My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the regulations before your Lordships’ House. I am also grateful to him for facilitating a meeting last week with his officials, Sejal Mahida, Andrew Baxter and Katie Doubleday, who explained many of the technical details and issues behind the regulations and the medium combustion plant directive.
Poor air quality is the biggest public health risk facing the UK. The Government’s slow and inadequate response to the situation has led to several infraction proceedings in the courts, brought by ClientEarth. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, has said, 29,000 people suffer prematurely due to problems from breathing poor-quality air. Children are also bearing the brunt of this air quality crisis, as the worst pollution hotspots often occur around schools due to the concentration of diesel fumes from vehicles discharging at idling speed at a low height, at which children are vulnerable.
The European Commission has recognised the seriousness of the situation and, from its review, published in 2013 the clean air package. It has issued various emissions directives concerning different sizes of plants. It is from the Government’s failures to meet air quality standards that ClientEarth has secured court rulings that the Government must bring forward and implement clean air strategies. It can be argued that this experience has highlighted the need to create an effective enforcement agency to assist Governments to meet their environmental responsibilities. It is to the Government’s credit that they have finally accepted this and will bring forward proposals for this new governance structure. Perhaps the Minister could say how the Government are developing their thoughts, what their proposals are and whether they will be ready by the time the UK leaves the EU.
It is to be recognised that the Government have consolidated previous amending instruments into the 2016 regulations. These regulations will continue the process of bringing these amendments into a single set of regulations. They will apply to combustion plants and generators, some of which will feed into the grid. There are 23,000 such plants and generators, which have proliferated in recent years.
Labour has been very critical of the Government for allowing polluting diesel to bid into the capacity market as this could be said to have contributed to the problem. Notwithstanding that Labour may not have allowed access to the capacity market, bearing in mind that both BEIS and National Grid are confident that there will continue to be sufficient liquidity and security of supply will be unaffected by this supply, it is nevertheless accepted that these amendment regulations fall outside the capacity market’s regulations and rules, and so are not strictly a relevant consideration and allow the capacity market the stance of technology neutrality. In allowing this diesel technology, it must comply with all the directives concerning emissions and air quality.
The important point highlighted by your Lordships’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is that old and new combustion plants and generators must comply with the emission standards by the end of December 2018. This will avoid the unintended consequence that older diesel plants will not receive a competitive advantage from unabated emissions that new modern equipment has to adhere to. Labour supports the Government in that operators bidding for new agreements will need to meet the same emissions controls, irrespective of whether they are existing or new generators. In that sense it will be a level playing field.
I support the regulations before your Lordships’ House and welcome the early implementation of the higher standards being imposed from 2019. Indeed, from 2019 emissions will have to be reduced to the extent that emissions from diesel plants and generators will be on a par with gas. These amendment regulations will result in new agreements signing up to higher standards sooner. Existing and older plants will have to clean up sooner. It is recognised that the greater polluters—existing plants—are being tackled first to meet the standard achieved by newer plants.
While recognising that this will have an impact on several stakeholders, the explanatory documents underline the greater public benefit of air improvements, with savings to the National Health Service welcomed by several foundations including the heart and lung foundation. For this reason, we endorse the shorter timeframes coming into play and recognise that they will be significant in helping the UK meet its 2030 reduction targets.
However, I have one or two questions for the Minister and would be grateful if he addressed them. Can he set out the Government’s plans to provide more environmental information to the public, especially regarding the results of emissions monitoring, which should start to show reductions? Will further regulatory action be triggered for any failures?
Secondly, can the Minister set the regulations against the context of the Government’s clean air strategy? How far will compliance with them take the Government towards their objectives? The Explanatory Memorandum refers to another enforcement undertaking—in respect of the Environment Agency and flood risk activities. The memorandum states merely that the regulations revoke certain paragraphs of the 2016 regulations to allow the regulator to accept offers from offenders to repair damage caused, as an alternative to criminal proceedings. This seems slightly extraneous to the general run of the regulations, but in light of the flooding occurrences this weekend is nevertheless important. What issue lies behind this rather cursory couple of paragraphs? Why are they included in the regulations and what is the Government’s objective?
I note that my noble friend Lord Jones asked questions in relation to Wales. Meanwhile, I confirm approval for the regulations.