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Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:27 pm on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East 5:27 pm, 26th February 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Mark Pawsey and to hear him speaking so passionately about plastics and so comprehensively about recycling.

I will speak again about air pollution. According to the Environmental Defence Fund, air pollution is a significant burden on the health of UK residents. Long-term exposure to air pollution causes between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year, not to mention the cost to the public purse, the NHS and social care.

Tanya Steele of the World Wide Fund for Nature said:

“We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.”

The Government need to take those words seriously for all parts of our country. I am a London MP, and London has the highest concentration of air pollution. The Mayor of London is committed to a green new deal and will spend to make that happen. He has shown that, with sufficient powers and resources, London can meet the World Health Organisation guidelines for air pollution by 2030. The Government must change their mind and commit to the WHO guidelines in the Bill. They must spend on that, and they will be judged on it in their post-Brexit Budget next month.

The Government fall short in other critical areas. The responsibility for planning is vague, with limited parliamentary oversight. There is inadequate recognition of the role that all public bodies must play in reducing air pollution. Lewisham Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and proposed a target to be carbon neutral by 2030. The cost of delivering that is £1.6 billion. Taking action will create many opportunities in the area to improve health, create jobs, and provide other environmental benefits and significant social benefits, but if that is to be done the Government need to provide local authorities with the resources they need to take action. Otherwise, this is only a fantasy, not a reality. A failure to do that will cost lives and expose our society to a range of unknown costs. We need to value people’s lives—we need to value everybody’s life—and deal seriously with our climate crisis. There is a clear link between action on climate crises and air quality, waste, recycling, biodiversity and protecting our oceans.

I have recently received letters from pupils at the brilliant Brindishe Manor School in my constituency. This time, there were more than 40 letters about the toxic levels of air pollution and other significant climate crisis issues that have come to my attention. I have young children, as do many other MPs and staff here. We do not want our children to be affected by toxic chemicals or to suffer. There is a long journey of recovery for us as a nation that involves composting; planting more trees; walking and cycling more; reducing plastic; disposing of mattresses correctly; preventing the stripping of our oceans; preventing habitats from being under threat; removing all diesel cars; preventing car idling; having fewer cars on the roads; replacing cars with electric cars, at an affordable cost; providing firefighters with the knowledge and means to put out electrical fires; recycling; reducing flights; and reducing flight paths over concentrated areas. The list goes on and on. We need clean air for everyone; it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, society, country and planet.

The children wrote to me about the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, whose death has been linked to air pollution. They rightly demand more from me, and, on their behalf, I demand more from the Government. Given that they have again chosen not to commit to World Health Organisation recommended guidelines on air pollution in this Bill, what do they have to say to my constituents, to worried parents and to children fearing for their future? Let me end with this: the planet takes care of us and it is our responsibility to take care of it.