[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone.
I am pleased to have secured this debate on one of the biggest issues affecting my constituency right now. It affects not just Dartford, but areas right across London and the neighbouring counties. It is, of course, Sadiq Khan’s extension of the ultra low emission zone. The decision by the Labour Mayor of London to extend that scheme to cover the whole of London will be catastrophic for my constituency, which neighbours London. The border is not neat; it straddles roads such as Maiden Lane and sits at the end of roads such as The Coppice, Bowmans Road and Stonehill Woods Park. Although their residents are in Kent, they have to enter London just to get out of their road—just to live. They have no choice but to enter London.
Currently, the border with London is fairly frictionless. Thousands of times a day, people drive across that border, often without even knowing it. That is good for London, and good for Kent and other counties bordering London, but now Sadiq Khan is building a financial wall between London and the rest of the country. A small business, particularly in outer London, that relies on customers travelling to it will be crucified by this form of taxation. The line that has been used by those desperately trying to defend the Mayor is that the scheme will not affect many people, but one in seven cars is already affected. Given that the Mayor ignored his own consultation on this scheme and did not include the expansion in his manifesto, as sure as night follows day, he will increase the number of vehicles that will have to pay—all to sort out the financial mess he has got his administration into.
The Mayor’s own consultation shows that 28,000 vehicles will be affected in the London Borough of Sutton alone. As my hon. Friend rightly says, it is small business people—those who can least afford to replace their car—who will be affected.
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. I think I am right in saying that almost two thirds of the respondents to that consultation, and an even higher proportion of those who responded from outer London and the home counties, opposed the expansion. That consultation, frankly, was a sham; the Mayor’s decision does not reflect what people have told him.
As I say, this is all about trying to sort out Sadiq Khan’s financial mess. Well, Dartfordians should not have to pick up the bill for his financial incompetence. Everyone will be impacted by the expansion of ULEZ, whether directly as a motorist or business, or indirectly by the damaging impact that scheme will have on the local economy.
I thank the hon. Member for bringing this important debate to the House. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, I have been contacted by a number of people who have mobility cars who do not have to pay, but also by those who do have to pay. They are extremely concerned about the financial impact of this decision, given the cost of living crisis. Does he agree that there should be some kind of overall exemption for people who have disabilities, and who require mobility cars to access the public services that we all should be able to access?
The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important and good point. Of course, people rely on their motor vehicles; some have no choice whatsoever. If public transport does not go the way that they are going, they have to use their motor vehicle, and she is absolutely right to highlight the impact that this decision will have on disabled people.
As far as exemptions are concerned, I would argue that everybody should be exempt. I do not think anybody should have to pay this charge, because of its nature and the impact it will have on so many people—on everybody around London. It is not just those who own vehicles that breach the ULEZ guidelines who will be affected; it is everybody.
I thank the hon. Member for securing the debate. I have also had representations, and heard my constituents’ concerns, about costs and the transition to green vehicles, but there is another side to this. I am sure he will agree that this is also about air quality, which we need to tackle in London. Has he read that the Mayor has decided to introduce two new temporary exemptions, from January 2023 to October 2027? Those grace periods will apply for those on disabled benefits and with wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Any way we move forward must be inclusive. There are still questions to be answered, including from my constituents.
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the impact on disabled people. I would reiterate what I said to the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron).
I believe that the constituency of the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) covers Heathrow airport. This will have a big impact on her constituency; it will stop people accessing that airport and make them go to other airports instead, so I would argue that the expansion has a big impact, and has unintended consequences for many people and businesses.
The Mayor is relying on not just the £12.50 per day charge, but the penalty charges for non-compliance, which make him even more money. The RAC believes that in the first eight months after the expansion of the ULEZ to the south circular, 1.6 million penalty notices were issued. This expansion will be to the whole of London; I shudder to think how many penalty notices will be issued.
We can see why the expansion is so financially and politically attractive to the Mayor of London. Those who must pay his seven-days-a-week charge to enter London cannot and do not vote for him. We are not Londoners in Kent; this is quite literally taxation without representation or accountability. The two areas hit hardest by the expansion are the counties bordering London, which cannot vote for the Mayor, and outer London, which the Mayor does not care about because it is not where the bulk of his votes come from.
The Mayor says that he will bring in a scrappage scheme for the poorest people, so that they can change their car. He is not doing that for those living in Dartford or anywhere else outside London, so the poorest will be hit the hardest. They will be unable to change their car or enter London to go to work, shop or pick up the kids from school. How will key workers get to London to support the health service, the police or other emergency workers there? Many of those key workers own cars that will be charged if they enter London, yet they keep vital services in London going. The supermarket ASDA has contacted me because it is concerned about the impact that the extension would have on its depot workers. It estimates that over half of those workers have vehicles that would be subject to the charge.
The scheme currently goes out to the south circular. We already see people parking just outside the ULEZ before continuing their journey using another form of transport. That is an understandable way of avoiding the charge, yet this practice could turn large parts of west Dartford and Joyden’s Wood—and areas all around London—into a car park. What justification does the Mayor give for his decision? He says that it is to reduce pollution. If he really wanted to reduce pollution in London he would ban the vehicles, but he does not want to ban them; he wants to make money out of them.
The expansion of the ULEZ has nothing to do with pollution. The worst pollution in London is in central London, not outer London. Of course, the expansion could not take place without the Mayor changing his transport strategy. He has changed it—with the votes of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Assembly members, and with only the Conservatives opposing. He held a consultation, which we have spoken about, on the ULEZ expansion and more than 60% of respondents opposed the idea, so what did he do? He just ignored them. What was the point of that consultation exercise?
His Majesty’s Government have stated on numerous occasions that they do not have the power to stop this expansion. Can my hon. Friend the Minister confirm, when he responds to this debate, whether that is the case? What advice has he sought on it? It seems that outer London boroughs can refuse to allow their land to be used for the camera infrastructure needed. Can he give his view on whether councils can refuse to allow their land to be used in that way, as it seems to me that that may be possible?
The ULEZ expansion will have a significant impact on the poorest in society. It will price people out of going to work, going shopping or otherwise going about their daily life. It will place a financial wall around London and take away people’s freedom of movement. It is aimed at those who cannot vote the Mayor out of office and those who do not vote for him. It is the most debilitating, unfair, undemocratic form of taxation this country has ever seen, and it is a window on the soul of the Mayor of London.
I rise as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution —I am of course the Member of Parliament for Swansea West, but I was formerly the leader of Croydon Council and an MP for Croydon—to support the ultra low emission zone. I am horrified to see so many outer London Conservatives gambling with people’s lives for their own political survival. We are 70 years on from the great London smog, yet 4,000 people in London are dying prematurely, 11 every day, from air pollution. As leader of Croydon Council, I introduced the Tramlink, 26 km of light rail. When I was in Croydon, I had to regularly take my oldest daughter to Mayday Hospital with asthma attacks because of air pollution. Now, in Swansea, my children have not had to go to hospital.
Is the hon. Gentleman familiar with the report produced by Jacobs entitled “ULEZ Scheme Integrated Impact Assessment”? If he is, how does he square his comments about Conservative Members from outer London not caring about people dying of air pollution with statements in that report such as this?
“The Proposed Scheme is estimated to have a minor (NO2) to negligible (PM2.5) beneficial impact on exposure to air pollution and achieving WHO Interim Targets across Greater London.”
I am glad the hon. Gentleman mentioned that, because the expectation is that the expansion of the ULEZ will reduce PM2.5 in outer London by 16%. He should know, but I am sure he does not, that studies at Harvard University and a Max Planck Institute found that covid deaths increased by between 8% and 12% when there was a marginal increase in air pollution from PM2.5—an increase much less significant than the fall that I mentioned. That is particularly relevant to poorer, more polluted areas and more diverse communities. We are talking here about life and death.
We know from studies done that there will be a massive reduction in PM2.5 and Nox as a result of the expansion. Indeed, there will be a major contribution towards mitigating climate change. The scheme already reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 12,300 tonnes; an expanded one will reduce it by 27,000 tonnes. We will be saving lives and saving the planet. The truth is that if we do not act, we will end up with 550,000 more people unnecessarily getting pollution-related diseases in the next 30 years, at an estimated cost of £10.4 billion. We should move forward on this. People who are neutral, such as the chief medical officer Chris Whitty, who has just released a report on air pollution, very much commend what Sadiq Khan is doing to save lives, as does the United Nations.
As a result of the ULEZ, there are 21,000 fewer vehicles in inner London and 67,000 fewer non-compliant ones—the latter figure is three times the former—so there are fewer vehicles overall. The scheme affects only 15% of vehicles—the most polluting—and £110 million has been set aside for scrappage schemes to enable conversion. The other thing to bear in mind is that the Government a year ago passed the Environment Act 2021. I wanted them to use COP26 to enforce World Health Organisation air quality standards, but instead, a year on, the Government are saying, “Why do we not try to get PM2.5 at 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2040?”, as opposed to 2030, which was the previous deadline. The limit prescribed by the World Health Organisation is 5 micrograms, which Europe will achieve by 2030. We could achieve that here—this is a condition of doing so—with ultra low emission zones. Instead, the Conservative position is, “No, we will not bother with that. We will play politics with this, and continue to have 3,600 children every year in London going into hospital with asthma”, as my daughter did. That is unnecessary—and despicable, because it is avoidable.
The hon. Gentleman talks about playing politics, but it is the Mayor who has gone against his consultation. He says that Londoners are in favour of the ULEZ because they talk about air quality. Every Londoner would be concerned about air quality, but this is about the consultation that he refused to accept. The hon. Gentleman talked about trams in Croydon. It would be far better to pay for the tram extension in Sutton; that would be cheaper than what the Mayor is doing, and it would improve air quality by ensuring that people made fewer car journeys—and he would be taking residents with him.
I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman supports trams. I very much agree that we should move forward with trams across London and elsewhere. As an aside, the tram system cost us £200 million at the time. It was a public-private scheme with £100 million of private money and £100 million of public. We could get 1,000 of those schemes and integrated transport across Britain for the cost of HS2, but that is controversial and off the point.
We should certainly take people with us; the YouGov poll shows that people support the extension of the ULEZ by a ratio of 2:1. It is very easy to go round knocking on people’s doors and saying, “Do you agree with Sadiq Khan’s attempt to tax you more in this despicable way?”, but if we do a neutral, objective study through YouGov, we find that people support it by 2:1.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the figures quoted by Conservative Members come from the Mayor’s own consultation, in which 66% of people said, “No, don’t do this”? That was despite being asked a load of leading questions about air quality. Despite that, it delivered a two-thirds opposition. That was not people knocking on doors; that was the Mayor’s own consultation.
So that we are clear about how these consultations work, the Mayor, a devolved Administration or whatever puts out a consultation that says, “Tell us what you think”, and then groups of people campaign around it. They put in their submission and await the outcome. YouGov takes a representative sample; it found that people are in favour by 2:1. That is the answer. The hon. Gentleman should read up on how these things work, rather than spouting off about how they do not.
In a nutshell, we are talking about ensuring better public health, and ensuring that we reach World Health Organisation standards in time. This is a critical part of moving forward, because London is a sort of death spot in terms of pollution. If we do not get London right, we cannot move together as a nation. We will end up with these ridiculously unambitious targets of 10 micrograms by 2040, instead of 5 micrograms by 2030. I very much agree with what the Mayor has done; best of luck to him.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for securing this important debate. Conservative Members have been campaigning assiduously on this issue, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), who has been leading on it for some time. The ULEZ will have a profoundly negative impact on many of our constituents. Hon. Members should be under no illusion: the ULEZ is about revenue generation on the back of poor financial management. This is a London tax, put forward by the Labour Mayor of London, and it hits the poorest, who cannot afford to update their vehicles. In Runnymede and Weybridge, families and businesses will suffer the most.
I put out a local petition, and there was an overwhelming response against the ULEZ. That is interesting in itself, but what perhaps gives more power to the arguments against it is the individual comments that people made in response to the petition. People explained that they cannot afford to update their car, because they do not have enough money. Public sector workers, who need to go into London to work, said that the ULEZ will have a serious impact on their ability to continue to do that sort of job. Businesses felt that it would make them go under. People living with disabilities need to use their cars to travel around, and that is a particularly substantial issue at the moment because, yet again, the lift at Weybridge station is broken—sadly, I have had to campaign too often to get it repaired. People are therefore forced into using cars to get to and from London.
Sadiq Khan says that the ULEZ is about air quality. If it really was about air quality, why does he use such a blunt tool to deal with the issue, as opposed to focusing on the areas with the most acute air quality problems, which are along trunk roads? Why the blanket approach rather than a targeted approach? If he really wants to improve air quality, why does he not push even faster car scrappage? Why does he not invest more in the bus fleet conversion to electricity and hydrogen vehicles? Why does he not listen to industry?
Earlier this year, I was at an event hosted by Octopus Electric Vehicles in Weybridge, which was looking at the transition to electric vehicles. There were lots of representatives from all sorts of businesses and innovators, and they said that the key policy to drive forward the uptake of electric vehicles is the zero emission vehicle mandate. They welcomed the Government’s incredible position in terms of bringing it forward, but they said that if we want to really push things, we need a more ambitious ZEV mandate. Why is Sadiq Khan not talking about practical, proper solutions to air quality, rather than pressing his attack on, in essence, the poorest?
I will finish with this: the ULEZ is a London tax to prop up a failing administration. My constituents should not have to pay the price for Sadiq Khan’s failings.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie, and to speak in this debate secured by the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson).
I very much welcome the debate, because air quality is one of the biggest issues faced by my residents in Putney. They hope that the extended ULEZ policy will have a significant impact on children’s lives and on small businesses, which complain to me about pollution on Putney High Street—one of the most polluted high streets in the country. However, that pollution is coming down as a result of the Mayor’s policies.
I thank the Putney Society, Putney Pollution Busters, Mums for Lungs, the London Sustainability Exchange, King’s College London and Clean Air in London for all their campaigning and for speaking up for residents in Putney, in Dartford, and across and outside London, who know that air quality is a silent killer. The hon. Member for Dartford, too, called it a silent killer, with air blowing pollution from London to his constituency, so I am surprised he does not welcome the Mayor’s actions to reduce that pollution and to instead have cleaner air for us all, especially our children.
Yesterday, the Government finally brought out their air quality targets under the Environment Act 2021. I have been calling for those targets for years, but they are not good enough. First, they just aim not to have toxic air by 2040, which is a whole 18 years away. Someone born now will potentially not see the results until they become an adult. Secondly, we cannot start to meet the Government’s targets without the ULEZ. It is needed, so I hope to hear support from the Minister for actions that will meet the Government’s air quality targets.
Outer London is disproportionately affected by this issue, because there are more older people, who are particularly affected by the damaging effects of air pollution. The UK has the worst death rate for lung conditions, and that simply cannot be ignored—we cannot hope that it will all go away in any other way than by us taking action. Recent analysis by Asthma + Lung UK has shown that the UK has the worst death rate for lung conditions—higher than anywhere else in western Europe. In total, around 600,000 people have a lung condition in Greater London, and 60% of them live in outer London and do not currently live inside the ULEZ. I hear again and again of people who say that they or their children did not used to have asthma but that they do now. We can see the effects. If we could see the air pollution on our streets, we would know it for the killer that it is.
Toxic air is shortening the lives of our constituents. Every year, up to 36,000 people in the UK die prematurely as a result of toxic air, and 4,000 of those deaths occur in London alone. In Dartford, the equivalent of 66 deaths per year are attributable to long-term exposure to particulate air pollution. But it is not only about deaths; it is also about people who are hospitalised or who live with debilitating conditions.
If the hon. Lady feels that the Mayor of London is expanding the ULEZ to tackle pollution across the south-east, does she think it is simply a coincidence that he is due to make hundreds of millions of pounds out of it, or does she think it is actually motivated by money?
I thank the hon. Member for his question. What is the Mayor spending the money on? He is spending it on local transport. Every single penny raised by the ULEZ is being spent on local transport, which is exactly what we need. That is the way we are going to overcome the toxic air that is killing our constituents.
I am not here to talk about local infrastructure, but we have to invest in the local public transport infrastructure so that we can overcome this problem. I had to give up my car—it was a diesel car— when the first ULEZ came in, and I do not have a car now. I rely entirely on public transport, but it has to be improved. How will we get the money to do that? The expansion of the ULEZ is one way to get that money. I hope to hear from the Government how they will fund public transport in London, if that is the key factor that we need.
Nearly 10 years after Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah became the first person to have air pollution recorded as a cause of death, people in Dartford and London are still breathing toxic air. Poor communities and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities—those who are least likely to have a car—are the worst affected by air pollution. We have to take action.
In Wandsworth, the borough where my constituents live, 129 deaths a year are attributable to the effects of toxic air. That is such a shocking figure. Knowing that I was taking my children to school and exposing them to toxic air every day really worries me, and it worries all my constituents too. Currently the ULEZ goes through Putney, but it is not a wall—the world has not ended, life has carried on and travel has continued. It is not the hard-and-fast border it is being portrayed as.
Expanding the ULEZ will reduce NOx emissions by 10%, and PM2.5 exhaust emissions by nearly 16%, and prevent 27,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from being released. It will lead to a nearly 10% reduction in NOx emissions from cars in outer London, on top of the 30% reduction in road transport NOx emissions that is already expected from the current ULEZ and the tighter low-emission zone standards. It works, and it should continue. We need to have this action.
I welcome the news from the Mayor of London that, as part of the ULEZ expansion, he is introducing a scrappage scheme to support residents on lower incomes, as well as businesses and charities. It is the biggest scrappage scheme yet, at £110 million, and it will help those in Putney and every other area who are on low incomes and who need support to replace or retrofit their cars. I am pleased that the Mayor has also introduced new grace periods for disabled people, allowing them more time to adapt to change.
I do not have enough time to give way— sorry.
I understand the concerns raised about the impact on small and microbusinesses. I met the Federation of Small Businesses this week to discuss its concerns about the ULEZ. It welcomes the move towards greening businesses and a more sustainable future, because it makes clear business sense. We cannot simply do nothing. However, the FSB is concerned about the impact of the ULEZ on microbusinesses—those businesses with under 10 employees. I have two brothers-in-law who are plumbers, so I have heard their concerns as well. [Interruption.] They are very useful.
I know that this is a tough time for small businesses, so I join the FSB in urging the Government to support the ULEZ and to provide additional funding, on top of the Mayor’s £110 million scrappage scheme, so that it can support microbusinesses to change their vans, instead of stopping them coming into London. I also join the FSB in calling for small businesses to be given extra time to comply—up to September 2024—and for us to consider a way for small businesses to pay their charge into a special fund that they can put towards purchasing a ULEZ-compliant vehicle.
This announcement will ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities are looked after and give them the support they need as the ULEZ expands. So I will end by asking whether the Minister supports the Government’s air quality targets, the ULEZ itself and small businesses. If so, will he support them further by topping up the Mayor’s scrappage scheme? Also, does he support a new clean air Act, because the time has surely come for one. Are there plans to introduce one?
In conclusion, I welcome the ULEZ and this action to clean up our air for our planet, our health and especially our children’s health.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Hosie. I join colleagues in commending my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on securing this debate.
Like most Conservative Members of Parliament in Westminster Hall today, my surgery has been inundated with constituents who tell a very consistent story: that they are dependent on their vehicles, mainly due to ill health or the need to support disabled family members in accessing medical care. They have older vehicles, which have often been extremely well maintained, and which they have had for many years, but the prohibitive cost of change now means that face a really serious negative impact on their quality of life and that of their dependants. As my constituency has the highest per capita vehicle ownership in London, we might expect to see many people like that coming forward.
Around 70% of Londoners do not own a car so, understandably, the Mayor of London has seen the ULEZ expansion as something that will not negatively impact on a great many constituents of his in central London. However, for those of us in the suburbs—my constituency essentially consists of eight villages, one of which has no access to a tube or train station and only very limited access to buses—dependency on cars and other private vehicles is much higher.
When we look at a map of London, and particularly at the north-west, we see routes such as Hill End Road in Harefield, which is barely the width of a car, but which is one of the routes that takes people out of our capital and into the surrounding counties, as well as Park Lane, Dene Road and Eastbury Road in Northwood, and the A4008 in Hatch End. All of these roads change from being in Greater London to being outside Greater London partway along, so people who depend on a car— particularly if they are disabled or in ill health—to come and shop in their local high street, access their GP practice or get to their local public transport network will have to pay £12.50 every time they do any of those things, simply to go about their daily lives. What is iniquitous about this is that they do not have a choice.
My wife lived in Westminster when I first knew her, so I completely understand that, in many parts of central London, there is a very high density of access to the bus network and other kinds of public transport, such as trains and tubes, but out in the suburbs that is simply not the case.
I thank the hon. Member for speaking about the most vulnerable people. Does he agree that it is particularly difficult for people with disabilities because not all rates of disability living allowance, child disability payment or personal independence payment are exempt from the scheme? Many people will still be adversely impacted, even from 2023. They are contacting me, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, and asking that more be done to support their particular needs.
That is an incredibly important point, which my constituents have made to me. There are those who may have a blue badge because they have a serious health condition that requires them to attend regular medical treatment, but who are not registered disabled or covered by the exemptions that the scheme envisages.
I will mention this in my speech, so I hope you will forgive the duplication, Mr Hosie, but I was contacted by a charity that transports emergency blood, breast milk for premature babies, and urgent medical samples. It contacted the Mayor of London about whether it would be able to get an exemption, or even a discount, and it was told no. Does my hon. Friend agree that that seems morally wrong?
That is characteristic of the Mayor’s response to the representations he has received: he simply does not want to take them into account.
Some constituents may be temporarily resident in my constituency—for example, because they are awaiting heart and lung transplants at Harefield Hospital. They are required to attend the hospital at short notice when a donor’s heart and lungs, or one or the other of those things, becomes available. That also has a significant impact. Again, the Mayor of London seems to have very little interest in that.
Those of us who have been interested in air quality for a long time recognise that, particularly in outer west London, the big source of pollution is Heathrow airport. This measure does nothing whatever to address the single biggest source of air pollution. It is very much a case of a Mayor pursuing the thing that makes money for the mayoral budget, rather than the thing that would actually improve air quality. There are no measures to improve local authority powers to tackle engine idling. There is nothing that addresses the impact of pollution coming from the M25 or from Heathrow airport, which are the things causing the significant air pollution that affects my constituents.
As this policy makes progress, we need to recognise that local authority powers under the Environment Act 1995, through which the Mayor is seeking to introduce this measure, should require there to be consent from local authorities. In that way, we can ensure that the people who are legally responsible—the local authorities—have a say on whether such measures will tackle the actual sources of air pollution in their area, as opposed to simply talking about them and raising money for an inner London zone 1 Mayor who clearly does not pay attention to the needs of his suburban constituents.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for securing this important debate. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), who was right that I have taken a deep interest in the ultra low emission zone expansion for some time, and that is because there are a number of big problems with the policy.
The first problem is that Sadiq Khan does not have a mandate for this policy. He claims that ULEZ expansion is essential to tackle air pollution, and we heard his briefing being faithfully read out by the hon. Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Putney (Fleur Anderson). Given that the Mayor was re-elected to City Hall only last year, we would imagine that this policy featured prominently in his manifesto, but it did not. He went to the polls on a 100-page manifesto, and one paragraph on page 55 mentioned the ultra low emission zone, but it pertained specifically to the extension to the north and south circular in October 2021, which he had already announced. There was no mention whatever of expanding the boundary to the outer part of Greater London.
When the Mayor decided in May this year to push ahead with that expansion, the Evening Standard article that covered the announcement said:
“On Friday morning, Sadiq Khan insisted that he would not press ahead with the plans if the public overwhelmingly rejected them during the public consultation.
He said: ‘It’s a genuine consultation—as were the previous two consultations in relation to the central London Ultra-Low Emission Zone and the expansion. I hope Londoners who care about the health of their families will respond.’”
They did, in large numbers, but the Mayor initially refused to release the results of that consultation. Eventually, after public pressure, the results were released on 25 November. They revealed that 60% of respondents opposed Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ expansion to outer London. That figure increases to 68% when we include the organised responses that the hon. Member for Swansea West mentioned; 70% of outer London residents oppose the expansion and 80% of those who work in outer London were also opposed.
This policy has no mandate and no public support. It turns out that it is not about air quality, either, contrary to the propaganda read out by Opposition Members, which comes directly from the briefing sent by the Mayor of London. The document I quoted earlier is not a hatchet job, but the Mayor’s own integrated impact assessment. I gave one example, but there are many, of where it uses phrases like “negligible to minor” in terms of the impact that the expansion would have on air quality.
There is no mandate, there is no public support and it is not really about air quality, because the impact is negligible. So why is the Mayor of London so interested in ULEZ expansion, and why is he rushing it? The answer is as old as time: it is about money. This is a cash grab, pure and simple. According to Transport for London’s own figures, it expects the £12.50 charge to hit 160,000 cars and 42,000 vans per day. In monetary terms, that is about £2.5 million per day—a big cash injection into the Mayor’s coffers.
There is a question about timing. When the inner and outer ULEZs were introduced, people had years to prepare. In this case, we have nine months. The average family cannot save up to buy a car that quickly, especially when household bills are rising, and we know that they are. Small businesses and charities may be forced to replace one vehicle or even a fleet that they had banked on being able to use for many years to come.
Who will be hit? The Mayor of London does not seem to understand who will pick up the bill for his policies. It is not wealthy Londoners—it is ordinary working people, on the poorer end of the socioeconomic spectrum, who are less likely to be able to upgrade their car, and more likely to own an older vehicle. There is a myth that Mayor Khan attempts to spread around that low-income Londoners do not own cars, or drive in Greater London. That is categorically false. What is more, he knows it. The “Travel in London” report produced by TfL in 2019 shows that, by its own analysis, 50% of outer London households earning as little as £10,000 own a car. Car ownership rockets to in excess of 70% for those earning upwards of £20,000. According to TfL’s impact assessment, low-income Londoners are more likely to own non-compliant vehicles. The ULEZ expansion is not a tax on wealthy drivers, but on poorer people who simply cannot afford to buy a new vehicle.
In my constituency, we do not have tubes or trams. We have trains that go into central London and we have private vehicles. Some 83% of Orpington households own a car, meaning that a great number of my constituents could be liable to pay the charge. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), many of my constituents use their car every day to go to work, to the shops and to visit family and friends. Under the Mayor’s plan, they face a potentially disastrous annual bill of £4,500.
Other Members have spoken about the impact on public services. More than half of Greater London’s police officers and firefighters and around a fifth of the workers in my local NHS trust come into Greater London from outside. Those who work in outer London and those who work in shift work are especially reliant on their cars. Someone on a night shift faces a double whammy of a £12.50 charge driving to work, and a £12.50 charge after midnight when they drive home. It could cost them £25 per shift to go and do their work.
The ULEZ expansion will also impact on businesses in outer London. Many people drive in from Kent to shop in Petts Wood in my constituency. TfL estimates that 8% have non-compliant vehicles. Rather than paying £12.50 a time, many will simply choose to shop and visit elsewhere, depriving London’s high streets of customers.
Many drivers, both in London and those who travel from outside to work, shop or visit outer boroughs, are unaware that they may face an even higher bill. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford about the increase in the level of fines—up to £180. The Mayor has just hiked the fine from £130 to £160, and will go further from January next year, raising it to £180. If a driver crosses into Greater London, perhaps unaware of the boundary or unaware of the existence of the charge or that their vehicle is not compliant, they will unknowingly rack up a cripplingly high bill. Potentially as many as 12,000 cars and vans a day may be hit by a fine.
The RAC estimates that Transport for London could raise £260 million a year by imposing those penalties. To put that into context, Churchill Insurance estimated that the total parking fines raised by every council in the country combined would come to £250 million—£10 million lower than Transport for London would make with those penalties in the first year. TfL could in fact earn significantly more than that, because if not all drivers pay within 14 days—reducing the penalty from £180 to £90—that could raise £390 million every year.
The Mayor of London has not been a success in office. The Metropolitan police and the London Fire Brigade are both in special measures. Violent crime has reached record highs, and it has not abated. He is not on target to deliver enough affordable homes, despite what he boasted about as being the largest settlement from central Government on record. Crossrail was years late and billions of pounds over budget, with billions more lost in fares that were never raised.
Indeed I am. The point I am trying to make is that Sadiq Khan is looking for something he can point to and claim as his. Leaving aside the fact that the ultra low emission zone was not even his idea—it was conceived and the preparatory work was done under my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)—the Mayor has adopted it as his big idea. The expansion of the ultra low emission zone to outer London has no mandate or popular support. It will do almost nothing for air quality, it will be economically damaging and it will hit the poorest hardest—damaging not just those who live in outer London but millions who live outside Greater London. It is an appalling and unjust policy and it should be scrapped.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), who is also my constituency neighbour, for securing the debate.
It has been said:
“As Sadiq Khan shows in London, Labour in power delivers.”
Those are not my words; they are the words of the Leader of the Opposition from April this year. They feel very appropriate, given today’s debate on ULEZ—and because it is pantomime season, after all. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) just pointed out some highlights from the Mayor’s time in power; he mentioned Crossrail, and the Mayor’s record on the Metropolitan police and the London Fire Brigade.
I will stick to the subject of ULEZ, Mr Hosie, as you have asked. It is the last outrageous tax raid on drivers in outer London. We have had the Mayor’s share of council tax increase by 43% since he entered office, and it is expected to rise to above £400 next year. The ULEZ rise—a tax rise—on drivers in outer London and the neighbouring counties will hammer families, small businesses and emergency service workers with bills of around £4,500 a year to drive. I am not sure that even the champagne socialists of north London could afford that bill. If that shows what Labour in power delivers, then this really is the nightmare before Christmas for the British public.
As we have heard from hon. Members already, the ULEZ expansion was overwhelmingly opposed by the public, despite the consultation clearly being skewed to try to give TfL and the Mayor the answers they were looking for. It has also raised a number of serious issues and questions, including the process and powers being used by the Mayor to push it through, which I hope the Minister will look closely at. First, there are questions about whether the Mayor has the mandate to do this, given that it was not in his manifesto, and the impact of the expansion will also be felt outside the Greater London boundaries. That is alongside the fact that local authorities have a statutory duty over air quality, and several boroughs are opposed to the policy. Secondly, as highlighted already, the proposals were overwhelmingly rejected in the consultation by around 70% to 80% of people in outer London.
It is clear to see why people are so furious about the decision, especially with the current cost of living challenges. In Bexley alone, the area I am proud to serve, around 30,000 vehicles will be directly impacted, hammering businesses, families and key workers with the bill of £12.50 a day, or £4,500 a year. By introducing the charge in August, it gives people hardly any time to switch vehicles. Barely a day goes by without a constituent stopping me in the street and highlighting how ULEZ will impact them. They include pensioners who rarely drive, but need their car to go shopping or to hospital appointments, families who need to drop off their kids to different schools each morning before going to work, tradesman who need their vans for their tools and to get to jobs, and shops on the boundary, which fear that customers will stop coming into Greater London from the likes of Dartford because of the ULEZ charge.
I will happily answer the hon. Member’s question, because our buses in outer London have actually been cut—if he checks Bexley’s record, he will see that our bus routes have been cut. I will come on to the scrappage scheme later, to cover the exact point that the hon. Member is trying to make.
Alongside the clearly negative impact of the ULEZ expansion on businesses and hard-working families in my area, it is also important to highlight that over 50% of blue light workers in London live outside the capital, and 90% of care workers nationally use their own cars for work. That expansion will create many knock-on issues for the emergency services in the likes of Bexley, including—as we have heard—the doubling of charges for those working nights, an issue that was also highlighted in The Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago. It will also negatively impact patients, with my local hospital, Queen Mary’s Hospital Sidcup, sharing a number of services and nurses with the likes of Dartford. These are all issues that I do not believe have been properly thought through, as the Mayor desperately seeks to fill the black hole in TfL’s finances that he has created.
Bexley does not have the underground, and like many other London boroughs it does not have the same transport options and connectivity as central London, so it is extremely unfair that the Mayor of London is proposing plans for ULEZ expansion. In recent years, as I have said, we have also seen our bus and other services cut by the Mayor of London, and there is nothing in his so-called reinvestment plans that will help areas such as Bexley and in the south-east. The scrappage scheme announced by the Mayor does not even come close to matching demand, or addressing the costs and practical issues associated with buying a new vehicle, and the fact that he is forecast to spend double that amount—roughly £250 million of taxpayers’ money—to install cameras to fine people again highlights how this policy is designed to raise money, rather than improve air quality.
That point is supported by the fact that the Mayor’s own independent impact report on the policy highlighted a negligible impact on improving air quality in outer London areas such as mine, which are very different from central London and have already seen an improvement in air quality. For example, in its consultation response to the Mayor, Bexley council highlighted that air quality has been improving already, and that Bexley was one of 11 boroughs that recorded no population exceeding air quality thresholds. The Government have also brought forward their plans and investment to improve air quality, with £880 million of support for local authorities to take immediate steps to reduce nitrogen dioxide, and £2 billion of investment in cycling and walking over the course of this Parliament—the largest ever boost for active travel.
If the Mayor of London wants to help tackle air pollution rather than raise money, further investment should be made to support people with the transition to electric vehicles, including the installation of more electric vehicle charging points and leading by example with TfL’s own bus fleet. With traffic having been highlighted as one of the main causes of air pollution, there also needs to be a review of the impact of the Mayor’s road closures on increasing traffic and, potentially, emissions across London, closures that have again—by coincidence, I am sure—raised millions in fines for Labour councils in the capital. Dare I even mention the Silvertown tunnel, which will likely encourage more vehicles to drive through south-east and east London, and appears to be completely inconsistent with the Mayor’s so-called championing of air quality?
I again urge the Minister to do everything in his and the Government’s power to stop this disastrous ULEZ policy, which will hammer families, businesses and the emergency services in Bexley, Greater London and neighbouring counties. As I and other colleagues have highlighted today, the impact of ULEZ will go much further than the boundaries of London, and—once the cameras are installed—will likely lead to further taxes on drivers that I believe will be inconsistent with national transport policy. As such, I ask the Minister and the Government to please review the situation urgently, and if the Mayor of London is listening, I call on him to stop the virtue signalling and worrying about his book sales and to put hard-working Londoners first by U-turning on this tax raid on drivers in Greater London. If he does not, it is clearly time for this failing son of a bus driver to get off at the next stop, before calls for the Mayor to get scrapped get even louder.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on securing the debate, because much of what he and other colleagues have said so far about the impact that this scheme is going to have on their constituents certainly rings true for Carshalton and Wallington.
I note that not a single Liberal Democrat has turned up to the debate. Given that the Lib Dems voted for this policy in the Greater London Assembly, actually lamented that it took Labour so long to implement its policy and two Lib Dem boroughs have passed motions to support it, including Sutton, I am surprised that none of them could be bothered to come and defend it, but there we go.
I do not want to repeat what has been said about the ULEZ so far, but I want to highlight the severe impact this change will have on people in Carshalton and Wallington. As the Minister for London, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), who is no longer in his place, pointed out, 30% or 30,000 vehicles in the London Borough of Sutton are non-compliant, according to TfL’s own data. That is 30,000 people whose livelihoods will be impacted by this change in a matter of months, as the Mayor has given people next to no time to prepare for it.
As has been said already, this change will hit the poorest Londoners hardest. What many will not be aware of, and will be shocked to hear, is that there are no exemptions in this ULEZ expansion to support small businesses, charities, keyworkers or the elderly, and there is very little in place to support disabled people. These are people who rely on their cars.
Sutton has a public transport accessibility level of just 2, because we have no tram, no tube network, no London Overground and no Crossrail. We have a few National Rail services to central London, which are currently being reduced due to Govia Thameslink Railway’s timetable changes, and a limited bus network. We have also seen this Mayor of London cut the Tramlink extension from Croydon to Sutton, despite the money already being in place when he took office, and we have had no investment or improvement in our bus network.
The question a lot of my constituents are asking is: “What can I do?” They cannot afford £12.50 a day. They cannot afford an annual fee of £4,500, or even the £3,000 that is the more conservative estimate for those who do not use their car every day. My hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French) has already outlined that the scrappage scheme lauded as the apparent solution does not, in reality, even touch the sides. Back in May, even Sadiq Khan himself said that the scrappage scheme would need something like £180 million to cover everyone who would be affected, and even that was probably an underestimate. Furthermore, the scheme is open to those who were rejected last time, and two thirds of people were rejected last time. It is a system that will only breed more disappointment and discontent, with more people missing out.
The scrappage scheme is not the answer, but what is the Mayor’s answer, and what is Labour’s answer? I can tell hon. Members, because they were asked in the London Assembly. My London Assembly Member, Neil Garrett, asked the Mayor of London, “What should I tell my constituents if they can’t afford this charge?” The answer, not from the Mayor, but from a Labour Assembly Member was, almost word for word, “Well, a new car that is compliant is only about £3,000. Just go and buy one.” That is the political equivalent of Paris Hilton wearing a t-shirt saying “Stop being poor”.
That is the answer people are getting from the Labour party, backed up by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, who are all saying the same thing: “If you can’t afford it, tough. You are going to have to live with it, or give up your car, give up your job and move out of London. You are not welcome here.”
I commend the work that is being done by Conservative-run boroughs in outer London, including Bromley, Bexley, Croydon, Harrow and Hillingdon, to do everything they possibly can, but I would like the Minister to feel the anger from our constituents and the huge impact that this change will have, not just on individuals, but on businesses and charities, and on the most vulnerable who live in outer London, and outside London.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford set out very eloquently, this is taxation without representation for many people living on the outskirts of London. I represent a constituency that borders Surrey. The border between my constituency and Surrey is a small country lane, which leads from the lavender fields into Woodmansterne—this is not somewhere with huge trunk roads and traffic coming in and out of London. Yet the people who live on the other half of Carshalton Road have no say in who the Mayor is and cannot do anything about this policy.
I strongly urge the Minister to take this away. I would be grateful to hear what advice he has received about the Government’s powers in this respect, and I ask him to join us in urging the Mayor of London to scrap this policy. It will hit the poorest Londoners and our constituents the hardest, and it will do little to nothing to tackle air quality; as we heard so eloquently from my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), the Mayor’s own impact assessment says that it has nothing to do with air quality. The policy has no public support and he does not have a mandate for it in his manifesto.
In reality, if this is not about air quality what is it about? We have already heard that it is about money, but it is about much more than that. TfL has already employed people to work on a road user charging scheme. Once these cameras are in place, be in no doubt that the Mayor of London is keen to expand the ultra low emission zone to be a road user charging scheme instead; he will expand the eligibility of the number of cars that are captured by it.
The ultimate goal for this Mayor—he has been quite open about this in his own consultation documents—is to have a policy whereby every single Londoner is charged every single time they use their car, regardless of how new or old it is. That is what he wants, and the camera network for ULEZ is the first step towards that. We need to stop it and he needs to rethink; otherwise, we will see a massive amount of problems coming from our constituents who cannot pay this unaffordable charge.
Unlike the buses, I will be on time. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for calling this really important debate.
I hope that the Mayor has been watching the debate to hear the forensic take-down of the reasons behind the policy. It has been quite powerful hearing colleagues speak about the actual facts behind this, because it is a really important debate that will affect constituents who cannot vote for the Mayor. This is about fairness and democracy. It is unfair that situations such as this will hit my constituents in the pocket and perhaps stop them from going to work, shopping or picking up their kids from school; charging them when they have no ability to stop that happening feels utterly wrong.
I recommend that anyone who wants to know the facts behind this should watch the forensic take-down that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) presented earlier. I do not think that I will be able to match the detail that he gave, but some of his key points related to the fact that even the Mayor’s consultation said that this should not go ahead. Some of the feedback from respondents that I have read includes the point that the scheme penalises workers—correct. It comes at a time of increased cost of living; that is the case, sadly, as we are living in difficult times. This is about the affordability of daily charges, and it would be to the detriment of the local economy in London and to those who want to travel near London to places such as Watford in my constituency.
One of the key elements here is voting. Liberal Democrat and Labour Greater London Authority members voted for this, and my constituents did not have a say; again, that is completely wrong. This is ultimately putting an invisible wall around London. Some of my constituents probably will not even realise that they have gone through that invisible wall, and will be charged and impacted by something that they may not have known was coming in. As was stated earlier, this is happening in a very short period of time; it is a matter of months. There is no long consultation or period of time when people can prepare for this or buy a new car. Hon. Members have made the point that it is not easy to just go out and buy a car; the people who think that that is one of the solutions are really speaking nonsense, because the people on the lowest incomes are those who will probably be hit the hardest.
There are some legacy issues in Watford. For a long time there has been an argument about a Metropolitan line extension to Watford, and I understand that it was TfL and Sadiq Khan who stopped that from happening. If he really cares about people using public transport he would have helped to put in the additional funding, which was already being organised by Hertfordshire County Council and other organisations, to ensure that the line would be extended, but that did not happen. The argument is now that we should not use our cars, and that seems utterly wrong.
As I said earlier, my constituents have commented on this issue. In my intervention, I mentioned a charity that transports emergency blood and breastmilk to premature babies, and urgent medical samples—24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Its volunteers use their own cars and time, without compensation. Many of those vehicles may not be compliant, and the charity wrote to me to share its response to the proposed ULEZ expansion. It wrote to TfL, which said that it would not discount or exempt the emergency medical transport charity, citing the importance of air quality. I am sorry, but that does not seem fair or right. I get that there might be legacy situations across the country with similar schemes, but this is a new scheme. It seems utterly wrong that TfL cannot build an exemption into a brand new scheme.
I want to talk about the new technologies coming through. I met representatives of a business in my constituency that does carbon cleaning for engines, and they showed that they can massively reduce the amount of carbon coming out of cars and reduce emissions quite extensively. I have seen nothing in the consultation and the plans for expanding the ULEZ that will allow people to use new technology and new systems, or even to start looking at ways to get exemptions so that they could keep their cars but automatically reduce the emissions.
I join Conservative colleagues in saying that this is not a political point; this is about hard-working people who just want to live their lives. Extending the ULEZ, which will affect places outside London—I am not a London MP—seems wrong. Measures need to be taken to stop it happening, but we have no way to do that. I would like the Minister to tell us whether there are ways for us to take this issue to the Government in order to say, “Can we say to the Mayor that this is wrong?”. We need a longer period of time to bring in the expanded ULEZ, but ultimately we need to try to stop it, because it is not going to deliver the supposedly clean air that will be used as the platform for this. Actually, it is just going to cost hard-working people more money at a time of difficulty.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on securing the debate.
I am going to scrap my speech for a second. One of the great honours of living in London for part of the week is understanding how absolutely fantastic the public transport system is. If you try to get back to Manchester today on an Avanti train, Godspeed to you all. If you have tried to get across the Pennines over the last few months, Godspeed to you all. I have had the great honour in my nearly nine years as an MP to spend one day a month walking in London. I have done the London loop, so unfortunately I have walked through most of the places represented by the hon. Members present, including Orpington, Petts Wood, Ruislip, Wallington and Watford. What a beautiful place London is. I am still astonished by the quality of the public transport system, which is second to none on this planet and the envy of everybody outside this great conurbation.
Every year, 4,000 Londoners die prematurely due to poisonous air, and the greatest number of deaths are in outer London boroughs, with 11 Londoners dying prematurely every day. Air pollution is quite simply a matter of life and death; it makes our communities sick. Despite the Government’s promise that there would be no weakening of environmental targets post Brexit, it seems that they are refusing to match the EU standards, setting a weaker target while sentencing our children and communities to an unnecessary 10 years of toxic air.
The challenge is threefold: we must tackle toxic air pollution, we must deal with the climate emergency, and we must deal with traffic congestion. I was at the Sutton Ecology Centre at the weekend, and I saw just how congested the A232 is and the problems there.
The A232 is actually congested because there are too many vehicles on it—that is what congestion is. London is a beautiful town, so I do not know why we allow it to happen. It is incredible to me.
The Government’s own watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, says that the Government have failed to announce new targets, as they should have done under the Environment Act 2021, and that the new Government air quality targets are too weak and will condemn another generation to poor air.
We know that around 85% of vehicles driving in outer London already meet the pollution standards. Mayor Khan has introduced the biggest scrappage scheme yet: £110 million in support for Londoners on low incomes, disabled Londoners, micro-businesses and charities to scrap or retrofit their non-compliant vehicles. He has extended the exemption period for them and for community transport. As the hon. Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) said, the scheme was devised under the last Mayor of London, but it has taken Mayor Khan to implement it.
As was already pointed out, the Mayor also announced plans to add an extra 1 million kilometres to the bus network—much of that in outer London. Again, that requires leadership and support from central Government. The Government’s clean air fund excludes applications from London boroughs and the Greater London Authority. London’s share would amount to around £42 million, which would have gone a long way to expanding or supporting the Mayor’s £110 million scrappage fund.
I am a Greater Manchester MP. We have had problems. There are nitrogen dioxide sewers—controlled by Highways England—going through my constituency. If those roads were factories, they would have been shut down. They are simply not acceptable in this day and age. Local authorities were given a legal direction to clean up the air by 2024, and like Birmingham, Bradford and Portsmouth, they had to act, but Ministers have comprehensively failed to provide the necessary funding. Ministers need to help families and small businesses switch to electric vehicles, and they must take action to expand charging infrastructure. Plumbers who use their vans for work are being priced out of this revolution. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) for having two brothers who are plumbers—wouldn’t we all want that?
This week, we learned that instead of charging ahead, the Government are slipping back on the charging infrastructure strategy. Rapid charging fund trials have been delayed, changes to planning rules have been kicked into the long grass, and take-up of the on-street charging scheme is anaemic. Labour’s plan for green growth will drive jobs, tackle the cost of living and help to clean up toxic air. There will be help for families with the cost of switching to electric vehicles, and we will provide the action we need to tackle toxic air. Britain is the only country in the developed world where private bus operators set routes and fares with no say from the public. That is not the case in London, but it is for bus services outside London. I was delighted to see the work that Andy Burnham has done as Mayor of Greater Manchester in setting the £2 fares, which the Government are now copying.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, who spoke eloquently about the problems of Putney High Street, which is one of the most polluted places in the country. As somebody who rides a bike to Richmond Park occasionally, I have to go and experience it. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies); he is in charge of his facts, and gave powerful personal testimony about asthma and his children.
Let me say this to Conservative Members, genuinely and from the bottom of my heart: where there are low-traffic neighbourhoods, and where cars are tackled, electoral popularity rises. Tackling air pollution is electorally popular. I look at the percentage chances of Conservative Members winning their seats in the next election. In Dartford, they have a 64% chance of losing. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) has a 57% chance of losing. The hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) has a 64% chance of losing. No wonder the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) is going on about the Lib Dems—they have a 52% chance of winning that seat.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on securing the debate. On ultra low emissions, we heard quite a few emissions from the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), but I am not sure that any of them were really relevant to the broader debate. He seemed to praise the Mayor of Greater Manchester for what he is up to. The Mayor stopped his ULEZ. I not sure that the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East are on the same page regarding the Mayor of Greater Manchester, given the Leader of the Opposition’s recent jokes at the Mayor’s expense.
The need to tackle air pollution is something on which I hope that Members on both sides of the House—and indeed the Government and the Mayor of London—agree, to answer the question from the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson). Air pollution is a big environmental risk to human health, and the Government are determined to tackle it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French) said, that is why we have invested more than £800 million to tackle air pollution in 64 local council areas. Much more can be done, although we can be proud that air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010, with emissions of particulate matter down by 18% and nitrogen oxides down by 44%, to their lowest level since records began.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) made very clear in a tour de force speech, ULEZ will have only a minor or negligible impact, as the Jacobs report has said. My hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) put forward various sensible solutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) also reflected some of the issues, particularly around accessibility of public transport. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said, the expansion to the London boundary was not in the Mayor’s manifesto—a point reflected by my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), for Orpington, and for Watford (Dean Russell). It was against the Mayor’s manifesto and against his own consultation. Those are not political points, as some Opposition Members would like to suggest; they are facts, eloquently put forward by hon. Members.
I commend the Minister on the work that he has been doing on buses. Does he agree that the fact that the Labour group in Hillingdon Council supports the Conservatives’ campaign against ULEZ is evidence that this is not a matter of party politics but one of people putting their constituents and residents first?
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. It was interesting to hear from the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), who is not in the Chamber at the moment. She seemed to be on a slightly different page from some of the other Labour Whips’ remarks from the other hon. Members present.
Many hon. Members have spoken clearly and eloquently about the anger that their constituents feel about what is going on. I hope that the Mayor, the Labour party in London, the Lib Dems and the Greens hear that too. The Mayor of London, however, needs no agreement from the Government to pursue his proposed expansion of ULEZ. He is doing so using powers granted to him under section 295 and schedule 23 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to implement any road schemes that charge users within greater London. He has previously used those powers to introduce the congestion charge, the low emission zone, and the current ultra low emission zone. While he has notified my Department of his intention, he is not obliged to consult us. As hon. Members will also be aware, the Department for Transport will not provide any of the £250 million that the scheme needs in order to be set up.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott), for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), my right hon. Friends the Members for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) and for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), and other hon. Members from across the south-east of England who have also made representations to me on this matter, and who met with me recently. Sadly, the Government do not have the power to veto the Mayor’s decision. There has been some suggestion that the Secretary of State has powers under section 143 of the GLA Act to block the measure.
The Minister will know that it is the 10-year anniversary of the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who was the first person to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on her death certificate. Will he support the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill that went through the Lords completely, with the support of Conservatives, and its ambition to introduce World Health Organisation air quality standards, ideally by 2030?
As I have said to the hon. Gentleman, we have already made substantial progress in that area. On the specifics of any legislation, I will write to him.
I have been advised by my officials in the strongest terms that section 143 of the GLA Act is focused on correcting inconsistencies between national policy and the Mayor’s transport strategy. It is not intended to be used to block specific measures that the Mayor would like to introduce under the devolution settlement.
Hon. Members raised two specific issues about councils and their land and about council consent and the environment. I will write to Members on those issues, as well as the other issues that they raised with me recently. In fact, I will write to Members across the House in the coming days.
I understand the concerns of hon. Members. Estimates show that approximately 160,000 cars and 42,000 vans that use London’s roads would be liable for the £12.50 ULEZ charge on an average day—approximately 8% of cars and 18% of journeys. But it is not just about the charge of around £1 million a day, as hon. Members have said. It is also about the fines, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said.
In spite of the hundreds of millions of pounds that it is proposed will be raised annually, the Mayor has announced a new £110 million pound scrappage scheme to help certain Londoners prepare for expansion. The scheme will launch at the end of next month, but it will be open only to certain residents and to Londoners, not those from outside London who are affected and travel in every day, including 50% of people who work in blue light services. They will not be touched by that scheme at all. Moreover, it will only be for those on specific benefits, including universal credit. There will be no help at all for the majority of Londoners affected, with many small and medium-sized businesses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam said, left to bear that heavy burden alone.
As the hon. Member for Putney quoted from the FSB report, I will cite it as well. For businesses that do not currently comply with the zone, 25% said that they will immediately pass any increase on to customers directly, creating further inflationary pressure, and 18% of firms—almost one in five—said that they would close their business. That is from a Federation of Small Businesses press release today.
There is certainly no leadership from the Mayor of London, as we can see from all the hon. Members here, and there is certainly no leadership from the Lib Dems, who were too scared to turn up to this debate. I think the hon. Gentleman and I can agree on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington made a really important point about grace periods, because the exemptions are very limited. Points were also made by the hon. Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), and by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell), who spoke passionately about charities. Grace periods will be extended for disabled and disabled passenger vehicles as well as wheelchair-accessible private hire vehicles. Those categories will be exempt only until October 2027. Minibuses used for community transport, the charities my hon. Friend spoke about, will be exempt only until October 2025. Some of those charities are in outer London and many work across the south-east—they will not even be able to apply for the scrappage scheme.
In addition, NHS patients may be eligible to claim back under the Mayor’s plans, but only if they are clinically assessed as too ill to travel to an appointment on public transport. It is not about whether the transport is available, but about whether they are too ill to travel on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner made the really good point that it is not available at all in many parts of outer London. As he said, the choice just is not there for many of his constituents, and it is not there for many other Members’ constituents, either.
Currently, emergency vehicles are exempt from ULEZ and LEZ charges. However, the sunset period lasts only until October 2023, which is months away. Has an assessment been made of the impact on London services, including the ambulance service, the Metropolitan Police Service and the fire service? It will be interesting to see that, if there is one. There will also be an impact on the council tax bills of Londoners.
Several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford, asked questions about the Mayor’s authority. Specifically, they are concerned that the Mayor may apply ULEZ charges to motor vehicles that are current under the scheme today, such as compliant petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles.
I am sorry, but I will make further progress.
I reassure Members that if that were to occur, the Government would explore what more could be done and consider whether the Mayor was using his authority properly and fairly, without detriment to even more people. It is clear that the Mayor is prepared to go well beyond any pledges or manifesto he was elected on in order to pursue his own objectives.
The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East made an interesting point about there being no Government support for TfL or transport. He needs to look at the amount of support that the Government provide to the Labour Mayor of London. We understand that the pressure on Transport for London has been huge. Before covid, 70% of TfL’s revenue came from passenger fares, but passenger journeys reduced by as much as 95%. Fare income has recovered, but it is still less than nine tenths of what it was previously.
The TfL long-term funding settlement of 30 August provided TfL with £1.2 billion until the end of March 2024. That takes total Government funding of TfL to more than £6 billion since the beginning of the pandemic, or £650 for every Londoner. What has the Mayor done with the money? The £1.2 billion matches the Mayor’s own pre-pandemic spending. It will ensure that London’s transport network remains protected against potential lost revenue and the uncertainty of post-pandemic demand. Furthermore, it will enable the delivery of a number of projects set to revolutionise travel across London, including supporting £3.6 billion-worth of critical infrastructure projects, which will benefit not just London but the wider economy.
The Government have supported and helped passengers to benefit from major upgrades to our world-class transport network, including the Elizabeth line, which opened recently. The settlement also requires the Mayor and TfL to control their operating costs and to continue to progress initiatives to modernise, reform and become more efficient. We have been clear that the Mayor needs to put TfL on to a financially sustainable footing. In no way, however, does that require ULEZ expansion. That is clear. Taxpayers across the UK have had to support TfL continually. It is imperative that they get a fair deal.
The purpose of devolution is that decisions are taken by elected local politicians, not in this House or in Whitehall. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens need to know that political decisions have political consequences, and that there are political solutions to them. Were I the Mayor of London, I would not be going down the path he has chosen—but I am not. If Londoners do not like the decisions that he has taken, they will have the opportunity to have their say in 2024. In their local elections, I am sure that hon. Members will make it clear about the Mayor of London’s policies.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartmouth for bringing this matter to the attention of the Government. I thank hon. Members from all across the south-east for their ongoing work, and I will continue to use my role in Government to work with them. As I said, in the coming days I will write to all hon. Members across London and the south-east on the important questions asked not only in the debate, but in other recent meetings and by Members who have approached me. I also assure Members that, across Government, we will continue to ensure that the Mayor of London is held accountable for his decisions in our capital city.
Briefly, I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to what has been a productive and constructive debate. I am grateful to the Minister for his efforts in challenging this whole policy of the London Mayor. No one disputes the fact that we need clean air. In Dartford, we have very poor air. Frankly, however, that is a mask used by the Mayor of London to increase taxation. It is about raising money. It just so happens that it raises hundreds of millions of pounds for him. And it just so happens that he has a black hole in his finances and wants to bring in a broader charge, taxing every motor vehicle. This is about money and not about pollution.
I feel sick to my stomach that people who cannot vote out the Mayor of London—such as Dartfordians—cannot do a thing about this. That is not right or fair. The whole thing should be stopped, but I hear what the Minister says about his inability to do so. It is the most unfair situation that I can recall ever being put into.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).