Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002
BENDER CB, MR
120. When you said 24,000 deaths we were assuming
somebody being plucked at the prime of life, not just reducing
their life by a few days after three score years and ten. You
keep talking about proportionality and cost benefit analysis but
at paragraph 3.38 of this Report that you have signed up to it
says that cost benefit analysis was inconclusive and did not justify
additional national action to improve air quality. We had the
other questioning about the quality of the cost benefit analysis
but how can you assess proportionality if you have absolutely
no idea or inadequate cost benefit analysis?
(Mr Bender) First of all, can I say that we are not
only talking about deaths brought forward, there are hospital
admissions, there is a greater propensity to have conditions like
asthma from the air quality problems. Those are the sorts of issues
that the policy is trying to address.
121. How do you know that asthma is caused by
air quality and not by things such as the way babies are reared
in their early years? In the olden days babies were wrapped in
swaddling clothes and put out into the garden, as I was as child.
Or is it fitted carpets and central heating?
(Mr Bender) I did not mean to imply that air quality
causes asthma but the symptoms are more likely to be exacerbated
if pollution levels are high.
122. So we are talking about days and weeks
again, not early deaths in the prime of life. Do you agree with
the statement that we now have the cleanest air since 1585?
(Mr Bender) Yes. What do you think as the expert?
(Mr Williams) That statement was taken from a book
called The Skeptical Environmentalist that addressed only
smoke and sulphur dioxide and for those two pollutants that is
probably true. However, since 1585 other pollutants have appeared
from other sources that are common to the 20th Century and since,
vehicle related pollutants, other industrial pollutants, and for
those that is probably not necessarily the case at all.
123. So have you read Bjorn Lomborg's book?
(Mr Williams) I have read the bits where he draws
124. Do you not think you should read the whole
book given that he is the key proponent of the non-consensus view
on environmentalism. This is a report about policy making, do
you think as a policy maker you should have read the whole of
(Mr Williams) It deals with policy areas other than
the ones that we are addressing here.
125. He made the statement about clean air.
(Mr Williams) Yes, and that is the bit I have read
and I have also talked to the chap whose model he used in drawing
those conclusions to see whether he did it properly.
126. And did he?
(Mr Williams) Yes, he did.
127. Thank you very much. This line of questioning
that Mr Gibb was pursuing on figure ten was interesting. We were
talking about 24,000 deaths brought forward and you were saying
they would have been brought forward by days or weeks. Have you
any idea of the total numbers of years lost? If you have not,
how do you work these figures out? It is not quite clear to me.
(Mr Williams) Again, the answer to that is technical
and I will summarise. It is very difficult to quantify it from
the acute effects that are referred to in figure 12 in that table.
It is rather easier to do itby "it" what I mean
is quantify the effect of life shorteningin terms of longer
term exposure to particles that I talked about earlier. That was
done since this report. It was summarised in the consultation
that we put out last September. There the estimate, again, of
this illustrative package that I was talking about is that overall
if you run forward over 100 years then the added life years are
something in the range of 250,000 to 500,000 life years across
the UK population.
Chairman: Thank you. Mr Alan Williams.
Mr Williams: Chairman, you know what it is like
to stand at the roadside waiting for a bus seeing it go straight
past empty. I just had the same feeling as I watched my first
question disappear out of sight.
Chairman: I am sorry.
Mr Williams: I do not mind at all, there is
plenty to ask about.
Chairman: Great minds think alike.
128. That is it. We will be going over much
the same ground but from different perspectives. It says in paragraph
2.15, and I think Mr Steinberg referred you to it as well, that
"the Department regards particles as probably the most serious
pollutant, and the risk to health from their chronic effects may
be significantly greater than from their acute effects".
To the public what does that differentiation mean?
(Mr Williams) It is not easy to get across to the
public in the quantitative and very technical terms that the medical
scientists analyse these things in terms of. I find that difficult
myself. I try to give talks on this to non-specialist audiences
and it is not easy.
129. And you have got a non-specialist audience
(Mr Williams) Quite so. Essentially what it means,
I think, certainly in policy terms, is that really the way to
tackle these problems is to tackle the sources as well as shorter
term mitigation. You can, for example, avoid peak periods of two
or three day smogs, for example, by short-term traffic measures
and so on. What that conclusion that you just mentioned means
is not only do you have to do that but you also have to tackle
the overall source of the pollution as well so that you get a
longer term continued reduction in particle levels. That is the
way I address the point.
130. This is the most serious pollutant, and
we can look across the page to table nine where we see that when
it comes to the proportion of monitoring sites at which the levels
of pollutants breached air quality standards, particles were 76
per cent of the monitoring sites and with the exception of nitrogen
dioxide were about four times, more than four times greater than
even ozone. This suggests that it should be a matter of major
policy concern. Is it?
(Mr Bender) It is the priority and that is why the
September consultation made as one of its key proposals new objectives
in the area of particles.
131. If it is the priority concern, is England
indolent or complacent in not expecting the local authorities
to take action to help enforce the objectives or achieve the objectives,
or are Wales and Scotland just precipitating and jumping in without
(Mr Bender) I am not sure I understand the question.
132. One of them is wrong, is it not? Either
Wales and Scotland are right in moving in quickly on the back
of the report in setting new objectives or they have been precipitous,
or England is sitting back when it should be taking action, but
not both can be right. Which is the Department's preferred policy?
Which is the better approach, the England approach or the Scotland/Wales
approach, from the Department's point of view?
(Mr Williams) Are you referring to the different levels
of objectives in the countries?
133. It says clearly in the Report that the
two countries, Scotland and England, have taken action via their
local authorities requiring them to help ensure that the objectives
are met but the Department has decided not to do this in relation
to England. The Department in a supplementary briefing states
"The Department has not proposed that this is included for
the time being in the regulations affecting English authorities".
(Mr Williams) The answer I think I would give to that
is I am not sure precisely where you are in the report.
134. This is in the briefing that we have received
from the C&AG, which you may or may not have, which is updating
us on the situation since the Department produced its report in
September of last year. It tells us that the Scottish Executive
and the Welsh Assembly propose that the new objectives are included
in the Air Quality Management Regulations affecting local authorities
but the Department does not propose to do that, or certainly not
for the time being. Why not?
(Mr Bender) The answer is that it is the Government's
intention to put these objectives into regulations in England.
It is more difficult, there are more problems to be resolved and
that is why we are not there yet. It is not a question of one
being wrong and the other being right. There are more intrinsic
problems in England because of the levels of pollution and therefore
it is taking longer.
135. I am not sure I follow that. Are you saying
that the nature of the pollution is in general mainly urban and
it does not matter if it is Welsh urban, Scottish urban or English
(Mr Bender) It is the higher levels of pollution that
are causing us to take more time to think about what we put in
136. And how much longer are you going to take
(Mr Bender) I cannot give you a timetable on that,
137. Have you started thinking? Are you well
ahead in your thinking? Are you consulting? Which stage are you
(Mr Bender) Forgive me, there was a consultation in
September on particles, the Government has now received responses
to that consultation. It is considering those responses and we
will be putting recommendations to Ministers in the nearish future
and that will, I assume, include this.
138. When was the consultation?
(Mr Bender) The consultation began in September.
139. And finished?
(Mr Williams) 12 December.