9 Jun 2015 : Column 1WH

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 9 June 2015

[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]

Air Pollution (London)

9.30 am

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered air pollution in London.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate those Members who have turned up at this early hour for a debate on a vital subject for the people of London.

I urge the House to take notice of the unseen, silent killer stalking London’s streets—a killer unknowingly encountered by every single Londoner every single day. It is present when people drop their children off at school. It is present when they make their journey to and from work. It follows them throughout their weekends in the city. That malign presence is the noxious fumes that pollute the air we breathe. Specifically, the killer is made up of two components: particulate matter, comprising solid and liquid particles, and gases such as nitrogen dioxide. In London, the primary culprit for those killer chemicals is road traffic. Although industry is the biggest source of pollution nationwide, in urban environments such as London, where the accumulation of pollution and the related health impact is greatest, road traffic is responsible for up to 70% of all air pollution. Londoners are dying as a result. In 2008, across the capital, more than 4,000 premature deaths directly resulted from deadly levels of air pollution. In every year since then, thousands of Londoners have lost their lives early, and they continue to do so, simply because the air they breathe is slowly poisoning them.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Given that the stretch of the A406 through my constituency has one of the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in the city, surpassed only by central London, and that Public Health England has linked air pollution to 7% of deaths in the London borough of Redbridge, does she agree that more needs to be done to address the problem, and particularly the congestion around Charlie Brown’s roundabout and Redbridge roundabout, as a matter of urgency?

Ms Abbott: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I will come on to how Boris—the current Mayor—and the Government have failed Londoners, including his constituents, on the important matter of air pollution.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate on an issue that needs greater prominence. Is she aware of the impact of London’s pollution on surrounding areas? In my constituency of Dartford, for example, westerly winds blow pollution from London on to the problems already caused by the M25, which adds to the bronchial and respiratory conditions suffered by local residents.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 2WH

Ms Abbott: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important point. He will forgive me if I, as a prospective candidate for Mayor of London, talk about London, but it is important that the House is reminded that the high levels of pollution in London have an effect on surrounding areas.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate, which I am pleased builds on the work of the Environmental Audit Committee in the last Parliament. Although she may be a candidate for Mayor of London, and if she were elected she would be able to play her part in addressing air pollution, does she not agree that local authorities also have a significant role in addressing air quality in their boroughs?

Ms Abbott: I entirely agree that local authorities have a significant role. If I were Mayor of London, I would try to bring them together and offer leadership on this issue. It is not just a matter for the Mayor or the Government; it is also a matter for local authorities. It is also about the personal choices we make about our travel and our children’s lives.

Already this year, according to the latest research, up to 1,300 people have died across the city. The Clean Air in London campaign group argues that more than 7,000 Londoners a year are now dying prematurely as a result of toxic air. It is well established that toxic air is a direct cause of bronchitis, asthma, strokes and even cancer and heart disease. We all recognise that the level of childhood asthma is now far higher than any of us knew when we were at school. I cannot believe that there is no connection between those very high levels of childhood asthma and rising levels of air pollution.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I also thank the Clean Air in London campaign, Simon Birkett and others for their work. My hon. Friend makes an important point about childhood asthma, respiratory issues and the role of local authorities. Does she agree that it is important to raise public awareness of places where air pollution concentration can be higher, such as roadsides or places that are lower down, where the density of pollution can more greatly affect children in prams?

Ms Abbott: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. When I think about the number of primary schools in Stoke Newington alongside heavily used main roads, I wonder about the health of children who have to attend those schools. Young people in our city are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. Children growing up, or attending primary school, near the noxious fumes of busy roads have been clinically proven to develop smaller lung capacity and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections. Everyday exposure to air pollution, which is what children get when they walk to and from school daily, has been found to contribute to increased inflammation of the airways in healthy children, not to mention children already suffering from asthma. These chronically debilitating issues lead to serious medical problems that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

We have a duty of care to children, because adults can make choices about whether they drive, cycle or walk to work. Given the particularly damaging impact

9 Jun 2015 : Column 3WH

of air pollution on children’s lungs, why are the Government not doing more to support the production and dissemination of accurate, practical advice to help schools reduce the impact that pollution is having on the health and wellbeing of children in London and further afield? Awareness is key, and the Government are failing in their duty to raise awareness. Those with respiratory and cardiovascular disease are at greater risk of worsening their conditions due to the adverse effects of air pollution. As a whole, London has very high rates of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, not least in Hackney. Our most vulnerable people are at risk, and not enough is being done to protect them.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The hon. Lady has referred to the action that the Government need to take, but does not Transport for London have a very large communications budget? TfL could and should use that budget much more effectively to publicise concerns about air quality and incidences of air quality issues in London.

Ms Abbott: When I refer to the role of the Mayor, I am of course referring to the entire Greater London Authority family over which the Mayor sits, which includes TfL, the Metropolitan police and the fire brigade. Now is the time for action. It is completely unacceptable that London’s air is the filthiest of any European capital. The air pollution on Oxford Street ensures that it has the unwelcome honour of ranking among the most polluted streets in the entire world.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, particularly about the problems near schools. In my constituency, I have some of the most polluted roads—the A4, the A40 and Hammersmith Broadway—and those roads have schools alongside them. In addition to talking about central London, will she talk about the other big problem in London? Heathrow also breaks EU limits. Does she agree that the worst thing we could do is increase the size of Heathrow by 50% with a third runway, thereby making it even more illegal and an even worse environmental danger?

Ms Abbott: My hon. Friend anticipates a later part of my speech. There is no question but that aviation is a major cause of pollution, and anyone offering solutions to the problem must mention it.

London has the filthiest air of any European capital. The need to improve air quality is recognised in EU legislation, which sets limits for a range of pollutants. As part of that legislation, member states are required to prepare adequate plans to reduce nitrogen dioxide to acceptable levels by 2015, but the UK has failed to do so. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that in the Greater London area, those limits—of which it is perfectly well aware—will not be met until after 2030.

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab): I echo other Members in congratulating my hon. Friend on securing this important debate on a vital subject. She mentioned Oxford Street, but there are also suburban

9 Jun 2015 : Column 4WH

equivalents. Horn Lane in Acton, off the A40, is one of the most polluted hotspots in London. Asthma UK, a neutral charity, has called the Government’s approach

“designed to mask the true scale of England’s air quality crisis rather than make any real attempt to solve it.”

My hon. Friend said that she would come to what the Mayor of London is doing. The record is atrocious: there have been attempts to glue down air particulates near air quality sensors, and there has been a failure to create the network of electric car charging points that was planned. Also, the ultra-low emission zone is also so far in the future that it will not help in the immediate term.

Ms Abbott: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her important intervention, which deserved to be made at length.

The programme for meeting EU targets has been delayed. I ask the Minister to estimate how many Londoners will die as a result between now and 2030. Most shamefully, as a result of the Government’s abject failure to meet the EU targets, a UK charity, ClientEarth, had to take the Government to court. After referring to the European Court of Justice, the Supreme Court here in the UK has ordered the Government to submit new air quality plans to the European Commission no later than 31 December this year. We had to be taken to court before the Government would come up with sustainable proposals. Why did it take the Supreme Court to make the Government and the Mayor of London take the deadly matter of air pollution seriously? Is not the provision of a clean living environment a basic duty for any Government to fulfil? Will the Minister admit that on a wider scale, this Government are culpable of gross negligence leading to the premature death of up to 30,000 UK residents nationwide?

If the human cost does not move the Minister, will he stop to consider, as the Government busy themselves with their latest round of cuts to vital public services, that we spend £16 billion a year treating the adverse effects of air pollution? If the human cost does not bother the Government, the financial cost incurred by having such levels of air pollution might. For us here in London, it is essential that air pollution is tackled as a matter of urgency. In many locations throughout the city, pollutant levels regularly exceed EU limits by a multiple of two or three. To put the severity of the situation into perspective, Oxford Street managed to breach the hourly limit on nitrogen dioxide for the whole of 2015 by 4 January, in just four days. Each and every Londoner suffers daily from the continued inaction.

The responsibility to address London’s air pollution scandal rests with central Government and the Mayor, although local authorities also have a role to play. As a start, I urge the Government to implement a new cross-departmental strategy to bring about change and reduce the impact of air pollution on public health. The strategy should involve Public Health England and non-governmental bodies such as NHS England. It is essential that it should include clear, measurable and time-bound objectives for the reduction of emissions, and for cost and health benefits, which previous strategies have sorely lacked.

It should become mandatory for all local authorities to monitor levels of smaller particulate matter, as they are already bound to monitor nitrogen dioxide and

9 Jun 2015 : Column 5WH

PM10. The results must be published regularly and accessibly so that Londoners can remain fully informed about the dangers to their health and the health of their children. In addition, early alerts from DEFRA and the Met Office are crucial in order to guarantee that those most at risk from polluted air can plan in advance and avoid symptoms. Both bodies should continue to develop links with organisations such as the British Lung Foundation, which is well placed to convey such information to at-risk groups.

In relation to the role and inactivity of the Mayor, I believe that with his direct executive powers over TfL—

Mr Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Before she gets to the Mayor, there is one omission from the list of responsibilities on central Government: the ultimate no-brainer policy of avoiding wilfully increasing traffic at pollution hotspots. The third runway decision has already been cited, but according to DEFRA’s own models, the plans for the construction of High Speed 2 will increase emissions of the most dangerous pollutants in my constituency by 40%. Is that not gross irresponsibility?

Ms Abbott: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point.

Throughout the Mayor’s tenure, there has been a growing gap between what he has said about air pollution and what he has done on the issue. That is not unsurprising; Boris Johnson is a politician who talks a good game, but does not necessarily deliver. One example is the introduction of ultra-low emission zones, which would require vehicles travelling to central London to meet stricter emissions standards or pay a daily charge.

Since proposing the ultra-low emission zone nearly two years ago, Boris Johnson has taken a series of backward steps. His approach to the issue is inadmissibly weak. Waiting until 2020 to introduce the zone is simply costing lives. A range of organisations including the London boroughs, the London Health Commission, the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal College of Physicians have come together to call for the ultra-low emission zone to be strengthened, with early implementation, wider coverage, stricter standards and stronger incentives, but from Mayor Boris Johnson, we hear nothing. The financial costs to a fraction of drivers and voters must be weighed against the health benefits, including to those same drivers, who are the most at risk from pollution, and to the larger population, particularly children, who are exposed to air pollution in central London and beyond, all the way to Dartford.

Furthermore, Boris Johnson has paid no heed to the findings of the Marmot review of health inequalities, which linked higher exposure to air pollution among poorer communities with an increased risk of cardio-respiratory disease. Nationwide, 66% of man-made carcinogenic chemicals are released into the air in the most deprived 10% of English city wards. It is imperative that the incoming Mayor—I hope it will be me—widens the scope of measures and schemes designed to reduce pollution. By restricting his focus to central London and zone 1, Boris Johnson has abdicated his responsibility to the most vulnerable by excluding those in densely populated, heavily polluted and disadvantaged areas, and given no thought at all to areas outside London that are also affected by high levels of air pollution in London.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 6WH

I want, and Londoners deserve, for London to become the world’s greenest capital city. The proposed solutions are as follows. We cannot fight the environmental challenges facing London, including air pollution, in a silo. We need a Mayor of London who will advocate for sustainability, low energy consumption and efficient waste reduction ideas that permeate all sectors, including housing, transport, healthcare, education and business. Not all London’s air quality issues result from the number of motor vehicles on our roads, but reducing the number and cleaning up their fuel sources would lead to big improvements. An incoming Mayor must incentivise use of electric cars and work actively to decrease the number of diesel vehicles on our roads.

With London’s population growing year on year, our city is at a crossroads on the issue of the environment in general and air pollution in particular. Londoners must choose whether they want a change for the better. A London with cleaner air and an increased reliance on renewable energy, and that is a safe city for cyclists and pedestrians, is an achievable reality with the right political will; I contend that the current Mayor has not shown that political will. An incoming Mayor must take urgent action.

For instance, it is unacceptable that statistics from 2013 show that the City of London has the highest carbon footprint per person in the whole of the UK. The average Briton produces 12.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, but emissions per head in the City are 25% higher than that. Maybe that is because the people there are more important or wealthy, but it is not acceptable.

The Mayor should consider the use of sustainable technologies. I visited a very interesting project in Hackney a week or so ago, where solar panels have been put on top of a big council block. That enables people there to get their electricity more cheaply, and it is also a sustainable energy source. It is a very interesting project, which could be potentially rolled out across London.

Current efforts are insufficient. Not enough progress has been made on increasing the number of hybrid buses in TfL’s fleet; rectifying that deficiency should be a priority. The fact that Oxford Street remains one of the most polluted streets in the world is evidence that measures to reduce pollution from taxis and buses are not being pursued with sufficient energy. We need to establish more accessible grants for environmentally friendly infrastructure development. London can become a global leader in the proliferation of renewable energy sources, such as solar power. London would do well to adopt such good practices as the creation of last-mile delivery hubs, to ensure that the carbon footprint of final-stage delivery is minimised. There are firms in the City that encourage their employees to walk more—if not to work, then at least between offices. We need to improve London’s sustainable infrastructure; that would create jobs in construction and logistics.

Also, the environmental future of our city must be considered when solving London’s housing crisis; we should think about sustainability and environmentally friendly projects. For example, housing developments that incorporate super-insulation would help to reduce the ever-increasing energy bills of Londoners. We also need to step up our efforts to make the city a safe and accessible place for cyclists. If more people could be encouraged to drop their cars and get on their bikes,

9 Jun 2015 : Column 7WH

London would be a greener and more liveable city. Not enough has been done to address that; it should be treated as an urgent necessity.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that Members of all parties understand that this is an important issue that has not been properly addressed. There can be no doubt that the airport expansion at Heathrow that is being talked about would be the death knell of efforts to improve levels of air pollution, because aviation is such a major cause of air pollution.

Toxic air in London is killing Londoners, and we urgently need measures to tackle it. Promises to meet EU guidelines by 2025 or even by 2030 are unacceptable, and it is shocking that it has taken direct action from the Supreme Court to force the Government and the Mayor to address this issue seriously. It is clear that we have a real opportunity to tackle air pollution through a wholesale shift in the way that we view our living environment. For London, Londoners and the wider population in the UK, it is imperative that we seize the initiative and put an end to this silent killer once and for all, and I am using this opportunity to urge all stakeholders to step up and take responsibility. Individual companies can encourage sustainable travel on the part of their employees; housing developers can encourage sustainable development that uses renewable energy; borough councils can do more to encourage cycling to school, and they can also give out information about air pollution; the Mayor of London, who I think we can agree has comprehensively failed on this issue, can do more; and so can the Government. People should not have had to go to court to force the Government to recognise their responsibilities under EU law.

This important issue is not being dealt with, and as we fail to deal with it thousands of Londoners die every year. I am grateful to the House for having been given the opportunity to bring it to the attention of Members.

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): Order. Before I call other Members to speak, I point out that I intend to call the Front-Bench spokesmen from about 10.30 am. We have about 35 minutes before then, and a number of Members wish to speak. I will not impose a time limit, but if Members could keep their contributions to less than five minutes, and ideally to around four minutes, we will probably get everyone in.

9.55 am

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I will briefly raise three issues because I believe that all levels of Government have failed my constituents and London overall.

Let us make it absolutely clear that there is no way that central Government can abide by the European directives on air pollution if a third runway at Heathrow goes ahead. Heathrow Airport Ltd has admitted for the first time—despite our arguing this for four decades—that 4,000 properties in my constituency will be rendered unliveable or will have to be demolished as a result of the increased air or noise pollution caused by the expansion of Heathrow airport. It would mean 10,000 people being forced out of their homes.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 8WH

In addition, during every inquiry on Heathrow expansion until now, and particularly before the last one, we have been told that air pollution will inevitably be reduced by technological improvements in the aircraft themselves. In fact, before the previous general election, those making the argument for the third runway were comforted by the idea of the development of a new aircraft, which was noise-free and did not cause air pollution. However, we then discovered that no such aircraft was envisaged; it was not even on the drawing board.

We are now being told again—fictitiously, I believe—that a whole range of mitigation measures will be introduced if a third runway goes ahead, which will not only cap air pollution, but reduce it, so that we become compliant with EU legislation. No one in the scientific world believes that.

Andy Slaughter: I have never believed any of the promises that Heathrow has made over the last 20 years, so I do not know why we should start now. However, even if Heathrow was right about quieter aircraft, one of the major causes of pollution is, of course, road traffic. If we increase the number of flights by 50%, we will increase the number of cars driving to Heathrow by 50%, and that would be a killer in itself on the most polluted roads in London.

John McDonnell: What worries me is that when we presented this evidence to the Airports Commission—the Davies commission—it was treated relatively truculently. Only legal action forced the commission to consult again on air pollution. In doing so, it undermined the Government’s own guidelines about how to consult, including about the timescale for consultation. The commission’s report will now be tainted as a result of its failure to deal with this matter correctly.

If Heathrow airport is expanded, we will never be able to comply with air pollution limits, because of the extra air traffic and road traffic that will be generated as a result. Therefore, the conclusion in Government must be that Heathrow expansion cannot go ahead. If it does, that flies in the face of all the scientific evidence.

The other failure of government is, as has been said, the mayoral strategies. Those strategies have come up with all sorts of different devices, such as air quality management zones. We have had those zones in my area, but they have been completely undermined by individual planning decisions that have been supported by the Mayor, the Planning Inspectorate and local councils. I will give just two examples of such decisions in my area, and then I will allow other Members to speak.

The first example is the Conway bitumen plant development in my constituency. For a number of years, the Nestlé factory in my constituency pumped out emissions. We worked co-operatively with it to reduce the air pollution from that plant. When people in my area woke up in the morning, they could smell coffee if the wind was in the right direction. It gives a whole new meaning to, “Wake up and smell the coffee”. To give Nestlé its due, it worked over the years to reduce the emissions and it worked with the local community; I set up a consultative group. That factory is now closing.

Then, the local council, Hillingdon, gave permission for Conway to develop a bitumen recycling plant less than half a mile away. We are now regularly exposed to

9 Jun 2015 : Column 9WH

fumes from that plant. It is not controlled by the local authority, because the cutbacks in local government expenditure have meant that Hillingdon Council has cut its staff, and environmental and planning concerns are not being addressed effectively. The only reports on monitoring this company are produced by the company itself, which of course tell us that it is compliant with all the legislation.

Constituents of mine—and constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma)—wake in the morning and are nauseous and sick due to the overpowering smell of bitumen. Yet, as a result of the local council’s not being effective in doing its duty, we have not been able to act. I should welcome a meeting with the Minister’s officials to take advice on how we go forward in that regard.

In the same area, which is an air quality management zone, the Planning Inspectorate has allowed a huge out-of-town Asda shopping development with 500 car parking spaces. With a bitumen plant pumping out emissions at one end of North Hyde Road and an Asda development at the other end, there will be some 10,000 traffic movements a day on that road.

This is the way that central Government fail us. The mayoralty has proved completely ineffective. The local council either does not perform its duties effectively, because of cuts, or the Planning Inspectorate overrides even sensible decisions. Something is wrong here.

Mr Hurd: As a fellow Hillingdon MP, I stand shoulder to shoulder with the hon. Gentleman on the issue of the third runway. Does he agree that the other great threat to air quality in Hillingdon is the construction of High Speed 2? Will he join me in pressing the Government to consider more seriously the option of extending the tunnel to spare us the problem?

John McDonnell: I have always backed high-speed rail—

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): Order. The hon. Gentleman has now had more than five minutes.

John McDonnell: This is my final sentence, Mr Crausby. I apologise.

The hon. Gentleman is basically correct. I have supported the concept of high-speed rail for many years, but we have discovered that HS2 would generate more traffic in our area, rather than reducing it and overcoming some problems at Heathrow.

Government, local government and the mayoralty need to get their act together on this. Last year, I supported the Environmental Audit Committee’s call for a proper inquiry into solutions to air pollution in London. We need it now and we need it urgently.

10.1 am

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on her mayoral manifesto—sorry, on introducing a subject that is close to all our hearts. For the avoidance of doubt, Oxford Street is in my constituency, although it may one day be in her constituency. However, she is quite right about the problems on that thoroughfare, about which I also

9 Jun 2015 : Column 10WH

have a lot to say. As the father of two young children, living in the increasingly congested Victoria station district, the issue of air quality affecting everyday living is critical.

London is the largest, most established post-industrial city in Europe. It is no surprise that many competing interests jostle with air quality for priority. Our capital is proud to be a global city and it is the epicentre of the UK’s economy. Constant new investment in all our transport infrastructure is required for it to thrive, including—at times—roads. Only then can London maintain its position as a global leader.

More than 1 million people come to work in my constituency alone every day and the congestion this causes inevitably has a major impact on local air quality.

The 10-year age limit on taxis from 2020 should be welcomed, as these vehicles are responsible for a relatively large proportion of emissions in central London. It is essential that a taxi scrappage scheme is introduced to help drivers upgrade their vehicles.

It is worth praising TfL for its efforts on ultra-low emission zones, which are set to be introduced in 2020, although that is perhaps a little bit further in the distance than many of us would like. Investment encouraging pedestrian, electric cars and cycle lanes is also welcome, but I fear that it is insufficiently radical properly to address the heart of this issue.

In a bid to tackle climate change, successive Governments have, through taxation, incentivised drivers to switch to diesel on the basis that it produces less carbon dioxide than petrol. I am sorry to say that this has helped compound the problem. The lobby group, Clean Air in London, led by my indefatigable constituent and good personal friend, Simon Birkett, continues to campaign for a new Clean Air Act to deal with diesel engines, which emit some 20 times more polluting particulates than their petrol equivalents. Clean Air London is rightly calling for a scrappage scheme to remove diesel vehicles from our roads and for widening the congestion charge beyond London, with charges set purely on the basis of emission levels. Drivers may need to be charged far more to drive diesel vehicles through the most polluted areas during rush hour and the ultra-low emission zone should be expanded to include the heavily congested north and south corridors.

Diesel engines are dismally failing to meet nitrogen dioxide emission standards, by an average of some 4.4 times per kilometre in real-world driving conditions. Much of this is caused by the impact of congestion and speed humps, which are inexplicably not variants in the industry standard norms. As a result, nitrogen dioxide levels soar whenever a car’s accelerator is used. This is borne out by the UK being in breach of the EU’s mandated air pollution levels for nitrogen dioxide in no fewer than 38 out of the 43 air quality monitoring zones. These levels were meant to be met some five years ago, as the hon. Lady said, and that situation triggered the legal action that she mentioned. I suggest that, paradoxically, the EU-wide regulatory failing regarding diesel engine emissions has led to this problem.

In my constituency we have a number of hotspots, not just Oxford Street: Marylebone Road, parts of Knightsbridge and the area around Victoria have previously recorded the highest nitrogen dioxide levels in the world and this is causing major problems. Clean Air in London

9 Jun 2015 : Column 11WH

is rightly calling for Oxford Street to be pedestrianised to a large extent and for shops and offices to be fitted with regularly maintained air filters to help reduce nitrogen dioxide levels. I am told that regulations for issuing fixed penalty notices for unnecessary idling of vehicle engines have so far proved ineffective. That needs to change.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the City of London, which suffers from the highest average levels of air pollution. According to an Evening Standard campaign last Friday, the City was advising people not to go jogging during the day because of the pollution levels.

There is much more that I should like to say, but I appreciate that other hon. Members want to speak. I finish by mentioning one of my favourite hobbies: walking in all corners of London. I know from personal experience, having been to Dalston and Stamford Hill and other parts of the hon. Lady’s constituency, which are less polluted than bits of mine, that there is none the less a pollution issue there as well.

The problems to which we refer are by no means limited to the city centre or the area around Heathrow airport, although I am sure that that is an important issue for many fellow London MPs. I dread to think of the damage that is being done to the lungs of huge numbers of children and asthma sufferers, of whom there are now a staggering 5.4 million in the UK.

I am delighted that this debate appears to be building momentum across the media. I give particular credit to the Evening Standard, because its campaign is important and will run for months and years to come. I hope that the Minister will consider seriously a lot of what is being said today, because this is and will continue to be a major issue for all Londoners that will unite the political class within London across the House, and we need to deal with it with some urgency.

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): No one up to now has been near five minutes, never mind four. I now call Tom Brake, who I am sure will comply.

10.7 am

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I will do my best, Mr Crausby.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate my friend Stephen Knight, a London Assembly member for the Lib Dems, who has focused on the issue of air quality around schools. He did a survey that found, for example, that only 2% of teachers in schools were aware of a service call airText, which provides updates to people if air quality is poor. I understand that the Mayor’s target is to sign up 250,000 people to the service and that the number currently stands at 7,000, so he clearly has a long way to go. I hope he gets there, because people need the information.

Only 5% of teachers were aware of the Cleaner Air 4 Schools initiative, supported by the Mayor. As I said in an intervention, the Mayor should be doing a lot more in relation to information about air quality. There are often adverts for TfL on LBC, Metro or in tube stations. TfL is a huge organisation with a large budget

9 Jun 2015 : Column 12WH

that ought to be doing much more to prioritise communication on air pollution, and it can do that through its websites, emails and paid commercials. Given that the Greater London Assembly website has 200,000 hits a month and the TfL website no fewer than 20 million per month, there are lots of opportunities for the Mayor to communicate.

I welcome what the Mayor is doing on the ultra-low emission zone. However, I wonder whether doing it by 2020, as the Supreme Court has ordered, will be quick enough. We need incentives to encourage taxi firms to switch to cleaner vehicles. The Mayor first announced in 2008 that those would be available—but we are still waiting, seven years on.

One area where the Government and the Mayor can play an important role is with the Euro 6-standard lorries that are already available. I have been talking to a local constituency firm, Steve Frieze Removals, which has to rely on second-hand vehicles. Its worry is that there will not be enough appropriate second-hand vehicles on the market to purchase in advance of 2020, when its vehicles will have to meet the standard.

I turn briefly to the slightly different issue of air quality in Beddington Lane in my constituency. There is a proposal from Viridor to build an energy recovery facility on a site there. There is lots of opposition locally, but the opponents do not seem to be articulating an alternative solution, other than possibly trucking the waste much, much further than it currently goes. Do the Government intend to support a methodology that would allow the Environment Agency to control the total emissions from a range of sources, rather than simply linking the extra emissions associated with one site with the background pollution levels? My understanding is that that is how the Environment Agency has to handle things currently, but lots of facilities are emitting in Beddington Lane, and it is the totality of what is happening there that needs to be addressed.

I would have loved to have talked about Heathrow as well, Mr Crausby, but I think you are encouraging me to sit down.

10.11 am

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on initiating this crucial debate.

The great smog of 1952 killed some 3,500 people directly and many more indirectly. The public outcry led to the hugely successful and almost revolutionary Clean Air Act 1956. Next year will be its 60th anniversary, as has been said, and air pollution is very much back as a significant public health issue. I will not go through all the bad news, because it has already been relayed, but I make one point: more than 1 million Londoners live in areas that exceed legal limits on nitrogen dioxide, and that should be enough to highlight the importance of the issue.

As London expands—its population is expected to hit 10 million by 2030—the problem will inevitably grow, and tackling it will require the same level of energy that stopped the 1950s smog. Despite some of the things that have been said, I think we have seen leadership from the Mayor. For example, no other city

9 Jun 2015 : Column 13WH

in the world has a congestion charge and a low emissions zone, or plans for an ultra-low emission zone; I accept that there is a strong case for bringing forward the establishment of the ultra-low emission zone and for the zone to be bigger.

We have seen record investment in cycling over recent years in London and take-up has radically increased, but given that we cannot invent more roads, we will need that trend to ramp up massively if we want to avoid absolute gridlock on our streets. For the same reason, we should be investing in infrastructure to make far greater use of the river to carry freight and, for that matter, people. The numbers have improved in recent years, but they need to be ramped up dramatically.

London is growing by the equivalent of two extra tube trains a week—the equivalent of one bus every two hours—so it is hard to exaggerate the case for expanding our rail and tube network. We also need a revolution in electric car ownership. It is extraordinary that, despite falling costs, the fact that getting around in electric cars is dramatically cheaper than conventional alternatives and the installation of 1,400 new charging points in the past three years—a consequence of the Mayor’s intervention—that revolution simply has not happened. It will inevitably happen; the market dictates that it will, but the market needs a boost. The economics are already such that there is no reason why new minicabs should not all be electric or zero-emissions, or why companies with big fleets, such as delivery companies, are not automatically replacing their old vehicles with electric alternatives. The maths already stacks up, but somewhere along the line we need a powerful nudge.

London has the largest electric hybrid bus fleet in Europe, but the vast majority of London buses are still diesel. Many cities, including New York and Rome, have introduced whole fleets of electric buses. We have to ask how long will it be before all our buses in London are electric—or at least zero-emissions in other forms. I only learned this recently, but construction equipment, such as diggers, accounts for a staggering 14% of particulate emissions in London. Surely contracts should be awarded only to construction companies that have retrofitted the engines or have vehicles that are new and clean.

There is masses that we can do in London—I do not have time to go through the full list—but central Government must play a role. Denmark and France have introduced highly successful feebate schemes; a new tax is placed at the point of purchase on the dirtiest cars, with all the proceeds being used to bring down the cost of the cleanest alternatives. It is revenue-neutral, it is not retrospective, it is popular and it works.

While I am on the subject of central Government and without wanting to repeat too much of what has already been said—although I am loving the consensus—I want to emphasise that if we are serious about air quality, the Government simply have to rule out Heathrow expansion. Heathrow is already in breach of legally binding air quality limits, and any expansion would make that far worse. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has just produced data showing that Heathrow is likely to be the second most polluted part of London by 2030, irrespective of whether it is expanded.

It is worth noting that one extra runway would lead to 25 million extra road passenger journeys, and, according to Transport for London, the cost of accommodating that by adapting our road networks is £15 billion more

9 Jun 2015 : Column 14WH

than Heathrow bosses have admitted. To put the issue in context, Heathrow expansion is incompatible with any prospect of meeting any legal air quality standards. It needs to be removed from the agenda once and for all. I thank you, Mr Crausby, for your indulgence.

10.16 am

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) for securing this debate. I will cover two issues: Heathrow and Mogden sewage works. In my maiden speech, I mentioned the impact of Heathrow traffic on the A4 and the M4, which are important corridors through my constituency. People do not experience air pollution just as the silent killer of respiratory illness and morbidity, but also as that greasy dirt that can be seen on washing that is put out, on cars and on garden furniture. We know that the key pollutants around Heathrow are nitrogen dioxide and PM10. As previous speakers have said, the UK is already in breach of EU air quality legislation and that is likely to continue to be the case, whether or not Heathrow is expanded.

Some feasible improvements can be made at Heathrow, such as cleaner planes and a kiss and drop scheme. There could also be greater public transport use through increased capacity on the Piccadilly line, as well as through Crossrail and Airtrack. There is also the tunnelling of the M4, which would move the pollution, rather than decrease it. The modal shift from those public transport improvements, however, will not be significant. We are already seeing increased passenger numbers at Heathrow, even before additional runway capacity is built. There is no evidence that the changes would be adequate to meet the challenges of an almost doubling of air traffic movements, should the third runway or the Heathrow hub go ahead.

More extreme measures have been suggested. Clean Air in London talks about an ultra-low emission zone around Heathrow airport, but to be effective that zone would have to be so enormous that it would have a serious impact on the economy of the Thames valley area and be virtually impossible to enforce. Given what previous speakers have said, it is clear that on air quality grounds alone expansion at Heathrow, whether a third runway or the Heathrow hub, cannot go ahead, because it would imply further breaches of EU air quality legislation.

I turn to a completely different area that also creates air quality issues for local residents. Mogden sewage works is the second largest sewage works in the UK and is situated in the centre of my constituency. For those who live near Mogden in Twickenham, Hounslow South and Isleworth—Twickenham is not in my constituency, but is very close to it—air quality issues are an almost weekly occurrence. I had 16 email complaints from residents near Modgen in my inbox yesterday. In a couple of months, Twickenham rugby stadium will host the rugby world cup; the UK could be rather embarrassed if many matches are spoiled by the stench of sewage floating over the stadium.

The problems are occurring despite a £140 million expansion at Mogden sewage works last year that almost doubled its capacity. In my previous role as a councillor, I worked for many years with the Mogden Residents’

9 Jun 2015 : Column 15WH

Action Group—MRAG—as well as with council officers and the MPs before me, to address the issue. My predecessor, Mary Macleod, met the Minister’s predecessor, Dan Rogerson, to ask the Department to address the issue with some urgency. The storm tanks need covering and there should be more of them, because, apart from the smell, Mogden sewage works continues to discharge dilute sewage into the Thames regularly, every time there is heavy rain.

I know that time is short and others want to speak, so I will conclude by asking the new Minister to meet me and local residents and councillors to try to reach a solution to this problem.

10.21 am

Mr Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con): I will be very brief, Mr Crausby.

If we are to get serious about improving air quality in London, we must not lose sight of the ultimate no-brainer policy—not wilfully to increase traffic in pollution hotspots. If we are serious about improving air quality in the London borough of Hillingdon, the current plans for the construction of HS2 must be revisited. We are being asked to host multiple construction sites, some of which will be in existence for 10 years. They will flood narrow suburban roads with HGVs. The roads are already clogged and are surrounded by high-density housing. The area is home to clusters of schools, to which children walk. The impact will be disastrous.

I will illustrate my point by discussing three roads. Swakeleys roundabout is already highly congested and in breach of EU limits; the current HS2 plans will increase HGV traffic there by 1,672 movements per day. On Swakeleys Road, there will be 1,860 new HGV movements per day. On Harvil Road, there will be 1,360 new HGV movements per day. To make that live a bit, I should say that that means a new HGV movement every 25 seconds on key artery roads that my constituents use to get to work in and around the borough. This is in an area where pollution levels are already high—in some cases, already in breach of EU limits—but, through HS2, the Government plan wilfully to increase the traffic.

On HS2 Ltd’s own traffic projections, fed into the Department’s own forecasting model, emissions for PM10, PM2.5 and NOx will be set to rise by between 30% and 40%. That feels like irresponsible madness, given the threat that the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) articulated so well—the silent killer that she described. This is Government policy pulling in different directions.

There is a solution: bury HS2, literally, by extending the proposed tunnel so that it crosses the Colne valley. It can be done technically, and the London borough of Hillingdon’s report shows that it can be done for more or less the same price as the existing proposals. There are lots of reasons to do it, but today we add to them the opportunity for the Government to avoid wilfully adding to the terrible problem of the quality of air that Londoners breathe.

Several hon. Members rose

9 Jun 2015 : Column 16WH

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): Order. I am going to call the Scottish National party spokesman, Mr Sheppard, to speak at half-past 10.

10.23 am

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I will be very brief, Mr Crausby. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on securing this debate. She has demonstrated what an effective parliamentarian she is—and why she should stay in this House.

I will not repeat the description of the pollution in London, other than to say that, apart from Oxford Street, areas such as Putney High Street and Brixton Road are also heavily congested and have serious air pollution.

I want to mention schools. It is deeply worrying that, with life expectancy reduced by 11 years, so many London school kids are suffering with air pollution because so many parents are choosing to drive to school. London needs a new initiative, led by the Mayor, to encourage parents to walk to school. That will help to address both the issue of obesity and the fact that so many engines outside school gates in the morning and at the end of the school day are causing real problems for young people’s lungs. The British Lung Foundation has had much to say on that.

It is also important to do something about cycling. Clearly, the funding must be increased, because 1% of the TfL budget is not sufficient. There are real problems relating to cycling in suburban areas, and we need to speed up cycling super-highways. Currently, London’s 40% ethnic minority population is not choosing to cycle. Cycling proficiency training must come back into schools—it has largely disappeared because the money has left local government—because unless we increase cycling, we will not make any progress on air pollution.

The Mayor’s electric car hire scheme has been a spectacular failure. Over the coming year, he should learn from places such as Paris, but I hope that the next Mayor—who, of course, I hope will be me—will do something about accelerating electric car use in the city.

Crossrail 2 will be hugely important in expanding our tube network and ensuring that people stay on the public underground system. As chair of the all-party group on Crossrail 2, I reiterate that it is important that as Crossrail 1 finishes, we move forward with Crossrail 2 in this city and over the next horizon.

Air pollution is chronically bad, and more needs to be done. Much has been said about airport expansion in this debate; I will add nothing—let us see what happens next week—except that, in the end, most pollution is down to diesel. The next Mayor must address that in the congestion zone as well.

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): I will now call the Front-Bench spokesmen. I would be grateful if they could divide the time evenly, and leave time for the Minister. Under the new proceedings, I can call the mover of the motion to speak again at the end of the debate.

10.26 am

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): I speak on behalf of the third party. Perhaps I should make it clear at the start that the SNP is unlikely to have a

9 Jun 2015 : Column 17WH

candidate in next year’s mayoral race. Nevertheless, we are extremely pleased to be here today to support our colleagues in London in raising awareness of this important issue. Members can consider this one small step towards building the progressive alliance of which we have talked. We hope to be part of that alliance, and that it will go across party lines.

I used to be a resident of this city and have some affection for it. I lived here for 11 years, although that was some 20 years ago. Coming back to London, it is noticeable how much the city has improved in many ways—how much cleaner it appears to be on the outside and how things seem to be better organised—but today we are discussing the things that we cannot see. I have a personal interest in this debate, because five years ago I was diagnosed with asthma. Like other sufferers, I know more than the average person that just because we cannot see something, it does not mean that it is not there, doing us harm.

I found nothing to disagree with in the comments of right hon. and hon. Members. I very much support their ambition in trying to raise the profile of this issue. I would, though, like to make a couple of additional points. The first applies not only in London but throughout the United Kingdom, and particularly in Scotland: we value very much the quality of our air and our reputation for having clean air. That is true not only for the residents of cities, but for the people who intend to visit. If a place starts to get a reputation for having dirty air and being a polluted environment, that reputational damage will have a long-term effect on whether people will want to visit and spend time in our towns and cities.

This afternoon, we will start the debate on whether we should remain part of the European Union. If ever there was a response to the question, “What has the European Union ever done for us?”, I think it would be: “It has set controls and limits relating to air quality, with which we have to comply.” It is a simple fact that the pollutants in our air do not respect the administrative boundaries of cities or countries. Only by acting together and setting strict controls on emissions and pollution can we protect our citizens across such boundaries.

I am pleased say that my colleagues in the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities have been working hard to try to improve the situation where we live. For the purposes of compliance, the UK is divided into 43 areas, of which 16 are not in compliance at the moment, though they were meant to be by this year. Of those, I am pleased that only one is in Scotland, the Glasgow urban area, and we anticipate that it will be in compliance by 2017, once the current road has been upgraded to motorway status and completes the M8.

We are doing our bit in Scotland, and we want to support colleagues here in doing what they can to raise awareness. We implore the Government to take action to improve the situation in London. Our support can be relied on for that.

10.30 am

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on initiating this timely debate. She has laid down a serious challenge to both the Mayor of London and the Government.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 18WH

Of course, the Mayor now has a dual role, as he is also the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). I hope that his new responsibilities lead him to question seriously the adequacy of some of the measures that he has proposed as Mayor to tackle air pollution in this great city. In his constituency, the children at Pinkwell and Cherry Lane primary schools face carcinogenic air pollution that is twice the annual legal limit. We know that children attending primary schools within 150 metres of a main road grow up with lung capacity impaired by up to a third, and that they have an increased risk of asthma and heart disease. Indeed, along with others this afternoon, I will host an event with the healthy air campaign precisely to highlight those risks and to encourage hon. Members to press for real and urgent change.

The impact of air pollution on London’s children is shocking. We know from Public Health England that London’s toxic air has already caused more than 1,300 premature deaths this year. That the poorest children are worst affected, with those least able to defend themselves the most exposed to that danger, should make us feel particularly ashamed. In Britain, health inequality has become inseparable from environmental inequality, and it is quite simply the poor who live in the most polluted environments. No one would choose to live or go to school on a dangerously polluted road; those who do usually have no choice in the matter. They are forced to live with the risks, but the Government do have a choice and a responsibility.

The Government spent three years in court trying to wriggle out of the responsibility placed on them by annex 15B to article 23(1) of the air quality directive. They argued that the directive put no requirement on them to prepare a plan to improve the situation, but the judgment was absolutely precise about the seriousness of the breach. The ruling was:

“The new government should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action, which is achieved by an order that new plans must be delivered to the Commission not later than 31 December 2015.”

The Government revealed in court that they did not believe they would solve the air pollution issue under their plans until 2030. Particulate matter alone is currently responsible for more than 3,000 deaths a year in London. When the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants is finally allowed to report its findings on nitrogen dioxide next month, it is predicted that that figure could double. A conservative estimate, therefore, suggests that by 2030 the Government’s failure to tackle air pollution could lead to the death of more than 50,000 Londoners. In the words of the judgment, the Secretary of State has an

“obligation to act urgently under Article 23(1), in order to remedy a real and continuing danger to public health as soon as possible.”

The Government and the Mayor have been playing a mutually convenient blame game. Last year, the Government wrote to every local authority in which air pollution exceeded legal limits to explain that ultimate legal responsibility for air pollution lay with local authorities and that any fines levied on the Government would be passed on to them. The Supreme Court judgment shows that that letter was wrong, so, in the light of that judgment, will the Government send a correction letter to all those local authorities?

9 Jun 2015 : Column 19WH

The Minister is not the only Member who needs to send out a correction letter. Over the weekend I received a briefing from the Mayor on air quality in London for today’s debate. I am sorry that he could not be here—my office contacted his office earlier and found that he was attending an LBC pre-record, which clearly took priority. In bold type, the briefing says,

“London does not have the worst air pollution on the planet”.

We must all be relieved about that, though actually a presentation at the environmental research group at King’s College London by Dr David Carslaw last year suggested otherwise. On Oxford Street, the annual mean nitrogen dioxide, measured continuously, was 135 micrograms per metre cubed, while World Health Organisation guidelines state that the average should not exceed 40. The WHO also states that levels should not exceed 200 micrograms per metre cubed for more than 18 hours in a single year, but Oxford Street recorded levels above that—not for 18 hours, but for 1502 hours in a single year.

While the Mayor’s briefing is careful to talk only about average annual levels of nitrogen dioxide, Dr Carslaw is quite explicit when he refers to both the Oxford Street figures. He said:

“To my knowledge this”


“is the highest in the world in terms of both hourly and annual mean.”

Of course, as the Mayor has done so often, he has used distraction technique. This is not some perverse international contest of “my pollution is bigger than yours”. The real issue is that the average annual nitrogen dioxide level in London’s busiest street was more than four times higher than the World Health Organisation says it should be. It exceeded the maximum permissible hourly spikes by more than 8,344%. That is the issue, and no amount of international comparison can render that acceptable.

The Mayor’s briefing claims that since 2008, when he took office, there has been a 12% reduction in nitrogen dioxide. By my reckoning that still leaves us with a very long way to go. It also says that

“London is implementing the most ambitious package of measures of any world city”,

and it cites the ultra-low emission zone as proof of that. I am sorry that the Mayor does not consider either Berlin or Copenhagen to be a world city.

Low-emission zones have already dramatically reduced air pollution here, but the truth is that London’s proposed ultra-low emission zone will not come into effect until 2020, and even then it will apply only in the central congestion charging zone and cover only 7% of the main roads in London that suffer from the worst nitrogen dioxide pollution. It will also exempt buses from meeting the highest Euro 6 standard and require only that all new taxis are zero-emission-capable by 2030. The other 93% of the most polluted roads in London will be outside the zone and may in fact experience greater pollution as more vehicles circumvent the zone and come into more residential and poorer parts of the city. If ever there was a perfect example for the phrase “Too little, too late”, that is surely it.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 20WH

Andy Slaughter: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech; he is absolutely demolishing the Mayor’s atrocious record on this issue. Perhaps he might like to think about standing for that position. We had heard two pitches for the post, but we have had three now.

Barry Gardiner: Enough, already. With cities across Europe adopting low and ultra-low emissions zones, there is a huge prize for manufacturers of low and zero-emission vehicles and there are significant risks for manufacturers that choose to bet against that trend. A responsible Government would reduce risk by adopting the highest standards here today. Will the Minister tell us what progress has been made to establish long-term goals and timescales for a step-by-step rebalancing of fuel duty and vehicle excise duty, consistent with reducing not just CO2 emissions, but NO2 and particulate matter impacts? Emissions-based pricing must be the way forward. To achieve that, I ask the Minister to initiate a strategic assessment of the relative benefits of the different options to encourage the manufacture and purchase of low and ultra-low emissions vehicles.

On one point the Mayor’s document is certainly correct: the Government and the EU need to take complementary action and work with local authorities such as TfL to create a national framework of low emission zones, accelerate the uptake of zero-emissions vehicles and ensure that the Euro 6 standard does not reproduce the mistakes of Euro 4 and Euro 5, where the actual performance under road conditions is vastly inferior to that under test conditions.

The trouble for the Minister is that his Government’s own reports show that, far from trying to improve the standards, they have been working to undermine those very EU air pollution regulations since 2012. On 1 April 2015—I assure you, Mr Crausby, that I have not got the date wrong—the Government announced that, as part of their red tape challenge, they were working in Europe to undermine the enforcement of the air pollution regulation. The announcement said:

“Working in partnership with other Member States,”

the Government would

“negotiate to: reduce the risk of financial penalties from noncompliance, especially in relation to nitrogen dioxide provisions”.

Somewhat ironically the paragraph ends:

“whilst maintaining or improving health and ecosystem protection”.

The Minister is no fool. I respect him greatly. He must recognise that there is a causal relationship here. We cannot introduce amendments to the air quality directive that raise the permitted limits of nitrogen dioxide and improve public health at the same time. The Government need to wake up and take responsibility for this public health crisis. Extensive lobbying efforts by environmental and health organisations persuaded the Government and the European Commission to abandon efforts to dilute the clean air directive. The new Minister therefore has an opportunity to start with a clean slate. I ask him in his summing up to make a commitment today to dropping all objections to current European standards, except those made on the basis that the standards are too weak, and to work to increase air quality in Europe, the UK and London. If he will not make that commitment, will he answer one final question: what is the point of a Government who cannot and will not deliver clean air for their citizens?

9 Jun 2015 : Column 21WH

10.42 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): It is a great privilege to have my first opportunity to speak in Westminster Hall on this subject. The attendance is fantastic. I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) for securing the debate. She expressed eloquently many of the reasons why this is such a deeply important issue. Part of the problem, as she said, is that we are considering an invisible substance—the air that we breathe. I also particularly welcome the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who spoke powerfully about his experience as an asthmatic and made a great contribution by bringing brevity and common sense to our discussion.

Poor air quality is incredibly serious. As the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington pointed out, air is not simply an invisible substance, but is the very heart of our breathing and our organic matter. We are only just beginning to understand the processes that affect air quality. I have a lot of sympathy for her argument, but I want to pick up on two small points of fact, to frame the debate. First, it is not the case that when she was growing up the air quality in London was somehow better and that there is more childhood asthma because air quality has declined since she was young. There are significant challenges for air quality in London at present, but, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh East pointed out, it has improved significantly. Since 1970, PM levels have fallen by 70% and nitrogen dioxide levels by 62%. There is an enormous amount still to do, but we should not believe that it is somehow worse now than in the past. Things have been improving; we should work to improve them more quickly.

Although this may sound like a petty point, we do not spend £16 billion a year on health costs connected to this issue. That is the estimated figure for social costs. The amount spent on related healthcare costs is approximately 100th of that. It is not that there are not significant health costs—there are, possibly running into hundreds of millions of pounds—but when we are thinking about the implications for public policy, we do not want that figure of £16 billion in lights.

The hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington raised the issue of London’s carbon footprint. That is linked to another major complexity, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), namely the relationship between carbon emissions and nitrogen dioxide emissions from engines.

I turn now to the specific points made by the many Members who have spoken today. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) mentioned Horn Lane. It is a highly complex situation. A range of different industrial plants operates there, including a cement works and a waste transfer station, all increasing the amount of particulate matter in the atmosphere. Some mitigating measures could be introduced, ranging from walls to absorb particulate matter to cleaning the tyres of vehicles moving in and out of the stations in the area. Transport for London and Ealing Council have been looking at some technical issues, including using bus lanes to move road-cleaning vehicles more readily, and the Government have offered support to the council

9 Jun 2015 : Column 22WH

if it is interested in applying for road-cleaning vehicles. It is a serious issue, but we have a clear idea of possible mitigating measures. I encourage the hon. Lady to work with me to put pressure on the council to bring those measures in.

Dr Huq: Is not part of the problem that local authorities are punished by EU fines if they do not meet the targets, but do not have the power to do anything? Our manifesto promised to put £30 billion of devolved spending behind the issue. That is not happening now. Does the Minister have any plans for anything like it?

Rory Stewart: Specifically on Horn Lane, I am afraid that I disagree slightly with the hon. Lady. Without wishing to be too controversial, I think that the local authority could have done a little more. For example, Government grants were available for road-sweeping equipment—I personally would have liked the council to apply for that money—and there could have been more imagination and flexibility on using bus lanes for road-sweeping equipment. However, I am happy to take the matter up in more detail with her. Similarly, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and his constituents to talk through the specific issues related to plants in his constituency.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster gave a fantastic speech that put London in context: it was the first city of the world in the 19th century, the first city to industrialise and the first post-industrial city. Colleagues in the Department for Transport will be interested in his specific proposals about taxis, and I am happy to talk to him about those. Speed bumps are also important and worth looking at. I join him in paying tribute to his constituent who has led the campaign by Clean Air in London.

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) gave striking statistics about awareness in schools and put forward some good ideas about how we can work towards better communication on the issue. He asked whether total ambient emissions are reflected in permits. My understanding from my officials is that they are. If he or his constituents have discovered a specific case in which they are not, he may by all means come back to me so that we can follow that up, but the guidance should address total ambient emissions.

Tom Brake: My understanding is that when the Environment Agency looks at extra emissions from a particular plant it can do so only against the background level and cannot take into account the totality of emissions from a number of plants in an area, which might exceed permitted levels of pollution.

Rory Stewart: I am happyto follow that up in more detail. It is possible there is a distinction here between the responsibilities of the Environment Agency, which focuses on industrial plants, and those of DEFRA, which focuses on air quality in general.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) raised a number of important issues. I liked his striking example of two extra tube trains a week representing the population growth in London. He emphasised the need to increase the use of the river, although there are issues around pollutants even from river-borne vehicles, which account for a substantial percentage of nitrogen dioxide emissions in London.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 23WH

Electric cars must be central, because if there is a single technology that can address many of these issues—air pollutants, public health and carbon emissions—it is them. The Government have introduced a number of quite striking measures, ranging from working with Formula E, to providing incentives to electric car manufacturers to locate in the west midlands and looking at charging points, including motorway charging points, for electric vehicles. I agree that electric vehicles are the most exciting area, and it would be fantastic to work with my hon. Friend to push us harder and to challenge us to do more.

That brings us to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), who mentioned the Mogden sewage works and, in particular, the quantity and covering of the storm tanks. Again, I would be delighted to take up the request to meet her and her constituents. If we are lucky enough to get the Thames tideway tunnel through, it may be able to deal with some of those factors—

Ruth Cadbury indicated dissent.

Rory Stewart: The hon. Lady reckons it will not, so I am happy to give way to her.

Ruth Cadbury: The Mogden sewage works are upstream of the proposed tunnel, so they are not included in the proposals, which will, therefore, have no impact. At current capacity, Mogden will still be discharging dilute sewage into the Thames.

Rory Stewart: I clearly have a lot to learn from the hon. Lady about Mogden sewage works, and I look forward to having a detailed conversation about them with officials.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) mentioned HGV movements. Again, we had a striking statistic. He estimates that HGV movements will happen every 25 seconds under the HS2 proposals. He has a great sense of what we should do, literally, about HS2—he used the phrase “bury HS2”. Again, I am happy to look at the issues in detail.

That illustrates the incredible number of challenges around pollutants and air pollution in London. As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington pointed out, we would, in many ways, wish to support such proposals. HS2 could have considerable environmental benefits if it can move people out of vehicles. At the same time, however, it could create immense air pollution in London during its construction.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) made a wonderful broadcast for his campaign to be Mayor. He said something that it is difficult to disagree with, and which I would very much like to get behind: we want to encourage parents and children to walk, rather than drive, to school. Of course, doing that is easier said than done, but it would address issues around obesity and public health. Also, those idling engines outside schools emit nitrogen dioxide at an extraordinary intensity, and it would be sensible to address that.

Investment in cycling also seems sensible. TfL has produced some impressive and startling statistics on the increase over the last five years in the number of people cycling, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is correct that more can be done.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 24WH

Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that sustained investment in public transport is essential to deal with not only congestion, but air quality in London? I am thinking of strategic river crossings in east London, where, if we have investment in extra roads, which is often seen by some as a panacea for congestion and poor air quality, we will also need, at a minimum, to have sustained investment in public transport so that we can continue the modal shift from private vehicles to public transport.

Rory Stewart: That is absolutely right. These are issues of incredibly complex modelling. As the hon. Gentleman implies, the construction of a new bridge raises a series of new issues. Investment in public transport is essential, and I think TfL takes that on board.

The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), made a number of striking arguments. I do not want to get too much into the details of where Oxford Street stands in international rankings. As he said, there are a number of issues about hourly measurements and mean average estimates. As somebody who lived in Kabul, in Afghanistan, for three and a half years, I find it difficult to believe that the levels of particulate matter in Oxford Street are higher than those we experienced there. As he said, the more legitimate comparison is with developed European cities, and we need to make sure that London is moving in the right direction.

The issues of fuel duty, nitrogen dioxide and emission-based pricing in general are important. The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to pre-empt the Treasury or to start disrupting markets by talking about such fiscal instruments, but he is right that they are, logically, one thing a responsible Government should investigate in looking at a panoply of responses to emissions.

European standards were mentioned by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Edinburgh East. It is, of course, correct that we owe Europe a debt of gratitude in many ways for holding to account not only us, but 17 European countries that are in breach of their nitrogen dioxide thresholds.

We should recognise that the problem of pollution has faced London since the beginning of the 19th century. In many ways, the issues we face today are the end of nearly 200 years of struggling with pollution. As early as 1813, particles of carbon, dust and even faecal matter were so thick in the streets of London that it was not possible to see across the street. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park said, the smog in December 1952 managed to kill 4,000 people in just four days. That is where we are coming from in London.

Since then, we have severely restricted coal-burning in central London and introduced catalytic converters in vehicles. We have reduced sulphur dioxide emissions by 88%, we have reduced particulate matter by 70% and we have reduced nitrogen dioxide by 62% since 1970. Particulate matter is now below the EU-defined threshold. However, there is, as right hon. and hon. Members said, much more to be done.

Andy Slaughter: The Minister is giving a very thorough answer to all our points, but many Members raised the issue of Heathrow. Will he address it directly? What

9 Jun 2015 : Column 25WH

concerns do the Government have about air pollution at Heathrow, particularly in the light of its possible expansion?

Rory Stewart: The responsibility of DEFRA—I am slightly evading the issue, because I am not going to take a grand stance on Heathrow—is indeed to police air quality and air pollution in London. We will continue to exercise our responsibilities—says he, evading the issue.

I was particularly struck by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park focused on non-road mobile machinery and the potential there to reduce emissions by up to 40%. It is worth looking at that. There is also the issue of domestic and industrial boilers. We have focused a lot on vehicle movements, but there is potential in other areas.

I agree with the hon. Member for Brent North that Europe has done a great deal, but I am disappointed that, three weeks ago, we were not able to get other European member states to address the fact that the Euro 6 engines are not performing outside a laboratory. If we could get agreement on that, it would make a huge difference.

Although some progress has been made, each new step is becoming more and more difficult. We are not dealing simply with one issue, such as diesel cars, but with a dozen different issues, all of which contribute almost equally to diesel emissions.

Tom Brake: I hope I did not miss this, and I hope the Minister is not being evasive, but when will the Government publish their air quality strategy?

Rory Stewart: I do not have an answer for the right hon. Gentleman, but I am happy to sit down and talk through the details. We are certainly bringing together an air quality strategy, but I do not have a date for him.

To conclude, there are dozens of measures we need to take. This is a highly complex issue. However, I am very open to ideas from anybody in the room on how we can make improvements on this extraordinarily important matter. We face enormous challenges of scientific prediction. As London addresses these issues, we should be certain to share best practice with other countries—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

9 Jun 2015 : Column 26WH

Dyfed Powys Police Helicopter

11 am

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the future of the Dyfed Powys police helicopter.

I welcome the Minister to his place and congratulate him on his appointment following the general election.

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice (Mike Penning): To give an opportunity for the Chamber to clear, so that I can hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, I should say that I have been reappointed rather than appointed. I was in this role before the election. [Interruption.]

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): Order. Will hon. Members leave the Chamber quietly, please?

Jonathan Edwards: Thank you, Mr Crausby.

The helicopter is a prominent and vital asset for policing the communities of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys. That can, of course, be said about any police helicopter, but Dyfed Powys is a special place—geographically, it has the largest police force in Wales and England. The landscape is dominated by some of the most stunning mountainous terrain in these isles. Dyfed Powys covers about half of Wales and serves a population of about half a million. It has unique policing challenges, and the helicopter is a vital tool in policing operations. It is used for surveillance, vehicle pursuits, gathering intelligence and evidence, and aerial photography. It is also used to search for missing people, suspects and vehicles. It transports specialist teams around the police force area and is used for casualty evacuation.

The police helicopter has been prominent in our communities for many years. Indeed, Dyfed Powys was the first place in the UK to operate a police helicopter. The reason for my debate today is that, under current plans from the National Police Air Service, our dedicated helicopter will be lost from 1 January next year and our state-of-the-art helicopter base, which recently opened at a cost of millions of pounds, will be closed. As the Minister will be aware, NPAS is the result of the Police (Collaboration: Specified Function) Order 2012, which provides for police air support in England and Wales forces to be exercised in accordance with a single police collaboration agreement. A crucial point is that the order is a Wales and England measure, as policing is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If policing were devolved in Wales, as my party advocates, it is highly unlikely that we would be having this argument.

The order does not dictate the number of aircraft or bases to be used by the new NPAS service, and that cuts to the fundamental reason for today’s debate. In 2010, 31 helicopters were used in policing operations around Wales and England, from 29 bases. In 2011, 30 helicopters were operating from 28 bases. After consultation with police authorities and chief constables, NPAS’s business plan was amended to recommend a delivery model of 23 aircraft, plus three spare, from 23 bases. In November 2014, NPAS announced that it would operate 25 aircraft from 22 bases. Crucially, in its prepared communication

9 Jun 2015 : Column 27WH

briefing last November—which I am not completely sure was meant for the public to see—NPAS said that its 22-base model was the right one to deliver the operational capability needed for the public. Just three months on, it announced that it would be operating 19 helicopters and four fixed-wing aircraft from just 15 bases.

The creation of NPAS and the model that it intends to introduce next year will mean the number of active bases in Wales and England being halved, and the number of helicopters being reduced by almost 40%. I would particularly welcome the Minister’s comments on the merits of the current 15-base model, given that NPAS itself previously said that a 22-base model was the right one for the public.

Maps of proposed future coverage accompanied the recent NPAS announcement about reducing the number of bases. They show great swathes of the Dyfed Powys force area that will be reachable only after a minimum of 30 minutes’ travel time from bases at St Athan or Bristol. It does not take a detective to work out that extended travel times will significantly diminish safety and the service available to my constituents.

The proposal flies in the face of one of NPAS’s main objectives: to reach 97% of the population within 20 minutes. To add insult to injury, NPAS proposes one fixed-wing aircraft to serve the whole of Wales in addition to the west midlands and the south-west of England. That is completely at odds with the findings of the fixed-wing aircraft trial that took place in Dyfed Powys in May 2012, which concluded that such an aircraft had few positive features when operating in the Dyfed Powys terrain, and that it spent 80% of its time manoeuvring and only 20% locating lost or injured individuals. The main drawback cited was its inability to land and hover.

The crew at the Pembrey base is not made up just of pilots. It is also made up of trained police officers who often, metaphorically speaking, swap their aviation hats for their police hats when they land the helicopter, to help catch criminals, find lost persons or assist the injured. Such tasks would be impossible without our dedicated service for the force. The various maps produced by NPAS imply that a fixed-wing aircraft will be based in Llandeilo in my constituency; on that basis, estimates are made of average flying times to the rest of Wales. What the maps do not show is that that fixed-wing aircraft will be based in the midlands. For the maps to be accurate, the aircraft would have to be circling Llandeilo constantly; it would have to be refuelled in mid-air when required, before being dispatched, which is plainly ridiculous. The arguments being put forward by NPAS to justify its new enhanced coverage are purely hypothetical and deeply misleading.

The aim of NPAS, of course, is to centralise police air support services to cover the whole of Wales and England. Police forces that sign up to NPAS hand over their assets for the promise of increased coverage and reduced costs, as the Minister will no doubt argue. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. NPAS has been tasked with finding efficiency savings of 37%—23% in 2012 and now a further 14%. It is simply unable to deliver what it promised to individual police forces when they signed up. The assurance of a more efficient and effective service with increased coverage is undeliverable. Indeed, the opposite is happening. A simple internet search will

9 Jun 2015 : Column 28WH

tell the Minister of the concerns that police commissioners and the public throughout Wales and England are raising about the lack of cover that their forces have been witnessing since joining NPAS.

We are told in Dyfed Powys that we will enjoy 24-hour coverage under NPAS, in contrast to the present 12 hours a day. I understand that on only 13 occasions has a helicopter been needed in Dyfed Powys outside the usual operating times over the past four years. That averages just three times a year, with support always available from neighbouring forces. That is a voluntary air support service, so to speak. There is minimal demand for a 24-hour service in Dyfed Powys and the seemingly undeliverable promise of such coverage cannot make up for the loss of our local dedicated service.

The deal between NPAS and Dyfed Powys police announced by our police commissioner in November set out how Dyfed Powys police would pay about £890,000 a year to join NPAS, instead of paying about £1.1 million a year to run and maintain our own dedicated helicopter. The intention to restructure a service to save money is honourable, but it cannot happen if that service is diminished.

Maps produced by aircraft pilots who actually operate police helicopters suggest that air support for priority calls in my area of Dyfed Powys would be completely non-existent within a 20-minute timescale. Not only is that is at odds with what NPAS promises, but there is a strong argument to suggest that instead of Dyfed Powys saving about £200,000 by joining NPAS, it will pay about £900,000 a year for little or no emergency coverage. That is without considering the state-of-the-art Pembrey helicopter base opened only a few years ago, at a cost of £1.2 million to the public purse, with a planning condition permitting its sole use as a police helicopter base. Its closure would be a colossal waste of public money.

The most notable and emotive recent uses of our police helicopter were the searches for little April Jones, who was abducted from outside her Machynlleth home, and for young Cameron Comey, who fell in the River Towy in Carmarthen three months ago and is, tragically, still missing. Additionally, although the air ambulance had been called out to Monmouth, our police helicopter was first on the scene at Cilyrychen quarry, Llandybie, to rescue Luke Somerfield and transport him to Morriston Hospital. That is without mentioning the countless times when the helicopter has been called out in recent weeks to assist in surveillance, or its arrival first on the scene to assist a little girl who was sinking in quicksand at Llansteffan beach. It is impossible for me to list all the incidents in which the Dyfed Powys police helicopter has been involved, but I can say that the prompt response of our local helicopter crew gives innocent young children a fighting chance, and criminals fewer chances.

The police and crime commissioner for Dyfed Powys has been heavily involved in NPAS, and has served as the police commissioner representative for the south-west region on the NPAS strategic board. A freedom of information request was made to obtain the minutes of those meetings. Those minutes left many people in Dyfed Powys saddened, as they showed that their local police commissioner has sat on his hands and is allowing the Pembrey base to close.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. I represent Ceredigion, which is part of the 4,188 miles covered by

9 Jun 2015 : Column 29WH

that invaluable service. The hon. Gentleman spoke of his disappointment and puzzlement, but does he share my bewilderment at the fact that in November we were given clear, unequivocal assurances that the service would remain intact, yet several months later it is in doubt again? That undermines the process and, as the hon. Gentleman said, sadly brings into question the commitment of our police commissioner.

Jonathan Edwards: I will get to that point later in my speech. As a Member of Parliament representing Ceredigion, the hon. Gentleman knows that the police helicopter from Pembrey can get to his constituency within 20 minutes. Based on NPAS’s current models, it is unlikely that when the service is closed the helicopter will be able to get to Ceredigion in that time. He is right to raise that important point.

Despite the announcement in November that Dyfed Powys would join NPAS and would retain our helicopter and base, the minutes state that when the new proposals were presented the commissioner, Mr Christopher Salmon was “reluctant to oppose” the removal of our helicopter from service. The commissioner wrote in one of my local newspapers last week that he was powerless to stop the loss of our helicopter. His words were a far cry from his pledges to the electorate. His second election pledge in 2012, which was still live on his website this morning, states that he will

“Fight to save Dyfed Powys police helicopter so police can reach all areas”.

Mr Salmon did not pledge to save general helicopter coverage. He did not say he will get the best deal for the area, as he appears to be saying now in the press. He said he will fight to save the Dyfed Powys helicopter.

The commissioner has broken his promise to the people with his reluctance to oppose the NPAS model, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) said. I would like to take this opportunity to put on the record my deep disappointment in Mr Salmon because of his abject failure and apparent unwillingness to stand up for the best interests of the residents of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys. If the commissioner feels powerless, perhaps it is time for him to leave his job.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene on this hugely important issue for my constituency. Does he agree that the key issue is to have an efficient helicopter service? We know how important that is. Parts of my constituency are almost five hours away from Pembrey by road, and perhaps an hour and a half away from Hawarden. When looking at the whole service, we need an efficient helicopter service that serves the whole of Dyfed Powys and is not confined to an administrative boundary. There are a lot of other issues, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will address that fundamental principle.

Jonathan Edwards: It is precisely because of efficiency that I am raising this issue. If I thought the NPAS proposals would lead to enhanced coverage for my constituents, I would happily support them. The reality is that the NPAS proposals will lead to a second-rate service, compared with the dedicated helicopter service we have at the moment.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 30WH

Mr Mark Williams: The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the concerns he is expressing, with which many of us want to be associated, are also those of Dyfed Powys police authority, which is concerned that there will be a diminished service.

Jonathan Edwards: That is a valid point, which is why the campaign being run in west Wales by the Carmarthen Journal, the South Wales Guardian,theLlanelli Starand many other local papers is gaining such traction in our local communities.

The Minister and the Home Secretary would be well advised to read the minutes of the NPAS strategic board meeting of 19 February and satisfy themselves that the decision to operate a 15-base model is not open to judicial review. One chief constable on the board states that it was

“virtually impossible to have effective consultations with Forces in a region 4 days before a meeting”.

The chief constable stated that it was

“highly problematic to accept an operating model without an understanding of the costs and savings distribution.”

The minutes state that the approved 15-base model

“had not gone to National Chiefs Counsel.”

Even the Dyfed Powys police commissioner, although reluctant to oppose the new model, acknowledged that the agreement he had previously signed with NPAS had changed without his knowing. On the face of it, it seems that the process followed to approve the 15-base model is on extremely shaky ground.

The weekend before Dissolution, the Teesside Gazette reported that the Home Secretary had ordered a review of the NPAS decision to remove a police helicopter from Teesside and relocate it to Newcastle. Having seen the story, I wrote to the Home Secretary on the morning of Dissolution outlining the strong case for a review of the decision to close the Pembrey base.

One of my first letters in this Parliament was to the Home Secretary to request a meeting to discuss this issue in more detail, and once again to press the urgent need for her intervention in this matter. I am disappointed that I have not received a response to the first letter. I have received a response from the Minister to my second letter, which arrived in my constituency office yesterday, but I am disappointed that the Minister will not meet to discuss this issue.

The residents of Dyfed Powys have been failed by their police commissioner and ill-served by NPAS. If the Home Secretary is not prepared to order a review, as she has done in the north of England, it will be seen, quite rightly, as the residents of mid and west Wales being ignored by the Government. To satisfy my constituents, the Minister must say that the Home Office will initiate a review of the NPAS proposals for Wales, and Dyfed Powys in particular.

The Dyfed Powys police helicopter has undertaken incredible work in our community and has been at the centre of operations—some of them heartbreaking—across the force area. The reduced NPAS model appears to be focused on more densely populated areas; as far as it is concerned, it seems, the rural communities of mid and west of my country look deserted. Going ahead with the current plans would send a strong message to Wales that our communities are an afterthought. If one police force needs a dedicated helicopter service, it is the one

9 Jun 2015 : Column 31WH

that serves the largest and most rural population in Wales and England. The value of our dedicated helicopter service is immeasurable.

In closing, I would like to quote from a piece by a former police officer and best-selling author, Mike Pannett, who said of NPAS:

“Cutting police helicopters is a charter for criminals and real worry for police on the ground that search for vulnerable missing persons on a daily basis. Criminals will act with impunity outside of the helicopter coverage and escape into the night and the lives of the missing and vulnerable will be lost where every minute counts.”

I implore the Minister and Home Secretary to intervene and ensure that Dyfed Powys maintains its base at Pembrey. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

11.17 am

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I am very grateful indeed to the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) for allowing me to make a short contribution. I congratulate him on securing a debate of huge importance. This is a long-standing issue, and he went through the record of the changes. I was closely involved in a debate about fixed-wing aircraft, which are entirely unsuitable for rural areas such as the whole of rural Wales—not just Dyfed Powys.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern, because helicopters are important not only for police and security work but for the health service. Wales Air Ambulance has become a crucial part of service delivery in rural Wales. This issue is therefore really important, and I am looking forward to the Minister’s response.

As I said in an intervention—I did not know whether I would get the chance to speak—Dyfed Powys is a huge area. For example, it would take almost five hours to get from Pembrey to Llangynog, a village I represent, if one remained within the speed limit, and from Hawarden it would take perhaps an hour and a half. Clearly, it is not the same in every part of Dyfed Powys. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that any new system will serve the whole of Dyfed Powys. I am concerned that the helicopter service is limited to a geographical area defined by an administrative boundary, not by the ease with which the helicopter service can deliver services to the people who need them.

There are advantages to the new system. It will be a 24-hour service, and it will be cheaper. One cannot discount the importance of cheapness for the police service. If one is spending money on a helicopter service, there is clearly less money to spend on the visible presence of policemen on the beat, which we all want to see. This is therefore not a straightforward issue.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on behalf of everybody who represents Dyfed Powys, and everybody who lives in the south and the north of that huge area. We all know that the issue is important, and we are all looking forward to the Minister’s response.

11.19 am

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice (Mike Penning): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, in my first debate after being reconfirmed as Minister with responsibility for

9 Jun 2015 : Column 32WH

the police—and now for crime, too, including organised crime. I am at both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice—buy one, get one free, apparently. On a serious note, it works very well being the Minister both for the police and criminal justice.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) on securing this debate. If I were the MP for his constituency, I would probably call for a debate on this subject as well; I hope he understands exactly where I am coming from on that point. However, I am not an expert or a police officer—I do not believe there is one in this Chamber, unlike in the old days, when there would have been one—so I take my advice from the frontline.

I will try to address some of the issues raised, but if hon. Members do not mind, I will not address the personal attacks on the police and crime commissioner. I do not think they were appropriate for this Chamber, when we are trying to work together. The PCC is duly elected; when the next elections come, perhaps the party political stuff will start—who knows? At the moment, however, I am sure that he is trying to do the best job he can for the people he represents, as we all are in this Chamber.

Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con): I thank the Minister for allowing me to intervene. As someone who represents a very rural constituency in the Dyfed Powys area, I thank the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) for securing the debate, because it is absolutely vital that we discuss this issue.

Will the Minister comment on just how hard our police and crime commissioner has worked to get benefits out of this system? I understand that the helicopter broke down—the gearbox had to be replaced—and was off-air for three weeks, during which we did not have any cover in Dyfed Powys. Under this new system, we would have cover constantly. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr spoke of criminals escaping into the night, but said that we would have 24-hour cover under the new system, whereas there had been just 12-hour cover, so if anything, we will have a better system and larger coverage.

Mike Penning: My hon. Friend has been reading my speech—or perhaps he wrote it for me. He is absolutely right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) said in his intervention and short speech, we need to get away from the constabulary boundaries—the old, artificial boundaries—as NPAS has done. The truth is that the helicopter was offline extensively; it was not available 24 hours a day. There will be facilities now; there will be more cover. The North Wales, Birmingham, South Wales and Avon and Somerset forces will all be providing cover, so with this new scheme, we have broken away from saying, “This is ours. You can’t have it, and if you do, it’s going to cost you a small fortune.” The police have bought into that, and it is a really important thing to have done.

There are obvious and understandable concerns. I remember when I did a review of the coastguard and everybody said to me, “This is a very dangerous situation”, but just because we had things in a certain way, it did not mean that that was right. The changes that we made to the coastguard stations have worked, not least—interestingly enough—because we get more cover at times than we had before.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 33WH

It is not for a Police Minister or a Member of Parliament to tell the police their operational duties or how they should run their forces. We can only dream of having the sort of expertise that they have.

Jonathan Edwards: Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: I will give way, but I am conscious that because of the interventions that have been allowed, I will be cut off in a moment, and I want to try to respond to what has been said. Before I give way, I say to hon. Members that if I do not answer all the points raised, because of the time restrictions, I will write to them. I will meet the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, too; there is some logic to doing that once we have had the debate, rather than before.

Jonathan Edwards: I thank the Minister for giving way and for agreeing to meet; that will be welcomed in the communities that I represent. If it is not the role of Government Ministers to intervene in strategic decisions by NPAS, why has the review been held of the situation in north-east England?

Mike Penning: I will be perfectly honest: I have not had an opportunity to look at that, but I will find out and write. I am not in exactly the same role as I was before—I was responsible for this, but I had no opportunity to look at it. The Minister in the previous debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), was brutally honest, and anybody who knows me knows that I am brutally honest as well. If I do not know the answer, I will get back to people. There will be a review. It was due to be 12 months from when the scheme started, and it started slightly late. I will check and write to the hon. and right hon. Members here today, but my assumption is that it should be 12 months from when it started, so if it started after Christmas, that is when it will be.

The key to this is flexibility. As the Police Minister, I know the value of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. We should not undermine the value of fixed-wing aircraft. I was a Minister with responsibility for counter-terrorism in the Northern Ireland Office; I have to be slightly careful about how I say we use fixed-wing aircraft, but they are enormously useful in policing in particular parts of this great country of ours. We must not underestimate the fact that if there is 24-hour cover, there is the facility to fly anywhere. That is greater than having something on the tarmac at any base at any one time, but not being able to use it.

The police commissioners and chiefs bought into the scheme, and I think they were right to do so. I have looked at the plan that the hon. Gentleman alluded to, and I am comfortable with the situation. I have been judicially reviewed before, when I did not expect to be, but there we are. I am comfortable with the decision that has been made. I did not hear representations that caused me concern about that meeting. However, we never know what is in the post in the morning.

We have to be really careful and look at the big picture, which is what my role involves as Police Minister for England and Wales—for the greatest police forces, I believe, in the world. I say that day in, day out. They are let down occasionally by some individuals, but in general, we have by far the best police in the world. We police in

9 Jun 2015 : Column 34WH

a way that most other countries would love to, but do not. I am particularly referring to the fact that we do not have universally armed police.

The role of NPAS is strategic throughout. When it looked at the issue, it was particularly considering how to cover the gaps, for example when there is engine failure, as has been alluded to, or when we did not have 24-hour cover. Of course, it also looked at the costs. It is obvious that we are responsible for spending taxpayers’ money; we are sent here to monitor and be careful about how taxpayers’ money is spent. The police forces looked at the issue and said, “There could be this model”; then they looked at it again and changed the model. I fully accept that there was a change of model, which is why there will be a review.

We must all sit back, and, as emotive and difficult as it is, say, “This is what will happen. Let’s see how it works.” This is what the police are comfortable with, in relation to the myriad different roles that the helicopters have. They do everything from rescues—even though other facilities can be called on in this part of the world and in other parts of the country—to tackling organised crime and, in particular, cannabis growing. Hon. Members may not yet have had an opportunity to see some of the videos available from heat-seeking cameras, which help us to know exactly who is doing what in properties where cannabis is being grown.

Helicopters are vital for these things, but we all know that they are very expensive, so we must ensure that we use them in the best way. If fixed-wing aircraft are suitable, they should be used. As I said, we must not underestimate the capabilities of fixed-wing aircraft. However, a helicopter moves at great speed. Many of the assumptions are based on the idea that the helicopter would not already be airborne, but it might be airborne; it could have been on an exercise, or be coming back from another operation. The speed at which it could get to different parts of the country would therefore be much quicker.

Clearly, we need to keep the matter under review, and NPAS has agreed to do that. I fully understand individuals’ concerns, but if we want the police to do the job that we are asking them to do, we must listen to the police when they tell us what they need and then react to that. This has been an important debate. I am pleased that other hon. Members have had the opportunity to attend, if not participate. Half-hour debates are always difficult—so difficult that I have managed to gain myself an extra minute by congratulating those who have intervened.

The key is not boundaries; it is not individual constituencies or police authorities. Actually, the police authorities have gone; police and crime commissioners are in place; it was a slip of the tongue to refer to police authorities. It is a good thing that PCCs are in place. We await the elections next year, when I hope the turnout will be much better than it was before. They will coincide with local elections in many parts of the country. People will be able to see what the PCCs are doing for them in their communities. Hopefully, we can leave the politics out of that for a couple more years.

Question put and agreed to.

11.29 am

Sitting suspended.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 35WH

Vocational Qualifications Day

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered annual Vocational Qualifications Day.

It is a great pleasure to serve under—

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): Order. It says here that I have to say something. The Question is that this House has considered annual Vocational Qualifications Day.

Neil Carmichael: We are operating a new system, so there is some confusion, not just on my part but obviously elsewhere.

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): Order. I got it wrong.

Neil Carmichael: It is great to have such a free and frank Chairman for this occasion. Thank you, Sir Roger. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

Vocational Qualifications Day is critical, because it celebrates the success of young people. However, we need to do that not just annually but throughout the year, because it is that success that young people, our society and our economy need. It is worth emphasising that vocational qualifications are something that we should celebrate for everyone, at every level. That is one essential underpinning of the speech that I shall make and, I hope, the debate that we will have.

The second point, of course, is that we want to see equal value between vocational qualifications and academic qualifications. That is an essential part of the whole debate about our education system and the way in which our young people and everyone else, including those who go into new careers at the tail end of their working lives, want to experience it. This is the eighth year for Vocational Qualifications Day. That demonstrates continuity and success, and underlines our very strong feeling about the subject.

We have to promote several key messages. First, we need to raise the status of technical, practical and vocational learning. We have to ensure that people see that as a direction of travel for their careers, aspirations and hopes. Secondly, we need to demonstrate and celebrate the fact that everyone, of all ages, both genders and wherever they come from, can be part of the vocational qualifications world. Of course, we also want to ensure that there is a sense of parity between vocational studies and academic studies. Parity is important because that leads to esteem that is equal and benefits everyone.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman is right to say that parity is of the essence, but is not there a dark cloud over all of us in the vocational qualifications sphere, because there is no red line around further education spending? As well as the ambition and the high priority, we need the resources to invest in further education.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 36WH

Neil Carmichael: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Of course we need resources, but a good FE college is adaptable enough—flexible enough—to find those resources where appropriate. I shall go on to describe the experiences of my local college, Stroud College, which has now merged with Filton College to create an exciting range of opportunities for young people. That has lifted the reputation of FE in my community and provided fabulous opportunities for young people. The issue is not just ring-fencing, but freeing up colleges to benefit from the opportunities that they can find.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I am sorry that I cannot stay for the whole debate, but I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue for discussion this afternoon. He is right to say that colleges, such as the excellent Trafford College in my constituency, can do imaginative things to draw in new resources and form new partnerships, but does not he agree that we should take this opportunity to press the Minister on the impact of the 24% funding cut suffered by further education?

Neil Carmichael: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. My hon. Friend the Minister will have heard it—indeed, he is writing a note about it. Obviously, all areas of education have an interest in fair funding and more funding, but there is a cake and we have to slice it up in a sensible way. We will be having that debate throughout this Parliament.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on initiating this very important debate, but let me press him further on funding. Although further education colleges are in the vanguard of providing vocational qualifications, they have had to suffer, in addition to the cut in February that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) mentioned, an in-year cut of £450 million in post-16 funding and another £450 million cut in FE and higher education funding—in-year and retrospective—for which they have not planned, so however brilliant they are, these are challenging times for vocational education.

Neil Carmichael: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and for appreciating my success in securing the debate. The key point is really the one that I made to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). There are opportunities for FE colleges, working with business and working in their communities, to develop novel and interesting ideas about getting funding from sources other than the ones that hon. Members are talking about. That is what we should be thinking about, and I will articulate more thoughts about it as I progress through my speech.

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I join in the expressions of support for the debate that my hon. Friend has secured. I hear what other hon. Members are saying with regard to funding in further education, but does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s commitment in this area is clear in the funding that has been put in for apprenticeships, and the success that the Government have had in increasing the numbers of people securing apprenticeships in our communities?

9 Jun 2015 : Column 37WH

Neil Carmichael: I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. She makes a very good point. We have already created 2.2 million apprenticeships in the last five years and we plan to create a further 3 million in the next five years, so that is 5.2 million. That is a fabulous contribution to the success of our economy, but above all are the achievements of the people who have those apprenticeships. That is absolutely right.

Mr Sheerman: Before the hon. Gentleman moves off apprenticeships, may I make this point? I will not intervene again, but it would be wrong if I did not say this. He and I and the rest of the usual suspects in this excellent debate all know one another and know the background, but may I just say this? Will the hon. Gentleman not let himself be sucked into what was the coalition Government’s mantra? It was a fig leaf: “Look at what we’re doing with apprenticeships.” A lot of those apprenticeships were short term—for one year or less—and did not lead to a qualification. In contrast, FE delivers real skills and costs more money, but that is the real choice.

Neil Carmichael: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am a firm proponent and supporter of the FE sector. I have been a governor of two or three colleges and have worked hard for the success of them all, so hon. Members can be sure that for anything that happens about the FE sector, I will be there, fighting its corner.

In short, what we are hoping to do and should be doing is celebrate achievement and promote aspiration through vocational qualifications. That is a good strapline for this debate. Our purpose is essentially to enable people to fulfil their lives. That is a very important thing in the structure of my political beliefs. I want people from all walks of life and all places to be able to fulfil their lives, and they will do that through satisfying and rewarding work, which in many ways comes from good vocational training and qualifications.

Our purpose is also to ensure that we can create an economy that is full of opportunity, responsive and modern, and I think that that is completely in line with vocational qualifications and the whole framework around them.

Thirdly, we must ensure that our economy has the skills that it needs—the appropriate pools of skills in all the big sectors. For instance, in engineering, we will still need 83,000 new engineers each year to keep the show on the road, and many of them will be individuals with vocational qualifications. However, this is not just about engineering; the world of construction is just as thirsty for these kinds of qualification. That is an essential part of this debate.

We need an education system that is adaptive, responsive and aware of the changing framework in the world of work and in society. Our working patterns have changed, our aspirations are greater and our attitude to work is different, because we expect to find more opportunities, to advance in our careers and to change careers from time to time. That difference is reflected in our society as well, because we want our families to be able to develop their careers.

Nic Dakin: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that careers advice is crucial, and that it is unfortunate that even today, 63% of young people, when asked,

9 Jun 2015 : Column 38WH

can name A-levels but cannot name any vocational qualifications? That shows the distance that we need to travel to achieve the parity of esteem that we need if vocational qualifications are to deliver in the way in which he indicates, quite rightly, that we need them to.

Neil Carmichael: I will go on to address that issue, but I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has touched on it. As I will say in a few moments, we need to make it clear that it is not just A-levels that people need for future employment; there are a whole range of other possibilities.

We need to reinvigorate practical learning. We all know that that happened in the past and still happens now, but it must happen more. We need more specialist schools in the 14 to 18 sector to address the skills shortages—I have already alluded to some—that various sectors have identified. University technical colleges are part of that, but there are other ways of providing such schools, which have a relationship with the business world and the community, and which can run appropriate activities. We should be encouraging that.

I support a baccalaureate to recognise young people’s achievements up to the age of 18. That is in line with what the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) has said. A baccalaureate is the right way to demonstrate that huge achievement has been notched up through vocational qualifications, and I want to put that firmly on the agenda.

We have to work hard at bringing together the world of education and the world of business, the professions and employment in general. That is important not only for education, but for employers and organisations that might extend some form of training. Unless the interface between those sectors and organisations is improved, opportunities will constantly be missed because schools produce one kind of output and businesses require another.

I have come across that problem in my constituency, and I tackled it by setting up the Festival of Manufacturing and Engineering. One in every four jobs in my constituency is connected to manufacturing and engineering, but when I first went around the schools, I did not get the sense that they understood that at all. I felt that they were quite unaware of the appetite for skills in electronics, in certain aspects of the automotive sector and in aviation, so I got schools and businesses to work together and we came up with the Festival of Manufacturing and Engineering. It is held every year, and it really brings young people into the world of work. It ensures that schools understand what kind of job opportunities are coming along, and it underlines the need for vocational qualifications. We should recognise the importance of bringing those sectors together.

We have talked a bit about further education, and I want to underline its importance. Right now, 3 million students are being equipped with valuable employment skills. That is a huge chunk of our young people, and it demonstrates the large footprint that the further education sector has in the matter. We need to recognise that the FE sector has a role to play. In my patch, as I have mentioned, a really good college has seen the strategic advantage of merging with another, and it is now able to produce a whole range of useful courses and training opportunities for young people and for adults who seek to change their direction of travel.

9 Jun 2015 : Column 39WH

In fact, the arrangement is now so successful that we are going to have a new training centre at a disused—but properly maintained—nuclear power station. It will be known as Berkeley Green, and it will provide training opportunities for people who are interested in renewable energy, nuclear energy, manufacturing and other activities. That huge investment has been made because the college understands that there is a huge requirement for such skills in my constituency. That has led to another investment in a university technical college to ensure that advanced manufacturing opportunities are being offered and places are being filled by people who are properly trained, as we would expect them to be, at a UTC.

Mr Sheerman: Which university?

Neil Carmichael: Gloucestershire. [Interruption.]

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): Order. I know that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is a new Member, but he really ought to be aware of the procedure by now, if only for the benefit of the Hansard writer.

Neil Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman has made a lot of interventions, so I recognise—

Mr Sheerman: It was helpful, was it not?

Neil Carmichael: I think I will go on with my speech. The point that I am advancing is that we can really make sure that the FE sector plays its part. If it has strong leadership, which I hope is the case in all areas, that is exactly what will happen. We need to seek more of that.

One of the Government’s key themes is increasing productivity, and we need to do so in this country because the productivity gap is too large. For example, the OECD suggests that the gap between us and Germany is 29%. That is huge, and we need to address it. There are two good reasons for doing so. First, it will alter the terms of trade and export. Secondly, it will enable our young people to get jobs that lead to higher salaries and more opportunity. That is the antidote to any cost of living crises that we might be concerned about. It seems to me fairly obvious that vocational qualifications can play a part in improving productivity, which is one reason why we must make sure that the opportunities are laid before us.

One other aspect of the productivity question is the role of local enterprise partnerships. It will be increasingly important for LEPs to have a clear understanding of their local labour market, where skills are needed and how they will be provided. LEPs should have an interface with FE colleges and providers of vocational qualifications to ensure that there is a better fit between requirement and provision. That would be of great benefit.

The hon. Member for Scunthorpe mentioned the difficulties caused by simply assuming that A-levels are the only things that matter, when there are lots of other options. I have already advanced the idea of a baccalaureate. Interestingly, nearly 46,000 students who have gone to universities in the past year have had a BTEC as part of their application. That further reinforces the point that vocational qualifications matter. Importantly, a large

9 Jun 2015 : Column 40WH

number of those students have managed to persuade employers to pay a large part, if not all, of their student fees, either because they are doing a course that includes vocational training or qualifications, or because they have already done a course that was underpinned by vocational qualifications. The value to that student and to the potential employer is, therefore, all the greater. That underlines the importance of vocational qualifications.

Another organisation that wrote to me after I secured this debate was Sports Leaders UK, which highlighted the value of soft skills, especially in developing leadership capacity. In our modern economy, which is developing very nicely, leadership will be paramount for entrepreneurial activities and large numbers of growing small and medium-sized businesses. Leaders are needed within structures and organisations to implement changes or direct new operations. Such a vocational qualification route, supported by the sorts of soft skills that develop leadership capacity and other useful characteristics, adds to the value of the individual and their appreciation of the opportunities ahead and to that of the economy as a whole. That is yet another reason for celebrating vocational qualifications.

Vocational Qualifications Day is a good thing to celebrate. It is about empowering people to do the things that they want to do and making sure that they have aspirations that they can achieve. It is about ensuring that we have a mix across the spectrum of education and training that meets everyone’s needs and all the opportunities that are available, and that reinforces the direction of travel, which must surely be towards the creation of a real economy that is modern, vibrant and able to support families, young people and older people who, ultimately, want work that is rewarding, satisfying and capable of giving them the capacity to fulfil their lives. Vocational study, training and qualifications can play a paramount role in delivering such an economy and society.

2.52 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak briefly in support of this debate. We should all seize the opportunity to celebrate vocational qualifications, and it is good that we are doing so today. Vocational qualifications play a huge part in the mix of qualifications that young people and older people gain throughout their lifelong learning and development. I was a co-ordinator for the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative back in the 1980s, and I know well that vocational education is a holy grail that politicians, academics, practitioners, the general public, parents, businesses and industry have been working towards for many years.