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Theresa May, MP, shadow transport secretary
Theresa May, MP, shadow transport secretary
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: THERESA MAY MP SHADOW TRANSPORT SECRETARY FEBRUARY 24TH, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well it's been another uncomfortable week for the Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers, he launched a controversial rail scorecard for the train companies and then there were reports of a crisis in the part-privatised air traffic control system and this morning he's faced with a fresh row over the running of his department. Its Chief Press Officer Martin Sixsmith is claiming Mr Byers told the world that he'd resigned when he hadn't and he knew he hadn't. I'm joined by the Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa May. Theresa good morning.

THERESA MAY: Morning David.

DAVID FROST: The, what do you make of this particular story, you, you've urged, obviously, which is part of politics, that Byers should, should resign any way, but is this, if this is true, that he lied over the Press Chief's resignation, is that a resigning matter do you think?

THERESA MAY: Well I think it is and it is because, not just because of that incident but because of what it reveals of Stephen Byers attitude towards the Civil Service and his obsession with spin. Because what we see here is somebody who is more interested in sticking by his special advisor and in manipulating the news than he was in the underlying facts and truth of the situation. I think it is quite clear he was incapable of running his department, his department is in absolute chaos, there's no trust between ministers and civil servants, he's compromised the impartiality of civil servants and I think it's clearly a resigning matter.

DAVID FROST: And it's not good news for Sir Richard Mottram either, I mean if he changed his tune to go along with Steve Byers and if he threatened smears from Number 10 to Martin Sixsmith, that's not appropriate conduct for a civil servant?

THERESA MAY: Well no obviously, I mean there are some questions about, the stories that have been revealed this morning about Sir Richard Mottram but I think it also shows the incredible pressure that senior civil servants have been put under by Stephen Byers in his department. And there's an interesting angle here of course in Number 10's involvement, because it's quite clear that Number 10 again is more interested in actually manipulating the news, manipulating the media to try and smear somebody than there are in actually revealing what the true facts are behind the situation.

DAVID FROST: What did you make of the other story this morning that the Observer had here, government advisors say Britain should have a nationwide system of road charges to help cut congestion on busy routes harnessing satellite technology to track every vehicle movement and so on. Do you think a nationwide system of road charges like that is a good idea?

THERESA MAY: Well I think really this is, if Big Brother is ever going to be watching you then this is going to be the case if such a system were brought in. Yet again it's an attempt at a sort of stealth tax, trying to price the motorist off the road and I don't think that actually works. People have to make journeys, what we want is people to have alternatives in public transport so that they can make a choice about the sort of way in which they're going to travel. I don't think knowing where everybody's driving at every minute of the day and charging them is going to reduce congestion and I fear that what it would do, if you're talking about charging motorists more for heavily congested routes and less for less heavily congested routes, is it'll just push people onto the side roads and so people's lives in villages and suburban areas will just be further blighted.

DAVID FROST: And what about in terms of congestion charges in London, a different form of congestion charge obviously, the five, five pounds admittance for the centre of London, do you think with the congestion in London that's a good idea?

THERESA MAY: No I don't and again I don't think that Ken Livingstone's proposed congestion charge in London is actually going to work and if it did work, even if it did, the problem is the London Underground, the public transport system cannot cope with the, the more people that would be on it. But I don't think frankly that a five pound congestion charge of the sort that Ken Livingstone is talking about is going to prise motorists off the road, I think it'll distort motorists behaviour and I think the people who will be caught most by it are those who are just making local journeys perhaps somebody taking children to school which happens to cross through the boundary, people just living their lives suddenly finding their lives interrupted by this extra charge.

DAVID FROST: What would you do about congestion?

THERESA MAY: Well I think one of the key things we need to do for congestion is actually to reduce one of the journeys I've just talked about which is school transport, I think if we can get a better school transport system then we could actually take a lot of the extra cars off the road, we need a school transport system that isn't just sort of hide-bound by regulations but actually does ensure that it provides for people and so that children are taken to school in their cars very often because parents are worried about their safety. We need a school transport system that can meet those fears as well as just making sure people are being, children are being taken to the right places.

DAVID FROST: What about tolls around the country, are they, are tolls of some sort inevitable?

THERESA MAY: I'm not sure that they're inevitable, we are going to see, of course, in the Birmingham relief road a toll road being introduced where the tolls are being used to, to compensate for the money that's going in to actually building that road and we'll see how that actually operates. Tolls have often been talked about, have been looked at by governments over a number of years, I'm not sure they're inevitable but I think the sort of congestion charging, certainly that's been talked about this morning by David Begg, where you're, you're charged for every time you get into your car and drive even if it's a mile or two down the road, I don't think that is, that is the right way forward at all.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the tube which you mentioned there, ironically enough it would seem that the government there are making precisely the mistake you made and the Conservatives made with Railtrack which is separating out the tracks and the trains and that seems to be an idea that Bob Kiley thinks is crazy in London but it's exactly the same mistake, he's repeating the mistake that the Conservatives made when they set up Railtrack?

THERESA MAY: Well there's been a lot of, there's a lot of discussion about whether separating the, the track and the trains is right and Richard Bowker at the Strategic Rail Authority has said that, that he thinks that can work as long as you get the relationships right, but of course the government has consistently complained about this and said that it, that it isn't the way forward and as you say David that is exactly what they're introducing in the London Underground and indeed what they're going to retain in the railways because the replacement for Railtrack whenever that comes onboard, and it may not be until late in 2003 now, but the replacement for Railtrack will do exactly that, it will be responsible for the tracks with the train operating companies running the trains.

DAVID FROST: And what, and what would you, what would you have done, you criticised Stephen Byers for when he put, put Railtrack into mothballs or worse, what would you have done confronted with those figures at that situation and the company apparently not working, although it seems to have been working a bit better than was thought at the time. But what would the Conservatives have done presented with that situation, would you, would you have done what Stephen Byers did?

THERESA MAY: Well no I think what, what was clearly necessary was to give the company more time to look at alternative sources of financing. We know there was an alternative source of funding there which the company could have, could have asked for which was the interim financial review by the Rail Regulator. Stephen Byers threatened the Rail Regulator that if he tried to do that he would take away his powers, he would introduce legislation in the House of Commons to stop him from helping Railtrack. So there were other avenues that were available to Railtrack at the time and of course what we see if a real questionmark over whether Railtrack was insolvent as Stephen Byers has claimed. We saw, he didn't even ask the company what interim profits they were going to be making yet we see their profits went up significantly over that period. And, he, at every stage he was stopping the company from doing what was possible to keep it going, I think it was clearly not a financial decision it was a political decision that Stephen Byers had taken and as a result of his political decision we've seen delays on the train increase 45 per cent.

DAVID FROST: Theresa thank you very much for being with us this morning.

THERESA MAY: Please.

DAVID FROST: Much, much appreciated and I should just say that we invited Stephen Byers on this morning to respond to the claims that have been made this weekend, but he wasn't available to do so.

END


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