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Air Quality National Framework

Volume 624: debated on Thursday 20 April 2017

The UK has made significant progress in improving air quality in the past decade, with lower emissions of all five major air pollutants. However, the UK is among 17 European countries, including France and Germany, that are not yet meeting EU emissions targets for nitrogen dioxide in parts of our towns and cities. To help to address this, the Government last year consulted on a clean air zone framework, which will be published shortly.

Following three humiliating defeats in the courts for failing to address the 50,000 deaths a year in this country due to poor air quality, and where the Government defended the indefensible, Justice Garnham ordered the Government to produce a new air quality plan by this Monday. Labour believes we need to go further with an air quality national framework as part of a clean air Act. What are the main pillars of the plan and how much resource has the Secretary of State allocated to addressing the UK’s poor air quality?

It is a great shame that the hon. Lady criticises this Government, who since 2011 have committed more than £2 billion to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and support greener transport schemes and have set out how we will improve air quality through a new programme of clean zones. In addition, in the autumn statement we announced a further £290 million to support low-emission buses and taxis, retrofitting and alternative fuels; and, as I say, we will consult on our plans to improve nitrogen oxide emissions very shortly.

I do not want to be intemperate with the Secretary of State, but this is just so much pie in the sky. Every time we have Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, she says that something will happen soon. When are we going to have our big natural environment report? When are we going to stop people being poisoned in our cities and towns like Huddersfield, and when are we going to see action—now, not next week, next month or next year?

Let me be very clear: the Government are totally committed to cutting harmful emissions that worsen our air quality. We have made great progress already in the past decade, which is more than the Labour Government did. Emissions went up on their watch. We absolutely recognise that there is more to do and we will publish our proposals very soon.

I am very concerned about people who bought diesel cars thinking that they were the best way forward. Will the Secretary of State discuss this matter with the Transport Secretary, the Treasury and the devolved Administrations to ensure that these people are not penalised? We need to find a way forward that looks after them.

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. In taking steps to reduce harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions, we have to take into account the impact on ordinary working families and businesses. As the Prime Minister made very clear, we completely understand that people bought diesel cars under incentives from the last Labour Government. They bought them in good faith and we need to ensure that they are not penalised for the actions they took.

Will the Secretary of State consider a targeted diesel scrappage scheme that supports low-income families in particular? The opportunity to do so was missed in both last year’s autumn statement and the Budget.

I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government are looking at all possible areas both to reduce emissions of noxious substances such as nitrogen oxide and to ensure that we have good mitigation across the board to try to support ordinary working families. All types of mitigation are on the table.

Northern Ireland has very low air pollution with all areas in the low pollution band, but it is essential that the national framework is truly nationwide and encompasses Northern Ireland. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterpart in the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that that happens?

I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we have had discussions right across the devolved Administrations on this subject. The UK Government and all the devolved Administrations take it very seriously. We are working together closely and we will make an announcement in due course.