asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether the United Kingdom breached European Union legal limits for air quality for sulphur dioxide and particulate matter in 2005 and 2006; and, if so, how and by when they will ensure that those limits are met.
Yes, my Lords. The Government reported breaches of EU limits for particulate matter and sulphur dioxide in 2005 and 2006. The sulphur dioxide breaches concerned a Bedfordshire brickworks. The Environment Agency, as the regulator, is managing the situation. Meeting limit values for particulant matter is a more general challenge associated with many sources including traffic in urban areas, and the UK air quality strategy sets out actions to be taken to achieve the limit values in the shortest possible time.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware of the Campaign for Clean Air in London and the fact that its one aim is to achieve at least the minimum World Health Organisation recommended standard for air in London? Is he aware that central London has the most polluted air in Britain, and that the whole of London is really in a bad way? Something should be done before the Olympics.
My Lords, what the noble Baroness said is correct. Of course if I had said it, there would be a bit of a problem. London is the dirtiest part of Britain. It is the capital. It is the largest city and the most dense. For that reason the air quality is the poorest in the centre, and action needs to be taken about that. The air quality is considerably superior to what it was 20, 30, 40 or even 10 years ago, and that has been dealt with by imposing limits. The Mayor's low emissions project is receiving support from the Government, but the biggest problem we have to deal with is the pollution from urban transport.
My Lords, although there have been breaches in terms of sulphur dioxide, this has been one of the most successful programmes in reducing emissions worldwide, with huge reductions since the 1980s and improvement with regard to acid rain. The United States was the first country to introduce an emissions trading system for SO2, which was remarkably successful. Should the Government not remind the United States of that success and press it to have a similar cap and trade system for carbon dioxide?
My Lords, that goes a bit beyond the geographical location referred to in this Question, but the noble Lord is right in the sense that we ensured that by 2001 there was 96 per cent less sulphur dioxide and 48 per cent fewer particulants than there would have been if we had not had policies for clean air. For the avoidance of doubt, by the way, although I read out the factual Answer regarding the Bedfordshire brickworks, the sulphur dioxide breaches there are based on a model. The actual measuring instruments around the outside of that brickworks, which are not owned by the Government, do not show a breach of the limits.
The short answer to that question, my Lords, is no, I cannot.
Yes, my Lords. The Question was about sulphur dioxide but there are limits for all kinds of things. The Question was in two parts and I have answered it in two parts. The only sulphur dioxide breaches in the country related to a brickworks. As I have explained, the figures were based on a model, not on the measuring instruments. That is a matter for discussion with the Environment Agency and the brickworks. We do not foresee a problem—there is no dispute between the Government and the brickworks' owners.
On particulate matter, local authorities up and down the country have measuring instruments all over the place, as do central Government. Air quality is vastly superior across the range of the country. Of the large urban areas away from the coast, Manchester is dirtier than Birmingham, while London is the dirtiest of the lot for the reasons explained in the original supplementary Question.
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that when, frequently, noble Lords opposite ask what use the European Union has ever been, this is one of the things that we should chalk up? We should regularly remind them that the setting of emissions standards is one of the great benefits that we have had from our membership.
Yes, my Lords, and I can give some figures to back that up. It is estimated that more than 4,200 premature deaths and 3,500 hospital admissions have been avoided, and up to 117,000 life years saved in 2001, compared with the scenario in which the policies for cleaner air had not been carried out.
My Lords, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter are separate issues and that is how I dealt with them. The Environment Agency, as the regulator, is managing the situation at the brickworks, where there were breaches in 2005 and 2006. Those breaches are based on a model, not on the measuring instruments around the outside of the brickworks. More instruments are being located around the outside. In other words, there is an issue between the model figures and the actual figures that were measured. The other issues are being dealt with by the UK strategy, which essentially means getting cleaner transport in our urban areas.