Emissions and Vehicle Type Approval — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:15 pm on 20th April 2017.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 2:15 pm, 20th April 2017

My hon. Friend may have heard—I heard about it recently—that we are going to have a general election. The problem with that, in terms of the business of Government—he knows this well as a former very distinguished Minister with whom I worked very closely in office—is that it limits what Ministers can do and say. I have to be cautious in setting out an immediate timetable, given the events that are going to take place over the coming weeks. While this House is sitting—I remain a Minister through the election process—I will press my officials very hard, not least as a result of this debate, to ensure that there is no hesitation or undue delay within the bounds that I mentioned.

My hon. Friend is right—I can see where his mind is going—that we must not have a couple of months in which nothing happens. That would not be right. As much as I can, I will continue the work and reinvigorate my officials—I do that every day, but I will do so with even more vehemence than I usually exercise—to ensure that the eventuality that he postulated would be unhelpful does not come to pass.

I have been very anxious and determined to press Volkswagen executives consistently in person and in writing to address many of the outstanding issues that were raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside. I have brought with me a list of occasions on which officials or Ministers have met or written to Volkswagen over recent weeks and months. It goes back to the very beginning of this sorry tale. I see no harm in setting out that chronology for Members. I will not read it out because it is quite exhaustive, but I will make information available about what we have done and when we have done it. Let it suffice to say for the purposes of this debate that the Secretary of State and I have met Volkswagen on many occasions and written to it on many more. My officials have been engaged with it steadily and determinedly to bring about many of the things that hon. Members call for.

It is right, as William Morris says, that

“all men should have work to do which shall be worth doing”.

I think this is work worth doing, because it is in the interests of the consumers who were adversely affected by the means I have described, who bought cars in good faith believing one thing, and who found that they were dealing with a very different product from the one they imagined they purchased.

There is disappointment in this House—it was reflected in the comments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside and is shared by the Government—about the lack of remorse and appreciation of the gravity of the deception that has been displayed by Volkswagen, not least in Mr Willis’s appearance before the Transport Committee on the same day that I gave evidence.

Let me go back to the start of this sorry business to fully explain where we are now and the progress we have made. If I do not, someone, perhaps the hon. Member for Cambridge, will rise to their feet with speed and say, “It’s all very well. You’ve had all these meetings, John”—well, he wouldn’t in fact say “John”, because you wouldn’t have it, Mr McCabe—“but what have you achieved?” Just weeks after Volkswagen’s supercherie actions were discovered, the Department launched an emissions-testing programme to understand whether there was widespread cheating across the industry. Alongside the Vehicle Certification Agency, we tested many of the UK’s most popular diesel cars. We were the first European country to publish a report of that kind in April 2016, with Germany, France and several others following shortly afterwards. The programme found no evidence that any manufacturers we tested other than Volkswagen had utilised prohibited defeat devices to manipulate emissions tests to gain a vehicle’s type approval.

It was clear to me then and remains so now that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for the testing programme. Volkswagen’s actions cast doubt on the integrity of the whole industry and, following meetings and repeated requests, the company reimbursed my Department with £1.1 million. That was an important victory for the UK taxpayer. The money is being used for three important areas of work, which I want the Chamber to know about: first, to increase the UK’s capacity and capability to test real-world emissions, which is a response to a question and a point made by the Select Committee Chair, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Cambridge; secondly, to increase the air quality fund, allowing us to provide funding for a city council’s HGV fleet to be retrofitted with emissions reduction technology, to reduce emissions in that location; and, thirdly, further investment to encourage the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles.

But we are not stopping there. Mr Willis may believe what C.S. Lewis did not—that an “explanation of cause” is a “justification by reason”—but I too do not. I am therefore pressing Volkswagen for a further £1 million to fund the first year of the new market surveillance unit. The Department set up that unit in the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in the wake of the VW scandal to source and test vehicles to ensure that they comply with the law. We will of course continue to be completely transparent on matters relating to that testing and, as I said previously but am happy to repeat, we will publish the results of this year’s programme when we have fully analysed the results. It is right for us to be as open and transparent about that to provide the further reassurance that Members have sought in this debate.

The new unit will provide essential ongoing reassurance to motorists and the wider public, and useful information to the Government and the House. In all my meetings and correspondence with the Volkswagen managing and management board, I have been absolutely clear that the Government expect that further £1 million. I have emphasised that we will be relentless in our pursuit of the money, because we would not have been spending it had it not been for Volkswagen.