Four MPs have lent their support to a campaign by the fuel tax lobby group FairFuelUK calling for the government’s air quality plan not to include ‘punitive’ taxes for drivers of diesel vehicles.
The comments come ahead of the publication of the government’s air quality plan, which is due to be finalised before the end of July.
Government has been under pressure from some environmental groups to encourage drivers to move away from diesel fuel as a means of tackling illegal levels of air pollution, which research suggests is linked to thousands of premature deaths across the country every year.
But, FairFuelUK, which is led by the motoring journalist and television presenter Quentin Willson, has claimed that air quality campaigners have used ‘emotive exploitation of facts’ around the number of deaths linked to NOx pollution in a bid to influence transport policy.
The campaign group has also published results of a survey of drivers’ attitudes to air pollution that it commissioned this month, suggesting that 8 out of 10 diesel car owners will continue to use diesel despite concerns over air quality, with only 0.7% likely to move to electric, 3.8% hybrid and 5.1% petrol.
75% of respondents did not believe evidence that as many as 40,000 deaths per year are linked to air pollution, FairFuelUK has claimed.
The figure itself originates from a report published jointly by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in February 2016 (see airqualitynews.com story).
Researchers suggested that the figure represents the ‘best estimate’ of the annual death toll attributed to particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide combined – based on ‘emerging evidence‘.
Mr Willson, the lead spokesman for FairFuelUK said: “Commentators have taken a badly phrased headline figure of 40,000 deaths attributable to air pollution, from an official report and evocatively allowed it to terrify millions of consumers. If we can’t even accurately understand the numbers what hope have we to really improve our air quality? Bad science won’t help us clean our air.â€?
A handful of Conservative and Labour backbench MPs have backed FairFuelUK’s campaign including Julian Knight, the Conservative MP for Solihull and chair of the APPG for Fair Fuel for Motorists and Hauliers.
Other MPs to support the campaign include Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover, Mary Glindon, the Labour MP for North Tyneside, and Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow.
Mr Knight said, said: “Drivers were told for years that diesel was the environmentally-conscious choice. As an MP for a car-making town I’m very shocked that some manufacturers mislead customers and regulators on emissions – but the government’s response must not punish motorists who acted in good faith and on the advice of Tony Blair’s ministers. The huge FairFuelUK poll shows that the public overwhelmingly agrees that we should focus on practical solutions, not punitive taxes.â€?
The comments come after 67 MPs from across the major parties backed proposals put forward by the Labour MP Geraint Davies for measures including a ‘targeted’ scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles to be included in the plan (see airqualitynews.com story).
Mr Davies said: “Thanks to the cross-party support for my Clean Air Bill, I have been able to unite growing pressure on the new Defra Secretary, Michael Gove, to take bold action to give the UK leadership in combating air pollution, which is now a public health disaster.â€?