Net Zero Targets and Decarbonising Transport — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 4 February 2020.

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Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire 9:30, 4 February 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered net zero targets and decarbonising transport.

It is a genuine pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Nokes, and to have an opportunity to serve under your chairmanship. Tackling climate change is the defining challenge of our age. In the developed world—the rich world, with our higher per capita emissions—our responsibility is all the greater. I was proud last year when the UK became the first advanced economy to set in legislation a date for net zero, and I am pleased today that we are taking a further practical step by bringing forward the phase-out of petrol and diesel vehicles to 2035.

The UK has been decarbonising more quickly than any other G20 country, although one would not know that from hearing most commentary in this country. One would think that it is because of some accounting methodology, the cunning exclusion of some categories, or the financial crash of 2007-08. One would think that it all happened before 2010 and that nothing has improved since, or that it was because we have exported all our emissions to somewhere else in the world. But no, this country has made good and sustained progress on decarbonisation under Governments of both types. The greatest part of that progress has been made on energy decarbonisation, and the reality is that there is a limit on how much further we can go in that area with current technology, because of the intermittent nature of the sources—the sun and the wind. It will change as battery technology improves, but that is the situation today. We have made good progress, but it is not enough. To hit our net zero 2050 target, we need to increase the decrease, as it were, in our rate of emissions by about 30% compared with what we have managed per annum since 1990. Partly because of the success in energy, transport is now the biggest single source of emissions.

There are many different aspects of decarbonising transport, and we have only 90 minutes for this debate. Other colleagues might talk about active travel, such as walking and cycling, or about shipping, on-demand buses, the electrification of rail, heavy goods vehicles, the development of autonomous vehicles, alternative jet fuel technology or what could be the huge potential, eventually, of hydrogen—and it would be a turn-up for the books if nobody mentioned either HS2 or Heathrow airport. We could talk about many different aspects, but I will concentrate on roads, which is the biggest category, and specifically cars.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards

I congratulate the right hon. Member on securing the debate, and I agree with him on road transport. Will he join me in urging the Minister to let us know as quickly as possible about the funding available in Greater Manchester for the clean freight and clean bus funds? We have good transport and clean air strategies, which were launched by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, but we need money to help small businesses and our bus network to become green.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

I know the hon. Lady’s part of the world well, having stood for Parliament there in the mid-2000s. Buses are an important part of the overall mix, and for Greater Manchester, although I will let the Minister deal with her point in his own way.

On electric vehicles, there is a wide range of Government support and good cross-industry co-operation. There is a subsidy programme for vehicles, home charging points and workplace charging, and there are grants to local authorities for a number of different purposes.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Opposition Whip (Commons)

Electric vehicles need electrical steel, and the only electrical steel maker in the UK—the Orb works in Newport, which was owned by Tata—was mothballed just before Christmas. Does the right hon. Member agree that supporting our steel industry at this crucial time will be vital for an end-to-end supply chain in this country?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

Steel is of great importance, and the hon. Lady knows better than most people how important it is to our industrial base. It is also important to the development of many green technologies. As she knows, steel has its own challenges. It is a very energy-intensive sector; in time, hydrogen technologies and others might help in that regard, and we need to ensure that we maximise our efforts towards them.

We now have over 22,000 public charging points for electric vehicles. There is a particular concentration in London, but also in places such as Dundee. We have 125 rapid charge points per 100 km of highway, compared with the EU average of 25. In 2018, the UK was the second-largest market in Europe for ultra low emission cars and the fourth-largest market for electric cars, and one fifth of battery electric cars sold in Europe had been made here in the UK. For actual sales as a percentage of the total car market, we were above France and Germany but, as colleagues will know, we were below some of the very high-percentage countries, particularly the Scandinavian nations and others such as the Netherlands. It is the growth curve—the year-on-year growth, albeit from a small base—that is particularly encouraging.

Alongside changes in electric vehicle technology, a lot of other relevant changes are happening in society and the economy. We have been changing the way we shop, and how and where we work, and those things potentially have material implications for the number, type and length of people’s journeys. The product itself—the performance of cars—has been improving. At the same time, the charging technology has been evolving with things such as induction pads. We have the development of autonomous vehicle technology, which is likely to be particularly significant in the future for heavy goods vehicles.

I suggest that the most important change of all is one that has already started: a change in how we buy our own transportation. “Mobility as a service” includes everything from Boris bikes to car clubs. In the car market, it includes the growth of personal contract purchase plans and, significantly, personal contract hire plans. Why do I say that is so significant? Is it not just a way of financing a vehicle? It is significant because it changes the way that people think about the cost of a vehicle. Historically, people would compare the sticker price of a car separately from the monthly running cost, but with different types of paying for mobility, the formula has changed significantly.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I thank the right hon. Member for securing the debate, and he is making some important points. He says we need to change the way we do things. Does he agree that we need a modal shift away from cars and towards less carbon-emitting transport? Buses are key, and we need to shift bus pricing to invest in that sort of transport. If two or three people are travelling together in Sheffield, it is cheaper for them to get a taxi than to go on a bus. Does he agree that we have to change that by investing properly in our bus services?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

As ever, the hon. Member makes an important and incisive point. A modal shift is clearly part of the response to this issue, but it will not be the whole response. As I mentioned earlier, buses are an important factor too, but there will always be a need for domestic passenger transport—cars, as we tend to call them. In a constituency such as mine, which is very rural and spread out, people need cars if they want to go to work. Making cars as environmentally friendly as possible, in terms of both carbon emissions and air quality, is an important goal.

It feels as though we are on the cusp of some quite significant change or what might be called a watershed moment. With the conversion to electric vehicles, however, we are up against some quite significant challenges from a consumer perspective. The first is cost. There is a gap between the cost of electric vehicles and the cost of internal combustion engine vehicles. Although that gap is narrowing all the time, however, I do not think that, in general, the sector or the public sector has yet made the clear and compelling case for how close those costs are—looking not at the purchase price, but at the total cost of ownership over the car’s lifetime—as well as it could have been made.

The second challenge is so-called range anxiety—“What happens if I leave home and can’t get back again because the battery runs out?” That is a perfectly good, rational fear, part of which will be addressed by improvements in infrastructure. As an aside, although scientists would say that there is no benefit to having a spare battery, and that we should just make a bigger battery, I wonder what the psychological effect might be of having one.

The third perfectly rational worry is about the car’s residual value, particularly as a result of battery degradation. That is particularly rational, given what we have been told over the years about mobile phone and laptop batteries— we have been told, “This is the generation that will not lose any of its performance,” and it has never turned out to be true. Again, if the car is not owned in the same way, that worry should be somewhat dissipated.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The right hon. Gentleman is making valid points about the roll-out of electric vehicles, but in Norway sales of electric vehicles is hitting 60%, which shows that it can be done and the anxieties can be overcome. Is it not a matter of looking at what Norway is doing and how its Government have incentivised electric vehicles and helped consumers get over any such anxieties?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

That is perfectly worthwhile and reasonable. In preparation for this debate, I looked at countries such as Norway and other Scandinavian countries. It is usually instructive to start with the more comparable countries—those of a similar size and complexity, with a similar industrial base, traditions and so on—but the hon. Gentleman is quite right to identify that Norway in particular has a high penetration rate of sales, which is also linked to very high differences in the taxation regime.

I want to talk briefly about the shift to electric vehicle technology and what I would say is overwhelmingly a consumer acceptance challenge. The shift in the way people own cars, towards personal contract hire, is a great opportunity to convey how the whole-life cost compares for different groups of consumers, rather than comparing the sticker price of one car against another. It is also a way of allaying fears about residual value and battery performance. Allied to that, when it comes to cost, it would be helpful—I realise this is not in the Minister’s gift—for the Treasury to give a clear forward view on the vehicle excise duty regime so that people can project into the future.

Clearly, these technologies eventually have to be subsidy-free. It has to be business as usual, so subsidies will have to be withdrawn, but doing so smoothly will be of great benefit to the industry and the consumer. The experience from elsewhere shows that if subsidies are suddenly withdrawn, there tends to be a massive spike in demand just beforehand, followed by a return. That is obviously not good for meeting production schedules.

On the infrastructure network, there is a lot that the Government can do through a mixture of regulation and their convening power. We need to do better and go further on full roaming and interoperability. We can do a lot better on the visibility of charging points. There has been a lot of focus on visibility to users of electric cars, but I am actually less worried about them right now than everybody else. The point is that to get consumer acceptance, non-users of electric cars need to know that there are plenty of places to charge them.

Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

The right hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. It is especially important in rural areas, such as those that he and I represent, that people who have not looked at electric vehicles in the past know that it is feasible for them to make that shift.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

That is absolutely right, and showing it on sat-nav tech is important. There are some good sat-nav applications, such as Zap-Map, but it is difficult to guarantee that such things are absolutely comprehensive. There is some old-fashioned technology that could be improved, such as common signage. National brand partnerships mean that people know that whenever they go to any branch of supermarket X, if it has a car park, they will always find a minimum of x number of charging points.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech about the importance of electric cars and how we meet our net-zero targets. Does he agree that we cannot escape the fact that electric vehicles are themselves pregnant with carbon? A huge amount of carbon goes into manufacturing them. One of the best and most effective ways to meet our net-zero target its not to use vehicles at all, and to ride bikes as much as possible, particularly in urban areas such as Cheltenham. Just 2% of our journeys are on bikes; in the Netherlands, it is closer to 35%.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

My hon. Friend is not only an advocate for walking and cycling but, in his high-vis jacket, a very visible advertisement for it. He is absolutely right, and that is another type of modal shift. Holland is in a slightly different position, in that it is a lot flatter than this country, which makes a huge difference. That should not take away from the fact that there are plenty of places in this country—London is one of them—that are pretty flat, and where there could be more cycling. Throughout our country, there is an opportunity for more walking and cycling. Those things have great benefits beyond decarbonisation, in terms of health, fitness and being outdoors.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

To echo the point made so well by Alex Chalk, something like 80% of journeys are less than 2.5 miles. Therefore, if we can make a modal shift, so that that type of journey is made by bike, on foot or by public transport, we will make a huge difference.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

I will let that point hang in mid-air because, like the points made by my hon. Friend Alex Chalk and Ben Lake, it is spot on. Those things are all part of the mix.

On electric vehicles and the infrastructure network, there is quite a spread in the concentration of publicly available charging points in local areas. That is partly because some areas have more on-street parking than others. Some have more off-street parking, and we would expect more private charging points there. The conventional wisdom would suggest that we should look at the places that have a low concentration and try to get them up. Actually, I think there is an argument the other way: places that already have quite a high concentration of charging points benefit from network effects, and we could concentrate on building up the number of electric vehicle users there. They are in very different types of places. London has a significant concentration, but so does Milton Keynes, Dundee, Oxford, West Berkshire and South Lakeland. A wide variety of places have relatively high concentrations of charging points relative to the population.

On regulation, I hope that the Minister will be able to say more about the required availability of charging points in new-build homes. I also hope that he will say something about electricity tariffs and ensuring that all domestic consumers can benefit from lower-cost electricity overnight, when the market rate is cheaper, in order to charge vehicles. I think this is outside the remit of the Department for Transport, but if fleet buyers create an extra surge of demand for electricity in one particular area, who bears the cost for upgrading the kit?

Most important of all on the issue of consumer acceptance is the fact that the product has to be in the consideration set. Whatever other cars consumers look at buying or hiring, they should at least think about an electric vehicle. Therefore, just getting people behind the wheel of one of these cars to try them out is a great opportunity. I wonder about the potential of a mass test-drive campaign across the country.

We should also think, perhaps less ambitiously, about the role of the dealer. We have concentrated an awful lot on manufacturers and consumers, but we have not thought much about the car salespeople.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

I am not sure how many colleagues intend to speak, but I have taken quite a few interventions and did not plan to go on quite so long. I will take my cue from Ms Nokes, but am very happy to give way.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Labour, Nottingham South

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the importance of ensuring that people think about purchasing an ultra-low emissions vehicle when they buy a car. Many people buy second-hand cars, a lot of which are ex-fleet. Does he agree that if the Government want more fleet purchases, they should consider their own fleet buying? Ensuring that fleet managers buy ultra-low emissions vehicles will, in turn, feed the second-hand market. The Government have an important role to play as a large fleet operator.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

The hon. Lady tees me up with precision and grace. I was just coming on to the role of Government and the wider public sector. The Government car service has bought a lot of electric vehicles. Something of premium significance is what I would call totemic fleets. Seeing police officers driving electric vehicles has quite an effect on people’s perceptions of the performance of those cars.

Most of all, we need debate, conversation and analysis centred not on the machine and the technology, but on people and the different segments of the population whom we need to persuade to take up electric cars. We need to think about who the first target is and, although fleet buyers are an obvious and important segment, beyond that, should the target be drivers who have the highest mileage per year, or drivers who change their car most often? Evidence from consumer surveys suggests that it is much easier to persuade someone to get an electric vehicle as the second car in a two-car household than as the first car—we need to think about that. The requirements of commuting and the school run, for example, are very different.

I have spoken for longer than I anticipated, but I will briefly mention something slightly off-topic that could reduce the overall number of journeys. In the last few years, there has been a big growth in home shopping, with vans driving around delivering parcels, some of which are very small, to people’s homes. I welcome the e-cargobike initiative, which seeks a modal shift to electric bikes for the last mile of deliveries, but I wonder whether we could be more ambitious. Amazon lockers are fine for Amazon, but they are a proprietary facility. Our massive network of post office retail outlets has potential as a hub and spoke system for home shopping purchases to be dropped off and collected, which also bring much-needed business and footfall to post offices. That was slightly off-topic, so I will return to the broader point.

This country has an important and special role to play in decarbonisation. As well as domestic action, we have a role through international development and climate finance. We showed great leadership in Paris for COP 21, and we have in COP 26 another great opportunity to convene and make global progress.

So much can be done locally. Many councils are doing innovative things, including my own in East Hampshire, with walking and cycling initiatives, plans to plant a tree for every resident and local housing development, particularly in the town of Bordon. Like colleagues in the Chamber, I have local groups in my area that show remarkable leadership, starting with children. I am always impressed that schoolchildren are showing thought leadership on climate change. We have great local groups, such as the Alton climate action network and, soon, the Petersfield climate action network.

The greening campaign began in my constituency back in 2008, and was all about helping individual families and households to know what simple and practical things they could do to help tackle climate change. The campaign eventually spread to 100 towns and villages far and wide. Colleagues may disagree, but in terms of civic society action on climate change, East Hampshire is perhaps the most active area in the country. Members of Parliament can play a really important role to make those things happen.

We should recognise success in decarbonisation in the UK, while acknowledging that we need to step up our efforts. We must never underestimate the scale of what we need to do—I doubt that anybody here in Westminster Hall is likely to do so—but we should not suggest that nothing has been achieved, because if we do that, people begin to feel disheartened and we will lose public confidence and engagement.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

I am sorry, I had better not.

People need to know that there is a big problem, but we are making progress and need to accelerate that progress. They need to know that we can and will do what is necessary. Ultimately, countries like ours need to do more than our fair share because people look to us for leadership. We had our industrial revolution first, so it makes sense to have our decarbonisation revolution first too. Transport must be at the heart of that.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

Only five Members wish to speak, so I hope that each will be generous with the time that they leave for others. I call Lyn Brown.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury) 9:56, 4 February 2020

I am very grateful to serve under your chairship for the first time, Ms Nokes, and I look forward to doing so again in future.

I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about the green transformation that our transport system needs. More than anything else, we need affordable and accessible public transport, with electric buses and zero-carbon trains, right across the country. We need to make good green investments now, and to stop making dirty investments.

City residents already emit far less carbon from travel. Londoners’ transport emissions are less than half the UK average. That is because we have a decent bus, tube and train system—we have to invest those systems to create the benefits in our cities and towns—but we still have to make London’s transport greener.

We must stop making dirty investments. The dirty investment closest to my constituency is City airport in Newham, from which I am sure that many hon. Members have flown. It is a lovely little airport, I will admit, but I have constantly opposed its expansion. As a young woman, I even went to the public inquiry to advocate against it being built. I heard all the rubbish that residents and my friends and neighbours were told about how the airport would be contained, would not grow and would not impact on their lives. When I visited my mum and dad in the block of flats where I grew up, however, the back of my throat was coated with fuel—I could taste it. Dad has had throat cancer and mum has had breast cancer, although I am sure that none of that is related.

It is not just about airports. I want to focus on another big local decision: the Silvertown tunnel. In east London, we have a problem with public transport connections across the river. Some might say, “Who wants to go to the south side?”, but some people do and the lack of connections is a major problem. The lack of decent public transport links means that people drive—they see no other option. The Blackwall tunnel and all the roads around it are hugely congested; the queues go on for absolutely miles, pumping out carbon and deadly pollution all the while. The new tunnel is not the solution.

I am told that building Silvertown will cost an estimated £1 billion, using a private finance initiative, so local residents will have to pay for the construction of the new tunnel through tolls. To ensure that the tolls pay, we will also toll the Blackwall tunnel and probably the Rotherhithe tunnel, while the crossing down at Thurrock is also tolled. So, the people of east London, where child poverty is massive and poverty in general is undeniably high, will pay for the joy of going south of the river, while the people of west London can pop across a number of bridges. There are also good transport links in west London—but not in the east. That, however, is not the only reason I am against Silvertown. I am against the tunnel because its construction alone will cause massive carbon emissions: more than 153,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the same as the total emissions of more than 28,000 UK residents last year.

If everything that the tunnel’s big business backers say about the construction of the tunnel were true, at least there might be some benefits from having it once it is built. I am afraid I do not believe that, and I am sure that many Members in the Chamber would not believe it either. We know that when a road is put in, people use it. They see it as an even better opportunity to get into their car and to drive and, before long, that road too is congested. I am not the only one who does not believe in those benefits, because on the record are my hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook and Newham, Hackney and Lewisham Councils. We all oppose the tunnel, as do more and more of my residents as they find out what is happening on their doorstep.

The truth is that the roads leading up to the tunnel are already massively congested, and no one is planning to widen them, so the congestion is likely to continue. In a best-case scenario, the queues will possibly die down in the immediate lead-up to the tunnel—to begin with. Even if that happens, however, I fear that all the extra traffic will simply be diverted to a bottleneck further down the road towards Barking and out to the east, or on to our already choked local roads, as people attempt to divert around the problems. Congestion might therefore not fall at all, despite the new tolls on all the crossings in the east—I think I mentioned that, but it is a bit of a bugbear.

Why is big business so in favour of a tunnel at Silvertown? It will be taller than the Blackwall tunnel, which was built almost 150 years ago, I think, and massive lorries will therefore be able to go through it from south to north. Also, those heavy goods vehicles, unlike bicycles, have been promised a special lane of their own—they will share the bus lane. HGVs, the big nasty polluters on our roads, will get special concessions to get through the new tunnel. We know why they are so keen to see HGVs going through the Silvertown tunnel: conveniently, a three-storey, 24-hour warehouse and lorry park is planned for not far away from it. That will be at least 2,500 extra lorries a day from that distribution centre alone.

The stakes are high in such decisions—we all accept that. In Newham, 16,000 children attend schools close to the feeder roads in Silvertown, with a similar number in Greenwich. We already have high air pollution at illegal levels. Newham, where Silvertown is—in case anyone was in any doubt—has the worst toxic air quality in the country. The British Heart Foundation estimates that breathing the air is as bad for health as smoking 159 cigarettes annually, stunting child development and leading to 96 premature deaths every year.

The impacts are not just local. This is not only about Silvertown but about the type of decisions that we are making. We need to make the right decisions now in order to prevent a climate disaster. We need to protect our children from these outrageous decisions that will significantly impact on their health. I plead to anyone who will listen: please, think again: stop expanding Heathrow or City airports, stop the Silvertown tunnel and do not build that lorry park. Let us invest in green transport links instead.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham 10:05, 4 February 2020

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Damian Hinds on securing this debate. It is an interesting subject, and one that I had personal experience of not that long ago, when I was a special adviser in the Department for Transport.

I am proud that the Government have set the net zero target for 2050, and glad that today we saw two further moves in that direction: the 2035 target to stop new diesel and petrol vehicles, and the aviation sector moving towards net zero by 2050. Over the past couple of decades, it has been wonderful to see the UK at the forefront of the major developed economies of the world in slashing its carbon emissions, and I hope that that continues.

I will pick up on a few things, the first local to North West Durham. We are without any form of rail network at all. In order for my constituents to move towards decarbonised travel, we need better bus networks for our rural communities and in particular for Consett and the conurbations around it in the north of my constituency—one of the largest conurbations in the country without any form of rail access. I am campaigning for the Government to look at rail in the area there as part of their scheme to reopen lines.

Consett had four railway lines in 1950 but has none today. Rail is imperative not only for the environment but for productivity and to link Consett and the surrounding villages into the northern powerhouse. We need to be linked properly to the national rail network, whether by light or heavy rail.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The hon. Gentleman is making a good point about the lack of rail connectivity in his constituency, and that is replicated pretty much across the UK. Does he agree that the UK Government’s £500 million Beeching replacement fund is totally inadequate to increase the rail connectivity required?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

The entire purpose of the fund, in my understanding, is for a couple of rail schemes that are almost ready to go and for an investigation into further schemes. I agree 100% that the fund will not put many lines back in place, but for that to happen they would have to be shovel-ready. The funding that the Minister is dealing with is to investigate and to conduct feasibility studies for a lot of those lines. I desperately hope that my line from Gateshead to Consett will be one of them.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire also made an important point about walking and cycling. The Derwent Walk replaced our rail line—as many Members know, when rail lines were dug up, they were often replaced by walking and cycling lanes. I am keen for those to be kept in place, so that the rail line has walking and cycling alongside it. That is important, because the car parks at stations are already clogged and overcrowded, as other hon. Members know if like me they commute from far away. As much as possible, I want people to walk and cycle to stations, to help move towards net zero, in particular as regards transport emissions.

In my constituency, too, we have a huge amount of new building. We are one of the fastest-growing parts of the north-east. I would like to see all new-build homes having electric charging points for cars, as mentioned. We have Nissan in the north-east, which I visited recently; it is making a massive move towards electric car production. Now that the Government have announced that they will introduce the target, it is important that new-build homes all have charging points in place.

My final point relates to vehicle excise duty; we need to ensure a stable system in the long term. Vehicle excise duty on motor homes, which are produced in my constituency, increased by 705% in September last year, from £260 to over £2,000. That means that it is less affordable to buy new motor homes, which obviously are cleaner and have Euro 6 engines. It will push people towards foreign flights and travel rather than domestic travel. In the UK, the average motor home travels between 3,000 and 6,000 miles. To tax it as a car is madness, and hurts domestic tourism to places such as Weardale in my constituency, other places across the north-east and other rural parts of the UK.

I urge the Minister to push his Treasury colleagues to look at these changes to vehicle excise duty, which came through last year from European Union regulation 2018/1832. VED has hit domestic manufacturing. The production of ever-cleaner motor homes creates 600 jobs in my constituency. It is incredibly important that we support the motor industry where we can, as well as our domestic tourism, to reduce international flights. That will contribute to exactly what we want to see: the decarbonisation of our transport economy.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy) 10:11, 4 February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. It is important to acknowledge where we have made progress. We do not want to discourage our citizens and make them so afraid that they cannot get behind the big changes that we need to make. It is also important to point out where we have made no progress at all, namely on surface transport. It stubbornly remains one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in our country, which is why it is so important that we concentrate on it. A lot of the problem has to do with our focus over decades on transport by car. I do not blame anybody; I suspect all hon. Members here are motorists, at least part time. The real issue is, how do we achieve a big shift in this country when there has been a lot of focus on car transport and when there are no proper alternatives?

It worries me that the Government make a haphazard announcement such as that made today about the ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035 without having a proper plan behind that for infrastructure to support a big shift towards electric vehicles. The Government need to put their mind to that. To give an example, in a consultation meeting with Highways England about new road building in the south-west, which was all well and dandy, I said, “All right, you are building new roads, but what about the infrastructure that we need for fast charging points along our new highways and motorways?” I was told that it was not their problem, so who is talking to who about building new roads and the infrastructure to integrate them with the capacity in our electricity grid? The Government need to put a plan together to ensure that people work on these things in partnership, rather thinking in silos.

Another important issue is how to structure buses and public transport. I went to Berlin over Christmas, but not by plane. Travelling by train on the continent was perfectly competitive, but the bit from London to the channel was incredibly expensive. Unless we change the cost of travel, consumers will go for what is cheapest, and they will continue to fly unless we make train journeys a lot more affordable, particularly in this country.

I am a cyclist, in addition to being a motorist, and have been for many years and have campaigned for cycling. The main problem in this country is not the weather or the hills. There are now electric bicycles and, because Bath is quite steep, I bought myself one, as did my husband, and we got rid of our second car. Those things are important considerations for households. The main hindrance is not the weather or the topography, but safety. As a parent, I was scared to let my children cycle, as are lots of parents. One of the biggest contributors to air pollution and surface transport in my constituency is the school run.

We have been consulting young people about how they would like to travel. Their preferred mode of transport would be cycling independently, but the parents do not want that, so they take them to school by car. That creates a vicious circle. The roads in Bath are full of cars during school time—during school holidays they are not—because parents do not allow their children to go on the road because it is dangerous. We need to break that vicious circle. I urge the Government to look at Cycling England’s proposals for how to create safe cycle routes.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

The coalition Government granted large sums of money—I think £20 million went to Manchester and a similar sum to Leeds and Birmingham—under the cycling city ambition grant scheme, and lots of safety measures were rolled out. The problem is that, in towns such as Cheltenham, a lot of that learning is not being rolled out. Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a role for councils to liaise with one another to ensure that safety schemes can be applied?

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

Absolutely; the Lib Dem Bath and North East Somerset Council is looking at how to provide local leadership, but we also need leadership from central Government to ensure that councils can fulfil their net zero ambitions. I urge the Government to look at proposals from Cycling England about safe cycle routes, because safety is one of the main reasons that young people do not cycle. If they have not grown up cycling, as adults, they do not cycle. We need a big shift to create safe cycling routes.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North 10:16, 4 February 2020

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Damian Hinds on securing this important debate.

I am going to talk about the X41 bus service. When I was elected, the major issue in Bury North was a bus service that connects the north part of my constituency in Ramsbottom with the centre of Manchester—a service that has been withdrawn because of losses suffered by the provider. That service is the only public transport link between central Manchester and the north of my constituency. In London, it would probably take 15 minutes by public transport to cover the same geography to get to the centre of London. I have one bus that takes the best part of an hour, or an hour and a half when it is busy.

When the bus provider gave notice of its intention to take off the bus service, Transport for Greater Manchester shrugged its shoulders. There was no proactiveness from local authorities to try to save the service. I give that as a practical example of a bus service that takes motor vehicles off busy motorways and A roads. Local authorities and other relevant bodies are not doing enough to support public transport, which is critical for connectivity. Although we may talk nationally—I have noticed in this place that we talk generally about money—on the ground, that bus service matters and continues to matter in my constituency. I am glad to say that the Government supported local MPs to provide assistance to make sure that the service remained.

Buses are crucial in my constituency as a link to other areas in Greater Manchester. The debate about buses must be at the forefront of transport discussions in our area. Kate Green spoke about franchising; all Members representing Greater Manchester want a better bus service. I spoke to Transport for Greater Manchester about that. It answered that franchising would guarantee the level of bus services that we have now. The bus services in Bury North are rubbish, so I do not want that. We need a public transport system that encourages people to get out of their vehicles and use the services of good providers such as Transdev. We certainly are not there at the moment.

I will touch on another of the hon. Lady’s points: the clean air charge, which is affecting Greater Manchester. Some £116 million of funding has been provided to assist the region’s freight and logistics, taxi and other operators to upgrade their vehicles. I have many taxi drivers in my constituency who operate in the area. They will not be provided with the funding required to upgrade their vehicles and they cannot afford to do so. This is an important sector—probably the largest self-employed sector in my constituency—and we Conservatives do not wish business to be burdened, so I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to see whether there are ways to provide moneys to support taxi drivers who need their vehicles to be upgraded and are barely scraping a living as it is.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards

I strongly endorse what the hon. Member is saying. Small businesses across Greater Manchester, including the taxi firms in our constituencies, are keen to play their part, but they of all businesspeople will struggle to meet costs without financial assistance. We need information about the clean bus and clean freight funds.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

I completely agree. A number of small businesses in my constituency are coach companies, which own older buses. Again, those businesses run at very small profit margins, and they need assistance to allow them to continue to provide a service. I hope we can have more information on that.

Those are two important issues, and I know that colleagues in the Government will continue to look at how transport infrastructure and connectivity can be improved in the north and how bus services and all public transport can be supported to ensure that our residents do not need to use their cars. A majority of Bury North residents work outside the constituency, so while cycling and walking is to be admired and supported, they cannot do that to get to work. They want good public transport links. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister and colleagues in the Government will do everything possible to invest in the north to ensure that Bury North’s residents are connected to the other urban areas.

As a Conservative, I hope we can find a way to support those local businesses and small businesses that are concerned about their futures and concerned that the cost of clean air charges will be unsustainable for them. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on that.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:22, 4 February 2020

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate Damian Hinds on securing it and setting the scene so well. The contributions so far have been pertinent to the debate.

Our environmental duties are massive, and the more knowledge we have, the more it is incumbent on us to do all we can to safeguard this planet for our children. As a Christian, I am well aware that the end will be when God ordains it, but we are called to be good stewards and caretakers of this wonderful planet that has been gifted to us. Over the holidays, I had an opportunity to do some hunting and shooting over the farm with my son, granddaughter and friends—I declare an interest as a farmer—and while the fresh country air was sharp and cold, it none the less reminded me of how important what we do is. Later that night, there was a programme on TV showing India and perhaps other parts of the world where air pollution was extreme and people were having difficulty breathing, which made me not take for granted the fresh clean air that we have. That is part of the reason why I, along with my son, planted 3,500 trees on farmland about 10 years ago, and I am caretaking areas of biodiversity on my farm. I cannot save the world by myself, but I can make a small contribution, and I intend to do my best to keep our air clean and healthy.

Air quality has been very much in the news in the past few weeks, with the number of deaths in the UK due to air quality at its highest for some time. The figures are high even in Northern Ireland. UK industries account for 1% of air pollution, yet we can do more than make the equivalent of a 1% improvement in the world. It begins in our own homes and stretches out to the influence we have in this place to encourage people to make good decisions and better choices.

Just this morning, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association had a drop-in event in room N in Portcullis House—Members who did not go are too late now—where it referred to the need for hybrid and electric cars. The BVRLA also outlined five policy measures that it would like to see, which include, as I am sure the Minister is well aware, tax benefits, new vehicles, charge points, which are critical, and user sentiment, because at the end of the day, the owners and users of those cars need to be convinced that they are necessary.

I caveat my remarks by saying that I firmly believe that if we want to change people’s routines, we can do so by encouragement and not enforcement. We can jail someone and find they are still not rehabilitated after their incarceration, yet when we take the time to work with people and encourage them, lives are turned around. Let us look at how we make that happen, because the secret to our future security is educating the younger generation and encouraging the older generations—I count myself in the latter category—to do what needs to be done.

The Minister will be aware that in Strangford and Portaferry we had a tidal project, which involved Queen’s University, where we tried to harness the waves. The pilot and initial investigations provided some good ideas, but we need investment for the project to go forward. There are things that we can do; we just need that wee bit of financial assistance to help to make it happen.

We are the generation, as some here will acknowledge, who had milk delivered in glass bottles, and we washed and put out the bottles for the milkman to reuse. We do not mind recycling and we are doing our best, but it must be made clear what is expected of us to do our bit. We are the generation who did not always have a car. We used bikes—we probably do not use them as much as we did in the past—took buses or went by Shanks’s pony. Walking was probably easier for us in those days, as some will understand. We do not mind doing so, but it is important to explain and encourage.

In Northern Ireland we have the Glider bus system from Dundonald right into Belfast. The idea is simple: it is park and ride, whereby people park in Newtownards or the on the edge of Dundonald and get the Glider bus straight into town. It is easier and less hassle, it gives people a bit more time to do something while on the bus, and it produces less emissions. That shows there are good schemes that we can use. The key is not lectures and browbeating, but information and encouragement. Tax breaks and perks for businesses are useful, but we need better infrastructure to encourage public transport and ensure that our young people have their independence while still being safe when travelling. We must encourage the use of car pools and shared resources.

To finish, there is much that can be done from this place, but my word of caution, from an old dog that is learning new tricks, is this. Go easy and bring us with you, and the generation who are used to hard work and innovation will not let you down.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

The mover of the motion has indicated that he does not need time to wind up the debate, so that leaves the Front-Bench spokesmen with just over 10 minutes each.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 10:27, 4 February 2020

Thank you, Ms Nokes. It is great to see you in the Chair for the first time; I look forward to many more such occasions. I congratulate Damian Hinds on securing this debate on a vital topic. Clearly his sabbatical from the current regime has been time well spent in bringing forward such topics. I am delighted that we are having this debate because it tackles the most pressing issue we face as a society. Few discussions in this place are as fundamental or urgent as climate change.

In kicking off proceedings, the right hon. Member spoke of his Government’s excellent record. I have to say I disagree with most of that, as I will explain in my speech. He spoke at length about electric vehicles, range anxiety and so on. He also spoke about changing behaviours, and he is right, but there is a need for the Government to provide just as big—if not bigger—a carrot as a stick, not just financially but in providing proper public transport alternatives outside London. That topic came up in the Chamber last week, and there is definitely a need for substantial investment.

Last week, I spoke about the disparity in infrastructure spending across England. Ms Brown spoke of the disparity in London—the east-west divide—which I was not aware of. Perhaps I will look into that more after the debate.

A new Member, Mr Holden, rather uniquely, in my experience, began by admitting that he was an adviser in the Department for Transport, and potentially to blame for current policy. That was not how he put it, but it is how I heard it. He made several good points, including his last one, on vehicle excise duty on motorhomes, which I think most of us would is agree is egregious.

Wera Hobhouse spoke of the Government arrangement to bring the ban on petrol and diesel cars forward, albeit without a proper plan to build the infrastructure of charging points. I think I will be able, later in my speech, to develop the point that the Scottish Government have not fallen into that trap.

James Daly essentially spoke about the disparity between bus services in the north and the south, and about the fact that the bus service in his constituency is extremely poor—something that many in his constituency could agree with. Jim Shannon speaks on a vast number of issues for his constituents, and I agreed with him when he said that behaviours will be changed by encouragement, not enforcement.

I mentioned the urgency of dealing with the issue that we are debating, and that is reflected in the action being taken in Scotland right now. The Scottish Government’s aim is a 75% reduction in emissions a decade hence and, 15 years after that, a 100% drop, or net zero. Those are ambitious targets—the most ambitious in these islands, no less—but they are achievable without disruption to our economy. Indeed, they have huge economic benefits and use existing technology. Given that 31% of our total emissions come from transport, and more than four fifths of that figure is related to road transport, it is clear that the hard action needed to curb emissions and move to net zero must come through investment and policy decisions aimed at how we move goods, services and ourselves.

Before I move on to the substantive points I wish to make, I want to ask the Minister, on behalf of the large number of hauliers in my constituency, whether he will give an undertaking to bring forward the conclusion of the longer semi-trailer trial, which has now been extended to 10 years. We are eight years into the trial, and many companies, whether they are in the trial or not, need information for the purpose of investing in their future fleets of trailers. They need to know whether the trailers they buy will become obsolete just as they buy them. Some information on that would be useful for hauliers across the country.

The establishment of the UK’s first electric highway along the A9, Scotland’s spine, is the type of bold action that is required if we are to make a successful transition to a net zero economy and the decarbonisation of our transport network. By the end of the first tranche of funding, more than 2,500 charging points will be in place across Scotland. That first step is part of the investment in infrastructure that is needed to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars by 2032—investment covering not just public charging points but also charging points at workplaces and in domestic settings. Members will note that I said 2032. That target is still three years ahead of UK Government ambitions despite this morning’s welcome announcement.

In recent years we have had a rail electrification programme that is the largest in our nation’s history. Edinburgh to Glasgow, Paisley Canal, Stirling Dunblane Alloa, and the Shotts and Whifflet lines—in fact all the lines between our country’s two biggest cities—are now all-electric. Virtually all the west of Scotland network has ditched diesel.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Labour, Nottingham South

Is not there something we should learn in the rest of the UK, given what has happened with rail in Scotland? Does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that the previous Government cut back on electrification of our rail network? The learning from Scotland is to keep doing it, because it becomes more cost-effective. There should be a rolling programme, rather than the stop-start that we have seen in other parts of the UK.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I totally agree with the hon. Lady. I was coming on to say that the amount of money that has been wasted on cancelled electrification schemes is shocking. The Government’s commitment must be called into question. We have ambitious plans in Scotland, but if the Government here were to get a move on and invest properly it would release more capital for the Scottish Government to increase their ambitious plans with regard to decarbonising transport.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

Is it not true that we always count the costs in the wrong way? Not doing the things we are talking about will ultimately cost us a lot more. Cancelling projects because they are getting more expensive does not take into account the cost if we do not do those things.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

The hon. Lady makes a good point. It is a very short-term approach to look at such things in terms of their initial cost. They have to be considered in the medium and long term, particularly in the light of the climate emergency that the Government have announced. Cutting back on such schemes is disgraceful.

Work continues in Scotland, in planning future works. Those include the new metro running through my constituency, which will give Renfrew—currently the largest town in Scotland without a rail station—its first fixed rail link in more than 50 years; and the future decarbonisation of the Barrhead and East Kilbride lines. Scotland aims to make sure that all rail journeys are carbon free by 2035. Perhaps that is the sort of ambition that England and Wales need from their rail policy makers, who have wasted tens of millions of pounds on cancelled rail electrification schemes. That is entirely the wrong signal to send at this time to the public and the rest of the world.

The Scottish Government are doing what they can under current financial and constitutional constraints, but hon. Members who have had the pleasure of hearing me speak on this topic will not be surprised if I bring up Norway at this point. The right hon. Member for East Hampshire has already alluded to results there in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend Alan Brown. Norway’s population is less than one tenth of the UK’s, and it is a country with a great many similarities to Scotland. Its electric car sales outstrip the UK’s, with an almost exponential growth rate. Last year alone, electric car sales increased by 31%, while the figure for petrol cars dropped by the same rate and that for diesel cars fell 13%. The car industry in Norway predicts an even greater demand for electric vehicles this year. By the end of this year there is every chance that half of all new cars sold in Norway will be electric. In the UK, the figure stands at 2.1%, while fossil-fuel cars continue to increase in number.

The difference is that Norway has a Government who are taking concrete action to push electric vehicles, and who are investing in the infrastructure needed, with nearly as many charging points as the entire UK. An independent, northern European, energy-rich country with full access to the single market and the European economic area is leading the way on the sort of bold transport policies that others can only follow, which are possible only with the full powers of a sovereign, independent Parliament and Government. Norway now, and Scotland in the future: one has only to look at the polls over the past week or so to see that the writing is on the wall for Scotland’s continued membership of the United Kingdom. However, I digress, and time is slightly against me.

Norway and Scotland show that leaving decarbonisation to the free market simply does not work. It needs strong policy and intervention from the Government, investment at a local and national level, and the commitment to match. I said before that the Scottish Government do an outstanding job, despite operating with one hand tied behind their back. Indeed, Scotland has shown global leadership by being the first country to include international aviation and shipping emissions in its statutory climate targets. Given its nature, aviation is the toughest of transport modes to decarbonise, but I welcome today’s news that the UK aviation industry has vowed to decarbonise by 2050. The Scottish Government are working with Highlands and Islands Airports and the aviation industry to bring to Scotland trials of cutting-edge zero-emission aircraft, using battery and hydrogen fuel-cell technologies, starting in the Orkney archipelago, where no flight lasts longer than 20 minutes. Indeed, it boasts the world’s shortest scheduled flight, from Westray to Papa Westray, which is shorter in distance than most airport runways, and lasts a minute or so. The Scottish National party will decarbonise flights within Scotland by 2040, and is aiming for the world’s first zero-emission aviation region, in partnership with HIAL.

Meanwhile, the UK Government’s track record is disappointing, to say the least—just ask the former president of COP26, Claire O’Neill, for her take. The feed-in tariff has been scrapped, and Scotland’s renewables have been subjected not just to discriminatory but to utterly shameful transmission charges. Both are key inputs to a decarbonised transport system. The tax and licencing regime delivers little benefit to those switching to electric vehicles, who play their part in driving the change that is needed. It is surely time for the Government to look to our European colleagues for inspiration and ideas. Perhaps that approach is not in vogue down here at the moment—it is certainly not within the present Government—but it would assist massively in delivering the transformational change needed across our network. If the Government are not prepared to do that, they should make sure that Scotland’s Parliament and Government have the powers and the finance needed to do the job properly.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses) 10:39, 4 February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes, and to respond to the debate. I thank Members who have contributed, and a number of excellent points have clearly been made. I particularly thank Damian Hinds for securing the debate.

I will make three key points. First of all, on the scale of this problem. Secondly, on the need for an urgent response, as discussed by a number of hon. Members. Thirdly, on the series of policy choices facing the Government now that they have a significant working majority. Before I do that, I will comment, without intruding into private grief too deeply, on the tussle that is quite clearly going on in Government at the moment. It is deeply unfortunate that a former climate Minister has quite clearly had a difference of opinion with her colleagues, which reflects rather badly on the Government’s ability to focus on this vital issue. I urge the Minister—a thoughtful and gentle chap who is very interested in key policies relating to climate change—to please have a word and see if he can sort things out.

We have focused on the technical points, but it is quite simply no exaggeration to point out that the climate crisis is the most urgent and serious problem facing the British Government and, indeed, the wider world. There is quite clearly a need for every Government, private individual, business and charity to take urgent and determined action. However, it is also clear from the debate that this is simply not happening, and that the Government, I am afraid, are failing in this vital area of policy.

I will address the series of policy choices facing Ministers now that they have been returned with a significant majority. My question to the Minister, whom I am sure is listening attentively, is: will the Government now step up to meet these challenges? Will they look at the difficult choices in front of them, or will they yet again fail the public and, more importantly, future generations? So far, I am afraid that the evidence points to continued failure. I urge the Minister to once again refer the matter to his colleagues and urge them to take serious action and to look once again at the fundamentals of these problems.

First and foremost, as the right hon. Member for East Hampshire rightly pointed out, the issue before us is one of road transport. The UK has a car-dependent economy, and we need to address that. This not only is a matter of technical detail but is fundamental, affecting planning and everyday life. I call on the Government to look not only at the subsidies and time limit for selling vehicles but at the whole planning system and the priority it gives to new road building. As I mentioned, the Government have so far taken the wrong choices on this matter. They are putting £30 billion from vehicle excise duty into a hypothecated fund, which is being allocated to new roads. Colleagues who attend Transport Question Time, as many in the Chamber today do, will note a series of Back-Bench Members pitching to the Government for new road building in their constituencies. That is not the way forward; we need to move away from car dependency.

I urge the Minister to listen carefully to my following points about the importance of other modes of transport, which were also ably made by other colleagues.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Labour, Nottingham South

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s approach of looking across the whole of transport, rather than focusing only on cleaner vehicles, because that will help us to tackle wider policy issues, including health and social justice. Does he agree that, when making difficult choices—there are difficult choices ahead—the Government should look with interest at the outcome of Climate Assembly UK, which was brought forward by six Select Committees, to see what the members of the public taking part have to say and what recommendations they make?

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I urge the Minister to familiarise himself with her work as the Chair of the Select Committee on Transport. The public are further ahead on this matter than we parliamentarians, so it is important that we address these issues. Let me make one further point about the strategic nature of our dependence on road and the policy mistakes so far. There is a stark contrast between the effective subsidy for road use and the use of carbon-powered transport—through the effective cut to petrol duty—and the lack of subsidy for rail travel and other forms of public transport.

To turn to rail, the Scottish National party spokesman, Gavin Newlands, made an excellent point about the need for rail electrification. In my own region of south and south-west England, there is a clear contrast with other parts of the UK. On the railway line just beyond Reading, the electrification abruptly stops at Newbury, which is a long way from the end of the line, which goes all the way to St Ives. I urge the Minister to look again at rail electrification, and to ask his colleagues, particularly the Rail Minister, to look with urgency at this matter. In the Great Western region, there has been a complete failure in the Government’s commitment to electrification. On lines into Wales, the electrification stops at Cardiff, and the whole of south Wales continues to be served by dirty diesel vehicles.

However, similarly to road issues, rail issues go way beyond the technical nature of the vehicles involved. There are also wider questions about the priority given to rail travel over road travel and the strategic choices made by the Government. I urge the Government to look at the work of the German Government, which was mentioned by a colleague earlier. The German Government recently instituted a 10% cut in rail fares across Germany which, as mentioned, is in many ways a comparable northern European country. Labour proposed a 30% cut in rail fares. Cutting fares is likely to have a significant impact on rail use and in taking people out of polluting road vehicles and on to rail, which even with diesel locomotives will reduce carbon emissions significantly. With electrification, it has enormous potential benefits.

However, there is also an issue about ownership. I welcome the Government’s recent renationalisation —as my colleague said, we wish them a happy rail renationalisation day—but would like to see them go further and look at the whole network, and to introduce a clear strategy for managing and developing that network and avoiding the current poor performance of the franchise system and the failure of the complicated ticketing system.

It is a little-known fact that buses are actually the major form of public transport in the UK. I urge the Minister to completely rethink the Government’s failed policy on buses, which is in many ways one of their worst areas of transport performance. Funding for buses has been cut by 45%. James Daly talked about his own issues on the outskirts of Greater Manchester, which I will come to shortly, but for many colleagues in rural areas, there has been a notable impact on services. Near to my own seat in Reading, Oxfordshire County Council rather foolishly cut all bus subsidies, affecting the population of more than half a million people. There is clearly a need for a complete rethink. Hundreds of routes have been lost.

However, as with rail, there is also a need to strategically rethink the strategy for the whole system. Since the Transport Act 1985, bus patronage has declined and there has been an over-emphasis on a small number of highly profitable routes, because of the nature of the system. We need to look again at the possibility of greater franchising. The hon. Member for Bury North makes a good point about the issue of communities on the edge of networks. However, franchising was retained in London and has been shown to lead to much higher bus patronage.

We also, as a country, need to address the success of municipal bus companies. In Reading, the bus company is outstanding and has growing patronage, and the same is true of Nottingham, where my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood represents a seat. Municipal firms have a great deal to offer. Municipal transport is widely known on the continent and is associated with many centre-right Governments, so I urge Ministers to reconsider the previous—somewhat ideological—opposition to this common-sense, practical and effective form of local accountability.

In summary on buses, I call on the Minister to look at the overall level of subsidy and to address capital investment in the sector, with a view to encouraging more electric buses, and also to look at the management of bus services, to make them more effective and more responsive to local needs. This was so wisely pointed out in the case of Greater Manchester, where I believe that the Mayor is looking at franchising with a view to improving services in the very outer boroughs, which the hon. Member for Bury North mentioned.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

I agree with a lot of what the hon. Gentleman says. As a new Member of Parliament who has spoken to those who are in charge of the consultation and putting forward the policy, my concern with franchising is that I have not been told that the services are going to be expanded, or that services in my area that are completely reliant on some form of subsidy will receive that subsidy. I support the idea in principle, but I fear that it will not lead to the expansion of the service, a better service or a more regular service. Does he have any views on that?

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. I think that the issue is local accountability. Certainly, when we look at franchising in the country as a whole, it is clear that the franchising system has worked extremely well in London where it was retained. There is a widespread desire among Mayors and other leading figures in local government to expand franchising. I ask the Minister to allow all local authorities to consider both franchising and remunicipalising bus companies to improve services in areas such as the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and many others around the country, including rural constituencies.

I appreciate the pressure of time, Ms Nokes, and will be brief on my final point. As Alex Chalk pointed out, it is crucial that we do not address transport just through vehicles, but look at active travel. There is huge scope in this country to encourage walking and cycling. Points were made about the topography of some British cities, but they do not apply in many parts of the country. Many urban and many semi-rural areas are relatively flat, but we perform very badly compared with other northern European countries. We are way below the levels that we should be achieving. At the moment, the projected increases in walking and cycling are not taking place—we are clearly flatlining. When we look at the wider context of the lack of investment in this area compared with road transport, it is clear that greater capital investment is needed. That is why we would have committed substantial moneys to that, and I urge the Minister to do that.

In my own town of Reading, the simple measure of a bridge across the Thames specifically for walking and cycling has led to a transformation in the journeys made by commuters to Reading station. That is a simple example of the many benefits of capital investment in this sphere. That issue has been noted as regards London and Manchester, and I am sure that the Minister will address it in his closing remarks.

I am aware of the time, Ms Nokes, but I also ask the Minister, as he considers this, to please talk to his colleagues in other Departments and integrate policy with wider measures to tackle climate change.

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Minister of State (Department for Transport) 10:51, 4 February 2020

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes? In the time available, I shall do my best to set out the Government’s strategy and to deal with the many points that were raised.

First, I thank my right hon. Friend Damian Hinds for calling this debate on the importance of decarbonising the transport sector. As the first Minister for the decarbonisation of transport, I welcome this opportunity and the many contributions from Members from, I think, all parties in the House. We have seen quite a lot of expertise, including from the former Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood, and I have heard an awful lot with which we agree, including on the scale of the challenge of global climate change and the imperative of gripping transport decarbonisation now. There was an important point about avoiding climate anxiety while stressing the urgency of the situation. We do not want to depress people, particularly the young, by making out that this task is impossible.

We also heard about the real strides that we have made as a country and the need for the transport sector now to lean in and show the leadership that the energy sector has shown. I was particularly interested in the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire made about behavioural insights and understanding the real barriers to EV uptake and modal shift—indeed, we are putting a lot of emphasis on that in the strategy—and about the need for a smooth evolution of the support framework.

As the first Minister for the future of transport, focusing on decarbonisation, digitalisation and disconnection, I, with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, am absolutely determined that we will take an integrated approach. That means putting people and places—neighbourhoods—at the heart of the vision for transport, looking at what the transport sector needs to do to put people and places first and looking at our research and development programme across Government to ensure that we are backing the right innovations in technologies to support future green transport. To that end, we have established in the DFT a new directorate for the future of transport, which has seven workstreams and seven directors, dealing with R&D, finance, place, data, regulation, decarbonisation and the importance of behavioural insights as well of ensuring that we go with the grain of people’s aspirations for their families and their constituencies.

I do not want to take up too much time agreeing with everyone on the scale of the crisis. We have only to look to what has been happening in the past few months around the world—to Australia, to our own floods and to the rate of polar ice melt and the rising sea levels—to know that this is the defining global challenge of our generation. I can feel in this Chamber the appetite across the parties to show the electorate in this country, after the divisions of the past few years, that we are united in ensuring that we tackle it.

Let there be no doubt that this Government are 100% committed to leading—not just delivering but leading —and therefore we must accelerate our action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid longer-lasting consequences. That will mean reducing car dependency and building lower car dependency into the new houses that we are building, and that is why I was delighted last week to announce on the east-west arc, for example, that we are focusing on rail links to the new housing.

The decisions that we make will affect the future of the planet for generations to come. This is urgent. I am delighted that, as I am speaking, the Prime Minister is sitting down having just given his keynote speech defining how important this is for the Government. We will have to show new models of leadership globally, and that is why hosting COP this November is vital.

I will just take this opportunity to say that since Mrs Thatcher was, famously, the first western leader to warn of the pace of this back in the 1980s, we saw a few decades of quite slow progress until the last decade. I pay tribute to Edward Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg for putting together a consensus that we needed to act 10 years ago.

The Climate Change Act 2008 was the first of its kind in the world and made the UK the first country to have legally binding long-term emissions reduction targets, and we should be proud of that. Since 2000, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country. Last year, with support from this House, we became the first major economy to set a legally binding target to achieve net zero emissions from across the UK economy by 2050. That will end our contribution to global climate change, but it does not mean the end of prosperity. I am equally proud that we have created more than 400,000 jobs in this sector. We need to be clear that green growth is more sustainable, resilient and globally exportable, and creates more opportunities for the next generation of people in this country.

Between 1990 and 2017, we reduced emissions by more than 40% while growing our economy by more than two thirds. Green growth works. However, we are not complacent—

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I will not, just because I am very short of time to respond to the debate.

Delivering net zero will require genuine transformation of our economy and society, including our homes, transport systems and businesses. Although challenging, it offers tremendous social and economic opportunity, but we will have to go further and faster to build on our track record, with transport front and centre.

I shall list briefly the things that we have done. This is a very significant demonstration of leadership. Our £1.5 billion ultra low emission vehicle programme is the envy of the world. We have just announced the £400 million charging infrastructure fund, which will see thousands more electric vehicle charge points installed across the UK, both superfast chargers at motorway service stations and domestic chargers. The first £70 million of that will create another 3,000 rapid charge points. With the private sector, we are on track to deliver £1 billion for charging infrastructure. I am genuinely delighted that the Prime Minister has this morning announced the Government’s intention to bring forward the ban on petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans to 2035, in line with the Committee on Climate Change’s advice.

On shipping, we have the clean maritime plan. On rail, we have set the ambition to remove all diesel-only trains from the network. On aviation, we have helped to lead the world in setting up that first and seminal international agreement for emissions reduction, and here in the UK we are investing £1.5 billion in future aviation technology. Yesterday, I visited the E-Fan X, a partnership between Rolls-Royce and Airbus at Cranfield pioneering the first electric plane.

We will have to invest in science and technology longer term, as well as modal shift for healthier and happier places short term, and to that end I will shortly be announcing with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State our first ever transport decarbonisation plan. That will set out for the first time an approach for each mode—road, rail, shipping and aviation—and an approach by place. We want to look at the worst motorway junctions and railway stations, and we want to use digital tools to help to track standard emissions per passenger kilometre. And there will be a plan for science and R&D investment longer term, including for important technologies in areas such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage—there is a whole range of technologies that can help us to drive both the modal shift and the emissions reduction.

This is about harnessing the power of our science and innovation and our digital economy to help lead the world in how to empower today’s travellers, passengers, drivers and households to make green choices. Imagine the power of a green Citymapper that will allow people to choose low-emission journeys and then reward them. That is very powerful and something that we need to look at.

Crucially, this will not all be done by top-down diktat from central Government; it will require—this is one reason why I welcome it—a bold new deal of devolution with towns and cities, and so I am in the process of working round all the Mayors of combined authorities.

We are short of time. Let me close by saying that if we are to achieve this objective, which we are determined to do, it will require not just science and not just devolution for modal shift; it will require, I suggest, a pan-Government approach on a par with that which we took in the build-up to the Olympics—a genuine decarbonisation olympiad, which will need to happen on a cross-party basis and inspire the next generation with the belief that we can do it.

Perhaps, with their permission, I can write to the hon. Members who raised specific questions with the detailed answers that I have written out but have no time to read out now.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered net zero targets and decarbonising transport.