HC Deb 24 February 1999 vol 326 cc350-1W
Mr. Dalyell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the impact on health of a reduction in the use of diesel engines in urban areas. [71110]

Ms Jowell

Diesel engines are a major source of particles, particularly in urban areas and especially when air quality is poor. Particles have serious effects on health. The Report on the "Quantification of Health Effects of Air Pollution in the United Kingdom" published in 1998 by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimated that up to 8,100 people who are already very ill have their deaths brought forward each year in urban Great Britain as a result of exposure to particles and that they are also responsible for up to 10,500 admissions to hospital for respiratory conditions. A proportion of these will be the result of exposure to particles from motor vehicles and from diesel. The measures set out in the review of the United Kingdom National Air Quality Strategy published last month, including the agreement in Europe for tighter limits on vehicle emissions and improved fuel quality under the Auto Oil programme, will lead to reductions in levels of particles in the UK.

The relative merits of petrol-driven cars and light vehicles over diesel equivalents in urban areas was discussed at a meeting of COMEAP on 19 February and a full statement on this subject will be issued by the Committee shortly. In arriving at a conclusion, the Committee was unable to take account of the indirect effects of vehicle-generated air pollutants on health, such as climate change; it is also based on current knowledge and recognises that future technological improvements may mean the position will need to be reassessed at some future date. Nevertheless, it concluded that because of the damage to health from particles, at the present time petrol vehicles would be preferred to diesel where the majority of a vehicles' journeys take place in urban areas.