Defra minister Rory Stewart MP grilled alongside Department for Transport ministers at Environmental Audit Committee hearing
The UK minister for air quality has suggested Volkswagenâ€™s manipulation of diesel emissions tests is unlikely to have had a â€œsignificantâ€ impact on nitrogen dioxide levels.
Appearing before MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee in Westminster today (October 27), Defra minister Rory Stewart MP also denied that the government knew about the German carmakerâ€™s deliberate manipulation of diesel emissions tests before the scandal broke last month.
Labour MP Mary Creagh had asked Mr Stewart whether the government was assessing the impact of VWâ€™s â€˜cheatingâ€™ with some of its diesel models on nitrogen dioxide levels in the UK.
Responding, Mr Stewart said: â€œWe are. And we believe having looked at the amount of Volkswagen cars in the fleet â€“ we believe this specific question is not likely to make any significant difference.â€
His comments follow those of Volkswagen UK managing director Paul Willis during another select committee hearing this month. Mr Willis told MPs that there was â€œno suggestionâ€ of any more NOx emitted into the UK atmosphere as a result of VWâ€™s emissions test cheating (see AirQualityNews.com story), much to the frustration of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.
Also speaking at the hearing today, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport Robert Goodwill MP told the EAC MPs that it would be â€œprematureâ€ to ban VW cars from UK roads, given that testing of car emissions being undertaken by the Vehicle Certification Agency is still ongoing.
The VCA is currently using real-world PEMS-testing procedures on diesel vehicles made by Volkswagen and other manufacturers, the first results of which Mr Goodwill said were likely to emerge in the next two months or so.
Mr Stewart said today it was â€œbasically a scandalâ€ that the current laboratory emissions testing regime had for so long been in place while it was widely known this did not reflect real world emissions from cars.
But, he added: â€œWe didnâ€™t know the manufacturers were cheating. What we were aware of was the discrepancy between real world and lab tests. We were not aware that people were cheating.â€
Mr Stewart claimed that the UK had been pushing for several years for the EU to introduce real world driving test procedures in order to tackle the discrepancy, as the car market was Europe-wide wide, with 80% of car models sold in the UK also being sold in Europe.
However, he said that until the VW scandal there had been little support from other Member States for introducing real-world driving emissions tests.
â€œWhat the UK did about it was to push really hard in the EU for real world testingâ€, he said, adding later that â€œit is clear to me that the VW scandal has significantly changed the position of other Member States â€“ it has been a game changer.â€
Questions were also raised about the power of the car industry in lobbying against stricter emissions regulations, with EAC member Caroline Lucas MP pointing out that there were 50 meetings between SMMT and the government during the last parliament alone.
Mr Stewart dismissed suggestions this was an issue, but Mr Goodwill, who was sat next to him, admitted that he could not â€œthink of a single instanceâ€ when the car industry had failed to make technological improvements to meet standards after previously saying that new standards would be too ambitious.
Elsewhere, Mr Stewart was also asked about Defraâ€™s new projections for NO2 compliance across the UK, with all zones in the UK â€“ except London â€“ now expected to comply with EU standards by 2020.
This contrasts with Defraâ€™s July 2014 projections suggesting as many as 28 zones would still be non-compliant in 2020, and concerns were raised that the new projections are potentially based on false estimations of the NO2 emitted from Euro 5 and Euro 6 vehicles.
Mr Stewart said that these projections â€œdepend on an enormous modelâ€, but conceded that should Euro 5 and Euro 6 cars were found to be emitting more NO2 than expected â€œthen of course we will have to review our projectionsâ€.
However, he said that indications were that Euro 5 and Euro 6 vehicles were performing better than expected on emissions, which would make it â€œeasierâ€ for the UK to meet NO2 objectives.