HC Deb 08 May 1978 vol 949 cc753-4
6. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received concerning the development of electric vehicles; and if he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Dr. John Cunningham)

The Government's interest in electric vehicles is co-ordinated and led by the Department of Industry but the Department of Energy is closely involved. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has recently met representatives of the Electric Vehicles Association of Great Britain Limited led by Lord Ironside and we have received correspondence on the subject.

Mr. Hannam

In view of the development by the early 1980s of new batteries capable of providing more than 200 miles from each charge, and the subsequent off-peak use of electricity, why is there such a divergence of view between the Department of Energy, whose Advisory Council on the Conservation of Energy has recently produced a forecast that seven out of every 10 vehicles should be electric, and the Department of the Environment, whose spokesman said only a week or so ago that the future for transportation lay in synthetic fuels?

Dr. Cunningham

I do not think that there is the difference that the hon. Member maintains. Most people are agreed that the long-term future in transport lies with electric vehicles and synthetic fuels from coal. Both are seen as very important developments. The hon. Member is slightly mistaken when he refers to the Advisory Council on the Conservation of Energy. Energy Paper No. 26 was from the Working Group on Transport of the advisory council. The advisory council has not as yet reported to my right hon. Friend. When it does, we shall consider its recommendations.

Mr. Pavitt

In addition to my hon. Friend's consultations with the Department of Industry, will he have much closer consultation with the Minister responsible for the disabled? Is he aware that there are a number of different electric vehicles which, for paraplegics and the disabled, could give much more service than they get at the moment? There is not enough variety, and production and maintenance costs are too high. In view of that, will my hon. Friend set in train a more strenuous research programme to ensure that vehicles of this kind are provided to the people who need them most?

Dr. Cunningham

I take my hon. Friend's point. Perhaps I could make some inquiries and write to him about it.

Mr. Tom King

In connection with seeking greater economies in transport and energy use in which electric vehicles could play a part, why do the Government still persist with a situation in which we are the only country in Europe in which there is a positive disincentive, through the tax system, to move to the use of diesel as a fuel for vehicles?

Dr. Cunningham

We persist with that because the House of Commons refused to authorise proposals in the Budget last year which would have changed the position.