I beg to move,
That this House believes that the rising cost of public transport is adding to the financial pressures facing many households; notes that over 2,400 local authority-supported bus routes have been cut or downgraded since 2010; regrets that bus fares have risen by 26 per cent on average and regulated rail fares have risen by up to 38 per cent since 2010; further regrets delays to rail infrastructure projects including the electrification of the Great Western Main Line, the North TransPennine route and the Midland Main Line; notes with regret the decision by the Scottish Government to award the ScotRail franchise to a private operator, rather than exploring alternative options; calls on the Government to bring forward a buses bill as announced in the Queen’s Speech to enable the regulation of local bus networks; and further calls on the Government to rule out the privatisation of Network Rail and instead extend to franchised services the model of rail public ownership that delivered record passenger satisfaction scores on the East Coast Main Line.
I start by wishing the Secretary of State a happy new year, although that will not have been the sentiment that came to most commuters’ minds when they returned to work a fortnight ago. I am afraid it will have been cold comfort to be told by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), on the day that fares rose again, that the Government’s plan for passengers was to improve journeys for everyone. The chief executive of Transport Focus gave a more accurate assessment:
“In some parts of the country, given rail performance has been so dire, passengers will be amazed there are any fare rises at all.”
Hon. Members who attended the Southern Railway summit in this place yesterday, and most travellers, would not be able to reconcile the Minister’s statement with their own experience of increasingly overcrowded and unreliable carriages.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Members on both sides of the House are fed up with excuse after excuse and broken promise after broken promise from Southern rail, and that what we now want to see is action taken against this operator?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I know that he and my other hon. Friends are holding Southern rail to account for its poor punctuality and poor passenger satisfaction. That underlines the need for reform of the railways.
Let us look at the facts. In 2010, the Conservative party said that it would
“relieve the pressure off both the fare-payer and the taxpayer”.
But what happened? Regulated fares rose by 25%. As a consequence, commuters from Birmingham to London are paying more than £10,000 for a season ticket for the first time. Worse still, Ministers bowed to lobbying from the train operating companies and restored “flex”—their right to vary prices by up to 5%, meaning that some season tickets have gone up by 38% since 2010, and a new Northern evening peak restriction hiked prices by up to an eye-watering 162%.
I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware that senior citizens, who might have business in London working for charities, are finding it very difficult to afford to come here unless it is outside peak times, and they are often unable to arrange meetings at times that would suit the off-peak periods. Does she understand that and have a view on it?
My hon. Friend is quite right that it is indeed a concern that people who need to travel at peak times find it almost impossible to find an affordable ticket.
Bus fares have continued to rise, too—up by 26% on average, which is more than three times faster than wages. Some areas have seen much higher rises still. In the north-east, bus fares have consistently risen by 3% above inflation, and it is the non-metropolitan areas that have seen some of the steepest bus fare increases, including in the constituencies of many Conservative Members, with fares increasing by 27% on average.
The problem with buses is not just bus fares; it is the fact that in rural areas, such as in Saughall or Guilden Sutton in my constituency, the privatised bus companies are simply withdrawing services because their profit margins are not big enough.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In many cases, it is hard-pressed local authorities that are trying to fill the gap, but of course with cuts it is increasingly difficult to do so.
The Secretary of State may remember when Ministers said at the start of the last Parliament that their cuts to bus funding would not impact on fares or service levels. Perhaps it was before the Secretary of State’s time. Almost six years on, however, the impact of the reductions to bus subsidy and local authority budgets is clear: more than 2,400 supported bus services have been altered, downgraded or withdrawn altogether. Supported, socially necessary bus services accounted for 24% of overall mileage in 2010. Last year, that had shrunk to 17%. The overall mileage of socially necessary services is down by 10% in the last year alone, and the number of transport authorities funding a young person’s concessionary travel scheme has fallen by 24%.
Bus services are used by every section of society, and we need a growing bus industry that can provide new routes to areas that are not currently served and provide people with as many options as possible for travel. We know that buses are particularly important to disabled people, older passengers, those on low incomes, young people and jobseekers. I am proud of the support that Labour introduced, including the concessionary bus pass, which provides a lifeline for pensioners and has kept many networks viable. Six years ago, the Prime Minister said that he would keep Labour’s free bus pass. Indeed, a year ago the Transport Secretary told this House that
“we have kept, and will keep, concessionary bus fares for older people.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2015; Vol. 591, c. 357.]
But what is the point of a free bus pass when there are no bus services left?
Before I entered the House, I sat on the board as a non-executive director of Cardiff Bus. Is the hon. Lady aware that we had to get together as Welsh bus companies and threaten legal action against the Labour Welsh Government on the concessionary fare funding because it was a breach of contract?
The hon. Gentleman does not want to talk about the point at issue. He does not want to talk about what has happened to bus services here in England.
Anyone who searches the speeches and the statements of Conservative Ministers for references to fare rises on buses or cuts in routes will spend their time in vain.
I will make some progress, and then I will give way.
Bus passengers account for two thirds of public transport journeys, but the Transport Secretary mentioned them only once, in passing, in his speech at the Conservative party conference a few months ago. No doubt he will say that funds have been provided for local authorities to bid for support, and of course investment in cleaner, more efficient buses is welcome, but taxpayers will not realise value for money without reform. Fares have outstripped inflation and wage growth, and savings from the falling cost of fuel are not being passed on to passengers. Throughout the country, bus services are trapped in a vicious cycle in which fare rises dampen down demand and routes are then cut, triggering another round of cost increases.
There was a time when Ministers insisted that
“there have not been the cuts that the Opposition are so keen to talk up.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 485.]
However, when Transport Focus, the official watchdog, surveyed people who had been affected by the cuts, one person responded:
“I have one daughter who is disabled. They have cut her bus on a Sunday and in the evenings, so I can’t go and see her on a Sunday now.”
Another said that they
“Can’t see elderly parents in the evening and care for them as much when they probably need it the most. Can’t afford a taxi because not working at the moment and relied on the bus.”
One respondent simply said:
“I can’t see dad”
in a nursing home
“on a Sunday because there is no bus.”
Conservative Members may say that the Government cannot be held accountable for the operation of a deregulated market, and it is true that London was the only part of Britain that was excluded from the provisions of the Transport Act 1985, but the fact is that, across the country, buses continue to receive very high levels of public support. Of the industry’s costs, 41% are met by subsidy, and the Competition Commission found that genuine competition between bus companies, beyond occasional and disruptive bus wars, was rare. In too many areas the market does not provide comprehensive networks, forcing councils to fund additional services where they can still afford to do so, and placing an additional cost of more than £300 million a year on our hard-pressed local authorities. Nexus, the north-east transport authority, has only been able to maintain local services by drawing on its reserves, while also pursuing reforms that would allow it to deliver better services at a lower cost to taxpayers.
Not everything that the hon. Lady is saying is incorrect, and obviously the position with bus services is very difficult, but it is a question of choices. The hon. Lady should consider what has been done by North Lincolnshire’s Conservative-controlled council. When we took control, it was able to reinstate the No. 37 bus, which had been cut by the previous Labour authority, and extend its services to Wroot and to Crowle. Labour-run Goole Town Council decided to cut the workers’ bus services so that it could pay for a bonfire once a year. So it is about choices. When local authorities are innovative, they can do what we have done in North Lincolnshire, and expand services.
The hon. Gentleman should think about the powers that local authorities have to enable them to make effective choices on behalf of passengers, and that is what I intend to talk about.
While fares continue to rise and routes are cut, some of the biggest bus operators report profit margins of 13% or more on their operations outside London. What was the response of Conservative Ministers? For four years they ignored the calls for reform from Labour Members. I am proud of the fact that Labour has consistently championed the case for bus tendering, but Ministers rigged funding awards to exclude local authorities that pursued regulation, and, shamefully, they remained silent when councillors were subjected to appalling abuse and called “unreconstructed Stalinists” just because they were trying to deliver better services.
While the Treasury’s decision to accept the case for bus tendering is welcome in principle, as is the Transport Secretary’s Damascene conversion, we must question the sincerity of that commitment, and the test will come in the forthcoming buses Bill. Will the Bill make those powers available to all areas that want them, not just to authorities that have reached a devolution agreement? Will it contain measures to protect rural bus services, which are particularly important to those communities, and which have been hit by some of the highest fare rises in the country? Will it protect transport authorities from crippling compensation claims?
The Nexus quality contract scheme boards said that the authorities should have set aside up to £226 million to compensate existing operators for the potential loss of business. If those payments were replicated in Greater Manchester, the Sheffield city region and the north-east, a key northern powerhouse commitment would never get on the road—not to mention the effects on Cornwall and other areas that have sought bus-tendering powers.
The bus market is costing too much and is not delivering for passengers, and we have seen the same trend on our railways. Commuters’ fares have gone up by a quarter since 2010, with season tickets costing up to £2,000 more. Ministers restored the loophole known as flex, which gave the train companies the right to vary prices by up to 5% a year, meaning that the cost of some season tickets has risen by up to 38%, and evening fares in the north have been hiked by up to 162% at the direct insistence of the Department for Transport.
Will the hon. Lady remind the House how many years flex was not available for when the last Labour Government were in office? Am I correct in thinking that it was just one year—the year of the election?
The Labour party scrapped flex permanently, and it was the Secretary of State’s Department that chose to reinstate it, as well he knows. It was only as a result of concerted pressure by Labour Members that this Government dropped it over the past two years.
As I was saying, evening fares in the north have been hiked by up to 162% at the Secretary of State’s direct insistence. The Department’s own McNulty review has warned that our fragmented railways have a ticketing system that
“is complex, often appears illogical and is hard for the uninitiated (and even the initiated) to understand.”
There is also an efficiency gap of up to 40% compared with the best performing European operators, which is wasting money that should be used to address the rising cost of travel and to fund investment.
At the last election we were promised part-time season tickets, and a pilot by Southern Railway found that they could save some commuters 50% of the cost of their travel. However, the smart ticketing programme that underpins the system is 78% over budget and delayed by three years, and there are rumours that it could be cancelled. Will the Secretary of State tell us today whether the south-east flexible ticketing programme is being dropped?
Ministers might claim that services are getting better for everyone, but I urge them to mind the gap between their rhetoric and reality. We all remember the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), saying that rail passengers had to realise that they were paying
“fair fares for a comfortable commute”.
In the Corbyn land of rhetoric, the hon. Lady seems to have forgotten that fares went up by 11% in the last year of the Labour Government alone. It is this Government who have frozen regulated fares for three years. Will she acknowledge that fact and make sure that she puts the truth on the record?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at our record, he will see that rail fares increased only by the level of inflation or were actually cut in six of the 13 years that Labour was in power. Fares rose in some years, and that helped to fund investment. Under Labour, there was more investment in rail in real terms than under any previous Government. Under this Government, that link has been broken.
The Transport Secretary said that only commuters were paying regulated fares, and that unregulated fares could be “quite cheap”. Those comments are a world away from the frustrations endured by passengers every day on Southern and Thameslink, some of which were described in the House today by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna). They reflect an increasingly overcrowded and unreliable network.
In 2009, the Conservative party’s rail policy review stated:
“Fare rises come with tacit Government approval and are often the direct result of the franchise process”.
Will the Secretary of State therefore explain why he intends above-inflation rises to resume after 2020, as his Department’s recent consultation on the East Anglian franchise makes clear? Passengers were always told that higher fares were necessary to pay for improvements, but under this Government that link has been broken. The electrification of key lines was first paused and then shambolically “unpaused” one week before the Conservative party conference, and those projects are now delayed by years.
That goes to the heart of public trust in the railways. Ministers and Conservative Back Benchers went into the last election on a manifesto that said that key improvements would be delivered in this Parliament, but information about the true state of those programmes was kept concealed within the Department. The Transport Secretary has said that he was not informed about the state of the electrification programme until after May, but why did he not pose searching questions within the Department in October 2014, when my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), challenged him to say
“which electrification projects will be delayed or cancelled”—[Official Report, 23 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 1030.]
due to cost overruns on the great western main line?
I have one curious question for the hon. Lady: how is this all going to be paid for? Is it going to be borrowed or are we going to put prices up?
I shall deal with that very question later on in my speech, so the hon. Gentleman should listen attentively.
Why did the Transport Secretary not raise the alarm in the last Parliament when the estimated cost of electrifying the midland main line rose from £250 million to £540 million, and then to £1.3 billion? Why did he not do so when the cost estimates for great western electrification rose from £548 million to £930 million, and then to £1.7 billion? Of course, the estimate has now risen further still, to £2.8 billion. Why did he not act when the Transport Committee warned in January 2015:
“Key rail enhancement projects...have been announced by Ministers without Network Rail having a clear estimate of what the projects will cost, leading to uncertainty about whether the projects will be delivered on time, or at all”?
Will the Transport Secretary confirm that he commissioned a report on the state of the electrification programme, which was given to him in September 2014? This report has never been published, and a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy has been personally refused by a Minister in his Department. What did that report say, and what has he got to hide?
The truth is that the Department was clearly warned by Network Rail about the impending northern power cut. The company’s board discussed last March
“the decisions required jointly with the DFT”
“enhancement deferrals from June”.
Network Rail’s chief executive has confirmed to me:
“In mid-March 2015, Network Rail informed DfT that decisions may need to be made in the coming months about the deferral of certain schemes.”
If the Secretary of State really was not aware of what his own Department and Network Rail were doing, there is only one possible explanation: he made it clear that he did not want to know. He failed to take responsibility, and passengers are now paying the price.
We were told that 850 miles of track would be electrified before 2019, but now the Department is refusing to say how many miles of track will be electrified in this Parliament. Is it half the original target? Is it a quarter? Will the Transport Secretary confirm that by 2019 this Government would do well to realise the plans for electrification set out by a Labour Secretary of State, the noble Lord Adonis, a decade earlier?
Let me return to the cost of tickets.
I am not going to give way at the moment, because I want to make some progress. The Government claim they will not increase regulated fares above inflation, and we will hold them to that promise, but may I remind the Transport Secretary of his comments from two years ago, when he said that Labour’s fares freeze
“would cost £1.8 billion over the lifetime of the next parliament and be paid for by more borrowing and higher taxes.”
Given that the black hole in Network Rail's finances will be plugged by £1.8 billion-worth of asset sales and £700 million of additional borrowing, has not this Government’s ostrich-like approach to the railways resulted in what the Transport Secretary’s own party might call more spending, more borrowing, and more debt?
We need investment in our rail network, both in HS2 and in the existing railways. I am proud of the fact that we saw record investment between 1997 and 2010. Our Government invested more in the railways, in real terms, than any previous Government, addressing the chronic maintenance backlog, replacing thousands of unsafe, slam-door Mark 1 coaches and ending the appalling safety crisis created by the disaster that was Railtrack. I am concerned that the Government’s programme has come to resemble not the much heralded “biggest investment since the Victorian era” that we have heard so much about, but the ill-prepared 1950s modernisation plan that did so much damage to support for the railways.
As we come to make the case for additional investment, we need Ministers to own up to the challenges that the programme continues to face, but again and again, the message is the same: they did not know; they were not responsible; and they were not there. We could ask what exactly Ministers were doing instead of keeping improvements on track, because they were not keeping an eye on the franchising programme, which collapsed in 2012 costing taxpayers more than £50 million, or on the allocation of trains in the north, as the Secretary of State approved the transfer of new rolling stock from TransPennine to the south, triggering a capacity crisis that cost taxpayers another £20 million to resolve. It seems that their focus was solely on privatising East Coast, a successful public sector rail operator, which delivered record passenger satisfaction and punctuality scores—
No, I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.
East Coast cut its fares in real terms in 2014 and reinvested all its profits in the service. As reported last week, it was delivering the best-ever service on the line in the weeks before it was sold. Instead of extending that successful model of public ownership to the other franchise services, the route was prioritised to be sold off. Worse, we now learn that Directly Operated Railways, East Coast’s parent company, has effectively been mothballed and its functions outsourced to companies with no experience of operating passenger services.
We are left in the absurd position of divesting our in-house railway expertise at precisely the moment that several franchises and contracting competitions appear to be in doubt. Now, on top of the damage already done, the Government are seriously considering privatising Network Rail. They have already tested the theory to destruction with Railtrack. A sell-off of Network Rail will put profit before passengers and risk dragging us back to the worst excesses of privatisation. I say to the Transport Secretary: do not go down this road. We know how it ends and we on the Labour Benches will oppose it all the way.
May I say how disappointing it was that the Scottish National party in government not only issued a conventional franchise for ScotRail, but passed up the opportunity to invite a public sector bidder for the contract? The franchise was awarded a full month after Gordon Brown, the former right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, made it clear that, on the forthcoming Smith agreement, enforced rail privatisation will be no more and the right to include a public sector option is currently before Parliament in the Scotland Bill. Labour urged the Scottish Government at the time to postpone the competition, but that call was rejected.
I thank the hon. Lady for so kindly giving way. I am pleased that she is addressing this part of the motion. I feel that the request is particularly ironic given that she talked about the powers that local government in England should have. The Scottish Parliament, and indeed the Scottish Government, do not have such powers. What she and her party are encouraging is the Scottish Government to break the law. Will she explain why that is the case?
Order. Before the hon. Lady answers the intervention, may I say that she has been very courteous in taking a lot of interventions—and it is indeed good to have a lively debate—but this debate has less than an hour and a half to run? The hon. Lady has spoken for some 25 minutes, and I am sure that she will be aware that there are many other people who wish to speak.
I will move towards finishing my speech, Madam Deputy Speaker.
It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not refer to the fact that the Labour Government fully devolved the ScotRail franchise, or that it was Labour that secured the change to the Railways Act 1993 through the Smith commission. The invitation to tender for the ScotRail franchise, issued by the SNP Government, said:
“Transport Scotland reserves the right to alter the timetable or the process, or to terminate this process at its sole discretion.”
There we have it. It was entirely in the Scottish Government’s power to wait until the 1993 Act could be amended, but they chose not to do so. There is nothing in the 1993 Act or in the ScotRail invitation to tender that prevented them from delaying the competition until section 25 of that Act was amended. It is regrettable to see the inaccurate amendment tabled by SNP Members.
It falls to Labour to set out the case for reforming our transport services and addressing the rising cost of public transport. It is what Labour is doing in local government, winning concessions from Whitehall. It is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) will do as Labour’s Mayor of London by putting bus and rail passengers first. We must play our part in Parliament too, and I urge Members to support the motion today.
I welcome the debate and I know that the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) cares very much about the subject. She has worked with us on the Bill for HS2, which is making good progress, and I thank the Opposition for their support on that vital project.
I also thank everyone in all parts of the transport industry who has been out this winter responding to the floods. It has not been easy, but good progress is being made. I was in Cumbria for the second time last week to see it at first hand. Over the Christmas period, Network Rail also successfully carried out its biggest ever works as part of the railway upgrade plan that is so essential to the future of the British rail industry. I pay tribute to the thousands of staff who gave up their Christmas to improve our railways.
Today, the hon. Lady asks about transport costs, and I am pleased she does. After all, the Opposition should know all about them, because when they were in office rail fares soared. In their last full year, regulated fares increased by up to 11% and between 2004 and 2010 they went up by about 4% a year—a total increase of some 26.4%. We have kept increases down. They have dropped steadily over the past five years and we have frozen increases at inflation for the whole of this Parliament, a promise made in our manifesto and kept in government, saving more than a quarter of a million season ticket holders an average of £425 over the next five years.
The Opposition should also know about the cost of driving. Fuel prices are down by almost 16% in real terms since 2010 and we abolished a number of the increases that were going to take place under the Labour Government.
Three Members are trying to get me to give way, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am mindful of the short time for this debate, and I am very sorry about that. I will take an intervention from the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), but then I will make progress.
Does the Secretary of State think that the cost of £964 for a season ticket from Streatham Common to London Victoria is good value for money in the light of the recent service that my constituents have been subjected to by Southern Railway? Will he give serious consideration to the breakup of the Govia Thameslink Railway franchise, which is clearly too big and too complex?
I will want to say something about the works on the rail network. The amount of work that is taking place will lead to some disruption but eventually will lead to a much better service for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. The huge investment in London Bridge, for example, will cause disruption while it is taking place. I wish that that was not necessary, but people will get a much better service than they had before those improvements.
I want to make some progress.
Fuel prices are down by nearly 16% since 2010. The cost of driving licences has been reduced, the cost of the theory test is being cut and we have taken action to bring down the cost of car insurance as well.
There is another thing that the Opposition do not like talking about—the cost to our country of lost investment when they were in office, and the cost to jobs, businesses and growth. Britain slipped from 7th to 33rd in the World Economic Forum’s infrastructure league table when they were in government. They cancelled more than 100 major road improvement projects and did not invest when they had the chance. They electrified just 10 miles of railways, less than one mile a year. I was going to say that it was a snail’s pace electrification, but I have checked, and that would be unfair to snails. They go faster than the previous Labour Government went on electrification. No Conservative Member will take lectures from the Opposition about electrification. They did not invest, and they made the task of rectifying their mistakes much more of a challenge. The real benefit cannot be felt until all this vital but disruptive work is completed. No wonder Labour has been so reluctant to debate transport in this House. The shadow Secretary of State’s immediate predecessor did not even have a debate on transport. In fact there have been only three debates on transport since 2010. That is obviously because the Opposition are so embarrassed by their own record, and so impressed by our record.
The shadow Secretary of State has served on the Opposition Front Bench on transport since 2011. She is the fourth shadow Secretary of State I have faced across the Dispatch Box, and in that time there have been about as many changes in opposition transport policy as there have been shadow Secretaries of State.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; I notice he has been avoiding me for the last five minutes. Will he have a look at the use of senior citizens cards, particularly in respect of certain rail companies? As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), some people badly need them; they do charity work and they need to come to London, but not at the times when senior citizens cards can be used. Will he have a look at that, and the different franchises and different uses?
I know the hon. Gentleman will want to support me wholeheartedly on creating more capacity. One way we are going to do that is by building HS2, which in the past he has not been quite so supportive of. It is very important that we look at these things, however, and of course I will look at the points he makes.
I really do need to make progress.
The shadow Secretary of State used to be in favour of rail franchising, but now she seems to be against it, although it is interesting to note that her party’s candidate for Mayor of London is apparently so keen on it that he wants Transport for London to bid for contracts in the private sector. In 2014, the shadow Secretary of State got one of our great private companies, Stagecoach, to sponsor her Christmas cards. I did not get one in 2015. Maybe this time it was sponsored by the RMT instead, because these days Labour has only one policy on transport: turn all the signals bright red—a policy that is going nowhere from a party that is getting nowhere.
Now of course the Labour party wants to impose yet another cost on hard-working people: the cost of strikes. We heard not a single word from the hon. Lady in her speech about the planned strikes next week on the underground—a party that will not even stand up for Londoners when the unions carry out a selfish and irresponsible strike. Well, this Government clearly stand on the side of Londoners and those who work in London. Will the hon. Lady condemn the planned strike on the underground? I will give way to her if she will. Will she condemn it? Silence. She is probably under orders from the shadow Chancellor to join the picket line, or does she agree with the Labour peer Lord Mendelsohn? My hon. Friends may not have heard this: Labour peer Lord Mendelsohn said strikes would be “economically efficient” because some travellers would discover better ways into work. That is Labour’s new policy: a strike that aims to stop Londoners getting new and better services.
Transport is central to Britain’s economy, and because we are dealing with the decline and deficit the Labour party left behind, we can afford to invest for growth. That means more jobs, more homes, and more businesses using our transport system, and more people too. Last year it carried more people than ever in its history: there were 1.65 billion journeys on the railway network, 316 billion vehicle miles on our roads, and over 1.3 billion journeys on the tube. This year, it will break that record again. That is why we are widening roads, building railways, opening up opportunities: a massive programme is under way now that means building Crossrail, completing Thameslink, electrifying the northern hub, starting HS2, record investment in local roads, setting up an independent National Infrastructure Commission under Lord Adonis, and getting on with the £15 billion road investment strategy, including the A358 and A27 that Labour pledged in its manifesto to cancel. There is £38.5 billion of investment in our railways, and 30% more on enhancements than Labour spent previously.
Indeed, the Opposition said they would take those roads out of the roads investment strategy.
Through our careful custodianship of the economy, we can afford to invest in the future. That is why some 4,000 new rail carriages for the national network are now on order, with most being built in Britain.
The hon. Member for Nottingham South talked about the need to help people up and down the country with transport costs, and I agree with her. That is why we are investing. In Nottingham, we have spent £150 million widening the A453, speeded up trains and rebuilt the station at a cost of more than £100 million, and extended the tram with a contribution of more than £370 million. That is more in six years for the people of Nottingham than in the previous 13 years of Labour government.
I welcome the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) to the Opposition Front Bench. I hope he lasts longer in the job than his predecessor, which will let him see the benefits of our investment in his constituency, including new intercity express programme trains, direct services from London on Virgin Trains East Coast, the removal of Pacer trains from the network and an upgrade to the A19 close by. I could go on. Other members of the Front-Bench team will benefit, too, with a £1.5 billion investment for the A14 and new Thameslink trains serving Cambridge, while Birmingham already has the upgrade to New Street station, services on Sunday from Longbridge and the M5 smart motorway programme.
That is the choice: under Labour, the cost of travel goes up and the cost of lost investment goes up too; under us, rail fares are capped, fuel prices go down and investment goes in.
My right hon. Friend knows that we in the Humber got the fluffy end of the lollipop under the last Government. The Humber bridge toll has been halved and we have got rail electrification and a number of road projects. On the subject of the cost of bus passes, will he acknowledge the incredible work done by Conservative North Lincolnshire Council, which reversed the 500% increase in the price of post-16 bus passes, cutting the cost from £180 under the Labour party to £30 under the Conservatives?
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I am mindful of the time. I know other hon. Members wish to speak, and I understand that there is to be a very important maiden speech.
On the east coast line, Virgin is bringing 23 new services a day from London, with more than 70 extra stops at stations. The hon. Member for Nottingham South is against that. There are plans for new direct services to Huddersfield, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Dewsbury and Thornaby, and more trains to London from Bradford, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Leeds, Lincoln, Newcastle, Shipley, Stirling and York. That is our plan to build for the future and support our great cities, too. Under this Government, that means city deals, new mayors, growth, a northern powerhouse and a transformation of the railways in the north.
In 2004, when Labour was in charge, it let the franchise for Northern rail on a zero-growth basis. That meant no investment, while fares were allowed to rise. It was a disgrace. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to apologise for the consequences. The cost was no new trains and massive overcrowding, with people expected to travel on worn-out Pacers. Just before Christmas, the Government let new franchises for Northern and TransPennine that will result in a £1.2 billion boost to rail services, 500 new carriages, 40,000 extra spaces for passengers and free wi-fi on trains and in stations. No wonder local Labour politicians in the north were lining up to praise the move. Liam Robinson, chairman of Merseytravel, said it was a “big step forward” and would “drive up standards”. Labour councillors including Peter Box, Richard Leese, Keith Wakefield and Nick Forbes praised the impact of devolution to Rail North. The RMT commented too, describing it as a “bitter blow”. Who does the hon. Lady agree with? Would she have signed that franchise contract—yes or no? Would the Opposition have walked away, leaving the north with nothing, just like they did last time? We bring the private and public sectors together in partnership, backing better services and growth.
The hon. Lady mentions buses. I am not clear what she wants. Does she want to nationalise them too? We are going to legislate so that cities can help shape their bus networks, working with the private sector. While her party was in office, bus use outside of London fell by 8%. In 2010 only 25% of buses outside London could take smart cards; now 89% can. Compared with 2010, buses are safer, with more CCTV, and they are busier and more accessible. The Government are supporting the vital work done by community transport organisations with a scheme to help them buy new minibuses. We have taken tough decisions on the economy, but protected concessionary travel across the country.
On road travel, we have reformed Highways England and set out the first-ever long- term investment programme. We are investing in local roads, with a record £6 billion of funding to tackle the menace of potholes, and a further £475 million for the larger road schemes that some towns so desperately need. On cycling, which the Opposition did not even mention in today’s motion, we have increased spending from the £2 a head that we inherited in 2010 to £6 a head today, and we will go further still.
That is the investment we need to help cut the cost of transport. We are getting on with Crossrail, which is on course to open two years from now. We are getting on with HS2, with construction starting in less than two years from now. A new National Infrastructure Commission has been established. Record investment is taking place and rail fare increases have been frozen in line with inflation. Transport is transforming our country, whereas Labour wants to go back to an age when train use fell, fares went up and investment was cut. This Government are optimistic about rail, roads, buses, cycling, and more importantly the British people. We are going to be trusting. We are going to see investment at a record level, which will be good for our cities and for our country right across the transport network. I urge the House to reject the motion.
I echo the sentiments of the Secretary of State regarding the staff who worked in the floods and the inclement weather over the Christmas and new year period on all networks to keep us moving and to help passengers as they travelled.
A debate on public transport is welcome. People need effective, regular and affordable public transport. In a debate such as this, they would expect the issue to be moved forward, although I am not sure they would have had that impression from the opening exchanges. Public transport is close to my heart and that of many of my hon. Friends. My constituency, in common with many of theirs, is mostly a rural community. Scotland has diverse public transport needs. Some places in Scotland and in other nations of the UK have no public transport—people can only use their cars, so it is not just the cost of public transport that matters to them, but the cost to the public of transport.
The motion could have benefited from the inclusion of other forms of transport that people need—and, indeed, rely on—in Scotland. For example, we do not see aviation as anything other than public transport. That is what it is. Marine transport is very important to us, and ferries are public transport too. As the Secretary of State said, the motion could have included public cycling schemes and public costs in relation to roads—tolls, for example. The need for major UK infrastructure projects to give proper consideration to Scotland could be debated. The debate could have been more inclusive and served a common purpose. It could have been more positive, seeking to benefit people.
Many local bus services in Scotland receive subsidies to ensure that uncommercial services can continue to operate as a public service. Figures from the House of Commons Library show that from 1995 to 2015, Scottish bus fares went from being 10% higher than those in England to being lower. Since 2007, bus fares in Scotland have risen by 5% less than in England. Since 2010, bus fares in Scotland have risen by 4.6%; in England over the same period, they have risen by 7.0%. The Scottish Government have invested a quarter of a million pounds every year through the bus service operators grant and concessionary travel scheme. That has helped 1.3 million older and disabled people to live more connected, healthier lives.
In aviation, there are direct flights to over 32 countries, and we have the successful ongoing work to improve long-haul connections to Scotland and connectivity through world hubs. We plan to use changes to air passenger duty to improve the situation for the travelling public by reducing their costs, and to help businesses, including in tourism and food and drink, by growing key sectors of our economy and giving better choice to our people. This is all for the people of Scotland. We are working to achieve guaranteed levels of access between Scotland and London. The Scottish Government acquired Glasgow Prestwick airport to safeguard 3,200 jobs and to secure vital infrastructure as an asset that contributes more than £61 million annually to the Scottish economy.
We have invested in roads to ensure that Scotland has a modern transport infrastructure for the 21st century. The SNP Scottish Government have a clear policy against the use of road pricing and tolls, now and at any time in future, and we have abolished all road tolls on bridges in Scotland. We are delivering the £1.4 billion new Forth crossing at Queensferry, which is on track to be completed by the end of 2016—again, with no tolls for the public.
In marine transport, Ministers in the Scottish Government have invested more than £145 million in piers and harbours, with £8.6 million going to Stornoway harbour to accommodate the new Ullapool-Stornoway vessel, MV Loch Seaforth. Since 2007, we have invested almost £1 billion in ferry services, including the road equivalent tariff and six new ferries. That is investment of over £100 million. We have introduced into the network of services operated by CalMac a third hybrid—MV Catriona, which was launched at Ferguson marine shipyard in Port Glasgow in December 2015. On 16 October 2015, Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd was awarded contracts worth £97 million to build two £100 million ferries with a delivery date in 2017-18. The First Minister of Scotland confirmed just yesterday that Dundee’s central waterfront infrastructure would be the latest Scottish Government project to be delivered on budget and ahead of schedule. This includes a re-rationalised road layout and is part of the £1 billion, 8 km Dundee waterfront project, which will create 7,000 new jobs.
Let me come to the interesting one: rail franchising. On this important issue—the public outside this Chamber will not understand this—Labour Members have chosen to attack the Scottish Government, not the UK Government whom they are supposed to be opposing. Every time they take a wee excursion up the branch line, they end up embarrassing themselves and the branch office in Scotland. Frankly, they are embarrassing everyone. The purpose of opposition, surely, is to build alliances to hold the Government to account. What a missed opportunity! The SNP is the effective Opposition in this Chamber. The Government realise that, which is why they are going at us day after day, every day—they spend more time on us now. Labour Members have deliberately inserted a line in this motion—a complete falsehood, by the way—that makes it impossible for us to support them in the Lobby tonight. Imagine that! People are looking on, and they see this shambles for what it is. They are switched on like never before, and they are continuing to lose respect for Labour, given stunts like these.
Let me tell the House about the Scottish Government and rail policy. The UK Government oversee a perverse system that forbids publicly owned UK bodies to bid on rail franchises while having overseas nationalised services such as Deutsche Bahn or France’s SNCF running franchises in the UK. We believe that public sector organisations should be able to bid to operate rail services, as allowed in EU law but currently prevented by UK legislation. That is a lesson for Labour Members. That approach would enable us to ensure the delivery of all rail services in Scotland and to deliver maximum economic and social benefit for our people.
Labour has used this motion to attack the SNP Government for awarding the ScotRail franchise from 2015 to 2025 to Abellio. Labour knows very well that the Railways Act 1993, enacted by John Major’s Government, specifically forbids UK publicly owned companies from bidding. It is a matter of rhetoric versus record.
The Labour party has put me in the position of having to agree with a member of the Cabinet. Imagine that—what an absolute shambles!
The Labour party spent 13 years in government without ever changing the situation, even though it heavily amended the 1993 Act with the Transport Act 2000 and the Railways Act 2005. Even though it had the power, it did absolutely nothing to repeal the 1993 Act.
This is not the first time we have heard such nonsense from the Labour party. Its leader is not so new to his position now, but not long after taking the leadership he told Marr:
“Listen I’ve been in Scotland a lot of times during the leadership campaign…I’m going to be in Scotland a great deal as leader of the party.”
We shall see whether that happens. He went on to say:
“Yes the SNP have a headline of being opposed to austerity—fine. The SNP are also privatising CalMac, also were behind the privatisation of ScotRail”.
What a pile of nonsense! Like successive Scottish Executives before them, the Scottish Government were simply following the tendering process that they are required to follow in EU law.
Does my hon. Friend recall that, once upon a time, the Labour party was in power in Scotland as well as down here? At no point did it make any effort to allow the Scottish Parliament to take the railways into some kind of public ownership.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Labour made no effort in government either here or in Scotland to do anything about that and, as I have said, it knows very well that the 1993 Act forbids the Scottish Government to do it.
As I have said, there was a fabrication by the Labour leader. He said that the SNP was behind the privatisation of ScotRail. Did he mean the 1993 Act introduced by John Major? There was not even a Scottish Parliament at that time, but let us not let the truth or the law get in the way of anything.
The Labour leader says that his party supports rail renationalisation, but where was that support when every single amendment that the SNP tabled to the Scotland Bill was voted down in this House? Clause 54 of the Bill will allow for the Scottish Government to consider bids from public operators. That was included in the SNP-Scottish Government submission to the Smith commission, but we tried to go further. We tabled a new clause to devolve rail services in Scotland, giving Scottish Ministers full powers and the flexibility to decide who would run such services. Like every other SNP amendment to the Scotland Bill, it was voted down by English MPs.
That new clause would also have disapplied the provisions of the 1993 Act and allowed for direct awards to be made for the operation of rail passenger services to the fullest extent permissible under the law. It would have allowed us to adjust the current ticketing system, which over-subsidises profits while having—to put it mildly—an arcane and unintuitive fare system.
An anytime single ticket from London to Edinburgh costs £140.50, while one from London to Newcastle— 100 miles south of Edinburgh—costs £138, £2.50 less. A similar ticket from London to Aberdeen, which is 100 miles north of Edinburgh, costs £157.50. That means that one journey of 100 miles costs £2.50, while another costs £9. It just does not make sense. Frequently, it is cheaper to split a ticket than to buy a direct one. A single from King’s Cross to Edinburgh costs £95, while often, but not always, a King’s Cross to York ticket and a York to Edinburgh ticket cost £66 in total. We could have done something to sort that out.
Let me just say that the Scottish Government and the SNP will take no lessons from the Labour leader when it comes to investing in Scotland. With such a lack of understanding, even of the basics, it is no wonder that, according to a recent Survation poll, his approval rating in Scotland is minus 17%, while that of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is plus 27%.
As we have already established, the issue of public ownership is out of the hands of the Scottish Government, so I want to finish by talking for a moment about the rail franchise in Scotland. The Scottish Government welcomed Abellio to the ScotRail franchise because it has moved its UK headquarters to Glasgow—creating 50 new jobs, in addition to securing another 150 jobs from First. As a result of the new deal, passengers and staff will enjoy a range of benefits: advance fares from £5 for journeys between Scottish cities; a commitment to earnings of at least the living wage—the living wage in Scotland, by the way—for all staff and contractors; at least 100 apprenticeships; a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies; protection for rail staff pensions and travel rights; free wi-fi on trains; a new approach to cycling, with more than 3,500 parking spaces, and bike hire at a number of stations, which should be compared with Southern; 80 new trains due to arrive at start of December 2017; and 23% more carriages across the network.
The Scottish Government’s record on rail consists of a commitment to a £5 billion programme of investing in Scotland’s railways over the five years to 2019, including £170 million on the Aberdeen to Inverness rail upgrade and £300 million to open the Airdrie-Bathgate rail link in 2010, which will provide a passenger service between north Lanarkshire and west Lothian for the first time in 54 years. Since privatisation, rail fares have been regulated by the Government to limit the size of increases on key tickets, but they have increased in real terms since the early years of this century. In January 2013, fares across all operators were 23% higher than they were in January 1995, with an average annual increase of 1.2%.
I will finish on this point. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] It is nice to be appreciated. This is the story of a Government who invest in public transport for their people. The Scottish Government’s budget has been cut by £12.5% since 2010—£1 in every £8 has gone—for unnecessary ideological austerity. Despite that, the SNP Scottish Government are still investing in infrastructure. Having already invested £15 billion in transport since 2007, they are committed to the largest transport investment programme that Scotland has ever seen, despite these relentless Westminster budget cuts.
I want to make a short speech and I will be very brief, because I know that the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) is waiting to make his maiden speech. All of us remember that feeling, so it is important that he gets to say his bit.
I would obviously have liked to talk about the fantastic Birmingham International airport, but I will save that for another debate. Instead, I will talk about some of the great rail links from Redditch to the west midlands area. My constituents can live in the lovely town of Redditch, while being able to travel to Birmingham to work. In 2014, a passing loop became operational in Alvechurch, meaning that there are now three trains an hour between Redditch and Birmingham. That makes it as easy to get there as to get to the midlands. On top of that is the £750 million refurbishment of Birmingham New Street International, including a brand-new John Lewis store, which is absolutely fantastic. Some £13 million has been awarded to the west midlands to run schemes until December 2017. The schemes cover upgrading ticket vending machines on the Redditch line, which includes making them contactless; fitting CCTV equipment to all trains on the line to ensure passenger safety; and equipping staff with technology to enable them to give customers up-to-date, live running information.
Transport needs joined-up thinking across the midlands. I welcome the devolution deal that was signed in November, which will power the midlands engine. The west midlands was the first region outside the north to sign a devolution deal with an elected mayor. The new authority, which includes Redditch, will take an overview of transport in the region, including the HS2 growth strategy.
Before I finish, I will say a bit about HS2. I am, and always have been, a huge fan of the project. The HS2 headquarters is moving to my region and huge investment is being put into the project. The project is often talked about as if it is all about speed, but it is about having the capacity on our railways to ensure that the transport network is fit for purpose. We talk a lot in this House about rebalancing the economy, and I believe that HS2 can help us do it.
There are two sides to every story. I want to put it on the record that Redditch and my region are benefiting from extra investment in the transport system after years of under-investment, and they will continue to do so for many years to come under this Government.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech in this debate.
First, I should pay tribute to Michael Meacher, not simply because it is customary to do so, but because Michael was a dear friend to the people of Chadderton, Oldham and Royton. He will be missed and remembered locally, and by Members of this House, for decades to come.
I thank the voters of Oldham West and Royton for putting their trust in me as their representative here. I will work hard to make sure that I live up to that trust, along with my colleagues. From a Labour party point of view, we have shown what we can achieve when we pull together as a family. The result was very impressive for the Labour family.
As I stand here today, I reflect on the remarkable story—I would say that, wouldn’t I?—of a young boy from Miles Platting in Manchester who is now standing here in the House of Commons. The street where I grew up as a child no longer exists, but the values of hard work and courage instilled in me by my parents remain.
The borough of Oldham and its seven towns, with their culture, community and comradeship, have played a defining part in the history of our country. Oldham’s values of hard work, grit and integrity speak to the heart of British values—values that are exemplified in all of Oldham’s great and diverse communities today.
Chadderton secured its historical place through aviation, among other things. It made the world-famous Lancaster bomber. In its heyday, the Greengate site employed 20,000 people. When its doors closed in 2012, the 1,500 staff who remained moved out. That was a very sad day for the people of the town.
Our engineering and manufacturing base included the world-famous Ferranti, which was famous for making the components for the world’s first computer, and Platt Brothers, which was once famous for being the largest engineering plant in Europe. Both are now gone.
Royton has a little in common with this place. You may remember the rhyme, Mr Deputy Speaker, “Remember, remember the 26th of November”—26 November 1884, that is, when the gunpowder plot unfolded in Royton town hall, blowing off the windows and doors. Interestingly, it was led by a gangmaster who was campaigning against measures in the Factory Acts that banned children under 10 years old from working in the mills.
Many people here will know Oldham as an industrial giant, and it was. It was the king of cotton. In its heyday, the town spun more than 17 million spindles, which was more than the whole of the United States and 80% of the total number in the UK. For too many people, the Oldham of yesterday was built on exploitation, with very little regard for quality of life or fairness. People came from countries right around the world to make a better life for themselves, but do you know what the truth is? People struggled. They struggled in desperate poverty, while a lot of the money left town.
The exploitation did not stop in Oldham. Feeding the 17 million spindles required a lot of cotton, which was picked in the fields of the American south. As the machines raged on in 1860, it took 200,000 black slaves to pick enough cotton to feed the mills. So there was exploitation at home, exploitation abroad, and with the money taking leave from the town.
Today, hard-fought battles for better living standards, a welfare state that is there when people need it, and decent homes, are being eroded. People are seeing vital services—in some cases their lifeline—being taken away. For too many people, work does not pay and they cannot make ends meet.
People might think that I am painting Oldham as having been beaten, but mark my words: we are far from beaten. We have courage and determination. If our past successes were built on the industrial revolution, our future will be secured through solid hard work—an industrious revolution. Our town is going from strength to strength. We are rebuilding, attracting investment and creating new jobs. We can be proud of what we have achieved in recent years, but too often it feels as if we are doing it alone, and it should not be that way. Devolution must be more than a love affair with the big cities; it must deliver and provide a decent settlement for towns and districts. I want Oldham to flourish and to be the place we know it can be—a place where my sons, Jack and Harry, and the other 57,000 young people will be proud to call home.
With new powers devolved to Greater Manchester, the challenge is not simply one of good administration, but also of strong political leadership. We have shown that we can get things done. The continued expansion of the Metrolink tram system will certainly accelerate economic growth. We must also push for the future and for cross-borough expansion, and I will use this opportunity to lay down a marker for the Ashton loop line from Ashton town centre to Oldham Mumps, and for a Middleton spur from Oldham Westwood through Middleton and on to the Bury line, connecting the north-east conurbation of Greater Manchester. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State will realise that until Friday I was the council member responsible for transport in Greater Manchester, although given his interest in the northern powerhouse, our paths never crossed. [Laughter.] Perhaps he will be charitable in return, given that this is my maiden speech.
As we rightly fight to end the north-south divide in the UK, we know that infrastructure investment can help address Greater Manchester’s own north-south divide. Such investment would benefit not just Oldham, but Rochdale, Tameside and—importantly—the north of the city of Manchester. As we rightly point out the imbalance in the UK, we cannot ignore domestic matters closer to home in Greater Manchester. For every 10 jobs that were created in south Manchester in the last decade, only one was created in the north of the conurbation. We cannot carry on like that if devolution is to be a success.
I believe in devolution and will continue to fight for power to be moved away from Whitehall to empower communities—to be honest, devolution as it stands today does not empower those communities. As the former leader of Oldham Council, I worked with others to rally support for devolution to Greater Manchester, and I worked hard to ensure a clear vision for Oldham. It was important to sign up to the deal with the Chancellor, because it is far better to have devolution on terms that we do not necessarily agree with, than to have no devolution at all. It would also be wrong not to challenge where we know that things do not work, and not to push harder when needed.
Without a clear national framework for devolution, it is for the Chancellor to pick and choose who he deals with and what is on offer. The hallmark of devolution so far has been a Treasury power grab from other ministries. The Chancellor had the opportunity to devolve real financial freedoms, but he chose not to. He is quick to give away the power of his fellow Ministers—I am sure Conservative Members will be concerned about that—but evidence suggests that he is not that keen on giving away his own power. Without genuinely reforming central Government and addressing fair funding, the northern powerhouse as a brand is meaningless.
People in Oldham see that the magistrates court and the county court are closing. We do not have a single police custody cell open for a town of nearly 250,000 people. People see youth centres closing, libraries closing, day care centres closing, thousands of staff displaced or sacked, and our positive endeavours for regeneration blocked by central Government. And we are meant to be at the heart of the northern powerhouse!
The political challenge of our time is not how we divide to rule, but how we unite and forge a future where every man, woman and child sees that they have a stake in that future; where there is more to life—there has to be more to life—than just getting by and making ends meet. Oldham MP Winston Churchill once said:
“no one can come into close contact with the working folk of Lancashire without wishing them well”.
I agree with that; it is true. But well-wishers alone are simply not enough. The dark satanic mills that marked the skyline in Churchill’s time have by and large now gone and we are a long way from realising our own Jerusalem. Friends, let us not cease from mental fight, nor shall our swords sleep in our hands, till we have built Jerusalem in Oldham’s green and pleasant land.
May I say what a pleasure it was to listen to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon)? It was an excellent maiden speech. As everyone in the Chamber knows, it is usually a nightmare to make your first speech in this Chamber. The way in which the hon. Gentleman delivered his speech, without showing a single nerve, justifies the reputation that outsiders from the south like me heard about in the run-up to the by-election: that he was a highly effective leader of his local council in Oldham. He is not a loss to Oldham and he is certainly a gain to the House of Commons. We look forward to his future contributions to our debates.
I read the motion very carefully and I listened to the shadow Secretary of State with great interest and growing amazement. I noticed that she was able to make her speech while keeping a straight face. It was quite incredible. Here is a motion which, if we look at the parts relating to the railways, is basically, in nice cuddly words, suggesting that we renationalise them. Many of my hon. Friends, and certainly the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton, are too young to remember the days of British Rail, but the way that history has been rewritten to suggest that everything was wonderful under that monolithic organisation is extraordinary. It was late, expensive, the sandwiches curled up at the ends, and it did not provide a fit-for-purpose rail system for this country.
I am not going to rehearse, owing to the shortness of time, what has happened since rail privatisation. What I will say is that because of the private sector and the Government, there has been massive investment in our rail network. Because I am more generous than the Labour Front-Bench spokesmen, I accept that the previous Labour Government began the process of reinvesting in our railways to make them fit for purpose. I would ask, however, that they be equally generous in accepting that we are spending billions and billions of pounds, from a variety of sources, to invest in building on that improvement, to make sure that we have a proper rail service. In control period 5, £38 billion is being spent.
More has to be done, of course, but we are investing in the future and in passengers to ensure that we have a proper railway. Anyone who suggests going back to a nationalised rail service is living in cloud cuckoo land and is driven by dogma, not reality.
May I say what a pleasure it is to follow our new Labour colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon)?
I will be as quick as I can. My main contention is that the cost of travelling on the train to and from my constituency on Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express services through London and the south-east, is a complete and utter rip off, given the dreadful service commuters have been receiving over the past few weeks and months. I stand not to make party political points; I and commuters just want answers.
I pay tribute to Transport Focus, Martin Abrams and everyone at the Campaign for Better Transport who have been highlighting the hell experienced by commuters. According to Transport Focus’s most recent passenger satisfaction survey, GTR scored worst for overall satisfaction. According to Which? it is third from bottom out of 21 services. According to Network Rail’s public performance measure for this franchise, the percentage of GTR trains that arrive at the terminating station on time is rock bottom. And Network Rail is not without blame. According to the most recent statistics—for December and January—55% of delays are attributed to Network Rail.
Members on both sides of the House who have had meetings with executives of the companies have received excuse after excuse and broken promise after broken promise, but we have seen no change whatsoever. Instead, we are given excuses about big transformation works at London Bridge causing problems, industrial relations issues, historical under-investment in infrastructure and the complexities of running a big franchise. That is all well and good, but other transport operators face exactly the same challenges and provide a better service. This company has failed to recruit drivers and failed properly to maintain its rolling stock. People deserve answers, so instead of the same old excuses, I want a proper deadline set for GTR to provide a decent service to constituents; I would like suburban and London transport rail services transferred to TfL in the medium term; and I would like to see Crossrail 2 come to my constituency. Once we get decent services, perhaps Ministers can argue that almost £1,000 for a season ticket from my constituency to London Victoria is justified.
I want to talk about the midland main line, the situation of which has been well charted, and the important reason why this project will go ahead, notwithstanding what is in the motion. The reason it will go ahead is that Derby is a centre of excellence for the rail industry and rail innovation: more than 200 companies around Derby operate solely within the rail industry. We are the best placed area in the whole country when it comes to opportunities for training, innovation, for a college—for whatever it might be. I think the Government ought to listen more carefully in terms of the opportunities for people growing up in Derbyshire who understand rail and have it in their DNA. We must get the best products, whether for Crossrail 2, Crossrail 3, HS2 or HS3, going up to Scotland, which we all want to see. I think that these are fantastic opportunities.
I will not take up any more time, other than to congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on his excellent maiden speech. It was a pleasure to hear so much history, but he has got a bit of doing to do in the future as well.
I promise to be snappy, but first may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on his fantastic maiden speech? It was a pleasure to be in the Chamber for it. His experience, his background, his love for his constituency and home—it all shone through in his speech. I know he will make a huge contribution to this place.
With a constituency on the border with England, one never misses an opportunity to talk about rail, yes, but about the Severn bridge tolls too, which are the subject of many questions to Transport Ministers and of many debates here. I know that this will continue until we know the Government’s plans for tolling in the future when the bridge is returned to public ownership. About 12,000 people in Newport and Monmouthshire commute to work over the bridges every day. As ably highlighted by our Front-Bench team in today’s debate, the cost of commuting has increased substantially.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only those living in her constituency who are affected, because every person who travels over the bridge into God’s own country is exploited by the exorbitant tolls, which act as a deterrent to trade and tourism?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank her for adding weight to the campaign to lower the Severn bridge tolls, which is much appreciated.
My constituents are basically trapped: they must either pay rising fail fares or the Severn bridge tolls. Commuters, as well articulated by our Front-Bench team, face ever-rising rail fares. Since 2010, season tickets for commuters have risen by 25%. Newport to London commuters face having to pay £2,000 a year more than in 2010, and the cost of travelling from Newport to Bristol Temple Meads has gone up by 27%—a £500 increase. Demand for these services is growing fast, yet we see no improvement in services. Trains are heavily overcrowded, and there are frequently not enough carriages, especially for those getting on at the Severn Tunnel junction in my constituency. I get that feedback every week: carriages are overflowing and constituents are often left on the platform when there is insufficient capacity to take them.
There is an alternative—crossing the Severn bridges, and this is probably the local issue that is raised with me most frequently. Since 2011, the bridge tolls have gone up by 20% for cars. This matters for my Newport East constituents, when those in full-time work have seen only a 2.4% increase in their wages. The fundamental point is that the money taken by the Severn River Crossing is protected from inflationary pressures, while my constituents’ wages are not.
Tolls on the Severn bridges are the most expensive in the UK. The Western Mail said a few years ago that they were the most expensive per mile in the world. I very much look forward to seeing Transport Ministers tackling that issue for my constituents. We need to know very soon what the Government’s plans are, as they affect the rail services or the Severn bridge tolls, as we reach the bridges’ return to public ownership in 2018.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on his excellent speech. I am sure he will be joining the Opposition Front-Bench team a lot sooner than is customary—he certainly made an excellent speech.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) pretty much laid out exactly what I intended to say about investment in the railways. I can tell my right hon. Friend that I am just about old enough to remember British Rail. I remember the fact that if people were wearing a light-coloured suit or trousers, they would be dirty when they got up. I remember lice coming off the back of the chairs, and I remember carriages literally covered in excrement and never cleaned.
That was the state of the railways when they were in public hands. It was not invested in, and there can be no doubt that over these last 20 years, the standard of the railways, of the rolling-stock and of the whole thing has moved forward. We simply do not hear on the comedy circuit the British rail catering jokes that we used to hear 20 years ago, because it has improved and become a thing of the past.
On the issue of investment, when we talk about what is happening with the railways—there is still a lot of work to do, and I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench are looking carefully at what happens with ticketing—we should bear in mind that we need to create more track and more rail. My city of Leeds, for example, shows that an integrated tram-train system that can use the heavy rail and operate in the city centre is vital. That will never be built by Government through public ownership. It can be built only by attracting investment from the private sector to run, operate and get it going, so that people can make cheaper journeys into the city centre than they have to make now. It can be more reliable and once there cannot be moved. I just wanted to make that brief point that investment in the railways is vital and simply cannot be delivered via public ownership, as was proved time and again under British Rail.
It was a delight to hear the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon). He made an insightful contribution not only to the debate in the Chamber, but to the debate in and around Greater Manchester.
Let me make three very quick points. First, I am extremely concerned about the fact that rail fares have rocketed by a staggering 25% since 2010. Many of my constituents rely on rail travel, not least to commute in and out of Manchester and, indeed, Greater Manchester. Secondly, I am concerned about the Government’s use of the retail prices index to calculate rises in regulated fares. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether he thinks that that is fair.
Thirdly, perhaps the Minister will explain to me and to my constituents why they pay 20% more in fares than Bolton constituents pay for a similar journey. A peak return fare from Bolton to Manchester Victoria will set Bolton constituents back £6.40, but my constituents pay £7.70 for the similar journey from Rochdale to Manchester Victoria. Why is that? Richard Greenwood, chairman of the Support the Oldham Rochdale Manchester rail lines group, has said that the fares in my constituency are “artificially high”. That level of fares applies almost nowhere else in the country, and I see no fit reason for it to apply to Rochdale either. Perhaps the Minister will share his thoughts.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), and I wish him well for the securing of his Metrolink extensions. A wish that I expressed in my maiden speech came true, and I hope that he has similarly good fortune.
In the brief time that is available to me, I want to inject a degree of realism into the debate about rail fares. Let me say first that whoever owns the railways, there is a balance to be struck between what the passenger contributes and what is funded from general taxation. If, as the motion suggests, Labour Members want the passenger contribution to decrease, they must either say which taxes will be increased to pay for that, or spell out which part of current spending on the railways will be cut.
The vast majority of the income from the fares that are currently paid—more than three quarters—is spent on staff salaries, and I cannot imagine that Labour Members would want those to be cut. Some of the income is spent on maintaining and improving the track—we have the safest railways in Europe, and I cannot imagine that Labour Members want to compromise that—and some is spent on investment in new rolling stock, new stations, new lines and electrification. The profit margin is tiny: 3% of every pound that is spent. That funds innovation and development in the railways, which has doubled in the last 20 years. That is the reality of the railways today.
I had hoped that we could have a more sensible debate about the new technology and innovations on the railways, but time did not permit it. The philosophical debate about renationalising the railways has obliterated the time in which we could have talked about that issue, but it is what we should be talking about.
Finally, I want to knock on the head the myth that Britain has the highest rail fares in Europe. That is simply not the case. I invite Members to look at a wonderful website, The Man in Seat Sixty-One. The man in question compares the cost of rail journeys across Europe, and Members will find that in 85% of cases, United Kingdom rail fares are either the same as or cheaper than those on the continent.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), and welcome him to the House. I also congratulate him on the thumping that he gave UKIP at the by-election, which was pleasing for all SNP Members. I regret, however, the rather infantile manner in which his party has approached the debate.
I would never trust the Tories with the railways, but, frankly, I would not trust Labour Members with a train set, given the way in which they have conducted themselves this evening. The mistake that they have made in their motion is a schoolboy howler. They have accused the Scottish Government of not using a power which that Government do not have, and which, moreover, every single Labour Member—with the exception of the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton—voted explicitly, along with the Conservatives, to prevent Scotland from having during the debate on Scotland Bill. They almost give brass necks a bad name.
In all seriousness, there are two things that my constituents would want me to mention tonight. The first is smart ticketing. It is about time that people travelling by rail or bus, or both, were able to experience their journey right from the point of payment in a way that befits the century they are travelling in. People want to be able to use apps on their smartphones to make life easier, rather than hanging around queueing for a piece of paper to allow them to travel.
My second point, which I have made many times in this Chamber, relates to HS2. We want to see Scotland connected to London and to the great cities of the north, irrespective of our constitutional opinion, because London is our closest world financial capital. We want Scotland and London to benefit from greater connectivity. We want the United Kingdom to up its game so that we can have a high-speed network that serves the whole of the British Isles and not just a small part of them. We need to catch up with France, Spain and China and we need to take the high-speed debate seriously. Like the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), I regret that we have not had enough time for a serious debate on these issues. I can only hope that we will have such an opportunity soon.
I should also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on a most memorable maiden speech.
Like it or not, this Government have launched the largest modernisation of the railways since Victorian times. An integrated and reliable rail service with stations fit for the 21st century is crucial to economic growth. The electrification of the Great Western line is mentioned in the motion and it has continually been spoken about in a damaging manner by Opposition Members. The Prime Minister has committed to the electrification of the line to Swansea, as have the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport. Indeed, the project was confirmed by the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), only last week in this Chamber.
Under this Conservative Government, the Great Western line will be electrified all the way to Swansea. Under 13 years of Labour rule, how much of that line in Wales was electrified? Not a single mile. For all the bravado from Labour Members, they have absolutely no record in government to support their assertions. That stands in stark contrast to this Government’s record and their commitment to Wales and to my constituency.
The record of the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff speaks for itself. The integrated transport system in Wales is poor, in the sense that it simply does not exist as a fully integrated transport system. We need look no further than the bus system in Wales to see the issues that many people there face, particularly those in rural communities. When Sustrans gave evidence at the Welsh Assembly Enterprise and Business Committee in October 2015, it said of the bus sector:
“The current state of the sector is evidently not successful, as shown by the decline in bus usage compared to other areas of the United Kingdom.”
Wales lags behind the rest of the UK on nearly every economic measure, and three rounds of EU structural funds have resulted in almost nothing in the way of major transport infrastructure projects that could really benefit the Welsh economy. However, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for initiating the electrification of the line to Swansea.
One minute will be just enough to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon). I would like to thank him for a brilliant maiden speech and to welcome him to the exclusive group of by-election MPs. I also fully support any projects relating to the Middleton spur.
Ministers say that passengers need to realise that they are paying “fair fares for a comfortable commute”, but none of us has to look far in our own constituencies to find examples of run-down, overcrowded, overpriced and infrequent services. In my constituency, there is only one bus from Heywood to our major city, Manchester, where many of my constituents work and study. At peak times, the bus is overcrowded and the 12-mile journey can take up to 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Passengers were always told that higher fares would pay for improvements, but the link between fare rises and investment has been broken. Just recently, the Department for Transport made it clear that it wanted a significant expansion of driver-only operation on our trains, with no guard on board to assist passengers. That is a really retrograde step for passenger safety. I shall not take up any more time, but I would like to ask the Government and the Department to reconsider their decision on driver-only operation.
Transport is essential in providing people with access to work, learning, healthcare, food shops and leisure activities, especially in rural constituencies such as mine. But the reality is that the elderly, the young and the unemployed, who rely on public transport, struggle to reach hospitals, schools, jobcentres and the like. Because of cost and accessibility, most rural households are dependent on cars, and because alternatives are limited or non-existent, rural drivers are left doing more driving, spending more on fuel and paying higher fuel costs. Rising motoring costs will undermine the sustainability of rural communities and lead to increased social exclusion, with resulting decline in rural shops and services being accelerated.
Cost has a great impact on public transport, but there is a fundamental difference between mobility and accessibility. Some rural areas are already suffering from population decline, poverty and deprivation, and people there are less likely to be able to afford a car and rely on public transport. Limited public transport results in an increase in isolation and further decline—in my constituency, some villages no longer exist.
We have already discussed the Labour party being in power for 13 years and not addressing the issue mentioned in its motion today, but a change in the legislation would enable us in Scotland to ensure the delivery of a rail service with the maximum social and economic benefits that addresses our specific needs. Instead of attacking the Scottish Government for something they have absolutely no control over, perhaps Members on both sides of this House should be applauding them for what they have achieved, despite constant Westminster cuts. Better still, they should devolve these powers to Scotland and let us get on with it.
As we debate the cost of travel, thousands of our fellow citizens, in all our constituencies, are in buses, on trains or on roads, in cars or on bikes. The quality of our transport system makes a difference to each of their lives every day, which is why this debate matters. That was brought home to me on the first day of this year, when I was sitting on a train on the way to Ipswich to join Labour campaigners protesting about the ever-rising cost of rail fares. Across the aisle from me, a young woman who worked in a supermarket near Ipswich station was telling her friend, glumly, about the shock she got when she purchased her ticket that morning. It had cost an extra 60p, so it would be an extra three quid a week— £3 out of not much left over. There will have been similar stories on trains and buses up and down the country. For millions of our constituents, every penny counts, and in today’s debate we have not heard enough about the problems on buses, in particular.
Let me start by welcoming the first contribution made in this place by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon). Members have expressed their appreciation before for his revered predecessor, who has quite a successor. Like many colleagues, I enjoyed campaigning in my hon. Friend’s constituency in the autumn and noted that before coming to Parliament he had already made a powerful impact on the national scene through his inspirational work leading the local council. His powerful contribution today pointed out some of the very real contradictions and weaknesses in the Government’s devolution policies.
Despite the lack of time, we heard other excellent contributions today, including those from my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), who outlined the very poor services from which his constituents are suffering at the moment, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), who talked about the challenges facing her constituents. What they all confirmed was what we already knew, which is that rail and bus fares have shot up since the Conservative party came to power. We all trade figures on these things, but the key one is the comparison between fares and wages: what it really costs people. The truth is that fares have risen three times faster than wages, and that is why it hurts.
There are, however, some who do not feel the pain. The Secretary of State clearly seems impervious to it. Several months ago, he said:
“More transport, better transport...Under our Conservative majority government it's happening.”
Has he really forgotten about the broken election pledges to electrify key routes in the midlands and the north just weeks after the ballot boxes had closed? Or do the Government say that this was just paused? Is it not interesting how Governments introduce new words into the political lexicon. The word “paused” sounds so innocuous but it could ultimately be this Government’s epitaph: a country on pause.
We now have a rail investment programme delayed by years; more than two thirds of councils cutting local bus services; and more than 2,400 local authority-supported bus routes cut or downgraded. We could go on a national tour of bus shelters where there are no buses—perhaps they are paused, too.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Will he comment on the introduction of a fare increase by stealth? People expect rail fares to go up once a year on the first day back in January, but we must not forget that, a year ago in September, this Government introduced an evening peak on Northern Rail, which hit part-time workers and students in particular and caused chaos in railway stations across the north.
Indeed, and my hon. Friend makes a very strong point.
When it comes to buses in particular, we know that the Conservative party always talks about local decisions. The truth is that, by slashing funding to local councils, the Government are passing the buck. It is no good Government Members complaining about problems with their services, as famously the Prime Minister did, when they just troop through the Lobby imposing cuts on local councils. They really must take some responsibility.
We on Labour’s Benches strongly believe in the principle of local communities having a say over their public transport, and we have long been committed to that, but what the Government are offering for bus services is a sham. They are giving localities power with one hand while taking funding away with the other. With a 37% reduction in central Government funding to English local authorities over the course of the previous Parliament, and a further reduction of 24% to come, local authorities have been left with little choice but to cut to the bone.
For Labour, the devolution agenda seems to be little more than a front for public transport funding cuts and fare increases. As Labour Members have observed before, this is not so much a northern powerhouse, as a northern power cut. Whatever the Government spin on being in for a penny, in for a pound, it is clear that the link between fare rises and investment has been broken.
When the Government’s bus service operators grant, which is effectively used to subsidise bus services, was cut by 20% after 2010, the Department for Transport warned that small towns, and particularly rural areas, would be worst affected. It certainly got that right— they were.
What needs to be done? The answer is this: not carry on as we are. It has been fascinating to watch the delicate U-turn being carried out in the DfT as it grasps that the Treasury has finally cottoned on to the fact that we are being taken for a ride by many of the bus operators. It is an irony, is it not, that the Government are now looking to pursue Labour’s policy of bus reregulation? In the past, they were totally opposed to such deregulation. In fact, in the previous Parliament, they directly punished those areas that attempted to pursue bus tendering.
At the election, we promised the biggest shake-up of the bus industry in years. How astonished the operators must have been to find that, after the election, it is now a Conservative Government who are looking to learn from the positive experience in London and apply it across the country. Some of us are just a bit sceptical about this conversion, but we eagerly await the forthcoming bus legislation, and hope to see within it genuine power for local people and local authorities to have real leverage over their local services. The case for reform is incontrovertible and urgent because the status quo just is not working. Private bus operators have abandoned bus routes and services that they found to be commercially unprofitable, leaving the most vulnerable in our society stranded.
We want to give communities genuine power to plan fares and timetables, and to reflect local needs. Although some bus operators have strongly resisted moves towards greater co-ordination, these powers are already in use in London and they are the norm in Europe. If it is good enough for London then it is good enough for the north-east, Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Cornwall, and any other area that wants them. The alternative of continuing to watch bus services uncontrollably deteriorate is no alternative at all. At the election, the Prime Minister made many promises that have not stood up to scrutiny. He promised older people that the free bus pass, introduced by Labour, would be maintained, but, as so often with this Prime Minister, it is important to read the small print. He kept the bus pass, but said nothing about keeping the bus. The number of concessionary passes has gone up, but the number of concessionary bus journeys has gone down. How useful is a bus pass without a bus? We need a better way.
This is only the third Opposition day debate on transport since 2010. This Government are always keen to debate transport issues in the House, so let us hope that, like London buses, two will come along very soon.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) talked about the importance of aviation. We understand how important that is for remote communities, which is why, for example, we are supporting connections between London and Dundee and London and Newquay. He accused the Government of spending more time opposing the SNP than Labour, so I will move on to the next speaker.
My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) explained how Government investment is delivering for her region and, in particular, the benefits for the Birmingham area from HS2 and the capacity it will deliver.
The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), in an excellent maiden speech, paid tribute to his predecessor. He has a track record of delivering locally, which I am sure had a lot to do with his by-election success. He talked about the courage and determination of Oldham folk, a quality shared on both sides of the Pennines, and I am sure that that his sons Jack and Harry will be very proud of their dad today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) gave us a reality check about the bad old days of British Rail. If Opposition Members were paying attention, they might want to remove their rose-tinted spectacles. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) spoke for hard-pressed commuters and I bet that if he was leading his party today he would not be contemplating nationalising the railways.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) welcomed HS2 and investment in the midland mainline. The hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) highlighted the cost to communities of the Severn crossing. There was a reference in an intervention during her speech to God’s own country, but I thought for a minute it was to God’s own county.
My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) talked about Leeds, which, as we know, is the biggest European city to have no integrated transport system of its own.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) talked about how we should link fare rises to inflation, but I point out that that means inflation plus zero, which the previous Government failed to do. Whichever measure we use, it is important to note that fares will rise more slowly under this Government than wages.
My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), to whom I pay tribute for his work on the Transport Committee, asked a big question that the Opposition need to address, which is how they will pay for all their promises. They could not make that argument in 2015 and I suspect that they will fail again in 2020. He talked about the cost of fares, and the point is often made that fares in Europe are higher than fares here in Britain. I checked out what it would cost my children to return from university for Easter. My daughter, who lives in London, can travel one way from King’s Cross to York for as little as £20 if she decides to depart at 7.08 in the morning, but as she is a student I suspect she will want to travel later. To arrive for lunchtime, she can pay £38 but she gets a discount of one third as she has a student railcard, so she can come to York for £25.10 on the east coast main line, run by Virgin. My son, who is travelling down from Newcastle, can do so for £6.90 or £9.40.
I am not sure whether, just before the election in 2010, the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury was following a tradition or setting a precedent when he left the now-infamous note saying:
“I’m afraid there is no money”.
How refreshingly honest. I thought I would follow suit and on my last day in the Department for Transport, as I packed up my personal effects before leaving to fight the election last year, having paid particular attention to the opinion polls, I concluded that a return to Great Minster House was unlikely, but hoped that my replacement would be cheered by a message. Here it is, in my hand. It reads: “There is money for infrastructure thanks to our long-term economic plan.” I am sure that that is one reason why we have had so few Opposition day debates on transport over the past five and a half years. Ours is a record of delivery compared with 13 years of disappointment under Labour.
The Secretary of State pointed out that electrification under Labour was carried out at less than a snail’s pace, less than 1 mile a year—or, to put it another way, Hornby delivered more electrified rail network in the time Labour was in government. The investment mentioned in my note is being delivered, with 4,000 new carriages, £38.5 billion to improve our railways, £15 billion for a proper multi-annual road investment strategy and £6 billion to address the pothole backlog we inherited. There is also, of course, high-speed rail to free up existing rail capacity for passengers and freight, shrinking the size of our country, running to Manchester and Scotland from day one. Indeed, HS2 will run to Glasgow from day one; Scottish crews will be manning trains in Glasgow from day one.
When I go to Brussels, I realise that it is our franchising model that countries such as Italy and Spain want to emulate, and British train companies are winning franchises in Germany. They can see how the competitive franchise system is delivering better services, new rolling stock, smart ticketing and more user-friendly refunds for delays.