Air Quality (Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles Database) (England and Wales) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:39 am on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 11:39 am, 11th April 2019

My Lords, this instrument, if approved by Parliament and made, will require licensing authorities in England and Wales to supply certain information relating to taxis and private hire vehicles—PHVs—that have been licensed to operate in their areas. It enables the Secretary of State to create a database to hold that information and for it to be shared for enforcement of local air quality measures. This database will be used by local authorities for the purposes of enforcing locally introduced clean air zones. These zones will apply charges in respect of taxis and private hire vehicles, and the information on the database will enable local authorities to differentiate taxis and PHVs from other vehicles when entering the zone.

The instrument makes provision necessary for implementing the United Kingdom’s obligations under the ambient air quality directive 2008/50/EC and otherwise in the respect of management of air quality. It is made using powers under the Environment Act 1995. Air quality is a devolved matter. However, the regulations extend to England and Wales and apply to all 315 taxi and PHV licensing authorities, including Transport for London. Given the geographic location of charging clean air zones, it is important that all taxis and PHVs registered in England and Wales are recorded on the database.

Air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010, but more still needs to be done to improve the quality of the air we breathe. The most immediate air quality challenge is the nitrogen dioxide concentrations around roads. That is the only statutory air quality limit that the UK currently fails to meet. Due to the highly localised nature of this problem, local knowledge is crucial in developing solutions, but with the UK Government taking a strong national leadership role. That includes providing financial and expert technical support to local authorities in England as they develop bespoke and innovative plans to bring down levels of this pollutant as quickly as possible. The Welsh Government are taking a similar approach with two local authorities in Wales.

A clean air zone is a defined area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality. Charge-based access restrictions may apply. The July 2017 UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide identified that, at the national level, clean air zones that charged all vehicles that did not meet the required emissions standard were the measure that would achieve compliance with statutory nitrogen dioxide levels in the shortest possible time. The plan requires English local authorities with exceedances to explore whether they can find quicker alternatives.

The Clean Air Zone Framework, published in May 2017, sets out the minimum requirements for a clean air zone and the expected approach to be taken by local authorities when implementing and operating these zones. Where charging is necessary it should be structured so that vehicles that have a relatively larger impact on nitrogen dioxide levels, on a per-vehicle basis, should be targeted first so that the overall impact on individuals and businesses is reduced. Taxis and private hire vehicles are high-frequency users and thus have a disproportionate impact on air quality on a per-vehicle basis. A number of local authorities have already consulted on proposals for their local solutions and for some this includes the introduction of a charging clean air zone. Leeds City Council and Birmingham City Council will start to operate clean air zones from early next year.

There are four classes—A to D—of charging clean air zones in England, all of which charge pre-Euro 6 diesel and pre-Euro 4 petrol taxis and PHVs. Only class D clean air zones will charge personal cars. Local authorities considering class A to class C clean air zones have identified the need to differentiate taxis and PHVs from private cars and have asked the Government to create this database to help them to achieve this.

Local authorities hold information only on taxis and PHVs licensed in their areas. They are not able to identify those licensed by another authority. Hence, there is a need for all licensing authorities to provide information, such as the vehicle registration number and the start and expiry date of the vehicle licence, to a central database at least once a week. The effectiveness of clean air zones will be dependent on having a complete data set for taxis and PHVs. The database will form part of the wider infrastructure being developed by government to support charging clean air zones.

Defra officials carried out a public consultation between 5 October and 2 November 2018 on the proposals to create this database. Just over 100 responses were received, about 40% of which were from licensing authorities. The majority of respondents were in favour of the database. Those who did not agree did so for a number of reasons, including concerns that the database would duplicate the information already held by the DVLA, which is not the case, or because they felt the database should be expanded to include further details, such as those relating to drivers of taxis and PHVs. Some opposed the charging of taxis and PHVs in clean air zones more generally.

Local authorities are required to carry out specific local consultation on their plans to introduce a charging scheme. In addition, meetings have been held with representatives of the taxi and PHV sector, and a licensing authority working group has been set up to provide support and guidance as we continue to develop the database.

An impact assessment has not been prepared for this instrument as the creation and maintenance of the database will not have a significant impact on businesses. A regulatory triage assessment has been prepared to assess the impacts on licensing authorities. The database will be designed and hosted in a way that complements existing processes wherever possible to minimise the burden on licensing authorities. Licensing authorities will be funded for this additional work in line with the new burdens principle.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments considered the instrument and cleared it without comment in its report of 23 January. Counsel to the committee identified a drafting error so we relaid the instrument on 31 January to add a commencement date. No other changes were made. The Explanatory Memorandum was also relaid but no changes were made. I beg to move.