Transport System: Failings - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:58 pm ar 25 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Llafur 12:58, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the compelling contribution to our debate by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. It was also a great pleasure, as always, to listen to my noble friend Lord Snape. He is a great expert on these matters.

I will speak about railways. Like everybody else who wanted to speak about this, I was caught short this morning by my honourable friend Louise Haigh’s statement about the Labour Party’s position on railways, which I fully support. Some 44 years ago, at Newport station in south Wales, there was a banner that said: “Ninety minutes from Newport to Paddington”. We had very comfortable trains, the food was edible and, of course, the stations that the trains went from were impressive—not least Newport station, the second-busiest and second-largest in Wales. I fear that this is not the case today.

When I was a lad, the station had a wonderful façade and a great entrance, and it was admired by all, but someone decided some years ago to change it for the Ryder Cup. They put the station extension in the wrong place, and the building was so awful that it was regarded as the ugliest building built in 2011. Worse than that, when you go to Newport station now you find that the toilets do not work and are out of order; the lifts have been out of order for some weeks; the buffet café has long been closed; when the station floods, it does so extremely badly; and there is a lot of scaffolding in the station. I referred to the banner that said it took 90 minutes to Paddington. Now, 44 years later, it takes 10 minutes longer to get from Newport to Paddington despite electrification—and, of course, the food on the trains is junk.

When you look at the Great Western Railway, which I have done nearly all my life, you see that its staff are hugely impressive, courteous and engaging, and electrification has certainly helped, but over a number of years we have seen a deterioration in the service of a once great railway company. Cancellations of trains are normal, unreliability is inevitable, there is lateness nearly all the time and, perhaps worse than all that, the overcrowding is now wholly unacceptable. The reason is that the number of carriages on the trains running from London to south Wales and the West Country is often cut by half—from 10 to five is quite normal. I was on one not long ago that was so overcrowded that a woman actually fainted at Reading station, and the train had to stop for about 15 minutes.

Over the last three decades we have seen deterioration. In 1994, when I was in the House of Commons, I voted against privatisation, and I see no reason in the world why I was wrong. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours’s excellent speech on what has happened to railways in the intervening years was absolutely right. The fare structure is complicated, fares are hugely too high, and of course industrial relations are in a mess. It is a sorry story, and that is a great shame because I am a great lover of our railways, as are many of your Lordships. It is the best way to travel, it is the most environmentally sensible way, and it is the way that I would always inevitably choose. It is a sadness that your Lordships have had to comment on and point to the deficiencies of the network in our country. I have touched on a few relating to the GWR but there are other examples as well.

I personally welcome the announcement by my party today on taking the railways into public ownership but not in an old-fashioned way, by letting the franchises disappear and replacing them, as has happened with a number of companies in the country. That is the way ahead. I just hope that, in five or six years’ time, the Great Western Railway will be replaced by the great British railway.