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Vehicle emissions - the threat to children's health

June 12, 2019 11:28 AM

Lord Shipley - BrexitVehicle emmissons are a human rights issue that requires cross-party action locally and nationally, John Lord Shipley has told the House of Lords. He said:

I find the evidence, both before this debate in preparing for it and in the speeches made in it, to be compelling. My noble friend Lady Randerson referred to it as a major child health crisis, which is true. There are 1.1 million children with asthma, as we have heard, and one in three children is growing up with toxicity levels above legal limits.

While the UK has met the limits for most pollutants in European directives, it has failed to do so in roadside nitrogen dioxide emissions and, as we have heard, we have the rising risk to health of particulates. It is therefore right that action should be taken. It should not have been left to EU directives to force a faster pace of change. The UK received a final warning from the EU two years ago, when the UK Government admitted that only six of the UK's 43 zones complied with the annual mean limit on nitrogen dioxide.

In January this year, the Government published their clean air strategy, which would invest £3.5 billion into cleaner vehicle technology, phase out new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 and support the creation of clean air zones at a local level in England. I support a new clean air Act to give a legal right to all citizens to breathe clean air. I noted what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said about her Bill, and I hope we will all read it in the hope that it might achieve cross-party consensus.

I believe that a ban on all sales of new diesel and petrol vehicles is right, but I prefer it to be achieved by 2030, not 2040. If Ireland can do it in 2030 and Scotland in 2032, I do not understand why in the rest-England and Wales-it should be 2040. Will the Minister indicate why that year has been chosen? I support higher taxation on pre-2016 diesel vehicles and pre-2006 petrol vehicles, but I have concluded that delivering this requires more generous scrappage schemes for older vehicles, and I shall come back to that in a moment. Why have the Government ruled out, or seem to have ruled out, any plans for a better, more generous national scheme aimed at the most polluting vehicles?

Clean air zones have been mentioned by several speakers. Indeed, generally speaking, cities across the UK agree entirely with the objective of reducing air pollution, but cities that are considering clear air zones need to be clear that the action they propose to take will solve the problems that they have identified. They could well, but they need to do so. I shall give two problems. First, a clean air zone might simply shift the problem to other areas immediately outside the zone by encouraging day-long parking and consequent pollution just outside a zone in suburban streets near bus stops to a city centre. Secondly, there is a risk that more businesses could move out of a zone to keep their costs down and in so doing potentially put up journey lengths and increase pollution in the areas to which they move. There has to be a holistic solution to this problem. Simply declaring a number of stand-alone clean air zones may not solve the problem and may encourage other areas to need to be within a clean air zone.

It has been reported that Sheffield and Greater Manchester have proposed to exempt private cars from their plans for clean air zones. It is important to understand the reason. It relates to those on low incomes. Those who have older cars tend to be people who have lower incomes and, in many cases, need a car to get to and from work, often shift work, at different and often inconvenient times of day and night. People on low incomes who cannot afford to replace their vehicle should not be penalised by legislation. They should instead be helped more through more generous scrappage schemes. I am returning to the point I made earlier. We need to be clear that the people who are being penalised by the plans of local and national government are mostly poorer people who are less able to afford to change their vehicle.

We have discussed the specific issue of schools in some detail. The Government tell us that 21% of nursery and primary schools and 24% of secondary schools in Britain are in areas that breach World Health Organization guidelines. In part, that is the result of idling engines. We have head a great deal about that. My colleague Wera Hobhouse MP for Bath has tabled a Bill in the other place to give local authorities the power to issue fines to drivers of idling vehicles. I support that. I also support the concept of school streets in which traffic is banned during drop-off and pick-up. We have heard examples from earlier speakers about this: Solihull and Hackney, along with other places, have been running such schemes. This must be encouraged and I hope very much that the Government will permit councils to issue fixed penalty tickets and to keep the income from fines to reinvest in clean air projects.

Parents have a right to expect that every school shows on its website and noticeboards the level of pollution outside the school gate and in the playground. That does not happen at the moment but it ought to. People need more facts: they need to know the levels of pollution close to where they live. That means that councils need pollution monitors for all their neighbourhoods and all their streets where there are schools. With that understanding will come even stronger public support for the measures that we are all advocating