HC Deb 28 January 2003 vol 398 cc707-8
6. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What action he has taken to commission studies into the use of hydrogen fuel in transport. [93534]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

The Department has commissioned a study by Ricardo Consulting Engineers into the lifecycle carbon dioxide benefits of vehicles, including hydrogen vehicles.

We have also commissioned an expert study of the benefits of various alternative fuels, including hydrogen.

Both studies have been published on the Department for Transport website.

Mr. Dalyell

On 9 December, some of us in the parliamentary scientific committee heard a convincing presentation on hydrogen by Derek Charters of MIRA—the Motor Industry Research Association—and Professor Richard Clegg of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. It was realistic and well researched. What sort of time scale can we expect for the reports to result in some action?

Mr. Jamieson

I thank my hon. Friend for his question on that important matter. I know of his longstanding interest in it. It is difficult to predict the long-term future because some specific technological changes have to be tackled first.

There is the very important issue of the storage and transport of hydrogen, and there are a number of associated issues, not least the development of fuel cells, an important matter with regard to the use of hydrogen.

My hon. Friend will also be aware that some important environmental issues need to be addressed before we go full steam ahead with hydrogen. The hydrogen would have to be produced from renewable means. All the information that we have suggests that it is likely that, in perhaps 30 or 40 years' time, the future of transport will be in hydrogen. In the meantime, the Government are taking a number of very important measures that will reduce the amount of pollution and the amount of CO2 from vehicles in the shorter to medium term.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Will the Minister allow me to help him by telling him that the answer to the question is that it will be between 15 and 30 years before hydrogen can be used as an everyday fuel, particularly in motor vehicles? It depends on when the technology is available. When he talks to his ministerial colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry will he ensure that the work at Culham carries on and is fully funded, so that we can see whether nuclear fusion will be a proper option or whether it could be solar power or wind power that generates the necessary hydrogen?

Mr. Jamieson

The hon. Gentleman and I at least agree on the time scale. He said 15 to 30 years, and I said about 20 to 30 years. The hon. Gentleman is probably aware of the Government's powering future vehicles strategy, which brings together four of the important partners in Government Departments and draws together the threads of the policy on this matter. We have also brought together many of the stakeholders in industry, the environment, the oil-producing industry and the car industry to address some of these important issues. Grants are available through the Department of Trade and Industry to assist in the matters that the hon. Gentleman raised. If he wishes to take those forward through my Department or the DTI, we shall be very pleased to see that.