Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Clean Air Act 1956

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Introduced by  Gerald Nabarro

The Clean Air Act 1956 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed in response to London's Great Smog of 1952. It was in effect until 1964, and sponsored by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in England and the Department of Health for Scotland.

The Act introduced a number of measures to reduce air pollution, especially by introducing "smoke control areas" in some towns and cities in which only smokeless fuels could be burned. By shifting homes' sources of heat towards cleaner coals, electricity, and gas, it reduced the amount of smoke pollution and sulphur dioxide from household fires. Reinforcing these changes, the Act also included measures to relocate power stations away from cities, and for the height of some chimneys to be increased.

The Act was an important milestone in the development of a legal framework to protect the environment.

Historical background

London had long been noted for its pea soup fog, but when the "Great Smog" fell over the city in December 1952 the effects were unprecedented: 4,000 people are thought to have died in the immediate aftermath, triggering great public concern, with fog so thick it stopped trains, cars, and public events. A further 8,000 died in following weeks and months.

It quickly became clear that pollution had become a real and deadly problem, and the smog's terrible effects may have helped inspire the modern environmental movement. Despite this, however, and data from the Ministry of Health indicative of substantially elevated death rates in London, the Government initially resisted pressure to act, and was keen to downplay the scale of the problem due to economic pressures. It took the recommendations of the Select Committee on Air Pollution and moves by backbench MPs (including Conservative member Gerald Nabarro, its sponsor) to pass a Private Member's Bill on domestic coal burning to persuade the Government to support a change in the law.

The Clean Air Act built on earlier efforts to regulate pollutants, particularly in London, where air quality had long been poor. Indeed, London had seen a succession of acts and rules over the centuries to improve its air—most recently the Smoke Nuisance Abatement (Metropolis) Acts 1853 and 1856 and the Public Health (London) Act 1891. However, despite the link between air pollution and health being well understood by the late 19th century, such efforts had not proven to be effective public health measures.

The 1952 smog gave a momentum for tougher action: as well as this Clean Air Act, its effects also led to the introduction of the City of London (Various Powers) Act of 1954, and influenced the Clean Air Act 1968. And by prohibiting what had been the hitherto widely accepted actions of private households, the Clean Air Act 1956 had important implications for the debate about public regulation, public health, and the sphere of legitimate Government intervention.


Clean Air Act 1956 Wikipedia

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