Pollution warnings ignored by Government in its pursuit of diesel friendly VED, official documents suggest

Published 20 November 2017

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown introduced a diesel friendly VED (road tax) system, despite clear warnings over the damage it would cause to air quality in the UK, official documents show.  

Previously unseen papers from the Treasury show significant warnings over the impact of diesel emissions and particulates; however, officials preparing for the Budget argued against significant taxes on diesel as they feared it would have been seen as 'being overly harsh’ on drivers.

The documents were released to the BBC follow a Freedom of Information request and two-year-long battle with the Treasury. 

Advice from the Treasury's tax policy section 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 model in order to attract a lower VED rate.’

However, fearing a backlash from motorists by introducing large supplements for diesels, officials concluded: ‘Presentationally, this should be seen as ensuring fair treatment of petrol and diesel, rather than as a penalty on diesel users.

'At least for the first year, we would prefer the smaller £10 supplement so we are not seen to be penalising diesel vehicles.'

“This will only heighten the sense of injustice felt by millions of people who bought their diesels cars in good faith.”

In 2001, Gordon Brown introduced a sliding CO2 scale for VED to cut carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, the number of diesel cars on the road ballooned from three to 12 million as drivers took advantage of cheap road tax. Today, diesel particulates are linked to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.  

Edmund Kind, president of the AA said: “This will only heighten the sense of injustice felt by millions of people who bought their diesels cars in good faith.”

The Environment Secretary Michael Gove told the BBC that "the dash for diesel was pursued under a Labour government, and these documents show they knew the damage this would do to our environment”.

Diesel car buyers are already facing higher VED, with the 2017 road tax system adding hundreds of pounds to the running costs of Britain’s most-popular diesels. Sales have also plummeted, with October registration figures showing a 30 per cent drop in the number of new diesel cars bought in the UK.


Bob Bax    on 27 November 2017

My wife has always complained of asthma related breathing problems when confined in a vehicile in close proximity to diesel vehicles in traffic, especially those that clearly required maintence or adjustments to fuel metering. As a consequence I have opted in her interest to petrol fueled vehicles.
My future plans will focus on petrol hybids, and full electric cars, subject to a realistic acess to charging points when travelling more than locally.
Bob Bax (Southampton one of the more challenged cities for Air Quality)

Brian Cuzner    on 27 November 2017

Stitched up by Gordon and VW. Due to software changes I now own a rattley engined Tiguan whose reliability I do not now trust despite assurances from the manufacturer and whose value is dropping like a stone.

999pez    on 27 November 2017

Yep, I changed back to a petrol car last year. Had to pay a bit more VED and fuel costs but I'm glad I did it. After 15 years of diesels I've now come to remember how much more fun it is driving a petrol engine vehicle as well!

Knotty Tall    on 27 November 2017

I've never run a diesel car for precisely these reasons, and can't understand why so many buyers got taken in by this, as the information about diesel particulate emissions was widely known.
Caveat emptor, as they say.

Don1988    on 27 November 2017

Unless you're driving a delivery truck - taxi - white van etc I can't see any point in buying a diesel - they're more expensive to maintain and some modern petrol engines get great mpg.you won't be adding to the deadly particles they release.

foxed    on 27 November 2017

The government should offer to pay the owners of older diesel cars the market value to take them off the road and not the scrimmage value as is currently the case

foxed    on 27 November 2017


Colin N MacKenzie    on 27 November 2017

As a child in the 1950s, waiting for a bus home after school I always knew diesel was bad noting the, well maintained London Transport buses, exhaust wore away the road surface at stops.

Then in my early and later driving switching off the heater every time I was behind any diesel bus or lorry and especially, French cars, Peugeot the worst.

Madness. Petrol cars just got cleaner and cleaner.

   on 27 November 2017

Why they going on about Diesel cars, As now they are getting cleaner than ever with the new
Telec Knowledge EG. To electrifying the Catalyst To 48, Volts
Reading this Articles in the AUTO EXPRESS MAGAZINE.
Shame the people in Government. Do not read these Articles. Before putting extra taxes on Diesel cars,
Instead they should be looking at Public Service Vehicles, Buses, Taxis,

Les Richards    on 27 November 2017

You don't need to be any kind of expert to see the cr*p coming out of taxis, buses and commercial vehicles to know that diesel powered transport is not good for the environment.

Clearly, stuttering Gordon Brown and his cronies conned a lot of people but should we really be surprised? It's the old saying:; 'How can you tell when a politician is lying? His lips move.'

Apparently, Harold MacMillan, when PM, ignored warnings about the dangers of smoking because the Government needed the revenue.

Good sense doesn't count when those in power know best.

JOHN MOTTRAM    on 27 November 2017

When I got my first job when I was 16, I went to work on the bus, obviously the bus was diesel, the bus had a back platform at the back, when you got off the bus you could smell the diesel,I am now 70, thats 54 Years ago. something should of been done then?Why as it taken all those years to do something now, how many people have died since then, Diesel engines need to be removed now. The amount of money this government spends Millions here and trillions there, they could replace all engines overnight not in 30 years time,. Not many people can spend £20.000 in an electric car. John M

Maltozo    on 27 November 2017

Politics and politicians. 'Nuff said. Didn't Brown sell off more than half of our gold whilst it was at the bottom of the market back in the late 90's/early 20's? Saw a clip of Farage grilling him about it and he just smiled back like a village idiot...

DLDLDL    on 27 November 2017

It goes back further to the 70s and 80s and Lean Burn Petrol engines which offered so much to make small petrol engines fuel efficient - much to the displeasure of manufacturers of large petrol engines.

I seem to recall that lobbying ensured that regulations were cast to disadvantage these small engines - which lead to a focus on diesels for small cars as a way to get fuel efficiency.

And so the die was cast.

But if we now start penalising diesel, how long until the questions about petrol (carbonaceous particulate matter etc.) start to return? Probably by the time I am looking to sell the (petrol) car that I am persuaded to buy in the near future.

wheresmybrain    on 27 November 2017

I'm all for making the environment cleaner , get rid of them black cabs & older buses not forgetting how much airplanes dump fuel when about to land. Plus give owners of older diesel cars a scrap page value off of a newer second hand petrol driven car for the people who cannot afford £20000 for a new car.
Del Booker

Ubermik    on 27 November 2017

To be honest the "linked to" bit about deaths leaves me distrusting this

Heart deaths have been "linked" to full fat products for decades based on flawed research and just recently they finally admitted they were actually healthy rather than unhealthy, for years they used to claim cigarettes WERE healthy, for over a century they have claimed marijuana is Unhealthy despite the countless medical uses and benefits

Both governments and "most" scientists "find" what the people pulling their strings want them to find, this is the harsh reality we live in

The great AGW global warming myth being the pinnacle of cognitive dissonance where practically every observable sign discounting the claims was ignored in favour of the dogma (and the endless taxation it would have yielded

The government has lost or "should" be losing its endless tax cash cow of the global warming myth now that enough recognised scientists have grown a pair and published a paper showing conclusively that the AGW claims of doom and gloom weren't just "inaccurate" but were deliberate lies whilst the planet got greener BECAUSE of more CO2 despite deforestation and urbanisation

So now they need some other way to gouge endless supplies of money from taxpayers to fund their lavish gravy train funded lifestyles and the diesel engines seem to be it

There are also many studies showing that particulates ONLY found from petrol engines are even worse, yet not a murmur about that

This reminds me of the age old comment about another dark time in history filled with huge myths so to paraphrase

"when they came for the gas guzzlers I didn't drive one so I said nothing, when they came for the diesel cars I didn't drive one so I said nothing, when they came for the petrol drivers I had gone electric so I said nothing, now when they are aiming for my wallet there is nobody left so say anything"


   on 27 November 2017

I am always amused by the comment, repeated many times here, that the gov't should compensate or buy back the diesels. Tell me where do you think the gov't gets it's money from, it's from us. Lets say 10,000,000 cars at an average £10,000 a piece, that's £100bn. Fancy an income tax rise folks? Then that doesn't rid us of diesel buses, lorries, vans, taxis etc all of which for some reason seem to escape the penalties. I remain convinced that there's life in the internal combustion engine yet and technology can (and has) solved many of these problems. However I remain puzzled why there's no push for gas powered vehicles. LPG is cleaner than petrol and diesel and will run in a slightly modified petrol engine. So perhaps someone can tell me why gas is being ignored.

People need to realise that the gov't depends on a certain amount of money to come in and if tonight we all went out and purchased electric cars the gov't income would drop dramatically. Then as a result electric cars would be taxed. All the various taxes do is to try and persuade people to change habits but any tax advantage is going to be short term, that is 100% guaranteed.

johnbuk    on 27 November 2017

All to keep the "green" activists happy at the expense of everyone else.
OK to kill people today as long as we reduce the temperature of the earth by .0001c in 100 year's time. Nice deal for some - follow the money.

Royston Mead    on 27 November 2017

Well confusion is very well entrench, so we had don't get a petrol vehicle it emits to much Co2 which is destroying the planet and responsible for global warming. So being a good citizen I purchase a diesel vehicle which certainly is producing less Co2 than a petrol. The latest diesel vehicles have a much lower diesel articulate emissions and the filters are extremely expensive.
I assume that the fuss over Co2 emissions and the damage done to the planet has just been a load of rubbish and the a big con to raise more taxes.

Philip Robinson    on 27 November 2017

While we're busy vilifying diesel cars, what about the pollution from cruise ships. In one day, a typical ship can produce the same emissions as 13 million cars. This is allowed to happen whilst there is the technology to reduce the emissions although the will to legislate is strangely missing. Incidentally what are we going to do about the diesel lorries, trains and container ships? Even the humble wood burning stove has been proved to be a risk to health from it's particulates.

Robert McAuley    on 27 November 2017

Being a scientist and having a modicum of common sense,I was not foolish enough to buy a diesel but my powerful, less polluting car was hammered with VED and that really made me angry so come on Edmund King and see my side of the debate. Diesels were ALWAYS known to be filthy in terms of particulate output.

2chins    on 30 November 2017

Just look how the US dealt with cars with diesel engines, they virtually banned them for twenty years, till they got to dpf and scr technology that are just arriving here now - they have not got the massive fleets of old polluting diesels that have set air quality back years.
The CO2 argument on its own was way to over simplistic the high speed NOx emissions shot this down from day one, particulate just added to the problem and why is diesel the same price or more than petrol when it costs less to produce - yes the government still wants the same amount of revenue.... wonder how the electric bills are going to rise in years to come?!?!?!

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