Thursday 25th April 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Take Note
11:50
Moved by
Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape
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That this House takes note of the case for a coherent plan to address the failings of the transport system.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
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My Lords, the wording of the Motion before your Lordships’ House calls for greater coherence for Britain’s transport system. I hope that, while debating this important matter, we can agree on both sides of the House that coherence is the one thing that is lacking. Indeed, the current Government made a virtue of a lack of coherence with their transport policy. I will come to the divisions within the rail and bus industry in a moment or two, but we lack an overall transport policy in this country and have done for many years. In so far as our major transport sectors are concerned—bus and rail—it is the British people who have suffered, particularly the passengers on both modes of transport.

The failings of our railway network are many and manifold. Since privatisation in 1994, fares for passengers on our railway system have increased by around 20% in real terms; that is not what we were promised when the privatisation Bill went through both Houses of Parliament. We were told that the thrusting private enterprise system being introduced would not just increase competition between railway companies but bring lower fares to its passengers. The result, of course, has been exactly the opposite. We have seen a failure in reliability since privatisation. I have no wish to bore your Lordships with stories of my time on British Rail, but the cancellation of a passenger train in my days in an operating role was virtually unheard of. Because it was an integrated system, we could generally find locomotives, drivers and train crew that could be moved from one role to another in the event of any hiatus within the timetabling system. That does not happen now; because of privatisation, drivers for one company often cannot drive the locomotives of another company; train crews who do not know the route from A to B cannot step in when short-term cancellations take place. Again, this is not what we were promised at the time of privatisation, but it is the reality that we have today.

I read this morning that something like a thousand trains a day on the railway system are cancelled. No other railway system in the developed world has to face such a nonsense on a daily basis. We will be assured by the Minister that everything is in hand and the railways will continue to improve in future, but it is just not true. Another aspect of this is the collapse of morale among those who work in the railway industry. I use Birmingham International station on a regular basis to travel to and from London. The staff there tell me that on some days they hide from the public because they are so ashamed of the product that they have to put in front of them. They also say that, by and large, information is not transported down the line—no pun intended—to those at the front end so that they can pass it on to passengers; they are as unaware as the rest of us of when things go wrong and how they can be put right. This leads, as I have indicated, to a collapse in morale—and in industrial relations generally.

This Government appear to need to find an enemy rather than deal with any problems. The latest enemy, as far as the railway industry is concerned, is ASLEF, the drivers’ union: no negotiations have taken place between the train operating companies and the representatives of ASLEF for over a year. All the Government can say is, “But they earn £60,000 a year”. Well, I do not object to train drivers earning £60,000 a year; it is about an afternoon’s work for a hedge fund operative—whatever they actually do. Someone in a responsible position such as a train driver should be properly paid, and train drivers and their representatives ought to be consulted about not just wages but the aims of the railway industry. We all know that the train operating companies take their orders from His Majesty’s Government in this supposedly privatised world, so they have their hands tied and cannot freely enter negotiations with ASLEF and the other railway trade unions.

We were promised when privatisation took place that there would be an upsurge in new rolling stock and new locomotives for the railway industry. Yet we have just rescued Litchurch Lane in Derby by a last-minute order for trains, to keep something like 1,500 skilled personnel in work there and thousands of other people in the supply chain. Hitachi recently opened, with some fanfare, a factory in the north-east, but that now faces closure because of the dearth of orders for the railway industry, and this has been partly brought about by the nonsense of HS2. I do not wish to rehearse the whole business again in front of your Lordships, but no other country could put forward proposals for a high-speed railway and then keep cutting them back. Only the current Prime Minister could go to Manchester to a Conservative Party conference to tell it that the high-speed line between Birmingham and Manchester is cancelled and expect a standing ovation for doing so. That truncated high-speed route will not just directly impact passengers. Without getting too bogged down again in the details of what is left of HS2, I point out that to travel from Handsacre Junction to Old Oak Common is not quite what was envisaged at the time the proposals for this high-speed railway were put forward. The rump of it has been summed up as a railway starting somewhere that no one has ever heard of, to end up somewhere no one wants to go. Only the present Government could devise a high-speed railway that would make journeys between, for example, Manchester and London no faster and, in some cases, slower than the existing line. The need for a proper strategy for the railway industry is pretty obvious.

I turn also to the bus industry. Those of us who take an interest in these matters were intrigued some years ago to see the Prime Minister at the time, somebody called Boris Johnson—I wonder what happened to him—announce with great fanfare a scheme called Bus Back Better. He was a great man for gimmicks, but what has been the reality of Bus Back Better since its inception? The answer is that bus services throughout the country have been decimated, and many towns and cities that formerly had a proper bus service no longer have such a thing.

At the time of bus privatisation—I was a Member of the other place then—Nicholas Ridley made a virtue of the thrusting competition that would result from the 1984 privatisation Act. Yet towns and cities in this country have seen not only their bus fares increase, in real terms, by around 15% to 20% but their bus services decimated. There is a whole list of casualties of bus services, which have been reduced in previous years, including in cities such as Bath. Everybody talks about Birmingham, of course, and that the near bankruptcy in Birmingham is all the Labour Party’s fault. I do not think that Bath is particularly regarded as a left-wing bastion, yet bus services there have reduced by about 70% since privatisation. The fact is that local authorities, having been starved of funds, have no finance to subsidise essential bus services, and even the commercial routes in many of our cities up and down the country have been cut back because of financial problems.

Bus Back Better has turned out to be “bus back a lot worse” over the last couple of years. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what the Government propose, other than postponing all the decisions until after the next general election, when they will not be affected anyway, as far as bus services are concerned.

Lastly, I will talk for a moment or two about the road network, important though it is. Again, in theory we have a £20 billion-odd road programme in this country, yet driving around our major towns and cities is an object lesson in pothole avoidance. I was driven into the centre of Birmingham the other day to a hospital. I have a bad hand so I cannot drive; I was going on to the railway station, so I do not want to be accused of failing to use public transport. It was fascinating to watch how the regular drivers and commuters weaved their way through all the potholes at major junctions. Are we serious? We supposedly have a £24 billion or £25 billion road-building programme, yet we cannot fill potholes in our towns and cities. The Government will again blame wasteful local authorities, but they have cut back the resources for local authorities for many years. How are local authorities supposed to provide not only the essential statutory services but the upkeep of the infrastructure in the areas they represent?

The lack of a transport strategy is not the only disaster. There is also the attitude of the Treasury towards any major project. All the Treasury ever sees is the cost; benefits never ever occur to it. The fact is that investment in our road, railway and transport system brings a return far in excess of the initial cost, in most cases, but, short-termism being the curse of Britain over the years, the fact is that many of the projects that need to be completed are put aside, HS2 being only one example.

The lack of enthusiasm, strategy and planning as far as our transport system is concerned makes this country the laughing stock of the western world. The fact is, we need proper long-term planning for many of these major infrastructure projects, both road and rail. I leave the last word to the Institution of Civil Engineers, which makes exactly that same point: that short-termism has bedevilled British infrastructure projects for years, and that when things go wrong the Treasury all to soon says, “We can save billions of pounds by cancelling a specific project”. The nation has been the great loser in this lack of any sort of transport strategy over the years, and I hope that, during the course of the debate, I can take noble Lords on both sides along with me when I say that it is the nation that has been the loser. I beg to move.

12:04
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to participate in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing it. Despite the somewhat dismal litany we have heard from him, many of us will recognise the challenges and the points he made. I also congratulate him on the fact that, based on the Labour Party’s announcement of a new transport policy today, which is all over the newspapers, he is obviously still pulling the levers of power in the party.

I declare my interests as set out in the register. It is a truism that an effective transport system is a central part of an industrial strategy and a driver for growth. It allows towns and cities to have ready access to skills and it opens up the possibility of development. It allows the movement of freight effectively and contributes to individual travel and leisure. Properly managed, it should also contribute to net zero and a healthier environment, as well as providing a means of levelling up. That list of desiderata shows how vital an effective transport strategy is. The list also provides criteria for judging how effective the Government have been in delivery. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister in this regard.

The Institution of Civil Engineers, which the noble Lord has just referred to—I thank it for its helpful briefing—points out that uncertainty is a problem. The delays and the cancellation of a large part of HS2 are a graphic example of that. I was a strong supporter of HS2. Key large-scale infrastructure projects are generally, if not universally, to be encouraged. I do not believe, for example, that there are hordes of people who would reverse the Channel Tunnel project now. Also, a glance at the position in other countries is a valuable exercise and a demonstration of major infrastructure’s success in being a driver for growth, be it France, Japan, Germany or elsewhere.

Fragmentation of responsibility is another key problem that has probably bedevilled successive Governments. Investment in England’s railways and roads is determined on a different cycle by central government. The centre is also responsible for capital for local roads, bus support and a range of smaller funding pots. Then, of course, there is the new array of metro mayors and combined authorities with various transport responsibilities. I pause there to congratulate the Government on metro mayors and combined authorities. It is the right policy and is leading to innovation and acting as a driver for growth. My point is that it is one additional layer that has to be brought in as part of the overarching, powerful national strategy. The same is true of the national policies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which present another part of the national UK strategy that has to be adopted. I will be keen to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say on this.

As I hope we can all agree, we need to speed up national planning decisions. Again, it could act as a driver of a true national transport policy. We need to sharpen our focus on net zero with a push for the use of trams, buses and trains in and between urban areas. This is not, of course, a war on the motorist, but it is a recognition that effective public transport deserves consistent support through funding and policy levers. In this regard, and I declare my interest as a regular rail user—I know my noble friend the Minister is too—the system is creaking badly, as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, has said. We see it every day and it is harming our economy.

I wonder whether I may digress slightly from infrastructure policy to the damaging industrial relations position on Network Rail. I have informed my noble friend the Minister that I would raise this. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, also touched on it. This has gone on for far too long. I wonder what the Government are doing to promote a lasting settlement. Strikes and industrial action not only cause harm to individual journeys and travellers but damage the economy as a whole.

I will share a personal example. I chair a charity—International Students House in London—and every time there is a strike, a plethora of commercial bookings for that charity is cancelled for strike days. This causes dismay and individual disappointment but, above all, it damages the economy of the charity. It is an illustration of what is happening across the nation, with hundreds of thousands of examples up and down the country.

In the time available, I also make a plea for a lasting cap on bus fares. I approve of the cap, which is due to run out in November this year, but what is happening after that? This is another example of the uncertainty in the system. We need to know on a much broader basis what is going to be happening and to know about funding for buses up and down the country.

I know that much rests on my noble friend’s shoulders and that he is well aware of the problems and doing what he can to help. We really need some certainty, an end to the fragmentation and speedier planning. Certainly, looking at the position in rail should be the number one priority for the department but there is also the national bus system and how we can do something on fares. I look forward to listening to my noble friend’s response at the end of the debate.

12:11
Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on securing this debate. Over the years there has been no better advocate for the railway than him in your Lordships’ House and in the House of Commons before that. He features significantly in the three books on railways and politics that I co-authored.

I remind the House of my railway interests as declared in the register. I chair the Great Western Railway stakeholder advisory board and the North Cotswold Line Task Force and am president of the Heritage Railway Association. I apologise to the House for not declaring the HRA interest when I asked a question in the Chamber yesterday about coal supplies for steam railways.

For nearly 20 years from the mid-1970s onwards, I was an adviser to the British Railways Board. This was the last time the industry benefited from the influence of a guiding mind and from the energy and enthusiasm of its chairman, Sir Peter Parker, and his immediate successor, Sir Robert Reid. It was their misfortune—and the country’s—that this coincided with a period of managed decline and retrenchment on the railway, as transport policy placed far too heavy a reliance on car usage and road haulage.

One of the consequences of that mindset was the decision to reduce the size of the network and take out capacity. With the demand for rail travel having grown so markedly over the past two decades, much effort and huge expense have had to be incurred in the limited programme of station and line reopenings. So much more could have been achieved had many of those closures not happened.

We are now about to embark on another seismic reorganisation and have to get it right. The Government are not short of advice on what needs to be done, and I particularly commend the Manifesto for Rail published by the lobby group Rail Partners. It says:

“Whoever is in office after the next general election needs to take decisions to ensure the industry has the ability to attract passengers back to restore hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenue, drive modal shift for goods against more polluting modes, and ultimately set up the railway for sustainable success. The public is not that interested in how our railways are structured or organised, they just want to have trains that run on time, that are not disrupted by strikes, and fares that offer them the best value for their journey”.


It is crucial that, with a general election coming so soon and—I think most Members of your Lordships’ House would agree—a change of administration very much on the cards, every effort is made now to achieve a cross-party consensus on what needs to be done. To his credit, I believe that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower, gets this, as does the Minister for Rail in the other place, Huw Merriman. I very much appreciate the invitation the two Ministers sent to Members of your Lordships’ House to attend the briefing on the draft Bill on 19 March. The noble Lord, Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill, played a prominent part in that, and I am pleased to see him in his place today. The briefing was also given by members of the Great British Railways transition team.

The overriding priority is to pass rail reform legislation, establish Great British Railways as soon as possible and get on with improving the railways by stimulating demand and reducing cost. The Bill contains some helpful measures in this regard, notably the creation of an integrated rail body, the IRB. In legal terms, the body combines the DfT’s role as franchising authority and takes over the role of infrastructure manager undertaken by Network Rail. The IRB will be held to account on how it delivers rail services and be accountable for the whole system, including passenger revenue and a freight growth target. It is potentially good news for passengers and freight users and could simplify the railway, making it cheaper to run.

The Bill gets decisions away from a remote, non-operational Whitehall department and provides the opportunity to join up the railway closer to the people who use it. The new IRB model should help tackle high costs and project delays. One of our railways’ greatest challenges is the way UK capital projects regularly come in at a much higher cost than those in other countries. Stop-start investment and changing government plans result in project managers overspecifying schemes and suppliers putting in high cost estimates to cover the risk of uncertainty. The cost of electrification schemes is a particular example, and has proved to be the death knell of extending the benefits of HS2 to the north of England and Scotland.

A prerequisite for the IRB’s success is to take revenue risk away from the Treasury and cost control from the DfT. The new body needs to be judged solely on the net subsidy and public investment cost. Rail usage has broadly doubled since privatisation, resulting in a much more congested network, and it is important that we have proper trade-offs on its future usage and meet that demand.

It is evident from the statements made by the Prime Minister and No. 10 that railways are now seen as a problem rather than an opportunity and that tactical policy is now strictly controlled by the Treasury rather than the DfT, with minimising costs being the primary objective. Yet rail is essential if we are to meet the carbon reduction targets required in the transport sector. While electric cars may help, no such solution is available for aviation or heavy haulage, which will be dependent on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Rail passenger services that offer times competitive with air are essential to reduce the need for internal and short-haul European flights. The same is true for container trains between the ports and inland distribution centres. Not only is rail now cheaper for many of these flows but customers are increasingly demanding environmentally sustainable rail solutions to reduce their carbon footprint.

I will finish with the concluding sentence from Signals Passed at Danger, my third book on railways, published last year:

“The railways’ capabilities are manifest when the management of the railways is restored to those competent to operate them, with a clear strategy and funding agreed to deliver the outputs of that strategy”.

12:18
Lord Goddard of Stockport Portrait Lord Goddard of Stockport (LD)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing this timely debate on the failing transport system. We are normally limited to 30 seconds of quick-fire questions to the Minister, which are batted back. We need to give the new Minister time to understand the problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, had. Now that she skips around the House of Lords without the responsibility of answering for Avanti, she looks about five years younger.

I think we would all agree that the UK’s long-term economic, environmental and social objectives are not being realised at the pace required, and transport has a key role to play in meeting those strategic objectives. It

“enables productivity and economic growth as well as quality of life and social well-being”—

not my words but those of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Mind you, as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, said, there are many forms of transport, and the roads are not much better. There are smart motorways with cameras not working and no safety lanes. If you are on a smart motorway and you break down, you wonder whether your life is literally in your hands. It is unacceptable. There are prolonged lane closures and endless repairs due to budget cuts. There are speed restrictions and, in Greater Manchester, bad design. The M60, the orbital motorway that runs around it, floods around Denton in heavy rain. If there is a motorway that floods, somebody needs to think about that.

There are bus services, again mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Snape. Greater Manchester has dealt with that problem now. That is the beauty of elected mayors: collective responsibility for local people making local decisions. They have taken the buses back into local ownership. Those bus routes will now reflect the routes that they need to run on, at a price that people can afford. They will give a better service and will be integrated with other services. In Greater Manchester, we are now working to try to integrate them with the taxis and trains, trying to get something like an Oyster card going.

As I travel down to London daily on the two-hour grind—well, two hours on a good day, normally two hours 20 minutes upwards—I listen to podcasts. The last one I heard was from Transport for the North, which is chaired by the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, who is in his place today. They had Andy Mellors, the MD of Avanti, on. It is worth a listen. Mayor Burnham, and Mayor Rotheram from Liverpool, were questioning Andy about tickets sold for a Saturday service. They were asking him, “When are your trains cancelled for a Saturday service?” He said, “We cancel those trains on Friday afternoon”. They said, “When do you stop selling tickets for those trains on Saturday?” He said, “At 2 pm on the Saturday afternoon”. So Avanti was selling tickets for a train that was never going to run.

That particular Saturday, Chelsea Football Club—which I have no love for—was in Manchester to play a football match. There were hundreds and hundreds of supporters trapped in Manchester; you could not get back to London. Following that meeting, they asked the Minister to remove the franchise immediately. It is very funny: I think that that meeting was on Tuesday or Wednesday, and on Friday ASLEF was called in, and—surprise, surprise—£600 a shift was offered to ASLEF drivers to work weekends, which they gratefully accepted without any negotiation. That has made it a bit easier.

But trains are being cancelled. I got the 8.04 this morning; the next train and the one after that were cancelled. Had I not made the 8.04, I would not be stood here this afternoon speaking in this debate. I have heard today of Labour’s plans to run down the contracts of failing companies over five years, but I have to say that that will only add to the misery of thousands of travellers. I will try to explain why.

Avanti trains have three types of travel—actually, they have four. They have standard class, upper premium and first class. They also have another class: sitting on the floor from London to Manchester, which happens very often when trains have been cancelled and they declassify and allow complete overcrowding on them. I have photographs of me sat there. People who know me find it highly amusing to take pictures of me, sat on the floor, demanding I do something about it—which, unfortunately, I do not have the power to do.

If you go in standard class, you buy your ticket and sit down, and then the messages begin to come: “Today, we are not taking cash. Today, we are not taking card. Today, the coffee machine is not working. Today, the toilets are not working”. It goes on and on. These are new trains. You go to upper premium, which is a standard class ticket that you can buy in advance, pay £25 and sit in a first-class seat with a table and wifi. Unfortunately, in the last pay round, they put an extra £5 on that. It is now £30 to sit in the same seat you sat in last week, with no additional benefits. First class is apparently even better: “Chef’s not turned up today. No service. Food has not been delivered today. No service. Water leak in the kitchen. No service”. It is just unacceptable all around.

I wrote down a point about staff morale and the noble Lord, Lord Snape, has done it. I know that train operators do their best, but they do not: if you talk to train managers who have been there for 20 or 25 years, they will tell you that they are absolutely terrified of turning up for work. They have no idea whether the stock will be there and the kit will work, and they take abuse from the public, day in, day out. That is absolutely unacceptable. They do a great job and should be supported more. Just to say that the contracts can run down is an abrogation: thousands of people go up and down every day and they deserve a better service.

Finally, Trooping the Colour is this year, on 15 June. I know lots of people who have tickets and are going to it. Unfortunately, on that Saturday, there are no direct trains to London from Manchester: you can go via Wolverhampton or have a double diversion at Crewe. It is absolutely incomprehensible that this company can keep the contract. I hope the Minister will keep the pressure on—because I know, as we say up north, that he gets it—and does something to accelerate the removal of this contract or demands immediate improvements with huge penalties if that does not happen.

12:25
Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for calling this debate. I shall return to his comments later. My contribution had to be urgently amended late last night, following the more than excellent news that a Labour Government would grasp the nettle and take rail back into public ownership. Whereas I had originally intended to canter around the course on wider issues of public transport, I now intend to confine my remarks to the excesses of private rail and, in particular, its ticket pricing structure under privatised arrangements.

The rising cost of travel following privatisation illustrates perfectly the distinction in priorities between the public and private sectors. Whereas the driver behind public service operations is serving the public interest, the driver behind private sector operations has to be service, but compromised by profit. The water industry provides us with a classic example, particularly in London and the south-east. I am not ideologically opposed to privatisation: I am opposed to privatisation in conditions of monopoly. Monopolies invariably and inevitably abuse their position, whether through restriction of supply or sectoral excess profit taking. This is what has happened under rail privatisation. The idea that you have real competition on the railways, justified on the basis of competing franchises, is for the birds. It is a myth. The reality is that rail franchising under privatisation has saddled us with a string of monopoly providers. That is the case on much of the national network.

For example, if you bring up National Rail Enquiries on 03457 484 950 and ask for a return ticket from Carlisle to London—I see my noble friend there on the Front Bench, who will be regularly buying these tickets—you receive the monopoly price. I was told this morning that there is one contractor, Avanti West Coast, and I give an example. A traveller ringing up to purchase that Carlisle to London standard anytime open return ticket will pay £392. It is grossly overpriced. It is designed in such a way as to catch the traveller going about his or her business and requiring early attendance at their destination. It is excessive, unreasonable and exploitative.

How about this one? A traveller travelling first class on the same train, on a similar Carlisle to London open return, will pay—listen—£538. I ask colleagues to compare that with the return fare from London to Beijing, in the People’s Republic of China, which is available today on the internet from British Airways at £382. Similar ticket prices were available from China Airlines and Lufthansa. So it costs the same to travel standard class—second class in the old days—from London to Carlisle and back as to fly from London to Beijing, in China, and back. What a nonsense.

The response of the wider is public is perfectly understandable: drive by car, add to air pollution, add to and put up with congestion on the motorway system, even risking the potholes that characterise much of our motorway network, and then go on to further increase congestion in London when you arrive. That is the legacy of privatisation: ignore the public interest and put profit before people.

Of course, the rail companies respond with the mantra: “pre-book”, “pre-book”. My main complaint in today’s debate is that it is hugely inconvenient for many in the world of work to pre-book, where travel is essential, often at short notice. Business, wider industry and professionals need to rely on sensible input costs if they are to remain competitive. They do not necessarily need subsidy but equally they need to avoid exploitative costs if the need is to remain competitive. The whole system of same-day ticket pricing is in urgent need of reform, and I am confident that a Labour Government will address that problem.

My case is simple. Public utilities are there to support the wider economy. Their pricing structures should reflect the public interest, not the pursuit of speculative profits. Labour has to sort this out. That is at the heart of yesterday’s announcements, which I hugely welcome.

Before closing, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape, an old friend of mine, on bringing this debate. He lives in the real world. Like me, he rejects a world where the “profit at any cost” approach to the provision of public services trumps the wider public interest.

12:31
Lord Birt Portrait Lord Birt (CB)
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My Lords, I too commend the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for initiating this timely debate, from which I suspect a fair amount of consensus will emerge, at least about what is wrong.

In the noughties, I worked as Tony Blair’s strategy adviser, and among my tasks was to lead a study by officials of the UK’s transport system—road and rail. It was a sorry, chastening experience. We identified that the UK had, by a country mile, the least developed road and rail network of any major country. The core reason for this was that, for the previous 50 years or more, the UK had invested—under both main parties—a lower share of GDP than other major countries. At the first sign of economic reverse—it happened time and again—capital spend was cut in favour of current spend. Frankly, the Treasury appeared not at all to value the payback that comes over time from investing in more efficient transportation. Germany’s GDP per hour worked is 23% greater than the UK’s; France’s is 17% greater. Of course, their superior performance is not all down to their superior infrastructure, but it surely helps.

Tony Blair gave an in-principle go-ahead to a high-speed rail network linking Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds to London. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, picked up the baton. It is nationally shaming that, 20 years later, no part of that vision is operating, and that, ridiculously, after multiple revisions, only the Birmingham to London section of HSR is now under construction.

At the time of Tony Blair’s go-ahead, China had no high-speed rail network at all. Now, incredibly—it is very hard to believe this figure—China has more than 40,000 kilometres of HSR in operation. As we meet today, the UK has 113 kilometres of high-speed rail. A World Bank study identifies how China has achieved this remarkable transformation: a well-analysed long-term plan, standardised design and construction, and a competitive supply network, and all at two-thirds per kilometre of any other country. Since 1990, China, with a GDP per capita of around $12,000, has also built 130,000 kilometres of motorway.

The UK’s transport system is not remotely fit for purpose, as we have heard over and again in this debate. I visit the north regularly. Many industrial areas in and around the Pennines are criss-crossed by small, narrow roads—the legacy of earlier eras. These now carry commuter traffic, and at peak travel times are severely overloaded. Recently, I was trapped on the M62, not by an accident but by a gridlocked major junction. As a result, it took me just under three hours to travel the 16 miles from Leeds station to my hotel destination. Best practice would be to design motorways to carry long-distance traffic and for secondary road networks, as in other countries, speedily to convey regional and local traffic.

The train from Liverpool to Norwich, passing through and stopping at some of our great cities—Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Peterborough—takes five and a half hours. If, rather than take the train from Liverpool to Norwich, you decided instead to fly from Liverpool to Sharm el-Sheikh, you would reach Sharm el-Sheikh more quickly than you would Norwich.

As in so many areas of our national life, we are now operating in slow motion as a country. We need to get a grip; we need massively to raise our game. In transport, we need to learn from the rest of the world and identify what kind of infrastructure is needed in a crowded country heading towards and beyond a population of 70 million. We need to accept that it will take 25 to 50 years to create, but we need to start now.

12:37
Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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It gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Birt, in this debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on the wording for his debate. He has hit the nail on the head, in saying that we have lots of incoherent plans and need a strategy, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, also said. I fully support this, and we have had some very interesting speeches so far.

I shall say a few words about rail, but this debate is about transport. We had a very interesting briefing from the Low Traffic Future alliance, which reminded us that transport is for moving people and goods. Net zero is important but we have big problems, such as the increased dependency on motorised traffic, poor public transport, poor walking and cycling conditions—certainly compared with the continent—and potholes. I actually came off my bike when I hit a pothole a week or two ago, and it was not very pleasant. We do not seem to be doing anything about that either. We are also out of balance in the benefits of transport between the different regions.

There is an argument for, after the next election, before rushing into legislation, thinking carefully about a national transport strategy. Everybody has been talking about strategies today and I will not go into the detail now. That could involve pausing road schemes and putting more investment into healthy and sustainable transport, and probably helping with changes to planning law. On the railways, it is interesting. We now have the two major parties coming forward with plans to reorganise the railway by legislation, putting the customers first, which is wonderful. I wonder whether actually we need legislation at this stage. How much of it can be done without legislation?

Noble Lords will remember the strategic rail authority, which took two years to be created and then, after a couple of years, two years to be removed. During those two years, very little happened and some of us got extremely frustrated that nothing was happening. I think it is worth looking at what can be done to put customers first with some quick wins. Many noble Lords have mentioned strikes. That is the first thing, and I trust that a new Labour Government will address that. I believe that many of the problems that I and noble Lords have spoken about this morning are down to bad management. I am not sure that it matters particularly whether the management is nationalised or private sector; the Rail Partners’ proposals are a pretty good mix of the two. The management, mainly from the Department for Transport, with a bit—I do not know whether it is support or not, and we can debate that—from the Treasury, has not organised at all well addressing many of the problems noble Lords have spoken about.

My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and other noble Lords have talked about train fares, but most are set by the Government. The train operators have to implement them, adding a few of their own fares, such as savers. One of the ideas I shall be pursuing over the next few weeks is that train fares should go to the operator on whose train you are sitting. They do not at the moment, unless it is a saver fare. All other fares are divided: if there are two operators on a route, the fare is divided between the two. That removes all incentive for operators to do better. It is a serious issue. It could be done, as now, most people have their ticket checked electronically. It would mean that the train operator has an incentive to run the trains—as other noble Lords have said, that does not always happen—and to provide decent seating and catering, clean, on-time trains, a timetable that customers want and mitigation for customers when things go wrong. Whether the operator is in the private or public sector does not matter very much. It does not need legislation and it would not cost the Treasury a penny. There is now enough information on tickets for this to be taken forward. Train operators could quickly demonstrate how good they are, if they are, or how bad they are if they are not. That leaves the Department for Transport—until there is a change—to identify whether there should be any changes.

We are having an interesting debate on all this. I do not believe it is necessarily in everybody’s interest, including passengers, to hang around for a couple of years before any legislation gets through. A great deal of this can be done now. If the management in the past few years has been bad—it certainly has been pretty bad—that can be dealt with quickly. We should look at that, rather than saying let us do nothing for two years.

I congratulate my noble friend and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has got to say.

12:44
Viscount Hanworth Portrait Viscount Hanworth (Lab)
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My Lords, Britain was once a great innovator in transport. It was the first of the European nations to create a modern transport network. In the late 18th century, John McAdam and Thomas Telford, known to his contemporaries as the Colossus of Roads, were at the forefront of an endeavour to construct a serviceable network of highways that expedited travel in an unprecedented way.

At the same time, a network of canals was under construction that enabled goods and freight to be conveyed over long distances. Then, from the middle of the 19th century, a vast network of railways was under construction. This was achieved by speculative private enterprise, which often resulted in private ruin. In Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Hunting of the Snark”, we hear of threatening a person’s life with a railway share. The process was a free for all, and it endowed the nation with a network that was arguably full of replication and redundancy. It was fit for pruning. It was eventually reduced drastically and, in retrospect, far too extensively, in the 1960s under was aegis of a certain Dr Beeching. He was an engineer and physicist who had worked for Imperial Chemical Industries before he was charged with this task, which made him a prominent public figure.

By the middle of the 20th century Britain’s transport network had fallen into disrepair, and its roads were no longer to be admired. Britain lacked the autobahns, autostrada and routes nationales of its European neighbours, some of which had been inspired by dictators with militaristic intentions. Belatedly, in the 1960s Britain indulged in a feverish process of catch-up that created our own inadequate motorways.

Our rail system had also fallen into disrepair, and it still compares unfavourably with those of its continental neighbours. They have benefited from national investment programmes that have been absent from Britain. Worse was to come when the Conservative Government of John Major denationalised the railways and sought to re-establish the system of large railway companies that had dominated the industry in the 1930s, which was arguably its heyday.

Now, at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, Britain’s transport network faces an unprecedented challenge on two fronts. The first challenge is to provide the means of transporting goods and people in a manner that will cater to the demands of the modern economy. The second challenge will be to staunch the emissions of the greenhouse gases to which transport is a major contributor. Current estimates indicate that transport contributes one quarter of all the nation’s domestic emissions. Most of these emissions come from road vehicles. The additional emissions of international transport are not part of this reckoning.

An inescapable judgment is that the present Government have failed adequately to meet these challenges. The denationalisation of British railways has resulted in a system that lacks the strategic oversight needed to maintain an orderly investment programme. The procurement of rolling stock has become disorganised and sporadic, and much of it is provided nowadays by foreign suppliers. The once great engineering works at Derby that served the London, Midland and Scottish Railway has passed into foreign ownership. It was acquired in 2001 by the Canadian company Bombardier and in 2021 it passed to the French company Alstom. Given the current hiatus in the procurement of new trains, it now seems to be destined for closure. Its demise represents a paradigm of national mismanagement and illustrates the danger of allowing our industries to become offshoots of foreign enterprises.

It must be acknowledged that rail transport contributes only a small proportion of the nation’s emissions of carbon dioxide and of greenhouse gasses more generally. However, there are two reasons why attention should be paid to the matter of its reform, and an incoming Labour Government would be committed to do that. First, there are numerous diesel-powered trains on the network that contribute significantly to pollution and need to be eliminated. Next, an expansion of the network would enable people and freight to be transferred from the roads. This would be an effective way of reducing emissions from road vehicles.

The modest size of the total emissions coming directly from the rail network is a testimony to its energy efficiency, and to the fact that much of the traffic is powered by electricity. There must be concern for how the electricity is generated, for it is not free of emissions. Nevertheless, further electrification should be seen as a means of eliminating diesel power. But Britain faces some difficulties in this connection that do not affect continental railways to the same extent. Many of the old bridges and tunnels have small apertures that prevent the installation of overhead electric cables. To overcome this difficulty, trains must be available that are powered by batteries and fuel cells. Here, there has been virtually no progress, for which there can be little excuse.

A major reduction in emissions must come from a major reduction in the number of road vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. There too, the steps taken so far have been wholly inadequate. The Government have backtracked on their original commitment by deferring a ban on the sales of such vehicles to 2035—five years later than originally proposed. The ban on sales of petrol-powered and diesel-powered vehicles should provide a stimulus to our automotive industry, which must adopt batteries and hydrogen fuel cells as a means of powering road vehicles. It will be an effective stimulus for the industry only if there is an accompanying development in the industries that provide batteries and fuel cells.

It is doubtful whether our automobile industry will be able to rise to the occasion. It is in the hands of foreign and international owners who see their British factories as offshoots of their main enterprises. They will be willing to close them and to move their operations elsewhere if this becomes a more profitable option. Manufacturers are liable to be drawn to places where a supply of batteries is closer to hand. The UK has failed to develop an industry that can manufacture batteries in the numbers required. There is only one manufacturer of batteries that operates on a large scale—a plant in Sunderland that supplies the Nissan car factory. It is run by the Chinese company Envision and is small in comparison with the genuine gigafactories that exist elsewhere in Europe and in China. The other automobile manufacturers in the UK rely on imported batteries. Unless we can develop our battery manufacturing, we will be in danger of losing the majority of our motor manufacturers.

12:51
Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing it. I declare my interests in the technology field as an adviser to Boston Ltd.

I will speak about accessibility and technology in transport. I begin with buses. In London we are incredibly fortunate with so many of our modes of transport—not least the accessibility of London buses, with their audio-visual output. In 2016 I was privileged to launch Manchester’s talking bus fleet. Other major cities have followed suit. We passed legislation to this effect a number of years ago. When the Minister comes to respond, will he say what this picture is looking like across the country? Is it still down to luck—where you happen to get on a bus—as to whether you can have that audio-visual information that so many of us require?

So-called floating bus stops are those where there is a cycle lane between the pavement, the bus stop and the carriageway where the bus pulls up. How are disabled people supposed to board and alight from those bus services safely and effectively? What equality impact assessment has been done around floating bus stops? It must be clear that buses have to be able to pull up, pick up and drop off at the kerbside, rather than the passenger getting on and off the bus in the middle of nowhere, which is what a floating bus stop feels like. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is time for a moratorium on floating bus stops so that a full impact assessment can be undertaken? Will he convene a meeting with the Secretary of State and interested parties to come up with accessible, inclusive solutions—which floating bus stops certainly are not?

Taxis are an incredibly important part of our public transport network. We currently have the ludicrous situation in the City of London where Bank Junction is closed to black cabs on erroneous safety grounds, even though a black cab has never been involved in an accident there. There are similar issues with cabs at Bishopsgate. They are also barred from Tottenham Court Road. Will the Minister consider writing to the City of London Corporation in relation to Bank Junction and Bishopsgate, and to the leader of Camden Council and the Mayor of London in relation to Tottenham Court Road, to establish how these effective bans on our excellent black taxi fleet deliver accessibility and inclusion? How do those various authorities believe that they are complying with their equality duties, not least the public sector equality duty?

Another area is so-called shared space. Many noble Lords may have had the pleasure of not coming across these. They are an architectural and planning folly where roads are made completely wide open. Pavements, kerbstones, signs, road markings, crossings and signals are all taken away in the belief that road users and pedestrians will be able to get on better and be more sympathetic to one another. Buses and blind people, toddlers and tankers are able to interact in this extraordinary utopia. We managed to achieve a moratorium on all new so-called shared space. Can my noble friend the Minister say what is happening with the maintenance costs of all existing shared space developments? How many have had to be retrofitted to make them accessible for their local communities?

More disabled people are gaining employment than at any time in our history, and leisure and social facilities are becoming more accessible and inclusive. Is it not a tragedy if disabled people are not even able to get there for want of accessible transport, or are so stressed by the time they pitch up at work because of the inaccessible transport experience? What an unnecessary burden to put on disabled people across our country. It is wholly avoidable and yet currently not avoided.

I turn to technology. We have an extraordinary opportunity—nothing short of the complete technologisation of all our transport with AI, blockchain and the internet of things. What extraordinary possibilities we have to optimise the transport system and to connect all its vehicles in real time. Emergency vehicles would be able to be given the best route through congested traffic. Congestion would be reduced and efficiency increased. Can my noble friend the Minister comment on how much technology is being used by National Highways and Network Rail—not least to optimise their assets and resources, but also to get ahead of all the safety and maintenance challenges?

Inclusion and innovation are the golden threads that we need to see running through all our transport networks and systems. We can have a 21st-century transport network on all modes. Currently, we surely do not.

In conclusion, does my noble friend the Minister agree that we do not have public transport in this country? We have transport for some of the public, some of the time. Outside London, Manchester or other major cities, there is transport for some of the public, some of the time. For a disabled person or a wheelchair user, for the blind, hearing or cognitive impaired, there is transport for some of the public, some of the time. In reality, all too often there is fully accessible transport for many of our fellow citizens none of the time. Yet we know how to do this through inclusion and innovation. Imagine public transport inclusive by design and accessible by all. Would that not be quite something?

12:58
Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the compelling contribution to our debate by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. It was also a great pleasure, as always, to listen to my noble friend Lord Snape. He is a great expert on these matters.

I will speak about railways. Like everybody else who wanted to speak about this, I was caught short this morning by my honourable friend Louise Haigh’s statement about the Labour Party’s position on railways, which I fully support. Some 44 years ago, at Newport station in south Wales, there was a banner that said: “Ninety minutes from Newport to Paddington”. We had very comfortable trains, the food was edible and, of course, the stations that the trains went from were impressive—not least Newport station, the second-busiest and second-largest in Wales. I fear that this is not the case today.

When I was a lad, the station had a wonderful façade and a great entrance, and it was admired by all, but someone decided some years ago to change it for the Ryder Cup. They put the station extension in the wrong place, and the building was so awful that it was regarded as the ugliest building built in 2011. Worse than that, when you go to Newport station now you find that the toilets do not work and are out of order; the lifts have been out of order for some weeks; the buffet café has long been closed; when the station floods, it does so extremely badly; and there is a lot of scaffolding in the station. I referred to the banner that said it took 90 minutes to Paddington. Now, 44 years later, it takes 10 minutes longer to get from Newport to Paddington despite electrification—and, of course, the food on the trains is junk.

When you look at the Great Western Railway, which I have done nearly all my life, you see that its staff are hugely impressive, courteous and engaging, and electrification has certainly helped, but over a number of years we have seen a deterioration in the service of a once great railway company. Cancellations of trains are normal, unreliability is inevitable, there is lateness nearly all the time and, perhaps worse than all that, the overcrowding is now wholly unacceptable. The reason is that the number of carriages on the trains running from London to south Wales and the West Country is often cut by half—from 10 to five is quite normal. I was on one not long ago that was so overcrowded that a woman actually fainted at Reading station, and the train had to stop for about 15 minutes.

Over the last three decades we have seen deterioration. In 1994, when I was in the House of Commons, I voted against privatisation, and I see no reason in the world why I was wrong. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours’s excellent speech on what has happened to railways in the intervening years was absolutely right. The fare structure is complicated, fares are hugely too high, and of course industrial relations are in a mess. It is a sorry story, and that is a great shame because I am a great lover of our railways, as are many of your Lordships. It is the best way to travel, it is the most environmentally sensible way, and it is the way that I would always inevitably choose. It is a sadness that your Lordships have had to comment on and point to the deficiencies of the network in our country. I have touched on a few relating to the GWR but there are other examples as well.

I personally welcome the announcement by my party today on taking the railways into public ownership but not in an old-fashioned way, by letting the franchises disappear and replacing them, as has happened with a number of companies in the country. That is the way ahead. I just hope that, in five or six years’ time, the Great Western Railway will be replaced by the great British railway.

13:04
Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on this debate and his opening speech, particularly his excoriation of the railway system for the experience of passengers these days under privatisation, which my noble friend Lord Murphy has just underlined. His anecdote about Newport station takes me back even further than 45 years to when I used to visit my Welsh relatives. I quite admired and was rather impressed by Newport station, and even more impressed by the train service at the time. Sadly, that has deteriorated.

I also welcome, like my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Murphy, the announcement by my friend in another place Louise Haigh, whom I hope will soon be Secretary of State for Transport. We need a drastic change in the way we run our system. Since privatisation, the situation has become even more dire for passengers year by year, and we have ended up in effect with the state having responsibility without power and having to meet a significant part of the cost. The system of franchising is broken and successive regulators have failed. We have had the Strategic Rail Authority, the Office of the Rail Regulator and now we have the Office of Rail and Road. It would have been more accurate if they had all been designated with the title of “Offtrack”, because that is what they are. The system has gone downhill ever since privatisation. Whatever the failings beforehand, they have been multiplied since.

This calls for a broader approach to transport policy—although, before I leave rail, I should mention that the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, has drawn to my attention that, since the start of the debate and his own speech, there have been 10 cancellations out of Euston station this very day.

The question is wider than rail policy. Transport policy has many objectives. Some of them are contradictory, and they need a cohesive and clear approach, both within and between sectors. Some of these contradictions and problems are macro, such as the state of the railways and the fiasco of HS2, but some are micro. I shall give a personal example. I live seven miles from a railway station. There is a bus service to it from my town of only one bus per hour, and outside rush hour there is only one train per hour, but the first three buses in the morning are scheduled to arrive three minutes after the trains for London and Exeter have departed. A little bit of integration could help because that causes people to rely entirely on their cars, increasing congestion on our inadequate rural roads and increasing pollution.

We need integration within and between sectors. I support more space for cyclists, but some of the provision for cyclists contradicts road use elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has just reported one effect of shared space at floating bus stops. We must ensure that pedestrians as well as cyclists are protected and that the provision of cycle lanes—which I support—is done in such a way that it does not increase greater congestion and danger to pedestrians.

We need a real integrated plan. Others have referred to the proposals by the Institution of Civil Engineers for the integration of transport infrastructure; obviously it needs to be broader than infrastructure, but infrastructure is where it starts.

We need to ensure some degree of modal shift away from fossil fuel-using cars and pollution-producing transport. Freight trains, for example, contribute about a quarter of the carbon emissions that the equivalent on the roads would produce. We need to ensure that this is provided for in the infrastructure on the roads as well as on rail.

I shall mention three issues that are dear to my heart but which have not been touched on much today. First, the switch to electric vehicles has slowed down. I was a member of your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee when we produced a report about a year ago on this topic. I would like a clear and positive response about reversing that decline and ensuring in particular that there is a market for small electric vehicles in this country.

My second point is on aviation. I declare my vice-presidency of BALPA. If aviation is to continue to supply domestic and short-haul routes, it has to be more environmentally sustainable. That means more investment in sustainable aviation fuel. It also means concentrating on changing the pattern of flights, scheduling and payload, and the way in which our domestic aviation system works. That has hardly received any attention.

Finally, building on what the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has said on road safety, I was disheartened a few weeks ago when the Minister replied to an Oral Question that he saw no reason to have a road safety strategy. Previous road safety strategies have worked very successfully and saved many lives. We need to integrate driver behaviour, road and vehicle design, road signage, speed and traffic organisation. That is quite difficult, but it needs to be done. To reduce the continuing high level of accidents and danger to pedestrians and car occupants, we need a proper road safety strategy. I hope the Minister can include that in his reply.

I hope that we can see a more integrated approach. I hope that the incoming Government will provide one. The announcement on railways is a good start, but we need a much broader policy that takes in all modes and types of users.

13:11
Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for securing this important debate. He gave us a splendid knock-about speech to start, full of horror stories. These have been added to—stories of failures, inconveniences, cancellations and so forth—in the course of our debate. I would like to take the word “strategy” seriously. Many of the examples that have been deduced today are not pertinent to the question of strategy; they are what I would rather think of as tactical failings. You can have a large number of tactical failings without it necessarily meaning that you do not have a good strategy. That said, I do not think the Government have much of a strategy for transport, but the two are worth distinguishing.

I would like to use the few minutes available to set out some of the principles that ought to underly a transport strategy for this country and the United Kingdom. First, we need to think the right way. We need to think teleologically about transport. The purpose of transport is transport; it is moving people and goods. That movement brings economic and social benefits; these are not inherently the purpose of transport but they are beneficial consequences. Transport also brings pollution, which is not the purpose of transport but simply a negative unwelcome consequence. We need to distinguish between the purpose of what we are doing and the consequences.

Secondly, it is also not the purpose of transport to meet non-transport policy objectives—for example, net zero. As an aside, it is quite interesting that I am probably the first person in this debate to use the words “net zero”. I do not use them in a very positive way; I just give it as an example. Extraneous policy objectives are constraints on how you deliver transport policy; they tell you how you should be doing it rather than why. That is also a necessary clearing of the mind if we are to think about these things properly.

My third point might seem obvious, but it has huge consequences. Public transport works best where you have a concentration of passengers. That means that it works well, largely speaking, in cities and larger towns. Having a density of population is a necessary condition for sustainable public transport. It is possible that transport services can create density, in the way that the Metropolitan Railway created Metro-land, but our anti-development planning policies nowadays sadly make that a thing of the past.

Fourthly, as a consequence of that, we have to be realistic about what we are ever going to be able to offer rural areas in public transport services. The idea that rural areas will have transport services akin to what is on offer in London is simply unrealistic. It is to hold out a pledge that can never be met. This emphasises that, especially in rural areas, there is always going to be a very important role for the private motorcar—and, indeed, for cheap private motorcars. The whole question of electric vehicles and how far we can expect them to spread, especially in rural areas, seems to be determined by their cost. At the moment, they are far too expensive. If we want cheap ones, we are going to have to pay to import them from China. That is basically the dilemma we face. We need to be realistic about that.

My next point might be controversial. Public transport is expensive to run, particularly rail. It costs a great deal of money, and not simply because of the monopoly supply of labour and the way in which the trade unions have been able to extract enormous salaries, especially for drivers, as a result of that. It is very expensive to run and only the fare payer or the taxpayer can pay for it. The money has to come from one of those two sources. It is a profoundly political decision how that expense will be allocated.

My suggestion—unpopular though it may be—is that any national strategy should be directed at maximising fare income. This does not mean high fares for everyone, because transport is a paradigm case of where marginal pricing adds to income—railway operators have understood this since the railways started in the 19th century. The fact is that it costs more or less the same to run the train whether it has passengers on it or not. Even £1 from that last marginal passenger adds to income. Airlines completely understand this. They set and vary their prices from day to day on that basis, in order to maximise revenue—not by having high fares for everyone but by having high fares for some and lower fares for others. We should perhaps learn from that.

I am coming to a conclusion. I would like to say a lot about technology, as my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond has. That would be another speech, as there is a great deal to say on that.

Finally, I will briefly say something about the nationalisation of rail, as announced today. I am not, despite what noble Lords might think, a mad privatiser of every utility. I was deputy chairman of Transport for London, so I can hardly believe entirely in privately running things. But the announcement today will make no difference whatever. Nearly everything you can pick up and touch in the railways is nationalised already, except the trains. If you take over the train operating companies, which are already puppets of the Department for Transport, you will simply have the same people doing the same jobs. Nothing very much would change, but you would run out of capital to invest at some point. That is the great advantage of privatisation.

13:18
Lord McLoughlin Portrait Lord McLoughlin (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing this debate and on managing to tee up his party to make its major announcement on rail today. It is a great achievement.

It is a privilege to see the noble Lord, Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill, in the Chamber today. He is somebody who has done a huge amount for rail and transport infrastructure in the United Kingdom. I was very pleased that he was appointed as chairman of Network Rail. In fact, it was my appointment, so I was delighted to be able to do that.

I declare my interest as chairman of Transport for the North and as someone who thinks that strategic transport bodies have importance. I do not have a lot of time to talk too much about that today.

This debate has fallen into the trap we so often fall into when we talk about transport, because transport is not about just the rail industry. Today’s debate has been dominated by speeches about railways from nearly all Peers, apart from my noble friend Lord Holmes, who mentioned Network Rail only in passing, right at the end of his speech—I congratulate him on that. Naturally, railways are very important to our transport system, but I am glad that certain people have made reference to buses, and I certainly hope to do so too.

There is no doubt that transport is the artery of any economy. It gets people to work, children to school and food to shops. Everyone depends on it every day. When transport slows, everything slows; when transport stops, everything stops. We saw an example of that during the pandemic, to which quite a few of the problems we face today relate. We almost forget that, just four years ago, the country was virtually at a standstill because of the pandemic. But lots of things are changing in the transport world.

There have been a lot of attacks on privatisation today. It is worth bearing in mind that, before privatisation, there were 700 million journeys a year on our railways; the year before the pandemic, there were 1.8 billion journeys on our railways. We have seen a revolution in the rail industry: it does far more and serves far more people. That happened because private finance was brought into the rail industry, and we were no longer completely reliant on what the Treasury said and did not say. There have been a lot of attacks today on the Treasury, so I say: be careful what you wish for because, if you wholly nationalise, the people who will take back control will be not the Department for Transport but His Majesty’s Treasury. So one should be a little cautious about what one asks for. On the idea that open access will somehow be allowed to continue, with all the other operators being nationalised and operated from the centre, it will be interesting to see how that develops in the longer term.

I very much regret the Government’s decision on stopping HS2. Unfortunately, HS2 became a discussion about speed, but it was never about speed; it was about capacity on our network and freeing up a lot more room for other services on it. Two metro mayors, Andy Street and Andy Burnham, commissioned a report from David Higgins on what a future Government will do, and it will be interesting to see that, whatever happens after a general election. I slightly warn people: I remember that, when I was first elected to the House of Commons, I was told by the BBC that it had done an exit poll in my constituency and I had lost. The returning officer told me otherwise. From that day onwards, I have always believed that the returning officer is a bit more authoritative on election results. Given that, let us be careful about what we see as the future of the rail industry.

The other interesting growth and important change that has taken place is the growth of metro mayors and their importance as far as their impact on transport and transport policy is concerned. As I say, Andy Street and Andy Burnham commissioned work from Sir David Higgins about what should happen as a result of terminating HS2 at Handsacre, and it will be interesting to see exactly what happens with that under any future Government.

On some of the points made earlier about buses, I say that buses are incredibly important to our transport system. I congratulate the Government on the £2 fare cap that they brought in. It has seen patronage start to rise and more people using buses. It is due to end on 31 December this year. A few other things will take place between now and then that may preoccupy parties’ minds, but, if this does end, it will be a very retrograde step for the bus industry. I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench can relay the message to the Secretary of State that this should be extended at least to the end of the financial year, so that people are not starting to think now about what they might do if that £2 fare cap were removed.

There was an interesting story in the Times a few weeks ago about how much has already been spent before any decision on the lower Thames crossing has been made:

“National Highways, which manages the strategic road network, has spent more than £267 million on the application alone, while overall spending on the project has surpassed £800 million”


before a spade has been put in the ground. We need to look carefully at how we do long-term planning for these big infrastructure projects. I think we have got the system wrong.

I can see my time has come to an end, so I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that transport is about not just the railways but a lot of other subjects that we have not had time to talk fully about today.

13:25
Lord Fowler Portrait Lord Fowler (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak in the gap very briefly. I congratulate my noble friend on his speech. I notice that things in his constituency went his way after my visit: his deficit was turned into a majority, and I am glad.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on this debate, not just because he was my pair when I was Transport Secretary but also because of his long and abiding interest in, and knowledge of, transport—I mean that very generally. He has been a great asset in both Houses on this subject.

The transport debate has moved on. The Guardian, from which I get all my news about what is happening behind closed doors inside the Labour Party, says that Labour vows to nationalise the rail network within five years of winning the election. The shadow Minister says that

“this is not just ideology, it’s a detailed reform plan”.

Frankly, the less ideology, the better. We will wait to see the reform plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, criticised very much what has happened under privatisation, but I am sure he would agree that, in the time of British Rail, not everything was fantastic. It was not a time of unparalleled industrial peace when all trains ran on time. There were divisions inside the trade union movement, as he well knows, on the way forward. I had a number of meetings with the heads of ASLEF and NUR that were made memorable by the fact that neither of them spoke to each other and they sat at opposite ends of the table. That did not seem to me to be industrial co-operation as I knew it.

One of the major problems was, obviously, a lack of investment, which is what we had to tackle. The Treasury was not interested, frankly, in financing luxury hotels, for example—who can blame it? That is one of the reasons why, in my so-called privatisation measures, we got rid of that and put them into the private sector. In the main, people have not complained about that. I do not think anyone is pressing the Labour Party to take on Gleneagles as a publicly operated hotel.

The important point that I would like to make about privatisation is just this: when we privatised, we did not bring in a lot of outside experts to run these companies; we appointed and recruited them from inside. There were people like Peter Thompson in the NFC and Keith Stuart in Associated British Ports. There was tremendous talent inside the companies, but that talent was not being used. That is an important point about privatisation which has not been recognised. We set that management free. I heard the criticism, but it should also be recognised that, when this has been done well—I accept that it has not always been—the public have benefited from it.

13:30
Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington Portrait Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington (CB)
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My Lords, I also speak in the gap and thank noble Lords for allowing me to do so. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on this debate. I will not be talking about railways, buses or anything in relation to that; I shall be talking about drones. We are on the verge of a massive impact of the use of drones in the civil context. We have had it in the military context, of course, in Ukraine, Israel and the like, and there is a real need here to bring the CAA together with the Ministry of Transport.

Here, I should declare my interest, as listed in the register, in general aviation and associated business interests. A number of experiments and systems have been used over the past three to four months in the north-east of England, and they have not been very successful at all. A pilot scheme, a corridor from Wansbeck to Alnwick to Berwick, has affected general aviation in such a way that other aircraft cannot fly. Drones were going to be used five to 15 times a day, but because of weather it did not happen. We are now going back to another kind of pilot scheme, along the same route and along the River Tyne, which will be conducted for six months. It will affect general aviation in a major way. Looking ahead, drones will be used extensively and there is therefore a need to put together a strategy that delivers sensibly and safely.

Over the years, a lot of work has been done on aircraft safety, and the conclusion reached is that any aircraft that hits organic matter—birds, for example—will probably survive, but if it hits a drone is very unlikely to survive at all; the result would be catastrophic. We have here something new, and it is going to happen and will affect us all. Speaking as a pilot—my friend and colleague the Minister is also a pilot—I can say that this issue really needs to be addressed. The potential is massive, so the issues need to be sorted out and the pilot schemes need to be done in a way that is satisfactory to all.

13:33
Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for giving us such a broad canvas for our debate today. It has left us free to roam over fertile territory, pointing out the failings of current policy and the daily transport crises that fail travellers. It is very easy pickings because there is so much to choose from.

Many noble Lords have used this debate to highlight important issues arising from their own experiences. I especially welcomed the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on issues that particularly affect people with disability. I note my sadness that I am the only woman speaking in this debate, because a good public transport system is an equality issue. Women and girls are more likely to use public transport than to have cars. My noble friend Lord Goddard referred to ticketing, as did many others. He spoke particularly about Avanti and praised its on-train staff for dealing with the pressure they face so expertly in their responses. I second that by referring to Great Western staff; the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and I suffer the vagaries of the Great Western service. Just to illustrate a point: while we have been sat here, four trains have been shortened from 10 to five carriages, making all the associated trains uncomfortable, too.

Transport is fundamental to the success of the economy, despite all the talk of working from home, using Zoom and so on. Failing transport networks stifle the economy, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, said. Wherever we look, our transport infrastructure is failing. The Centre for Cities estimates that that costs our economy £23 billion a year. Our roads, both local and national highways, are seriously congested and in urgent need of repairs. Now, I am a Liberal Democrat and I like talking about potholes, but potholes have become a national topic of conversation because of local government underfunding. Our motorways are heavily congested. The Government therefore invented smart motorways, which are supposed to rely on sophisticated surveillance equipment to keep drivers safe. Just this week, however, we hear that this equipment is subject to frequent failures.

Bus services have declined dramatically, leaving rural areas as bus deserts. The youngest, oldest and poorest in our society in particular are left without any affordable means of getting to work, to education, to training, to doctors’ appointments and to see family and friends. Although the £2 fare is welcome, like so much that this Government do, it is short term, haphazard and certainly not strategic. Money to incentivise zero-emission buses is welcome but, outside London, there are many areas where this has hardly made any impression at all. Above all, there is the uncertainty of funding, with four separate funding streams for buses. What we need, for a start, is one integrated system and more transparency to make sure that the money gets spent properly.

Train services are a national tragedy. When we ask questions here, Ministers always recite how much taxpayers have subsidised rail services since the pandemic. They overlook the subsidy that taxpayers give to road building and maintenance, and that every train passenger benefits all those who do not or cannot take the train by taking themselves off the roads. The nation that invented the railways has proved itself incapable of building a modern high-speed line in an efficient and sensible manner. We have had years of government contortions and “will they, won’t they?”, when first one leg and then the other leg of HS2 north of Birmingham was cancelled. At a stroke, that cancellation added vast amounts of money to future contractors’ estimates, because they will factor in the financial risk of project cancellation. We are told that, unlike on the high-speed lines that we see across the world, HS2 trains will travel on standard rail lines north of Birmingham, but they will of course have to travel more slowly than classic trains because those trains will not tilt.

Recently, we discussed the crisis facing train manufacturers Alstom and Hitachi because of the stop-go approach to rail investment. Thousands of jobs are at risk, with the Government scrabbling around at the last minute to try to save them.

Instead of HS2, we have the hotchpotch of Network North. Individual projects are probably very sensible and worthy, but there has been a lack of consultation, no coherent overall strategic plan, no proper discussion with local mayors, and so on. Of the £36 billion allocated to HS2, £11.6 billion will go to Network North; that is a major cut in funding for rail. The Rail Industry Association complains that there has been no assessment of value for money and risk, and that many of these are simply reannouncements, with only five new projects.

Just look at the current problems that face LNER, for example, with its planned new timetable, which will reduce services to key towns such as Berwick. The plans are now being put on hold for the second time because, according to Network Rail, they are undeliverable. There has been a lack of coherent consultation. Across the whole sector, investors and professionals are crying out for certainty and an end to U-turns and the stop-start approach to funding.

The Government had some good ideas, but they have dropped most of them. Theresa May made a bold and laudable decision when she fixed 2030 as the date for phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicle sales, but a single parliamentary by-election changed government policy and the date for that decision. As a result, the whole of our valuable automotive industry was wrong-footed.

There is no proper leadership on a sustainable charging network for electric vehicles and there is a lack of incentive to attract those who are less well-off into EV ownership. It is no wonder we are far from the world-leading image produced by Boris Johnson on EV manufacture and take-up.

In 2021, we had the Williams-Shapps report for rail reform. In 2022, in the Queen’s Speech, we had a Transport Bill announced, but it was never introduced. We now have the draft Rail Reform Bill, which has only just started scrutiny in the House of Commons and will have no chance of becoming law before the general election. Now we have Labour talking about a five-year lead-up to nationalisation, which will be five years of uncertainty—the last thing the rail industry needs.

We have a long way to go now. We need certainty and dramatic change in our bus services, our EV charging, our automotive manufacturing, our railways and much more. We need heaps more awareness of the value of investment, rather than the cost of each individual minute aspect of it. We need less political interference; we need investment, vision and less short-term bean counting.

13:43
Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle (Lab)
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I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on introducing this debate in his own informed and inimitable way, and join those who have paid tribute to him for his contribution over many decades to the transport debate in this country. I also thank former Secretaries of State for contributing to this debate and I particularly endorse the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord McLaughlin, about my noble friend Lord Hendy, who unfortunately is not able to contribute to this debate; it would have been nice to hear from him. Those present also remind me of those absent, and one of those is, of course, Lord Rosser, who was a much-loved Member of this House and a very great, moderate and sensible trade union general secretary.

It would be nice to have a coherent plan for transport, but in the last 14 years we have not achieved that. We had the impact of austerity, which led to massive cuts in local government budgets. I saw it in Cumbria, where we had fewer professional highways staff and where planned maintenance on our roads was cut to the bone, so we inevitably ended up with a chronic problem of potholes. The Government have done a lot of announcing about special funds for potholes, in a sort of patchwork attempt to cover up the consequences of what they did 10 years ago. In fact, that will only cover about half of what is needed to have a proper system of planned maintenance for our highways.

Austerity also brought big cuts in bus subsidies. When I was a Cumbria county councillor, we were forced to abandon bus subsidies for commercial services altogether. As a result, bus travel outside London has collapsed. The annual number of journeys since 2009 has gone down from 2.4 billion to 1.6 billion—a third lost.

Boris Johnson realised, to be fair to him, that this was a big problem. His Bus Back Better White Paper was full of typically bold promise and ambition, but, as with so much else, delivery was another matter. This is a serious issue—it might be even more serious than the railways—because the bus crisis affects the young, the elderly and the poor most of all. For a social democrat like me, we must do better and find a better policy.

The solution stares us in the face. London has seen little of the decline experienced in other parts of England. Why? Because, instead of the philosophy of provision being driven by free market competition, bus services in London are a fine example of public/private partnership, with a franchising model that works. This eliminates competitive cherry picking on bus routes that are highly profitable and allows cross-subsidy of those routes where there is less revenue.

The difficulty with this problem that Boris Johnson recognised is that the Government have never found time to legislate on it. This year, to be frank, the Government judged the pedicabs Bill more important than doing something to remedy our bus service problems. I regret very much the way that government policy has tilted against public transport since the Uxbridge by-election. The Government have tried to pose as a defender of the motorist against sinister socialist plots—this is nonsense. I am a strong believer in the freedom that cars bring. I was brought up in a non-car owning household and realised, with great wonderment and affection, how a car enabled me to travel to parts of the Lake District near my home that I had never been to before. As a councillor for Wigton in the last decade, I also saw how, in certain places where public transport is rotten, people depend on their cars. The care worker who is on the minimum wage—if that—depends on a car to do her job. Let us have no more of this culture-war nonsense.

We need, of course, sensible policies in towns and cities. We realised in the 1970s that there was no financially affordable or environmentally acceptable way in which road building could solve congestion problems. We did not want to become like America. When I was a young Labour councillor in Oxford in the 1970s, we championed what we called a balanced transport policy. We brought in park and ride from the outskirts, and bus lanes to get buses into town quicker. I remember how much opposition there was. Traders thought this was the end of the world. Professionals objected to not being able to drive their car to work as easily as they had done. But, when people saw the benefits, the objections quickly subsided. We could do much more in cities to improve bus reliability and efficiency without vast increases in public spending.

The same opportunity exists on our railways. I was never a dogmatic opponent of all privatisation, but I thought that separating the natural monopoly of the infrastructure from competing services that use it, while it might work well in telecoms, was a much more difficult proposition with railways. That has proved to be the case. The growing problems with privatisation have been evident for two decades. We had the collapse of Railtrack in 2001. We had the problem of franchisees overbidding for contracts and hoping that a weak Government would let them off the hook. My noble friend Lord Adonis told them to get lost, and their franchises were taken into public ownership. In 2018, the railways were unable to produce a timetable that worked. Since Covid, there has been a vast increase in costs and a real decline in quality of service. As a frequent Avanti user, although not quite as frequent as the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, I still cannot understand why it has been allowed to keep its franchise.

What Labour has announced today is fundamentally right—that we intend to bring the major part of the railway under unified public control and ownership. I disagree with my noble friend Lord Berkeley: we must take legislative action on this quickly, in our first term of office. A unified railway will save hundreds of millions of pounds by getting all parts of the system working together. It will end the costly arguments about delay attribution, and I hope that it will release the railway from the micro-control of civil servants who are currently making decisions about services and spending. It will not be a return to British Rail. Open access will be retained; freight services will continue to be operated by the private sector; the lease-holding arrangements for rolling stock will remain in place. This is a pragmatic response to the failings of the existing system. I hope that it will allow the kind of long-term approach that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, talked about.

Again, there is not much difference between the Williams-Shapps plan and Labour’s proposals, which is why Keith Williams has backed them today. This provides an opportunity to establish a new, lasting consensus about the way railways should be run, and I hope that the Conservatives will take that view if they lose the next election.

Another area where consensus needs to be struck is on the issue of high-speed rail. After the Prime Minister’s decision, we are left with a high-speed line with apparently no public funds to build its London terminus at Euston, and a connection of HS2 to the west coast main line which makes the problem of train congestion to the north worse, not better, than it is at present. What was envisaged as a revolutionary transformation has, in effect, morphed into a high-speed tube extension from Old Oak Common to Birmingham. It has destroyed the integrated rail plan. In its place, we got the shoddiest White Paper I have ever seen from a Government, on the Network North plan; a set of incoherent proposals cobbled together in Downing Street without any expert input from transport people. This is no way to run a country.

Labour is not going to go for headline-grabbing announcements, but we need a carefully considered decision based on detailed work about where we are. There we have it: we must have a coherent policy at long last, replacing 14 years of dither and delay interspersed with reckless decisions. The country deserves a lot better.

13:55
Lord Davies of Gower Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Lord Davies of Gower) (Con)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to respond for the Government on this debate on the transport system, which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for tabling. I also thank noble Lords who have taken part for their insightful and wide-ranging points. I will do my best in the time allotted to me to address those in my response.

This country has a proud transport history, spanning great maritime successes, the birth of steam-powered engines and the creation of one of the safest road networks anywhere in the world. Our heritage inspires us to look forward. We continue to strive towards an excellent transport system that supports people and businesses, wherever they live and work.

We are not only managing the transport system we inherited but taking steps to make it fit for the future, seizing opportunities for transport to unleash economic growth and improve people’s lives. We are mending the potholes, making life easier for drivers and reforming our railways. We are capitalising on our world-leading research and innovation capabilities by legislating to make the UK one of the best places in the world to invest in, produce and use self-driving vehicles. We are giving local and regional leaders the powers and funding they need to deliver transport systems which get people and businesses moving across the country.

Naturally, there are forces that have had significant consequences on transport and those who use it. These include the Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the historic high levels of inflation which have impacted economies across the globe. These challenges have left their mark on the ways in which people travel. They have also impacted the cost of building infrastructure and running services, but thanks to our interventions we are well on the road to recovery.

In the three years after the pandemic began, the Government provided more than £45 billion of operational funding to keep the railway running. Now, passenger numbers are back at 80% of pre-Covid levels. To tackle the cost of living crisis, we have capped bus fares at £2 and launched two “Great British Rail Sales”. We have cancelled planned inflation increases on fuel duty and, from 2022, temporarily cut the rate by 5p, saving the average car driver around £250 in total since then. We are supporting drivers through our plan for drivers and ensuring we can reach our net-zero goals in a proportionate and pragmatic way. Thanks to the difficult decisions we have made on HS2, we are now redirecting £36 billion of investment towards rail, roads and local transport as part of our Network North plans, allowing us to benefit more people in more places, more quickly.

This Government have the practical and long-term vision to improve and nurture the transport system in the future. Allow me to outline some of our plans in detail. On rail, we are acutely aware of the need to bring the railways into the 21st century. Vital to this is our ongoing work to upgrade the existing rail network, to improve rail operators’ performance and to make the railways more accessible to all. We have published a draft rail reform Bill and are pushing ahead with a range of non-legislative reform measures. We are continuing to deliver HS2 between London and the West Midlands, boosting economic growth, improving journey times and adding much-needed capacity on one of the UK’s most congested rail routes.

On trains, I noted this morning the announcement that Labour proposes an ideological nationalisation, with no detail beyond a soundbite and no response to how nationalisation will make a difference to things that people really care about: reliability and affordability. There was no real detail of what Labour proposes to do with the parts of the industry that are profitable, including the rolling stock operators and the open-access operators. The rolling stock operators have used private finance to fund 8,000 new carriages since 2010. The popular open-access operators have reconnected communities and given them direct services to London. Either Labour proposes to nationalise this part of the sector, or it is not serious about nationalisation and it is simply a fig leaf to appease their union paymasters.

All Labour’s current policy to nationalise passenger rail contracts will deliver is baking in some of the existing challenges, such as too much involvement from Whitehall in running the railways, taking on the parts of the sector that require greatest public subsidy, with no plan to grow passenger numbers—the only way to reduce subsidy. It also means that rail workers will become public sector workers, and so their pay rises will need to be in line with those of nurses and teachers, rather than in line with private sector wage growth. To quote the noble Lord, Lord Snape, we will indeed be “the laughing stock” of the western world.

We have set out a 30-point plan for drivers, bringing about smoother journeys and easier parking, stopping unfair enforcement and inconsiderate driving, and helping the transition to zero-emission driving. Spades are in the ground on our second road investment strategy, and we are preparing plans for the third road investment strategy.

At the local level, we are devolving powers and budgets away from central government through measures including the local transport fund, city region sustainable transport settlements, devolution deals and trailblazer settlements. This is giving leaders the funding and powers they need to get people and business moving. We are investing in a long-term sustainable future for buses, including more than £4.5 billion to support and improve bus services since March 2020. We are investing in active travel infrastructure, including the active travel fund and the second cycling and walking investment strategy.

We have set out a clear vision and ambitions for the future of the British maritime sector, focused on growing our economic impact, keeping people safe and protecting our environment. The UK SHORE programme alone is providing £206 million to accelerate the technology needed to decarbonise the domestic maritime sector.

We have established a strategic framework for aviation focused on innovation, sustainability and efficiency. Our updated airspace modernisation strategy will enable quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys, and increase UK airspace capacity. We have set a road map for how drones and novel electric aircraft can deliver better public services and green economic growth. In November last year, we saw the first ever transatlantic 100% sustainable aviation fuel flight by a commercial airliner, from Heathrow to New York, made possible with government funding.

Finally, on the environment, we have dedicated over £22 billion to help the UK meet its 2050 net-zero target, and we are ensuring that our transport system will be resilient to climate change. Network Rail alone will be investing around £2.4 billion in England and Wales over the next five years to improve resilience to extreme weather and climate change. However, these ambitious plans are not for government alone. We are working closely with the devolved Administrations to deliver a world-class transport system across the country. We engage closely with our friends across the world and with international bodies to deliver frameworks and standards, to share and contribute to best practice and research, and to drive forward global action on decarbonisation and the environment. We consult broadly and deeply with industry, civil society, academia and the general public to shape and deliver our plans.

With that, I turn my attention to points raised during the debate. Quite a lot of points were raised, and I will try to get though as many as I possibly can in the time left. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, talked about rail performance in his opening speech. The department has been clear that the current performance of the railway is unacceptable. The industry needs to make significant improvement to deliver the punctual and reliable services that passengers and taxpayers deserve. That is why the department has regular high-level meetings on punctuality and reliability with both Network Rail and representatives of the train operators to hold rail partners to account. All private-sector operators have now transitioned over to National Rail contracts, which include a revenue-incentive mechanism, encouraging train operators to minimise cancellations and short formations unless absolutely necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, also referred to Hitachi. The department is holding intensive discussions with Hitachi to find a sustainable solution for train manufacturing at its Newton Aycliffe plant. Train operators are subject to procurement law as they operate under contracts directly awarded by the department. This is complex and difficult. There are no simple solutions, and any solution needs to be legally robust and sustainable for the long term.

The noble Lords, Lord Snape, Lord McLoughlin and Lord Liddle, talked about bus service cuts and ongoing support for the sector. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, talked about the less well off using them; I can assure him that I use buses regularly. The Government have announced unprecedented funding for bus services, totalling over £4.5 billion since March 2020. This includes £2 billion to prevent reductions to bus services following the pandemic and over £1 billion allocated in 2022 to help local authorities deliver their bus service improvements.

The noble Lords, Lord Snape and Lord Liddle, talked about bus strategy. The aim of the national bus strategy is to make buses more frequent, more reliable, easier to understand and use, better co-ordinated and cheaper. The strategy required all local transport authorities to publish bus service improvement plans, setting out local plans for the changes in bus services that are needed, driven by what passengers and would-be passengers want.

The noble Lords, Lord Bourne and Lord Birt, talked about road investment. The Government are investing £24 billion from 2020 to 2025 to operate, maintain and enhance our strategic road network of motorways and major A roads. In the last four years we have completed 23 major enhancement schemes across all the English regions, including three on the A19 in the north-east and, only last month, the A585 Windy Harbour scheme in Lancashire. The road investment strategy 3 will build on the priorities and outcomes of the first two road periods, adjusting focus where necessary to tackle the next big priorities for improvement and achieve a long-term strategic vision for the network.

The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, talked about enabling economic growth. Growing the economy is a priority for the Government, and a secure, reliable, well-connected and integrated transport network is a vital tool for growth. It allows individuals to access more jobs, education, services and amenities, and allows firms to access wider labour pools and share knowledge and supply chains, boosting productivity in the long run.

The noble Lords, Lord Bourne and Lord Fowler, talked about rail industrial action. The industry is facing a serious financial challenge. Reform is essential to deliver a better railway for passengers. Since coming into office, the Transport Secretary and Rail Minister have met with the rail unions and industry to facilitate discussions, which have resulted in pay offers being accepted by the RMT, TSSA and Unite unions in exchange for negotiations on reform. ASLEF is now the only rail union that continues disruptive national-level strikes.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned decarbonisation. The Government expect both electrification and alternative technologies to play a role in net zero by 2050. That is why my department has delivered more than 1,250 miles of electrification in Great Britain since 2010.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, talked about rail reform. We are committed to rail reform and delivering improvements for customers ahead of legislation. We recently completed barcode ticketing for all national network stations and announced a 75% rail freight growth target by 2050. In line with Network North and wider stakeholder engagement, the Great British Railways transition team continues to develop the long-term strategy for rail. We need to ensure that the strategy reflects both the realities of the railways and the clear direction set by Network North.

The noble Lords, Lord Goddard of Stockport and Lord Liddle, talked about holding Avanti West Coast to account. The department takes performance very seriously and holds all franchised operators to account for the service they provide. As part of the national rail contract, Avanti West Coast has a series of challenging but achievable targets to meet, which the department monitors, and officials continue to closely monitor and review Avanti West Coast progress to a sustained recovery. The noble Lord, Lord Goddard, mentioned the Avanti West Coast rest day working agreement. On 13 March 2024, Avanti West Coast secured a 12-month rest day working agreement with ASLEF. The new agreement will support Avanti West Coast’s driver training programme as it transitions to its new Hitachi fleet over the coming months.

The noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Berkeley, referred to rail fares, ticketing and retail. We have already made progress on fares reform, launching flexible season tickets in 2021, delivering on our commitment to extend single-leg pricing to the vast majority of LNER’s network, launching a trial of simpler fares on LNER, and announcing that we will extend contactless pay-as-you-go to an additional 53 stations in the south-east by spring this year.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Whitty, talked about decarbonisation. This Government have done more than any other to promote walking and cycling, and we remain fully committed to the vision that half of all journeys in towns and cities are walked or cycled by 2030. Over £3 billion is projected to be invested in active travel up to 2025. Despite the challenging financial climate, since 1 June 2023 Active Travel England has played an important role as a statutory consultee within the planning system. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and other noble Lords talked more on decarbonisation. The UK has decarbonised faster than any other major economy, more than halving emissions since 1990. Our credible, cross-cutting plan to decarbonise all transport is at the heart of our ambition.

On a point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, there are now more than 1 million battery electric cars on UK roads, which is evidence that more and more drivers are switching to electric vehicles. We continue to work with the industry via the automotive transformation fund to support the creation of an internationally competitive electric vehicle supply chain in the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, talked about access for all. The Access for All programme has provided accessible, step-free routes at more than 240 stations and small-scale improvements at around 1,500 more since 2006. As part of our recent Network North announcement, the Government confirmed that £350 million will be made available to improve accessibility at our train stations. On bus accessibility, we are requiring operators across Great Britain to provide audible and visible information on their services. Our new accessible information regulations will require almost every local service to provide audible and visible next stop announcements. The £4.65 million accessible information grant will help the smallest operators to comply. The department has driven change through its support for the Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Act 2022 and through updated best practice guidance for local licensing authorities, including on supporting an inclusive service. However, I note what the noble Lord said in relation to particular areas of London.

The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, also talked about technology performance. It is right that road users should expect high standards when it comes to managing and responding quickly to incidents on the motorways. National Highways has rolled out new stopped vehicle detection technology on “all lane running” smart motorways, which can detect a stationary vehicle and alert an operator who can close lanes and dispatch a traffic officer.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, said, particularly about Newport station—much of what he said existed under British Rail. However, as we know, it is now devolved to the Welsh Government and has been nationalised as Transport for Wales, so I am afraid that any comment on that should come from the Welsh Government. However, I will say that Transport for Wales last year was reported to have the worst customer satisfaction for train operators in the whole of the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, talked about aviation and decarbonisation. The jet zero strategy sets out the Government’s approach to achieving net zero by 2050 in UK aviation. It focuses on the rapid development of technologies in a way that maintains the benefits of air travel while maximising the opportunities that decarbonisation brings for the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, raised the issue of road safety. While the UK has some of the safest roads in the world, any death is a tragedy, which is why we continue working tirelessly to improve road safety for everyone.

The noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Liddle, talked about rural transport. The Government recognise the importance of transport provision in rural areas and are committed to finding solutions that ensure viable and improved transport.

In a very well-informed speech, the noble Lord, Lord McLaughlin, talked about rail passenger numbers and revenue. All substantive financial risks of rail services sit with government. Between 2021 and 2022-23, the taxpayer provided funding of £45.9 billion for the operation of the rail industry—just over £1,500 per household. He also talked about the HS2/Network North decision. The HS2 programme accounted for over one-third of all the Government’s transport investments, doing little to improve the journeys that people make the most. That is why the Government cancelled phases 2a and 2b—the western leg—of HS2.

Noble Lords made many other points. I will quickly mention the Lower Thames Crossing, which the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, mentioned. As the scheme is a live planning application, there are sensitivities in what I can say and it would be inappropriate to say anything that could prejudice that process.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, mentioned general aviation, which was a refreshing change in the debate. The department actively supports GA in achieving key government objectives. I hear what he says and understand his concern regarding drones. There has been a CAA airspace review. The rules are well defined for the use of drones but I acknowledge his concern.

I have come to the end. I think there are one or two other contributions that should be responded to. I will do that in writing. I thank noble Lords for their attendance and their contributions.

14:16
Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply, given at his customary express speed—far exceeding any Avanti train that leaves Euston on the west coast main line. I was intrigued by his attack on today’s proposals from the Labour Party to renationalise the train operating companies. Coming from a Government who have renationalised no fewer than seven train operating companies in the past couple of years, we may well depend on his expertise if the result of the general election goes the way we would like.

I pay tribute to the two former Secretaries of State for Transport who participated. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, reminded us of the occasional tensions between the two major railway unions, the National Union of Railwaymen as was and the drivers’ union. He might reflect that the one thing that united the pair of them was attacking the third railway union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, so tensions are by no means unusual. The noble Lord, Lord McLaughlin, quite rightly reminded us of the occasional vagaries of the polling system. I do not know whether he is tempted to head for the bookmakers to back his views but, if he does, I should think he would get fairly long odds.

Once again, I thank all noble Lords who participated in the debate. It is a subject I am sure we shall return to in the near future.

Motion agreed.