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Pollution: Vehicle Emissions

Volume 788: debated on Monday 15 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce levels of pollution caused by vehicle emissions in London and other larger cities.

My Lords, we have committed £3.5 billion for air quality and cleaner transport, including investment to support the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and to reduce bus emissions. We are implementing tougher real driving emissions tests and helping local authorities to tackle pollution hotspots. We work closely with the mayor, who is responsible for air quality in London, and we will publish our plans for the pathway to zero-emission road vehicles and a new clean air strategy later this year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her encouraging Answer, but why is pollution still so bad? According to King’s College London, 9,400 people die a year and thousands more suffer lung diseases caused by traffic congestion. Average speed has slowed down from 12 miles per hour to seven miles per hour, which is hardly progress. Does the Minister agree that disastrous traffic management is causing not only pollution but mental stress and loss to, for and of business? Perhaps despite their worthiness, there is a need for better qualified planners on TfL and local councils. Will Her Majesty’s Government, who are ultimately responsible, encourage the new Minister, Jo Johnson, to put a black cab driver, who would understand traffic problems, on the board as his brother Boris did years ago?

My Lords, air pollution poses the biggest environmental threat to public health, and it is a particular threat to the elderly, the young and those with existing health issues. My noble friend makes a very sensible proposal to have a black cab driver, an expert in roads and routes, on the TfL board. I will certainly pass that suggestion on to the new Minister for London. I know he is looking forward to working closely with the mayor on many issues, including how to tackle air quality.

My Lords, does the Minister feel that pollution in London and our major cities is being improved or made worse by the Government’s decision to freeze fuel duty for the past seven years, while public transport fares in London, as in other major cities, have increased during that period by between 15% and 50%?

My Lords, many drivers obviously welcome the freeze in fuel duty, but we have seen an increase in cars on the roads. Air quality has improved significantly, but there is increasing evidence of impacts on public health. We are investing in vehicle retrofitting, ultra-low emission vehicles, cycling and walking and are implementing tougher real driving emissions tests. Later this year, we will publish our clean air strategy to outline how we can tackle air pollution more widely.

My Lords, will my noble friend herself meet with some black cab drivers? If she does, will she listen very carefully to what they say has been the result of reducing the lanes on our major roads in London, caused very largely by the creation of cycle lanes?

My Lords, I would be happy to meet some black cab drivers with my noble friend. The construction of bike lanes and bus lanes and the pedestrianisation of many roads has reduced the available space. Of course, cycle lanes are welcome in order to protect cyclists and encourage cycling. I understand that they have increased congestion, but we want to encourage people to cycle.

My Lords, is the Minister certain that all vehicles pay a sufficiently high road tax when driving in large cities? Is this tax geared to the size of the vehicle involved?

My Lords, vehicle excise duty was reformed on 1 April 2017 in order to make it fairer to motorists, to strengthen the incentives to buy the cleanest cars and to ensure that those who can afford a premium vehicle pay more. To encourage manufacturers to bring the next generation of diesels to the market quicker, we have introduced a temporary levy on diesel cars.

My Lords, the Government are being sued for the third time over the failure of their plans to tackle the air quality issue as fast as possible. The current plan requires no action in 45 of the local authorities that have identified illegal levels of air pollution. Does the Minister accept that every local authority with air pollution problems should be required to take urgent action to reduce the pollution caused by traffic?

I agree that every local authority must do what it can to reduce pollution caused by traffic. The noble Baroness is right that although we meet the vast majority of targets, we are one of 17 EU member states that are not meeting the nitrogen dioxide limits. The main reason for that is the lower than expected reduction in emissions from diesel vehicles. We have a plan for tackling the roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, which we published last year, and have issued directives to 28 local authorities outside London. They are already drawing on the £255 million fund which we have made available to try to bring improvements as quickly as possible.

My Lords, to come back to the question not only of taxi drivers but of all motor traffic, the reduction of lanes which traffic can travel down means that more cars are taking longer journeys than ever before at slower speeds. The evidence is of course that the internal combustion engine is less efficient and pollutes more at slow speeds, particularly when it is idling. Can the Minister give us government figures on the evidence of pollution being greater before bike lanes are introduced than afterwards? This is an important issue in the future planning of our cities.

I am afraid I do not have those figures to hand but I will certainly see if they are available and write to the noble Lord. On combustion engines, we have committed to support the uptake of low-emission vehicles and are investing in alternative fuels. We have also introduced a clean air fund to target areas which need that help.