Skip to main content

Rail Devolution: London

Volume 777: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by the Secretary of State for Transport on 6 December (HC Deb, cols 124–130), whether they will publish their analysis of Transport for London’s business case for rail devolution.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I refer Members to my interests in the register; specifically, I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

My Lords, departments do not routinely publish internal policy advice and related analysis. However, our analysis highlighted a number of uncertainties in the business case, particularly around the operational risks associated with splitting the franchise and around the benefits being claimed. We have concluded that partnership is the best way to deliver benefits for all passengers, and that is what we have offered TfL and Kent County Council.

My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord was the Minister back in January, when he and his previous boss, Patrick McLoughlin, agreed to and signed off on the joint vision of the Department for Transport and Transport for London on rail devolution. This is supported by London Boroughs, by local authorities in the Home Counties and, I suggest, by the travelling public. What made him change his mind in the intervening months and since the election of a new Mayor of London?

As the noble Lord rightly points out, that was a prospectus published by the former Secretary of State for Transport, the right honourable Patrick McLoughlin, and the then mayor. The new Secretary of State subsequently—and rightly, I believe—asked for details of the business case from TfL. That was presented in October. It was analysed by DfT officials—we worked also with other industry experts—and it was felt that it was in the best interest of all passengers, both those on the suburban services as well as those outside, to go forward on the model that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has now put forward.

My Lords, given the appalling effect which the policies of Transport for London have had on road congestion and pollution in the capital, is there not a case for replacing it with a more cost-effective and accountable body rather than extending its remit into other areas where it can do more damage?

My noble friend paints a picture of a particular challenge that has arisen around issues of congestion in London. Nevertheless, TfL plays an important role in the management of transport services in London and continues to do so across several modes.

Has the Minister any answer to dispel the view that the Government’s policy on this is influenced much more by the political party of the Mayor of London than by a desire to have better transport for Londoners?

While in the press and elsewhere there has been a lot of speculation, politics is politics. However, the substantive point here is what is in the best interests of all commuters using that service. The challenge thrown down to the Mayor of London was to justify through a business case that this was the optimum solution. It is our view that in what is being proposed now we must ensure that not only TfL but also Kent County Council has a seat at the table in agreeing the details and governance of the future franchise on that network.

My Lords, I declare my age as being pretty old. Is the Minister as concerned as I am by the Mayor of London’s statement that we should all get around on bicycles? How will we cope with all the disabled people? Where would they go with their electric buggies? At the moment we are all permanently held up, even if we are driving, by all the bike lanes under construction. The crisis at Lancaster Gate adds 20 minutes to my journey every day. It is unreasonable to expect everyone in London to be capable of riding a bike.

This session of Lords Questions seems to be a revelation of ages. Nevertheless, it is in the interests of us all to look towards cycling. Indeed, it was lately suggested that I should also take it up. An efficient, working and effective transport system across all modes is to the benefit of all Londoners, irrespective of age.

My Lords, in making the decision referred to in the Question, what account was taken of TfL’s record of delivery? I notice that the ORR’s latest figures show a 95.3% customer satisfaction with London Overground. What timescale does the Minister now predict for the rollout of Oyster and contactless to non-London parts of the south-east? People have waited, for example, in Epsom—the Secretary of State’s own constituency—for years expecting this important development.

On the second part of the noble Baroness’s question, we saw recently other parts of the wider network benefit from Oyster. The rollout of Oyster to Gatwick is a good example of that. On the earlier part of the question, the business case also surrounded long-term investment in the infrastructure required. Certainly there, the business case fell quite short. On the issue of London Overground, yes it is run well but let us not forget that the Government still provide £27 million of funding to that particular service.

Is not the reality that the Secretary of State for Transport is more anxious to prolong the dispute than to find a solution?

I believe that the noble Lord is referring to a separate franchise—that of Southern. I have already spoken on that matter, where we are moving forward in practical terms in trying to address some of the issues. As noble Lords know all too well, the point remains that the structural issues on the Southern network cannot be addressed as long as we see this level of unprecedented and, in my view, unnecessary strikes currently taking place.

My Lords, does my noble friend not think it extraordinary that, at a time when the travelling public are disrupted by strike action and when union leaders talk about trying to bring down the Government by making people’s journeys at Christmas impossible, all the Opposition can talk about is the administrative arrangements for London transport?

What my noble friend said will strike a chord with the travelling public. I have said much the same at this Dispatch Box on what we are seeing in terms of strike action. Let us be absolutely clear: my right honourable friend the Secretary of State not only met with one of the unions specifically but also wrote to the unions asking them to come to the arbitration service. The level of meetings that took place was based on that initiative my right honourable friend took. I agree with my noble friend that it is about time that the unions got back to the table and resolved the dispute so that we can challenge the wider infrastructure issues on the network.