HC Deb 18 July 1994 vol 247 cc10-1
9. Mr. Denham

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what action is he taking to reduce the level of pollution caused by motor traffic.

Mr. MacGregor

As a result of improvements to vehicle standards, the MOT emission check and the planned real increase in fuel duty, pollution from motor traffic is falling and will continue to do so until well into the next decade. We continue to be concerned about this problem, are undertaking further research and would be ready to take further action when appropriate.

Mr. Denham

When 1 million asthma sufferers are at risk from air pollution, will not the Minister's words strike everyone as a sign of complete complacency? Are not even his smallest priorities wrong? Is not he embarrassed by the contrast between the ludicrous amount of energy that has been spent on the ridiculous cones hotline and the difficulty that people have in reporting polluting vehicles to the authorities? Is he aware that my constituents are told that they must ring Bristol at their own expense, that no one has ever been prosecuted as a result of a telephone call to the unit in Bristol and that none of the police forces have the portable devices necessary to test and then prosecute grossly polluting vehicles?

Mr. MacGregor

On the last point, we are specifically carrying out research to discover what can be done to achieve a fully effective system, as there is not yet one. However, the hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong about complacency. A substantial number of actions have been taken in the past three years, some of which I have listed, and the introduction of catalytic converters will reduced harmful emissions by more than 75 per cent. It is important that such actions are taken at European Union level, not least because continental sources account for roughly half ground-level ozone concentrations in the southern part of Britain. That is why we are pursuing the matter at that level, why further measures are being taken in the Council of Ministers and why I am always ready, because I very much share the concern about the problem, to consider other action which could be taken.

Sir Jim Spicer

Does my right hon. Friend accept that while all those measures are good, if traffic is stationary in one place for a long time, there is a build-up of pollution? May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that the village of Tolpuddle yesterday held the annual commemoration of the Tolpuddle martyrs? The traffic jams consequent upon that were horrendous. However, for 364 other days of the year, my constituents suffer from the same problem. Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Minister for Roads and Traffic to ensure that the Tolpuddle bypass is moved up the list as a matter of urgency?

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, we have drawn up a list of priorities for bypasses, and he is right to draw attention to their importance. Traffic that is either not moving or is moving very slowly pollutes the atmosphere much more than normal moving traffic. That is why it is so extraordinary that the Liberal Democrats have committed themselves to removing 41 major motorway improvements, which is bound to have considerable environmental disadvantages, not least in respect of the atmosphere. The many traffic calming measures and other measures that we are introducing, in particular the red routes in London, are designed to make a contribution to improving the situation. We have to take a series of steps, and those are just some of them.

Ms Walley

Rather than going it alone, why will the Secretary of State not say that it is important that he should work with the Departments of Health and of the Environment? It is impossible to do anything about the problem of pollution if he is not prepared, with his colleagues, to set standards for, and to monitor, air quality. Is not it the right hon. Gentleman's roads programme which is at fault? Is not the real problem that it is generating more traffic?

Mr. MacGregor

I assure the hon. Lady that we co-operate in working on those issues and in working on planning policy guidance note 13 to find solutions. I beg the hon. Lady to understand that the roads programme has an important contribution to make to our economic competitiveness, which is the other important part of it, as well as to enabling the many millions of our citizens who want to use their cars more to do so. The programme is important because unsatisfactory roads which cause great congestion and act almost as car parks with cars ticking over pollute the atmosphere much more than roads on which traffic moves freely.

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