HC Deb 13 June 2002 vol 386 cc991-3
7. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

If she will make a further statement on the implications of the end of life vehicles directive. [58222]

The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson)

We continue to analyse carefully all the implications of the directive in order to ensure that we get the implementation of this complex measure right.

Chris Grayling

I thank the Minister for that response. Does he not realise that the continuing delay in establishing the premise on which vehicle manufacturers may or may not have to meet some of the costs of recycling vehicles in future is creating instability in the motor industry and uncertainty about future investment and will do the manufacturing sector in this country no favours whatever?

Mr. Wilson

No, I do not agree with any of that. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's constituency interest in this issue. I think that the company in his constituency, like every other manufacturer, will be much happier if we get this right than if we get something introduced quickly that proves to disadvantage the British motor manufacturing industry. We are in the same boat as everyone else in the European Union, where there has been delay in implementing the measure because it is complex and because it is important to get it right.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Are we to understand that under the directive it is the last owner of any vehicle who has to pay the costs of putting things right—of the destruction of the vehicle? In that case, is it not the poorest among our constituents who will have to bear those costs? Can it possibly be right that someone with an old banger should have to carry costs that should rightly be carried by the first owner, who got the vehicle new? In those circumstances, can the Department look again at a ten-minute Bill that I tried to introduce to make manufacturers responsible for the death of a vehicle at the design stage? Is not that the right way to do it?

Mr. Wilson

We are talking about two separate phases. From 2007, exactly the kind of producer liability that my hon. Friend refers to will operate. The question is how that is implemented. I think that that is a matter of particular interest to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). We are therefore talking about an interim period until 2007. We have not made an announcement yet on how that is to be conducted, but we are anxious that during that period we do not put British manufacturers at a disadvantage relative to manufacturers in other EU states. Things may well go in the direction that my hon. Friend suggests, but the major problem of the last owner paying and the problem that already exists of cars being dumped are primarily registration problems. That must be addressed at the same time. It would have to be addressed anyway, whether the directive were coming into force or not.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

In view of that response, can the Minister explain the public claim this week by the British Motor Manufacturers Association that he has accepted its proposal for 2007 to do precisely what the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) fears, effectively imposing a poll tax on low-income final owners of the car? Do the Government accept the judgment of the all-party Select Committee, which concluded in clear terms that such a proposal would not work "in practice" and that there would be strong incentives on owners of old cars simply to abandon them"? Does the Minister accept the reasoning, based on Home Office figures, that the current cost of abandoned cars to councils and emergency services of about £400 million would double or treble if the manufacturers' proposals were accepted?

Mr. Wilson

I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about the situation before 2007, not post-2007 when producer liability will apply, but the question implies recognition that there is already a problem with dumped cars—a very big problem in some areas. As I say, that would have to be addressed whether the directive were coming into operation or not, through action on the registration system and traceability, which is at the root of the issue. We will announce very soon what we will do in the interim period, but I stress again that the key motivator will be to ensure that British car manufacturers are not disadvantaged vis-à-vis manufacturers in other EU countries.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley)

My constituency, like many others, suffers from a lot of abandoned vehicles. I am told by the local fire service that some 55 vehicles a month are set on fire there. A number of small businesses are looking to help the local authority with the recycling of abandoned vehicles. Will the Minister ensure that appropriate advice is made available to such companies, so that they can carry out their duties properly under the directive?

Mr. Wilson

Absolutely, and my hon. Friend makes a couple of important points. One is that good schemes are already being operated between local authorities and the private sector in some areas. The introduction of the directive will give a further stimulus. It points to the fact that there is an existing problem that must be addressed before the directive comes into operation. We must ensure that the industry has time to adapt and that there are places where vehicles can be taken. Above all, we must ensure that there is a strong disincentive to dumping. That approach will be effective only if it is possible to trace owners. Measures must go hand in hand. We must make sure that there is a penalty that can be applied if people dump vehicles.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

It has been reported that the Government are to delay imposing the burden of the end of life vehicles directive on the motor industry until at least 2007. Is it not inevitably the conclusion that in saving the motor industry £450 million a year by leaving responsibility with last owners of vehicles, the Government are effectively imposing a £450 million highly regressive tax on motorists who are least able to pay it—those who are driving end-of-life vehicles? Can the Minister honestly tell the House that he thinks that that is the best way to tackle the problem of abandoned vehicles?

Mr. Wilson

The best way to tackle the problem is what will happen from 2007, when there is producer liability. It is an interesting view from the Tory party if the hon. Gentleman is saying that we should be immediately penalising British motor manufacturers vis-à-vis their competitors on the continent.

The basic point is that the directive is a good thing. It will lead to a large increase in recycling in this country. If properly implemented, alongside the measures on traceability, it will get rid of the growing social and environmental problem of dumped burnt-out cars in our community.