Toxic air: New ‘Ella Bill’ to enshrine right to clean air backed by Lords

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died from dangerous levels of air pollution in 2013  (PA Media)
Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died from dangerous levels of air pollution in 2013 (PA Media)

A new law to enshrine the human right to clean air has passed in the House of Lords and now heads to the Commons to be scrutinised by MPs.

The Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, also known as Ella's Law, is named after Ella Adoo Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old girl who died following an asthma attack in 2013.

Ella, who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London, became the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.

The Private Member's Bill, put forward by Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, would require public bodies to review and monitor pollution limits, with the aim of achieving clean air within five years.

The Bill, backed by London mayor Sadiq Khan, would also set up a commission to scrutinise Government action.

Lady Jones said: "This is quite a momentous day for me and many other people...

"Parliament has the need, the power and the opportunity to enshrine the human right to clean air precisely and explicitly in England and Wales law. Doing so would improve of decision-making at all levels of government overnight.

"My Bill is reasonable. It will establish the right to breathe clean air, confirm clean air targets for air pollutants and greenhouse gases, set deadlines while allowing postponements, encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency and ensure a proportional approach to enforcement."

She added: "I hope that MPs will support my Bill and that the Government will allow it time to progress in the other place and reach royal assent."

She paid tribute to Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debrah, Ella's mother, who was present in the chamber for the third reading of the Bill.

Defra minister Lord Benyon responded: "Action on air pollution is an absolute necessity to ensure the health of our people and of our environment.

"Nothing has made this clearer than the death of Ella Adoo Kissi-Debrah and I would like to again pay tribute to her mother Rosamund, to her family and her friends, who have campaigned so tirelessly in support of improving the air we all breathe.

"The Government absolutely recognises the need for action on air quality and we are able to take that action, supported by our robust and comprehensive legal framework, now improved by the Environment Act 2021. This is why we have reservations in regard to how the Baroness's Bill would be delivered.

"But in protecting people from the effects of harmful pollutants, we must not only take action to drive down emissions but also to drive up public awareness. The Baroness's Bill and her hard work campaigning in support of it has undoubtedly furthered this aim."

In her speech to peers, Lady Jones noted that the 70th anniversary of the Great Smog is approaching, a severe air pollution event from December 5 to 9 1952, which saw a thick layer of smog over London.

The smog severely reduced visibility, even penetrating indoor areas, and it was estimated that between 10,000 and 12,000 people died as a direct result of it, with 100,000 made ill by its effects on their respiratory tract.

It was this event that triggered the first Clean Air Act in 1956.

Last month, England’s environmental watchdog warned that Londoners’ lives are being put at risk by the Goverment’s bungled post-Brexit targets to tackle toxic air.

The Office for Environmental Protection criticised the Government for failing to meet a deadline to set a series of new targets under the Environment Act 2021 which aims to set standards after the UK left the EU and ditched its system of eco-protections.

The OEP also told ministers that some of the targets were too weak, including on pollution, with the capital most affected by this toxic air.

The Government is proposing to set a target to cut tiny PM2.5 particulate pollution to an annual Mean Concentration Target of 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg m-3) to be met across England by 2040.

But this is a decade slower than the European Union’s goal.

Scientists say PM2.5 pollution is particularly harmful as it can seep deep into people’s lungs and into their bloodstream, contributing to heart disease and breathing illnesses.

The Government has defended its stance, arguing that the target has to be achievable across England including in pollution hotspots such as in London which has the worst toxic air problem in the country.