Transport System: Failings - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:04 pm ar 25 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Ceidwadwyr 12:04, 25 Ebrill 2024

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.