Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 227 - 239)




  227. Ms Phillips, welcome. Can I apologise? You have been very patient. Could you introduce yourselves?

  (Ms Phillips) I am Diane Phillips. I am the director of transport strategy in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. On my right is Mark Coulshed, who is the head of our railway sponsorship division and on my left is Gary White, who deals with European regional development.

Dr Francis

  228. How would you describe the relationship between your Department and your predecessor department and the National Assembly since devolution?
  (Ms Phillips) We have worked quite well together. We have worked hard to establish a close working relationship under the concordat that exists between the Department and the National Assembly. On transport issues, we have quite a lot of contact with our colleagues in Wales. We have had two quite major meetings with them, one in November 2000 where we went through a whole range of issues. We made a presentation to them on the ten year plan. We explained to them the modelling underpinning the ten year plan and we followed it up with a further seminar with them on modelling. They talked to us about the proposed transport framework in Wales, about the social impact of transport and we have close working relationships on the Transport Direct exercise that we are dealing with. We had a meeting only a few weeks ago with them as part of the general departments high level forum. Various issues were raised on both sides, including some unease on the part of the National Assembly about how the working relationships were going with the Highways Agency, which we are now investigating and trying to sort out, how we were doing on our review of the ten year plan and how it was going to work out, and again a brief discussion on the work that they are doing on the transport framework for Wales. We meet them on a regular basis; we exchange views; we help each other where we can and the general objective is that we keep each other in the picture and we should operate a system of no surprises.

  229. The Secretary of State for Wales, the present Secretary of State, has described the relationship as a partnership. Would you describe your relationship as a partnership of equals?
  (Ms Phillips) I think so. Inevitably, because we are a large department with a lot of expertise we probably have more detailed knowledge of the transport issues than our colleagues in Wales have simply because of the size of the department. We offer them assistance and expertise on some issues and they can return the assistance and the expertise on other issues. I would say it was a collaborative arrangement.

Mr Prisk

  230. You mentioned your relationship with the National Assembly, how has that worked with the Secretary of State for Wales office? How does your relationship work with that office?
  (Ms Phillips) If issues arise which are non-devolved issues and in which there is a Wales interest then we would have discussions with them. Because most transport issues are devolved to Wales, most of our contact on the transport front is with the National Assembly.

  231. Is that relationship secondary?
  (Ms Phillips) I would not say it is secondary, I would say that we deal with the appropriate people as the issues come up.

Mr Caton

  232. Coming on to your relationship with the National Assembly, the Assembly is committed to developing an integrated transport policy for Wales and you believe it already has the power to implement such a policy. Is that the case?
  (Ms Phillips) Certainly the majority of ministerial functions in relation to transport are devolved, in relation to roads, local passenger transport, local authorities. The issue which is not devolved to them is railways. This is for good reasons, which relate to decisions ministers took some time ago. In terms of the other functions, most of them are devolved to the Welsh Assembly and we believe that system operates well.

  233. I think we will be coming back to some of those. One of the options being considered by the Assembly at present is the establishment of a Passenger Transport Authority for all or in parts of Wales, does the Assembly have the power to do this, in your view?
  (Ms Phillips) No, it does not, this requires primary legislation.

  234. Do you see your department as having a role in supporting the Assembly in delivering that vision that I mentioned of an integrated transport system?
  (Ms Phillips) Yes. I do not think we are supporting the Assembly, that is not our role, our role is to collaborate with the Assembly and provide information that we have, assistance that we have and technical information that we have, for example through our research programme.

  Mr Caton: Thank you.

Adam Price

  235. Coming back to the issue of the Passenger Transport Authority, in the government's response to this Committee's Report on transport the department said that you were not persuaded to give the National Assembly the appropriate powers at that time to set up a Passenger Transport Authority for the whole of Wales or, indeed, for a region within Wales. In view of the recent developments and, of course, the EU publication of the e-transport framework by the Welsh Assembly Government will you be reconsidering that position?
  (Ms Phillips) I think that if the Assembly made out a case for a PTA for Wales of course ministers would consider it. They would want to know in detail what the case was. They would want to know the view of whether the advantages of an authority outweighed the disadvantages of the disruption in setting it up. They would want to know that this was supported by the consumers and the users of transport, by the local authorities and by the providers of transport. Once they had that information ministers would consider it.

  236. Is that assessment fundamentally a matter for the National Assembly for Wales and their elected members?
  (Ms Phillips) Yes, it is an assessment for them to make and for them to make the case then to United Kingdom ministers because, as I say, this does require primary legislation.

  237. The government might take it and exceed to any clear request?
  (Ms Phillips) I do not say that they will exceed to a clear request. They will want to look at the request and make up their own minds on it, that is the way in which the devolution settlement works.

  238. There will be a dual process and an assessment at National Assembly level and a further assessment of the assessment.
  (Ms Phillips) Ministers would have to take a view on whether they agreed with the proposal that is being put forward before promoting the primary legislation.

  239. A supplementary to the supplementary, coming back to the issues of railways, you mentioned it was a clearly reserved matter, but as far as the National Assembly and the Scottish Executive does have powers of direction and guidance over the Strategic Rail Authority, the Assembly's Environment Planning and Transport Committee have been pressing for similar powers for the National Assembly, would you support any application from the National Assembly for similar powers to the Scottish Executive?
  (Mr Coulshed) I am not sure it is really for us to support or not, again this in the end would be a matter for ministers to decide. Of course the legislation is quite recent, the set up of the SRA in last year's Transport Act, and ministers did consider at the time this precise issue. They took the view then that they regarded the GB rail network as a unified network. They agreed that in relation to franchised services in Scotland, which can be geographically fairly clearly distinguished from the rest of the network, the Scottish Parliament would have the power that it does. They did not think it was the right thing to do to give a similar power to the Welsh Assembly, partly because the geographical factors are different. Scottish railways are largely geographically distinct. Most railway services serving Wales, apart from the local services round Cardiff, actually run to and from Wales and that made it a more difficult proposition. Ministers thought it was better to stick with their original view, that this was a GB network and that was the way they wanted to operate it.

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