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Transport Emissions

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 21 March 2019

We have set out clear plans within Government to reduce emissions across all transport modes. In my own area of responsibility, this includes last year’s “Road to Zero” strategy for road vehicles and, most recently, our future of mobility strategy specifically focused on creating cleaner and greener transport.

Nuclear, solar, tidal, offshore wind, onshore wind: all are forms of renewable energy that have been cut on this Government’s watch. Forty thousand people die prematurely each year as a result of poor air quality, and we all face the threat of climate change. This reckless approach to emissions must stop, so when are the Government going to end their reliance on fossil fuels and make the switch to electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles?

I am grateful for that question, and delighted by Labour’s recently rediscovered interest in emissions. The hon. Gentleman will know that many of the areas that he mentions—I say this as former Energy Minister—have been colossal successes. In the offshore wind industry, for example, the required levels of subsidy have fallen dramatically over time, as have the costs. As I said, we have the “Road to Zero” strategy. We also have the “Aviation 2050” Green Paper and the “Maritime 2050” strategy, all of which are designed to reduce emissions.

Over the past decade, Bristol has seen a 40% rise in bus use, which is obviously really good, but there is a downside in that buses and coaches contribute almost a quarter of NOx emissions in the city. We have been doing what we can to retrofit the bus stock, but we have just put in a bid for £2.5 million from the clean bus technology fund so that we can retrofit another 170 buses. Will the Government support that?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question on an issue of great importance—reducing emissions from buses. We have done quite a lot of that already. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), will look forward to receiving the bid and will carefully examine it with her officials.

In Kensington and Chelsea, nearly 30,000 children are living with unsafe levels of air pollution. That is repeated across the country. Asthma UK and UNICEF UK tell us that babies born into heavily polluted areas are born with smaller lungs and brains, and are more prone to asthma, while those on steroids will have their physical development curtailed by this debilitating illness. Will the Minister please tackle this national health emergency by setting legally binding limits on particulates across the country, in line with World Health Organisation guidance, and give future generations a chance to thrive?

The hon. Lady will know that we are doing an enormous amount through the clean air fund and the other supported funding that we are giving to local authorities, including by working very closely with Transport for London. She is absolutely right to highlight the importance of this issue. However, I was slightly surprised when I carefully perused the shadow Secretary of State’s speech earlier this week, which discussed emissions in some detail, because I was unable to find virtually any mention of cycling, walking or active travel—an absolutely central part of this discussion. I commend that thought to Labour Members.

While I warmly welcome any initiative that helps to curb emissions, I am slightly concerned that the roll-out of low emission zones across the country will lead to problems whereby motorists, hauliers and delivery drivers are having to comply with different regulations in whatever city they come into. Does the Minister agree that we also need to look into alternative solutions so that we do not just continue to tax the motorist but give them the alternative of buying a new car or paying taxes?

That point is very well made: I thank my hon. Friend. We have been talking to the various industry organisations about this issue. There is a concern that there might be a patchwork of permits as between different cities. It is not clear exactly what each city is going to be implementing by way of a zone. We are working very closely to see if we can minimise any disruption and potentially create a national charging infrastructure.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad), 4.5 million children are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of particulate matter. Over 70% of UK towns and cities have levels that are above the limit recommended by the World Health Organisation. When will the Minister protect our children from toxic air? Under his existing plans, they are likely to persistently face that for another 10 years.

I am slightly surprised that the hon. Lady, as Chair of the Transport Committee, is not aware of the very considerable funding—hundreds of millions of pounds—and the very specific and close work we are doing with cities, many of them Labour cities constructively working with Government on reducing this problem. It is a complex and multifaceted issue, and we are taking it very seriously.

This week the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change said that tackling climate change

“requires the strongest leadership in the heart of government.”

But with the Government set to miss their emission reduction targets, it is clear that the Transport Secretary has failed to provide the leadership required. I have a straightforward question for the Minister: do he and his boss believe in man-made climate change, and if so, why are they refusing to act?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am very much persuaded that many of the effects of man have been deleterious to the environment in many different ways, including relating to climate. Of course I share his concerns, but I am surprised that the Labour party is not taking this issue more seriously. How can he make a speech that discusses wide-ranging issues and not merely fails to mention issues of diversity or disability but barely focuses on cycling and walking—a critical set of interventions in which we are investing heavily across the country?

The Minister said there was nothing about that in my speech. I will send him a copy. He needs to read it again, because it was there.

Talk comes cheap, and what matters are actions. The Transport Secretary and his team have totally undermined carbon reduction measures by slashing subsidies for electric vehicles, scrapping rail electrification, gutting local bus services, allowing fares to soar and underfunding cycling. Will the Minister give an unequivocal undertaking to reverse those damaging cuts and embark on a programme of rapid decarbonisation of transport, or alternatively, will this Government instead go down as the one who chose not to act to protect the planet for future generations?

Far from having failed to read the hon. Gentleman’s speech, I have scrutinised it with almost rabbinical closeness. It is a rather interesting mixture of the good, the incoherent and the baffling. I quite liked some of the stuff about land value capture— I thought that was sensible—but it misunderstands the nature of carbon budgets, the entire purpose of which is to allow the whole of Government to make decisions about how carbon budgets, which we are presently meeting, will be addressed. It is also incoherent in wishing to nationalise the rail service, while also somehow removing Whitehall from the process. I look forward to further details and updates for the House.