Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab):
Moved by Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
20: Clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out subsection (2) and insert—“(2) The PM2.5 air quality target must—(a) be less than or equal to 10µg/m3,(b) so far as practicable, follow World Health Organisation guidelines, and(c) have an attainment deadline on or before
My Lords, In moving Amendment 20 I shall also speak to Amendment 49, both in the name of my noble friend Baroness Jones of Whitchurch and in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I express support for my noble friend Lord Whitty’s Amendment 21, and Amendment 29 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I shall also speak briefly to Amendment 156 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
“strengthens the significant improvement test outlined … in Clause 6 by requiring explicit consideration of the extent to which air quality targets under section 1 and the PM2.5 air quality target under section 2 are compatible with WHO guidelines.”
It also requires the Secretary of State to outline,
“in the event of divergence … why they believe this is in the public interest.”
Air pollution has been breaching legal limits across the UK since 2010 and is recognised by the Government to be the single largest environmental risk to health in the UK. It is linked to cancer, asthma, strokes and heart disease and, in the UK, contributes to the early deaths of an estimated 40,000 people. Toxic air also drives health inequalities. Government analysis confirms air quality tends to be poorest in the poorest communities, and that those communities are also more likely to have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the effects of polluted air. This Bill gives us the opportunity to address this crisis of pollution and set the UK on the pathway to become a global leader in environmental protection, but without ensuring the PM2.5 targets as in our amendment we will waste this opportunity.
The Government should be ambitious in what they set out to achieve, as it is possible to make sufficient improvements in urban areas to achieve the WHO target. The Mayor of London, for example, has produced evidence to show that London can achieve WHO guidelines, even in the hardest areas to tackle. Recent monitoring data shows that parts of the city are already meeting this standard, demonstrating that it could be achieved across London, and in cities across the country by 2030. Without this vital provision, not only will action be unacceptably delayed but it will be possible to remove or even to water down targets should they prove challenging to meet, which would fundamentally undermine the whole purpose of target setting. Due to the Government’s constant delay in action to meet existing legal limits for air quality—I remind noble Lords that this led to the Government losing a number of court cases—greater urgency and ambition is now needed for the protection of human health.
Amendment 156, in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark, addresses air pollution and public health and we strongly support this amendment. The coroner’s conclusion that exposure to excessive air pollution contributed to the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013 has underlined the need for all levels of government to do much more to tackle the deadly scourge of air pollution. In April this year, the need for legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines was raised by the coroner as an area of concern in his Prevention of Future Deaths report and is even more urgent given the emerging evidence linking air pollution with the most severe impacts of Covid-19. In response to this report the Government have said they will launch a consultation on new targets for PM2.5 and other pollutants next year, with the aim—I repeat: the aim—of setting new targets in legislation by October 2022, and will also develop a more sophisticated population exposure reduction target.
Only this week, medical leaders are urging the Government to cut levels of air pollution to below WHO limits in response to Ella’s death. Leaders of the BMA, more than 20 nursing colleges, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal have written to the Prime Minister to urge the Government
“to use this bill to make a legally binding commitment to reducing fine particulate pollution … in the UK to below the maximum level recommended by the WHO by 2030.”
This Bill clearly provides the Government with the opportunity to implement the coroner’s recommendations through our amendments, and through those in the name of other noble Lords. What response have the Government made to this letter?
As the UK moves to a post-pandemic, green recovery, action taken through the Environment Bill to tackle air pollution is crucial to ensure a healthy, resilient population. I beg to move Amendment 20.
My Lords, I very much welcome the appearance of Clause 2 in this Bill, but it would be seriously sharpened up and given impact by the adoption of Amendment 20 by my noble friend Lady Hayman. I support that amendment and Amendment 156 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy.
My Amendment 21 is slightly different. It is, in essence, a probing amendment. It starts to deal not with the setting of targets, but the way in which those targets could be delivered. It is arguable that the amendment should come somewhat later in the Bill, but Clause 2 specifically deals with PM2.5 and I thought it was relevant here. I will not press the amendment with its current wording, but it is intended to provoke a discussion and, hopefully at later stage, a form of words to address the practicalities of delivering an effective air quality strategy for the targets to be set under Clause 2, particularly in relation to PM2.5. Indeed, it should extend to ultrafine particles, which were not previously covered by EU regulations.
The focus on PM2.5 as the cause of the most harmful lung and pulmonary diseases is important. My noble friend has underlined the implications of the recent coroner’s recommendations following the tragic death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in south London. The target needs to be ambitious, much more challenging than current standards in the EU and elsewhere, and to reflect the WHO targets, as my noble friend said. For it to be delivered, we need to focus on the key role of local authorities and others and ensure that they are fully effective. That requires resources, in terms of both money and powers. It also requires their efforts to be brought within a coherent national strategy, as well as a system of parliamentary reporting on progress all the time—particularly on the interim targets.
However, the targets will not work unless we have a proper system of monitoring toxic and noxious emissions and very small particulates. We also need a strategy for the specification of increased quality of air quality monitoring. Currently, most monitors measure nitrous oxides and derive from those measurements an estimate of particulate exposure, mainly from road traffic. Ideally, we need to be able to measure the particulates directly and it is important that we have a clear quality specification of the technical parameters of those monitors. We also need a clearer strategy for the placement of monitors: by the roadside, away from the roadside, at schools—since children are the most susceptible to lifelong lung malfunction from diseases induced by particulate ingestion—around construction sites, around self-standing generators and on some industrial premises.
Most importantly, we need a system of communication. There is no use in even extensive monitoring unless we both inform the public and follow up with analysis where the targets are not going to be met and where there are exceedances or near exceedances by location and with particular forms of action that are needed. Communication to the public is therefore key; we need to link the monitoring system to automatic warnings to the population in the streets, at bus stops, outside schools and colleges and so on. We also need to ensure that local authorities, particularly highways authorities including Highways England and Transport for London, have the legal responsibility for establishing the network of monitors, collating information from them and informing the public of the levels of poison gas and particulates including, in particular, PM2.5.
I recognise that Amendment 21 as worded envisages a regulation on local authorities, but it also requires regulations elsewhere in terms of transport vehicles and machinery specifications. I accept that there must be a better way to reflect the need for those specifics in the Bill. I am looking to the Minister to come forward before the completion of this Bill with a way of ensuring that local authorities and others are both required and resourced to set up a comprehensive system of monitoring and communication to the public, and that there is a clear follow up where limits are exceeded and targets not met. That is what the amendment is about.
I should declare my interests as president of Environmental Protection UK, once known as the National Society for Clean Air, which has focused for decades on this issue. I ask the Minister to come forward before the end of this Bill with a better version of this.
My Lords, I am delighted to see all these amendments and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Kennedy, for bringing them forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, gave an excellent introduction. I just have one slight problem with it: while the current Mayor of London is doing a lot on air pollution, he is also building a road that will negate virtually everything he is doing and has done. The Silvertown tunnel should be stopped immediately with not another penny spent on it. We all have to understand that building new roads is a mistake anywhere in the country, but especially here in London, when we should be concentrating on better, cleaner methods of transport.
I have worked the issue of air pollution on since 2001. The mayor at the time, Ken Livingstone, made a very good stab from a standing start at reducing air pollution, even though at the time it was just a warning flag that we were about to break EU limits. He did what he could in terms of the congestion charge and encouraging cycling, even though he was not a cyclist himself. Sadly, as soon as the mayoralty was taken over by the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, things went a little bit skew-whiff. He did not get the whole issue of air pollution and that is a big problem because we know that, if you do not have targets for reducing something, it is likely to not get done. If we are going to clean up our toxic air, this Bill has to set binding targets.
The sources of air pollution are widespread: industry, transport, buildings and agriculture are all major contributors. We have to understand how each of those can be cleaned up and improved, not just for all of us who breathe it in in the cities, but for farmers who also experience a huge amount of pollution in their daily lives.
Air pollution has been found to cause death after a coroner ruled it was a cause of death for Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. I pay tribute to Ella’s mother Rosamund, who campaigned and fought for so many years to reach this verdict. Ella is the first person to ever have air pollution as a cause of death and it is now official that Ella’s painfully cruel death was unnecessary, preventable and should never happen again to any child or adult. If the Minister is in any doubt about putting targets on air pollution into this Bill, I urge him to meet Rosamund, who fought a fantastic campaign virtually alone when she was suffering immeasurable grief from losing her eldest child. I think he would be convinced and would take it back to the department to insist that we put targets on air pollution into this Bill.
The coroner in Ella’s case said that
“there is no safe level for Particulate Matter” in air and recommended a reduction in the national pollution limits to bring them into line with World Health Organization guidelines, which is exactly what my Amendment 29 would do. It would hook air pollution targets to the latest WHO guidelines and require the targets to be updated as the science develops. I believe this is the only safe way to proceed and the only way to be true to Ella’s legacy, so that no more children will die from choking on toxic air.
My Lords, I support the intention behind all the amendments in this group today. I agree with the contributions of my noble friends Lady Hayman and Lord Whitty, and with virtually everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said. However, I will restrict my remarks to Amendment 156 in my name in this group.
The amendment seeks to put Ella’s law into the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned, on
Amendment 156 in my name seeks to place duties on the Secretary of State in the Bill to ensure that the health of members of the public is put centre stage. I hope that the Minister and all Members of the House will support that. The amendment may not be perfect, but it sets out clear targets for the Secretary of State for particulate matter, at WHO levels, and a plan to achieve compliance, along with the monitoring of air quality, the publishing of live data and providing information to the public. It also seeks to ensure proper education, training and guidance for healthcare professionals.
I am hoping for a very positive response from the Minister today. I want to hear him say very clearly to the House that he is prepared to meet me, my noble friend Lady Hayman, Ella’s mother Rosamund and members of the Ella’s law campaign to see if we can get an agreement to put this in the Bill before we come back to this issue on Report. I assure the Minister that we will come back to this issue on Report, and I hope to be able to do that on the basis of co-operation and agreement. I look forward to the Minister confirming, at the end of this debate, that he is prepared to meet me and the other people I have listed.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to support this group of amendments, because this is the point where general environmental and climate change benefits directly coincide with health benefits. It is therefore plain common sense to give them total priority.
Reducing emissions of NOx, CO2 and PM2.5 are vital targets. I read this week that research by Imperial College London has revealed that, in London and other cities, there is still lead in our atmosphere—in the air. Lead was banned from petrol 20 years ago, so we need to bear in mind how long it takes to produce a long-term solution to these problems.
The problem with the Bill as it stands is that, although it commits to targets, they are too vague and much too far in the future. The Environmental Audit Committee drew attention to what it called the “needlessly long timeframe”. The details of the target will not be in place until the end of next year, when it could be in place as soon as the Bill passes through both Houses, and there will be no requirement to meet the target until at least 2037. That is so distant as to absolve the current Government, and the one after that, of any sense of responsibility and incentive to take the difficult decisions required. Even the aviation industry, which has the greatest technical challenges in dealing with emissions, is urging the Government to set shorter-term interim targets. It argues that only shorter-term targets will incentivise investment in nascent clean technologies.
We can be forgiven for being sceptical about the Government’s long-term commitment to improving air quality. A couple of months ago, the Government gained good publicity by announcing that they would include shipping and aviation emissions in their sixth carbon budget. This legislation came to the other place this week, with no mention of those commitments. This matters: both shipping and aviation are highly polluting and must be taken into account. This is a prime example of the Government caring more about the press than the planet.
Clause 3 allows the Secretary of State to lower or revoke any long-term air quality target set. Amendment 20, to which my noble friend Lady Walmsley has put her name, would ensure that the PM2.5 target will be at least as strict as the 2005 World Health Organization guidelines and will have to be attained by 2030 at the latest. This future-proofs the Bill much more effectively and avoids providing the temptation for a future Government in danger of failing to meet targets to decide to water them down. It also provides the sense of urgency that our climate and health crises deserve.
Emissions from transport—road, rail, air and shipping—make up around one-third of the total, and much more in certain hotspots. Unlike other sources of pollution, transport emissions have not fallen in recent decades, despite new technologies. This is largely down to two factors. First, there are more vehicles on our roads and more planes in our skies, and although very many of them produce less or no roadside CO2, they still emit PM2.5. Worse than that, CO2 and NOx emissions are bolstered by the popularity of SUVs, many of which are highly polluting. This is an example of the difficult choices that the Government need to make to change the structure of vehicle and fuel taxation to reward the least polluting vehicles and penalise the worst, thereby incentivising change. I remind noble Lords that only 0.5% of vehicles on our roads are ultra-low emission vehicles. That demonstrates the massive task ahead.
I want specifically to support the intention behind Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, made clear, the tragic case of Ella Kissi-Debrah highlighted for us that average levels of air pollution are pretty meaningless as a statistic, because concentrations occur, particularly near busy roads. These unseen concentrations are lethal. They affect us whatever age we are, from the womb to the point of death—our brains, hearts, lungs, bloodstreams and much more. This is an equality issue, likely to affect the poorest and the most physically vulnerable. There is a clear and straightforward role for local authorities and highway authorities generally to monitor roadside pollution on a systematic basis and, very importantly, to report and advertise the results of their monitoring to warn residents.
Rapid government action is even more important following the pandemic because we are experiencing a car-led recovery. Car use is back at around 90% of pre-pandemic levels, while, outside London, buses are carrying only 60% of their normal number of passengers; trains are at 37%. Many of us are still working from home, yet road traffic is as bad as ever in many places, and the decline in numbers using public transport threatens future investment. If the Government are truly committed to improvement, they first need to take a scythe to their £27 billion road investment strategy.
The Government say that they want to leave the environment in a better state than they found it in. I regret that the Bill fails to do this in respect of air pollution. It needs improvement, and these amendments are a good start.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will not be taking part in the debate, so I will move straight on to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green.
My Lords, I have found this a fascinating debate. I put my name to Amendment 49, but I support the general approach of all these amendments. Clearly, air pollution is a key issue for the Government. I hope that, when we look at this, we do so in the round.
I cannot agree with the some of the statements, I am afraid. I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, say that we have to ban all roads and we must not build any more. That assumes that those towns and cities that are being heavily polluted because the roads go through the town centre should have to put up with that. Similarly, she referred to the Silvertown tunnel. The argument for that is that the current Blackwall tunnel constantly gets blocked and the traffic queues cause more air pollution. There have been many occasions during this debate when people have said that we need to look at the evidence—we do.
More generally, I regard the investment that the Government are making in more cycle lanes as fundamentally important, as is encouraging young people to cycle or walk to school. The irony of it is that those children who think—or whose parents think—that they are safely protected in their SUVs are actually breathing in more pollution than if they were out walking or cycling. Of course, if they were doing those activities, they would also be getting the benefit of exercise. I welcome the targets; they are important. How we achieve them, through monitoring, et cetera, is important.
I too read that article on leaded petrol, which remains in the city 20 years on. Above that article, and perhaps even more interesting in some ways, was one on smart traffic lights smoothing the way to reducing emissions by a quarter. It said:
“A new generation of smart traffic lights could be introduced after a government-backed trial showed that eliminating unnecessary stops at junctions can cut emissions by a quarter.”
That stresses the importance of ensuring that we do not forget that innovation will play an important part in reducing these emissions. I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will take into account—I am sure that he will—a holistic analysis, if you like, of what the Government are doing.
There may well be more cars on the road because people are a bit reluctant to travel on public transport at the moment. As someone who cycles every day and has had an electric car for a few years—I am lucky to be able to afford one—I like to think that I play my part. We are seeing changes in attitude. There are many young people these days who are not bothering to learn to drive or do not own their own car—they hire or share—so we should not be too pessimistic about the situation. It is serious, which is why I put my name down—I felt that this was a necessary probing amendment.
I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will give us that holistic analysis of how the Government intend to meet these targets and how they feel that they can respond to the very real and present impact of particle pollution, whether it is nitrous oxide or carbon emissions.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendments 20 and 49, but I support the general thrust of all the amendments in this group. I am old enough to remember that, when I was a very young boy in 1962, my father had to wear a mask—we have got used to them these days—because of the smog in London. It was not the Great Smog, which was a few years earlier, but it was a serious incident of air pollution that killed a significant number of people. At that time, it showed up that, although the Clean Air Act had been brought in in 1956, there were serious gaps in it: it dealt with emissions of smoke but not sulphur dioxide. If we are not careful, there is a danger that we will think that we have solved this problem and things are getting better—there are indications of that, but we are far from perfect.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I have been raising this for a long time: I remember having an Adjournment Debate in the other place in 2003 on air quality in London. That was based not just on my concern for the welfare of my fellow Uxbridge citizens but on my own experience of how I could feel the ill effects of increased pollution. Where we live in west London, there is Heathrow and the major roads, and we often seem to exceed the legal limits.
We have already mentioned one thing that convinced me that we have to go further: Ella’s campaign. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Rosamund, Ella’s mother, and I have not met a more courageous and forceful advocate for this. Despite the obviously terrible tragedy that she endured, she was able to be extremely convincing in all the arguments; she did not have to rely on the personal issue. We owe it not just to Ella but to all the other young people. As has been mentioned, it is very often those who live in less well-off areas.
There are difficult decisions. Of course, sometimes, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, has just said, there are occasions when traffic congestion could be eased, and smart traffic lights could provide one of those. The only trouble that I have with building more roads is that they inevitably get filled up. I remember that, when the M25 was first built—little sections of it—it was a joy because no one was on it, but it filled up quite quickly and sometimes is the largest car park in London, as I think many noble Lords will agree.
This is a really serious issue, and the Government must take forward the view that we must have ambitious targets. We should accept the WHO targets. This is something that I feel very strongly about.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I think the last time I spoke after him was to congratulate him on his maiden speech. He brings, of course, great focus and authority to this debate. I welcome this group of amendments generally and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the other noble Lords who have tabled the amendments on bringing forward the issue of targets and particularly the PM2.5 measure.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I accept the importance of these targets while pointing to other types of air pollutant of possibly equal toxicity and potential for harm. I am informed about this because over the years I have had many emails in my parliamentary mailbox with personal accounts from those whose health is significantly and adversely affected by air pollution, particularly by being near to major road systems.
Fundamentally, all these targets have to drive a culture change. I think of my three London-resident children who during the pandemic reported how air quality in the metropolis had improved and, sadly, how it has once again deteriorated as things return to what we might call normal. While I commend municipalities bringing in ultra-low emission zones for urban centres, I think that permitting owners of polluting vehicles to pay for the privilege gives the wrong message.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to a range of non-vehicular polluting activities, including those from construction with which I am familiar. Not so many months ago I witnessed a group of contractors engaged with public pavement repairs using a petrol disc cutter to trim concrete slabs. This was taking place in a busy London shopping street. I will not bore noble Lords with a detailed description of the noise, uncontained dust and odours that were released into the air, but it could just have easily have been welding, sanding, atomising sprays, evaporating solvents or material handling that was releasing pollution into urban air. I also observe that far too many food premises emit odours and fumes at unacceptable levels. One I know well in a major Surrey town blasts motorists as they wait at traffic lights with the outpourings of its extractor system. I suppose one might say that that was a form of poetic justice.
Only recently I learned that the metropolitan Clean Air Act, to which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, referred, permits the burning of firewood in homes. I thought that had been banned a long time ago. The Prime Minister’s comments about insisting on seasoned firewood are very welcome, but the wood also needs to be dry, kept dry and not be full of resins, as are some softwoods. As somebody who uses a wood burning appliance—but not in an urban area, noble Lords will be glad to hear—I question how good the understanding is of these factors concerning supplies of firewood and the knowledge of consumers. Urban atmosphere is, after all, a vital common good for health and well-being, tourism, productivity and, in turn, commerce.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, is right that we cannot simply all take a hairshirt approach and that the laws of unintended consequences beset us as we try to move from one mode of transport, perhaps, to the other. He rightly referred to the role of innovation. However, to repeat my earlier comment, most of all we need collective cultural change, better information and regulation that drives such responses as we wish to see come out of this Bill.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for tabling Amendment 20 which triggers other important amendments in this group. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for introducing this group of amendments in such a knowledgeable way and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her very pertinent contribution on transport-related pollution.
I spoke about the problems of air quality at Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, spoke about the London smog in the 1950s. I was a student at Manchester University in early 1960s and I recall bus conductors having to walk in front of their buses because the smog was too thick for the driver to see the front of the vehicle. This problem, which has come very much more to my attention during the Covid lockdown, has come for the converse reason. I have found myself constrained to the finest possible surroundings in Gwynedd, two miles from Caernarfon Bay and the Menai Strait and some six miles from Snowdon. I did not visit London for fifteen months until yesterday. That is the longest period since I was a toddler for me to be confined to the delights of rural Wales.
Of course, it has been enjoyable despite the tragic backdrop. One of the unexpected benefits has been the very noticeable, even tangible, improvements in my health, in particular my lung and chest functioning. I have even been able to get back on my bike. It is only now that I have come to realise how detrimental to my health is the poor air quality in Cardiff and London. I have increasing sympathy for industrial workers—coal miners, slate quarrymen, cotton workers and many others —whose exposure to industrial diseases is exacerbated by poor-quality air that they struggle to breathe.
Since speaking at Second Reading, I have received a volume of information, drawing detailed attention to the research work that has been undertaken on the impact of polluted air on human health. I am grateful to everyone who has contacted me. I have not yet been able to read all that material; I hope to do so between now and Report and, indeed, to study more generally the information available on these matters. In this time of Covid, we are surely obliged to ensure that this Bill addresses this issue. For now, I thank colleagues who have drafted these amendments, which I support wholeheartedly. I am sure the Minister will want to see some strengthening of the Bill on this matter which must be affecting millions of our fellow citizens and even our children, as the tragic case of Ella has taught us. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am just popping up, as one does in Committee, to add my support to Amendment 20 and to most of the other amendments in this group. I do not have much to add to what the proposers and subsequent speakers with their great expertise have said. I support the ambitions behind this group. I am not quite sure whether—or for that matter why—the Government might set their sights on a target more damaging to health than the WHO recommendation, but I believe that we should insist on having challenging targets.
I have read that between 2010 and 2017 there were reckoned to have been more than 30,000 premature deaths per annum in the UK due to air pollution, many of them stemming from excess PM2.5 particulates. In the EU, the figure was reckoned to be 390,000 premature deaths per annum. It occurred to me that if these deaths were being caused by a respiratory viral infection from Wuhan, I suspect that we might have to be in permanent lockdown. However, this pollution has built up gradually and somehow we have become complacent about it.
There are many different sources of PM2.5 particulates and if we tackle them all in a measured way with the right research and a variety of regulations and encouragement, it should be possible to make a big difference. After all, we have managed to achieve a big reduction in nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide—NOx and SOx as they are called—in recent decades without impinging too much on anyone’s quality of life while actually enhancing everyone’s quality of life. I am confident that we can build on that success with the right research, encouragement and regulation and, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, public information.
I realise that a target of 10 micrograms per cubic metre is going to be hard to achieve by 2030 and even measuring it is, I believe—and as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, confirmed in his excellent speech—not a simple matter. For the safety and health of our children alone I believe we must be ambitious on this issue, so I strongly support these amendments.
My Lords, I have added my name to two amendments in this group, Amendments 20 and 49. These amendments deal with the same fundamental problem—the impact of air pollution on health. I declare my interests as I chaired the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry into allergies. I am a Bevan commissioner in Wales. Sadly, I also have family who are exposed to very high levels of pollution because of schooling.
The dignified campaign of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s mother, following her daughter’s tragic death, has shown us why health must be at the centre of air pollution strategies. These amendments are widely called for from across paediatric and child health, chest medicine and related disciplines, and by the Royal College of Physicians, the British Lung Foundation, Asthma UK and others.
Simply meeting limit values is not enough because there is no safe level of pollution exposure. Research in the last five years has shown that air pollutants reach every organ of the body with deleterious effects, ranging from damage to the foetus’s developing lungs in the womb, and the heart and brain, right through to damage to the adult body, causing accelerated ageing of organs throughout life. Very small particles—less than 2.5 micrometers—from anthropogenic sources are a particular problem. They stay suspended in the air for prolonged periods and have a propensity to penetrate deep into parts of the lung where gas exchange occurs. Ultra-fine particles are especially problematic because, in many ways, they behave like a gas. These particles damage the end organ in the lung, the alveoli or distant air sacs where essential lung function occurs.
The UK has the worst death rate from asthma in Europe and is one of the countries with the highest incidence overall. Exposure to air pollution is likely to be a key driver in this disorder, which takes lives and costs the NHS dear. As particles become smaller, their relative surface area increases, which means that chemicals carried on the surface also increase. They are then released into cells and, internally, within parts of cells such as the mitochondria where energy is produced, and they are the source of damaging oxidant chemicals.
The WHO guideline values for particulates are health based. They must be the basis of the minimum targets set, recognising that, in July this year, these will be further revised downwards. Large epidemiological studies have shown that there is no safe level of pollutant exposure and therefore no safe threshold. We have a huge problem. Eight thousand schools are in places which exceed air quality limits. Some 25% of all car journeys are school runs. One in four hospitals and one in three GP surgeries is in an area where air pollution is above the WHO limit for fine particulate matter. Twenty years ago, the Government’s own Air Quality Expert Group recommended,
“Impact analysis of policies or specific developments, whether for industry, transport, housing etc., should take account of the interlinkages of emissions of air quality and climate change pollutants.”
To the shame of us all, this has not occurred.
Simplistic thresholds are not good enough for health. Health will not improve unless the chemical characteristics and sources of particles are tackled. Those from anthropogenic sources, such as diesel engines, and road and brake wear are likely to be far more toxic than particulates originating from geological or natural sources.
Daellenbach and colleagues’ recent research, published in Nature last November, points strongly to this type of man-produced particulates being most closely associated with adverse health outcomes. This type of particle is closely associated with tissue damage. They derive principally from traffic—from diesel, brake wear and tyre friction on the road surface, as well as from domestic biomass burning, such as log burners. Simply eliminating diesel engines will not be enough, unless braking systems, road surfaces and activities that generate particulates are tackled. It is worth noting that, during Covid, there have been reports of such air pollution actually worsening in some areas, due to the large number of small lorries and trucks involved in domestic deliveries.
The amendments to which I have added my name push the Government to adopt the WHO limit for particulate matter. I support the requirement in the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that there should be long-term targets for particulate matter, at levels no weaker than those set out in the WHO guidance. It is also essential to have greater investment in air quality monitoring in places such as schools where vulnerable groups are gathered for significant lengths of time. Where the monitors are placed is particularly important. Work from California, where a neighbourhood-scale analysis of pollution has been cross-referenced to health data, has shown the direct impacts of pollutants on health. A study has revealed the major impacts from a single, two-hour car commute on human stress metabolism, with marked differences between normal and asthmatic people. Those with asthma have greater toxic metabolomic responses, showing their particular sensitivity to pollutants. All this supports poor housing and the location of schools close to traffic as being a problem both now and for the future well-being of our population, particularly the next generation’s. It has been suggested that air pollutant exposure may enhance susceptibility to other serious illnesses, including serious illness from Covid infection.
I am sure we shall return to this on Report, when the amendment on air quality will have been better refined in the light of this debate. In the meantime, will the Minister say whether the Department of Health and his department are actively engaged with the UK car industry to develop our own electric vehicles, with electromagnetic induction braking? Secondly, what work is being undertaken with Highways England to decrease particulate production from the friction of tyres on road surfaces? The type of road surface determines the amount of particulate produced. Thirdly, what work is being undertaken with the Department for Education and local authorities to stop school-run journeys, other than in exceptional circumstances?
We have an increasing problem of young people with asthma and an enormous bill for the NHS for acute and chronic respiratory disease. Can the Minister tell us what monitoring of air quality in schools and hospitals is currently being undertaken and what is planned, particularly where they are adjacent to major traffic routes?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a sufferer from asthma. I add my congratulations and thanks to Rosamund Kissi-Debrah on her effective and courageous campaign for clean air. She, and anyone who knows anything about health promotion, knows that we should not rely on the Department of Health and Social Care alone to achieve it. It is the responsibility of the whole Government. Defra and the Department for Transport play particularly important roles.
Anyone who knows anything about ill health will also know that prevention is better and cheaper than cure. As my noble friend Lady Randerson pointed out, this group of amendments is about the prevention of ill health. My comments are from this standpoint. As my noble friend also pointed out, the beauty of the amendments in this group is that they bring together two vital issues for our country—the promotion of human health and the health of the planet. The prevention of global warming protects the future of our species. The practical measures needed to reduce PM2.5, which will prevent sickness, will also contribute to saving the planet.
As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, mentioned, these amendments also provide an opportunity for our innovators and industry to show what they can do to achieve the target by giving us a clean, green and more healthy recovery.
Amendment 20 requires an ambitious target, equivalent to that of the World Health Organization, for reducing air pollution, and it futureproofs the Bill. Amendment 49 puts pressure on the Secretary of State to do it quickly. We on these Benches support the spirit of Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, Amendment 29, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and Amendment 156, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which summarises a lot of our objectives, as well as Amendments 20 and 49, to which I have put my name.
In this debate we have heard about the massive number of people whose health and development are seriously affected by polluted air, particularly by toxic microparticles of PM2.5 and smaller. We have heard that the Government currently meet their own average target of limiting this fine particulate matter to no more than 20 micrograms per cubic metre of air. However, this limit is too high and is an overall figure; local levels are much higher. We need much more granular measurement and enforcement. I welcome the Government’s commitment to adopting a new exposure reduction target, as this would drive further improvements in areas that already meet WHO guidelines, but this must go along with an ambitious target on ambient concentrations.
We have seen from Defra’s own technical analysis and from work by King’s College London that this is feasible and can be achieved, but it requires political leadership and funding. We have heard from the WHO and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, that no level of these microparticles is safe for human health, and that the legal limits in other countries are much lower than ours. We have also heard that the current limit recommended by the World Health Organization is 10 micrograms per cubic metre—half the UK limit—but that this is predicted to be reduced soon. Its guidelines also urge countries to reduce their own levels as quickly as possible. That is what we want our Government to do. The Government plan to set a new target by 2023. It must be an ambitious one. The Government should mandate themselves to keeping within that target and lay down a road map, with dates, as to how it will be done. Accepting these amendments would do that.
This Bill addresses many important issues but this one is by far the most far-reaching for our health, particularly that of our young children. Because these microparticles are so small, they can cross the placental blood barrier and enter a developing foetus, interfering with the development of the brain. If anything else did that, it would be banned by any right-thinking Government. This harm is hidden, so we do not know its human or economic cost. The dangers of rising levels of these particles have crept up on us, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said, but they can be stopped.
The Government like to claim that they are the “best in the world” at all sorts of things. Here is an opportunity to really achieve that position on damaging air pollution. If, by supporting this group of amendments, we can persuade the Government to take a more ambitious approach to reducing air pollution, we can save lives, save years of good health, save money for the NHS, stimulate the green economy and help save the planet. As they say, “What’s not to like?”
I thank noble Lords for their contributions on this important subject. I start by saying, as a number of noble Lords have, that the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was an absolute tragedy. I pay tribute to her family and friends, particularly her mother, who have all campaigned so tirelessly on this issue and continue to do so.
Turning to Amendment 20, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the Government recognise the importance of reducing concentrations of PM2.5 and the impact this has on our health. That is why we have included in the Bill the requirement to set a target specifically on PM2.5 concentrations. The Government are following an evidence-based process to inform this and the long-term air quality target. I reassure my noble friend Lord Randall, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that it will be ambitious. However, at this stage the full mix of policies and measures required to meet the current WHO guideline level of 10 micrograms per cubic metre is not yet fully understood, and nor is the impact these measures would have on people’s lives. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned the mayor’s study. I am pleased to say that the workings of that study were published last week. Officials are going through them and taking them into account. The letter on this issue recently sent to the Prime Minister by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, the BMA and a collaboration of medical colleges will also be taken into account.
Until the Government complete the work and consult the public about the type of restrictions that would need to be placed upon us, particularly in large cities, it would not be appropriate for us to write this limit into law. The target is not being ruled out but, as I said at Second Reading, there is work to do. For example, meeting 10 micrograms in London and other cities is likely to require policies such as a total ban of solid fuel burning in cities and reducing traffic kilometres across our cities by as much as 50%. It is not right for us to set a target at the stroke of a pen that would impact millions of people and thousands of businesses without first being clear with people and understanding what would be needed. The Government have committed to setting out detailed evidence, including for public consultation, early next year, ahead of setting this target in secondary legislation, which will come before this House for a debate and a vote.
Turning to Amendment 29, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendment 156, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, the Government are working with a broad range of experts to ensure that air quality targets are based on the best available science, including the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, the UK’s air quality expert group, and a wide range of sector experts. We will ensure that our process is informed by the latest health evidence, including World Health Organization air quality guidelines. Given the breadth of potential targets that could be set under this framework, the WHO guidelines might not be relevant to all targets. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to require the Government to take account of the guidelines when setting or amending all targets. Nor would it be appropriate to require the Government to prepare explanatory statements pertaining to the guidelines for all targets, or to require all targets to be reviewed when the new WHO guidelines are issued.
However, we have baked a review mechanism into the target monitoring and review process. At least every five years, the Government must consider whether further policies are needed to achieve the interim and long-term targets they have set under the Bill. This will mean considering new evidence, including in the context of air quality target updates to World Health Organization guidelines.
Turning to Amendment 156, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, the Government already make air pollution information available through a range of channels, but we are committed to improving the quality of that information first, to ensure that we have clear messaging and strong platforms to host this information. We will be doing this through comprehensive reviews of UK AIR, and the daily air quality index, and dedicating a significant part of the £8 million air quality grant to improving public awareness in local communities of the risks of pollution. This will also help health professionals in advising patients when poor air quality is forecast. We are also looking at working with relevant health charities on longer-term campaigns aimed specifically at vulnerable groups.
Moving to Amendment 21, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I reassure noble Lords that the Government recognise that in setting new air quality targets, it is important to have in place suitable means to monitor progress and to demonstrate whether the targets have been met. To answer noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, there is an established network of air quality monitoring in the UK, and work is ongoing to understand what additional monitoring would be required to underpin the new air quality targets. As stated in our clean air strategy, we are committed to ensuring continued investment to update and improve this infrastructure, in order to ensure that appropriate assessment is possible and that progress can be tracked. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also made that point.
It is not possible to monitor the air in every single school location, although we are monitoring in a great many. As we cannot monitor everywhere, modelling enables us to assess air quality in locations without monitoring stations and, on the back of that, to make future projections.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked whether Defra is liaising with the DfT and the sector on the not completely understood issue of particulate matter coming from tyres, which is particularly associated with electric vehicles. The answer is yes; a lot of work is going on in that space, which will inform our next steps. Details of the targets set, including requirements for monitoring, will be set out in secondary legislation, following a public consultation at a later stage.
A number of noble Lords questioned the progress being made or commitment by the Government to take action. The Bill is an important part of our process towards tackling issues such as air quality, water quality, biodiversity and others, but it does not exist in isolation. There is a long list of actions we are taking, specifically to tackle air quality associated with transport. Just in recent months, we committed £3.5 billion for charging infrastructure, £1.2 billion to the cycling and walking investment strategy, £2.5 billion to improve local transport through the transforming cities fund, £5 billion for cleaner buses and to boost cycling and walking, £2 billion over five years to cycling and walking and £200 million to the Covid-19 active travel fund, which was announced by the Secretary of State. As noble Lords know, we have committed to ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. We brought that forward based on the evidence we received. I believe the original target was 2040, then 2035. We now think that 2030 is in reach, because of the evolution of technology. We have introduced two clean air zones, in Bath and Bristol, and more are on the way.
In fact, I am going to stop, because the list goes on and on, but a lot of stuff is happening. I say that partly to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Young, who asked for a bit of optimism. I certainly would not pretend that we are completely on top of the issue, in the sense that an enormous amount of work remains to be done, but there is room for optimism. As noble Lords can see from the Government’s actions and what we are proposing in the Bill, we recognise the gravity and urgency of the situation and are taking action.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was surprised that it is still possible to burn wood in people’s homes. I remind him that we recently introduced new legislation to restrict the sale of the most polluting solid fuels, which has been in play from May this year. Only the cleanest stoves will be available for sale as of next year and we have consulted on options to reduce ammonia emissions from solid urea fertilisers.
From looking through my list of questions, I think I have addressed the key concerns that were raised—I certainly hope so. On that basis, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
I have received requests to speak from the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
My Lords, I thank the Government Whips’ Office and the usual channels for sorting out the inadvertent omission of my name from the speakers’ list for this group. I am grateful to them and for being allowed to speak after the Minister. I support all the amendments in this group but, in the interests of time, will limit my remarks to Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for tabling his amendment because it gives me an opportunity to raise an issue I campaigned on during my time as the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon, when the residents there raised concerns about a proposed planning application to build new homes on a small piece of land on an industrial estate bounded by railway lines. Sole access to it was from the corner of a busy, right-angled bend near Raynes Park railway station, where traffic lights meant that stationary vehicles often idled there and local geography restricted air movement. It was in a designated air quality management area. It transpired that a monitor that had been monitoring air quality there had disappeared. From digging through Merton Council’s report on air quality in designated AQMAs, I found that the last recorded reading showed appalling air quality that breached the EU guidelines substantially, particularly with respect to particulates and fine particulates. No one could say what had happened to the monitor or why it had been moved. It prompted me to start an alliterative campaign called Merton’s Missing Monitors.
I raise this because it is all well and good that a local authority must prepare an action plan to improve air quality in a designated AQMA, as laid out in Schedule 11, but unless air quality monitors are in place to measure improvement the whole exercise is rendered pretty useless. I totally agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, about, as well as having monitors, the importance of the siting and methodology that is used for measuring the air quality.
In fact, the whole interface between central government, regional authorities and local authorities on the issue of air pollution is riddled with tensions. Can the Minister say who currently bears ultimate responsibility for cleaning up our air and who will have it after the Bill becomes law? Can he also tell us what the process is for allocating resources between the three levels of Government? Could he comment on whether local authorities have the funds or the skills they need to carry out the action plans?
I would like to raise one other issue, which is the source of fine particulates—PM2.5—from vehicle traffic that was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. The sources of particulates that arise from the friction between rubber on tyres and road surfaces and from dust resuspension will remain unmitigated even as the EV revolution reduces exhaust emissions over time. Local authorities currently have the power to introduce 20 mph speed limits, which help reduce fine particulates from non-exhaust vehicle sources, both because of the slower speeds and because of the fact that driving at slower speeds involves less braking and accelerating abrasion. But experience has shown that an ad hoc approach by local authorities to designating 20 mph limits gives a patchwork of limits and causes confusion to motorists. Has any thought been given to a default local speed limit of 20 mph, and then allowing local authorities to increase the speed limit on certain roads—that is, to reverse the status quo? It would, of course, have the added benefit of reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads.
I should clarify that I am speaking about 20 mph speed limits, not 20 mph zones, which are characterised by traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps and chicanes—all unpopular with motorists and ambulances. Areas with 20 mph limits are designed with only painted road markings and roadside notification if you are driving too fast. They are popular where they have been introduced. I should also add that 20 mph limits are supported by Public Health England, for obvious reasons, and the UN General Assembly.
This measure would reduce air pollution, help our fight against climate change by making easier a modal shift in transport towards more walking and cycling, and reduce KSIs. Before I end, I should put on the record that I was the founding member of 20’s Plenty for Merton. I look forward to the Minister’s thoughts.
I tried to explain our approach to air quality monitoring in response to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, but the noble Baroness has taken up the issue as well. There is a network of monitoring across the UK. It is not complete or perfect, but we keep it permanently under review and have committed increased investment both to fill in the gaps and to upgrade and update the infrastructure, just to make sure that the network is doing what it is supposed to.
The noble Baroness asked where the responsibility lies. While the responsibility for meeting the national target that we will set as a consequence of the Bill, the PM2.5 target, will clearly be with national government, there is a huge role for local authorities when it comes to delivering those reductions. This will happen only as a result of partnerships. There are things that local authorities can do to tackle air pollution, but there are things that they cannot do and areas in which they rely on national government. For example, the initiative on cars—the transition to electric vehicles—can be helped by local authorities via charging networks, but fundamentally it will result from national policy.
The noble Baroness mentioned idling. Ultimately, that will have to be enforced by local authorities. I was involved in campaigns of that sort, specifically on idling, as the Member of Parliament for Richmond Park. It was extraordinary how many people would unthinkingly leave their engines on at a level crossing that would sometimes be down for nearly 10 minutes. Once they were politely asked to turn their engines off, they always did—not surprisingly—and we found that behaviour improved dramatically over just a few months. The local authority became better at issuing fines for repeat offenders. That was not the objective—no one wanted to see an increase in fines—but it was effective as a deterrent.
It is a complicated answer because ultimately, if we are to get where we need to go, it will be through collaboration between local, regional and national government.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response to this important debate. When I spoke to my Amendment 156, I made a request to him to meet me, my noble friend Lady Hayman, Ella’s mother, Rosamund, and members of the Ella’s law campaign. He did not address that when he spoke, so I ask him again: will he please agree to meet us before we get to Report?
I apologise for not addressing that. Yes, I am very happy to meet. We will be in touch after the debate.
My Lords, this has been a really important and interesting debate, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.
My noble friend Lord Whitty made some important points about monitoring and the need for proper support and resources for local authorities. We benefited from the extensive knowledge and experience of campaigning on this issue of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and other noble Lords supported the fact that we really should have challenging targets if we are genuinely to tackle air pollution and the damage it causes. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, rightly pointed out the UK’s appalling death rate from asthma and its links to poor air quality. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, powerfully explained even further the hidden damage caused in her detailed contribution.
I also commend my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark for his contribution, and for his support for Ella’s family. I join him, and echo his recognition—shared by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Walmsley, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the Minister—of the huge achievement of Ella’s mother, Rosamund. In the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, we recognise her “dignified campaign” in this area.
I was glad to hear from the Minister that officials are going through the Mayor of London’s studies, which I mentioned earlier, and will take account of the letter that medical leaders have written this week to the Prime Minister. However, if account is being taken of all that, and the studies are being taken seriously, I simply cannot understand why the Government are not prepared to discuss further setting the targets that we have been debating, which seem to have widespread support.
This has been an important debate, and all contributors have expressed their support for improving the Bill in this area. As drafted, it simply does not do enough, and I am afraid that I am not convinced by the Minister’s response. I am sure that we will return to the issue on Report, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendment 21 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.