Four questions were asked of the PM by the Labour leader during PMQs in Parliament
The Prime Minister was grilled in Parliament today (March 16) on UK air pollution by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who called on the government to “hurry up action to make us comply with international law and, above all, help the health of the people of this countryâ€?.
During Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), David Cameron was asked four questions regarding his government’s work to tackle air pollution in the UK.
The PMQ session took place just prior to the Chancellor’s Budget 2016 announcement, which included a tax freeze on petrol and diesel fuel, as well as for heavy goods vehicles (see AirQualityNews.com story).
First asked by Mr Corbyn how many people will die from respiratory disease as a result of air pollution before the UK meets its legal obligations on air quality by 2025, the Prime Minister responded that he did “not have those figures to handâ€?.
However, Mr Carmeron highlighted “new regulations on diesel engines, which are helping; the steady decarbonisation of our power sector, which will help; and very strong legislation already in place to make sure we have clean air, particularly in our citiesâ€?.
And, while conceding that the health impacts of air pollution “costs our economy billions because people are being injuredâ€? he also cited government plans for Clean Air Zones and said emissions from cars “are coming downâ€?.
The Labour leader said that it was the “sad truthâ€? that 500,000 people will die “because of this country’s failure to comply with international law on air pollutionâ€?, citing a recent Royal College of Physicians report that this costs economy £20 billion a year.
“The Prime Minister is proposing to spend tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of pounds of public money defending the indefensible. Why not instead invest that money in cleaner air and better air quality for everyone in this country?” – Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader
Mr Corbyn told the Prime Minister: “The failure to deal with air pollution is killing people. Only a few days ago, London faced a severe smog warning. The Prime Minister’s friend the Mayor of London has presided over a legal breach of air quality in the capital every day since 2012, so why cannot the Prime Minister hurry up action to make us comply with international law and, above all, help the health of the people of this country?â€?
In response, Mr Cameron said it praised the Conservative governments of the 1950s for passing the Clean Air Act, adding that “I am sure that it will be this Conservative government who will take further actionâ€?.
“Why are we able to do that?â€? the Prime Minister added. “It is not only because we care about our environment, but because we have an economy that is strong enough to pay for those improvements.â€?
Mr Corbyn then said that while he welcomed the Clean Air Act of 1956 “things have moved on a bit sinceâ€? and, in the face of possible legal action against the government over air pollution, urged the Prime Minister to stop “defending the indefensible” and instead invest “in cleaner air and better air quality for everyone in this countryâ€?.
“It was the Conservative Governments of the 1950s that passed the clean air Acts, and I am sure that it will be this Conservative Government who will take further action, including the clean air zones that we have and lower car emissions”- David Cameron, Prime Minister
But, after explaining that the UK is phasing out coal-fired power stations, Mr Cameron reiterated: “let me say this again: you can only do this if you have a strong economy able to pay for these things.â€?
He also went on to add that the UK “now has the second largest ultra-low emission vehicle market anywhere in the European Unionâ€? and “one of the strongest rates of growth in renewable energyâ€?.
Environmental NGO ClientEarth is imminently expected to launch further court action against the government over breaches of EU air pollution limits, having given a 10-day warning earlier this month.
And, commenting on Mr Cameron’s performance during PMQs today, ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton said the PM’s “weak answers on air pollution show this government has no idea how to solve this public health crisisâ€?.
Mr Thornton added: “Tens of thousands of people are dying every year and all the Prime Minister can mention when asked what action is being taken is the Clean Air Act of 1956. This is exactly why we are considering further legal action against the government.â€?