5 February 2020
George Freeman winds up a debate on transport emissions and decarbonisation

George Freeman highlights the Government’s commitment to dramatically accelerate the pace of progress on decarbonisation of transport, tackling disconnection of people and places left behind and the digitalisation of transport networks. He also outlines the significant investment in research and development, particularly in relation to hydrogen, biofuels and electric planes.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (George Freeman)

It is a great pleasure to close this debate on transport emissions and decarbonisation as the Government’s first ever Minister for the decarbonisation of transport. I want to begin, however, by saying that while we have been in this debate there has been an accident in Turkey. A passenger plane has skidded off a runway and there are reports of injuries. I know the whole House’s thoughts will be with those affected.

There have been many valuable contributions this afternoon. I cannot go through them all in the limited time available, but I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) on his maiden speech. He talked powerfully about Kashmir and apprenticeships. I know more about one than the other, although I hitch- hiked through Kashmir 30 years ago and I recognise the beauty of the place he described. I also want to highlight the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), and to congratulate him on becoming Chair of the Transport Committee, and the speech by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who has been running a powerful campaign on all-lane running on the M1, on which one of her constituents was killed. I thank her for the comments she made the other day in the Westminster Hall debate, which the Secretary State and I are taking very seriously.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), the former Secretary of State for Education, spoke powerfully about the importance of pursuing the electrification and decarbonisation agenda in a way that goes with the grain of everyday travel to work, families and the realities of getting around our country, particularly in the last mile.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) raised the important issue of Heathrow. Whatever happens at Heathrow, we are committed to making sure that it does not damage our commitment to our climate change obligations. In response to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), the SNP spokesman, I should make it clear that the UK Government want to support Scotland in its decarbonisation agenda. That is one reason why I am looking at hydrogen, which is a particular strength in the Scottish economy.

As Minister for the decarbonisation of transport, my brief, which has been worked through with the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, is to dramatically accelerate the pace of progress on decarbonisation in transport, but I also look after disconnection and digitalisation. The two are connected. We must do more to tackle the disconnection of people and places left behind, the clusters held back, and the disconnection between agencies, not least those with responsibility for decarbonisation. The digitalisation of our transport networks—particularly the railways, but also the buses—can play a huge part in decarbonising our transport system and making it easier for passengers to make that modal shift.

The Prime Minister yesterday set out our groundbreaking commitment to be the first nation to ban diesel and hybrid cars after 2035, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change. I am surprised we have not had more of a response and welcome for that from Opposition Members. They asked us to do it, and we have done it. It is a key step in tackling transport emissions and builds on our £1.5 billion investment in ultra low emission vehicles and our £400 million investment in charging infrastructure announced since the new Prime Minister and the Government took office.

We are looking across all modes of transport. On aviation, we have already committed to producing an aviation strategy looking to 2050 and beyond. We have made it clear that Heathrow expansion must meet strict criteria on air quality and noise and will not be allowed to materially affect the Government’s ability to meet our climate change obligations. On shipping, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Maritime Minister for launching our first clean maritime plan. The UK is one of the first countries to publish a domestic strategy to reduce shipping emissions—invisible to many but none the less hugely significant globally, particularly for this maritime nation. This followed the UK’s crucial role in the agreement of the International Maritime Organisation’s first strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships. On rail, we have committed to getting rid of all diesel trains on the rail network by 2040, and we are looking at electrification and at hydrogen trains in the peripheral areas not likely to be electrified.

We will, however, go much further and faster than even this. I am clear that we want to make Brexit the moment when we step up to our global responsibilities to lead in the decarbonisation of transport and the growth of a green economy. That is why I am working with the Secretary of State on our first ever comprehensive transport decarbonisation plan, which Opposition Members might be interested to hear about, and which we will publish shortly. It will set out a groundbreaking approach to all modes, explaining how road, rail, shipping and aviation can reach net zero.

We will take a place-based approach, looking at the dirtiest motorway junctions, railway stations, ports and airports, and ensuring that everyone has a target that can be met. We want to establish the first ever digital metric for emissions per passenger per kilometre, and, using that metric, to drive “red, amber, green” digital mapping of emissions around the country. We are significantly increasing our research and development science budget, particularly in relation to hydrogen, biofuels and electric planes, to ensure that we have the technology that will help us in carbon budgets 5 and 6.

I also want to highlight the power of data and digital, which has traditionally been overlooked in this sector, but which I believe has a powerful role to play in harnessing our digital economy to ensure that we map and measure properly and empower consumers, through their phones and their local communities, to make the choices that will contribute to the driving down of emissions. I ask Members to imagine their Citymapper as a green carbon route-mapper, giving them points and allowing them to make informed choices about routes and how they can reduce carbon emissions. We can lead the digitalisation, as well as the place-based choices, that will drive modal shift.

I understand that behavioural change alone is not enough, which is why we are significantly increasing our R&D and technology spending. I am launching the first ever Department of Transport research strategy, and a list of priorities for the budget period is being prepared at this moment. We shall be considering hydrogen, biofuels and electric planes.

My aim in this decarb plan is to ensure that this country leads in both the policies and the science and technology to drive the decarbonisation of transport. Our new future transport strategy sets out a comprehensive plan to do two key things. The first is to make the UK a world leader in the testing, development and financing of innovation in transport, because it is an industrial strategy for global UK leadership. Secondly, it is a strategy for local, healthy, place-based neighbourhood choice to make it easier for households, families, communities and councils to drive the modal shift that we need. We believe that by doing both, we can get on track to hit carbon budgets 5 and 6.

I know that time is short: I have no more than 40 seconds left. Let me end by saying this. A number of colleagues have spoken about cycling, and we have committed £2.5 billion in this investment round and in this Parliament to double it. We have invested a further £200 million in buses, we have a £2 billion programme for decarbonisation, and there is £400 million for electric vehicle charging and another £400 million for hydrogen.

We are acting fast to repair decades of neglect. It is all very well for Opposition Members to laugh, but I do not remember their being able to set out such a record after 13 years in office. We have a grip on this issue. In view of the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow later this year, COP26, let me make very clear that this Government get it. We are also absolutely committed to making clear at that conference that we will make Brexit the moment at which we inspire a new generation, lead globally, and do that most Conservative thing of all, which is to leave our environment in a better condition than the one in which we found it.