HL Deb 23 July 1997 vol 581 cc1433-6

2.56 p.m.

Lord Ezra

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they have in mind to achieve the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by the year 2010.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, the policies which will enable us to meet our 20 per cent. target include improvements in domestic and industrial energy efficiency, an integrated transport strategy to tackle the growth in emissions from road transport, and a large increase in the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources and combined heat and power schemes. We are developing those policies at present and after the Climate Change Conference in Kyoto at the end of this year we will produce a new UK climate change programme.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that positive response and wish the Government well with their plans.

Included within those policies, will there be positive incentives and disincentives in the various markets for people to save on energy and to use energy in a more environmentally acceptable way? For example, are the Government contemplating reducing VAT on energy-saving equipment to the same level as has been reduced on domestic energy? Do they contemplate introducing road pricing to deal with road congestion?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord for the general strategy that we are adopting. It is a challenging one if we are to meet the targets we have set out.

On the issue of road pricing, in the White Paper on an integrated transport policy it is essential that we consider all the options available to us to reduce congestion and the emissions that come from transport. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained in his Budget Statement that what governments choose to tax sends a clear signal about the economic activities they believe should be encouraged and discouraged.

As regards VAT on energy efficient goods, options for helping people on low incomes to insulate their homes and save energy are being examined. That builds on the existing commitment to report to Parliament on the revenue effects of a reduced rate of VAT for energy efficient materials. The date of that report has been brought forward to the end of October. The scope has been widened.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, carbon dioxide is but one of a series of noxious emissions which come from road vehicles. Can the Minister inform the House of the progress being made with the development of low or zero emission road vehicles? They can be particularly useful in towns where there is greater emission from vehicles.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, my noble friend is correct that CO2 emissions are important in terms of climate change. But we have to be concerned about the pollutant effects of other emissions. That was certainly behind the negotiating strategy on the auto-oil package, for example, which took place in Luxembourg. However, there has been interest in your Lordships' House about alternative fuel vehicles. Last week I had a useful meeting with the Natural Gas Vehicle Association. We are looking at the role that road fuel gases might play in our air quality strategy, given their potential for reducing pollutants of NOx and particulates. Those are the pollutants of particular concern in urban areas. The most promising application may well be in urban based fleets of vehicles such as buses where refuelling and range are not a major issue.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while a great deal can be done in the field of greater fuel efficiency and in developing new hydrocarbon fuels, in the long term our continuing economic prosperity and development has to depend strategically on new technologies which are still in their infancy? Do the Government envisage any change in their research priorities to meet this developing necessity?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, we are well aware, particularly from the debate that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, introduced on the interests of the Select Committee, about the possibilities of technical innovation providing solutions for the future. Our previous debate on the matter in this House included the possibilities of information technology being used for development in a business context.

The energy efficiency best practice programme is designed to draw together information on cost-effective ways of reducing energy use. As part of that aim it produces guidance and case studies and runs a series of workshops around the country to raise awareness. The Technology Foresight programme brings together industry, the research community and public sector bodies to examine the UK's long-term needs for technology, including environmental technology.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, will the Government, in the course of their very desirable efforts to increase the proportion of power that is produced from renewable resources, consider introducing fiscal measures to encourage the extraction of methane from smaller landfill sites?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the issue of how we deal with landfill sites and their future is very important in the area of environmental protection. The Chancellor has put very clearly on the record the importance of environmental considerations in fiscal strategy. I am sure that that is one of the areas that he will consider.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that inner-city areas such as those in London and other large cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham are the worst health spots in the nation? Sadly, the increase in deaths from lung cancer and other lung-related illnesses is on the upswing because of the motor car. What hope can the Minister give to people in those areas that there will be a diminution in illnesses in those categories, even if only in gradual terms? The situation is becoming pretty desperate.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, my noble friend is correct to point out the health hazards from congestion and pollution in addition to hazards related to long-term climate change. I am well aware from my own background of the health implications in these areas. Transport, and road transport in particular, is the most rapidly growing source of CO2 emissions. We must tackle that problem and be prepared to deal with it. That is why we have set ourselves the task of producing an integrated transport policy. It is important to square the circle of not reducing mobility in return for cutting down congestion. It is very important that we offer people proper alternatives, especially in the field of improved public transport, so that car dependency can be reduced in that way.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give an assurance that the Government will continue by fiscal measures to encourage the use of gas as a fuel, and also clean diesel and low-sulphur diesel, which in themselves can enable particulate traps to operate so that the effluents from buses and taxis are less offensive than they are at the moment?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the relationship that the noble Earl points out between fiscal policy and the encouragement of cleaner technology is well understood. I am always extremely nervous of committing my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to anything. However, I assure the House that my department draws his attention to these matters.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what on earth we intend to do about buses that cruise around belching out diesel fumes?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, a little bit of regulation might be in order. Vehicle standards in the bus industry are an area of concern to my department. This is one of the issues that I discussed with the Natural Gas Vehicles Association. We hope to see in the long term much cleaner forms of public transport. The auto oil directive will in itself have a large effect on the particulate and noxious emissions from diesel.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the regulations are already in place on exhaust emissions from motor vehicles? Is she certain that the buses that we see belching black smoke in London and other places pass those tests? Should they not in fact be off the road?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, if they do not pass the test, they should certainly be off the road. The levels on some of the basic standards are base levels and we would wish to raise those. The issue of enforcement through the vehicle inspectorate is a very important one in this area and one with which my department is concerned.