[Relevant documents: Tenth Special Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Seventh Special Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Second Special Report of the Health and Social Care Committee and Third Special Report of the Transport Committee, Improving air quality: Government response to the Fourth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Third Report of the Health and Social Care Committee, and Second Report of the Transport Committee, HC 1149.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Joint Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care and Transport Committees, Improving Air Quality, HC 433, and calls on the Government to adopt its recommendations as part of its Clean Air Strategy.
I very much back speakers on the previous motion in their points about contempt of Parliament when people refuse to give evidence to Select Committees.
I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the Liaison Committee and to the Backbench Business Committee for granting time in this House to debate our report on improving air quality. I thank my fellow Chairs and members of the Health, Transport and Environmental Audit Committees for all their work and help; I also thank the many staff across all the Committees for helping put together the four-Committee report, which is a challenging task.
Last October, we launched a joint inquiry to consider the Government’s most recent plans for reducing levels of nitrogen dioxide. The cross-cutting inquiry examined whether the Government’s plans to cut air quality pollution were adequate. We have concluded that they are not. The UK has failed to meet our legal air quality limits since 2010, and successive Governments have failed to get a grip and improve our air quality. Air pollution is a silent killer. It is the largest environmental risk to public health, costing the UK an estimated £20 billion every year in health impacts. Air pollution affects everyone, from those driving their cars to those who walk or cycle to work—especially in the many hotspots in our inner cities.
I am not saying that the Government have failed to take any action. It is good to see that they have taken on board key recommendations in our joint report, including: consolidating the patchwork of air quality legislation; developing a personal air pollution alert system for the public; making better use of air quality data from local authorities; and making sure that those data are compatible with each other. I also very much welcome the commitments in the latest clean air strategy consultation to cut levels of particulate pollution.
Although those initial steps are welcome, they are not nearly enough. Real change requires bold, meaningful actions, which are absent from the Government’s current approach. In our report, we called for a properly resourced national support scheme to help councils struggling with air pollution. Such a scheme would require far greater cross-departmental working and joint planning—something that, as we highlighted, is severely lacking right now. In addition, we recommended a “polluter pays” clean air fund.
This is not a war on motorists. We envisioned that the fund would be paid for by the automobile industry. I do not want to punish those who bought diesel vehicles that had been recommended by previous Governments; they bought in good faith and will need time and support to rectify the mistakes and recommendations of those previous Governments. I urge the Government to re-examine their decision not to have a targeted diesel scrappage scheme.
Furthermore, we need significant efforts to speed up the roll-out of electric charging infrastructure, which must include more rapid charging points to accelerate the transition to low-emission vehicles across all our towns and cities. It is essential that people should be able not only to charge up their cars, but to do so quickly, otherwise we will not get enough people into electric cars. All that requires a new clean air Act to update and streamline existing legislation. The new legislation could also include measures to ensure that the Government are held to account on environmental issues once we have left the EU. A new clean air Act is absolutely essential, and I ask the Minister today to confirm the timescale for the introduction of such an Act.
I find it disappointing that the Government are not making the automobile industry pay for the damage it has caused. We have already been let down in this regard: when we did not get anywhere near enough compensation out of Volkswagen for the emissions scandal. I am amazed that the German Government were able to get €1 billion, while all we seem to have got are the zeros. The automobile industry has a yearly turnover of some £80 billion.
In recent tests, the majority of the latest 2017 diesel cars are almost four times above the EU’s baseline emissions limit.
I come back to my hon. Friend’s point about Volkswagen and Germany. Would it not be ironic and extremely unfortunate if the German car industry used that €1 billion to leapfrog into clean new-energy vehicles that put them at a competitive advantage, given that there has been no similar payment that could help the UK motor industry?
My hon. Friend makes a really good point. I am amazed: do British lawyers lack teeth? Do Government lawyers lack any sort of drive and ambition? It is not just Volkswagen; others out there could also contribute. If we got funds from them, those could help towards producing cleaner vehicles or helping with air quality in our inner cities and hotspots across the country. It seems so ridiculous to lose that form of money and funding.
Does the hon. Gentleman not find it extraordinary that the US Department of Justice and the state of California have brought a case against Volkswagen, which has had to pay out more than $4 billion in the United States, with six people having been indicted, yet the UK Government are being brought to the European Court of Justice for our complete inertia in tackling this criminality?
The hon. Lady, a fellow Select Committee Chair, raises a very good point. What I cannot understand is that although the money is not exactly free, it is money we could get from a source separate from British taxpayers, or wherever, to help to clean up a situation created by these vehicles. I urge the Minister today to come forward with ideas about how we can get some money from the car industry, especially Volkswagen; as the hon. Lady says, the Americans seem to be somewhat more effective at that job than we are.
The “polluter pays” fund would mean that the Government could have more money available to improve public transport and speed up the roll-out of infrastructure needed for low-emission vehicles. The emissions scandal showed us that all the manufacturers were prepared to put profit above everything else, including our health, but the Government are shying away from making them pay.
My hon. Friend, who chairs the Health and Social Care Committee, makes a good point. Once we have the money, there are limitless things we can do with it. The unfortunate fact is that we do not have the money at the moment. I think the Government have felt that. Walking, cycling and altering the way we go about our daily lives is all good. It is good for our health, and it gets us out of our cars.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that money would be well spent because, if we succeed in getting more people on to their bicycles or walking, it will deliver long-term savings both to physical healthcare and mental healthcare and create better communities?
The hon. Lady, who chairs the Transport Committee, is absolutely right that the money would be well spent. Our health would be improved, and therefore we would save money on the NHS and we would be able to spend the money in other ways.
Why are there private individuals in this country who are prepared to bring a case against VW, yet we, as a Government, have singly failed? I would be interested if the Minister could give us some insight into why we allow private people, quite rightly, to bring a case, yet the Government are not supporting them and are not bringing a case themselves.
There is not a satisfactory system for overseeing how money is spent to improve our air quality. Our report finds that Departments are clearly failing to work together. The Government have promised some modest improvements, and I am sure the House looks forward to an update on that in the very near future, perhaps even today.
The Government response tells us that a consistent approach was taken to appraising the cost of air pollution, yet during our joint Committee hearings I was deeply concerned to learn that the then Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), was not even aware of how much economic impact air pollution has on the UK.
It is clear that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Treasury, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Transport, the Department of Health and Social Care and local authorities not only need to collaborate more effectively but need to collaborate, full stop.
Does that not bring us to probably the single most important point we will touch on this afternoon, which is the need for health and wellbeing to be included in all policies and the need for us to get out of all the different silos?
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. Not only on air quality but in food policy and agriculture policy, health needs to be considered; it needs to be considered in all these things. This can be a beacon for the way forward, but we need much more co-operation between all parts of Government and local government. We would all agree that we have to be careful that the Government do not blame local government and that local government does not blame the Government.
The Government have told us that the Green Book guidance sets out what Departments should be doing and how they should be working together, but that has clearly not worked in the past, and we have received nothing to give us confidence that it will necessarily improve. Perhaps the Minister will be able to put me right.
The clean air strategy failed to include measures to improve road transport emissions. Emissions are being dealt with in a separate strategy, which demonstrates that the Government still operate in silos. I had hoped the Government would take more substantive measures to improve cross-departmental working.
The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting points about the public purse and joined-up thinking between Departments. He says that road emissions are not included in the clean air strategy. Does he have any comment on aviation? Does he agree with some of us on this side that it seems lamentable that, when 9,000 Londoners a year are dying from toxic air, we have just taken a decision to approve the expansion of Heathrow airport? Willie Walsh, from the parent company of British Airways, said the decision is outrageous—he actually called it BS, but I will not repeat that word here because it is unparliamentary. He said that the cost does not stack up.
I understand the hon. Lady’s concern, but I will not venture into the airport air pollution problem. A lot of the air quality, certainly on the ground, has a lot to do with the extra traffic going in and out of the terminals. That also has to be dealt with. There is a lot to be done, but I do not want to get into a huge debate about the runway at Heathrow.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. I will not venture further.
It is disappointing that these matters have not been addressed properly, but I look forward to the Minister’s reply. It is also disappointing that the Government are not doing enough to support local authorities that are struggling with air quality. Local authorities face real funding restrictions. Although we said that councils need to
“take ownership of delivering local solutions to local problems”
there is the question of whether it is possible to reduce air pollution significantly across the country without our national Government looking at the big picture. The existing mechanisms are not delivering the results we need.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to improving the amount of information and best practice sharing available to local authorities, but the change that is so necessary for struggling local authorities will not be achieved without substantial funding increases. That funding needs to be ring-fenced.
The High Court ruled against the 2017 NO2 plan because it was too narrow. Since then, DEFRA has instructed an additional 33 local authorities to address NO2 breaches. So far, only £1.65 million has been allocated to support those local authorities. I am sure the House will agree that that is clearly woefully inadequate, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Laughter.] Sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. You changed very quickly.
We would like to see a properly resourced national support scheme for local authorities. The Government have said they might consider the additional funding requirements. I urge the Minister to make a clear statement of intent.
I am pleased to have had this opportunity to raise these issues, and I hope the House will give the Minister the oomph he needs to go away and ensure that the respective Departments heed our Committees’ joint work. The Government must grab the bull by the horns, make firm in their clean air strategy proposal and introduce a clean air Act.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and I look forward to the speeches by my fellow Select Committee Chairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston).
I am afraid that this is a rather sorry tale of inaction and buck passing. Fault lies not with one party but with successive Governments. The efforts so far have been inadequate and have been characterised by a lack of urgency. We know the problems that poor air quality causes. It affects our health and our environment and, as has already been said, as many as 40,000 people die prematurely each year as a result of poor air quality. The elderly, the unwell and the economically deprived are those most likely to be affected. The Government estimate that poor air quality costs the UK economy £27.5 billion a year.
We also know where the problem occurs. Key pollutants include nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5. More than 85% of air quality zones in the UK—37 out of 43—exceeded EU nitrogen dioxide limits in 2016. They should have been compliant in 2010, and the Government think it will be 2026 before all 43 zones in the UK are compliant. The World Health Organisation tells us there is no safe level of exposure to fine particulate matter.
We know what causes poor air quality. It comes from several sources: industry, agriculture, homes, businesses and transport. Progress has been made, but it is stalling, and we are in breach of our legal obligations. Road transport is responsible for about 80% of nitrogen oxide concentrations at places in the UK that exceed legal limits, with diesel engines a significant contributor. The number of cars and vans on our roads continues to rise, and congestion has worsened, which increases pollution in itself. Although diesel cars have become less popular since the VW scandal was uncovered in 2015, for more than a decade before that the trend was in the opposite direction.
Transport also generates a significant proportion of particulate matter, from both combustion, and wear on tyres and brake pads. The Government have largely relied on cleaner vehicles to solve the problem, and limits on emissions, which are gradually tightened with each iteration of the euro standards, have helped us make some progress but not enough. Real world emissions have not fallen as promised, and renewing the fleet could take 15 years or more. Policies to accelerate this process, such as scrappage schemes, may be needed. The science, historical evidence and impact are clear, but we still have not taken the action that is needed. Three times the Government’s strategy has been found wanting by the courts, and the UK faces large fines by the EU Commission, along with other countries, for not bringing air quality within legal limits. We know the solutions that are needed, so it is shocking that successive Governments have failed to take the necessary action.
Nationally and locally there are examples of good things happening. In my own city there has been considerable investment in public transport, with major extensions to our tram network, and that was supported by the coalition Government. Last year, Nottingham’s municipal bus company introduced new biogas buses, and work has begun to retrofit its entire fleet of diesel buses by autumn 2019. Last week, on Clean Air Day, the city council launched an anti-idling campaign, mirroring similar action in other towns and cities across the UK. As I have said, the Department for Transport has supported the development of low emission buses and taxis, has regulated maritime emissions, is supporting low emission vehicles and alternative fuels, and has lead work on the development of real driving emissions standards.
So what has gone wrong—why have we not solved this problem? The first issue we found in this regard was collaboration. That is not a problem that can be fixed by central Government or local government alone—they need to work together. At present, action is too fragmented, lacks clear leadership, and is not properly costed or resourced. There are no fiscal measures that support long-term behaviour change in a meaningful way. Local authorities are already responsible for meeting air quality limits but find it difficult to make changes, partly due to lack of resources, but partly because the changes needed are politically unpalatable. Our joint Select Committee report called for ambitious, co-ordinated, cross-departmental action. Sadly, the Government’s new draft strategy says almost nothing about emissions from cars, and we are still waiting for the Department to publish its strategy “Road to Zero”. That simply does not seem very joined-up.
It is vital that we encourage the uptake of clean technologies and remove the most polluting vehicles from our roads, but the Government rejected a more ambitious target for ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars before 2040. Today, Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change, echoed our call in the drive to meet targets on carbon emissions. There are rumours that the “Road to Zero” will water down the commitment to end sales of diesel and petrol cars even further, and I hope that this latest intervention will prompt Ministers to think again.
The Government also need to accelerate the switch to ultra low emission vehicles, and that requires a network of charging points, particularly for rapid charging, and a strategy for on-street residential charging.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in London we have made significant progress, with the current Mayor bringing forward the ultra low emission zone and with the proposed toxicity charge? However, sadly, a lot of this seems to have been undermined by this week’s decision—I know she voted the right way—to have an extra runway in Heathrow. People in west London are lamenting that, and I regret that a lot of the good work in her report was ignored by the Government’s national policy statement.
I thank my hon. Friend. She rightly says that a lot of work has been done in London, yet it still faces a huge challenge on air quality. That is one reason why our Select Committee report on the airports NPS calls for extra safeguards on air quality. Obviously, Parliament did vote for the NPS and the Secretary of State has now designated it, but it is essential he keeps his promises on air quality.
It is also vital that the public sector leads, demonstrating what is possible. The Government could set dates by which their car fleet will all be ULEVs. Local authorities, the NHS and other large public bodies could do the same with their fleets. It is not just on road transport where the Government are less ambitious than they might be. The decision to row back from electrification of our railways in favour of bi-mode trains has worrying implications for air quality, carbon emissions and noise. Of course, our Committee has also published a report on rail investment today. Those look more like decisions taken in isolation than decisions taken under the umbrella of an overarching strategy.
There is a danger that the Government rely too heavily on new technologies to solve our air quality challenges, placing too much emphasis on cleaning up road vehicles and not enough on reducing the number of vehicles on our roads. Improving public transport and encouraging active travel should lie at the heart of any clean air strategy. Our four committees concluded that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Transport must work closely with local authorities to ensure that councils introducing clean air zones receive the support they need to implement complementary measures that encourage car drivers to switch to public transport and active travel, as well as increasing the take-up of electric vehicles. Yet modal shift and active travel—walking and cycling—hardly get a mention in the Government’s draft strategy.
Investment in low emission buses is great but the value of such investments is magnified if local authorities also take steps to encourage motorists to opt for buses rather than making journeys by car. The latest passenger statistics show that bus patronage is falling and rail passenger numbers are also down. It is too early to say whether that is a blip or the start of a trend, but the Government should be concerned. Is the policy response in line with the strategy the Government tell us they want to have? Well, not really—the cost of rail and bus travel are rising faster than the cost of motoring. The Government’s own assumptions appear to show that, as things stand, they accept that their policies will not deliver a financial incentive to encourage or support modal shift. Without some action, whether on fuel duty or charging zones, efforts to tackle congestion or improve air quality are less likely to succeed. It would be helpful if the Government were to articulate more clearly than they have what they want to achieve on modal shift and how they will deliver that, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments today.
The Government also need to create a framework in which local authorities have the resources and powers they need to act. The new expectations on councils on air quality come at a time when they are already facing huge funding pressures. The Government must provide all local authorities breaching nitrogen dioxide limit levels with access to the financial resources they need to tackle them. Responsibility for providing those resources should not lie only with the public sector: following the principle that the polluter should pay, the private sector should be asked to contribute to a clean air fund. As hon. Members have said, Volkswagen and other car manufacturers that cheated emissions tests should be held to account. Our Select Committee has repeatedly raised this issue with Ministers and the lack of action is deeply disappointing.
Policies and action at local level also need supporting national polices and a public debate that makes it less difficult to implement things that may not be universally popular. Our ambitions for cleaner air, with the associated public health and environmental benefits, cannot succeed without action by local authorities, businesses and communities. The sustained improvements we have seen in air quality in the past can be continued only if Government action—legislative, policy, taxation, and spending—is co-ordinated and working in tandem with other players. By failing to act in a joined-up way, the Government are not just undermining their air quality strategy; they are missing opportunities for synergies that would help deliver on other policy goals. For example, many of the policies needed to tackle urban congestion could also help to improve air quality, and tackling both could have a positive effect on the local and national economy. A significant increase in active travel could make a difference to policies on tackling obesity, improving mental health and building better communities. Action on air quality could help to reduce carbon emissions. The realisation of the wider benefits cannot be left to happen by chance.
Action on poor air quality is long overdue. There are things we can do—this is not a problem without a solution—but if the Government do not show leadership, nothing will change. We have passed the point where more of the same will do the job; the courts have made that clear. Bold, ambitious and innovative polices are needed to create the right framework for action—a framework within which national policies support and encourage the right kinds of action at a local level. The Government have launched a consultation on their clean air strategy, but its lack of focus on transport emissions looks complacent, falling well short of what we recommended in our joint report. I hope that Ministers will heed our calls today and redouble their efforts.
During the inquiry, we learned from Professor Holgate, the lead clinician from the Royal College of Physicians, that poor air quality is the second biggest cause of avoidable mortality in this country, after smoking. It cuts short some 40,000 lives a year, and we know from the British Heart Foundation and others that even a day’s exposure to elevated levels of poor-quality air can increase the likelihood of a heart attack.
Were any of us to go into our local GP surgery, we would very likely see in the leaflet stands or on the walls information on helping us to reduce our alcohol consumption or to cut back smoking or give up altogether, and hopefully we would see some information on coming off illegal substances. All are public health risks that are well known and well understood, and information on them has reached the level of our local surgeries. I challenge any Member present to go into their local GP surgery and see what they can find about what to do about poor air quality, the second biggest cause of avoidable mortality in our country. We need to do more. GPs are under pressure and there is an awful lot that they need to do. We need education in the medical schools, we need the royal colleges to get on top of the issue and we need Public Health England to take a lead in this policy area. I shall say more about the latter shortly.
I occasionally feel that the issue of poor air quality is set up as a battle between the air-quality zealots on one side and on the other those who champion lower-income motorists and people struggling to get around in their ordinary lives. That is a completely false way to look at the issue. Let us consider for a moment a woman who has to drive a van—probably a diesel van—for her living. She is often stuck in traffic but it is the only way that she can earn her living to put bread on the table for the children. It is possible that she lives near a busy road and her children go to a school that is also near a busy road. That lady needs to earn her living. She needs that van—it is probably the only van that she can get hold of to do her work—but at the same time her health is being damaged. So it is not about the people who are concerned about this issue on one side and on the other people who just see it as a bore from well-meaning busybodies who want to interfere and make their lives more difficult. It is a more nuanced and complicated issue than that. We have to help people to live their lives in an affordable manner so that they can earn their incomes without suffering huge damage to their health. I direct the House’s attention to what the California Air Resources Board did with a targeted scheme to help people on lower incomes to move to cleaner and less polluting vehicles.
If one thing comes out of my speech today, for the House and anybody who may be listening to it outside this place, I want it to be the fact, which is almost unknown and unrecognised by the public, that people in their car are up to 10 times worse off in terms of the damage being done to their health than they are outside on the street. It is the complete opposite of what most of our constituents believe. They believe that if they are in their car with the air conditioning on, they are relatively protected from all the horrible fumes outside.
I thank my political neighbour for giving way. I suffered from breathing fumes in traffic jams when driving my car on holiday. I did not know that my chest problems were to do with breathing fumes. The simple technique of making sure that when we use our air conditioning, we press the button that recirculates the air inside the car rather than drawing in polluted air from outside, is very important. It would be helpful if that information was given to people.
I am grateful to my parliamentary neighbour for giving us that personal example of how he was affected.
I am afraid that the bad news does not stop there. Professor Holgate also told us that even in buses and taxis, for which researchers have done similar measurements, people are two to three times worse off than if they were walking on the street. Of course, we absolutely need to encourage more bus travel, hopefully in clean buses—perhaps electric or hydrogen-powered—but we have to look at how we travel around our big cities, particularly as we arrive in major towns, the traffic slows down and we all get stuck in it. If people knew the facts and were aware, there would be a demand: when people stood for the local council or for Parliament, they would be asked, “What are you going to do to help to make this issue better in my local area when you get on to the council?”, or “What is Parliament going to do about it?”
I passionately agree with the excellent points that the hon. Gentleman is making, but does he agree that we need fundamentally to rethink how we think of traffic? When people say that they are stuck in traffic, they are traffic—they are part of the congestion. When I cycle to work in the mornings, I am not stuck in traffic because I am part of a cycling stream that is going around the people who are stuck in their vehicles. If we want cities where people can move and breathe, we need fundamentally to rethink what traffic looks like.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. In another guise, I co-chair the all-party group on cycling, so I absolutely get the importance of cycling and walking. They are not just good for our health and do not just cut congestion and pollution, but are good for our mental health, helping us to socialise and build community. There are so many reasons why what the hon. Lady said is absolutely right.
My home is on the west coast of Scotland, where I am lucky to have incredibly clean air, but when I am down here I normally walk or cycle to Parliament. If anyone else present suffers from asthma, they will know what a bad winter I have had, almost continuously since last November. It is no good telling people to get on their bikes or to walk when that then exposes them. We need to deal with the traffic to allow safe cycling.
I could not agree more. As someone who over the Easter recess cycled from my home to my constituency office along the busy A5, with juggernauts going fairly close to me, I completely understand what the hon. Lady says. We need safe cycling, and all the evidence shows that more people will cycle if it is safer. That is especially true for children going to school from all the new housing developments. When we build new housing, it is essential that we have safe cycle routes to the schools. That will result in healthier children, less childhood obesity and better communities.
Let me go quickly through the full list of health problems associated with poor air quality. It includes: premature birth; reduction in foetal growth; low birth weight; increased risk of death during the first year of life, particularly from respiratory illnesses; exacerbation of the effects of respiratory infections in young children; and effects on the normal growth of lung function during childhood. There is really shocking evidence that if a child’s lung capacity is damaged when it is young, it may never recover. From a social justice point of view, it is even worse, because it is the poorest kids who are breathing in the worst air. That is why this issue matters so much.
The list also includes cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, hypertension and stroke. Poor air quality also leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; pneumonia; accelerated decline in lung function and lung cancer in adulthood; the development of early onset asthma, which the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) mentioned just now, as well as exacerbating asthma in those already living with the condition; impaired cognition; dementia—a big Canadian study showed a link with dementia; and other neuro-degenerative disorders as well as type 2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. I think that we can say that that is a pretty concerning list.
Public Health England is a very fine body, which I admire very greatly. Its chief executive, Duncan Selbie, does very good work, but we need more action from the organisation. It needs to be engaged in this issue. What it has done so far has been quite high level and quite strategic; it has not really come down to the level of the citizen, which is where we need it to be active.
One recommendation of the joint report of the Select Committees was that Public Health England should deliver an effective and appropriate campaign by this September, but Public Health England has told us that that is not possible in the timescale. That is despite the fact that the World Health Organisation has called this issue a public health emergency. I ask PHE to redouble its efforts on this issue and really try to get this information down to local levels so that people are, first, informed and, secondly, know what they can do to protect themselves best, and to stop being part of the problem and to start contributing to the issue.
I was pleased to see in the foreword to the Government’s 2018 clean air strategy, the statement by the Secretary of State that there would be a new goal that takes into account the World Health Organisation guidelines. There was also a commitment to primary legislation. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), cares a lot about these matters. When he responds, could he please give us a little bit more detail on this issue? There are specific World Health Organisation guidelines on the amount of particulate matter—PM2.5 —that we should not exceed on a daily basis. When the Government talk about taking into account the guidelines, I hope that they will go into that level of detail, bearing in mind what I said about the briefing from the British Heart Foundation about the increased risk of heart attack from elevated exposure to poor air quality just within a 24-hour period.
Winter pressure in the national health service is a huge issue that concerns every single Member here and I know the national health service is taking it extremely seriously as we head towards next winter. I have just been in the Upper Waiting Hall speaking to Dr Hugh Coe from Manchester University as part of evidence week, which is a very welcome intervention, as the top academics and scientists who know about these issues take the time and trouble to come down to Parliament to brief Members so that we are properly informed and can make good decisions on these matters. Dr Hugh Coe confirmed what the clinical chair of Bedfordshire clinical commissioning group said to me quite recently, which was that part of the increase in winter pressures, much of which is caused by older people going into hospital with respiratory problems, is from poor air quality. When we have cold weather in winter, the air is clammy and a bit foggy, which means that the pollution gets stuck in it. We breathe it in. It affects us more as we breathe it in. The same happens when it is very hot in the summer because the sun exacerbates the pollution. Again, I do not think that it is well known that there is this link between poor air quality, higher levels of respiratory problems and the winter pressures that we are all concerned about—a further reason for action.
My final issue is how we energise this issue at a local level. The Government talk about monitoring levels of air quality around schools. I would add old people’s homes as well. There are many other places where it is very important that we know the level of air quality. That information is really important to inform local residents, so that when they are looking to elect people to public office, either to Parliament or to local authorities, they can let them know how seriously they take this issue and the fact that they want something to be done about it.
Finally, we had a meeting on air quality and active travel in my constituency not so long ago. An older lady who had never smoked and who had led a pretty healthy life came up to me and said, “I am here today. I have just been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Where did that come from?” She had never smoked. The chances were, I am afraid, that she got it from breathing in poor quality air. That will greatly affect the last years of her life. Sometimes we talk in statistics and percentages, but I want to end my contribution with that one lady and the impact on her remaining years.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will endeavour to stick to the time limit.
I join my colleagues in thanking the Liaison and Backbench Business Committees for granting us this debate. As we have heard, air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year. That is as much as is caused by alcohol. As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said in his speech—and it is a pleasure to follow on from him—we go to our GP surgery and we find out about obesity and tackling drug and alcohol problems, but there is no advice on air pollution, despite successive reports from different Committees. The Environmental Audit Committee, the predecessor Committee, looked at this issue back in 2011 and it was seen as almost a cranky thing to be considering—a bit weird, a bit strange and a bit eco-warriorish. The fact that we are now debating this on the Floor of the House shows the long period of education—both of the public and of parliamentarians—that has taken place in the seven years since then. We are now waking up to a public health emergency.
One hundred and seventy eight of those early deaths are in Wakefield. I urge Members to go up to the Upper Waiting Hall and look at the quality of the air in their constituencies. We are in the middle of a hot spell. It has not, as yet, been defined as a heatwave. People might think that it is a heatwave, but we have had the Met Office in. We are looking at heatwaves at the moment, so everything that the Environmental Audit Committee looks at suddenly becomes a big, interesting thing. The link between heatwaves and air pollution is very strong. One early piece of evidence that we have seen is that we will experience more excess deaths in future as our country and our planet warm, so this is something that we need to start thinking about.
We have heard about how the Government have failed successively in various air pollution plans to get this right. We should have met our targets back in 2010, and we have millions of people now living with illegally high levels of air pollution, and we are back into the realms of plan A, plan B and plan C. It is a bit like Samuel Beckett said, “Fail again. Fail better.” The only reason why the Government are acting is because of European Union law, and now we are set to leave the EU. The Government are only accepting a post-Brexit watchdog because Parliament has demanded it. Again, that is something that my Committee is looking at. It is of absolutely prime importance that we have not just the air quality standards, but some enforcement mechanism after we leave.
Our Committees asked the National Audit Office—my Committee likes to audit things and we like to see the measurement, the numbers, the costs and the benefits—to investigate performance on air pollution. It found that 85% of air quality zones did not meet the EU’s nitrogen dioxide limits in 2016, and those zones are forecast to be in breach for another eight years—till 2026.
We talk a lot about transport. Transport is responsible for the concentration of nitrogen dioxide, but the NAO discovered in its forensic work that wood-burning stoves are responsible for 42% of all emissions across the country, and that agriculture is responsible for 80% of ammonia emissions. We must not focus only on urban transport; that is where the concentrations are, but we must also look at wood-burning stoves. I was very disappointed to hear the comments of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about banning “wood-burning Goves”—wood-burning stoves. We cannot afford to joke about this issue. We can act in a regulatory manner; it is possible to have low-emission stoves. We have to act in order to ensure that people are not buying something for their home that is going to sit there, belching out this stuff in the winter for the next 20 years. The cost of the health impacts of air pollution is £20 billion a year, which puts into context the costs of acting on this issue. The Government have until October to try again.
The main victims of air pollution are drivers and passengers. I went on Radio 5 Live to say this, and there was slight annoyance from some of the people who were phoning in. They were asking, “Why has no one told us to shut our air vents when we are sitting in our vehicles?” Professor Stephen Holgate told our inquiry how the placement of exhausts and ventilation systems means that
“you just vent the freshest, most toxic pollutants—the fumes coming right out of the tailpipe—straight into the car, to your child sitting in the back seat.”
For those of us who have pushed babies in buggies to school, they are also at tailpipe level. That means that the youngest, most vulnerable members of our communities—the ones with smaller lungs—are the ones breathing in the most of this stuff. As a community, we really need to think about this.
We have been looking at what happens with air quality targets if we leave the EU. Domestic legislation is not as strong and not taken as seriously as EU law, because EU law has the threat of fines behind it. The four Committees welcomed proposals to bring forward an environmental watchdog, but we said that it must have the powers
“to force the Government to act, otherwise action on air quality will be further weakened.”
The Government brought forward their proposals, but mentioned an advisory notice, which is effectively a watchdog with no teeth. Parliament has now stepped in. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act requires the Government to bring forward a Bill in the next six months to create a body with enforcement powers. Next month, my Committee will publish a report recommending what that body should look like.
We have come a long way, even since our inquiry earlier this year. Back then, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), told us that no legislation was necessary. But we recommended that the right to clean air be put into law. I am glad that the Government now accept the need for legislation as part of a clean air strategy to meet our EU obligations.
We also need to ensure that we are looking at how we can phase out petrol and diesel cars, and we need the Government to be joined up on this issue. During our inquiry, we sat there with four Ministers in front of us, and it was a bit like a children’s party game—pass the parcel. The Department for Communities and Local Government passed it on to the Department for Transport, which passed it on to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—the DEFRA Minister was the star of the show—and the Department of Health. The issue was being passed around. The people responsible for designing the cities were not talking to the people designing the transportation system, who were not talking to the people responsible for air quality, who were not talking to the public health people. This is not acceptable. We cannot allow air pollution to keep falling through the policy cracks and gaps in this way.
We now hear that the Government’s plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars are being downgraded to a “mission”. Well, saints protect us from Governments on a mission. Norway is going to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2025. India, the Netherlands, Germany and Scotland all plan to do so earlier than the UK. We are missing a trick here. If we are not in the vanguard when it comes to acting on this issue, we are going to lose the global environmental race. The fourth industrial revolution has already started. It is taking place at technological speed—at the speed of the tech revolution. Things are going to start speeding up very quickly.
Buses are the Cinderella in all this. Only one quarter of buses in west Yorkshire meet the Euro 5 standard. I am sure that it is very similar in south Yorkshire, Madam Deputy Speaker. When the National Audit Office looked at the cost-benefit analysis, it found that a clean bus fund—a fund to clean up buses, heavy goods vehicles and taxis—would cost the public purse £170 million, but it would cost the public nothing. As the largest purchaser of goods and services in the country, the Government should really look to act on this issue.
When we audited the Ministry of Justice—a big Department with lots of prisons, probations, courts and estate to look after—we found that it had just three electric vehicles, even though it is responsible for a quarter of Government spend on goods and services. Greening Government commitments mean nothing if the Government are not acting as well. Why does the NHS not have an electric car fleet? We spend £110 billion or £120 billion of public money on the health service every year, yet we are allowing our nurses and doctors out in the community to drive polluting vehicles. It is just not on. We have to lead by example.
Will the Minister tell us when he is going to bring forward the commitments to label cars more clearly? People buy cars every day of the week, but they are buying a pig in a poke. They might be looking at the taxation side of their purchase, but they do not know about the emissions side. It costs nothing to introduce those labelling standards. When can we expect to see them?
Finally, we have heard a lot about electric vehicles and low-emission vehicles. I travel to work in this place every day on an ultra-low emission vehicle. It is called a bicycle. It emits no carbon apart from my breath, which is sometimes a little heavier and laboured when it is a bit hot. Every day, I cycle past the measurement on the embankment, which reads, for example, “6,000 cyclists today” or “10,000 cyclists today”. It was perhaps a bit lower when we had the “beast from the east”, although I still cycled in through the snow—very, very slowly. Blackfriars bridge now carries more cyclists than cars each day.
As someone who hails from Coventry, where James Starley invented the bicycle in 1868, I think that we need to start going back to the future. We need to look at electric bicycles and at how we design cities that are not for cars. Coventry was rebuilt after the war for cars, not for people, but we need to design cities where people can move and breathe, and where we can make short journeys around through active travel, and save the health service and ourselves a lot of pain, a lot of hassle and a lot of money.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh); I really enjoyed my time with her on the Environmental Audit Committee. This is a very important debate and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in it. I also thank my west country colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), for presenting the joint report of the four Select Committees.
Pollution and poor air quality are very important issues. These are public health emergencies that need addressing. The discussion around pollution and air quality often focuses on large urban areas such as London, where there is lots of dense traffic and many large public transport systems. The issue of poor air quality in rural areas like mine is sometimes forgotten because, understandably, large urban cities have the most pollution. As a rural MP, I want to highlight an issue specific to my constituency—the case of a small town in a very rural area that suffers from poor air quality—and to state why action is needed.
Camelford is at the heart of my North Cornwall constituency, and has a population of only 3,000 people. It does not have any large factories with smoke pouring out, planes flying overhead or thousands of people swarming the pavements using buses, taxis and trains. But it does have a main arterial road running right through the town centre that is used by lots of cars, lorries and tractors, which all pass through at a constant rate. There are chicanes in the town centre, and lots of traffic lights. Whenever people drive through Camelford, they are inevitably caught in a queue of traffic that crawls through the town. The queuing cars are polluting the small and narrow town centre, where many people are walking up and down the pavements doing their day-to-day chores. We have seen traffic levels rise year on year, with many more cars and lorries, and therefore more pollution, which means an increased risk to public health.
The reason why Camelford suffers from all this congestion and pollution is that the A39 runs right through the town centre. The A39 is a busy road running down the centre of North Cornwall, connecting some of the constituency’s biggest towns, which are very popular with tourists, and the road is used heavily in the summer months. It is an important road for connecting Devon and Cornwall, heavily used by heavy goods vehicles, with lots of agricultural movements every day. The high number of local farms means that there is lots of farm traffic, as well as lorries travelling to and from the various communities dotted along the road.
In general, the road is quite free-flowing. It is a single carriageway that dips in and out of valleys, as is normal in the Cornish countryside, and around various twists and turns. The road does not encounter much congestion until we get to Camelford town. The road narrows as it reaches the town centre, and the traffic is funnelled into a very narrow high street. Anyone who has been to Cornwall will know that we built much of our housing on the side of roads, and you do not have to walk far off the pavement to be in someone’s house. Some of the buildings on the road are three or four storeys high and are very close to the cars passing in the immediate vicinity, which means the pollution cannot easily escape. That has been proven by tests conducted by Cornwall Council in pollution hotspots near the town centre. Traffic cannot flow in both directions at the same time as the town centre has a traffic light shuttle system, and there are chicanes and lights to stagger traffic. That causes queues, frustration, delays, noise and pollution, and threatens the wellbeing of my constituents and those living along the road or taking their children to the nearby school.
Because of the pollution and air quality issues, Cornwall Council has had to place Camelford in an air quality management area under the Environment Act 1995. Those management areas can be introduced when a local authority knows that levels of seven different pollutants exceed domestic or EU limits. In 2016, the council found high levels of carbon monoxide in Camelford, which are directly attributable to the motor vehicles passing along the A39. The air quality assessment found that the daily average number of vehicles passing through the town centre in 2015 was 6,028, up by almost 1,000 or 25% from 2011. With regard to pollutants, the assessment found that carbon monoxide levels were present in a variety of locations and that they exceeded the UK’s annual mean objective.
As part of the air quality management area process, the council has developed a draft action plan, which went out to consultation earlier this year. The action plan focuses on the option of a bypass, which it has concluded would be the most effective way of dealing with the congestion in the town centre. In tandem with that work, Cormac, which is part of Cornwall Council, has published an options appraisal report that lays out the options for remedying the congestion issues. The report concludes that either a HGV diversion route should be implemented or a bypass should be constructed, and it soundly recommends that the best long-term solution to the problem in the town would be a bypass.
The population of Camelford will grow substantially over the years, and it is imperative that we nip this problem in the bud as soon as possible. In the next 15 to 20 years, there will be thousands more vehicles passing along the road every week, leading to higher carbon monoxide levels and putting my constituents’ health at risk. I feel that it would be a dereliction of my duty if I did not talk about this issue and raise it in the House.
As the Minister will know, the Department for Transport is working on a new major roads network, which will map out the various major roads around England that are not part of the strategic road network. The draft MRN includes the A39 in North Cornwall, which means that the construction of a bypass could be funded through the multimillion-pound funding streams available through the MRN. A bypass would not only address the poor air quality but facilitate economic growth and unlock land for housing.
Poor air quality remains the most important issue. My constituents deserve to live in a community that does not suffer from these high levels of pollution. When debating the NHS and public health, Members and health experts often say that prevention is better than cure. Camelford is a prime example of that principle. The signs are that air quality is getting poorer and we know that traffic levels will get higher and that the town will get bigger. A bypass is the only long-term solution, and I hope that both DEFRA and the Department for Transport will make it possible for my constituents and their children to go about their day-to-day lives in a healthy environment. I fully support the Government’s manifesto commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it in, but it is issues such as this that will define whether we are true to our word.
It is my view that the House is discussing the biggest public health scandal that Britain faces. As we have heard, air pollution is the second biggest avoidable killer after smoking. Unlike smoking, it is not avoidable for most people—most people do not choose where they live or the air they breathe, and that is particularly the case for children. In most cases, it is invisible, so the level of public and political consciousness about this is not as high as it should be, given the tens of thousands of unnecessary premature deaths a year and all the illnesses that air pollution causes.
We have heard that the cost to business and the NHS is £20 billion a year. Incidentally, the Treasury Minister who appeared before our joint Committee inquiry—the then Exchequer Secretary, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones)—was not aware of that figure, which I thought was appalling. For a Treasury Minister not to be aware of the cost to the public purse of a major health emergency was, in my view, astonishing.
I completely agree.
UNICEF brought out a shocking report last week, which said that one in three children in the United Kingdom are now growing up in areas with unsafe levels of air pollution. It has been widely acknowledged across the House that successive Governments have had insufficient urgency in dealing with this problem. The Government have finally published their draft strategy but, as others have said, it is just not good enough. It is full of further prevarication, delays and half-measures. It passes the buck to local government, which is in many areas under-resourced and under-qualified to deal with this problem.
In my area, for example, we still have a two-tier local authority system. The problem is in the city, where the air is worst, but my Labour city council does not have control over the levers of planning and transportation, which are in the hands of the Conservative-run Devon County Council. It is always difficult to get those two authorities to work together but, on a problem as challenging and expensive as this, they really need more support and strategic lead from the Government.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the communities that are most affected by poor air quality tend to be the most deprived communities, often living close to city centres? It may well be those councils that have suffered the greatest reductions in their spending capability, and we face a real danger of widening health inequalities, as well as those funding inequalities.
I completely agree. One of my frustrations is that some of the more radical measures, such as congestion charging or workplace carpark charging, have an impact on many people who drive into my city from the rural areas. The politics of a county authority championing those sorts of policy are really hard. I am pleased that progress is being made in Oxford between a Labour city council and a Conservative-run county council. That is a model to take forward, but it is very difficult in two-tier local authority areas.
It is clear to me and to the experts that the draft strategy as it stands will not ensure that we meet our legal requirements, let alone the stricter World Health Organisation air quality recommendations. As we say in our report, we badly need mandated clean air zones—I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government do not just introduce those—and we need practical and real help for individuals and businesses to move to cleaner forms of transport. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, rightly said, we need a massive modal shift in transport in our towns and cities. Most short journeys in towns and cities that are conducted by car could perfectly easily be done by most able-bodied people by bicycle or foot. As she said, the electric bicycle will revolutionise the way we move around towns and cities.
If my hon. Friend does not mind my saying so, she is still a bit too young to have to resort to assistance with her cycling. One of the reasons that we both maintain our svelte shape is that we are both avid cyclists. I am putting off the moment when I have to resort to an electric bike, even given the very challenging hills in my Exeter constituency.
We are seeing progress in some places. As a number of colleagues have mentioned, London has already improved significantly, with big increases in cycling, but that is because of the congestion charge and the provision of designated safe cycle routes. Similarly in my constituency, when we were a cycling demonstration town under the Labour Government, there was significant investment in safe cycle routes. That has all dried up, however, and what support there is for cycling and walking is very patchy; it is not strategic. Again, when we asked the Ministers who came before our joint Committee if they knew how much money was being spent on cycling and walking and where, they simply could not answer the question. They are not monitoring it. There is no collection of the data. All of this needs to be much, much more joined up.
As others have already said, the only reason the Government are doing anything is that they have been forced to by the domestic and European courts. One of my real concerns—the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee touched on this—is that the Government seem to be trying to put off doing anything meaningful until we are out of the European Union and no longer subject to European environmental legislation or the European Court of Justice, with ordinary members of the public unable not only to demand but to enforce their rights through the courts if those rights are not honoured by our own domestic Government. I have a real concern that, if we leave the European Union, we will go back to being the dirty man of Europe, as we were in the early 1970s, before we joined.
Britain has a proud record of being a leader on public health. We had the Clean Air Act 1956, the seatbelt campaign and real success in tackling smoking and drinking, both of which have gone down significantly. However, on air quality, we seem to have a sort of stubborn refusal to act. I have been asking myself why that is. Is it because of a fear of the powerful motorists lobby? Perhaps, but as other hon. Members have said it is motorists inside the vehicles who are being polluted the most—10 times more than those people pushing their children in prams or walking up the street. They may think they are being polluted more, but people in vehicles are actually in much greater danger. A clear publicity campaign about that might persuade a few people to change their minds and their habits.
I believe that clean air is a human right. We have to get out of the mindset—as we have with smoking in public places, incidentally—that vehicles have a God-given right to drive around our towns and cities polluting and fouling the air, and causing serious health problems and costs to our country as a whole. I hope that, when the Government strategy is eventually published, it will have taken on board the concerns that have been raised by Members in the House and the concerns of the experts, and that it really will have some teeth in order to make the difference that this country and the people of this country deserve.
Last month, the World Health Organisation published a list of the 30 worst polluted areas—those exceeding their limits—in the country. These included, perhaps not surprisingly, London, Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester, but they also included Storrington in my constituency—Storrington was among the 30 worst polluted areas in the whole country. It is worse than that. Compare My Move reported earlier this month that, using the WHO data on the worst pollutants—fine particulate matter—the worst cities for air pollution were Bristol, Stanford-le-Hope, Swansea and Storrington; it called that a city. These places had a higher concentration of pollutants than London. Storrington was the worst place in the south-ast.
The “city” of Storrington is in fact a village, of just 7,000 residents, and it is at the foot of the South Downs national park. It is in very picturesque country and it is astonishing that it should be one of the places with the very worst air pollution in the country. The reason is the traffic that is forced through the village. It was declared an air quality management area eight years ago. A low emissions trial was set up, but it was abandoned after just one year because, ironically, there was no mobile phone signal available in that rural area, so the data could not be sent. Some 3% of the traffic through Storrington is made up of heavy goods vehicles, but they are responsible for 30% of the pollution.
Local people know that there is a very good reason traffic is so heavy through Storrington, and why the air pollution is consequently so bad when the traffic queues. The reason is that the traffic is forced up through the downs because of congestion on the A27, which runs at the bottom of the south downs and through my constituency. That was once said or meant to be the coastal highway, but significant parts of it are not dualled and it has very serious congestion, including at Arundel. As a consequence, the traffic aims to miss the congestion on the A27 and instead rat-runs through the historic town of Arundel in my constituency and up through the south downs and downland villages such as Storrington. That accounts for the terrible air quality.
There is, therefore, a very strong environmental case for trying to do something about that traffic. The obvious thing to do is to upgrade the A27 to make the traffic flow freely along what is in any case a very important route economically, as the east-west connection in the south of England. At last—this has been delayed for over three decades—we have a plan for the Arundel bypass. I am very grateful to the Government for announcing the funding for the bypass a few years ago, and Highways England has recently announced the preferred route for the scheme. There are of course some local objections to the bypass, as there always are, but my judgment is that there is overwhelming local support for it, not least because of all the traffic running up through the towns and the air pollution in places such as Storrington as a consequence.
It was, therefore, very surprising and disappointing when the South Downs National Park Authority announced that it would seek a judicial review of Highways England’s preferred route. This is an extraordinary position: a public body, using public funds and through proper consultation, has identified the best route for a bypass that the Government have announced funding for and say is necessary; and another publicly funded body, the South Downs National Park Authority—paying absolutely no regard to the views of local people or local villages in the communities in the South Downs national park—has decided, on what is clearly a purely ideological basis, to seek a judicial review of the route and has tried to prevent it from happening simply because it touches a tiny part of the national park right at the bottom of it.
In fact, everybody knows that this will be a South Downs national park relief road. Highways England official projections show that annually there are 15,287 daily traffic movements on average through Storrington, causing all the congestion and pollution and that, with the Arundel bypass on the preferred route, there would be over 3,000 fewer traffic movements in the first year after the bypass opens—over 20% fewer—and by 2041 there would be nearly 6,000 fewer traffic movements, or 38% fewer. So the bypass would clearly prevent the problems of the traffic queuing in this downland village.
Despite that, we have this attempted judicial review. The meeting was not public. Notice was barely given of it. Where is the accountability for this decision? Why is not the South Downs National Park Authority made party to the collective decisions that ought to be taken by local authorities on environmental matters, including reducing air pollution? Why can it simply stand above that, when it is clearly of such environmental benefit overall to the south downs and the downland communities? Its actions are completely unacceptable, and local communities are rightly very angry at what it is seeking to do.
Another village in my constituency, Cowfold, is also over the statutory limits on air pollution. It exceeds both the EU and the WHO maximum levels. It is an even smaller village, of only 2,000 people, but it sits on the A272, and again there is queuing traffic. It was declared an air quality management area in 2011, but there has been no real action for seven years. Some 4% of the traffic is heavy goods vehicles, but they contribute 37% of the pollution. The parish council wants a very simple thing. It wants signs put up by the side of the main routes that run north and south alongside the village, the A24 and the A23, to discourage heavy goods vehicles from taking the route along the A272.
There are perfectly viable dual carriageway routes that go away from this road and village, and there are means by which to discourage heavy goods vehicles from taking this route, yet we have seen a complete failure by the relevant local authorities to take forward any initiative to do the simple thing of introducing these signs. West Sussex County Council says that there is no evidence to support the contention that heavy goods vehicle traffic would be affected by the signs wherever they might be placed. It needs a feasibility study, but there is no funding for one.
I welcome the Government’s air quality plan published last July—I am not churlish about it as other hon. Members are—because it represents a welcome step towards taking action in places such as Storrington and Cowfold. I note that the Government announced a £255 million implementation fund to support local authorities in conducting things such as feasibility studies, and I think £40 million of that was meant to be made available immediately, so can the Minister confirm that the fund is available to places such as Storrington and Cowfold, so that they can conduct feasibility studies, and that the clean air fund, which the Government also announced, will be available to those local authorities if they then need to take measures as a consequence of the feasibility studies?
We cannot let this matter drag on. It has affected Storrington and Cowfold for well over a decade. We need energetic joint action by all the local authorities, and that needs to be supported, in the way the Government have suggested, by Government funding so that studies can be commissioned and action taken. At the moment, there has been inertia by all concerned, but when there are rural areas and tiny villages at the foot of the south downs with the very worst air pollution in the country, something is wrong. It is completely avoidable and it is time we did something about it.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate the Select Committees on bringing forward this important report. Effective action on air quality is now vital and urgent. I live in a town centre with heavy traffic and am, I think, personally affected as much as anyone by poor air quality. I also congratulate hon. Members on a series of first-class, informative and persuasive speeches.
I have a particular interest in the transport aspects of our air quality problems, and I have two proposals to advance today. I have had a long association with transport policy. I was the transport policy officer at the TUC in the 1970s, and later I worked on transport policy at the National and Local Government Officers’ Association, which became part of Unison. NALGO and others put forward a proposal to transfer the whole cost of vehicle licensing to fuel. We have a sliding scale now, but it is less effective than transferring the total cost to fuel. The advantages are that it would promote and encourage the use of fuel-efficient vehicles—hybrids and electric vehicles, in particular—and deter excessive vehicle usage and mileage. For many, it is necessary to own a vehicle. Less well-off people who live in rural areas depend on private motor transport, and having a cheaper vehicle would be better for them, while it would deter excessive car usage by better-off people—those like ourselves who perhaps drive our cars more than we should. I still believe that such a policy would be sensible, even though successive Governments have rejected the idea, at least so far, and that it should be given further consideration.
My second interest, and my primary concern, is to advance the case for GB Freight Route, a scheme to build a freight priority railway line from the channel tunnel to Glasgow, linking all the major economic regions of Britain to each other and to the continent of Europe. It would take 5 million lorry journeys off our roads each year and save millions of tons of toxic emissions. We would need to make possible the carriage of lorry trailers and lorries on trains, however, as significant modal shift for freight from road to rail cannot take place unless lorry trailers can be transported on trains. Our historic rail network cannot carry such traffic because of loading gauge restrictions. The tunnels and bridges are too small and too tight to accommodate lorry trailers on trains.
GB Freight Route would overcome that problem. It would be constructed on old track bed and under-utilised lines and has been precisely designated as a route. Sites for terminals where lorry trailers would be lifted on and off trains have been identified, close to motorways serving our major cities and regions. GB Freight Route has major support from a wide range of interests including major hauliers, Eurotunnel, supermarket logistics departments and many others. I have made many presentations, including to Rail Ministers in the past, and intend to carry on doing so.
I should declare an interest—a non-pecuniary interest, I emphasise—as a member of the team promoting GB Freight Route. We have received support from a transport consultancy and a major railway equipment company, which have raised the matter with the Transport Secretary. Other members of our team include experienced railway engineers, a major haulier and a member with city experience and links. We have, then, a wide range of skills in our team promoting the scheme.
Today is perhaps not the time to go into great detail about GB Freight Route, but I hope it will be supported by all those concerned about the air quality crisis that affects us all in Britain and which must be addressed. GB Freight Route can and should make a substantial contribution to improving air quality, especially in and around our cities, and I hope that hon. Members will consider supporting it and urge the Government to give it serious and positive consideration.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who has great knowledge of this area.
I am delighted to speak in this debate, partly because I was a member of the joint inquiry that produced the report, but also because my family has been affected by a lung condition of unknown origin. My mother suffered from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a life-limiting condition diagnosed in about 6,000 new patients each year—it used to be 5,000 each year. Life expectancy from the time of diagnosis is as short as three years for half of those 6,000 people, with one in five surviving for five years—soon for longer, I hope, with the new treatments available. As the name suggests, no one knows what causes it. My mother did not smoke, so it was not that, but it could have been air quality—or, more correctly, poor air quality. We need to do whatever we can to tackle any root cause of lung disease, as no one should have to struggle for breath as my mother did.
I wish to focus on three areas. First, just yesterday I was talking to constituents of mine who had just brought a hybrid car. I was astounded when they informed me that there is only one public charging point in Long Eaton, one of my major towns, and that it is at a hotel, and therefore behind car park barriers. The joint inquiry highlighted the problem that there are too few charging points to support a wider uptake of such vehicles, and this rings warning bells for me. I can envisage a situation comparable to that which we have with mobile phones and broadband coverage—providers falling over themselves to provide services in highly populated areas, while the more rural areas miss out. The patchwork approach to funding and delivering charging points simply is not working. I therefore call upon the Government to do whatever they can to facilitate the installation of adequate infrastructure, to support the UK’s transit away from polluting vehicles. I would appreciate an update from the Minister today regarding the Government’s investment in electric vehicle infrastructure. The report’s recommendation for the Government to work with the National Grid and local authorities to identify the key practical barriers preventing a more rapid roll-out is, in my opinion, very valid.
My constituents yesterday also informed me that there are in the region of 30 providers, all requiring different apps to access their charging points. As petrol and diesel cars are phased out in the coming years, the practicalities of charging points also need to be considered.
Secondly, there was evidence in the report that it is of paramount importance for air quality monitoring to be carried out at key spots in local communities, such as near schools, hospitals and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) mentioned, care homes. The Government’s acknowledgment that those changes need to be made is key, and the monitoring is very welcome because, as with any issue, knowledge is power. Data collected as a result of that monitoring should be disseminated to schools, nurseries and hospitals, with clear advice actions that need to be taken. That will also ensure that information can be available for families, empowering parents to make the right decisions for their children. As the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) highlighted, current data shows that a third of our children are living in areas of the UK with unsafe levels of particulate matter, so we need to take much more rapid action.
Thirdly, I shall discuss my local area. I have a combination of a wish list and an update on what is happening in Erewash and the wider Derby and Nottingham area. The World Health Organisation has reported that both Derby and Nottingham are among the 44 cities in Britain that have air that is not safe to breathe. I therefore plead with local authorities to put tackling that problem at the very top of their agenda. HS2 in the future, and improvements in rail infrastructure such as Ilkeston’s new station, can help to reduce the amount of road traffic heading into our cities.
Derby, famous for “planes, trains and automobiles”, is a highly strategic area for research and development of cleaner, greener transport for the future. The next-generation Auris hybrid car is to be built at Toyota in Burnaston, safeguarding around 3,000 jobs into the 2020s. It has also secured an investment of £240 million in the plant there.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) of some of the initiatives that Nottingham city is taking, and I want to add a few items to that list. The University of Nottingham, in partnership with firms such as Rolls-Royce, is leading the way in R&D of cleaner, greener, more efficient engines. The university is also gaining a new £23 million research facility to drive breakthroughs in treatment and diagnosis of serious diseases, including respiratory conditions.
To return to Derby, the construction of a new nuclear advanced manufacturing research centre in Derby, which I mentioned during the urgent question today, would enable further research into and development of clean energy, as the UK looks to civil nuclear as a way of securing its power needs for the future. That would include exploring the viability of small modular reactors; as mentioned earlier, Rolls-Royce is leading the way in that as well.
Many exciting projects are being undertaken across the Derby and Nottingham corridor, and indeed throughout the country, that will make a contribution to improving air quality. However, we have no time to lose, so I urge the Government to do whatever they can to ensure that action is taken at scale and pace.
I am grateful to be called to make a brief contribution to this debate. I congratulate the Select Committees on their reports. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) for his excellent introductory speech. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), who made her trademark thoughtful contribution to the debate.
I want to focus on the River Thames. It is busier now than it has ever been—even than its heyday in the ’30s—due to containerisation, so congratulations to London Gateway, Tilbury and the other access ports. I commend inner-London river traffic: Bennett’s Barges, Thames Clippers and the tourist fleet, including the excellent City Cruises. I will return to Thames construction traffic in a moment, but first I want to mention river crossings in London. West of Tower Bridge, there are more than 20 crossings over the Thames. East of Tower Bridge, where estimates say half of London’s population now live, there are only two river crossings between the Tower of London and Dartford. The static traffic and massive congestion through and around the Blackwall tunnel is a huge source of emissions and pollution, contaminating the whole of east London and drifting westward.
I commend the Department for Transport and Mayor Khan for recently confirming the construction of the Silvertown tunnel from Greenwich to Newham. However, it is worth remembering that it took five years to convince Mayor Livingstone that his manifesto against east London river crossings was wrong, and after him, it took three years to convince the right hon. Gentleman who is now Foreign Secretary, when he was Mayor of London, that his own manifesto against east London river crossings was wrong. Fortunately, Mayor Khan has arrived convinced of the need for these crossings, and with DFT support the Silvertown tunnel has now been given a green light. I would welcome the Minister’s confirmation of that, and perhaps an update on other possible river crossings, with public transport access, which would be very welcome indeed and in line with recommendation 15 of the report and the Government response. Tolling might be needed to help pay for those, because obviously they come at a cost.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that a case has been made for a lower Thames crossing—a tunnel for traffic that would take some of the traffic away from my hon. Friend’s constituency? It might, we suggest, be combined with a rail tunnel for GB Freight Routes. That would cut costs and be a very convenient crossing for both.
My hon. Friend is a well-known champion of rail freight transportation, and in his speech he made the case quite well for the construction of a national link. Were there to be a lower Thames crossing, obviously one would expect the authorities, local, regional and national, to get the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s pound, to ensure that we get the maximum benefit. I am sure that, as and when that debate takes place, my hon. Friend will be at the forefront of those advocating a rail dimension to that crossing.
On a point of interest, will these tunnels also have separate pedestrian and cyclist tunnels? Obviously, putting pedestrians and cyclists in the tunnel with traffic would be even worse than what are discussing, and why should they end up in a car because of the long route that needs to be taken by those on a bike?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The Minister may well be able to say what access there will be for both pedestrians and cyclists. We have two tunnels in east London. In the Blackwall tunnel there is no capacity for either pedestrians or cyclists, given the volumes of traffic and the narrowness of the verges. The Rotherhithe tunnel, which is even smaller and was constructed in the late 19th century, has restrictions on size, but the pollution down there is horrendous. One would therefore expect that new tunnels could have such capacity, separated from normal traffic, but I do not know whether that is in the construction plans. That is why I asked about public transport access. If that is included, pedestrians and cyclists can use those modes to negotiate the Thames, because it is a barrier in east London. As I said, half of London’s population lives in east London and people who want to get from south London to their jobs in Canary Wharf, the City and the west end find it really difficult to commute successfully.
My hon. Friend has mentioned the Rotherhithe and Blackwall tunnels, which connect to the north circular road, the A406, which goes through my constituency. Does he welcome Mayor Khan’s low-emission zones and the impact that they will have on reducing emissions across London, therefore saving people’s lives?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Several colleagues have mentioned the excellent work that Mayor Khan is doing, with the low-emission zones being very much part of his strategy to tackle air quality. That is a huge priority for his administration, so the point was well made by my hon. Friend. The A406 is a very important artery for London.
I was just about to discuss the Thames itself. Not only are more tourists and commuters using it, but there is more construction traffic. The Thames Tideway tunnel is a good example of a major infrastructure project using the river to the benefit of Londoners. Chris Livett, waterman to the Queen, recently unveiled a fleet of new barges for not just this project, but others. The largest of the barges, of which there are a number, has a capacity of 1,500 tonnes. Each barge carries the equivalent of 50 HGVs—that is 50 lorries off London’s roads—reducing the risk of crashes, congestion, pollution and damage to our road services. This is all very welcome and cleaner, too, and as I say, that means every single barge. Any Member who is on the Terrace at any point over the next three years, enjoying a cup of coffee or tea or something else, will see those barges floating past and heading further along the Thames, where they will be creating environmental habitats for wildlife.
However, there is one issue affecting the Thames that is causing concern: the plan to build a cruise terminal at Enderby Wharf in Greenwich. I do not mean the proposal for the terminal, which is positive—anything that brings more tourists to London is to the benefit of London’s economy and the wider UK, because when tourists get here, they can travel more widely. The problem, however, is how to power these large vessels when they are moored on the Thames between Greenwich and Tower Hamlets. I have been working with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) to address local residents’ concerns, and I pay tribute to his campaigning skills and efforts on his constituents’ behalf.
The majority five-to-four planning decision of Greenwich Council to approve the application, which did not require shore-to-ship power, has caused great consternation on both banks among residents. The EFRA Committee has looked at this matter in previous inquiries. Neither the Port of London Authority nor the Environment Agency, the Mayor of London, the Government, or the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which are all affected by the London Borough of Greenwich’s decision, can alter or amend its approval. The prospect of large cruise ships having to run their equally large diesel engines to power the vessels when they are moored on the river for up to 155 days a year is not positive. Ports on the west coast of the USA, in Scandinavia and in other parts of the EU are bringing in regulations to require shore-to-ship power, called “cold ironing”. Southampton is also looking at this so that ships take the energy from the national grid. Given the challenges of air quality in London, will the Minister advise the House what can be done to make the cruise terminal not just a success, but a clean success?
In conclusion, there is a real risk that we will lose the terminal due to the controversy over this issue. That would be greatly disappointing. We want the investment and the employment, and we would love the tourists. We just do not want it at a dirty price.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this very welcome debate, and it was a great pleasure, too, to serve on the Joint Committee. My first point is about that Joint Committee: having inquiries that more than one Select Committee can participate in is a very welcome development. I urge the House to consider how more such inquiries might be facilitated. Earlier today we had a statement from the Health and Social Care Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee on long-term care. Bringing expertise from a range of perspectives is very helpful and I would like to see more of it.
There are five brief points I would like to contribute to the debate. The first picks up on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), which is that too often we have silo thinking in government and a lack of effective cross-departmental co-operation. It goes further than just policymaking, however. There has to be a change in culture in how schemes are budgeted for and evaluated for cost-effectiveness. Increasingly, we find that where expenditure might lie with one Department the benefit will accrue somewhere else, so it will not show up in the usual Treasury reporting of finances. For example, funding for a transport scheme would come from the Department for Transport or local government, but the Department of Health and Social Care might see the benefits because fewer people suffer conditions relating to poor air quality. I therefore urge the Government to start thinking a little bit more about that.
The second issue I would like to raise—I beg the indulgence of the House, but it is quite a techy point—is the Oslo effect. When we look at particle emissions from cars, too often we focus only on tail-pipe emissions. The Oslo effect occurs from invisible and odourless small particles going into the atmosphere as a result of brakes being applied, rubber tyres wearing down on the road, and even bitumen particles being thrown up when tyres hit the road. It may not sound a lot from any one individual car, but the cumulative effect, particularly in areas with high-sided buildings, can be substantial. Some studies show that only one third of particle emissions from cars actually comes from the tail pipe, with two thirds coming from those other sources.
This is a little bit counter-intuitive and I am certainly not arguing against the uptake of low-emission vehicles and moving to hybrid and electric cars, but like for like, those vehicles are heavier than their petrol or diesel equivalents. Therefore, the Oslo effect is exacerbated by those heavier cars. Manufacturers need to be encouraged to look at making cars as light as possible and to research other substances that could be used in place of rubber for brake pads and tyres. It also affects buses, which are by nature much heavier vehicles. I encourage Members—I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on trams and light rail—not just to think immediately of buses as the best local transport solution. Trams may have a higher capital investment to begin with, but the savings they might deliver will accrue over a longer period of time. I also chair the all-party group on the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor, which will be developing many new settlements over the next few decades. Each of those new settlements will have to develop local transport plans. This would be an ideal place to start looking at new and effective public transport solutions that are, as other Members have suggested, not car-centric, and at making it easier for people to walk or cycle to their destinations.
That leads me on to my third point, which is on cycling. I too have started cycling in London, from here to my home in London which happily resides in the constituency of the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). I too cycle past the monitor that shows how many bikes go past each day. I absolutely encourage people to take up more cycling, but as the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) mentioned one of the biggest changes will come from electric bikes. There is a problem here. In my constituency in Milton Keynes, we have a network called redways, which are segregated from the main roads, for cyclists and pedestrians. At the moment, it is illegal to use an electric bike on them. I am trying to get to the bottom of whether this is a local authority decision or a more national matter.
As an electric bike owner—I tried not to take offence at the comments of the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) about electric bike owners—I know that there are two classes of electric bikes, one of which is allowed in cycle lanes and one of which is not. I wonder whether it is that difference about which the hon. Gentleman is hearing.
I am very grateful for that information. I was not aware that there were two classes of electric bikes, and I will certainly look into it. I imagine there is a great deal of confusion among people who own or might want to purchase an electric bike, and a bit more clarity might be helpful.
My fourth point concerns the use of new technology. We must always be looking into how new technology might be deployed to reduce transport emissions. I certainly do not want to reopen the debate about Heathrow, but time constraints prevented me from expanding on this subject in my speech on Monday. New technologies are available that will reduce emissions from the existing airport. One example is the TaxiBot, an autonomous electric vehicle which will take planes from the stand to the runway without the need to switch on the aircraft engines.
I too am aware of various initiatives, but would the hon. Gentleman care to tell us to what extent and by what proportion such initiatives will reduce air pollution, and by when they will be implemented? I do not remember seeing that in the documents from the Department for Transport.
I am afraid that I do not have the figures relating to the actual effect, but I do know that the technology to which I have just referred is already being implemented at Frankfurt airport. It is a proven technology, and it does make a difference. I appreciate that it may not deal with the overall, wider issues relating to air quality and airports, but that single step will help.
My final point will be very brief. The diesel scrappage scheme has been mentioned today. I urge caution on that, because it can be a very blunt instrument and can affect less affluent people disproportionately. The Committees received evidence from the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, which has suggested, for instance, that drivers of polluting diesel vehicles should be offered mobility credits for public transport or electric bikes, rather than a cash sum or a trade-in sum.
Let me end by thanking the Committee’s staff for making our inquiry so enjoyable and thought-provoking. I look forward to the Government’s taking up many of our recommendations.
I welcome the joint report, the introduction to the debate by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and the speeches made by other Chairs and members of the Committees. It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who focused on particulates. We must not forget that, even if we all move to electric vehicles very soon, there will still be particulates from brake linings, from the road surface itself and from tyres.
I share the concern that has been repeatedly expressed by the Committee members who have spoken today about the lack of action and serious commitment from the Government on the important issue of air quality. Unlike the Governments of comparable countries, the UK Government seem to be taking this country back by decades. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling—along with the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who is no longer present—I particularly welcome the report’s recommendations on active travel. It points out that walking and cycling are not only good for our physical health, but for our mental health. However, they also make good business sense. Let me give two examples.
First, we know that streets in which pedestrians and bikes have priority over cars, which are either permanently or partially excluded, are more commercially successful, as they tend to contain busy shops and places to eat and drink, and low vacancy rates.
Secondly, when the east-west super-cycle highway that goes past this building was at risk of stalling under the previous London Mayor, now the Foreign Secretary, it was a group of big City companies that pushed to restart that project because they recognised that their staff who cycled into work had lower sickness rates and were more productive at work. They were making a clear business link with more walking and more cycling.
We also have responsibilities as a place where people come to visit for all sorts of meetings. I was concerned to hear that we have been alerted to a change of policy on security in this House. Of course, security is paramount. However, for many years, visitors with folding bikes have been able to bring them to their meetings in this House, and they are now being told by security that they cannot do so. People with Bromptons do not generally go around with bike locks, so they do not have the option at security to take them out and lock them on a nearby cycle rack. That certainly concerns me.
I now want to move on to my own constituency. The local air quality is particularly poor. The A4, the M4 and the A316—the London end of the M3—all pass through our area, which is frequently in breach of air quality limits. Our schools are alert to this issue. St Mary’s Catholic primary school in Chiswick, one of two schools alongside the A4 and one of 50 across London identified as needing an air quality audit by the London Mayor, is now considering a green wall against the A4 and air purifiers, but both of those cost money to install and maintain. Without action by local, regional and national government, St Mary’s children will continue to breathe in air that is poisoning them as they learn and play.
I am proud of the work that the London Borough of Hounslow is doing on this issue. Last week, it held an anti-idling event outside St Mary’s, with volunteers from the school and parents approaching drivers in cars who were sitting there waiting for children with their engines idling and warning them of the dangers of this. Hounslow is enforcing idling hotspots in the borough. It is working with GPs to promote an air quality text service for people with lung and heart problems, who are most affected when air pollution levels get high, to warn them not to go outside—not an ideal solution because it does not deal with the actual problem. Hounslow is also rolling out electric vehicle on-street charging columns and providing free cycle training.
Through the Greater London Authority, the London Mayor is rolling out his ultra-low emission zone. I would like it to go further out towards the M25, but it is a good start. There is also the T-charge, and Mayor Khan is promoting low and zero-emission bus fleets. But all this is not enough without a Government who are taking the issue seriously, with real legislative action. Given that the UK has consistently been in breach of the nitrogen dioxide limits since they became binding in 2010, the Government should not merely enable but enforce, and take action to bring the UK within those limits. A targeted diesel scrappage scheme, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South said, should not punish those on low incomes and should be nuanced. We also need a comprehensive 21st-century clean air Act.
I cannot sit down without mentioning the runway 3 expansion. The Government cannot be in compliance with air quality limits and allow the expansion of Heathrow airport. That would increase nitrous oxide emissions by 26% above “do nothing”, according to the airports commission that the Government themselves set up. In the Government’s announcement on the draft national policy statement last year, the Secretary of State said that a third runway would put the UK in breach of air quality standards, but in his announcement on Monday he said that it could be achieved while remaining compliant. A similar argument was being made 10 years ago, yet the area is still consistently exceeding air quality limits.
There is no credible explanation from the Secretary of State for Transport as to how Heathrow can expand and compliance be achieved. Furthermore, in all the cost-benefit analysis the Department has done it has not monetised the health impacts on the local population. Moreover, polluting emissions from planes are undoubtedly part of the mix but are seldom mentioned in policy documents. The reality is, however, that the bulk of the air pollution around Heathrow is from vehicular traffic, and a lot of that traffic is connected with airport operations and associated business. Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd said runway 3 could be built and have 50% more passengers and twice the amount of cargo business without any more vehicular traffic. There is no modelling to justify this incredible statement. Neither the airport nor the Government are prepared to fund more transport infrastructure. Only Transport for London has done the modelling, and it has clearly demonstrated to the Transport Committee that Heathrow’s assertion is impossible to achieve. In any case, new rail infrastructure is being discussed. Crossrail is coming online soon, and we are still dithering about the western and southern rail links, which are needed now with the current demands from people going in and out of Heathrow airport to work and travel.
The Government have already lost three legal challenges on their air quality policies, not unconnected with Heathrow. As I have said, there is growing evidence of the ground impact of pollution from planes. How is expanding Heathrow, in an area of the country already consistently in breach of legal limits on air quality, doing anything to stop the UK going back to being the dirty man of Europe?
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on setting the scene for us all as he so often does, and it is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury). We have a clear difference of opinion on Heathrow, but that is by the way; I appreciate her comments, and I appreciate the efforts of all the Members who have made valuable contributions so far and those who will do so later.
As a country sports enthusiast, conservation is a core principle that I adhere to, as do all country sports enthusiasts. How to improve our environment and preserve what we have is a key theme. Some 3 million people per year die due to air pollution worldwide and 40,000 people die early deaths as a result of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide in the UK every year, with the nitrogen dioxide limit values having been unlawfully breached since 2010, as has been said.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s “Tenth Special Report” lists many effects of exposure to air pollution, ranging from cardiovascular diseases to premature birth. It also states that it is children and older people who suffer the most, as exposure to air pollution can result in stunted growth or affect the normal growth of lungs or lead to a child being born prematurely and facing the risk of death during the first year of life as a result of respiratory illness. For older people, there can be accelerated decline in lung function and an increased risk of lung cancer. That means that pollution is becoming more dangerous for the population of the UK as we are an ageing society with about 23% of the population aged 60 and above. If there needs to be a reason for doing something and for this report being followed up by Government today, that is it.
I had hoped to be present earlier to contribute to the debate, but may I, in agreeing with the hon. Gentleman, ask if he will acknowledge that many of us face planning applications for large-scale housing and other developments in our constituencies—in my case, there is an application involving 600 houses and a new branch of Ikea which would lead to 2 million customer journeys a year on the busiest road in Sussex—yet air quality factors seem to feature very low in consideration of such planning applications? Does he agree that, for all the reasons he mentioned, these factors should receive a much higher priority in our assessment of whether applications are sustainable for the local population?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is a major development application in my constituency at Comber town for 800 houses. Infrastructure is an important consideration: how the roads will work and whether they can take the increased number of journeys, and whether the schools and hospitals can take it. They are all critical factors, and air quality should be considered in looking at these big questions.
Given the vulnerability of older people to pollution, it is important to improve air quality so that we can reduce the number of deaths and address the issue. There should be Government support for renewable energy, which would limit the use of fossil fuels so that harmful substances such as nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide would not be produced in large amounts and air quality would be improved. That is the very issue that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) referred to his intervention. I was supportive of the SeaGen initiative in Strangford Lough in my constituency, which would provide clean energy. It was a really good project, and the pilots were successful but unfortunately the funding to take it further did not happen.
The formation of a thriving public transport system is a major way of improving air quality. I hail from a rural constituency in Strangford, where there are no trains or tubes. There are only buses, and they are infrequent owing to the low population in the area. That means that there is a lot of work to be done there. For some of my constituents, taking a five-minute phone call at the end of the day could mean that they return home an hour late. The bus service is obviously not as frequent as it is here in London and elsewhere. There must be greater ring-fenced funding for public transport in rural areas. This would allow public transport to run at a loss for a longer period, to enable people to understand that the public transport system could merge with their working day and work-life balance needs. This is about striking a balance in the rural community. Public transport needs to be financially viable but it also needs to provide a service.
I completely concur with the recommendation that the Government give priority funding to infrastructure that would help us to meet air quality objectives. Examples include the cycling and walking investment strategy, the Transforming Cities fund and the initiatives to support the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles. The Bus Services Act 2017 includes a range of measures to improve bus services through franchising and better partnership working. It is also great news that £48 million has been supplied for the new ultra-low emission bus scheme to enable local authorities and bus operators to purchase ultra-low emission buses and support infrastructure. I give credit to the Committee and its report, and also to the Government for the initiatives that they have set in place. That is not enough, however.
Infrastructure that aids in improving these programmes would help by reducing idling and journeys, with low-emission buses aiding the fulfilment of the programme and allowing for superior air quality throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This would improve the quality of life for those who may be vulnerable, and those who are vulnerable, to pollution, but there needs to be a focus on rural areas. With respect to those who have spoken so far in the debate, the majority have talked about urban areas. I am not saying that they should not do so, because that is where the problems are, but we need to look at the bigger picture and see how these problems affect rural areas as well. Comber town, which I mentioned earlier, is a small rural town, and the impact of 800 houses will be quite large. I am not saying that that should not happen; I am saying that we need to prepare for it. In the large metropolitan areas of the UK, the amount of road pollution is substantial. The initiative to introduce low-emission buses will not resolve that issue, but it will lessen its severity.
I agree with the response that indicates that there will be air quality monitoring in key areas of local communities such as schools, care homes and hospitals. In fact, this is already in place in Northern Ireland, where air quality monitoring is carried out by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, along with district councils. Two monitoring stations, at Lombard Street in Belfast and Brooke Park in Londonderry, are the only stations that measure multiple pollutants, but many other places carry out monitoring, making information widely available for all who need it.
I welcome the £3.5 billion investment that has been provided for the clean air strategy, which aims to cut all forms of air pollution, with recommendations from the World Health Organisation, and introduces primary legislation to grant local government the ability to take decisive action to solve any issues. We cannot ignore what is happening elsewhere in the world. The report focuses on what is happening in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but there are other partners and countries across the world that need to play their part as well. If we are playing our part here, they need to play their part as well.
The biggest causes of pollution in Northern Ireland are road traffic and domestic emissions. These can be curbed, and many attempts are being made to do that. Less reliance on fossil fuels and more on renewable resources will allow Northern Ireland to decrease the amount of pollution emitted as a result of domestic life. If Northern Ireland adopted a clean bus programme, as I believe it should, and tried to convince as many people as possible to take public transport, the pollution resulting from road traffic would be curbed as well, which would improve the overall air quality of the country.
Furthermore, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs here has recommended the establishment of a new environmental protection agency which would be tasked with holding the Government to account once the UK has left the EU. When that is done, will there be direct contact with regional Governments, Assemblies and Parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? It has also been recommended that provisions for the agency should be written into legislation, with powers, standards and enforcement mechanisms equivalent to those of such enforcement agencies in the EU.
Given the standstill in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the environment is also losing out. The introduction of renewable energy schemes would help resolve the issue, as less reliance on and usage of fossil fuels will lessen pollution. The money spent on initiatives such as the beautiful Comber Greenway in my constituency, which allows people to ride their bikes safely from Comber into Belfast off the main roads, helps not only the environment but people’s health. That Sustrans project has been immensely successful. The newly improved, widened and lengthened Comber Greenway can now be enjoyed not only in Strangford but in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson)—seven miles of walking, cycling and running.
Recent improvements have widened Comber Greenway to 4 metres along key parts of the route, helping encourage more people to engage in active and sustainable travel—a key aspect of the draft programme for government framework and a result of the recently published “Outcomes Delivery Plan”.
Comber Greenway is a highly used, traffic-free route for many cyclists, walkers and runners, connecting east Belfast with Comber. The investment of almost £600,000 should encourage many more people to consider active travel. There are hopes to further extend Comber Greenway towards Newtownards to allow more people in that commuter town to choose a healthier and more stress-free way of getting to work, so that they help the environment and themselves.
These schemes are funded by infrastructure budgets as well as communities. They are a wonderful way of improving air quality and health. I look forward to the Minister’s response. It is important that we do something to improve air quality not only in towns, but in rural communities.
One of the first big steps forward on air quality came after the great smog of 1952, when 4,000 people died within five days and 8,000 died in the following weeks. From that came the Clean Air Act 1956, which reduced pollution, particularly from coal, coming from industrial and domestic sources. However, in the 50 years since, traffic pollution has soared. Some 70% of UK towns and cities are defined as unsafe, with 37 out of 43 clean air zones failing on nitrous dioxides. There is a road in Lambeth that, every single year since 2010, has reached the number of breaches it is allowed in a year by the end of January.
The issue is not only about nitrous dioxides. Particulates have been mentioned—the 10 micrometres, and, more particularly, the 2.5 micrometres. These tiny particles get much further into the lungs and cause more damage. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, that damage particularly affects children and older people. Some 4.5 million children—a third of them—are exposed to unsafe levels. If they live near a busy road, they have twice the rate of respiratory problems. We are talking not only about asthma, the obvious one, but about reduced lung development and—if mothers were exposed during pregnancy—reduced brain development. Such things will lay down the quality of a child’s life before they are even born. Among older people, particulates increase the deterioration in lung function, as well as causing ischemic heart disease, increased rates of dementia and stroke.
Pressure in this country has developed only because of the threat of legal action from the EU last year; the can has been kicked down the road for years. The UK and eight other countries are facing legal action from the EU unless they get serious and radical. We would consider countries such as Germany and France, particularly Germany, to have good public transport. There is a particular need to invest in trains and trams—and in rural areas, in buses. Since transport was deregulated in the 1980s, Strathclyde in the west of Scotland has gone from having an integrated network of trains, tubes and buses to simply a free-for-all of ancient diesel buses all crowding the same roads. We have gone backwards in the past 40 years, and we need to go forwards. In rural areas, it is buses that are important. When it is just left to private companies, small villages quickly lose their bus services, which is not acceptable. We should be radical, and we should look at cities such as Copenhagen, which ripped up a ring road and turned it into a safe cycle route. We need things like that.
We heard from the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) that the cost of lung disease caused by poor air quality is £20 billion, yet we invest less than 5% of that amount in active travel infrastructure. As I said in an intervention, it comes down to health in all policies.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My understanding is that 50% of journeys in Copenhagen are now made by bicycle. But this does require investment in infrastructure.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) mentioned a new tunnel at Silvertown. The Clyde tunnel was finished in 1963 and it consists of two circular tunnels, with the road deck about a third of the way up and room for cyclists, pedestrians and ventilation underneath. That was back in the ’60s. We need to make sure we are not investing in hugely expensive tunnels that go against active transport.
It is about health in all policies. Decisions are made in silos, even in this place. We make decisions on different days that counteract each other, which is frustrating. If we had physical health and mental wellbeing as an overarching principle like human rights, people sitting in our town halls and here would focus not on cars, on how they drive and how they park—that is the focus in our towns and cities at the moment—but on people. We would design safe, segregated cycle routes, and we would have much wider pavements on which children could ride their scooters, and on which people with prams or wheelchairs would not be crowded out—people would not need to step into the roadway to pass them. When we have such glorious and, in Scotland, very unusual sunny weather, it would also create an environment in which cafés could be outside. People would walk around their town centres and meet their neighbours, which would contribute to a sense of belonging and community. I would love to see health and wellbeing as the driving force in every decision made by town halls, national Government and Westminster on how we design our towns and cities.
I feel privileged to respond to this debate for the Opposition. This is my first time at the Dispatch Box, and I am glad we have had such a good debate, with valuable points made and much agreement on both sides of the House, and with most of my speech helpfully already made by others. I will pay tribute to Members as I go through.
In particular, I pay tribute to the superb report from the four Select Committees and to the points raised by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and for Wakefield (Mary Creagh). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield on the MP of the year award she was rightly given at the BusinessGreen leaders awards last night.
We can take two things from this debate. First, there is cross-party consensus that a crisis in air quality has been building for many years. Secondly, a number of voices from all sides, all parties and organisations are saying that the Government have been too slow in addressing this crisis and that more needs to be done. My west country neighbour, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, said that bold action is absent, and he is right.
It is not an understatement to say poor air quality is a genuine public health emergency in our towns. We know that poor air quality and air pollution is linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease. As we have heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield and from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, poor air quality contributes to the early death of 40,000 people a year. That is 40,000 mums and dads, grandparents, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters. These are not just statistics; each represents a family tragedy, many of which could be avoided with faster, better, more comprehensive and bold action from Ministers. We are talking about 13 deaths while this debate has been going on. Even the Government accept that they need to do more, so the challenge is: why are they not and can they do better now?
On legal limits, one of the most damning aspects of the Select Committees’ report was the comments from the UN special rapporteur, who said he was
“alarmed that despite repeated judicial instruction, the UK government continues to flout its duty to ensure adequate air quality and protect the rights to life and health of its citizens. It has violated its obligations”.
Last year, the Evening Standard found that pollution in more than 50 sites in London had breached EU limits. Further evidence from across the country shows that is happening not just in the capital, but across the UK. As we have heard today, it is not just in towns and cities, but in rural areas.
Sadly, the Government have had to be dragged through the courts, failing three times on air quality—in April 2015, November 2016 and February this year, when Mr Justice Garnham declared the Government’s failure to require action from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution in their area “unlawful”. It should not take the courts to get the Government to act on this. I appreciate that the Minister was not in his post at the time, but the Government he represents were.
A recent freedom of information request revealed that the Government have spent £500,000 fighting and losing dirty air court cases, with the most recent costing them £148,135. When we have got nothing from the VW emissions scandal, it is doubly concerning that this money the Government have spent on lawyers could have been spent on mitigations. It could have been spent on walking and cycling, on protecting primary schools from polluting roads or on promoting action on dirty diesel.
We have heard today about particulate matter, which needs further debate. We have heard a lot about PM2.5 and PM10, but there is too little research and often too little focus on the harmful effects of nanoparticles, which are even smaller than PM2.5, and especially on the potential harm of magnetic nanoparticles entering the brain. I encourage the Minister to set out what he thinks can be done to undertake further research on nanoparticles in particular.
My hon. Friend has given me something else to worry about on my Committee—I thought it was just nanoplastics we had to be worried about. Does he agree that, whether we are discussing plastics in the ocean or pollution in the air, we have to stop treating our environment—our rivers and our air—as one great big garbage dump, because we are conducting a massive experiment on ourselves and on the planet, and we do not know where it is going to end?
My hon. Friend is exactly right and we need to talk about that much more. When we get into the detail of what is being said on not just plastics, but particles and air quality—the air we breathe and the things we throw away—we see that more and more education can produce better results.
In today’s debate, we have heard far too many examples of young people being exposed to harmful levels of particulate matter, as well as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and low level ozone. Our young people deserve better than breathing poor air, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) is right to say that breathing clean air should be a human right. Exposure to PM2.5 should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air, according to the World Health Organisation, but in my Plymouth constituency the figure is 12 micrograms. In Saltash, just over the river, it is 11— the annual mean is 18 and 15 respectively.
Prince Rock Primary School, on my patch, knows all about that, as it is located on a busy road. We have heard from many other hon. Members about schools close to busy roads that are affected by poor air quality. Does the Minister have a similar school in his constituency? How many other Members have schools in areas of illegal air quality? The air quality close to our schools does matter. It matters to our young people. What is being done to educate teachers, children and parents about the risk of air pollution? As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) mentioned, turning engines off while idling can help, and walking or cycling to school can make a positive difference. These things all add up, but if initiatives such as the daily mile are through areas with poor air quality, the effect and positive contribution of that work can be limited. All our children deserve to breathe clean air.
The Government must not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. That is why what we have heard today about the VW emissions scandal should concern us all. The failure to ban diesel and petrol engines early enough was also mentioned by a number of hon. Members. Britain must wean itself off dirty diesel for cars and trains. As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) highlighted, the British Heart Foundation has found that even short-term inhalation of elevated concentrations of particulate matter increases the risk of heart attack occurring in just 24 hours, but the UK’s current legal limits for particulate matter are much less stringent than those of the World Health Organisation.
The flagship measure in the Government’s July 2017 air quality report was a pledge to ban new sales of conventional diesel and petrol cars by 2040. That is 22 years and more than four full-term Parliaments away. I wager not many of us will be in the House in 2040, such was the long-grassing of the commitment to finally get that introduced. However, it did not go far enough because hybrid sales would still be ignored. The Government have said themselves that
“almost all new cars and vans sold need to be near-zero emission at the tailpipe by 2040”
if they are to hit their air quality targets.
The Government’s lacklustre pledge was criticised by Mayors such as Sadiq Khan and Andy Street. We are in the slow lane when Britain should be leading. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South highlighted so expertly, the plan for the UK to ban petrol, diesel and most hybrid cars by 2040 has been watered down, with Ministers now referring to it as a “mission”, and the much trumpeted “Road to Zero” strategy has been plagued with delays. Perhaps the Minister could explain what a “mission” is. It is not quite a commitment, less than a pledge, certainly not legally binding, perhaps more than a hope and a prayer, but not quite a plan. A mission simply is not good enough.
The Secretary of State for Transport has cancelled rail electrification, something rightly criticised in the recent Transport Committee report. Without rail electrification projects, Britain’s railways are still going to run on dirty diesel for many, many years to come.
We have heard today that the Government far too often work in silos. It is simply not good enough for DEFRA to push out press releases on air quality while the Department for Transport is busy pushing back commitments on diesel engines and cancelling electrification schemes. It does not have to be like this. Members have highlighted the urgent need for a clean air Act, and I am proud to say that Labour would introduce one. We will act on air pollution and deliver clean air for the many, not just the few. That really matters because, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said, this is about social justice. The links are there for all to see between poverty and poor air quality, and between the injustices of poorer communities breathing in poor-quality air and the shame that far too little has been done to help them.
The fact that the poorest communities are hit by the worst air pollution should shame this Government and shame our society. This issue goes right to the heart of inequality: if someone is poorer, the air that they breathe is of a lower standard than the air breathed by someone richer. That should be simply unacceptable in 2018. We need to be bold and tackle this invisible threat head on. Communities throughout the UK are suffering now, and if we do not deal with this, we will leave future generations with poorer health, poorer outcomes and more pollution to deal with. That is simply not acceptable.
The Committee on Climate Change reported today, 10 years after the Climate Change Act was delivered by a Labour Government, and it has delivered a damning verdict on this Government’s record. On air quality specifically, it doubles down on the point that we are not doing enough to modernise our transport sector, particularly the car industry. The report finds that the UK is on track to miss its legally binding carbon budgets in 2025 and 2030, due to lack of progress on cutting emissions from buildings and transport in particular. Lord Deben has said that the Government’s pledge to end the sale of pure petrol and diesel cars by 2040 is not ambitious enough, and he believes it is essential that we move the target closer to 2030, as do the Opposition.
We are not short of soundbites or press releases from DEFRA about air quality, but I say to the Minister that it is not the presentation that is at fault; it is the content, the substance, the plans, the action, the funding and the urgency. We all know what needs to be done, so I encourage him and his Department to get on with it.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) on his excellent speech from the Dispatch Box; I am sure we will hear much more from him in the weeks and months ahead. Well done. Like many other Members, he raised very important issues.
I congratulate those Members who secured and took part in this debate, particularly the Chairs and Members of the four Select Committees, on their detailed and thoughtful joint report on this crucial issue. I recognise all the hard work that must have taken place to get four Select Committees to agree on a consistent position. That must be highly unusual, if not unprecedented. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) say “exactly” from a sedentary position. It is because it is an important issue and we recognise that. I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) that the Government have an active programme to tackle this issue, and that there is plenty of oomph in the tank—[Interruption.] Yes, let’s go with the battery.
In January this year, showing our ambition, this Government published our 25-year environment plan, which set out our vision to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. As we leave the EU, we have committed to ensure that our environmental standards are not only maintained, but enhanced.
The very first goal that we set ourselves in the 25-year plan was clean air. Its importance is beyond question. Air pollution—whether from transport, domestic heating or agriculture—affects us all. It is the fourth biggest threat to public health in the UK, after cancer, obesity and heart disease, and that has been highlighted by many Members today, not least by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) and by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), and this Government are absolutely committed to tackling it.
There has been progress. Air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010: sulphur dioxide emissions are down by 60%, fine particulate matter, which we all have concerns about, has been reduced by 11%, and emissions of toxic nitrogen oxides are at their lowest level since records began. However, there is no doubt that more needs to be done, and that message has come across loud and clear from the eloquent contributions we have heard in this debate. We are doing more, and we will continue to do so.
We have committed £3.5 billion in funding already for cleaner air and cleaner transport. That money includes almost £1.5 billion to support the uptake off ultra low emission vehicles—one of the most comprehensive programmes of support in the world. The UK is already acknowledged as a global leader in ultra low emission vehicles: one in eight battery electric cars sold in Europe in 2017 was made in the UK. We have said that we want every new car and van to be effectively zero emission by 2040 and that we will end the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by that date.
Has the Minister not reflected on the views of both the joint report of the Select Committees, which called for that date to be brought forward, and of Lord Deben who this morning talked about the Government’s climate change commitments and called again for that date to be brought forward to 2030. Are the Government not listening to the views that are being expressed?
We are listening. We have seriously considered the points that have been made, and this is an ambitious target. It is very much ahead of what is going on in other parts of the world. There are only six other countries that are ahead of us in proposing those targets.
A third of Norway’s vehicle fleet are electric vehicles—actual cars and not the bicycles that I was joking about earlier. It plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2025. This is a country that was founded on the oil and gas industry and a country whose sovereign wealth fund is now withdrawing from all oil and gas investments. Why can we not show similar leadership in this country?
If the hon. Lady will let me, I would like to answer her question. Only six other countries in the world are moving more quickly than the UK on ending petrol and diesel, and the UK is moving faster than almost every other country in the EU, as well as many other countries such as the US and Australia.
The £3.5 billion investment also includes £1.2 billion of available funding for the first ever statutory cycling and walking investment strategy. I know that that has been raised by a number of Members who have talked about what we can do to improve the take-up of cycling and walking. I think that, perhaps, there has been an over representation of the cycling lobby today. As a former member of the mountaineering all-party parliamentary group, the pinnacle of APPGs, we need to speak up for walkers as well. I know that the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) fully agrees with me on that important point.
There is more that we need to do, but the £1.2 billion funding in the cycling and walking investment strategy is a first important step, and we need to build on that—no question.
A number of important issues have been raised throughout the debate, and I will address some of them in the time remaining. One issue that has been highlighted is that of what we can do to help raise people’s awareness of the health challenges around air quality. There were important contributions on this topic from my hon. Friends the Members for Erewash (Maggie Throup) and for South West Bedfordshire, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), and the hon. Members for Wakefield, for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Through the clean air strategy, we are committed to a national information campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of air pollution. We will introduce a personal messaging system to ensure that those who are most at risk receive the information that they need about pollution risks. Public Health England is currently reviewing evidence of the effectiveness of different interventions, and will report its findings to Ministers later this year. This will include advice on the factors affecting behaviour change around air quality.
The Committees have called for a new clean air Act. As announced in our clean air strategy, we will set out new primary legislation to secure a more coherent legislative framework for action to tackle air pollution.
I was just trying to explain what this new primary legislation would include. Perhaps I could progress so that my hon. Friend can see what this will lead to.
The new legislation will be underpinned by new England-wide powers to control major sources of pollution, plus new local powers to take action in areas with air pollution problems. For example, in our clean air strategy consultation we are seeking views on giving local authorities new powers to control emissions from domestic combustion, biomass and non-road mobile machinery.
A number of Members have mentioned the importance of tackling particulate matter. We need to look at all avenues, including wood-burning stoves. The Government have introduced programmes that help people to become more aware of the right wood to burn—that is, wood with a lower moisture content. We need to take this sort of approach to raise people’s awareness, so that they can see what needs to be done to help reduce particulate matter.
I am conscious of the time available. Perhaps I could highlight some of the local issues that have been mentioned. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth made some important points about anti-idling campaigns, and I recognise the good work that has been done in that area by Westminster City Council. There has been a lot of talk about electric bikes and what we must do to make people more aware of where they can and cannot use those cycles. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) was absolutely right to say that we need to look not only at emissions, but at tyres and brakes, because of the resulting particulate matter.
I hear “oomph” from a sedentary position; I will not respond to that again. The vast majority of the potential wrongdoing in the case my hon. Friend mentions occurred in Germany, and the German Government have held VW to account there. There are different regulations in the United States, meaning that it is easier for the US authorities to secure funding from there. We want to ensure that the automotive industry makes more of a contribution.
We need to work in partnership to tackle the problem that we have discussed today, and we are absolutely committed to doing that. We want to work across all levels of government, as has been highlighted today, and with local authorities, businesses, farmers, industry and households to tackle air pollution. I know that there is real enthusiasm across the House, and we need to use that momentum to good effect. I would like to conclude by recognising the important contribution made by the joint inquiry’s report and pay tribute to the quality of the speeches we have heard today. The House can be assured that the Government will continue to engage with the Select Committees on this vital issue in the months ahead.
I would like to thank all Members for their contributions this afternoon. This House is at its best when we work across the parties and across Committees, as we have done to deliver this verdict on air quality. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) said, the Government want to leave this country and this planet in a better environmental condition than we found them in, and air quality is essential in delivering that. If we are going to deliver a better quality of life for poor and rich alike, we have to make sure that we tackle air quality.
We have had contributions from Members representing urban areas where there is a concentration of pollution, and we must deal with those hotspots. We have also had contributions from Members representing rural areas where roads and other things are causing real problems in towns. We have to make sure that our planning system for not only roads but housing takes account of the need to increase air quality and get rid of pollution.
Working together, we can deliver this. We want to see this Government and others go forward. The Secretary of State is very keen to deliver a much cleaner environment. We must now concentrate on air quality, and not only on transport, bikes and walking but all the ways in which we can put this right. I thank everybody who has contributed to the debate. I think we will make a difference, and we must.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Joint Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care and Transport Committees, Improving Air Quality, HC 433, and calls on the Government to adopt its recommendations as part of its Clean Air Strategy.