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

I have been a Conservative Front Bencher for 18 years and a Minister since 2010. I did not know this immediately, but it did not take me long to work out that when one does not know an answer it is better to say that one does not know; so, I do not know the answer. We are working with our counterparts across Europe, but I do not know specifically what questions have been asked in the particular area of concern my hon. Friend raises. I will happily check that speedily and let him, the Chairman of the Select Committee and the Opposition spokesman know. My hon. Friend is right that, as I said earlier, our work will be better if it is consistent with the approaches adopted by other countries in similar circumstances so that consumers here know that they are getting all that they should and so that we learn from one another about how we handle this matter. He can be confident that the answer will be provided to him with great speed, given the imminent events to which I referred briefly earlier.

I urge any consumers who are not satisfied with their vehicle or the service they have received to contact the Volkswagen customer services department immediately. I have had a personal reassurance from Volkswagen Group’s managing director that he will investigate personally—I emphasise that strongly—any complaint about the technical solution on a case-by-case basis. I fully expect that commitment to be honoured. It is time for the company to demonstrate that it is serious about looking after existing customers, not just those who are about to purchase a new vehicle.

Of course I recognise that Volkswagen cannot be held responsible for everything, as I said to the managing director. If something goes wrong with someone’s vehicle, they cannot first claim that it has something to do with the technical fix. If the issue was entirely unrelated, that would not be right or fair. But where there is any doubt about the origin of the issue, Volkswagen must definitively rule out that it could have been caused by the fix. The idea that Volkswagen knew nothing—that it had not the merest inkling—at the outset about the fact that there was a problem is just incredible, and “incredible” is the best way of describing the evidence that was given to the Select Committee. The burden must not be borne by consumers. I want to ensure that UK consumers are treated fairly and receive the service they deserve.

Volkswagen also continues to disappoint in its own investigation into what went wrong with the company. Given the governance and accountability that one would expect in a large multinational company, that should be straightforward. In answer to numerous questions from the Transport Committee, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside said, Mr Willis repeatedly responded that we will have to wait until the Jones Day report is published. I do not know whether Mr Willis is an imaginant, prone to ideas entirely at odds with what other people might conclude, but it is not unreasonable— rather, it is entirely sensible, moderate and measured—to expect Volkswagen to publish the results of the Jones Day investigation. To claim that a report never existed is beyond incredible.

Volkswagen instead provided the Department with a copy of an agreed statement of facts drafted for the purpose of the plea agreement between it and the US Department of Justice. It suggests that that statement gives an overview of Jones Day’s findings, which is of course impossible to verify without access to the complete report. That is unacceptable, and it has been a key issue in the three letters I have written to the managing director of Volkswagen since I gave evidence to the Transport Committee in February, to which I am still awaiting a full reply. Looking to the future, I reassure the hon. Lady and others that the Government are committed to taking action on vehicle emissions testing to restore consumer confidence and deliver our wider air quality and climate objectives.

The hon. Lady raised the VCA, which has more than 30 years’ experience in testing and certifying vehicles and their systems and components for the UK Government. The VCA is striving to ensure that it continues to take a robust approach to the approval process that delivers the highest rigour and independence.

I have spoken about the changes to real driving emissions. I am happy to provide further information about that should any Member present wish me to do so. It may be worth my writing again to the Select Committee Chairman to re-emphasise the points that I made about that during our considerations.

As we come to the end of this short debate, I conclude by making clear that the Government continue to challenge Volkswagen’s unacceptable view that it does not need to compensate British motorists who have been affected by its manipulation of emissions tests. Ruskin said that endurance is nobler than strength, and my enduring determination is to ensure that we not only closely monitor the progress of Volkswagen’s implementation of technical upgrades and oversee that it deals appropriately with issues and complaints related to those changes, but press for it do what it should have done all along: admit its failure and offer recompense for it. It is, in the end, as straightforward as that.

W. B. Yeats said that we should not

“wait to strike till the iron is hot;
but make it hot by striking.”

I believe that the introduction of the Government’s market surveillance unit, the more rigorous approach that is being finalised for type approval testing and the implementation of real driving emissions testing will greatly approve our air quality and minimise the possibility of manufacturers doing what this large and, it seems to me, careless company did. As I said yesterday, Governments can be a force for good. The Government must, on this occasion, with a steely fist and an iron will, be a force for good and call Volkswagen to order.