There have been angry exchanges in parliament, with ministers under pressure to take urgent action on air pollution, following yesterday’s court ruling against the Government.
Twenty seven MPs of all parties lined up to describe their constituents’ concerns and slam the Government for not doing more to clean up the country’s dirty air.
Neil Parish MP, Conservative Chair of the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, tabled an Urgent Question on the humiliating High Court judgment.
Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom MP was absent from the debate which meant junior minister Therese Coffey MP was dragged to the Commons chamber to answer questions from angry MPs.
Mr Parish kicked off the debate calling for the Government to act urgently in light of the ruling, to introduce more Clean Air Zones and provide the fiscal incentives for people to switch cleaner vehicles. He concluded his remarks by saying “clean air is a right not a privilege.”
Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment Rachael Maskell MP went next. She highlighted the ‘national scandal’ of 50,000 early deaths from air pollution and praised ClientEarth’s case. She called on the Government to ensure air quality laws are protected when the UK leaves the European Union and demanded a comprehensive plan to clean up the country’s illegal air.
Mark Field, the Conservative MP for London and Westminster, described the situation as a ‘deplorable state of affairs.’ He said: “My own constituents have had enough of the appalling need to state of air quality….We need to ensure the perverse incentives for diesel are stopped in their tracks.”
Mary Creagh MP, chair for the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, highlighted the documents revealed in evidence during the ClientEarth legal challenge, that showed the Treasury blocked measures that would help clean up air pollution. She demanded the minister worked with the Treasury and the Transport Department to “stop dirty diesel.”
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter said “this is the second biggest avoidable killer after smoking. She needs to take a sledgehammer to the Treasury. Given this is the second defeat that government have suffered in the courts surely there is a plan to announce some action in response to the defeat. Where is it? Where are the measures?”
Jason McCartney, Conservative MP for Colne Valley, demanded that “air quality is put at the forefront of planning reforms, and can we have a Clean Air Zone for Huddersfield?”
Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East raised the Sunday Times investigation last year which showed 3,000 schools were in areas of toxic air pollution. She said “Childhood asthma is on the increase. What is the Government doing to ensure school children are protected?”
Oliver Colville, Conservative MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devenport called for immediate action as “Plymouth is one of the worst cities in the UK for air quality”. He talked of the “eleven year difference in life expectancy between the north east and south west of my constituency.”
Rebecca Pow, Conservative MP for Taunton Deane, urged the minister to “bring in Clean Air Zones more quickly”. She wanted “more Clean Air Zones for our towns and cities” including in her constituency.
Joan Ryan, Labour MP for Enfield North said her constituents would not be reassured by “what they’ve heard today. No specific plan. Nothing to deal with the fact we’ve got kiddies in pushchairs sucking in this poisonous NOx.”
Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, said “ This is an issue that the public are far ahead of the people here. No one in their right minds would buy a diesel car now. We need a scrappage scheme to get the filthy, belching cars and buses out of our towns and cities. We are poisoning children. That is why we need action now.”
In response, Therese Coffey repeated Defra claims that government policy had been based on the “best available evidence” despite the fact that the Judge’s ruling stated that the Government had used over optimistic modelling and knew it. But Ms Coffey also said the government accepted the court ruling and insisted that this issue was a “top priority”. She claimed that the government were working up a new plan.
ClientEarth Chief Executive James Thornton said: “We are delighted that so many MPs for across all parties agree with us that we need urgent action from the Government to clean up this urgent public health crisis. This goes right across government so the Prime Minister must take personal control to deal with illegal levels of pollution and prevent tens of thousands of additional early deaths in the UK. The High Court has ruled that more urgent action must be taken. MPs agree. Now we need the Prime Minister to step up.”