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As has been mentioned, this sector has been one of Britain’s greatest manufacturing success stories, providing thousands of jobs and a major contribution to our country’s economic growth. The story of my own constituency’s past cannot be told without an understanding of the sector, dominated by Ford’s Dagenham plant, which at its height employed some 40,000 workers. Today, Dagenham’s two engine plants produce 1 million diesel engines annually—50% of Ford’s global diesel requirement —and provide over 3,000 jobs. Some 89% of those engines are exported. The total turnover stands at £1.75 billion.
However, investment in Britain’s car industry has halved during the past two years. Brexit concerns and the demonization of diesel appear to be the two biggest challenges. The crisis of confidence in diesel vehicles and diesel technology was triggered by Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, but the upshot has been damage to not just VW but the whole sector. I am not seeking to defend older diesel engines, which, in truth, are more polluting than their petrol counterparts. However, we must bring some nuance back into the debate. All diesel technology is being tarred with the same brush, despite the fact that state-of-the-art diesel technology is a vast improvement over its predecessors.
As has been mentioned, those dirtier engines will, ironically, be kept on the road longer if consumers are misinformed about the difference between diesel technologies. It is clean-diesel technology that is being invested in in Dagenham. Ford invested £490 million in developing clean, cutting-edge diesel technology in Dagenham in 2014. This new generation of clean engines meets the Euro 6 emissions standards and satisfies Transport for London’s ultra-low emission zone. Modern Euro 6 diesel cars are the cleanest in history; they capture 99% of particulates and emit 84% fewer oxides of nitrogen than in 2000—a point worth making on the day the Government publish their new clean air strategy.
To help the Dagenham plant to transition to future technologies, we need to provide stability today and in the near future. That can be done only by supporting modern diesel technology and production, yet diesel sales have fallen 37% since last year. Unfair criticism and a misunderstanding of the technology are threatening thousands of high-quality jobs in my constituency; plans in Dagenham for 150 new jobs in 2017-18 were shelved due to falling demand. The overall lack of clarity around modern diesel compared with older diesel is also hurting the environment. In 2017, carbon tailpipe emissions rose for the first time in two decades.
My overall point is simple: the Government have a role in restoring consumer confidence in new diesel technology. They have to begin to make the case for modern diesel and for British jobs. That can and needs to be done, regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.