HL Deb 11 July 1995 vol 565 cc1546-8

134B After paragraph (5) (c), insert: ("() measures of a temporary nature which are to he taken by local authorities and other persons in the event that air quality standards appear likely to be exceeded.").

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, Amendment No. 134B seeks reassurance from the Minister, if he can give it. Otherwise it seeks inclusion in the Bill of a provision for local authorities to take, when required, temporary measures to deal with air quality standards.

I raised the matter following debate in another place on an amendment moved by my honourable friend the Member for Truro, who drew the attention of the other place to the need for any strategy to allow for temporary measures. Your Lordships will he well aware from recent personal experience how quickly air quality can deteriorate. But we have a weather prediction system—that description might glorify it a little but the science is there—which can predict when pollution levels will climb rapidly. Once air quality standards have been set, it ought to he possible to forecast over a three or four-day timescale when those standards may be breached because of weather conditions in conjunction with other events.

If so, the Government, working with local authorities, could take steps to ensure that air quality standards would not be breached. Perhaps I may give two examples. First, one might impose for a short period speed limits on motorways. We know that at high speeds vehicles are far more polluting than if speeds are controlled. My second example entails the closure of certain streets in city centres. After all, is it right to say to those who suffer from respiratory illnesses, "Pollution levels tomorrow and the day after will be very high and we suggest you stay at home"? The message should rather be: "Pollution levels will be very high and car drivers should leave their cars at home", so that those with respiratory illnesses should not have to stay at home and suffer. Those are just two examples of short-term but very urgent steps that might be taken.

When the matter was discussed in another place, it was suggested by the then Minister that such powers do in fact exist. He was not able to give chapter and verse. More recently in a Question to the then Secretary of State, my honourable friend the Member for North Cornwall asked the Secretary of State to confirm that he had such powers. He asked him to explain how he intended to use them and to tell the other place what opportunities he would offer to local authorities to use such powers as well. The answer from the Secretary of State for Transport was: I think the honourable gentleman is referring to road safety regulations".

My honourable friends have not yet been able to obtain further clarity on the matter.

Therefore, I raise the issue today in the hope that the Minister will be able to reassure your Lordships that the powers in local authorities do exist. If he cannot do so, perhaps he will assist me and the House by saying how, within this strategy, temporary measures, which are quite often very urgent and important measures, can be achieved. I beg to move.

Moved, That Amendment No. 134B, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 134, be agreed to.—(Baroness Hamwee.)

Lord Renton

My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Baroness has to be regarded in the light of what comes earlier in subsection (5) of the new clause proposed by Commons Amendment No. 134. Subsection (5) (a) refers to: standards relating to the quality of air".

The noble Baroness's amendment says: in the event that air quality standards appear likely to be exceeded". That looks like quality standards better than those required.

I should have thought—if the Government wanted this amendment, they could accept a manuscript amendment to it—that rather than the words "likely to be exceeded", the noble Baroness has in mind the words "unlikely to he reached".

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to draw attention to this matter. Air pollution is a terrible thing and so is the pollution by vehicles. Indeed, in the past 24 hours or so, we have seen a certain amount of pollution occurring.

I can help her with her concern. The prime aim of a strategy for managing air quality has to be to reduce air pollution in general. If that is done, one avoids the risk of what the professionals call "episodes". An episode is a period of high pollution. We recognise that the risk of such episodes is bound to remain. One cannot remove them wholly. That is why the publications Improving Air Quality and Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge stated quite clearly that appropriate action in these episodes must also be part of the new system. In other words, it is right to address the totality in order to reduce air pollution in general, but when a period of high pollution occurs, appropriate action must be taken.

In line with that, amendments to the Bill have been carefully framed so as to cover long-term goals as well as more immediate action. The amendment will allow response measures to be developed for both the long and the short term. I can assure the noble Baroness that developing sensible and effective action during pollution episodes, or when periods of high pollution can be accurately forecast, will be an integral part of implementing the air quality provisions of the Bill. It is not necessary therefore to single out those episodes on the face of the Bill. In fact, that may produce an adverse effect. I know the noble Baroness did not table the amendment with that intention, but it may suggest that less attention should be paid to the planned long-term measures which would help us to avoid the short-term problems.

The noble Baroness said that she found it difficult to know where the provisions occur in the Bill. Perhaps I can draw her attention to Amendment No. 261, which amends Sections 1 and 6 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 which allows traffic regulation orders to be made for the same purposes as those for which regulations may be made under Part IV relating to air quality. Of course, we must take careful account of a number of other considerations before those powers are used, but the amendment also amends Section 122 of the 1984 Act to the effect that local authorities with traffic and parking responsibilities under that section would be required to have regard, so far as practicable, to the national air quality strategy.

I hope that I have been able to satisfy the anxieties of the noble Baroness with that explanation.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, that is extremely helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 134B, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 134, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.