Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
MP, MR MIKE
260. So you are saying you cannot give any time?
(Mr Darling) No. If you ask me, "Is it two months?
Is it three months? Is it four months?" No, you cannot do
261. Could you do it the other way round and
say two months might be difficult?
(Mr Darling) I would think in two months it would
be difficult to come to a concluded view unless there were some
very significant event that was causing so much difficulty that
it caused you to come to a quicker judgment, but in terms of proper
evaluation of any transport scheme, two months is on the short-ish
262. What about the definition of congestion
itself? Is there more work going on in the Department on the definition
(Mr Darling) Yes. Amongst other things, you as a Committee
said, I think, your position was that you accepted the measure
the Government has is a measure, but you thought there were other
and better measures we ought to look at, and we are looking at
a range of measures. One of the things I feel quite strongly aboutand
stop me if I am going on too longis that having a measure
is important, because otherwise people will not know whether you
are succeeding or not, but I really think we also need to break
down the whole problem of congestion into its constituent parts.
Not all Britain's roads are congested all of the time. We know
where the pinch-points are on the motorways and the trunk system.
We need to take specific action there. We know there are particular
problems in particular cities. London is a classic example. We
need to concentrate more on particular localised problems in relation
to congestion far more than we are doing at the moment. At the
moment we tend to be concentrating on the very big picture, and
in so doing we might be missing some of the key points that we
need to tackle.
263. Are you saying then that the Department
is looking at different measures of success for road charging
(Mr Darling) No. We are looking and we will continue
to look at a range of measures for looking at congestion and of
evaluating the progress we are making, and I suspect in congestion,
rather like measuring poverty, there is no one measure that captures
everything that you want to look at. It makes sense therefore
for us to look at a range of measures, and when we have come to
a conclusion, of course we will tell Parliament. That is what
we have to do.
264. When the review is published, will that
contain new definitions or new figures on congestion?
(Mr Darling) I cannot say at this stage. We are at
a fairly early stage. What I can say is that the Government said
at the start of this ten-year process that we would be judged
on, amongst other things, our ability to reduce congestion. Reducing
congestion remains the key objective. If we look at other measures
and evaluate themand remember, there is a number of measures
that have been put to us, not least by your Committee, where we
have to do further work to see whether or not you can actually
do a proper measurement and so on. So it is really too early at
the moment to come to a view on that.
265. But in principle will the measures established
by the Department be consistent with the measures in the local
(Mr Darling) They have to be consistent with each
other, otherwise you would end up distorting policy, apart from
266. Is the answer yes?
(Mr Darling) You ask me are we looking at these things.
You are now asking whether I have reached a conclusion, and I
have not reached a conclusion.
267. No. I am asking you about principle of
things at the moment. If the Department decide to establish different
measures for success, will those measures also be used in the
local transport plans?
(Mr Darling) I see. You are asking would it be consistent
as between local and national. Yes, of course they have to be
consistent between local and national, because what happens locally
builds up to the national picture, but we have reached no decision
268. Secretary of State, firstly, if your Department
had been keen and enthusiastic about congestion charges from 1997
onwards, would you have saved the Deputy Prime Minister's bacon?
You will recall he said five years ago that if he had not reduced
road traffic within five years, he should be held to account.
Of course, he has failed in that promise. Secondly, if the Department
for Transport is now a keen advocate of congestion charges, and
that is not entirely clear to me yet, why is there no government
guidance for local authorities on congestion charging, and why
is there no action plan, as you have confirmed today, to promote
the advantages of congestion charging?
(Mr Darling) Let me deal with these points. Firstly,
my recollection is congestion charging was not raised with the
Government by local authorities until 1998. That is the first
time I recall discussions about it. It took some time to work
it up. Secondly, you ask about whether congestion charging would
have been brought in any earlier. We have consistently said it
must be up to the local authorities concerned as to whether or
not they introduce it. It is only one of a number of measures
that might be appropriate. It is not a uniform, across-the-board
solution. It can be appropriate in some areas; it may not be in
others. In relation to your guidelines point, here you do have
a point, if I may say so. I have been reflecting on this over
the last few weeks, and I think there is something to be said
for the Department producing guidelines for the benefit of local
authorities. If you press me and say, "When are you going
to do it?" I think the answer is that I would like to have
the benefit of seeing what happens in London in February, because
it would be a bit daft to produce guidelines, say, a month before
London introduced its scheme, only to have to say, "Here
is the second edition" in March, and given the fact that
we are not exactly being pressed by lots of local authorities
before that time, it would be sensible to do the guidelines, but
make sure they are right.
269. What steps is your Department taking to
enforce the congestion charging, particularly in London, to support
what the mayor is attempting to achieve? How confident, for instance,
are you that the information held by the DVLA is accurate enough
(Mr Darling) Firstly, we do not enforce it. The operation
and the rest of it is for the Mayor and his people.
270. But it relies on information supplied by
(Mr Darling) In relation to DVLA, that is our responsibility,
and whilst the vast majority of car records are up to date, it
is well-known that the DVLA needs to do an awful lot better. That
is something that is in process separately and we do in any event.
271. It has been for some time now, Secretary
(Mr Darling) I do not shrink from that at all. There
are an awful lot of things in the Department that have been around
for some time that it would be nice to arrive and find they had
all been done.
272. Not the Secretaries of State; just the
(Mr Darling) I think some of the systems have been
around a lot longer than the secretaries of state. I am reasonably
optimistic I may be here for a wee while, and the DVLA and the
state of its records is one of the things that I fully intend
to see if we cannot improve.
273. If you were inputting "Michael Mouse"
to a computer, would you not think all was not well with the registration
of a vehicle? I am reliably informed by enforcement officers that
they frequently come across vehicles registered in names of that
(Mr Darling) Yes, I think there is a number of things
we can do and we ought to be doing to make sure that we can verify
the identity of someone registering a vehicle. In fact, as you
may be aware, a few weeks ago we announced a number of measures
to tighten up verification of people, especially in private sales,
with people buying and selling, to make sure that you can better
identify the person. But there is a lot more to do. The DVLA clearly
has a huge number of cars, and it gets a lot of things right,
but there is a problem with a minority of cars where we are not
satisfied that the records are right. Yes, it should have been
done years ago, but it was not, and it is something that needs
to be attended to.
274. Is your Department going to issue any guidelines
regarding the technology for any future schemes? I have concerns
about the technology involved in enforcement, and monitoring the
scheme that the Mayor is proposing. Any future schemes would need
to be part of a national network if we were moving towards widespread
use of congestion charging.
(Mr Darling) Clearly, my Department will be monitoring
the development and the working of the London scheme, and in so
doing one of the things it will monitor is the effectiveness of
the IT and the other equipment that is being installed. Will we
issue guidelines? I think the first thing to do is to see what
happens, draw our conclusions, and I would think it is more likely
than not we would publish something in the light of experience.
It would go with the point that Mr Brake made in relation to the
more general guidelines. That may be a bit further down the line.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the IT would take longer than
a couple of months.
275. Can I ask about targets in the ten-year
plan? How integral to meeting those targets are congestion charging
schemes and parking place schemes? Will you have to revise the
targets for increased use of rail, buses and traffic reduction?
(Mr Darling) As I said to you right at the start,
congestion charging and workplace levy schemes are one of a wide
range of measures that can be adopted. If you look in the ten-year
plan, for example, it suggested there might be eight congestion
charging schemes. There are about 30 large towns and cities in
this country. It was only a small number. It was always seen as
something that local authorities might want to do; it was never
seen as a central part of our strategy.
276. Forgive me, Secretary of State. I always
hesitate to argue with someone of your quality, but congestion
charging was actually one of the two key objectives in the ten-year
(Mr Darling) Congestion charging was only one of a
number of other measures that also were directed towards reducing
277. So you have an action plan which will deal
with the situation if the congestion charging schemes are not
producing the amount of money that you need to progress the ten-year
(Mr Darling) There are two things there. One is that
I do not see congestion charging as being a means of raising money
to finance the ten-year plan.
278. This is an interesting discussion but actually
it was written into the ten-year plan.
(Mr Darling) Yes, but this is the conversation I was
having with Mr Grayling a short while ago.
279. I hope you are not going to go back over
that because we understand the problems.
(Mr Darling) No, I will not repeat it, since when
you consider your findings, you will have my evidence there. I
will not repeat that point, but what I can say to you is that
as I review the ten-year plan, as I have said I am going to do
in the context of the 2004 Spending Review, clearly I will consider
everything in that plan, and obviously I will ask myself, "Are
we on track? Do we need to do more? Has everything worked in the
way it was intended, or do we need to make changes?" I repeat
the point that I am not in the business of tearing up everything
we have done so far, because that would be absolute madness, but
of course you have to look at this plan. It is an evolving plan;
it is not something that is fixed in 2000 and it never changes.