New Minister 'on the record'
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Dr John Gilbert meets CM and talks of Britain's EEC bargaining position
NEW Minister for TransDr John Gilbert, met the S "on the record" last week d handled half an hour of bons with complete nib.
he 'had formulated any s on Britain's EEC bargainstance on the issue of °graphs and driving hours ept them under wraps. But greed it might not be silly ffer a trade off—Britain to pt 38-tormers in return for rring the introduction of los and the new driving rs limitations. He pointed that in negotiations you unwise to reveal your hand dvance.
he meeting took place at Harmondsworth headquarof The Driving Establishit—the Minister sitting with :ials close at hand to tender ice and, if need be, correct, if he should depart too far n his departmental brief.
Lt one point he checked with official as to the present te of play when someone ed whether Britain might 'e to accept new driving test 1 medical requirements for vers as determined by the C. He was confirmed in his w that policy was stsll—to his words—"embryonic." me's, after issuing a draft active, was having second ughts, said the official dinisters of Transport have unenviable job when there little public money to spend large-scale projects. Dr Gilt paid the customary .!.isance to road safety and ffic control measures. He s awaiting with interest the report of the Blennerhasset Committee—expected in midwinter—on Drink and Driving.
" There are too many loopholes in the law," he said. "Some situations have been exploited unfairly. Have the police sufficient powers? Are penalties adequate? The biggest single influence in fatal road accidents to people in the 16 to 24 age group is drink. I look for changed public attitudes to this."
However, in view of Dr Gilbert's comment apropos the possible introduction of EEC driving and medical tests, that harmonisation is not sacrosanct—Canada and the United States •are Federal systems yet they do not compel harmonisation in all areas—it seems possible that Britain will be able to go it alone on some transport policies, whatever the other EEC countries decide to do.
Asked for his views on seat belts, the Minister said he was pressing the Lord President and the Whips Office for a free vote on the pending legislation. Having seen the awesome figures of road deaths and in juries when seat belts were not worn, he had become a convert. But he could not premise legislation in this session of Parliament.
On what was likely to follow publication of the Blennerhasset Report, Dr Gilbert said he believed in making life tough for drinkers who drive.
Driver attitudes had a great bearing on accidents, he said, but a lot could be done about vehicle safety. He saw the need for a new look at driver testing and vehicle safety standards— he had a good ward for Naderism in the context of car safety.
Possibly there was a case for tougher driver testing, but any changes here took time to bring about. He favoured more being done to inculcate road safety in schools and regretted that the Junior Road Fellowship had disappeared. As a schoolboy, he had won a cup from this body. He noted that a major oil company wanted to help in this area, in conjunction with other safety organisations.
On vehicle testing, he wanted to see a review of existing measures and he felt that heavy vehicles might need more frequent testing, despite the cost involved. He was concerned about vehicle pollution and noise emissions.
Dr Gilbert would like to see more powers given to the Greater London Council to take independent action without reference to Whitehall. He is also encouraging the completion of M25.
As to his personal mobility, he used public transport for his visits to his constituency in Dudley East, but not for London journeys as a Minister. Too many appointments had to be fitted in for that.
He was mildly cross with the newspaper correspondent who had described his Ford Mustang convertible as "an old banger." "This comment cost me fifty quid," he said. "I hoped to get £250 for the vehicle, of which I was very fond, but did not manage to do this after this story appeared."
Dr Gilbert's knowledge of Canada, where he qualified as a chartered accountant in 1958, and the United States, where he studied International Economics at New York University, must be considerable. He had driven cars in every state of the Union except Alaska he said.
Will Dr Gilbert make his mark as a Transport Minister? He has something in common with Richard Marsh in being readily approachable and he has a lively sense of humour. Perhaps with experience in the hot seat of transport he will develop the charisma which all successful Ministers need. Meanwhile, we must commiserate with a man with a load of intractable problems and little public money with which to solve them. J.D.