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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 April 2006, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Operation Shield
On Sunday 02 April 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, MP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Alistair Darling, Transport Secretary
'Nearly a third of the fleet has been replaced over the last seven or eight years... and that has got to be paid for'

ANDREW MARR: Now when an operation targeting people carrying knives was tried out in London, and scanners were set up around the trains, 70 knives were seized - and the BBC has just learned that these scanners are now going to be used nationwide in an attempt to make train travel safer. Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, joins me from Edinburgh. Welcome Mr Darling.


ANDREW MARR: Can you, first of all, confirm that this operation is going to go nationwide and there will be scanners as people come onto trains, to try and crack down on the number of knives and other weapons being carried.

ALISTAIR DARLING: Yes, it is going to be extended. We now have the fastest growing railway in Europe. This week we'll be announcing that reliability has improved to 90 per cent of trains arriving when they are supposed to - a long way from the days of Hatfield - and we also want to make sure that we've got safe trains. Now people have had concerns about safety on stations, on trains - what the British Transport Police has done is to set up a new approach with scanners.

If people will try and walk away from that, they have used plain-clothes officers to arrest them. And, as you've just said, the trial has been extremely successful so it will be extended to Manchester, to Leeds, to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff. It will be extended across the country - it won't be there all of the time, obviously the local police have to use their judgement as to when they deploy officers and the scanning equipment but we want to make travelling by train as safe as we possibly can.

ANDREW MARR: In many ways travelling by train is clearly getting better, there are better trains and better carriages and more comfort and so on, but it's still incredibly, and to some people, horrendously expensive, particularly if you have to go relatively last minute. Is there anything that can be done about that?

ALISTAIR DARLING: Well you're right that there are a lot of new trains around, in fact nearly a third of the fleet has been replaced over the last seven or eight years and that's very expensive and it's got to be paid for. If you look at train tickets, some of the headline walk-on prices, yes they can be more than I suppose people would like but increasingly what you are seeing is that the trains, rather like the airlines, are offering a range of prices. Indeed one of the things that's been piloted in the south west of the country is a one pound ticket to encourage people to go off peak.

And what I want to see is a range of prices so that people can choose when to travel. I also want to make sure that ticket prices are as reasonable as possible. But as I've said on many occasions, you've got to strike the right balance between what the general taxpayer pays and what the farepayer pays and we've put an awful lot of money into the railways in the last few years - that's why they're more reliable, that's why, as I said, we're getting up to 90 % reliability. There's still a lot more to do but really what we're doing here is making up for decades of underinvestment and that has all got to be paid for.

ANDREW MARR: Talking about one pound fares and all that, there's a lot in the papers today about cheap flying and a steadily growing sense that this is environmentally disastrous, the number of flights, as they increase, is not sustainable and the taxation regime in particular for passenger air travel isn't right.

ALISTAIR DARLING: Well we have to strike a balance between the fact that as the economy expands across the world, as China, the Far East, as people become better off they want to travel further. We've got to strike a balance between enabling people to travel and meeting our environmental obligations. Now we set out a 30 year strategy in 2003 in the white paper that I published then, the forecasts we published then we think are right and we are moving to see some expansion - it's not of the size that's perhaps hinted in the newspaper reports that you talk about - frankly you're talking about one extra runway at Stansted, maybe, if the environmental concerns can be met, a third runway at Heathrow and possibly a runway at Birmingham and Edinburgh.

So I wouldn't call that massive expansion. And the other thing, we're dealing with hand in hand, and this is an important point, is that because of the effort that we led in Europe, aviation will now be included in an emissions trading scheme - that is the best way of capping the amount of carbon that can be produced and that will put pressure on the airlines and the aviation industry to be far more environmentally responsible. All the time what you're doing is striking a balance here.

ANDREW MARR: Right, well we were discussing knives earlier on. Moving swiftly on to political backstabbing, there has been an extraordinary amount of briefing over the last few days on the sort of Blair-Brown thing. Now I know you're a close colleague of the Chancellor - two stories: one that the Chancellor deliberately tried to sabotage the coming May elections to get rid of the Prime Minister more quickly. It now appears from this morning's papers that the source may have been - though he denies it - a junior minister closely associated with the Prime Minister. What's your reaction to that?

ALISTAIR DARLING: Well I'm actually a close colleague of both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor -

ANDREW MARR: Of course. Of course.

ALISTAIR DARLING: - and I've never had any problems there at all. Look, there is a minority of people who are engaging in briefings and, you know, as John Prescott said on Friday, whether they call themselves outriders or anything else, they are doing absolutely no good either for the people who voted for us last summer or the thousands of Labour Party members who are going to be out on the streets as we face some tough local elections in May, so I think most people would be very grateful if they just stopped their briefing and got on with the business at hand of making sure that we can tackle the big issues the Government faces as well as in the Labour Party making sure that we get good results in May.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think those people who brief the press on both sides - whichever camp they come from - and they're caught doing it should be fired?

ALISTAIR DARLING: I have got no time for people who indulge in harmful briefing to the Government or the Labour Party, and they shouldn't do it and I think the vast majority of people in the Labour Party, and more importantly the vast majority of people who gave us their trust only last summer, put us in power for a third term, expect people to get on with the job in hand of government and as far as the Labour Party is concerned, as I said, the job in hand is getting decent results, good results in the coming elections. So, I think, as somebody once said, a period of quietness on their part would be most welcome.

ANDREW MARR: Indeed. And what about the story this morning that the Chancellor has been excluded from the official launch of Labour's May election campaign?

ALISTAIR DARLING: No, I - he was going to go to the United Nations next week and that trip has been postponed and he, like the rest of us, will be involved in the launch of Labour's election campaign. So, you know, I don't think there's anything in that. But, you know, as I said, I think it's the best thing that could possibly happen is for us to actually concentrate on the job in hand.

We've been elected to government, there's an awful lot to do, whether it's transport or anything else, and as far as the Labour Party is concerned we've got to go out and fight some pretty tough elections and we need to do that with a unity of purpose and, as I say, you know, if people have got their thoughts perhaps they're best keeping them to themselves.

ANDREW MARR: Indeed. One other Labour Party story today, that perhaps some of the electorate will be interested in. Lord Sainsbury, government minister, loaned two million pounds to the Labour Party and, it's alleged, didn't declare it in the proper way and is now facing a parliamentary inquiry. Not the kind of thing that you want as a backdrop to these elections either, is it?

ALISTAIR DARLING: No. Lord Sainsbury has explained what happened, he has apologised for the fact that it happened but, you know, I think frankly the sooner we can sort out the whole question of loans the better. You know, the Tories have got their problems with foreign-based loans and maybe foreign nationals giving loans to them.

The best way of dealing with the funding of political parties is to be completely open and transparent then people can judge for themselves whether they approve or disapprove them. The sooner we get an agreement on that, the better.

ANDREW MARR: Alistair Darling, thank you very much indeed for joining us.



NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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