Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:10 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 5:10 pm, 1st February 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate Andrew Selous on bringing forward this debate and sticking to a theme that he has raised before—it is obviously close to his heart.

We have heard much about air quality and the need for action. Just today, I read in the newspapers that according to the United Nations special rapporteur on hazardous substance and waste, air pollution is a crisis that plagues the UK, particularly for children, and urgent Government action is required. In November 2016, for the second time in 18 months, the Government lost a court case on their proposals to tackle air pollution. ClientEarth, which took the Government to court, states that over-optimistic modelling of diesel car fumes was used rather than actual road emissions. The Government clearly need to take proper action. It has also been widely reported that up to 40,000 deaths per year arise from air pollution. Air pollution is a killer, and we need to tackle it head-on.

Transport alone accounts for 23% of CO2 emissions; transport and electricity generation are the joint largest net contributors to those emissions. That highlights the scale of the problem that needs to be tackled. Over the years, Governments of different colours have introduced a series of initiatives to encourage low emissions vehicles. Many of those initiatives seemed logical at the time, but Governments and their initiatives change, and that has hindered progress in people purchasing low emissions vehicles and the roll-out of the infrastructure that is required to support them.

In January last year, the Minister said he reckoned that the sale of ultra low emissions vehicles had reached a tipping point, and in September 2016 the Department for Transport issued a triumphant press release that said there had been a 49% increase in registrations of ULEVs compared with the previous year. That sounds great, but 805,000 new vehicles were registered and fewer than 10,000 of those were ULEVs, so they actually account for only 1.2% of new vehicles. As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said earlier, we need a massive increase in the sale and registration of these vehicles to reach the 5% target by 2020, and we are behind schedule. It is good to hear praise for the wee independent oil-rich country also known as Norway, where ULEVs have a market share of approximately 20%. What lessons does the Minister think can be learned from Norway, and what are the Government doing to replicate its success?

I appreciate the Government’s grant scheme. On the face of it, the scheme is good—it is attractive and the figures look good—but clearly there are still not enough people purchasing ULEVs, so perhaps it needs to be reviewed. Perhaps the Government just need to raise awareness and encourage the public to take up those grants. The Scottish Government have introduced a low-carbon transport fund, which, as well as grants, allows people to access interest-free loans of up to £35,000, which are repaid over six years. Businesses can access interest-free loans of up to £100,000. That is another way of encouraging people to purchase these vehicles. Again, perhaps the UK Government could do more.

The Scottish Government have spent £13 million in the last five years to support bus operators, and Aberdeen actually has Europe’s largest fleet of hydrogen-powered buses. Some 15% of charge points in the UK are in Scotland, which shows that Scotland is ahead in providing that infrastructure.