HC Deb 19 February 1992 vol 204 cc321-3
9. Mr. Roger King

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he proposes to take to encourage the use of low-sulphur diesel fuel.

Mr. Baldry

The Government welcome the European Commission's draft directive setting new limits for the sulphur content of diesel fuel and other gasoil. Those are a necessary complement to last year's directive on emission standards for heavy duty diesel vehicles. We are working for resolution of outstanding points of technical detail with a view to early adoption by the Council of Ministers.

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will know of the widespread success of his unleaded petrol campaign, which has persuaded motorists to use a more environmentally acceptable fuel. Is he aware that 10 per cent. of cars purchased these days run on diesel, and that there is widespread concern that the fuel used has a heavy sulphur content? The European Commission wants that content to be reduced to a very small amount by 1995–96. Will my hon. Friend speak to our right hon. Friend the Chancellor about introducing financial incentives similar to those for unleaded fuel so as to encourage speedier acceptance of a lower-sulphur fuel?

Mr. Baldry

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The fiscal incentives for use of unleaded petrol have been a great success. As my hon. Friend knows, fiscal matters are for our right hon. Friend the Chancellor. However, my hon. Friend's suggestion envisages simultaneous availability on the market of two different grades of diesel, which would present difficulties in terms of separate pumps, separate distribution systems, and so on. Moreover, it would soon become redundant when the low sulphur standard becomes mandatory for all diesel. We are seeking to resolve a similar difficulty with the Commission's proposals.

Mr. Dalyell

In view of the sulphur monoxide consequencies, have the Government taken into account the latest findings from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in relation to the ozone layer, and the need for urgent measures to be taken into account in view of this desperately dangerous and cancer-giving situation?

Mr. Baldry

The Government have been at the forefront in calling on our European partners to take action to reduce chlorofluorocarbons by 1995. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will no doubt have something to say about that to European Community colleagues this weekend.

Mr. Paice

Will my hon. Friend look at the work being done in Austria and France to make an eco-friendly diesel fuel from oilseed rape and other oil crops? Will he particularly look at what the French are doing in terms of tax concessions to encourage the viability of such an environmentally friendly fuel, and will he perhaps have a word with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor on that subject?

Mr. Baldry

In that area, as in so many, enhancing environmental improvements will mean considerable scope for new environmental technology. The good example that my hon. Friend gives shows that, in pursuit of higher environmental standards, new technology is coming forward. I shall certainly look with interest at the specific matters to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.

Mr. Simon Hughes

What is the Government's general policy in relation to fuel and environmental protection? Given that the chairman of the Conservative party and the Secretary of State for Energy have accepted, on behalf of the Conservative party, that petrol prices will have to rise, do the Government wish to take action before Europe imposes its own regime on us, or will they wait for Europe? What increases in fuel prices does the Conservative party envisage in the next 10 years?

Mr. Baldry

It is a great pity that not one member of the Liberal Democratic party could be bothered to attend the European Standing Committee this morning, where we debated those matters for nearly two and a half hours. Had they bothered to look in on that Standing Committee, they would have heard me make it clear that the Government will be working in co-operation with our European Community colleagues to find a way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions effectively. We have said that we recognise that high energy prices may have to play a part in a strategy for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. It is important, however, to recognise that this is a global problem which requires a global solution. Perversely, unilateral action, even by the European Community, could have the effect of increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

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