Clause 42 - Vehicles modified to run on fuel stored under pressure

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 1st February 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Liquefied petroleum gas has become a very fashionable fuel. Those who have had their vehicles converted to run on LPG might be slightly concerned to read about the explosions that can result from unsatisfactory conversions. The Government's remedy is a testing regime for such adaptations

An alternative might be to ensure that those who perform the adaptations are qualified in accordance with a Government standard. Will the Minister explain the Government's approach? People will have their vehicles converted by someone whom they believe to be a reputable converter, and have them inspected by one of the new Government-appointed inspectors. The inspectors—especially those with a commercial interest in carrying out modifications—might have a motive for saying that the work had not been done properly and that something should be done to modify it. That will add cost and delay for people who wish to have their vehicles converted to LPG.

The initial idea was that the Government should offer people incentives to convert their vehicles to LPG, and it is expected that there will be as many as 100,000 LPG-powered vehicles on our roads by the end of the decade. If so, that will be a useful contribution to the environment, but I am not sure that the Government's solution will encourage people to convert to LPG; indeed, it might have the opposite effect.

If, as the notes on clauses and the regulatory impact assessment make clear, vehicles that have been modified to run on LPG, but have not been modified adequately, are a danger on the roads, how can we be sure that foreign vehicles that have been so modified are not on our roads and a danger to other road users? 

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The clause amends sections 41 and 66 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It would enable the introduction of mandatory quality checks on vehicles whose fuel systems had been modified to run on fuels stored under pressure, such as LPG or compressed natural gas. It would then be an offence to keep or use on the road a vehicle that had not been modified to the required standards. The new requirements could also be enforced through the vehicle licensing regime.

The Department and the LPG industry have been concerned that, although many conversions have been good, some might not meet, first, the safety standards and, secondly, some of the air pollution standards. They might not have any real environmental benefit, in spite of the fact that the Treasury is giving substantial fiscal assistance for the purchase of LPG-powered vehicles.

We do not want too heavy a regime. About 100,000 vehicles have been converted, and more are being converted all the time. However, it is difficult to know how many have been converted, because people do not have to notify us. We want to ensure that, once vehicles have been converted, they are tested. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Christchurch advocate more regulation and more garage inspection, but he is clearly a convert to our cause on some of these matters. We want to ensure that a customer can be sure that a conversion has meets a high standard and is safe.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I knew the answer to that, because I asked that question. I have forgotten what answer I was given. My amnesia has left me and the answer has come back in a flash of inspiration. It is a long-standing tradition that finance issues appear in italics. We live and learn.

We are trying to stop vehicles coming on to the road that might present a danger. Although LPG is under pressure, it does not constitute a greater danger. I am not sure that today we would authorise light steel tanks that can easily be ruptured in a crash and contain a highly volatile material—petrol. The LPG tank, and certainly the CNG tank, is much stronger than a petrol tank and much less likely to rupture in a crash. It is a matter of ensuring that dangerous vehicles do not go on the road.

We have no specific control over foreign vehicles coming in, but the French and Dutch inspection systems have been much more rigorous than ours for some time. LPG vehicles are allowed on ferries but I believe that Eurotunnel does not allow them to use the tunnel, although some are asking whether that regulation can be lifted.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Are we allowed to take such vehicles into the House of Commons car park?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

It is perfectly in order to take such vehicles into the House of Commons car park. Many ministerial cars are converted to LPG, and there is no danger. However, in the channel tunnel it was considered that there might be a danger from the release of gas. I am not sure how real that is, but the   company might want to revisit the matter in the future. A ruptured petrol tank is probably the most dangerous thing that can happen in a crash. CNG is under huge pressure and, if it escaped, it would plume upwards and outwards and be gone, whereas petrol rests on the floor and can incinerate the vehicle and people in the vicinity.

Clause 42 is a simple measure. It is welcomed by the industry and it will add a little more to safety on our roads.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. It gives me the opportunity to remind the Committee that the first ministerial car fuelled by LPG was commissioned and used by none other than my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.