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Air Pollution

Volume 682: debated on Thursday 15 October 2020

I am like a jack-in-a-box this morning, Mr Speaker, with one question after another.

Our clean air strategy sets out an ambitious programme of action to reduce air pollution from a wide range of sources. We have also put in place a £3.8 billion plan to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations. The Environment Bill makes a clear commitment to set a legally binding target to reduce fine particulate matter and will enable local authorities to take more effective action to combat pollution in their areas.

Prior to covid-19, polluted air was contributing to more than 40,000 premature deaths each year. It we are to reduce that awful statistic, we must set enforceable targets to bring air pollution down below harmful levels, so does the Minister agree that the Government’s Environment Bill must have air quality targets that follow World Health Organisation guidance and have an attainment deadline of 2030 or before?

The Environment Bill does introduce a duty to set a target for PM2.5. We are committing to ambitious action on this pollutant, which has the most significant impact on health. The Government are committed to an evidence-based policy on this issue. We will consider the WHO guideline levels when setting our targets, but it is imperative that we take all the right advice from all those who are working on the issue before we commit exactly to what we are going to do and how we are going to do it.

This just shows how important this issue is to the people of Lewisham.

New data published by City Hall on 3 October show a dramatic improvement in London’s air quality since 2016 due in no small part to the ambitious measures implemented by Mayor Sadiq Khan. However, air pollution remains a major public health challenge and complacency is not an option, despite the current crisis. Will the Government commit to setting ambitious national targets and give local authorities the powers and the funding that they need to achieve them?

I want to highlight that, through our landmark Environment Bill, we will be delivering on parts of our clean air strategy, which will introduce a target for concentration levels of PM2.5. We will be setting an additional long-term target on air quality, which actually goes beyond the EU requirement. We will also have in the Bill measures that will improve local air quality management frameworks used by local authorities to make them much simpler and easier to use, and all of those measures will tackle the issues that the hon. Lady so rightly raises.

Campaigners, activists and our constituents are all waiting with bated breath for the return of the Environment Bill, which has dropped off the Order Paper for more than 200 days now and counting. When the Bill finally returns to the House, will the Minister commit to including the World Health Organisation’s guideline air pollution limits in it? She has already said today that she wants the evidence base to be in it, but the WHO has done the work, so can we not have a commitment to accept these guidelines?

I thank the hon. Lady for asking about the Environment Bill. As we say constantly, it will be returning very soon, but we do have an out-date for it, which is 1 December, so she can just work backwards from that, and I look forward to seeing her in the Chamber. On the point about the World Health Organisation, she should remember that these are guidelines. We have been praised for our outstanding clean air strategy, which is considered world-leading, and there is an absolute commitment to this. I think she came to one of the evidence sessions where we heard how complicated it is to set the actual target. There are many contributors to this particulate matter, and we have to look at them all before we set the target.