John Redwood (Wokingham, Conservative):
I rise to urge the Government to be careful about rushing to close our factories making diesel and petrol cars before we have established the electrical revolution and are confident that we have created the capacity and the extra jobs in the alternative power system that the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) is so passionately recommending. I would ask the Labour Opposition, who seem even keener to close our petrol and diesel capacity more quickly, to consider why Germany, with a far larger automotive industry than our own, has decided with the EU to delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2035 rather than 2030, and also why Germany thinks it needs to make provision for the possibility that it can make cars that work on synthetic fuels or some derivative of hydrogen as an alternative to the battery system as a way of getting to a low carbon output. Germany might not be wrong. I think that we will discover as a country that it is much easier to close factories and terminate the production of petrol and diesel cars than it is to get those much-wanted electrical factories into operation, with all the supply chain that that requires.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not making an important admission that although the EU has delayed ending the manufacture of combustion engines, there are important exemptions in that those cars should be run only on synthetic fuels and sustainable fuels?
I have said that the EU was keen to explore the synthetic fuel opportunity. In the meantime, it is not recommending the closure of traditional vehicle factories at pace. Indeed, the EU has recently required of its member states that they should not only speed up the roll-out of electrical charging points—which will clearly be needed if people are to buy more electric cars—but roll out the provision of hydrogen refuelling places, not synthetic fuels. It is probably easier to deal with synthetic fuels, because a good synthetic fuel that is liquid at normal temperatures can be used in the usual distribution system, using the sunk assets that already exist in the petrol and diesel system. Indeed, one of the ways to introduce synthetic fuels more easily would be to gradually increase the proportion of synthetic fuel mixed into traditional fuels, as we have with E10 petrol and as is being talked about for sustainable aviation fuels, where there are target percentages for the introduction of lower carbon ingredients in the fuels.
I am very much a supporter of synthetic fuels. I think they will have a role to play in the years moving
forward. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what emissions synthetic fuels will emit from a combustion engine compared with the current fossil fuel equivalent?
That is to ask, “How long is a piece of string?” A variety of these fuels are being produced in trials in small quantities. They need to have all their characteristics explored, then people will decide which ones give the best green output for the lowest cost for scale-up.
The whole House needs to get better at carbon accounting. I hear from all sides that unless we go for battery cars, we will not meet our net zero targets. I am suggesting that there may be other ways of getting closer to net zero targets through other types of fuels. I also do not quite understand why so many people in the House think that getting people to buy electric battery cars today helps us with our net zero targets. Let us take the example of a well-off person who decides to replace their petrol or diesel car with an electric battery vehicle. They have enough money to be able to afford one—they are quite expensive—and they are also fortunate in that they have a driveway or personal garage and can pay to have a charger put in at home. They realise that they will always be able to get there and back for short and medium distances without having to rely on unpredictable and rather scarce public charging systems, so they are ready to go. When they get home and recharge their car on the first night, however, there is no extra renewable electricity to send to them. We use every bit of renewable electricity every day, whether or not the wind is blowing, because it is given priority so, when the car is plugged in overnight, a gas power station will probably have to up its output a little to supply the electricity. Far from helping us to meet our net zero target, that new electric car is probably increasing the amount of electricity that has to be generated from fossil fuels.
I have read a number of studies that attempt to get to the truth of how much of a contribution, or detriment, getting more people to switch to electric cars might make to reducing world CO2, and there are rather different answers because the calculations are very complicated. I am more persuaded by the people who do total-life-of-vehicle calculations. We need to recognise that more CO2 is generated in producing a typical electric car, including the battery, than in producing a petrol or diesel car. Mining all the metals and minerals needed for the battery and battery production is particularly intensive, and more CO2 could be produced to deal with the waste when the battery reaches the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced, which is an expensive and complicated task.
To beat running a petrol or diesel car for a bit longer, a person running an electric car would need to do a very high mileage and would need to make sure that every unit of electricity used to charge the vehicle is generated from zero-carbon sources. At the moment, it is very clear that none of these requirements has been met. Although I can understand why we need to encourage people to go on this journey to build up the fleet of electric cars, against the day when we generate more zero-carbon electricity, we must accept that, in the short term, it is probably bad news for the world’s CO2.
I am worried that we may be in danger of not achieving our main green objective, at the same time that we are spending a lot of money on a subsidy war
with other countries that are similarly desperate to get battery production. I am also very worried that the UK, Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States of America are so behind China in putting in battery manufacturing capability, and so behind China in doing deals with world suppliers of critical minerals and battery components, that it places us in a very vulnerable industrial position, which is why both the European Union and the United Kingdom are having difficulties ensuring enough value added in electric cars to meet our own criteria. That is a common and shared problem, and the solution is not easy because we need to leapfrog 10 years, or whatever, to get to the point at which we have control over the minerals, the raw materials and the production of batteries so we can meet those criteria.
I am also very worried about how customers are left out of most of these debates. They are taken for granted and, when they do not behave in quite the way that politicians would like, politicians invent taxes, subsidies and bans to say, “Well, we are going to make you choose a car you would not have chosen for yourself, because we do not think you are making the right choices.” I would rather live in a world in which the hugely talented motor industry, and all the skilled scientists and technologists who help it, work away at producing cars that are better, more affordable, safer, higher quality and meet our service requirements so that we willingly buy the electric or synthetic fuel alternative, rather than sticking to petrol or diesel vehicles. We are not there yet, as we can see. The proportion of people wanting to buy electric cars is still a minority, despite all the very aggressive advertising, promotion and political weight behind them. Part of that is affordability, part of it is range, part of it is the worry about refuelling and part of it is uncertainty about battery life and repair. There are many complicated decisions when trying to make such a big switch in product availability, and people have come to like their traditional petrol or diesel vehicle. They have the measure of those vehicles and think they provide a very good service. As a country, we should not get too far ahead of our electorates and consumers.
If we look at the fast growth of electric car sales, from a very low base, we will find that it is much more concentrated in the business fleet market than in the personal choice market, because companies feel under more of a moral imperative to buy into this idea, which I have just exposed as somewhat odd, that these are super-green vehicles, whereas individuals say, “But it is not affordable, it is not practical and it is not what I want.”
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the reason why fleet purchases are now massively outstripping personal purchases is the tax incentives given to fleet purchases, whereas the incentives for private purchases have all but disappeared under this Government?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and it is an additional reinforcement, but I think fleet buyers are also very conscious of the environmental requirements.
I stress that, for this to work, it has to be a popular revolution. Millions of people have to decide for themselves, having listened to the arguments and seen the products, that green products are better than the old products, and in some cases they very clearly are and people will rush out to buy them. If we are still in a world in which people are not of that view, we can subsidise, tax and lecture all we like, but people will not change their mind.
One of the ways in which businesses and people could get around any attempt by this Government or a future Government to ban all sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles in 2030, when the rest of the world is not doing so, is that people will set up businesses to import nearly new petrol and diesel cars from places that still sell them and make them, to sell them as second-hand cars on the UK market. I do not believe anyone is suggesting that we ban the sale of second-hand diesel and petrol cars, as that would immediately remove all the value from our cars, meaning that we are prisoners—we either run the car until it falls to pieces or we lose its value and are unable to make the changes we would normally make.
There will have to be a definition of what is a new car, and it will presumably have something to do with how long ago it was made and/or how many miles it has on the clock. Whatever the definition, there will then be a good opportunity for people to sell cars that are four months old, rather than three months old, or that have 3,000 miles on the clock instead of 500 delivery miles. There would be a nearly new market, but the cars would all be imports, because people here would try to obey the law.
I urge all politicians to remember that they cannot just lecture, ban, tax or subsidise people into doing things unless the product has an underlying merit that people can see. Can we please work with the industry to prove that underlying merit? And do not ban things in the meantime, because Britain will lose jobs and factories. We cannot save the electric vehicle until the electric vehicle saves itself.