Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740 - 759)

WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002

RT HON STEPHEN BYERS, MP AND SIR RICHARD MOTTRAM KCB

  740. Come on!
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I am answering your question.—in relation to demand. So the answer is if the Government wishes abandoned cars policy to be tightened up—and quite clearly that is what the consultation document says—then DVLA has the capacity to do that, but it will cost more money and it will need more people to be employed. That is an issue which will need to be addressed in the next spending review, is the answer. It is not a question that they say "We cannot do it". Incidentally, Chairman, could I just say that our number is at least one million unlicensed vehicles, and many of them we think are also uninsured and many of the drivers do not have licences.

Mr Wiggin

  741. All of them will be uninsured. Do you not think you are going about this completely the wrong way? We know that it costs about £100 for every council to deal with an abandoned car. As the Secretary of State said, there is no value to these cars. Therefore, by paying £50 to somebody who wants to abandon their car, surely, you will deal with the problem very quickly and very easily. You have just got to give it a value, and then people will not abandon their cars.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) That is an option that has been looked at, yes.

Chairman

  742. Is the End-of-Life Directive coming from Europe going to help with cars, or is it going to get even more abandoned?
  (Mr Byers) I am not sure it is going to help enormously on abandoned cars.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) It potentially makes it worse.

  743. Which is it? Does not help or makes it worse?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) It makes it worse—
  (Mr Byers) It does not help!
  (Sir Richard Mottram) It makes it worse if we do not have a policy! We are thinking about abandoned cars. Our abandoned cars policy is being thought about in the context that we know the End-of-Life Directive is coming.

Mr Betts

  744. Obviously, railways have made the headlines in the last few weeks, but for my constituents who regularly use public transport buses are more important, and they always seem to be a forgotten subject, yet we see costs rising, frequency of, particularly, off-peak services declining, buses getting older since deregulation and essential services often removed just before 2 days' notice. Is this not the forgotten part of public transport that we need to refocus on now?
  (Mr Byers) I think you are right to say that this is a crucial area of public transport for very many people. I accept the criticism that perhaps we have not paid enough attention to it. That has got to change. What is interesting is that there is a considerable amount of additional funding going into buses and we are not seeing a return for it. I think we need to look very carefully at the structures that are in place and the levers that we have got to deliver a quality improvement as far as bus services are concerned. If that means we have to move to more of a contracting situation where we know what we are getting, we know what we are buying and we know the level of service, and we then pay for that, then that is something we have got to be prepared to do.

  745. The last Transport Act identified quality partnerships as maybe the way forward, and saw franchising as almost an after-thought of last resort. Is a signal being given now that if PTAs and county councils come forward with constructive and well-thought-through franchising arrangements for their areas that the department will look at those sympathetically?
  (Mr Byers) We will give it very careful consideration.

Mr Donohoe

  746. How many per cent is it of the public that use buses?
  (Mr Byers) I am not sure, offhand.

  747. How many use trains?
  (Mr Byers) About eight per cent.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) It is much bigger for buses. I do not know the figure.

  748. Maybe you could give us a note on it.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Of course.

Mrs Dunwoody

  749. Mainly women and the indigenous, I think you will find, Sir Richard.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Not in London. Obviously, London is the biggest bus market but there is a big difference between passengers and ridership—if there is such a word—in London and in some other parts of the country. The obvious case is the north-east where numbers are falling off as car ownership rises. In London ridership is rising and is widely spread across the community.

  750. You are looking carefully at the arrangements between the bus companies and those who are funding the buses in London, are you not?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) We are, yes. It is not our direct responsibility. Obviously there is a big problem over costs in relation to buses, which I think is driving this issue.

Mr Donohoe

  751. How much extra money do you think is going to be needed for the NATS 10-year investment plan?
  (Mr Byers) We are doing a lot of detailed work with NATS in the light of the downturn since September 11. There were problems there before September 11.

  752. Do you accept their figures on the downturn?
  (Mr Byers) We will want our own advice. We do not just take any figures that someone produces for us.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) They have given us a range of figures, on different assumptions, and we are talking to them about that range.

  753. Does that mean that you accept their range or not? You obviously accepted that they should delay the building of the NATS centre in Scotland on the basis of figures that they have already supplied to you.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) That is correct, yes.

  754. Therefore, do you think the figures they have given you are right?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) What we have been discussing with them is the range of outcomes where, as in all these cases, there is a so-called "best case", which will definitely mean forecasts which are lower than those which were envisaged pre-September 11, and then there is a case which is even worse than that. The argument is about that range. It is not really an argument because it is a perfectly amicable discussion, but there is an issue about the fact that none of us know how many people are going to be travelling in five years. Therefore, we need to have an approach to solving this problem which recognises that uncertainty.

Mrs Dunwoody

  755. They are asking for you to give them a donation?
  (Mr Byers) I will come to that, but the Scottish centre has been deferred, and the reason why we agreed to the deferral, with great reluctance, was actually to sort out the situation and to do the work first, and then to take the decisions that will be necessary, and that ties in with the point about the financial circumstances.

Mr Donohoe

  756. On the financial circumstances, is it right that you are considering paying back to the airline group some of the money that they expected, and on the basis of that—well, that is what has been reported in some of the newspapers.
  (Mr Byers) Yes, but you know as well as I do that you should not believe what you read in the newspapers.

Chairman

  757. Could you then answer my simple question on principle, which is that I thought the idea of moving it out of the public sector was to transfer the risk, but have we not actually been asked to carry the risk?
  (Mr Byers) I think you make a very important point, Chairman.

Mrs Dunwoody

  758. To which the answer is?
  (Mr Byers) There will be some people who would like the Government to take on the risk because they have a financial interest in getting us into that position.

  759. Your answer is that the Government is not taking on the risk?
  (Mr Byers) My answer is that Members of the Committee will know the arguments that were deployed at the time of NATS and those arguments apply equally today as they did then.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Of course, the Government is a minority shareholder in that company. That was the basis on which this was done.


 
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