The draft Local Transport Bill (HC 692-v)
Transport Committee 18 Jul 2007
Evidence given by Rt. Hon Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State for Transport, Steve Gooding, Director of the Road Pricing and Statistics Directorate Bob Linnard, Director of Regional and Local Transport Policy Directorate.
Q708 Mr. Eric Martlew: Firstly, I am not perhaps in harmony with other members, I have reservations about the independence of traffic commissioners; I have seen them make some very bizarre decisions. Coming to the board, we had the senior traffic commissioners here last week and they did not have any inkling about it, yet you are saying the public would expect this. Why was it not put out before? It seems like a panic measure, that somebody has suddenly just decided we should have a board. Can you run us through the procedure where you have come to the possibility of having a board?
Ruth Kelly: I am afraid I can only run you through the process of the past few weeks since I have been in this job, but I can say that the Department was already thinking about how traffic commissioners should be held to account. This is one way and it seems a reasonable way of attempting to do that. Clearly, we need to consult on the details but I believe people would expect buses to have to run on time, for bus operators to be held to account for performance. Given the views expressed by this Committee and elsewhere we have decided to issue in due course this consultation document.
Q709 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on that, could it be possible that your predecessor decided against a board, you are new to the job and the civil servants have floated the idea again?
Ruth Kelly: No, I do not think that is right actually. If you look back to the consultation paper which was published by the Department I understand that that made reference to the idea of publishing a consultation document on reform of the traffic commissioners.
Q710 Chairman: I do actually think it is quite an interesting point that Mr Martlew raised because this is the first that we have really heard about this, Mr Linnard. When did you first start thinking about it, because your bus strategy was published seven months ago.
Mr Linnard: As the Secretary of State has said, in the consultation document that was published in May along with the Bill we said that there were some provisions in the draft Bill about the traffic commissioners, clause 1 as it has been referred to, but we also said that further changes may be proposed and if that did happen then there would be a subsequent consultation paper.
Q711 Chairman: Ah, the changes may be brought before you. It is not much of an indication that you were thinking of changing the structure, is it really?
Ruth Kelly: One of the things that it is very important to do is to take into account the views of the people like the members of this Select Committee.
Q712 Chairman: If you wanted to take notice of our views you would have to at least give us an indication of what it is you want to talk about. All I am saying to you, Mr Linnard, is you have had seven months and it has not so far been part of the evidence we have got nor is there any indication that the Department has consulted with the traffic commissioners. Have you consulted with the traffic commissioners spelling out to them what this will mean? They did not seem to give us any indication last week that they knew about this.
Mr Linnard: We have had some discussions with the senior traffic commissioner but, clearly, this is something which Parliament ought to be told of first and this is potentially quite a significant change.
Q713 Chairman: Yes, you will understand the Government has imposed this timetable upon us because the legislation is to be brought in. The Government asked us to look at it, we have been doing the work, this is rather a basic and important plank of policy and suddenly we are told there is going to be a consultation document which will propose changes which have not been discussed. What I want to know is when you actually took this decision.
Ruth Kelly: As I said, Chairman, the decision to publish a consultation document has been taken in principle. The actual content of any consultation document has not yet been approved and so I am in the process of considering these changes. I thought it would be useful to bring that to this Committee's attention.
Q714 Chairman: No, it is extraordinarily polite and helpful of you but I would have thought the normal way of doing it was to publish the consultation document as we are taking evidence and then publish the legislation, not to publish the Bill first and to ask us to take evidence on it and then to publish the consultation document. That is probably just my naivety.
Ruth Kelly: Of course, I can only answer for the last few weeks but what I would say, and I am confident in saying this, is that the view of both the people giving evidence here and the Committee have been taken into account in the decision to develop proposals for the traffic commissioner body, and that led to the idea of publishing a consultation paper.
Q739 Mr. Eric Martlew: I have asked a number of witnesses regarding the position in my own constituency where, the same as in many other constituencies, we have a monopoly situation with Stagecoach. It is an urban area of about 70,000 people and basically when you talk to the county council they say this Bill will make very little difference to the way that the buses run in my area. Do you agree with that?
Ruth Kelly: No, I do not, there are opportunities for every sort of council and every sort of area through this Bill, whether it is urban or whether it is rural or whether it is semi-rural. Really we are looking for the local authorities to be creative in how they integrate transport strategies and how in particular they run local bus services. There is this huge potential for improvements in bus punctuality and reliability and making sure that we have the right services in the right places, running with the right frequency and the right standards. Clearly, in some areas that is working quite well and indeed we know that in areas like Brighton and Nottingham and so forth where there is a single operator that system has already produced dividends, a voluntary partnership. What we would like to see through this Bill is that sort of co-operation or indeed franchising where co-operation does not produce what is required to be extended through the rest of the country, but in addition to those measures on buses in this Bill there are also other measures which local authorities could benefit from, for instance the relaxation of the rules or the deregulation of the rules on community transport which, in rural areas in particular, could make a real difference - for example, being able to pay drivers of minibuses when they are in the community transport setting and not having so strict a system on the numbers of people that can be carried and so forth. There are potentially many different ways for this Bill to help people across the country.
Q775 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on the process of deciding whether you should have a congestion charge or not, the Committee recently went to Stockholm and in reality they had a referendum and the people who were inside the congestion charge area who were not going to be charged at all voted in favour and the people who lived on the outside voted against. An example could well be people who are living in Bolton going into Manchester. Do you think that the local authorities should take that decision or do you think the Government is going to have to come in because there will be conflict between those for whom it will cost money and those authorities that will gain money?
Ruth Kelly: These things are never going to be easy, which is why I envisage substantial local consultation before any area considers introducing schemes like road pricing or bidding for the Transport Innovation Fund. They should be looking not just as to where any particular charge might apply, or road pricing scheme might apply, but right to the whole travel-to-work area surrounding it, which is one reason why they might also want to consider governance changes. I think you are absolutely right to say that any scheme would affect not just those within the scheme but also those living outside the scheme, and all of those need to be taken into account, which is an argument for integrating transport into a single integrated strategy and thinking not just about different modes of transport but how that links into the economic strategy for an area, how it encourages or discourages regeneration and how you make the most of those things. You are absolutely right, there will not necessarily be a confluence of interest between those who live inside and those who live outside the scheme, where you would think there would be to some extent.
Q776 Mr. Eric Martlew: What I am really saying is at the end of the day is it not likely that the Government will have to take that final decision to give the go-ahead or to block?
Ruth Kelly: No, I do not think would be for Government. These are decisions that can be taken at a local level, although local areas would have to be very confident that the benefits that were to be obtained through any particular scheme and any particular funds which may or may not be available through the Transport Innovation Fund were justified.
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.
The full transcript may be read at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmtran/uc692-v/uc69202.htm
|On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB|