Report by Mr Paul
Channon, Chairman of the Committee
1. Details of the Reports
published by the Transport Committee in the 1992-97 Parliament,
together with information about the Government replies to those
reports, are contained in a separate statistical summary. It
was agreed at our meeting on 15 January that I should also send
the Liaison Committee a paper prepared by Mr Paul Flynn, a Member
of the Transport Committee.
Views on matters raised by
the Trade and Industry and Public Service Committees
Scrutiny of Agencies
2. Until the Transport Research
Laboratory was privatised earlier in the year, the Department
had eight Executive Agencies. The Committee has held substantive
inquiries into the work of the Coastguard Agency and into the
privatisation of the Transport Research Laboratory and the deregulation
of work carried out by the Vehicle Inspectorate. Both of these
allowed issues to be raised in public that might not otherwise
have been discussed as openly. A number of the recommendations
of the Committee were carried out.
3. In the course of its
inquiries into policy matters we have taken evidence from the
Highways Agency and the Marine Safety Agency.
4. The Committee has not
examined any Agency Chief Executives on their objectives and performance.
I note that the Public Service Committee has recommended that
committees take a more serious and long-term interest in agency
performance and administration. The importance of the work of
these agencies is recognised. However it should remain the right
of committees to set their own agenda and it may not be possible
to accommodate scrutiny of all agencies in the time available
to Members. It is also likely that proper scrutiny of agencies
would require a particularly large amount of staff and Members'
time in preparing and absorbing briefing material for single sessions
of evidence. In addition, in many cases there may be little that
the committee may wish to say in a report following such a session.
Committees must have the right not to take evidence from an agency
if there appeared no necessity to do so.
5. The Committee has investigated
the work and responsibilities of associated public bodies of the
Department: British Rail, London Transport and the Civil Aviation
Authority. These hearings have usually been part of inquires
into policy matters of relevance to these bodies.
Resource and time constraints
6. We have not found that
we have needed further staff resources or, apart from the special
case of overseas travel, have we found that financial constraints
have prevented the effective work of the Committee. However the
Committee has more staff than some others and makes use of a number
of specialist advisers.
7. There might be a danger,
if committees had larger staffs, of committees being staff- rather
than Member-driven, as Members have generally not been able to
meet more than once a week other than on a few occasions and during
the inquiry into railway privatisation early in the Parliament,
which was obviously an urgent matter of Parliamentary and public
8. The Transport Committee
has made extensive use of specialist advisers and has generally
found their help valuable. There has occasionally been concern
at possible conflicts of interests that advisers may have. Since
they are recruited because of their activity and knowledge of
a particular subject, it is to be expected that even academic
advisers will have certain relevant financial interests, and this
need not affect the quality or reliability of the advice they
give. I would suggest, though, that advisers be asked formally
to declare their relevant financial interests.
9. The Treasury-set per
diem rate of pay for specialist advisers, particularly those
of non-professorial rank, is rather low compared with the rates
they might command in working for private sector organisations
and I understand that it has not altered during the Parliament.
Although many advisers are willing to accept these lower rates
because they believe that working for one of the House's committees
may be useful for their careers or simply because they will find
it interesting, I do not think that committees should rely on
this goodwill to compensate for low pay. Consideration should
be given to raising the rates of pay for specialist advisers.
10. I am sure that advisers
who have completed their tasks could have useful comments on the
committee system and its effectiveness. Might it be worth asking
advisers for their views on a House-wide basis?
Relations with the NAO and
11. We have not found that
the work of the NAO/PAC and of the Transport Committee have overlapped
unduly. I am sure that there would be merit in some more formal
relationship between the NAO and departmental select committees.
It would, for example, be useful to be consulted formally by
the NAO on its programme of work so that duplication of effort
can be minimised. It might also be a more effective use of the
NAO if the policy implications of its findings were on
occasion to be pursued by departmental select committees in a
way that the PAC is not empowered to do.
12. On occasion I am sure
that the Transport Committee might wish to request a memorandum
or oral briefing from the NAO on the financial affairs of the
Department; this would be particularly useful during the change
to resource accounting and budgeting by Departments. There might
be times when it would be helpful for NAO staff to work temporarily
The concept of Parliamentary
13. There might be merit
in extremely complex matters, which would otherwise occupy too
much of a committee's time, being studied on a committee's behalf
by a commission so as to establish important factual information.
It would be open at the moment to a committee to commission research
into a topic but I understand that the budget for such research
is very limited.
14. An alternative method
of proceeding is to ask specialist advisers to undertake work
in return for their per diem rate. The Transport Committee
has done this early in the Parliament when we asked an academic
adviser for a paper on the consequences of the deregulation of
buses. He then presented oral evidence to the Committee on the
basis of his paper, which Members found a most informative exercise.
15. We have not needed to
summon named officials, preferring to allow the Department and
other organisations to send those whom they believe would be the
most suitable. We have not needed to order the attendance of
Members. Nor have we needed to see confidential documents under
the `crown jewels' procedure whereby Members have been able to
see documents but to take no record of them.
16. The Liaison Committee
may however be interested in a matter which we have already raised
with the Public Service Committee, concerning the difficulty the
Committee had in obtaining the attendance of Treasury witnesses.
It was raised with the Liaison Committee at the time.
17. During our inquiry in
1994 into the Government's proposals for motorway tolling the
Committee invited the Treasury to give evidence on the rules governing
the use of fees levied with the purpose of paying for the renovation
of facilities in view of the Treasury's reputed opposition to
hypothecation. This invitation was refused. At the subsequent
evidence session with the Department of Transport we were hampered
by the lack of witnesses from the Treasury who would have been
able to answer questions as to the use which would be made of
motorway toll proceeds; Department of Transport officials told
us that they had to follow the guidance of the Treasury.
18. In my absence Mrs Dunwoody
wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to point out the
problems that the absence of Treasury witnesses had caused us
and reiterating our invitation to the Treasury to give evidence.
He wrote back again refusing to allow his officials to appear
before the Committee. We therefore raised the matter with the
Liaison Committee at its meeting on 14 June 1994.
19. At that meeting the
Chairman of the Liaison Committee proposed that the Transport
Committee seek to examine Treasury Ministers on the paper that
it had by then offered the Committee. If that did not succeed,
Sir Terence Higgins offered to take the matter up with the Chancellor
of the Exchequer.
20. The Committee eventually
succeeded in taking oral evidence on 18 July 1994 from the Financial
Secretary to the Treasury, which proved to be extremely valuable
to the Committee in its deliberations. This was, however, eight
weeks later than the meeting at which it had originally been intended
to hear from Treasury officials and our Report was therefore delayed.
Suggestions for the Future
21. The Transport Committee
has undertaken several inquiries into matters on the basis either
of White or Green Papers and has found them to be extremely valuable.
I am sure that a committee's views have more influence with the
executive at the pre-legislative stage than after policies have
22. We conducted a substantial
inquiry into railway privatisation early in the Parliament, based
on the proposals in the relevant White Paper. The inquiry was
completed before the Bill had passed, but even such a prompt inquiry
was probably too late to have a significant impact, particularly
in such a politically controversial matter.
23. The Committee's inquiries
into the then recent Green Papers and consultative documents relating
to taxis, motorway tolling, urban road pricing and the privatisation
of air traffic control were most timely and many of the Committee's
opinions were positively received by the Government. I believe
that these took place at the most effective time to influence
policy formation, as they were published during the consultation
period. The Committee is presently examining National Air Traffic
Services and we will produce a report in February which will be
in time to form part of the consultation process on the number
of air traffic control centres the country needs.
Scrutiny of Delegated and
24. When the Liaison Committee
consulted departmental select committees on the possibility that
they should have a formal role in scrutinising delegated legislation,
the Transport Committee was of the opinion that such committees
should be involved in such work. This would certainly have involved
an increase in the number of committee staff and the time commitment
of Members and would to some extent have removed from committees
the right to set their own agenda. I do not believe that it is
possible for committees properly to scrutinise all the delegated
legislation from their departments.
25. The Liaison Committee
concluded in April that a central `sifting' committee would be
the appropriate means of scrutiny, along with a mechanism for
the relevant departmental select committee to have the opportunity
of having an input at an early stage of the sifting committee's
consideration of an instrument.
26. The Procedure Committee
has recently reported on the scrutiny of delegated legislation.
It agreed with the view of the Liaison Committee. It recommends
that the new committee should have the power to communicate with
departmental committees and draw on the expertise and staff of
those committees. It also rejected the idea that the committee
should have a representative membership from the several departmental
27. We would be concerned
if the requirements of the proposed new sifting committee were
significantly to eat into the time of our own Committee staff.
The new committee would also, I am sure, benefit from having
a membership representative of departmental committees. Such
a membership would additionally allow the departmental committees
to keep in touch with the sifting committee, if only in an informal
28. The Transport Committee
has not systematically investigated the merits of pieces of European
legislation, but has visited the Commission in Brussels and has
taken oral evidence at Westminster on several occasions from Commission
officials and, on 9 December 1996, from the European Transport
Commissioner himself. At these meetings the Committee heard evidence
on several European legislative proposals. There is an increasing
amount of European legislation in the transport field, some of
which has great potential importance. It will always be difficult
for the Committee to scrutinise it systematically, as monitoring
the work of the Department already keeps the Committee busy.
Accountability of Regulators,
29. Particularly since the
privatisation of the railways, a number of offices have been created
which are associated with the Department of Transport but are
not executive agencies. Two prominent ones are the Office of
the Rail Regulator and the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising.
The Committee has taken evidence from these offices at least
every year since their creation, as part of its work in reviewing
the implementation of rail privatisation. Neither of the offices
is effectively accountable through the Secretary of State on the
floor of the House and the large sums of public money and the
important decisions for which such people are responsible make
it important that the select committee should take evidence from
them regularly even if it is unable to hold a full scale inquiry
into their work. I am sure that other committees will have similar
offices within their spheres of interest.
30. It has been suggested
that select committees should undertake hearings with those nominated
by the Government to hold senior public appointments. There would
be merit in committees holding evidence sessions with newly appointed
officials other than civil servants, for example regulators, who
have substantial autonomy and individual responsibility in important
31. Whether the approval
of the relevant select committee should be required before such
a person took office is less clear. Committees do not necessarily
hear evidence in a way that would be conducive to a fair appraisal
of the different candidates. In any case, it would seem strange
for a select committee to be able to veto an appointment by a
Secretary of State, who has the responsibility for the executive
and would have to work with the appointee. There is also the
danger that if committees were to have such formal powers, they
would attract more interest from the whips, thus endangering their