HC Deb 01 December 1993 vol 233 cc1036-8
11. Dr. Howells

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when the Government intend to increase the number of air quality testing stations and by how many.

Mr. Gummer

My Department published consultation proposals on the development of air quality monitoring on 2 November. Decisions will be reached in the light of responses to that consultation.

Dr. Howells

Can the Secretary of State say why so few testing stations are currently operating and why, given the huge increase in asthma and the links between asthma and vehicle emissions, he does not have immediate plans to build new testing stations to have them operating wherever concentrations of population and traffic coincide?

Mr. Gummer

We have 42 continuous automatic stations. We are spending £4 million a year on that work. Anyone in the country can telephone his or her local number to find out the quality of the air in the place to which he or she wishes to go. That is especially valuable to those who have asthma problems. I have great sympathy with people who have such problems, as I am a former sufferer. I am, therefore, pleased that we shall have a report by the sub-group investigating that topic. I hope to have that report in 1994 and to consider it in conjunction with the work that we have already done. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising an important matter, which I shall not forget.

Mr. Spring

My right hon. Friend will be aware that much air pollution comes from the motor car. What plans has my right hon. Friend in place to reduce pollution from that source?

Mr. Gummer

The reduction in pollution that has already occurred because of the move to leadless petrol is a remarkable achievement. That has been extremely helpful and has made a major difference. It is one of the biggest changes that has occurred. Cars now have to have catalytic converters. We are seeking to tighten those arrangements and have been doing so for some time.

The matter is also under review in the European Community. My hon. Friend will know that I visited the motor show to look at the latest developments and I very much hope that we can press motor producers to do more. With that in mind, I spoke to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and I am pleased to say that I have had considerable support from that organisation to do what we all want to do—reduce the effect of pollution in towns.

Mr. Chris Smith

Far from being reduced, did not pollution from nitrogen dioxide in central London rise by 17 per cent. last year alone and is not the number of national monitoring stations for nitrogen dioxide in Britain seven compared with 200 in Germany? Given that one in every seven children suffers from asthma and that the number of sufferers has doubled in the past 10 years, is not the least we can do—and the first step we should take—to improve substantially the monitoring of nitrogen dioxide and air pollution so that we can take action to tackle the problem seriously?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman's figures are wrong. Three times as many centres do that already. There are 21 stations monitoring nitrogen dioxide; the hon. Gentleman said that there were seven. The figures we put forward are the facts; the ones he put forward are his hopes. The hon. Gentleman is constantly trying to undermine what the Government are doing. What we are doing is very effective. I have said that I am not sure whether we are doing the job well enough. That is why I issued a consultation paper. I shall consider that consultation paper and act on the facts. If the hon. Gentleman were more willing to acquaint himself with the facts and seek our help on them, we would get much further.