The Government’s plan to ban the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars from 2040 “lacks sufficient ambition” and should be brought forward, an influential group of MPs have said.

They also warn the government will have to do far more if it is not to miss its targets for the introduction of ultra low emission vehicles.

The warnings are contained in a report on improving air quality which was drawn up after a joint inquiry by The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Environmental Audit; Health and Social Care; and Transport committees.

In its recommendations it said: “There is insufficient urgency in current policies to accelerate vehicle fleet renewal. While we welcome the Government’s commitment to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, this target lacks sufficient ambition. It is too distant to produce a step-change in industry and local government planning, and falls far behind similar commitments from other countries.”

It added: “The Government should bring forward the date by which the sale of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles will be ended. The Government should conduct a feasibility assessment to determine the earliest date by which this could be achieved, balancing the health impacts of air pollution with economic and practical considerations. We expect the Government to then require manufacturers to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles by this earlier date. The Government should inform us of the outcome of its assessments in response to this Report.”

The report was also critical of progress towards the Committee on Climate Change’s target that 9% of vehicles should be ULEVs by 2020, and 60% by 2030. It said: “We welcome the Government’s optimism that ULEV targets will be met. This now needs to be translated into concrete action. The current pace of change is far too slow and we have no confidence that there will be adequate infrastructure to support the UK’s rapid transition away from polluting vehicles without substantial efforts from both central Government and local authorities.

“The Government should work with National Grid and local authorities to identify the key practical barriers preventing a more rapid roll-out of charging infrastructure, and provide details and timescales of how these will be overcome in response to this Report. Local authorities also need to be clear that they should be facilitating the switch to ULEVS as far as possible. This should be clearly communicated to residents and planning committees.”

The RAC agreed that more needed to be done to encourage take-up of low emission vehicles. Commenting on the report’s findings, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “The Government’s longer-term ambition to end the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles should be matched by a shorter-term one which does more to incentivise drivers to choose cleaner alternatives.

“With the latest figures showing a drop in the number of electric cars being sold in the UK at the start of this year compared to 2017, now is the time to ask whether incentives such as the plug-in grant scheme are doing enough to change drivers’ buying habits. The Government may need to be far more radical by looking at VAT on sales of zero-emission vehicles.

“There is also a lot of work to be done to demonstrate that the country is ready for a new era of cleaner vehicles. While manufacturers have committed to selling many more hybrid and pure electric models which will help bring the price of these down, this needs to be backed by the right infrastructure - such as the availability of more high-speed charging infrastructure which can help allay drivers’ range anxiety. It should also look at key areas such as on-street charging for residents, and at destination points such as car parks where drivers are likely to leave their vehicles for longer periods. A combination of competitive up-front vehicle costs and confidence in the charging infrastructure should provide the tipping point for a transition to zero-emission vehicles.”