Chris Loder – 2022 Speech on Transport

The speech made by Chris Loder, the Conservative MP for West Dorset, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2022.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate; it is a pleasure to contribute and to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney). I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I worked for the railways for a long time before being elected to this House.

I am proud of the Government’s ambition and determination to level up across the UK. I am also proud of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech, particularly the transport Bill, but if I may, I will focus today on railways, buses and roads.

The Great British Railways proposal is good for the United Kingdom—the whole of the United Kingdom. I am particularly pleased about it because the current model has probably reached the end of its life. The results from that model have been good—we have seen passenger numbers increase 100% since privatisation began—but the Government fully understand that things need to change.

I draw the Government’s attention to some initiatives that could provide further opportunities within the GBR proposal. In Japan, for example, the relationship between real estate and funding for railway operations is very close, to the extent that Government investment is often not required. That is because of the model that is adopted. I urge the Minister and her officials to look into that.

Enormous amounts of money are invested in transport, but it is important that we do not get carried away with the number of billions that will be spent. We need to be more concerned about the specific outputs than the amount of money that will be spent. We see billions going to Highways England—I think the Chair of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), said that it was £27.4 billion—yet there is consultation after consultation for years and years before any spades actually go into the ground.

It is the same in the railways, particularly in relation to the rail network enhancement plan, which has been a long time coming. We have seen some really good announcements for the midlands and the north—the integrated rail plan is bringing in £96 billion there—but regrettably we have seen nothing yet in the south-west. Even worse, when Network Rail announced that it was going to invest in re-signalling to enable more capacity and flexibility, the schemes were deferred at the end of the last control period with no hope in sight of the most basic re-signalling programmes.

We talk a lot in this House about tens of billions of pounds. The Opposition want more than £96 billion, forgetting that we pay £82 billion a year in interest. However, we must remember other parts of the country, particularly the rural parts and specifically the south-west—the local challenges in Dorset and Somerset have been immense. I am grateful for the Minister’s support for returning the frequency of trains and the direct services on the Waterloo-Exeter line and the Waterloo-Dorchester-Weymouth line, which came into effect with the last timetable.

GB Railfreight, of which Parliament should be incredibly proud, is taking important steps to decarbonise the railway’s freight sector. It recently introduced a first Class 99 hybrid locomotive that will eventually succeed the diesel-power Class 66. It will go a long way to decarbonising the freight network and we have much to learn from it.

The help that we give transport and railways in Ukraine is not often spoken about in the House. We take great pride in what our nation has done in past decades to help those escaping tyranny by train. Although we are not a neighbouring country to Ukraine, I urge the Government to participate in and actively support initiatives such as ALLRAIL, a group of European train operators that run up to the Polish-Ukrainian border and have brought people out of Ukraine and taken them across Europe. It would be a wonderful statement by the Government, on top of all the wonderful work that they have done so far, to participate in such an initiative. I encourage the Minister to consider that.

The bus service improvement plan has been quite painful for Dorset. I fully recognise that it has been good for the country in many ways, but Dorset and many other rural areas have not been successful. It is important that the Government consider what can be done to support rural areas, not necessarily with financial bungs but with tangible initiatives. That would be very much appreciated.