Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
MP AND SIR
720. As I said earlier, over a quarter of journeys
are taken on foot, yet we are told you only have a couple of civil
servants whose job is devoted to promoting walking.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I do not, actually. We have
11, roughly speaking, civil servants who are working on a combination
of walking and cycling. They deploy themselves flexibly. This
is not how they get to work, this is how they
721. What sort of percentage is that out of
your total staff?
(Sir Richard Mottram) A very small number because
it is about 11 out of 3,400 or 3,500. If we thought that there
was some compelling need to put additional resource into that
area, I can assure the Committee that we could do that. We are
not in a position where we do not have the administrative resources.
722. You could double it quite easily, could
(Sir Richard Mottram) I can add to people in the area
probably a lot easier than I can meet the cycling target, Chairman.
I know the Committee are, quite rightly, concerned about this,
and I have talked to the people who are in charge of this area
and I have asked them whether, if we gave them more resource,
we would produce some dramatic effect. Their judgmentand
this is, after all, a free hit for them, a Permanent Secretary
does not often ask people "Would you like more people?"was
that this was not an issue about administrative resources inside
the department. If you think about the problem, it is a problem
which is mainly about local government resources, about professional
expertise, etc. We are looking at those areas as well, it is not
a question of whether we have 11 civil servants. If I could magic
the problem, if I could double cycling by putting 22 on the problem
I would put 22 civil servants on the problem.
723. Has the Commission for Integrated Transport
advised that the national annual vehicle mileage is not a suitable
indicator? If so, why was it used as a headline indicator in the
(Sir Richard Mottram) Can I send you an answer to
724. Why are the monitoring requirements for
local transport plans more comprehensive and wide-ranging than
for Public Service Agreements, which you include in your annual
(Mr Byers) I think they are trying to achieve two
separate things. The Public Service Agreement is an agreement
between ourselves and the Treasuryso it is an internal
government agreement, if you likethe Local Transport Plans
are an agreement arrived at in detail because of submissions made
in detail by the local authority to achieve particular objectives
in that local community. That is what we are funding. So the Public
Service Agreements are a broad outline (and we have just been
discussing some of them) without going into detail about how,
in process terms, it is going to be achieved. Local Transport
Plans are actually the opposite; they are very detailed and that
is why we need more monitoring opportunities.
725. Research commissioned by the DETR at the
University of Leeds seemed to indicate that if we are going to
do anything serious about congestion and environmental damage
transport charges need to increase. What contribution do you think
fuel tax will make in order to address the issues of environmental
damage and congestion?
(Mr Byers) On fuel tax, you have got to get to a situation
where you have a level of tax which is acceptable to the travelling
public. What we saw 18 months ago was people saying that the level
of taxation had got high enough, and they expressed that very
726. So if we get a cogent response in anything,
whether it is health or education, or transport, we can immediately
produce a result in the Treasury? That is an interesting theory.
(Mr Byers) As you know, Mrs Dunwoody, there was not
an immediate response from the Treasury.
Chairman: Just a delayed one.
727. It took them ten days to think of something,
and then they read our report.
(Mr Byers) I am sure they read the report before the
ten days, Mrs Dunwoody. The important thing, in any democracy,
is that governments will listen to the views being expressed by
individuals. It was looked at as part of the Budget process, and
the Chancellor made announcements in the Pre-Budget Report and,
I think, since then we have now got a level that people broadly
find far more acceptable.
728. It is the Chancellor who decides what is
the reasonable level for taxation on fuel. To that extent your
transport policy is a prisoner of whatever the Chancellor decides.
(Mr Byers) The Chancellor is responsible for taxation
729. Do you support the harmonisation of fuel
tax across Europe for commercial road users? It is the European
Transport White Paper.
(Mr Byers) My own view is that on matters like this,
matters of taxation should be decided by the UK Chancellor in
his Budget Report to the House of Commons.
730. If we are going to have a free market,
is it logical for transport costs to be different in different
parts of the European Union?
(Mr Byers) It is the nature of the European Union.
I think there are great dangers with the argument that harmonisation
of taxes will make a single market. The way in which we can achieve
a single market is if markets are actually opened up. If the French
opened up their electricity market then we might have a single
market in electricity in Europe. That is how we get a single market,
not by harmonisation of taxes.
731. If we wanted a single market in tomatoes
it does not make a difference as to how much it costs to move
tomatoes around Europe.
(Mr Byers) But the important thing is that tomatoes
can be traded freely in every country in Europe, so you have a
genuine single market.
732. But then you have a tax in some countries
because it is more expensive to move them in those countries.
(Mr Byers) What I am saying is there will be issues
to be determined by national governments about levels of taxation,
but the challenge for the European Union is to have a genuine
access to markets throughout Europe.
733. You recently issued a consultation paper
on how to streamline the procedures for dealing with abandoned
vehicles. What measures, if any, are you proposing to take to
stop the vehicles being abandoned in the first place? The consultation
paper does not address that.
(Mr Byers) No, although we did say something about
that particular aspect at the time. The consultation finishes
at the end of this month and we hope to have something by the
end of March. On the specific point, the issue is unlicensed cars,
and we calculate there are probably about a million unlicensed
cars in the United Kingdom.
734. May they be uninsured rather than unlicensed?
(Mr Byers) I am sorry, uninsured.
735. You are suggesting a million, the figure
we had when we did an inquiry into this was up to two million.
(Mr Byers) Anyway, it is far too many. A million is
a pretty extensive sum. I need to check on whether we think there
may be a million unlicensed, actually. That may be the figure.
Let me check on unlicensed or uninsured. The point is we have
to get to a situation where, if you like, the owner takes fiscal
responsibility for the car. At the moment, there is a situationand
we are improving the situation at the DVLA to be able to do thisto
make sure that there is a process of monitoring, so we have registration
on a rolling basis, so there is a far greater control and knowledge
over who actually has ownership of a particular vehicle.
736. Are any dialogues going on between your
department, the Home Office and, maybe, even the Lord Chancellor's
Department to sort out this issue, whether it is one million or
up to two million, of vehicles on the roads where the driver has
(Mr Byers) It is an area where a lot of work is going
on involving ourselves and others.
737. Who is taking the lead on that?
(Mr Byers) It is an enforcement matter, so the Home
Office, in terms of enforcing the legislation, is clearly in the
lead and we need to make sure that the police authorities treat
it as a priority. The reason why it has come forward as a big
issue is because the value of cars as scrap has just disappeared.
738. Have you looked at whether DVLA have had
sufficient capacity in their computer system to actually operate
these new controls?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes. The answer to that is that
they would do. Obviously there are resource issues and we have
to put more money into it, but it is not unfeasible for them to
739. Anybody can do it, given the equipment
and given the numbers of civil servants that they need to operate
the system. What I am asking is are you satisfied they can at
the moment? Are you satisfied they will have enough money available
to them in the coming year? What are you saying to the Home Office
(Sir Richard Mottram) On resources, if you look at
the way in which provision is made for DVLA and you look at the
number of civil servants in DVLA, you can see that it fluctuates