It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate Neil Parish, the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on securing this debate. I also feel obliged to thank Mr Spellar, who seemed to hold a debate within the debate and spoke at length. I was not sure if he was arguing against the scrappage scheme or the fact that we need to do a lot more, but some good points were raised—there are other serious issues. Personally, I do not think that should negate the arguments for the diesel scrappage scheme. He also touched on emissions from fuel generation, but I am not sure whether he mentioned biomass. Biomass is subsidised as a renewable energy source, yet its emissions are harmful, so that is certainly something in the wider mix that the Government need to look at.
Charlie Elphicke mentioned other things that cause emissions and touched on generators. There is certainly something wrong when the National Grid is procuring diesel generators as back-up for our energy supply, when we know they emit nitrogen oxide.
However, I agree in general with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton that a diesel scrappage scheme has merit. We have got to where we are because of the law of unintended or unknown consequences of previous Government attempts to reduce CO2 emissions by promoting diesel, which he mentioned, although I take on board the point made by Graham Stringer, who said that some of the evidence was there and should have been understood and thought about more clearly.
The bottom line is that we now know for a fact that nitrogen oxide emissions are an issue that needs to be tackled. Geraint Davies gave us some graphic details of the impact of diesel fumes and nitrogen oxide emissions. We know there are roughly 40,000 premature deaths a year. I congratulate him on continuing to push forward his air pollution Bill and wish him good luck.
A UN rapporteur has said that air pollution is a crisis that
“plagues the UK”— particularly children—and that there is an
“urgent need for political will by the UK government to make timely, measurable and meaningful interventions”.
In November 2016, for the second time in 18 months, the Government lost a court case on their proposals to tackle air pollution, so they cannot stand back and do nothing. We need to take action.
Electric vehicles have been mentioned. Most hon. Members understand that electric vehicles only account for roughly 1% of the stock of cars on the road right now. On the current trajectory, electric vehicles will not be the solution to tackling air pollution, which is why further action is needed.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton spoke about carrot and stick. I agree in general, but I would not want to penalise those people who bought diesel cars in good faith because they were told it would be helpful to the environment and reduce CO2 emissions, and did not have the knowledge that it would cause harmful effects. I support the scrappage scheme, but people should not be penalised. They need to be allowed to trade their cars in. I welcome the comments about particularly supporting those who can least afford it, such as those who run older cars and need help to move on.
Other hon. Members have highlighted that HGVs are an issue, as are transport refrigeration units, which I have mentioned before in relation to electric cars. Transport refrigeration units emit more particle emissions than the main diesel engine itself, so the Government need to look at that. I welcome the Government’s proposal to consult on the use of red diesel, because we should not subsidise the owners of transport refrigeration units to emit harmful particles.
The hon. Member for Swansea West mentioned Volkswagen, which has agreed to settle $4.3 billion in the United States. This Government should be doing more to get money out of Volkswagen, which would go a long way to funding a scrappage scheme, and perhaps also to starting to fund some of the wider infrastructure that the right hon. Member for Warley highlighted. The Government managed to negotiate a deal with Nissan in terms of Brexit, but a joined-up approach in terms of scrappage, trading in diesel cars and looking at wider issues would be much better than a behind-closed-doors deal that nobody actually knows what it contains.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton suggested that the issue might be left to devolved nations, although he did accept that the UK Government would perhaps need to help provide funding. This is purely and squarely a UK Government issue. The original diesel promotion schemes came from the UK Government, so it makes sense that the UK Government should have to rectify the matter. It should not be left to devolved Governments to do that on their own—it needs the support and leadership of the UK Government.
I support the measures. I understand some of the wider points made, and the Government do need to look at air pollution in the wider mix, but a diesel scrappage scheme would be a good start. I would also note that scrappage laws in the European Union are now a green measure, because 95% of cars need to be recycled once scrapped. At least taking cars off the road will not lead to adverse dumping elsewhere, which is good. I caution the Government to make sure we stand by that ethos as we move into the post-Brexit world. We have already heard rumblings from the hard Brexiteers about how we can relax environmental standards. That would certainly be the wrong way to go, especially when tackling air pollution and climate change.