Emissions from Heavy Duty Vehicles

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Jim Fitzpatrick: I am not in a position to give chapter and verse on the discussions that departmental officials have had with the UK and other European manufacturers. We are in fairly regular, direct contact with trade bodies and individual manufacturers, so I assume that there has been dialogue, but I cannot give details to the hon. Gentleman.
Stephen Hammond: If there were to be knowledge sharing, it would imply that EU competition rules would need to be relaxed. Is that the Government’s understanding, and what is the Government’s attitude towards any relaxation of competition rules?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am not sure that that is the Government’s understanding.
Stephen Hammond: It has been suggested in a number of documents that what I have described would be the case. I should be grateful if at some stage the Minister could confirm whether the Government believe that.
The chief executive officer of Renault has urged that there should be greater funding of research and development in this area. Have the Government a view on whether they would support greater public assistance for R and D?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We would always support engineering research and development. It would come down to whether we wanted to pay for it, whether the manufacturers would be expected to pay for it or whether we could assist with that. From his Front-Bench experience, the hon. Gentleman is aware of the low carbon vehicle partnerships and the various platforms that we have helped to create in the UK with manufacturers and academic institutions to develop research on such vehicles. How our support would manifest itself is another issue.
Mr. Bailey: I want to press a point alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). I understand that vehicles registered in Europe will be subject to the regulations. What will the policy be on vehicles registered outside the EU? Will they be allowed to conduct their business as normal?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Under the regulations covering free movement of labour, if a vehicle comes into the country, it will be able to ply its trade, provided that it is not committing an offence.
Mr. Bailey: In the light of that response, does the Minister know whether the EU has done any research on the potential for the use of vehicles registered outside the EU countries to evade the provisions?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am sorry, but I did not hear the question.
Mr. Bailey: I will rephrase it. Has any work been done to identify the potential for the use of registration of vehicles outside the EU to evade the regulations?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am not aware of any work that has been undertaken.
Mr. Leech: I got a fairly emphatic no to my last question, but have the Government made any assessment of the percentage of vehicles that will reach the Euro VI standard by 2014?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I think that my emphatic no to the hon. Gentleman’s last question was actually a don’t know. The answer to this question is that I do not know the number of vehicles that would not conform.
Mr. Leech: In that case, can the Minister give us any indication of the date on which he would expect all vehicles to reach the proposed Euro VI standard?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I would need to research that and get back to the hon. Gentleman.
Kelvin Hopkins: I am not alone in having serious emissions pollution in my constituency. The M1 goes right through the middle of it, with convoys of heavy goods vehicles frequently jammed and churning out emissions during the rush hours and, indeed, most of the day. Is there not a case, in a densely populated, urbanised society such as Britain, for investing much more in rail freight capacity so that we can get much of that traffic off the roads and on to rail, given that rail freight emits one twelfth of the volume of CO2 among other things, compared with the same mileage of road freight?
Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend and I have debated that subject in other Committees and he knows that the Government are very supportive of rail freight. I cannot remember the exact percentage, but I think that there has been a 42 or 52 per cent. increase in the amount of freight carried by rail. We are making investment; we are making grants available. Clearly, we support rail freight, but my hon. Friend’s line is that we should support it much more and spend even more money on it. I understand and respect that point of view.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We do not agree with the Commission that it needs to set this matter out in the document, because we believe that we have that right and that the Commission’s setting it out almost transfers to it the right to decide whether fiscal arrangements would be appropriate or not. We are saying that that is not its territory and that it is, has been and will be for us to decide. We are not disputing that there may be fiscal incentives—that is not where we are—but were we to choose to go down that road, that would be a matter for the United Kingdom to decide, not the Commission.
Stephen Hammond: Therefore the Minister is saying that the Government are placing limits on the EU’s competency in this area.
Jim Fitzpatrick: If that is the language the hon. Gentleman wishes to use, that is a matter for him. We are certainly saying that this is not the EU’s area of competence; this is a matter for the United Kingdom Government—so we agree on that.
Stephen Hammond: The Minister stated earlier that he sees this as a chance to align EU and US product standards. Can I therefore take it that the Government support, or would be keen to see and to try to achieve, a common world standard?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We are not yet in a position to achieve common European standards, so common world standards would obviously be some way further off. However, as I said in my opening remarks, the American standard and the European standards are coming together in this regard and, in that instance, it means that manufacturers will be able to sell the same product across two continents, which would assist them in manufacturing and producing with greater certainty for greater volumes.
Stephen Hammond: Finally, the briefing document provided for today’s sitting says that the Minister has undertaken to provide a regulatory impact assessment. Am I right in thinking that that is still yet to be provided? If so, when might one see it?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The impact assessment and the details of the different options are clearly laid out at the back of the document bundle, starting at page 111.
Stephen Hammond: My apologies.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 5127/08 and Addenda 1 and 2, draft Regulation on type-approval of motor vehicles and engines with respect to emissions from heavy duty vehicles (Euro VI) and on access to vehicle repair and maintenance information; endorses the Government's support for a package of measures to reduce vehicle emissions substantially, leading to improvements to health and the environment, whilst allowing appropriate flexibility for industry in the short-term; and notes that the Government will continue to seek the right balance between environmental and other benefits, and burdens on industry.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
5.13 pm
Dr. Ladyman: I strongly support my hon. Friend the Minister’s motion, but I should like to make a few points about the principles involved and where I would like to see things go in future. One or two of the questions asked by Committee members indicate that colleagues do not fully appreciate that these standards apply only to new vehicles that are entering on to our roads. It was never the intention that existing vehicles on the road would have to be upgraded to achieve the new standards—that is impossible—which is why I asked the Minister about the point at which we should start thinking about making some of the older category vehicles illegal on European roads. I was not suggesting, as he implied in his answer to me, that we should provide money to people to take their old vehicles off the road. There comes a point at which we have to say that some of the old categorisations are no longer healthy and that people should not be driving those vehicles any more. I hope that the Minister will start talking to the Commission about the point at which it would become appropriate to say, for example, that category III vehicles should no longer be used in Europe, because of their health and pollution effects.
Another matter to which I referred in my initial questions is that there are various techniques for making a vehicle meet the required standards. The current categorisation V, for example, can be achieved with a fuel additive or by having a more efficient emissions control system in the vehicle. It is more expensive to produce an engine with a more efficient emissions control system, but when that has been done and the vehicle is on the road, it will always have a clean engine and always achieve categorisation V.
The problem with additive-based systems is that if someone does not use the additive, because they cannot be bothered or they want to save a bit of money, the vehicle can still operate just as well, in theory, but in fact it starts to become a polluting vehicle and no longer operates at the standard that we expect from the categorisation that the vehicle was sold to achieve.
I would like category VI to require that the vehicle have an operating emissions monitoring system at all times, and that if the emissions start to exceed category VI, the vehicle should not operate—it should not be possible to operate it with the system disconnected. In other words, if there is no additive, the vehicle will not run, but if there is additive, the necessary standards will be achieved and the vehicle will operate efficiently. That should be built into category VI.
I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to give some thought to another matter, which comes back to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West when he explained why the Scrutiny Committee passed the document to us for consideration. He pointed out that a vehicle that produces pollutants at a lower level might be less fuel-efficient and produce more carbon dioxide. I must tell him and the Scrutiny Committee that I am not sure how a suitable proportion between particulates and CO2 is worked out. The particulates that we are talking about have a more short term and direct effect on people’s health, because they include lead and oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, which have a direct, rapid and short-term impact on people’s health if they are in too high a proportion in the air in our towns. CO2 is harmless to people’s health, but it contributes to global warming.
I am not suggesting for one second that we should ignore the problems of increased CO2 production, but in reaching a conclusion on category VI, my hon. Friend the Minister may have to decide that reducing lead oxides and getting lead particulates, sulphur and nitrogen oxides out of our city air is more important than a small increase in CO2, and insist on that to improve the health of children in our cities.
I support my hon. Friend’s resolution, and I believe instinctively that the Government’s time scale for the introduction of the new categorisation is correct. I am always keen for manufacturers to be pushed, because they can usually do things.
Mr. Bailey: I have listened to my hon. Friend’s argument, and I understand its logic, but has he considered the implications, when the Government are pursuing fiscal measures to try to promote fewer CO2—emitting vehicles, of introducing a measure that, taken alone, increases those emissions, and the public impact that that may have on people’s behaviour?
Dr. Ladyman: I entirely accept my hon. Friend’s point, and I understand why the Scrutiny Committee sent the document to us for consideration. If its implementation produces hugely more CO2, which will have a short-term impact on climate change, clearly the Minister must strike a balance between that CO2 production and other levels of pollution. He must bear in mind, as must the Scrutiny Committee and the Minister, that the pollutants that we are talking about, which the categorisation was introduced to get out of the system, cause very serious health problems very rapidly. Lead, for example, is strongly correlated with problems in childhood development and if we were to have the same levels of traffic on our roads producing the levels of lead particulates that were routinely produced by vehicles 20 years ago, there would be very serious health implications.
The Minister has a very difficult balancing job when he is in discussions with the Commission. All I am suggesting is that he might be prepared to sacrifice some CO2 reduction in order to reduce these other very harmful pollutants in our city air. He must work out what a gram of lead particulates is the equivalent of in health terms compared with a gram of CO2. Maybe he will have to speak very closely to experts in the Department of Health who can help him to strike that balance, because it will not be a simple balance for him to strike.
The time scale that is being proposed is probably broadly right, but I would be prepared to see it go out a year or two if that meant that the vehicles that will be sold in the future that hit this categorisation will always operate throughout their entire life at that categorisation. If that meant that those vehicles could all be designed so that intrinsically they are clean vehicles, I would be prepared to wait an extra year for that categorisation. Equally, car and engine manufacturers are often capable of doing things a lot more rapidly than perhaps they suggest, because it costs them money to do things more rapidly, so they always try to be a bit on the conservative side in saying what they can achieve. The Minister should not be afraid of prompting them to be a little more aggressive with their time scales.
My final point is that of course the European Union can be responsible only for what happens in the European Union. Type approval ultimately has to be decided by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, because that is the type approval that will include those countries in Europe that are not in the European Union, such as Switzerland and Norway.
In terms of the worldwide position, I understand the need to try to get globalisation. However, I think that I am right in saying that there are very few diesel vehicles on the roads of the United States. The United States, by and large, uses petrol-driven vehicles. It has a very small diesel market compared with Europe, so European manufacturers probably know an awful lot more about clean diesel technology than US manufacturers. We should not wait for a worldwide standard to emerge before we deal with what will effectively be a European health problem, because while we are waiting for such a standard to emerge, the vehicles on the roads of America will not be producing these particulates; the vehicles on the roads of Europe will be. We should be prepared to move ahead in advance of any worldwide agreement, if that should become necessary.
5.23 pm
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Thanet, particularly given his points about the Minister’s rationale on the evaluation of the trade-off between cleaner exhaust gases and the need to reduce greenhouse gases.
In his response to one of my earlier questions, I think that the Minister agreed that he would publish, or consider publishing, the guidelines behind the advice that the Government have received. May I also invite him, either in his closing remarks or by some other method, to inform the Committee how the Government are going to look at the method of evaluating that trade-off? That is a subject that is obviously right at the heart of what we are discussing today.
We support these proposals, as they are proportionate and achievable. One should pay some credit to the truck manufacturers who have risen to the challenges of the earlier EU directives. None the less, there are clearly some challenges remaining and it seems that these are the sorts of time scales that would be right and appropriate. A more ambitious timetable or more ambitious limits would probably not be either possible or necessarily environmentally beneficial, given the fuel consumption hit that would have to be taken with lower pollutant emissions. While it is always a concern to be supporting the Government on a number of these proposals, I think they are right in the timetable they are setting out here. I note that the shadow rapporteur, the German MEP, is suggesting these time limits and they seem to be right. The Opposition support these proposals as proportionate and achievable and look forward to the Minister publishing the guidelines we have requested.
5.25 pm
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