Amendment 51

Environment Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 13th September 2021.

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Baroness Sheehan:

Moved by Baroness Sheehan

51: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—“Air quality: speed limits(1) The national speed limit for restricted roads in England is 20 miles per hour.(2) Nothing in this section affects the power of traffic authorities responsible for such roads to make exceptions to the national speed limit where appropriate.”Member’s explanatory statementThe purpose of this amendment is to reduce the number of fine particulates released into the air from non-exhaust emissions (NEE), such as brake, tyre and road surface wear, by lowering the speed of traffic and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering. Lowering speed limits is also intended to reduce the projected increase in electricity demand on the grid as EVs replace ICE vehicles.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall speak to this amendment in my name and the names of my noble friend Lady Walmsley, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. The amendment aims to implement 20 mph as the default speed limit on residential roads. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, is unable to be with us this afternoon but is keen to reiterate her support—

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

I am sorry; I was so pleased to have made it here on time that I forgot to check that the noble Baroness was here. I will leave her to reiterate her support on her own behalf.

I thank the Minister for meeting me and colleagues during the Summer Recess. While we had a good meeting and I thank the Minister for his courtesy throughout, can he say whether he has looked further at the evidence that reducing vehicle speeds will be a necessary remedy to reduce non-exhaust emissions? In addition, and crucially, a lower speed limit on our roads will help to relieve the additional electricity demand that electric vehicles will put on the national grid and will help our fight against climate change.

Does the Minister accept that, in looking for solutions to reducing air pollution from transport and facilitating the rollout of electric vehicles, speed is a factor that cannot be ignored? Given the importance of improving the air we breathe in our everyday environment, I feel strongly that any remedy to reduce air pollution has a place in a seminal Environment Bill. However, I accept that it is for the Department for Transport to set speed limits. In that vein, I remind the Minister of his kind offer to facilitate a meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, in her capacity as Transport Minister. Will he confirm that he will do this, if he has not done so already?

In conclusion, we are speaking here of a remedy that will reduce fine particulates in our ambient air, for which the WHO has said that there is no safe limit. The rate of implementation of 20 mph speed limits is gathering pace, not just in the UK but across Europe. We on these Benches will be pursuing the 20’s Plenty agenda in the future, but we may need to leave it until the transport Bill is before us.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, after that welcome from the noble Baroness in her introduction, I feel that I should go next in speaking in support of this amendment. I should declare that I live in Cardiff, which is one of the pilot areas of the 20 miles per hour speed limit, and we have already found that the air quality has improved, but the transit time from one place to another has not increased—contrary to rumours that that had happened. The difference is that the traffic is calmer; children walking to and from school are safer; and there is less bad behaviour generally on the roads with people being aggravated and pulling away fast at lights.

I have spoken at length about the problem of non-exhaust pollution and that is all on the record, so I will not go over the damage caused to human health by that. However, I remind everyone that, as well as decreasing fatal accidents, the lower speed limit also decreases accidents where there are life-changing injuries.

Given that we are trying to increase walking and cycling and that the Highway Code has been rewritten, moving to 20 miles per hour on our roads generally is very sensible. I have noticed that in London, where some areas are limited to 20 and others are not, drivers are confused but it is easier for cyclists and pedestrians, and it is easier as a driver to see them if they are going just a little slower.

I am afraid I cannot see any arguments at all against the Government accepting this amendment, other than the theory that some people think it might take them longer to get from A to B. However, I do not think that has been proven in practice.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 55 in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Randall, and to my Amendment 56 also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and co-president of London Councils, the body that represents the 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation.

Amendment 55 is a development of the amendments that I moved in Committee. It would grant local authorities a discretionary power to control emissions from combustion plant where they choose to declare an area as an air quality improvement area. Amendment 56 would increase the penalty for the offence of stationary idling committed in an air quality improvement area.

As we are all only too aware, air pollution has a terrible impact on human health, contributing to some 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. The Government have recognised the seriousness of the problem of poor air quality and that local authorities have an important role to play in delivering reductions in PM2.5. Indeed, local authorities have a statutory duty to reduce emissions in their area, but they do not have sufficient powers to take effective action to achieve such reductions. My amendments seek to give substance to remedying that.

Public attention has understandably been focused more on the need to cut emissions from vehicles, but very little has been said of non-road pollution and emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, dangerous carcinogens that penetrate deep into our lungs and bloodstream. Many emissions are from non-road sources, collectively referred to as combustion plant. As we make improvements in reducing emissions from vehicles, we must also shift our focus to include these other sources of pollution.

To illustrate the importance of tackling non-road emissions, I gave examples in Committee of the City of London. Under the Covid-19 lockdown last year—2020—the square mile saw a 40% decrease in levels of nitrogen oxide compared to 2019, before lockdown. However, levels of PM2.5, the pollutant most damaging to human health, remained at roughly the same level despite the significant reduction in transport activity.

Amendment 55 would insert a new clause granting unitary authorities and district councils in England, as well as the Court of Common Council of the City of London, the power under the proposed new clause to designate an area within its borders as an air quality improvement area if that area exceeds any air quality target for nitrogen dioxide, NO2; particulate matter, PM10; or fine particulate matter, PM2.5, as set out under Clause 1 or 2, or if the area exceeds the World Health Organization air quality guidance for those pollutants. This designation would in effect be a gateway to implementing a range of air quality measures provided for in regulations to be made by the Secretary of State.

The amendment would oblige the Secretary of State under subsection (5) to make regulations setting out the controls that may be applied by the local authority, providing local authorities with a menu of restrictions to choose from. That could include restrictions as to the type of plant by reference to the level of pollution emitted by that plant, or it could apply to plants such as boilers, generators, combined heat and power plant and non-road mobile machinery such as construction machinery.

The regulations could also contain restrictions on the operation of stationary generators in premises within the designated area except where the electricity supply to the premises was disrupted. Many office buildings have back-up diesel generators in the event of a power cut, but instead they are operated to lower the building’s electricity costs by selling electricity back to the grid. Providing for this restriction in the regulations would enable local authorities to set periods when the operation of these generators would be prohibited except in the case of a power cut.

Local authorities would be required by subsection (2) to specify in the designation which restrictions from the menu of restrictions set out in the regulations they wished to apply, in which area, to which types of plant, from which date and time and under which circumstances. The designating local authority would be required to publish details of any restrictions that it wished to implement at least two months before the designation took effect and to advertise the designation in newspapers circulating in the area and on the local authority’s website.

The regulatory framework established by the amendment would give the Secretary of State the flexibility to determine which restrictions should be made available to local authorities and would then leave local authorities the discretion to apply the restrictions that they knew would work best in their area. That would follow the example of the existing regulatory framework of smoke control areas, established by the Clean Air Act 1993, in ensuring that the cleanest applianceswere used in the most polluted areas.

At present, some local authorities attempt to use planning controls to regulate various types of polluting plant. Not surprisingly, that has proved ineffective because planning controls were never intended to be used in that manner. Similarly, attempts to use the environmental permitting framework to give local authorities a means of regulating polluting plants in their area do not really work. It is an unnecessarily cumbersome, expensive, bureaucratic and time-consuming way of dealing with smaller static plant, and does not work effectively for mobile plant. Neither does the existing framework of air quality management areas, set out in the Environment Act 1995, deliver the much-needed powers provided by Amendment 55.

Local authorities are keen to do more on air pollution and are in a good position to know the best way to do so in their area, but they find themselves unable to take the action required. The amendment would provide an easy mechanism for local authorities to act, providing a gateway to implementing any range of air quality measures provided for in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Amendment 56 relates to the stationary idling of vehicles. More action needs to be taken to reduce this avoidable pollution. Stationary idling is already illegal but the penalty of £20 is derisory these days and hardly a deterrent. The amendment would insert a new clause that would increase the penalty for stationary idling within the designated area to £100, rising to £150 in certain circumstances, in order to deter those who are unwilling to change their behaviour and do not respond to awareness campaigns. Above all, it better recognises the seriousness of the issue.

The amendments are intended to give local authorities the power to bring about the reduction in emissions that all of us, not least the Minister, want. They would equip local authorities with the tools to deliver on their new obligations under the Bill. We have an opportunity in the Bill to empower local authorities across the country to tackle more effectively the problem of non-road emissions, with the potential to make a significant impact in combating poor air quality.

The Minister has recognised that local authorities have an important role to play in improving air quality. The amendments would enable them to do so, and I look forward to their acceptance.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 4:30 pm, 13th September 2021

My Lords, I support Amendment 51, which is a no-brainer. This whole group talks about a public health disaster. We have not understood the impact of these emissions on public health—and not just their immediate impact but their long-term impact. There is huge damage to the NHS because of the problems forced on it by these emissions, and these amendments are extremely well designed to fix some of those problems. I should declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I wholeheartedly support Amendment 55 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and congratulate him on a very thorough exposition of the reasons for it. I have signed Amendments 55, 56 and 57 because they are all very clearly linked. Quite honestly, the Bill really has to say something on air pollution.

It is worth pointing out, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, did, that his amendment has been—I was going to say “concocted” but there must be a better word—written by some very distinct groups. They are the City of London Corporation, London Councils, Clean Air in London, a Lib Dem Peer and a Green Peer. These are people you might not think would naturally link together—but on this issue we are speaking with one voice. There is a problem and we have to fix it, and this is how you can fix it.

The Bill would quite rightly amend the Environment Act 1995 to give local authorities new functions and duties. For example, they must have regard to the national strategy and identify relevant sources of emissions. Another part of the 1995 Act would be amended to include things such as that they

“must, for the purpose of securing … air quality standards and objectives … prepare an action plan”.

Again and again, the Government give duties and responsibilities to local authorities, which is very smart. But, at the same time, you cannot keep giving such a workload if you do not give people the resources to do it. Those resources are partly powers and partly money, and these tough duties are not matched by either powers or finance. We therefore need legislation that would give local authorities the powers they need to decarbonise buildings. This is the next step; we are always talking about transport, but buildings are also a huge source of carbon emissions, as are other non-traffic emissions such as those from construction equipment and stationary generators.

We also have to give the Secretary of State powers in regulations to set common standards that could be tightened over time. Ideally, the Secretary of State would encourage the use of zero-emission or ultra-low-emission appliances to align air pollution and climate efforts. Amendment 55 would strike the right balance between duties and powers for local authorities.

Amendment 56 is very sensible. It would make the problem of stationary idling much easier to tackle; it is a plague at the moment. I make myself very unpopular by going up to people who have their engines idling outside schools and so on, and telling them to turn them off. That is one of the things I do for fun, obviously.

My Amendment 57 is a sort of super-amendment that pushes farther. As your Lordships would expect from a Green, it is more radical. It is based on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, so in principle it has support from those other authorities—but not quite enough to put that into writing. I have to declare that I am a sinner; I installed a wood-burning stove in a flat that I used to own and I am really sorry about that. In fact, I burned incredibly dry wood—which makes it slightly better—because a scaffolding yard which was next door to my flat supplied me with bone-dry pine from their scaffolding. The people there actually drove the wrong way up a one-way street and up my drive to dump their dumpy bags outside my door. It was fantastic and the wood lasted quite a number of years.

To go back to the point, my amendment builds on the excellent Amendment 55 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in three important ways. First, it would emphasise the need to include fine particles: these PM2.5s, which we have heard so much about and which are so nasty, because they not only go into the lungs but pass through them into the bloodstream and other organs. They are highly damaging and we probably have not yet caught up with all the damage that they do, particularly to children. They have to go into the national air quality target set under either Clause 1 or Clause 2. As we heard earlier, this is the most harmful form of air pollution, affecting us all at some stage in our lives.

Secondly, my amendment would give metro mayors, alongside local authorities, powers to designate any part of their area exceeding WHO air-quality guidelines as an air-quality improvement area. That is a very useful power and they could set restrictions based on regulations made by the Secretary of State. This seems only right and fair if we are to avoid a patchwork of emissions standards in our largest cities, all of which are polluted.

Last but not least, my amendment would end the sale and use of wood-burning stoves in urban areas over seven years, as the original Clean Air Act was meant to do in 1956. This is important because Defra’s latest statistical release on air pollution said that the use of wood in domestic combustion activities accounted for 38% of PM2.5 emissions in 2019, and these emissions doubled between 2003 and 2019. So we have a real problem and I very much hope that that the Government are listening on this—but perhaps they are not.

Not only are wood stoves and fireplaces a major source of the most harmful air pollution, but the Climate Change Committee is clear that wood-burning stoves should not be counted towards either low-carbon heat targets or renewable targets. So I really hope that the Government are listening.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

My Lords, I strongly support all the amendments in this group and have put my name to two of them. I just want to intervene briefly on the issue of idling. Last week, when I walked from my Pimlico flat to this House—which takes about 25 minutes, mainly down backstreets—I passed 15 vehicles which were stationary and idling: cars, vans, buses and trucks. I wish the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, had been with me, because I am far too diffident to bang on a roof and tell a driver to stop doing it—but next time I will invite her to join me.

Westminster City Council has a commendable campaign, public-relations wise, to stop idling—but it has no means of enforcing it. And even if the council did enforce it, the fine is so paltry that it is not a deterrent. This amendment would change that. It would make it easier to enforce and would make people take notice. It is a major contribution towards reducing air-quality problems in our cities and I hope that the House can support all these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers

My Lords, during our debate in Committee on a similar amendment to Amendment 51 the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, said that

“local authorities already have the power to set 20 mph speed limits”—[Official Report, 5/7/21; col. 1081.] on restricted roads, so my noble friend Lady Sheehan’s amendment was not necessary. Well, yes, it is true that they have the power, and many have used it to great effect—but it is a long-winded and expensive process. Local authorities have better things to do with their time and money, so making 20 miles an hour the default would not mean that all restricted roads would end up being limited to 20. Local authorities would still have the power to make them 30 miles an hour if they considered that would be safer and better for the local community. But surely it is right that these decisions are made locally, and in as expeditious a way as possible, particularly in areas of deprivation.

In her reply, the Minister referred to something in the Atkins report. Can she now provide the House with the evidence which she claimed suggested that 20 miles an hour limits could lead to higher casualty rates, and tell us who did that research? These allegations have been widely challenged, and the Minister needs to defend them as being robust if she wishes to rely on them.

My noble friend Lady Sheehan has outlined the benefits of 20 miles an hour limits, and I have seen them for myself in both Scotland and Wales. They are safer, quieter and healthier, they address some aspects of health inequality, they protect the national grid and they are more environmentally friendly—and that is how I would describe my noble friend’s proposal. If that is not enough, 20 miles an hour areas are also very popular with the public. They address non-exhaust emissions, as well as those produced by combustions—and we do not get rid of those by moving to electric cars; I have an electric car and I still produce small particulates from my car’s tyres and brakes. The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, did not give any good reasons, in her response in Committee, why this amendment should not be in the Bill; she was not convincing.

I turn to Amendment 55, from my noble friend Lord Tope. Again, the Minister was not convincing in Committee when we covered these issues. She claimed that current regulations are adequate to clean up the emissions from non-road combustion plant—or that at least they will be by 2030. That is nine years away, by which time more people will have died from the small particulates, NOx emissions, et cetera, that are emitted by dirty generators, boilers and so on.

The powers that my noble friend proposes do not currently exist; they are voluntary and additional to what local authorities already have, but they do not have to use them. If they think, with their local knowledge, that there is no need for them—because the air is already clean or because they are happy to rely on the measures outlined by the Minister in Committee—they do not have to declare an air quality improvement area. I emphasise that the powers are discretionary. Can the Minister say what harm would be done by giving local authorities these additional, discretionary powers?

The Minister hinted in Committee that she was afraid that decisions would be made that were, in the Government’s opinion, wrong. Well that is what can happen with devolution—and indeed Governments make wrong decisions too, especially this one—so that is no good reason for failing to accept this amendment.

Amendment 56 offers the Government a very simple way of reducing or stopping totally unnecessary emissions of CO2, NOx and small particulates. The idea that idling your engine outside a school brings a penalty of only £20 is pathetic. I have often seen parents sitting in their cars outside a school in the afternoon, waiting for their children, with their engines running as if in pole position at the start of a Grand Prix. If I had approached the driver to point out that he or she was in danger of attracting a fine of £20, I would have been laughed out of the village. Much more effective would be a fine of £100, rising to £150; I might even be persuaded to bang on the window and warn the driver, like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. If the Minister could tell me how many drivers have been deterred from doing this by this tiny fine I might reconsider my view, but, as things stand, I think that she should accept Amendment 56.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, I have some sympathy with Amendment 56 on stationary idling. It is an existing offence, and all we are being asked is to put the fine up to a more realistic level. It is certainly a problem that particularly concerns—I do not know if I should name them specifically—Uber-type drivers sitting waiting for fares.

I do not support any of the other amendments. I think it would be difficult if the House put some of these things through without fuller consideration and costings.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:45 pm, 13th September 2021

My Lords, in my opinion this is quite an important set of amendments because they focus on some specific causes of air pollution. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, ably introduced her Amendment 51, on the impact of speed on air quality, as she did in Committee, and spoke passionately about why we need to reduce speed limits to reduce PM2.5. We have heard about research on the impact of road traffic, and the fact that it is responsible for up to 80% of particulate pollution in the UK, but it is also likely that this is an underestimate. The noble Baroness explained how particulates arise from the friction between tyre rubber and road surfaces and the impact of speed on climate change.

Amendment 51 in particular considers a 20 miles an hour speed limit. It is worth noting that the UK default speed limit of 30 miles an hour is 60% higher than that in most continental European towns, where 30 kilometres an hour, or 18.6 miles an hour, is the norm. Imperial College has reported that, at 20 miles an hour, brake and tyre wear is significantly reduced. When the 30 kilometres an hour zones were introduced in Germany, in the 1980s, car drivers changed gear less often, braked less often and required less fuel.

Congestion is also a factor in air pollution, as emissions from a standing vehicle are higher than those from a moving one; this was demonstrated during the debate we had on idling engines. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, also referred to the fact that lower speeds improve traffic flow through junctions and can actually help to reduce congestion.

I turn to Amendment 55, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others, and Amendment 57, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will talk to them together, because they both propose air quality improvement areas. In the introduction to his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, talked about why local authorities are an important part of tackling air pollution, and why they need the powers to make a genuine difference. He spoke particularly about the issue of combustion plants in this context.

Amendment 57 builds on Amendment 55, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, explained very clearly. The need to include PM2.5 when setting a national air quality target is critical. We have previously debated the importance of meeting the WHO targets for this, and we also know that, next week, there is likely to be an announcement that the guidelines will be tightened even further.

The noble Baroness then talked about how her amendment would give metro mayors powers to designate air quality improvement areas. This is important, because it helps to avoid a patchwork of different emissions standards in our larger cities, and the noble Baroness talked about how important that is.

The noble Baroness spoke next about the third part of her amendment, which seeks to end the sale and use of wood-burning stoves in urban areas. Again, we have heard in the debate how important this is in helping to reduce PM2.5 emissions in our cities. The Climate Change Committee has also made it clear that wood-burning stoves should not be counted towards either low-carbon heat targets or renewable targets.

Finally, on Amendment 56, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, idling creates air pollution and is really unnecessary. An idling engine burns fuel less efficiently than when the vehicle is moving, and so it produces more emissions than when it is travelling. Additionally, the toxic gases produced by idling are emitted in the same place, which means that localised air pollution is higher. This is particularly important near schools, because research shows that exposing children to high levels of air pollution can stunt lung growth and cause behavioural and mental health problems. Those of us who are drivers have a personal responsibility here; whether we are parked outside a school, picking someone up from the station or waiting in a car park, we all must do our bit by switching off our engines to reduce our emissions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, reminded us, idling is an offence in law, but there are clearly issues around enforcement and penalties. My noble friend Lord Whitty talked about the difficulties that Westminster Council is having, for example, and this was mentioned by other noble Lords. As I said at the beginning, this is an important group of amendments, focusing on things the Government can do to act quickly to reduce air pollution. I await the Minister’s response with interest.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I begin by thanking noble Lords for the quality of their contributions on the important issue of air quality throughout these proceedings, including in Committee. I agree that ambitious action is needed, which is why the Bill requires the Government to set two targets on air quality, including for fine particulate matter, the particulate most harmful to human health. These will be supported by a robust set of measures in the Bill which enable the action required to meet those targets. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, that the department will organise a meeting for her and the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, with the Minister, if this has not been organised already. In light of her point about the impact on electricity demand from the speeds of electric vehicles, we will write to the Department for Transport for clarification on that issue.

Turning to Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Baroness, the Government support the use of 20 miles per hour speed limits or zones in the right places, depending on local circumstances. Local authorities have the power to set these limits, and I am confident that it is better for these decisions to be taken locally, taking a balanced account of the full range of impacts of changing speed limits, including economic and environmental effects. The Air Quality Expert Group report into non-exhaust emissions from road traffic concluded that the most effective traffic pollution mitigation strategies reduce the overall volume of traffic, lower the speed where traffic is free flowing—for example, on motorways—and promote driving behaviour that reduces braking and higher-speed cornering. We agree that we need to reduce PM2.5 emissions from tyre and brake wear. In towns and cities where traffic is not free flowing, the best way to do this is by encouraging fewer vehicle journeys rather than slower journeys. We do not want our recovery from this pandemic to be car-led. That is why the Government are continuing with our ambitious plans to increase active travel, with a long-term vision for half of all journeys in towns and cities to be walked or cycled by 2030, backed by £2 billion of investment over five years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked a number of questions. I believe she is mistaken about what I said in Committee. We have now checked Hansard, but I would like more time to go through it in detail. If what she said about casualty rates is relevant to that we will, in any event, write to clarify the point I made. She also asked some other questions, which I will come to later. We want to encourage more people to make sustainable, healthier travel choices that help improve air quality for local communities.

I turn to Amendments 55 and 57. Through the Bill, we are strengthening the local air quality management framework to bring in a broader range of partners to work with local authorities to improve air quality, and to make it easier for them to use their powers to tackle, for example, domestic solid fuel burning, a key source of PM2.5. I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the cumbersome processes that local authorities have to go through and we are aware of the issues with procedures for making these orders. In 2020, we published a report, Traffic Regulation Orders, identifying improvements to the legislative process in England, and we plan to consult later this year on potential legislative reforms to make it easier and quicker to make orders. There are already controls in place for many of the sources of pollution of concern that noble Lords have cited, for example through environmental permitting.

I set out in detail in Committee the many levers that local authorities already have to improve air quality in their areas, so I do not propose to repeat them here, but for tackling non-road emissions, specifically non-road mobile machinery, there are already emissions standards that non-road mobile machinery must comply with before it is sold, and the Government recently agreed to increase the stringency of these standards. Our existing regulatory regime also already sets emissions controls targeting medium combustion plants. This regime requires all plants in scope, such as the plants referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to be registered or permitted, and sets limits on the levels of pollutants that these plants can emit. Going forward, our clean air strategy committed to consider the case for tighter emissions standards for medium combustion plants to those already introduced and to consider how to tackle emissions from smaller plants which do not fall within the scope of these regulations or eco-design regulations. I believe it is better to continue to strengthen the existing approaches than to create a new framework which would add to an already complex regulatory picture. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is aware that Defra officials recently met representatives of the City of London, and other local authorities, to understand how to tackle the specific issues that this amendment intends to address, using our existing powers.

On the noble Baroness’s Amendment 57, which would introduce a ban on wood-burning appliances, we recognise that many people rely on wood-burning stoves and open fires, which use natural fuel. Because of this, our recent domestic fuels legislation does not introduce an outright and indiscriminate ban. Instead, we have taken action through the Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into force in May, to encourage people to move away from using more polluting fuels, such as wet wood, to less polluting fuels, such as dry wood. The proposals are therefore aimed at protecting health by phasing out the most polluting fuels used for domestic combustion in England and encouraging people to burn less. This work is supported by an information campaign to encourage people to burn better and to reduce harmful emissions.

The regulations require that wood sold in smaller units must have a moisture content of 20% or less, phase out the supply of traditional house coal for domestic burning, and require that all manufactured solid fuels meet sulphur and smoke emissions limits, to tackle the most harmful emissions from domestic burning. However, we need to be mindful of the contribution that wood burning makes in areas where particulate levels are already high, such as in city and town centres. That is why local authorities already have the power to declare smoke control areas. We continue to undertake regular monitoring of emission sources to inform our work to tackle human health risks robustly, and in setting and working towards the new air quality targets we will consider whether stricter measures are needed.

Turning to Amendment 56 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, while this amendment would increase penalties for drivers idling unnecessarily, the priority must be to change motorists’ behaviour. With or without the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, we must encourage them not to idle—which is, after all, wasting expensive fuel—and instead push motorists towards using the technological solutions now available, rather than penalise them. Vehicle technology has moved on significantly and can play a part in addressing idling, including stop-start technology and low or zero-emission vehicles. If needed, however, powers are already available to local authorities to tackle unnecessary idling. Local authorities, as the existing guidance makes clear, should utilise a range of methods to encourage motorists to change their behaviour, including public information campaigns.

Although it seems a very simple idea to increase fines, the Department for Transport undertook a study on fines and concluded that increasing the level was not the best way of addressing the issue. Higher fines of up to £1,000 on conviction may also be issued if the police carry out enforcement against idling where a driver refuses to stop running their engine. This, of course, is rather more than the noble Lord’s suggested penalty, although I acknowledge that this is on conviction, rather than an on-the-spot fine. So, although I agree with the intended outcome of the noble Lord’s amendment, the Government’s position is that higher penalties are not the best approach to address this issue, so I beg noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister. I have one quick question for her. She said that the Government do not want slower traffic, they just want fewer cars on the road, but that flies in the face of what public opinion says on slower traffic. Wherever 20 miles per hour limits have been introduced, they have been very popular. Will she quickly address that? Is it in order for me to ask her to elucidate?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am happy to elucidate. I do not believe I said I want just to reduce traffic; I said that both solutions will produce the desired outcome—both fewer vehicles and slower traffic.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51 withdrawn.