9. Debate on the General Principles of the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill

– in the Senedd at 5:56 pm on 12 September 2023.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:56, 12 September 2023


Standing Orders are therefore suspended to allow the debate on the general principles of the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill to be introduced by the Deputy Minister, Lee Waters.


Motion NNDM8343 Lee Waters

To propose that Senedd Cymru, in accordance with Standing Order 26.11:

Agrees to the general principles of the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill.


Motion moved.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 5:56, 12 September 2023

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd, and I move the motion, and I'm very pleased to open the debate on the general principles of the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill. And I've now taken responsibility for the Bill as it continues to pass through the Senedd, and I look forward to working with Members on trying to secure as ambitious a Bill as possible. 

In helping to shape the earlier stages of the Bill, I made clear to the cross-party group on clean air that I'm keen to achieve cross-party consensus on this important legislation, and I hope that we are well on our way to doing that. I would like to thank the Finance Committee, the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee and the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee for their scrutiny of this Bill. I also thank stakeholders and members of the public who provided evidence and feedback on the Bill. 

Let me first address the title of the Bill. I think many of us would have preferred to call this the clean air Bill. But, of course, the scope of what we're proposing goes way beyond that. By considering air quality alongside soundscapes in Wales, we are breaking new ground. Noise pollution is regarded by the World Health Organization as the second biggest environmental contributor to poor health in western Europe after air pollution. By tackling both in this Bill, we are setting out an approach to environmental regulation that recognises the quality of life of our communities as well as the needs of future generations.

Llywydd, in my first meeting with officials to discuss the Bill, I asked what is the difference between sound and noise. And the answer is that sound includes what people want to hear; noise is a sound that we don't. So, I hope that the official opposition bears that in mind in their interventions.

We've received a series of questions and challenges from committees, and Welsh Ministers have agreed, where possible, to respond to reports from the Finance Committee before the general principles debate on Bills. But in a departure from usual practice, the Minister for Climate Change, in a flurry of candour, has already responded in writing to most of the recommendations in the reports from all three committees that have scrutinised the Bill, although civil servants are keen to make clear that this does not establish a precedent, before you get carried away. [Laughter.] So, this allows me to concentrate on what I see as the principle recommendations from each of the committees this afternoon. As I've said, we want to find a consensus. Where we don't agree, we'll say so—we'll say why and we'll commit to continue a dialogue. 

So, turning first to the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee, I'm delighted to say that we support the recommendations, that the Senedd supports the general principles of the Bill. We got off to a very good start with that one, we thought. We think the main tension to work through in this Bill is the extent to which the Bill commits to specific details on its face and how much is better left to measures that flow from the legislation. And this is a familiar debate in this Senedd.

We want to work with Members to secure a strong Bill. Our view is that a national air quality strategy with statutory underpinning provides the best of both worlds: a firm commitment in law to achieve cleaner air in Wales, as well as the flexibility to update the targets as the evidence and the circumstances change. Can I assure Members that where there is a difference, it is not one of ambition? The debate to be had is one of the most practical way of achieving our shared objectives. We are committed to targets that take account of the World Health Organization's stretching recommendations in the context of Wales.

We believe that our approach to considering new air quality targets is highly ambitious. We are leading the way in the UK on a project, which is already under way, to assess the case for bringing forward target-setting regulations relating to all World Health Organization air quality guideline pollutants and ammonia. Consideration of new air quality targets is taking place in parallel to this Bill to deliver our broader ambition for clean air in the quickest possible time. The main benefits expected from air quality targets are related to health: reduced mortality and morbidity, reduced healthcare expenditure, reduced absence from work due to illness and increased productivity at work. There will also be clear benefits to the environment, and new air quality targets will contribute to our broader response to tackling the climate and nature emergencies. 

We also need to think clearly about the impact our targets will have on those sectors that generate the pollution. Road transport vehicles, domestic heating, agriculture and industry are all significant emission sectors of air pollutants in Wales. The amount of pollution from each of these sectors is affected by many policies that influence key activities in areas such as transport, industry, energy, climate and agriculture. And a number of these policies are already part of wider policies we have under way: the clean air plan, the Net Zero Wales transport strategy, 'Planning Policy Wales', the nature recovery action plan and our sustainable farming scheme. We are not starting from scratch here. Setting effective targets is therefore a very complex piece of work with a range of policy interdependencies, and it's important that we set targets in a way that minimises unintended consequences. 

Now, we want to work this through in a transparent way with committees and stakeholders, as we have to date. The work to scope and develop cases for change and potential target options for air pollutants is expected to be completed for ministerial consideration by spring 2025. It's therefore likely that Ministers will consider the advice and determine the next steps during summer 2025. So, I can't agree the timescales recommended by committee for new air quality target duties ahead of the advice in relation to the individual pollutants. I'm also unable to predetermine the outcomes from engagement and consultation associated with this work. There is no disagreement about the need for targets. However, if we act in haste, it won't help to deliver clean air and we will, in all likelihood, repent at leisure. We have a complicated set of practical challenges with many different interested parties. Picking arbitrary dates for target setting could be counterproductive. Therefore, I do not agree with placing a duty on Welsh Ministers where we cannot guarantee this obligation will be met. That's in no-one's interests.

Photo of Hefin David Hefin David Labour

With regard to the practical measures and the powers Ministers have, the Bill amends the Environment Act 1995 to give Welsh Ministers the power to prescribe penalties for stationary car idling, and particularly—and it's a huge problem—stationary car idling outside of schools. I think the explanatory memorandum says it's currently set at a fixed penalty of £20. There's no detail on what the Ministers might plan to introduce as fixed penalties alongside an education programme, so what kind of fixed penalties would you suggest might be effective for that?

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour

So, clearly, this is for discussion, but our current thinking is that we want to give local authorities the flexibility to tackle this in a bespoke way in their area. So, the current penalty of £20 will remain. However, we're intending to give them powers to levy higher fines of up to £80 where they think it's appropriate, particularly in areas of sensitivity—outside schools, for example. So, that's the toolkit approach we want to give at the moment, rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach. That's something that we're working through and obviously will continue to debate as this goes through committee. But I hope I've given some indication of the current thinking. 

So, as I was saying, whilst we do not agree with the target setting that has been recommended, we do propose an alternative duty that provides a stronger basis for ensuring progress is made to protect public health, which we think is more likely to deliver better outcomes. So, Welsh Ministers will be placed under a duty to provide an annual report to the Senedd, setting out the consideration they have given to using section 1 to set long-term targets in relation to the WHO air quality guideline pollutants, as updated in 2021, and ammonia. These pollutants would be named on the face of the Bill. This amendment means that no future Government will be able to neglect their power under section 1 of the Bill, and reporting annually on the consideration the Government has given to setting long-term targets for World Health Organization guideline pollutants and ammonia provides a robust basis for the Senedd to hold the Government to account for decisions it takes in relation to the use of the power under section 1.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 6:05, 12 September 2023

Recommendation 7 suggests bringing forward an amendment to reduce the time period for setting PM2.5 targets to two years. Now, the three-year time period for setting targets for PM2.5 is based on detailed planning of a significant number of steps that need to be undertaken to gather necessary evidence and make regulations. Our analysis shows that laying regulations within two years of Royal Assent is just not achievable. Actions taken to achieve PM2.5 targets are also expected to provide associated reductions in emissions of other pollutants.

Recommendation 11 suggests bringing forward amendments to ensure the Bill provides for regular reporting to the Senedd on progress towards the delivery of air quality targets. Now, in addition to reporting requirements in sections 5 and 6 of the Bill, section 7 places a specific duty on Welsh Ministers to make arrangements to collect data about air quality in Wales. This enables them to monitor progress towards achieving set targets, and ensures data is published. I appreciate the committee's desire for regular reporting that is set out in this recommendation. They also acknowledge that the Bill is silent currently on further reporting requirements once a target has been met. So, this is a helpful challenge, and I intend to bring forward a Government amendment that will ensure that Welsh Ministers will be under a duty to maintain any standard achieved by virtue of any target set under the Bill, and, in addition, Ministers will be under a duty to ensure reporting requirements are in place in relation to their duty to maintain standards after a target has been met. So, I hope that provides some reassurance. I also commit to reporting annually on the national air quality strategy, which will include updates related to promoting our awareness delivery plan.

Recommendation 18 suggested an amendment to ensure other organisations—the NHS, the office of the future generations commissioner, and public services boards—are listed as statutory consultees when reviewing the national air quality strategy, and we plan to table such an amendment at Stage 2.

Turning now to the recommendations made by the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, we are happy to accept a significant number of their recommendations. For instance, as set out in recommendation 3, an explanation has been provided of why we need the Bill. Similarly, as requested in recommendation 6, we have been able to confirm the committee's understanding that there is nothing in the Bill that prevents Welsh Ministers using the Environment Act 1995 to set long-term targets for air quality. Consolidation of legislation and accessibility of the law are, rightly, topics of interest, and the Minister for Climate Change has provided detailed responses to committee recommendations 4, 5, 6 and 7 that deal with these topics.

Turning to the response to recommendations 9 and 10, we have provided confirmation to committee that no issues arise in relation to preservation of retained EU law within this Bill. Recommendation 11 highlights the committee's concerns regarding the potential confusion of defining retained direct EU legislation as primary legislation in light of section 9 of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023. I agree with this point, and we will be tabling an amendment to remove reference to retained direct EU legislation from section 26 of the Bill.

I believe I've already spoken to recommendations 14 and 15 in relation to air quality targets. While I'll not be making an amendment in response to recommendation 18, to include a definition of 'ambient air' in section 2 of the Bill, I do accept recommendation 19 and intend to table an amendment to the Bill making it clear that a regulation setting a PM2.5 target must make provision defining 'ambient air'. So, I hope that achieves the objective in a different way. 

Looking ahead to recommendation 21, this recommends the Government should table an amendment to the Bill to require a superaffirmative procedure to apply to the making of regulations under sections 1 and 2 of the Bill. The affirmative procedure, coupled with our commitment to consult on regulations, we believe, provides sufficient opportunity to the Senedd to scrutinise target-setting regulations made under sections 1 and 2 of the Bill. A superaffirmative procedure significantly lengthens the timetable for making regulations, and increases risk of failing to comply with the statutory duty to lay regulations for PM2.5 by three years post Royal Assent. Additionally, the superaffirmative procedure is only used in rare cases when affirmative procedures are judged insufficient, and we don't believe that this is one of those cases.

Finally, to the Finance Committee recommendations—we're getting there, folks—I really am pleased the committee was broadly content with the financial implications of the Bill, and I accept all of the recommendations in this report. The Minister for Climate Change wrote to the committee to provide information and clarifications requested, and I have not covered all the recommendations in the respective committee's reports. However, I believe the written responses supplied do cover the broader details, and I'm happy to address that further in writing.

So, may I end by repeating that this is a Bill that crosses party divides? It is critical for the well-being of future generations, and I look forward to working with all Members who have an interest in passing an Act that works for Wales. Diolch. 

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 6:11, 12 September 2023


The Chair of the climate change committee first—Llyr Gruffydd

Photo of Llyr Gruffydd Llyr Gruffydd Plaid Cymru


Thank you very much, Llywydd. At the very outset, I think it's fitting for me to thank Heledd Fychan, who stepped in as temporary chair for much of the environment committee’s Stage 1 consideration of the Bill. So, thank you for your work. I also, of course, want to thank those who gave evidence to inform our consideration of the Bill, and members of the public too who took time to complete our online survey. Finally, I’d like to thank the Minister for responding to our report ahead of today’s debate, and I acknowledge that the Deputy Minister will now lead on this Bill, and I look forward to working with him as the Bill, after today, hopefully, moves forward.

Now, at first glance, it does appear that the Government's response is fairly positive, but once we looked in more detail at the Minister's response, the Bill as tabled, it would appear, in the Minister's view, is as good as it's going to get.

Our report, as you will know, I'm sure, contains 35 recommendations, 20 of which call on the Government Ministers to introduce Stage 2 amendments. These proposed amendments are based on the evidence that we've received from experts and those working in the field. Now, to date, in the Minister's response, the Minister noted that she was willing to accept only one of the 20 recommendations.  So, I can only hope that the Deputy Minister will keep an open mind in terms of amendments as the Bill makes its way through the remaining stages of the scrutiny process. And I note some of the constructive comments that he has made in some cases—not all, perhaps—and, clearly, we will need to consider those as we move forward.

But, turning now to the general principles of the Bill, Members will be aware that the Bill has been highly anticipated. Stakeholders have campaigned for many years for a clean air Act, and, yes, that title is shorthand now for a Bill that is slightly broader for that. But for them, of course, for those campaigners, the Bill is a much needed step forward, but it does fall short. As Healthy Air Cymru put it, it’s a good start, but it could be better, it could be stronger, and it could be more detailed. And the recommendations in our report, of course, seek to address this lack of substance on the face of Bill, and lack of ambition too. And I accept the point made by the Deputy Minister that, perhaps, the substance and ambition are there in terms of the Government's intention, but don't, perhaps, appear on the face of the Bill. But given time constraints, Llywydd, I’ll focus on some of those key recommendations that we have in our report. 

First, recommendations 5 to 10 deal with the setting of air quality targets, and we heard the Deputy Minister referring to some of this. There are no targets on the face of the Bill. Instead, there is a requirement on Welsh Ministers to set the target for PM2.5 within three years of the Act receiving Royal Assent. Now, along with this, there is a wide discretionary power to set long-term targets in respect of, and I quote, 

Photo of Llyr Gruffydd Llyr Gruffydd Plaid Cymru 6:15, 12 September 2023


'any matter relating to air quality'.

You couldn't be more vague than that. We already know, don't we, what the most damaging pollutants are, and we also have a pretty clear idea about the standards that we should be aiming for, thanks to the latest World Health Organization guidance, as we've already heard reference to. But, as it stands, the Bill fails to provide the certainty that stakeholders are seeking, that ambitious targets for key pollutants will be put in place, and that that will be done soon. Our recommendations seek to address this. We have called, for example, for the inclusion of a duty to set targets for all the pollutants covered by the WHO guidelines. And you could do that on the face of Bill and allow that broader flexibility that you are seeking.

But to return to the PM2.5 target, this target, as we've heard, if I've worked this out correctly, won't be introduced until December 2026. That's the seventh Senedd. The evidence that we received suggests that setting the target within the next two years is entirely achievable, using existing data. I think the Deputy Minister's description was 'to act in haste', but that would be acting on expert evidence that already exists. So, clearly, we need a further discussion with the Deputy Minister on that particular point.

The Minister has rejected recommendation 7, if I've understood things correctly, noting that there's a three-year programme for the development of the target that's already been agreed. But our point, Deputy Minister, is that you could and should accelerate the programme. The reality is that waiting three years, in the view of many of us, is simply too long to wait, and I hope you will be willing to reconsider that during the amending stages.

Moving on to reporting requirements, the Bill doesn't provide enough opportunities for the Senedd to scrutinise the work of Welsh Ministers on progress towards targets and delivery of its national air quality strategy. That's a problem. The committees had first-hand experience of difficulties with effective scrutiny on progress towards delivery of climate change targets and the net-zero plan due to weaknesses in the reporting requirements in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. There's an opportunity here to avoid repeating that mistake. Recommendations 11 to 15 call for a duty to report annually on progress. Unfortunately, once again in the written response, the Minister has rejected our recommendations. But, the Deputy Minister has referred that we could perhaps look again at some aspects of this, so we hope that he'll be open-minded in that regard too.

I want to move on now to what some would consider the most contentious provisions—those on trunk road charging schemes. Whilst the majority of stakeholders supported these provisions, that wasn't true for the majority of those members of the public who responded to our online survey. It's understandable that the prospect of paying to use trunk roads is of concern to the public, particularly in the context of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, and the vociferous response to the recent expansion of the ultra-low-emission zones in London is a stark illustration of that. We often hear the Welsh Government's mantra that it's important to take the public with us. We've heard it earlier in another context. Undoubtedly, when it comes to introducing charging schemes, that would be a challenging task. Recommendation 28 calls for a duty to consult, including the public where they are affected, before introducing charging schemes. It's not much to ask, particularly given the Minister has already committed to public consultation. But, yet again, the Minister has rejected our recommendation. She told us that a duty to consult would not add value considering the existing imperative to do so. But, again, this misses the point. A future Minister, in a different Government in Wales, would not be obliged to honour the Minister's commitment. Minister, if you're happy to commit to consulting, then why are you so reticent to including a duty on the face of the Bill? Once again, I hope that the Deputy Minister will reconsider.

To finish, I move to the second part of the Bill, dealing with soundscapes. This was a new concept for the committee, but we quickly understood that soundscapes are an essential component of our environment, contributing immensely to quality of life. Local authorities and public bodies will be on the front line in policy implementation in this context. However, stakeholders were concerned about the lack of expertise and resources. Even the best-intended policies can fall short without adequate training, resources and an understanding of the situation. So, recommendation 34 has highlighted this potential gap. We understand that the Deputy Minister will need to wait until the consultation on the draft strategy before responding fully on this issue.

Llywydd, the committee recommends that the Senedd agrees the general principles of the Bill, and in the event of the Senedd doing so, we'll have an opportunity, over coming weeks and months, to ensure the Bill is better, is stronger, and more detailed, helping to provide cleaner air for our communities and for nature. I look forward to returning to these issues during the amending stages.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour


Thank you again, Llywydd.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour

I'm speaking only as Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, not as a Member of Llyr's Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, and not with a CPG on active travel hat on either—we'll do that some other time, Minister. We're looking forward to getting our teeth into this in different contexts. The remarks I'm going to make are recognising that our report drew four conclusions and made 32 recommendations, and it probably reflected our role—we come at it from a different angle than other committees—in reflecting the priority that we give to this legislature to scrutinise the Executive, and avoiding the Executive taking too many powers themselves, including for reasons such as futureproofing. But some of them do go to some policy-related issues as well.

The Minister was famously open and engaging and willing to listen to arguments, so that's what I'm going to put today, recognising, as he's actually said, that, indeed, the Government has accepted many of our recommendations, but there are some I want to focus on. We recommended that the Minister explain why the Bill is needed at this time. This is curious, because there is big support out there for this, myself included, but why it's needed at this time, given that regulations under sections 1 and 2 may not be brought forward within the next few years, as has been explained to us, and given also that there is an existing legislative framework, as the Minister has mentioned, in Part IV of the Environment Act 1995, which permits the setting of targets on air quality. We have not yet been persuaded by the Welsh Government's arguments in this regard, not least because, in the response to recommendation 6, the Minister confirms, as indeed he has repeated here today, that that 1995 Act could be used to set long-term targets for air quality and targets for the annual mean level of PM2.5 in ambient air.

One consequence of these parallel legislative vehicles is that a future Government, as the Minister indeed confirmed in his remarks, could decide not to use the powers in this Bill to set long-term air quality targets, but some Minister could decide instead to use powers under the existing framework in the 1995 Act. So, why should we be concerned? Well, it's particularly important, because the Welsh Ministers, if they acted in that way in future, would not be under a specific duty to meet future targets set under the 1995 Act, whereas they would be if they did it under this Bill. So, that's why we recommended that the Minister should bring forward amendments to incorporate Part IV of the 1995 Act into this Bill, as a way of delivering a consolidated, bilingual, accessible piece of law on air quality, consistent with the Government's own objectives on the accessibility of law. We've had many of these discussions with the Counsel General; he is at the forefront of this within the UK agenda. So, in that case, let's try and make it consistent across all the pieces of legislation we're doing. And notably, the Bill is already seeking to amend existing provisions in Part IV of the 1995 Act, so just bring it in.

One substantial benefit of such a consolidation exercise, I would argue to the Minister, is that it would have avoided having regulation-making powers to set air quality targets in two different Acts, and enabled a more consistent regime for reporting and reviewing and monitoring targets. We do not believe that such an approach would be confusing or result in a partial retelling of the story about air quality, as has been suggested to our committee. In our view, those consequences are more likely to happen if we don't undertake the consolidation. So, we're just asking you to keep an open mind, reflect on recommendations 4 and 5, as the committee believes. Otherwise, this could be a missed opportunity to provide clear, accessible bilingual law on air quality.

Sections 1 and 2 of the Bill provide broad framework regulation-making powers—and this always sends a shiver down our spines—permitting important policy to appear in subordinate legislation rather than on the face of the Bill. We've continually expressed concern at the inclusion of such powers, not just in this Bill, particularly for the purpose of futureproofing, and, accordingly, we've made recommendations to address this issue. And we note that the Minister agreed with the spirit of recommendation 12, but stated that the policy and the principles in relation to setting targets under section 1, which we advocated be placed on the face of the Bill, are

'already contained within the explanatory memorandum and regulatory impact assessment.'

I simply ask the Senedd to note, and the Minister to note also, that a future Government’s actions are dependent on what is required by law and not what is described in non-statutory documents. So, we would ask you to reflect again. We are disappointed that this recommendation has not been accepted, and we remain concerned that the regulation-making power is far too broad. So, we hope that there might be some reconsideration of this.

Finally, Llywydd, given the lack of detail on the face of the Bill, and the importance of targets for delivering the improvements in air quality, which we all support, we recommended that regulations under sections 1 and 2 should be subject to the superaffirmative procedure. The Minister has not accepted this—he's explained why today. We think that it would enable scrutiny by committees, including through engagement by stakeholders, and could be achieved within the three-year statutory deadline referred to by the Ministers. As it currently stands, that three-year deadline applies to the more specific section 2 regulation power, rather than the power to make regulations in section 1.

In closing, Llywydd, I ask the Minister to reconsider the rejection of recommendations 22 and 29. I have no doubt the Minister will undertake appropriate consultations. Placing duties to consult on the face of the Bill will place no additional burden on the Government, but it will ensure that future Ministers, of any Government, will be required to do so. So, I thank again our committee members, clerks and support team for their work, which I trust is of help to the Senedd. I thank the Minister for his responses, and his fellow Minister for her responses to date, and continue to ask for his engagement, with, as Llyr has said, an open mind.

Photo of Peredur Owen Griffiths Peredur Owen Griffiths Plaid Cymru


Thank you, Llywydd. I welcome the opportunity to participate in today's debate. In our report, we came to one conclusion and we made six recommendations, and I thank the Deputy Minister for his comments so far. As has been the case recently with other Government-sponsored Bills, I'm very grateful to the Minister for responding to our recommendations prior to today's debate. This is a positive development, which greatly enhances the debate on the general principles. I also note that the motion on the financial resolution for this Bill will be considered next week, rather than immediately after the motion on the general principles as is normally the case. I appreciate that this has likely happened by accident on this occasion, but the Finance Committee has previously called for these motions to be considered on consecutive weeks. I would call on the Deputy Minister, therefore, to turn this administrative error into a positive, by applying this approach for all future Bills, so that the Senedd has more time to consider the financial implications of a Bill and reflect on the response by the Welsh Government to the Finance Committee's report.

Photo of Peredur Owen Griffiths Peredur Owen Griffiths Plaid Cymru 6:28, 12 September 2023

Turning now to our specific recommendations, the committee notes that improving health is a key driver for the Bill, alongside mitigating the economic impact of air pollution and its impact on nature, as well as noise pollution and the wider implications of air quality on the climate. While we note that the Bill contains some detailed provision, other elements are framework in nature and with the details to be set out out in future regulations. Therefore, it is disappointing that significant elements of the Bill cannot be fully costed, as the full financial implications will only become known once the regulations are made. We took evidence from the Minister Julie James, and thank her for the evidence given. During oral evidence, the Minister said she was very happy for regulations to be made by the superaffirmative procedure. This gave the committee some reassurance that sufficient opportunities would be provided for the Senedd committees and stakeholders to scrutinise the regulations made under the Bill, and we recommended the Minister provided further information on how the enhanced procedure would work. However, the Minister has now concluded that she will not apply further enhancements to the regulation procedures. Given that scrutiny could not be undertaken on parts of the Bill that will be made by regulations, this change of mind is extremely disappointing.

The largest area of costs associated with the Bill is the air quality monitoring capabilities. The RIA provides a range of costs for this activity. We heard that future targets for additional pollutants could increase estimated indicative capital purchase and installation costs. We therefore recommended that further information was provided on the costs relating to the air quality monitoring capabilities, including the circumstances that may lead to higher cost in this range being incurred. I'm grateful to the Minister for her explanation that the lower monitoring cost estimate in the regulatory impact assessment covers a PM2.5 expansion only, and that the upper monitoring cost would allow scope to deliver additional air quality needs in the future. Naturally, we expect to see a full cost analysis of any future targets.

Photo of Peredur Owen Griffiths Peredur Owen Griffiths Plaid Cymru 6:30, 12 September 2023


Finally, Llywydd, in our recommendation 6 we have asked the Minister to provide further information on the impact of the estimated cost for local authorities and other stakeholders of considering and implementing a smoke control area. We note the Minister's view that the costs associated with implementing new smoke control areas will vary, depending on factors such as location, population density and the number of non-compliant stoves. We are pleased to hear that the Minister has committed to developing the smoke control guidance for local authorities, and that a full assessment of the potential costs associated with this provision will be published alongside the draft guidance for consultation. Thank you very much.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 6:31, 12 September 2023

I have to be honest—that was really well worth waiting for. I thought it was very well put, and I'd like to thank the Minister, her team, and of course, you, Deputy Minister and your team for bringing this forward. The contributions here, I have to say, in particular, and I'm going to mention again my colleague—you've had two name checks from me today—Huw Irranca-Davies, because I found that quite fascinating about the different Acts. 

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour

Stop it. [Laughter.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 6:32, 12 September 2023

Anyway, it is a bit disappointing, though—and I'm sure other Members feel the same—that it has taken five years from when our First Minister committed to bringing this forward. Anyway, we are where we are. In its current form, we cannot support the Bill, but it is my genuine hope to be able to work with you, Lee, and your team to be able to amend this legislation so that it is the most appropriate Bill coming forward for Wales. 

The CCEI committee—and again, excellent contribution by Llyr Gruffydd, our Chair—and I was part of this, we made a series of recommendations, stating that the Bill fails to fully meet the expectations, and we expressed concern that the Bill still lacks substance and ambition. Now, in the spirit of constructive scrutiny and challenge, I will outline why. According to section 1(1), Welsh Ministers will be given authority to set long-term targets in respect of any matter relating to air quality. I suppose, for me, long term being 10 years is rather concerning. Where there are targets in the legislation, I feel they're rather generous, having waited so long for this to come forward, and not withstanding what we've heard this afternoon from Huw Irranca-Davies

Section 3(8) gives you three years to set PM2.5 air quality targets. Despite your response to recommendation 7, why not look again? We've waited a long time. I always worried when they joined it and it became the soundscape—. You know, we've all been wanting a clean air Bill for very obvious reasons. I can understand the justification, because noise nuisance is something—and this is noise nuisance now—. Noise nuisance is a big issue for us all in our constituencies, so to have some parameters in place is a good thing. Short-term exposure to high levels of PM2.5 has been linked with an increased risk of heart attacks, and that's even after just a few hours of exposure. Section 5(4) gives you a year to lay a statement explaining why a target has not been met, so why so long? And section 14 seems to give local authorities an unlimited window to prepare an action plan and send it to you for approval. I believe that it is good to have strict targets in place for a Bill so important.

We need to see effective enforcement and monitoring. Far more detail is required as to how often Welsh Ministers obtain data about air quality. I believe if we're going to bring a Bill forward, we should set in law the consequence of public bodies not providing the data that Ministers require. This legislation should furnish you, and any future Government, with the information it requires so to be able to judge confidently what steps are being taken to benefit Wales.

I agree with promoting awareness, but you’ve not listed how or where. One suggestion I have is that we create a duty for schools, colleges and universities to promote awareness of this. Rather than try to dismiss the CCEI recommendation 3 by referring to section 8, why don’t you be bold, then, and use the Bill to encourage active travel?

More detail is required in section 13. I have no problem whatsoever with air quality reviews, but I would like to work with you to add a clear penalty for local authorities that simply do not comply. It is true that I believe that this Welsh Parliament has become a legislative body that produces too much law for local authorities, and usually at a huge cost to them. However, if we’re going to do it, I want to ensure that the law is tight enough to hold all 22 public bodies to account if they fail to act. Look at section 23, which creates a duty for a local authority 'to have regard to national strategy on soundscapes'. That wording is too vague, and perfect for a local authority to get away with doing very little on this. This remains my opinion even after reading your response to recommendation 16.

The penalty on burning solid fuel for use in a fireplace in a smoke control area seems excessive, so whether you can just outline today whether you will be considering any exemption for households where they already have a fireplace fitted—. Will you be introducing a grant fund to help households afford to shift from burning solid fuels in control areas? There is a real risk that this aspect of the legislation could hit the poorest the hardest. The same is true for section 19. We are firmly opposed—and I speak for all of us on this bench—to trunk road charging schemes. So, if you honestly wanted to listen in the first instance to the public, you would not be refusing recommendation 28. It should be made clear in this law that you do have a duty to consult before making a trunk road charging scheme.

Finally, British Heart Foundation Cymru have contacted me to raise concern that there is no reference to the World Health Organization guidance being embedded into the Bill. You’ve been unable to respond to recommendation 5. Therefore, are we correct to assume that you and your team have not considered in detail the WHO air quality guidelines?

Five years down the line, and I keep reiterating that, because we’ve all been keen to see a clean air Bill, and I’m not opposed at all to the soundscape aspect to it—. Whilst we are voting against the Bill today, I truly hope that we can work really positively on this legislation so that this Bill is actually fit for purpose. Thank you.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 6:38, 12 September 2023


I'm sure that many people across Wales will welcome this legislation, and I'd like to thank those people who have worked on this Bill, those who have supported the need for legislation on air, the cross-party groups under Huw, and a number of people who have worked on a cross-party basis on it, as well as the work done by Healthy Air Cymru and others on this. This has all brought us to this point. I'd also like to thank the climate change committee and the work that Llyr has done with the help of his team.

Of course, we waited far too long for this legislation—that point has already been made tonight—but I'm very pleased to see that we have reached this point now.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

Now, I was very glad to work with the climate change committee to scrutinise the Bill. Our report provides a series of recommendations, as has been ably set out, and though we do really welcome the principles behind this Bill, we have put forward some critical recommendations, in all senses of that word. We do have concerns about what is missing from it.

We've heard already, Llywydd, why this legislation is needed. Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to public health, second only to smoking, and it contributes to the climate and nature emergencies we face on a global scale. The World Health Organization says 

'the combined effects of ambient air pollution and household air pollution are associated with 6.7 million premature deaths' every year. The burden of poor air in the UK is estimated to be equivalent to between 29,000 and 43,000 deaths every year, and at a cost of £1 billion per year to the NHS, air pollution is draining our resources, straining our health system and cutting short almost 2,000 lives a year in Wales. It's a public health crisis.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 6:40, 12 September 2023


And it's also a question of social injustice. Research shows that air pollution is higher in those areas in Wales that are described as deprived. The link between air pollution, poverty and health is clear, and people from less privileged areas are more likely to suffer from air pollution, and therefore are more likely to suffer from poor health, particularly lung diseases.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

I'd like to echo the concerns of public health organisations like the British Heart Foundation and Healthy Air Cymru that the Bill as drafted isn't strong enough and that there are so many missed opportunities. I really hope that, as the Bill progresses, as we're able to talk and scrutinise this further with the Deputy Minister, we'll be able to get into the detail of this and see where those missed opportunities can be made up. Improving our air quality and reducing harming pollutants is something that is going to be, yes, important now, but as the climate and nature emergencies continue to get worse for generations of children yet to be born, it's going to be a legacy that we leave for those generations whether we've done enough now.

I was disappointed with the Welsh Government's approach to some of the scrutiny earlier on, and I share the concern that we have not had sufficient time to properly consider and scrutinise the arguments put forward by the Government for whether they've accepted or rejected each of those recommendations, although I appreciate that there are time pressures. I know the Government want this legislation to pass as soon as possible, and I know that the Minister has felt very strongly about this and that's been made very clear by the Minister to us in committee. I'm sure that the Deputy Minister will echo that sense of urgency. I do understand about the need to get this right as well, but scrutiny is very important to make sure that that process happens properly.

On some of the specifics—and some of these points have been made already—I was disappointed that the Government rejected the climate change committee's recommendations 9 and 12, which, as has been set out, call for the legislation to provide that Welsh Ministers have regard to World Health Organization air quality guidelines when setting and reviewing targets. It seems strange that we should not want to benchmark ourselves against this standard. I take on board what the Deputy Minister has said on this, but it is what a number of specialists have suggested is necessary, and again, I hope that, as this progresses, we will be able to look in further detail at this. I take on board what he said.

Further to this, there are issues surrounding named pollutants, or the lack of them, in the Bill as it stands—again, this has been rehearsed. Fundamentally, we have to accept that there is no safe level of air pollution, with particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide being particularly damaging. Without an expanded set of pollutants, and timelines for their delivery specified in legislation, we risk further delay.

Now, Llywydd, I realise that I am out of time for this, so I would just echo again the points that have been made by the Chair of the climate change committee and many other Members in this Siambr, and I do welcome the principles and the fact that we are doing this. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour 6:43, 12 September 2023

I think recommendations 5, 6, 9 and 12 are the pivotal ones, really, which are about how we benchmark our legislation in line, or not, with the WHO guidelines. So, for those of you who are not on this committee, I think the key issue is how we are going to ensure that this legislation is fit for purpose, bearing in mind that we know that some people die of air pollution, but we don't know the full story yet, and there's considerable evidence that it isn't just the obvious chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma that people are dying of, but that there is also a potential link with cancer, miscarriage, low birth weight, obesity and dementia. So, the evidence is catching up all the time.

But, frankly, the WHO don't collect data on harmful pollutants because they can't think of anything else to do. We need to remind ourselves that it is WHO guidelines that have enabled us to understand the illegal levels of air pollution that were routine in my constituency, around Westgate Street in the city centre and also on parts of Newport Road for many years, where there were—where still are—two primary schools, a major health centre with lots of out-patient services, as well as residential homes and sheltered accommodation. So, it was the WHO guidelines that forced Cardiff Council to take action by ensuring that the first electric buses that came on stream in Cardiff were put into these areas, because it was understood that this was not a situation that could continue. So, it is the WHO that has set the standard, and therefore there have to be very good reasons why we ignore the work and the body of evidence that the WHO has built up over the years.

I appreciate there are consequences of proceeding to Stage 2 on this basis because of the impact a suite of air quality targets would have, not just on modes of transport, as well as the benefits of cleaner air; it would also pose considerable challenges for (a) agricultural pollution and (b) industrial emissions as well. In these unprecedentedly austere times for public funding, we all need to recognise that there are costs as well as benefits to raising the bar on air quality. We certainly can't afford to go blindly in on any unintended consequences of legislation. There is yet a great deal we do not know about the interaction of different pollutants from, say, agricultural fertilisers with those of vehicle emissions. Does it create an even worse toxic cocktail of harmful air than what citizens already experience? We know that more research is needed on this.

But, ultimately, in my view, we have to address all these pollutants as part of our journey to net zero by 2050, anyway, so this is something we're going to have to do in any case. Whilst I understand the concerns expressed by my colleague on my right that we can't simply use futureproofing legislation to throw in absolutely everything, nevertheless, we need to ensure that the legislation we produce is going to be fit for purpose for the next several years, based on the evidence that we have to date.

Lastly, I just want to congratulate the Welsh Government on being brave enough to address measures around noise pollution. Soundscapes, not noise, very much depends on the eye of the beholder. I can remember, as a local councillor, being constantly barraged by residents who didn't like the fact there was a cock crowing further down the street, which was an unusual sound in an urban environment, much to our pleasure for most of us, but I can understand if you live next door to it and are constantly woken up at five in the morning, there could be problems. But I think that that's something that will enrich the discourse that we're going to have moving into Stage 2 of the legislation, because there is no doubt that this is something that really does impact on citizens' well-being and, therefore, it's entirely appropriate that we start to address that in our legislation. 

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 6:48, 12 September 2023


The Deputy Minister for Climate Change to reply to the debate.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour

Diolch. I'd like to thank all Members who have contributed. I thought that was a very mature and constructive debate, and, clearly, there's far more that unites us than divides us on this issue, and I look forward, with the support of the Senedd, to be able to go through these issues in detail at Stage 2 scrutiny. I will give Llyr Gruffydd the assurance he's asking for about keeping an open mind in exchange for a focus from all Members in scrutiny of what we can practically achieve, because I think that now has to be where the weight of discussion is happening. I don't think we're very far apart on the ambition, on the principle, of what we're trying to do. It's how we do it and, particularly, the issue, I think, of unintended consequences, because we've seen in this Chamber before a great ambition when it comes to high-level principles. We've certainly seen it on climate change targets, and perhaps I can just respectfully point out that, when it's come to the detailed implementation of some of those in some policy areas, it's proven to be more difficult and more controversial, and the consensus falls apart. I think we need to be mindful of that here. There's no point passing something that is not sincere in our willingness and ability to follow through. I just simply point to the ammonia regulations as an example. We know this will have a significant challenge for the farming sector, and we've seen the difficulties this Chamber has had in getting a consensus on dealing with various elements of pollution coming from agriculture. And it's all very well to call for us to put the targets on the face of the Bill for ammonia, but I'm not sure those implications have been fully thought through by every Member.

So, I make that point in a genuine spirit of not wanting to score a point, but just as an example of 'let's be careful what we wish for here', because we are firing with live ammunition here, and we need to be very careful about what we agree to and what we set in law. And I think we will have those debates in committee. As I say, we'll be more than happy to look again at the responses we've put, but any counter-responses need to be rooted in the practicable, of what can be achieved. And of course, this doesn't stop us from taking action now. We already have powers to do many things. We already have strategies and action plans covering these things and work is under way. And can I just assure colleagues that we will consult on PM2.5 draft regulations in this Senedd term? So, not everything is on hold while we get the right framework right for the future.

As always, we need to make sure that the perfect is not the enemy of the good, but I think we do have here the makings of a consensus on a very ambitious and powerful set of reforms that will improve all our communities, and I hope we're able to support it this evening and proceed to the next stage and continue our debates. Diolch.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 6:51, 12 September 2023


The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] There is objection. We will therefore defer voting until voting time.


Voting deferred until voting time.