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House of Lords Hansard
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03 April 2017
Volume 782

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they propose to take to reduce the number of diesel cars and other diesel vehicles.

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My Lords, the Environment Secretary and the Transport Secretary will consult on a revised air quality plan later this month. Both departments are working across government and with local authorities to tackle air quality problems in our cities and towns. Since 2011, the Government have committed more than £2 billion to increase the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles and support greener transport schemes, with a further £290 million committed in 2016.

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My Lords, will the Minister confirm that diesel emissions from vehicles contribute to the early death of 30,000 people in the UK and 9,000 people in London and seriously endanger the health of children? Do we have to leave it to the Mayor of London to show any leadership in this?

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The noble Lord is right to point out the health issues which arise from emissions, particularly of nitrogen dioxide from diesel vehicles. The noble Lord mentioned the Mayor of London and I acknowledge the efforts that the mayor is making in this respect. However, I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that this requires a partnership across government, within London and with local authorities to ensure that we get the results we all desire.

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My Lords, unless you are buying a purely electric car, from 1 April this year, if you buy a new car, you will end up paying more car tax for a low-emission car than under the old car tax system and less for a highly polluting car than under the old system. Can the Minister explain how that will incentivise people to buy low-emission vehicles?

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The noble Baroness drives an electric car and is well placed to ask that question. The Government are focused on ensuring a sustainable revenue stream for English roads raised through vehicle excise duties. Under the new system, after the first year all new cars will pay the same but no existing cars will pay any more tax. Also under the new system there will be strong incentives in the first year, again, to buy the cleanest vehicles.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that after the introduction of speed bumps in Hyde Park the rate of pollution went up tremendously because of the delays they caused to traffic? Is it not now incumbent on whoever is responsible for traffic lights in London to ensure that they are phased to use the best timing? I say this because a horrible bicycle lane has been introduced in Bayswater Road and although it has been hell while it was being constructed, traffic is now moving at least reasonably well; but when you get near to Marble Arch, all traffic is stuck and the huge pile-back is worse than the bike lane ever was because the phasing of the lights needs to be adjusted. Will the Minister ask the people responsible for traffic lights to consider adjusting the timing?

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Given my noble friend’s knowledge of London roads, she is well suited to be adviser to the Mayor of London. She makes the salient point that we need to ensure that any road schemes are integrated and that any changes that are implemented are sustainable for the long term in addressing the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in his Question.

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My Lords, one of the problems I have with this Government is that they show no leadership on issues that are national scandals. Air pollution is not only killing thousands of people every year, it is reducing children’s lung capacity so that in the future they will have endless respiratory problems. Why do the Government not see that the health of the people is their biggest concern?

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I do not agree with the noble Baroness, and perhaps I may put this into context. I have already talked about a total of £2 billion spent since 2011, with £116 million invested in green bus technology. We have also talked about the £5 million investment by Transport for London in 900 buses, along with £14.1 million for the clean bus technology fund, £8 million for the clean vehicle technology fund and £100 million for Highways England. Those are some of the examples of how the Government are putting money towards schemes across the country for transport support. I accept that we are currently facing challenges on health, but at the same time we are pursuing sustainable transport solutions.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the modern diesel engines being produced at Dagenham among other places are so much better than the old ones that the very best thing the owner of an old diesel car can do to avoid poisoning our children is to buy a new car?

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That is why the Government are incentivising new cars in our tax regime, in road tax. On diesel, what we need to consider carefully—and history is a source of great learning on this—is that although change might sound appropriate and the right thing to do at the time, we need to ensure that whatever changes and schemes the Government put money behind are sustainable over the long term.

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The Minister has referred more than once to the fact that the Government are looking at the issue which has been raised by my noble friend Lord Dubs but he has not said what action they propose to take to reduce the number of diesel vehicles. I am still not entirely clear whether the Government envisage taking further action or not. The Minister has referred to what the Government have already done, but are they looking at taking further action? If so, by when will we know what that action is likely to be?

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My Lords, to continue on the sustainable theme, I am inclined to say “shortly”, but I will not do so. As the noble Lord is aware—I have already alluded to it—the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, supported by the Secretary of State for Transport, will publish the new air quality plan later this month. That is to be a consultation and will provide the time and the opportunity to consider the issues. I encourage all noble Lords to contribute to the consultation to ensure that when the final plan is published in the summer, it reflects the concerns that have rightly been raised in your Lordships’ House.

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If my noble friend accepts, as he did earlier, that gridlock can lead to extra pollution, does he not accept that the proliferation of cycle lanes has made an enormous contribution to gridlock, stagnation and therefore pollution?

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My noble friend again makes a forceful point and I am sure that the Mayor of London, among others, will take note of it.