HL Deb 23 March 2000 vol 611 cc483-6

8.19 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 9th March be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, pollution is still a serious problem. Medical estimates suggest that it leads to as many as 24,000 people dying prematurely every year. In our heavily congested areas, industrial pollution has been replaced by traffic pollution.

The Environment Act 1995 required the Government to prepare a national air quality strategy setting objectives for improving air quality. It also gave local authorities a role to identify where poor air quality means that prescribed air quality objectives will not be met and to draw up action plans to address that problem. In January this year, we published the air quality strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which replaces the 1997 strategy published by the previous administration. Our strategy sets overall tighter objectives and identifies the actions needed at international, national and local level to meet them.

National measures will go a considerable way—or, in some cases, such as benzene, all the way—to meeting the objectives. But there is a significant local dimension to air quality which local authorities are best placed to tackle. We are required by the 1995 Act to set the strategy's new objectives in regulations if local authorities are to play their full part in meeting them. The Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000 before us do that and will replace the existing Air Quality Regulations 1997 in England. We are confident that those objectives are based on the latest and best scientific and health information. I commend the regulations to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 9th March be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Whitty.)

Viscount Simon

My Lords, the only reason I wish to speak this evening is to address and dispel some of the myths concerning emissions made by motor vehicles on our roads. The urban emissions of PM l Os from the 79,000 buses and 414,000 HGVs in the UK are more than double those of the 24 million cars but, despite that and taking the 1992 index as 100, in the second quarter of 1999 those particulates had fallen to an index of about 55. During the same period, toxic emissions from cars reduced by 47 per cent despite an 11 per cent increase in road traffic. That is because cleaner fuels and more environmentally friendly vehicles have negated the effect of traffic growth.

The only emissions which remained constant throughout the 1990s were those of CO2, which can be reduced only by either introducing alternative methods of propelling vehicles or by promoting the greater use of diesel cars. It should be noted that 27 per cent of the UK's annual emissions of CO2 is produced by the use of energy in the home, compared with 14 per cent from car use. Notwithstanding what I have said, the regulations are to be met with approval, certainly from me and hopefully from all people living in this country.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the regulations and for doing so with a great degree of brevity, which I hope that I may have been to some extent responsible for encouraging.

I have quite a long speech to make on the regulations, but noble Lords will be glad to know that I shall not make it because all the points were made by my honourable friends in another place only yesterday.

The Minister will acknowledge that the regulations stem from an Act introduced by the previous government. Therefore, we can hardly oppose them from this side of the House. They are excellent in principle. I have only one question. I gather that £12 million is being set aside for local authorities to implement the regulations. I hope that it is enough. Will the Minister explain how that figure breaks down among local authorities and whether it is in fact enough for them to carry out implementation? In many cases, local authorities have been given powers and duties but they always complain that they do not have quite enough money to fulfil them. I hope that the Minister will assure me that that will not be the case here. Otherwise, we entirely endorse the regulations.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I gather that noble Lords support the regulations but share the concern about particles. Will the Minister tell the House what monitoring is to be carried out by his department and what steps will be taken if it is clear that the various targets will not be met in time; in other words, might there be a repeat of the particles target downgrading?

I share also the concerns to ensure that local authorities are adequately resourced to deal with monitoring. I should welcome assurances that the cost to local authorities of implementing local air quality strategies will be fully funded. Will the Minister tell us—perhaps this is a rather wide question for this point in the proceedings—how those targets dovetail with the Government's climate change strategy?

I have two comments, which are also in part questions, which arise from local experiences. I was at a meeting in West London last week to discuss the effect of aircraft noise and other pollution from aircraft on people who live under flight paths and near to airports. Comments were made about aircraft fuel by neighbours of Heathrow Airport. As aircraft line up to take off, one can smell and taste the fuel. How is it measured? What are the effects on people of being exposed to aircraft emissions?

My second point is that many schools—including many primary schools—are located on main roads. Parents are concerned about the effects of pollution from traffic on children in playgrounds or using school premises. Can the Minister send me away with reassurances about that, particularly given the problems relating to PM10s?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am grateful for the relatively short contributions this evening. In response to my noble friend Lord Simon, it is of course true that other sectors beside the transport sector contribute to CO2 emissions. The transport sector creates emissions which particularly affect local air quality, which is the subject of these regulations rather than CO2 itself. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, hinted, CO2 is covered by a separate strategy which we set out in great detail a few days ago in our climate change programme which is for discussion now. It covers the whole range of new approaches to restriction of CO2, including the area of cleaner fuels to which my noble friend Lord Simon referred.

With regard to the relative importance of transport and other areas in this context, it is true that other areas make a greater contribution to the deteriorating situation in relation to CO2, but it is mainly the contribution from transport which is rising at a substantial rate. That is not entirely offset by the increased fuel efficiency in vehicles as they come onstream.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, raised the costs to local authorities of pursuing the programme. If he sought a breakdown of the distribution of the £12 million to particular local authorities, I fear that I cannot give it to him tonight. We are confident that that figure is sufficient to meet the objectives. We are in constant co-operation with the LGA and local authorities on those matters. If there are particular problems, we shall seek to address them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about monitoring. There is continuous monitoring of the programme. It is unlikely that there will be changes in any short-term objectives or any of the objectives to which the present programme refers. It was difficult for us to meet the targets relating to particles. However, we have not downgraded the target. We have adopted the European target. That is an objective that we are still seeking to achieve.

On aircraft pollution, in the monitoring and measurement of air pollution, the effects of pollution from aircraft register. It is true that, although pollution from aircraft is relatively small in proportion to the total amount of pollution, in terms of local pollution and in terms of CO2 it is growing rapidly and I believe that the international community will have to address it seriously.

I hope that I have answered most of the points that have been raised.

On Question, Motion agreed to.