Electric Cars Debate

Neil secured a Westminster Hall debate yesterday on Electric and Hybrid Electric Cars.

Electric cars are greener, quieter, more efficient and can help cut air pollution in our inner cities. In his speech, Neil argued for the Government to rapidly increase the number of electric car charging points and provide better financial incentives to electric car users.

In Norway, the Government took this action a decade ago. Now, 25% of all new car registrations in Norway are for electric cars. Neil argued for Britain following the Norwegian Model to increase electric car ownership and boost the electric car industry.

You can watch Neil speech at this link, or read the full debate transcript at this link.


Neil Parish

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. It is great to see the Minister, who I am sure is very interested in electric cars.

I look forward to having electric cars running all along the A303 and A30, with that road, along with the A358, completely dualled—that is an aside for the Minister, but I am sure he has already got the message.

The electric and hybrid electric car market is booming in the UK, with the number of hybrid electric cars increasing by 31% and the number of electric cars by 52% in the past year alone. Electric vehicles decrease emissions, reduce noise pollution and, critically, can help to dramatically improve air quality in our city centres.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)

I declare an interest as chair of the all-party historic vehicles group and the owner of several historic vehicles. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not accompany the incentivising of electric vehicles with a penalty against those who seek to keep part of Britain’s motoring heritage on the road?

Neil Parish

If we can dramatically reduce pollution levels by using electric cars, particularly in our city centres, we should be able to allow—dare I say it?—a little pollution from older vehicles. It is a matter of balance, and I agree with my right hon. Friend. I prefer a carrot for people to move over to electric cars, rather than a stick for those who do not.

The April 2016 report on air quality by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that each year, there are between 40,000 and 50,000 early deaths due to air quality problems. Polluting vehicles are part of the problem, especially in our inner cities. The UK has a legal obligation under EU directives to address air quality. Of course, we can probably now have our own directives, but most people in this country would agree that it is good to set a target to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels to 40 mg per cubic metre or less and to ensure that, particularly in our inner cities, not only our cars but our vans and lorries—the vehicles that are actually polluting—are electric or hybrid.

Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) (Con)

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that such measures would dramatically change areas, such as Bradford on Avon in my constituency, that suffer heavily from air pollution problems due to huge levels of congestion? Small pockets like that, as well as the big cities, could be dramatically transformed.

Neil Parish

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. People who drive an electric car, especially a pure electric car, are not starting and stopping their engine in queues of traffic, where the highest levels of pollution are often found. It will take a little while to get to the number of electric cars that we want, but it will make a dramatic difference in areas such as Bradford on Avon, which she represents so well.

Now that we have left the EU, it is vital that the Government double down on air quality issues. Well, we are about to leave—it is rumoured that there was a referendum. The new targets that we set must be as rigorous as those set by the EU. During the referendum campaign, nobody on either side argued against that—before the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) glares at me, I was actually on the remain side. We must set tough targets on both the location and levels of pollution, because we all want a clean environment. The Mayor of London has outlined even tougher measures to address the problems, including a £10 pollution charge and a faster roll-out of clean buses, so everyone is working towards that aim.

I will now talk about the Norwegian model—not for entry to the single market, but for electric cars. Some 25% of all new cars in Norway are plug-in electric vehicles, which compares with 1.3% in the UK. Although we have had interesting increases in the number of electric cars, which I mentioned earlier, those increases were from a low base. The increase in Norway was due to a long-term infrastructure drive launched in 2009-10 and incentives for electric cars, which include the abolition of import tax; reduced annual registration tax, or road tax; no purchase taxes; road toll exemptions; 0% VAT; access to bus lanes; free access to road ferries; and guaranteed financial incentives until 2018. Norway has been very ambitious, and I expect the Minister to be equally ambitious.

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is delivering a passionate exposition of his case. Will he join me in welcoming research such as that taking place at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in my constituency? The centre is particularly researching batteries, not only for electric cars but for driverless cars. The new generation of batteries that are being produced will power such cars for even longer.

Neil Parish

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Battery capacity affects mileage, the length of time between charges and, of course, how long the batteries last. One problem with the early hybrid cars was that their batteries did not last long enough. Such research is therefore key, as is research on hydrogen cars.

The two main barriers to increasing the number of electric cars are the number of charging points and the cost. According to Zap-Map.com, the UK currently has some 11,400 charge points at 4,000 different locations. By comparison, Norway has 6,500 charging stations at 1,580 locations. Norway has only a thirteenth the population of Britain, so comparatively it has many more charging points. The UK cannot be left behind. In Britain, on average, there are 4 miles between each public charging point; in Wales, it is a full 12 miles. Clear and visible charging points are a crucial way of encouraging more members of the public to invest in electric cars. The Government should commit to installing public electric chargers within 1 mile, on average, of every home in Britain—that is what the Minister has to do.

Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has mentioned Wales, and I am sure the Welsh football team will be in everyone’s thoughts tonight. Many right hon. and hon. Members, and indeed the Minister, will know that Riversimple, a hydrogen-based car company in my Brecon and Radnorshire constituency, was out in New Palace Yard just a few weeks ago. I hope the Minister will tell us how the Government can support such interesting schemes and businesses. Such home-grown technology can help Britain to lead the way.

Neil Parish

I could not agree more. Although this debate is about electric cars, hydrogen will also play a really important role. May I take this opportunity to wish Wales all the very best for tonight? May they get through to the final, because England cannot seem to manage to do it. I hope Wales do very well.

A project in my constituency in Devon is currently considering a car hire hub at junction 27 of the M5. People will be able to come by train to Tiverton Parkway and hire electric cars. It has not been built yet but I hope it soon will be, because it is a really good idea for Devon and for the countryside.

It is also vital that the Government ensure that many of the new charging points offer rapid charging, either by alternating current or direct current. Rapid AC chargers can charge an electric vehicle up to 80% in 30 minutes. That is essential, because one reason why people do not always buy electric cars is that they fear they will take a long time to charge and that they do not travel a great distance. In 2015, only 20% of UK chargers were rapid chargers. When the Government roll out new charging points, they need to ensure that the majority of them are rapid, so that drivers can quickly recharge and continue their journey. The Government should ensure that every petrol station has rapid charging facilities.

James Heappey (Wells) (Con)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Our hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) secured a similar debate in this Chamber a few weeks ago, in which I made the point that when the petrol combustion engine was rolling out at the beginning of the last century, the cars came before the petrol stations. Rather than focusing on the provision of charging points, the Government should focus on incentivising the take-up of electric cars. The charging points will surely follow.

Neil Parish

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and I shall move on to incentivising people to buy electric cars to get more of them on the road. However, I emphasise that the two aspects need to come largely together. The shortage of charging points may be one reason for people not buying the cars in the first place. We have to have both.

Actions the Government have taken include the plug-in grant of up to £5,000 for cars and £8,000 for vans; setting up the Office for Low Emission Vehicles; additional conversion funding for vans and lorries; funding for all Government car fleets to go electric—I see the odd Land Rover and Range Rover here outside, but I think all Ministers ought to be in electric cars; and tax benefits and exemptions for electric vehicles.

The Government should supercharge their efforts to incentivise electric vehicles. The Chancellor has rightly cut fuel duty since 2010; the Brexiteers raised the prospect of exempting fuel from VAT during the referendum campaign, but they seem to have gone remarkably quiet about it since then. There should be a similar push to incentivise the use of electric and hybrid vehicles in the Department for Transport and in Government more widely.

What about future policy development? Some innovative towns and cities, such as Milton Keynes, have new schemes—free parking, charging hubs, and bus lane priorities— to boost electric vehicles. The Government should copy local authority best practice on electric cars. They must recognise that electric vehicles are part of the future of our transport. Electric car registrations are predicted to outstrip petrol and diesel vehicles by 2027, and it would be good to achieve that before then. Private car ownership is dropping in many cities, including London, with a move towards car sharing, car pooling and taxi services. Shared transport becoming cheaper should encourage the business community to adopt rapid electric cars more quickly. Transport businesses support electric vehicles, because they are reliable and efficient. The Government must be alive to incentivising businesses, through better infrastructure and lower cost, to move their car fleets over to electric vehicles.

To ensure that electric and hybrid vehicles, which are much quieter than conventional vehicles, are safe for blind and partially sighted people, we must make sure that they make some sound so that people know they are coming. It is a huge advantage to have very quiet vehicles, but if they are too quiet there can be a danger.

I am now getting to my recommendations—I am sure the Minister will be pleased that I have made a few along the way. Electric and hybrid vehicles are the future; they are cleaner, quieter, greener and go a long way to reducing air quality problems. The Government should greatly enhance current programmes. Fewer than 1% of cars on British roads are hybrid or electric vehicles at the moment, so we need to go much faster. The Government’s modern transport Bill will offer a great opportunity to take the necessary steps. I know we have heard this many times over recent months, but let us copy the Norwegian model. If we put the infrastructure in place and create the incentives, electric car usage will rocket.

Let us have a Government commitment to rapid AC or DC chargers within an average of 1 mile of every home in Britain, not the current 4 miles; proper, generous incentives for electric vehicles for both business and private ownership, including tax breaks, toll exemptions and access to bus lanes; an integrated part of the gov.uk website that shows every electric public charging point in the UK and how many rapid charging points are available; and a statutory obligation for every new petrol station to contain electric car charging points. Let’s get this show on the road. I look forward to the Minister’s response.