Air pollution and vehicle technology

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 am on 23 March 2017.

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“The Secretary of State must, within 12 months, lay a report before Parliament setting out a strategy for using vehicle technologies, including electric vehicles, to contribute to meeting Government ambitions relating to air pollution and the UK’s climate change obligations.”—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to bring forward a strategy for using vehicle technology to address the issue of air pollution in the UK.

Brought up, read the First time, and Question proposed (21 March), That the clause be read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

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

With your indulgence, Mr Gray, may I say a few words? As we stood together in silence and sorrow earlier, so we stand together for all time; Parliament and people. Our Committee, in its modest way, tells all that should be known about this place, our work: debate without rancour and difference without disputation; and mutual regard and respect. Parliamentary politics is, in my judgment, far from broken, and it will not be broken by the enemies of decency.

In that sombre way, we continue our consideration of this important Bill. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield proposed the new clause when we last met, which seems an age ago. It would require the Secretary of State to bring forward a new strategy for using vehicle technology to address climate change and air quality. The hon. Gentleman and others heard me say that we are indeed looking to do so. We will bring forward an updated strategy for promoting the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles in the next 12 months. Our intention is that that strategy will go further than just low-emission vehicles and reference support for low-emission road transport more widely, such as the use of advanced fuels, to help air quality in exactly the way that Opposition Members have invited us to. That strategy will of course be parallel to, but synergous with, the national air quality plan that we will develop. Our work on that plan will focus on low-emission vehicles—it is of course not wholly about that, but we see low-emission and zero-emission vehicles as a critical component in the delivery of that plan.

I was pleased yesterday to attend the opening of a new factory for electric black taxis in Coventry, where we announced our support for precisely the kinds of things that Members across the Committee have called for. Taxis can be one of the biggest contributors to urban air pollution, for obvious reasons, so we announced £64 million of funding to encourage the uptake of electric cabs and installation of a dedicated charging infrastructure. It is worth sharing the detail of that funding with the Committee, because it affects most of the areas of the country that we represent. We will work with a series of local authorities to invest £14 million to deliver around 400 rapid and 150 fast dedicated charge points for electric taxis in those areas.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I will not detain him for long. While I was trying to gain access to the estate yesterday—I was not able to cross Westminster bridge —I was with Transport for All, which pointed out to me the need to consider wheelchair access to taxis. As they are currently constructed, taxis will take only the smallest and narrowest of wheelchairs, not the sorts of wheelchairs—especially electric wheelchairs—that some disabled people need.

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

That is an excellent point. The hon. Gentleman and other members of the Committee probably know that I am passionate about disabled access, having been the co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on disability for many years. I always say that Jack Ashley was the real chairman—I was there only as his assistant, really. Disabled access is something that the Department takes seriously, and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, who has responsibility for access, has done immensely good work on it. I recently held a cross-party meeting with him and others about precisely that matter. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough makes his point forcefully, and he can be sure that it will certainly be part of our considerations as we move forward.

I was coming to the exciting news about the areas that will benefit from the extra investment in charge points for taxis. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield will be delighted to know that Birmingham will receive £2.9 million for that purpose, and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West will be delighted to learn that Wolverhampton will receive nearly half a million pounds—£478,000. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford will want to know that London will receive £5.2 million. I know my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, who is not in his place, will be excited to find out that Yorkshire will receive £1.98 million. My Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, will want to know that Oxford will receive £370,000. The Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, will want to know that Scotland has not been forgotten, because half a million pounds will make its way from here to there in the form of support for the city of Dundee. Other areas to benefit are Coventry, Nottingham, Cambridge and Slough.

We are determined to create an electric charging infrastructure that is suitable and appropriate to need. It will be dedicated to taxis, which we see as a critical element—I do not want to exaggerate—in delivering the change that I think we all seek and wish for.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

Wolverhampton is very grateful for that money. The council tell me it will install 24 charging points in the next three years. Can the Minister try to encourage quicker take-up than that?

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

The work that we do will need to be conducted with the same kind of rigour and vigour that I bring to all of my work. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I like to drive my team hard in the Department for Transport, and I am always prepared to listen to the advice of Members from across the House. He has made his point very effectively.

What I did yesterday is again relevant to the amendment and our considerations, because the new factory being opened in Coventry will build the electric taxis that will populate this city and others in the coming years. It is the first brand-new car plant to be built in Britain for more than a decade, the first dedicated electric vehicle manufacturing facility in the UK and the first major Chinese investment in UK automotive manufacturing, bringing with it many new jobs. It is an exciting development that I am proud to be part of, which is why I was out of the House yesterday.

Before we adjourned on Tuesday, several hon. Members raised the issue of liquid petroleum gas. The Government are already taking a number of steps to support gaseous fuels through the renewable transport fuel obligation, the low-emission bus scheme, the low-emission freight and logistics trial and the clean bus technology fund to name a few. Projects funded via the Government’s £8 million clean vehicle technology fund include the conversion of more than 60 black cabs from diesel to LPG in, again, Birmingham. This is the neat idea that was advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire. When complete, the project will provide valuable information about the costs and benefits of retrofitting black cabs with LPG. My hon. Friend made the powerful point that this is about what we do with the existing fleet as well as with the new cabs that are required.

More widely, my officials are currently analysing the environmental impacts of different fuels, including LPG, in different vehicles. We are grateful for the data that the industry provided to feed that work. We shall use that analysis to inform our approach to alternative fuels across Government, including in respect of future decisions about fuel duty, of course. That was mentioned, but as Members will know, any fiscal matters are beyond my scope.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

I should have mentioned on Tuesday that I drive an LPG car. Will the Minister say a little bit about what the Government will do in relation to the current constraints on the LPG market? We do not have any vans made with warrantee, which is a barrier to take-up at the moment, particularly for fleet purchases. There is also the issue of the fuel duty escalator, which he might want to mention to the Chancellor in the run-up to the autumn Budget, so that we can get this interim solution to help us to meet our critical air quality targets.

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

I will deal with those points, for the sake of interest and glamour, in reverse order. I dealt with the second matter that my hon. Friend raised—perhaps rather too briefly for his taste, but none the less definitively—in my final remarks a moment ago when I said that all such matters are beyond my ken. Of course, others—no doubt including him, with his usual assiduity—will make precisely that argument to the Chancellor as he goes about his considerations.

On the first point, however, we can perhaps do more. Warrantees in these terms are important, and I have given that some consideration. People want to know that if retrofits take place, it will not detrimentally affect their vehicle or have a deleterious effect of any kind, and that the retrofit itself will be something of which they can be sure. I take the point. I will take it away and certainly want to say more about that during the passage of the Bill, perhaps between now and Report. As ever, my hon. Friend makes a helpful contribution to our considerations. I was about to conclude, but I can see my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire eyeing me, with the possibility that he is about to add further expertise to our considerations.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

I am grateful to the Minister for noticing that I was giving him a rather quizzical look. He said he would say more about that matter between now and Report. Does he mean in today’s proceedings or is he envisaging some other get-together before Report?

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

My right hon. Friend’s urgency has coloured all he has done in his long and distinguished career in this House. If I can meet that objective, I will. I think that would be fair enough.

I ought to have said at the very outset that I committed to write all hon. Members a note following our last meeting. I have done so, in an email. I have further hard copies that could not be distributed last night, for obvious reasons. If any Committee member seeks a hard copy for their convenience, I have them available here and will happily distribute them.

With those remarks, I wish to conclude this part of our consideration. We are taking action already to increase the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles, which is an important part of our wider plans. As with new clause 3, we consider it both disproportionate and unnecessary to insert a further requirement for a strategy in primary legislation, because we are going to do what the new clause seeks in any case. I feel that the Opposition will reasonably conclude that they have encouraged, endorsed and perhaps even stimulated a new determination on the part of Government to do exactly what has been set out in this discussion.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:45, 23 March 2017

May I start by completely associating myself and Opposition Members with the Minister’s opening remarks? There was no doubt that yesterday’s attack was an attack on the kind of things that our deliberations represent; he was right to mention that.

If you will indulge me, Mr Gray, I want to say something as a Birmingham Member of Parliament. Last night the library of Birmingham was lit up with the colours of red, white and blue, as a mark of respect to PC Keith Palmer, and indeed all the victims of yesterday’s atrocity. It was also a gesture of solidarity with us and the values we represent in this place. I have no doubt that there will be those who will try to seek to use yesterday’s events as a way of dividing people, but I am equally in no doubt that those colours lit up on Birmingham library yesterday spoke for my city of Birmingham. That is what spoke for the people of Birmingham, irrespective of their colour and whatever faith they may or may not have. Thank you for allowing me to say that, Mr Gray.

I was very pleased that the Minister was in the West Midlands yesterday. He is right that decarbonising taxis and ensuring clean taxis will play a vital role in crafting a strategy that can tackle the air quality crisis facing our towns and cities. I welcome the investment he has announced today. It is also welcome to hear that the strategy that we seek in the new clause, to try to determine how stimulating greater uptake of low-emission vehicles can contribute to an overall air quality strategy, will come forward within 12 months. I would ask him to approach that with some dispatch, because he will know that the air quality strategy that the Government are charged with producing, to avoid the infraction proceedings that Britain is on course to incur, needs to come forward well within those 12 months. I hope that the contribution that low-emission vehicles will make to improving air quality will be laid out as quickly as possible.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire made the good point that when we look at the contributions to be made to improving air quality, we must talk about low-emission, ultra low emission and zero-emission vehicles. There is a massive role for conventionally charged electric vehicles—that has occupied most of our discussions in the Committee—but there will also be a role for hydrogen-electric vehicles and other hydrogen vehicles. He is right that, on the way to getting there, intermediate technologies such as LPG have a role to play. It is important that that is reflected in public policy and the fiscal arrangements adopted. That is a good point that the Committee is grateful for.

As ever, the Minister has got what the Opposition have been saying. He has guaranteed that the kind of strategy we seek will be brought forward. We look forward to that, and when it is brought forward we will give it the scrutiny that it will no doubt deserve, as I am sure the Minister would want us to do. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 6