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Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for allowing me to intervene. I was referring to the Kent coast trains and not the inner London suburban trains as regards which the noble Lord is quite right. There are new trains on the inner London routes.
Lord Teviot: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has made that point. There are new trains on the South-West lines too. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, reintroduces this debate this time next year, there will be some better news.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I join all who have contributed to this debate in recording my thanks to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis for initiating it and for making it possible. Perhaps I may at once place on record my slight displeasure at the rather critical comments of the noble Lords, Lord Astor and Lord Harding, about the staff of British Rail trains. My experience is exactly the opposite to that described by the noble Lord, Lord Astor. The staff of whom I have had experience are certainly very helpful and very kind people. Whatever be the way in which the people of this country choose to seek to serve the public, the staff of British Rail choose to do one of the most difficult jobs that it is possible to do. Therefore, I wish to place on record my tribute to the staff.
I cannot avoid the feeling today that whatever we say will go unheard. Public opinion registered time and time again through the ballot box on the one hand, and through opinion poll material on the franchising and privatisation of our rail network system on the other, has shown clearly that the mass of public opinion is against the proposals that are now being implemented. I do not come to this debate uncritical of British Rail. I have no
Indeed, over the years I have been heavily critical of ScotRail, for example, because there is nothing more frustrating for people travelling from east, north-east and central Scotland to Edinburgh airport than to find that the train passes the perimeter fence of Edinburgh airport. It would be the simplest of simple measures to build a rail halt and to run a shuttle service from there for the two minutes down the road to the airport. Instead, over the years British Rail has refused to build that facility and passengers are taken into the heart of Edinburgh. They then have a fair walk from the train to the airport bus and another 45-minute journey from there out to the airport. So I do not come to the debate uncritical of British Rail. I hope that, if anything, the new franchise holders of the east-coast main line--although they are not responsible for the domestic network in Scotland--will be able to bring their influence to bear so that the nonsense of passengers being taken into the heart of Edinburgh only to be brought back out again is brought to an end.
Franchising has nothing to do with improving the services. As so eloquently put by my noble friend Lady Castle, it is primarily about profits for shareholders. That is not the best motive, although it is a motive. "Profit" is not a dirty word. I do not complain about companies making profits because without profit there is no investment. But it is when profit becomes the prime function that trouble is caused. One needs to look no further than British Gas. It is now the most unpopular of all the privatised companies in this country and the water companies are rapidly following suit where profit takes precedence over service to customers.
I wish to ask the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, one or two points in relation to Scotland. What now is the position regarding the fast rail link to the Channel Tunnel? What are the plans, because they seem to have been pushed aside? If Scotland is not to have access to the fast link it will have very serious repercussions in relation to the development of the industrial infrastructure of Scotland. What is the position of the Forth rail bridge? My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis mentioned the fact that the Health and Safety Executive had issued Railtrack with two restriction orders, and one of them relates to the Forth rail bridge. I do not want to alarm or cause unnecessary anxiety, but the rail bridge is in a state of disrepair. It is one of our great engineering achievements. When the Minister winds up can he say what is happening in relation to the repairs that the Health and Safety Executive want carried out on the bridge before it will lift its order?
I now turn to the privatisation of Railtrack. It is noticeable that the National Westminster Bank, whose chairman is a highly respected Member of your Lordships' House, has this week advised its clients not to buy shares in Railtrack. That advice was based on NatWest's belief, which I share, that there is going to be a Labour Government. The advice went on to say that a Labour Government would take Railtrack back into public ownership. All that I can say to that is that
I am a simple chap and bring forward simple solutions to simple problems. The question that is asked is: how can you buy back Railtrack? How much will it cost? From my point of view, the answer is to say to those who buy shares in Railtrack, "You didn't give your money to a Labour Government. You gave it to a Tory Government, so you will get that money back from the Tories the next time that they are in power". It is a simple solution to what everybody seems to be presenting as an insurmountable and complicated problem.
Running side by side with NatWest's advice not to purchase shares in Railtrack was the revelation that it will cost £11 billion to put the rail network into a good state of repair. One of the promises made by the franchise holders is that they will speed up journey times. From my limited knowledge of the railways I can say with certainty that it will not be possible to speed up journey times unless the Railtrack network is put into a good state of repair. The French speeded up their journey times and were able to introduce the TGV by straightening all the bends and getting rid of all the bridges which obstructed fast-moving trains. Anyone who thinks that you can come round the Morpeth bend just outside Newcastle station any faster should take account of the incidents that have taken place over the years on that very bend. The network is riddled with such obstacles to speeding up journey times. In any case, where will that £11 billion which is to put the rail network into a good state of repair come from? It will not come from putting Railtrack into the private sector, so where will it come from?
We are told that in order to provide an incentive to encourage people to buy shares in Railtrack, a dividend will be paid in October--before it has been earned. I know Bob Horton very well. He was chairman of BP, with which I was closely involved because of my constituency interest in the petro-chemical complex at Grangemouth. I have been in the company of Bob Horton and his fellow directors at BP on a number of occasions and I can advise your Lordships that if Bob Horton had suggested at a BP board meeting that that company should pay a dividend before it had been earned, the company car would have been locked away and 10 minutes later Bob Horton would have been on the Clapham bus going home. Trying to justify the indefensible makes a professional man of Bob's standing look rather silly. It was not to his credit, but let us leave that as it is.
What is to be done? First, there must be a general election. Secondly, there must be a Labour Government. Thirdly, we must return to having the integrated rail network which the people of this country want. I am not talking about politicians now. There is no meeting place between us on some of these points. I respect those who take the opposite view from me. We can argue all day about it in this House, but the people of this country want an integrated rail network. They do not want to see incidents such as occurred last week when disabled people had to leave one train to buy another ticket and
Lord Mountevans: My Lords, I declare two non-financial interests: first, as chairman of the British Rail/Railtrack best station judging panel and, secondly, as honorary secretary of the all-party West Coast Main Line Group. The former has this year given me a 10,000 mile snapshot of where the railway was as the first franchises were being let, while the latter inevitably involves me and several other Members of this House in watching a railway struggling to survive in the face of a worn-out infrastructure, worn-out rolling stock and stalled investment.
My 10,000 mile snapshot showed the former regime doing generally rather well, as its European peers (which tend to admire British Rail rather strongly) would expect, with one notable and worrying exception: the East Coast main line. To experience one train running on half power and later the same day another train failing totally was bad enough; to find the wires down two days later, with consequent two-hour delays both going north and coming back again, was even worse.
We are told that privatisation will unleash investment, but the East Coast main line has had the investment. It has had £450 million-worth of investment in the past decade. If that does not deliver--and for me it certainly it has not--it will take something other than privatisation to marshall disciplines and new management skills. It will take something much more than bullish press releases to do that.
Like other speakers, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for giving us this opportunity to debate rail privatisation. But when I started developing my thoughts, I found something of a vacuum or a grey area. Those in favour of privatisation promise us all manner of benefits; those against it stress and stress again their doubts. The former know where we are going, they believe; the latter scare us by saying that we will never get there. But I believe that as of today we really do not know the outcome. I cannot believe those who promise us the earth--any more than I can believe those who suggest that the end of the golden era of British Rail coincided either with their own retirement or, in wider terms, when their party lost either the debate or the election. I find myself in a wait-and-see situation.
While I wait and see, there are things which I believe that we can influence. I look forward to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill and to making progress towards Thameslink 2000. I hope that other noble Lords will join me in fighting for accelerated progress on CrossRail. More importantly, we should push for progress on West Coast main line refurbishment. Like a photograph of the launch of the Midland main line franchise, it appears to have hit the buffers.
That might seem unfair. There are all the users' interests to be taken into account. If, for example, the principal user, the West Coast main line train operating company, was to go for a diesel-hauled tilting train--after all, that is being tested in Canada and the United States--it would be for the franchising director to decide whether, within existing financial limits, he could agree the increased access charges which would be the price for the other 10 train operating companies which interface with West Coast main line, the five freight companies and, indeed, the European passenger services because they would have to pick up the whole tab of funding replacement of the power supply infrastructure.
Similarly, only the franchising director can decide whether the train operating companies, the users, can afford a new and as yet largely unproven radio-based signalling system. It is unproven in the sense that although it has been proven on brand new railways like the TGV in France, it has never been put to the test on a route with the traffic volumes of the West Coast main line or its intensity and complexity. Can one afford to have that as yet unproven railway signalling system? I have mentioned the 15 operators involved. It is not only the 15 operators. Almost all the traction in British Rail, apart from the third rail equipment in the South, either does or can use West Coast mainline infrastructure. It will cost a fortune to make every locomotive and trainset compatible with the new signalling system. The price to pay will be a very heavy one. I wonder whether that can be met within the budget of OPRAF, because after all he will be the principal paymaster.
Finance is one concern and technology is another. At the moment, the design of the signalling system is out to tender. I believe that installation is planned for the year 2000. It is interesting that the two largest railway companies in the world, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific in the United States, are pursuing the same concept but with a much slower implementation schedule and specific review points. "Are we going down the right route? If not, let us not waste any money going any further". If those truly great and successful railways--which are great and successful because they have the commercial skills and judgment which are such a pillar of privatisation--are deliberately making slow progress why we are rushing along at the projected rate?
Another factor that we can try to influence, as mentioned by several noble Lords earlier in the debate, is the switch of freight from road to rail. I welcome the inquiry by the Select Committee of another place into the adequacy and enforcement of regulations covering coaches and lorries. We know that rail loses freight because road hauliers can cut corners and thus costs. There is a much looser safety regime on the road side of the business than there is, or ever has been, on the railways. One only has to read reports of recent police roadside checks to appreciate the volume of tachograph, overloading and vehicle faults, which are far too
I turn to an ongoing concern: bridge bashing. Last year there were 1,100 strikes, a 56 per cent. increase on 1992. Yesterday, there were six instances, delaying or cancelling 65 trains and giving the worst annualised rate of over 2,200 instances per year. When I last raised this matter it tended to be a problem of a lorry hitting a bridge and the driver, having passed three signs indicating the bridge height, saying that he did not realise how high his load was. Much worse than that, since the matter was last raised the Glasgow tragedy occurred. I am sure that that tragedy will be remembered by the noble Lords, Lord Ewing of Kirkford and Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove (for whom it is very close to home). As I recall, seven adults and children were killed when a double-decker bus hit a railway bridge. The disaster that we had awaited happened, yet the department remained singularly unconcerned. When shall we see action, and what action shall we see?
Many of your Lordships will remember that some 12 years ago I argued for what I christened a big bang privatisation, that is, privatisation of the railways as an entity. I still wish that the big bang had been the chosen route. That sentiment and wish was reinforced by a recent visit to the United States, in particular to Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the world's largest private enterprise railway. That company tried to headhunt a very senior executive of British Rail. It had discussions with Stagecoach because it saw opportunities in franchises. But it pulled out when it realised that the Railtrack concept gave it no control over the infrastructure. Once that was clear it decided to give franchises a miss and to look for investment in suburban railways in South America. As we fragment, Burlington Northern Santa Fe is consolidating and centralising. When we talk of West Coast mainline signalling we are thinking perhaps of 450 route miles run from one signal box. That company is already operating 30,000 miles of railway from one room the size of the main auditorium in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre. As we go into leasing that company is pulling out of it because it believes it is not capital effective. That company has had 15 to 20 years' experience of the leasing concept. As we rush forward--as with the West Coast mainline signalling project--that company makes slower but deliberate progress. In every respect I believe that we can learn from that company's commercial judgment.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I always find railway debates rather interesting. There is something fundamental about them. The railways are a link with so much of our history, literature, social life and memories of early holidays. Over the past half-century some unbelievable changes have taken place in transport. I refer to the sheer convenience of the motor car, although for the city dweller it is a diminishing convenience. In most of our cities the motor
As a Glasgow man who occasionally needs to go to Edinburgh, the train is the only way. The journey time is 50 minutes with a service of one every 30 minutes. I understand that there was an intention to increase the service to 15 minutes. My noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, will recall that the Class 158 DMUs were brought in which made the journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh in 50 minutes. The intention was to reduce the service from every half an hour to 15 minutes, which would have been perfect. It would have taken a great number of cars out of the city centres. However, the engines and units had teething problems and, coupled with the start of the recession, that ambitious scheme was abandoned, but let us hope that it is not too late. It was a pity that it did not work. Looking at it in retrospect, in years to come it might well be said that a first-class rail service between two big cities 40 miles apart could have been an example worthy of study. That experience could have been extended to many other areas and cities. If we do not try bold experiments, our towns and cities will become more and more uninhabitable.
Government attitude to road and rail has always been very lopsided. In another place the Minister for Railways and Roads gave a reply to my honourable friend Mr. Jim Cunningham. He asked the Minister about the proportion of research money devoted to rail and road by the Ministry of Transport. The proportion was 88 per cent. to road and .5 per cent. to railways. Why does road not carry more of the burden when rail has to carry so much? I am not one to decry the motor car; but one of the points that we must remember when we talk about the railways and road traffic is that the roads are carried on the backs of 22 million motorists who pay for their licences, whereas the railways are freestanding and the passengers must pay when they use them.
In another answer on the same day, the Minister told another of my honourable friends in another place that a certain number of fares on the railways would be regulated by the franchising director. That was good news. But when one looks at the matter closely one sees that there will be a number of uncontrolled ticket prices. The prices will be decided by the operator and not the franchising director. The Minister listed the tickets which would be free of any control. They include all first class fares, APEX fares, super APEX fares, network awaybreaks, super advance tickets, cheap day returns, special day returns, shuttle advance tickets, voyagers--I do not know what those are!--and rover tickets. Some prices will be controlled, but the list I have read leaves lots of room for increases.
That brings us to the big question of costs. The rail regulator will decide the level of charges for access to the track. The majority of Railtrack's income will come from that source; and, to quote the regulator:
Noble Lords will want to know how we on this side of the House look at the future of our vital railway industry. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis made a powerful speech, and gave a full answer to that question. The shadow Minister of Transport in another place made clear in her speech on 17th April in another place:
This step towards privatisation, especially Railtrack, is a privatisation too far. I was impressed by the remarkable speech made by my noble friend Lady Castle, to whom I pay a great tribute. I came to transport as one of her young, raw people when she was introducing the 1968 Act. That Act was an exceptional Act. It may have gone further than we were ready for at the time. It did so much, that we shall never be able to undo it all, despite what this Government do.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, spoke about money coming in from private sources. He must realise that in all the privatisations, the shareholders have been bought off. I quote from the Independent----
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