Examination of Witnesses (Questions 227
TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2001
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
(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
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.