Does each one of us possess an inalienable right to breathe clean air? Or do we settle for a poisonous alternative, an alternative whereby each one of us is subjected to harmful emissions, with devasting implications for our health and wellbeing? This is a question that I have been posing to each one of my colleagues in Parliament over the last few months.
As Chair of the Westminster Commission for Road and Air Quality, I was shocked to come across evidence that shows how 36,000 people die each year from causes related to air pollution. It is estimated that those who die prematurely in the UK are losing on average six months of life due to exposure to harmful emissions. In London, the figure is closer to ten-years. What has been the Governments response? The Conservatives have continually voted against implementing stricter air pollution targets that would bring us in line with World Heath Organisation recommendations. Is this just laziness, or is it because the Government know that levels of air pollution would break every legal limit. If we believe that each one of us possesses an inalienable right to breathe clean air, then there is certainly a great distance between our beliefs and the reality we are living in.
I certainly believe that each one of us possesses this right and have made it my mission to push for greater action in Parliament. That is why in the last month, I have presented two Bills that would reduce air pollution.
This Bill would ensure that local authorities conduct annual audits of air pollution in their local areas. This would ensure that polluters are identified, and actions can be taken to reduce levels of harmful emissions. The Secretary of State would be required to report annually on the result of these audits, meaning MPs could properly scrutinise air pollution levels in the UK. Good policy requires good evidence. This Bill would give us a Domesday Book of air pollution, identifying all the emitters and hotspots, meaning we can make evidence-based decisions to tackle the problem.
Diesel exhaust is a class 1 carcinogen. This means it’s one of the most dangerous types of particulates emitted into the atmosphere. The World Health Organisation have made clear the dangerous impact on the body, with particulates penetrating deep into the respiratory system. My Bill calls for the Government to update the MOT test to include an efficiency test for DPF filters with an emission limit set at 250,000 particles per cm3. This would identify dangerous filters and ensure that they are taken off the road and fixed. The policies and frameworks are there, all the Government needs to do is update the law.
If you would like to watch the full footage of my speech in the House of Commons, you can do so here.
These two Bills could be quick wins for the Government. They’re easy to implement, the frameworks are there, and they would make a huge difference. They are both coming back to Parliament on Friday 18th March 2022. Let’s see if the Government will do the right thing and back my Bills to ensure the inalienable right to breathe clean air.