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Environmental Targets (Fine Particulate Matter) (England) Regulations 2022

Volume 827: debated on Monday 30 January 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 19 December 2022 be approved.

Relevant document: 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

My Lords, this instrument sets two legally binding targets for air quality, as required under the Environment Act 2021. Along with the five other environmental target instruments, this instrument implements the Government’s commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

The two targets both relate to fine particulate matter or PM2.5—the pollutant most harmful to human health. They will work in tandem to drive improvements in the parts of England with the highest concentrations, while reducing average exposure across the country, driving public health benefits.

The Government take air quality and its effects extremely seriously. Although we have achieved significant reductions in air pollution, it remains the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. The tragic death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013 continues to remind us that, when it comes to improving air quality, there is absolutely no room for complacency. I thank Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. I pay tribute to her family and friends who campaigned so tirelessly on this issue and continue to do so.

Achieving our targets will make a significant contribution to public health and in reducing burdens on the NHS. Our modelling indicates that, over the course of 18 years, achieving the targets would result in 214,000 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease, 56,000 fewer strokes, 70,000 fewer cases of asthma and 23,000 fewer cases of lung cancer. Our analysis also indicates that achieving the targets could save £38 billion in social costs associated with human health, productivity and ecosystems between 2023 and 2040.

PM2.5 is a complex pollutant emitted from many different sources. Reducing levels means driving action across our society and economy. This includes emissions from all sectors—agriculture, road transport, domestic combustion and industry. Businesses and individuals will also have a role to play.

We followed a rigorous, evidence-based process, working with internationally recognised experts to set targets which are stretching, achievable and specific to our national circumstances. The first target set out in the instrument is the annual mean concentration target. This sets a maximum concentration of 10 micrograms per cubic metre to be met across England by 31 December 2040.

I turn to the regret amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. If she were able to wave a magic wand and switch off the UK economy, she would not achieve 5 micrograms per cubic metre. PM2.5 exists naturally in our environment. It is blown to parts of the UK from abroad or through factors beyond our control, such as shipping. She knows that Section 4 of the Environment Act requires that all these targets must be achievable. The ambition that she demands is unachievable. If I were to be churlish, I should say that it is no more than a gesture—one which would put us in breach of the Act. She is actually asking the Government to break the law, because we could not hit these targets.

I understand that the noble Baroness has got this 5-microgram figure from the World Health Organization, a pan-national body which, for perfectly understandable reasons, encourages a very high level of ambition that seeks to drive change in countries across the world. But Governments are different. In creating targets or regulations, we have to operate within our own laws and live in the land of the possible. What parts of the economy does she want to snuff out in order to hit her target? What behaviour change does she want to impose on citizens for her figure to be a reality?

I have huge respect for the noble Baroness. She is good at holding me and the Government to account, but I suggest that this is not her finest hour. I have been in opposition, and I accept that it is the job of the Opposition to push the Government to the greatest degree possible, but this regret amendment is not good opposition. As with her regret amendment last week on water quality, it is based on an entirely false premise. The evidence for the negative effects on health of PM2.5 is clear. I well understand the dangers. I assure noble Lords—and the noble Baroness—that we are absolutely committed to action to reduce air pollution, but we need to do this in a proportionate and achievable manner. I emphasise “achievable”.

PM2.5 is a complex pollutant and there are no easy solutions. An earlier target date would mean significant restrictions and costs on businesses and on people’s lives. The noble Baroness must be frank with the people of this country and tell them what activities she wants them to stop doing. The shortest of discussions with air-quality experts reveals that a particular challenge exists in urban areas, where the highest number of people live. For example, we expect most of England to meet the 10-microgram target by 2030. She mentions the EU in her amendment. I have no doubt that the EU will fail to hit its target figure by 2030, because many countries in the EU have worse challenges than we do. Meeting the target everywhere for a lower particulate matter is not realistically achievable. It would require new technological innovation to progress more quickly than can reasonably be expected. It would likely require bans on all domestic solid fuel burning, and significant restrictions on personal car use in our towns and cities and on commercial deliveries and vehicle use as well. We are working across the economy to try to clean up our transport network provision and to focus on pollution hotspots, working with bodies such as local authorities and Highways England.

We do not believe that it would be reasonable or fair to impose these kinds of restrictions on people now or in the immediate future. If political parties are proposing measures which will seriously restrict some pretty basic freedoms, they must be up front and honest with the electorate. Our evidence indicates that 5 micrograms per cubic metre is not possible as a nationwide target. It shows that between 6 and 8 micrograms per cubic metre—or 2018 levels in the south-east of England—are not from emissions that we can control in this country. This is the point. These levels come from a combination of natural sources, emissions from other countries—such as air blown across the English Channel from Europe and from shipping. I repeat: even if everyone in England left the country, it would not just be challenging to meet 5 micrograms per cubic metre everywhere; it would be impossible.

As important is to drive down the highest concentrations. It is also essential that we ensure that action is taken across the whole of England, because there is no safe level of PM2.5.

This instrument also makes our innovative population exposure reduction target law. This sets a 35% reduction in average population exposure by 31 December 2040, compared with a baseline period of 2016 to 2018. This is perhaps the most meaningful target. It focuses on health outcomes and reflects the fact that all improvements to PM2.5 exposure will result in health benefits. The target therefore drives action to reduce exposure for all, maximising public health benefits.

The instrument also sets out the framework for assessing compliance with the two targets. Assessment will be carried out through PM2.5 monitors on our national network. To facilitate this, we are investing over £10 million up to 2025 to expand the existing network to more than double its current size. This adds well over 100 monitors across England from December 2021.

In conclusion, this instrument is an essential first step in ensuring that the environment is left in a better state than we found it, by requiring the Government to drive down levels of this harmful pollutant. Having legislated for this ambition, we will set out our delivery plan in the forthcoming environmental improvement plan. I beg to move.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by

At the end insert “but that this House regrets the lack of ambition and urgency in the Regulations in relation to the target for annual average concentration of PM2.5 in ambient air; notes that the target of 10μg/m3 by 2040 is both less ambitious than current World Health Organization guidelines, which specify an annual average concentration of 5μg/m3, and less urgent than proposals from the European Commission, which seeks to achieve the target by 2030; and therefore calls on His Majesty’s Government to bring forward, as soon as practicable, a revised PM2.5 target which better reflects (1) the dangers posed by toxic air, and (2) the significant public support for improving air pollution”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the statutory instrument. As he said, the SI seeks to put in place regulations to set targets for the maximum annual mean concentration and population exposure reduction for fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. As he said, this is legally required by the Environment Act 2020. I also thank the Healthy Air Coalition for its time and its very helpful briefing.

As we know, the SI also relates to matters of very high public interest. PM2.5 is the name given to the tiny particles of dust and dirt in the air that, when breathed in, can get deep into our lungs and bloodstream. We know that exposure to PM2.5 has been linked to worsening respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and likely has a link to cognitive decline and dementia. The Minister himself just said that there is no safe limit. We also know that it played a key part in the tragic death of nine year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013. As the Minister did, I pay tribute to her mother, Rosamund, and her family, who, as he said, have campaigned tirelessly on this issue.

We know that Public Health England has estimated that the health and social care costs of conditions caused by unhealthy air and air pollution, both PM2.5 and nitrogen oxide, could reach £18.6 billion by 2035. The Minister talked about the economy; I say to him that dealing with this issue will save the economy a huge amount.

As we have heard, the annual mean concentration target, or the AMCT, proposed in the SI is 10 micrograms per cubic metre, to be met by 2040. The proposed population exposure reduction target, or PERT, would reduce PM2.5 levels across England by at least 35% by the end of 2040, compared with the baseline year of 2018. It is also worth noting that these targets relate only to England, as air quality is a devolved policy area.

The reason for my regret amendment is that we believe the Government have failed to meet their own policy ambition. Back in 2019, the Government said that they would put world-leading and ambitious air quality targets in place, including for PM2.5. They also pledged

“a green Brexit, where environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced.”

We look forward to debates on that on the REUL Bill.

However, we believe that achieving an annual mean concentration target of 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2040 is neither world-leading nor ambitious enough. This target level is based on the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines, which were published as long ago as 2005. These were surpassed in 2021 by the new guideline of 5 micrograms per cubic metre. The Minister spoke of this new target as if it were mentioned in my amendment, but I remind him of what it actually says. It calls on His Majesty’s Government

“to bring forward, as soon as practicable, a revised PM2.5 target which better reflects (1) the dangers posed by toxic air, and (2) the significant public support for improving air pollution”.

It also says that the European Commission

“seeks to achieve the target by 2030”,

So, when I am talking about what I want to achieve from my amendment, I am talking about ambition, not a specific set target. There needs to be ambition to reach 5 micrograms, no matter how difficult the Minister and the Government think it is.

Looking at other places, we see that since 2012 the United States of America has had a stronger legal target for PM2.5 than the UK. Its target has been set at 12 micrograms since that date, and the US Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering recommendations from its independent particulate matter review panel to lower this further to between 8 and 10 micrograms—again, a stronger target than this statutory instrument sets out.

In 2016, the Scottish Government set a target of reaching 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2020—a target that was achieved, according to its 2020 annual report. The Minister might say that it is easy to reach this in Scotland. I appreciate that, but, again, it is just a comparison.

As we have heard, the EU Commission also showed a higher level of ambition than the UK when it proposed to reduce PM2.5 levels to 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030. As I said, this is about ambition.

The UK Government are not only lagging behind others. A study by Imperial College shows that an annual mean concentration of 10 micrograms per cubic metre can be achieved across 99% of the country by 2030, using policies that have already been proposed by the Government, coupled with those set out in the sixth carbon budget of the Climate Change Committee. Defra’s own Clean Air Strategy 2019 reached a similar conclusion, so why not have that as our target?

In fact, the analysis that the Government published during the public consultation last year showed that reducing concentrations of PM2.5 to 10 micrograms is achievable long before 2040. Simply meeting legal emission reduction commitments that already exist under a separate regulatory framework means that it would be possible to reduce these concentrations to within 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030. In other words, the policies necessary to meet existing legal commitments would do most of the work towards meeting the target much earlier that the UK Government currently propose.

Despite this, the Government’s analysis also suggests that this new target does not include compliance with existing legal commitments—for example, the National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2018. We find this extremely concerning. Can the Minister confirm that this target is therefore non-compliant?

In Defra’s Air Quality PM2.5 Targets evidence report, the Government state that their target strikes the right balance between ambition and achievability. Under this scenario, an annual mean concentration of 11 micrograms per cubic metre is likely to be achieved by 2030. That suggests that it will then take an extra 10 years just to reduce the initial 1 microgram. There is no explanation as to why this is in the consultation documents or in the Government’s response. Can the Minister explain? The Air Quality Expert Group, or AQEG, which helped to inform the Government’s process for setting these new target levels, noted that the Government had generally taken a “pessimistic view” when interpreting how likely it was that different targets would be met under the different scenarios.

In addition, the Government failed to publish much of the evidence that they have based their proposals on. This includes analysis and modelling that Defra commissioned from Imperial College London to inform the development of the new AMCT, which was referred to in the consultation evidence pack but never published in full. Can the Minister explain why the full evidence—particularly the analysis commissioned from Imperial College London, as this is what the proposals are based on—has not been published?

Furthermore, the SI fails to take account of the views expressed during the consultation period, which ran from March to June of last year. I should perhaps draw attention to the fact that I was previously an associate of the Consultation Institute. Of the over 13,000 answers to the Government’s question on the ambition levels, 90% disagreed, wanting the Government to go further; 94% of those who disagreed cited a general lack of target ambition as the reason; 33% mentioned that the proposed ambition is too low to improve health outcomes; and 33% suggested that the target be achieved earlier. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee noted the issues around the consultation.

Similarly, the leaders of Britain’s leading royal colleges wrote to the former air pollution Minister asking her to set a target date of 2030, as did a group of mayors, local authority leaders and representatives from the British Medical Journal. This suggests that the Government chose not to amend the ambition level of the AMCT despite substantial public and professional medical support for setting the target at 2030. When reviewing the Government’s proposed environmental targets, the Office for Environmental Protection recommended that the PM2.5 targets be amended as they lacked

“sufficient urgency to reflect the scale of the change needed”.

In addition, ensuring that targets are as ambitious as possible has been a major part of the campaign by Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah CBE, which the Minister referred to. She wants to ensure that no one else dies, as her daughter did, from illegal and harmful levels of air pollution. The coroner overseeing the inquest into nine year-old Ella’s death in 2020 concluded that legally binding targets for PM2.5 should be set at the WHO air quality guideline levels to protect public health. The SI does not achieve this objective.

The proposals in the SI do not achieve ambitious air quality targets, but nor do they meet the test set out in Section 7(3) of the Environment Act that the target should

“significantly improve the natural environment in England”.

Can the Minister explain why the views of the general public and the expert advice of the royal colleges were ignored when drafting this SI?

Page 28 of Defra’s Air Quality PM2.5 Targets: Detailed Evidence Report, which formed part of the 2022 consultation documents, proposed multiple applications for modelling PM2.5 levels, including producing projections to support future policy development, providing estimations at locations that are not monitored and supporting the assessment of

“where monitors should be located within zones and agglomerations”.

However, the regulations as drafted do not contain any provisions related to modelling, despite this being part of the consultation.

The problem with this is that the absence of modelling means the assessment of compliance within the annual mean concentration and population exposure reduction targets relies solely on monitoring, and that has limitations. While we acknowledge the AQEG’s advice that modelling is currently less accurate for PM2.5 compared with other pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, we are concerned that this represents a step backwards from the existing approach to assessing compliance with air quality limits under the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010.

Under the existing approach, the Government supplement fixed measurements of pollution levels with modelled estimates using their pollution climate mapping model. This provides a more granular picture of air quality levels across the country, especially across areas where there is poor coverage from the monitoring network. We are concerned that the decision to exclude modelling from the assessment regime may instead allow for a less representative and comprehensive assessment of the levels of pollution that people are experiencing across the country.

Areas with PM2.5 exceedances that may not have been captured by modelling may be missed if the monitoring network is not sufficiently expanded to increase its spatial representation. At the same time, modelling should not be used to override an exceedance identified through monitoring. We believe it is possible to use a combination of the two, as the UK Government have been doing since 2021 with regard to the legal limit set under the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010. Even outside of the compliance assessment regime, there is a clear role for modelling to play in helping assess where monitors should be located, and in relation to policy development; for example, to estimate the air quality implications of any future policy. Can the Minister explain why air quality modelling has been missed out of the SI?

We also have concerns regarding the proposals for the measurement of PERT compliance. The regulations stipulate that measurements will be taken only from urban or suburban background sites where PM2.5 is

“not significantly influenced by a source or sources of pollution in close proximity to the site, and is therefore representative of the background level of PM2.5 to which the population is likely to be exposed across a wider area than the immediate vicinity of the site.”

That is paragraph 1 of Schedule 2. This means that, due to the preclusion of close-to-source sites, the most polluted communities, such as those on or near busy roads or industrial sites, may not be included when assessing compliance. So PERT would not serve those at most risk from the highest levels of PM2.5, such as people whose homes, workplaces and schools are located in high-density, high-traffic areas. How do the Government intend to protect people most at risk from exposure to high levels of PM2.5, as well as those living in pollution hotspots?

We welcome the inclusion of a new requirement for a minimum number of monitoring stations on a zone-by-zone basis based on population numbers, but this will not come into effect until 1 January 2028; again, this is something that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee picked up. Why is there this five-year delay to introduction? Again, this suggests that the role for modelling in areas with a minimum number of monitoring stations is not yet met in the interim period. Delay makes it more challenging for the Government to accurately assess its compliance with interim targets, which are due to be set in the environment improvement plan.

It is not clear how many more monitoring investigations will be delivered by these regulations. Based on the population data and information about monitoring zones that are set out in table 1, figure 3, of Defra’s Air Quality PM2.5 Targets: Detailed Evidence Report, it looks to us as if the regulations are going to require only a minimum of 166 monitors to be installed by 2028. That is an increase of just 103 monitors over five years. These minimum standards are unlikely to be enough to fully understand the levels of pollution.

We welcome the commitment to include stations that are sited to provide

“data that are representative of locations where the highest PM2.5 concentrations are likely to occur to which the population is exposed for significant periods.”

That is paragraph 4 of Schedule 2. However, “significant periods” is not defined. Can the Minister explain what is meant by significant periods? The regulations do not include a specific requirement for the Government to publish an explanation of how the design of the monitoring network satisfies the siting requirement. Again, this is a step backwards in transparency compared to the previous regime under the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010. There is no explicit duty placed on the Government to review and revise the monitoring network to ensure it is kept up to date with the latest technological and scientific standards and that the placement and number of stations remain appropriate—another loosening of regulations compared to the current regime under the Air Quality Standards Regulations, which require a review of the network every five years.

There is also no explicit duty placed on the Government to maintain air quality monitors to ensure that they are satisfied with the minimum data capture requirements set out in the regulations. Unless the network is properly maintained, there is a risk to data reliability. There should be a duty to actively maintain the network and use all reasonable efforts to meet the minimum data capture requirements.

We note and welcome the requirement for the Secretary of State to publish details of the monitoring station placements and the annual mean levels of PM2.5 in Schedule 3, but there is no requirement for real-time pollution alerts, the lack of which deprives people of the information they need to make choices to protect their health. Furthermore, there is no requirement to publish national-level modelling of PM2.5 concentrations so the published monitoring data will be of limited use to people who do not live near monitoring sites but who may wish to use the data to protect their own health from PM2.5 pollution.

I think I have made it very clear to the Minister where our concerns lie. I know that I have asked an awful lot of questions but this is really important. We know that time and again senior health professionals have made representations to the Government because they are concerned about the huge health implications for our population if the ambitious targets that we would like the Government to aim for are simply not met. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will be brief, but I must first declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and, more particularly for this debate, as a co-president of London Councils, the body that represents all 32 London boroughs and the City of London.

In 2019, I introduced the Emissions Reduction (Local Authorities in London) Bill to grant local authorities greater powers to reduce emissions in their areas. The Bill was supported by the City of London and all the London boroughs but, unfortunately and inevitably, it made little progress beyond this House. Subsequently, although the provisions of the Bill received cross-party support as amendments to the then Environment Bill, they did not make it into the final Act.

Fine particulate matter is the pollutant most damaging to human health. It is a dangerous carcinogen that penetrates deep into our lungs and bloodstream. The two air quality targets set out in the draft regulations which we are debating today are an opportunity to make a significant impact on the level of PM2.5 in ambient air. Many emissions are from non-road sources, collectively referred to as “combustion plant”. Relatively little public attention is paid to that but tackling those emissions will be crucial to reducing PM2.5 levels.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, the City of London saw a 40% decline in levels of nitrogen dioxide compared with 2019 but levels of PM2.5 remained roughly the same despite the significant fall in transport activity. To achieve a meaningful reduction in PM2.5 levels we need to address non-road emissions. One way of doing this would be to empower local authorities to place limits on the use of highly polluting plant in their area.

The proposed fine particulate matter annual mean concentration target of 10 micrograms per cubic metre is the right approach. There is consensus among many air quality experts that a 2030 target is achievable and proportionate. The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants published a statement in January 2022 in strong support of a reduction in PM2.5 to 5 micrograms per cubic metre, with 10 micrograms per cubic metre as an interim target.

The Clean Air Fund’s 2022 report, The Pathway to Healthy Air in the UK, concluded that by 2030 most of the UK will comply with 10 micrograms per cubic metre if policies already planned are implemented. It goes on to state that the achievement of 10 micrograms by 2030 can be done at virtually no additional cost. The report details various positive health impacts of achieving the target by 2030. I noted the Minister’s concern for the effect on business. He may be interested to know that the City of London, which has some interest in business, has already adopted the target date of 2030.

These impacts we are talking about include 98,000 life years gained, 3,600 fewer respiratory hospital admissions per year and a reduction in the number of symptom days in asthmatic children of 388,000 per year. In these circumstances, will the Minister at the very least consider bringing forward the implementation date to 2030? If he will not, in his reply will he state clearly why the Government are so determined to set so unambitious a target?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, because I thought her analysis of this statutory instrument was excruciatingly thorough and coruscating, quite honestly. It was possibly her finest hour, but I am sure she is going to have many more.

I would have liked to have stopped the Minister several times during his opening remarks because, quite honestly, I would have liked to refute things or challenge them because they were so off-beam at times with some of the language he used. He said things such as “What would we want to snuff out?” I can give him a list and explain very clearly how we could achieve much tougher targets.

These targets make exactly the same mistakes as the targets on water that we argued over last week, which is that they are too little, too late. The Government have had the opportunity to show the public that they care about the quality of our water and air. They say they want to improve human health and reduce environmental pollution and that there is some urgency to their actions but that is absolute nonsense. I have seen no ambition in these proposed targets to reduce the thousands of premature deaths due to air pollution that this country suffers from.

The Minister said that we would restrict freedoms. What about the freedom to breathe clean air and not be ill from breathing the air in our urban spaces? That is absolutely a human right and something we could deal with. The Minister talks about restrictions but what we can do is make it easier for people to do the right thing. We can make it easy for them not to use their cars by giving them decent public transport. This is something that the Government do not seem to be able to tie up at all. They cannot see any relationship between a carrot and a stick. I know that Ken Livingstone is not held in the highest esteem any more but he really understood that and when he brought in the congestion charge, he massively improved public transport. It made a huge difference to travel patterns in London.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said she was looking for ambition. She has certainly failed to find any ambition in these targets. It is totally unacceptable that the Government are proposing to delay compliance with the World Health Organization’s air quality guideline for fine particulate matter. Of course it is a complex problem but, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, pointed out, not only road traffic but plant is responsible. We could insulate buildings, which would mean that people used less energy, for example, and therefore polluted less.

A target was published in 2005 that this country will not now hit until 2040. That is appalling, isn’t it? It is the same as with the sewage targets: putting everything back a couple of decades means that most of us will not live to see a country where we have clean air and clean water. I have no problem making sacrifices for the next generation—I do so on a daily basis—but I prefer to make sacrifices that deliver improvements while I am alive, if possible. And I am saying that it is possible, but this Government choose not to do it.

The World Health Organization has halved its guideline for PM2.5 to 5 micrograms per cubic metre. That happened over a year ago. So not only are we delaying targets; the targets we are using are already out of date. The science has moved on but this Government and this country have not.

I have a few questions. I realise that they will not be answered today but I would like them answered. I am happy to write to the Minister, but I will now read them into the record. First, are the Government taking literally the wording of Section 4(2) of the Environment Act 2021:

“Before making regulations under sections 1 to 3 which set or amend a target the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the target, or amended target, can be met”?

Doing so would mean the Government not protecting anyone until the last person in the entire country was protected from air pollution standards set in 2005. I would like clarity on that.

Secondly, what computer modelling can the Government possibly be using that shows that the UK cannot or will not achieve the WHO’s old air quality guideline until 2040? That modelling has to be out of date; it cannot possibly be anything that any of us on this side of the Chamber could have come up with.

Thirdly, are the Government aware that official modelling done for the revision of the Gothenburg protocol shows that less than 5% of the UK population would be exposed to more than 6 micrograms per cubic metre of PM2.5 by 2030, and only 8,000 people above 7 micrograms per cubic metre? That is the baseline case.

Fourthly, are the Government aware—actually, I think the Minister did mention this—that the European Commission is proposing to comply with the old air quality guideline for PM2.5 by 2030, 10 years earlier than this Government, and that it is proposing to halve the current level for nitrogen dioxide by the same date? Where is our Brexit dividend? People will say, “I voted for Brexit. I want my dividend. Where is it in this SI?”

Instead of this nonsense and all the flannel we keep being given about targets, I ask the Government to support Ella’s Law—my Bill that would make clean air a human right. It is in the other place at the moment, and I suggest that all noble Lords on the opposite side of the Chamber lobby their friends and family to sign up to the Bill and say, “This is what would actually fix the problem we are facing.”

These targets will not fix the problem. People will suffer and die, and the Government will never hear the end of it while we few are on this side of the House.

My Lords, it is unusual, I suggest, in public policy to find an area where the case for faster action is as barn-door obvious as it is in this instance. We have a set of impacts with strongly negative consequences. We have a set of practical actions that would enable us to do something about that, and the benefits of so doing would be rapid—in some cases, almost immediate. That is not my judgment but that of Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, whose 2022 annual report—published just before Christmas and which, unfortunately, did not get the scrutiny and focus it deserved—concentrates on air pollution.

The report makes the following three points. First, according to the Government’s UK Health Security Agency:

“The mortality burden of air pollution in England is estimated to be between 26,000 and 38,000 a year”.

Does the Minister accept that as the UK Health Security Agency’s estimate? If so, does he also accept the following judgment of the Chief Medical Officer in his report:

“In the last decade improvements in PM2.5 have stalled, and these especially need attention”?

It seems to me that the argument about modelling is to some extent a circular one. It goes, “It’s taken us a very long time to do anything and therefore, if we carry on at the current rate of knots, it will take us until 2040.” But that is precisely the point: we do not have to carry on at the current rate of knots. Secondly, the CMO’s report sets out a set of clear and practical steps that show that reducing PM2.5 is indeed the art of the possible.

The third salient point is that the benefits of doing so would be very rapid indeed. The CMO’s report suggests that 30% of the reduction in mortality from reducing air pollution occurs in the first year, and 50% in years two to five. Let us think about that. A reduction of between 30% and 50% of up to 38,000 deaths a year would be an extraordinary gain for the people of this country. However, because, unlike the smog in the 1950s, we are dealing with something that is essentially invisible, at the proposed rate of knots primary school playgrounds, GP surgeries, shops and high streets will continue to have killer levels of pollution that will go unattended for years to come. Surely the Government should think again.

My Lords, I have long taken an interest in this subject. When I came into this Chamber I did not intend to speak, but I was utterly shocked by the way the Minister—who in many respects I have some respect for—dismissed the case for a much more ambitious target. My noble friend has set out in great detail how that could be achieved, and why it should be achieved.

I was, until recently, the president of Environmental Protection UK, whose origins were in the National Society for Clean Air, which proposed the Clean Air Act in the 1950s. It was the Minister’s predecessors, in the Conservative Government of Anthony Eden—which does not have a high historic record—who adopted the Clean Air Act when they were told by people, like those who have got at the Minister, “You’re going to try and change people’s habits and they’re not going to stop burning coal”—but they did. I speak as a child bought up in London with asthma in the 1950s. Those five years, in which they cleaned up London, probably mean I am still alive and here in your Lordships’ House today.

It was incredibly dismissive of the Government to condemn those who were advocating tighter regulations. They are based on strong medical evidence; the campaigns that the evidence here dismisses are mainly informed by strong medical evidence that this kills, it deforms and it limits life in all its respects. The Minister needs to take a grip, think again and come back and respond to my noble friend with something better. Otherwise, this Government have something to be seriously ashamed of.

My Lords, we all have a growing understanding of the devastating effects of PM2.5 and particulate matter in general on human health, and we welcome efforts to bear down on them. I think I heard the noble Baroness sidestep the question of what an appropriate target was, preferring simply to demand more ambition. Although other noble Lords have made some suggestions, she did not answer my noble friend the Minister’s question of what actions she specifically proposes should be banned or seriously cut back. It is important that the public know what they are.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this SI. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has spoken in detail about the lack of ambition and urgency in the Government’s regulations on fine particulates, and previous speakers have made powerful arguments for more ambitious targets.

I fear I feel like a single-track CD that is on continual replay, continuously playing the same track or, in my case, repeating the same arguments. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, of which I am currently a member, has drawn the attention of the House to the issue of reducing concentrations of PM2.5, the pollutant causing the most harm to human health. The extensive consultation carried out by Defra drew responses on this regulation from Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Woodland Trust and Asthma + Lung UK, all of whom jail felt the annual mean concentration target—the AMCT—of 10 micrograms per cubic metre at the sites of the highest level of concentration by December 2040 was not adequate. The Royal College of Physicians has written to me saying:

“Air pollution and poor air quality are a significant and growing public health challenge. In 2016, the RCP alongside the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published Every Breath We Take. This report examined the impact of exposure to air pollution across the life course.”

The report found that around 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK were attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution.

The Healthy Air Coalition stated that the EU Commission proposes that this same target, of 10 micrograms per cubic metre, be reached by 2030 —10 years earlier than Defra’s target of 2040. The Healthy Air Coalition also asked why the requirement for a minimum number of monitoring stations will not come into effect until January 2028. Without these stations it is extremely difficult to have confidence in our ability to monitor the particulates and meet the targets, even at their very unambitious levels. Defra’s response to the questions on this were that it expected the monitor network to be completed in the next three years, but it had allowed for unavoidable slippage in building, networking and testing. Therefore, the legal requirement was going to be 2028.

The consultation responses from all quarters were clear that the targets were unambitious and should be higher. Despite this, as with all the other five areas of environmental targets, no change was made to the final targets. As this is the last of the six target areas to be debated, I ask the Minister how much the consultation exercise has cost in total? How many hours of Defra staff time were spent analysing and collating the responses? Given the very large number of responses—over 181,000—were extra resources deployed and temporary staff employed in order to help deal with the level of responses?

Defra spends a lot of time consulting on various pieces of legislation. I therefore imagine that the consultation department is used to the processes involved and is efficient in collating the resulting responses. On this occasion, to totally ignore and override the submissions received, and stick to the original targets, gives a very strong impression that Defra’s mind was already made up long before the consultation started. Defra was only paying lip service to the process. Meanwhile, those who suffer from asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory tract conditions, long-term and short-term, are left with no hope of improved air quality in the immediate future. That really is unacceptable. Given the level of concern on the total lack of meaningful response to the consultation exercise, if the Minister is not able to answer my questions on costs and staff resources this evening I would be grateful if he could write to me with the necessary information and put a copy of his response in the Library.

My Lords, can I challenge the noble Baroness on what she said? While it was very interesting, she focused entirely on outdoor pollution from PM. There is a much greater problem of indoor pollution from PM, about which we know much less. There is much less monitoring of it but it comes from damp houses and from the chemicals we use; it comes from a whole range of issues. She referred specifically to the outdoors and then to people suffering from asthma. They are going to be suffering indoors as well, given the pollution inside our houses. This is why the whole of air pollution is so difficult. Theoretically, we know much more about outside pollution, which is much more heavily monitored. Even the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said how difficult it has been to reduce particulates in the City of London, despite how much the traffic has reduced. Yes, this is a hugely complex and very difficult and sensitive issue, but we need to look at it in the round. I have no doubt that by 2030 we will have a huge reduction, but it is going to be totally impossible to get to the required level for every single area in England.

My Lords, I am grateful to everyone for their valuable contributions to this debate. To answer directly the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I say that this is not about a lack of ambition. I have had many opportunities to speak in the House on this issue and I share entirely noble Lords’ ambition to achieve it, but we have to comply with the law. That is why the regret amendment, praying in aid 5 micrograms per cubic metre, is not achievable.

The World Health Organization is entirely right to push countries to be ever more ambitious, but we have to comply with Section 4 of the Environment Act. To do that, anybody who is in government or aspires to government cannot just stand up and say, “We want to achieve more”, in the full knowledge that it is impossible. We would therefore be breaking the law and I am not prepared to do that. However, I entirely accept that there are real and genuine concerns and I want our Environment Act, which is world-leading, to deliver ever greener and more environmentally friendly measures.

The EU is also mentioned in the regret amendment and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is absolutely right: it seeks to achieve 5 micrograms per cubic metre, but we have to achieve the target that we set. We cannot just pluck one out that sounds good and makes the Government look as if they are listening to every single campaigner who wants a reduction, quite understandably. We want to produce a target that we can achieve, and we can set out clearly how we are going to do it.

To say that Ministers have somehow fiddled with the evidence to be less ambitious, for whatever reason, is absolute nonsense. The suite of targets that we consulted on was the result of significant scientific evidence, collected and developed over preceding years, and included input from evidence partners and independent experts, supported by over 800 pages of published evidence. We have full confidence in the final suite of targets, which represents a robust analysis of that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said that this was a pessimistic view, but in government you can set a target and seek to achieve it before the date. We think we can get to the low-hanging fruit and show a trajectory much earlier than the date of 2040.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, also spoke of issues relating to monitors. Our evidence indicates that 11 micrograms per cubic metre is likely to be achievable by 2030 but will still be challenging. While reducing maximum concentrations by a further 1 microgram may seem numerically nominal, in reality it becomes increasingly difficult to reduce concentrations as levels are lowered. Incremental reductions will be required across a range of sectors, many of which will take time and a long-term investment to implement.

I entirely understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made. I lived for two years in an industrial city where every day my clothes stank of coal dust when I got home. If you go to that city now, you do not get that. Enormous improvements have been made but they cannot just be done by government. They have to be achieved using local actors, principally local government, the Highways Agency and others, to really drill down on the point that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, made about the hotspots. That is where we really have to concentrate.

I know that vast parts of England are already well below 10 micrograms, but there are places that are not. The target is for them all to achieve this, and that is really difficult. If you look at a map of the measurements of PM10, you can see quite clearly where it is. We are sitting right in the middle of it here. There is not an ounce of complacency about this. We want to achieve something that is not just going to look good in a headline, but that is achievable, challenging and stretches people. The conclusions of our modelling are consistent with this.

Reaching 10 milligrams per cubic metre by 2030 would be very challenging. That is due to locations in large urban areas, such as London, which pose the challenges of deliverability. In setting a legally binding target, the Secretary of State, as I have said, must be satisfied that the target can be met. While the target is set for 2040, that does not mean that action to meet the target will be delayed. Our upcoming environmental improvement plan will establish interim targets and actions to meet them to set a clear pathway. That will be of comfort to people who want to make sure that we are pushing this as far as we can.

I am conscious of the time, so I will just rattle through points. I make the commitment to write on points I do not get to. I do not know how much it costs for the consultation and how much time is spent, but we do a lot of consultations. Some argue that we do too much, but I think it is better to err on that side. We have some very clever social scientists who manage it. I assure the noble Baroness that they are robust in their modelling and the way they approach this. Air-quality modelling is an important tool and will continue to be used for informing the development of policies to achieve these targets and understand the relationship between emissions from different sources. Concentrations of PM2.5 are not as spatially variable as nitrous oxide, which was a very important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

While there can still be local hotspots, the expansion of the monitoring network will provide greater coverage across the country. The new minimum requirements are for up to 100 new monitors to be installed on the network. They will not be in the middle of the Lake District or Suffolk; they will be in areas where we really need to know how we are dealing with this. As part of our work to assess and progress towards the targets, we have invested £1 million to expand the PM2.5 monitoring network this year. By the end of 2025 we will have invested a further £10 million to at least double the size of the original PM2.5 network, adding well over 100 monitoring stations. As I have said, we have over 500 sites across the UK, and I have seen the data. It is precise and shows us where the problems are. We will spend a further £9 million running and maintaining 14 national networks.

I am conscious of the time, and I will start hearing grumbles. I want noble Lords to understand that I would like to pluck out every achievable target we have measured and make this Government and future Governments entirely accountable for their delivery. However, we have to do it in a way that is legal—that is within the law. If the Secretary of State of any Government chose targets that were not achievable, a lawyers’ frenzy would result.

If the noble Baroness were able to get the Government of the day to stop a particular activity that was polluting at PM2.5, those behind that activity would be able to take that Government to court and say, “You are not obeying the law. The law says your targets should be achievable”. As these targets are not achievable, we do not want to create a feeding frenzy for lawyers. The target, alongside the suite of Environment Act targets, will ensure that we meet our commitment and leave the environment in a better state than we found it. I commend these draft regulations to the House.

My Lords, very briefly, I remind the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that it is the Government who actually set the policy and targets. I would be very happy to swap places with the Minister, sit where he sits and set the policy on this matter in the very near future.

On the Minister’s response, I am not asking him or anybody else to break the law; I am just asking for more ambition, because this is a serious health problem—I do not want the Minister to break the law at all. As he said, this has been a fairly long debate, so I thank everybody who has supported my amendment. I really appreciate the support and the important comments on, and reminders of, the serious health implications we are talking about. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.