I beg to move,
That this House
has considered take-up of electric vehicles and bicycles.
I am extremely grateful to Members across the House for their support for what I believe to be a very important debate. This is the third time that I have secured a debate in this Chamber on the take-up of electric vehicles. It is such an important issue for many reasons: electric vehicles will help us to reach our carbon commitments; they are the answer to low-cost, pollution-free motoring for our constituents; and, perhaps above all, it is essential for the United Kingdom to grasp global leadership of this key industry of the future, so that a new and up-and-coming industry’s jobs and investment will be here in the United Kingdom.
In the case of conventional vehicles, the UK is passing £5 billion from sales of conventional vehicles on to foreign economies. Partly because of how supply chains work, a country such as Germany has a significant advantage.
Picking up on the point about those conventional vehicles, although I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for electric vehicles and know the importance of reaching the 2040 target, we need to bear in mind the 170,000 jobs in car making in this country. In the medium term, clean diesel—which is less polluting than petrol—should be part of the strategy as we go forward.
If we get this strategy right, there will be more than enough jobs for everyone. I am absolutely with my hon. Friend in wanting enough good-quality jobs.
In 2016 a fifth of all electric vehicles sold in Europe were produced at the Nissan plant in Sunderland. Looking forward, the United Kingdom has a genuine opportunity to capture a significant part of the global market by 2030, which could be worth an estimated £95 billion to the UK economy—lots of jobs for lots of car workers by 2030.
This is a timely debate, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the electric vehicles made in my constituency, such as those made by Jaguar Land Rover. On the outskirts of the Rugby constituency, we have the black cab makers, which have made some tremendous advances. Julian Knight mentioned that we need a transitional period for diesel engines and, unless we get a proper transitional period during which to make the transfer from diesel to petrol or whatever clean fuel, there will be a lot concern in our area about jobs.
I understand the concerns. However, if Members for constituencies that make conventional vehicles will bear with me, by the end of my remarks they will be optimistic about there being more than enough jobs for everyone.
Bringing forward the electric vehicles target to 2030 from 2040 would enable the United Kingdom to reduce our oil imports by almost 50% by 2035, saving £6.3 billion annually. Paris banned fossil-fuelled vehicles from the city centre and air pollution fell by 40%. Second-hand conventional diesel cars are losing a lot of their value, but it is possible to upgrade the batteries on electric vehicles. The key point for a lot of our constituents is that electric vehicles should be cost competitive with petrol and diesel cars by 2022. At the moment, their running costs are already lower, but up-front cost parity is expected to come as early as 2022. That will be a huge tipping point for our economy.
I believe we should always embrace new technology while cherishing the past. Does my hon. Friend accept that, for people like me who have a journey of more than 220 miles to undertake, for the moment at least, an electric vehicle is not an option?
With some of the new chargers, an electric vehicle range of 300 miles is entirely possible. At the moment, I agree with my right hon. Friend, but if we play this right it will not be long before he will be able to motor up to east Yorkshire in comfort in an electric vehicle.
Nissan claims that by 2030, widespread adoption of a vehicle-to-grid service could save consumers up to £2.4 billion in reduced electricity costs. I am impressed by some of what the Government have done so far, but the 2040 target is too far out. We need to be bolder. The target for Scotland is 2032; for China, it is 2030; for Germany, it is 2030; for India, it is 2030; for Austria, it is 2030; for the Netherlands, it is 2025; and for Norway, it is 2025. I want the United Kingdom to be a world leader. The Government need to signal their intent to be at the front of the pack and not a best of the rest person coming up the rear.
Bringing forward the 2040 target will destroy the new car market, because no one will spend £50,000 on a Land Rover if they think it will be worth peanuts in five or eight years’ time. That is simple economics. I caution my hon. Friend that it is great to have the ambition, but setting an arbitrary date before 2040 would be a grave mistake.
I have to very respectfully disagree with my hon. Friend. I bow to no one in my defence of high-quality British jobs. I absolutely accept the anxiety, but we can sustain those conventional jobs. Very soon, there will be so much pent-up demand for electric vehicles that the car workers in his constituency, and that of Mr Cunningham, will not be able to keep up with the demand for these new energy vehicles—as they are called in China—from our constituents when we reach that 2022 tipping point. It is the obvious thing for our constituents to do.
The transport sector is now the largest source of carbon dioxide in the country. Emissions in the transport sector went up in 2017. If we bring forward the 2040 date, that would address a large part of the gap to which the Committee on Climate Change has drawn our attention.
We need to make huge progress in the fleet sector, and we can do that now. There are about 25,000 central Government fleet vehicles in the UK. The Government say a quarter of those should be electric by 2022—that is a much less ambitious target than India and China have announced for their fleets. Let us go for a 100% Government electric vehicle fleet by 2022, including those run by local councils. We have a long way to go; only two of the Ministry of Justice’s 1,482 vehicles are electric. Let me praise Dundee City Council, which has 83 electric vehicles—the most of any UK local authority. It has also brought in a charging hub for the public and taxis, with four 50 kW and three 32 kW chargers. Well done, Dundee.
There is the serious issue of company car tax. There is a lunatic progression: at the moment, the rate of company car tax for zero-emission vehicles is 9%, which is due to rise to 16% before going down to 2%. Let us get it down to 2%; let us signal our intention, not make it worse for the area that we are trying to encourage.
We should be ambitious on sales targets. Let us go for 15% by 2022, 45% by 2025 and 85% by 2030 and get on with electric charging infrastructure.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point. We have the objective for 2040—I agree that it is not very ambitious compared with other targets that we could have set—but we do not have any adequate milestones to get us there. My hon. Friend has laid that out, and that is exactly what the Government need to do.
I have great confidence in the Minister. I think he gets it, and I am genuinely trying to be helpful to make sure that Britain is a world leader in this important industry of the future.
I said that this is the third debate on electric vehicles, but we are making history today, because I am informed that this is the first House of Common debate on electric bicycles. Hon. Members who have read their Order Paper carefully will have seen that the debate is also about the take-up of electric bicycles. Most people probably do not know anything about them. Six weeks ago, I knew nothing about them, until I was asked to chair a meeting of the all-party parliamentary cycling group—I am delighted to see my co-chair, Ruth Cadbury in the debate. I found out about them and I was lent an electric bike for 10 days or so by the Green Commute Initiative, for which I was very grateful.
In my constituency, I live on a hill. I cycle with a conventional bike in London, but at the grand old age of 56, I found that extra boost helped me to get to and from my constituency office on a daily basis, and on one day twice. With my electric bike, I took more exercise that week than I have probably taken all year. That is the thing about electric bikes: they open up cycling to older people, and people who are anxious about ability or fitness, people wanting to arrive somewhere sweat free when there are no workplace shower facilities. They can deal with carrying luggage and shopping; even commercial cargo is easy on an e-bike.
I am deeply excited about electric bikes. Being a cyclist from Muswell Hill, which has a perpendicular hill, I would benefit from an electric bike. In my constituency, there is very little uptake of cycling compared with in the wider Yorkshire and the Humber region. The electric bike will encourage people with disabilities, people who want to go further and not get changed and people for whom it may not be in their culture to ride a bicycle. It is a fantastic and exciting step forward. I celebrate the electric bicycle.
I agree with every word that the hon. Lady said. Journeys by e-bike are longer, with an average of 5.9 miles compared with 3.9 miles. Importantly, 18% of disabled cyclists own a bike with electric assistance. It is fantastic to get more disabled people cycling, too.
Let us think of all the deliveries from internet shopping; 51% of all urban motorised trips related to carrying goods have the potential to transfer to cargo bikes. I think that Sainsbury’s has six e-bikes, which I believe the Minister may have seen recently. There is a huge opportunity, although I learnt yesterday that the legislation on cargo e-bikes is confusing. We can do more.
How is the United Kingdom doing with e-bikes compared with everyone else? In 2017, we had 63,000 sales, but Spain sold 66,000, Switzerland sold 87,000, Austria sold 120,000, Italy sold 155,000, Belgium sold 245,000, France sold 255,000, the Netherlands sold 294,000 and Germany sold a whopping 720,000 in 2017. That is more than 11 times the number in the United Kingdom, so we have a little catching up to do.
What can my good friend the Minister do to help? I checked the Office for Low Emission Vehicles’ definition of “vehicle”, and I think it could include a bicycle. Let us be a little less siloed. Electric bikes have huge potential to change the way we travel for the better. They reduce congestion and pollution, and get people fitter. Let us see them in that sense and give them the recognition they deserve. Let us also recognise that the cycle to work scheme, although it is excellent, does not reach older cyclists, people who are not in work or other people who would benefit hugely from electric bikes. As with all cycling, we need to ensure that our roads are in good condition—dangerous potholes are a big disincentive to cycling whether someone uses an electric bike or an ordinary bike.
Germany offers a subsidy of up to €2,500 for the purchase of an e-bike. In France, a modest €200 subsidy for a 12-month period led to a 31% increase in sales. There is huge potential in this area, and I say to the Minister: let us be at the forefront of the electric bike industry as well as the electric vehicle industry.
I will certainly do that, Mr McCabe—you have my word. I congratulate Andrew Selous on bringing forward this debate. I know this subject is a passion of his. I do not know very much about electric bikes—unlike Tracy Brabin, obviously—so I will speak about electric vehicles.
I am going to show my age by saying that I am a “Doctor Who” fan. That takes me back a long time. Some people in the Chamber will know what that means; others will say, “What’s he talking about?” Years ago, we always wondered whether the electric cars and all the other things in “Doctor Who” would ever happen. Well, they have; they may have been a wee bit beyond our dreams back in the ’60s and the early ’70s, but that is a fact.
We must learn to rely less on petrol and diesel, and look to environmentally friendly methods of transport. We encourage people to use public transport and to car-pool. Condensing five vehicles heading from Newtownards to Belfast into one, or getting 50 cars off the road through vibrant, frequent and reliable public transport, would certainly be the most effective way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Nissan has already said that we are not being ambitious enough, that we will be overtaken by the provision of things such as electric charging points, and that electric vehicles will be here sooner rather than later?
I heard Nissan say that, so I understand exactly what the hon. Gentleman refers to.
The Library briefing for the debate states:
“Though concerns have been raised about the extra demand EVs will add to the electricity grid, the system operator National Grid have said many predictions are exaggerated.”
We need some reality in this debate, and I hope that we can get it. The briefing continues:
“EVs have lower emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants over their lifetime compared with conventional vehicles. Although EVs generally have higher manufacturing emissions than conventional vehicles, they have lower emissions from use, meaning that generally they have lower emissions than the equivalent conventional fuel vehicles.”
EVs are not a perfect solution, but they certainly are better than what we have. We should look towards them and—I say this gently—perhaps be a wee bit more positive about what we put forward.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that electric vehicles are the answer to pollution-free travel, but that the Government need to promote that mode of travel much more effectively?
I agree wholeheartedly. The idea of electric vehicles is taking root in Northern Ireland. Although most electric vehicle drivers charge their car at home, there is a network of 336 public charge points across Northern Ireland, which are owned and operated by the Electricity Supply Board. More and more councils are looking to provide charging points in council-owned car parks, in an attempt to encourage people to understand that if they decide to buy an electric car, they will be able to charge it when they are out and about or away on their holidays. I am conscious of the time—I will keep to the limit, Mr McCabe—but perhaps the Minister will give us some idea of how we can encourage the provision of charging points. If we do not have charging points in rural areas, we cannot encourage people who live in the countryside to participate.
I commend the tax breaks that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Minister were involved in providing. Those tax breaks, which the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire and other Members mentioned, have incentivised businesses to be involved in electric cars. A business can get a 100% first-year allowance for its expenditure on new and unused electric vans. That is critical to making this happen, and it is important that we move it forward. That allowance applies to expenditure from
All that is an attempt to ensure that we encourage individuals and businesses alike to take the forward step of buying electric vehicles where possible. We can do more to encourage people to look at that idea by offering non-business owners greater tax breaks on new cars for personal use. Let us encourage people by incentivising them. As the Minister probably knows already, we can do that with tax breaks.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Selous for bringing this worthy issue to the Chamber. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on fair fuel for UK motorists and UK hauliers.
People who live in constituencies such as mine, who are fortunate enough to enjoy a beautiful rural setting, know only too well that it is through careful protection of the environment that we will ensure that future generations experience similar sights. Unfortunately, pollution and climate change have come to pose serious threats to everyday life. From the poor air quality in our cities to the growing concern about plastics and the coastal erosion that affects constituencies such as mine, it is apparent that more needs to be done.
I welcome the positive steps that the UK Government have taken, but it is imperative that every member of the British public acknowledges their responsibility to reduce their impact on the natural world. To that end, the mode of transport that a person chooses could not be more important. Although the production and assembly of electric cars still generate harmful emissions, the lower pollution they produce during their lives, especially compared with their petrol counterparts, means that they should be supported—alongside important interim measures such as alternative fuels, as other Members have suggested.
In 2017, there were approximately 800 electric cars across Scotland—just 0.1% of all cars registered in the country. Invariably, electric cars are likely to be confined to major cities. In Angus, which lacks the necessary facilities and impetus to engage with electric cars, we have been unable to realise the possibilities offered by such vehicles. I strongly believe that that needs to change. As was mentioned, the Scottish Government have sought to bring the target further forward than the UK Government, but I believe—excuse the pun—that they are miles behind in delivering on that target. We need clear objectives to ensure that the public get behind these important measures and know where the Government are going with them.
The hon. Lady is probably aware that it was announced that £160 million from the national productivity investment fund would be invested in charge point infrastructure. Does she agree that Scotland must get its fair share of that £160 million, based on its rurality and geography?
Of course I agree. The Scottish Government also had a scheme for people who wanted to upgrade their cars, but that funding dried up very quickly. If the Scottish Government are to get fully behind this issue, they too must put money forward and engage the public to get involved.
The hon. Lady is right. We need to get infrastructure built quickly, specifically in rural areas, but also in main towns and on roads, so that people can get geared up for this transformation.
My hon. Friend is right. There is very much an onus on the devolved Administrations to put that infrastructure in place as swiftly as possible.
I welcome the UK Government’s decision to create the new charging infrastructure in the UK as well as facilitating greater uptake of electric cars and supporting research into charging technology. In total, Westminster has earmarked £340 million towards those endeavours, with a further £200 million promised from private bodies.
However, battery-powered vehicles are just one solution. Although less advanced, the merits and charms of the ordinary bicycle cannot be understated. From cycling to work schemes organised by schools and offices, to communal bicycle groups, more and more people are beginning to appreciate the options that exist on two wheels.
I sincerely hope that Government actions continue to foster a shift in the British public to engage with their daily commute and indeed any other commutes. By making alternative methods of travel more accessible, especially in more remote areas, we can seek a change that is beneficial to not just us but the planet as a whole.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe. The take-up of electric vehicles and electric bikes is vital in our fight against irreversible climate change and to improve our air quality—especially in cities, given that so many of our cities exceed both EU and World Health Organisation safe air quality levels. I represent a constituency with no public electric vehicle chargepoints, which is an issue I have raised with the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry, both publicly and privately. I can now add this Minister to the list of those I am raising it with.
I want to use the debate to make public ideas that I have put to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and that I now put to the Department for Transport. This is timely, following the joint report by the Transport Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Health Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee—I sit on the Environmental Audit Committee—which included a recommendation that
“the Treasury introduces more ambitious measures to encourage the take-up of low emission vehicles” and electric vehicles, including
“a revision of Vehicle Excise Duty rates to better incentivise both new purchases and support the second-hand market.”
Those points were made brilliantly by Andrew Selous, who did not make any points in his speech that I disagreed with.
I have ideas in six areas that would improve the take-up of electric vehicles and bikes. First, we should align Office for Low Emission Vehicles residential chargepoint grant residential funding with the Joint Air Quality Unit funding to provide a match for local authorities, to make OLEV residential funding feasible. Currently, we have very low take-up of that OLEV grant. At present, local authorities have no repayment mechanism for residential OLEV, so they need to find a matched funder. A list of potential match sources would unlock the fund. Local authorities will not currently commit their scarce funding to fund OLEV residential chargepoints; they need that matched funding.
Secondly, we should regulate the electric supply so that three-phase power supplies are included in building codes for all new homes, offices, shopping centres, public buildings and other areas where public parking is available. Only a small number of EV charge stations may then be necessary. At present, retail and commercial sites may rapidly increase the number of EV chargepoints on their premises without having to make major investments into new power supply, but power supply is one of the great barriers to increasing EV chargepoints. Further to installing wires, it would doubtless encourage take-up if we regulate so that all new workplaces—particularly those of large employers—have a minimum number of EV charging facilities on site.
Thirdly, clean air zones such as the one coming to Leeds next year are a powerful policy tool. However, one concern is that those in social grades D and E who have kept an old vehicle running are likely to be charged, and they are least likely to be able to make use of the Government’s ultra low emission vehicle grants. We could test extending the ULEV grant into the secondary market. Plenty of electric vehicles will be fleet cars, and one or two-year-old vehicles in the secondary electric vehicle market could be purchased by those in the lower earning quartiles. That should be encouraged via an extension in ULEV grants. The Government should test such a policy in areas where they are bringing in clean air zones, because that is where charging will start.
Fourthly, we should encourage EV charging more broadly. There is considerable scope for soft measures to encourage electric vehicles, which could include free parking electric vehicle-only bays on the high street, with free charging, which would incentivise those bays to be used and normalise electric vehicles among people who use the high street.
Fifthly, we should provide support for the city centre parking levy—a levy on businesses with parking spaces—to encourage a modal shift to other measures, including opt-outs for EV charging. We would put a levy on businesses, but if they put in an electric vehicle space, that space would not be charged for, to incentivise them to put in electric vehicle chargepoints.
Sixthly, on licensing and planning, we should make regulations to ensure that when granting new planning or licensing of some commercial premises over a certain size, EV spaces must be installed at a certain density per resident or parking space. This area has fallen through the gaps: we see many planning permissions across the country with no electric vehicle spaces or chargepoints. We should therefore legislate to ensure that all UK car parks with more than 50 spaces must have a minimum of one EV space per 25 spaces. Therefore, a car park with 50 spaces would have to provide a minimum of two EV chargepoints. That would be incredibly easy to implement in quite a short timescale.
Those are my immediate points for improving our EV infrastructure. I understand that we are looking at 2040, but we need a timetable. I agree that we need to look to 2030 or even 2025—the Norway model. My suggestions are not in conflict at all with deadlines or implementation dates and could be considered now. They would hugely incentivise take-up of electric vehicles.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I pay tribute to and congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Selous on securing the debate and on his impressive and powerful speech. I am a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into electric vehicles, so that is a subject that I could speak about for a long time. In fact, I have chosen to speak not about electric cars but about my new-found enthusiasm for electric bicycles.
I would like to tell Members about the Stirling Cycle Hub, which is an organisation that knows about how to get people on to their bikes. It encourages and facilitates cycling throughout Stirling from its base at Stirling train station. It is a superb organisation that works through the Forth Environment Link to help Stirling to pursue a greener, healthier future.
Stirling Cycle Hub has acquired a number of electric bicycles for its cycle hire scheme at Stirling station. Last week, it let me have a ride on one. To be frank, it was a revelation. I have a bicycle, and, to be honest, it rests rather serenely in my garden shed, untouched in a very long while. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] Shame indeed. I had never been on an electric bicycle. Emily Harvey, the development manager, guided me on a cycle route using the bicycle’s electric assistance to Stirling Sport Village and back, and it was a sweat-free, pleasant experience—it felt like I had never stopped cycling.
While the bike asked me to pedal, the ride was as effortless as a cycle through the flat lands of the Dutch tulip fields, yet we were negotiating all the hills and obstacles of an urban cycle. I would love to use one of those bikes to traverse the great peaks and troughs of my constituency, which as all Members know is the most beautiful in the country, and do so without breaking a sweat. The purists in the cycling fraternity may see that as cheating, but it is a great way of opening up the joys of cycling to a wider audience.
Stirling Cycle Hub has had a great deal of success: it has rented the bikes out 202 times in the last year. It tells great stories about how grandmothers are now able to cycle with their grandchildren and how, as I mentioned earlier, people are using electric bikes to make deliveries. It is a great way to get into cycling and, for those who are perhaps not as fit as they could be—I will move quickly over that passage, and I must say I include myself in that number—or, more importantly, those who are recovering from mobility difficulties or have disabilities, it is a great way of getting back on a bike and getting around.
It makes it possible for a wider range of people to commute, and makes it a more positive experience for those of us who live in constituencies, as I said earlier, with hills. The motor in the bicycle assists with pedalling, making it like a gentle cycle while going up a steep hill. I invite all my hon. Friends, and hon. Members from all parts of the House, the next time they are in Stirling—they should make that a regular trip—to go to the Cycle Hub at the railway station and hire one of those fantastic bikes, which will allow them to experience Stirling without breaking sweat. As colleagues know, my constituency is famed for its beauty and its glens.
I repeat the point that, for those with any kind of mobility difficulty or low levels of physical fitness, these bikes are a boon. I ask the Minister what more we can do to encourage the take-up of electric bicycles. The nextbike scheme in central Scotland, which includes my constituency, has seen over 40,000 journeys made by bicycle because of the work of those such as Stirling Cycle Hub, but can the Government play a more positive role in encouraging people? As we have heard, we are lagging behind the Germans, among others. Surely, we can rise to the challenge and get us all on electric bicycles.
I also congratulate my co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling, Andrew Selous, on securing this debate. The purpose of the APPG on cycling is not to be a cycling club; we seek to engage with Government and stakeholders to get more people cycling more often, and safely.
As has been said, cycling has many benefits, public and personal. It reduces congestion, improves air quality, improves personal health, improves mobility for people who are frail or disabled and reduces journey times for those who, like me, are London-based. It improves street design and local trading in town centres and town environments.
I am also a new convert to e-bikes; like the hon. Gentleman, I also trialled an e-bike over the Easter recess, thanks to the Green Commute Initiative. As somebody who cycles fairly regularly and has two and a half bikes myself, I was a little bit purist about such things and wondered if it was cheating, but I am definitely converted. It meant I could do the nine-mile trip between here and home without breaking too much of a sweat, but still get more exercise than I would have done sitting on a train. It was quicker and easier, and the few hills there were certainly seemed a lot less. It meant pottering around my constituency was much easier, and the main thing was that I did not have to wear different clothes, which I normally would if I were getting on my road bike and riding any distance.
I would advise all hon. Members to test an e-bike. Transport for London, through a range of London cycle stockists, is running a test scheme at the moment, and there is nothing in the blurb that says that people must be London residents—although, in fact, most Members of Parliament are London residents some or all the time. I advise them to try it and have the same experience that my colleagues have already mentioned.
On top of cycling, e-bikes in particular will get different people and different users cycling. Hon. Members have already mentioned older people, those with mobility problems or health problems for whom the energy of a main bike would be too much, and people with balance problems. E-bikes are good for cargo, particularly in cities, and for people in hilly areas for whom cycling is just too much effort. They also extend the commuting distance that normal people can do on a bike. Men in Lycra around London are a different issue, but we are not trying to get those people on to e-bikes; we are trying to get everyone else on to e-bikes.
There is no doubt that the extent of cycling and e-bike roll-out in other countries in Europe has been massive and that the UK is behind the trend, so I have some recommendations for the Government that could help us to catch up. First, OLEV should recognise e-bikes as low emission vehicles, which would unblock some subsidy options that are available to other types of e-vehicles. Secondly, the Cycle to Work scheme limit should be increased to £2,500 for e-bikes, since very few e-bikes come in below the £1,000 current limit. Thirdly, for registered disabled people, cycles and e-bikes, including e-trikes, should be incorporated into the Motability scheme to provide more mobility opportunities for people with disabilities. Only through a step change in the number of people cycling and using e-bikes will, for instance, Transport for London be able to achieve its target of taking non-private vehicle transport options up from 63% to 80%. If we do not do that in London, with an increased population it will grind to a halt.
I will go back very briefly to electric vehicles. Tesla’s showroom is in my constituency and I have also had the pleasure of looking at the new electric black cab. I have had a test drive in a Tesla, which was absolutely fantastic. I cannot afford it because they are very expensive—they are nice cars—but Tesla is also bringing out a mid-range car soon. Its big concern is the shortage of three-phase electricity. The barriers are not necessarily blockages by local authorities per se. There is an issue about getting three-phase electricity to the roadside or to industrial estates such as Tesla’s base out at Heathrow. There are issues of way leave, common-law problems of getting access over land and issues of getting access to the high-voltage transmission network.
However, I have to say to Sir Greg Knight, who was concerned about long-distance travel, that with an adequate network of fast charging points, one can take an electric vehicle several hundred miles—across to mid-France—without the journey taking any longer, because with fast phase charging one can charge the car in the time it takes to have a comfort break, something to eat and a cup of coffee. That is perfectly possible.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. Like everybody else, I commend Andrew Selous for introducing the debate. He spoke really well and knowledgeably, and gave a fair and balanced presentation. He said it is his third debate on electric cars, so I would like to ask him how he goes about achieving his tabling success—it is a tip I could maybe use for the future. I have spoken in every one of those debates. I served on the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill Committee, as did he, and I see a lot of familiar faces here from those debates and from the Bill Committee.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point that 2040 is too far away on the horizon for the phasing out of the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles. I agree with the point about more ambitious stage targets, in order to get there quicker. I disagreed—as I think he did too—with the intervention of Julian Knight, who was concerned that people suddenly will not buy Land Rovers, because they will see in the future that they might decrease in value. It is certainly my experience in my constituency that if someone pays £50,000 for a Land Rover they can afford to drive that vehicle, and they are not looking at a second-hand market down the road. I think luxury vehicles will not be affected by the stage targets, and I urge the Government to think about stage targets in that earlier phase-out of carbon vehicles.
I am unsure about the suggestion by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire that 2022 might become a tipping point for the sale of electric vehicles as costs come down and upfront costs become more competitive. My concern is that we have heard for a while that we have reached the tipping point. Every so often there are Government announcements that say, “We have reached the tipping point. The sale of electric vehicles has gone up 50% compared with the year before,” but the reality is that less than 2% of vehicles on the roads are electric, so we are some way from that tipping point. Norway is a small, independent country, yet somewhere between 18% and 25% of vehicles on its roads are electric, so more can be done here. The Government need to look at what is happening elsewhere.
The hon. Members who spoke about electric bikes had a common theme, which was the access they provide to getting out and about in the great outdoors for people who are older or vulnerable, or who perhaps have a disability. I certainly echo those sentiments.
In Scotland, a third of all car journeys are actually for less than two miles, and a further quarter are for a mile or less. People take very short journeys in cars, and if we can get them either out of their petrol cars and into electric vehicles, or ideally on to bicycles or electric bikes, it would make a huge difference to carbon emissions and obviously to people’s general fitness.
Would the hon. Gentleman encourage similar programmes to that in Sweden, where they put in a 25% subsidy to encourage people to switch to electric bikes? It has been massively successful.
I would fully support that. I do not think I will be able to respond to all the points that hon. Members have made. It is fair to say that I agreed with most points. The enthusiasm for electric vehicles and electric bikes shone through.
Kirstene Hair mentioned the Scottish Government’s money running out quickly. I point out that Scottish Tories actually criticised the Scottish Government’s bringing in a loan system that allowed people to apply for loans to buy electric vehicles. It has been a success, to the extent that it has been oversubscribed, so the Scottish Government are looking at providing additional funding for that. Her comments should be a compliment, not a criticism. I urge the UK Government to extend their grant scheme, because that has a short horizon as well. We really need to look at extending that further.
I commend the Kilmarnock Station Railway Heritage Trust in my constituency, which has completely renovated and occupied a number of rooms and basement areas of Kilmarnock railway station. It provides a huge number of third sector support services. Like the Stirling Cycle Hub, which Stephen Kerr complimented, it operates a cycle hub and undertakes led runs to encourage other people to take up cycling. It also takes referrals from people recovering from addictions, making cycling part of their recovery process and giving them motivation and fitness and getting them out and about. It is a fantastic scheme. It also has a volunteering and mentoring operation.
The trust also operates a cycle hub at Whitelee wind farm, which is the second biggest onshore renewable energy site in Europe. It encourages people to get out there and cycle in the great outdoors, which is a fantastic co-location idea, harmonising renewables with getting people out and about. I pay tribute to my constituent, Alan Vass, who led the expansion of the cycle hub. It is getting bigger and better, and I wish him well for the future.
Much has been said about making the UK a world leader. The truth is that the UK has a long way to go and needs to look elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with ambition, but we need to put strategies in place to match that ambition.
Thank you for chairing the debate, Mr McCabe. I congratulate Andrew Selous, who was incredibly helpful in the advice that he gave the Government. Whether in the Paris agreement, Committee on Climate Change reports or numerous High Court rulings, the Government have clearly had serious warnings about how pollution is killing our planet—and is also killing us. Of course, transport is the major pollutant.
I place before the Government a big question about inconsistencies in their policies and the lack of connectivity between different announcements across Government. I also say this as an MP representing the highly polluted city of York. Certainly, announcements that we will see the end of the electrification of trains, and that a new generation of diesel trains will be put on the tracks, seem to clash with the Government’s ambitions—or perhaps, as we have heard, the lack of ambition—for electric vehicles.
We heard that, by 2030, India will no longer sell petrol vehicles. For Norway that will be in 2025, and for Scotland it will be in 2032, yet for the rest of the UK it will be in 2040. We also know that cities such as Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens will ban dirty fuels in their cities by 2025, as will Copenhagen from next year. Meanwhile, air pollution causes 50,000 premature deaths in the UK each year. When will the Government’s Road to Zero plan actually see the light of day? It has been long promised but not yet seen.
The Government’s spending around active travel is woeful. Cycling and walking must come centre stage and must be seen as the mode of choice for shorter journeys, supported by more public sector options. We also need to address the strain that the increased use of electric vehicles will put on our national grid and look at the options available to decarbonise our energy at the same time. We need to ensure that investment goes in the right place. We heard how investment in our manufacturing sector will give a real boost to our economy, but we must not ignore the threats, particularly from China and the investment opportunities that it will see in the future.
We need to look at all modes of transport when looking at electric vehicles—not just rail, as I have mentioned, but buses, taxis, trucks, vans, motorcycles and bicycles. We need to see the Government now put their foot on the accelerator to bring forward the electric vehicle revolution, as opposed to creeping forward.
My hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury mentioned the need for infrastructure. If we look at places such as Denmark and the Netherlands, we see real investment in infrastructure, and we need to see that here also. What has actually happened to the £400 million invested in the charging infrastructure investment fund? It is deeply embarrassing that the Government announced that but did not have any equity behind it. What other incentives will the Government put in place to encourage people to switch, whether through scrappage schemes, grants or, indeed, looking at the Mayor of London’s toxic vehicle charge? The market share for plug-in cars was less than 2% last year. Why have the Government cut grants for plug-in cars and for home charging? What impact will that have? Again, I believe that puts forward a mixed message.
On electric bikes, it is incredibly important, as we have already heard from so many hon. Members, that we get people back on to their bikes with confidence. We need to take on board the shocking obesity figures that are continually presented to Members and to see that, while electric bikes can be a real step up to exercise, they can also help other people to step down without having to revert to cars.
What consideration has the Minister given to the cycle to work scheme and the opportunities that that could bring for electric bikes? The Cycle to Work Alliance has clearly said that there should be £1,000 grants for bikes and safety equipment and £2,500 for electric bikes. Will the Minister look at that proposal and report back to the House on how we will move forward? If grants from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles are available for electric cars and motorbikes, why can they not be available for electrically assisted bikes, too? The benefits of that would be even greater in the future.
The Opposition have been clear: we will be ambitious, whether on development, manufacturing or use. I trust that the Minister will want to match our approach as we clean up and green up our transport system.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am only sad that I have, now, four minutes, until 5.43.
I do not have to, but I have been ceded one of those minutes. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. That will allow me to cover at least a tiny fraction of the many points that enthusiastic colleagues have raised.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on convening this third debate. I doubly congratulate him on adding the vital topic of e-bikes to his original subject. That he has managed to add e-bikes to the subject for the third debate is proof that Parliament can evolve in its thinking. As I said, I congratulate him.
We have had mention of Dutch tulip fields and men in Lycra and a lot of references to sweat. That is a little unsettling, but I will try to make progress either way. I have been very impressed by the lobbying energy, if nothing else, of the e-bike industry in relation to so many of my colleagues, who have the feel of latter-day converts to a new religion. As a man who has been riding a bike for 45 years and riding an e-bike for some years, I am delighted that colleagues have come to the table and I congratulate them. Of course, I invite them to submit any of these newfound revelations and the evidence for them to the cycling and walking safety review, which addresses precisely these issues, including air quality and health effects, in a very holistic way.
The Government want to position the UK as the best place on the planet to develop, manufacture and use zero-emission vehicles. I think that that is perfectly clear from what we have said. It will clean up our air—
Yes, I would be delighted to. I have recently written to Volkswagen to draw attention to the continuing dissatisfaction that I and my colleagues have with its performance. I have raised the matter not merely with the operating personnel but with the supervisory board of that company, and I understand that my colleagues in other parts of the Government are in touch with their German counterparts, to make it clear that we remain exceedingly dissatisfied on behalf of consumers, Volkswagen customers and the general public in this country by the performance of the company and we expect it to continue the process of making amends through the scheme it has in place, extending it as and when that may be required.
Let me proceed. I have said that we want almost every car and van to have zero emissions by 2050. We have said that we will end the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire asked whether that target was too far out. I say to him that it is not. If he reflects on the experience of the past 12 months, he will see that one of the results of the Volkswagen scandal has been that diesels—in many ways, diesel is a thoroughly excellent technology, which is rapidly improving and is useful especially for journeys of distance and between cities in particular—have taken the brunt of that. The result has been a worsening in performance on air quality or rather on emissions, and that is precisely the kind of counterintuitive response that would come from a failure to manage the process effectively. I draw his attention to that.
I can only yield, in these circumstances, to a person so distinguished as my immediate predecessor in this job. I congratulate him on raising the profile of electric buses in Harrogate and using them as a template for further developments in the bus industry around the country. He is right.
In the minute and a half that remains to me, let me just say this: we also believe that e-bikes can play a very important part in the decarbonisation of our transport system. As I have said, I am a great believer in e-bikes. Colleagues will be surprised to learn that we have been thinking about this issue for some time. It is important to draw a distinction between e-bikes, the price of which is falling, the diversity of which is increasing and the market for which is working quite satisfactorily in many ways—although I can understand that colleagues recently discovering them might like a subsidy from the Government —and e-cargo bikes, which have a very important potential public purpose in substituting for diesel-using small vans, especially in urban contexts. We will be looking very closely at that particular issue as part of the wider picture.
Let me quickly respond to Rachael Maskell, who I know is also a cyclist. She asked when the Road to Zero plan would be published. The answer is that it has, for very proper reasons, been held up by purdah, but we expect to publish it fairly shortly.
I now yield to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire.
It just remains for me to thank hon. Members from across the House—from four different parties—for coming to contribute to the debate. I hope that the Minister has seen the enthusiasm. We are generally willing the Government to make a success of both electric vehicle and electric bike take-up. We will carry on scrutinising this issue in the months and years to come and we look forward to further success and progress.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered take-up of electric vehicles and bicycles.