Before I call Nick Fletcher to open the debate, I wish to make a short statement about the sub judice resolution. I have been advised that a petition being debated today indirectly relates to a case about the expansion of the ultra low emission zone; the case is ongoing, and therefore sub judice. Mr Speaker has agreed to exercise the discretion given to the Chair in respect of the resolution on matters sub judice to allow reference to the case, given the issues of national importance that it raises.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered e-petitions 599985 and 633550, relating to local road user charging schemes.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Stringer. We are here today to discuss two petitions. The first seeks the revocation of local government powers to charge for clean air zones, low emission zones and ultra low emission zones, and the second seeks amendments to the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to remove the Mayor of London’s power to impose road-user charges.
I often lead these petition debates, and I always look at the argument from both sides. For every petition, there is an opposing view; it is important to consider all aspects and that everyone’s voice is heard. Cancel culture has no part to play in a healthy democracy. I have therefore taken the time to speak to not just the petitioners but, among others, Asthma + Lung UK and the Ella Roberta Foundation.
Let me start with the facts: who put the legislation forward, and who was in charge of putting the schemes in place? The then Labour Government gave local authorities the ability to charge road users in part 3 of the Transport Act 2000, and the Mayor of London was given powers by the GLA Act 1999 under the same Labour Government.
The Transport Act gave those powers to local authorities to reduce congestion and to help with air quality. Schemes have now been put in place in London, which has both a ULEZ and a congestion zone, and clean air zones are currently in place in Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth, Sheffield and Tyneside—all Labour or Opposition-controlled authorities. I am pleased to announce that I have had reassurances from the Labour Mayor of Doncaster that my city will not be subject to one of these schemes. Pedestrianisation is already doing untold damage to the local economy, and one of these schemes in my city would surely be the final straw.
I will speak first on behalf of those who oppose the petitions—those who think that these schemes are not just necessary but vital for our country. I met Tim Dexter and Andrea Carey. Tim works at Asthma + Lung UK and understands that these schemes can cause controversy, but believes that they are not a big issue with the wider electorate. He believes that pollution is too high and says that young people are growing up with decreased lung capacity. Tim also stated that having clean air in the city and avoiding losses to businesses does not need to be an either/or situation, as he believes that pedestrianisation, alongside ULEZ and clean air zones, can be shown to increase footfall. For the record, I have not seen any evidence that supports that to date.
Andrea is the chair of the Ella Roberta Foundation, which supports the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, also known as Ella’s law. Ella is a young girl who died when she was nine. She lived close to the south circular and had been diagnosed with asthma. Her long walk to school meant that she was exposed to car fumes, and air pollution was stated on her death certificate to be a secondary cause. Andrea says that, each year, 38,000 deaths are attributable to illnesses related to air quality. She says that a lot of money is spent on treating people with lung conditions, and businesses would benefit from cleaner air as that would mean that employees took less time off due to ill health. Those are fair points.
I will now speak on behalf of the petitioners. I met Edward Green, who had much to say on this subject. Edward, who lives in London, said that these schemes are bad for business and families, and that they increase isolation. He described them as a tax on the poor, a cost to freedom, undemocratic and an abuse of power. He also stated that the scrappage schemes are ineffective.
In addition to my evidence-gathering sessions, I recently visited Sheffield and Doncaster and asked businesses there what they thought of the schemes. They all agreed with Edward. One contractor in Sheffield said that he had 20 vans on a construction site, so the scheme introduced in the city earlier this year is going to cost him close to £50,000 this year in extra fees. Every construction site in every city with such a scheme will now face similar costs, and as we all know, those costs will eventually be passed on to the public—to us, to me and you, Mr Stringer. Carers, tradespeople, health workers and others will be prevented from working by the punitive charges.
That will be catastrophic for the economy in London’s suburbs, as workers from Essex, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire will simply not be able to work in the suburbs. Every county surrounding London will be significantly affected, and for the worse. I have spoken to shop workers who have said that if the charges are introduced where they work, they may have no choice but to find alternative employment. Not only will businesses suffer because of decreased footfall, but they will suffer when trying to find staff to help run their businesses.
These issues have been debated in the House before. My hon. Friend Elliot Colburn stated:
“If we price people out of their vehicles, without potential alternatives available, we will not just be hitting people’s pockets by charging them more to use private vehicles;
we could be costing them their livelihoods.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 710, c. 137-138WH.]
He is correct. In the main Chamber, I have mentioned the concept of 15-minute cities. When I see all the cameras being installed, I ask whether that is the end goal for Labour-run authorities. The question needs to be asked.
As Members can see, there is much opposition to road user charging schemes. Nobody disputes that we all want cleaner air; the question is whether clean air zones and ultra low emission zones are the way to achieve that. Personally, I think not. In tourist hotspots, where visitors come from all over the world to spend money, an American or Chinese tourist will not be put off central London because of the ULEZ, but even then, it still hurts everyone who works in the city who needs a vehicle. I know some people will still argue that the ULEZ is needed in the very centre of London, but what about Sheffield, Doncaster and thousands of other towns and villages? Is such a scheme needed there, where the economy is built on servicing the needs of local people? I think not.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He has talked about road charging, and the problem right now in the outer boroughs of London, where the ULEZ charge is apparently to be applied, is that it is coming in under the idea that it will clean up the air, yet Transport for London made it very clear in a report that it would have a negligible effect. Does he agree that we should be honest and say that this is actually about raising revenue, and let the electorate decide on that?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and a lot of Members in the room obviously agree.
Sadly, in South Yorkshire, we have lost an airport due to the lack of political support against an overzealous green agenda. We are losing our city’s businesses due to pedestrianisation, we are losing footfall from terminating buses in one place, instead of allowing people to use stops across the city, and we are losing our market for the same reason—yet we have wonderful new council offices. The staff could bring much business to the town but, sadly, most of them seem to be working from home. Why? Because the elected leaders do so. That is the reason why: they set a poor example. That too is killing footfall.
At one point, Doncaster was a tourist attraction; hundreds of thousands of people used to come to our market. The market is still there, but under a new management company, and with a lack of footfall, tenants are struggling. My home city of Doncaster has so many assets that are not being used to create the business and footfall that they should. There are only three Mansion Houses in the country: in London, York and Doncaster. Why is our Mansion House in Doncaster not open all year round? Why has the Grand Theatre been left to rot? Why do we not have free parking to encourage people to come to town? Why do we not put weekly events on and advertise them to get people into our towns, or open business hubs and careers fairs, to give people a reason to come to our towns? That would get the markets thriving again and in turn get the shops reopening.
We could do all these things, and while we rejuvenate our towns and cities the capitalists—the wealth creators out there—will continue to develop the green technologies that will eventually increase the efficiency of our petrol cars and reduce the cost of electric vehicles. That is the way to do this. The way forward to clean air can be —indeed, should be—win-win and not lose-lose. I emphasise win-win, but no, the Labour party will always go for the tax lever. Price everyone out of their towns and cities, and sit by and watch the demise from home, while they are on Zoom calls in their echo chambers and blame the internet and central Government for their business closures.
I have no doubt that these schemes will have respiratory health benefits for individuals, but not because the air is cleaner in the cities. No, it will simply be because people will be staying out of the cities and staying at home, often in isolation, while their mental health suffers and the economy struggles to survive.
There are many other ways to tackle this problem, but as usual the Labour party will go for the tax lever rather than the innovation lever, and as always, the working person will suffer. I want cleaner air; I agree with net zero.
It is 55 years in Doncaster—55 years of a Labour council in Doncaster. Fifty-five long, long years.
I agree with net zero; I just think that it can be done in a better way than this. People want more power locally, but too often it is given to the wrong people. The cities that I mentioned are testimony to this statement. These schemes show how out of touch and disconnected politicians at local level are from the people and from businesses. The people and businesses do not want these schemes, but the politicians wilfully ignore their wishes, on purpose and with no care about the terrible impact the schemes have. This situation cannot be acceptable in a democracy.
I will close by simply asking the Minister to consider seriously the petitioners’ requests. They make an awful lot of sense.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
I start by thanking my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher for his very able introduction of this very important subject. I also thank everyone who has taken the trouble to sign the petitions that we are reflecting on today.
I will focus on the proposed extension of the ultra low emission zone to cover all London boroughs, including the whole of my Chipping Barnet constituency. I do not believe that this extension is either justified or acceptable. Although I can see that there is potentially a place for charging regimes in appropriate circumstances, ULEZ expansion is the wrong scheme at the wrong time.
Of course everyone in Westminster Hall today will agree that we need to reduce air pollution, and a range of Government policies are delivering progress towards that important goal. The Mayor of London published an independent impact assessment of his ULEZ expansion proposal that concluded that it would have only a negligible impact on air quality. I emphasise that—only a negligible impact. Yet I am sure that many of us have had constituents attending our surgeries to explain the financial hardship that they will experience as a result of this charge being introduced at a time of major increases in the cost of living.
As an Essex MP, I wish to place firmly on the record my opposition to Mayor Khan’s ULEZ scheme, but another thing that affects air quality is when people have to queue for ages to get through roadworks. One thing that I support is what is known as lane rental, which is the concept whereby utility companies have to pay per day for the privilege of digging up the road and creating inconvenience for everyone else. The Minister and I have discussed this issue before. Essex County Council now supports this idea, by the way. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a sensible measure to improve air quality would be not to bring in ULEZ but to crack down on roadworks?
I think that cracking down on roadworks is a good idea, although I have to say that we have heard many times that lane rental is to be introduced, and somehow we all still seem to get caught in those traffic jams. My right hon. Friend makes some valid points.
I am listening with great interest to my right hon. Friend, who is making a powerful case. Of course, the reason for this ULEZ is tax raising, not air pollution control, for which it has been proved conclusively not to work. In places such as Bexley, where we have good air quality, it is just to get money into the Mayor of London’s coffers.
Many of my constituents agree with my right hon. Friend. It feels as if the suburbs are up in arms. They absolutely distrust the motivation behind the scheme. Other people who are concerned about ULEZ might be those with older vehicles, which they might have maintained carefully over many years, perhaps when Gordon Brown was telling us that we all ought to go to diesel to reduce emissions.
Does the right hon. Member recognise this quote?
“Poor air quality is the greatest environmental threat to public health. Every year, thousands of people have their health damaged or their lives shortened by air pollution. This problem is especially serious in London, with many of the country’s worst pollution hotspots here in our capital city…and we need a concerted national effort to tackle this problem from Government, from councils, from mayors, from business, from individuals.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 688, c. 971.]
Those were her words in 2021.
And if I thought that this ULEZ project would improve air quality, I might be saying a different thing this afternoon, but the Mayor’s own impact assessment said that it will have a “negligible impact” on air pollution.
Think also about the sole traders or people running small businesses who are dependent on a van they cannot easily afford to replace, even if they fall into the limited category of those who qualify for the scrappage scheme. Those people all face a charge of £12.50, or having to scale back radically their mobility and their freedom to see their friends and family or, in extreme cases, shutting down a business altogether.
The Mayor made no mention of ULEZ expansion in his manifesto; a majority who responded to the consultation opposed his plan; and he is giving people only a few months to get ready for its imposition. Other charging schemes were announced years in advance, giving reasonable time for everyone to adjust.
The right hon. Lady talks about the timing of the roll-out. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I absolutely agree that, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, to roll out the expansion of ULEZ recklessly, at breakneck speed, is absolutely the wrong timing. Will she and other colleagues in this Chamber sign my early-day motion 1364? It was tabled today and calls for a delay to the roll-out, a doubling of the scrappage schemes—something that Conservatives in the London Assembly supported the Liberal Democrats on—and the Government to fund a scrappage scheme for those areas outside London where many of our key workers, who will be hit so hard, come in from.
I am going to make some progress.
Constituents stop me in the street to tell me how much they oppose Mayor Khan’s proposal. A protest I organised, which I was expecting to attract about 10 people and be rather low key, attracted a crowd of about 60. Outer London high streets in places such as Barnet are already suffering from the big switch to online retail, accelerated by the pandemic; losing their customers from outside London could be a killer blow.
Our public services in outer London depend heavily on workers who do not live in the capital. Schools, the NHS and the police already struggle to recruit the people they need. Setting up a ULEZ pay wall around London will make that task even harder and place even greater pressure on NHS waiting times.
Many people living in areas around London will find that they cannot avoid driving into the capital to work, to care for relatives or for hospital appointments. They will have to pay, despite never having a vote in an election for the Mayor of London. That is a shocking example of taxation without representation, as my hon. Friend Gareth Johnson pointed out in this Chamber only a few weeks ago.
The issue is made worse by Transport for London’s unhelpful and negative approach to cross-border bus services, such as the 84 service in my constituency. The operator discontinued the route between Potters Bar and Barnet last year after concluding that it was not commercially viable. However, despite many appeals from me and others, TfL and the Mayor have not lifted a finger to get it reinstated. The Mayor promises that the ULEZ expansion will fund transport improvements, but there is no sign of them so far. The one orbital bus route that has been announced will be a wholly inadequate substitute for the millions of journeys that will be hit by the new charging scheme.
The ULEZ proposal comes on top of a host of anti-car measures. Too often, schemes such as low traffic neighbourhoods and segregated cycle lanes have worsened congestion, transferring traffic from leafier, more prosperous areas to main roads that are home to more disadvantaged communities, which may be hotspots for air pollution. When it comes to the radical schemes seen in London over recent years aimed at promoting cycling, we need to balance the interests of the small minority who cycle with those of the majority who do not, including the elderly and people with mobility impairments for whom getting on a bike is just not a viable option.
It is not acceptable that taxies are being caught up in Mayor Khan’s war on the motorist. Nearly half the licensed taxi fleet is now zero-emission capable, and within a decade, all licensed taxis are expected to be electric. Licensed taxis are a crucial part of our public transport system, and the only form of fully accessible door-to-door transport in our city. There is no justification for excluding them from Bank, Bishopsgate or Tottenham Court Road, as is currently the case. That goes against years of cross-party consensus that meant that taxis could go wherever buses could.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend; she is, as ever, making a powerful contribution. I want to push her on that point. The number of taxi drivers has now halved. Road blockages, lengthy queues and difficulties in getting around London have made their lives a living hell, and more and more of them are leaving the profession. One of the great shining examples of London transport is being killed off by the present Mayor.
Many of my constituents who drive taxis will share my right hon. Friend’s concerns. It would be a real tragedy if London lost its licensed taxi fleet, but it feels that Mayor Khan is turning the city into a hostile environment for car drivers, taxi drivers and people who depend on vans and lorries.
In conclusion, the expansion of the ultra low emission zone to outer London has no mandate. It will do virtually nothing for air quality, it will be economically damaging and it will hit the poorest harder than anyone else. The Mayor should dismantle Labour’s hated ULEZ expansion. If he does not, I sincerely hope that Londoners will take the opportunity to vote him out next May and replace him with a Conservative Mayor of London.
As a fellow Greater Manchester MP, Mr Stringer, it will be as much of a shock to you as it is to me that none of your Labour party colleagues are present to discuss this huge issue, which affects every single person in Greater Manchester.
I take a very straightforward view on this issue. It is inconceivable that any Government could allow the interests of the green lobby to trump those of hard-working people in my constituency. It comes down to a basic fact: my constituents should not be taxed in any way, shape or form to support an agenda that is utterly damaging to both them and the wider country. The net zero agenda is worthy of Marx—it is the opium of the middle-class liberal masses. They are determined to impose on the rest of us something that none of us wants, including a speciality of the Labour party: imposing taxation on people who cannot afford it.
I worked in the private sector for the whole of my professional career, and I am self-employed when I am not being a Member of Parliament. What about the guys who go out into the community to work hard—the plumbers, taxi drivers and electricians? When Andy Burnham first put forward the Greater Manchester clean air zone, it was astonishing in its scale—493 square miles: the world’s largest clean air zone. No one has ever been able to give a reason why it was being imposed in the first place. There are no health benefits from it.
The situation is like many other things we see in politics—the generalisation and other people wanting my constituents to believe something without proving that any of it makes any difference. Every single person in this Chamber knows that we can look into the cameras, try to be liberal and nice, and say, “In these circumstances a clean air zone might work.” But the zones never work because they do not achieve anything and they penalise the people who elect us.
How on earth can we come up with a policy that puts taxi drivers out of business? Andy Burnham spent £50 million on a scheme that he planned to introduce on
Bearing in mind that Greater Manchester MPs have always dealt with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when it comes to the clean air charging zone, it is a surprise to see my great friend the Transport Minister here, especially given that we have had no interaction on this issue. He is a red wall Minister who believes in low taxation and supporting the self-employed. He believes in everything that makes most of the people in this room Conservatives. He certainly—he will challenge me if I am mischaracterising him—does not believe that there should be excess taxation on working people to please the liberal masses. That is fundamentally wrong. The Labour party are not here because they cannot show their faces. This policy has been put in place just to please Guardian readers. We have to get away from it, both as a Government and individuals.
Let me quote this. It has been reported to me—this has never been challenged by anybody—that the Greater Manchester clean air zone would cost those of my constituents who have the temerity to leave for work from their driveways anywhere between £3,285 and £36,500 a year, depending on the nature of their business and the individuals involved. Imagine inventing something that charges someone for leaving their driveway! That is what Andy Burnham did.
Thankfully, Andy Burnham admitted that the Government did not force him to come forward with the proposal. I ask the Minister, through his good offices, to take back to whoever is going to make the final decision on the Greater Manchester clean air zone that the Conservative party does not believe in excess taxation. We believe in evidence-based policy—there has to be a reason to do something. My constituents are not dropping down dead as a result of alleged dirty air. That just does not happen. I have been searching high and low for the evidence to show the excessive health consequences of dirty air in my area. There is none.
There is no evidence. The policy puts people out of business and allows Andy Burnham and other politicians to waste huge amounts of money; we have also given him £120 million to retrofit vehicles. A few months ago, in this building, I was talking to somebody from Transport for Greater Manchester—the active travel commissioner, they were called. “Active travel” seems to be the thing: encouraging people to jump on a bicycle, no matter their age—let us spend millions of pounds on encouraging 85-year-olds to jump on a bicycle and go to the local town centre.
Angouleme Way in my constituency, a ring road, has been reduced from two lanes to one. Given that the impact has been to cause monumental congestion, a not unreasonable question was put to the person from TfGM; I will not name them here. It was said that the plan—I am not making this up—was to deliberately create so much congestion for six to seven years that everyone would jump out of their cars, get on their bikes or walk about 15 miles from Ramsbottom in my constituency to the centre of Bury. That policy making is based on fantasy and hits the wealth creators and lifeblood of this country. Whether we are talking about the Greater Manchester clean air zone or ULEZ, it should be stopped by our Government. The policy does not work for anybody else, and we need to get away from just following the noise of the liberal media, which these policies are all about. The Labour party does not believe in supporting my constituents: it believes in policies that punish them. That is why none of its Members are here today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I would like to thank my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher for leading the debate.
At the outset, I have to say that I fully support the sentiment of both the petitions we are discussing today, but I will primarily speak to the petition that refers to a desire to amend the GLA Act 1999 to remove the Mayor of London’s power to impose road user charges. The issue has been brought into very sharp focus by the Mayor of London’s decision late last year to move forward with the expansion of the ultra low emission zone to the Greater London boundary, a policy that I have spoken about in the House a number of times.
My Orpington constituents are part of the London Borough of Bromley, which will be impacted by the decision. My constituents are overwhelmingly opposed to the expansion of ULEZ, which they see quite rightly as a tax-grabbing scheme to fill the holes in Transport for London’s finances. Moreover, it is a tax-grabbing scheme misleadingly dressed up as an environmental measure. Despite a growing clamour and loud discontent, the Mayor is continuing with its implementation. Indeed, he has effectively made a mockery of the public consultation on his plans by ignoring the fact that it showed that over 60% of those consulted were against the scheme, including 70% of those living in outer London.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that TfL began ordering hundreds of the number plate recognition systems required for the expanded ULEZ in April 2022, a full month before the public consultation even started. Documents obtained by the London Assembly Conservative group show that the Mayor’s office, having been briefed that the vast majority of consultation responses coming in were opposed to the expansion, then attempted to influence the outcome by targeting an advertising campaign at particular groups of people who were more likely to respond favourably. There also appears to be a strong indication that City Hall attempted to suppress responses from certain individuals in order to make the outcome appear closer than it was.
It is completely clear that the Mayor was never interested in any opinion that did not concur with his own, including that of my constituents. Time and again, he has shown himself to be entirely unrepentant in his determination to impose prohibitively high extra costs on Londoners. Orpington simply does not have the public transport alternatives that exist in central London. We do not have the tube. We do not have trams. We have a bus network that is far from comprehensive and is unreliable. We have country lanes, farms and hedgerows. It is a vast place, and people need their cars to get around.
My inbox and postbag have been full of messages from people who are desperately worried because they own a non-compliant vehicle and can afford neither the daily charge nor the cost of a replacement vehicle. For some, the expansion will simply mean that they are not able to drive any more. Indeed a TfL-commissioned report by the consultancy firm Jacobs, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers, was published in May 2022 and warned of a disproportionate impact on low-income households due to their lesser capacity to switch to a compliant vehicle and/or to change mode.
The Labour party likes to hector everybody about the cost of living, but this scheme is by one of their own Mayors and it will hit people on low incomes the most, because they are more likely to have an older vehicle. Elderly constituents have written to me distraught about how they may no longer be able to go out and do their weekly shop or see family and friends because they cannot afford to drive their cars. They are terrified of isolation. They have survived the pandemic, but they may not survive this.
Single traders have told me that they will no longer be able to operate. Social care workers have told me that they will have to leave the profession. My local higher education college has told me that the impact on large numbers of their staff will be devastating. I must agree with small business owners, who are rightfully complaining that after the pandemic the ULEZ charge is a crippling additional cost they do not need at this time. Restaurants and venues within the ULEZ will see a reduction in footfall. The Mayor clearly fails to grasp that a painter and decorator or a builder or tree surgeon cannot take their tools up and down escalators and compete for space on public transport.
To add insult to injury, the scheme may close businesses in Orpington. One of my constituents recently told me that he will have to give up his business, because if he is forced to buy a new vehicle or pay £12.50 every day, it will no longer be viable. That is the reality of the situation—businesses closed, family visits severely restricted and workers worse off. All of that is about to be imposed by the Mayor of London at a time when the cost of living is increasing. That arrogance and total disregard for the great difficulties that will be imposed on less affluent people are driving my constituents to despair, and the scheme is entirely unnecessary.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he share my surprise that, when challenged in the London Assembly on the issue, a Labour member responded to those worried about the cost of living by saying, “Go and buy a new car; it will only cost £3,000.”?
I would like to say that I am surprised by that answer, but I am afraid that I am not. It comprehensively shows the lack of grip from some of the people making the decisions that we are talking about. I remind Members present that every single member of the Labour group on the London Assembly voted in favour of this when they had the opportunity to stop it, as did every member of the Liberal Democrats group and every member of the Green group.
The Mayor’s own independently produced “London-wide ULEZ Integrated Impact Assessment” states:
Asthma UK ranks Bromley and Havering as the second and first boroughs, respectively, in terms of the cleanest air quality in the capital, so why should my constituents have the ULEZ imposed on them in this way? Improving air quality sounds great on paper and might earn the Mayor of London brownie points from rich Labour donors who finance anti-democratic pressure groups such as Just Stop Oil, but the reality is that the scheme will change little in terms of air quality.
Devolution, as personified in the form of elected metro Mayors, has created a form of electoral dictatorship in certain regions of the country. Most metro Mayors have almost no elected scrutiny of their actions and no local checks on their power. The London Assembly has done valuable work in scrutinising the Mayor, but in practice it is a toothless tiger in terms of its ability to check his power. The expanded ULEZ will do little to improve air quality, but it is likely to go ahead because the Mayor and local authorities have the power to create clean air zones even if they are flawed. That power needs urgent review.
Section 143 of the GLA Act 1999 appears to offer hope to my constituents, because on the face of it the section gives the Secretary of State for Transport the power to direct the Mayor of London with regard to his transport strategy under certain conditions. However, I am aware that Department for Transport lawyers apparently see that as a grey area. So let us put the issue beyond doubt and do the right thing: let us agree with the petitioners and seek to remove the power of Mayors and local authorities to unilaterally impose these charges.
I want to make a short speech about this issue, which has a profound impact on my Dartford constituency. In many ways, places outside London are in a very different situation compared with constituencies inside London. We do not vote the London Mayor in or out, so this is taxation without any accountability or representation, as my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers rightly said. Decisions are being imposed on people in Dartford without any say from the people of Dartford. That is not democracy, yet that is what is happening.
That is the case right across the doughnut area around London, where the Mayor’s scrappage scheme does not apply. Nor should it apply, because where would we draw the line? Right up to Manchester or Rochester? We cannot have a situation in which the general taxpayer has to pick up the bill for the Mayor of London’s financial incompetence. It is therefore right that we do not have the scrappage scheme outside London. Even in London, the scrappage scheme payments are up to £2,000. Show me a ULEZ-compliant car that can be bought for up to £2,000—there are hardly any out there.
Right now in Labour-controlled boroughs, such as my borough of Waltham Forest, they are trying to build tower blocks. They will not allow any car parking except for those with disability certificates. That means that even if someone does get the right car, they will not be allowed to park in London. It is an attack on the whole idea of the motor car, whether it is electric or using carbon fuel sources.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a lack of joined-up thinking about how we approach motor vehicles, and we all know that the Mayor of London has an anti-car mentality. The impact is going to be on people not just outside of London, in places such as Dartford, but in areas of outer London that fall within the zone. There will be an impact on businesses: people in my constituency are not going to travel to them, as it will cost them £12.50. One in seven of my constituents who own vehicles will be hit by the charge.
The charge will also affect public services in London. Something like 50% of all Metropolitan police officers live outside of London, and I am sure it is a similar figure for paramedics and firefighters. That group of people is going to have to pay £12.50 to come into London in order to work and keep running the services that Londoners rely on. It is not just £12.50; if they are doing a night shift, they will be hit twice. It will be 25 quid to do a night shift. We are talking about the people who Londoners rely on the most.
I thank my hon. Friend for the campaigning he has done against the expansion of ULEZ. Like him, I am Kent MP; he will know that KentOnline did a freedom of information request, and found that the last expansion of ULEZ saw 78,000 people in Kent fined within a year. Over 16,000 people in Medway were fined.
I am now being contacted by residents who are having to travel into Bexley, which years ago was in Kent, not Greater London. It is frustrating for my local residents to understand how the Labour London Mayor has an impact on an area that we used to believe to be Kent and not London. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that we should do all we can in Kent to ensure we are supporting our London colleagues to stop this crazy money-grabbing scheme by the Mayor?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it has been so good that Kentish MPs have been working with our distant cousins from across the border in the smoky town. These are hon. Friends who, over this issue, would quite like to be in Kent—but we will not let them.
It is important that we make the point about the penalty notices. Income from penalty notices has been factored in by the Mayor of London in the overall budgeting for this. The Mayor relies on people forgetting to pay, or not knowing that they have to pay. That is part of the impact that the Mayor is placing on us.
As has been said a few times in this debate, the charging scheme is not about air quality. That is the façade that has been used. In Dartford we have poor air quality. We suffer from the impacts of westerly winds and the Dartford crossing, and as a consequence we have poor air quality. Therefore, if it was about air quality, I would be one of the first people to be sympathetic, but it is not about that. If it was about air quality, Sadiq Khan would be banning vehicles from London. He does not want to ban them; he just wants to make money out of them—and he needs to make a certain amount.
We know that the London underground is far more polluted than the air on the streets, yet the policy will force more people to use the underground and so suffer a bigger impact because of the quality of the air they will be breathing. The scheme has absolutely nothing to do with air quality. At the moment, the Mayor of London is doing away with our daily travel cards, which again pushes more people on to the London underground, where the air quality is far worse.
At recent public meetings, the Mayor of London equated the expansion of the ultra low emission zone to the banning of smoking in pubs. Would my hon. Friend agree that the banning of smoking in pubs was not subject to a £12.50 charge—as if someone paying £12.50 would not be polluting the air in the pub while smoking? The comparison between the two is completely and utterly bonkers.
Absolutely. It is also fair to say that in any consultations that took place at the time, the majority of people were in favour of banning smoking in pubs. Even if we accept wholeheartedly what the Mayor of London has said about the consultation process, we know that a majority of people do not support the ULEZ expansion. It was a sham consultation. What is the point in having a consultation and totally ignoring its outcome? There are lots of rumours that the cameras were bought before it took place, and that therefore there was never any chance of Sadiq Khan rolling back on the policy. He was hellbent on expanding the ULEZ no matter what anybody said, and no matter what the outcome.
What we have not heard is Sadiq Khan saying that he will not move the goalposts. I firmly believe that he has in mind the fact that he has to earn a certain amount of money to pay for the infrastructure that he will put in—£250 million, for a start—and to fill the black hole in his finances. If too many people switch to compliant vehicles, he will move the goalposts, so the next category of vehicles will no longer be ULEZ compliant, until all petrol and diesel cars are not compliant and are therefore charged. The Mayor of London has not ruled that out, and I firmly believe that it will happen. This is not the end, but the beginning.
My hon. Friend said earlier that it is one thing when Kent MPs co-operate with London MPs; it is another when Essex MPs join in too. Does he agree that TfL has effectively been bankrupt for years and is kept going only with central Government subsidy? While the Mayor pays lip service to air quality, this is a tax grab, pure and simple. It is not about air quality; it is about money.
My hon. Friend from across the river is absolutely right. I am delighted that Essex MPs and Kent MPs have been working together on this. All MPs who have an inch of fairness about them have been doing so. It speaks volumes that not a single Labour Back Bencher has turned up. They are intimidated. When I speak to Labour MPs privately about the policy, they despair. That is why they are not present. They have no comeback and no answer, and they do not want to be here, embarrassed by this policy, which is supported by the leadership of the Labour party.
I will make one final point. For a party that claims that it wants to look after the poorest in society, this policy will do exactly the opposite: it will hit the poorest the most. It will not hit the rich, powerful and wealthy; it will hit people who have vehicles that are quite old and that they cannot afford to upgrade, and small businesses that have two or three non-compliant vehicles and are therefore unable to upgrade them. The charge will hit people who cannot afford to pay it, and who will therefore despair and contact their Members of Parliament. Scores of them have done so on a weekly basis, desperately trying to work out what on earth they can do about a policy that they have no control over—no vote over, in the case of people Dartford—and simply cannot afford.
This is a cruel form of taxation on people in the south-east. It is something that the Labour party should be thoroughly ashamed of. They should be thoroughly ashamed of their London Mayor.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I, too, thank my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher for the way he presented the petitions. I totally agree with everything that has been said by my Conservative colleagues, and I do not want to be too repetitive. I will emphasise some really important points, not least of which are that this ULEZ expansion was not in the manifesto of the Mayor of London, that the consultation showed overwhelming opposition to it, and that, according to his own integrated impact assessment, it will do nothing to tackle air quality.
In 2020, Nickie Aiken, a deputy chairman of the Conservative party, said:
“I fully support the Mayor’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and its planned extension. The majority of car journeys in the Two Cities are not made by local people. They are travelling through, ruining our air quality.”
Why does the hon. Gentleman think she said that? How can he say that the Conservative party does not support ULEZ?
I am very happy to help the hon. Lady figure out what London looks like. Its geography comes from the two cities. The Conservative party did support the inner London low emission zone, but it does not support the greater London low emission zone, which applies to my constituency.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the inner London ultra low emission zone is contained in the congestion charging zone, which has a massive surplus of public transport alternatives and demonstrably worse and less clean air than outer London? That is why my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken was in favour of it while she was leader of Westminster City Council and why it was supported when it was initially consulted on under the mayoralty of Boris Johnson by the GLA Conservative group.
Outer London is completely different. It does not suffer from the same bad air or have the public transport alternatives. That may help Gill Furniss to understand why there is a very big difference between the inner London ultra low emission zone and the outer London ultra low emission zone proposed by the Mayor.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Characteristically, and as a former member of the London Assembly, he is absolutely right. Indeed, I imagine that our hon. Friend Nickie Aiken may have been less supportive at the time if she had known that, only a few years later, the Mayor would be looking to cut the historic No. 11 bus route out of central London and her constituency.
I am sorry to intervene on my hon. Friend. I just thought it would be worth reflecting on the quote given by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson. Back in 2020, there was no proposal from the Mayor of London to expand ULEZ to the Greater London boundary, so whatever my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken, who is not present, was saying in 2020—I am sure Gill Furniss let her know that she was going to mention her in Westminster Hall—was not in support of whatever Mayor Khan has put forward. It was not anything about what is being debated today because that was not the ULEZ proposal of Mayor Khan at the time. That is largely the point of some of the petitioners who have been in touch about today’s debate.
Order. We are not under any real time pressure, but can I remind right hon. and hon. Members that interventions should be short and to the point? They are gradually getting longer and longer.
Thank you, Mr Stringer. I will quickly move on then, and just say that the Minister is absolutely right.
Like other colleagues, I have seen at first hand in my postbag the local, organic opposition to ULEZ continue to grow—not just from my own petition, which is continuing to grow by hundreds of signatures every week, but from the very real stories that we are receiving from constituents about how expansion of ultra low emission zone will impact them. In Carshalton and Wallington alone, it is estimated that 30% of all vehicles will be deemed non-compliant; that means that roughly 30,000 cars will not be deemed compliant if the expansion goes ahead. How many people will be impacted by that? How many families? How many small businesses? How many pensioners? How many charities? These are real concerns voiced by real people, yet how are they portrayed? How are they dealt with? The Mayor of London, seemingly deaf to these concerns, labels them wackos, nutjobs and conspiracy theorists—and that is when he is not too busy trying to sell his book or going around the world advertising marijuana farms.
Where do my constituents go for help? The Mayor is not helping them—the Conservatives are the only party opposing the expansion—so what about their local council? Behind all the smoke and mirrors is the inescapable fact that the Liberal Democrats have been consistently pro-ULEZ. That dates back all the way to 2020 when it was actually a Lib Dem Assembly member who berated the Mayor for not introducing a whole-London ultra low emission zone. Then, closer to home, a Lib Dem Assembly member has welcomed the expansion of ultra low emission zone as “right and necessary” and Sutton’s Lib Dem councillors have been voicing their support for the expansion of ULEZ to our roads for years. One went so far as to state boldly on social media that
“Yes we are in favour of ULEZ” and voted down a motion moved by the Conservative group on Sutton Council to call on the Mayor to drop it. Even now, even when they are trying to claw back some kind of credibility, they can still only go as far as to say that they want a delay. Well, a delay is not good enough. The only acceptable thing to do with ULEZ is to scrap it. I am looking towards the Opposition Benches: it does not surprise me that it is not only the Labour party who are not here, but the Lib Dems, too.
It is incredibly heartening to see Conservative colleagues working together across London and outside of it, and I congratulate the five Conservative-run councils that have brought forward this proposal. However, having heard your warning about this matter being sub judice, Mr Stringer, I will not go any further than that.
We are not only dealing with constituents who are frustrated and worried—worried to their wits’ end. There are also other groups and sectors who I fear have been left out of this conversation. One is charities—for many charities, buying a new ULEZ-compliant vehicle would be tantamount to financial ruin. I believe that speaks volumes about the weaknesses identified in the heavy-handed approach to ULEZ that has been adopted. Tens of thousands of Londoners, including many people in Carshalton and Wallington, will receive no help from the Mayor of London’s scrappage scheme and, as we have already heard, the scheme is not nearly enough even for those who do qualify. Many Government Members have long argued for a broader and more holistic approach, rather than the current scheme.
That goes back to the crux of the issue. The Mayor of London seeks to punish people for being unable to afford to upgrade their vehicle instead of encouraging people to have a greener lifestyle. Instead of spending millions of pounds on ULEZ enforcement cameras, he could have invested that money elsewhere—for example, on expanding London’s green bus fleet; improving the connectivity of outer London boroughs; beefing up the scrappage scheme; fixing the massive failures in his solar panel roll-out; or bringing back the boiler scrappage scheme that the last Mayor had in place.
Take Carshalton and Wallington as an example. Like the borough of my hon. Friend Gareth Bacon, we have a terrible public transport accessibility rating for a London borough: it is just 2. We do not have the tram, the London overground or the tube; we have bus networks and a limited number of national rail networks. As my hon. Friend said, those are often unreliable.
The expansion of the tram to Sutton was scrapped by this Mayor and yet he has the audacity to say that he will somehow improve the public transport network, which, in our case, is a super-loop bus that already exists and has a limited number of stops. How can my constituents get to work, visit friends and family, and go about their daily lives if they cannot afford the £12.50 daily charge and there is not a sufficient public transport network in place? The short answer is that they will not.
Rather than encouraging people to take action through proactive means, the Mayor has decided to go with the heavy-handed approach of slapping hardworking Londoners—the least well-off in our communities—with an arbitrary fee just to leave their driveways. That is not the way to do things, so I urge the Government to consider again the petitioners’ asks. We cannot allow this ULEZ expansion to go ahead.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Stringer. I will just make a brief speech on behalf of my constituents in Bexleyheath and Crayford.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher on securing this debate and on his comprehensive leadership of it. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers on her comprehensive, passionate and interesting speech against the ULEZ scheme and what is happening with it. I do not want to waste everyone’s time by repeating her comments, but I totally endorse them. My hon. Friend Gareth Bacon also made a passionate speech. He and I have been friends for a long time, we are in neighbouring boroughs and we have similar situations.
However, the most important thing that I would like to say is that people in Bexley in particular need their cars. We do not have an underground system. We have a very limited, east-west Network Rail and Southeastern train service, which means that if people want to visit others, they need a car. I believe this Mayor is anti-car; he wants to stop cars everywhere.
I have a tremendous regard for the Minister. He knows how passionate I am about cars. Motorists are already taxed an awful lot—some would say far too much—and the ULEZ is an additional burden on people who can least afford to change their cars. In my part of south-east London, the borough of Bexley, businesses—particularly small businesses, as my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn highlighted—need their vehicles to carry out their work as plumbers and electricians. We have brilliant care homes in the London borough of Bexley, and care workers do a fantastic job. They are going to be clobbered. They are low paid, so the ULEZ is a charge that will be detrimental to them and their families.
It is a shame that the Mayor of London wants to take this approach, which was not in his manifesto. We do not expect outer London to be treated the same as inner London. My hon. Friend Gareth Johnson made a powerful speech about pollution on the underground. Bexley is one of the greenest boroughs, with more open spaces than nearly any other borough in Greater London, and our air quality is good. Of course we want to improve air quality everywhere, for health reasons, but to attack the outer London boroughs in the way that the Mayor wishes is a disaster, unfair and undemocratic.
We had an opportunity to have a consultation, but it was a sham consultation. It was not effective, it was not publicised and the results are highly suspect. My view is that the respondents in my borough and constituency are overwhelmingly against the ULEZ. Whatever people’s political views are in Bexleyheath and Crayford, they are against the policy for practical and financial reasons, yet the Mayor is going to proceed with it. It is undemocratic, and I have huge disregard for his approach of not listening to facts and comments. In a democracy, we all have to listen—that is what it is all about—so I am really disappointed that he will not delay the implementation of the scheme so that we can have another look at it, because we in my part of London believe that it is the wrong policy at the wrong time, particularly given the cost of living situation and because we do not have the transport network that we need in outer London. People on low incomes who are doing fantastic caring jobs will be taxed disproportionately, because they need their car for the unsocial hours that they have to work—whether it is a night shift, late shift, early shift or whatever—and there is no public transport to get them back and forth between home and their workplace.
This has been a good debate, because it has been comprehensive on the Conservative side. Different views have been put together, with one conclusion: the ULEZ must be stopped, and it must be scrapped. The empty Labour Benches say it all, because a lot of Labour people in my constituency are fundamentally against the policy. Labour Members have not spoken up and joined us, which is a great pity. Of course we want to do all we possibly can to stop pollution, but this is the wrong policy at the wrong time, and it is attacking all the wrong people.
I thank my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher for securing this important debate. I also thank not only all those constituents of mine who have signed the petitions, but the 6,000 constituents who have signed my petition against the Mayor of London’s ULEZ expansion to Bexley and all of Greater London.
The subject of this debate is of huge concern to my constituents. The planned ULEZ expansion—a tax raid on drivers in outer London and the neighbouring countries, as we have heard already—will hammer families, small businesses and emergency service workers with bills of £12.50 per day, or around £4,500 a year. As the petitions highlight, and as we have already heard from Conservative Members, the ULEZ expansion is overwhelmingly opposed by the public. The debate has also raised a number of serious issues and questions, including about the process and powers being used by the Mayor to push it through. I hope that the Minister will look closely at that again, given these petitions.
First, there are questions about whether the Mayor has the mandate to do this. As we have heard already, it was not in his manifesto, and the impact of the expansion will be felt far outside the Greater London boundaries. That is alongside the fact that local authorities also have a statutory duty over air quality, and, as we know, several boroughs are opposed to the policy.
Secondly, as highlighted already, the proposals were overwhelmingly rejected in the consultation by around 70% to 80% of people in outer London. Unsurprisingly, the number of black taxi drivers who reject them is even higher. Even Unite the union, one of the biggest funders of the Labour party, is against Labour’s policy and has described ULEZ as “anti-worker”. Despite that, in a rare moment of consistency, the Labour leadership is supporting the policy and doubling down on its support for the Mayor of London.
It is clear why people are so furious about the decision, given the current cost of living challenges. In Bexley alone—the area that I am proud to serve—around 31,000 vehicles will be directly impacted. It is hammering us—businesses, families and key workers—with those bills. According to the RAC’s own independent estimates—they are far different from those provided by TfL, which I think we have all started to question—851,000 vehicles will be impacted in outer London. That is just inside those Greater London boundaries.
By introducing the charge in August, with less than a year’s notice, the Mayor has given people hardly any time to switch vehicles, which was one of the main points raised by objectors in these petitions and elsewhere. That may suit the Mayor, as he and Labour desperately hope that people will forget about ULEZ before May’s election. However, I have some news for the Mayor: Londoners will not forget, and barely a day goes by without a constituent stopping me in the street and highlighting how ULEZ will impact them. That also goes for the upcoming by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where voters have the opportunity to send Labour a message when it comes to ULEZ.
Those constituents include pensioners who rarely drive but need their car to go shopping or to hospital appointments; families who need to drop off their kids, perhaps to different schools each morning; and, as we have heard, tradesmen who need their vans for their tools and to get to jobs. As my Friend Gareth Johnson has highlighted, shops on the boundary of Bexley, in places such as Bexley village, face a particular issue. Many customers come from neighbouring Dartford or Rochester to use their services, and people are so scared that there will be a significant drop in customer footfall.
Alongside the clearly negative impact of the ULEZ expansion on businesses and hard-working families, it is also important to again highlight that over 50% of blue-light workers in London live outside the capital, and 90% of care workers nationally use their own cars for work. Those are not my figures but official figures. The expansion will create many knock-on issues for the emergency services in the likes of Bexley, including, as we have heard, the doubling of charges for those working nights. It will also negatively impact patients, with my local hospital in Sidcup, Queen Mary’s Hospital, sharing a number of services and nurses with the likes of Dartford.
Those are all issues that I do not believe have been properly thought through as the Mayor of London desperately seeks to fill the black hole in Transport for London’s finances, which he is responsible for. Bexley does not have the underground, and, like many other London boroughs, it does not have the same transport options and connectivity as central London, so it is extremely unfair that the Mayor of London is proposing plans for ULEZ expansion.
In recent years, as I have said, our bus and other services have been cut by the Mayor of London, and there is nothing in his so-called reinvestment plans that will help areas such as Bexley and the south-east. For example, when we last debated this subject in this very room—I believe it was back in December and that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford secured it—the Mayor’s office sent out a glossy press release just before the debate. It went to all Members of this House, highlighting that we should support ULEZ because he would expand the bus network in outer London. But what actually happened in reality? The very next morning, the B13 service in Bexley, which serves my elderly constituents and others, had its frequency cut.
Since then, we have heard what we call the super-flop announcement. Bus routes are getting rebranded in outer London but they are not helping anyone at all. We are expected to tell our constituents, “We’re really sorry, but you should drop your opposition to ULEZ because the Mayor of London is rebranding an existing bus route in our area.” It is complete nonsense. Unfortunately, it is also a prime example of the problems that we have had with this disastrous Mayor of London. All we hear is press release after press release, but when it comes to substance and helping hard-working Londoners, he fails time and time again.
The scrappage scheme announced by the Mayor does not even come close to matching demand or addressing the costs and practical issues associated with buying a new vehicle. The fact that he is forecast to spend double the amount of taxpayers’ money to install cameras to fine people highlights how this policy is aimed not at improving air quality, but at raising money. When Labour members of the Greater London Authority had the chance to vote to expand the scrappage scheme to help more people, they did not do so, despite the fact that ULEZ is forecast to raise over £1 billion in the first two years of expansion, as revealed by freedom of information requests in the last week or two. The Government have also provided Transport for London with over £6 billion in taxpayer bail-outs in recent years—another figure that the Mayor frequently forgets to mention.
As we have heard, the Mayor’s own independent impact report on the policy highlighted that it will have a negligible impact on improving air quality in outer London. Our areas are very different from central London. As my right hon. Friend Sir David Evennett said, we are already seeing improvements in air quality, but we need policies that actually improve it and encourage people to act more sustainably, not ones that are clearly greenwashed to raise money. If the Mayor of London actually wants to help tackle air pollution rather than raise money, further investment should be made to support people and encourage them to switch to electric vehicles where they can, including by installing electric vehicle charging points and leading by example with TfL’s own bus fleet. We have also heard about underground air pollution.
With traffic having been highlighted as one of the main causes of air pollution, there needs to be an urgent review of the impact of the Mayor’s road closures on increasing traffic and emissions across London. By pure coincidence, I am sure, those closures have also raised millions in fines for Labour councils in central London. Like ULEZ, they are clearly designed to penalise drivers rather than encourage improvements in emissions. I will highlight another unwanted statistic for the Mayor: London is now the slowest city in the world to drive in, despite the congestion charge and ULEZ. These schemes are not working. Traffic in the capital is getting worse.
While the Mayor of London is out trying to sell his new book, he is issuing more and more licences for private hire vehicles. The inconsistencies are stark wherever we look. The Mayor does not like to talk about it, but we have already heard about the last Labour Government’s proposals for the purchase of diesel vehicles. When Sadiq Khan was the Transport Secretary at the end of their time in government, he was also in favour of Heathrow expansion. He does not like to talk about that either. One of his most fundamental policies and investments during his mayoralty is the Silvertown tunnel, which will encourage many more people to drive through east and south-east London and increase the number of vehicles on the road—something that the campaigners against Silvertown tunnel like to point out.
We will not take any lectures from Sadiq Khan on air quality. His days are numbered; we have figured him out. Next May, Londoners across the capital have the opportunity to kick out this failing son of a bus driver, and ensure that they have people in charge who can get our great city moving again and make it safe for us all to live.
I confess that I had not originally planned to speak in this debate, but as not a single Labour or Lib Dem Back Bencher has put in to speak, I will make a few points in lieu of them.
The ULEZ zone affects outer London, stretching out towards the county of Essex, in some cases well past the M25. Many of my constituents and people who live in Essex will be affected by the imposition of the charge, and, because they do not live in Greater London, they cannot vote Mayor Khan out of office or vote anyone else into office. For them it really is a case of taxation without representation, which is one reason I feel strongly about it, and even more so after having heard excellent speeches on the topic by my Conservative colleagues this afternoon.
The Mayor says the issue is about air quality, but it is not. As my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers made perfectly clear, the studies and detailed scientific analysis show that the effect of the ULEZ on air quality will be marginal at best. Everybody knows the truth. It is not about air quality. That is the fig leaf that Mayor Khan is using to justify it. It is about money, because TfL is effectively bankrupt and has been for some years. He is therefore trying to use the charge to fill a black hole. It is perfectly obvious what he is up to, and I think every Londoner in their heart of hearts knows that.
The charge will add to the other problems that the Mayor has introduced such as the road closures and road narrowing measures in London, which serve to create more pollution on an increasingly congested number of remaining roads, because the traffic has to go somewhere. Such measures make London one of the worst cities in which to drive.
As has already been made plain, not everyone can take public transport. If people need tools or equipment for work, they have no choice other than to drive. People in the public sector will be affected, including Met police officers and NHS workers who have to drive into London to work in hospitals. I declare an interest: my wife will be one of those affected. It will also affect people in the private sector such as tradespeople going about their work trying to get to and from their place of business. All of those people will have their lives made more difficult by Mayor Khan. Let us be honest: he does not like cars and he does not seem to like car drivers, either.
A black cabbie said to me a few weeks ago, “I’ve been doing this job for over 30 years and I have never known the traffic in London to be as bad as it is now. Between all the road closures and the roadworks it is virtually impossible to get anywhere and it is about time someone raised it in Parliament.” Well, Bill—I think that was his name—now they have. Bill the cabbie was absolutely right. It is becoming incredibly difficult to drive across our capital city because there are so few arteries that we can take. If there is an accident or heavy roadworks on one of the arteries, that whole part of London an rapidly grind to a halt.
Yes. Perhaps it is a function of my age, but I can remember a time when the fastest way to get across London was to hop in a cab. It is certainly not that way now. We have about half the number of black cab drivers that we had prior to the pandemic, which is a fantastic drop-off, bearing in mind that it takes an average of three or four years to do the knowledge and get a green badge. Many of them have given up. From talking to them or to friends of people who have given up, we find that many have done so partly because of their age—that was an effect of the pandemic—but that many others have given up because it is so difficult to get across London. It is just too stressful a way to earn a living. That is why sometimes people can wait quite a long while to get a black cab in London. There are far fewer around than there were. If anybody knows about the challenges of driving across London, I would suggest that black cab drivers are well-placed to comment.
One of the other great problems is roadworks, which have a great effect on air quality. One of the most frustrating things about modern life, is it not, is spending ages in a car crawling ever so slowly forward toward the lights to get through that contraflow, only to finally make it through the lights and drive past a perfectly coned-off big hole in the ground with absolutely no one in sight doing any work on it at all? How many people get wound up by that?
We have had a proliferation of roadworks in my county of Essex. We are the roadworks capital of the UK. In a recently recorded 12-month period, we had 77,000 roadworks of one kind or another. I cannot blame that on Mayor Khan. I could talk about the utility companies or Essex County Council’s highways, but there is just too much to say. I have launched a “Can the Cones” campaign, which the Minister kindly agreed to meet me about in March. One thing he was looking at was lane rental—not ULEZ—which involves making contractors pay by the day to dig up roads. In the parts of the country where that has been brought in, contractors, funnily enough, tend to get the job done much quicker. Perhaps in the Minister’s reply he could spare a moment to say where he has got to on that.
Essex County Council, I am pleased to say, has come around to the idea and is working on a joint scheme with Suffolk to introduce it. The reason why it is so important is that as communities have grown historically, we have tended to find that most of the utilities have been laid on a very limited number of roads, and those are the ones that get dug up again and again. They would be ideal candidates for which to bring in some form of lane rental.
I thank the House for its forbearance, and I would summarise the issue as follows: ULEZ is going to be, if it is introduced—I hope the Mayor might yet relent—a tax on ordinary, hard-working men and people of this country, who will be penalised £12.50 a day for having the temerity to want to go to work to earn money and put food on their family’s plates. That is what Mayor Khan is doing. The whole bit about air quality is complete camouflage. It is not about that; it is about the money. For that reason, the petitioners are right: rather than the cars, it is ULEZ that should be scrapped.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Stringer. I thank Nick Fletcher for opening the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee, and I thank the other hon. Members who have contributed. It is unusual to see the Tory party all in solidarity with one another. Everyone agreed with one another, which is not something we often see in the House.
Air pollution is a serious yet solvable problem. The Government’s figures estimate that between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths are attributed to air pollution each year, or between 80 and 100 deaths each and every day. Three years ago, nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah became the first person to have air pollution listed as a cause of death by the coroner. That heartbreaking case demonstrates the urgency with which we must tackle air pollution.
Currently, the UK air quality limit stands at 20 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre of air, which is four times higher than the World Health Organisation’s target of 5 micrograms. The Government are only committed to reducing the limit to 10 micrograms as late as 2040. Sadly, the World Health Organisation guidelines for air pollution continue to be missed across London.
Transport is a leading cause of air pollution, estimated to contribute 35% of nitrogen oxide pollution and 13% of PM2.5 pollution in 2021. Those stark figures must not be ignored, and we need action from the Government to address the problem. The fact is that many local authorities have had little choice but to implement clean air zones because of the years of inaction on air pollution at a national level. The Government require local authorities to take steps to improve air quality, but this Government’s inaction on the main sources of air pollution means that local authorities are left with few options to clean up their air. Given the funding and powers available to local authorities, clean air zones are, in practice, one of the only viable mechanisms available to them to meet their legal requirements.
I did not say that; I said that I will come to that later in my speech.
The Minister may not want to admit it, but a clear policy direction has been set by the Government, and local authorities are merely meeting their obligations at the behest of Government. Although Government Members like to kick up a fuss about clean air zones, their Government have approved those clean air zones where air pollution reductions have been legally required. Having essentially required councils to implement clean air zones, Ministers have failed to follow through with the support to help councils to meet their air quality targets.
To take just one example, let us look at the Government’s record on the transition to electric vehicles. Electric vehicles do not produce any nitrogen oxide pollution and they produce significantly less PM2.5 pollution. Encouraging people to switch from petrol and diesel cars to EVs is therefore a vital step in improving air quality, but under the Conservatives, we are at risk of stalling the switch.
[Mrs Sheryll Murray in the Chair]
Ministers have slashed help to purchase electric vehicles, and we are set to miss the target for 300,000 EV charging points by almost two decades. That is why our world-class car manufacturers are losing confidence in investing in Britain.
Air pollution causes huge harm to human health, which is why Labour has made ambitious pledges to reduce it, and we plan to get there by helping the switch to cleaner transport. That is why we have a transition plan to enable people to switch affordably to low-emission vehicles. Labour’s plan would make Britain a world leader in electric vehicles; our national wealth fund would invest in eight battery plants nationwide and win the global race for the future of the industry. With action to expand charging infrastructure, Labour’s plan for green growth will drive jobs, tackle the cost of living crisis and help to clean up toxic air.
No, I will not give way.
We will accelerate the roll-out of charging points and give motorists the confidence to make the switch to non-polluting, CAZ-compliant vehicles. New targets will hold Government to account and provide long-term assurance for investors. We will rapidly scale up UK battery-making capacity by part-financing eight additional gigafactories, which will create 80,000 jobs and add £30 billion to the UK’s economy, all while powering 2 million electric vehicles and improving air quality, alongside clean air zones. The next Labour Government will build the infrastructure fit for the century ahead by delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail and High Speed 2 in full, unlocking the growth and investment that businesses are crying out for, and helping people to switch to clean public transport.
We are also committed to passing a clean air Act, building on the pioneering work of the Labour Government in Wales. The Act would establish a legal right to breathe clean air and would place tough new duties on Ministers to ensure that air quality guidelines are met. We will enshrine World Health Organisation standards for air quality in UK law and act quickly to bring down harmful emissions and air pollution through our own ambitious green prosperity plan.
That plan will allow us to invest in the green industries of the future, making the UK a leader in green industries such as clean and renewable energy. Rolling out more electric vehicles, greening our power sector and insulating 19 million homes within a decade will make a huge difference to the amount of air pollution emitted from UK transport, energy and homes.
Labour’s plans will ensure that people across the country are no longer forced to breathe air that is harmful to their health. While the Government are too busy tearing themselves apart to tackle these serious issues, Labour stands ready to decarbonise our transport, clean up our air and make Britain a world leader in the technologies of the future.
I have just one question for the Minister: why have the Government not done more about air quality for the past 13 years while they have been in office, and why have I got quote after quote from Conservative London MPs saying that they supported ULEZ, but now they are all backing off? I wonder why.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray, and that of Mr Stringer earlier. I thank my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher for fulfilling his role on behalf of the Petitions Committee so eloquently and for opening the debate on road-charging schemes.
I wanted to pick up on a comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South—
This area crosses multiple Departments: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs leads on environmental legislation overall; the Department for Transport owns the enabling powers in multiple different spaces; and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities owns the powers related to the devolution settlements. Road charging cuts across many areas.
Before I get into my speech, I will pick up on a couple of points made by Gill Furniss, who spoke for the Opposition. She said that she did not put words into other people’s mouths, but I can categorically state that I have been in touch with my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken and that she has never supported the expansion of ULEZ to the borders of Greater London. Given how the Labour party has criticised potential misrepresentations by Members on the Government Benches in recent months, it might be a nice idea for the hon. Lady, at some point in the very near future, to apologise for misrepresenting the views of my hon. Friend. The hon. Lady did not do her the courtesy of telling her that she would mention her in the House today.
I also want to pick up on a couple of points made by my hon. Friends from across the Conservative Benches. Kent, Essex, London, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire are all represented in the Chamber, and all spoke with a united voice, reflecting on what is being done across the country. It was particularly interesting to see that no Labour Members are present. People going to by-election polls across the country will be interested to see that if they vote Labour, they will get absolutely no voice in this place, whereas with the voice of Steve Tuckwell, the Conservative candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, who has opposed ULEZ consistently, people will know exactly what they get if they vote for him in the upcoming by-election.
Aside from party politics, it is important to talk about the petition. Devolving powers to local authorities is an important tenet of a democratic Government, giving power to those who are closest to and most knowledgeable about the local issues that they face. Devolution helps to drive local and national economic growth, better and more integrated public services, and enhanced public engagement and accountability—at least, that is the theory. Our existing Mayors already play an important role across the country, and the Government are committed to deepening those devolution settlements over time and building on the existing framework.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley said, the GLA Act 1999 was brought in after a referendum on the proposal for a Greater London Authority made up of an elected Mayor and Assembly, with 72% voting in support. In 2015, the first of the Government’s devolution deals was agreed and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority came into being. In 2022, we announced six further devolution deals, bringing devolution to people right across the country, with elected Mayors at their head. The deals mark a new chapter in English devolution. It is important to reflect on what that devolution means. It does not just mean devolving power and money; it also means accountability at a local level. That is what hon. Members have been talking about: people need to be accountable for the decisions that they make in local government.
One of the petitions proposes changing the GLA Act to remove a power from a directly elected Mayor. It is interesting that the petitioners know where the power lies but do not trust the person who is currently in the position to stand up for them. It is quite something when, rather than campaigning to change the person at the top, the petitioners are so concerned—as my hon. Friends the Members for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), for Bury North, and for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) said—about the impact that the policy will have on their lives, and those of their families and communities, that they want to remove a power, because they do not trust the people in those positions to represent them.
Thank you for reminding me, Mrs Murray. I apologise for being discourteous to you.
Hon. Members across the House mentioned tackling air pollution—one of the biggest environmental threats that we face. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley highlighted Ella’s case. There is evidence of a link between very high, problematic air pollution and high mortality, but those living in our country can see what the Government are trying to do. We have already introduced the phasing in of electric cars and the phasing out of the internal combustion engine. We are doing the same for heavy goods vehicles and for our coach sector. Before the end of this Parliament, it will be very clear what we will do on the phasing out of the internal combustion engine in our bus network. We have invested in more than 3,400 zero-emission buses across the United Kingdom—very close to our target of 4,000 before the end of the Parliament.
That is what we are doing across the piece to deliver on our environmental objectives. We recently introduced two new targets beyond that for fine particulate matter in the Environment Act 2021. We have invested another £883 million to tackle air pollution in 64 local authorities where nitrogen dioxide levels were too high. Since 2010, we have awarded a further £53 million to English local authorities to support more than 500 local projects. As recently as
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough talked about the Labour Government in Wales as a pioneer. They are pioneering in so many different ways. They have the highest waiting lists in the entire United Kingdom. They have the lowest employment across the United Kingdom as well. If they are the pioneers of the Labour revolution, we can all see what they actually stand for. They are not delivering in the same way as we are in England on multiple environmental policies. We are monitoring rivers up and down the country—something that Labour is not even looking at in Wales at the moment.
The Minister spoke a minute or two ago about investing in bus and rail services. I wonder why we have so much discontent throughout communities all over the country about the lack of bus services and the trains being unreliable. [Hon. Members: “Strikes and unions!”] Strikes, yes. In the end, what is the Government’s money doing? Does the Minister recognise that the cuts to local authorities have had a massive impact already? Whatever money the Government are putting in is nowhere near as much as the money they have taken out of local authorities.
Before the pandemic, the Government were paying, through concessionary travel schemes and support through the bus service operators grant, around 40% of all the cash going into bus services in this country. At the moment, because we are supporting bus services as they recover from the pandemic, it is around 60%; £3.5 billion has gone into the bus network across the country.
There have been no recent proposals from the Opposition Front Bench when it comes to actual cash. We have just approved a new plan of £500 million supporting bus services across the country, and a £2 fare cap. That is money that we have put in to support fare schemes in the combined authority areas, which I know Labour mayors up and down the country like to take credit for. That is money that the Government have been investing right across the country, whether in Greater Manchester or Greater London.
Does the Minister share my confusion that Labour’s argument for ULEZ, advanced in this place and in our local areas, is that local authorities have been forced to do this, and that they do not want to? That is not what the Mayor of London is saying. The Mayor of London has written a whole book about how proud he is of the ultra low emission zone. Does my hon. Friend think that is really the best that Labour can come up with?
I tend to agree with my hon. Friend. The Mayor put the idea of an expanded ULEZ in his manifesto, but it was not the expanded zone that we see today, which was only delivered by the votes of the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the Greens in the London Assembly. They voted to extend it right to the outer borders of Greater London, rather than what the Mayor of London had proposed in his manifesto.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough shouted at me from a sedentary position that whatever we are providing for the bus sector is still not enough. I would love her to tell me how much more we should put in. When I speak to Labour politicians at the moment, none of them can tell me. They have no plan. They are just an opportunistic Opposition. This Government have put more than ever before into the bus network. We have capped prices for working people, which is something the Labour party never did when it was in office. Right up and down the country we have put in the new bus service operators grant of 22p per kilometre, which now includes electric buses—something that was not the case just a few years ago. We remain committed to an end date for non-zero emission buses, and that consultation will be reported on soon.
I have to agree with my right hon. Friend. I was attacking on so many different fronts that I forgot to mention the elephant in the room, which is the continuing rail strikes by people who have been incredibly financially supportive of the Labour party over the years.
Although there is a huge amount more to be done, we can be proud that air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010. Emissions of fine particulate matter have fallen by 10%; transport emissions of nitrous oxide have fallen by 32%, overall nitrogen oxide by 45% and sulphur dioxide by 73%. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough might criticise a reduction of three quarters in the amount of sulphur dioxide and wish that we could go further. I want to go further too, which is why we are phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles. If she wants to go further, would she outline exactly how far and fast she would like to go?
The only statutory air quality limit that the UK is currently not hitting as fast as we would like is for nitrogen dioxide around our road network, but we are making massive progress there. Around 72% of the road transport emissions of nitrogen oxides comes from diesel cars and vans, which we are phasing out. If we are going to introduce a ULEZ across Greater London requiring £250 million of capital cost, which is going to be phased out anyway because of the fact that we will be moving, in pretty short order, towards electric vehicles, particularly in smaller areas, it seems to be particularly targeted—I think the Conservative speakers really picked this up—on those who use second-hand cars and who, because they cannot afford to buy new vehicles, will be running those cars for a long time. It is particularly pernicious to put those people at the front of the list.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this scheme is targeted, like every single Labour policy, at the self-employed? This scheme unduly impacts self-employed people, who require transport to go out to work, so it is grossly unfair.
There is absolutely no doubt that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The owner of a small business who literally carries the tools of their trade in the back of their van does not have other options. Even if people are not the owners of small businesses but are just commuting to work in a car or van, the Mayor has now hit them on the other side with a day travel card, as my hon. Friend Gareth Johnson said. In addition to those extra £50 million of costs, they are being told to use public transport and then told to pay an absolutely huge amount more for it, particularly if they are coming from outside the Greater London area. Again, that is a change that hon. Members have been reflecting on today. It means that the people affected by the change pay more but still do not have any say over the person responsible. That is part of the democratic deficit argument that Members have talked about.
I need to move on to local government powers around air quality. Powers enabling local authorities to introduce road schemes that charge users are of long standing. They can be used by local authorities to deliver what they want in their areas. There are no plans to revoke these powers, which are in the Transport Act 2000. They provide local authorities with an important tool. It is for local authorities to make decisions and to be accountable for those decisions.
We require local authorities to consult on these schemes. The Prime Minister has spoken at the Dispatch Box—I think it was in response to a question from one of the hon. Members here today; it might have been my hon. Friend Gareth Bacon—on the consultation around the ULEZ scheme. The Prime Minister thought it would be a sensible idea for the Mayor of London to think again and I tend to agree with him. This scheme needs to be thought about again, more broadly.
These powers have been used by some local authorities in various areas, but what I would say to all local authorities across the country is that if they want to take people with them, they should not try to drive people out of using cars; they should provide better quality alternatives. It is particularly sad to see the Mayor of London reducing some bus routes, particularly historical bus routes, and not allowing that alternative when people really need it. I have pledged before to my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers that I will speak to the transport commissioner in London about the No. 84 bus. I will see the commissioner in the next few weeks, and I will do so again.
The Government recognise the need to support a range of solutions across the board for individuals and businesses affected by measures to tackle air pollution. That is why we have already awarded £402 million through the clean air fund to some of the local authorities that face some of the most pernicious negative impacts of air quality that are also difficult to mitigate.
Under the Greater London Authority Act 1999, transport in London is devolved to the Mayor and Transport for London. It is the Mayor’s responsibility to manage and oversee the transport network. This includes the power to create, or vary, road schemes that charge users, which is why the petitioners drafted their petition in the way that they did. It is up to the Mayor to determine and justify what he is doing.
The mayoralty in London has previously used those powers to introduce the congestion zone, the low emission zone and the current smaller ULEZ in central London. When the Mayor brought forward his transport strategy, which was voted on, it could have been rejected by the members of the GLA, but instead it was supported by every party in the GLA apart from the Conservatives. That is where the Mayor gets his ability to do this from.
The GLA Act gives the London Assembly the power to accept or veto mayoral strategies, including the transport strategy, but only on the proviso that two thirds of elected members of the GLA agree on an alternative, which means that of the 25-member GLA, 17 would have to agree on the alternative. The electoral system for the London Assembly guarantees that no one party will be able to achieve that; Labour votes would have been required to achieve that. That is why the Mayor’s budget has never been amended and why no strategies have ever been amended. Does the Minister agree that that is precisely why the petitioners have put forward this petition today? The London Assembly does not have the effective power to veto the Mayor’s transport strategy, which is why the petitioners are calling on the Government to step in and do that.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. What is particularly interesting today about Labour Members is how few of them are here. In fact, no Labour Back Bencher is here. I would be really interested to know why that is the case. It is clear to me that a few of them, secretly and in the background, would go against their party leader, the Leader of the Opposition, who is fully behind Mayor Khan’s plan for the massive expansion of the ULEZ. I think a few of them would like to speak up in that way.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes and I will address it directly at the end of my remarks, if I may, but I think it is very important that we also say to people, “If you want change, then rather than trying to change the rules or the legislation in this place, you can change the person in charge of implementing them.” That is the most important message that we can send today, and a really important way of sending that message in the very near future is to deliver it in Uxbridge in the next few weeks—sorry, Mrs Murray, I digressed slightly there.
The mayoralty in London has previously used the GLA Act to introduce various measures, and there has been a significant reduction in nitrous oxide as well as particulates and other pollutants over the last few years, but that is due to improvements in engines as well as to other factors. The Mayor of London needs no agreement from the Government or the London boroughs to pursue his proposed expansion of the ULEZ under the current law, and although the current Mayor notified the Department for Transport of his intention to expand the ULEZ, he is not obliged by the legislation to consult the Department. At the last mayoral election, in 2021, the Mayor stood on a manifesto that included a pledge to expand the ULEZ to the boundary of the North and South Circular Roads; his manifesto did not say that the ULEZ would be expanded to the boundary of Greater London. To implement his preferred option of expanding the ULEZ, the Mayor had to revise his transport strategy, and this was subject to a consultation and a vote in the London Assembly.
The car is an important, and often the only, way for people to get around in their daily lives; the same is true of small vans. These vehicles are particularly needed for people who have limited mobility—another element to this issue that we all need to consider at the moment. People depend on their vehicles for food, for their health, for their livelihoods and to visit friends and family. They should be given a choice of how they travel. Imposing obstacles and doing so during a cost of living crisis is quite a blow to those who need their cars, who have no real alternative and whose choice is being removed. The Mayor could have proposed other, less intrusive measures to improve air quality in the capital, but he did not; instead, he and has chosen to expand the ULEZ. That is his decision, and he has the power to do it under the current law.
Before I conclude my remarks, I want to touch on the rest of the country, because my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North also raised important points. One area where we do recognise an emerging inconsistency is in the powers of local authorities to look at charging systems where the approach taken in London differs from those outside the capital. The judicial review of the Mayor’s proposal is being heard in July. At the moment, I cannot speak in much greater detail about that, aside from saying that the case will be heard on four grounds—it was two previously, before the recent appeal—including how the Mayor conducted his consultation, and his scrappage scheme. Clearly, it would not be proper to comment on that, but we have seen the difficulty that the inconsistency in local authority powers can create, with four London borough councils, alongside Surrey County Council, challenging the decision. It is important to recognise that. As many hon. Members have said, constituents being impacted without their having the ability to change the Mayor is a real issue.
Outside London, combined authorities have their own locally agreed decision-making processes. For road schemes that charge users, powers are typically held by combined and local authorities, and some degree of local authority agreement is required to introduce schemes. That is separate and different from the situation in Greater London. Two decades on from the re-establishment of the mayoralty of London, it is right that the Government take stock of how London’s devolution settlement is operating in practice, which is why the Government are committed to reviewing the London devolution settlement as part of the English devolution accountability framework more broadly.
I am not in a position today to announce any change to the Government’s position on this issue—it is more proper for Ministers in other Departments to fully reflect on it—but I recognise the strength of feeling not only of hon. Members present but of the petitioners. I commit to raising the concerns expressed during the debate with ministerial colleagues.
This extremely good debate has brought north and south together, which is always good to see. Unfortunately, the Opposition did not want to join us today, and we have heard in the speeches the reasons why. Wherever there is a socialist authority, there are always additional taxes. We have heard that Scotland is speaking about tourist taxes, which are already in place in Manchester. Socialist authorities seem to want only to tax businesses and the people of this country, who pay enough as it is. We do not need any more of those policies.
Thank you for stepping in, Mrs Murray. I remind this place that we were left with a note saying that there was no money left and that the last Labour Chancellor sold off all the gold as well, but there we go—shirking responsibility as always.
I thank the Minister for his comments. I also thank the petitioners and the Petitions Committee. I thank Edward Green, who started one of the petitions and has come here today. It is super important that the voices of the petitioners are heard in this way. Although no decisions are taken in these debates, the Minister will ponder the speeches that have been made today. I hope that the Mayor of London will too, and stop the ULEZ expansion. It will obviously cause untold misery for everybody up and down the country, as low emission zones in Sheffield and Manchester are. I thank the petitioners once more. It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Murray.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered e-petitions 599985 and 633550, relating to local road user charging schemes.