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Vehicle Excise Duty: Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Volume 762: debated on Monday 29 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to change the basis on which Vehicle Excise Duty rates for new cars are calculated by carbon dioxide emissions alone.

My Lords, the Chancellor keeps all fiscal instruments under review. Any changes are announced at the appropriate time.

I congratulate my noble friend on that Answer. The Budget will be with us shortly, but will the Chancellor bear in mind that the present system strongly favours diesel cars, whereas we now know that nitrogen oxide emissions are far more harmful than CO2 emissions? Will the Government consider moving to a system that takes emissions of both gases into the equation? While they are about it, will the Government look at the testing regime? At present, this is a laboratory-based system, which bears little relationship to what one actually gets out on the road.

My Lords, the Government do not explicitly promote diesel cars. The current tax system, introduced in 2001, covers the purchase of cars with low CO2 emissions, regardless of whether they are petrol or diesel. I hope I can be a little more helpful on my noble friend’s question about testing. I am pleased to report that work has been going on for some time, at European and international level, to provide better testing. Although they will still be laboratory tests—so that they can be replicated around the world—a more accurate database will be included, which will more accurately simulate actual driving conditions.

My Lords, will the noble Lord reconsider the answer he gave on whether the Government promote the use of diesel cars? I drive a diesel car, which I am rather ashamed to admit now that I know about the particulates that are emitted by it. However, that diesel car pays no road tax and, currently, no congestion charge. That may not be active promotion but it is certainly implicit promotion.

I was referring to vehicle excise duty which, under the system introduced in 2001, simply addresses the amount of carbon produced. It does not promote one form of car over another: it just incentivises less carbon.

My Lords, given the goals of tackling climate change, getting clean air and developing an ultra-low-emission vehicle industry in this country, where we have a chance of becoming a leading manufacturer, would it not be wise to continue to make sure that VED benefits are targeted at the ULEV sector so that we do not lose the advantages we have gained, since we do not yet have a sustainable market?

The noble Baroness is correct that we should encourage vehicles that produce low emissions. The Government are investing in a wide range of measures to help improve air quality. Since 2011, the Government have committed more than £2 billion in measures to reduce transport emissions. These measures will address both nitrous dioxide emissions and particulates.

My Lords, perhaps I may suggest to the Minister a way round this. The Supreme Court has suggested that the Government should produce a national plan to fix our air pollution problem. Something on the vehicle excise duty could go very nicely into that plan and make quite a lot of headway.

The noble Baroness’s interest in this subject is well known and I agree with her that there are many things that could be done. However, it is about more than just vehicle excise duty—55% of nitrous dioxide emissions come from sources other than transport. However, I take the point about the Supreme Court judgment. We are committed to working towards full compliance with that and are reviewing the UK air quality plans, which will be finalised by the end of 2015. Consultations will take place before that.

My Lords, Defra, in its policy paper dated 8 May 2015, states:

“Air pollution, for example from road transport, harms our health and wellbeing. It is estimated to have an effect equivalent to 29,000 deaths each year and is expected to reduce the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by 6 months on average, at a cost of around £16 billion per year”.

Does the Minister stand by that statement and does he agree that all future government modelling of the economic impact of changes to vehicle excise duty must consider these very significant costs?

The noble Lord makes an important point. I agree with what Defra said; that is why the Government are investing more than £500 million between 2015 and 2020 to support the uptake of ultra-low-emission vehicles, with the aim of all new cars having no tail-pipe emissions by 2040.