5 Lord Desai debates involving the Department for Transport

Covid-19: Transport for London

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 29th October 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The noble and gallant Lord will be pleased to hear that there was an update from Crossrail recently about the schedule and total costs. The project is now completely under the control of TfL. It is its responsibility to finish it. We are in discussions with TfL about further financial support for Crossrail, but we are very clear that Londoners must also foot the bill.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
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My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that the UK taxpayer would be harmed if Transport for London became dysfunctional? It would affect the London economy, as well as the health of London’s citizens. Would it not be better to take the larger interest into account and give Transport for London the help that it badly needs?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I assure the noble Lord that we want—as much as anybody else wants—London to have a safe, sustainable and reliable network. Obviously, there are issues to consider. In the short term, London’s revenues have been significantly impacted by the decline in passenger numbers. We have to make sure that, as we look to longer-term financial sustainability, not just UK taxpayers but Londoners support TfL.

Stonehenge

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 23rd July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton [V]
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The noble Baroness has asked me similar questions in the past. Of course, the Government have a huge commitment to electric vehicles. We want to see fewer petrol and diesel cars and other vehicles on our roads and we have a huge commitment to electric buses, but I say again that these vehicles need a road to travel on—they do not fly.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, now that we have experienced Covid and traffic and travel patterns are going to change dramatically, should not the Government take the opportunity to totally rethink the idea of the tunnel and take the entire space and divert the traffic away from where it is now? That would be a great contribution to the environment and to the beauty of Stonehenge and the newly discovered archaeological spaces.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton [V]
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Traffic on the strategic road network is almost back to pre-Covid levels now. Much of that is important freight and people now going out to visit friends and family and to work. While there is an opportunity, as work practices change, to consider how we look at roads in the future, much of that will be focused on encouraging cycling and walking and more changes to road space allocation, rather than trying to clamp down on traffic per se on other roads.

High Speed 2 (Economic Affairs Committee Report)

Lord Desai Excerpts
Thursday 23rd January 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
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My Lords, as an economist, I know that economists have never found a rational basis for making long-term investment decisions. As Keynes said in chapter 11 of the General Theory, when a businessman invests for the long run it is animal spirits that count. You have to more or less say, “I’ll take this risk come what may.” What we are discussing is very much the same sort of phenomenon.

It is no secret that the UK has underinvested in infrastructure for several decades. When I arrived here 55 years ago there was a regional problem. London was getting all the stuff and the north or wherever it was—we in London did not quite know—was not getting anything. Nothing has changed. The Treasury is a cheeseparing accounting body—I apologise to noble Lords from the Treasury. The only way to convince the Treasury to spend money is to invest not in small projects in the Midlands going east to west but in a huge project. Everybody will sign up to a huge project and, like all huge projects, including the restoration of your Lordships’ House, the final money spent will be a multiple of the original estimate, and the delay will be enormous. That is the law of large projects. On the whole, given all this, since we have started, we might as well get on and finish this thing, because we must do the northern powerhouse. Now that the Conservative Party has got a few northern MPs, it has finally discovered the north, so we will get some investment up there.

I will say one more thing. I was shocked by the cost-benefit analysis cited in the report. I have not done this stuff for ages, but was it on the same basis as the Victoria line was chosen? In a classic article by Foster and Beesley in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society in about 1964, they counted the time saved commuting and valued it in terms of the average earnings of the commuter. That gave a money sum of the benefit against the cost of building the line—and the Victoria line was built. We are still doing this 50 years later. As my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone pointed out, there are many other aspects of the cost-benefit analysis that should have been included—and hopefully will be included in the future. It is not only the time saved on commuting; what we really want to find out is what alternatives the commuters would have if they were not taking the train? Would they be flying? Would they be driving? What is the net saving in environmental terms from them being provided with this mode of transport, which takes them off the road and out of the sky?

It is also very important that when you go up north, east to west and so on, the benefit is not just in time saved but in the number of journeys that has increased because of connectivity, and the economic and employment benefits that will follow from the newly established connectivity between towns.

For a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, including the environmental costs that my noble friend described, we have to do a total accounting. Maybe it is too late for this, but we could do it for the northern powerhouse, or whatever it is. We need to be more intelligent than we have been, especially given the urgency we now put on climate change and the environment, which is a much more serious problem than it used to be.

So those two aspects are important. I would urge the Government not just to worry about HS2 but to start the northern powerhouse as soon as possible. There is no need to wait until 2050 or whenever it is. Things are urgent, and you can do two infrastructure projects together; you do not have to separate them.

I do not need to say anything further. I urge the National Infrastructure Commission, or whoever looks after these things, to examine seriously the cost-benefit methodology of big projects.

Rail Timetabling

Lord Desai Excerpts
Monday 4th June 2018

(5 years, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Sugg Portrait Baroness Sugg
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My Lords, the exact details of the compensation scheme are still being worked out. It will be industry led. We have confirmed that it is for season ticket holders, as those are the people who have paid for their services already. But the exact details have not been worked out. I do not have the percentage details of how many people own season tickets. I will endeavour to find out and write to the noble Lord.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Lab)
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My Lords, can the Minister ensure that, with the buses that are being provided temporarily, there will be enough of them to carry passengers to where they want to go, that they will be regular and will get people to their destinations on time?

Parliament Square (Management) Bill [HL]

Lord Desai Excerpts
Friday 27th January 2012

(12 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford
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My Lords, this small amendment—the only amendment to this little Bill—is a tidying-up amendment to stop up a loophole, because it includes an extra category of stuff that will not be allowed to be left in Parliament Square. Your Lordships might wonder why we still have this Bill. The Government had their own Bill, which is now the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. My Bill takes a rather different approach because it has less activity for the police and more activity for the waste disposal authority of Westminster City Council under the guidance of the committee that the Bill proposes to set up.

It is quite interesting to take this opportunity to note the progress made so far under the Government’s Act. Two sections are relevant: Section 143, which defines what is not allowed to happen in or to be in Parliament Square, and Section 145, which describes the powers the police have to seize. My Bill does not have powers to seize because it has a gentler and, perhaps, more efficient way of doing things.

Section 143(6) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act states:

“It is immaterial for the purposes of a prohibited activity … whether the tent or structure was first erected before or after the coming into force of this section”.

As your Lordships may have noticed, the police have already made considerable progress in clearing Parliament Square, but in front of the Palace of Westminster there are still a line of placards, a line of two or three sleeping tents and a couple of little huts. Incidentally, the little huts would be covered by my amendment. The reason for this is that a certain person has obtained an injunction from the High Court. The injunction is against the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the Secretary of State for the Home Office. It states that they be restrained from enforcing the provisions of Part 3 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, in relation to the claimant’s campaign site currently located on the footway surrounding Parliament Square, until the termination of the claimant’s application for judicial review resolution of the claim if permission is granted or a further order of the court. Because of the normal sub judice rules, I am not going into any of the details, and the law will take its course, but I think that the very fact that there is an injunction perhaps indicates that removing something that has been there for so long is not always a straightforward matter. I hope that if my Bill goes down to the other place, it will be something of a longstop. We do not know whether it will make any further progress, but I beg to move.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai
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My Lords, I have spoken at previous stages in the debate on Parliament Square. I welcome the Bill and commend it because the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has provided for a committee with the ongoing responsibility, day in, day out, of looking after Parliament Square. I am especially pleased not so much with Clause 2(2), but with subsection (1), which enjoins the committee,

“to facilitate lawful, authorised demonstrations in the controlled area of Parliament Square”.

That is very important. It is as important as cleanliness et cetera. The idea that people should have access to Parliament Square for legitimate activity is also important. I agree with this amendment, which will tidy up, in more senses than one, the entire issue.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
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My Lords, in some senses, we are surprised that we are here. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, explained, we all thought that the fox had been shot—if that is not too rigorous or loud a metaphor—with the passing of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, since that seemed to have caught all the points that he raised. But of course it does not. All we seem to have gained as a result of that is exchanging a few tents, with presumably very serious protestors, for a battered police van which rather destroys the beauty of the square. But no doubt, as we have heard, processes are going ahead and things will get resolved.

So why are we here? If the Government are convinced that their legislation has solved the issue, it is surprising that they have found time for the Bill to come back. However, we welcome it. It is helpful to have a further debate, because things are perhaps not quite as clear-cut as we thought. There still remain in our minds the issues raised particularly at Second Reading when the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, was unable to deal completely with the issues about areas adjacent to Parliament Square, which are still likely to be infiltrated and used by those who wish to protest in a lawful way. The measures that have been put through do not necessarily deal with that. There is still an issue regarding the area immediately outside the Houses of Parliament and adjacent to the Palace and Parliament Square which has not been resolved. Perhaps there is a case for maintaining interest in this Bill, which we could use to clear up some of the other issues. But that is for another day.

As the noble Lord said, this is the Persil amendment—a softer touch to that put forward in the original Bill. It will provide a gentler, more cleansing effect than perhaps the phrasing in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. On that basis, the amendment is totally unexceptional and we support it.