HC Deb 03 February 1998 vol 305 cc838-9
33. Ms Rosie Winterton

If he will make a statement on the enforcement of vehicle emissions standards by local authorities. [24920]

Ms Glenda Jackson

Seven local authorities have been given powers under regulations which came into force on 26 December 1997 to enforce vehicle exhaust emissions standards at the roadside. The seven authorities are Birmingham, Bristol Canterbury, Glasgow, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Westminster. Offenders will be liable to pay a £60 fixed penalty. We will be reviewing the effectiveness of the regulations over the next 12 months or so, with a view to extending the powers to all local authorities.

Ms Winterton

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Given the fury felt by pedestrians and motorists when they see old decrepit vehicles, particularly buses and lorries, belching out black smoke and choking nearly everyone in sight, will she consider, when reviewing the regulations, allowing local authority trading standards officers to track down such polluting vehicles and take firm action against their owners, instead of having to rely on roadside checks or on referrals to the traffic commissioners?

Ms Jackson

Such facilities already exist. My hon. Friend referred to traffic commissioners. As I am sure she is aware, those who ply under operator licences are the responsibility of traffic commissioners. All traffic commissioners should publish details of smoky vehicle hotlines so that members of the public can highlight offending vehicles to them and the vehicle inspectorate.

Mr. Ottaway

Does the hon. Lady agree that the best way to control vehicle emissions is to ensure that responsibility for cleaner cars rests with manufacturers? With that in mind, will she take this opportunity to praise Westminster city council, which for years has run its pool cars on liquid petroleum gas, provided incentives for electric cars, run an exhaust watch scheme and is now one of the pilot authorities in the vehicle emissions testing scheme? Labour talks about it; Conservative Westminster gets on with it.

Ms Jackson

Westminster council has certainly got on with it—but under a Labour Administration. I am somewhat surprised that, in the hon. Gentleman's long list of praise, he neglected to praise my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who froze duty on gas road fuels in his Budget. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the proposals made in January by my noble Friend Baroness Hayman for concessions for cleaner lorries and buses through the reduction in vehicle excise duty. It is the Government's firm conviction that the protection of the environment must be at heart of all our policies.

Mr. Bill O'Brien

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she and her Department are doing in identifying vehicle emissions? Will she carefully consider the fact that, owing to vehicle emissions, the incidence of asthma, particularly among young children, is increasing in many of our towns and cities? It is therefore important that we extend monitoring of emissions in our towns and cities to address the problems of ill health among many of our citizens, particularly children.

Ms Jackson

My hon. Friend makes a particularly accurate point. That is why the regulations will be reviewed over the next 12 months with a view to extending powers to all local authorities. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that that procedure alone will not be sufficient to bring about clean air, which the Government are committed to achieving.