HC Deb 20 June 1994 vol 245 cc10-2
9. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what percentage of new cars sold used diesel fuel in each year since 1990.

Mr. Key

Six per cent., 9 per cent., 12 per cent. and 18 per cent. in 1993.

Mr. Williams

Despite the rapid rise in the popularity of diesel cars, the Minister is aware that a report earlier this year by the quality of urban air review group highlighted environmental problems with diesel cars, especially particulates—tiny soot particles—that are associated with lung cancer. What are the Government doing to persuade the motor industry to clean up emissions from diesel cars?

Mr. Key

Particulate emissions could prove a serious problem. However, on current levels of diesel penetration we expect particulate levels to decline. If diesel's share continues to increase rapidly, or if the Department of Health's Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollutants demonstrates that there is a need for further reductions in particulates, the Government may need to consider a range of measures to reduce levels.

Of course, further action on vehicles would need European Union agreement. The United Kingdom has supported European measures to cut emissions, which have been falling rapidly. Limits on particulates will be halved by 1996 and discussions have begun on further tightening. However, it is important to remember that diesels consume 23 per cent. less fuel, use less energy and produce 15 per cent. less carbon dioxide.

Mr. Matthew Banks

My right hon. Friend has drawn attention to diesel fuel. Can he confirm that, owing to price differentials, unleaded petrol accounts for 50 per cent. of the market?

Mr. Key

I can so confirm, and it is a major advance brought about by this Government. Indeed, it has been a more rapid advance than in other Community countries. It is important to remember that catalytic converters have had a dramatic impact on the levels of emissions from those cars fitted with them.

Ms Walley

Given the growth in traffic, is not it time that the Government paid more attention to the report from the Department of the Environment's quality of urban air review group? Should not there be some real action and should not we go back to the real reason why we have such problems—the fact that the current growth of traffic is unsustainable?

Mr. Key

The forecast growth of traffic will not have the impact suggested by the hon. Lady. The rapid decline in emissions more than makes up for growth.

Mr. Mans

Does my hon. Friend agree that, over the past five years, the Government have made considerable strides in improving emissions from cars? Does he further agree that one of the problems is that many older cars that could be transferred to unleaded petrol are not being transferred? A further problem is that many diesel-engined cars are still dirty and more tests are required to ensure that they are cleaned up.

Mr. Key

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; however, the problem with older cars that cannot be fitted with converters will, self-evidently, run itself into the ground. On the question of smoky diesels, there is already a smoky diesel line. We all have a responsibility to ensure that we properly maintain our cars. If motorists maintained their vehicles, both diesel and petrol, to the proper standards recommended by manufacturers, we would not have the current emission problem.