I beg to move,
That this House has considered a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I also have great pleasure in leading this debate. The good attendance shows the strength of feeling for implementing a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme and tackling air pollution problems. In my speech, I shall touch on why we need a scrappage scheme, outline how such a scheme would complement the Government’s new air quality plan, and suggest how systems could be designed and targeted at the dirtiest diesel engines.
Why do we need a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme? I think that everyone here knows how we got to this point. The previous Government said that diesel cars should attract less vehicle tax than petrol equivalents because of their better carbon dioxide performance, and the present Government carried on in very much the same vein.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for saying that, because there is a narrative that this was a perverse act by the previous Government. Can he confirm that in fact it was supported by all the other parties at the time—as he has rightly conceded, the policy was continued by the present Government—because CO2 reduction was seen as the overriding imperative?
Heaven forbid that I should say the last Government were perverse. It was the acquired wisdom of the day that we should reduce CO2, and diesel produced more per litre than petrol, so encouraging diesel was the obvious way to go. There were some rumblings at the time, if I remember rightly, but I have to accept that we did not change the policy when we came to power. Of course, we have now seen the new science and seen the light, and therefore need to take action on particulates and on nitrogen oxides in particular.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for intervening again, but he says that we have seen the evidence. Can he tell us the breakdown of emissions of particulates and NOx from various modes of transport, whether buses, trucks or private vehicles, and particularly as compared with other sources? I will mention a number of them—
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has started his speech already. The figure I can give him is that in the hotspots in our inner cities, some 60% of the nitric oxide comes from transport. It is quite difficult to break that down and say how much comes from buses, taxes, lorries, delivery vans and cars, but there is no doubt that tackling the private car, particularly in those spots, will help to make a real difference in reducing NOx emissions. Transport is a particular issue, as is the older diesel engine. We cannot ignore what is going on; we need to take action.
Motorists were encouraged to switch to diesel through changes to the vehicle taxation system. We now know that that was a policy mistake. The uptake of diesel cars rocketed. The proportion of diesel vehicles on British roads increased from 20% in 2005 to 37.8% in 2015. That was a deliberate Government policy. Between 2005 and 2015, we did see cleaner diesel vehicles, but naturally they still give off particulates and NOx.
In turn, the number of extra diesel vehicles has caused a host of air quality problems. Diesel engines emit a higher level of nitrogen oxides. Those gases cause or worsen health conditions such as asthma and bronchitis and even increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. They are linked to tens of thousands of premature deaths in Britain every year.
As a result, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which I chair, branded poor air quality a “public health emergency” in our recent report to the Government. Four in 10 local authorities breached legal nitrogen dioxide limits last year. That shocking statistic shows the scale of the problem.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that many diesel vehicles give off six to eight times or even more nitrogen oxide compared with petrol equivalents, but in that context does he agree that although it is commendable that Governments have focused on carbon reduction targets, and that may be the driver behind this policy, good environmental policy is also about looking at the other pollutant effects of cars and particularly diesel, and that the push towards electric cars may well be an important part of the long-term solution?
I very much agree, because I think that any scrappage scheme must be very much linked to electric vehicles and certainly hybrid vehicles. I see little point in converting people from diesel back to petrol, especially if we use taxpayers’ money to do that.
I support everything that the hon. Gentleman is saying. He knows that today I am publishing my Clean Air Bill, which deals with wider mapping to provide infrastructure for electric and hydrogen, more powers for local authorities and a broader fiscal strategy to confront the escalating number of people dying because of diesel emissions. Will he lend that Bill his support—I know he has put his name to it—today?
The hon. Gentleman’s Bill is a good idea, because we all have to work together on air quality to lengthen the lives of many of our constituents and certainly of many people in the hotspots. That is where electric vehicles, the charging points, taxis, buses and all those things come in. We need to look at hydrogen cars; we need to look at a whole range of vehicles, and perhaps sometimes we need to take people out of vehicles altogether. Norman Tebbit’s “On your bike” may have a whole new meaning. If people go to work on a bike, that is good for the environment as well as for getting to work.
I thank our esteemed Chairman of the EFRA Committee for giving way. Let us say that a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme is implemented. Does he envisage that it will be rolled out across the whole United Kingdom, or will it be left to the devolved nations to sort it out themselves?
That is probably a decision for my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Government. We have such an esteemed Minister here this morning. As I was his Parliamentary Private Secretary at one stage, I especially know what an esteemed Minister he is and I expect to hear some very good and detailed policy from him in our debate this morning, so I look forward to his response. I suspect that it will be down to the devolved nations to roll out such a scheme, but I also suspect that devolved nations will be looking for a little cash to do that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that many drivers of diesel cars will feel that they were encouraged to buy those cars, but now they face the prospect of local authorities seeking to fleece them for taxes in order to raise money to plug their own funding gaps, and that they will feel that that is deeply unfair?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The idea behind the scrappage scheme is that it will not only help with air quality but provide some recompense for people, in that those who were moved towards diesel will get a carrot as well as a stick. A stick, in the form of a £12.50 charge, will be applied here in London in 2019. I do not necessarily disagree with it, but a poorer family, who may not be able to afford another car, do need some help. A scheme such as the one under discussion is part of the balance that must be struck. As I said, people were encouraged down the route of diesel. We also have to get over a certain amount of scepticism among the public. They will be saying, “For years you were saying, ‘Drive diesels.’ Now you say, ‘Don’t drive diesels; drive hybrids and electric cars.’” That is absolutely right, but we have to explain exactly why we are going down that route, and a scrappage scheme would help to ease the pain.
My hon. Friend is being unbelievably generous to us, and we must not carry on trespassing on his generosity. So far he has not mentioned gas. Like him I am a huge fan of electric vehicles, but does he accept that for heavy goods vehicles, refuse collection vehicles and so on, gas-powered vehicles could provide an important interim stepping stone, given that at the moment electric cannot shift that weight of vehicle in an economic fashion?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The conversion to gas can reduce the particulates back to about 60% to 70% of what they were previously, so a big gain is to be had there. I also understand that most lorries would have to carry their full capacity load weight in batteries in order to drive themselves, so at the moment the electric lorry is not an option. We will probably build towards some hybrids in the future. We also have to look at taxis; we want electric taxis, but for those that cannot become electric in the first instance we should perhaps convert them to gas and then to electric. It is the same with delivery vans and other vehicles. Part of our lifestyle these days is that we order a lot online and find a lot of vans going round. This is about a whole combination of those things.
I actually converted one of my own vehicles to gas. Usually, converting a vehicle is something like between £1,500 and £2,000, so it is not ridiculous money to convert to gas. All the bus companies and taxi firms will do all the costings and will know firmly how much it is. As I said, a certain amount of help is therefore needed to help the commercial sector to convert to the new world. Otherwise they will not do it because of the economics.
The Government have twice lost in court over their failure to tackle poor air quality. In November, the High Court forced the Government to come up with a new, better air quality plan. The draft will be published imminently—by 24 April at the latest—so we may hear something on that matter from the Minister this morning. Already, from this October, pre-2006 diesels and petrol vehicles will face a £10 charge when they enter London at peak periods. It is expected that diesel drivers will be hit hard. Separately, the Budget Red Book stated that the Government would consider appropriate tax treatment for diesel vehicles ahead of the 2017 Budget. Diesel owners who bought their vehicles in good faith are expected to be hit with higher bills.
Of course, I understand the need for tough action. These new measures are the stick to reduce diesel vehicle numbers, but what about the carrot? Where are the incentives to encourage drivers to move away from diesel? The Prime Minister recently said,
“I’m very conscious of the fact that past governments have encouraged people to buy diesel cars and we need to take that into account”.
That is where the case for a targeted diesel scrappage scheme comes in; it perfectly complements the Government’s clean air zone plans.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is being extremely generous with his time. Given that most of the concentration of nitrous oxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulates is in urban areas, does he think that in any scrappage scheme a priority should be given to people living in urban areas? It seems slightly generous and pointless to support people who own diesels in the middle of North Yorkshire, say.
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. Yes, priority does need to be given to the inner city, because that is where we are particularly trying to improve the quality—in the hotspots of poor air quality. There is perhaps also a need to help beyond the inner city, because—this is the point I have been making—people bought their diesels in good faith. Certainly, there should be a targeted approach. One of the problems with the previous scrappage scheme was that it was to boost car sales at that time—it is a lovely position for middle England to decide, “Let’s change our car.” In some ways, there may be a need to target partly by income as well. If we are not careful, a lot of the people who we most want to trade in their older diesels may be those who can least afford a new car. That is perhaps beyond my pay grade, but it is not beyond the pay grade of the Minister, who will reply in a minute.
Good; I look forward to the Minister’s words of wisdom. The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) raises an interesting point—it is the hotspots in particular that we need to sort.
Road transport still counted for 34% of the UK’s NOx emissions in 2015, and the rate of reduction from the sector has slowed down because of the increased contribution from diesel vehicles. Turning to the Government’s plans, I was therefore disappointed that a scrappage scheme was not announced at the Budget. Of course, we are a little hopeful that something may be announced very soon. The Transport Secretary stated on “The Andrew Marr Show” in February that the Government were considering a scrappage scheme, but there have been no further announcements. I know that there are concerns about the costs of any scheme, and that is why it should be targeted and proportionate. It can be a key weapon in the Government’s armoury in tackling air pollution problems.
What is more, a scrappage scheme is very popular with the public. A recent survey of over 20,000 AA members showed that seven in 10 backed the policy, rising to three quarters among young people. A separate survey published by the think-tank Bright Blue just two weeks ago showed that 67% of Conservatives backed a scrappage scheme. Ministers, this is a policy with significant public support, especially as we move, dare I say it, towards a general election—that was not in my speech.
What would a scrappage scheme look like? First, it would mean replacement by ultra-low emission vehicles. Any potential scrappage scheme should have a stringent condition on the replacement vehicle. It should mandate users to swap their vehicles for an ultra-low emission vehicle or other forms of transport.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and congratulate him on securing the debate. He is outlining some of the things that he hopes will happen. At the weekend we saw some publicity regarding the explosion in credit for purchasing new and recently second-hand cars. Does he agree that the last thing we want to see is a further explosion of credit on the back of an issue that has resulted from the expansion of diesel cars over the past 20 years?
That is always the problem. Naturally, in order to buy a new car, people often need credit. I suppose the argument is that if a certain amount of support is available for a new vehicle, people will not need to borrow quite as much credit to get that vehicle. I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but we have to balance that with the fact that we need to improve air quality dramatically. That is why a scheme should perhaps be particularly targeted towards our inner city.
What I was talking about could include a public transport ticket, a car club membership, a rail season ticket or cleaner transport such as a new bicycle. A scrappage scheme may not necessarily be just about people changing their cars. I could do with a new bicycle to come in from Battersea every morning—it would be ideal. The scheme would work in a similar way to the pollution reduction voucher scheme operating in southern California. The whole idea of this morning’s debate is to think slightly outside the box. The scheme also has a potential to provide a substantial boost to the UK’s emerging electric vehicle market.
Secondly, the scheme would be means-tested. I do not want a scrappage scheme becoming a subsidy entirely for the middle classes. Households should not just be able to trade in multiple diesels for a cash subsidy. Instead, the Government should consider targeting a scrappage scheme at poorer households or those earning less than 60% of the median UK household income in particular.
My hon. Friend is kind to give way again. I congratulate him—as I should have done earlier—on securing this important debate. As he has outlined, one of the challenges is making sure that the incentives support lower-income families. Does he agree that we will need to learn lessons from past incentives that failed to do so, such as the green deal, if we are to make the scheme effective and help people in the poorer parts of our cities?
I am sure that the Government, especially the Treasury, will be looking at this issue particularly closely, first because the best use of taxpayers’ cash is to target those who most need it and secondly because it may be possible to widen the scrappage scheme while ensuring that those on lower incomes receive the most support. There are ways of tailoring the scrappage scheme to do exactly what we want, which is to get older diesels out and to help those, particularly those on lower incomes, who cannot otherwise afford to do so.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s generosity in giving way. Does he accept that there is a strong case that the motor manufacturers, not just the taxpayer and the consumer, should make a major contribution towards the cost of such a scheme? Volkswagen has had to pay billions of dollars in the United States because of its cheat devices; we know that emissions on the road were at five or six times their supposed laboratory levels, and a lot of cars in France, Germany and elsewhere have been withdrawn for a refit. Is there not a strong case that the Government should go to the manufacturers for a contribution towards the scheme?
I know that the Minister has had some strong discussions with Volkswagen. It is not just Volkswagen; car manuals often give a figure for miles per gallon and then a true figure that is about two-thirds of the ideal figure. They will say that the car does 60 mpg when it really does 45 mpg or 40 mpg, so there has been a certain amount of deception there. I also think that companies such as Volkswagen could buy themselves some public esteem by helping to support a scheme for moving towards electric vehicles. Not only should the Government talk to Volkswagen and other vehicle manufacturers; it would be good for those companies, which have manufactured so many diesels, to say, “We can help to convert people away from diesel.” The hon. Gentleman makes a good point.
Further to the point about Volkswagen, does my hon. Friend agree that there has also been a loss of tax revenue and that the Government should seek to get it back from Volkswagen and others? We taxed these vehicles believing that they were much lower-emission than they really were.
My hon. Friend raises a good point. It is not just that people have paid less tax because they and the Government believed that their vehicle was emitting less. Those people were also sold vehicles that did not achieve the emissions levels that the manufacturer said they did, which raises the question of whether not only the Government but the individual motorists who bought those cars are entitled to some compensation. I suspect that some cases will end up in the courts, and it will be interesting to see what the courts have to say about them.
The Government should particularly consider targeting a scrappage scheme at poorer households and those that earn less than 60% of the median UK household income. They could taper support, with lower-income households entitled to a higher level of support for exchanging their vehicles.
My third proposal for a new scrappage scheme is that it should be targeted. I would limit it to the 5.6 million diesel cars on British roads that were registered before 2005, which are on Euro standards 1, 2, 3 and 4 and have higher NOx levels of at least 0.25 mg per km. This would complement current clean air zone plans to charge vehicles of Euro 4 standard and below, as well as the London T-Charge that will begin this October. A scrappage scheme would give diesel owners the chance to replace their older, dirtier vehicles before clean air zone charging is implemented, which is quite important.
Another option would be to geographically target the scheme at this country’s pollution hotspots. The think tank IPPR—the Institute for Public Policy Research—has estimated that there are around 900,000 Euro 4 or older diesel vehicles in the 16 top pollution hotspots in the country. By creating a targeted scrappage scheme, the Government could help to remove more than half the dirtiest vehicles from the worst polluting hotspots.
My fourth proposal relates to funding. The previous scrappage scheme in 2009 was targeted at cars that were more than 10 years old. A vehicle could be scrapped in exchange for a £2,000 discount—£1,000 from the Government and £1,000 from car manufacturers. I propose that a new scrappage scheme could follow a similar model. Funding should also be capped and time-limited, like the last scheme, which set deadlines of February 2010 or £400 million, whichever was achieved first. If the Government earmarked £500 million for the scheme, that could take nearly 10% of the 5 million dirtiest diesel vehicles off our roads. Evidence from the previous scheme shows that it was generally the oldest and therefore more polluting cars that were being replaced. Moreover, past schemes have generally brought forward investment decisions.
I know that Ministers have baulked at the costs of a scrappage scheme, but they should not be put off. It need not be an open-ended funding commitment. A targeted scheme capped at £500 million would be a real tonic to get dirty diesels off the road quickly. Even better, they would be replaced with ultra-low emission vehicles or a clean transport option. The Government still have vast air quality problems and the last thing we want is for them to end up having to pay fines. It would be better to go forward with something positive.
I will finish with two thoughts. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has called air quality her Department’s top priority. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has said that electric vehicles are at the heart of the Government’s new industrial strategy. I cannot think of a policy that would better target both of those aims. A targeted, means-tested scrappage scheme in which diesel vehicles could be swapped for an ultra-low emission vehicle or a cleaner transport option should be a key weapon in the Government’s armoury for tackling air pollution. It would be the perfect complement to the new clean air zones strategy. I look forward to hearing from the Minister and other colleagues.
As I mentioned earlier, I will publish my Clean Air Bill today. I should put on record that I completely agree with the sentiments and words of the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). We all recognise that we have limited resources, so a targeted, capped scheme would send the right signal to consumers and producers about the future and put the focus in the right place. The electric car company Tesla, which produced just 76,000 cars last year, is worth $49 billion—$3 billion more than Ford, which produced 6.6 million cars. In other words, the marketplace is ready for these changes, and the Government need to facilitate them.
My Bill sets out a wider plan to provide a hydrogen infrastructure, an electric infrastructure and new powers for local authorities to get the evidence on localised air pollution, in order to have evidence-based restrictions and charges that protect the elderly, young people and general communities, alongside a fiscal strategy. This is a brave and sensible first step in that endeavour.
My hon. Friend talked about the market deciding. Which market is he talking about? Is it the bubble stock market, maybe reflecting fashionable thought, or is it the actual car market, which shows overwhelmingly that people are buying from the mainstream manufacturers?
Obviously, we can influence the market. More than 50% of new cars are now diesel. Margaret Thatcher knew about the problems of particulates and there was a judgment call on public health versus carbon. Since then, the problems with NOx have grown. The fact is that the amount of particulates and NOx being produced is much, much greater than people previously thought, partly because of the deception of Volkswagen and others. This is a public health catastrophe.
I will present the case for my Bill this afternoon with support from the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners and UNICEF. People will know that last year’s report by the Royal College of Physicians found that 40,000 premature deaths were due to these emissions, as well as presenting emerging evidence about foetuses suffering long-term damage and about the damage to the neurology, and general physical and mental health, of young children in urban spaces, particularly in poor areas. Those children are being poisoned, which has a disastrous impact on the rest of their lives. I am not prepared, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) appears to be, just to go on with business as normal, backing the poison of the current industry, which seeks to maximise profits.
It is the function of the Government to regulate markets in the interests of the public and it is an outrage that parents are unable to protect their own children, and that—as we speak—hundreds of thousands of children are in playgrounds enjoying themselves but inadvertently inhaling poisonous fumes. We need to take action and I am glad that we are moving forward with this first step; I hope that the Government agree.
I agree with the general thrust of my hon. Friend’s argument, but we should not let off the Government and all the parties in this House who supported the incentives for diesel. The health risks were known more than 25 years ago. A report by the then Environment Department in 1993, a piece in 2001 by the European Respiratory Journal and other sources all pointed out the health problems of NOx and particulates. People got the balance wrong between the perceived threat of carbon dioxide and the real threat of those poisons, but we should not pretend that there was ignorance of this issue in the past; there was not.
That is a point well made. I mentioned in passing that Margaret Thatcher and subsequent Governments were aware all along of these public health issues. Ironically, it is also the case that, with VW and the like, lorries often produce less NOx than cars. The reason for that is that defeat devices were found in lorries in America, but for some reason the authorities there did not realise that they were being deceived on cars on such a colossal scale.
Of course, ClientEarth has taken the Government to court, as we do not even satisfy minimum EU standards, let alone World Health Organisation standards, and I very much hope that as and when Brexit happens we will ensure that air quality standards are legally enforceable and at least at the level of the minimum EU standard, while moving towards the WHO standards.
These are difficult issues. I appreciate that people have bought cars in good faith. They feel that the current Government, which has been in power for seven years, the previous Labour Government and even the Government before that should have alerted them to these problems, and there is a move, alongside what is being said, perhaps to index fuel duties differentially. In the case of diesel, the real cost of diesel may not go up because of upwards inflation and because the cost of other fuels do not go up. Basically, the signals should be given that people would be wise to move forward.
I will ask the Minister a couple of technical questions. I would like him to comment on displacement issues regarding the targeting of the scrappage scheme; obviously, there are various incentives, which will affect different groups. I think we all share the view that many poorer communities will suffer the worst impacts of air pollution on their children. In addition, many poorer people have the worst cars, which they cannot afford to replace. Therefore, I welcome the progressive thrust of this debate, and to allow others to speak I will conclude my remarks there.
I will depart slightly from the prevailing tenor of this discussion. I declare an interest, as one of the 11.7 million drivers of a diesel vehicle—in fact, I am a long-standing driver of a diesel vehicle—and as a Member of Parliament who represents one of the poorest areas of the country, but one that is at the heart of the British motor industry.
One of the things that I found slightly disturbing about the contribution by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who is the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, who is someone I hold in high regard, was about the cost of this scheme. When I asked him about costs, he just talked about the cost of converting an individual vehicle. There was no mention of what the overall cost to the Exchequer would be, nor about how we would deal with the infrastructure cost. For example, he talked about gas vehicles, but what would be the cost of creating a gas infrastructure across the country? Part of the essence of any scheme must be a national infrastructure to back it up, otherwise it would be exceedingly unattractive to individual motorists, notwithstanding the fact that, for buses and major truck fleets for example, it might make an important contribution.
One thing I found interesting was when the hon. Gentleman talked about fines. I was really surprised that he showed so little confidence in the ability of his Prime Minister to negotiate an effective Brexit that he thinks the EU will still be in a position to fine us.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an important point about cost, but many car manufacturers have a global market, so much of the innovation, particularly in the electric and hybrid car market, has already been achieved, because other countries have different regimes for taxing cars and providing incentives. That will reduce the cost of the roll-out of electric cars in the UK, which will be very helpful to us.
I am not entirely sure I follow that. I will break it down into two areas. One is about infrastructure cost. Whatever contributions have been made by the Toyota car company, for example, in creating a very successful hybrid vehicle, that does not alter the fact that people will need an infrastructure to charge up those vehicles. Although the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who introduced this debate, may well be able to plug in his vehicle on his country estate, he may have noticed that in urban areas such as mine there is very tight terraced housing and a lot of high-rise flats—and an increasing number, by the way, of apartments in our urban areas. I would be interested if he could tell us how people will be able to charge their vehicles, what the infrastructure cost will be and what Treasury contribution will be required. A decision may have to be made, but at the very least people need to know what the overall cost will be.
If I could just put the right hon. Gentleman right, I do not have a “country estate”; I have a farm. There is a little bit of a difference, and I was also a working farmer before I got here. Let me make that abundantly clear.
To be serious, the Government are already rolling out an infrastructure for charging points; we also want the fast charging points, so that people can charge up their cars quickly. As far as gas is concerned, there is an infrastructure out there already. A lot of garages supply liquid gas. There are probably not as many as we might need, but there is quite an infrastructure for gas out there already, so that does not need to be reinvented.
I think the hon. Gentleman is underplaying the position. I acknowledge the fact that he is a farmer—which is why I threw it in the way I did—but I would ask whether he and his neighbours use red diesel. There was no mention in his contribution as to whether the enormous discount on red diesel should be included in our considerations. Again, I note that there was no figure—no estimate—for how much all of this will cost.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) mentioned the cap of half a billion pounds for the scrappage scheme, but if the signal from the Government to the market is that having points for hydrogen and gas is the direction of travel, the market will accelerate the infrastructure provision. As has been pointed out, there is a gas and an electric infrastructure. We need to pump prime a hydrogen infrastructure and the market will invest. The old-style socialist view that everything has to be paid for by the state is not the case.
But we are talking about dramatic change, with 11.7 million diesel cars, let alone trucks, buses and so on. The idea that the current infrastructure or even a massively ramped-up infrastructure will be able to deal with that without major Government investment seems entirely fanciful.
In a world where there are around 30 million cars in the United Kingdom and 11,000 electric charging points, of which about 800 are fast-charging, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that there is some way to go and that it is important to have a step change to the electric future?
If that is the case, I have to ask the hon. Gentleman how much that would cost and who would pay for it. One of the problems we have—I know this as a former Transport Minister—is that those who create policy, whether they are in the Department for Transport, Westminster City Council, London City Hall or even Birmingham Council House, overwhelmingly have clerical jobs by definition and travel in on public transport. Certainly in the London region, they travel overwhelmingly on rail. That is their mindset, and the mindset of many of the press lobby as well. Look how fascinated they are every time there are any problems on the railway, as compared with the situation on the roads.
If we go outside London—when I say London, I mean central London, because this applies very much to the London suburbs and the peripheral towns around London—and look at all the Government data, although there is a marginal shift at the moment, people overwhelmingly travel to work by road transport, whether by bus or in cars, which make up a significant proportion. That is how people get to work. People may fancifully say that people can get on their bike to do that, but if they are going 10 miles away to do shift work at a factory or a hospital, or if they are going to a building site carrying their tools, that is not a realistic option.
The problem is that the interests of London and the policies that affect London start to impact on the rest of the country. Even within London, there are all those builders coming in—that steady stream of vehicles travelling in on the motorways bringing in those who are constructing the city—and we are looking at significantly penalising them. That is why I asked the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton what actual assessment there has been of the problem, breaking it down. In his contribution, he said that there is no doubt that private vehicles contribute the bulk of the pollution. My council, Sandwell Council, did a study of the Bearwood Road only a couple of years ago. It found that buses formed 8% of the vehicles on Bearwood Road and contributed 57% of the pollutants being emitted there. It may be very sensible for him to say that we should target the problem by providing a subsidy to the bus companies—rather than taking away the subsidies from bus companies, as this Government have been doing, threatening them—and actually having a bus scrappage scheme to take the older buses out of the system. That would be a perfectly realistic way of looking at it.
Just before my right hon. Friend gets too carried away with making Brian Souter even richer than he already is from public subsidy, I would like to bring him back to the very sensible point he was making about infrastructure. I recently asked the Department parliamentary questions about the capacity of the electricity generating board to provide electricity if we moved over to a fully electric motorised fleet. Quite simply, we are nowhere near that capacity. The Department has not thought that through.
That is absolutely right, and I thank my hon. Friend for that. I suspect that the transmission capacity, particularly locally, will be affected in the same way. Equally, we have to look at the availability of petrol if we remove a great chunk of the diesel market, which may or may not also happen in the rest of Europe. What discussions has the Minister had with his European counterparts? The duty levied on diesel there is considerably lower, which is why they have much lower diesel prices in the EU. Reference was made to the European Commission putting the UK Government on notice and our Supreme Court responding to that, but it is interesting to note that the European Commission also mentioned a whole number of other countries, including Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Is there any common factor among those countries, apart from them being the major industrial countries of the EU? I therefore find it rather strange that we are looking at a major upheaval that does not seem to be mirrored by our European counterparts without getting proper figures in an impact assessment, and at a time when we are considering the uncertainties of Brexit. Apart from one or two towns and cities in one or two countries, there seems to be no similar reaction from other countries.
Equally, there seems to be no consideration as to whether, as was rightly said earlier, we could actually have alternative fuels for many heavy goods vehicles. There is a reason why, across the whole world, goods vehicles are overwhelmingly diesel. It has to do with torque, traction and so on, and that applies to many builders’ vehicles, which are for lifting and generate power to do that. That would not be possible with an electric vehicle—certainly not with the current state of technology.
Electric vehicles may have some minor advantage when sitting in traffic, but many of those arguing for this proposal should perhaps be looking at better traffic management. With a number of cities, and particularly London, quite a bit of the congestion has been aided and abetted by the construction of cycle lanes. Boris Johnson’s cycle lanes have generated congestion in central London, as taxi drivers and others will all attest, so we need to be looking at how we can deal with the problem in its various segments. With petroleum, it is true that we can keep cracking the oil in different stages and get more petroleum out, but that adds considerably to the cost—I will come to the cost to the individual in one second, after I give way to the Chairman of the Select Committee.
I am finding the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution very interesting, because he is going into great detail on all the problems we have, but he is then saying that bicycles are causing problems. Surely people on bicycles are not emitting any emissions at all, other than breathing in and out as they are riding along. It is no good coming out with a whole list of things that are wrong with the proposal. I would like to see a bit of a more positive approach to the whole argument.
I may be paraphrasing my right hon. Friend, but he said that the EU did not really care about the issue. My understanding is that there was a move for an EU air quality regulator that was blocked by the British in some sort of dodgy deal related to avoiding a banking regulator. There is movement towards air quality improvement and innovation in Europe. In the Council of Europe, in which I sit, an urban air quality study is going on. Given that 3 million people are dying across the globe, with 400,000 in Europe, there is an imperative to develop sustainable transport technology. The thrust of his argument seems to be—
In that case, I will speed up, Mr Chope. A considerable number die as a result of air quality because of cooking with solid fuel in enclosed spaces, particularly in Africa, which is certainly something we should look at and is certainly something to do with photovoltaic and storage. Also, on the assessments and the figure of 40,000, Roger Harrabin of the BBC has said that it could be anything between a fifth or five times as much as that. It is not about cardiac arrests or even lung cancer, but about the average reduced periods of life. A real study of the data is needed, accepting that there is a problem, but that this is about scoping it.
There is also the issue of sources of generation. In coastal areas, particularly in ports, what is the contribution of shipping to the numbers of particulates? What is the contribution of diesel trains? Perhaps the Minister will explain why the Government are cutting back on some of the electrification, which will mean more diesel trains going into urban areas. What is the contribution of power stations, central heating boilers and the burning of solid fuel? Interestingly, what is the contribution, as I mentioned earlier, of urban incinerators, of which we have a large number to deal with the problems of waste? Also, what is the contribution of tar, which is believed to be considerable, particularly in terms of small particulates?
As for the scrappage question, it is all very well to say we will give somebody £1,000, but £1,000 towards what? Towards buying a new vehicle? What does that say to someone who needs his car to get to work and who has probably already seen a drop in its value of about £2,000? What does it say to people who are asset poor and who need their vehicle to get to work? If we give them £1,000, who will lend them the money to buy new vehicles? Will they buy vehicles from further up the chain? There may be answers, but figures came there none during this debate.
What about taxi drivers? Birmingham City Council is proposing a purge of diesel taxis. Taxi driving is entry-level employment for many in this country in all communities. Are we telling them we will take them off the road and put them on the dole? That is certainly not an attractive proposition for many constituents who are active in the taxi trade.
I have already mentioned the question of where people will charge their cars. Even if we have fast chargers, how many can we put through the average service station on the motorway compared with how many can fill up there? How many can we have at any other service station? What about city centre areas? I accept there is probably a lower percentage of car ownership in some of those areas, but there are still a hell of a lot of cars. How will we have a charging system on the congested urban streetscape of Britain? And what will we do in isolated and rural areas?
Mr Chope, I am aware that we want to hear from the Front-Bench spokespeople, and, as you rightly drew to my attention, one other speaker wishes to participate, so I shall end now. This is a big debate. I do not think we should move forward with disconnected local schemes or without a well-thought-out, well-costed Treasury-backed scheme. We should not rush into this. The matters are serious. They are about international competitiveness, people’s financial welfare, and, as people have rightly said, people’s health and welfare. This is a big issue. We should not go ahead on prime ministerial whim or just on what local government decides. We need a proper national debate and proper national answers.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this important debate. It was fascinating to listen to the speech by the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), who set out in pithy terms the policy issues concerned with this matter. I draw attention to my declarations in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Also, I chair the all-party group for fair fuel.
Pollution is a serious problem, but it is important that we look at the science and the statistics and do not go around the place scaremongering. We must not allow the people who for a long time have not been in favour of cars to find another excuse to attack motorists and to seek to visit extra taxes upon them. So when we look at the serious problem of NOx we need to look at what has happened to pollution over the past decade and beyond, because it is revealing that NOx pollution levels have halved in the past decade. They have gone from 1.6 million tonnes in 2005 to 0.9 million tonnes in 2015.
Particulates are also down. Between 1990 and 2015 the most harmful particulate emissions reduced by 47% in the UK and PM10 fell by 51%. I think we should spend a little less time beating ourselves up and a little more time congratulating ourselves and our nation on the advances we have made. Much has been done, but there is much yet to do, and I want to address what we need to do next.
The hon. Gentleman always looks on the positive side of things. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs figures show that there has been a levelling off, but they are still hugely down. The hon. Gentleman should try to be more of a glass half full sort of person and look at the progress that has been made. He has promoted the Clean Air Bill, which, from the way he talks about it, will attack motorists, diesels and cars. However, let us look at the scale of the problem in the round. Let us look at the science rather than the rhetoric. Let us look at the numbers. What percentage of nitrogen oxide pollution in London comes from diesel cars? The Labour Mayor of London proposes to try to fleece motorists out of £20 every time they visit the city. According to the London Assembly Environment Committee’s report, the percentage is 11%. Separate figures from Transport for London indicate 12% from the diesel car. Some 750,000 diesel cars in London produce that amount.
Why has there not been any focus on the other 90% of the problem? The risk is that we only attack the motorists who thought they were doing the right thing when they bought the cars, because they were advised to do so. They were advised that it was a clean, environment-friendly thing to do. We are at risk of unfairly targeting and demonising those people, and of ignoring the other 90% of the problem. If we focus on 10% of the problem, we risk not looking at the other 90%. So what is in that 90% that needs to be in the air quality plans? I hope the hon. Gentleman will talk about that when he discusses his Bill and will look at the science and statistics and not just go after the poor motorists, many of whom live in his constituency. Let us look at where the problem comes from.
The answer is that 8% comes from rail: ageing trains chuffing up fumes at Paddington. Some 14% comes from non-road mobile machinery: generators on building sites. The system does not seem to allow plugging them into the main grid, which would be the obvious thing to do, so we have to have diesel generators. Why has action not been taken on that? Why have we not heard about that from the medical and the green lobby who want to target the motorist? We ought to hear about that. We ought to look at the diggers that do not have the filters that they should have, that do not have the same quality. We ought to clean up our building sites. We ought to look to do that, because if it is important, it is important across the board.
We need to look at non-domestic and domestic gas—gas central heating systems produce nitrogen oxide. So do Transport for London’s buses—10% of nitrogen oxide in London comes from buses, which the right hon. Member for Warley mentioned.
It is very important that we do not demonise diesel drivers and that this is not seen as an opportunity for Labour Mayors and Labour councils up and down the land to fleece motorists with more taxes—many have set out such plans. As the right hon. Member for Warley pointed out, in many cases that would hurt the poorest, who have been priced out of cities, and would be unfair. We should make sure that we have an across-the-board plan to deal with a problem that affects everyone; we should focus not on the 10% but on the 100%. It is my plea that we treat motorists fairly—that we treat ourselves fairly. We should treat the whole problem and all of the pollution. That is how we will have the best chance of making sure we have cleaner air, a cleaner country, cleaner cities and a cleaner nation, for our sake, and the sake of our children.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on securing this debate. I also feel obliged to thank the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), who seemed to hold a debate within the debate and spoke at length. I was not sure if he was arguing against the scrappage scheme or the fact that we need to do a lot more, but some good points were raised—there are other serious issues. Personally, I do not think that should negate the arguments for the diesel scrappage scheme. He also touched on emissions from fuel generation, but I am not sure whether he mentioned biomass. Biomass is subsidised as a renewable energy source, yet its emissions are harmful, so that is certainly something in the wider mix that the Government need to look at.
The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) mentioned other things that cause emissions and touched on generators. There is certainly something wrong when the National Grid is procuring diesel generators as back-up for our energy supply, when we know they emit nitrogen oxide.
However, I agree in general with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton that a diesel scrappage scheme has merit. We have got to where we are because of the law of unintended or unknown consequences of previous Government attempts to reduce CO2 emissions by promoting diesel, which he mentioned, although I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who said that some of the evidence was there and should have been understood and thought about more clearly.
The bottom line is that we now know for a fact that nitrogen oxide emissions are an issue that needs to be tackled. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) gave us some graphic details of the impact of diesel fumes and nitrogen oxide emissions. We know there are roughly 40,000 premature deaths a year. I congratulate him on continuing to push forward his air pollution Bill and wish him good luck.
A UN rapporteur has said that air pollution is a crisis that
“plagues the UK”—
particularly children—and that there is an
“urgent need for political will by the UK government to make timely, measurable and meaningful interventions”.
In November 2016, for the second time in 18 months, the Government lost a court case on their proposals to tackle air pollution, so they cannot stand back and do nothing. We need to take action.
Electric vehicles have been mentioned. Most hon. Members understand that electric vehicles only account for roughly 1% of the stock of cars on the road right now. On the current trajectory, electric vehicles will not be the solution to tackling air pollution, which is why further action is needed.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton spoke about carrot and stick. I agree in general, but I would not want to penalise those people who bought diesel cars in good faith because they were told it would be helpful to the environment and reduce CO2 emissions, and did not have the knowledge that it would cause harmful effects. I support the scrappage scheme, but people should not be penalised. They need to be allowed to trade their cars in. I welcome the comments about particularly supporting those who can least afford it, such as those who run older cars and need help to move on.
Other hon. Members have highlighted that HGVs are an issue, as are transport refrigeration units, which I have mentioned before in relation to electric cars. Transport refrigeration units emit more particle emissions than the main diesel engine itself, so the Government need to look at that. I welcome the Government’s proposal to consult on the use of red diesel, because we should not subsidise the owners of transport refrigeration units to emit harmful particles.
The hon. Member for Swansea West mentioned Volkswagen, which has agreed to settle $4.3 billion in the United States. This Government should be doing more to get money out of Volkswagen, which would go a long way to funding a scrappage scheme, and perhaps also to starting to fund some of the wider infrastructure that the right hon. Member for Warley highlighted. The Government managed to negotiate a deal with Nissan in terms of Brexit, but a joined-up approach in terms of scrappage, trading in diesel cars and looking at wider issues would be much better than a behind-closed-doors deal that nobody actually knows what it contains.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton suggested that the issue might be left to devolved nations, although he did accept that the UK Government would perhaps need to help provide funding. This is purely and squarely a UK Government issue. The original diesel promotion schemes came from the UK Government, so it makes sense that the UK Government should have to rectify the matter. It should not be left to devolved Governments to do that on their own—it needs the support and leadership of the UK Government.
I support the measures. I understand some of the wider points made, and the Government do need to look at air pollution in the wider mix, but a diesel scrappage scheme would be a good start. I would also note that scrappage laws in the European Union are now a green measure, because 95% of cars need to be recycled once scrapped. At least taking cars off the road will not lead to adverse dumping elsewhere, which is good. I caution the Government to make sure we stand by that ethos as we move into the post-Brexit world. We have already heard rumblings from the hard Brexiteers about how we can relax environmental standards. That would certainly be the wrong way to go, especially when tackling air pollution and climate change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I thank the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) for securing this important debate. Having read some of the minutes of his Committee, I can tell that he gives Ministers a hard time—he is exactly the kind of friend any ministerial team needs.
This is a very timely debate, although I have to say that I think it is the first debate in which we have heard only male voices in my short time in this place. I am not quite sure what that tells us, but clearly women and children are among the 40,000 people who, as the Royal College of Physicians tells us, suffer premature death in the UK every year because of these issues. To take one local example, Brixton Road in south London breached its annual air pollution limit for 2017 after just five days. The Government’s continued failure to address the problem meant that they were taken to the Supreme Court.
Labour recognises the need for action. In our view, clean air is a right, not a privilege. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) for the work he is doing on the Clean Air Bill and I note his powerful point about the role that manufacturers should be playing in sorting out some of the problems.
We heard a powerful speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), which was fitting, as he is a former esteemed Transport Minister. He made a wide-ranging set of points. I very much agree about the need to protect hard-working people who need their vehicles to get to work, and his strong plea for robust evidence in the debate.
There is no denying that diesel vehicles account for a large percentage of NOx emissions. A 2016 DEFRA report stated that road transport still accounted for 34% of UK nitrogen oxide emissions in 2015. The European Commission reported in 2016 that around four fifths of road traffic nitrogen oxide levels come from diesel-powered vehicles. Decisions have been taken in the past to incentivise the ownership of diesel-fuelled private cars, which reflected the urgent need at the time to act on the threat of CO2. That worked, because that is now down more than a third since 2000.
This is not just about private cars, as we have heard: buses, coaches, taxis and minicabs are all high-mileage vehicles that operate within our towns and cities. Just looking at diesel private cars in isolation is therefore not the complete answer to the problem we face. It has to be seen in the context of the move to a greener and more efficient public transport system across the UK, which means removing barriers to the uptake of electric vehicles and rethinking vehicle excise duty. Any diesel policy must take clear account of the impact it could have on CO2 emissions, and it must avoid severely penalising the almost 12 million diesel car owners who, as we have heard, bought their vehicles in good faith.
It is clear that scrappage schemes can work. Labour’s scheme, introduced in 2009, shows that they can impact consumer behaviour, but the circumstances now are different. It is not about stimulating the economy following a global downturn, but about taking the most air-polluting vehicles off our roads. Any scrappage scheme must be shown to achieve value for money, and it must be targeted at the right drivers.
A recent Royal Automobile Club Foundation report sounds a warning note about that. It suggests that the cost of implementing a scheme could be expensive and may not automatically achieve the expected benefits. Targeting older diesel vehicles in the bands known as Euro 1, 2, and 3 could take 400,000 cars off UK roads, costing the Government and industry a combined £800 million, but that would cut the total emissions of diesel cars by only 3.2%, and only if all those drivers elected for an electric vehicle replacement. The percentage drops to 1.3% if the drivers opted for the newer Euro 6 models. The findings show that creating a robust scrappage scheme is far from simple. It is not necessarily about how dirty a vehicle is or how many there are, but about how many miles they do and where they do them. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) made a very strong point when he suggested that any such scheme should focus on cities, and I think the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton agreed with that point.
Have the Government considered the RAC Foundation findings? Has the Minister considered the Mayor of London’s proposals for a targeted scheme that supports low-income families? Without targeting the right drivers operating in crisis areas, a scrappage scheme risks having a limited impact. It is therefore absolutely essential that the Government publish robust environmental evidence and a cost-benefit analysis for any proposal.
Scrappage schemes are only one of the measures that need to be taken if we are really to tackle the air quality crisis effectively. Not only are we awaiting the Government’s third attempt at producing an air-quality plan following a judicial review, which should happen imminently, but I am afraid that they are more than 1.5 million vehicles short of their 1.6 million 2020 target for electric hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. They are also going backwards on the 2020 renewable transport fuel targets. In our discussions on the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, Labour pressed for strong action on reviewing the plug-in grant and charging point schemes, both of which were cut by the Government, for licensing and accreditation for technicians—both proposals were backed by the Institute of the Motor Industry—and for a clear review of vehicle excise duty, which was backed by the RAC Foundation, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and many other motor and active travel organisations.
As someone who has spent much of my time in Parliament talking about buses, I know that there are huge opportunities to improve the environmental performance of our bus fleets. As was pointed out, in some areas they are ageing and very polluting. It was disappointing that the Government did not take up some of the Opposition’s constructive proposals on the Bus Services Bill. I urge them to think about that further. There is an opportunity to create a greener bus network, so I ask the Minister to assure us that analysis will be done to look at how we can make better use of the Bus Services Bill to improve our fleet’s environmental performance.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee told us last year that only five of the 12 worst-polluted cities have been given the ability to charge to enter clean-air zones. Will the Government also look at extending the network of clean-air zones, which Labour committed to in 2015?
The Government have some serious questions to answer about air quality. We believe that to breathe clean air is a right, and the health, environmental and economic case for acting is overwhelming. Action on diesel is part of the solution, but measures must be cost-effective and targeted actively enough to affect the high-mileage vehicles that operate in our towns and cities. That means investing in greener buses and public transport, reviewing the plug-in grants and excise duty rates for electric vehicles, reducing other barriers to electric vehicle uptake and extending clean-air zones to more local authorities. One way of rising to these challenges is to back the London Mayor’s call for a new clean air Act that is fit for the 21st century. That would send a powerful message to everyone that clean air is not a privilege but a right. A YouGov survey shows that two thirds of the public support that.
As we eagerly await what must only be an exhaustive and robust air-quality strategy—at the third attempt—I hope the Minister considers his response. The truth is that we can no longer hold our breath while we wait.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope, and to speak in this debate. I have just 15 minutes to deal with this important subject —I hope it will be 15 minutes of pure joy.
Disraeli, the greatest Conservative Prime Minister, said:
“The fool wonders, the wise man asks.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) has indeed asked a question about what he feels is an important contribution to the developing strategy on air quality, which, as he knows, I have been working on with colleagues at DEFRA and others across Government so as to put it in place in a way that is both practicable and demanding. I say practicable, because I am not in the business of penalising drivers—particularly those on modest incomes who bought their diesel vehicles in good faith. They were badly advised, largely by the previous Labour Government, as we heard from various contributors to the debate. There has been refreshing honesty in that respect today.
I can answer that question directly. The Conservatives took an entirely different approach in opposition. In our 2001 environment manifesto, the then Conservative Opposition called for a vehicle excise duty to be based on air pollution and vehicle emissions rather than just carbon dioxide. None the less, Gordon Brown went ahead with the scheme unaffected by that advice. That is the direct answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question. Ministers do not give many direct answers, but that is a model example of one.
In the short time available to me, I do not have access to Hansard, and it would absolutely wrong for me to give any information that is not pinpoint accurate. That is not my habit, Mr Chope, and it is certainly not something you would permit in this Chamber. I now need to rush on to deal adequately with the contributions that have been made to this debate.
It is absolutely clear that the prosperity of our nation and, more than that, the common good depend on our wellbeing. Closely associated with wellbeing is the health of our people—urban and rural, young and old. If we are going to promote a better Britain to fuel—if I can put it in these terms—the common good, we need to look at air quality and pollution, as that is critical to health.
I want to deal with a pseudodox before I give way to my hon. Friend.
It is important to recognise that air quality has improved. I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about that. Over time, air quality in this country has improved. That goes right back to the Clean Air Acts of the late 1950s and through the 1960s. Even in recent years, air quality has improved with respect to nitrogen monoxide emissions by something like 20%, so let us not start from a series of misassumptions.
I am very heartened to hear that the Minister estimates that we should look after the rural areas just as we look after the cities. I was a little worried that the Opposition spokesman’s contribution suggested that we should purely focus on cities. In Yeovil, we have an air quality management area, which needs managing. I am a supporter of this potential scrappage scheme as one means of alleviating that. We have a congestion issue. I would love the Minister to come look at a bypass scheme to alleviate that on Sherborne Road. This is an excellent part of what we should be doing to address that issue.
My hon. Friend is right that in implementing any set of policies we need to be clear about the particularities of different localities. The circumstances in rural areas are different in all kinds of ways. The biggest problem with air quality and pollution is obviously in urban areas, and the Government’s approach—of which clean air zones are the exemplification—has, of course, focused on just such areas. It would be inconceivable for us not to be sensitive to different circumstances, which is why we are so determined to work with all agencies and local government in particular to ensure that the specificity of any proposals that we put into place is sufficient to deal with those particularities. He is absolutely right to raise that.
Having said that air quality has improved, let us be clear: we must do more. There is no complacency in making a bald statement about the facts. We have to go further, for, as Disraeli also said:
“The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness”
depends. It is right that high nitrogen dioxide levels exacerbate the impact of pre-existing health conditions, especially for elderly people and children, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton and others made clear; it is right that we protect those most affected by poor air quality. I am absolutely committed to that objective.
People know this already, but I am not afraid or ashamed to restate it: Government can be a force for good. I mentioned the Clean Air Acts, and in those terms Governments were a force for good and can continue to be so if we get the regulatory environment right. Air pollution has reduced, but we need to tackle it with a new vigour and determination. Road transport is at the heart of that, because it is the single biggest contributor to high local concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, and it is nitrogen dioxide that has featured large in the debate.
The Minister mentioned the reduction of pollution, but will he not accept that the aggregate reduction of pollution in Britain is linked to the demise of the coal mines and the exporting of our manufacturing base, as well as the financial disaster in 2008? If he focused his measurements on more recent years and urban environments, there has been a worrying escalation in the NOx and particulates that we are talking about. We should therefore support the scheme.
In recent years emissions have been a problem in particular areas—I acknowledge that clearly—and the Government are particularly keen to deal with the effects on those areas. The air quality plan will of course have a national footprint, as it is a national plan. The particularity I described was about Government setting out an appropriate and deliverable framework, and then working with localities to ensure that in the implementation of that framework all those local circumstances are put in place. That is the point that I was making about urban and rural areas and the different circumstances that apply there.
Clean air zones cover a designated area and involve a range of immediate local actions to support cities to grow while delivering sustained improvements in air quality and transition to a low-emission economy. Measures that could be implemented include the promotion of ultra-low emission vehicles; upgrading buses and taxis; promoting cycling schemes; and, in the worst cases, charging for the most polluting vehicles. In 2015 we named five cities, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton, that are required to introduce a clean air zone. The Government are engaging with the relevant local authorities on the schemes’ detailed design.
Clean air zones will support the transition to a low-emission economy, but the Government are considering how to mitigate the zones’ impacts on those worst affected. I am not in the business of disadvantaging those who are already disadvantaged and in exaggerating the circumstances of those who already face tough choices and have a struggle to make their way in the world. That is not we are about and would not be the kind of fair politics that I believe in and to which this Government are committed. A fairer Britain is one that takes account of such disadvantages and we will do so in the construction and delivery of this policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton suggested that a means-tested scrappage scheme could address some of those issues. He emphasised the fact that his scheme would be means-tested, and he did so with a fair amount of passion. Hegel said:
“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion”,
and my hon. Friend has displayed that very passion today. Let me be clear: I note his points and I will ensure that they are considered as part of our consultation and as part of our work. I do not think you get much better than that typically in Westminster Hall.
It is absolutely right that the Government’s clean air zone policy recognises all the challenges that have been set out by various contributors to the debate and it tackles the problems of the most polluted places by acknowledging that low-cost transport is vital to people’s opportunities and wellbeing.
I am happy to give another straight answer to another straight question from the right hon. Gentleman. In February this year we awarded almost £3.7 million of funding to projects, including one in Gateshead to encourage cycling and to upgrade traffic management, and another in Nottingham to trial fuel cell technology and to encourage ultra-low emission vehicles in the local NHS. Alongside that, we are making significant investment in a range of green transport initiatives. Since 2011 the Government have invested more than £2 billion to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and to support greener transport schemes, as well as pledging £290 million to support electric vehicles and low-emission buses and taxis in the 2016 autumn statement. More than that, just last week, £109 million of Government funding was awarded to 38 cutting-edge automotive research and development projects focused on greatly reduce automotive emissions and their footprint. Those are the facts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton proposed to put ultra-low emission vehicles at the heart of a scrappage scheme. We are already investing a significant amount of money to support the ultra-low emission vehicle market, because we believe that the transition to a zero-emission economy is both inevitable and desirable. We want almost every car to be low-emission by 2050, as hon. Members know, because they have heard me say it before.
I will not, for the sake of time, but I put on the record that my hon. Friend has been a great champion of his constituents’ interests in this and so many other ways.
We are going further and have introduced a Bill, the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which has been referred to in our debate and has gone through Committee. It is designed to promote a charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and we also dealt with autonomous vehicles in our consideration of it. The Bill was debated in Committee without amaritude or contumely. There seemed to be a cross-party view that we need to move ahead both with care and with a degree of unprecedented vigour to promote the take-up of electric and other low-emission vehicles. We will therefore put in place appropriate infrastructure, which was a point made in the course of this debate. I said today, in a breakfast meeting with the sector from which I rushed to come to Westminster Hall, that I will be rolling out the competition for the design of electric charging points which I mentioned in that Committee.
In the brief time I have available, I need to draw the whole of the Chamber’s attention to the breakdown of where the emissions emanate from. The question was asked several times: why and where? It is all here, on this list, which is exhaustive. I have not time to deal with it now, but I will make it available to every Member who has contributed to and attended the debate. It breaks down the very points that were made. For example, are emissions coming from shipping? By the way, shipping is important, and I want to do more in that respect, as argued for by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), the chair of the maritime all-party group, as well as in respect of railways and so on and so forth.
Let me move to my exciting conclusion in the couple of minutes that I have available—
I will give my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton a brief time, if he is happy with that.
One of the other big problems has been Europe, and the failure of the Euro testing regime has come together with increased use of diesel vehicles following tax incentives introduced by the Labour Government. The failure of that EU regime to put in place real tests that made a difference has been a contributory factor that, as in so many other ways, was injurious to the interests of the British people. This Government are determined to put the wellbeing, welfare and health of our people at the heart of all we do. We will bring forward the plan and the policy, and they will be balanced and certainly not penalise those who are worse off. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to say so.
I thank everyone for their contributions and the Minister very much for his reply. We need a scrappage scheme along with public transport and everything that we have discussed this morning. We need to reduce the amount of pollution in order to get better quality air in our cities and throughout the nation. A diesel scrappage scheme is very much part of that.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).