Nearly 40 million people in Britain live in areas with illegal levels of air pollution. Two thousand schools and nurseries are close to roads with damaging levels of fumes, and NHS experts estimate that poor air quality contributes to 40,000 premature deaths every year. The situation has gone from bad to worse on this Government’s watch, and has escalated into what the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee calls a “public health emergency”. Does the Secretary of State agree that this is indeed a public health emergency?
Given the gravity of the situation and the fact that the Secretary of State has known about today’s High Court deadline for months, why did she choose to request a further delay to the publication of her air quality plan at 7 o’clock on Friday night? Will she clarify whether she had in fact already applied for an extension before the election was called? It is unacceptable for her to hide behind the election to delay publishing her plans. Cabinet Office rules are clear that purdah is not an excuse to delay acting on vital public health matters. Will she confirm that the plans are ready for publication? If she agrees that this is a public health emergency, why the delay?
Are not the Government doing everything that they can to avoid scrutiny because they are missing their own commitments, have no strategy and yet again want to kick this issue into the long grass? How can we trust the right hon. Lady’s Government to maintain air quality standards after we leave the EU when they have done everything possible to avoid scrutiny on existing standards and had to be dragged through the courts?
If the Government fail to publish their plan today, within the first 30 days of a Labour Administration, we will. Only a Labour Government will legislate for a new clean air Act setting out how to tackle the air pollution that damages the lives of millions, but this Conservative Government continue shamefully to shirk their legal responsibilities and are putting the health of millions at risk.