Prescott becomes minister for smog

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ONCE we had a minister for drought, writes Geoffrey Lean. Another year it was time for a minister for rain. This summer, step forward John Prescott, the minister for smog.

The Deputy Prime Minister yesterday began to wage "war on smog" as Britain faced a weekend of dirty air. He said the Government was taking measures to try to clean up the polution, which kills thousands of people every year, and called on the public "to do their bit".

He said: "This week we will see summertime smog descend on many parts of England and Wales. Smog is a killer. Each year, up to 24,000 people die prematurely due to poor air quality. Children and elderly people are most at risk. So I am declaring war on smog."

Mr Prescott brokered the international treaty to combat global warming in Kyoto in December, and launched an international campaign to clean up the oceans earlier this year.

Summertime smog is formed when sunlight acts on pollution, mainly emitted from car exhausts, causing chemical reactions. Palls of smog settle over towns in still weather and breezes blow high concentrations of ozone over the countryside. The pollutants aggravate respiratory disease. Yesterday there were high levels in Wales, London, the Midlands, Scotland and East Anglia.

Mr Prescott said the Government was "setting standards for cleaner fuels and better car design to cut emissions", and was "empowering local councils to crack down on smoke-belching cars and lorries".

Councils would also be charged with "framing action plans" to meet national clean air targets set by the Government. The White Paper on Transport due next month would "encourage us all to use public transport more and cars less".

The Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions, which Mr Prescott heads, urged people to leave their cars at home this weekend.