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Air Quality

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 30 March 2023

Air pollution has fallen significantly since 2010, and our recently published environmental improvement plan sets out the actions that we will continue to take to continue to improve air quality. They include additional measures to tackle domestic burning and agricultural emissions, continued delivery of the £883 million NOx programme and supporting local authorities to improve air quality more quickly with clear guidance and tools.

The Minister will know that I am really referring to incinerators in my particular instance. The Government have taken steps to improve air quality through the Environment Act 2021. One of the targets is to have an annual mean concentration for PM2.5 levels of 10 micrograms per cubic metre or below by 2040. When determining these targets, the Government considered the World Health Organisation’s own target, which was 10 micrograms per cubic metre. However, it has recently lowered that to 5 micrograms per cubic metre. Will the Government consider lowering their target, so that it is in line with the WHO?

The simple answer is no. Clearly we look at all the World Health Organisation guidelines, but they are only there to inform the setting of standards; they are not ready-made targets. Being realistic, even without man-made emissions and all the measures we have set forward in our groundbreaking targets, PM2.5 concentrations would still exceed the WHO guidelines—even the lower one—because we get these emissions from natural sources and also from other countries. The WHO guidelines would therefore be unachievable. I was heartened by my recent visit to Sweden to launch the Forum for International Co-operation on Air Quality, which shows we have to work together on this internationally.

The chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, has just issued a report, with 15 recommendations, that gives a route map on how to achieve these targets earlier, including on indoor air pollution and wood burners. Will the Minister respond to that now, write in greater detail to me as the chair of the all-party group on air pollution, and come to a meeting to explain what progress the Government can make on these 15 objectives, so that we can make faster progress and save more lives sooner?

I thank the hon. Member for that. I have met him many times on these issues, and I commend him for this work, but I have also met Professor Chris Whitty on this very subject. The hon. Member just needs to look at the forthcoming update of our clean air strategy. We are already working on many of the things that Chris Whitty has raised, and we have to get the Department of Health and Social Care to play its part as well.