My Lords, I am not going to lie to the House, nor am I going to be modest: this is an absolutely brilliant Bill, and I think the Government would be very wise to accept it in its entirety exactly as it is.
I have worked to reduce air pollution for more than 20 years. I was on the London Assembly for 16 years, during which I time I pressed both mayors, Ken Livingstone for eight years and the current Prime Minister for a further eight years. Ken Livingstone took action with the introduction of the low emission zone. I also pressed Boris Johnson for action, and he acted with pot plants lining busy roads and attempts to spray the roads near monitoring stations with a type of glue that would bind the pollution to the road surface so it would not be measured. To be fair, he came up with the idea of the ultra-low emission zone, and it was so brilliant an idea that he left the next mayor to do it. I do not want to kick a man when he is down, but basically he has behaved no differently from most others on this issue.
I have witnessed politicians of all parties fail to deal with this public health emergency when in government. Year after year for the past two decades, I have seen the same press statement from Defra playing down the problem and stating that it is just about solved. Year after year, I have witnessed the Government hiding information about bad air days and air pollution episodes because it might scare the public into demanding action. The result has been an invisible killer being allowed to take victims while the Government sit by and Ministers lose three consecutive court cases over their failure to have a decent plan.
Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi-Debrah was one of those victims. She was nine years old and regularly travelled along the polluted South Circular Road. This Bill is named in her honour after her mother’s amazing fight to get air pollution put as a medical cause of death on Ella’s death certificate. Her mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, is here with us today listening to our debate. Ella was the first person in this country to have that recognised, and the fact that it took a hard-working team of lawyers and an incredibly brave mother to show that it was the case speaks volumes about the official silence regarding the impacts of air pollution.
The most Ella’s mother Rosamund might have heard about air pollution from the Government was the one official warning a year, around spring time. No matter how many times air pollution went over the official limits, the Government issued just one press statement a year. In fact, they even stopped doing that after the 2011 press release coincided with a major air pollution event and made it on to the pages of all the national newspapers. It would be many years before the new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, started putting pollution alerts on bus stops and other TfL outlets. So it was left to Rosamund’s team to dig up the information and prove that air pollution caused and worsened Ella’s asthma and was a medical cause of her tragic death.
My view is that warning people about air pollution and acting to keep everyone, particularly the vulnerable, safe is what Governments should be doing. The health of the people should be their primary aim. They are not, and no Government since the 1950s have taken it seriously. That is why this legislation to make clean air a human right is so essential. This Bill would enshrine the human right to clean air precisely and explicitly in UK law. It would also require the Secretary of State to assess air pollution in England and Wales and to publish and report detailed information about it, including warnings when needed. If noble Lords are in any doubt about the seriousness of the issues I am raising, please spend a few minutes talking to Rosamund, who is prepared to meet any and all noble Lords. She will explain exactly what happened to her daughter and why it is so important that this Bill passes.
Importantly, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 8 October 2021 that acknowledged the importance of a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as critical to the enjoyment of all human rights. The UK Government voted in favour of that resolution, as I hope they will again when it comes before the UN General Assembly later this month for adoption globally.
In order to ensure independent scrutiny and continuous improvement, this Bill establishes a citizens’ commission for clean air, which would review annually the Secretary of State’s compliance with this Bill during the previous calendar year and advise the Secretary of State if any methods should be improved from the start of the subsequent year.
Importantly, the Bill deals with indoor pollution in new developments, the Underground and buildings regularly accessed by members of the public, including children. Crucially, it updates the Government’s targets by basing them on the best international advice, including the World Health Organization’s latest air quality guidelines. It would also push the Government and public authorities to act on the Climate Change Committee’s advice. Another big innovation in my Bill is that it follows a “one air” approach that encompasses the health and environmental impacts of air pollutants and greenhouse gases.
I can understand the Government’s reluctance to spend money or impose regulations, but the costs of dealing with this public health emergency are very similar to the costs of solving the climate crisis, because it is the same crisis and both are heading towards a zero-emission solution. In fact, my Bill offers the quickest, cheapest and most effective way to transformative action to address the UK’s largest environmental health risk. Overnight, public authorities would simply have to consider air pollution, including greenhouse gases, in every decision, in the way that equalities are currently considered. Some public authorities are beginning to do something similar when they apply a climate lens when taking decisions, but it will not be enough without this Bill.
I have seen the medical evidence accumulate regarding the benefits to our health and the NHS finances of taking action on air pollution: the link with long-term conditions such as heart conditions, lung damage, organ failure and Alzheimer’s. The more the scientists look, the more dangers they find from polluted air. These cost the NHS money and bring tragedy to families. If the Government take action on emissions, not only do they save lives but we help save the planet, which is why this green agenda makes so much sense.
The Environment Agency and Climate Change Committee would be required to review the pollutants and limits annually and advise the Secretary of State if they need tightening. The standards may be only tightened, not loosened. This legislation has a vision of a cleaner future and a modern approach to how we achieve that. It would support continuous improvement on an annual basis.
The Bill requires new regulations to enable the sale of appliances generating wholly renewable energy and enables energy efficiency improvements that reduce energy use and emissions of greenhouse gases. Part of this approach is to restrict the sale of combustion appliances that emit pollutants to the air, including wood-burning stoves. If the Bill becomes law, I will happily get rid of my partner’s wood-burning stove.
In passing, I thank the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for scrutinising my Bill and confirm that I am willing to propose amendments to the Bill to address its three recommendations. In essence, these amendments would align parts of the Bill relating to the tightening of future standards more closely to mechanisms in the Climate Change Act 2008 that require the Secretary of State to comply or explain to Parliament.
A lot of the responsibility for current clean air action falls to mayors and public authorities, yet they do not have the powers and resources to match that responsibility. The Bill seeks to change that by giving duties and matching powers and resources to national and local authorities, including metro mayors, to achieve clean air within five years, with annual reviews thereafter.
Finally, my Bill also has teeth. Where the Secretary of State or others have not achieved clean air by this deadline, nor otherwise complied with their duties under the Bill, the citizens’ commission for clean air may issue a notice requiring them to comply with their duty, take specific steps to achieve compliance and provide written information on the steps taken, or proposed to be taken, for the purpose of complying with their duty. This citizens’ commission for clean air is the new organisation set up to support people such as Rosamund by helping them to get justice via the courts.
The citizens’ commission for clean air may apply to the court for an order requiring a Minister to comply. The Bill would also allow it to institute or intervene in legal proceedings if relevant to the duty to achieve clean air. My Bill therefore proposes a practical and proportionate approach to enforcement. All this is underpinned by fundamental environmental principles that must be followed.
I give your Lordships a Bill that is detailed and comprehensive but, above all, necessary. If we could pass this Bill, Ella’s law, before the 70th anniversary of the great smog in December this year and the 10th anniversary of Ella’s death, on 15 February 2023, I think the country would thank us. It is too late to save Ella, but I hope this Bill will honour her memory.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on bringing the Bill forward. I agree with her that it is a very good Bill, and I wish it well in its passage through this House. I also congratulate the noble Baroness on coming top in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills. I was not so successful, but hopefully my Bill will get out of the traps next week.
Finding a solution to climate change is of the utmost importance and must be addressed globally. Our Government and local authorities all have a role to play in that as well. Surely it is a basic right to be able to avoid having to inhale polluted air, which can cause a plethora of life-threatening problems.
As the noble Baroness highlighted, the Bill seeks, among other things, to
“establish the right to breathe clean air”.
It introduces new obligations on the Secretary of State
“to achieve and maintain clean air in England and Wales”.
“the powers, duties and functions”
of relevant national authorities and other bodies, including local authorities. It involves
“the UK Health Security Agency in setting and reviewing pollutants and their limits”.
It establishes an independent body, the citizens’ commission for clean air,
“with powers to institute or intervene in legal proceedings”
and improve the situation.
As the noble Baroness mentioned, Ella was a young girl who sadly passed away in 2013. She has been spoken of many times in this House, and her mother Rosamund, who is present with us today, has been a tireless campaigner to ensure that other people do not suffer the tragic death that her daughter did. I have no doubt that Rosamund will get the law changed, even if not with this Bill. I am confident of that because the case is so right.
I grew up in south London—I lived in Southwark and Lewisham—so I spent many years travelling around the South Circular. It is certainly an area that is very polluted. It was reported that it was the eighth worst area in Great Britain for pollution. In the landmark case following Ella’s death, hers was the first death officially caused by air pollution, which clearly states the severity of the environmental situation in that part of south London.
But this is a matter that we can do something about. We can improve the situation. If pollution is lowered by one microgram per cubic metre, then in 18 years 50,000-plus cases of coronary heart disease, 16,000 strokes, 9,000 cases of asthma and 4,000 cases of lung cancer could be prevented. Combined, that amounts to 27,000 additional years of life in the UK alone with proper action, and 1,900 premature deaths prevented—the population of a small urban area. Surely this is a call to action that every noble Lord in this House can take up.
None of us is safe from these pernicious particles. We are at risk at every stage of our life. A child born into polluted air may have a low birthweight and can develop asthma, coughs and wheezing or simply not develop well as a child. Then as an adult there is the risk of diabetes, chronic bronchitis and other terrible illnesses. As we become older again, there is the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Surely that is a life that we do not want anyone to have to live.
The impact is not only on public health but also on the public pocket. It has been found by the Environmental Audit Committee that health problems can cost the country £20 billion a year, money that would be better spent on lives better lived. In 2013, the year of Ella’s passing, we saw the NHS spend £1.8 billion on respiratory ailments and £2.3 billion on cardiac illnesses. One heart transplant costs £44,000. Imagine how that money could be spent if we addressed this issue with prevention. We could save people’s lives and help them live better lives. We can do better.
The Bill would hold someone responsible for the crisis, allowing for additional scrutiny through the presentation of action and justification to Parliament. It could keep approximately 2,000 people alive longer. Each year between 28,000 to 36,000 people die as a result of air pollution. We must do something about this.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. In 2015, 1.3 billion kilograms of air pollutants were removed from the atmosphere of the UK. This saved around £1 billion to the UK public purse, due to less activity having to be taken in terms of respiratory illnesses in hospital.
As I say, I grew up in Southwark. The noble Baroness mentioned the health of the people. Outside the town hall in Southwark, which I know well, there is a sign that says:
“The Health of the People is the Highest Law”.
That was put there in the 1930s, and it is as relevant today as it was then.
Mention has also been made of smog. My mum always tells me about when I was born, coming home with me from Lambeth Hospital at Elephant and Castle through the smog, and how awful it was for my dad coming to see me in the hospital. I do not remember the smogs at all but in the 1960s they were here. However, the Clean Air Act improved things dramatically. We have more to do again now. This is a serious problem but the Government can act.
I hope the Minister will be able to give us some good news about support for the Bill. If we do not get that, I am sure Rosamund will still make this happen, but I hope the Government can support the Bill and that it has an easy passage through this House.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on her excellent Private Member’s Bill and her many years of campaigning on this issue. Frankly, the first line of the Bill says it all:
“Everyone has the right to breathe clean air and the Human Rights Act 1998 is to be read as though this were a Convention right.”
In December 2020 a coroner made legal history by ruling that air pollution was one of the causes of death of nine year-old Ella Adoo Kissi-Debrah in 2013, saying that she was exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in excess of World Health Organization guidelines, which exacerbated her severe asthma and put her into acute respiratory failure. I pay tribute to Rosamund, Ella’s mother, for her campaign to get that second coroner’s inquest and for her determination to ensure that in future others will not have to suffer and die as Ella did. This Bill is the vehicle to make that happen and I hope the Government will give it support.
Anyone who knows the South Circular Road in London, close to where Ella lived and went to school, knows how bad the air pollution can be there. Those of us with family members with severe asthma or other lung disease know the damage that can be done, especially to children’s lungs. Watching a child with lung problems struggling to breathe is one of the most distressing things that parents have to face, made infinitely worse when you know that air pollution in your local environment is making it worse. I have spoken before of my granddaughter. She was born prematurely with one-third of her lung tissue dead, and she used a ventilator for much of the first three years of her life. She lived just off the South Circular Road but has fairly recently moved away. There has been a noticeable improvement in her breathing and in general she does not get lung infections anything like as often as she used to—but there is a particular way in which small children try to draw in enough air where the diaphragm seems to disappear right up inside their sternum, and one never forgets the cough when they cannot catch their breath, especially after being outdoors on a day when pollution is bad. The frequent stays in hospital when there is an infection affects all the family, and of course there is a consequent effect on the child’s schooling, education and ability to make friends.
In 2016 the Royal College of Physicians alongside the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published Every Breath We Take, a report that examined the impact of exposure to air pollution across the life course. While the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said he thought deaths were around 25,000 to 30,000, the report says that around 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution. The health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution have a very high cost to our health services and businesses. In the UK, these costs add up to more than £20 billion every year. People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to live in environments where they are more exposed to air pollution and therefore suffer much more from the effects of exposure to high levels of air pollution.
This is a public health emergency, and the public health response to air pollution should always be about protecting humans and the environment in ways that are socially inclusive and equitable globally and across multiple generations. After the death of Ella, the coroner’s prevention of future deaths report outlined that legally binding targets based on the World Health Organization guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK. I therefore ask the Minister whether, following the Government’s current consultation on targets under the Environment Act 2021, they will set ambitious targets to reduce PM2.5 to 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030, with the ultimate objective of reducing annual mean concentration to five micrograms per cubic metre in line with the WHO air quality guideline values published last year.
Above all, can the Government please lead from the front? Many parts of our public sector need to be involved if we are going to make this happen, including local government and primary care as well as our hospitals and, most importantly, those involved in the environment so that we can reduce the damage that this pollution is doing to many people in this country.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and I hugely congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on getting to No. 1 on the Bill list and on getting this Bill going. I honour the presence of Rosamund here in the House—it seems wrong to say “congratulate”, but it is amazing how she has turned a personal tragedy into the most powerful campaign.
I am going to start with a really bad joke that is going round the States this week. It goes like this. The United States Supreme Court decision to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide has drawn a puzzled reaction from the nation’s foetuses. A statement from the Association of American Foetuses expressed bafflement that the court would issue a ruling that increased the amount of atmospheric carbon monoxide, which has been shown to have a damaging effect on foetal health. “It’s impossible for us to see today’s ruling as anything but flagrantly anti-foetus,” the statement read. “To say that we are disappointed would be putting it mildly. When you consider that this has followed the decision to overturn Roe v Wade”, the foetuses added, “it just doesn’t seem very pro-life to us”. I am kind of with them on that—not on the Roe v Wade bit but on the other.
My daughter is pregnant with twins. They are 26 weeks and bouncing along; they could be born at any time. She lives in the city and she rides a bike. I guess that the twins are going to be biking, and they might also inherit the asthma that so tortured her father. We live near the Edgware Road, a site that was later found under one of our mayors to be one of the most polluted areas in the city. We spent many nights in A&E, literally waiting for the oxygen supplies while he gasped on the floor. They did not say then that it was to do with air pollution, but I absolutely know that it was. Unlike dear young Ella, he survived, but it was a really miserable experience.
The weird thing about air is that it is a bit like pumping sewage into rivers, about which we had a debate yesterday. You think to yourself: why are we legislating about this? The curious thing about the right to clean air is that, when any constitution or such things were set up, it was not even debated.
There is a case going through in America called Juliana v United States, which involves a group of young people taking on the American Government to demand the right to clean water, clean air and a clean environment. The Trump Government managed to knock this back at every turn of the screw. A friend of mine, who is an academic, was asked to stand up and talk about clean air. She made the point that when the founding fathers wrote the constitution of America, no one assumed that you would ever have anything but clean air—it was just an assumption. Why do we have to legislate for something that is humanity’s right, as the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, points out?
I want to make one specific point about something I am pleased to see in the Bill. Clause 8 excludes biomass and wood from the definition of renewable energy. I welcome the fact that this definition would exclude generating electricity from wood pellets, as we do in the UK with companies such as Drax. I have spoken about Drax before and am going to again, briefly. Drax is currently classed as a type of energy generation that is renewable, but Drax’s power plants are the most polluting sites in Europe. Drax is the single largest source of CO2 emissions in the UK, according to Ember, and the fourth largest emitter in the EU among coal plants. However, we do not count these as carbon emissions due to their classification as renewables and the fact that the trees which were harvested to feed the power plants could, theoretically, be regrown.
Furthermore, the emissions that we produce in the next 30 to 60 years are those which are going to have the make-or-break impact on the warming of the planet. If you look at the info from Drax itself, you see that the emissions from biomass being burned today will not be fully offset, according to analysis by the MIT Sloan School of Management, until 2140. That is a long payback. Biomass pellets produce emissions all along the supply chain: they are harvested, transported, dried and processed, and then transported to Yorkshire. As MIT said, it is actually better to burn coal at source, because the coal is at least dry.
The post-2027 future is wholly dependent on a technology which does not currently operate at a scale even close to what is required—carbon capture and storage. If Drax gets its way and expands its production, we could end up using our entire government budget to offset for biomass while simultaneously subsidising it at £1 billion a year. We are locked into contracts until 2027. If we can get the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, into place long before that, that would be one of the many things that will not happen. I thoroughly support the Bill and absolutely congratulate her.
My Lords, I too welcome Rosamund Kissi-Debrah and congratulate her on all the work that she has done on behalf of her daughter, Ella. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on all the work that she has done in putting together this comprehensive Bill, and on its aims. She has done much work over the years on this issue in other Bills too, and it is a lovely idea to talk about Ella’s law.
I encourage my noble friend to consider carefully many of the aspects of the Bill. I know that he will undoubtedly support its aims and the intentions behind it. The 2018 report from four of our parliamentary committees identified air quality as the biggest risk to human health. Achieving cleaner air within five years in England and Wales is something that we would all like to see. Perhaps I have to declare an interest, in that my own mother has COPD and lung cancer, caused in part by living by a main road. Having the intention of clean air, not only for outdoor air but for indoor air—for new builds, at least, and public spaces and underground transport—would clearly benefit us all. It is difficult for us to disagree with the aims of this Bill. As I say, I am sure that my noble friend and the Government will have enormous sympathy with it.
The idea of a citizens’ commission for clean air, as required in the Bill, is a really interesting innovation, although I can understand that there may be concerns about the controversy which might be caused by its membership.
It is clear that the Government intend to act on air quality, and have already done so. We have legally binding targets for nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, although of course our own guidelines have been lower than those set by the World Health Organization, and we need to improve on that. I was also pleased when amendments were accepted to the Environment Bill which will require legally binding long-term targets to be set. Of course, they did not specify what those levels should be, and when that Bill was going through, the amendment proposing 10 micrograms per cubic metre—which was the WHO limit—was put forward for the mean concentration of PM2.5 by 2030. But the WHO has now cut that limit to 5 micrograms, so I can see that there is a problem in setting legally binding targets that may then need to be changed by law, perhaps frequently.
Can my noble friend say what the impact on the environment would be of having 5 micrograms per cubic metre as the target, as well as the costs involved and the practicalities of introducing it? When might we get a reply to the consultation that closed on 27 June? I know that the Environment Act requires us to decide on targets by October but, as I say, I can understand that the extent of the changes required by this Bill could be a step slightly too far for my noble friend and the Government, who I know share the aims.
I would like to ask a couple more questions. Will the Government consider much more regular, and more public, warnings about air pollution, so that those who are at risk can have a better chance of protecting themselves? Are there other measures that the Government might propose that would fulfil the aims of this Bill, which I obviously support?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in particular, on her focus on clean air as a human right. It is curious how the Conservative Party continues to undervalue the great British achievement promoted by Winston Churchill: the European Convention on Human Rights. When it was drafted by the team led by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, a prosecutor at Nuremberg and later Lord Chancellor under Churchill, Eden and Macmillan, it was designed to protect the rule of law, human rights and democracy in Europe. However, it was always intended that the convention should be a living instrument subject to teleological interpretation—not fixed in stone, but to be interpreted and updated from time to time in the light of modern needs and understanding. The European Court of Human Rights was designed to be the instrument which kept the convention up to date and relevant through its judgments.
The convention was passed and ratified in 1950 and came into force in 1953. An express right to clean air was not included. I remember the 1950s, when pollution was not perceived as seriously as it is today. Within a three-mile radius of my home in Wrexham, there were eight working collieries. I was accustomed to seeing miners, black from the pit, squatting on their haunches in the street—a comfortable position if you were working four-foot seams. They would frequently spit out the black coal dust which caked their lungs. Every household burned coal. Buildings were black. Housewives made sure to bring the washing in if there was a threat of rain to avoid black sooty streaks on their linen. Up the road in Brymbo the steelworks belched out smoke, and in Cefn Mawr people’s complexions were yellow from the acrid fumes of the chemical works.
The smogs in London of 1952, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred, led to the first Clean Air Act of 1956. This, and subsequent Acts, did much to clear the air of obvious smoke and smoke-borne pollutants. But hidden pollutants, particulates and toxic emissions were increasingly a threat to health. In a series of judgments, the European Court of Human Rights determined that the right to life protected by Article 2 of the convention was engaged where activities endangering the environment, such as toxic emissions, also endangered human life. The European court required the state to put in place a legislative and administrative framework which would uphold the right to life—a framework similar to the Bill we are considering. If this was a novel duty, it was a valid and practical interpretation of the convention.
Similarly, toxic emissions were held to engage Article 8, the right to respect for private and family life. Where pollution levels exceed safe limits near a person’s home, European judges decided there was a violation of Article 8 on the ground that such pollution makes that person more vulnerable to various illnesses and adversely impacts his or her quality of life.
If we ever get to debate the British Bill of Rights, we will find Ministers arguing that we ought not to have new duties thrust upon us by foreign judges. However, this Bill, in light of the recent decision of the United Nations Human Rights Council, comes at precisely the right time to introduce explicitly into our domestic law the right to breathe clean air. Indeed, Clause 1(1) states:
“Everyone has the right to breathe clean air and the Human Rights Act 1998 is to be read as though this were a Convention right.”
This is putting into the European convention an explicit reference to clean air.
Science does not stand still, nor does human behaviour. If we want to make some amazing advancements in tackling pollution, we need to fund technology and scientific research to find new solutions. This transformative Bill provides the vehicle for such advances and the machinery to monitor and update its standards. It provides for an agency to take the lead in judicial review or other proceedings to enforce its requirements. Finally, we must always bear in mind that we must take people with us. Measures to reduce pollution may cause large societal changes and unforeseen consequences that we must expect, but the Bill is an important step forward.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in support of the Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and I congratulate her on her work in this area over so many years. We have already heard powerful arguments for the importance of this Bill. According to figures from the World Health Organization, almost the entire global population— 99% of us—live in places where air quality guidelines are not met. The populations of low to middle-income countries suffer the highest levels of exposure, but even here in London, one of the world’s wealthiest conurbations, legal levels for nitrogen dioxide were breached across the entire city in 2021. The city’s pollution hotspots recorded air pollution levels 50% higher than legal limits.
The evidence is clear that poor air quality poses one of the greatest environmental risks to health. An estimated 4.2 million deaths globally are linked to ambient air pollution, including from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as chronic and acute respiratory diseases like asthma. Air pollution is especially dangerous for children because of the juvenility of their brains and respiratory systems, their higher ratio of breathing rate to body size and the simple fact that they spend more time outdoors. I join others in remembering Ella Kissi-Debrah and paying tribute to her mother, who is doing so much to help ensure that no other children and their families have to suffer as Ella did.
The link between air quality and physical health is well established; it should, on its own, be reason enough to act. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that air pollution exposure can also adversely affect the brain and increase the risk of psychiatric disorders, and this is what I will focus on today. Studies published in 2019 by colleagues at King’s College London, in which I declare my interest as set out in the register, showed that exposure to air pollution at the age of 12 had a significant association with depression at age 18. The researchers reported that the most likely cause was
“pollutant particles small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, causing inflammation in the brain, which is known to link to the development of depressive symptoms”.
Children living in the top 25% most polluted areas were three to four times more susceptible than those living in the 25% least polluted areas.
The researchers’ most recent study from 2021 showed that youth in the general population across England and Wales who were exposed to high levels of outdoor air pollution during adolescence were more likely to develop mental health problems as they transitioned to adulthood. Worryingly, the researchers found this across the spectrum of mental health problems: depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, conduct disorder, eating disorders and psychosis. This suggests that exposure to polluted air at this critical stage of brain development is a non-specific risk factor for mental ill-health.
A further study last year among residents in south London demonstrated increased use of mental health services, both in-patient and out-patient, in people recently diagnosed with psychosis and mood disorders. The cost of this to the NHS, never mind the personal cost to the individual, is significant. A recent report from the Mental Health Foundation and the LSE put the annual cost to the UK of mental health problems at around £118 billion.
There are many good reasons to clean up the air that we breathe: reducing deaths from the physical harms caused by pollution and improving the health of the planet are high among them. But the growing evidence of causality between air pollution exposure and psychiatric disorders indicates that interventions to improve air quality, such as those that the Bill proposes, could also play a role in improving mental health prognoses and reducing associated healthcare costs. This suggests just one more reason why the noble Baroness’s Bill makes good sense, and I am happy to offer it my support.
My Lords, I join everyone else who has spoken in welcoming the Bill and congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on introducing it. Since everything that is worth saying has been said, I shall point out only one or two things that I believe we could improve in Committee.
First, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, pointed out, declaring something to be a human right may not be sufficient in the current climate, because the Government frequently redefine what is and is not a human right or is justiciable by the European Court of Human Rights. So, at some stage, I would like to find out how we can strengthen the idea that this is a human right and cannot just be thrown away, neglected or revised by a future Government. That is very important.
Secondly, as an economist, I studied the Clean Air Act 1956 very carefully and wrote about it. One thing that is missing is the polluter paying; at least in cases where we can identify the polluter and attribute responsibility for the pollution to them, we ought to allow them to be fined, not just forgiven.
Lastly, there is a role for citizens to do something about pollution; this is very welcome. The Government are allowed too much power to appoint citizens’ commissioners; we ought to find ways of inviting voluntary workers in this important area, because pollution is a problem for all of us, and we all ought to be encouraged to be policemen for it and point out that these things are hurting us all. By the time a little girl dies due to air pollution, it is too late to seek compensation. We ought to be able to spot these things much earlier and do something about them.
My Lords, I welcome Rosamund to the Public Gallery; I congratulate her on everything that she has achieved in this area and condole with her on the fact that she has had to. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on bringing the Bill for us to consider.
I will give some words from history: “We saw the lungs of little ones not developing to full size, projecting that, by age 50, they would have the lungs of someone aged 65 and all the attendant health issues that would result”. Other writing details a young person in hospital with pneumonia being strongly advised to leave the city if they did not want their life to be foreshortened because of the air that they breathed. Is this from Victorian times or are they Elizabethan writings? No, it is testimony from today for today. On the basis of that at least, it is high time that we pass the Bill in short order.
There is nothing new in clean air: the first legislation was passed in 1306. But the most famous Act, which is slightly newer, is the Clear Air Act 1956, which was a result of the Great Smog of 1952. At this stage, the United Kingdom was world leading in this area, but we are not today.
We have heard from noble Lords what the Bill does. It could not be simpler: it enshrines the right to breathe clean air. It is impressive in many ways, not least because continuous improvement on the levels of the pollutants listed, year on year, is built into it. It is also impressive because it looks not just at pollutants that harm humans but at pollutants that extinguish our environment.
Part of the problem with clean air is its intangibility. If water came out of our taps that was brown in colour and foul in stench, we would not go anywhere near it; air is more complex, but just as significant to the health of everyone in this country. What will be the consequence or fallout, if you will, if we do nothing? The situation will continue: some 9,500 lives will be ended before their time in London, and that will be multiplied across the country. Clean air, or the lack thereof, is the largest environmental health threat in the United Kingdom.
I say to my noble friend the Minister that we need to look at what education can do. I urge him to speak to the Schools Minister to have the nursery rhyme reintroduced and urgently updated in our schools: not “London’s Burning” but “London’s Choking”. It should be rewritten for the cities up and down our country.
Similarly, what can we ourselves do in terms of education? A fabulous app, Tenzing, tells us the most polluted streets and roads in our capital and across our country. I advise avoiding cycling on Euston Road and the Strand, to name but two. This shows what we can do with data in real time and how technology can help us in this fight for a better environment for the benefit of all of us. The nitrogen oxides in Kingston park are 40% lower than in Green Park in the centre of our capital city.
This is a comprehensive and impressive Bill. It is appalling that we need it, but we do. I will give another example: a marathon runner contracting asthma on our streets as a result of simply trying to keep fit. One individual testimony from someone running on our streets should go to those who are running our streets. But it is for more than our athletes or those suffering from asthma: clean air is so self-evidently for everyone. We often talk about the beating heart of our city, but we should talk much more about the collective lungs. From Storrington to Swansea, Warrington, Brentford, Bristol and beyond, breathing clean air is a human right for all of us.
But it is for more than just our cities: this is for our country. There could barely be a more fundamental right than breathing clean air, yet millions are denied it daily. It is high time to act, for all of us, so that we can breathe more easily—in short, to clear the air. I ask the Minister just this: will he support the Bill and save our breath?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for introducing this important Bill, as I thank her for her typically witty, engaging and gracious remarks about a former Mayor of London.
It is humbling that we are holding this debate in the presence of Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, and it is not necessary for me to repeat the sympathy that many Members of the House have expressed towards her and her family.
I welcome the Bill in its principles, its objectives and its thrust. Too many people have their lives shortened by air pollution. Too many of those are children. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, that there will be legislation and action to improve our air quality whether in this Bill or another, but I am afraid that I have some concerns not about the thrust and objective of the Bill but about its constitutional and legal implications.
The first is in the very Title: the question of the words, “Human Rights”. It is of the essence of a human right that it is universal. It pertains to our human nature and character. It disturbs me that we would wish to create a human right that applied peculiarly to the residents of England and Wales or the United Kingdom—if the noble Baroness will forgive me, I have not checked the territorial scope of her Bill and how it applies—for it seems to me a misconception. It is made worse by Clause 1(1), which starts by creating a legal right to breathe clean air, with which I have no problem, but then goes on effectively to rewrite the European Convention on Human Rights in its domestic application, I would think most insensitively and inopportunely at a time when so many others wish to rewrite the convention as it applies domestically. I hasten to add that I am not in principle one of them; I strongly believe that whatever one thinks of the Human Rights Act, the United Kingdom should stick to the European Convention on Human Rights.
My second concern relates to the democratic effect of the Bill. Here, I turn to the duties imposed on the Secretary of State. Clause 2 creates new powers for the Environment Agency that are essentially scientific in character. They require the determination of the effect of certain pollutants. That is not of course a problem, but what is a problem is that subsection (5) then requires the Secretary of State effectively to legislate through regulation to put those findings into law. What is missing, first, is any scope for scientific dispute, any idea that there might be other scientists out there who want to argue the toss or do not agree. They are to be ignored if those serving the Environment Agency have reached a particular view. There is no scope for public debate. Perhaps the noble Baroness does not think that the public should have an input to the scientific side—I understand that—but there is no scope for public debate. Most importantly, as the noble Baroness explained, there is no scope for reversal. If it were discovered, as science is a process of discovery, that what had been considered a harmful pollutant turned out to be the wrong chemical and that a different chemical was the cause of a particular problem, the Bill would require primary legislation to do something about that.
The pattern, because it is embedded in the Bill, continues. Clause 2 also gives new powers to the Committee on Climate Change largely of a scientific character—again, there is no problem with that—but subsection (11) treats the Secretary of State in exactly the same way; that is, he or she is a mere tool of the agency in question. There is no debate, no scientific dispute, no reversal.
All these issues are subject to amendment and improvement in Committee, because the Bill is important and, in a fit state for enactment, should go ahead. It is of course possible that I have misread or misunderstood what is on the page in front of me, so I will listen carefully to the reply that the noble Baroness gives, and I am willing to learn when she comes to wrap up.
My Lords, I am grateful to speak in the gap and add my congratulations to those offered to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for this comprehensive Bill. I also pay tribute to Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, whom I am delighted to see with us here today.
We have with this Bill an opportunity to do something bold and ground-breaking which would be a fitting legacy for Ella, her family and her supporters. I want to comment on some of the Bill’s strengths and some of the potential improvements that could be made to it. First, this is a comprehensive framework Bill. We all sat through the debates on the then Environment Bill, during which an element of air quality legislation was discussed and introduced, but it lacked anything like the comprehensive framework that this Bill puts forward. Therefore, the Government have all the powers they need to act on air quality but none of the duties and none of the legal momentum that would force them to crack this problem.
The positive news is that this problem can be solved, now more so than at any time in history. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the solutions to both climate change and air quality are one and the same, and that is to stop burning things—specifically in places where there are vulnerable people in high density who will be harmed by it. If we could just get that sorted out, we would make huge progress in bringing our cities back to life, making them once again liveable and solving climate change. This is what is before us, and if we get this legislation right, we can do this. We can do it to a timescale that is fast and therefore can save lives.
I am grateful to see such cross-party support for the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, indicated, if we get it right in Committee, we stand a chance of getting it through this House with, one hopes, the support of the Government.
I turn to some of the elements of the Bill which I think are strong. Air quality is not something that we experience in the average; we experience it in spatial and temporal specificity. By that, I mean that certain days and certain places become dangerous. They do so because toxins that are released stay in the atmosphere and in certain conditions—weather conditions most commonly—they build up to dangerous levels. The way in which we have regulated on air quality to date has simply been too academic—too many milligram limits per pollutant—when we should focus on the fact that we know what the sources of these pollutants are; mostly, they track back to the burning of things. If we can regulate those temporally—when we know there is going to be an air quality incident that is very likely to damage health, we restrict those activities—we will make a huge leap forward in the way we treat this problem and how we keep people safe.
Similarly, we should disaggregate the legislation by geography, focusing on the places where people are most vulnerable and where people live. Cities in particular, of a certain size, need to be regulated differently. Cities are wonderful places, particularly for young families and for older people. When you have a child, you want to be surrounded by other people and you want them to live in a community. When you are elderly, you want to be in places where there are provisions and all the support that you need. So, the most vulnerable in our society, the very young and the very old, should be in cities and want to be in cities, yet they are polluted, and their health is impaired by living in those places. Geographic specificity in air quality management is therefore fundamental, and this Bill includes measures that allow us to start to do that. It is incredibly important that that is taken forward. Some of the powers in Clause 2(4) talk about focusing on the areas where harm can be greatest.
We are starting to see evidence where geographically specific measures have been taken. An example is Oxford, which has been the first place to ban combustion vehicles entering the city. We are seeing that city benefit in health terms and in liveability, and it is boosting the sale of new and clean technologies in that area. That shows that such technologies are now available and that you can respond to these limits on the burning of things.
There are also some fantastic measures in the Bill around informing the public. Clause 3 requires forecasts to be shared and information to be provided to the public about incidents that will cause environmental harm. Most importantly, the Bill has teeth. It allows action to be taken and has quite a clever mechanism with the creation of the CCCA.
I have been told that I must stop, because I am speaking in the gap. As noble Lords can tell, I am very passionate about this subject, and I think that this is a great Bill. I look forward to Committee and I hope the Government can support it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and I fulsomely congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on bringing forward this Bill, which I wholeheartedly support.
Asthma, as we have heard from other noble Lords, is a significant cause of school absence. Asthma caused by air pollution causes absence among both children and teachers and, although I cannot give the numbers, I know this anecdotally from having worked in many London schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made reference to the hospital stays to which children are often subject because of their asthma. We all know that there are hospital education services that try to ensure that education continues while children are hospitalised, but of course we do not want children in hospital because of clearly avoidable issues. Making our air clean would avoid these issues.
I am a member of Education International, the global union federation for education workers. We always assert that education is a human and civil right, and indeed a public good. If that is true—as I believe it is—then children and all those who work with them in education need to be able to breathe clean air so that they can access that absolute right to education. It is within our grasp to move further on this Bill to ensure that no future generations of children suffer with asthma in the way that Ella did—I congratulate her mother on the work she has done—and to ensure that our children grow up breathing clean air. I urge the Government to support and adopt the Bill and bring it to fruition as soon as possible.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for drafting the Bill and setting out the case for reform of clean air legislation so clearly. Noble Lords around the House have spoken passionately about the right to clean air, which I think we all agree should underline this Bill and which we all feel is possible and doable. We will make sure that we contribute to making that happen.
In many ways this is unfinished business, left over from our consideration of the Environment Bill. At that time, noble Lords from across the House supported our amendment to tackle polluted air by setting a limit of fine particulate matter to levels below the World Health Organization guidelines by 2030. Sadly, at that time, the Government continued to resist these measures, despite the fact that air pollution is widely recognised as the single largest risk to public health that we face.
A number of expert reports have attempted to estimate the full impact—a number have been quoted this morning. In 2021, the EFRA Committee reported that poor air quality is still linked to as many as 64,000 early deaths a year. We know, as we have heard this morning, that children are particularly susceptible to illness and death from asthma and bronchitis. The EFRA Committee concluded that the Environment Bill did not provide the robust legal framework needed, given the scale and urgency of the challenge. It urged the Government once again to adopt the specific targets set by the WHO. It also pointed out that the Government’s clean air strategy relies too much on local authorities, delegating most responsibility for delivering air quality improvements to them without providing sufficient competencies and resources to deliver the necessary changes. We agree with this analysis. The Government’s plan lacks ambition and resources and fails to tackle the underlying health inequalities that lie at the heart of the problem. For far too long, the Government have prevaricated, launching consultations, researching and modelling options rather than taking the urgent action needed on this issue.
Meanwhile, independent research at Imperial College and King’s College has concluded that reaching the WHO targets is technically feasible and has produced credible evidence of the links between air pollution and Covid. For example, if you were living in an area of high pollution, you were more likely to end up in hospital or even die if you contracted Covid. In addition, they have shown that exposure to air pollution increases the likelihood of contracting Covid in the first place if you are exposed to the virus. The pernicious effects of pollution therefore go way beyond the known impacts on asthma and bronchitis. This was a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, who also highlighted the links to mental health. There are other health impacts, as I say, that go way beyond asthma and bronchitis.
Like others, I pay tribute to Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, who is here today and has campaigned tirelessly on this issue since her daughter Ella’s tragic and untimely death from asthma caused by air pollution—one of many children who had to suffer in this way. We have heard from noble Lords today about awareness of the perils of living by main roads and how, for many, they have only more recently become apparent. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, also made the good point that you cannot see it, so people are not aware of it—if it came out as dirty water from the tap, we would all be slightly more alarmed. We do now understand the full effects and the health damage that can be done.
All this underlines the need for leadership and urgent action by the Government to tackle the ongoing public health crisis. This is why we welcome this Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, as an opportunity once again to press the Government to act. Her Bill rightly identifies that everyone should have the right to clean air, based on WHO standards and the best scientific knowledge. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that my reading of the Bill was different from his; I understood from it that there would be scope for further scientific discovery, which should be taken into account. We can obviously debate this further in Committee.
The noble Baroness’s Bill means that it would no longer be left to individual local authorities to act, which has led to a patchwork of high and low air-polluted areas. Instead, everyone, nationally, would have the same right to clean air. It would require progress to be measured year on year and for statutory bodies to ensure that the targets are monitored and met. It would also place a duty on all the key public sector bodies to play their part in delivering clean air in areas under their jurisdiction.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, and others also raised the important issue of the polluter pays principle. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, rightly raised the issue of Drax and its impact on emissions. I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, on the need to get to the fundamentals and stop burning things—that is at the heart of the issue.
We recognise that these are crucial elements, but that these measures cannot be implemented overnight. We believe, however, that creating clear national duties with action across government can deliver the change required. I therefore hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will feel able to adopt these measures as a way of delivering the targets due to be set this October. Sadly, I doubt that we will hear such a promising account from the Minister when he winds up today.
Meanwhile, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that not all politicians are the same. I give notice that we in Labour are committed to tackling this health crisis once and for all by introducing a clean air Bill, which would deliver the legal right for citizens to breathe clean air, with citizens enabled to act when standards are breached, statutory monitoring to make sure that WHO clean air guidelines are adhered to and provision to ensure that local air quality standards keep up with the developing science. In the meantime, I wish the noble Baroness well in pursuing her Bill; I am happy to work with her. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords across the House who have participated in today’s debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for raising this important issue and for her usual robust way of introducing it.
This Government take air quality and its effects extremely seriously. Although we have achieved significant reductions in air pollution, it remains the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. The tragic death of Ella Adoo Kissi-Debrah in 2013 continues to remind us that, when it comes to improving air quality, there is absolutely no room for complacency. I echo noble Lords’ welcome to her mother, Rosamund, in the Chamber today. She has met the Secretary of State and Ministers and all have been impressed by the dignity and determination with which she conducts her campaign.
I fully appreciate the intention behind this Bill and welcome the ambition to drive down air pollution shown by all noble Lords who have spoken today. We have a comprehensive existing legal framework, in large part thanks to the Environment Act 2021, which holds us to account on driving continuous reductions in air pollution and provides relevant powers and ensures that we use them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said. We are taking significant action, but we know we must continue to do more to deliver cleaner air for everyone. The Bill in large part echoes existing powers in the Environment Act 2021, which is our framework for environmental protection in the UK.
The Bill contains targets for a range of air pollutants. We already have a comprehensive range of legally binding targets for emissions and concentrations of the most harmful pollutants at local and national level. We are also setting two new stretching targets for fine particulate matter, PM2.5, the pollutant most harmful to human health, under the 2021 Act. I say to my noble friend Lord Holmes that we are leading the way by including an innovative population exposure reduction target in our target framework. This target will drive continuous improvement and will, on average, cut peoples’ exposure by over one-third by 2040 compared to 2018 levels. To the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I say that we have recently concluded our consultation on new targets and will respond in due course; it would not be appropriate to pre-empt that response.
The 2021 Act enables the Government to set long-term targets in respect of any matter which relates to the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it. However, the Act also rightly requires that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that such targets can be met. I have yet to see evidence that some of the targets proposed in this Bill, such as zero concentration of indoor damp and mould and a PM2.5 annual mean concentration of five micrograms per cubic metre, could actually be achieved. In fact, due to the level of natural and transboundary pollution in some parts of the country, this PM2.5 target could not be achieved even if we removed all the people from these areas—that addresses a point that my noble friend Lady Altmann made. Even if these islands of ours were totally deserted, the annual concentration of PM2.5 would likely be above 5 micrograms.
As a Government, we have worked with internationally recognised experts to inform our existing proposed targets to ensure that they are stretching but achievable, but we always welcome further evidence on this topic and it does not mean that we should not continue to challenge ourselves to go further where possible. That is why we are proposing to set an exposure target alongside a concentration target under the 2021 Act, to drive continual improvements across the country.
Elsewhere, the Bill contains provisions to require the Environment Agency and the Committee on Climate Change to review pollutants and limits and advise the Government accordingly. The newly created Office for Environmental Protection already has powers set out in the 2021 Act to scrutinise and advise the Government on environmental law. The OEP is rightly independent of government and is well placed to perform this role, whereas the Environment Agency is an executive agency answerable to the Secretary of State.
The Bill also contains provisions to enhance the duties of various public bodies to contribute to the maintenance of clean air. Under the 2021 Act, we have already created a new power for the Secretary of State to designate “relevant public authorities”. A relevant public authority will be required to collaborate with local authorities to achieve local air quality objectives. We have recently completed a consultation on the designation of National Highways as the first relevant public authority, and we are considering further public authorities for designation.
The Bill suggests giving the Environment Agency the principal aim of achieving and maintaining clean air. The principal aim of the Environment Agency in discharging its functions is to protect or enhance the environment, and this already includes air quality.
The Bill suggests that we make clean air a human right. However, not all sources of air pollution are under the Government’s control. Significant contributions to UK air pollution come from other countries, depending on the weather, and natural sources also make a key contribution in some areas. We are working to tackle transboundary air pollution through our commitments and our review of the Gothenburg protocol under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. However, the transboundary and trans-national nature of air pollution makes it ill-suited to be a general or human right.
My Lords, I know this is very cheeky, as I ran out of time, but I was going to suggest in my speech that one thing we could look at is defining and distinguishing between controllable and uncontrollable sources of pollution. I think this would address the earlier point about targets being achievable. I would love for us to get together and discuss that before Committee.
I absolutely accept the point the noble Baroness makes. There is conflicting advice here and I am very happy to share all the advice the Government receive to make sure that, as we progress in our ambitions on air quality, we are using data that we can all understand. I am very happy to proceed on that.
I can confirm to your Lordships’ House that the UK is already required to publish air quality information through a range of legislation, including the Air Quality Standards Regulations and the UN Kyiv protocol, to which we are a party. This includes forecasts, the latest local measurements from our nationwide monitoring networks and local authority networks, as well as health advice informed by the work of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants.
We also fund large-scale public awareness efforts such as Clean Air Day, the UK’s biggest air quality public awareness campaign. To address the point that my noble friend Lady Altmann raised, we are undertaking a comprehensive review of how we communicate air quality information. The review has seven distinct workstreams focusing on both the effective use of data for forecasts, and also, very importantly, getting messaging right and communicating it effectively for different audiences. The workstreams each have their own timetable. Recommendations for tangible action, based on emerging evidence, will be made at intervals between now and 2024, with final recommendations expected in 2024.
The Bill before us also contains a requirement for the Government to make accurate assessments of air pollution. The Air Quality Standards Regulations already set out a detailed regime for the assessment and monitoring of air pollution. There are currently more than 500 monitoring sites across the UK, made up of 14 networks measuring a range of pollutants of concern. In 2021-22—the last financial year—we invested £1.15 million to expand PM2.5 monitoring, and by the end of 2025 we will be investing a further £10 million to at least double the size of the current PM2.5 network. This expansion will provide further data and measure progress against the new PM2.5 targets.
The Government recognise that local authorities have a key role to play in air quality action, and the Bill contains provisions regarding local authorities’ duties to achieve clean air. Under existing legislation, local authorities are already required to review and assess local air quality under the Environment Act 1995, as amended by last year’s Act. Where review and assessment indicate that a local air quality standard or objective is, or is likely to be, exceeded, local authorities are required to develop an air quality action plan. Local authorities produce annual reports, covering progress on improving local air quality, which are submitted to the Secretary of State. Through the Environment Act 2021, we have strengthened the local air quality management framework to place greater emphasis on action to improve air quality, expand the scope of action and enhance enforcement by local authorities.
The Bill would require the establishment of a citizens’ commission for clean air. Many of duties and powers suggested for the citizens’ commission for clean air appear to replicate the functions of the independent Office for Environmental Protection. The OEPs principal objective is to contribute to environmental protection and improvement of the natural environment, including air. The OEP may apply for judicial review or an environmental review in relation to the conduct of a public authority.
The Bill would also require the Government to apply a specified set of environmental principles when making policy. We have consulted on environmental principles under the Environment Act and have published a draft legally binding policy statement on the matter. The Bill would also require the Secretary of State to comply with the UN Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution and its protocols—but we are already required to comply with this convention.
The Government are absolutely committed in our ambition to tackle air quality, but we already have an existing legal framework to deliver that ambition. As I have set out today, the Bill would lead to the duplication of existing roles and responsibilities and would make the Government responsible for meeting targets that we know simply cannot be achieved. As I have said, we appreciate the intent behind the Bill and we know we must continue to implement the Environment Act and deliver cleaner air for everyone. The Bill will help to raise awareness of air pollution, its impacts and actions that can be taken to reduce it and safeguard the vulnerable from its effects, which will always be welcome. I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues across your Lordships’ House to deliver the improvements that we all recognise are needed to reduce emissions, prevent serious illness and improve the quality of life for people across the country.
My Lords, I have taken a lot of notes from today’s debate, and it is always difficult to reply to everybody, but I will do my best to do so outside the Chamber. I see a lot of meetings in my future—including with the Minister, I hope.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, which I thought was incredibly positive; many mentioned things that I did not think about mentioning. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for example, said that he had no doubt that Rosamund Kissi-Debrah was going to get the law changed and I think he is absolutely right. It seems like an awful lot of Members here in your Lordships’ House will help her to do just that.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for talking about the impact on children and, of course, her personal story. It always makes everything very relevant when one hears a personal story. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, also told us a personal story about her daughter and twins, and she raised the danger of biomass and of labelling other fuels environmentally friendly when, in fact, they are not. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, talked about targets not being specific and told her personal story about her mother—I understand that that is clearly a concern.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, talked about hidden emissions, and he gave us his legal wisdom on this. My own paternal grandfather was killed in a coal mine in the 1913 mining disaster in Senghenydd, so I have a history of understanding about coal mining. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, talked about the mental health impact, which I had omitted to mention so I thank her very much for that—it was quite unpleasant to hear. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, wants me to make this Bill even bigger and I thank him for that. I really thought I was being ambitious here, but he has inspired me to be perhaps more ambitious in the future. I also liked his comment about the polluter pays, which is a principle for which I have advocated for a very long time.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, talked about intangible and invisible pollutants and that is a part of the problem: the smog was so visible and so unpleasant that people felt quite justified in bringing in a Bill, whereas at the moment all these pollutants are difficult to see, so it is harder to push the whole concept. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, talked about my being witty and gracious—you know, I love compliments, though I do not think of myself as gracious. I am glad he welcomes the principles and I would be very happy to meet with him—in fact, I would be happy to meet any noble Lord who wants to comment further—but I have accepted the points made by the Delegated Powers Committee that were part of what he talked about. Also, he said that the Bill is limited to England and Wales; that is out of courtesy to the other countries. Obviously, I would like to make it global but that is beyond the powers of this Parliament. My feeling is that Brexit allows us to do our own thing, so it is absolutely perfect to do it for England and Wales.
The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, seemed to suggest quite a few more amendments—if we can avoid those, I would be grateful. There are always other opportunities with the Bill. But her idea to stop burning things is just so simple—that is exactly what we have to do. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, talked about unfinished business and Labour’s own clean air Act. I am a proud Green and have been for decades so it is very hard for me to share credit, but here I want to say that I have been incredibly touched by the Labour Party’s support for this Bill. I will freely give up all my credit if Labour would like to take my Bill and enact it. The same goes for the Lib Dems, I would be happy to support any way I can get these issues through.
The Minister raised a lot of issues and said things such as, “The Government are on the case”, “The Government have these targets” and “We are doing our best”, but this Bill will improve things for people and the planet. It will improve what the Government are doing, and I give it to them freely; it is oven-ready in the sense that I understand it and not, perhaps, as the Government understand it. It is actually ready to go. It will be, I think, something that the Government could be proud of.
The Office for Environmental Protection is such a good idea, but it is so weak—we can do better than that. The Minister mentioned all these monitoring sites and I do not know whether he has ever visited any of them, but the one at Edgeware Road has its intake pipe eight feet high. That means it cannot take in all the pollution at exhaust pipe level, so perhaps he could fix that.
In closing, this Bill is not just down to me; Rosamund and I are the tip of the volcano. Hundreds and thousands of people are supporting this Bill and have supported writing it, so I want to thank the team. I also thank Sadiq Khan, who has been fantastic about supporting this when he really did not have to. I would like to keep all the credit but I cannot. I thank the Government very much for allowing this debate to go forward; I hope they will accept the Bill.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.