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Air Pollution

Volume 779: debated on Tuesday 21 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the issuing by the European Commission of a final warning to the United Kingdom for failing to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide, what action they are planning to take to deal with levels of air pollution in cities.

My Lords, we will set out new plans for nitrogen dioxide by 24 April, and publish a final plan by 31 July. The department is working across government, particularly with the Department for Transport, and with local authorities. This includes implementation of clean air zones. Since 2011 the Government have invested £2 billion in greener transport, with a further £290 million committed in 2016. We need to go further and faster, particularly on nitrogen dioxide.

I thank the Minister for his reply. While I am grateful for the valuable assistance that Her Majesty’s Government are giving to cleaner fuels and alternative fuels, there is a growing consensus that we need both urgent and robust action on this now to solve the problem of air pollution, not least that caused by the nitrogen dioxide emissions from diesel cars. Will the Minister tell your Lordships’ House what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to ensure that new diesel cars are not exceeding those nitrogen dioxide emissions, not just in laboratory conditions but on the roads, which is quite different? Will Her Majesty’s Government consider phasing out any cars that do not reach those limits?

My Lords, it is important to ensure that what happens in the laboratory is also what happens in real driving tests. That is why the Government have been at the forefront of calls for action to introduce real driving emissions testing. This is clearly essential to meeting our air quality goals, and the test will come in from September this year. I think the right reverend Prelate talked about extending to cars the whole purpose and thrust of the Government’s investment, along with others, which is to ensure that we have low-emission vehicles. We are one of the leading countries in this area and I think we will see very good results from that leadership.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their recent consultation on air quality, and I have been looking through some of the responses. Perhaps I may declare an interest in that I was encouraged by successive Governments to buy a diesel car, which I then did. What is the Government’s policy on potentially introducing a scrappage system? How would they intend to pay for such a system, and, assuming that we will have left the European Union by 2020, which body will in future police nitrogen dioxide limits?

My Lords, on the question of a scrappage scheme, we are obviously considering the steps needed following the High Court ruling on updated data emissions from diesel vehicles, but we think that the use of clean air zones is a more targeted and proportionate approach to dealing with emissions. Moreover, we are pressing on with plans in five cities and we are working with the Mayor of London. On the issue of a post-Brexit regime, all the regulations on this will come into our domestic law. The air quality regulations were made under the European Communities Act and so will be preserved via the great repeal Bill.

My Lords, if the Government have been so remiss in meeting their environmental responsibilities in the present circumstances —in which they face fines for non-compliance—what possible chance is there that our environment will be properly protected when that sanction no longer applies?

I would not seek to be partisan, but perhaps I should say to the noble Lord that the dash to diesel happened under his party’s regime. That is one reason why we are now having to resolve the problem. In fact, nitrogen dioxide levels went down by 4% between 2014 and 2015, and we are seeking to continue that. However, we are retrieving a situation that the noble Lord’s party assisted in the passage of.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us exactly which towns and cities are being affected by the reasoned opinion of the European Commission?

My Lords, I have a list of 16 zones, while the five cities that we are working on as regards clean air zones are Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton. I should say that my honourable friend Therese Coffey has been discussing these matters with representatives from other cities because under the Transport Act 2000, local authorities can impose clean air zones if they so wish.

My Lords, did my noble friend hear the answers given by our noble friend Lord Ahmad concerning more cycling? Is he aware that sometimes it can take more than an hour to drive from Parliament Square to the Tower of London? That has been caused by the barricades that have been put up to assist cyclists, who also get in the way on the main carriageways.

The noble Lord opposite speaks very impertinently to me and other people of my age, who would have grave difficulty cycling on the roads these days. However, a principal cause of the excess nitrogen dioxide in the air of Westminster and along the Embankment is those wretched barricades that were put up by the former mayor.

My Lords, I hope I can continue in the right vein by saying that I would advise that the Circle and District lines are a very good way to get from here to the Tower of London and that part of London. However, my noble friend makes the serious point that no one wants congestion. We obviously want to encourage cycling and I hope that once we have installed the facilities for cycling, this will provide an easier time for the very tolerant taxi drivers and the people who need to get about in vehicles, such as emergency vehicles. Like all these things, there is a balance to this and I hope we can get these cycling lanes in place and then ensure that London runs ever more smoothly.