UK must make motor manufacturers pay for air pollution damage, say MPs

Time 4 years ago

BRITAIN is failing to pursue the motor industry for cash to deal with air pollution caused by their vehicles, senior MPs have said.

Tory Neil Parish, chairman of the environment, food and rural affairs committee, said the UK had been ‘let down’ by the government over the Volkswagen emissions scandal as it failed to secure enough compensation.

He said the German government received one billion euros while the UK only appeared to ‘have got zeros’.

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MPs warned this cash could allow Germany to have a ‘competitive advantage’ over Britain in developing new clean-energy vehicles.

In 2015, German manufacturer Volkswagen was found to have cheated air pollution tests for 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide – including 1.2 million in the UK.

Speaking during a Commons debate on improving air quality, the Tiverton and Honiton MP said: “I find it disappointing the government is not making the automobile industry pay for the damage it has caused.

‘We have already been let down in this regard when we did not get anywhere near enough compensation out of VW for the emissions scandal.

‘I am amazed that the German government was able to get one billion euros and all we seem to have got was zeros.

‘The automobile industry has a yearly turnover of some £80 billion. In recent tests, the majority of the latest 2017 diesel cars are almost four times above the EU baseline emissions limit.’

Intervening, fellow Tory and former minister Andrew Selous said: ‘It would indeed be ironic and extremely unfortunate if the German car industry were to use that one billion euros to leapfrog into clean new-energy vehicles to put them at a competitive advantage, whilst there’s been no similar payment that could help the UK motor industry.’

Parish replied: ‘I’m just amazed. Dour British lawyers lack teeth? Do government lawyers lack any sort of drive and ambition [in relation to] these car manufacturers?

‘It’s not just Volkswagen. There are others out there that could also contribute. If we got funds from them, as you quite rightly highlighted, it could either help towards producing cleaner vehicles or it can be put towards helping with air quality in our inner cities and hotspots across the country.

‘It just seems so ridiculous to lose this form of money and funding.’

Mary Creagh, Labour chairwoman of the environmental audit committee, said it was extraordinary that the US Department of Justice and the state of California had brought cases against Volkswagen, noting it had paid out more than four billion dollars in the US and six people had been indicted, and added: ‘Yet we in this country, the government is being brought to the European Court of Justice for our complete inertia in tackling this criminality.’

Parish added: ‘What I can’t quite understand is this is not exactly free money, but this is money that we could actually get from a separate source other than British taxpayers or wherever to help clean up a situation that was created by these vehicles.’

Labour former environment minister Ben Bradshaw raised concern that Brexit would see the UK return to being ‘the dirty man of Europe’.

He said: “The government seems to be just trying to put off doing anything meaningful on this until we’re out of the European Union, no longer subject to European environmental legislation, no longer subject to the European court and ordinary members of the public are unable, not only to demand but enforce, their rights through the courts if those rights are not being honoured by our own domestic government.

‘I have a real concern that if we leave the European Union we’ll go back to being the dirty man of Europe, which we were in the early Seventies before we joined.’

Responding for the government, environment minister David Rutley said the importance of clean air was ‘beyond question’ and added: ‘Air pollution – whether it’s from transport, domestic heating or agriculture – affects us all. It’s the fourth biggest threat to public health in the UK after cancer, obesity and heart disease.’

He said the government was ‘absolutely committed to tackling it’, adding that there had been progress, with what he called a significant reduction in air pollution since 2010.

It comes as a new survey by consulting firm AlixPartners says that by 2030 diesel sales will have dropped to just five per cent of the EU car market because of fears over emissions standards and air quality.

MORE: VW fined one billion euros over emissions scandal

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