Examination of Witnesses (Questions 594
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
MP AND SIR
Chairman: I will just ask Members to declare
Mrs Dunwoody: Rail, Transport and Maritime Trade
Mr Betts: Transport and General Workers' Union.
Mr Donohoe: Transport and General Workers' Union.
Mrs Ellman: Transport and General Workers' Union
and Adviser to the Local Government Association.
Miss McIntosh: GNER Car Parks and member of
the RAC Breakdown Services. Small shares in BA and, BAA and EuroTunnel
Rail, Track and Services. I would also like to register a farm
in the north of England.
Chris Grayling: I am a small-scale private landlord.
594. Can I welcome everybody to the fourth of
the Select Committee's inquiries into the Departmental Estimates
and Annual Report 2001 and questions on recent policy developments
from it. Secretary of State, can I welcome you and the Permanent
Secretary, and can I ask you to introduce yourselves to the Committee
(Mr Byers) I am Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State
for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I am Richard Mottram, the Permanent
Secretary of the same Department.
595. Does either one of you want to say anything
by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight
(Mr Byers) Just get on with it, I think.
596. The 2001 Annual Report talks about the
virtues of linking together environment, transport and planning.
Why then were these responsibilities split?
(Mr Byers) I think the reason why the Prime Minister
took that decision after the last Election was to allow the Department
to focus, I think, to a greater extent on what he believed would
be one of the key delivery areas for the second term of this Labour
Government which was transport, and I think he has been proved
to be correct by that analysis, but, most importantly I think,
in doing that, in putting environment into a new Department and
making links with food, agriculture and rural affairs, it was
very important that we did not lose the close relationship and
the importance that environment clearly has on the areas which
the new Department has responsibility for, whether transport,
local government and the regions, planning and so on. I would
like to think that we have been able to develop a very good and
constructive working relationship with the new Department, but
I think the main reason was to ensure that we could focus more
readily particularly on transport, because that is a key priority,
and a big decision needed to be taken early on in this Parliament,
but also on areas like planning, urban regeneration, renewal,
housing, the regions and so on, so it allows us a greater focus
on those issues, I think.
597. You are suggesting in your answer that
transport was not given proper attention because it was mixed
up with too many other policy headings in one Department, yet
the Prime Minister said that he took a gamble on the railways
and the gamble failed.
(Mr Byers) Well, he said on the Frost programme
on Sunday, actually repeating something I think the Deputy Prime
Minister said over Christmas and New Year, that early in the first
Labour Government in 1997 a gamble was taken in relation to Railtrack,
specifically in relation to Railtrack, whether action should have
been taken with regard to Railtrack or whether more money should
be given in the hope that Railtrack would begin to deliver as
a licensed operator, and I think that was the context in which
he said that the gamble was taken with regard to the position
relative to Railtrack. Just to clarify the position, I hope the
implication of what I said by way of the background to the decision
was not an implication that not enough had been done in the first
Parliament, but it was an indication, I think, that a greater
focus was going to be needed on transport in this Parliament,
bearing in mind that if we look back to the very clear statements
made in 1997, the priorities identified by the Government then
were, first of all, to stabilise public finances and then, secondly,
as we began to do that and as the economy began to grow and we
got more money which we could then devote to public services,
the two priorities were education and health. That was made very
clear in 1997 and in many respects those were the priorities as
far as the people were concerned as well and now that we have
made improvements in education and health, we have still got those
as priorities, but we have also got the need to drive forward
on crime and on transport as well, so those are now the four key
delivery areas as far as the second term is concerned.
598. Under the new structure, regional policy
is now separated from sustainable development. Does that give
you concerns and what are you doing to bridge the gap?
(Mr Byers) It does not give me concerns because in
all of this I think there is a political priority and you can
develop good working relationships and make sure that people know
what they are doing, why they are doing it and the direction in
which they wish to pursue policy. I agree with the thrust of the
point you are making in that the regions of England are almost
a sort of ignored powerhouse and we have got to do a lot more
to make sure that they can deliver more effectively than they
are at the moment. A great concern to me, as a North East Member
of Parliament, is that the disparities within the regions of England
are not narrowing, but they are actually growing and one of the
big challenges, I think, for a Government elected to govern for
all our people is to make sure that all of the regions of England
can benefit from the economic prosperity that we are seeing in
a few regions of England and sustainable development is going
to be a key part of that. In terms of where policy lies, there
is joint policy work going on between the Deputy Prime Minister
and myself in terms of a White Paper that we will be publishing
on the whole question of English regions, including elected regional
assemblies and there is work we are doing with my old Department
of Trade and Industry in relation to regional development agencies
and so on, so it is good working relationships that are going
to be important if we are going to deliver the sort of improvements
that we want to see and deliver on sustainable development of
599. We are told in evidence submitted to us
by your Department that there are liaison arrangements between
DEFRA and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the
Regions. How often have ministers, say, John Spellar and Lord
Falconer met Michael Meacher?
(Mr Byers) Well, Sir Richard may want to say something
about the official-level working relationship because there is
a concordat between the two Departments which does not just cover
politicians, but also covers officials as well and I think it
is very positive. I meet Margaret Beckett on a regular basis.
We meet every week in Cabinet, but we also meet informally over
a drink or we meet more formally just to make sure that we all
know what we are doing and at Minister of State level, there are
meetings in the diary on a regular basis.