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Renewable Fuels

3. Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): What progress his Department has made in developing renewable energy-based road transport. [220404]

4. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): What proposals he has to increase the use of environmentally-friendly transport fuels.[220405]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Government's main support for environmentally friendly transport fuels has to date been through fuel duty incentives, but we are also carrying out a feasibility study into the possibility of requiring suppliers of road transport fuels to sell a given percentage of renewable fuels.

Mr. Challen: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his reply. Yesterday, the Government published their sustainable development strategy, "Securing the Future", which reminds us that they have set a target for 2012, when 10 per cent. of all new cars that are sold should be low-carbon vehicles. The Government intend to

Could that target be reviewed very soon, because the UK has one of the largest liquefied petroleum gas filling station networks in Europe, and with a complete renewal of our fleet in the next seven years we could set a higher target than 10 per cent. and follow the Prime Minister's words in the foreword—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We will leave those words until later.

Mr. Darling: I am sure that we all know the words off by heart, Mr. Speaker.

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance of making sure that we have as many low-carbon cars, lorries and vans on the roads as possible. The 10 per cent. target was set three or four years ago. Although about 3 per cent. of cars on the roads are comparatively low-carbon, very few produce less than 100 g of carbon per kilometre. We are confident that, in the next two to three years, new technology will increase their usage. Through a variety of means, including incentives such as fuel duty and so on, the Government have encouraged the industry to produce more fuel-efficient cars. LPG is available, but cars using biofuels and conventional fuels will also become more efficient. We want to push that forward, but of course we will keep the targets under review. Targets must be stretching and demanding, but they must also be realistic.

Paul Flynn : The targets are commendable, but they are not good enough. Within five years, transport will be the main source of greenhouse gas emissions and we hear almost daily warnings from scientists about the dangers of global warming. The more eminent and knowledgeable the scientist, the more terrified they are about that prospect. Is not true that we now face a future in which our planet may not be habitable for our grandchildren?

Mr. Darling: No, I do not think that that is right, and neither is what my hon. Friend said about transport
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producing the most emissions in a few years' time—it produces about 20 per cent. at the moment. As I recollect, a large of proportion of emissions come from domestic activity as well as from industry. However, he is right that the Government have a responsibility to do everything that they can to encourage the use of low-carbon cars, greater fuel efficiency and energy generation for railways, where there has been a 20 per cent. improvement in the past 10 years. We have made it clear that we want to develop such initiatives for aviation during our European Union presidency. We are making progress—cars are much cleaner and more efficient than they were 10 or 20 years ago—but of course we need to do much more. However, we must be realistic about what can be done, and must avoid causing undue and unjustifiable concern.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): In July last year, the Government set themselves the target of 0.3 per cent. biofuels as part of the total automotive fuel market. As it is now 2005, will the Secretary of State confirm that sales would have to increase sixfold to meet that target? Does he see a likelihood of that happening in the remaining nine months of the year?

Mr. Darling: Sales are increasing, and the Government have announced a 20 per cent. reduction in fuel duty to encourage biofuels. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that two factories producing biofuels will come on stream this year, one in Motherwell and one on Teesside. As I told the House a few moments ago, it is encouraging that after a slow start, there are many reasons to believe that the Government's policy of additional fuel duty incentives and encouragement to the industry will bear fruit. We are all united in wanting to see progress as quickly as possible so that we can reduce emissions from cars and lorries as much as we can.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State realise that a greater use of environmentally friendly fuels will have minimal impact so long as the Government persist in supporting anti-car policies? Does he accept that the use of green fuels would have a far bigger impact if combined with effective congestion-busting policies, such as properly phased traffic lights, no more speed humps, and the suspension, where appropriate, of bus lanes during the rush hour—a policy successfully introduced by Conservatives in Birmingham?

Mr. Darling: It is probably fair to say that transport policy in Birmingham is in a state of flux. The local bus company, which spent rather a lot of money buying buses in anticipation of being able to use the bus lanes, is now being told that it cannot use the bus lanes and is in some difficulty. If we want to encourage people to use public transport rather than their cars, I would not have thought that what the Conservatives are doing in Birmingham is the best advertisement. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned speed bumps. I wonder whether he listened to the performance of his boss on the "Today" programme this morning. He had proposed an amendment to the effect that all speed bumps would have to be taken out within two years, but when he was challenged by the "Today" presenter, Mr. Stourton, he
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said, "Well, no, I didn't actually mean that. It was just a probing amendment." The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) tabled an amendment, then ran away from it as fast as he could. That is the nonsense of the Conservative party policy on transport.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware how welcome it is that a British Government have finally woken up, 50 years after its invention in this country, to the important role—[Interruption]—that linear motor can play in the provision of fast, efficient, environmentally friendly inter-city transport? Can we look forward to early indications that serious consideration is being given to this mode of transport, known elsewhere as Maglev, being introduced in the UK?

Mr. Darling: I apologise to my hon. Friend—just as he was making the most telling point in his argument, somebody's mobile phone went off, so I may have missed what he was trying to say. If he was referring to Maglev—magnetic levitation—we obviously need to consider that technology, although there is currently only one example of a Maglev train running any distance—that is, 30 km in China. The sort of distances that we are contemplating, though not great by comparison with distances in China, are considerably longer. Now that we have fixed many of the problems that affected the performance of the railways in the past, as a Government we need to consider what additional capacity will be necessary in the future and look at the possibilities that might be presented by high-speed rail links. However, I should tell my hon. Friend that Maglev is only one of a number of possibilities, and it would be quite wrong to suggest that we are committed to that particular course of action, as some people outside have sought to do. We are examining a variety of options. What is important is that we look ahead and plan for the future.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): What has happened to the commitment made by the Secretary of State's boss, the Deputy Prime Minister, that there would be fewer car journeys in Britain by the end of the Labour Government?

Mr. Darling: One of the reasons that there are more journeys and more people travelling is that our economy has been growing in each successive year and each successive quarter since 1997. That is reflected not just in road transport, but in the fact that the railways carried a billion passengers last year—more than at any time since the early 1950s—and more people are flying, because we have a strong, successful economy and people are better off and more prosperous than they ever were under the Conservative Government or would be if the Conservatives ever returned to office. At the same time, because of that growing prosperity, we are able to put more money into transport. We have doubled transport spending, which the Conservatives were never able to do.

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