Clean Air (Human Rights)

– in the House of Commons am 12:41 pm ar 17 Ionawr 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 12:43, 17 Ionawr 2024

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish the right to breathe clean air;
to require the Secretary of State to achieve and maintain clean air in England;
to involve the UK Health Security Agency in setting and reviewing pollutants and their limits;
to enhance the powers, duties and functions of various agencies and authorities in relation to air pollution;
to establish the Citizens’ Commission for Clean Air with powers to institute or intervene in legal proceedings;
to require the Secretary of State and the relevant national authorities to apply environmental principles in carrying out their duties under this Act and the clean air enactments;
and for connected purposes.

In 2013, the life of nine-year-old Ella Roberta Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was tragically cut short when she suffered a fatal asthma attack. Ella lived close to the heavily congested south circular in Lewisham, and, following an inquest in 2020, became the first person to have air pollution listed on her death certificate, with the coroner, Philip Barlow, concluding that Ella:

“Died of asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.”

Next week would have been Ella’s 20th birthday, and I know that all our thoughts will be with her family at this time. I want to pay tribute to Ella’s mum Rosamund, who is in the Public Gallery today, for her incredible campaigning on air pollution, and to express my personal thanks to her for allowing this Bill to be called “Ella’s law” in memory of her daughter. It is an honour to be able to present it to the House today.

This Bill is needed because, to put it simply, the state of our filthy air is a public health emergency. Air pollution is associated with conditions such as asthma, heart disease and cancer, and has been shown to have an impact on our mental health too, leading to an increased risk of schizophrenia, depression and anxiety. Its impacts are not equally felt, however, with those on low incomes and from black and ethnic minority backgrounds far more likely to live in polluted areas. It is children’s health that is affected most of all. A study published just last week by the University of Dundee revealed an increase in the number of under-16s admitted to hospital for respiratory problems following periods of high air pollution, while a 2019 study conducted by King’s College London showed that living within 50 metres of a busy road could stunt children’s lung growth by up to 14%. Let me put that in context: it is estimated that in London a third of the population—about 3 million people—live near a busy road.

It is therefore profoundly shocking, but perhaps not entirely surprising, that the UK has one of the highest rates of asthmatic children across Europe, with one in 11 young people living with asthma. It has been calculated that cleaner air could prevent up to 43,000 avoidable deaths in the UK each year, and it could save the public purse billions as well. Estimates of the public cost of air pollution total as much as £20 billion each year, including the cost of the impact on social care and on our crumbling NHS. It could not be more urgent for the Government to take action to clean up our air and protect lives, both now and in the future, could not be more urgent, but, although their current approach is vastly insufficient, Ministers remain bullish in defending their efforts. Indeed, last year the Prime Minister himself told me:

“We are confident that the measures we are putting in place are not only legally binding but world leading in tackling air quality.”

He went on to say that the Environment Act 2021 provided

“the capability, accountability and ambition” needed

“to make all the effective interventions to drive down air pollution.”—[Official Report, 1 February 2023;
Vol. 727, c. 338.]

The reality is, however, that the Environment Act did very little to help deliver clean air, and it is certainly not “world leading”. The environmental target that did get made under it—to reduce levels of PM2.5 to 10 micrograms per cubic metre—falls short of the new World Health Organisation guideline of 5 micrograms per cubic metre, and could certainly be achieved far earlier than the Government’s target date of 2040. Indeed, when Professor Frank Kelly of Imperial College London, an adviser to the World Health Organisation on health and pollution, recently gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, he stated very clearly:

“Our studies showed that 99.8% of the UK could achieve a figure of 10 micrograms per metre cubed by 2030 and the 0.2% that could not were certain hotspots in London, which again if you took extra measures on you could probably eliminate those as well.”

Professor Sir Stephen Holgate from the University of Southampton, a special adviser on air quality to the Royal College of Physicians, subsequently wrote to the Committee to confirm that such a change would result in about 20 fewer infant deaths each year—20 fewer lives lost, and 20 families saved from unimaginable heartache.

Given that the Mayor of London has already committed himself to delivering on this more ambitious target, and given such significant benefits, it is incumbent on Ministers to explain why the current legal limit remains so unambitious. They must also set out, as a matter of urgency, how they will meet the new WHO guidelines, which have halved the limit for PM2.5 to 5 micrograms per cubic metre in response to the marked increase in evidence showing how air pollution affects different aspects of our health. In the words of the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty,

“We can and should go further—and it is technically possible to do so.”

The Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, or Ella’s law, would set out an entirely new approach to delivering clean air in England. It would enshrine the human right to clean air precisely and explicitly in English law, thereby transforming decision making by public authorities by requiring them to consider clean air alongside other rights under the Human Rights Act. It would be a step towards incorporating the 2022 resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly, which recognises the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. It follows a “one air” approach that encompasses the health and environmental impacts of air pollution and greenhouse gases, and it would set standards based on advice from the Climate Change Committee and on the WHO’s new air quality guidelines and require the Secretary of State to achieve clean air within five years, with the possibility of postponement for up to a further five years per pollutant, subject to strict conditions. The Environment Agency and the Climate Change Committee would be required to review the pollutants and the limits annually and advise the Secretary of State if they needed tightening.

The Bill also covers air pollution, both outdoors and indoors, in public spaces, and where health and safety standards apply. The tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, brought on by “extensive” mould in his family’s flat, shone a spotlight on the significance of indoor air pollution. While I welcome the prompt action taken by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up in bringing forward Awaab’s law—a law that should now, frankly, also be applied to the private rented sector through the Renters (Reform) Bill—it is clear that legislation to address indoor air pollution must extend beyond the home too, especially since on average we spend around 80% of our lives indoors, whether for work, study or leisure. Finally, in order to ensure independent scrutiny and continuous improvement, the Bill would establish a citizens commission for clean air, which would review annually the Secretary of State’s compliance with the provisions of the Bill and advise the Secretary of State where improvement was needed.

This Bill has already undergone significant scrutiny in the other place, after my noble Friend and Green party peer, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, topped the private Member’s Bill ballot in the previous parliamentary Session. It has already been extensively debated, amended and improved and it received cross-party support, including from Lord Randall of Uxbridge, a former environment adviser to Mrs May when she was Prime Minister. He said:

“We have waited too long for proper clean air legislation…I urge the Minister to take this back and say that it is a golden opportunity to do something really wonderful. The Government could take pride in being part of a world-beating Bill”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 November 2022;
Vol. 825, c. 1133.]

He was absolutely right. By taking up Ella’s law, the Government have a real opportunity to genuinely lead the world in tackling this pressing public health emergency, and I urge them to take it.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Caroline Lucas, Mr Barry Sheerman, Layla Moran, Ian Byrne, Dan Carden and Munira Wilson present the Bill.

Caroline Lucas accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 14 June, and to be printed (Bill 145).