Please understand that this is a public health crisis. I have tried to get the issue of air pollution into other Bills, but I was always put off and told that whatever Bill it was was not the right Bill to put air pollution in. When we are talking environment, this, the Environment Bill, is the Bill to add air pollution as a serious issue.
I have been working on the issue of air pollution for more than two decades. I thank Simon Birkett of Clean Air in London and Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, who are fantastic campaigners, and so tenacious. It moves me that I am able to present some of what they think and are fighting for. I also congratulate Lady Hayman of Ullock, on her excellent opening speech—it was far better than anything I can do, I am sure, though I will try.
Amendment 4, on which we may divide, is crucial: it could save your life. The other two amendments are great, because they will help with your health as you go through our filthy London streets, but Amendment 4 is basic. We have to reduce PM2.5. Exposure to these fine particles is the main cause of death for most people who die early from air pollution. These are tiny bits of soot and grit that are so small that they not only stick to the lungs but can pass through them. Lady Finlay of Llandaff, explained it much better. We must understand that this is incredibly difficult to control without targets.
Amendment 12 is also extremely important, because the World Health Organization is due to publish its updated air quality guidelines this month, possibly within days. I try never to use the words “air quality”, because we do not have air quality—we have air pollution. We have to remember that. It is filthy and harmful. Many countries around the world follow the previous World Health Organization guidance, which was issued 16 years ago, but we still have nothing. We have a public health crisis leading to tens of thousands of premature deaths and we have identified the main cause, but still we do nothing.
Incinerators can be built and ignore this pollutant. Heathrow can be expanded and ignore this pollutant. Local authorities and national government are making decisions that will potentially damage human health and increase these emissions, but we allow it because we ignore the scientific advice. That really should not be acceptable.
The interim advice from our own scientists, published two months ago, is that reducing concentrations below the World Health Organization’s air quality guideline would benefit public health; that is so obvious. It is what we should do, and I hope that Defra will eventually set world-beating targets—but that is certainly not what it has done for the past 20 years, and that is why this amendment is necessary. It would immediately introduce a minimum standard and start us down the path to a healthier environment.
When I was on the London Assembly, Ken Livingstone, to his credit, did his bit; he introduced the congestion charge, which helped. I was a fierce critic of our current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London, because his solutions to the problem of air pollution in London, particularly in the lead-up to the Olympic Games, were to put plants along the main road towards the Olympic stadium and, secondly, to rely on the measurements from an EU monitoring station on one of the most polluted roads in London but set at 12 feet in the air so that it did not actually measure the air pollution on the ground.
I gather that the noble Lord wants to interrupt me, even though I am making a really important speech.
Lord Berkeley (Lab) interrupted: The noble Baroness is making a very important speech; I will just add to what she has said. In addition, the Mayor of London covered up the monitoring stations on the roads leading to the Olympics. Otherwise, the pollution would have been worse than it had been in Beijing four years previously.
I carried on: But he did put potted plants there; let us give him some credit.
Amendment 54 is also incredibly important, because it would achieve three important outcomes. First of all, it would put health at the heart of government policy-making. I am an ex-Southwark councillor, like Lord Kennedy. On the old town hall, there was a translated Latin quotation: “The health of the people is the highest law”. That is what this Government absolutely ignore.
Secondly, Amendment 54 would ensure that air quality targets are based on WHO air quality guidelines and achieved as soon as possible. Thirdly, it would ensure that air pollution is properly monitored, particularly where it is a problem, and that people are warned about it.
Please understand that this is a public health crisis. I have tried to get the issue of air pollution into other Bills, but I was always put off and told that whatever Bill it was was not the right Bill to put air pollution in. When we are talking environment, this is the Bill to add air pollution as a serious issue.
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