Four Committees launch a joint inquiry on air quality

20 March 2017

MPs from four select committees have combined forces to launch an unprecedented joint inquiry on air quality to scrutinise cross-government plans to tackle urban pollution hotspots.

Health and environmental impacts

The Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health, and Transport Committees will hold four evidence sessions to consider mounting scientific evidence on the health and environmental impacts of outdoor air pollution.

Clean air plan

The Government has lost two UK court cases about its plans to tackle the key pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The High Court has ordered the Government to publish a draft new clean air plan to tackle NO2 by 24 April, with a final plan by 31 July.

Poor air quality is contributing to the early deaths of some 40,000 people in the UK each year. The European Commission has also threatened enforcement which could see the UK pay millions of pounds in fines if the Government does not within two months take steps to bring 16 UK zones within legal pollution limits.

Chairs' comments

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Health Committee said

"Poor air quality is affecting on the health of millions of people across the U.K. because of the impact of invisible particulates and other pollutants. Our joint inquiry will include an examination of the scale of the harm caused and the action necessary to tackle it."

MPs will examine whether revised Government plans required by the courts to be published by 24 April will go far enough to cut pollution, not only to meet legal limits but also to deliver maximum health and environmental benefits.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee said:

"The UK courts have twice told the Government to raise its game to clean up our filthy air because of European Union legislation. My Committee has repeatedly pressed Ministers on their plans for improving air quality as we leave the EU; we hope that the new air quality plan, and this unique joint inquiry, will give us more clarity."

Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the Transport Select Committee said:

"The UK economy depends on an efficient and flexible transport system but emissions from vehicles are a significant problem and the standards that governments have relied on have not delivered the expected reductions. We will be asking what more can be done to increase the use of cleaner vehicles as well as to encourage the use of sustainable modes of transport."

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said:

"The solutions to cleaning up our air are not the responsibility of just one minister. That’s why we have taken the unprecedented task of convening four select committees so we can scrutinise the Government’s efforts from every angle and look for holistic solutions that are good for health, transport and the environment."

Terms of reference

The Committees will be considering the following questions:

  • How effectively do Government policies take account of the health and environmental impacts of poor air quality?
  • Are the Government's revised plans for tackling nitrogen dioxide levels sufficient to meet the High Court and European Commission requirements for urgent action?
  • Does the revised plan set out effective and proportionate measures for reducing emissions from transport?
  • Is there sufficient cross-government collaboration to ensure the right fiscal and policy incentives are adopted to ensure air quality targets are achieved?

Deadline for submissions

In order to inform the Committees' hearing with Ministers, any written submissions which stakeholders may wish to make should be made no later than 5 pm on Friday, 12 May 2017. Written evidence can be submitted through the improving air quality inquiry page.

The Committees value diversity and seek to ensure this where possible. We encourage members of underrepresented groups to submit written evidence


  • There has been increasing public and professional concern about the health and environmental effects of air pollution over the last decade. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates have been causes of particular concern.
  • The Government has lost two UK court cases concerning its plans to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air.
  1. The High Court ruling on 2 November in the case of ClientEarth v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is at
  2. "Commission warns Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom on continued air pollution breaches", European Commission Press Release IP/17/238
  • On 15 February, the European Commission issued a 'reasoned opinion' requiring the Government to take action within two months in 16 UK zones currently exceeding these limits—or face infraction proceedings. 

Further information

Image: PA

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