On 21st February 2017, the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a question he had tabled to Government about levels of air pollution in cities. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for DEFRA, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, responded and the follow-up questions of other Peers are also included below.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the issuing by the European Commission of a final warning to the United Kingdom for failing to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide, what action they are planning to take to deal with levels of air pollution in cities.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, on the question of a scrappage scheme, we are obviously considering the steps needed following the High Court ruling on updated data emissions from diesel vehicles, but we think that the use of clean air zones is a more targeted and proportionate approach to dealing with emissions. Moreover, we are pressing on with plans in five cities and we are working with the Mayor of London. On the issue of a post-Brexit regime, all the regulations on this will come into our domestic law. The air quality regulations were made under the European Communities Act and so will be preserved via the great repeal Bill.
Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords, if the Government have been so remiss in meeting their environmental responsibilities in the present circumstances —in which they face fines for non-compliance—what possible chance is there that our environment will be properly protected when that sanction no longer applies?
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I would not seek to be partisan, but perhaps I should say to the noble Lord that the dash to diesel happened under his party’s regime. That is one reason why we are now having to resolve the problem. In fact, nitrogen dioxide levels went down by 4% between 2014 and 2015, and we are seeking to continue that. However, we are retrieving a situation that the noble Lord’s party assisted in the passage of.
Baroness Parminter (LD): My Lords, can the Minister tell us exactly which towns and cities are being affected by the reasoned opinion of the European Commission?
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I have a list of 16 zones, while the five cities that we are working on as regards clean air zones are Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton. I should say that my honourable friend Therese Coffey has been discussing these matters with representatives from other cities because under the Transport Act 2000, local authorities can impose clean air zones if they so wish.
Lord Tebbit (Con): My Lords, did my noble friend hear the answers given by our noble friend Lord Ahmad concerning more cycling? Is he aware that sometimes it can take more than an hour to drive from Parliament Square to the Tower of London? That has been caused by the barricades that have been put up to assist cyclists, who also get in the way on the main carriageways.
A noble Lord: He should get on his bike.
Lord Tebbit: The noble Lord opposite speaks very impertinently to me and other people of my age, who would have grave difficulty cycling on the roads these days. However, a principal cause of the excess nitrogen dioxide in the air of Westminster and along the Embankment is those wretched barricades that were put up by the former mayor.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I hope I can continue in the right vein by saying that I would advise that the Circle and District lines are a very good way to get from here to the Tower of London and that part of London. However, my noble friend makes the serious point that no one wants congestion. We obviously want to encourage cycling and I hope that once we have installed the facilities for cycling, this will provide an easier time for the very tolerant taxi drivers and the people who need to get about in vehicles, such as emergency vehicles. Like all these things, there is a balance to this and I hope we can get these cycling lanes in place and then ensure that London runs ever more smoothly.