HL Deb 11 July 1995 vol 565 cc1537-43

134 After Clause 75, insert the following clause: —



National air quality strategy

.—(1) The Secretary of State shall as soon as possible prepare and publish a statement (in this Part referred to as "the strategy") containing policies with respect to the assessment or management of the quality of air.

(2) The strategy may also contain policies for implementing—

  1. (a)obligations of the United Kingdom under the Community Treaties, or
  2. (b)international agreements to which the United Kingdom is for the time being a party,
so far as relating to the quality of air.

(3) The strategy shall consist of or include—

  1. (a)a statement which relates to the whole of Great Britain; or
  2. (b)two or more statements which between them relate to every part of Great Britain.

(4) The Secretary of State—

  1. (a)shall keep under review his policies with respect to the quality of air; and
  2. (b)may from time to time modify the strategy.

(5) Without prejudice to the generality of what may be included in the strategy, the strategy must include statements with respect to—

  1. (a)standards relating to the quality of air;
  2. (b)objectives for the restriction of the levels at which particular substances are resent in the air; and
  3. (c)measures which are to be taken by local authorities and other persons for the purpose of achieving those objectives.

(6) In preparing the strategy or any modification of it, the Secretary of State shall consult—

  1. (a)the appropriate new Agency:
  2. (b)such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of local government as he may consider appropriate;
  3. (c)such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of industry as he may consider appropriate; and
  4. (d)such other bodies or persons as he may consider appropriate.

(7) Before publishing the strategy or any modification of it. the Secretary of State—

  1. (a)shall publish a draft of the proposed strategy or modification, together with notice of a date before which, and an address at which, representations may be made to him concerning the draft so published; and
  2. (b)shall take into account any such representations which are duly made and not withdrawn.'.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 134. Perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 135 to 145, 169, 172 to 174, 181 to 184, 220, 261, 265, 267, 301 and 336.

The group of amendments introduces an important new part into the Bill which would provide a new framework for assessing and managing air quality in the United Kingdom. This new part provides for a national air quality strategy and for revised powers and duties on local authorities, the Secretary of State, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and others.

The amendments implement the government policy as was expressed in Improving Air Quality: and Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge. Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge was published only in January of this year when the Bill was already before Parliament. I realise that it is a substantial group of amendments for your Lordships to digest at this stage. I hope that it will be seen to constitute a full and constructive response to the amendments tabled in the House by the noble Lords, Lord Lewis and Lord Nathan, and by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding.

In summary, the amendments introduce a national air quality strategy which will contain government policies on the assessment and management of air quality. They will introduce by regulation-making powers the means to prescribe air quality standards and objectives, and to enable other steps to be taken to meet them; and they will place new duties on local authorities to conduct reviews on local air quality, to designate air quality management areas and to prepare action plans to use their powers to address problems in those areas.

Amendment No. 134 allows for there to be a national air quality strategy. That will be a statement of government policies on the topic. As well as dealing with the United Kingdom's aims, the strategy will be a means of implementing some of the important air quality provisions of European Community directives and international agreements to which this country is a party. It will set out general standards and objectives on air quality, and will include measures which the Government are looking to local authorities and others to take in pursuit of the strategy's objectives.

By means of Amendment No. 135, we intend to ensure that the new agencies—the Environment Agency for England and Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—have regard to the strategy in discharging their pollution control functions.

In Amendment No. 136, we require local authorities to carry out reviews in their areas of the present and likely future quality of air. The next step, described in Amendment No. 137, will he to require local authorities to designate local air quality management areas for all or part of their areas which are affected by air quality which is below the prescribed standards or objectives.

Where local authorities have designated air quality management areas, Amendment No. 138 will require them to revise or prepare assessments and to prepare action plans for those areas with timetables for the measures which they intend to take to address the problem. District and county councils will be required to work together in preparing the action plan in areas where both types of councils operate.

Amendment No. 139 deals with the reserve powers of the Secretary of State, or, in Scotland, of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, acting with the approval of the Secretary of State. In substance, the Secretary of State and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency are given wide powers to make directions to local authorities over the steps which they must take on local air quality.

Amendment No. 140 seeks to ensure that both district and county councils will be properly involved at all important stages of assessing and managing local air quality. Amendment No. 141 contains wide regulation-making powers and has a number of features which perhaps I may draw to your Lordships' attention. Regulations will be made for the purposes of implementing the strategy, implementing European Community or other international obligations, or otherwise for the assessment or management of the quality of air.

Perhaps most importantly, "air quality standards" and "air quality objectives" are defined in the section, Interpretation of Part (Air Quality), as those prescribed under regulations made under that section. It is therefore those standards and objectives which will trigger most of the provisions of that new part. I should make it clear that regulations could deal with standards and objectives which stand as long-term goals and those which act as alert levels or indicators of episodes.

Regulations will also deal with local authorities' powers and duties prohibiting or restricting prescribed activities, provision to the public of information on air quality, offences and appeals, fixed penalty schemes for offences under the regulations, and other aspects of new local air quality management systems.

These are wide powers for a number of reasons. As many of your Lordships will know, my department and the Scottish and Welsh Offices are involved in very active discussions with local authorities about their role in respect of air quality issues. Rather than try to anticipate in this Bill every detail of what may be needed, we have sought to reflect the strong view of many local authorities that powers within the Bill should be wide enough and flexible enough to be able to give effect to the outcome of those discussions. We understand that view and I think that we have gone a long way to meet it.

We may well need to consider implementation of European Community obligations through the medium of those regulations. One example might well be the air quality framework directive which is being concluded.

I should also like to address the safeguards that we have introduced in order to balance the regulation making powers. We have introduced provisions to ensure that there is consultation before the powers are used. Importantly, we propose that they should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure but with additional provision to the effect that provision for particular cases will riot be treated as making the regulations hybrid. That last provision is necessary because the orders may relate to specific local authorities but will be made in pursuance of a national air quality strategy.

Amendment No. 142 allows for guidance to be given by the Secretary of State which can cover the exercise by local authorities of their powers under this Part. Amendment No. 143 applies the national air quality strategy to the Isles of Scilly. Amendment No. 144 introduces a new schedule for this part. The other amendments are, I think, fairly straightforward. I commend the amendment.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 134. —(Earl Ferrers).

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and I will make the same points about the anticipated costs to local authorities.

The overall strategy for dealing with air quality is extremely welcome. We are delighted that it appears on the face of the Bill. However, the provision imposes specific new duties on local authorities; and costs could be considerable in terms of capital outlay. It has been estimated that purchasing or leasing the equipment to monitor a station to the appropriate standard could he as much as £0.25 million per authority. In addition, there would be annual running costs of anywhere between—

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Baroness to make sure that we are on the right rails. Is she addressing the amendment in her name'? I gather that she is not.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I have no amendments down.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, perhaps I may assist the House. Amendment No. 134C stands in my name. That may be the amendment in the mind of the Minister which deals with the questions of cost. It is grouped separately from this group of amendments.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg Lady Hilton's pardon. She was right to speak. I have no doubt that when the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, speaks on her amendment, the Deputy Speaker will first put the amendment to which the noble Baroness's amendment will refer.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I have not put down a specific amendment. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is not in this group. However, I wish to make a general point about costs. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that those will be met from central government funds.

6 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Boding

My Lords, I have two amendments which are grouped with Amendment No. 134. I start by warmly welcoming the speed with which the Government have brought the primary legislation before Parliament. We should bear in mind that the White Paper appeared only in January, yet within a few days it will now be embodied in primary legislation, and that is something for which the Government are entitled to great credit.

I wish to speak to the new regulation-making power, to which my noble friend referred in Commons Amendment No. 141. That provision will give the local authorities power to tackle poor air quality and in particular to undertake the testing of vehicles at the roadside which are recognised as contributing substantially to atmospheric pollution in the cities. It is interesting that since the matter was discussed in your Lordships' House in Committee and on Report, public anxiety about the consequences of vehicle pollution in cities has greatly increased. During periods of still air and bright sunshine, the health consequences of pollution have been very much underlined. We must all from time to time, either in our families or among our friends, meet people who find that during the middle of the day in the cities it is almost impossible for them to go out because of the impact of conditions on their breathing.

The clinical connection with asthma is the subject of a major study which has yet to be resolved, but no one can seriously doubt that adverse air quality from vehicles is now a serious matter. The Bill gives local authorities the power to join the Department of Transport in enforcing the construction and use regulations by testing vehicles at the roadside. That is a matter which we have pressed and it is now covered in the Bill.

I remind the House that the London Local Authorities Bill contains a power for that, but it is confined to the London boroughs. Subject to one point, this Bill probably makes it unnecessary for the authorities to proceed with that part of the local authorities Bill.

I feel it is a little unfair that when one has been given a bowl nearly full of cherries, one should still ask for the bowl to be filled. However, there is one issue which I believe it is right for us to consider: the power of stopping. Everyone agrees that it is only police constables in uniform in general who should have the power to stop vehicles. I know that my right honourable friend is strongly of that view. After all, he spent a long time at the Home Office. It was asserted again in another place and is now to be found in Amendment No. 141, the long clause, subsection (5A) on page 39 of the Commons Amendments. Near the bottom of the page we see the explicit injunction that nothing in the clause would allow anyone other than a police officer to stop a vehicle.

However, there is a great difficulty. If there is no power to stop vehicles, how will the local authorities be able to carry out their testing functions? It is mostly when a vehicle is on the move that one can see that it may well be guilty of emissions beyond the permitted limits. Therefore the London Bill originally included the power to stop vehicles.

The more the matter is considered by the local authorities concerned, the more they believe that without the power to stop, the power to test will become largely ineffective. My amendments, Amendments Nos. 141A and 261A, give the Government power, but no obligation, to allow traffic wardens in uniform to undertake the stopping, in order that the local authorities may carry out testing. Traffic wardens are not local authority officials, they come under the police authorities. They carry out part of the police functions. It has become increasingly the practice over recent years since their introduction for traffic wardens to take over a number of functions which used regularly to be carried out by police, such as traffic direction, as well as their primary purpose of enforcing parking regulations and so on.

It has, therefore, been suggested, that it is a perfectly legitimate extension of the existing role of traffic wardens that they should be permitted, under police control and direction—and that is what it would be—to engage in the stopping of vehicles so that the local authority testers can carry out tests.

I entirely understand the difficulties of the Home Office and my right honourable friend in another place, Mr. Atkins, made it perfectly clear that he was having considerable arguments with his opposite numbers in the Home Office. I had the advantage of a brief discussion with the Home Secretary. Policemen and the police service do not regard it as a proper use of police time to stop vehicles for emission. They have more important things to do. Noble Lords will remember that I made that point firmly in earlier stages of the Bill. Policemen have plenty to do preventing crime and apprehending criminals. It is not realistic to expect them to stop vehicles for emission.

Perhaps I may take the example of the 33 London boroughs. They hope to be able to have at least one team of testers per borough in action for most of the week. It is only one team covering the whole of a London borough with a population of 250,000 to 350,000 people, so that it is not a substantial exercise. However, in terms of 33 full-time policemen employed throughout London on that purpose, one begins to see why the commissioner and the Home Office are reluctant to commit police manpower to it. It is not just a question of money—no doubt it could be paid for—hut trained policemen are expensive and they are specifically trained for certain purposes.

Why should not local authorities he allowed to authorise and supervise where necessary traffic wardens carrying out the stopping of vehicles? My amendment would not automatically provide for that; all it does is to write into the Bill the power for the Government to make regulations which would authorise traffic wardens to carry out those functions.

The Government may be right that the power to test will he a sufficient measure and deterrent. It may well he used on vehicles which have already been stopped and that action will, to an extent, have the effect of cleaning up the atmosphere. But a large number of people outside this House have the gravest doubt. If the power which the Government have now taken is to he made effective, I believe that as a precaution they should extend the power to allowing traffic wardens to stop vehicles. The wardens will he in uniform, instantly recognisable. Drivers are increasingly used to traffic wardens directing traffic, particularly when there are emergencies. Traffic wardens will frequently divert vehicles to another street, where necessary. We have all become used to that. Therefore, my amendment would be a perfectly permissible extension. I recognise the difficulty that if we were to accept my amendments, the Bill would have to be returned to the other place with the amendments. Nevertheless it seems to me that, since the Government have gone most of the way to meet the strongly expressed views in this House and elsewhere that the power to test vehicles should now be put into primary legislation, it would be a pity if the legislation was ineffective because of failure to provide for an adequate stopping power. My amendments are a solution and I hope that, having heard the argument, my noble friend will he prepared to smile on them.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Dean of Harptree)

My Lords, the Question is that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 134.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I believe that in order to get us hack onto the right rails it would be correct if he called the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The rest of the discussion can then take place on her amendment.