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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for presenting the order. The order has the support of the devolved administrations and of the British Potato Council. As the noble Baroness said, it does not result in any increase to the Exchequer, as I read it, but is calculated to yield a net benefit to the British Potato Council of some 40,000 per year. It also reduces administration costs which must be welcome. It is calculated to benefit the potato industry by approximately 99,000 per year. That benefit will accrue to the smaller producers and merchants, which we welcome.

However, I have two questions for the Minister. First, the change in the statutory date for making planting returns from 15th May to 1st June is a good idea as it ties in with the IACS deadlines. That seems common sense. Has consideration been given to a wet spring occurring and planting being delayed? Is there any flexibility in the dates laid down in the order? Could they be altered or a derogation made? Nowadays as a result of climate change, it is not unusual regularly to experience very wet seasons.

Secondly, two levy rates for both growers and purchasers exist at present: a basic rate where payment is made by a due date, and a higher rate for late payments. These new proposals will catch those members who have paid on time and who have in the past received a 1 discount. I understand that that applied to about 70 per cent of members. It would be unfair if they lost out under the new system. The noble Baroness is probably aware that the 1 discount has never featured in the Potato Industry Development Council Order. I hope that when the noble Baroness replies to the debate she will comment on that matter.

As the noble Baroness will be well aware, potato prices for free market potatoes are desperately low. The order should help some of the UK's smaller producers and merchants which we welcome. We support the order.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for presenting the order. I agree with many of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. It is clearly beneficial for small producers and purchasers to be removed from the requirements of the scheme. We very much welcome that. We welcome the fact that bureaucracy, and the amount of money that the British Potato Council spends on bureaucracy, will be reduced. We also welcome the changes with regard to the dates for providing information relating to the planting and lifting of potatoes. I await with interest the response to the sensible question asked in that regard, given the fact that our climate appears to be increasingly erratic.

I have a further general question. I understand that the constitution of the British Potato Council allows for only one marketing specialist member out of

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16 members. Given the present state of the market, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred, are the Government satisfied that enough proactive marketing is taking place? We on these Benches support the order.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for their comments. The early payment discount is not covered by the order. Its replacement by a dual levy rate provides legal certainty. However, the loss of the early payment discount will be taken into consideration when the British Potato Council sets its levy rates for future years.

I welcome the recognition on the part of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord of the important issue of help for smaller producers. An important part of the council's work comprises disseminating accurate market information. Prompt submission of returns is essential for that and also helps the council to pursue the promotional activities that the Government, the council and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, wish to see.

The BPC will look kindly on returns that are submitted late due to difficult planting conditions. The order proposes to extend the deadline from 15th May to 1st June to allow returns to be submitted with greater certainty in seasons when planting conditions are difficult. I hope that I have covered the points that were raised.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Air Quality (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2002

4.28 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 14th November be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Second Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty.

This statutory instrument relates to Part 4 of the Environment Act 1995. The Act provides for the publication by the Secretary of State of a national air quality strategy which must, among other things, contain standards relating to air quality, objectives for the restriction of the levels at which particular substances are present in the air, and measures to be taken by local authorities and others for the purpose of achieving the objectives.

The regulations amend the Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000 and prescribe new air quality objectives for benzene and carbon monoxide for the system of local air quality management. They create a second air quality objective for benzene of five micrograms per cubic metre or less expressed as an annual mean to be met by 31st December 2010. That is three times tighter than the current objective. They also replace the current objective for carbon monoxide with one of 10 milligrams per cubic metre or less when

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expressed as a maximum daily eight-hour running mean and to be met by 31st December 2003. That level is about 10 per cent tighter than the current objective. We set that objective to be met two years earlier than the corresponding European limit value.

The remaining provisions of the regulations concern changes to the interpretation note in the schedule to the 2000 regulations. They relate to the statistical methods to be applied in the case of the new air quality objectives. Regulation 2(3)(a) explains the meaning of the expression "maximum daily running 8 hour mean". The air quality objective for carbon monoxide is now set in terms of this expression. Sub-paragraphs (b) and (c) of regulation 2(3) are needed to make clear what is meant by the expression "annual mean" when it is used in the new air quality objective for benzene.

Local authorities must review and assess air quality in their areas against the prescribed objectives. When objectives are unlikely to be met, authorities must declare air quality management areas and prepare remedial action plans. Authorities do not have to meet the objectives but work towards them, because action to regulate sources of emissions often rests with other bodies, such as the Environment Agency or the Government. Modelling indicates that the new objectives should be met largely by present policies. Local authorities' duties are supported through the revenue support grant settlement and the supplementary credit approval programme.

Air quality has improved considerably since the London smogs of the 1950s. The number of poor air quality days has fallen from 59 in 1993 to 21 in 2001. However, the problem is still serious. Experts estimate that up to 24,000 people die prematurely every year in the UK because of its effects, and long-term effects are significantly greater. Government measures have tightened controls on industrial and vehicle emissions. Our 10-year transport plan includes an investment programme of 180 billion to improve public transport, cut congestion and reduce pollution. That may be outweighed by increasing levels of traffic, however. Local air quality management will identify hotspots and enable action to be taken to tackle them. I commend the regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 14th November be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing the regulations before us.

In August, the Minister announced that air quality is getting better and that levels of most pollutants have fallen considerably over the past few years through measures to cut emissions from industry and traffic. I ask the Minister: is that optimism overshadowed by recent revelations that carbon dioxide levels have risen since 1997? If so, how can she be confident that the Government will reach their new targets?

I also understand that by 2010 the 24-hour objective of 50 micrograms per cubic metre will be exceeded no more than seven days a year in Scotland and most of

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the United Kingdom and no more than 10 days per year in London. When the Conservatives were in government, our target was not seven or 10 days, but four days a year by 2005. Will the Minister explain why lower targets have been set than were originally set by the Conservative government?

The proposed amendments to the Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000 are partly an outcome of the Government's consultations in September 2001 on the proposals for air quality objectives for particles, benzene, carbon monoxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. For the purposes of local air quality management, they are to be welcomed. Tighter long-term objectives for pollutants are necessary if the health protective focus of the air quality management regime is to be maintained.

In the current regulations, the running annual mean is the average of hourly levels of benzene recorded by monitoring equipment over 8,760 hours—the number of hours in the year. The new method will be based on readings taken over a 14-day period, which the Minister has explained. The daily means will be averaged over the year to give an average annual mean. I must admit that I found these regulations challenging.

We understand the reasoning behind the changes in methodology. It evens out the highs and lows of daily data that can be collected when certain vehicle types associated with fuels emitting higher levels of benzene, such as unleaded fuels, are present. It spreads the effect of the short-term local congestion, or when the benzene does not readily disperse because other environmental factors clock in, such as climatic conditions.

The air quality strategy for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was published in January 2001, and has set standards and objectives to be achieved for eight key air pollutants between 2003–08, including benzene. In addition to reviewing and assessing the ambient air quality in their areas, local authorities are charged with the task of achieving new objectives in a cost-effective way. Has any data research been established following the introduction of traffic-calming measures, especially with regard to the vast increase in the number of sleeping policemen in our cities and villages? I am sure that they have made a difference, because cars are forced to slow down and then regain the impetus to go over them.

It is perplexing that local authorities are not legally required to meet the new objectives, but only have to work towards them as part of their local air quality management duties under Part 4 of the Act.

Is air pollution from air travel included in the equation? Is the Minister not concerned about the rapidly expanding use of air travel? Indeed, research is being carried out into new build in respect of airports, which takes into account the forecast of a rapid rise in air travel in the next 20 years.

There is a national legal requirement to meet European objectives. It seems strange to set targets only of aspiration for local areas when we have

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national responsibilities to Europe in the form of a legal obligation. Whatever the regulations do, however, we hope that they succeed. It is in all our interests that air quality is of a better standard. I understand that, although the Government are urging local authorities to work towards the targets, they are not required or funded to do so. Will the Minister clarify that?

Air quality strategy must be based on sound science, but there comes a point at which the pursuit of ever-finer degrees of accuracy becomes a substitute for real action. We all want there to be better and cleaner air; it is a top priority for the public. We know that poor quality air has a direct effect on the good health of our citizens. For some, it affects the quality of their working life, but for others it affects their ability to enjoy everyday living.

I thank the Minister for bringing this important statutory instrument before us. I am sorry that I have asked her so many questions, but I look forward to her response.

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