6 October 2020
Nadhim Zahawi responds to a debate on the future of the transport sector

Nadhim Zahawi responds to a Westminster Hall debate on energy provision and alternative-fuelled vehicles.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)

It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) for initiating this important debate, as well as other colleagues present: my hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Tom Randall), for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), and the hon. Members for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). Of course, I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) for his eight-point plan. I also thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), for the collegiate way in which he tackles this important national endeavour.

The transport sector is a vital part of our future prosperity. As we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we have an outstanding opportunity to speed up the development of clean technology, which I guess is the theme of today’s debate. For decades, we have talked about the phasing out of fossil fuels from motoring, and now that is actually happening as we make the transition to alternative-fuel vehicles. This country has led the way in developing clean growth. Between 1990 and 2018, our economy grew by 75% while carbon emissions fell by 43%, faster than any other G7 nation, so anyone who says that it cannot be done is wrong. We followed that by making an ambitious commitment in 2019 to end our contribution to global warming by 2050, making that the law of the land, and countries around the world then began to follow suit. Of course, none of us here underestimates the scale of that challenge. Although battery electric vehicles represent nearly 5% of the new car market in the year to date, transport is still the sector in the UK that emits the largest amount of greenhouse gases, accounting for 28% of emissions in 2018.

It is clear to me that we need to go much further and faster to decarbonise transport. Throughout 2020, we have been working on a new, overarching transport decarbonisation plan, covering all modes of transport, which we expect to publish by the end of this year. That plan will set out the path that we need to take to deliver our net-zero objectives, together with our partners across the transport sector. The need for rapid renewal of the road vehicle fleet with zero-emission vehicles is well understood and will deliver substantial emissions reductions over the long term. We are already investing £2.5 billion to support the transition to zero-emission vehicles, with grants for plug-in vehicles and funding to support charge point infrastructure, which many colleagues from across the country have mentioned today.

If we are to meet our targets, there is no time to lose. That is why we have consulted on bringing forward the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 to 2035, or earlier if a fast transition appears feasible, as well as including hybrids for the first time. As part of that consultation, we asked for views on what package of support will be required to enable the transition and to minimise the impact on both consumers and, of course, manufacturers—businesses that have invested so much in the United Kingdom. The consultation closed on 31 July, and we will announce its outcome in due course.

Our approach to delivering our transport decarbonisation ambitions is technology-neutral—my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley quite rightly reminded us of the need to remain technology-neutral. As the market develops, it is becoming clear that it may be favouring different technologies for different applications. Today, electric vehicles are a small but fast-growing percentage of cars and vans on the road. Such vehicles are being adopted as a key technology for decarbonising road transport, particularly light vehicles, and over 300,000 ultra low emission vehicles are now registered in the UK. A fit-for-purpose infrastructure network is required for the mass uptake of electric vehicles—that is the message I will take away from today’s debate. Many more charge points will be needed, and we want improvements to the consumer experience when using the network.

In fact, our vision is to have one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world. That means a network for current and prospective electric vehicle drivers that is affordable, reliable, accessible and secure. The Government and industry have supported the installation of more than 18,000 publicly available charging devices, as colleagues mentioned, including more than 3,200 rapid charging devices, giving us one of the largest networks in Europe. Our home, workplace and on-street charging schemes, and the £400 million charging infrastructure investment fund, will see thousands more electric vehicle charge points installed across the UK.

In May, we announced our vision for a rapid charging network. Today, a driver is never more than 25 miles away from a rapid charging point anywhere along England’s motorways and major A roads. By 2023, we aim to have at least six high-powered open-access charge points at motorway service areas—open access is an important aspect of this in England—with some larger sites having as many as 10 to 12 charge points by 2035, which was the challenge that the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington gave to us. We expect the number to increase to around 6,000 high-powered chargers across the network. This vision will be supported by the rapid charging fund, announced in the March Budget by our excellent Chancellor, as part of a £500 million investment over the next five years.

It is vital that consumers can charge efficiently and safely. We will consult on using powers under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 to mandate minimum standards, such as requiring contactless payment for rapid charge points, to improve the consumer experience. While the electrification of transport will increase demand for electricity, we are confident that energy networks will support this transformation. Hon. Members heard from the Prime Minister today about our ambitions for offshore wind. The Government are working with the energy industry to plan for future electric vehicle uptake, to ensure that the energy system can meet future demand efficiently and sustainably. We have set a clear ambition for almost all cars and vans to be zero emission by 2050, in combination with the recent consultation on bringing forward the end-of-sale date. Setting long-term targets ensures that there is enough time to ready the electricity system for the mass transition towards cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

Colleagues mentioned the opportunities of hydrogen. We see a real opportunity, so we will follow up the energy White Paper with an ambitious hydrogen strategy, because hydrogen is a game changer. Hon. Members have referred to the Prime Minister talking about the Tees Valley announcement today. We have a much bigger ambition for both blue and green hydrogen going forward. The role of green hydrogen in transport will be set out in full in the transport decarbonisation plan, which is due for publication at the end of the year.

On low-carbon fuels, which are important to colleagues, we are clear that our transition to zero-emission vehicles does not mean that we can ignore measures to reduce emissions from conventional road vehicles in use today. Increasing the supply of low-carbon fuel will continue to help us to reduce the environmental impact of every journey. It is equally clear that we should not ignore the potential for low-carbon fuels to decarbonise those transport modes that are harder to reach through electrification. Low-carbon fuels have played an important role in reducing emissions already. Through the renewable transport fuel obligation—the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) asked about this—we have seen average greenhouse gas savings through biofuels increase from 46% in 2008-09 to 83% in the latest available statistics.

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington asked about incentives for electric vehicle drivers. We are considering long-term future incentives for zero-emission vehicles alongside our consultation on bringing forward the end-of-sale date. In the meantime, the Chancellor announced in the Budget a further £530 million of extra funding to keep the plug-in vehicle grant for another three years.

The hon. Gentleman also asked what we are doing to ensure that people can access and pay for public charging points. That is a big focus for this Government. The system that we deliver—the system of systems, if I can describe it that way, as someone who was an engineer in a previous life—is important and will ultimately deliver on something that we both want to see happen rapidly.