Clean Air (Human Rights Bill) passes Lords committee stage unopposed

The Green Party’s Baroness Jenny Jones’ Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, which would enshrine the right to clean air in law, has passed the committee stage in the House of Lords unopposed.

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The bill, which is also known as the ‘Ella’s law’ bill in tribute to nine-year old Ella Kissi-Debrah who died from asthma induced by air pollution, is seeking to establish a right to clean air and set up a commission to oversee government actions and progress.

It would also see the UK Health Security Agency involved in setting and reviewing pollutants and their limits and enhancing the powers, duties and functions of various agencies and authorities in relation to air pollution. It would also require the secretary of state and the “relevant national authorities” to apply environmental principles in carrying out their duties under the bill.

Baroness Jones tweeted in response to the news: “My Clean Air Bill went through the Committee Stage in about half an hour! We'd worked hard to deal with everyone's comments so it meant there was widespread support and no opposition”. 

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Speaking in the House of Lords today, Jones highlighted that there have been several significant international developments since the second reading of the bill on 8 July. Notably on 28 July, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right. One hundred and sixty-one countries voted in favour of this resolution, including the UK and none voted against. 

“My bill takes this resolution into something meaningful”, said Jones. 

She also highlighted that on 26 October the EU Commission published its proposals for the revision of EU ambient air quality directives after more than four years of consultations and discussions.

“This bill is very timely and is being presented at the right place at the right time,” she said. 

Jones tabled four amendments, one of which is a time extension that would allow the secretary of state to postpone a deadline to achieve clean air to a maximum of five years for a particular pollutant in relation to the specified zone where the initial deadline cannot be achieved, subject “to strict conditions”. No time extension will be possible beyond 1 January 2033 and a consequential amendment is also proposed for local authorities. 

“The conditions I have tabled for this postponement would ensure ministers' feet are still held to the fire”, said Jones. 

The second amendment relates to limit values and would set new values for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide of 10 and 20 micrograms per cubic metre respectively, both to be attained by 1 January 2030. 

“These would act as interim thresholds or backstop targets depending on the progress made and would match the latest European proposals”, said Jones. 

The third amendment relates to recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

“These amendments would align parts of my bill relating to the tightening of future standards after royal assent more closely with mechanisms in the Climate Change Act 2008 which require the secretary of state to comply or explain to parliament. The tightening of future standards would require a draft of the instrument to be laid before and approved by each house of parliament”, said Jones. 

The final amendment relates to correcting several omissions and typographical errors, for example adding Network Rail alongside other public authorities.

Simon Birkett, founder and director of Clean Air In London, told ENDS “This wonderful bill would give the UK the best clean air standards in the world to protect public health and the environment and fight climate change. In my view, it would be a fitting tribute to Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi-Debrah and Awaab Ishak.”