The Prime Minster has responded to criticism of his record on air pollution by stating he is “proud” that the UK car industry is “a major investor in and builder of diesel engines” during PMQs yesterday (April 20).
Speaking in Parliament, David Cameron said the Conservative government was “working with our car industry” to meet air quality and emissions standards “but we are going to make sure that it has the resources it needs to meet the higher standards that are set out”.
The comments have prompted criticism from environmental NGO ClientEarth, which said the Prime Minister was putting “the interests of our car industry before people’s health”.
However, Mr Cameron told MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions that the government was “investing in better air quality” and had committed more than £2 billion “to help bus operators upgrade their fleets”.
“We have seen air quality improve between 2010 and 2014, with emissions of nitrous oxides coming down by 17%,” Mr Cameron said.
The Prime Minster added: “When it comes to these standards that we all have to meet, we are working with our car industry. I want a strong car industry in Britain. I am proud of the fact that it has recovered so strongly that the north-east of England now makes more cars than the whole of Italy and that we are a major investor in and builder of diesel engines, but we are going to make sure that it has the resources it needs to meet the higher standards that are set out.”
“When it comes to these standards that we all have to meet, we are working with our car industry. I want a strong car industry in Britain” – Prime Minister
The Prime Minister was responding to a question from Labour MP for Swansea West, Geraint Davies, who described the air in UK cities as “toxic and illegal, with diesel fumes contributing to 800 deaths a week – that is 40,000 a year”.
“So why is the Prime Minister, instead of removing the most heavily polluting vehicles from our streets, lobbying the EU in Brussels, with the Mayor of London, to weaken plans to improve our air quality and save lives?” Mr Davies had asked.
In February the Labour MP had introduced a ‘diesel death’ Private Members’ Bill which had called for, among other things, a ban on diesel vehicles which do not meet Euro 5 standards from entering polluted urban areas (see AirQualityNews.com story).
James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEath – which has lodged court papers against the UK government over its failure to meet EU air quality standards – claimed the Prime Minster had failed to answer Mr Davies’ question directly.
“Car manufacturers have failed to hit air pollution limits for diesel cars and the UK government has continued to put the interests of car companies above people’s health” – James Thornton, ClientEarth
He said it was clear that “people want the government to take action to clean up the air we breathe” but that “car manufacturers have failed to hit air pollution limits for diesel cars and the UK government has continued to put the interests of car companies above people’s health”.
“The UK government needs to put in place a national network of clean air zones that keeps the most polluting diesel vehicles out of our polluted town and city centres unless the car manufacturers can guarantee they meet the strictest standards in full when driving on the road,” Mr Thornton said.
It is not the first time recently that the Prime Minister has been forced to respond to criticism over air pollution during PMQs. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn grilled Mr Cameron on the subject in March, calling 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 country” (see AirQualityNews.com story).