Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002
BENDER CB, MR
80. Let me come on finally to some questions
about the costing or the cost benefit analysis, which is an absolutely
critical factor. You seem to find great difficulty in working
out how much value to set on human life and the possible extension
of a human life. This is something which again quite clearly goes
across many departments. Again, the road people are going to be
looking at it in terms of road traffic deaths and there are all
sorts of other areas in which this might become important. You
indicated in paragraph 3.22 that the value of a premature death
is somewhere between £2,600 and £1.4 million depending
on the circumstances. I would have thought that you ought to be
able to work out a value at least for each sort of age, sex, whether
working or not, level of qualifications and so on, and you ought
to have some idea about the spread of qualifications, age, sex
and so on across the whole community and presumably you would
have some idea about whether these early deaths were all in people
of 80 plus or most of them at the age of 50 or whatever. I am
surprised that you cannot get a better handle given that there
must be some pretty good data from other departments as well as
your own that no doubt, because of your good cross-departmental
work, you have already looked at. I would have thought you could
have got a much better handle on a decent figure.
(Mr Williams) I think I mentioned earlier the research
work that is currently going on from which we expect results towards
the end of the year. Again, this is an inter-departmental project
which brings together a lot of the leading economists in this
field to do precisely that, to try to narrow that range to get
a better handle on it. It is not putting value on a life, of course,
it is valuing the reduction of risk of death, that is the way
it is put. Yes, there are some indications from the health research
as to the ages that might be more affected by pollution than others.
To some extent that has gone down the road of suggesting the elderly
are more affected although there is also the possibility that
there may be groups in other ages who are more susceptible.
81. In the future you will get that better?
(Mr Williams) We are working on that. We are working
on the ages that are likely to be affected and we are working
on improving the economics to get better valuation.
82. Can I just ask you finally then whether
you are taking into account other cost benefits? For example,
if you have cleaner air it may be less necessary for industrial
processes to clean up the air before they use it, so there may
be business costs involved in terms of quality and air and there
will also be cleaning costs, people do not have to clean everything
so much if the air itself is cleaner, and there may be opportunity
costs in the sense if we are losing in this generation our clean
air then future generations will have to do something about that
and they will have much greater costs in the future. Are those
sorts of costs taken into account?
(Mr Williams) A lot of those sorts of things are taken
into account, particularly things like cleaning costs and those
sort of benefits. It is not obvious that there are necessarily
major benefits to industry, for example, from using cleaner air
although where that does occur then it is taken into account as
far as we can, yes. All those other dimensions other than health
are ones that are actively being researched and included where
we do not have any information.
83. I wish you well in your project because
as someone who comes down here, particularly in the summer, on
a Monday, as I walk out of the underground station, if it is a
calm day, I do not need one of your roadside monitors, I can feel
it in the back of my throat, my eyes water and it will be a couple
of days before I have got used to it and become immune to it.
Of course, air pollution has dramatically improved. I read in
history books that in the1950s we used to have newspapers running
the totals of how many people died through the smog over the weekend
and the numbers were 102, 104 people who died. One of the things
that amazed me looking at the report with regard to particles
was industry's contribution. I could understand it in the past
when we had a lot of heavy industry but with light, modern industry
I am quite amazed. One of the reasons I am amazed is because a
few years ago I lived in an industrialised area and we used to
have a factory at the bottom of the valley that was a secondary
smelting plant and it used to send up stack particles that when
they used to land on the windowsill burned through the paint and
it was found that the ground was so contaminated they recommended
people did not eat their vegetables. The firm had a solution to
all this muck in the daytime which used to alarm people, they
used to wait until it got dark and then send it up. When that
was not satisfactory and an alkaline inspector came in to investigate
they had another plan, they built a taller stack so it went over
the top of us and it got disseminated across a larger area. In
fact, it was not until a new company came in and they reworked
their furnaces and stopped this poor production method that we
got a cleaner plant. I, for one, am not bothered about the cost
to industry because most reasonable firms, in fact, do employ
the best practice to reduce emissions. It is the cowboys, the
ones who do not care about the environment, that get away with
it so they have a cost advantage over the better firms. The sooner
we can get those in the frame in the better. I have got one local
firm now that I have got a problem with but, when they pollute,
by the time the officer gets up there from the local authority
they have changed their method and the pollution, the smoke, the
stink has gone. They tell me that as from April, I think it is,
they no longer have the responsibility, it is passed over to the
Environment Agency so we have to start again with a programme.
It affects the quality of people's lives around it and that is
the important thing. While you are looking at the technical stuff,
and it is very, very technical looking at particle traps, Mr Rendel
mentioned the aeroplanes, the jet engines, I would love to see
the design for a particle trap on a jet engine because these,
as kerosene burners, are probably the most polluting engines of
any form of transport and they burn thousands of gallons of kerosene
as they take off and land at our airports but, of course, it is
up there, it is spread out even more and people do not notice
it. That is the sort of problem we have got to face. Although
it is cleaner and it looks cleaner, we are not sure of the damage
of the hidden agenda. When I go and spend most of my life in smoke
filled rooms I say I do not trust any air I cannot see because
I know what it is there. If it is a health consideration, do you
intend to work closer with the Health Department and their committees
to ensure that we can push this as two departments rather than
one through Government?
(Mr Bender) We do work very closely with them. For
example, some of their research projects on the longer term health
effects are drawn up very much in close consultation with us.
They have an advisory committee, COMEAP, the Committee on Medical
Effects of Air Pollutants, whose role is to look at just that,
the medical effects, the health effects. The committee that my
Department oversees looks at the measuring and monitoring of air
quality and they do work closely together. There is joint working
between the committees, some shared membership, and the departments
work closely together. I hope I can assure you on that point.
Indeed, at top level there are regular meetings between the Chief
Medical Officer and his team and various parts of my Department.
84. If you are looking at working closer with
the Health Department and you are obviously passing this information
on to the Transport Department, transport has made some tremendous
improvements over the last decade, particularly in petrol engines,
but I notice with the sale of diesel engines, oil burners, some
of them do not have particle traps. I see that vehicles, particularly
taxis that run around London constantly, churn out these particles.
What evaluation has been made of things like the London taxis
with regard to pollution in Central London?
(Mr Williams) Like petrol engines, diesel vehicles
are also subject to continually increasingly stringent emission
performance targets. Some will require what are called after treatment
devices, like particle traps, but even so, regardless of the technology,
as it were, the emission performance of diesels has also improved
markedly over the last decade and is likely to carry on improving
as the new emission regulations begin to work into the fleet.
Not only that but also measures to clean up diesel fuel have also
been put in place in the last five years or more to the extent
that now the whole of the UK market, for example, is ultra-low
sulphur diesel, which is considerably cleaner in terms of particle
emissions than the sort of fuel that you might have used ten years
85. There is no doubt that the improvements
that were made were brought about at a European Union level in
car manufacturing and diesel manufacturing, so how much influence
do you put into the European level of setting standards?
(Mr Williams) Quite a lot. Although, as Mr Bender
said earlier, the responsibility for this lies primarily with
our transport colleagues, we work very closely with them in providing
the environmental case for these Regulations and the UK is very
active in the EU. It has to be an EU activity of course for Single
Market reasons. The manufacture and sale of motor vehicles in
Europe is a Single Market issue. We have to make our weight felt
there and I think we do that effectively.
86. Although we are looking at the British scene,
of course one of the things that has always amazed me is when
we talk about the global effects and a climate tax, a few years
ago we shut down some aluminium smelting plants in Canada and
Britain, which were the cleanest in the world, and we bought in
aluminium ingots from Russia which were the dirtiest, most polluting
plants in the world and we were using these and keeping their
plants going. I thought are they in a different world, do they
have a different global climate to us, or are we, in fact, buying
in pollution as well? What is our approach to buying in pollution?
(Mr Bender) The Kyoto accord is a global agreement
which I hope each country will soon ratify which will be doing
its bit as far as contribution to climate change is concerned.
We approach these things internationally, initially through the
EU but also through the United Nations.
87. But is it a recognised problem?
(Mr Bender) I think the answer to that is up to a
point, insofar as there is now an agreement amongst the countries
that the Kyoto agreement does need to enter into force. That agreement
was secured in Marrakesh in the autumn.
88. Obviously not by America. If we go back
to our local scene, which is one we have more control over, and
we look at local authorities and the extreme difficulty of getting
local authorities to adopt a consistent approach to monitoring
and enforcement, what plans do you have for getting a more uniform
approach across England?
(Mr Bender) As I tried to say earlier, I think it
is a combination of provision of guidance, help desks, consultation
with us on their local plans, reviewing progress through our national
monitoring network, through external, technical advice. It is
basically a process of dialogue, guidance and influence.
89. So what is the fall-back position that you
have with regard to a local authority or area which is not meeting
standards or that you do not feel has the expertise or will to
improve its air quality? What powers do you have?
(Mr Bender) Ultimately we have reserve powers under
the 1995 Environmental Act but, as I said earlier, the Government
would see those as a last resort. The aim would be to pick up
areas and discuss and influence and change things that way rather
90. You have got these powers and you have done
a bit of monitoring for the last few years now. Do you have a
league table of authorities with very good best practice?
(Mr Williams) We have a very sophisticated set of
data on air pollution levels in the different local authorities
in the UK. We do not formalise the ranking of best practice in
terms of their management of air quality in that sense. What we
do do is have a process of continually evaluating their methods
and assessements and techniques and ways of going about it. We
do not formally rank that or quantify it in any way. What we do
have a very clear handle on is the level of air pollution in each
of the areas in the country so we know what the progress is like.
As Mr Bender has said, we have a very close and very regular dialogue
with all the local authorities to ensure that they know where
91. I understand that different authorities
have got different levels of problems and I understand that they
work at different rates, but I would still like to have confidence
that an authority that was letting down its particular area, was
not implementing strategies, did not have an effective plan or
department to look after it, was in some way monitored and brought
(Mr Bender) Let me give you an example where there
are local authorities still to complete their assessment of air
quality. We have been in touch persistently with them. We have
agreed work programmes with them. When they have produced their
air quality management areas, we will be assessing those and where
we see there are difficulties we will be having discussions with
them about it. It will not just be the Department, we will be
getting external expert advice on it. It will be a process of
close, continuing monitoring and dialogue with them.
92. The worst problems I would anticipate being
in London, and judging from this Reportand this might be
totally inaccurate, I might be misreading thisI get the
impression that you do not consider that you can tackle the problems
in London in the next few years, you can allow London more latitude,
you can allow London lower levels, and the health of a Londoner
in that respect is not as important to you as the health of people
in a rural area or up country? Am I wrong or right in that assessment?
(Mr Williams) You are wrong in that value judgment
at the end of the statement there in terms of valuing the health
of one part of the country against another. What we have done,
and I guess you are referring to consultation last September where
we were proposing a different objective for London particles to
the rest of Englandthe thinking that leads to that of course
is this proportionality issue we were talking about earlier. We
recognise that it will be much more difficult to achieve the levels
of particles in London that one could achieve in the rest of England,
for example, so we are back to the proportionality issue. Bearing
in mind the uncertainties and cost benefits, we judged that it
made sense, initially anyway, to propose a slightly less stringent
objective for London. That is not to say that over time we would
not expect London to achieve the sort of levels that the rest
of the country would as well, but we have to recognise that it
might take a bit longer.
93. I see from the Report on page 16 that you
have got four different bodies to monitor air quality. What is
the benefit of having four different bodies?
(Mr Williams) In a nutshell, to ensure robust data
and good practice. We employ some of the companies to police the
others in what we call quality assurance/quality control activity.
All these contracts are multiple tendered, they are put out to
competition, so there is every incentive for the operating contractor
to adopt as good practice as it possibly can, knowing there is
another competitor breathing down his neck looking at his methods,
and through this we achieve sound robust data.
94. I would have thought it would have been
better to have one authority body that passed information back
and forward within that body and you would have economies of scale
in this problem. Competition in this regard can work against you
because competitors do not tend to share best practice amongst
(Mr Williams) We make sure they do. We are in control
of the contracts, we let the contracts, and we ensure that they
95. It will be a first.
(Mr Williams) I think we have achieved it.
Mr Jenkins: Thank you, Chairman.
Chairman: Mr Gibb?
96. You said that particles are the most serious
of these pollutants. What kind of vehicles in an applicable town
or city would be the vehicles emiting the most serious particles?
(Mr Williams) Let me just be a bit more precise there.
We do not know, as I said earlier, which are the more damaging
parts of the particles so in that sense I cannot answer you. If
what you mean is which vehicles emit most particles, then the
answer at the moment is probably diesels on a vehicle-by-vehicle
basis. Petrol engine vehicles emit, per vehicle, much smaller
amounts of particles but there are considerably more petrol vehicles
than diesel so, on balance, they are not quite as blame-free on
that basis as in a vehicle-by-vehicle sense.
97. Take the modern, brand new Mondeo and the
20-year old double-decker bus, what is the proportion of emissions?
(Mr Williams) A bus will emit considerably more than
a passenger car.
98. How much more?
(Mr Williams) I could not say.
99. A factor of ten?
(Mr Williams) Probably near enough a factor of five
to ten, I would imagine.
1 Note by witness: Up to as much as twenty
to fifty times. Back