HL Deb 21 January 1993 vol 541 cc957-8

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What encouragement they are giving to experimental exhaust systems which could reduce pollution in the air of urban areas through which cars are driven, rather than increasing it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, the Government support industry-led research projects aimed at vehicle emission reduction. We have been introducing ever tighter emission limits in line with improvements in technology. These measures, together with the emissions check recently introduced into the annual MOT and HGV roadworthiness tests, should encourage new technologies to achieve this.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her helpful reply. Knowing of her specialist interest in car engines as a former champion racing driver, is she aware of a press report last month of a car engine which improves the air in urban areas? That seems to be too good to be possible. Nevertheless does my noble friend agree that that is a project to be supported if there is a prospect of putting it to wider practical use?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, it is indeed a project to be supported. Those tests were conducted by the Warren Spring Laboratory, a DTI agency recognised as a world leader in on-the-road emissions tests. They showed that a catalysed Saab-900 could reduce the levels of nitrogen oxides and hydro-carbons which were present in the ambient air. It is true that where pollution levels of air are high on busy roads, other vehicles with catalysts can emit cleaner air than they take in.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will note that on this side of the House we fully support the actions which have been taken. We have a very high regard for the Warren Spring Laboratory and the actions that it has taken over many years. Will the Minister indicate when the experiments are likely to be concluded and what sort of timescale for action there is in that regard?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for his remarks about Warren Spring where many dedicated people are looking at that problem. The last project finished at the end of July 1992 which was on the work of the UK Engine Emissions Consortium research.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the reduction of pollutants from road traffic can be achieved not only by improving car engines but also by reducing road congestion? What progress is being made in that connection?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. We are very conscious that building better roads and having better traffic management can help to contain emission problems. I am extremely conscious that one of the best ways of helping in that regard is by being somewhat lighter with the right foot.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, are the Government also looking at the development and re-introduction of the trolley bus? Are they also taking steps to improve cars by fitting them with electrical engines rather than internal combustion engines?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, the Government and industry are looking at all possible ways of solving the problems caused by pollutants from cars. When looking at electric vehicles, the generation of electricity to fire the vehicle is in itself an issue for consideration.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the congestion, and therefore the pollution, is being caused as much as anything else by the increasing multiple ownership of motor cars which is leading to inefficient single-passenger, single-driver units? The time has come to increase vehicle excise duty so that it reflects its previous level. That would fit in with the principle that the polluter should pay.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend would not expect me at this stage to comment on possible Treasury actions. We are aware that company cars tend to be larger and therefore have a significant influence in that regard. The Government are currently assessing industry's response to the Treasury's consultation document on company car tax.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the Minister agree—I do not believe that she will but it would be nice if she would—that the most significant contribution does not lie in that direction, worthy though it is? In fact, the Government should ensure that more transport is directed towards the railways rather than the road.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased that I have a sense of agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, because the determination by this Government to privatise British Rail will lead the railways to being a more effective means of transport.

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