Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

There is an interesting and notable correlation between those who sit in the safest seats in the other place and those who seem to have made the most excessive expense claims. That is backed up by academic research, so we cannot simply leave the issue of safe seats on one side and look only at the immediate expenses crisis.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, confirm that there is no safer seat than being No. 1 on a party list?

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, for making that point because, of course, there are party lists at the moment. Every single first past the post election is fought from a party list. The difference is that there is only one person on it. That is its significance.

Coming to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I admire the way in which he persistently defends what is, I think, the indefensible. He suggested, as I understood it, that the results of the European election somehow undermine the case for PR. Yes, it undermines the case for the regional list system, but I give the noble Lord some facts. No BNP candidate has been elected under single transferable vote in the local elections in Scotland, but they have under first past the post in England. Similarly, there is no evidence whatever that the AV-plus system recommended to both Houses by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead would result in any extremists being elected. As has been said in

11 Jun 2009 : Column 795

this debate, in many generations of use of the single transferable vote in the Republic of Ireland, extremist parties have not been elected. Do not let us be given this nonsense that, somehow, PR leads to extremists being elected. It simply is not true.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, the noble Lord no doubt inadvertently omitted to refer to the experience of the single transferable vote in Northern Ireland, where there has been no shortage of extremists elected by virtue of the system.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, as the noble Lord himself has evidenced, it has also resulted, in the long term and over a long period, in reconciliation in Northern Ireland. He himself must take credit for that. I do not believe that that would have been nearly so easy with the first past the post system.

There were also references from many sides to the need for the public to have more confidence between elections that they have real power and influence over their representatives. It is for that reason that I have, on behalf of my colleagues, tabled an amendment to the Political Parties and Elections Bill, which we will be discussing in your Lordships’ House on Report on Monday, to deal with the possibility of recall. It has to be a very careful process, a due process, not the sort of Star Chamber nonsense that the party leaders are indulging in. Indeed, we should involve the new parliamentary standards authority in the process. When a Member has been found to have bent the rules or misbehaved, there should be some way for the constituents of that representative to trigger a by-election, if a sufficient number of them are in that frame of mind. I know that the leader of the Conservatives has said that he is in favour of recall, so I hope that Conservative Members of your Lordships’ House will support our amendment.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. We have to seize the moment. The public are looking to us, to both Houses, to take advantage of this situation, rather than simply brushing it under the carpet. It is extremely important to take the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I am not sure whether he was instancing the dilemma that, in a representative democracy, it is difficult to use the representative democracy and to have a participating electorate. He implied, but he did not say this, so I apologise for my paraphrase, that there is a legitimate reason for saying that political structures are too important to leave simply to politicians. Hence, in my Bill, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool referred, there is a mechanism—not a perfect one—based on the experience of British Columbia, to involve people outwith the body politic. I am not sure whether the right reverend Prelate read Clause 48 of my Bill in full, as it says that there would be nominees from the political parties, but they would be a minority and would not have the final word. The final word would have to come back to Parliament and, in due course, after Parliament had discussed any improvements, it would have to be endorsed in a referendum. I hope that that meets the point made by my noble friend Lord McNally.



11 Jun 2009 : Column 796

I am proud to be a parliamentarian and this is a parliamentary democracy but, as the Minister said today and the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have to find new ways to engage the public if we are to recoup their trust and confidence. I share the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but it seems that his frustration does not extend to putting forward any proposals on behalf of his party. If, in a certain number of months, we are to be faced with a general election in which there will be a manifesto, I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will have an important role in writing some of it, not least in incorporating in it the proposals, to which he has put his name, for an elected House of Lords. I look forward to that opportunity with great excitement.

I was also interested in the point that the noble Lord made about the cathedral in the wonderful city of Durham, which we all admire. I also admire both the cathedrals in Liverpool. It is important that we not only make good use of and admire the great structures that this country has built, not least this building, but look to what is going to be appropriate for the 21st century, as our ancestors looked ahead in Liverpool.

The Minister referred to some of the immediate legislation that is to be put to your Lordships’ House. He also mentioned the parliamentary standards authority. I hope that in coming weeks we will get a much clearer idea of the interrelationship between it and your Lordships’ House. Very little has been said about that and, from what has been said, it has been rather difficult to discern what is intended.

The Minister also said that the statutory code of conduct will relate to all Members of Parliament. We are Members of Parliament just as much as the Members in other place. Will the code of conduct relate to us or will there be a separate code of conduct? To whom are we going to give the task of developing those proposals? The Minister referred to the role of the Senior Salaries Review Body in relation to the financial support given to Members of your Lordships’ House. When do we expect that? Will it be in the autumn and will it be retrospective? The sooner we hear about that, the better.

I will read the Hansard for this debate with great care tomorrow because there have been some notable contributions. Noble Lords who have attended, unusually perhaps, on a Thursday not to speak but to listen will acknowledge that this has been a remarkable debate. I am extraordinarily grateful to all noble Lords who have been here. A number of noble Lords on all sides have expressed disappointment that they were not able to be here. I shall not embarrass them by mentioning them, but several noble Lords intended to come but were not able to spare the time. In your Lordships’ House, we are not elected, but we are all accountable to the British people. We must find better ways of taking on that responsibility. We will all read what has been said today with that in mind. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.



11 Jun 2009 : Column 797

Public Transport: Cost, Quality and Crime

Debate

3.06 pm

Moved By Lord Bradshaw

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I start by offering the congratulations of, I hope, the whole House to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on his elevation to Secretary of State. He brings to the job knowledge and enthusiasm far surpassing that of several previous Secretaries of State. I shall also refer to what is going on, or not going on, in London. The Secretary of State may recall the Answer I got on 9 June:

“Industrial relations issues are matters between employers and their staff. The Government would expect that any disputes that could not be settled by discussion should be settled by using the various mechanisms that are available”.—[Official Report, 9/6/09; col. WA 147.]

Amen to that, but Londoners are being held to ransom. Many people who fear losing their jobs are making extraordinary efforts to get to work because they think that if they are missed for a couple of days, they can be missed for a good deal longer. I believe the behaviour of Mr Crow and the RMT to be utterly reprehensible. There are mechanisms. People on the Underground are well paid and have long holidays. I think the action is pretty disgraceful.

My main theme today is that the consumer—the passenger and freight user—is not adequately served by the present structure of the railway industry, which is made up of a variety of bodies that serve their own, rather than the consumer’s, interests. I do not blame the Minister for the structure, but the Office of Rail Regulation is independent of government, which is a good thing, but spends most of its efforts supervising Network Rail and adjudicating disputes between operators about access. Network Rail is independent of government or, at least, not subject to intervention. It is interested in presenting a good face. How does it achieve that? It does so by producing unambitious timetables compared with those in 1989, for example. They are slack timetables, and any railwayman will tell you that when working complicated junctions, presenting trains within 10 minutes is the way to run an unpunctual railway. Network Rail does not manage engineering work properly—my noble friend Lady Scott will refer to that—it does not provide a 24-hour railway, it uses buses too much, it does not deal with service disruptions and it pays its staff excessive bonuses. ATOC represents the interests of train-operating companies, often in the very short-term. It is akin to a trade union or professional association, and it certainly does not put the interests of the user first. We hear a lot about consumer focus, but that is largely marketing jargon.

Passenger Focus collects information about performance and tries to establish what the passengers want, but it has no teeth. The Minister will recall the article in Transit magazine, which I drew to his attention, in which Passenger Focus found that of the new trains the Pendolino has the worst rating. The private sector designed this, and it really has not done its job properly.



11 Jun 2009 : Column 798

The DfT has to make the case to the Treasury for more money. It lets franchises through a very expensive, secretive and disruptive process that is very short-term. It tries to influence strategy without an adequate professional background, and, as the DSRA, is becoming a large bureaucracy. Who represents the consumer? I also refer the Minister to my second letter to him about NATA, the New Approach to Appraisal, the system by which judgments are made on where we will invest in the transport network. That still places far too much emphasis on adding together the short-term savings in time made by motorists, and it does not achieve the shift to public transport or save carbon.

I suggest that we think in terms of a new public corporation akin to the BBC. I know that the BBC is far from perfect, but it does operate in the public interest. This would comprise an independent, competent and enthusiastic chairman and two or three deputies. I might even be tempted to suggest that if the forecasts about the next election are right, the Minister might be the sort of person whom I have in mind. It should be someone of status who can command people to do what they want, rather than some cipher or someone who has made his career in a merchant bank.

The new body would have a clear remit to work in the users’ interests and would have independent members and the four chairmen of Network Rail, the ORR, Passenger Focus and ATOC. It would let franchises on a more sensible basis that ensured incentives to improve the customer experience. The Minister has often said that he has an open mind about franchising. This body would undertake strategic planning—that is, planning beyond the next five years—and there would be no organisational upheaval, except possibly in the DfT. I would not move the short-term arrangements for finance, staff relationships or new works to the new body; I would simply tell it to focus on what the consumer will get.

What should franchises and local authority bus contracts look like? They should contain a limit on fares and charges, which I think my noble friend will mention. They should be long enough to encourage investment in crime prevention. I was very pleased to see what was included in the new Southern franchise in that respect. The franchisees would have the freedom to buy as much as possible from a non-monopoly supplier: that is, to step outside Network Rail and its almost ridiculously high estimates for carrying out small works. They would be free to suggest better timetables with better connections—something that has never been properly addressed—and they would be free from arbitrary targets about such things as the seating pitch. On the other hand, they would concentrate on the things that people want, such as more accommodation for luggage.

I draw the Minister’s attention to one problem with the revenue-share arrangements, or the cap-and-collar arrangements, which operate in a number of franchises. If we want these franchisees to carry out improvements, they must make a business case to their own boards, but if 80 per cent of any improvement goes to the Department for Transport it destroys the business case that must be presented within the companies. I do not know the answer, but we must ensure that

11 Jun 2009 : Column 799

the incentive to invest and improve is kept alive and out there so that everyone tries to do better all the time.

The franchises would have to meet standards to get extensions, but past achievements would become very relevant and would lead to an advantage in the next bidding round. People would know that, if they did the right things, they would not only please their customers but gain some advantage when it came to reletting or renegotiating the franchise. I remind the Minister that local authorities encouraged the modernisation of the bus fleet to encourage compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act and modern ticketing. They gave bus companies a reverse discount on the bidding price provided that those companies did all the things that were wanted under the Act. I remember that your price could be up to 15 per cent less than the next bid, provided that you made the modifications to your bus fleet.

I turn to two or three other matters, one of which is coach passengers’ rights. These are being negotiated with the European Commission. I have an answer from the Minister. It is not a very good one because, in most countries in Europe, local passenger bus services are provided under public service obligation conditions. In the UK, they are mostly provided under commercial conditions, but I am well advised that if we have anything that increases the cost of local bus travel, particularly if we have another repeat of the situation with drivers’ hours, we will find that local bus operators will carry heavier burdens, produce fewer services and charge higher fares.

The fear of crime is reckoned to deny public transport of about £11 billion of business a year. I am not suggesting that whatever you did would get all that money in, but a very large sum of money is to be gained by public transport if we can do a lot to allay the fear of crime. I come back to the Southern franchise, which I am very pleased to see has had attention. I just look forward to it being extended elsewhere.

The Minister suggested that we should go to see Alison Munroe of HS2 about how the East Coast Main Line should be upgraded and how that would fit in with his proposals for a new railway to Scotland. We showed Alison Munroe that our proposals for south of York fitted in well with what might be done north of York. We have taken soundings in Scotland, which suggest that Edinburgh and Glasgow as two cities have come together in viewing themselves as one with lots of connections. It will probably be necessary to use only one route into Scotland. I would suggest that the east coast must be that way because I would not like to be the person trying to put a line through the Lake District.

Finally, tourists value things such as being able to see out of windows. The Scottish Executive is going through its class 158 fleet and moving the seats back so that people can see out of the windows again. That seems very simple to me. You might squeeze a few more seats in by making everyone very uncomfortable, but if they do not have any room for their luggage, cannot see out of the window and the fares are high, they will not travel. I beg to move.



11 Jun 2009 : Column 800

3.19 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. In his little finger, he knows more about the railway system and how it operates than probably the whole House put together. It is good to have him here as an asset in discussions on these matters. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Adonis will very much appreciate what he has to contribute to these deliberations. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend most warmly on his promotion to the Cabinet. I came to admire him greatly when he spoke on education. As he knows, I did not always completely agree with him, but I always came away from discussions more impressed than I went into them. I felt that he had deep commitment and an unrivalled enthusiasm for the responsibilities with which he was charged. He is the right man, in the right place, at the right time and we all wish him well.

Having said that, I hope he will forgive me if, in the context of my conviction that he will get things right, I dwell a little on the immediate reality facing him. In doing that, I shall draw from my experience. I declare an interest as a passenger—if I am allowed to use that old-fashioned word of which I am proud—on the railways. Last Thursday, I went home. The train arrived in Penrith an hour late. On Monday, I endeavoured to come back to the House. The train arrived in London two hours late. Today, I am concerned—I put it no more than that, as I am sure other noble Lords are concerned—about how I will get to Euston because of the Tube strike which confronts all of us with all its dire consequences, as the noble Lord has just described.

These are the realities being experienced by thousands of rail travellers. Therefore, it is not a matter of getting only the strategies right, it is a matter of making sure that they are delivered. We need therefore to look very closely at middle-level management, leadership and the rest. I have been struck by how much the staff on the railways have to offer in conversation in their analysis of the situation. Sometimes it might be a bit indiscreet in the context of the firms for which they work, but I have heard good sense over and over again. I am sure that my noble friend in his commendable travels by rail across the country will have encountered the same experience.

Whenever we discuss the latest delay in which we find ourselves, one of the things they say is, “But, my God, why do we not really have an integrated system in which those responsible for the infrastructure and those responsible for the operation share that responsibility in one integrated undertaking?”. Some argue for the good old days of nationalisation, as they saw it, but it does not necessarily have to be nationalisation as we encountered it in the past. The need to get the infrastructure and the operation closely intertwined cannot be overstated.

In that context, I suggest to my noble friend one very high priority—again, I speak from experience as a regular user of Virgin West Coast. Poor old Virgin West Coast and its staff are constantly in the front line; but more often than not the problems are not their fault, but the result of the infrastructure. I find it—I am sorry to use emotional language, but the message of exasperation is expressed by many—a

11 Jun 2009 : Column 801

disgrace that massive amounts of money have been spent on the improvement and updating of the west coast line, yet it is still impossible to operate a good service, in particular because the signalling fails over and over again. I suggest that my noble friend would do well as a priority to hold a searching inquiry into how and why this happened, what we can learn from it and how that can inform our approach to the future administration of the railways.

My views are perhaps coloured by my experiences. I have doubts about the possibility of running a high-tech, 21st-century railway on Victorian infrastructure. For that reason, I am excited by my noble friend speaking so bravely and courageously, and with so much vision, about the need to get on with a dedicated high-speed railway, for environmental, social and economic reasons—a priority that we must all endorse.

However, it is not either/or. As you move to high speed over long distances, there are communities in the space between the main centres. At the moment, because of the effort to speed up the timetable on Virgin West Coast, there are a lot of very disappointed, discouraged people, because fewer fast trains stop at Penrith and Oxenholme. The cost of this is that more people turn to their cars, with all the problems of pollution and all the things that we want to overcome in getting our transport and environment strategy right.

What many people are looking for is not an either/or, but, alongside high speed, an emphasis on reliability, with trains leaving when they are expected to leave and arriving when they are expected to arrive; cleanliness; lavatories that work and are properly equipped; space for luggage; decent catering; and courteous staff. I find that the staff are frequently courteous, but the other services are sometimes lamentable. Lavatories in particular can be a disgrace. On long distance trains, the difficulties—I was going to say “frustrations”, which there are—are appalling for passengers, particularly the handicapped, who find that lavatories are not working. These are the things that people are looking for—not just 10 minutes off their journey time. They are looking for reliability and standards. I hope that my noble friend will look closely at getting the balance right between high speed and the rest.

Outside this place, I am very much involved in one of the richest assets of this country, the national parks, to which the Government are deeply committed. The national parks have a serious transport issue affecting them. They attract 75 million visitors a year, 90 per cent of whom travel by car. This is hugely damaging in terms of poor air quality, traffic noise, erosion of tranquillity, physical encroachment, kerbside parking spilling on to the fells and visual blight. However, to get people to change their mode of travel will require high-quality, affordable and convenient alternatives—not tokenism, which leads just to more frustration, but regular, affordable and reliable services. Public transport is not the whole answer, but it is a significant part, together with better provision for walking, cycling, community transport and other innovative initiatives. If people can get to national parks and other protected and rural areas affordably, enjoyably and reliably by public transport, they are

11 Jun 2009 : Column 802

more likely to use it. This will not only protect the national park environment from traffic-related harm, but will help relieve congestion and carbon emissions and open up the countryside to more people.

National parks have a hard time securing public transport funding. All fall within more than one administrative transport boundary, and must persuade more than one local transport authority that their share should be prioritised. This results, at best, in small sums to support light services by comparison with their urban counterparts.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page