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Examination of Witnesses

Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 12th March 2020.

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Sarah MacFadyen, Liam Sollis, Katie Nield and Professor Alastair Lewis gave evidence.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 11:32 am, 12th March 2020

Good morning. I thank the witnesses for attending. This is an important Bill, and it is important that we have the opportunity to hear expert evidence. You are probably aware that members of the Committee have already received the briefings that you issued, so I do not propose to request that you go through yours; you can assume that people have read it, so we will go straight into questioning. I ask each witness to introduce themselves for the record, from left to right—purely topographically—and to say which organisation you represent.

Liam Sollis:

Hi everyone. My name is Liam Sollis. I am the head of policy at UNICEF UK.

Katie Nield:

Hello. My name is Katie Nield. I am a clean air lawyer at a charity called ClientEarth.

Sarah MacFadyen:

I am Sarah MacFadyen. I am the head of policy and public affairs at the British Lung Foundation.

Professor Lewis:

Hello. I am Alastair Lewis. I am a professor of atmospheric chemistry. I am here as the chair of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs advisory group on air pollution—the air quality expert group.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Good morning. This may be a bit of a challenge, but for the Committee’s edification, could you—between you, or one or two of you—give us a little scene-setting about the impact of air quality on human health, with regard to asthma rates, disability, causes of death and so on, and then briefly set out for us where you think we are with Government action in this area? That is particularly important for what we may put into the Bill.Q126

Sarah MacFadyen:

I will start on health impacts. Air pollution is absolutely a risk to everybody’s health. Our understanding of the evidence base on how it relates to different health conditions is growing all the time. We know for sure that air pollution is a carcinogen, and it is absolutely linked to the development of lung cancer, including in people who do not have other risk factors such as smoking. We know that air pollution is also a cause of heart disease. There is also evidence that is not quite as strong, though definitely emerging, suggesting that air pollution could be a cause of asthma and a whole range of other health conditions, including things like diabetes and dementia. It is a really rich area of research at the moment.

As well as causing ill health, air pollution has a huge impact on people living with a long-term health condition, especially respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. There is really strong evidence that breathing polluted air will make people’s symptoms worse and could trigger an attack or an exacerbation—in some cases even hospitalisation.

Professor Lewis:

It is worth unpacking that air pollution is not one thing; it is a whole range of different chemicals and entities. We may get into more detail on that. Broadly speaking, in the UK we are concerned about particulate matter, which is the small, fine, respirable particles—small droplets or small solids—that can get into your lungs and cause irritation. The health impacts have been described.

There is also a gas, nitrogen dioxide, which is brown—you see it as a haze. That has been covered a lot around diesel engine emissions, and it has similar effects. The third gaseous pollutant is surface ozone, which causes harm and irritation to the lungs and causes damage to crops and plants and reduces agricultural yield. Each of those has its own effect and each needs its own solution, so it is always worth breaking air pollution apart to understand which of the pollutants we are talking about, and which actions will bring about improvements.

Liam Sollis:

Infants are likely to breathe as much as three times as much air as adults, because they breathe faster, and for other reasons, so children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution. We have heard about some of the health impacts of that. There is growing evidence every single day about the impact on lung health, the propensity for risk of cancer, and how air pollution can affect a child’s lung development. There is new evidence that suggests it may have an impact on child brain development as well. When it is seen through the crystal clear lens of the impact on child health, we see it really needs to be prioritised.

I say that partly because about a third of children in the UK—4.5 million children between the ages of zero and 18, and 1.6 million children under five—are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of particulate matter. Those are huge numbers. When we reflect on the Bill, and the extent to which we should push for high levels of ambition on what we can achieve, in relation to the targets set and the implementation plans that follow, we need to keep the impact on the most vulnerable people in our society right at the front and centre of our thoughts.

Katie Nield:

To add to that, and hopefully bring this back to the opportunity that is on the table through the Bill, all that makes it really clear that we need a legal framework that sets a meaningful ambition to protect people’s health, as well as requiring action to achieve and deliver on that ambition. We already have legal limits for air quality and the emission of certain pollutants in law, but what we have does not achieve them.

Most specifically and starkly, the legal limits we have for particulate matter pollution—one of the most harmful pollutants to human health—are not strong enough to protect our health, and the health of children and vulnerable people. Those limits are more than two times higher—that is, two times less strong—than the guidelines that the World Health Organisation set back in 2005. That is why we are really keen for the Environment Bill to provide the opportunity for setting a higher level of ambition when it comes to protecting people’s health, and the opportunity to commit the Government to achieving those World Health Organisation guideline levels of particulate matter, and to putting a plan in place to show how they will do that.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q I guess you were surprised that the Bill does not require legally binding targets to be set until October 2022 and does not go any way towards ensuring that the UK meets World Health Organisation clean air emission limits, for example. Are there particular measures that you think should be put in the Bill to enable those things to be addressed properly? How might we ensure that the limits are properly reflected in the legislation?

Professor Lewis:

I will comment on the setting of targets, which is obviously an area in which a lot of people have an interest. It is worth understanding that there are quite a few components to what setting a target means, and there is more to that than simply crossing out an existing 20 or 25 and writing in 10. Although there is probably universal agreement that we want to head for a limit value of around 10, from a scientific perspective, we have to be absolutely sure that we have all the other parts in place at the same time, particularly the means to assess progress. It is no good setting a limit if we are not confident that we can measure progress towards it. That is considerably harder than picking the number that you would like to shoot for.

I have some sympathy about the timescales, if the timescales are to allow us to get the assessment framework right, because I suspect that will take a bit of time. The UK is potentially going into a place, in terms of the limit value, where no other large developed country has been before, so we are likely to need infrastructure, methodologies and so on to assess progress towards that, for which there is no blueprint. The WHO does not tell you how to do the assessment side. If all that is wrapped up in the discussion of what is a target and setting a target, we need to be a bit cautious about trying to do things too quickly, in case we do not get the assessment part of the equation right.

Katie Nield:

I mentioned that the existing legal limit for particulate matter is too weak. It is great that the Bill acknowledges that, because it is the only target that is specifically required by the Bill—a new binding target for PM2.5 pollution. It is really positive that the Bill, in that respect, recognises the current weaknesses.

What the Bill does not do and does not tell us, however, is how that target will actually be set to better protect people’s health. As you alluded to, the decision on that is kicked down the road for another two and a half years. Issues around finding out exactly how it will be assessed aside, we are frustrated because we know that we need action to tackle this pollutant now. We have heard from the other panel members the impacts that it is having on people’s health now. We do not want the ambition to take urgent action to tackle this pollutant to be stalled for another two and a half years.

There is evidence that it is possible to achieve the WHO guidelines for this pollutant by 2030. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs released a report last year that concluded that. London is arguably the city in the country with the largest-scale problem when it comes to particulate matter, but it is also said to be possible in the capital too. With all the evidence there, despite the ins and outs of exactly how the target will be assessed, and the fact that it might be set out in subsequent secondary legislation, the Bill provides a real opportunity to set out the Government’s stall now, and show that they are committed to real ambition to protect people’s health now, rather than delaying action any further.

Sarah MacFadyen:

We fully understand that the Government’s intention with the legislation is to allow them to consult with the right experts on the environment and health to set the right targets, but we feel that, with air pollution, the World Health Organisation has made its recommendation very clear, and it is the expert on this. There is a really strong case for taking that guideline and committing to it in the legislation, in addition to doing the work around that to set out exactly how we will reach it and monitor our progress.

Liam Sollis:

The logic that underpins the WHO recommendation is to set a benchmark that says, “If the PM2.5 levels exceed this level, you will be doing irrevocable harm to people’s health.” We need to make sure that we target below that, because it has been designated by health experts as the very maximum that we can legitimately see as permissible. That level of ambition needs to be front and centre, because health is the common purpose that underpins the air quality component of the Bill.

On the timing of the targets, some important points have been made. We want to make sure that the process of setting the targets and the assessment processes that will follow will not stall action and implementation and hold things up any longer than they need to. We need action now, because people are falling ill and dying now. The more impetus there is, and the quicker we can move towards that, the better for people’s long-term health.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I shall bring in the Minister responsible for the Bill, Rebecca Pow.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Thank you all for coming in. I want to pursue this subject a little further. It is clear that we recognise how damaging PM2.5 is to human health, as we have made it the only legally binding target in the Bill. I hope you welcome that.

I want to address Professor Alastair Lewis first, from a more scientific perspective. While the WHO has said that it might be possible to get to that target quicker, it did not say how to do that or what the economic impacts were. I would like you to go into the detail of why that is so difficult to do right now. One key aspect of the Bill is that experts will be involved in consultation right the way along the line. How important is it that we do not rush into something, but take important guidance and expert advice?

Professor Lewis:

There is quite a lot in there. The first issue is what the WHO is really telling us. One technical point that we need to be clear about is that harm from air pollution does not stop magically at 10 micrograms, and it does not say that it does. That is set as a benchmark that we should all aim for, but harm continues below that. If someone lives in a house and their exposure is 10.1 and someone else lives in a house where it is 9.9, the health impacts are basically the same. We have to think about continuous improvement everywhere, not just the limit values in isolation. The WHO is not suggesting that if we all got to 9.9, we should stop thinking about air pollution. We have to think about that component.

The reason it is particularly challenging the lower you get is that less of the pollution comes from obvious sources. Most of us visualise air pollution as something coming out of a car exhaust or a chimney. In terms of particulate matter, we would consider that a primary emission—you can see it coming from the source. More and more particulate matter that we will breathe in in 2025 and 2030 will be secondary particulate matter. Those are particles formed in the atmosphere from reactions of chemicals from the wider regions around us. It becomes harder because we cannot just work on the sources in the cities themselves and go to the bogeymen sources we have gone at before; we now have to work across a much broader spectrum of sources. The chemistry of the atmosphere works against you because, often, that is non-linear chemistry. You have to take a lot of pollution out to begin to see relatively small benefits. None of those are reasons not to have action now, but there are some underlying fundamental issues around reducing particulate matter.

Professor Lewis:

Europe will be a significant component. You cannot reduce particulate matter without the co-operation of your neighbours, because it is quite long-lived in the atmosphere and it blows around. It is particularly significant in the south-east and London. Other sources come in from suburban areas, from agriculture and so on.

There are a lot of areas that will need to be worked on simultaneously. It is rather different from how we have dealt with air pollution in the past, where you could get a really big hit from closing down some coal-fired power stations or working on one particular class of vehicle, which is what we have been doing for nitrogen dioxide As we look over the next decade for particulate matter, we will have to have actions all the way across society, from domestic emissions—what we do in our own homes—to how we generate our food, how industry operates and so on. This is about not underestimating the scale of the task.

Your final point was on how achievable this is. The WHO does not tell you whether 10 micrograms is achievable in your country or not. In fact, in many countries in the world, it will not be achievable, because of natural factors—forest fires and so on. In the UK, whether it is 100% achievable—meaning that every square metre and person in the UK can be brought under that limit—is probably questionable. If you ask me whether the vast majority of the UK could be brought under that limit value, the answer is probably yes.

That has implications on how you choose the right targets to set. The limit value is one, and it very much focuses the mind on what you are trying to achieve. However, we have seen perversities around only having a limit value, because it means that more and more attention is placed on to a smaller and smaller number of places, which does not necessarily always deliver the largest health benefits. The Bill sets out the headline of potentially 10 micrograms per cubic metre, but alongside that we want to see a long-term target around continuous improvement, measured across the population as a whole. We do not want to see pollution simply smeared out a little bit, to artificially get underneath the limit values. I have said quite a lot, so I will probably stop there.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Just to encapsulate that, is it right to have the legally binding PM2.5 target and to set the other targets when we have more evidence, given that we all want to be really ambitious for the health aspects?

Professor Lewis:

Obviously we will need this target around population improvement. However, even when setting the limit value now, we have to be quite clear about how we will assess that. It is technically quite a challenging thing to do. Nobody would want to set a target, discover that we came up with the wrong way to assess progress, and then potentially argue in the courts over whether progress had been made. Having real clarity now about how we will measure progress towards the specific 10 microgram per cubic metre limit value is really important, and we will want to take quite a lot of expert advice on that, because nobody has done this before.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

There is no obligation to do so, but if any other witnesses want to add anything to that, they are very welcome to.

Katie Nield:

I will take a step back and think about the purpose of the targets. Obviously, we already have legal limits and emission-reduction commitments within existing law, and we are hearing that the Government are committed, quite rightly, to improving on those, which is great. However, I am concerned that the actual architecture of the Bill does not provide us with that comfort.

There is a requirement for the Secretary of State to review the targets periodically, but only against a requirement that a change would significantly improve the natural environment. There is a huge omission in that statement: there is no mention of human health or of the need for these targets to be there to protect human health. That seems to be a really stark omission that could be quite easily fixed within the Bill. Surely the whole purpose of these air quality targets is to protect people’s health. At the moment, there is not enough comfort in the Bill to make sure that that is the case.

We are talking about long-term targets. There will definitely be a need to review and change things as evidence and the means of assessing things go forward. We need a Bill that constantly requires those things to be the best that they can be, to protect people’s health. At the moment, the Bill is kind of silent on that point, which is a major concern.

We also talked about the importance of expert evidence. The Bill requires that the Secretary of State obtains expert evidence before setting targets, but it could provide that mechanism in a much more transparent and meaningful way. There is no requirement for the Secretary of State to take that advice into account, for that advice to be published, or for the Government to respond to or to explain why they are doing things contrary to that advice. To set a meaningful, long-term framework, tying up those gaps within the Bill is really important.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Thank you. Diedre Brock, do you have any questions?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

Professor Lewis, what sorts of measures would you expect the Government to have to implement to meet the World Health Organisation levels by 2030Q ?

Professor Lewis:

The Government have a clean air strategy. It is quite a lengthy document, and necessarily so because of the problem with needing to reduce emissions effectively all the way across society’s use of chemicals and so on. We have made significant progress on reductions in emissions from vehicles, but there is still some way to go on that. One area that we will have to look at is, even when the vehicle fleet is electrified—by 2030, the majority of passenger cars may be electric—vehicles will still be a source of particle pollution from brakes, tyre wear, road wear and so on. Although electrification has huge benefits for air quality and will hopefully completely eliminate nitrogen dioxide, simply buying electric cars in isolation will not completely solve their contribution to air pollution. We will need measures to try to get cars out of city centres and so on, even if they are electrified. That is one thing.

A major component of particulate matter forms from the chemistry that I have talked about, involving ammonia from agriculture. That has been a persistently difficult source of pollution to reduce; it is very diffuse and comes from all sorts of agricultural processes. That is a sector that has not seen many declines. There will have to be substantial reductions in agricultural ammonia emissions to meet that target. That is the one area where I have some concerns, because historically we have not made an awful lot of progress on that.

Another contributor to the formation of particles in PM2.5 is our consumption of chemicals. A lot of the reactive chemicals that we use and consumer products that the industry uses go on to react in the atmosphere and form PM2.5. We will all collectively have to work to reduce our consumption of those.

Then we get to sources that are very hard to reduce. That is why we may be left with some very stubborn areas. You cannot completely remove PM2.5, because in the end it is generated from friction, and it is very hard to live a life that does not involve some form of friction and the wear of surfaces. Food and cooking are sources—it would be hard for any Government to commit to banning food.

I have touched on a few contributors, but I could probably have listed 15 more. Individually, they all sound quite small; in combination they have a large effect. We will be facing some that will be very difficult to reduce, just because they are so integrated into our lifestyles, particularly in the most densely populated cities, where the sheer volume of people and activity is in itself a generator of PM2.5. I would not want anyone to go into setting a target without being very clear that there are some activities that we undertake where you cannot totally eliminate emissions. But as I say, the vast majority of the UK could, you would hope, be brought under a 10 micrograms limit.

Liam Sollis:

To build on that, there are so many different areas that potentially contribute to air quality in the country, so it is all the more important that there is a cross-governmental duty to ensure that different Departments of Government and different areas of life across the UK are all working towards that common ambition. We must think through how that can be articulated in the Bill, making sure that there is co-ordinated action that is not led just by DEFRA, but that brings together a whole number of different Departments to meet those common aims.

There is mention in the Bill of the environmental improvement plans—that is very welcome. I do not think that there is any explicit mention that air pollution needs to be included within those EIPs. Ensuring that air pollution is a priority throughout all elements of cross-governmental co-ordination on the environment is definitely something that we would like to see.

The Bill contains emphasis on local bodies and local government action to make sure that we reduce air pollution. That will become a reality only if there is a national action plan ensuring that there is co-ordination and adequate levels of support and funding. I know that some money was announced in the Budget yesterday that links to this issue. We would welcome more information on how that is being focused and prioritised to make sure that the allocation of that money is linked to where the greatest health impacts are across the country and to make sure that the most vulnerable people are being protected.

The only other thing I would add to that in this broader, more holistic approach to tackling air pollution is the impact from European countries, which the Minister mentioned. As we get further along the line and reduce air pollution more, that will become an increasing factor on air pollution in the UK. We have the opportunity of COP 26 later this year—a real marker in the sand whereby the Government can take leadership and start to bring other countries along with it in relation to air pollution.

As we get further down the line and get closer to 2030, we are trying to get much further along with the air pollution targets. It will become increasingly important that we are able to galvanise action from our European partners as well. This year is a really important moment for that. The signing of this Bill and the follow-on plans that will come afterwards are a really important way of galvanising that action, so we should prioritise that.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I am going to start taking questions in twos because we do not have a lot of time left, but is there a follow-on question specifically on that?

Professor Lewis:

It depends how you want to measure success. We do quite well in terms of the concentrations that people are exposed to relative to other European countries, but we have the great advantage of a massive Atlantic ocean upwind of us, so that is probably not a fair measure of success. We have some natural geographic advantages.

Another measure of success is national emissions. There are a basket of air pollutants with which we have targets under both the Gothenburg protocol and the national emission ceilings directive. They set the tonnages, effectively. On those, the UK meets its targets reasonably well. It does not stand out as being an overperformer, but it is not a laggard either. Most of the large European economies have seen their emissions reduced broadly at the same rate, but we do slightly better in terms of concentrations and exposures just because of geography.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Thank you. I will take two questions now. Perhaps the witnesses will decide between them who is the most appropriate person to respond in each case. I know that might be asking a bit much, but try and think about that.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Labour, Erith and Thamesmead

I want to ask about the respective contributions to air pollution made by road, air and sea transport and other emission sources such as energy from waste, incinerator plants, wood burning and ammonia from farming.Q

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Professor Lewis, I was very interested when you talked about the different chemical reactions and the effect of agriculture upon the PMQ 2.5 particulates in the air, and how we should be fully aware that it is not just car exhaust fumes. Bearing that in mind, would you be cautious about putting into law something that the Government would not necessarily have control of or the ability to fully manage themselves, and might potentially end up as a big problem?

Professor Lewis:

I can answer that directly now. You certainly would not want to put in promises to control things that are outside your control. There are things such as natural emissions. For example, there are chemicals emitted from trees that contribute to air pollution when they mix with other things. You certainly would not want to commit to controlling those.

If you are alluding to ammonia being an uncontrollable emission, I do not think it is. Ammonia is something that can be controlled. There are a lot of interventions that can reduce those emissions. There is probably a minimum level of ammonia that you would argue is uncontrollable, but we are way away from that at the moment.

On each of those pollutants and each of the ones that contribute to the chemistry, you do need to sit down and think very carefully about which bits are under your control and which bits are not.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

And indeed the interaction between different bits.

Professor Lewis:

It is a lot of detail, but the contribution from ammonia, for example, comes when it mixes with some of the end products of emissions from car exhausts. So you have two completely dissimilar sources that are not even geographically located together, but when the atmosphere brings them together, the acid and the alkaline react. That is why you need to look right across the emissions sources and not be too focused on just dealing with one.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

And on Abena’s point?

Professor Lewis:

I can answer on the contributions, because this is the sort of thing that is reported in the national atmospheric emissions inventory; there is a lot of detail on the individual contributing sources. This is where the world will change in the next 10, 12 or 15 years, because at the moment we have a huge contribution to urban air pollution from vehicles, and particularly nitrogen dioxide, but that will slowly move out and we will see the mix change. With other transport sources, such as trains and aeroplanes, we imagine that train contributions will decrease and aeroplanes will probably stay the same. It will evolve over time.

Katie Nield:

It is worth stressing that although there could be many, many different sources of particulate matter pollution, so many of them are controllable. As you were saying, emissions from road transport are controllable, as are those from agriculture and domestic burning. There is a huge amount left to be done to control those emission sources. The concern I have with the Bill is that, although there are environmental improvement plans and it is great to have something to point to show what the Government are doing to achieve the targets, I do not have enough comfort from the Bill that that is what those plans will achieve for air quality.

I have two main concerns with respect to those plans. First, there is no mention of the need to protect human health. Again, the requirement in the Bill is to set out steps to improve the natural environment. There is nothing about the need to protect human health as part of that. Again, that seems to be a stark omission.

Secondly, although the plans must include steps to improve the natural environment, there is nothing up front that requires that those steps are sufficient to be likely to achieve the targets that the Government commit to. It seems that the plans should be the vehicle for achieving the targets, so I do not see why the law does not recognise that.

From an air quality point of view, the Bill represents a bit of a step back from what the law says at the moment with respect to current air quality targets, because the plan-making provisions that we have in the current law to meet targets are much stronger than those that the Bill provides for. That is a major concern for us.

Sarah MacFadyen:

Regarding the mix of sources and where the emissions are coming from, the British Lung Foundation is generally most concerned with emissions from transport, because that is the primary source in busier towns and cities, which is where the majority of people are living, working and breathing. That is why that partnership between national and local government is so important on this issue, because the situation will look different in different places.

We have quite a lot of patient groups based in cities and towns along the south coast, for instance, who are very concerned about air pollution. Obviously, shipping is a big contributor when you are on the coast. We need to be able to look at this issue in local areas and see what the biggest contributors are there. We need both the national strategy and the support for local government to tackle what is going on in their areas.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I will take two more questions. We really are pushed for time, so if Members could make their questions as concise as possible, that would be really helpful. We will start with Kerry McCarthy and then go to Cherilyn Mackrory.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

My question is specifically directed at ClientEarth. You have taken the Government to court over their failures on air Q pollution three times now. Do you feel that the Bill gives sufficient powers to take action against the Government if there are future failures? Also, my concern is about the buck being passed to local authorities to a large extent. In the wider picture, I have just heard that Bristol has finally got its directive from the Government today, but unless funding is released for transport, housing and all the things that go with it, it will be very difficult for local authorities to do what is required, so where is the balance? Who should be held to account, and can they be held to account under the Bill?

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

I suppose that my question follows on from that. I am lucky enough to represent a coastal rural community. My confusion is about how we measure these targets. I do not know what success looks like where I live, compared with London, for example. We might also set targets in the Bill, but where I live might have met them already while London has not. Who are we setting the targets for? I find it a bit too complex, which is why I am leaning towards using secondary legislation to manage that. Following Kerry’s question, I would also like to hear a little more about the role of local authorities.Q

Katie Nield:

I will go first, given that the first question was directed at ClientEarth. The cases that ClientEarth has taken against the UK Government have been key both to driving action to meet the legal limits we already have and to highlighting this as a serious issue and highlighting Government failures so far. It is really important that the Bill allows people to continue to do that against these new binding targets. They need to be meaningful, and that means that the Government need to be held to account against them. That is key.

What is also key is that we should not have to rely on organisations such as ClientEarth or individuals to take action. That is another reason why it is really important that the Office for Environmental Protection—the new environmental watchdog set up by the Bill—has adequate teeth to do that job and scrutinise Government actions. I assume you heard in previous evidence about the shortcomings of the Bill in that respect, so I will not repeat that.

In terms of action from local authorities, what has come out in the discussion so far has been clear: air pollution is a national problem and there are a huge number of different sources that need to be dealt with. It is not a localised issue with just a small number of hotspots that need to be cleared up. What we are concerned about is pushing the burden of responsibility on to local authorities to deal with this problem—that will not be the most effective way to tackle this national public health crisis. We need the Bill to reflect that, and we need the environmental improvement plans to reflect that.

At the moment, the Bill provides some new powers to local authorities, and those are very welcome, but it risks putting the burden of responsibility on them. This goes back to the point Liam was making earlier about the opportunity to introduce a broader ranging duty on all public bodies across different levels of Government and different Departments from the central level to ensure that they are doing their bit to contribute to those targets.

Professor Lewis:

I would like to comment on assessment in a rural environment, because that is really important. Most people potentially live in places that will not be anywhere near a measurement point. It has been possible to bring action on nitrogen dioxide because there was a very good way of assessing it: we knew where the pollution was—at the roadside—and there was a network of measurements and, crucially, an ability to predict, model and fill in the gaps in between, where everybody else lived. That provided you with the evidence base with which you could say, “These areas exceed; these areas don’t.”

It is harder with PM2.5 because it does not come just along the roads, although there are sources there; it comes from many places. You might rightly ask, “How will I know if it is getting better in my constituency?” The answer is that if we do adopt things like a 10 microgram target and continuous improvement, we will have to do more measurements, because we will not have the evidence to present to say whether it is getting better or not. There is a fundamental difference as you go lower and lower: the challenge in proving that things have got better, and particularly in places that historically we would not have thought of as pollution hotspots, is pretty hard. People should go in with their eyes open that there will be more of a burden in demonstrating that progress is being made.

Katie Nield:

I suppose setting am ambition for that target also provides an opportunity for us to better assess it and better understand the impacts it is having on our health, so it is an opportunity.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I am afraid we have time for only one more question, and I am not sure that we will have adequate time for all the witnesses to respond. Alex Sobel, please be very brief.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

I will try. My city, Leeds, has some of the worst air quality in Europe. We are getting a clear air zone, but it is nine months late due to Government methods. A DEFRA fact sheet says that NOx—nitrogen oxides—emissions fell by only 33% between 2010 and 2018, and PMQ 2.5 by only 9%. The NOx limits are the same for the EU and the WHO, but the WHO’s PM2.5 limits are much lower than the EU’s. How can we get to a safe level by 2030, given where we have got to at this point and what we can do with the Bill?

Sarah MacFadyen:

I think we have covered a bit of that already, but the actions laid out in the Government’s clean air strategy are going in the right direction. We need to look across all sources. Within Leeds, a huge part of that will be road transport, but it is not the only part. We know that clean air zones are a step in the right direction, and that the modelling around them shows that they will reduce nitrogen dioxide and some particulate matter. To reduce PM further, we will need to consider having fewer cars on the road—not just newer or electric models—and look at investing further in clean public transport and in walking and cycling. We will also need to look at wider sources, such as fuel burning, industry and agriculture.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the witnesses for their forbearance. I know it has been difficult to squeeze in all the information, but I am sure the whole Committee has found it very informative and helpful in shaping our views.