Neil presses for more electric vehicle charging points

Neil spoke in the debate on the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill to press for more charging points for electric vehicles.

The Bill aims to upgrade the UK's modern transport infrastructure and ensure the law is ready for new forms of technology like electric cars, autonomous vehicles and drones. You can read Neil's full speech below. The link to the full debate can be found here. 

Neil: It is a great pleasure to speak on the Second Reading of the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill and to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald). As the Minister said, the hon. Gentleman gave a very thoughtful speech about the way forward, which saw a great number of interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat).

Before dealing with clauses 8 to 15 on the electric vehicle charging points, I want to raise some more general issues. It is good to see the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), in his place, and I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) who commented on what a wonderful team of Ministers we have. When this particular Minister came before the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he dealt with issues of air quality. Although the Bill will not in itself solve all the problems relating to air quality, many parts of it could help. What we need to do is to target these electric vehicles very much in our inner cities and our hotspots where there are high levels of NOx emissions.

Karl McCartney (Lincoln): On the particular point about air quality, I understand the need for it to be improved in cities, but does my hon. Friend believe that with electric vehicles, which will need the electricity to be produced somewhere, we might end up moving the problem of the pollution of energy production to the rural parts of our country?

Neil: My hon. Friend raises a very interesting point, to which I have given much thought. I think that in the real world we have to accept that the highest levels of pollution that prove to be most detrimental to people’s health are mainly in inner-city areas. The electricity will have to be produced somewhere, and unless it is going to be done entirely through green technology—we will move towards that in the longer term—it will cause some pollution. We have to accept that to reduce inner-city NOx levels, there might need to be a little bit of pollution across the country. We cannot allow individuals to suffer from the high levels of nitrogen oxide that are currently in the inner cities. I have to accept that there will be some pollution somewhere else; otherwise, we will not be able to reduce the levels of pollution in our inner cities.

This is why charging points for electric vehicles are so important. It is not just this Bill that is relevant, because there may be something in the Chancellor’s speech later this week. If we are to have any sort of scrappage scheme through which people could convert to electric vehicles, we need to try to target it towards our inner cities in particular, because the need to reduce pollution is at its greatest there. We can use hybrid vehicles and other types to bring us to the cities; when we are in the inner city, we will need not only electric cars but electric taxis, and we shall need to convert many of our lorries perhaps to liquid petroleum gas or something that will reduce the current levels of NOx.

Unless we do something really serious to deal with pollution in the inner city, the Government are going to be in the dock and DEFRA will sit in the dock. It is possible to reduce a little of the nitric oxide that comes ​from farming, but it is not so easy to cure the problem in the inner city. That has to be done mainly through transport measures and perhaps by local government.

I had better move on to the Bill’s clauses, Mr Deputy Speaker; otherwise, you will get agitated with me for going beyond what the Bill contains. I shall speak mainly to clauses 8 to 15, which deal with electric vehicle charging. I shall outline the benefits of electric vehicles in the specific clauses in order to incentivise their use. Electric vehicles are on the verge of a massive expansion in the UK, and the potential benefits are enormous, as many Members have said this evening. However, the figure for new registrations in this country is less than 2%. The figure in Norway is some 25%, so we have a little way to go, although I am sure that, in the safe hands of the Minister, it will happen overnight.

Electric vehicles mean better air quality. Toxic gases from combustion engines are linked to more than 40,000 deaths in the UK, and road transport is responsible for about 80% of nitric oxide in our inner-city hotspots. A move away from combustion engines and towards electric vehicles would cut levels of nitric oxide in the air, and would reduce the number of early deaths. British motorists currently face some of the highest fuel prices in Europe, but an electric vehicle that achieves 3 miles per kWh can cost about 4p per mile. Ultimately, that really will encourage people to buy electric cars. The AA has estimated that they are about five times cheaper to run than the average petrol car. The Chancellor may miss a little bit of fuel tax, but I think that, in terms of air quality, this is a step in the right direction. Transport produces higher carbon emissions than any other UK sector, including power generation. Moving vehicles from carbon to electric will help the UK to slash its carbon emissions further, especially as renewable energy is rapidly rising in the UK.

How can we boost electric vehicles? Although the market has grown rapidly in recent years, ultra-low emission vehicles still account for only 1.2% of new car registrations in Britain. The Government’s own research shows that one in five Britons has considered buying an electric vehicle, but the biggest barrier to uptake is the lack of availability of charging points and the lack of knowledge of where to find them. I am glad that the Bill seeks to deal with those problems.

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire): I agree with my hon. Friend about the lack of availability of charging points, but may I also ask him to join me in urging the Minister to start this project at home, on the parliamentary estate? We have only two charging points, which means that those of us who have plug-in electric cars often have to compete for a space, or cannot find one.

Neil: That is a very good point. We should lead by example in the House, and if more of us have electric cars, we shall need more electric charging points. I look forward to hearing the Minister respond to my hon. Friend’s point—

John Hayes (Transport Minister): I think that is an excellent point, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I know you will think so too. We will get on to it straight away. I will ask my officials—indeed, ​Mr Deputy Speaker, I am asking them now, through you—to bring me some reports, as a matter of urgency, on how we can do something about the matter.

Neil: I have every faith in the Minister. Speaking as his former Parliamentary Private Secretary, I am absolutely certain that he can achieve this—probably through his PPS. No, I must not say that; I was only being facetious.

Charging points are necessary, but we must also ensure that fast charging points are available. We do not want to leave our cars charging for a long time; they need to be charged reasonably quickly.

Clause 9 gives the Government power to require operators to provide an appropriate uniform method of accessing public charging points. People need to know that their vehicles fit the chargers. I hope that the Government will take that opportunity. There are currently myriad charging structures, memberships and prices. Clear and uniform charging structures, so that the public can plan their bills and do not feel ripped off, will boost electric vehicle take-up. Clause 10 makes it a requirement for large fuel retailers to install electric charging points. That is a common-sense change, which we have been calling for since last year. We will never boost electric car numbers to diesel or petrol levels until we have parity in refuelling infrastructure. Are there enough incentives for large garages to provide charging points when they like to sell us petrol or diesel?

Clause 11 is particularly important. It requires public information on the availability of public charging points. We need a public awareness campaign on exactly where the electric charging points are. The public need to have confidence that if they buy an electric car, they will have charging points in the vicinity. This is absolutely fundamental.

Clause 12 sets the minimum standards for charging points, including the ability to transmit data to the user, energy efficiency requirements, and the ability for data to be accessed remotely. It is a good start, but I would like the clause to go further: I would like to see minimum charging speeds as a requirement for new charging points. We need more rapid DC charging points that can charge a car to 80% capacity in 30 minutes. I am sure that the Minister is more than capable of that. This will help EVs to properly compete with petrol and diesel vehicles. I hope the Minister will consider this change, because until we can charge our EVs quickly, we will not be able to cover the distances, and that is partly what stops people getting electric vehicles. I also say to the Minister that ULEVs currently make up only 6.3% of the Government car service fleet, so the Government must get their own house in order.

The Government have the laudable aim that every new car in the UK should be an ULEV in the next 25 years. The Business Secretary says that he wants Britain to be the world leader in EVs; this is a big step in the right direction. We should be bold with our electric charging infrastructure and give the public the confidence to buy an electric car. The tangible benefits are within our grasp, and I look forward to backing this Bill in the Aye Lobby this evening.​