Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. I accept that. I am not entirely happy about the fact that you just assumed it might come from other places. I would have thought the fact it might come from other places—
  (Mr Williams) There is very good data on the other routes of exposure to humans from lead in water and other sources.

  61. The fact you have got it in other places I would have thought would make it more important, not less important.
  (Mr Bender) Then it gets to a question of proportionality. Is it worth imposing the additional costs of reducing even further the lower route or concentrating on some of the more important routes?

  62. Can I come on to another facet of that and ask to what extent have you considered it—and air pollution is a particularly obvious example but other things as well—in terms of the difference it could make if you got much higher concentrations in some parts of the country and lower concentrations in other parts? Just looking at the overall effect of air pollution does not seem to me to answer the question.
  (Mr Williams) You mean air pollution generally or lead?

  63. Lead is an obvious example. You might have localised sources of pollution. What I am interested in generally is whether it might be more important and more cost-effective to do something because you have got very high concentrations in localised areas even though you have not got a very high concentration over the country.
  (Mr Williams) That is exactly where the advantages of the national approach together with what we call local air quality management (LAQM) come in. We have been very careful in the strategy to not over-egg the national measures, if you like, which could potentially be over-burdensome, but where there are local solutions to be made for those particular hot spots, we have left that to local action as more proportionate and more efficient. We can do that because we have a very sophisticated measuring and modelling capability that allows us to identify those hot spots and to give the local authorities the signals and so on to develop their local policies in conjunction with our national ones.

  64. Let me go on to ask you about a number of other pollutants not being considered. Does your Department deal with carbon dioxide?
  (Mr Williams) My colleagues who deal with climate change do, yes, but we have not included it in the Air Quality Strategy because, apart from the asphyxiation effect, there is no conventional damage at normal levels from CO2 in the sense that the other pollutants are damaging. The main problem is climate change issues and that is being addressed by large parts of my Department, too.
  (Mr Bender) The point is that there is a Government policy, as you well realise, on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but it is a different policy from air quality because the Air Quality Strategy is dealing with pollutants of the sort that are dangerous to health.

  65. Excessive carbon dioxide in the end can be extremely dangerous to health. If you are saying that two different departments are dealing with this then there is not a lot of inter-departmental work going on.
  (Mr Bender) It is part of my Department but the carbon dioxide emissions is taken in the context of the Government's approach to greenhouse gases and climate change overall. This strategy is primarily not concerned with climate change but concerned with short and long-term health effects of pollutants which are inhaled. I appreciate that there is an overlap between the two, but essentially they are policies targeted at different issues.

  66. Let's go on to one more obviously targeted health issue which is radioactive particles.
  (Mr Williams) Again, the answer is really analogous to the one we have already given on CO2 Yes, the Department recognises the problem of radioactive substances and there is a section of the Department that deals with them. Again, they are not incorporated in the Air Quality Strategy because, again, the problems are somewhat of a different nature. There are, of course, potential health effects from radioactive particles but the problem is a different one from the sort of things we are addressing here, the sources are different, and the control mechanisms and strategy-making is different.

  67. The sources for a lot of these different pollutants are different but the controls for these different strategies are not so different.
  (Mr Williams) The difference between the sources of pollutants in the strategy are not so great as the differences between the pollutants in the strategy and radioactive pollutants. What is more, the pollutants we are dealing with here are handled and managed through a much more coherent common legislative framework.

  68. What worries me, I have to say, about all your answers is that you seem to be speaking in a mind-set, "This is one problem so they deal with that, this is another problem, they deal with that problem, this is a third problem, they deal with that problem." One of the things this Committee keeps coming up against is a lack of inter-departmental working.
  (Mr Bender) First, can I say that this is within one Department.

  69. That is even worse.
  (Mr Bender) Therefore, I would like to reassure you that it is not the case. In response to the earlier questioning I think it became clear that this is a very complex issue as it stands so we have a strategy for dealing with these pollutants in this sort of way. In a different part of the Department we have a strategy that deals with radioactive pollution, and we have a strategy that deals with greenhouse gases and climate change. That is part of the Department's overall environmental protection strategy but if we drew it all together in one box it would look even more complicated than it is.

  70. There are clearly common issues. One of the examples that has come up again and again already in questioning which I think is very, very relevant is the lack of good information about the possible benefits. Clearly if somebody dies young, whether they die young from a radioactive particle or lead poisoning, you will still get the same cost benefit which would be there if that person were saved. All sorts of issues do cross these different pollutants and the fact that you think one is one problem and one another does worry me.
  (Mr Bender) We are not being as clear as we should be. They are related. There are specific strategies to deal with the three sets of issues you have described. They all come together in my Department under the Director-General for Environmental Protection, and there is a common team of scientists and economists who look at these things and look at them in common with the Department of Health and other departments. This is not a left-hand, right-hand type of job as we may have been giving the impression.

  71. I am glad to hear it. You certainly have been giving that impression. What about pollution from aeroplanes, that hardly seems to get a mention here?
  (Mr Williams) They play their part along with all the other sources and would form a part of the ongoing strategy to achieve our objectives.

  72. So do you have a strategy in the Department to reduce the use of aeroplanes?
  (Mr Bender) The contribution aircraft make to air pollution is taken into account in the Air Quality Strategy. The Government policy on aircraft travel is led, as you well know, by DTLR and, as I said earlier,—

  73. That is another department, so it does not concern you.
  (Mr Bender) I was about to say, as I said earlier, that is an example of a case where we engage with DTLR so that their forthcoming consultation, speculated on in today's press, about additional runway capacity, and therefore potentially additional aircraft movements in Southern England, will take into account the environmental aspects, including air pollution. We are in charge of the Strategy. We are responsible for the Strategy in Government but some of the levers and the contributors to that are in the hands of other Government departments: transport policy, industrial policy, fiscal policy.

  74. So when, for example, the investigation of the fifth terminal at Heathrow was going on you fed into that, I would hope, data on how many extra deaths you expected to be incurred because of the extra runway capacity at Heathrow?
  (Mr Bender) The issue was, indeed, fed in and the DTLR Secretary of State's letter on the Terminal 5 decision drew attention to obligations under Air Quality Directives and underlined the inspector's recommendation that BAA should be required as a planning condition to produce and keep under review an action plan showing how they intend to minimise emissions from and attributable to Heathrow. That is an example of the departments working together.

  75. I am delighted to hear that. Presumably you do this for all new road strategies, do you?
  (Mr Bender) There is an ongoing dialogue between DTLR and my Department on the environmental effects of all transport issues.

  76. Can we turn to another air pollutant. What about tobacco smoke?
  (Mr Williams) It is of concern to the area of the Department that deals with indoor air quality.

  77. So that is a different group again, is it?
  (Mr Williams) It is all within the same group in the Department and we all talk to each other quite a lot.

Mr Steinberg

  78. Over a fag!
  (Mr Williams) There are, of course, limits to what one can do on environmental tobacco smoke. One can control outdoor sources of pollution to a much higher degree than one can control indoor sources.

Mr Rendel

  79. It depends whether indoor is in public or in private I guess.
  (Mr Williams) That is right. The Department has provided advice and recommendations, along with the Department of Health as you will be familiar with, in terms of potential effects of tobacco smoke and the sorts of behaviour that one might expect in public places as well as indoors. There are limits to the extent to which one can go beyond that. We cannot control emissions from cigarettes in the same way that we can from cars.

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