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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am sorry; I did not wish to appear frivolous in my response. Let me comment on two things. First, as I mentioned, a monitoring group has been set up to oversee this plan. The group will be staffed by DWP officials, with places reserved for senior individuals nominated by the trade unions and for the chair and chief executive of Remploy. So there will be a process of regular monitoring and discussion by that group. That

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proposal does not build in a formal report back to Parliament, but there is no difficulty in me giving an undertaking that we keep the House in touch with that group’s deliberations. Perhaps that can be used as the channel to inform noble Lords.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement on Remploy repeated on behalf of the Secretary of State. I am sure that Remploy employees will be reassured by much of what is being said. I have a couple of points to make. Some noble Lords mentioned our bold ambition. With great respect, I do not believe that any ambition can be bold enough to address the issue of mainstreaming disabled workers, which is absolutely critical to the legitimacy of the business of government.

Will the Minister say whether the monitoring group to which he has referred is independent? If not, what independent element will be available to the monitoring group to ensure that the best interests of disabled workers are in the forefront of everyone’s mind? Given the new ambition and the new target for mainstream employment solutions for disabled workers, I very much want to inquire whether consideration will be given to beginning negotiations with some of the NGOs in this area about providing some of those supported work placements and work experience, because the existence of Remploy may have institutionalised for far too long—unacceptably so in my humble opinion—the rights of disabled workers and the obligations of institutions, including our own Government.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. This is ambitious, and I agree that no ambition should be too high in helping and supporting disabled people, particularly in relation to employment. I stress, however, just how challenging that procurement target is—a 130 per cent increase on where we started. A lot of effort must go into that.

My noble friend asked whether NGOs and other bodies are engaged in this process. There has already been engagement with some of the charities, which have acknowledged that they would be able to offer transitional or perhaps permanent employment to people who would be displaced where a particular factory was being closed. That sort of work is already under way. The more of that that we can see, the better.

Railways

2.50 pm

Lord Berkeley rose to call attention to the growth in passenger and freight traffic on Britain’s railways; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to introduce this debate on the success of the railways; I feel very honoured to be opening it. It is good that we have only a fairly small, but very expert, number of Members participating. I cannot help but wonder at the lack of Tory Back-Bench interest in the railways. In my capacity as chairman of the Rail Freight Group, which I declare, I was invited to speak

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at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in October on how rail freight would fit into a Conservative railway policy. It is difficult to respond before knowing the policy, but I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will tell us today.

It is time to reflect on the success of the railways: 13 years after privatisation—though I probably prefer the word “liberalisation”—it has taken a long time. But let us not remember Railtrack. We were probably the first in Europe to liberalise, and we made some mistakes, but now we should look at the successes. I shall present a few statistics. Passenger traffic is up 43 per cent since liberalisation. The highest number of passengers ever will soon be carried on the UK’s railways. Freight is up 60 per cent. Safety is very important. Not only is safety increasing all the time; since privatisation it has increased at a faster rate. The private sector has invested £1.5 billion in freight, and we have the newest passenger fleet in Europe. Network Rail is spending more on investment than on maintenance and operations. I am sure that my noble friend will be pleased to say in reply that government expenditure has been reduced from a very high figure and that more goes into investment than into subsidy.

Let us not forget the technical leadership that our railway industry has demonstrated, or the world-class design and construction management, or, alongside it, the financial services and IT which are now recognised around the world. To give a couple of comparisons with our European colleagues, we have the highest gross rate of passengers in Europe and the second most reliable railway after Switzerland. We all know that the Swiss Government spend a great deal more on their railways as a proportion of GDP than we do. For freight, we have the highest gross rate in Europe. Our reliability is such that 80 per cent of arrivals—sometimes 98 per cent—are within half an hour of schedule. Compare that with the intermodal services run by the incumbent railways on the Continent where less than 50 per cent of trains arrive within 30 minutes and 10 per cent do not arrive within 24 hours. And that is probably their most reliable sector.

There is clear evidence that our structure allows full and fair competition above the tracks. The total separation of the infrastructure manager and the operators is the best—probably the only—way to achieve growth and better service quality and to contain government expenditure. That is why, like everyone else in the industry, I was very irritated when we were criticised a year or two ago by the German Government and the German railways. They gave totally inaccurate figures about the disaster that was happening here. Over the years, I hope that we have been able to put it right.

Emissions are a serious problem which we have discussed quite often in your Lordships’ House. There is a link between different types of transport and the emissions that they produce. The Government recently put out a response to the Eddington and Stern reports. It is interesting because, of the five sectors of the economy mentioned, transport came out worst. It forecast that by 2020 there will be only a 10 per cent reduction on the 2000 level in transport emissions,

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which includes air, road and rail, much worse than all the other sectors. ATOC recently produced an interesting report showing that road transport produces double the amount of carbon emissions per kilometre than those produced by passenger rail transport, and air transport produces four times the amount. For freight, rail transport is four times better than road transport, as one would expect. Those are significant figures.

Like many noble Lords, I hope, looking into the future, I would seek to curb some of the short to medium-haul flights that could be transferred to rail. We had a discussion about that yesterday in your Lordships' House, as we have many times before. Journeys of less than four hours’ travel time from centre-to-centre—and that covers journeys almost to Glasgow and Edinburgh, to most of the UK, to Paris, Brussels and Cologne, and, in future, to Amsterdam—should be encouraged to be taken by rail. But it appears that the Government do not agree. Paragraph 21 of their response to Eddington says that they are arguing strongly for an emissions trading policy which provides that every extra tonne of carbon resulting from aviation growth above the 2005 level must be matched by a tonne saved somewhere else. In other words, let us go on flying until kingdom come; it can be paid for by road freight, rail freight, rail passengers and cars, because the air sector is so important. It is a very odd policy. Of course there is no alternative for long haul, but I hope that the Government will have a rethink on short haul.

As for the future, we face getting Network Rail’s costs down and creating a 24/7 railway for passengers and freight. It is a very serious problem, as many have said before. Network Rail has been talking about it for many years, but not a great deal is happening. There is still congestion in many places. There is enormous potential for getting more trains on existing tracks before we talk about new ones, a topic which I shall come to. But let us get it right, first, by having the tracks open for customers for more hours.

I was in Belgium on Tuesday at a conference. I heard the chief executive of the Belgian railways infrastructure—Infrabel—say that it has for some years had 24/7 railway operations on all the main routes to Antwerp because the customers wanted it. It is either single-line working or a diversion route, which is its normal practice. Many of us criticise Belgium. It has not had a Government for six months, but its railways seem to be working all right. Two years ago, I visited the Canadian National railway. It managed to change a set of 60 mile-per-hour points in eight hours. It took Network Rail nine days to do so at Wootton Bassett two years ago. Network Rail wants to become a world-class company—I want that for it, too—but it needs to move a bit faster. I trust that Ministers and the regulator will encourage that process.

Our industry forecasts show that the volume of rail freight will more than double by 2030, less than 25 years away. I suspect that passenger organisations will say the same—provided, of course, that there is no change in the economics, tax and duties. But first there has to be the capacity. We have to ask whether the network can cope. We have done an analysis looking at the extra trains that would be required for

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freight, without changing the passenger trains at all by 2030. I found that there would be a shortage of 190 train paths a day on the west coast main line. That is the sum of both directions. Nearly 200 trains will not be able to operate because there will be a shortage of capacity. I could go through the rest of the network around London but will not; the information is available.

Are the forecasts robust enough, and are we looking at the whole economy and the change in modal split that may occur? I heard this week that Rotterdam, the biggest port in Europe, plans a 10 per cent annual increase in the number of containers going through it for the next 10 years. Because of changes in modal shift, it plans an increase of six times the number of rail freight trains between now and 2020. I do not think that Rotterdam and that part of Europe are much different from the UK. If freight needs to be moved, it will move. It will either go by road or rail in this country. Whether it goes via Rotterdam is a question of port capacity and many other things. On the rail freight side, I am not sure whether the forecast we have produced so far, which the Government largely support, is adequate.

As I mentioned in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, is it not time for the Government to look at the consequences of changes in the price of oil? I do not want to go into detail, but if oil prices go up so much that petrol and diesel become very much more expensive, there will be a demand for more public transport because it is relatively cheaper than using a car over long distances. There will be more demand for rail freight and, unless the Government continue to offer tax-free treatment to air passengers, a reduction in air movements too. Are we looking at more than a doubling of the demand for railway traffic over the next 20 to 25 years, or are we looking at three or four times as much? I do not know the answer. But, in his report, even Sir Rod Eddington—who from his previous role in running British Airways is clearly in favour good old air travel—states:

That is some 17 years away, and how long does it take to plan a new railway?

Crossrail will probably take 30 years from when it was first talked about to being built. The latest Crossrail opening date is 2017. The first Bill was presented to the House of Commons in 1991 and rejected for reasons that I do not fully understand. I recall talking about the rail link in the 1980s, when working on the Channel Tunnel. The rail link opened this month and what a success it is, but it has taken a great deal of time. Given the forecasts of enormous increases in demand and the time it takes to develop and build new rail infrastructure, I suggest to the Minister that we ought to start looking at these issues now. To that end, it was good to see the planning Bill published yesterday, because it may help us along the way. I need to read the Bill in detail but I am glad to see it.

What has not worked out right yet is the Channel Tunnel, and I am sure that other speakers will want to

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talk about it. Regardless of whether it comes right, and I hope very much that it does, the railway industry on the Continent is, as I said, expanding fast. There are leasing companies such as Angel and Arriva that are running passenger and freight trains in Germany and other countries, and EWS Railway is bringing much needed rail competition to France. These companies are operating in markets that are less developed and still strongly protected. My message to my noble friend is this. Can the Government be a bit more proactive in ensuring that our industry and the model it has created is encouraged as they seek to influence the thinking of the European Commission and other member states? I say that because yesterday I was given a copy of one of the many explanatory memoranda on EU documentation to do with new proposals for a freight-orientated network across Europe.

Perhaps I may give one or two examples. One suggestion is that the Commission should define a freight-oriented network. The Government’s response is that the Commission should not do this because the network is not owned by the Commission. What they could have said is that we have probably got it right in the UK. We may need a freight-priority network in the future, but in other member states where capacity and its allocation is, frankly, a disaster, it might be a good idea; so let us examine it further. The second example concerns priority for international freight, which is already covered by directive 2001/14/EC. The Government say that they cannot do that because the UK already has route utilisation strategies and that there would likely be significant cost implications for passengers using either domestic or international passenger service routes affected by these proposals. Given the problems of freight on the Continent and the success we have had, could they not be a bit more generous and positive in their responses? I heard at the other end of the building that the Commission is desperate for support from the British Government because it is a bit out on its own and surrounded by railway organisations which are 20 or 30 years out of date and losing traffic.

I conclude by making a plea to my noble friend, first, to help export our success for the benefit of UK business, which could start seriously and comprehensively to get business on the Continent; and, secondly, please to start looking urgently at the options for growth linked with emissions, and see where we end up. I beg to move for Papers.

3.06 pm

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, we must all thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for the opportunity to debate this subject, which no one can deny is relevant in the dual world of mass passenger transport and logistics transfer. My noble friends are quite enthusiastic about this debate. My noble friend Lord Glasgow will speak about the need for a high-speed line towards Scotland and the need to make long-term plans for such a network. My noble friend Lord Methuen will talk about signalling development and ERTMS, while my noble friend Lord Greaves will discuss, among other things, fares and rolling stock. My noble friend Lord Dykes will consider the Channel Tunnel dimension

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and its regulation, particularly for freight—or at least I believe that he is going to speak about that. Last, my noble friend Lord Bradshaw will speak about the price of oil, the need for forward planning and the franchise process, particularly the need for rolling franchises.

As a railway enthusiast for the past 43 years and indeed a consumer of vast amounts of long-distance passenger rail travel, it pleases me enormously that the railway is enjoying a sustained resurgence both for positive reasons—speed, comfort, reliability and ease of boarding, and for negative reasons—road congestion, airport security procedures, carbon emissions and global warming. People need to meet and freight is needed throughout the economies of these islands and elsewhere. The railway is a British invention and needs to be at the forefront of our transport systems. The technology is well understood, yet other countries have overtaken our rail network, due in part to faltering conviction among politicians. Clearly, a railway system can be procured only collectively, so politicians are a key to railway development, or possibly a block to it.

Many minor problems need attention, and these are well known: older passenger rolling stock; lack of passenger rolling stock; lack of car park space; the shift of funding from the Treasury to the fare box, as we read in the newspapers this morning; reliability; lack of freight paths; lack of gauge enhancement, and lack of freight terminals. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, say that reliability in Great Britain is very high, but the perception of unreliability stems from either relatively understandable engineering possessions or the less well-tolerated network congestion. It is a principal complaint of commuters and may well be perceived as a form of fraud. Fortunately, major engineering work on the west coast main line is subsiding, at least in the south, but nevertheless, less than perfect reliability is used as an excuse by those who do not want to get out of their cars, along with, “I don’t believe there will be a car parking space for me”. What they forgo may well be work or leisure time while driving. This intervention was developed this morning on the 0700 GNER service from Edinburgh down the east coast main line. It may be the last time I put “GNER” into the Official Report. We will now have to get our tongues around “NXEC” in future, or refer to it more easily as the “east coast main line” or “east coast line”.

However, the solution to today’s problems of a congested network and increasing demand lies in investment. As a start, a new high-speed network is needed. This should be a new dedicated railway linking Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds with Heathrow, St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. International services should start from what I call the south-north of England and run through to Brussels, Paris and beyond. Services from the real north of England and Scotland would join the high-speed network outside the cities mentioned. Indeed, the existing network would be used to enter Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds for the last few miles.

Once this has been established, a further high-speed network should be planned and invested in. I accept that this is major investment. However, if we are serious about reducing carbon emissions, reducing road congestion, promoting rail-for-air substitution

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and enabling travel we must do it. The restricted new high-speed two network that I am talking about will produce benefits quickly, enabling confidence to be gained for the extension to the west of England, Wales, the north of England and Scotland. I believe that the real success of such a project will be direct rail services to Europe and not only to London.

On a different topic, the arrival of the much heralded 1,300 new carriages of varying designs must happen soon. It has been announced four times by government and there will be a need for more carriages by the time the 1,300 have arrived. Why are the Government holding back this order? Rising demand requires the seats now.

Why does the Department for Transport insist on saying that it is not in charge of timetabling or the rolling stock cascade? The specification of the franchises is very tightly drawn by the department and leads, for example, to the decision to make everyone on the cross-country network change trains in Birmingham. This was not a franchisee’s decision.

Why does not Network Rail want to delegate the running of the track to anyone despite the success of the Merseyrail franchise in doing so? Is Network Rail frightened of being shown up on costs? Will the Government do anything to improve the governance of Network Rail, or are they content with the wide group of stakeholders that make up the governance at present?

The railway is set to do ever more for this island and its various economies. Will it be able to deliver, or will politicians restrict its performance?

3.12 pm

Lord Snape: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl. I join him in thanking my noble friend Lord Berkeley for giving us the opportunity to debate the railways today.

I was struck by the optimistic tone of my noble friend’s speech, which is long overdue. It is not so much overdue as far as he is concerned—he is always an optimist—but it is about time that we recognised, in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere, the enormous contribution that the railways have made, and are making, to the British economy and how much they have improved in recent years. As my noble friend said, they are the most successful in Europe. Yet occasionally, those of us known as the political gricers, who sit through these debates and listen to noble Lords on all sides of the House, might think that the railway industry was on its knees instead of being the success story it is at the present time.

Of course, when things go wrong, people get cross, but more things are going right now than they have been for years. I say that as someone who, in the other place, vigorously opposed from the then Opposition Front Bench the privatisation of the railway industry 13 years ago. I was probably wrong in reflecting the current thinking at that time which was all gloom and doom. But it has not been gloom and doom. It has been remarkably successful, although I do not say it would not have been otherwise.



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