Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:57 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 7:57 pm, 26th June 2017

My Lords, I am trying hard to be positive, so I start by welcoming the Bill on autonomous vehicles. However, I want to point out that across the world this is already a very crowded research field, with the US, for example, well ahead of us. What manufacturers want above all is easy access to sell their technology to EU countries, access to highly skilled employees in a flexible market and to co-operate across borders. It is called the single market. I hope this Bill is more ambitious than its predecessor, which was all about the insurance regime for automated vehicles. That is a necessary detail but unlikely to spark a revolution.

In the same Bill there are facilities for electric vehicles, which offer the Government a lifeline in the mess they are in on air quality. I agree with their proposals in the Bill, and I should declare an interest as the owner of an electric vehicle. However, the Bill does not go anywhere near far enough on this issue. As my noble friend Lady Featherstone pointed out, we need a much more comprehensive approach to air quality, and electric vehicles are just one piece of the jigsaw.

The space industry Bill is also welcome but the industry itself is jeopardised by Brexit. Restrictions on the movement of scientists and engineers, increased bureaucracy in the supply chain and the danger of being frozen out of EU space contracts are already taking their toll. I will give noble Lords an example: a new clause in the contracts for the last phase of the Galileo satellite navigation system specifies that the contract will become void if the supplier is no longer based in the EU. British companies are already talking of moving abroad.

I welcome, too, the commitment to phase 2A of HS2, but where oh where is Crossrail 2 in this Speech? I noticed that it was dropped from the Tory manifesto. I hoped it might have been overlooked in haste, but clearly this is definite government policy. This is a vital infrastructure project if London and the south-east are to be able to combat the Brexit attacks on our economy. From these Benches, we will continue to press for a government commitment on this.

Missing too from the gracious Speech were drones. I say to the Government, with all seriousness, that they seem frozen into total inactivity on this. They should have learned from the Grenfell Tower tragedy that it is worth while paying heed to warnings. Week after week there are potential incidents on this. At some point something bad will happen.

Another serious omission is a review of the franchise system of our railways. It is time the Government committed to a radical overhaul of the franchise system. Southern Rail is simply an extreme example of the problems with the current system. It is time to put passengers first. The Tory manifesto, like the Liberal Democrats’, committed to a rail ombudsman, but there is nothing in the gracious Speech on this. As we leave the EU we have to protect rail and air passengers’ rights. An ombudsman will be the first step. Above all, we need an ambitious programme of investment in our railways. The gracious Speech is totally silent on any commitment to big new infrastructure projects beyond HS2.

Intertwined with this are the Brexit challenges that the transport industry faces. That industry has a sizeable reliance on the EU. A big chunk of it—Eurotunnel, the ferries, many HGV operators—exists solely to service travel and trade with Europe. It is not a matter of adapting to leaving the EU. If trade ceases to continue at the same or a very significant level, those transport industries will wither or even cease to exist.

We were told that this was a pruned back Queen’s Speech, which, beyond Brexit, aimed to be uncontroversial. I argue that what was controversial was what was omitted. It was a Speech that lacked vision and ambition at a time when our country more than ever before needs a visionary and ambitious Government.