Skip to main content

Car Manufacturers: Emissions

Volume 617: debated on Thursday 17 November 2016

2. Whether he has had discussions with the Attorney General on investigations into car manufacturers and emissions irregularities. (907293)

The Secretary of State has regular discussions with the Attorney General on a range of issues.

The Government take any matters regarding the safety and environmental performance of vehicles on UK roads extremely seriously.

We hear that quite often, but as consumers in this country look around the world—to New Zealand, Brazil, France, Germany and South Korea—they see action being taken against companies such as Volkswagen, while this Government let people down and drag their heels. Can I hear something firm about what the Government have been doing to take these companies to task?

The hon. Gentleman underestimates me. It is true that, in a hard world, I have a soft heart, but companies that care less for their workers or treat their customers without integrity will soon learn that, in my velvet glove, there is a steely fist I am not afraid to use. To that end, I have met Volkswagen twice. I am absolutely determined it should meet its legal obligations. It will meet in full the costs that we have endured as a Government. I can tell the House today that I have received a pledge from Volkswagen to pay £1.1 million, which taxpayers have had to spend as a result of its behaviour, and I expect to receive that cheque before Christmas.

Drivers have been very concerned by pollution rulings on diesel cars. Would it not be wholly wrong for drivers of diesel cars to be punished for buying cars they were encouraged to buy by the Labour Government?

It would certainly be right to encourage people to behave in a way that met the Government’s objectives for emissions. To that end, my hon. Friend, who is a knowledgeable and assiduous Member of this House, will know that the Government have taken direct action to promote the use of electric vehicles and to encourage those who choose to purchase vehicles with lower emissions. He is right that we must act with moderation, but, equally, we must act with determination to ensure that our vehicles are as clean as they can be, for it is emissions that lead to particulate material, which we know—this is a matter not of speculation but of evidence—is injurious to our health and wellbeing.

This is a scandal of huge proportions. Thousands of people have died in this country because of the defeat devices that Volkswagen inserted. The fact is that the European Union’s legislative framework is weaker than the framework of capitalist United States. Does the Minister agree that the European Union does not deserve its reputation for protecting the environment?

I am tempted to say that I find it difficult to believe that anything that emanates from the European Union is virtuous, but I will not say that. What I will say is that the Volkswagen scandal is, as the hon. Gentleman says, unacceptable. It would be unacceptable whether we were members of the European Union or not. There are other aspects to this, however. There is the programme of technical fixes that Volkswagen is engaged in, which I pressed it to get on with. There is also the issue of its legal obligations, which I mentioned a moment ago. Let me also be clear that I have not ruled out a separate investigation into these affairs by this Government, and I have told Volkswagen that.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that modern diesel vehicles have either exhaust gas recirculation systems or diesel particulate filters fitted to stop the emission of harmful gases and particles. Is he aware of the increasing practice among the owners of diesel vehicles, including taxis and buses, of illegally removing these systems and causing these harmful gases to be emitted into the atmosphere? If he is aware of it, what is he doing about it, and if he is not will he investigate it and write to me about the action that he intends to take?

To write to the hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished Member of this House whom I met briefly earlier this week, albeit not on these issues, would be inadequate. I will meet him to discuss this matter in some detail, because he clearly has expert understanding to bring to bear.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman feels enormously privileged at the prospect of a meeting with the Minister of State, as of course would most sane people.