexperience—as I understand it, under the Standing Orders, amendments and new clauses have to satisfy the notion that they are not vague, and I find this very vague. It does not lay out what form the strategy should be in—is it one side of A4? It does not say what the sanction is if the Minister does not do it. There is all sorts of vagueness in it. We are making the law of the land, but it seems to be bound up in the idea that we are legislating for what is essentially a political decision.

The Chair’s selection is final. If the Chair rules the new clause or amendment in order, it is in order.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

I would certainly defer to your judgment about the fact that the new clause is in order, Ms Ryan.

May I take the hon. Member for North West Hampshire back to something he himself said, which is that he thinks that bringing forward strategies is the job of Ministers? I agree, and that is exactly what the new clause says: it asks Ministers to bring forward a strategy for encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles. The reason we are suggesting that is that the Bill, as it stands, deals with one element of the picture, which is the question of the charging infrastructure. That is important, but it is only one element of a larger picture. As the Government impact assessment says, it is part one of a rolling programme of reform. In future waves, they will need to expand the infrastructure beyond the scope even of what is in the Bill. That is why we have been talking a lot about how we can future-proof it. They will also need to address barriers to uptake and concerns and uncertainties of the kind that we discussed in the evidence session, such as capital cost, residual values and battery ranges; encourage more active procurement of ultra low emission vehicles, including electric vehicles, by public authorities; and introduce an active industrial policy to ensure that the UK is in pole position to develop and make electric vehicles in the future.

I have to say that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Green Paper, “Building our Industrial Strategy”, is a good document. There are some very worthwhile things in it, including proposals for meeting the challenge of increasing our involvement in the research, development, commercialisation and manufacture of these vehicles. I absolutely welcome all that, but the point of the new clause is that the relationship between that industrial strategy and the transport strategy that the Bill is concerned with needs to be much clearer. We also need to assess all the existing and potential incentives for consumers and business. The Government regularly reference those, but—this has come up several times in debates—it is difficult to reconcile what they say about the importance of consumer incentives with their cuts to grants, plug-in vehicles and so on.

Home charging is a logical and important place to start but, as we have heard, in urban areas, which are potentially one of the most fruitful markets for electric vehicles, that is not always simple or practical. We need some innovative thinking and new ideas to encourage and incentivise uptake. I am sure the Minister is brimming with them—we know that it is only a matter of time before the Hayes hook-ups hit our streets. We need to consider the kinds of issues that Quentin Willson urged us to look at when he gave evidence: wireless on-street charging, possibly using street lamps, and exploring other options in urban areas where private parking areas are simply not widely available. It is also important to address how the charging infrastructure can be extended to places such as supermarkets, shopping parks and workplaces, where there is natural dwell time and less inconvenience for electric owners charging their vehicles.

It is important that the Government are seen to be leading the way on electric vehicles. I broadly welcome the actions of the Minister and the Government and the keenness that the Minister has brought to the subject in our deliberations. Like him, we all want to ensure that the UK is one of the world leaders in manufacturing and supporting infrastructure for electric vehicles, but we also want it to be a leader in their uptake, moving towards a new transport system and a different contribution to our economy. That all goes well beyond the Bill, but it is important that the different strands of Government thinking on industrial strategy and transport strategy are brought together.

The new clause would encourage and require the Government to think ahead, and think creatively, about putting a strategy in place to confront the inhibitors of uptake and gear the UK towards a new economy and a new kind of transport system. As I have acknowledged, the Government’s aim is to address the inhibitors to widespread uptake of EVs, but the Bill’s focus is narrow. It addresses only the charging infrastructure and the information available, not the wider challenges that I referred to—capital cost, wider infrastructure, residual value, battery technology and so on. I think the Minister recognises that—he has said that this is step one on a journey of many steps—but I would like him to assure us today that the Bill will kick-start an active and innovative Government strategy to make EVs and other ultra low emission and zero-emission vehicles the go-to vehicles for the UK. He is well versed in overcoming the barriers to uptake, but we need to know how he and the Department for Transport will confront them.

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

Following on from the comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield, I agree that we hope that the Government will set out a strategy to kick-start the roll-out of electric vehicles. Whether a report about the uptake of vehicles is a political decision is, I think, semantics. All Government decisions are political in one way or another. A Government make a political decision and then implement policy, and that is a political decision and then policy making by that Government at that moment in time. Any subsequent Government can change the legislation to suit their politics, their decisions or their changes in policy. So this might be a political decision or it might not be, but it is about implementing policy.

Clearly, the Government support the roll-out of electric vehicles. Part 2 of the Bill is about the electric charging network, so why would they invest in such a network and have provisions in the Bill to extend it if they were not going fully to support the roll-out of electric vehicles? I would, therefore, welcome a report. The Government have a 2020 target of 1.6 million electric vehicles and we are 1.5 million short at this moment. I would welcome, therefore, seeing how the Government think they will achieve that target.

Recently, there have been cuts in the grants available for purchasing electric vehicles, for hybrid vehicles and for home charging, so some of the political or policy decisions have been contrary to increasing the uptake of the vehicles. Therefore, it would be good if the Government came back with a report that clearly outlined how they were going to increase uptake of electric vehicles and meet their 2020 target and the long-term 2050 target. We have heard on Second Reading and in our Committee sittings that other countries are much further ahead in increasing the uptake of electric vehicles, so I would like to think that a Government report could look at what those countries are doing and incorporate that into their strategy as part of a look ahead. Coming back with a report has merits, and would allow everyone to see the clear direction from the Government.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford

I am grateful, Ms Ryan, for your permission to say a few words to encourage the Minister to not be persuaded by the well-meaning nonsense being peddled by Opposition Members, with this re-bubbling commitment to the all-seeing omniscience of Soviet or socialist planning that ascribes to Government powers that, I think experience has shown, are well beyond their ambit: to foresee, invest and direct the resources of the nation in the direction of what might, today, be the most inspired strategy but tomorrow might be ashes around the Minister’s feet.

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

Perhaps I can begin where my hon. Friend concluded. My admiration and, I might say, deep affection for him has never allowed me to be persuaded more than I need to be by the argument he makes for unbridled freedom. We have known each other for a long time and he is right that the Government should not go too far, but I think I disagree with him on the margin, in the context of that deep affection. The Government sometimes need to go a little further when change of the kind we are envisaging brings with it an immense opportunity but also risks. Where the Government are mitigating the effect of those risks on the people we represent, they need to get involved. I look, therefore, to form a middle road between the Opposition and my hon. Friend because, as is well known, I am an extremely moderate man.

My dream—at the heart of all men’s existence, is a dream, as Chesterton said—translated as my political mission, which began in infancy, is to prevent many things from changing but, when they do, to help to shape them and, when they must, to help to ensure that they have the most efficacious and virtuous possible effect. So it is with this technology.

My hon. Friend is right—I must not flatter him too much—that this market will develop in ways that we can barely now envisage. To have too clearly defined a plan would not be wise; it would be just about possible, but it would certainly not be right. None the less, we would not be bringing this Bill forward if we did not think that Government had a part to play, not only in facilitating beneficial change, but also in ensuring that what we do does not constrain it. For example, the amendments deal with the difference we are trying to make in respect of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. The Bill is designed to allow the market to be the best it can be, rather than to dictate the future in a way that my hon. Friend and I would not wish to do.

The good news for the whole Committee is that I think we should offer more explanation of the context for the measures in the Bill, and I will do so between the conclusion of the Committee’s consideration and Report. It will be important for me to set out, perhaps in an oration of some kind, the context that has been referred to by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield, my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun.

The behavioural impact of some of this technology needs to be considered in the round. I have asked for greater detail to be made available of the work that I am determined my Department will do on that. The Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, which we established to co-ordinate that work, will be working with University College London to scope a piece of work on behavioural change. I am determined that the Government should, in anticipation of the arrival of much of this technology—that is not just electric cars and their further roll-out, but automated vehicles, which are not in the new clause, but I will mention them with your indulgence, Ms Ryan—have a vision, if not quite a plan. That is important.

I am strong on vision, but I certainly do not want us to have a definitive, constraining, limiting set of objectives. I want us to have an open-minded approach, well informed by the kind of research I have described and contextualised by an understanding of what we hope might be achieved. To that end, I am very much in sympathy with those members of the Committee who feel we should say more and, to some degree, do more, with all the caveats I have made.

It will certainly be necessary to maintain the dialogue we have had with stakeholders, including the insurance industry and others. Obviously, access to appropriate data is an important part of that conversation. It is likely, as I have said repeatedly during our consideration, that global regulations will develop that underpin the system on those kinds of vehicles. I know that new clause 2 has not been moved.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe 4:30, 21 March 2017

I would like to apologise to the Minister and the Committee for not being here to move new clauses 1 and 2. They were only probing new clauses to explore those subjects, and I am grateful to him for referring to them now. If it is at all possible, I would be grateful if he might consider returning to their substance on Report.

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

I think we can go further than that. I try to be helpful to the Committee throughout our proceedings and I, too, am disappointed that we have not had a chance to debate those new clauses in more detail. Perhaps I can drop a line to my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire to offer a summary of what I would have said in Committee, had they been here to move their new clauses. That will both keep me within order and abbreviate my remarks so that I can move quickly to new clause 8.

To be helpful to the hon. Member for Wycombe, when we get to new clause 8 it will be in order for him to make the remarks he would have made for new clause 2, as they are on the same topic.

So that was helpful.

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

Brilliant. I bow to your judgment on that matter, Ms Ryan. I will probably write to my hon. Friend anyway, because I want to ensure that he is treated with the generosity he deserves.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

On new clause 3, am I right in deducing from what the Minister has said—he will correct me if I am wrong—that, broadly, Her Majesty’s Government are keen to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles, whether hydrogen-electric, pure electric, automated electric or whatever, and that they will publish some pointers as to how they anticipate making the market, pushing it in that direction and encouraging market developments in that direction?

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

I spoke about that yesterday at one of the House’s all-party groups, and as I said, I am happy to orate further on demand. If there is popular demand for me to perform more regularly, I would be remiss not to rise to that. That seems to have been the message broadcast from the Committee—I see nodding heads around the Committee—so it is important that I set out the context of what the Government intend. In essence, Government can do three things. We can bring legislation forward, and that is what we are doing. We can promote and stimulate the market through spending money, and we have done that—I could consider that at exhaustive length but it would tire the Committee if I did—and we can make the argument. I want to go a bit further than that, which is why I mentioned the further research we intend to do. As I said, steps can be taken without the rather limiting, dictatorial approach that I know is feared, and understandably so, by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford.

On new clause 8, our transport networks are becoming increasingly digital—

Order. I am sorry, Minister, but we are on new clause 3.

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

Sorry. On new clause 3, it is important that the Government take a strategic approach, as has been said, on the take-up of low-emission vehicles. Hon. Members will know that the Government have published a series of documents, including “Driving the Future Today” in 2013, but much has changed since then. For instance, about 10 times as many ultra low emission vehicles were registered in 2016 as in 2013. While the aims of the 2013 strategy remain relevant, we are considering how our approach needs to change in the light of developments in the sector and beyond.

In addition, I am able to announce that we plan to publish an updated strategy for promoting the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles and that we will do so, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield requests, within 12 months. As I said, I will set out some of our thinking before Report. We will continue to consult the sector and be informed by its thinking, because the investment it is making in this technology is considerable. I will also be informed by the Committee’s observations about further changes that can be made to the infrastructure. The Bill does important things in that respect, but relevant comments have been made about on-street charging. We need to think carefully about how we can take the emphasis in the Bill to the next stage of development, and we will continue to do that in policy. As hon. Members know, I am keen to explore the issue of design, but I think I have made that point fairly clearly already.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

Will the publication that the Minister has just generously promised encompass aspects of air pollution?

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

As a separate matter, I am personally associated—“associated” is a rather slight way of putting it, actually—with the production of the Government’s new air quality plan. We have committed as a Government to produce that plan by the summer and will present a draft very shortly—this spring. I work with Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs alarmingly regularly. Indeed, I said the other day to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Dr Coffey, that I see her more often than my family. It is important that that plan is consistent with our strategy for promoting ultra low emission vehicles. It must be—they are an important part of achieving what we seek, which is that, by 2050, all vehicles are low-emission vehicles, with a consequent effect on emissions and air quality. New clause 4 deals with air quality anyway, so I have no doubt that we will debate that at greater length.

I do not want to go too much further at this juncture, except to say that the money we are spending on electric vehicles needs to be emphasised. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield raised this, so I want to be crystal clear. During this Parliament, we will invest well over £600 million to support low-emission vehicles. That includes subsidising the purchase of new vehicles by consumers; £80 million for subsidising the cost of the charging infrastructure, with grants of £500 off the cost of home installation and similar support for charge points on streets and in workplaces; £150 million to support the adoption of the cleanest buses and taxis, and more than £100 million to fund research and development of new zero-emission technologies, building on the UK’s well-regarded scientific and automotive sectors. That is on top of the £270 million industrial strategy fund that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield referred to, some of which will support the development, design and manufacture of the batteries that will power the next generation of electric vehicles. That adds up to a comprehensive package of measures—as comprehensive as almost any Government’s—but I accept that money alone is not enough, and I do not say that it is. Advocacy and legislation matter, too, which is why we introduced the Bill.

I think that that probably is enough—[Interruption.] I think it is. I do not want to disappoint any of my admirers—[Hon. Members: “Name them!”] There are some on this side of the Committee, too; I want to be absolutely clear about that. I think we are on the same page.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the Minister for his really positive response. He gets what we are talking about. We are dealing with a potential revolution in our relationship with personal mobility—in the way we think about cars and how they connect with one other and with us. Are we are moving into an era where we have not so much vehicles with information systems attached, but information systems with vehicles attached? That presents profound challenges for us, but also profound opportunities. That is why we suggest in the new clause—I am really pleased that the Minister said the Government would do this—that there needs to be strategic thinking, not only by the Government, who have responsibility for developing those ideas, but by all of us, about how we rise to those challenges.

I was surprised, and a little disappointed, that there seems to be some opposition in principle to that kind of strategic thinking by some Conservative Members. I do not know how they responded when the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary produced the industrial strategy in January, but they might well have objected to that as well. Strategic thinking is just that—strategic. It is about joining the dots of different areas of Government policy to future-proof it so as to work out what steps are necessary to translate vision into practice.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester 4:45, 21 March 2017

Does my hon. Friend share my view that that might not be about prescribing for the industry what steps it needs to take, but about ensuring that all parts of Government are aware of what their role might be as the sector develops?

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are talking about joining the dots within Government to ensure that those three elements—the Minister got it right about where the three elements of Government crystallise—can be put to best effect. Part of that is legislative, whether that is primary legislation or the regulations that we have debated a great deal in Committee.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

Given that the Minister has conceded that there will be a strategy, may I urge the hon. Gentleman to do as little strategising as possible and perhaps to include corporates as much as possible? My experience of watching Governments strategise, whether in the military or the civilian field, is to see what is charmingly known as a cluster emerge from the ideas of Whitehall and get thrust on corporations and individuals who then have to untangle whatever came out. I urge him as much possible in our process to act simply as a receptacle of ideas, rather than as a preacher of doctrine.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

In many ways, I think that is what we are getting at. Throughout Committee we have emphasised the importance of consulting stakeholders, and listening to and involving them. The corporate sector, particularly in the automotive industry, is central to that. Automotive is one of those areas in which partnership between Government and industry has been at its most successful. The Automotive Council, established by the previous Labour Government—but I am pleased to say continued by the coalition and this Government—has been held up as a beacon for a non-bureaucratic way to bring Government and industry together to lay out where we want to go and the kind of road map needed to get there.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

On where we want to go and a road map to get there, Conservative Governments in the 1950s laid the groundwork for our motorway network in the United Kingdom—built by the state to a plan.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Whether those Conservative Governments got everything right about the motorway network in everyone’s point of view, who knows, but his point is well made.

I will not labour the point at this stage, because there is a consensus among most Committee members about what is required. The Minister has said that he will bring forward a strategy, updating the previous one and joining up the dots in Government so that we can know how the legislative road may best be taken, how we can best stimulate the market for electric and other low and zero-emission vehicles and how we can make a case for that step change in personal mobility that we have the chance to achieve in not too many years. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 4