- Evidence suggests Tony Blair’s government ignored warnings about diesel cars
- Records showed ministers were aware the diesel vehicles emit more toxic fumes
- Michael Gove said the documents showed Labour pursued ‘the dash for diesel’
Fresh evidence of how Tony Blair‘s Labour government ignored health warnings about diesel vehicles before encouraging millions to buy them has emerged.
Confidential records released by the Treasury yesterday confirmed ministers were well aware that diesel vehicles emit more toxic fumes.
But they show how officials preparing the 2000 budget argued against higher tax for diesel cars ‘so we are not seen as being overly harsh on diesel users’.
The documents were released by the Treasury after a two-year battle with the BBC which lodged a Freedom of Information Act request.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the documents showed Labour pursued ‘the dash for diesel’ despite knowing the dangers, adding it was ‘another example of a Conservative government having to clean up Labour’s mess’.
Advice from the Treasury’s tax policy section presented to ministers stated: ‘Relative to petrol, diesel has lower emissions of CO2 but higher emissions of the particulates and pollutants which damage local air quality.
‘A diesel supplement is necessary so that we do not create incentives for people to choose diesel vehicles over similar petrol models in order to attract a lower Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) rate.’
But officials were worried how this would be perceived, saying: ‘Presentationally, this should be seen as ensuring fair treatment of petrol and diesel, rather than as a penalty on diesel users.’
In the budget the following year, the then Chancellor Gordon Brown introduced a major overhaul of VED which caused sales of diesel cars to boom.
This was a deliberate ploy – following advice from scientists – to cut down on carbon emissions and tackle global warming. Instead of basing the tax on the size of the engine, the new VED system was based on carbon emissions. This favoured diesel cars which are generally more fuel efficient.
The number of diesel cars on the road soared from 3.5 million to more than 12 million. But politicians are now desperately trying to persuade motorists to ditch diesel, and switch to petrol or low emission vehicles such as electric cars.
Ministers have ordered councils to devise schemes to crack down on pollution, including extra charges on motorists driving into town centres or even to park their cars.
There are fears Chancellor Philip Hammond will announce a fuel duty tax rise for diesel car owners in his Budget next Wednesday.
Mr Gove said: ‘The dash for diesel was pursued under a Labour government, and these documents show they knew the damage this would do to our environment.’
Edmund King, president of the AA said: ‘These FoI records just confirm that the previous Labour government knew there were problems with diesels and air quality but chose to ignore it. This will only heighten the sense of injustice felt by millions of people who bought their diesel cars in good faith.’
The Treasury said it could not comment on decisions taken under a previous government. It refused to comment on the reasons for the two-year FoI delay.