A TOUGHER legal air pollution limit and stricter rules on the discharge of raw sewage into rivers were stripped from the Environment Bill by MPs, amid Tory backbench pressure for swifter Government action.

Peers amended the flagship legislation to set a target for curbing particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution, which is at least as strict as World Health Organisation guidance, by 2030 at the latest.

Their proposal followed the tragic case of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who suffered a fatal asthma attack in 2013.

The coroner’s report, following a second inquest which ruled that excessive air pollution contributed to her death, called for legally-binding goals for dangerous pollutants that are in line with the WHO.

But MPs voted 307 to 185, majority 122, to disagree with the Lords amendment and remove the proposal from the Bill.

Somerset MPs Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) - herself an Environment Minister, Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset), Marcus Fysh (Yeovil), James Heappey (Wells), David Warburton (Somerton and Frome), Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset), John Penrose (Weston super Mare) and Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset), voted against the amendment.

In a separate vote on proposals designed to clean up rivers, 22 Conservative MPs rebelled in a failed bid to retain proposals from the Lords in the Bill.

MPs voted 268 to 204, majority 64, to disagree with proposals tabled by Crossbench peer the Duke of Wellington which sought to place a new duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane), Marcus Fysh (Yeovil), James Heappey (Wells), David Warburton (Somerton and Frome), Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset), John Penrose (Weston super Mare) and Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset), voted against the amendment.

There was no vote recorded for Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset).

During the debate on air pollution, Conservative Neil Parish, who chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said setting an “ambitious” target would help “drive action to meet the Government’s commitment to net-zero by 2050”.

He added: “I support a binding commitment to publish a target after a full consultation, but I need to be clear that this is an urgent issue and I will continue to hold the Government to account.

“October 2022 must be the absolutely last point at which we put a proper target on reducing PM2.5 into law or lower.”

Chard & Ilminster News:
VOTES (OR NOT): From Somerset MPs

Conservative former minister Sir Bob Neill said he had a “nagging concern” about removing an amendment without putting something “firmer” in the way of action in its place.

For Labour, shadow environment minister Ruth Jones said the Government’s approach to air quality has been “ruled unlawful multiple times”, adding: “The time for hot air from the Government benches is over and I would encourage all colleagues… to realise that this is the time to get a proper and comprehensive approach to cleaning our air in this Bill.”

Ms Jones later paid tribute to Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, the mother of Ella, for her campaigning.

The MP said Ms Kissi-Debrah had described the Bill as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to improve air quality.

Ms Jones said: “That is why I am disappointed to hear the minister say today she is delaying until next October on this consultation about air quality because that means an additional 36,000 to 40,000 people in the UK could die prematurely due to exposure to air pollution.

“Among these are 22 to 24 children and young people who die from asthma every year, with 8 to 12 of these children living in London.”

Labour’s Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) also criticised the Government for its “glacially slow movement” on air pollution laws.

For the Government, environment minister Ms Pow insisted “we are not moving as slowly” as had been suggested and highlighted the Clean Air Strategy.

She also stressed the importance of having a public consultation on the issue, adding: “We will be consulting.

“It would be wrong to set, for example, a specific number if indeed we found that number should be lower. We also got to have a public consultation on this and we will be doing that early next year and members of the public will want to understand the health impact and what the impact will be on their lives for the measures that will be taken.”

The Bill seeks to write environmental principles in UK law for the first time, following Brexit.

It runs the risk of becoming stuck in “ping-pong”, where a piece of legislation moves between the two Houses until agreement can be reached, as the UK prepares to host the Cop26 global climate summit in Glasgow from October 31.

Peers made several changes but MPs removed some of them, including on targets to protect species.

The Commons voted to remove an amendment designed to guarantee the independence of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) and instead backed a measure for new guidance over the new environmental watchdog.

But MPs agreed to a proposal to allow charges to be levied on all single-use items and not just those made of plastic.

It is part of efforts to tackle the nation’s throwaway society.

It followed concerns existing materials could be replaced by alternatives to make disposable items, such as wooden cutlery, which come with their own environmental costs.

The Bill will now return to the Lords for further scrutiny.