Lord Tope debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 13th Sep 2021
Mon 5th Jul 2021

Environment Bill

Lord Tope Excerpts
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, after that welcome from the noble Baroness in her introduction, I feel that I should go next in speaking in support of this amendment. I should declare that I live in Cardiff, which is one of the pilot areas of the 20 miles per hour speed limit, and we have already found that the air quality has improved, but the transit time from one place to another has not increased—contrary to rumours that that had happened. The difference is that the traffic is calmer; children walking to and from school are safer; and there is less bad behaviour generally on the roads with people being aggravated and pulling away fast at lights.

I have spoken at length about the problem of non-exhaust pollution and that is all on the record, so I will not go over the damage caused to human health by that. However, I remind everyone that, as well as decreasing fatal accidents, the lower speed limit also decreases accidents where there are life-changing injuries.

Given that we are trying to increase walking and cycling and that the Highway Code has been rewritten, moving to 20 miles per hour on our roads generally is very sensible. I have noticed that in London, where some areas are limited to 20 and others are not, drivers are confused but it is easier for cyclists and pedestrians, and it is easier as a driver to see them if they are going just a little slower.

I am afraid I cannot see any arguments at all against the Government accepting this amendment, other than the theory that some people think it might take them longer to get from A to B. However, I do not think that has been proven in practice.

Lord Tope Portrait Lord Tope (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 55 in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Randall, and to my Amendment 56 also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and co-president of London Councils, the body that represents the 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation.

Amendment 55 is a development of the amendments that I moved in Committee. It would grant local authorities a discretionary power to control emissions from combustion plant where they choose to declare an area as an air quality improvement area. Amendment 56 would increase the penalty for the offence of stationary idling committed in an air quality improvement area.

As we are all only too aware, air pollution has a terrible impact on human health, contributing to some 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. The Government have recognised the seriousness of the problem of poor air quality and that local authorities have an important role to play in delivering reductions in PM2.5. Indeed, local authorities have a statutory duty to reduce emissions in their area, but they do not have sufficient powers to take effective action to achieve such reductions. My amendments seek to give substance to remedying that.

Public attention has understandably been focused more on the need to cut emissions from vehicles, but very little has been said of non-road pollution and emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, dangerous carcinogens that penetrate deep into our lungs and bloodstream. Many emissions are from non-road sources, collectively referred to as combustion plant. As we make improvements in reducing emissions from vehicles, we must also shift our focus to include these other sources of pollution.

To illustrate the importance of tackling non-road emissions, I gave examples in Committee of the City of London. Under the Covid-19 lockdown last year—2020—the square mile saw a 40% decrease in levels of nitrogen oxide compared to 2019, before lockdown. However, levels of PM2.5, the pollutant most damaging to human health, remained at roughly the same level despite the significant reduction in transport activity.

Amendment 55 would insert a new clause granting unitary authorities and district councils in England, as well as the Court of Common Council of the City of London, the power under the proposed new clause to designate an area within its borders as an air quality improvement area if that area exceeds any air quality target for nitrogen dioxide, NO2; particulate matter, PM10; or fine particulate matter, PM2.5, as set out under Clause 1 or 2, or if the area exceeds the World Health Organization air quality guidance for those pollutants. This designation would in effect be a gateway to implementing a range of air quality measures provided for in regulations to be made by the Secretary of State.

The amendment would oblige the Secretary of State under subsection (5) to make regulations setting out the controls that may be applied by the local authority, providing local authorities with a menu of restrictions to choose from. That could include restrictions as to the type of plant by reference to the level of pollution emitted by that plant, or it could apply to plants such as boilers, generators, combined heat and power plant and non-road mobile machinery such as construction machinery.

The regulations could also contain restrictions on the operation of stationary generators in premises within the designated area except where the electricity supply to the premises was disrupted. Many office buildings have back-up diesel generators in the event of a power cut, but instead they are operated to lower the building’s electricity costs by selling electricity back to the grid. Providing for this restriction in the regulations would enable local authorities to set periods when the operation of these generators would be prohibited except in the case of a power cut.

Local authorities would be required by subsection (2) to specify in the designation which restrictions from the menu of restrictions set out in the regulations they wished to apply, in which area, to which types of plant, from which date and time and under which circumstances. The designating local authority would be required to publish details of any restrictions that it wished to implement at least two months before the designation took effect and to advertise the designation in newspapers circulating in the area and on the local authority’s website.

The regulatory framework established by the amendment would give the Secretary of State the flexibility to determine which restrictions should be made available to local authorities and would then leave local authorities the discretion to apply the restrictions that they knew would work best in their area. That would follow the example of the existing regulatory framework of smoke control areas, established by the Clean Air Act 1993, in ensuring that the cleanest applianceswere used in the most polluted areas.

At present, some local authorities attempt to use planning controls to regulate various types of polluting plant. Not surprisingly, that has proved ineffective because planning controls were never intended to be used in that manner. Similarly, attempts to use the environmental permitting framework to give local authorities a means of regulating polluting plants in their area do not really work. It is an unnecessarily cumbersome, expensive, bureaucratic and time-consuming way of dealing with smaller static plant, and does not work effectively for mobile plant. Neither does the existing framework of air quality management areas, set out in the Environment Act 1995, deliver the much-needed powers provided by Amendment 55.

Local authorities are keen to do more on air pollution and are in a good position to know the best way to do so in their area, but they find themselves unable to take the action required. The amendment would provide an easy mechanism for local authorities to act, providing a gateway to implementing any range of air quality measures provided for in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Amendment 56 relates to the stationary idling of vehicles. More action needs to be taken to reduce this avoidable pollution. Stationary idling is already illegal but the penalty of £20 is derisory these days and hardly a deterrent. The amendment would insert a new clause that would increase the penalty for stationary idling within the designated area to £100, rising to £150 in certain circumstances, in order to deter those who are unwilling to change their behaviour and do not respond to awareness campaigns. Above all, it better recognises the seriousness of the issue.

The amendments are intended to give local authorities the power to bring about the reduction in emissions that all of us, not least the Minister, want. They would equip local authorities with the tools to deliver on their new obligations under the Bill. We have an opportunity in the Bill to empower local authorities across the country to tackle more effectively the problem of non-road emissions, with the potential to make a significant impact in combating poor air quality.

The Minister has recognised that local authorities have an important role to play in improving air quality. The amendments would enable them to do so, and I look forward to their acceptance.

Environment Bill

Lord Tope Excerpts
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am extremely happy to see so many noble Lords interested in this issue, because it is a massive national health issue that we really have to do something about. I agree completely that “20’s plenty”. Reducing the speed limit to 20 mph would not only reduce emissions and improve the health of people living alongside those roads but reduce the number of casualties—the road deaths and injuries—that cost the nation a fortune in social services, the NHS and policing. Anything to do with lowering the speed limit has a lot of benefits. The only negative appears to be a few irate car drivers who think that it is okay to drive at 80 or 90 mph in towns and cities.

My amendments seek to create a comprehensive system of targets, monitoring and funding to reduce air pollution levels to World Health Organization guideline levels. I know that we are not supposed to get involved in money or government finances, but it is not possible to end this crisis without significant public spending. The Government must make the money available to local authorities to transform their communities and clean up their air.

I first became aware of the huge problem of air pollution in London when I was on the London Assembly. I lived through Ken Livingstone’s eight years and the Boris Johnson’s eight years in power; Ken Livingstone did seem to get this, and the congestion charge obviously helped. In Boris Johnson’s time, we were in the build-up to the Olympics. At that point, there were only two monitoring stations in London from which the EU—it oversaw and monitored our air pollution—accepted information. One of the stations was on Marylebone Road, opposite Madame Tussauds. It is still there, and the intake pipe is some 12 feet above the road. Anybody who understands anything about air pollution knows that it is mostly lower, and that is why we should be very careful with children in prams, but this was 12 feet up. Our air was still polluted and higher than EU levels, so that gives an indication of how dirty our air was then.

My amendments are based on my clean air Bill that I keep putting into the ballot to be debated here. It has had a lot of legal input; I clearly think it is the best, but I am prepared to discuss this. One measure that Boris Johnson put in place because of the air pollution on the way to the Olympic Park was to install quite a lot of potted plants along the roadside. They were very attractive, but I am not sure that they did much to reduce the pollution—but he had been told that they might, so he put them in.

It is obvious that local authorities also need tougher powers to clean up other dirty sources of pollution, so my Amendment 153 proposes powers to prohibit the use of fireplaces, wood-burning appliances, diesel vehicles and other sources of pollutants in air pollution improvement zones. The Government have recognised that something needs to be done on air pollution, and this is a very good Bill to do it in. It will be very embarrassing if we get to COP 26 and still have this sort of pollution problem.

In summary, air pollution is a national health crisis: it costs us billions every year. It affects the old and the young. Several of us have mentioned Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived next to a dirty, filthy road and died at nine years old because of her asthma. It is children who will have health problems all their lives because of living near polluted roads. This Bill is an ideal opportunity to fix this problem. We know what the solutions are, and they are here in these amendments, so I hope that the Government accept them.

Lord Tope Portrait Lord Tope (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and co-president of London Councils, the body that represents the 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation.

I will speak to Amendments 156A to 156M in my name. In doing so, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for adding her name to them, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who has confirmed to me her support for these amendments but sadly was a little too late to add her name.

We are starting now to consider the part of this Bill on air quality and it is, perhaps, interesting and relevant to note that today is the anniversary of the date on which Royal Assent was given to the first national Clean Air Act, back in 1956. The problem is still very much with us; indeed, in many respects, it is much worse than it was then. Air pollution is a very serious problem which affects us all. It contributes to up to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, so I welcome the Government’s acknowledgment of the risk that poor air quality presents to human health.