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Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2007

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to inform the House about a Statement that the Government have made today on how they intend to strengthen the country’s railways over the next seven years and beyond. It is the most ambitious strategy for growth on the railways in more than 50 years. The Statement is made against a background not of decline or crisis, as in the past, but of remarkable success for our railway network.

“Of course, anyone who travels regularly by rail, as many of us in this House do, knows that big challenges remain before our country has the rail system that it needs. There is no room for complacency. But the measures that the Government have put in place since the Hatfield tragedy mean that our railways are safer than ever before. Reliability, which declined sharply after Hatfield, is improving strongly across most lines, and passenger satisfaction has improved. There has been sustained investment in the network itself; for instance, in the modernisation of the west coast main line and in new rolling stock. The result is that more freight and more people are travelling by rail than at any time in the past 50 years.

“So our challenge today is not about managing decline but about how we can build on this solid progress to provide a railway that carries more passengers on more and better trains on frequent, reliable, safe and affordable services. This needs government, working with the industry, the regulator and passenger groups, to take action in three main areas: first, to secure continued improvements in safety and reliability; secondly, to achieve a major increase in capacity to meet rising demand; and, thirdly, to deliver sustained investment through a fair deal for passengers and taxpayers.

“Let me take each in turn. On safety and reliability, safety has improved, and reliability is back to the levels seen before Hatfield, even though we are running many more trains. Those who work on our railways deserve credit for their focus. The White Paper sets out how the Government intend to continue reducing the risks to passengers and staff on our railways. We also intend to build on the improvements in reliability, which now see 88 per cent of services running on time. By 2014, the Government want this figure to reach 92.6 per cent, through investment in new rolling stock, maintenance and equipment, which would make our railway one of the most reliable in Europe. And, for the first time, the Government will require the industry to concentrate on cutting, by one quarter, delays of more than 30 minutes—those that cause the most inconvenience to passengers. But as safety and reliability have improved, passenger numbers have increased. Overcrowding has become a real issue for many commuters. The White Paper contains the biggest single commitment for a generation to increasing the capacity of the railway through more services and longer trains. By 2014, the Government will have invested £10 billion to make this happen.

“Starting now, and over the next seven years, there will be 1,300 new carriages to ease overcrowding in London and other cities such as Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester; £600 million of investment to tackle bottlenecks at Birmingham New Street and Reading stations; the £5.5 billion transformation of Thameslink, which provides a vital north-south artery into and across London; and new plans put in place for the development of each of our main lines, including the next generation of InterCity trains and signalling. This Government are also committed to ensuring that we close no rural lines in this period.

“This continued investment will provide nearly 100,000 new seats for passengers on InterCity and commuter trains to our major cities. The Government’s proposals will accommodate a further seven years of record passenger growth and, at the same time, will start to tackle some of the worst overcrowding on some of our busiest services. There will be some 14,500 more seats in the peak hour on Thameslink alone, and although Crossrail remains subject to financial and parliamentary approval, it has the potential to deliver a similar scale of improvement for east-west services in the capital.

“The White Paper also outlines other improvements that groups such as Passenger Focus say passengers want to see: a radical simplification of the fares structure, and the modernisation of tickets to allow people to use smartcards; a further £150 million in 150 stations in the towns and cities outside London, which form the backbone of the national network; better and safer stations from Wolverhampton to Dartmouth, Cleethorpes to Swansea, and Barking to Chester; and support for Transport 2000’s idea of local station plans so that people can have better access to the railway and make it part of a greener travel choice. The Government are also investing £200 million in a strategic freight network that will help both to reduce congestion on our roads and the environmental impact of moving goods.

“Underpinning all this needs to be sustained investment. Having fought its way back to a stable financial footing, following the demise of Railtrack, it is essential that the industry maintains financial discipline. Both passengers and taxpayers have suffered the consequences of past financial crises. The Government will not allow a return to those days.

“The challenge is to deliver the sustained investment the rail system needs while continuing to protect passengers, but we must also strike a fair balance between the call on taxpayers and fare payers. Because the Government are determined to continue to protect passengers, any increases in regulated tickets will remain capped at RPI plus 1 per cent. These account for more than half the use of the railway and include season tickets and saver fares.

“There has been some recent debate about unregulated fares, for unregulated fares operators can vary prices to respond to customer demand. So, some unregulated ticket prices have increased. This is something the Government will monitor closely and is why today they are committing to give Passenger Focus more say in the specification of future franchises before they are tendered. At the same time, many other tickets have been discounted. In fact, around 80 per cent of passengers do not use the headline-catching first and peak tickets, but buy either a regulated ticket or a discounted product. A significant number of these fares have fallen in real terms over the past 10 years with many deals cheaper in cash terms than they were under British Rail.

“The result is that many more people are now choosing to travel by rail—some 340 million more passengers each year than in 1997. This strong growth also means the railways need less taxpayer subsidy. In the difficult years of Railtrack, it was the taxpayer who footed the bill. The proportion of subsidy funding nearly doubled in five years. It is right that the Government now seek to return it closer to historic levels. This Government are meeting their goals; that is, protecting passengers and achieving a fair balance between the taxpayer and the travelling public, while delivering the necessary investment that we all agree is needed.

“Today’s White Paper has set out the Government’s ambition for a railway capable of carrying double the number of passengers and twice the amount of freight by 2030 with modern trains and a network whose reliability and safety counts among the best in Europe. This is not a White Paper that rests on distant promises of all or nothing projects. Schemes such as new north-south lines may have their place and we will consider them if and as the need arises. This is a strategy that seeks to deliver real improvements which reflect passengers’ priorities and builds on the real achievements and successes of our rail system over the past decade.

“Twenty-five years ago, the railways were advertising, ‘This is the age of the train’, but it was against a background of falling demand and chronic under-investment in trains and infrastructure. Perhaps that claim was premature. By building on the progress of the past 10 years with sustained investment and increased capacity, and by harnessing the full environmental gains of rail transport, we will be entering a new and exciting era of rail travel. The White Paper is a resounding vote of confidence in Britain’s railways and I commend it to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I should like to open by saying that we welcome progress on Thameslink, Birmingham New Street, Reading and other longer trains and platforms. However, it seems wise to restrain our natural enthusiasm until we have seen the contracts signed and work under way. I should like to confirm in your Lordships’ House the answers to questions asked in another place. Can the Minister give the dates on which work on Thameslink, Birmingham and Reading will start? Has a budget definitely been committed for the whole of each of these projects or are they dependent in any way on the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review? Is the whole of Thameslink 2000 now fully funded? Are the 300 carriages trailed today part of the reannounced InterCity Express programme or an addition to it?

The million-dollar question is: what has happened to Crossrail? This is yet another damp squib for Crossrail, which apparently does not feature in the Government’s plan for the next 30 years of our rail system, despite announcement after announcement from Ministers; despite, astonishingly, £254 million spent on preparation; and despite a clear commitment from the previous Prime Minister.

It is sad but true that today’s Statement will be a real disappointment for Londoners and the City, which no amount of warm words from the Prime Minister can disguise. Sadly, this is all too familiar. Today’s announcements are just the latest in a long line of increasingly dense and lengthy strategies, reports and initiatives on transport from this Government. If the travelling public could travel on paper promises, there would be no delays, no overcrowding and the journey to work would be blissfully smooth for commuters each day.

Unfortunately, the reality is far from a magic carpet ride. In the past year alone we have seen commuters go on strike, facilities ripped out of carriages to provide extra standing room and fares hiked by 20 per cent on a main route into London. The reality is that the Government have announced and reannounced virtually all the initiatives we have heard about today. Thameslink 2000 was promised so long ago, the former Deputy Prime Minister was still in charge of transport. Even now, only part of the scheme that was promised is being promised again. As for Birmingham New Street, the Government pledged to tackle bottlenecks in the West Midlands seven years ago. Longer platforms and 1,000 of the 1,300 carriages announced today were promised last year. Yet not one of those projects has been delivered. The Government’s delivery on transport has been stalled and delayed more than their trains. I confess that I have little faith in the latest in a long line of policy freight.

I remind noble Lords of the promised three-and-a-half hour journey time from Edinburgh, the light rail schemes in Liverpool and Leeds, the north-south high speed line, all of them policies shunted into the siding. Most distressingly, the pledge on safe and secure travel, when there has been a 43 per cent increase in the number of victims of violence recorded by the British Transport Police, also seems to have run away.

Seven years ago we were promised,

“improved commuter rail services, less overcrowding and reduced delays”.

But even after fitting the timetables to meet limp public performance measure targets, more than one in 10 trains runs late in this country. Thousands of commuters face standing for their entire journey every day of the working week. The overcrowding which blights lines into our major cities is now reaching a crisis point, which is seriously undermining our quality of life and competitiveness, both north and south.

On behalf of the Secretary of State, the Minister claimed real achievements and successes today. But I would love to be a fly on the wall as the Secretary of State announces those great achievements to the commuters who are packed so tight in the morning rush hour it would be a criminal offence to transport animals in the same way.

The biggest let-down of all is in Her Majesty’s Government’s 10-year plan, which told us:

“We will seek real reductions in the cost of rail travel”.

Each of the three latest franchises awarded by the DfT will implement rises of nearly 30 per cent by 2015. Many families are feeling the pinch because of stratospheric fare increases inflicted by the DfT, racing well ahead of inflation. It seems now that even the saver fare is under threat. The one thing we can guarantee for this Government’s future plans for the railway is more rail fare hikes to come.

Accusations of blame fall at the train operating companies, but the real culprit is the Department for Transport, which now has a more intrusive role in our railways than in the days of British Rail. It is sad at a time when rail transport is more depended on than ever before that the Statement does not usher in a new era on our transport system any more than the rest of the reports, strategies and studies that have poured out of Whitehall over the past decade.

The truth is that the real blame for the state of our transport system falls at the feet of the Prime Minister. The extortionate fare increases for grossly overcrowded trains are Mr Brown’s fare increases. The Metronet PPP fiasco is most definitely the personal fiasco of the Prime Minister. The failures and broken promises of the past decade are the failures and broken promises signed and sealed by Mr Brown.

My Lords, I will not go along the same churlish road. For the party that has caused all the problems on our railways to deliver that sort of lecture was quite awful.

I will address a few pertinent questions to the Minister. The governance of Network Rail needs close examination. The company is responsible for our infrastructure but is not held to account under the present governance arrangements. I urge the noble Lord and the ministry to turn their attention to that.

The question of safety on the railways, referred to in the Statement, is perhaps overstated. The railways are extremely safe. I should like to know, in writing, how much it will cost to get a further 3 per cent reduction in the risk of death or injury. Very few people are hurt now, and to get 3 per cent better will be incredibly expensive.

When will the orders for the new carriages be placed? Is the current review of the ROSCOs by the competition authorities likely to hold them up? Will the Thameslink promise in the White Paper extend all the way along the present scheme, or will it stop short?

Many people will have hoped to see some reference to the doubling of the track on certain lines. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, will be familiar with one that is in desperate need of investment, the Oxford to Worcester line, but there are many more examples.

We are disappointed that there is no more definite announcement on Crossrail, and we hope that we can look forward to getting more definite news when the Crossrail Bill comes back to this House. It is essential, in my opinion, that the scheme is extended to Heathrow and Reading to get proper east-west balance.

Where the White Paper addresses travel plans it fails to mention the question of increasing car parking. There are a huge number of people who want to use the railway but who cannot park at the stations. The doubling of car parking space at stations, which is very much needed, would not be expensive.

I should like to know how much £200 million will buy in the extension of the freight railway, particularly the clearance of the railway for containers heading inland from the ports.

I am glad to hear that Rail Focus will be given some teeth. I hope they will really bite on the question of that body’s input into the new franchising rounds. I ask the Government to consider reviewing the railways franchising procedure. I am confident that if it were handled more skilfully it could lever in far more investment, not from the taxpayer but from the prospective franchise customers. I am sure that tens of millions of pounds could be levered in that way.

The InterCity Express that was referred to is, I am afraid, an example of the old question of committees designing camels, or whatever it is. The process should be much more focused than it is. The West Anglia line should have been mentioned, and I caution the Government about rushing into the European rail traffic management system beyond 2014 to 2024, simply because no one has made it work on a proper mixed-traffic railway. We should not invest money in speculation.

My last comment is reserved for the words in the White Paper about the north-south rail link. The reason for not proceeding with any studies is that it needs to be “rigorously assessed”. I think that is civil-service-speak for “endlessly delayed”.

My Lords, I feel sorry for the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. Tory central office keeps handing out this speech; it is the same speech we have heard from the Conservative Party on a number of occasions. Her leader says the Conservatives should give credit where it is due; well, they have to start doing that. For the past decade there has been a period of unparalleled growth in passenger numbers on the rail network, as well as growth in expenditure, commitment and support. The network is in a better state now than it has been for a very long time.

I do not always agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, but I found myself in a fair measure of agreement with him today. He has a reputation for speaking a lot of sense on these matters, and he does not play the party political card overmuch, to give him some credit.

What can I say about the Conservative position? It is characterised by underinvestment. Over the past 10 years we have had to pick up and tackle the failings of an appalling privatisation. I shall quote the noble Baroness’s own party discussing the issues—among themselves, as it were. Was it Chris Grayling who said,

“I think we have not had a clear transport strategy in this party in recent years; we’ve had tactical positions”?

I do not lose much heart at what the noble Baroness has said in responding to a Statement that I see as very positive in terms of what it will deliver—and delivery is what it is all about.

The noble Baroness asked some good questions, and I will try to deal with some of those. Thameslink, Birmingham New Street and Reading are all funded, and we are committed to funding the development of Thameslink. A key element of that will be delivered by 2011 and it will be completed, as I understand it, by 2015. The 300 additional trains to which the noble Baroness drew attention are over and above the 1,000 trains highlighted in March. I remind the noble Baroness that planning permission was received for Thameslink only last year. There has been project delay in the past, largely because money had to be diverted into paying for the costs of the privatisation extravaganza that the previous Government embarked upon.

The noble Baroness also asked—and this was echoed in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw—when we will start to purchase trains. We are starting the process with the industry now and will publish a detailed plan next January. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked about ROSCOs. We do not expect the ROSCO reference to delay the process. I think that reference is about old trains, not new ones.

The noble Lord made a fair point about Network Rail governance. Fair enough, but he knows that it is a private company and its governance is scrutinised by the independent regulator. It is fair to say that current arrangements are working quite well.

On safety, we do not believe that significant investment will be required to deliver the 3 per cent reduction in risks on the network. That is helped by the fact that we are now deploying new trains and better equipment. There have also been better working practices in the past few years—perhaps, one has to acknowledge, as a by-product of some of our earlier problems.

The noble Lord, Lord, Bradshaw, makes his usual point about car parking, which I well understand. It is mentioned explicitly in the White Paper and recognised as being important, because we know that it will help get a critical mass of passengers at major rail headline areas, which we believe is important.

The criticism was also made that there is no announcement on Crossrail. We accept that Crossrail is a good scheme with many benefits, which are manifestly apparent to all of us. It is an important scheme, with the potential to do for the east-west corridor what Thameslink achieves for the north-south corridor. We have introduced an enabling Bill, which is going through the process of getting parliamentary approval, and we shall move on to seek further financial and parliamentary approval in due course.

Regulated fares have fallen in real terms since 1997—I usually quote the figure of some 2 per cent. Noble Lords may not think that that is enough, but it is an indication of our encouragement of the use and take-up of regulated fares. We maintain that the cheapest fares are cheaper in cash terms than back in 1997—which, to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, was a time of rail nirvana, if we listen to the Tory script. But I am not inclined to do that. Eighty per cent of passengers enjoy regulated or discounted fares, so only 20 per cent pay the full or walk-on cost at any given time.

This White Paper demonstrates our commitment to the network and our continued investment. It demonstrates, too, that we wish to see growth in passenger use of the network and that we plan for that growth over not only the next seven years to 2014 but to 2020, 2030 and beyond. This is a recognition that we are genuinely in the age of the train.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government—I do not often congratulate the Government, but I do on this occasion—because this is a really good document. It sets out the investment required for growth in capacity, which as my noble friend has said is what is needed. In my experience, this is the first time that a Government have ever given a financial commitment for five years. In time past when it was a nationalised industry, it was usually one year if you were lucky and two or three years if you were very lucky. This time it is five years, as required by the regulator, who can set a Network Rail specification and set how much Network Rail will have to reduce its costs or increase its efficiency. For the railway industry, which is always long term, having a five-year financial commitment is terribly important. It is very nice to have a longer term commitment, or strategy, on the back of it. So I congratulate sincerely my noble friend and his colleagues on this.

As chairman of the Rail Freight Group, I particularly welcome the investment in Reading station and the strategic rail freight network, which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned. However, on a day when Oxford, where I live, is surrounded by water and all the railway services are cut, will my noble friend say whether part of the investment planned on the strategic freight and passenger network, of which I believe Oxford is part, takes into account the increasing likelihood of flooding? The line between Didcot and Oxford gets flooded about once every two years for several days—and it will be for about a week, this time.

I notice in the environmental section of the White Paper that Network Rail is developing a climate change hazard map on infrastructure that is vulnerable. I hope that that includes such things as raising embankments, if that will keep the trains off the floodwater. If we do not keep our strategic infrastructure going in times of flooding, although it is of course not only the railways that are affected, they will suffer because they were designed 150 years ago, whereas the roads were designed more recently, so there have been fewer problems with them. We have heard about electricity, sewerage and water as well, in that regard. It is very important that more effort and investment are put into keeping the strategic infrastructure going.

As regards Network Rail developing a climate change hazard map, hotspots and all that, and the Government ensuring that the specification of future rolling stock requires suppliers to take account of these factors, I assume that we are talking about wet hazards. Are we talking about trains that will operate under water? That is a new idea. It may be necessary but I do not know whether it is part of the investment plan.

My Lords, I cannot yet announce a prototype for underwater train technology. Perhaps that is something for the future. I am entertained by the noble Lord’s point.

We believe that investment in a strategic freight network is important. That is why we have allocated £200 million to the development of the strategic freight network. That will be integrated with and complement the existing network and will benefit both freight and passengers alike. We are very much committed to working with industry and interested parties to facilitate the delivery of the SFN.

The noble Lord makes an important point about flooding and rail reliability. As probably do other noble Lords, I remember recent floods in the midlands, with the sight of water flowing between two platforms and trains being prevented from moving along them, for understandable reasons. The White Paper recognises that greater resilience to issues such as climate change will be required. That will need to be factored into future maintenance and renewals. Such factors are certainly being taken into account in the design of the intercity express train, but we have not yet designed a train that travels under water.

My Lords, noble Lords will be familiar with the fact that I live equidistant from Edinburgh and Glasgow; hence there is now competition for my conveyance by rail to the House. I am happy to say that now the east and west coast main lines are in genuine competition with each other because they both offer the same timing, which is very good. I have also entered London through St Pancras and Marylebone, although those lines are not yet in competition with the east and west coast lines, nor do I expect them to be.

As the Minister will have predicted, I am disappointed by the fact that we seem virtually to have abandoned the north-south high-speed line. Are we really giving up the fight for rail/air substitution on the Scotland to London route? One thing that I have learnt from having campaigned for—I now live beside it—the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway, which is 11 miles long and had a track bed that was legally intact, is exactly how long it takes to do a relatively simple task. Therefore, I am very worried by the fact that the Government do not seem to be pressing ahead with any form of high-speed line to the north. I hope that we might hear fairly soon, starting on an incremental basis, how a high-speed line from London to Crewe might be actively pursued as a real option. It may not be needed now, but it will be very soon. It would be a great pity not to get on with actively planning such a high-speed line.

My Lords, the noble Earl is drawing too much from silence on the issue. We have not necessarily ruled out a north-south high-speed line. I do not admit to the charge of not being ambitious. I think that we are being ambitious, but politics is all about the order of priorities. We are trying to deal with those capacity issues and we anticipate considerable growth in network use over the next five to 15 years. We do not rule this out. It will have to be looked at again, perhaps at the time of the next strategy and including the option of reopening the Great Central route between London and Birmingham, for which I know some noble Lords have great affection. I would argue, however, that passenger priorities are currently to see investment in quality and capacity network-wide and to see that investment soon. That is why we have put the money where we have. We do not believe that our priority should be to commit tens of billions of pounds to a distant promise of a project that might need to be in place only in 20 years’ time.

As for rail/air competition, the improvements in both the west coast and parts of the east coast line in the past few years have begun to demonstrate that there is genuine competition. There is certainly competition in relative travel cost, particularly if one makes intelligent use of the ability to indulge in advance purchases. So that is the position. I think that we have our priorities about right, although we will rule nothing out in terms of the possible need in the future for a high-speed north-south link.

My Lords, I do not have any special knowledge of railways but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, indicated, I have a special interest in the Oxford to Worcester line, which of course is currently in a very bad way. I did not expect the White Paper to deal with the subject of flooding, which could be said to be a temporary problem, but I am glad that in answer to a point raised by my noble friend Lord Berkeley the Minister did not use that tiresome word and say that the flooding was “unprecedented” and that nothing was therefore to be expected. Indeed, he mentioned specifically the problem that occurs regularly between Didcot and Oxford, with which I am familiar. The Minister gave my noble friend Lord Berkeley an answer to that question but it related only to the matter of shoring up the lines and ensuring that this happens less in future. Surely the long-term reduction in maintenance staff, particularly on the railways, is one of the explanations why First Great Western is telling me on its website today that my part the of the line will not be open for another 10 days at least and that it might be more. If there are inadequate railway staff to deal with a problem that really is not unprecedented and can occur again, will things improve in future?

My second of three questions is to re-emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said about car parking. I thought that the Minister did not give a very adequate response on that. Unless I get to my railway station for an early train—“early” meaning about 8 am—it is unlikely that I will be able to park there and, therefore, be able to take a suitable train. The additional capacity that is so emphasised in the Statement will not be much use if people cannot get to the railway station, park their cars and use the train.

I do not think that my final question has been referred to at all today. It concerns a matter on my line, although I think that it occurs elsewhere in the country, too—the matter of single-track lines. These inevitably mean that when there are delays, and I admit that there has been improvement there, there is a double take as a result because trains in both directions are then held up. There are tracks between London, Oxford and Worcester—in two or three places—where this happens. Surely, after all these years, something can be done.

I will start with the last point first. I accept what the noble Lord says. Personally, if I had my own wish list, I would put more investment into dealing with single track issues. However, we have to look at this proportionately and measure where the most benefit is to be gained in dual-tracking. These things have to be looked at in terms of ordering priorities. Improving standards of maintenance remains a priority. Over the past few years, there have been significant improvements in maintenance standards, which will have a benefit in dealing with and tackling some of the issues relating to the impact of severe adverse weather such as has occurred over the past week or 10 days.

On the use of the term “unprecedented”, I argue that six and a half inches of rain falling in a very short period of time is pretty unprecedented. In my lifetime, I cannot remember too many occasions when that has happened in the United Kingdom. However, we seek improvements. We know that climate change will be an increasing feature, and we know that can have adverse consequences for the rail network as for other elements of national infrastructure. We know that we have to deal with that. It is right that we seek to ensure that where profound damage is done to the infrastructure through things such as rainfall we are well placed to tackle it.

I apologise if my initial response on car parking was not as thorough as the noble Lord would have liked. I agreed that car parking was important for encouraging more off-peak demand, especially if car parks are full as early as the noble Lord suggested his is. I sometimes encounter a similar problem in Brighton, and the walk from the car park to the station seems ever longer the later I arrive, so I well understand the problem. We have highlighted that issue in the White Paper, and we seek to ensure that where improvements can be obtained commercially that can be achieved, to enable us to organise investment in other parts of the rail infrastructure and network. Yes, it is a priority, we will attend to it and we seek to work with partners to ensure that we can guarantee some longer-term improvements, particularly in those railheads where there is scope and capacity.

My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Berkeley and, to some extent, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in welcoming the Statement, which in my experience is the first time that the Government have given a long-term commitment to an expanding railway. I thought him a little harsh on the noble Baroness who speaks for the Official Opposition. After all, she had the task of delivering an inaccurate and intemperate statement that sounded like it had been prepared by a 14 year-old at Conservative Central Office, or wherever Tory party headquarters are these days, without the support of a single Conservative Back-Bencher. In fairness to her, it sounded no better in your Lordships’ House than it did when it was first read four and a half hours ago in the other place. We can safely say in those circumstances that Conservative Party policy on the future of the railway industry is virtually non-existent.

I take my noble friend to one side, at least verbally, about fares. He mentioned that fares had fallen somewhat dramatically in certain areas. But he will know that for the walk-up railway or the pay-and-go railway—still the biggest proportion of passengers turn up and go—fares have increased fairly dramatically over the past 10 years, while at the same time the true cost of motoring has fallen by 10 per cent. That is not likely, if it continues long-term, to bring about the transfer of passengers from one mode to the other in the way that he would like.

Finally, on a parochial note, can we have his assurance that no further money will be spent on Birmingham New Street until a proper inquiry has looked into the need for expanding rail capacity through Birmingham New Street and on the west coast main line, rather than throwing half a billion pounds into what is, in the opinion of many of us, purely a property-driven tarting up of a station that is palpably unfit for use?

My Lords, obviously each project has to be properly evaluated before it can be embarked on. I am sure that that exercise will be rigorously undertaken with regard to Birmingham New Street. Quite properly, we have set money aside for improvements there. I understand the noble Lord’s point about property values; no doubt it will be taken back to the department, which is sensitive to those issues. I am grateful for his support, and am sure that he is right about Conservative Party policy. Chris Grayling was clearly making a very accurate statement, not least because George Osborne had earlier explained that there would be no new money for Conservative Party commitments so far as the rail network was concerned.

As ever, the noble Lord is an intelligent critic of policy in these matters, and I look forward to his continued support as we continue to improve the network and how it works. I remind him that, so far as regulated fares are concerned, we are committed to RPI plus 1 per cent, which has delivered stability. I am sure that he knows that the fares that have gone up most—the first-class fares and open tickets—are used by only one in 10 travellers. Fares are more affordable now. All fares have fallen by 10 per cent vis-à-vis disposable income in the past 10 years, which is probably the more important statistic.

My Lords, I think that I, like anybody else, have a right to speak.

I welcome the Government’s announcement and the White Paper. It is a moment of miracles. The Government admit that the power of the Executive needs to be diminished one day, and two or three days later they put forward a plan for long-term investment in the rail industry. One intensely wants to know what will happen next week; if it goes on as well as this, things may actually get better.

There are some interesting little reservations in the Statement, particularly to do with the cost to taxpayers of the rail system. That fits in with what has been said by other people about the need to balance expenditure on the roads with expenditure on the railways. Roads are built and maintained by taxpayers. How much cost-benefit analysis has been done on expenditure in the two modes of transport, particularly now that climate change, global warming and so on are coming more to the fore? Has all that been factored into the idea of creating a balance between public and private expenditure, as between road and rail?

My Lords, time is up. The balance between fares and funding is a big issue; we think that we have it about right. Rather than lurch from crisis to crisis, we have tried to provide stability. The noble Baroness makes a good point about climate change. That issue is addressed in the White Paper; we need to be on top of it as the next phase of our planning on the rail network rolls itself out.