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Toxic Air Pollutants: Local Authorities

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 22 April 2021

What discussions he has had with local authorities on preventing toxic air pollutants from affecting children’s health. (914629)

Ministers regularly engage with local authorities to discuss air quality and assess their air-quality plans. I recently met elected representatives from Greater Manchester, Bath and North East Somerset, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke, and we have made £225 million available to local authorities, via the active travel fund, to deliver safe cycling and walking routes, including school streets. As we review the air-quality strategy, we will include measures specifically to protect children from pollution.

The death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah was a family tragedy, but it was made a public scandal when the coroner decided some time ago that her death was caused by air pollution, which was shocking. Yesterday, the coroner decided in his most recent report that there is no safe level of air pollution and called on the Government to bring our air-quality standards up to the World Health Organisation recommended levels, which would mean a significant reduction in pollution. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government accept that recommendation? If not, we are literally putting the lives of our children at risk.

We are of course taking this issue extremely seriously, and all our sympathies go out to Ella’s family. In fact, the Secretary of State and I were pleased to meet Ella’s mother—for which we thank her—and we listened closely to what she said. The coroner’s report was published yesterday and we will respond in due course. The points made are being taken extremely seriously.

Through our landmark Environment Bill, we will introduce a duty to set a long-term air-quality target and an exposure target. To do that, we are meeting all the scientists and academics and all those who can inform us as to exactly the right level to set. We understand that air pollution is a killer and we need to take it very seriously. A £3.8 million air clean-up programme is under way and we are working hard to ensure that that money is targeted at the places where it is needed.

In the Committee on the missing-in-action and elusive Environment Bill, Labour tried to write the World Health Organisation air-quality guidelines into the Bill. Unsurprisingly, the Tories voted us down. Yesterday, in response to the devastating death of Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013, the coroner published a prevention of future deaths report that recommended that the Government should view the World Health Organisation guidelines for air pollution “as minimum requirements”, because all particulate matter is harmful. The coroner has given a clear recommendation and clearly stated that it would save lives, so when will the Minister commit to setting a PM2.5 target that is at least in line with the World Health Organisation guidelines?

The report highlights that there is no safe limit of PM2.5, which is why it is so important that we get it right. That is why we are taking so much advice on it. The WHO has acclaimed our clean air strategy as world leading and

“an example for the rest of the world to follow”.

It sets out the steps that we are starting to take to improve air quality. The Environment Bill will introduce a duty to set a long-term target on air quality and an exposure target, which nobody has done before. We will give the issue all the attention it deserves.