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Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend will recognise that many of those matters are beyond the scope of my brief. I will be happy to make sure that she gets a full written response if that is appropriate. For me to try to gloss over those matters today would not do justice to some important questions.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) also questioned why we were having this debate when there were more pressing issues. Again, I say to himin his absence, as he is not herethat he may want to take those matters up for a Liberal Democrat Opposition day. He posed many questions, yet found great difficulty in articulating Liberal Democrat policy in reply to the one question that was posed to him. I look forward to an on-going debate with him on these matters.
The hon. Gentleman said that I had said that our policy needs to be more hydrogen-based. I did not, nor did I wish to suggest it. The Government want to go for the low carbon use option. The policy will not necessarily be hydrogen-based, although it may well be. We have not backed any winner at the moment. He asked also about the green fuel challenge. Nine bids have been received so far; we are looking at the cost benefits of the proposals and the level of incentives that may be required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), as always, spoke with great knowledge and passion about the wider use of fuels. He referred to the current energy review, which may bring him some comfort. His was a well-considered speech and many of the commentsalthough beyond the scope of my briefwill have been well noted in the House today.
The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) made a second maiden speech; hon. Members who come back here are familiarly known as retreads. He talked about his classic cars and, rather than clean fuels, he talked about dirty fuels for a moment, mentioning leaded fuels. The current EU directive allows 0.5 per cent. of total fuel sales to be leaded fuels that are suitable for classic cars and do not cause the valve seat recession that is the concern of the older cars with the softer blocks. The amount of leaded petrol being sold is very much lower
Mr. Greg Knight: Whether the oil companies continue to produce it is a totally different issue. I asked the Minister to confirm that there were no Government plans to stop this very small usage by classic and vintage car owners. I hope that he can confirm that he has no plans to alter the status quo in this regard.
Mr. Jamieson: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have no plans to alter the status quo. I, too, am a lover of classic cars and often go to rallies. I have owned classic cars, although I do not at the moment. I understand his interest and the huge interest around the country in classic cars, which are an important part of our industrial heritage.
The right hon. Gentleman asked how many Government cars used LPG. He requested precise figures. I shall drop him a line, but I can assure him that, since the time of the previous Government, the Government car service has gradually moved to having more LPG cars. Indeed, the car that I drive is powered by LPG. He also asked about local authority objections to refuelling points, which is an important point. We are informed that the problem is less serious now. Following PPG13, we are encouraging local authorities to take a much more positive view of planning applications, notwithstanding the fact that they have to take into account planning and safety concerns that may be specific to a particular site. Nevertheless, we are asking them to use that planning guidance to take a more positive view of applications.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the matter of road humps and traffic calming. Road safety is one of my responsibilities. The safety record on the roads in this country is good in comparison with that of other EU countries, but it is not good in relation to the death and injury of children on our roads every year. Some traffic calming measures, although inconvenient, save lives. He needs to discuss with his local authority the safety contribution of such measures and whether there are other less inconvenient ways that still make that contribution. A blanket measure ending the use of road humps because they are inconvenient or cause noise is inappropriate; we must consider their important contribution to safety.
Lembit Öpik: As a member of the MG Owners' Clubrubber bumper, a nice runner and a long MOTI know that almost all classic cars can be converted to run on unleaded fuel, although some purists may not wish to do that. However, in the long term, they may have to.
Mr. Jamieson: I am a lapsed member of the MG Owners' Club, and it is true that those cars can be converted to run on unleaded fuel. The hon. Gentleman is right; many will run on gaseous fuels as well. Older Members of Parliament, none of whom are here today, may remember vehicles with large bags of gas on the roof being used during the war; I certainly do not. However, they were inefficient.
The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) demonstrated his customary good sense in our debate. I have come to appreciate his helpful and useful comments, and hope that my praise does not impede his long overdue elevation to the Front Bench. He raised some important points about publicising the benefits of LPG. I have undertaken several events to try to garner some publicity, but in recent weeks we have been somewhat overtaken by other issues. I shall certainly have further discussions with the oil industry to see how we can arouse more public interest. When we announced the changes to the PowerShift programme, we approached some of the car magazines to ask them to publish articles giving some publicity to the issue and we are mindful of the need for further publicity.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the quality of car conversions, which is essential. One of the elements of the PowerShift programme that we have reinforced is the requirement that the grant goes only to high-quality conversions that deliver the emission improvements and the necessary safety levels.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston is always knowledgeable on such matters and he made a detailed contribution. I remember our discussions in 1992 and 1993 about CNG; even then, we were clearly preparing for government. We are probably indebted to those discussions for much of what we have been able to achieve and many of the matters raised today.
The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) suggested that we should have an environmental carrot instead of a fiscal stick. We have provided a fiscal carrot to achieve our environmental ambitions, and that is probably the best approach.
I was perturbed by some of the points made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster and I hope that he has not done me too much damage by describing me as a safe pair of hands at this Department. I hope that he will repeat that remark on Tuesday night, because if he does not I shall make sure that someone else does. He also suggested that I was a relatively young Member of Parliament. He may be, but I am at least young at heart.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the urban hot spots, which are important to us. Westminster was one of the first areas to introduce a refuse collection vehicle powered by natural gas, which is substantially quieter. I do not know whether that makes the men who operate it any quieter at 4 am, but it contributes to lessening the noise and pollution in the streets of his constituency.
I also noted the hon. Gentleman's points about curfews on heavy vehicles. If some of them can be made to run more quietly in city streets at night while causing less pollution, that could be a sensible approach to lifting the curfews. We are looking at packages of measures to combat engine noise and other intrusive noises, especially noises from depots, shutters and car radios. The package
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) mentioned wind power and we were sailing for a while. I flew over part of his constituency recentlyI did not quite cross it, which was why I did not inform himand it is possible that wind power could contribute to hydrogen production, giving a complete cycle for cleaner fuel. I hope that he did not mean me when he talked of something being neither classic nor vintage, just old. He also raised other issues that may be beyond the scope of my Department, but they have been noted.
Cleaner fuels are not the solution to all our transport problems. Congestion will not go away because vehicles are cleaner. It is important to consider cleaner fuels as only a contribution, albeit an important one, to the development of a more sustainable transport system.
This has been a thought-provoking debate, and I hope that I have been able to confirm the Government's continuing commitment to encouraging the use of cleaner fuels. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to debate this issue, and I thank all those who have contributed to this important and valuable debate.