HL Deb 26 February 2002 vol 631 cc1312-4

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Gale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their estimate of the effect on life expectancy in the United Kingdom if particulate emissions were to be reduced by one-third.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, reducing particulate emissions by a third is possible and can be estimated to increase life expectancy by one to six weeks on average, although it is likely that some people may benefit much more than that.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that there is still much more to be done to prevent global warming? Is the Minister aware of the recent research carried out by Professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford University? He says that diesel soot is a major contributor to global warming and that reducing the amount of diesel soot in the atmosphere would have a great effect on global warming. Diesel soot has a short life-span of about two to three weeks, whereas carbon dioxide has a life-span of 50 to 1,000 years.

Noble Lords


Baroness Gale

My Lords, those are the figures.

Is the Minister also aware of recent research by Nottingham University that shows that children living near main roads have a greater incidence of asthma because of exhaust fumes? Again, that has been linked with small soot particles.

Will the Government take that recent research on board and take any action needed to investigate further the effects of diesel soot? Will the Minister—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Gale

My Lords, I have just about finished now, I think. Will the Minister give an undertaking that the Government will take that action and, in doing so, will improve the situation on global warming and improve the health of the nation, especially of our children?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I was rather hoping that my noble friend would not ask such a short Question and therefore I would have been out of time. But I shall have a go at a couple of the specifics. The Government are aware of the Stanford University report and of the argument that diesel soot affects health and has an impact on global warming. Expert opinion suggests that carbon dioxide is by far the most important contributor towards global warming simply because it persists for so long. Therefore, carbon dioxide will be around for 100 years, affecting ozone.

I am sure that the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants will look at the recent Nottingham University study to see whether it runs counter to the experience to date that there is no strong or clear correlation between exhaust fumes and the incidence of asthma. If so, we shall be keen to study it further, no doubt with more research.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, what proposals do the Government have to reduce the high level of fine particulates on public transport? According to the National Asthma Campaign, passengers on the London Underground are subjected to seven times as much pollution as those on other forms of commuter transport and a 40-minute journey on the Tube is as had as smoking two cigarettes.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the noble Lord will be well aware of the Government's central air quality strategy to make a significant further reduction in air particulates generally. He will be aware of the considerable progress that has been made over recent years. Our air is substantially cleaner than it was some years ago. That came as a slight surprise to me when I was briefed for the Question.

With regard to the future, we are currently consulting on targets to reduce by a half the standard that should be aimed at from 40 micrograms per cubic metre to 20 micrograms per cubic metre. That is a severe reduction in the overall target, including a reduction in the London target. Broadly speaking, London Underground will have responsibility, as will others, for contributing towards that significant reduction and improving air quality in the capital. The possibility of further specific issues is an interesting and important question. If there is further information, I shall be pleased to correspond further.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

My Lords, the Government have recently published regulations giving environmental health officers the power to stop vehicles at the roadside to test for emissions. Is the Minister aware that, in the pilot areas, it has been shown that fines meet only 60 per cent of the costs incurred by local authorities in setting up the tests? Will he please consider ensuring that local authorities are able at least to meet their costs?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, unfortunately, no public policy principle automatically provides that fines must cover detection and enforcement costs. If it did, the treasurer might be a happier chap in the circumstances. Pilots are, however, for exactly that purpose—to see what we can learn from them. If the LGA and local authorities made representations on the issue, I am sure that they would be given appropriate consideration.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a dramatic reduction in particulate emissions in built-up areas could be achieved if buses, taxis and public vehicles generally were to convert from petroleum and diesel engines to alternatives such as biofuels, LPG, natural gas and electric power? Is he aware that that is being done with very positive advantages in other countries?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the noble Lord is broadly right: if all heavy public transport vehicles operated on LPG or other fuel sources, particulate emissions would be reduced. However, the Government are not issuing enforcement notices saying that everyone must do that. We are seeking through the tax and !fuel regime to provide incentives for vehicle owners and operators to move to types of transport and fuel that are more efficient and emit lower levels of particulates. There is some early evidence that that is bearing good fruit.