As you would expect, Mr Speaker, I am working closely with my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the vital issue of air pollution, and as I said earlier, we intend to consult on a new air quality plan later this spring.
Given that 40,000 people die prematurely every year from air pollution and that the Government have lost two High Court cases over their lack of action, will the Minister now use his large, galvanised fist to push through clean air zones in cities such as Norwich to protect people’s health?
Yes, I think the hon. Gentleman is right. Clean air zones play a vital role in that work. Sometimes all I need is the air that I breathe. Certainly, we all need and deserve clean air. He will know that Norwich is one of the cities that has already implemented a bus low-emission zone and that the Campaign for Better Transport has welcomed the themes to be addressed by the clean air zones, including the plans for local growth, air quality and health. It has said that these are
“sound principles to underpin transport and planning”.
He is right, however, that we need to do more on clean air zones, and we will consult on that. I am in weekly discussions with my colleagues in DEFRA accordingly. The key thing—if I might add this, Mr Speaker, at your discretion—is that it is really important that we not only have good, consistent national standards, but respect the local particularities of different places and cities, so the role of local government will be vital. These zones will not be vanilla flavoured. They will reflect local circumstances, but they must all work to high national standards.
One of the reasons for harmful road emissions in my constituency is the queues of traffic from Baildon through to Shipley, so when can we have a Shipley eastern bypass, which would be good for the local economy, alleviate congestion, and deal with these harmful emissions?
It will not come as any surprise to the hon. Lady to know that when I am in Nottingham I travel on the bus from my mother-in-law’s home to the city, so I can speak with some authority about bus journeys in Nottingham. She is right that bus travel is a key part of this, which is why we have made an extra £150 million available specifically for cleaner buses. She is right, too, that we need to encourage that as part of our low-emission zones.
Encouraging parents to leave their cars at home and get their children on to local public transport can have a major impact on air quality. Has my right hon. Friend done any analysis of how much free bus travel for children will cost? The Labour metro mayor candidate has promised free bus travel for all children across the west of England, even though the devolution deal is £30 million a year. Is this another underfunded Labour promise?
The Minister promised new eyes, so will he use them to recognise that there are some 10 million diesel car drivers in the UK. Rather than joining in their demonisation by a hysterical media, will he hold a full and proper inquiry into the pros and cons of diesel, including for buses, trucks and trains, and thereby adopt a proportionate approach to what remedies might be necessary?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise from my immensely measured remarks earlier that I am not prepared to demonise anyone. I am certainly not prepared to put at risk the wellbeing of people who need to travel to work and school, and to access other opportunities—public services and so forth. Of course we need to be balanced in our approach to this.