I see absolutely no reason why it cannot. Obviously the American consumer organisations are slightly different from our own and seem to be better at getting things into court and sorted out much more quickly than is the case under our system, but that should not be the case. Volkswagen, which clearly reacted quickly to the problem it had in the United States—presumably because of the damage to its reputation and market share in the US—should have done the same in Europe. That prompts the question as to why Volkswagen thought that it did not need to do that in Europe.
It is imperative that the UK, along with other European jurisdictions, takes action to show that they are not immune from what is happening in the United States. We must put consumer rights at the heart of this, as well as taxpayers’ rights, because the taxpayer faces a huge and ongoing bill, probably many decades, due to what has happened over the last few years.
I was commenting earlier about the possibility of action under the Sale of Goods Act 1979. I was a solicitor before I came to this place—some years ago now, admittedly—and that is not an easy route for individuals to take. The Government note they are not privy to the terms of the contracts between individual owners and the company, but many individual owners will have contracts with the third parties who sold them the cars and will not generally have contracts directly with the company, although some may, depending on the type of contract.
However, the most problematic area is simply the impracticability of any individual car owner taking on a massive multinational such as Volkswagen in the civil courts. Such actions are not cheap at the best of times and when such a huge technical issue is involved, the costs are likely to escalate quickly. Also, whatever the sum that an individual may be claiming, there is an incentive for the multinational company to fight the case, because it is not dealing with just one such case but potentially thousands of such cases. There would be a real David and Goliath battle, and it is difficult to see how any individual would have any chance of success.