Prime Minister’s Questions – Air Pollution

Jeremy Corbyn: Could the Prime Minister tell the House how many people will die from respiratory disease as a result of air pollution before this country meets its legal obligations on air quality by 2025?

The Prime Minister: I do not have those figures to hand, but what I do know is that we need to make progress on air quality. That is why we have the 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 cities.

Jeremy Corbyn: May I help the Prime Minister? The sad truth is that 500,000 will die because of this country’s failure to comply with international law on air pollution. Perhaps he could answer another question: how much does air pollution cost our economy every year?

The Prime Minister: Of course it costs our economy billions, because people are being injured. That is why we have the new clean air zones, and emissions from cars are coming down. If I may give the right hon. Gentleman one example, if we deliver on our carbon reduction plan for electricity generation, we will see roughly an 85% reduction in carbon between 1990 and 2030. That will give us one of the best green records anywhere in the world.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Royal College of Physicians estimates that air pollution costs our economy £20 billion a year. 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?

The Prime Minister: 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. Why are we able to do that? 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, as we are just about to hear.

Jeremy Corbyn: We all welcome the Clean Air Act 1956, but things have moved on a bit since. The Government are now threatened with being taken to court for their failure to comply with international law on air pollution. 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?

The Prime Minister: We are investing money in clean air in our country. For instance, we are phasing out the use of coal-fired power stations far in advance of other European countries and blazing a trail in more renewable energy and the clean nuclear energy that we will be investing in. All those things will make a difference, but let me say again: you can only do this if you have a strong economy able to pay for these things.

Jeremy Corbyn: If the Government and the Prime Minister are so keen on renewable and clean energy, can he explain why on Monday the House approved new legislation to allow communities a veto on clean energy projects such as onshore wind? I have a question from Amanda from Lancaster. She asks the Prime Minister this—[Interruption.] If I were him, I would listen. Will the Prime Minister offer the same right of veto to her community, and communities like hers across the country, of a veto on fracking?

The Prime Minister: We have a proper planning system for deciding these things. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what is happening in terms of renewable energy, I point out to him that 99% of the solar panels in this country have been installed since I became Prime Minister. That is the green record that we have. The United Kingdom now has the second largest ultra-low emission vehicle market anywhere in the European Union. We have seen one of the strongest rates of growth in renewable energy.

Is it not remarkable—five questions in, and no welcome for the fall in unemployment? No mention of the 31 million people now in work. No mention of the fact that we have got more women in work and more young people in work, and that more people are bringing home a salary—bringing home a wage—and paying less tax.

Not a word from the party that I thought was meant to be the party of labour. This is the truth: the party of working people, getting people into work, is on this side of the House.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Prime Minister once boasted that he led the greenest Government ever—no husky was safe from his cuddles. So will he explain why the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change has produced a report that is damning when it comes to green energy, saying that major investors describe his policies as “risky” as a result of cuts and changes? Why are the Government so failing the renewable energy sector, clean air, investors, consumers and those who work in that industry?

The Prime Minister: Any proper look at the figures will find that the Government have a remarkable record on green energy. Let me take the Climate Action Network, which said that Britain is the second best country in the world for tackling climate change, after Denmark. That is our record. Since 2010, we have reduced greenhouse gases by 14%. We are over-delivering against all our carbon budgets. We secured the first truly global, legally binding agreement to tackle climate change, and we have got annual support for renewables more than doubling to over £10 billion by 2020. On renewable electricity, we are on track to deliver a target of at least 30% from renewable sources by 2020. Almost all of that will have happened under a Conservative-led Government. That is our record, and we are proud of it.