HL Deb 12 March 1997 vol 579 cc342-57

5.27 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Berkeley told me last week that his Motion was to be debated today, I congratulated him and decided to keep a travel diary. I live in Richmond. Monday morning: travel to Carlton Terrace for 9 a.m. conference. Arrive at Richmond Station 8 a.m.; queues out into the street because most of the ticket machines are out of order and the booking clerks busy with people buying weekly season tickets. Managed to find a ticket inspector who sold me a ticket to Waterloo on South West Trains. Fortunately the train arrived late so I was able to catch it. When it did arrive, it had only four carriages; travelled like a sardine. Got to conference on time, rather dishevelled.

Tuesday: travel to Beaconsfield. I always travel there by train. South West Trains to Waterloo and then the Bakerloo Line to Marylebone. I knew that the Bakerloo Line from Waterloo to Piccadilly had been closed for months. Got to Piccadilly by another route. Found that the Bakerloo Line was closed that day all the way to Paddington. As a result I missed my train from Marylebone. However, there was another one 17 minutes later. It is a pleasure to travel on the Chiltern Line from Marylebone. There are new diesel trains with signs inside saying where they go. The stations and the line have been modernised, but that was before privatisation.

On Wednesday, I had to go to a funeral at Golders Green. South West Trains to Waterloo and the Northern Line to Golders Green. The system worked perfectly. However, I had anticipated problems and arrived early. The most depressing appointment for which to arrive early is a funeral.

My experience exactly mirrored the points in the report Making Connections, which we are debating this afternoon. The report is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of reliable connections within passenger journeys; the importance of information during the journey; punctuality—the report used the word "time" but I prefer the word "punctuality"—and reliability, which are important on each section of the journey because of interconnections; physical convenience; personal safety; and cost. All those factors will make travelling by public transport much more user-friendly, as many noble Lords pointed out. That was the key lesson of my short diary.

Not only is that lesson confirmed in the paper that we are debating today, it is also the policy objective envisaged by the Technology Foresight Panel on Transport in its report published in 1995 by the Office of Science and Technology. The same objective is envisaged in the Government's 1996 White Paper called Transport, The Way Forward. Labour's transport strategy also works toward the kind of seamless "multi-modal" transport system.

So all the right words are there—they were repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Cadman—but how are they being translated into practice? The answer is not at all well because the Government's policies are having a contrary effect to those objectives. I agree with my noble friend Lady Symons and other noble Lords that the unco-ordinated privatisation plans and the piecemeal approach to policy mean that the fragmented bus and rail franchises which are supposed to compete with each other are simultaneously obliged to try to work together. To try to enforce that contradiction—of competition on the one hand and seamless travel on the other—the various agencies and regulators are creating an increasingly complex web of rules to deal with each problem as it arises.

The licensing system requires the operators to take the initiative regarding services and alterations. But, surely, if we are committed to a seamless inter-connecting system (which all the documents advocate), it is the transport authorities which should be taking the initiative. Instead of just reacting to operators' applications, surely we need a more positive approach showing the leadership and initiative called for by many noble Lords in this debate. We need to pursue those objectives to achieve our seamless system. Only a partnership between the public and the private sectors, as proposed by Labour, will achieve it. Noble Lords may well laugh, but it is absolutely true. Privatisation and regulation alone will not do it.

Privatisation of the transport system may solve some of the Government's public sector borrowing requirement problems. But the ability of privatisation to renew rolling stock, improve stations and finance the infrastructure required to provide the seamless system, cannot be taken for granted; neither will it provide the technology, according to the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford. The Channel Tunnel is one example of how such private sector projects can go badly wrong. So is the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway System. That was to be financed by property development alongside stations but the Hong Kong Government had to make repeated injections of public money to stop the system going into bankruptcy. The finances of the Jubilee Line do not look too good either.

The public would like to see targets set for reducing road congestion, with powers given to either passenger transport associations or local authorities to use road pricing and parking restrictions in order to reach those targets. As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, reminded us, those authorities should also have a say in the investment plans of the transport infrastructure, so that the planning and social dimensions contained in the report that we are debating, in the Government's paper and in the Technology Foresight paper can all be considered.

There are many concerns about transport. There are the environmental concerns of noise, pollution and congestion; the concerns of industry that congestion, lack of co-ordination and poor infrastructure can threaten Britain's competitiveness—the CBI made that point in its paper in 1995; and the social concerns that urban congestion and poor co-ordination are adding to the divisions in our society by penalising those passengers who most need public transport. Poorly co-ordinated public transport only adds to those divisions in our society.

Fortunately, on these Benches we are here to speak up for all those concerns.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, the report Making Connections, to which my noble friend Lord Berkeley drew attention, is 20 pages long. I am the 15th speaker in this debate. As the 15th speaker, it is hard to say very much new about a 20 page report.

The report emphasises a small part of the total problem of integrating transport and sustainable development. It does not quite connect the relevance of its recommendations to the other parts of the transportation problem. The 18th report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which dealt with transport and the environment, makes the whole context clear. We have been discussing among other matters the problem of intermodal transport changes and information. But the point is that facilitating those things, whatever it costs, produces a much larger pay-off by reducing reliance on car transport. The benefits of reducing reliance on car transport should have been put at the forefront of our concerns.

In The Times Higher Education Supplement this week, there is a review of a number of books on transport. One book mentioned was The True Costs of Road Transport, written by Professor David Pearce and other authors. They are good economists. They are people who, unlike those at the Treasury, understand economics and not just cash flow. They have estimated that, if the costs of car transport are added together, including greenhouse gases, air pollution, noise, congestion and accidents, there is a total cost of nearly £50 billion a year. That is a staggering sum of money. Those are what economists call externalities. If the total cost comes to £50 billion—or even if it is halved to £25 billion—enough damage is being done to society, for which we pay in one way or another, either through the National Health Service, accidents, early death, time delays in travelling, or unsafe public transport, as my noble friend Lady Symons pointed out. Surely it is good economics for somebody somewhere to invest some money in improving the system.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, pointed out, that is where the report Making Connections does not get the matter right. It does not point to the sophisticated technology that is currently available, which would be very cost-efficient. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, also pointed out that other countries try to manage their transport better, both in terms of hard printed information systems and in terms of access to information technology.

There are some questions that we must face. If it costs, as the report says, 2 per cent. of total revenue to improve information systems, can that 2 per cent. be raised by a general levy on the industry? Or can the Government decide that 2 per cent. of that small sum of money is a good investment in public welfare? Or can the Government decide to have some decent economics and road user charges?

For a long time we have allowed the motor car to become the most under-priced transport system in use and the costs are being borne not by car drivers, but by people like me who do not drive. I am not a reluctant car driver; I am a non-car driver. I use public transport all the time. I do not want to drive; I want to live and I want others to live.

Why have we not made any progress on the efficient pricing of car driving, especially in inner cities? Why, when we know that cars cause a substantial amount of pollution—the larger proportion being caused by cars over five years old—do we not have a differential rate of excise duty taking account of age? Why is fuel efficiency not a criterion by which we issue licences to cars?

Those are sensible and economic measures that the Government could take. But it needs a government which believe in economics rather than cash, as I hope the next government will. They need to follow sensible economics, looking after public welfare and obtaining it cheaper, rather than privatising merely to save money on a PSBR which is falsely calculated.

5.41 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, we thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for initiating this debate and for drawing the report to our attention. The report consorts pretty well with the policies of these Benches, and no doubt will contribute to them at one date or another.

I speak towards the end of the debate which means that many aspects have already been tackled. I do not intend to repeat them all, but I want to associate myself with what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, and the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who always adds a tone of broad-minded, economic good sense to what goes on in this Chamber. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the valuable points that were made.

First, I want to make a couple of general points. The report has some omissions. One word which is noticeable by its absence is "parking". If a carpark is available at nil or low cost at the other end of one's journey—as it is to your Lordships and indeed to myself—one's incentive for travelling by car increases enormously; the cost is so much reduced. We must therefore tackle the issue of car parking at places of work much more thoroughly. Many local authorities no longer prescribe minimum standards of car parking but maximum standards, thus gradually exerting a downward pressure on the number of spaces provided. That is just one of the two points not covered in the report.

The report challenges government—any government—over what they intend to do to play their part to achieve the ends it deems to be desirable. Nobody has challenged those ends as not being desirable. Everybody supported the recommendations made by the report. Seven out of the nine recommendations are to government, and it is therefore important for us to learn how this Government will respond to those challenges. I shall name just a few of them.

Many references were made in the report to the effect of institutional fragmentation on the seamless journey by public transport. Those of us who have been in this business at county or other levels for quite a long time have often raised that point as an essential element of public transport if it is to compete with the motor car in terms of comfort, reliability and so forth. Paragraph 14 of the report notes the "tensions between competition"—between service providers—which can lead to better services on a specific route and integration, which is essential for easy transfer. It says: Unless these problems are overcome, the potential benefits from increased competition may be more than outweighed by the disadvantages". That approach is linked to Recommendation 1 which states: The Government should raise the profile of intermodal transport [by instructing] The rail regulator … to take account of transfer issues in setting the regulatory framework. The Government should [give] new … guidance to local authorities. public transport operators … on transfer issues". Similarly, Recommendation 5 states that the Government should encourage operators to co-operate voluntarily on ticketing and information matters and should clarify the existing legal framework for such co-operation and should consider options for changes in the legal framework which would enable greater co-operation to take place. Will the Government respond in the affirmative to those suggestions? They are important, practical suggestions.

Again, when considering freight movement by rail—an extremely important subject, often left on one side in discussions about the movement from road to rail—the report points out a lack of strategic consideration of freight transport in general and intermodal terminals in particular. In other words, suppose one's freight leaves the factory on a lorry and one wants to put it on a train. Where and how can that be done conveniently? Interestingly enough, it draws attention to the poor road systems around some of our main freight terminals. I agree with its criticism of Willesden, which I have always felt was an idiotic site to choose as the main transfer point for the Channel Tunnel rail link.

The need to retain land currently held by Railtrack so that it can be used for passenger and freight intermodal transfer is also emphasised by the report. Do the Government accept Recommendations 3 and 8? They would place a duty on the Government to act in various ways to address the situation. Finally, do the Government accept that better track and trace arrangements for freight carried by rail, both within the United Kingdom and across the European Union, would encourage better use of rail by freight movers? Will they ensure that our voice is strong within the European Union to achieve better co-ordination in that sphere?

We are not all such skilled travellers by public transport as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, whose exploits were both educative and amusing. But we urgently need to raise the percentage of journeys made by public transport, whether by ourselves as passengers or by freight. To do that we must attract new users; for example, those who now travel by car simply because they own one or those who carry their freight by lorry simply because they own a lorry. It costs no more than the cost of the petrol to go from point A to point B.

The report challenges the Government to play their part in solving this specific little nexus of problems. I should like to know, as would everybody else—not just here but beyond this House—how this Government will respond to those recommendations.

5.49 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I begin by joining with my noble friend Lord Cledwyn in his tribute to the late Lord Listowel, a man of great dignity who gave a great deal to this country. We shall miss him.

Secondly, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in what has been an exemplary and excellent debate. We have had many innovative ideas produced and both the Minister who will reply and I will have our work cut out in ensuring that we properly canvass those ideas in terms of policy-making.

We have also had some novel contributions; the first edition of the Haskel Diaries—we shall look with interest at the future development of my noble friend as an author—and we shall no doubt have another chapter of the Minister's book entitled Self Delusion. The Minister lives in a world of some pretence. He likes to think that the privatisation of London Underground is enormously popular with the people of London. In fact, a day or two after the announcement was made in another place an opinion poll was taken. The poll showed that 65 per cent. were against privatisation and only 13 per cent. supported the sale. Splitting the figures down on political lines, 42 per cent. of Tory voters were opposed to privatisation as against 31 per cent. in favour. The Minister is once again living in a world of illusion. But all that will collapse quite shortly.

I would also pay tribute to the work that has been done by those who compiled this excellent report Making Connections, on which so many of my noble friends and others have commented. What is interesting is that it was the Government who set up the inquiry. Each recommendation represents a huge indictment of the Government's policy, if one can dignify it as such, over the past 17 years. It comes to this: fragmentation, mounting congestion, lack of public accountability, inadequate co-ordination between different modes and failure to achieve, or even try to achieve, proper complementarity between the different modes. The report does not refer to the use of short sea shipping, which is something else the Government have demonstrably neglected.

No concept of sustainable economic development and environmental protection is sustained by the Government's policy. Theirs has been an ad hoc approach, a government distancing themselves from the desirability of having a national framework for transport policy and failing to provide any sufficient involvement of local government, particularly through the PTEs and PTAs. The country is paying very heavily for this neglect, a huge and unpardonable neglect. We have seen that, as they were developing their privatisation policies, inordinate delays occurred in terms of refurbishing the infrastructure, and the investment that was needed was again neglected.

We witness these situations every day in our lives. We see that London Underground is in a parlous condition. We see the gridlock on the roads. According to the CBI, all this is costing the country around £19 billion a year. The Government have done very little to arrest the situation. There is a complete lack of coherence about seeking to get more traffic from the roads on to rail. I remember very well Mr. Malcolm Rifkind, when he was Secretary of State for Transport, making a pledge about that. Has that pledge been honoured? Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us as to the move from road to rail that has been accomplished since Mr. Rifkind gave that undertaking.

It is clear that in May the next Government—the Labour Government—will inherit a transport mess. Our aim will be to secure a coherent national transport strategy, making the best use of all the modes of transport, and to ensure greater mobility, greater access and greater efficiency. That involves one of the important elements dealt with not only in the report but in the report of the rail regulator. He expressed great disappointment in the information about railway services that was being given: A failure to tell passengers what the railway network is offering in prices, in choice, in availability, in making sure information is accurate, in encouraging passengers to use the railway with confidence from the time the first inquiry is made to the completion of a satisfactory journey". So the indictment is repeated in the rail regulator's report. He said: Train operators can and must be impartial and accurate when giving information about and selling their own and other operators' passenger services". And they have not been. The Minister has done nothing to ensure that these matters have been properly corrected because he is powerless now. He is entirely in the hands of the rail regulator. We shall change that situation. The Minister smiles. Smiles will get him nowhere. He has totally failed over the years—not him personally, because he does not deal with the railways; he just deals with the appalling position of aviation and shipping, so his endeavours are confined.

It will be a difficult task. We have to try to win more passengers and more freight onto rail from the roads, and railway investment obligations and duties under franchise agreement have to be honoured. There are simply too many cases, which have been revealed over the past few weeks in particular, where the fundamental obligations are being dishonoured. That is not acceptable. The mere fact that South West Trains is prepared to give away a free ticket for one day is no answer. What will happen to South West Trains as a result of this breaking of a fundamental obligation? We read in the Observer that South West Trains may escape fines for breaking its franchise agreement despite cancelling hundreds of services and plunging commuters into chaos. Will the Minister kindly get some information about that?

The fact of the matter is that he has said in this House that it would be subject to penalties. Will it be? Or will the regulator take a rather different view and say, "Well, it is not too serious"? I challenge the Minister about that. We want to know. What will happen as a result of this breach of a fundamental obligation?

The main way of achieving a publicly accountable and integrated rail system is by regulation. We shall examine the present powers of the regulator to see how they can be utilised more effectively and how, where necessary, they can be strengthened using secondary amendments to the Railways Act 1993 if that can be undertaken. We shall contemplate four key changes. There will be increased accountability of the regulator to the Labour Secretary of State so that he is under no doubt what our intentions are for the railway industry and how we expect him to fulfil his duties through tighter and more effective regulation. There is no question that that is needed. The regulator will be given powers to ensure that the system and its assets are managed in the public interest and with efficiency.

Given the public subsidies which the Government have chosen to provide, is it not essential to underline the need for public accountability, which the Government have relinquished? We are talking here of some £850 million a year. We shall ask the rail regulator to examine the present subsidy arrangements and to take steps to see that this subsidy is re-routed into infrastructure. That has been done in Holland and in Sweden with success. We are intent on ensuring that the necessary levels of investment and proper passenger services are put in place. The subsidies have a crucial role. We shall seek to give greater emphasis to standards of safety. There is increasing evidence that workers are undertaking excessive hours. That may well imperil safety.

As regards Railtrack, we shall certainly review the high access charges which are currently being levied and deflecting freight transport from the railways. The benefits would flow primarily to the travelling public rather than to the shareholders. We believe that that is a priority. The present situation is grossly unsatisfactory. It costs £170,000 a year in track access charges to add just one passenger coach to the system compared with £300 to £400 in vehicle excise duty to put one coach on the road. Is that equitable?

We shall ensure that the income realised by Railtrack from the sale of property and from development is actually put into the railway system. There is no guarantee that that has or will happen under the Government's own proposals. Railtrack inherited huge amounts of land. As the noble Baroness has just said, we are surely entitled to an assurance that those assets are used in the public interest and within the railway system and not for the benefit of shareholders.

As regards the train operating companies, tighter regulations will be required to encourage higher levels of investment and a fair and inclusive relationship with the staff involved. We shall negotiate with the rolling stock leasing companies and rail manufacturers to encourage higher levels of investment in rolling stock. It is quite wrong that so much of this component of the industry has suffered in a very dire way, particularly with regard to York.

The bus industry is also in a parlous state. There has to be a much greater degree of influence as far as concerns the local authorities. Once again, this matter has been dealt with extensively in the report. It will be interesting to hear what the Government have to say. This Government have been dismissive of every alternative idea that has been put forward. I hope that the Minister will not dismiss those which have been put forward in the debate tonight. The Government have not achieved any measure of success in their transport policy, at least in overall terms. Of course, it is possible to point to a measure of success here or there, but overall the Government's policy has been a catastrophic failure. That is demonstrated by the views of the CBI, local authorities and of so many people who are interested in securing a good and successful transport system which has been found to be incapable of achievement under the present Government. Thankfully, their days are numbered.

6.2 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, I begin by adding my voice to those of the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Clinton-Davis, about the passing of Lord Listowel. We have to thank very much the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for giving us the time to discuss transport issues in general and this report in particular. As always on transport matters, we have had an extremely wide-ranging debate with contributions ranging from those of the right reverend Prelate mourning the loss of the man with the red flag to the incisive transport diaries of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, no doubt eagerly awaiting publication as we speak.

One point that has run through many of the contributions that we have heard from Members of the party opposite in dealing with rail matters—the debate has largely centred on rail, although there have been some very good contributions on bus deregulation as well, but the railways has been the central theme—has been the newly-discovered, rosy view of the grand old days of British Rail in the 1970s, which I do not believe the travelling public would recognise. What is clear from all contributions this evening is that innovative solutions are required.

I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said. He accused the Government of being rather timid and not sufficiently bold. I should have thought that the biggest structural change to the railways in decades was a major and bold initiative. I believe that we are seeing the same with our plans for the London Underground.

It is the Government's view that transport policy has to take place in the wider context of the need for sustainable development. That view was clearly spelt out in our Green Paper on transport policy entitled Transport, The Way Forward, which we published in April last year in response to the national transport debate initiated by my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Transport. I welcome the consideration which the Round Table on Sustainable Development has given to these issues. As the Green Paper makes clear, the Government share the desire of the Round Table to see an increase in the proportion of people using public transport and we have acted vigorously to achieve that.

This speech is not intended to be a formal response to the Round Table's report. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked me a number of detailed questions about our specific response to a number of the recommendations. We shall be making a formal, ordered response in due course when we have had time to give proper consideration to the detailed requirements which have been made by the Round Table. I do not believe that they deserve anything less than that.

This evening I would like to pick up some of the points which have emerged from the report and from the debate. One key area where I would like to draw a distinction with the Round Table's view is where the responsibility for action should lie in addressing a number of these issues. The Round Table has addressed many of its recommendations to government. As I have said, we shall consider them carefully and seriously. My belief is that the Government's role is primarily to set a framework in which others can implement the necessary measures. At the end of the day the success of interchange initiatives is dependent on the actions and energy of transport operators and local authorities. I was drawn to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. He described a number of areas where interchanges were working extremely well. I believe that he mentioned airports. If it was not the noble Lord, Lord Addington, it was another noble Lord who spoke.

Lord Addington

I spoke about Victoria station.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, certainly one Member of your Lordships' House described what went on at airports. It is very much in the commercial interest of people operating transport services to co-operate with each other in terms of increasing their whole market by producing innovative ticketing arrangements and transport solutions which perhaps were not available before.

We have heard a great deal about integrated transport policies. I believe that is one of the more hackneyed phrases used in the transport field—

Lord Clinton-Davis

A hackney cab!

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, my words were carefully chosen. It means a different thing to different people. I do not believe that integrated transport should mean a centrally planned, inflexible system governed from the centre. That was certainly the thrust of a number of the contributions that we have heard this evening; namely, a desire to return to the man in Whitehall running all the transport services and unable to respond rapidly to local demand. I do not believe that too many of the travelling public wish to see a return to the cult of the bureaucrat running transport rather than the businessman who is so directly accountable that if people do not buy his system, then his salary is at stake. That would seem to be a clear incentive.

The Government's role is to provide the right environment for these needs to be met. I believe that that has been done. Through our privatisation and deregulation programmes we have put in place a framework in which transport operators are well placed and have every incentive to respond to the needs of customer demand and to grow their markets. That will include improvements to interchange facilities to ensure a more integrated transport service.

I listened with great interest to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, about a particular rail network in Wales which he uses. I certainly felt that he was not turning his back on the private sector, but was looking forward to co-operative partnerships and that is what privatisation is designed to bring. We have seen the very impressive plans for investment from Railtrack throughout the network. The £10 billion investment plan is very exciting. It was not there before and we certainly look with great optimism to see how that will benefit passengers quickly.

The view of the party opposite about the privatisation of the railways deserves considerable attention. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, to hear whether he would tell me which bit of the railway he sought to buy back. Although I know of his party's commitment to a publicly owned, publicly accountable railway, I did not hear that. There is certainly some confusion there. I took that to mean that the same thing will happen with this privatisation as has happened with previous privatisations which were opposed tooth and nail by the Opposition. One thinks of the privatisations of British Airways and of the British Airports Authority, to name just two, which Opposition spokesmen opposed tooth and nail only to find that after a while the privatisations were welcome. We read all sorts of suggestions in the press. Like the noble Lord, I do not believe everything that I read in the press, apart from articles such as that which appeared in The Times on 12th February 1997, entitled, "The Right Track", and subtitled, Privatisation has made the trains run on time". That makes good reading—

Lord Clinton-Davis

South West Trains?

Viscount Goschen

We have seen a confused policy from the party opposite with regard to what it would do about the railways. The Government have produced an innovative plan which has broken the mould of the railways and their long-standing decline. All 25 franchises are running, or will run, at least the same level of service as British Railways.

In his interesting speech, my noble friend Lord Cadman gave considerable balance to many of the contributions that had sought to attack what has happened since privatisation. The majority of franchisees intend to increase service levels. At the same time, while encouraging competition and diversity, network benefits such as through ticketing have been safeguarded. Ticket retailing arrangements at all 1,300 manned railway stations have been protected. Passengers can buy tickets to the same destinations as those previously offered by BR, even if their trip involves changing train or train operator. These through ticketing arrangements are legally binding on licensed train operators.

Over the next 15 years, the 25 franchises will deliver a saving to the taxpayer of well over £6 billion. In seven years' time their grant requirement will be about 40 per cent. of what BR claimed for running the same services last year. That means that we are getting a better railway for less cost to the taxpayer. Dogmatic differences aside, there would seem little reason for opposing a privatisation that delivers a success story on that scale.

Railtrack recently published its network management statement setting out its plans to spend some £10 billion on the maintenance, renewal and development of the rail network between 1995 and 2001, more than £4 million a day. Looking forward, Railtrack's spending on the rail network—excluding day-to-day maintenance—is expected to average some £1 billion a year over the next 10 years. This includes more than £1.5 billion on renewing and upgrading the West Coast Main Line, allowing the introduction of high speed, tilting trains and £600 million on Thameslink 2000. In addition to all this, passenger train operating companies are committed to substantial rolling stock investment, estimated to amount to at least £1.5 billion over the lifetime of the current franchises.

I could relate many more examples. Virgin Rail is to spend an estimated £500 million on high speed, tilting trains for the West Coast Main Line and to replace CrossCountry's rolling stock at an estimated cost of £250 million. Whatever one's view about the rights and wrongs of the private sector running the railway network, those figures are impressive and represent an investment that was not there before.

Privatisation is delivering not just increased investment but also better services, in line with the aims of the Round Table. We are seeing new bus-rail links established on services across the country—Great Eastern's intermodal through-ticketing scheme in Chelmsford and Colchester, for example, or Midland Main Line's coach-bus link in Corby and Kettering.

The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, challenged me on the point that because operators were in competition with each other, that automatically meant that they could not work together to produce mutual benefits. As I was sitting here on the red leather Benches, my mind was drawn to what happens in your Lordships' House. The Opposition and the Government seek to compete with each other and to attract voters to their way of thinking, but it is only through the use of the usual channels and the ways in which we work together that we can both seek to achieve our aims.

Much has been said about better information for rail passengers. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, welcomes the developments that have taken place. The train operators have developed ambitious plans to improve telephone inquiry bureaux performance. They are spending £15 million more this financial year than the last on these enhancements, and in October 1996 they introduced a new national "0345" inquiry number, which is already reducing waiting times and allowing callers to get through to an inquiry point at the first time of calling. These improvements demonstrate the private sector's readiness and ability to deal with exactly the sorts of issues that were properly raised by the Round Table's report.

In addition, the franchisees are investing considerable sums in station improvements, including enhancements to passenger security, waiting accommodation and disabled facilities. I listened with great interest to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. Indeed, I agreed with the vast majority of what she said. Personal security issues, particularly for women and particularly when they are travelling at night and during the hours of darkness, are major factors affecting decisions on whether or not to travel. That is why I welcome the investments that have been made in terms of closed circuit television and the other measures that make stations safer. There is nothing between us on that. Perhaps I may cite the example of Connex South Eastern's plans to spend £25 million on extra passenger security measures, improved ticketing and car parking.

The House would be surprised if I did not say a word or two about the privatisation of London Underground given that I have extolled the benefits of the privatisation of the heavy rail network. We feel that such benefits could be brought to London Underground. We have consistently demonstrated our support for the Tube, not least through consistently high levels of funding. Nevertheless, we recognise that there is a substantial investment backlog in the London Underground and that innovative solutions are required. It is beyond the ability of governments to finance all the extra investment that is needed, which is why we believe that privatisation is the answer.

We have had a very good discussion on the issues surrounding bus deregulation. My noble friend Lord Teviot gave a fair description of what has happened since deregulation. I want to emphasise that the deregulation and privatisation of the bus industry has been a success story both for passengers and for the taxpayer as well as in terms of helping to achieve our wider transport policy. The key facts in the deregulation success story are very much worth repeating: bus route mileage has risen by over a quarter since 1986 as operators have developed new services in response to passenger demand; improved efficiency has reduced operating costs per vehicle mile by nearly half; the burden on the taxpayer of subsidy has been more than halved; investment in new vehicles has increased each year for the past four years; and there are clear signs that the long-run trend of declining patronage has begun to stabilise and level off.

I recognise that halting, and reversing, this long-run decline in bus patronage is important, though difficult to achieve, given the firmly entrenched growth in car ownership and use. The issues of car ownership and the growth in car usage were well summed up by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, who described herself as a "reluctant motorist". Almost everyone who talks about transport these days prefaces their remarks by saying they are "reluctant motorists" and that they would rather travel by public transport all the time. It seems, however, that only the noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Desai, have mastered the art of travelling solely by public transport.

I hope that the House will recognise that the increased innovation and investment by bus companies, and the growth in route mileage which I have just described, are all necessary and valuable in helping to bring about the required growth in bus use. Deregulation has ensured that decisions on which bus services should be run are made by those best able to make them, that is, by commercial operators, responding to customer choice and competition, rather than by public sector planners.

We believe that to erect a new legal framework for the delivery of bus services, as the Round Table appear to suggest, will in all probability mean more bureaucracy with the higher cost that that implies and the stifling of initiative. We know that new services have been mounted by the new deregulated bus operators, often with the use of small buses such as midibuses which were not used to the same extent beforehand. In order to raise passenger numbers they have had to work hard to give the customer the service that he is looking for. One has only to look back to the pre-1995 days of a declining and predominately public sector industry, with all of the bureaucracy and inflexibility that that implied, and a regulatory system which stifled competition and innovation in meeting customer needs, to realise that as with rail those who look back to pre-deregulation or pre-privatisation days as a model to which we should nostalgically return do not give the full picture.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in his very amusing peroration this afternoon accused me of living in a dream world where privatisation was the answer to all ills. I believe that it is important to look at the facts. A one-third drop in complaints following rail privatisation is the kind of fact that we want to hear.

There are many other issues touching on bus ownership that can be spoken to but, given the clock, I turn to freight which we believe is so important. Many similar issues arise here. The objective of seeing more freight taken off the roads and put on to the railways and waterways is one that the Government entirely share. But I believe that the Government's role is primarily to provide the right circumstances in which transport regulators can achieve this. The way in which the Channel Tunnel freight terminal network was devised by a public sector BR is a clear reminder that the public sector cannot simply second-guess the needs of the private sector. The result was a network which with hindsight was too dense and bore little or no relationship to the harsh realities of rail freight economics.

The prospects for intermodal freight and rail freight generally depend upon rail's ability to compete with road in terms of pricing, reliability and the convenience of the service that is offered. We have already seen the successful transfer to the private sector of all the domestic rail services. In Britain we have already had a taste of what can be achieved by the railways when they improve their services. We believe that freight will similarly benefit from that. Further, we believe that where the Government can make a contribution to making up the difference between a commercial case and one that is not, in terms of rail infrastructure our freight facilities grant has a role to play. That is another clear example of the remaining role of Government policy in this issue. That relates just as much to the inland waterways network as to rail. The freight facilities grant is also available to waterways.

I welcome the enhanced attention which the Round Table's report has drawn to interchange issues, and I recognise the Government's responsibility to put in place an environment in which transport operators have both the incentives and the opportunities to facilitate transfers in and between modes.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, wagged his finger at me about South West Trains. South West Trains is already liable for penalty payments under the contractually binding performance regime. The company may also face formal action for breaching its contract. The Franchising Director will need to assess the scale of any breach before deciding what action to take. There is no question of letting off South West Trains in the event of a breach.

I believe that over the past decade and a half we have put in place an environment in which transport operators have both the incentives and opportunities to facilitate transfers in and between modes. I welcome the progress that has been made.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, we can probably go on debating this all night, but noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to do so. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this fascinating debate. It has been a thoughtful and wide-ranging discussion of an important but much neglected part of the transport chain. I very much welcome the speeches from all sides in support of the recommendations in the report. Some noble Lords did not believe that they were strong enough. I am not sure whether the Government support the report. Maybe we will hear about it after due consideration, if that due consideration takes place before May 1st. If that does not happen, they can forget it, can they not? I am not aware of any noble Lord on these Benches who used the expression "central planning". To me, an integrated transport policy means operating within a framework. The Government have failed because this document has exposed the weaknesses of connections. I say no more than that. I believe that that is where the failure arises.

To conclude, I believe that all speakers welcome this report; I believe that privately, in his heart of hearts, the Minister also welcomes it. It is up to a future Labour Government to pursue these recommendations and the many good suggestions that have been made today. I conclude by thanking noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.