7 March 2023
Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

Jesse Norman, Minister of State for Decarbonisation and Technology, responds on behalf of the Government to a debate on electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Jesse Norman)

It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard, not least because you are a man educated in Hereford. It is a pleasure to respond to the interesting comments made by my dear hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). I congratulate him on the indefatigable way in which he has pressed this issue in this Chamber and in the House of Commons over the years on behalf of his constituents in Wimbledon. He is absolutely right that the issue is important and has wider repercussions. I thank other colleagues who have made interventions in the debate.

It is interesting that this debate follows not just the debate that my hon. Friend mentioned, which took place a few weeks ago, but this morning’s 90-minute debate on rural decarbonisation, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby). That is testament to the level of concern and interest among our colleagues in the House.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon knows, the Government are committed to achieving their climate change obligations. Decarbonising transport is a key part of that. I hope we will make some important announcements fairly shortly about the zero emission vehicle mandate, which will be a massive driver of investment in new charge points and new electric vehicles. We are doing that not only to help to decarbonise the atmosphere but to improve air quality and the quality of life in our towns and cities, while supporting a sustainable path of economic growth. We are committed to phasing out the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and to ensuring that all new cars and vans are zero emission by 2035. We have already put in something like £2 billion to support the transition process.

As part of that process, almost a year ago the Government published their landmark electric vehicle infrastructure strategy, which comprehensively set out their vision and commitments in this policy area. In particular, the strategy put in place an expectation of around 300,000 public charge points—not just charge points, as my hon. Friend said, but public charge points. That is important because sitting alongside that are hundreds of thousands of charge points being put into private premises through the normal process of investment that goes alongside the purchase of electric vehicles. That may happen under a previously funded scheme or come as part of the package of buying the vehicle or via a number of other methods. Even that 300,000 is just a part of the overall picture. My hon. Friend is right to flag the ambition inherent in the target. As technology changes, as the market becomes more competitive and as the zero emission vehicle mandate kicks in, we expect that target to come into view.

Alan Mak 

The Minister will know that throughout history the use of technology has accelerated when there is greater interoperability, common standards and open protocols. Does he feel that is an important aspect of our race to increase the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in this country?

Jesse Norman 

Yes. I do not think there is any doubt about that, and my hon. Friend is right that that has been the pattern in the past. Of course, one cannot just regard technology as a panacea. Technology will improve, and it will stimulate competition and increase growth at certain rates, but one has to be careful as to what the rate is. There is a moment in all market development at which markets go from being a collection of competing standards and potential franchises to becoming a standardised, all-embracing place in which different rivals can compete. That is what we are seeing with charging. We are seeing individual networks yielding over time to networks that can be accessed using credit cards, for example, in a network-neutral way. The Department is supporting that.

It is worth pointing out that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon highlighted, local authorities are going to be and will remain a central part of the nearer-to-home provision for charging, and possibly the nearer-to-business provision. What there will be less of in some areas is rapid charging on the public strategic road network, because that has different demands and is being handled in a slightly different way.

On 21 February, the Government announced an additional £56 million in public industry funding to support the local electric vehicle infrastructure programme, which includes a capability pilot designed to improve local authorities’ capacity to commission and implement the infrastructure, recognising the concern that there was not necessarily a completely consistent picture of expertise or capability on the local authority network. In turn, that capability will enable what my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon rightly pressed the Government on. He asked whether we will continue to incentivise, encourage and press local authorities to do more; of course, we can do that as their capabilities improve.

Stephen Hammond 

My right hon. Friend the Minister is clearly right about what the Government should be pressing local authorities to do. Given that they are giving additional funding for the capacity for local authorities to outline their strategy, might it not be good and sensible for the Government to ensure that there is a timeline for when local authorities should have strategies in place?

Jesse Norman 

We can look to the incentives provided by public funding and public pressure, and pressure from car owners, to drive that process. I would not rule out a more engaged attitude towards local authorities. Indeed, I have met plenty of local authorities in the relatively short time I have been in this job, precisely because I regard charge point infrastructure provision as a very serious issue. It is one that involves not only the charge point operators and the electricity providers but the local authorities themselves, as the providers of infrastructure. I take on board my hon. Friend’s point. The funding I have described sits alongside funding already being provided through the on-street residential charge point scheme.

I have talked a little about rapid charging; I do not need to spend too much more time on that. It does not directly affect the situation. Members will be aware that the current situation is that a driver is never more than 25 miles away from a rapid charge point. We need to increase and accelerate the level of charge points we have put in and we have a commitment to do so, to around 6,000 ultra-rapid devices by 2035.

Stephen Hammond 

My right hon. Friend is incredibly generous to give way again. I made a glaring omission in my remarks. Although he rightly says that rapid charging points are perhaps the next follow-on, the reality is that rapid charging points are hugely important for commercial vehicle transition to electric vehicles, including in respect of taxi cabs and others. I had some remarks to make about that but somehow missed them out. We speak a lot about domestic vehicles, but we need to recognise the transition in commercial activity as well.

Jesse Norman 

My hon. Friend is right to make that adjustment. I assumed that, given the confines of a Westminster Hall debate, he was compressing an otherwise comprehensive speech into a narrower compass, and rightly so.

Given the time available, let me pick up on a couple of things before I have to sit down. To strengthen consumer confidence, the Government will lay legislation in the coming months to reduce charging anxiety still further. To address the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak), that legislation will mandate open data; 99% reliability across each rapid charging network; a 24/7 helpline for when something might go wrong; contactless and payment roaming; and a pricing network to improve and increase transparency. That will improve competition rivalry and therefore investment. We have also made significant further investment.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) asked about changing planning permissions for developments. He is not in his place, but I should say that last year the Government implemented legislation to require new builds and buildings undergoing renovations to install charging points for domestic and non-domestic vehicles during construction. Part of the solution is not just further public investment alongside the rapidly escalating private investment; it is also about better regulation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon asked about the Budget and VAT on charging. As a former Financial Secretary to the Treasury I remind him that, as he will know, I will be skinned if I attempt to commit the Government on this issue, least of all in respect of tax policy a few days before a fiscal event. But I am sure it is on the public record and it will be well noted in No. 1 Horse Guards.

My hon. Friend talked about pressure on local authorities with regard to long-term plans. It is right that good local authorities think about longer-term plans. Not all the infrastructure originally installed was long term in its inspiration; it was an early technology that has since been superseded. I think local authorities are getting better. We have plans to assist local government in thinking about gullies, which are a useful long-term way to providing for on-street charging that will make a big difference.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) asked about home charging in rural areas. He is right that such areas suffer particular drawbacks, but they have the advantage that there tends to be more available parking space there for people who buy electric vehicles. We would expect to see that as we see more longevity improvements in technology, but that then requires people to be able to charge. That capability is increasingly provided as part of the commercial package of buying a vehicle. As we see technology and competition take over, we can expect the price of vehicles to fall over time. I believe that the problem my hon. Friend raised will start to address itself over and above the considerable investments that we are already making.