HC Deb 19 February 1992 vol 204 cc323-4
10. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what action is being taken by his Department to monitor air quality in London; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Trippier

My Department already spends more than £4 million annually on monitoring air quality, particularly in London, and making the information available to the general public and the media. We are extending the range and coverage of our urban air quality monitoring network in the coming years, and an additional monitoring site came into operation in central London last month.

Mr. Corbyn

Is the Minister aware that many people in London are deeply disturbed by the increasing incidence of asthma among children, but that the Minister for Health has been unable to give figures relating to the level of asthma suffering in London as a result of air pollution, which is caused mainly by vehicles? In December, air quality levels were the worst for 11 years, with carbon monoxide at 13.3 parts per million, and nitrogen dioxide at 243 parts per billion? Does he agree that the serious deterioration of air quality in London arises mainly from increasing vehicle movements and that the best course would therefore be to improve public transport, reduce the number of cars going through London and ensure cleaner fuels and cleaner burn to preserve the health of our children, who are suffering grievously because of the increasing levels of pollution in central London?

Mr. Trippier

No one has a monopoly of concern about this issue. Neither is the problem confined to London. As two members of my family suffer quite badly from asthma —they suffered particularly when we had low-level ozone problems last summer—I am well aware of the situation. I can give the hon. Gentleman and the House some comfort by saying that over the next two years things will change dramatically. By the end of this year, the fitting of catalysts to new cars will be mandatory. Then there are the new European Community standards for heavy diesel vehicles. The new MOT exhaust emissions test, which was introduced only a few months ago, will also play a significant part in cleaning up the air. In addition, there are traffic management measures, including red routes, of which the hon. Gentleman is aware. The Environmental Protection Act 1990, too, has raised the standards of air pollution control. The combination of those measures will improve the situation dramatically.

Mr. Jessel

Is not aircraft noise the worst form of air pollution in London? Does the Minister agree that, as the Government have curbed night flights, refused planning permission for a heliport at Cannon Street in the City, stopped the Heathrow-Gatwick helicopter link and refused planning permission for a fifth terminal at Heathrow, they are second to none in protecting people from the blight and the curse of aircraft noise?

Mr. Trippier

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. I add only that a consultation paper on aircraft noise, including the noise caused by leisure flying, has been released. That paper is the responsibility of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and I have no doubt that when it has gone out we shall receive positive comments and shall act accordingly.

Rev. Martin Smyth

We welcome the positive steps that the Minister says have been taken, and we are glad to hear of the amount of money being spent on monitoring. What specific lessons have been learnt which could result in a reduction of air pollution? I am thinking, for example, of the city of Belfast and other urban areas throughout Northern Ireland which in the past year have suffered more than ever from air pollution.

Mr. Trippier

The most important outcome of the increased use of monitoring equipment is that people who suffer from respiratory diseases can be alerted to the possibility of a problem arising within the following 24 hours. I have already indicated that, as members of my family suffer from asthma, I am aware that it is absolutely essential to have such information. The advice provided by the Department of Health is very good. The Department advises people who suffer from respiratory diseases to take minimum exercise and, preferably, to stay indoors. That is the purpose of the monitoring equipment. We have learnt that when there is protracted sunlight during the summer months the low-level ozone problem is activated and aggravated, causing massive difficulty for those who suffer from respiratory diseases. All the measures that I catalogued earlier will help to reduce vehicle emissions —the principal cause of bad air.

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