Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:17 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West 6:17 pm, 14th May 2019

Air pollution—the silent, invisible killer—is now leading to 64,000 premature deaths in Britain each year. The figure was thought to be 40,000 by the Royal College of Physicians, but it has now been updated by the European Heart Journal. Pollution is now the biggest killer in the world—bigger even than smoking. We know that 8.8 million people die from air pollution, compared with 7.2 million who die from smoking. People are killed, or their lives are prematurely ended by heart attacks, heart disease, lung cancer, lung disease and strokes. Air pollution is also a massive cause of dementia. Pregnant mothers have their foetuses impacted by the particulates that they breathe in, and children in so-called clean air zones have a 10% lower lung capacity and much worse mental health issues.

I am therefore pleased that The Times is now supporting a five-point action plan to tackle air pollution. It supports the idea of a clean air Act, and I have a Clean Air Bill going forward. People have a right to clean air, and it is important that local authorities and others have the resources to deliver that. It is also important that the Government get off their seat and say that, instead of banning all new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, we should do so by 2030. After all, that ambition is now held by India, China, Ireland and others, and we really need to do much more. We need to ban traffic from idling outside schools, and we need to ensure that the 40 cities in Britain that breach the World Health Organisation standards do more to stop older vehicles entering city centres and charge them. We need to monitor local levels of air pollution through local authorities and the Environment Agency, so that people have the figures and the power to campaign to stop pollution. It is also important that we stop building new schools next to busy roads.

In addition to that, my Clean Air Bill sets out a fiscal strategy for tackling air pollution. Fuel duty on diesel has been frozen since 2010. There is no differential between that and petrol, let alone electric cars. We require electric car infrastructure across Britain, but the Government have given that responsibility to BP, which of course has a vested interest in keeping fossil fuel on the road. We also need proper testing. VW was fined in the United States following the testing scandal, but not in Britain, and 300,000 VWs still have not been called back for correction. The Government are hurtling ahead with expanding airport capacity, leading to more dirty air. We need to do more on ports, with a maritime strategy that ensures that ships coming into port are connected to electric power. We should be converting to electric trains, but Swansea, which was promised electrification, is getting diesels.

It is also important that the environment Bill considers both indoor and outdoor air. I am pleased that the Secretary of State put it on the record today that schools and hospitals should be included in the Bill, and I will certainly be holding him to his word. People inhale all sorts of dangerous chemicals when indoors through cleaning agents, which may be sprayed on people’s bodies, fire retardants in sofas and so on.

We must ensure that high standards are enforced. Members will know that ClientEarth has taken the Government to court over their failure to protect people from dirty air, and we need an assurance that if we do Brexit—I very much hope that we do not—enforceable standards will be in place to ensure that people are safe. Put simply, children and the rest of us have a right to clean air, but the Government are failing in their duty to deliver that right. They need to get on and protect our public health, protect our future and deliver clean air.