Prime Minister Theresa May refused to be drawn on the potential for legal action against carmakers over the dieselgate scandal or powers for a post-Brexit environmental enforcement body, under questioning from MPs yesterday.
However, Mrs May did confirm that the government will be bringing forward a new Environment Act in 2019, which will establish new primary legislation in areas including air quality.
The Prime Minister faced questions on a series of issues including Brexit negotiations and defence spending, as well as questions on air quality from the Efra Committee chair Neil Parish and Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee
Mr Parish asked the Prime Minister whether the government would commit to bringing forward a new Clean Air Bill – which was a key recommendation of the joint Committee inquiry into air pollution (see airqualitynews.com story) – including tougher air quality targets and to enshrine the right to clean air into law.
The Prime Minister responded that clean air would be an ‘element’ of new environmental legislation being brought forward by the government post-Brexit.
She said: “You are absolutely right that we have made a commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. Clean air is an element of that, but I want to be a little more ambitious than simply introducing a clean air Act.
“We will introduce an Environment Bill, and clean air will be part of that Bill. There has not been an environment Act since 1995, so we want to introduce an environment Bill that will incorporate a range of issues. Clean air will be in that.”
MPs then pressed the Prime Minister on the levels of funding available to local authorities to address air pollution, and asked whether the government would seek to pursue compensation from carmakers implicated in the dieselgate scandal in order to fill gaps in funding, as the US and German governments have done.
“There are a number of issues that have come out in relation to this question of emissions tests and what has happened with a number of manufacturers,” the Prime Minister responded. ”DfT is looking at this issue at the moment, they have been looking at various issues around emissions testing.
“We do consider that vehicle owners should be compensated for the inconvenience, the uncertainty and the worry caused by Volkswagen’s actions as well as any loss in the value of affected vehicles.”
Asked whether the government would consider legal action against carmakers found to have cheated emissions tests, she said: “This is something that the Department for Transport is continuing to look at. Ministers are regularly meeting Volkswagen executives in relation to this.
“The issue in the US is slightly different to the issue we have in the UK because their emissions regulations means that Volkswagen hasn’t been able to develop an update that brings the vehicles into compliance and that is why consumers have been offered compensation and in some cases buybacks.
“We certainly expect all manufacturers to be treating their consumers fairly,” she added.
This led to further questioning on how air quality standards would be enforced after the UK has left the jurisdiction of the European Courts, particularly in light of the announcement of legal action from the European Commission this year over failure to meet NO2 standards, and enforcement of type approval requirements.
The Prime Minister told MPs that the government is consulting on a post-Brexit environmental enforcement body, including looking at ‘what is necessary in terms of the remit and powers that such a body would have’.
She added that government would not seek to ‘suddenly reduce’ any existing environmental standards once the UK has left the European Union in 2019.
“We will be setting out very clearly the standards that we will continue to abide by after we have left the European Union,” the Prime Minister concluded.