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Clean Air

Volume 727: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2023

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

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish the right to breathe clean air; to make provision for the purpose of reducing indoor and outdoor air pollution, including greenhouse gases; to set minimum standards for air quality in workplaces, homes and public spaces; to require the monitoring of air quality; to require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for reducing air pollution, including setting targets and measures for air quality, and to report to Parliament annually on the implementation of that strategy; to give powers to the Office for Environmental Protection to enforce legislation relating to air quality and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; to make provision for the purpose of reducing pollution from vehicles; to place a duty on the Secretary of State to encourage and facilitate forms of active travel and to publish a strategy for reducing emissions from transport; to require the Secretary of State to promote public awareness of the impact of air pollution on public health; to place restrictions on the use of wood-burning stoves in urban areas; and for connected purposes.

I first moved a Clean Air Bill on 1 November 2016 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act 1956. Since then, I have been the chair of the all-party group, so I am pleased to present this Bill, 70 years on from the great London smog that incited that 1956 Act. My Bill comes hot on the heels of another clean air Bill, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, which I wholly support. We should have a right to life, to a healthy environment and to clean air, as set out by the United Nations.

I am pleased we have in our presence Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who has pioneered the clean air issue. This month, tragically, is the 10th anniversary of the death of her daughter, Ella, who was the first person whose cause of death was recorded as air pollution on a death certificate. The coroner said it was crucial that we enforce World Health Organisation air quality standards and have greater awareness of the public health risks among GPs and the public. Those provisions need to be in any clean air Bill or Act as Ella’s law.

Globally, some 9 million people are dying prematurely from dirty air. In Britain, the figures are around 64,000, at a cost of £24 billion to the economy and the NHS, particularly through productivity loss. We are looking at lung cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and obesity. Babies, children and old people are being affected in their physical and mental health through their lives. These are avoidable risks. We have a situation where The Lancet is saying that 41 of 52 cities breach the 2014 World Health Organisation standards of 10 micrograms per cubic metre for PM2.5, which is unacceptable.

Pollution provokes allergies, and something like 21 million people in Britain have allergies. We are in the top three nations in the world for allergies. We have 5.4 million people with asthma. We know that air pollution provokes childhood asthma and sometimes, tragically, death. According to Harvard and the Max Planck Institute, the death rate from covid in more polluted areas is 8% to 12% higher than otherwise. That is particularly the case for poorer and more diverse polluted areas, which accounts a great deal for such discrepancies in death rates and infection rates among different groups during the pandemic. Those were avoidable.

The focus naturally has tended to be on outdoor air pollution—the so-called natural environment that the Environment Act 2021 dealt with, talking about such things as the transport industry, agriculture and so on—forgetting that we spend 90% of our time indoors. Something like 900 dangerous chemicals have been found indoors that impact on people’s health, ranging from building materials to volatile organic compounds, cleaning agents and flame retardants. Cooking, mould and damp can generate asthma. Candles are very unhealthy as well. We have a cocktail of poisonous chemicals indoors then mixing up with what is outdoors, which is causing major problems. We have seen some reduction in nitrogen oxides but, ironically, that will generate more ozone, which will generate more indoor air pollution.

We also have the growth of wood burners. Something like 1.5 million people have wood burners, and they are often middle-class people in urban environments who have central heating. They are polluting themselves and their communities, because wood burners are six times worse than HGVs for generating particulates. The Government need to be brave on that and take action to restrict the use and sale of wood burners.

The Government’s ambitions and targets are frankly hopeless in comparison with the EU. The Government have said, “We will achieve 10 micrograms of PM2.5 by 2040”, while the EU is saying it will achieve that target by 2030, which is 10 years earlier. That will mean thousands of unnecessary deaths in Britain. Ten micrograms is not anywhere near the current WHO guideline of five micrograms. The report commissioned by the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, into indoor air pollution found that we need better ventilation and filtration—better indoor air quality—to ensure that we can save an estimated £1.3 trillion over the next 60 years. The chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, has written a report to highlight that there is much greater infection from poorly ventilated environments, and recommended improving that in work, home and transport infrastructure, as well as focusing on wood burners.

We need greater awareness, so that people who take their children to school know that they are being polluted in the school and the playground, and to generate political pressure on local authorities, Members of Parliament and other representatives for change. We need a holistic view. It is all very well that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has some targets and the NHS picks up increasing numbers of people with all sorts of conditions, including dementia and lung, brain and heart conditions, as I have mentioned. We need the transport team involved. We need a fiscal strategy from the Treasury. We need a holistic approach that brings together all Departments in a way that takes this issue seriously.

We talk the talk on net zero, but the truth is that both air pollution and net zero are generated by one thing: burning fossil fuels. Reducing air pollution should be seen as a driver for delivering net zero rather than a helpful by-product, but that is not how it is seen. We could have new innovation by generating hydrogen from off-peak renewables and feeding that into the gas grid, so when you boil an egg there is less of a carbon footprint and much less toxicity in what you breathe, particularly if you do not ventilate. We need proper enforcement. Under the EU, ClientEarth was able to take the Government to court and have fines imposed. The Office for Environmental Protection needs teeth, which it currently does not have.

The Government’s first duty should be to protect their citizens. Citizens have the right to clean air and health. A Labour Government will bring in a clean air Act, but in the meantime it is imperative that we all do everything we can now to save as many lives as possible—for Ella, for all our children, and for all our tomorrows.

Question put and agreed to.


That Geraint Davies, John Mc Nally, Layla Moran, Ben Lake, Rosie Duffield, Ian Byrne, Debbie Abrahams, Dawn Butler, Mr Virendra Sharma, Dan Jarvis, Caroline Lucas and Christine Jardine present the Bill.

Geraint Davies accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 239).