Transport System: Failings - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 1:25 pm ar 25 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Non-affiliated 1:25, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I will speak in the gap very briefly. I congratulate my noble friend on his speech. I notice that things in his constituency went his way after my visit: his deficit was turned into a majority, and I am glad.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on this debate, not just because he was my pair when I was Transport Secretary but also because of his long and abiding interest in, and knowledge of, transport—I mean that very generally. He has been a great asset in both Houses on this subject.

The transport debate has moved on. The Guardian, from which I get all my news about what is happening behind closed doors inside the Labour Party, says that Labour vows to nationalise the rail network within five years of winning the election. The shadow Minister says that

“this is not just ideology, it’s a detailed reform plan”.

Frankly, the less ideology, the better. We will wait to see the reform plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, criticised very much what has happened under privatisation, but I am sure he would agree that, in the time of British Rail, not everything was fantastic. It was not a time of unparalleled industrial peace when all trains ran on time. There were divisions inside the trade union movement, as he well knows, on the way forward. I had a number of meetings with the heads of ASLEF and NUR that were made memorable by the fact that neither of them spoke to each other and they sat at opposite ends of the table. That did not seem to me to be industrial co-operation as I knew it.

One of the major problems was, obviously, a lack of investment, which is what we had to tackle. The Treasury was not interested, frankly, in financing luxury hotels, for example—who can blame it? That is one of the reasons why, in my so-called privatisation measures, we got rid of that and put them into the private sector. In the main, people have not complained about that. I do not think anyone is pressing the Labour Party to take on Gleneagles as a publicly operated hotel.

The important point that I would like to make about privatisation is just this: when we privatised, we did not bring in a lot of outside experts to run these companies; we appointed and recruited them from inside. There were people like Peter Thompson in the NFC and Keith Stuart in Associated British Ports. There was tremendous talent inside the companies, but that talent was not being used. That is an important point about privatisation which has not been recognised. We set that management free. I heard the criticism, but it should also be recognised that, when this has been done well—I accept that it has not always been—the public have benefited from it.