Commons Gate

Departmental Annual Report 2005 (HC 684-i)

Transport Committee 16 Nov 2005

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Evidence given by Rt. Hon Alistair Darling, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Transport, and Mr David Rowlands, Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport.

Q47 Mr. Eric Martlew: On that I have a comment rather than a question. People who live in London do not understand what a good transport system they have got. There are other parts of the country where we are very envious of it. Before I come back to buses, there was a piece in the weekend's paper which said that to meet the climate change targets you are going to make us all drive at 70 miles an hour, which I thought was the legal maximum anyway on the motorways. Could you comment on that?

Mr Darling: If we believed everything we read in the newspapers then we would be very unhappy indeed. I read in the newspapers the other day that I was arguing for abandoning a target at a meeting which I was not actually at. I think it was the same newspaper actually.

Q48 Chairman: We would not put it past you, Secretary of State.

Mr Darling: I would. In relation to the 70 miles an hour, it is there for safety as are all our speed limits there. You are dead right, if the law says that you should not go more than 70, you should not go more than 70. We are not planning to change that speed limit nor have we given any instructions or advice to the police that they should change their policing of it, and indeed I think, if I remember rightly, on the list of things to do, that one was categorised right down the bottom in terms of yield, so I can tell the Committee if we ever decide to change the speed limits we shall let the House of Commons know, but I suspect that of such a dramatic step you would expect nothing less.

Q49 Mr. Eric Martlew: I do not think that is the point, Secretary of State. The reality is that the speed limit is 70 miles an hour. The article was not suggesting that it should be reduced but there is a feeling ---

Mr Darling: The one I read did.

Q50 Mr. Eric Martlew: --- It suggested a blind eye is turned to the fact that people do over 70 miles an hour.

Mr Darling: We may have been reading different articles but the article I read suggested that it should be reduced.

Q51 Mr. Eric Martlew: This one was everybody is going to be fined if they did over 70 miles an hour.

Mr Darling: I read that one as well. We have not given any instructions nor can we actually instruct chief constables what to do in that way or make any representations to them that say you must have a huge crack down on motorways. The police give it the attention that they think it needs. You are absolutely right, as you said earlier, if you law says you should not go more than 70, you should not go more than 70. That remains the case and nothing has changed in that respect.


Q54 Mr. Eric Martlew: If we can return to the buses, I was very interested in what you are saying. You seemed to be saying that there was a frustration in some areas that the local authorities and bus companies are not working together. To use my constituency as an example, we are in a situation where the city cannot take any more traffic yet we have a local authority that is downgrading the park-and-ride plans; they have never provided any. We have a situation where the decision-makers never travel on public transport. Most MPs will travel on public transport here in London but when they go back to their constituency they get the car. I just have a feeling that unless the Government are actually directing local authorities, we are going to end up with a situation where everybody will be blaming everybody else but there will be grid lock in some of our smaller cities.

Mr Darling: You are right that you do detect a degree of frustration and I think there are things the Government can do, which I talked about earlier. What the Government cannot do, though, is stand in the shoes of, say, the council running Carlisle, if the local councillors will not do something for one reason or another. Even under the days when buses were regulated no matter what the instructions, there was no way you could ensure that Whitehall ran Carlisle. What you can do through LTP settlements - and we are becoming increasingly prescriptive as to what councils ought to be doing by saying if you want the money this is what you have to produce and of course through the general law in relation to buses you are talking about - is generally you can point people in the right direction. Sadly, though, you cannot tell them what to do. As you know, there are councils at the moment busy taking out bus lanes. There are councils saying here is a bus lane but you are allowed white vans in them as well. White vans are precisely the people who cause difficulty because they stop for deliveries. I cannot be surprised if bus companies say how can we operate a reliable bus service and the knock-on from that is the public says I am not taking the bus because you cannot rely on it. It does need willing partners to make this thing work under any regime. I do not want to repeat what I said earlier, but we are looking at ways in which we can make things better.

Q55 Mr. Eric Martlew: Coming back to the free concessions for pensioners on buses, it is very welcome but the fact that it is off peak means that there is not a reduction in peak time travel as an alternative for patrons using the car. At peak times they are not going to catch the bus, they are still going to use the car. My local authority is actually using the extra money to give it throughout the day. Would it not have been better if the Government had spread the concession throughout the day?

Mr Darling: I suppose you can do all sorts of things. You have to balance how much money you have got to spend in the first place and where you actually spend it. There is always a risk if you do something you will be condemned for not doing more. I think that what we announced last year is useful. I am not saying it will not change in the future. Equally, lest there be any misunderstanding, I am not holding out hope that we are about to do something different on that but we always keep these things under review.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB