Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Third Report


POWERS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

Background

109. Like many areas of public policy, responsibility for transport in Wales is divided between the UK Government and the National Assembly for Wales. There is a complex network of powers and functions in which responsibility for many areas of transport policy is shared or divided between London and Cardiff. The UK Government is responsible for policy relating to railways, but consults with the National Assembly on certain issues. For example, the SRA must consult the National Assembly about its strategy, the award of any new franchise in Wales and derogations of Public Service Requirements.[163]

110. This Committee and its predecessor Committee have highlighted the need for an integrated transport policy for Wales in two previous reports.[164] To encourage the development of such a policy, our report on Transport in Wales recommended that the following powers be transferred to the National Assembly:

    "powers of guidance and direction over the Strategic Rail Authority in respect of the Wales and Borders franchise and other rail services within Wales provided that they are consistent with the guidance and direction of the Secretary of State; and

    "power to appoint two members of the SRA using the open system for public body appointments;

    "a statutory duty to ensure that the interests of those in England who are served by the Wales and Borders franchise are properly represented".[165]

111. In its response to our recommendations, the Government stated that it was not persuaded that the National Assembly should have powers of direction and guidance over the Strategic Rail Authority , as the Welsh railway network had a much greater degree of inter-dependence with the English network.[166]

112. The response also explained that it was the statutory role of the Secretary of State for Transport to appoint all members of the SRA Board, and was required to consult the National Assembly about one member of the Board, taking into consideration that member's familiarity with the special requirements and circumstances of Wales. The Government did not agree that the needs of Wales would necessarily be better served by giving the National Assembly the direct power to appoint a member, or more than one member.[167]

Powers of Direction and Guidance over the Strategic Rail Authority

113. This was not the view of the National Assembly, which welcomed devolving further powers to the National Assembly, in particular powers of direction over the SRA, and the power to appoint a member to the SRA. Sue Essex, Minister for Transport, Planning & Environment said that "Whilst I understand the Government's arguments about the nature of the network in Wales, I do not think that these concerns are insurmountable […] The rail network in Wales is a key element underpinning the Welsh Assembly Government's vision for a coherent transport network. Powers of direction over the SRA are therefore essential so that the delivery of train services in Wales supports our integrated transport policy. We would work very closely with the English border authorities to ensure their needs and aspirations are also fully integrated into the services".[168]

114. The Rail Passengers Committee also welcomed the proposals to transfer to the National Assembly direction and guidance over the SRA[169] believing it would achieve decision-making "closer to the people".[170] Furthermore the RPC argued that powers of direction and guidance over the SRA conferred on the Scottish Parliament gave it the ability to pursue an integrated transport policy as a means of attracting people off the motorways.[171]. While Network Rail had no view on devolved powers it acknowledged that this division of powers worked well in Scotland.[172]

115. Arriva trains provided an insight into joint responsibility to the SRA and another body - in this case Merseyside PTE where Arriva have until recently been the train operating company. Mr Cameron told us that the PTE "specify the level of service, the quality of service and they pay for additional services over and above those specified by the SRA".[173] Arriva expected that if similar powers were conferred on the Welsh Assembly Government, it could be "much more vocal [than the SRA] in looking after local needs, to be very focused and very determined, making sure the border counties were not to lose out and that the Assembly Government would be an active partner in the railways".[174]

116. The Government position has softened since our last Report. In written evidence the Department for Transport told us that its officials have had "initial discussions with National Assembly officials about the National Assembly's desire for a [Transport (Wales)]Bill and we are currently considering more detailed proposals as to whether or to what extent Westminster Government would be prepared to support a Bill that contained some or all of the proposals".[175]

117. When we took evidence from the Minster for Transport he confirmed that his Department and the Welsh Assembly Government were in discussions about a draft Transport (Wales) Bill and that those discussions included these issues. While he noted the complexities of conferring powers on the National Assembly over a rail service that meanders in and out of Wales he argued that: "It is not rocket science, we ought to be able to get somewhere on that".[176]

118. The financial powers sought by the National Assembly would involve complex arrangements with the SRA. Powers of direction and guidance similar to Scotland's would have to take into account differences between the Welsh and Scottish rail networks. However, Dr Howells was of the opinion that the resolution of financial arrangements were not insuperable problems.[177]

119. We welcome the progress that has been made in discussions on the strategic direction of the rail network between the UK Government and Welsh Assembly Government. We reiterate our recommendation that powers of guidance and direction over the Strategic Rail Authority in respect of the Wales and Borders franchise and other rail services within Wales be conferred on the National Assembly for Wales.

Appointment of SRA Members by the National Assembly

120. It its response to our report on Transport in Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government also stated that it wished to see a clause providing for the appointment of at least one member of the SRA in any Transport (Wales) Bill.[178] This would provide a clearer link between the National Assembly and the Strategic Rail Authority. The Government's response was less than enthusiastic about this proposal.[179] However, the Minister of State for Transport believed that this was open to discussion and stated that Richard Bowker, the Chairman of the SRA was also keen to discuss that with the National Assembly.[180] However, although he understood the rationale behind that aspiration he believed that difficulties would have to be overcome to achieve it.[181]

121. We support the aspiration of the National Assembly to be given the power to appoint one or more members of the SRA and recommend that clauses to that effect be included in any draft Transport (Wales) Bill.

Regional Transport Boards based on the Existing Consortia

122. The Committee also recommended that the Government should introduce legislation to enable the National Assembly to establish by secondary legislation one or more Passenger Transport Authorities or Passenger Transport Executives covering all or part of Wales. Whether to establish one or more PTAs or PTEs would then remain a decision for the National Assembly.[182]

123. The present consortia were set up by agreement between groups of county councils. They are TAITH, SWWITCH, TraCC and SEWTA, the last of which was created out of the merger of SWIFT and TIGER.
The Four Welsh Local Authority Transport Consortia

TraCC: (Trafnidiaeth Canolbarth Cymru) Powys CC and Ceredigion CC (also covers Gwynedd - Meirionydd)

SEWTA (South East Wales Transport Alliance) Bridgend CBC, Caerphilly CBC, City and County of Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil CBC, Rhondda Cynon Taff CBC, Vale of Glamorgan Council and Newport, Rhymney, Islwyn, Torfaen and Monmouth

SWWITCH: (South West Wales Integrated Transport Consortium): Carmarthenshire CC, Neath Port Talbot CBC, Pembrokeshire CC and the City and County of Swansea. Ceredigion CC has an observer status.

TAITH: Ynys Môn, Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbigh, Flintshire CC and Wrexham CBC.


124. In its response to the Committee's 1999 Report on the Transport Bill,[183] the UK Government rejected the idea of a PTE/PTA in Wales because "no group of authorities seemed to have a very strong case" and " because PTAs have no roads responsibilities". Dr Howells acknowledged that the National Assembly wanted powers to establish regional consortia of local authorities and told us that his Department and the National Assembly have "talked about some of the things which can be achieved through that like better stations, better integrated transportation networks".[184]

125. The Welsh Assembly Government has acknowledged that the case was not yet overwhelming, but stressed that it was important to have the option of introducing a PTA/PTE in parts of Wales should the existing consortia fail to deliver real change.[185]

126. We recommend that the concept of statutory consortia /passenger transport boards should be examined by the Department for Transport alongside a public transport body covering the whole of Wales. Greater flexibility in the powers of the National Assembly can only serve to increase its potential to realise its aspirations for a fully integrated transport policy for Wales.


163   Transport Act 2000, ss. 206 & 269(4). Back

164   Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, The Transport Bill and its Impact on Wales, Session 1999-2000, HC287 Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Transport in Wales, Session 2002-03, HC205.  Back

165   Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Transport in Wales, Session 2002-03, HC205, para 38. Back

166   Second Special Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Transport in Wales: Response of the Government, Session 2002-03, HC580 para K. Back

167   Second Special Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Transport in Wales: Response of the Government, Session 2002-03, HC580para K. Back

168   http://www.wales.gov.uk/organicabinet/content/statements/2003/wac-020403-w.doc. Back

169   Q526  Back

170   Q527 Back

171   Q528 Back

172   Q369 Back

173   Q297 Back

174   Q300 Back

175   Ev 68 Back

176   Q456 Back

177   Q456 Back

178   http://www.wales.gov.uk/organicabinet/content/statements/2003/wac-020403-w.doc. Back

179   See para 113. Back

180   Q456 Back

181   Q456 Back

182   Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Transport in Wales, Session 2002-03, HC205, para 21. Back

183   Second Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, The Transport Committee and its impact on Wales, Session 1999-2000, HC 287. Back

184   Q456 Back

185   www.wales.gov.uk/organicabinet/content/statements/2003/wac-020403-w.doc Back


 
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Prepared 29 March 2004