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Air Quality

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 19 January 2017

The United Kingdom complies with the EU legislation for nearly all air pollutants, but faces challenges in achieving nitrogen dioxide limits, along with 16 other EU member states. That is why we have committed more than £2 billion since 2011 to reduce transport emissions and the autumn statement provided a further £290 million to support greener transport. We should all recognise that air quality is actually improving, but we recognise that we need to go further and faster and will be consulting on a new national plan by 24 April.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but I believe the Secretary of State is aware of the GB Freight Route rail scheme, which will take up to 5 million lorry journeys off Britain’s roads each year, save thousands of tonnes of emissions, and radically improve air quality. Will she and her Ministers use their good offices to press the case for GB Freight Route in Government?

With Felixstowe in my constituency, I am fully aware of the advantages of rail freight. I stress to the hon. Gentleman that the Departments for Transport and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs work closely together on these matters. Shifting freight onto rail is a key part of any future strategy.

Is the Minister aware of the controversial proposal for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf in east Greenwich? With the air quality impact of that proposal in mind, will she tell us when the Government expect the recently promised review into shore-to-ship power and the assumptions that underpin port development to conclude?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that his own council carried out an environmental impact assessment, which it considered when looking at that particular planning application. As he will also be aware, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport, is committed to looking further at what can be done, and I am sure that he is making progress with that.

Does the Minister agree that British businesses have made great strides in recent years in producing technologies that enable us to improve air quality, such as the taxis that now run in Birmingham on liquefied petroleum gas and the adaptation of buses that have significantly cleaned up the air in Oxford Street?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. Her vast experience in this area is added to by her local knowledge of the city of Birmingham and the support going on there. This Government made a substantial transport settlement with the previous Mayor of London, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), and I know that air pollution has improved on Oxford Street over the past year, which is thanks specifically to the grants that were provided.

Camelford in north Cornwall suffers from very high levels of pollution, because of the A39 running straight through its town centre. Will my hon. Friend congratulate Camelford Town Council on the work that it has done to address the air quality? Will she work with the council and me to tackle the problem in the town?

I have made it clear in this House before that national Government have their part to play in finding solutions to tackle local congestion issues, but so too does local government. Of course we will continue to work with my hon. Friend on that matter.

The Royal College of Physicians has stated that air pollution contributes to approximately 40,000 deaths in the UK every year, and that diesel emissions have been poorly regulated. What progress are the Government making in that field?

Nitrous oxide levels have been falling, but I recognise that it is not happening quickly enough. The previous Labour Government signed us up to achieve deadlines by 2010, and failed spectacularly. We are continuing to invest in this area and will continue to do so and work with devolved Administrations on specific issues in other areas.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way to make real progress on air quality is to forge ahead with ultra-low emission vehicles. Given that 25% of the cars on Norway’s roads are either electric or hybrid, does she agree that we need a real turbo-charged boost to get ahead in this area?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The low-emission vehicle industry is a competitive advantage for this country, which is why the Government are backing it through the Office for Low Emission Vehicles and the many millions of pounds that have been spent on improving the charging infrastructure up and down this country.

Many happy returns, Mr Speaker, to both you and Rev. Rose.

The Government have lost the confidence of this House on air quality. More than 50,000 people are dying prematurely each year because of air pollution, and many more are suffering associated health conditions. With no guarantee from either the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State that last December’s strict EU laws will be introduced post-Brexit, how can the country trust the Government to ensure cleaner air in future?

The hon. Lady refers to a lack of trust in this Government. I think that that is the pot calling the kettle black. It was the Labour Government who introduced fiscal incentives for people to switch to diesel cars, and it was the Labour Government who signed up to these guidelines. Air quality is better now than it was under a Labour Government. That is an uncontrovertible fact.