|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made in another place. I am pleased to see the emphasis on getting value for money which is mentioned in the Statement. We should not measure success by the amount of money that is spent but on what that money buys.
My comments are made in both anger and sorrow. I was bitterly opposed to the privatisation of the railways. But we lost that argument and I would describe what we now have as the Treasury or extreme free-market model. That is why when Railtrack was privatised Liberal Democrats said that we would take back a controlling interest in the company. And so did the Labour Party, but it did not fulfil that promise. The company, its consultants and its contractors ripped offthe Government have used that phrasethe public and the taxpayers, which culminated in the catastrophe at Hatfield and all that followed from it. There was an easily foreseen demise of that monstrous company.
Since privatisation, infrastructure costs and delays have exploded and standards have fallen. The number of lawyers and accountants has multiplied, which has been matched by the demise of most of the operators and engineers in the business, who were much cheaper. What have the Government done? They have appointed a regulator, Tom Winsor, but he has failed to regulate at huge cost. The Strategic Rail Authority was created and it has an enormous number of staffand consultants. There is a Commission for Integrated Transport, which the Government have studiously ignored. How much does the SRA cost?
When money for the railways runs out, why is it always the passengers who must suffer? Fares are increased faster than inflation and services, which are already unpunctual and inferior on much of the system, deteriorate. If the Minister were to visit north-east England and see the rotten trains which run around Leeds, he would consider them unacceptable in London. They are almost Victorian in their antiquity.
If one keeps a shop, an important lesson to learn is that one should be open for business even at the expense of the backroom staff. On our railways, it seems as though lawyers, accountants, consultants, maintenance contractors and bureaucrats flourish, while the money to run the trains runs out. Why is the axe not taken to the legions of people who do not run the trains? Is there any plan to reduce the costs of those people, or do we have to wait for the forthcoming regulatory review of traffic charges?
Our fares are already the highest in western Europe. The contractual matrix of our railways is immensely complicated and expensive. Yet are there no plans to simplify it? We need fewer, simple, vertically integrated franchises which will be renewed if performance is satisfactory. I have repeatedly stated that we do not need a rail regulator. Safety regulation
We have replaced a small team of professional regulatorsthe former military people who formed Her Majesty's Railway Inspectoratewith an army of unaccountable bureaucrats, whether they are supervising their own standards, railway standards or Railtrack's standards. And I remind the Minister that Railtrack has 4,000 standards. An enormous number of people are needed to service the company, and that does not run the railwayit actually stops it running.
I want to ask the Minister one further question. The Statement mentions the bus industry. The bus industry outside London is not growing; only by adding in London figures does one see a growth. Will the Minister please tell us, or perhaps he would care to write to me if he does not know, when we can expect to see bus lane enforcement by cameras extended beyond London? I have been promised that in Written Answersthe phrases varylater in the year, in the autumn and at the end of the year, but we are getting perilously near to the point when a reply is due.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, no, I must first reply to the Front Benchers. I would rather not, given the qualified rapture with which the Statement was received. But I want to make it clear what the Statement amounts to.
When asked Questions about progress on the 10-year plan, I have said in this House on a number of occasions in recent months that 18 months from the beginning of the plan was too early to make considered judgments. I still take that view. However, there was substantial pressure from another place, from the Transport Select Committee and from the Benches opposite to hear a progress report.
That report is a good deal more detailed and people have not had time to read it, let alone to respond to it. I do not blame noble Lords opposite for that. However, there were two particular reasons for making such a Statement. The first reason was the recognitionI make the acknowledgement to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshawthat our targets for dealing with congestion were not being achieved. The Statement makes it clear that the figures we had when the 10-year plan was first produced under-estimated the level of congestion at that time. Subsequent figures have confirmed that and therefore that our targets were much more difficult to achieve.
As a result, we have had to look again at our targets for congestion. We can say that without the 10-year plan congestion would increase considerably more than we intend and expect it to increase with the plan. That is not to say that we will be cutting congestion on all our roads. Congestion is a feature of a country such as ours which is densely populated and is intensely metropolitan in the sense that a large proportion of people live in and around the capital city. That is a fact of life.
When we look again at our congestion targets, it is true to say that we have had more success in the economy than we expected. Gross domestic product has risen faster, as has in particular household disposable income. As a result, car ownership has risen faster than was expected. Congestion is the bad result of successful economic policies in that sense. That was one reason why it was thought appropriate to report to Parliament at such an early stage in the 10-year plan.
The second reason was the huge upheaval which was forced to take place on the railways. With the failure of Railtrack, which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, so graphically described, it was clear that something had to be done. The administration for Railtrack and the creation of Network Rail is what had to be done. The work that is being done now by the SRA and by Richard Bowker, the chairman, in getting a grip on the cost of rail investment is another good reason for reporting to Parliament.
Mr Bowker has not attempted to mince his words. He said that if things go on as they are and there is no more effective cost control than we have, then certainly some of the projects in the programme will be unaffordable. However, he is determined, as we are, that we should get a grip on costs. The intention of today's statement is to make it clear that our commitment to investment in railways, roads, and local public transport is undimmed as a result of either of these matters.
It has to be recognised that Hatfield caused huge disruption on the railway and enormous extra expense in bringing the rail system up to anywhere near an acceptable standard. It was clear that it was not of such a standard. We therefore volunteered to lay these not particularly welcome facts before Parliament; it was, I believe, the right thing to do. It is not the case, however, that we are making a final judgment on all the aspects of the 10-year plan. I have schedules in front of me of all of the targets in the plan and how far we are achieving them. There are many examples of successful progress towards that plan. The Statement includes, for example, figures on road safety, on deaths and serious injuries on the roads, where we are on target to meet the plan. The time for that will be in 2004 when we have a proper opportunity to consider a substantial part of the plan and to roll the plan forward for a new 10-year period. That is the time at which the judgment of Parliament and the country will be due.
I do not know some of the specific answersfor example, on bus lane enforcement. Clearly, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is right that bus use is not growing outside London. Accident reports are a matter for those independent bodies from whom we have commissioned them. We cannot control their timetable.
I hope, from what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is saying and from what he said about privatisation, that he is supportive of what we have done in setting up Network Rail. From his previous comments, I believe that he is.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is right in saying that our travel-to-work times are very long. That is partly because we are a metropolitan country, unlike Germany or Italy for example. In France, which is also metropolitan, the investment made over decades is certainly showing results.
The licence renewal decisions have been taken in the light of the serious risk of disruption that would have taken place if there had been an early ending of licence. Those decisions are taken on very strict conditions.
I am not clear in my note about what the noble Lord said about the airport documents. I shall have to read what he said and write to him about it. I have already responded to the question on congestion charges, and I believe that I have responded realistically and honestly.
Lord Jones: My Lords, does the Minister know that for a generation the people of Wales have felt an absence of fair play over investment in the railway system? Does he believe that the Statement presages substantial investment in the Holyhead-Crewe-London Euston line? Is he able to say whether the Virgin West Coast Main Line rolling stock, the Pendolino trains, will be dedicated to that route ? If he cannot provide a specific amount of the £34 billion earmarked for rail investment in Wales, will he to write to me with such a sum?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page