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Public Transport
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 13 June 2019

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jun 2019, 10:01 a.m.

I have not, but I would be happy to discuss the hon. Gentleman’s concept. I am very interested in what he says.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
13 Jun 2019, 10:02 a.m.

Bus services are in crisis. Since 2010, over 3,000 routes have been cut, fares have risen twice as fast as wages and bus use is in freefall. Last month, the cross-party Select Committee on Transport published a report on bus services in England outside London that recommended how to end this crisis, including allowing all local authorities to regulate or own their local bus services, providing concessions to young people and boosting funding. The report was led by the evidence. Will the Secretary of State listen to that evidence, accept the recommendations and make them Government policy?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jun 2019, 10:02 a.m.

Of course we will be responding to the report shortly, but if the hon. Gentleman looks across the country, he will see that the place where bus mileage has been falling fastest is in Labour-controlled Wales. Actually, there has been a small increase in the number of routes during my time as Secretary of State. The Government are committed to supporting new, innovative ways to expand bus utilisation, which is why we support the demand-responsive services that are emerging across the country and are committed to ensuring that we provide the best possible choice for passengers.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the powers under the 2017 Act, and in my time as Secretary of State, I have not received a single proposal or request to introduce bus franchising under that Act. Notwithstanding that fact, I would be happy to do so if I saw evidence that it would improve passenger services.

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Transport Connectivity: North of England
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 13 June 2019

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jun 2019, 9:38 a.m.

I am very much aware of the potential to expand services in the east midlands by bringing back into service some of the routes that no longer carry passengers. It is why the new franchisees in the east midlands will be looking at bringing back services on the Robin Hood line, and I am happy to commit to discuss with my hon. Friend in much more detail whether we can do something similar in future with the Ivanhoe line.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard

Thirty-three northern newspapers, including the Manchester Evening News, The Northern Echo, the Yorkshire Post, the Sheffield Star and the Liverpool Echo, are all supporting the Power Up The North campaign, demanding an end to underinvestment in the north. This Government have repeatedly broken their promises of investment in the north, with the region set to receive just a fraction of the investment to be made in London, and “northern powerhouse” has to be much more than a slogan. So will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to commit not only to electrifying the trans-Pennine route, but to matching Labour’s £10 billion-plus commitment to deliver a Crossrail for the north?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jun 2019, 9:39 a.m.

What I am not going to do is match Labour’s record of investment in the north, because it was lousy. The Labour Government spent nothing on trains, and did not upgrade railways in the north. We are upgrading roads in the north, and upgrading railways across the north. The Trans-Pennine upgrade is the flagship—the largest investment programme on the railways in the next control period—and Labour Members have the brass neck to say that they are the ones with a plan. They did nothing; we are doing things.

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Topical Questions
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 02 May 2019

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:19 a.m.

I have said to all those who are commissioning new trains, particularly when my Department has a role in the procurement, that I expect manufacturers, when they deliver trains—this is an important point going back to what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said earlier—to leave a skills footprint and a technology footprint in the United Kingdom. One thing we can all do through the procurement process is to be absolutely insistent that that skills footprint is left behind. That does more than anything else to ensure that trains are and will be built in the United Kingdom.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:19 a.m.

The Secretary of State is in charge of the worst-performing Department when it comes to emissions. Transport emissions have risen since 2010. The Committee on Climate Change said that

“the fact is that we’re off track to meet our own emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s.”

Is the Secretary of State content with this failure, or will he commit to honouring the UK’s own legal and international climate change commitments?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:19 a.m.

First of all, I am part of a Government who have presided over a fall in Britain’s carbon emissions. Indeed my hon. Friends who have spoken on this matter over the past two days have set out ways in which this Government are among the leaders in the world in seeking to reduce carbon emissions and to deliver actual results in doing so. Members should look at what we are doing in pushing for a transformation of other vehicle fleets on our roads and in getting hydrogen trains on to our rail network as quickly as possible. If they look at the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) is doing to promote cycling and walking, they will see that we are spending more than previous Governments have done. There is, of course, much more to do, but we are working harder than any previous Government to deliver real change.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:21 a.m.

The Government contributed to the UN’s special report on 1.5°C, yet failed to take into account its contents when designating the Airports National Policy Statement. Similarly, the Secretary of State admitted that the Paris agreement, ratified years ago by the UK and by almost every country in the world, was not considered when designating the ANPS. Given that the UK Government have now accepted that we are in a climate emergency, will he review the ANPS in light of Paris, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the Committee on Climate Change advice—if yes, when?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:21 a.m.

When we prepared the ANPS and when the Airports Commission prepared its recommendations, it was done in the context of the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change. We have continued to work with the Committee on Climate Change, and I am confident that we will deliver that expansion and continue to fulfil our obligations to reduce carbon emissions and move towards what was set out this morning.

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No-Deal Brexit: Cross-channel Freight
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 02 May 2019

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2019, 11:41 a.m.

It is very much my hope that we do reach an agreement and that duty free will not be necessary, but I am sure that if it becomes necessary, my right hon. Friend will have that opportunity. None the less, he makes a good point. To Members across this House who complain about the money that we have rightly spent on an insurance policy against a no-deal outcome, I say that the way of preventing that money being spent would have been to vote for the deal. Opposition parties have systematically refused to accept that what is before this House, and what has been before this House, is a sensible deal to deliver a sensible future partnership with the European Union. It is just a shame that they have always been unwilling to accept that.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2019, 11:41 a.m.

On 5 March, I told the Secretary of State that his settlement with Eurotunnel risked further litigation from other companies. I warned that taxpayers could face more compensation bills in the tens of millions of pounds, and I was dismissed. But I was right, and he was wrong. His Department is now facing legal action from P&O Ferries. This all flows from his decision to award a contract to Seaborne Freight—the ferry company with no ships.

The Secretary of State bypassed procurement processes to award contracts—rules that were put in place to prevent this sort of waste of public money—and awarded a contract that was in breach of UK and EU public procurement law. As a result, he made a potentially unlawful £33 million settlement with Eurotunnel, promoting P&O to take legal action. Who made the decision to bypass procurement rules? Was it the Secretary of State and does he accept responsibility? The Transport Secretary should have recognised that his Eurotunnel decision risked further litigation. Why did he dismiss my concerns, and was he poorly advised?

Yesterday, we discovered that the Department must pay around £43.8 million to cancel no longer needed ferry contracts. Given that the entire Brexit process has been characterised by uncertainty, why did the Transport Secretary not negotiate contracts that could be delayed if the Brexit date was delayed? If he had, he could have avoided this colossal waste of money. What is his estimate of the total cost to the public of his no-deal contracts? Every other week, MPs must debate the Transport Secretary’s latest costly blunder. I am afraid that this will continue for as long as the Secretary of State remains in post. This country can no longer afford the Secretary of State.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2019, 11:43 a.m.

That is indicative of the fact that the Labour party and the hon. Gentleman do not believe in or support the need for this Government and this country making sure that, in all circumstances, the national health service receives the drugs that it needs. I am afraid that that is just irresponsibility on his side.

The hon. Gentleman raises various questions. He mentioned Seaborne Freight. The legal action with Eurotunnel had nothing to do with Seaborne Freight, because the contract with Seaborne Freight had been terminated several weeks before—after it had secured ships but when its principal financial backer withdrew. I did not bypass any processes. Things were done properly in accordance with Government procurement rules. They have been vetted and looked at by the National Audit Office, which has already provided one report on this. This was a collective decision by Government to make sure that we could look after the interests of the national health service, and that we took the right insurance policies in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We will continue to take the right decisions and the right insurance policies if there continues to be—I hope there will not be—a risk of a no-deal Brexit.

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Oral Answers to Questions
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 02 May 2019

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:19 a.m.

I have said to all those who are commissioning new trains, particularly when my Department has a role in the procurement, that I expect manufacturers, when they deliver trains—this is an important point going back to what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said earlier—to leave a skills footprint and a technology footprint in the United Kingdom. One thing we can all do through the procurement process is to be absolutely insistent that that skills footprint is left behind. That does more than anything else to ensure that trains are and will be built in the United Kingdom.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:19 a.m.

The Secretary of State is in charge of the worst-performing Department when it comes to emissions. Transport emissions have risen since 2010. The Committee on Climate Change said that

“the fact is that we’re off track to meet our own emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s.”

Is the Secretary of State content with this failure, or will he commit to honouring the UK’s own legal and international climate change commitments?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:19 a.m.

First of all, I am part of a Government who have presided over a fall in Britain’s carbon emissions. Indeed my hon. Friends who have spoken on this matter over the past two days have set out ways in which this Government are among the leaders in the world in seeking to reduce carbon emissions and to deliver actual results in doing so. Members should look at what we are doing in pushing for a transformation of other vehicle fleets on our roads and in getting hydrogen trains on to our rail network as quickly as possible. If they look at the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) is doing to promote cycling and walking, they will see that we are spending more than previous Governments have done. There is, of course, much more to do, but we are working harder than any previous Government to deliver real change.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:21 a.m.

The Government contributed to the UN’s special report on 1.5°C, yet failed to take into account its contents when designating the Airports National Policy Statement. Similarly, the Secretary of State admitted that the Paris agreement, ratified years ago by the UK and by almost every country in the world, was not considered when designating the ANPS. Given that the UK Government have now accepted that we are in a climate emergency, will he review the ANPS in light of Paris, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the Committee on Climate Change advice—if yes, when?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2019, 10:21 a.m.

When we prepared the ANPS and when the Airports Commission prepared its recommendations, it was done in the context of the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change. We have continued to work with the Committee on Climate Change, and I am confident that we will deliver that expansion and continue to fulfil our obligations to reduce carbon emissions and move towards what was set out this morning.

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Topical Questions
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 21 March 2019

(11 months ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Mar 2019, 10:39 a.m.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was said by the Minister, the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), that I had made no mention of cycling in my speech to the Institute for Government yesterday. I made five mentions of it, and there were 300 words devoted to the subject. The Secretary of State then added that yesterday Labour announced hiking the cost of going on holiday. Mr Speaker, I do not want to stray into using unparliamentary language, but that is not true. I seek your guidance as to what we can do to ensure that Ministers come to the Dispatch Box to correct the record.

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EU Exit Preparations: Ferry Contracts
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Tuesday 05 March 2019

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 1:52 p.m.

I can absolutely confirm that, and I think it is absolutely right and proper that we took the steps necessary to ensure that continuity of supply. We did so with a collective decision across Government, taken by Cabinet Committees.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 1:52 p.m.

Does the Secretary of State not understand and accept that today he is laying bare the advice that he received—and that he acted in contravention of that advice and he lost? We are not asking for an absence of preparation for contingencies; we are asking for a modicum of competence, and he has singularly failed.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 1:52 p.m.

We did not receive legal advice saying, “Do not do this.” We received legal advice saying that there was a risk in taking the approach, and we judged collectively across Government that it was a necessary risk to take in the national interest.

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 1:58 p.m.

I am going to make some progress.

I simply want to reiterate the point. We have taken the decisions. We collectively, in Government, back in November; we collectively, a couple of weeks ago; we collectively, about this settlement, have taken the view that we need foremost to put the national interest first. We need to make sure that this country is ready for a no-deal exit, even though we are working very hard to make sure that that does not happen. We are working very hard to make sure that we are prepared for all eventualities. That is the responsible thing for Government to do. Sometimes you have to take some risks in doing that, but I think sensible Governments take risks in the national interest. I and we and all of my colleagues who took this decision collectively, stand by this decision; we are deeply sorry that it did not work out in the way we had intended, but the reality is, it was the right decision to take, because we were putting the national interest, and particularly patients in our national health service, first—and that, Mr Speaker, you would expect any responsible Government to do.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:15 p.m.

It is good to see the Transport Secretary finally in his place today, after I tried and failed to bring him to the House yesterday. Instead he sent the Health Secretary as his human shield, but that came as no surprise, considering how the Transport Secretary has made a habit of treating this House with disdain. Perhaps he will reflect upon that.

I thank the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for securing this debate. Understandably, the Health Secretary was not able to answer the questions put to him yesterday, so I am going to have another go at getting some answers out of the Transport Secretary, but I am not holding my breath. In the papers filed at court in the weeks before the case was due to be heard, the Government lawyers described Eurotunnel’s case as “embarrassing”. They were bullish and confident, yet in the early hours of the morning of 1 March a settlement was reached between the Government and the company. This sequence of events raises many still unanswered questions.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:03 p.m.

That is a very good question, and I have raised the point myself. Those who were inquiring into the bona fides of these companies were restricted in the scope they were given. Why on earth they did not look into the track record of the individuals concerned at Seaborne is beyond me, as these things are well known. A mere cursory search of Google tells us about the track record of Ben Sharp in his dealings in the Gulf, but seemingly that was not considered. The hon. Gentleman makes the point well.

Let me return to the settlement that was achieved on 1 March. I want to know why the Department for Transport was so confident about winning the case only a week before. What brought the sudden change in strategy towards the legal challenge? The Department clearly thought it could win. Who intervened? What was the view taken by other Departments—the Department of Health and Social Care Health, the Treasury and Downing Street? Why did they take a different view from the Department for Transport? Why did the Government not settle earlier? Why did they leave it so late? Why did they continue to employ Monckton Chambers and a QC and two barristers, who do not come cheap? How much was spent on this case, both on Government legal fees and Eurotunnel’s fees? Will the Secretary of State say who made the decision to settle with Eurotunnel over the £33 million provision of emergency medical supplies in the event of no deal?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard

I will give a very specific answer to that question: a Cabinet Committee.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:03 p.m.

I am grateful for that clarification that it took a Cabinet Committee to make such a mess of things. Can the Secretary of State specifically say what is in this standard settlement—or are there other clauses within it? Ordinarily, when such cases are settled they are done by reference to a consent order, in which there would be a paragraph dealing with the sum of money to be paid. In these circumstances, it may say “£33 million” and it may say the date upon which that sum is to be paid. It may also say that the costs are to follow the event. So we want to know the answers to those questions.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:09 p.m.

If the hon. Gentleman really thinks that expending £33 million when the Government did not want to or need to is a sensible way forward and a sign of success, I really do not want to see what failure looks like. That is outrageous. Saying that £33 million was the maximum amount to be paid implies that payment was conditional on particular outcomes being achieved. There is a lack of clarity on whether the Government can claw back money from Eurotunnel if it is not used on Brexit preparations. So do such provisions exist?

On that point, was the permanent secretary at the DFT correct to say of the Seaborne contract award:

“I am confident that our process was lawful, and obviously the Department and I acted on legal advice in determining how to take that process forward”?

Has the Secretary of State’s Department therefore thrown £33 million of public money down the drain by not contesting Eurotunnel in the courts? Or is it the case that because of the Prime Minister’s catastrophic Brexit negotiating tactics, which have brought us right up to the cliff edge with 24 days to go before we leave with a default no-deal Brexit, the Government’s failure to plan for such a devastating outcome has meant that they have given themselves no option but to pay out this money to Eurotunnel? Surely nothing says more about the shameful and destructive Conservative party than how, in the year 2019, a UK Government are having to make such costly decisions about prioritising medicines over food supplies. This disaster is only of the Conservatives’ own making.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was wrong to claim that yesterday’s urgent question was not related to Seaborne even though the legal action was brought about in response to the award of a contract to Seaborne Freight. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care did not explain why, if it was not related, as he stated, an agreement was reached with Eurotunnel now rather than in November or December. It is one way or the other.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:11 p.m.

rose—

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:11 p.m.

I am happy to take an intervention. Hopefully the Secretary of State can come to the Dispatch Box and correct his human-shield colleague, because the urgent question was directly related to the Seaborne contract.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:11 p.m.

Once again the hon. Gentleman has conveniently forgotten that 90% of these contracts for the things on which the NHS is depending are with DFDS and Brittany Ferries. I wish that at some point he would be frank with the House and explain the full gamut of what we are talking about.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:11 p.m.

That is not the first time the Secretary of State has put up this false argument, as if 10% of the goods flowing into this country through these ports and by this method are somehow irrelevant and unimportant. It is a ludicrous proposition. If damage was caused to 10% of the trade coming in, we would be in an incredibly difficult position.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:11 p.m.

rose—

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:11 p.m.

No, I have already let the Secretary of State intervene on this point. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Come on then, get it over with!

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:12 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman cannot add up. This contract brought 8% of the equivalent, in total, with DFDS and Brittany Ferries, and the contingency buffer was made up by Seaborne on the basis of buying tickets in advance that we would not pay for unless the ship sailed.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:12 p.m.

I cannot add up? I really think that is pot calling kettle. The Secretary of State has not been able to count for years; he is costing us a fortune.

Andrew Dean from law firm Clifford Chance warns that this may not be the end of the matter. Mr Dean, who used to advise the DFT and is a procurement specialist, says it is quite likely that the Eurotunnel deal will be challenged. What contingency planning has been done in relation to such a challenge, and what public funds, if any, have been allocated as part of such plans? The Secretary of State talks about having received legal advice and listened to it; perhaps he could tell the House what advice he has received about the risk of yet further satellite litigation because of the deal he has done.

The Government talk about the UK maritime industry being market-led. Is it not the case that the Secretary of State’s blundering interventions have directly undermined the industry? He promised to ensure continuity of supply for six months in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Key to that was not increasing traffic around Dover, yet the Eurotunnel/Getlink route still goes through the same bottleneck road network on either side of the channel.

The Secretary of State appears to be puzzled by the anger of the House. Allow me to explain why Members and the public are so furious: this latest fiasco would be enough to warrant the resignation of the Secretary of State even if it were an isolated incident, but it is not a one-off; rather, it is the latest costly error in a series of blunders—blunders that could have been avoided were a different, more competent Secretary of State in post.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:14 p.m.

The hon. Lady makes a valid point. An awful lot of people are looking at these eye-watering sums and thinking about what else could benefit from such interventions. That really makes my point for me: the Transport Secretary’s record is that of a departmental wrecking ball. Almost every decision he made as Secretary of State for Justice was damaging and eventually reversed, at significant cost to the taxpayer. As Secretary of State for Transport, he has repeatedly thrown our transport networks into chaos, wasting obscene amounts of public money. A £2 billion bail-out for Virgin Trains on the east coast line; his failure to prepare airports for drone attacks; his awarding of contracts to Carillion when the company was on the verge of collapse; the rail timetabling chaos; the privatisation of probation services; the banning of books from prisons—the list goes on and on.

Research into the total cost of the Secretary of State’s mistakes, both in his current role and at the Ministry of Justice, found that he has cost the taxpayer £2.7 billion. That money could have paid for the annual salaries of 118,000 nurses or 94,000 secondary school teachers. Instead, it has been squandered. He has even wasted more money than the Prime Minister offered as a Brexit bribe to towns. Shamefully, all this has been allowed by the Prime Minister, who keeps him in post because she is short of allies in the Cabinet. The country is being made to pay a heavy price for her political weakness. This would be unacceptable at any time—

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:16 p.m.

This is really poor.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:16 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman says, “This is really poor” from a sedentary position, and I agree with him: this is really, really poor. It would be unacceptable at any time, but it is especially outrageous following the years of austerity and neglect that have left our towns and communities hollowed out and our public services in crisis.

See more like "Seaborne Freight"

Seaborne Freight
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Monday 11 February 2019

(1 year ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)(Urgent Question) - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Feb 2019, 3:41 p.m.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the cancellation of a contract with Seaborne Freight as part of the Government’s contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit.

Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Feb 2019, 3:41 p.m.

In December, following a collective Government decision and a procurement process involving my Department and the Treasury, we contracted with three shipping companies to provide additional ferry capacity as part of contingency planning for a potential no-deal EU exit.

Let me make it absolutely clear that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Government’s priority will be to ensure the smooth operation of both the port of Dover and the channel tunnel, and we are introducing measures at the UK end to contribute to that. However, any sensible Government plan for all eventualities. That is why we agreed contracts worth around £100 million, with the bulk of the award—£89 million—going to DFDS and Brittany Ferries to provide services across seven separate routes. Built into those agreements are options to add capacity on two other routes from those companies, should they be required. That capacity could be needed to guarantee the smooth flow of some key goods into the UK, particularly for the NHS. It is worth my reminding the House that, in the event of no deal and constriction on the short strait, the capacity would be sold on to hauliers carrying priority goods.

In addition to the £89 million-worth of contracts with DFDS and Brittany Ferries, the Department entered into a £13.8 million contract with Seaborne Freight to provide ferry services from the port of Ramsgate to Ostend. At the time of the award, we were fully aware of Seaborne’s status as a start-up business and the need for it to secure vessels and port user agreements to deliver a service. However, the shorter distance between the two ports meant that the route could provide us with shorter journey times and lower cost, making it a potentially attractive part of the package.

Seaborne’s proposition to the Department was backed by Arklow Shipping, Ireland’s biggest and one of Europe’s largest shipping companies. For commercial reasons, I have not been able to name Arklow Shipping or mention its involvement to date, but its support for the proposition from the outset and the assurances received by the Department provided confidence in the viability of the deal. Arklow confirmed to me that it intended to finance the purchase of ships and would be a major shareholder in Seaborne. It also confirmed to me its view that the Seaborne plans were “both viable and deliverable”. Those assurances included clear evidence about the availability of suitable vessels from the continent and about the formal steps that Seaborne, via Arklow, had taken to secure the vessels. However, releasing that information into the public domain could have driven up the cost of the vessels significantly and might even have resulted in their being removed from the market, where supply is extremely scarce. I have therefore had to refrain from saying anything publicly about this to date.

My Department monitored closely Seaborne’s progress towards meeting its contractual commitments. By last week, the company had secured firm options on ships to operate on the route, had reached provisional agreement with Ostend and was close to doing so with Ramsgate. However, late last week, despite previous assurances, Arklow Shipping suddenly and unexpectedly withdrew its backing from Seaborne. In the light of this, and after very careful assessment, I took the decision to terminate this contract. My Department concluded that there were now too many major commercial issues to be resolved to enable Seaborne to establish alternative arrangements and finance in the time needed to bring ferries and ports into operation.

As I have repeatedly made clear, not a penny of taxpayers’ money has gone, or will go, to Seaborne. The contracts we agreed with the three ferry companies are essentially a commitment to block-book tickets on additional sailings after the UK leaves the European Union. So actually we have taken a responsible decision to make sure that taxpayers’ money is properly protected.

I can confirm that the contracts with DFDS and Brittany Ferries remain on track and will provide us with valuable additional freight capacity into the UK in the event of disruption following EU exit. We also have contractual options to replace the Seaborne capacity with additional capacity on routes in the North sea, and this is an option we will be discussing across the Government in the coming days.

While the focus of this Government is to secure a deal with the European Union, as a responsible Government we will continue to make proportionate contingency plans for a range of scenarios. That is the right thing to do.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Feb 2019, 3:45 p.m.

What began as a debacle has now descended into a Whitehall farce. This Minister is rewriting the textbook for ministerial incompetence in office. I repeatedly warned the Secretary of State that this was the wrong decision at the time, as did industry, yet he chose to ignore those warnings. He told the House last month that this procurement was done properly. It has since emerged that the Department for Transport took shortcuts on the Seaborne Freight procurement. The deal was signed off by a sub-group of a sub-group and the main form of oversight, the procurement assurance board, never looked at it.

The Secretary of State points the finger at Arklow for the contract cancellation. Is it really a good time to further insult the Irish, and is the Arklow angle not a distraction from his decision? He has produced a letter from the company more than a month after the contract was signed; it does not prove anything regarding due diligence. He told this House that the Seaborne contract award was

“responsible stewardship of public money.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 191.]

Sadly, the exact opposite is true, yet again.

The Secretary of State’s decision to award the contract to Seaborne led Ramsgate port owner Thanet Council’s budget deficit to grow by nearly £2 million in the last year. His personal intervention to halt the budget vote last Thursday has compounded those losses. Two days later, he pulls the plug on Seaborne, leaving the council high and dry with mounting losses. What is more, taxpayers face a legal bill of nearly £1 million to fight Eurotunnel following his decision. So can he say how much cancelling the contract will cost the taxpayer and specifically the costs incurred in his own Department? He simply cannot keep blaming others for his own mistakes. This disastrous decision sits squarely with him and his office. Is this Transport Secretary’s approach to transport and wider Brexit contingency planning not off the Richter scale of incompetence? And for the good of the nation and the sake of some semblance of faith being restored to this shambolic Government, should he not now, at long last, do the decent thing and go?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard

I have to say that the hon. Gentleman brings new meaning to the term “utter hogwash”. First, he clearly was not listening when I said that we have spent no money on this contract. My Department is doing a lot of work on no-deal Brexit preparations, as are other parts of Whitehall—that is the prudent thing to do—but we have not spent any money on this contract. The contract was in fact assured jointly by my officials and officials in the Treasury.

The hon. Gentleman says the letter is worth nothing, but let me just quote from the letter, from the managing director of Arklow Shipping, one of Europe’s biggest shipping companies with operations in Rotterdam and Ireland, which covers chartering, technical and crewing, and finance. He said:

“Arklow Shipping has been working with Seaborne for twelve months in connection with Seaborne’s proposals to develop new freight services between the UK and continental Europe. Arklow Shipping is therefore familiar with Seaborne’s agreement with Her Majesty’s Government to provide additional freight capacity in the event of the UK’s departure from the European Union on a no deal basis.

3. In support of the current proposals to develop the shipping route between Ramsgate and Ostend, Arklow Shipping intends to provide equity finance for the purchase of both vessels and an equity stake within Seaborne which will be the operating entity of this project.

4. Seaborne is a firm that brings together experienced and capable shipping professionals. I consider that Seaborne’s plans to deliver a new service to facilitate trade following from the UK’s departure from the EU are both viable and deliverable. I will be working closely with the team at Seaborne to ensure that they have appropriate support from Arklow Shipping to deliver on their commitments to Her Majesty’s Government.”

Enough said.

See more like "Leaving the EU: Ports"

Leaving the EU: Ports
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 10 January 2019

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
10 Jan 2019, 9:55 a.m.

This is why 90% of the new contracts are with DFDS and Brittany Ferries. As I said, I am disappointed that the Scottish National party does not welcome the DFDS contract that will provide additional routes from east coast ports to northern Europe, which will be beneficial to Scottish business.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Jan 2019, 9:56 a.m.

Putting to one side the ridiculous and desperate allegations of the Secretary of State that Labour is anti-business and his banal allegations over Brexit, I point out that the Seaborne fiasco lays bare his total incompetence and the complete failure of due diligence. Before granting the ferry contract, was he aware of the debt or the promissory note between Ben Sharp, now Seaborne’s CEO, and Mid-Gulf Offshore, acknowledging Sharp’s indebtedness to that company of over $1 million, which remains unpaid?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
10 Jan 2019, 9:57 a.m.

That clearly got under the hon. Gentleman’s skin because he really does not like Government supporting new start-up businesses. The reality is, as I said earlier this week, that due diligence on this contract was done by Slaughter and May, Deloitte and Mott MacDonald, as he would expect, and off the back of that we formed a contract which we pay nothing for until the service is delivered.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
10 Jan 2019, 9:57 a.m.

Here’s another one the Secretary of State might not answer. As a result of this debacle, a variety of legal challenges to the Secretary of State may well flow from, among others, existing freight service providers with capacity. On Tuesday, he said that Seaborne will be able to run ferry services immediately, but on Wednesday the Government said that Seaborne will not be able to open the route between Ramsgate and Ostend until late April at the very earliest. Surely that puts Seaborne in default of its contract to deliver services from 29 March and the contract is therefore void. In those circumstances, should not he reverse his appalling judgment and cancel the contract without delay?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard

We will hold all the companies that have presented us with proposals to the terms of their contracts.

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Seaborne Freight
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Tuesday 08 January 2019

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Jan 2019, 1:41 p.m.

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the awarding of a contract to Seaborne Freight as part of his no-deal contingency planning.

Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Jan 2019, 1:42 p.m.

The Government are working towards ensuring that we leave the European Union in March with a sensible agreement for the future, through the withdrawal agreement that the House will consider next week, but any responsible Government need to plan for all eventualities. As part of that work, the Department for Transport has been undertaking a wide range of activities to mitigate the impact on the transport system of a potential no-deal EU exit, particularly around the movement of freight. For example, my Department has been delivering measures such as the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018, which puts systems in place if a permit system is required to ensure that UK heavy goods vehicles can continue to be used in the EU.

We have also put in place Operation Brock as a replacement for Operation Stack, in order to deal with disruption at the channel ports. This is not simply a Brexit-related measure. We do not want to see any repeat of the issues that Kent faced in 2015, with the closure of the M20. If there is any disruption at the ports, for whatever reason, Operation Brock should keep the motorway open while we prepare the long-term solution of a lorry park. Yesterday, Kent County Council and my Department carried out a live trial of one part of Brock, on the route from Manston. We were satisfied with the number of vehicles that took part, which was more than enough to determine a safe optimum release rate from Manston to the port of Dover via the A256 and caused minimal traffic disruption along the route.

This is a range of examples of the sensible contingency planning that a responsible Government are carrying out to ensure that we are prepared for a range of outcomes. We remain committed to ensuring that movement across the UK border is as frictionless as possible, whatever the outcome. However, without planning, there could be significant disruption to the Dover strait, particularly if no agreement is reached. Given the importance of these routes to the UK economy, it is vital that we put in place contingency plans to mitigate any disruption that might occur in a no-deal scenario.

The Department is working with the port of Dover and the channel tunnel—as well as with our French counterparts, at both official and ministerial level—to ensure that both operate at the maximum possible capacity in all instances. Those discussions are positive and I am confident that everyone is working constructively to ensure that the Dover-Calais route—particularly at the port of Dover—and the tunnel continue to operate fluidly in all scenarios. However, in order to ease any pressure on those routes, my Department has completed a proper procurement process to secure additional ferry capacity between the UK and the EU. Following this process, three contracts were awarded to operators, totalling a potential £103 million. Almost 90% of that was awarded to two well-established operators: £46 million to Brittany Ferries and about £42 million to DFDS. These contracts provide additional capacity on established routes, and through additional sailings and, in some cases, additional vessels, into ports in northern Europe and other parts of France.

A third, smaller contract, which is potentially worth £13.8 million, was awarded to Seaborne Freight, a new British operator, to provide a new service between the port of Ramsgate and Ostend. Let me stress that no money will be paid to any of these operators unless and until they are actually operating ferries on the routes we have contracted. No money will be paid until they are operating the ferries. No payment will be made unless the ships are sailing, and of course, in a no-deal scenario, money will be recouped through the sale of tickets on those ships.

As I believe the House knows, Seaborne is a new operator looking to reopen that route, which closed five years ago. As a result of this, we ensured that its business and operational plans were assessed for the Department by external advisers, including Slaughter and May, Deloitte and Mott MacDonald. These included Seaborne’s plans to charter vessels for service, as is common across many transport modes including airlines and rail operators. We also conducted searches on the directors of Seaborne via a third party, and found nothing that would prevent them from contracting with the Government.

I make no apology for being willing to contract with a new British company, particularly one that has a large number of reputable institutional backers. We contracted with Seaborne Freight because the service it proposes represents a sensible contingency in the event of disruption on other routes. I am also pleased that this award supports the port of Ramsgate, which operated as a commercial ferry port as recently as 2013 and has taken roll-on roll-off services as recently as last year. I am looking forward to seeing ferry services resume from this port. The infrastructure work required to make that possible has already started, and it is one of the most visible and symbolic elements of how seriously my Department is taking contingency planning for all Brexit eventualities.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Jan 2019, 1:49 p.m.

The Transport Secretary has awarded a £14 million contract to a company with no money, no ships, no track record, no employees, no ports, one telephone line, and no working website or sailing schedule. Two of Seaborne Freight’s directors would not pass normal due diligence requirements. One of them, Ben Sharp, is already under investigation by a Government Department. Did the Department for Transport consult other Departments about Mr Sharp’s fitness as a company director? Ben Sharp quit his business activities in the Gulf leaving a trail of debt behind him. His company, Mercator, was merely a shell finding vessels for security companies. Is it correct that he operated without the licence he needed pursuant to the Export Control Order 2008? Did he operate without that licence? Yes or no?

It is abundantly clear from the promissory note published by “Channel 4 News” that Sharp owed and still owes Mid-Gulf Offshore more than $l million, and many more companies besides. How is that Slaughter and May, Deloitte and Mott MacDonald were instructed to restrict their due diligence examination to the face value of the presentation put to them by Seaborne? Why on earth have they been allowed to restrict their investigation to the present company and not to consider the trading history of the individuals concerned, particularly Ben Sharp? The mayor of Ostend has made it clear that Seaborne cannot berth at his port as it has no bank guarantees and no contract with Ostend. It is without capital. Who is investing in Seaborne? Who is paying for the dredging of Ramsgate?

This is a shoddy and tawdry affair, and the Secretary of State is making a complete mess of it. This contract is likely to be unlawful and it violates every current best practice guidance issued by Whitehall. When will he realise that this country cannot continue to suffer the consequences of his gross incompetence? Why is this calamitous Secretary of State still in post?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard

I am not even going to address the idiocy that the hon. Gentleman has just come up with. He has made a number of allegations, which I suggest he goes and makes elsewhere. I am simply going to say this: the Government have let a contract for which we will pay no money until and unless ferries are running. That is responsible stewardship of public money. On other matters, from the due diligence we have done, there is no reason to believe that anyone involved in this business is not fit to do business with the Government. I say this again: we are not spending money unless these ferries operate.

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Drones: Consultation Response
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Monday 07 January 2019

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
7 Jan 2019, 8:09 p.m.

I should like to make a statement about the action the Government are taking on our future policy on drones.

The disruption caused by drones to flights at Gatwick airport last month was deliberate, irresponsible and calculated, as well as illegal. It meant days of chaos and uncertainty for over 100,000 passengers at Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year. Carefully planned holidays were disrupted, long-expected reunions between friends and relatives missed. Families were forced to spend hours at an airport, not knowing if or when they would reach their destinations—completely unacceptable and utterly illegal. I pay tribute to all at Gatwick and other airports who worked very hard to make sure people did get away, albeit belatedly, for their Christmas breaks, and I thank all those in the defence world and the police who worked hard to get the airport back together again, and of course Sussex police are now leading the investigation into this criminal activity.

I am clear that, when caught, those responsible should face the maximum possible custodial sentence for this hugely irresponsible criminal act, and I want to assure the House that my Department is working extremely closely with airports, the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Civil Aviation Authority and the police to make sure our national airports are fully prepared to manage any repeat of what was an unprecedented incident. I spoke personally to the heads of the major UK airports before Christmas, and later this week the aviation Minister, Baroness Sugg, will meet them again for an update on progress. In the meantime the Ministry of Defence remains on standby to deal with any further problems at Gatwick or any other airport if required.

This incident was a stark example of why we must continue to ensure drones are used safely and securely in the UK. Today I am publishing the outcome of our recent consultation, “Taking flight: the future of drones in the UK.” We received over 5,000 responses to that consultation reflecting a broad range of views. Those responses underlined the importance of balancing the UK’s world-leading position in aviation safety and security with supporting the development of this emerging industry. The Government are taking action to ensure that passengers can have confidence that their journeys will not be disrupted in future, aircraft can safely use our key transport hubs, and criminals misusing drones can be brought to justice.

The UK is where technology companies want to build their businesses, invest in innovation and use science and engineering to bring immense benefits to this country. Drones are at the forefront of these technological advances and are already being used in the UK to great effect. Our emergency search and rescue services use drones on a regular basis. Drones can also reduce risks for workers in hazardous sectors such as the oil and gas industries, and this technology is also driving more efficient ways of working in many other sectors, from delivering medicines to assisting with building work.

However, the Gatwick incident has reinforced the fact that it is crucial that our regulatory and enforcement regime keeps pace with rapid technological change. We have already taken some big steps towards building a regulatory system for this new sector. It is already an offence to endanger aircraft. Drones must not be flown near people or property and have to be kept within visual line of sight. Commercial users are able to operate drones outside of these rules, but only when granted CAA permission after meeting strict safety conditions.

Education is also vital to ensure everyone understands the rules about drone use. That is why the CAA has been running its long-standing Dronesafe campaign and Dronecode guide—work that is helping to highlight these rules to the public. And on 30 July last year we introduced new measures that barred drones from flying above 400 feet and within 1 km of protected airport boundaries. In addition, we have introduced and passed legislation that will mean that from November all drone operators must register and all drone pilots complete a competency test.

However, we now intend to go further. Today’s measures set out the next steps needed to ensure that drones are used in a safe and secure way and that the industry is accountable. At the same time these steps will ensure that we harness the benefits that drones can bring to the UK economy.

A common theme in those 5,000 consultation responses was the importance of the enforcement of safety regulations. The Government share that view. The majority of drone users fly safely and responsibly, but we must ensure that the police have the right powers to deal with illegal use. We will therefore shortly be introducing new police powers. These include allowing the police to request evidence from drone users where there is reasonable suspicion of an offence being committed, as well as enabling the police to issue fixed penalty notices for minor drone offences. Those new powers will help to ensure effective enforcement of the rules. They will provide an immediate deterrent to those who might misuse drones or attempt to break the law.

My Department has been working closely with the Home Office on the legislative clauses that will deliver these changes. It is of course crucial that our national infrastructure, including airports and other sites such as prisons and energy plants, are also adequately protected to prevent incidents such as that at Gatwick. We must also ensure that the most up-to-date technology is available to detect, track and potentially disrupt drones that are being used illegally, so we have also consulted on the further use of counter-drone technology. Those consultation responses will now be used by the Home Office to develop an appropriate means of using that technology in the UK.

Of course, aviation and passenger safety is at the heart of everything we do. While airlines and airports welcomed our recent airport drone restriction measures, they also asked for the current airport rules to be amended in order to better protect the landing and take-off paths of aircraft. We have listened to those concerns, and we have been working with the CAA and NATS to develop the optimum exclusion zone that will help to meet those requirements. It is important to stress that any restriction zone would not have prevented a deliberate incident such as that at Gatwick. However, it is right that proportionate measures should be in place at airports to protect aircraft and to avoid potential conflict with legitimate drone activity. We will therefore introduce additional protections around airports, with a particular focus on protected exclusion zones from runway ends, alongside increasing the current aerodrome traffic zone restrictions around airports. Drone pilots wishing to fly within these zones must do so only with permission from the aerodrome air traffic control. We will amend the Air Navigation Order 2016 to implement these changes.

I want to address some of the rather ill-judged comments that have been made by Labour Members. Let me remind them of three things. First, the event at Gatwick airport was a deliberate criminal act that can carry a sentence of life imprisonment. We can pass new laws until the cows come home, but that does not stop people breaking them, and the law is as tough as is necessary to punish the perpetrators of an attack such as this. Secondly, this was an entirely new type of challenge. It is noteworthy that, since the events at Gatwick, we have been approached by airports around the world for our advice on how to handle something similar. Thirdly, the issue was solved only by the smart and innovative use of new technology. For security reasons, I am not going to give the House details of how this was achieved, but I want to extend my thanks to the Ministry of Defence for moving rapidly to put a new kind of response into the field.

There is no question but that lessons have to be learned from what happened at Gatwick. Passengers have to be able to travel without fear of their trips being disrupted by malicious drone use. Airports must be prepared to deal with incidents of this type, and the police need the proper powers to deal with drone offences. We must also be ready to harness the opportunities and benefits that the safe use of drones can bring. The measures I have announced today in response to the consultation will take us forward on that front, and I commend this statement to the House.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
7 Jan 2019, 8:13 p.m.

I should like to thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of half of his statement—that is a new trick, just giving me some of the pages—but I have to say to him: is that it? Announcing the end of a consultation exercise does not constitute action; nor does it go any way towards restoring confidence in his capabilities; nor does it go any way towards addressing the justified anger of the hundreds of thousands of passengers who had their travel plans thrown into chaos ahead of the festive season after the malicious and sustained drone attack at Gatwick airport. In fact, his statement serves only to highlight the damage that his dithering and delaying have caused.

It is not only Labour Members who are critical. Colonel Richard Kemp, a former intelligence chairman of the Cabinet’s emergency Cobra committee, said:

“It is amazing that this kit”—

the kit to defeat drones—

“was not in place and that we have had to wait two days for it to be installed. This drone incident is hardly a surprise. They’ve been known about for years.”

And Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, said:

“By any analysis, the fiasco at Gatwick over the last few days has been a national embarrassment of near-biblical proportions. With most of Europe already sniggering at the United Kingdom over our Government’s inept handling of Brexit, we did not need to add more lines to the pantomime script.”

Of course, right hon. and hon. Members will vividly recall the Secretary of State describing the ennoblement of General Dannatt as a “political gimmick” by the Labour party, only for him then to realise that the former Army chief was in fact ennobled by—you’ve guessed it—the Conservative party.

It is good to learn that the Government might finally listen to the advice of industry on extending drone exclusion zones around airports to some 5 km, but it is unfortunate that this advice was not considered sooner. It is also unfortunate that the drone incursion at Gatwick airport in July 2017 did not serve as a warning to the Secretary of State. He clearly learned no lessons from that incident, and he was totally negligent in failing to bring forward measures to better protect national infrastructure. The Government’s approach to drones has been chaotic, and the industry clearly has no faith in his ability to deal with serious incidents. It was no surprise to learn from the media that, during the Gatwick incident, the Secretary of State was stripped of his command by the security services due to his inaction. An effective Transport Secretary would have taken decisive action once the threat was known and understood. Earlier and clearer direction from him would have given airports the confidence to invest in anti-drone technology. His prevarication has delayed investment in detection and prevention measures. Why did he not ensure that proposals were brought forward to universally license such technology for use at airports?

Labour has repeatedly warned Department for Transport Ministers over the last several years that they needed to take action on drones, yet nowhere near enough has been done. The drone consultation closed five months ago, yet the Gatwick fiasco still happened, and it is abundantly clear that the Department is totally distracted by having to deal with this Government’s chaotic Brexit, including extending the duties of departmental staff to handing out blankets, sandwiches and hot drinks to lorry drivers who find themselves trapped on the M20. Following the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which fell before the last election, the Government have found the time to legislate on space flight and air travel organisers licences, as well as vehicle technology and lasers during this Parliament, but their failure to bring forward detailed plans on drones has had disastrous consequences.

It is frankly astonishing that there were no plans in place across the Government Departments to deal with a drone attack. Why was there no urgent, clear and effective response? The drones Bill will seemingly include powers for the police to enforce any new laws or regulations relating to drones. Greater police powers are welcome, but they are meaningless without more resources. What arrangements does the Secretary of State intend to set out to enable airports to act urgently in the event of a hostile drone incursion? What steps will he take to give confidence to airports that their actions will be permitted and lawful? Drone licensing and registration are not due to come in until November 2019. Should not the Secretary of State accelerate the introduction of such provisions in all circumstances? Developing drone technology presents huge public policy challenges that demand a sweeping, cross-departmental response across Government. My fear is that the rhetoric we have heard from the Government today is many miles away from reality, and is it not stark-staringly obvious that this Secretary of State is not up to the job?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
7 Jan 2019, 8:20 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the rhetoric we have heard today is many miles away from reality: his rhetoric! Let me restate the point that this was a crime. It was an illegal act, and it had nothing to do with the laws that are in place. Somebody deliberately decided to disrupt Gatwick airport. It was a crime that will carry a sentence of up to life imprisonment when that person is caught, and I put it to the House that that maximum penalty is, in my view, appropriate to the crime. This is not a question of the laws not being in place; it is a question of catching the person who did this, and Sussex police, amply supported by the Met and our security agencies, are working very hard to achieve that.

The hon. Gentleman’s second point was about technology. Let me gently explain that the technology that was deployed with the help of the Ministry of Defence, for which we are grateful, to tackle the problem is new and unavailable elsewhere in the world. This country is at the forefront of developing systems that can combat this kind of issue, and a huge amount of work is ongoing to find out what is on the market and to assemble new kinds of systems, but there simply is not an off-the-shelf solution available to airports that they could buy tomorrow to provide protection against such attacks. A huge amount of work will now take place to ensure that that can happen, but he is simply ill-informed if he believes that there is some magic solution that was not put in place.

The third point is that other airports are now placing a huge amount of focus on ensuring that such things cannot happen again. Above all, however, we have put in place a mechanism to redeploy the MOD capability should such an event occur again. I hope that it does not, but we know how to deal with it if it happens again, and other airports around the world are coming to us asking, “What do we need to do?” That is the reality of what is happening, not the nonsense we have just heard from the Opposition spokesman.

See more like "Rail Review: Terms of Reference"

Rail Review: Terms of Reference
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 11 October 2018

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 12:24 p.m.

I wish to update the House on the Government’s comprehensive rail review, which we intend to use to build on the challenges facing a busy railway and in particular to deliver a network that is fit for the future and better serves passengers. I shall also update the House on the current performance of Northern and GTR.

For a generation before the Railways Act 1993, British Rail was in seemingly terminal decline. Passenger numbers were falling, stations were closing and short-term decisions were being made at the expense of the travelling public. The 1993 Act brought investment, new services and better reliability. A quarter of a century later, the situation is very different. Our UK rail network is at capacity in commuter areas, with many of the most intensively used lines in Europe. On many routes, it is simply not possible to squeeze more trains on to the network. As we now know, the railways were not in fact in terminal decline; they had been starved of investment. The period of privatisation has reversed the decades of decline and heralded the fastest expansion of our railways since they were built by the Victorians. It has also delivered billions of pounds of investment and radically improved safety. Our railways are now among the safest in the world.

Nevertheless, that welcome expansion has brought new, acute challenges. On major commuter routes throughout the country, the trains are packed each morning. Network Rail, which represents a third of the industry, based on spend, is nationalised. It is also responsible for more than half the daily disruption. But no matter whether it is a failure of the track, a fault with a train or a customer incident, it is because there is little resilience or margin for error in the system that, when things go wrong, the knock-on effect can last for hours. The problem is compounded because the railway is run by multiple players without clear lines of accountability.

When I took over as Secretary of State for Transport in 2016, I said that change was needed and started the process of bringing together the operation of the tracks and trains, which was split up in the 1990s so that we had single operational teams. That process is helping to overcome problems caused by fragmentation in some areas and creating a railway that is more responsive to passenger needs. I also said that that change needed to be evolutionary and not revolutionary, to avoid destabilising the industry, so we have started to shape alliances between the teams running trains and the teams running track to create a more joined-up and customer-focused structure.

The difficulties with the introduction of the new timetable over the summer and the problems that we are experiencing with many major investment projects has convinced me that the process of evolution is no longer enough. The collapse of Virgin Trains East Coast has also highlighted the need for radical change. Put simply, we need that change to ensure that the investment going into the railways from both the Government and the private sector results in better services for passengers and delivers the improved reliability, better trains, extra seats and more-frequent services that we all want to see.

Last month, my Department announced a root-and-branch review of how the rail industry works. Keith Williams, the deputy chairman of John Lewis & Partners and former chief executive of British Airways, is to lead the work, and I expect him to make ambitious recommendations for reform to ensure that our rail network produces even greater benefits for passengers and continues to support a stronger, fairer economy. Keith Williams’ expertise in driving customer service excellence and workforce engagement will be incredibly valuable as we reform the rail industry to become more passenger focused.

Keith will be assisted by an independent expert panel from throughout the country, with expertise in rail, business and customer service. The panel will ensure that the review thinks boldly and creatively, challenging received wisdom, to ensure that its recommendations can deliver the stability and improvements that rail passengers deserve. It will be supported by a dedicated secretariat and will now begin to engage with the industry, passengers, regional and business representatives, and others throughout the country, drawing on their expertise, insights and experiences to inform the review.

The review will consider all parts of the rail industry, from the current franchising system and industry structures to accountability and value-for-money for passengers and taxpayers. It will consider further devolution and the needs of rail freight operators and will particularly take into account the final report of Professor Stephen Glaister on the May 2018 network disruption, which is due at the end of the year and to which I shall turn in a moment.

When we establish what we think is the right approach to mend our railways, it must be properly tested and scrutinised independently. I have today published the rail review’s terms of reference and placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses, together with the names of the review’s independent panel. The review will build a rigorous and comprehensive evidence base, and it will make recommendations regarding the most appropriate organisational and commercial framework for the sector that delivers our vision for a world-class railway. The private sector has an important part to play in shaping the future of the industry, but it is important that the review considers the right balance of public and private sector involvement.

Some have called for the return to a national, state-run monopoly, and for us to go back to the days of British Rail. There is an expectation that taking hundreds of millions of pounds of debt on to the Government books will magically resolve every problem. This fails to recognise that many of the problems that customers faced this year were down to the nationalised part of the railways. It also creates the false sense that a Government-controlled rebrand would somehow make every train work on time. Those who make this argument fail to tell passengers that the much-needed investment that is taking place today would be at risk, and that taxpayers’ money would be diverted from public services to subsidise losses.

The review will look at how the railway is organised to deliver for passengers. It will look forensically at the different options, and then make recommendations on what will best deliver results in different areas of the country. In autumn 2019, the review will conclude with a White Paper, which will set out its findings, and explain how we will deliver reform. We expect reform to begin from 2020, so passengers will see benefits before the next election.

I have commuted for most of my career—over 35 years —and I still do. I am proud to be in a Government who are supporting a major programme of investment in rail, from Thameslink to the TransPennine upgrade, with new trains in the north, south, east and west. However, we cannot stand by while the current industry structure struggles to deliver the improvements that this investment should be generating. So it is time for change.

The review will not prevent us taking every opportunity in the short term to improve passenger experiences. That is our focus and that is why we are committed to an investment of £48 billion in the railways over the next five years.

Professor Stephen Glaister’s interim report has provided us with an accurate account of the series of mistakes and complex issues across the rail industry that led to the unacceptable disruption that passengers experienced earlier this year. We know that, in the north, delays to infrastructure upgrades, beyond the control of Network Rail, were a major factor in the resulting disruption. Richard George, the former head of transport at the 2012 Olympics, is now working with the industry and Transport for the North to look at any underlying performance issues so that they can be properly addressed.

In the four weeks ending 15 September, in the Northern rail area, more than 85% of services met their punctuality targets; the highest level delivered for Northern rail’s passengers since the timetable introduction in May. Northern is now running 99% of the May timetable and is running more trains than were operating in that region before the May timetable. We are working with Transport for the North and the industry to plan further uplifts in services, while prioritising reliability.

In the coming months, passengers across the north will begin to benefit from the brand new trains that were unveiled last week. The first trains are now operating in parts of the Northern rail area. There will be more than 2,000 extra services a week. Every single Northern and TransPennine Express train will be brand new or refurbished as new, and every single one of the old Pacer trains will be gone.

I now want to turn to Govia Thameslink Railway, which has new leadership. The reliability of its services has improved significantly: since the introduction of the interim timetable in July, 85% of its trains arrived at their station on time, and that performance has been getting better. In addition, in the past week, the first of the new Class 717 trains that will run on its Great Northern routes began testing. GTR is now operating 94% of the weekday timetable that it intended to run from 20 May, including, crucially, all the services in the busiest peak hours. By December, it plans to introduce all planned off-peak services, but there is much more work to do to improve performance, particularly at weekends.

Since the disruption in May, there has been intense scrutiny from the Government and the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, on what went wrong and why. GTR must take its fair share of the responsibility; its performance was below what we expect from our rail operators. Officials in my Department are now taking action to finalise how we will hold GTR to account for the disruption. My hon. Friend the rail Minister will keep the House updated.

We need now to move forward and take action on these issues, particularly after the disruption that passengers experienced. We need to help passengers plan ahead; to ensure that we do everything we can to reduce delays and cancellations; and to ensure that we properly compensate disrupted fare payers. The review that I have announced today is very necessary. It will continue the approach and ensure that the rail industry is focused on putting the passenger first and that we maximise the benefits of this investment. The lesson of this summer is that it is now time for change and we will deliver that change.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 12:34 p.m.

I wish to thank the Secretary of State for advanced sight of his statement, which was actually announced three weeks ago, on 20 September. Although the title of this statement is, “Rail Review: Terms of Reference”, he has not provided me with these terms or the names on the panel. Seemingly, the document sits in the Library, as yet unseen—a fat lot of use that is when we are here to discuss it.

The Department for Transport’s press releases are very fond of exaggerated claims, historical or otherwise, so the froth around the Secretary of State’s rail review announcement was to be expected. We were told that it would be “far-reaching”, “sweeping” and “root and branch”. Really? I am surprised that the Department did not say that it would be the most comprehensive rail review since the Victorian era, or since the time of Brunel, as it usually does. These absurd and ridiculous claims undermine rail policy debate and belie a tragic reality. His review is not far-reaching, sweeping or root and branch. It is none of those things. It is a predetermined prevarication and a way for him to cover up his disastrous failure to run the railway properly and to kick it into the long grass for a year. It offers precisely nothing to the millions of rail passengers who have endured months of misery since the timetabling crisis in May.

A Government review is one of the oldest tricks in the political book. It is usually a good way of kicking a difficult decision into the long grass, so fair play to him—or was it the Prime Minister’s idea? Under the Conservatives, over the past eight years, rail reviews have practically come along with the frequency of buses—McNulty, Brown, Shaw, Hendy, Bowe, Laidlaw, and Hansford. I could go on.

Is it not the truth that we do not need another review to tell us what is wrong with the railway? Why do we need a rail outsider to tell us what we know already? Is this the expertise that we need? Also, can the Secretary of State tell us how many days a month Keith Williams will contribute to the review? My sources tell me one day a month. Hardly worth the bother, is it? The fact that the permanent secretary at the Department for Transport was desperately ringing around retired rail executives urging them to join his review panel tells us something.

Does not this show that the Government are out of touch with the rail industry? What is more, the rail industry has called for public ownership to be considered as part of the review—it is the Rail Delivery Group if the Secretary of State wants the reference. This review has no credibility in the rail industry.

I know that the Minister told a conference fringe meeting in Birmingham last week that rail franchising is broken—I am pleased that we can both agree on something, but we differ on how to move forward. He thinks that bolting together operations and infrastructure into individual partnerships on the east coast or Southeastern is the way forward for rail. In fact, his review is simply a 12-month prelude to justifying this proposal, which no one in the rail industry takes seriously or thinks is workable. It is ironic that, as an ardent Brexiteer, he is doing so much to perpetuate a rail operation system that enriches those foreign Governments who own the majority of rail franchises. His review offers nothing for the private UK supply side businesses, which are the backbone of British industry. Will the review consider the roles of the DFT or the ORR? Practically everything starts or finishes with the Department. Will he suspend all current franchise competitions while this review is underway—Southeastern, East Midlands and west coast? Will he come back to the Dispatch Box and confirm that he will now reward the failure of Govia by re-letting the Southeastern contract to it in the coming weeks?

The rail industry and rail passengers have had a battering this year with failed franchises, a timetabling crisis and cuts to promised investment. There is an ongoing lack of leadership. Will not this 12-month review create even more paralysis, confusion and uncertainty when rail desperately needs stability? It is unacceptable that passengers on GTR and Northern face further inflation-busting fare rises in January. Will the Secretary of State support Labour’s call for a fare freeze on those routes—in addition to compensation?

We need to put the railway back together as a unified whole. The British public are crying out for an accountable railway. They are desperate for a system that is simpler and more efficient. Above all, our railways need to be run in public ownership for the public interest, and his review will do none of those things.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 9:30 a.m.

I keep hearing from the Opposition that returning to British Rail would deliver transformation for the British public.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 9:30 a.m.

I didn’t say that.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman says that he did not say that, but when he talks about an integrated state monopoly, what else is he talking about except for returning to the days of British Rail? Labour might give it a different name, but it will still be British Rail. The reality is that Labour Members cannot explain the benefits that their policy would actually bring, and their leader does not even know which part of the railway is privatised and which is nationalised. They say their policies will cost nothing, yet the Library says that even taking back control of the rolling stock will cost £17 billion. On the “World at One”, the shadow rail Minister could not even explain how Labour’s policy would work. [Interruption.]

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 12:49 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is disappointing to see the RMT continuing to strike when none of its members face the loss of their jobs or a loss of money.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 12:49 p.m.

It is about safety.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 12:49 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman talks about safety. This is a false approach. We know that the chief inspector of safety on our railways has said that the approach that is now taken on many parts of the network is safe. On Southern, where we had the initial problems, more staff are operating on trains now than before the dispute. So this is not about taking staff away from helping passengers; it is about making the railways run more efficiently. It is tragic that the Labour party does not seem to want that and all Labour Members can do is chime the same songs as their union paymasters.

See more like "Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords]"

Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords]
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Tuesday 26 June 2018

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
26 Jun 2018, 6:17 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I want to say a few words at the concluding stage of the consideration of this Bill. First, I thank all those involved on both sides of the House—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), the Opposition team who have taken part in the debates, the two Committee Chairs and, indeed, all the hon. Members who served on the Public Bill Committee.

This is an important Bill. As the Brexit negotiations continue, it is critical that we prepare carefully for our future relationship with the European Union, take all the steps we need to take for all eventualities in negotiations that lie ahead, and make sure we have all the tools that are needed for that future relationship, so that haulage, which is a really important part of our economy, has the tools it needs to be able to carry on crossing borders and delivering the trade that is so essential to this country and to the European Union as a whole. After all, this industry directly employs 300,000 people.

The first part of this Bill will allow us to introduce a road haulage permit scheme covering existing agreements outside the European Union, while also making sure that we have the tools available for any permit-based deal with the European Union, if that is required. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Bill puts in place a legal framework for the Government to establish a system for issuing permits, without placing undue regulation or financial requirements on the industry.

The UK already has several of these in place with non-EU countries. It is important that we have all the tools we may need at the conclusion of the negotiating process and I am very grateful to both Houses of Parliament for expediting this measure. I believe that we have made another step forward in our preparedness process by passing this legislation.

The other part of the legislation gives the Government powers to establish a trailer registration scheme to meet the standards in the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic. That ensures that UK operators can register trailers before entering countries that require such registration—I am referring to HGV trailers, which are an important part of the haulage sector, and not to smaller camping trailers that holidaymakers use. Commercial trailers over 750 kg and all trailers over 3.5 tonnes need to be registered. As with the first part of the Bill, we intend only to recover the costs of running the scheme and not to make a profit.

On the trailer safety measures added in the other place, the Lords made its recommendations and the Government acted on them. We will publish a report on trailer safety within one year of the Bill coming into force.

This is a good Bill and a valuable contribution to the preparations for Brexit. It also puts in place sensible safety measures and a sensible framework for the future of our haulage sector when it comes to the permits and registration required for it to continue to operate in the way we want. I again thank all those involved in the Bill on both sides of the House.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
26 Jun 2018, 6:21 p.m.

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for enhancing our parliamentary education by explaining the words, “I move”. We are wiser because of your guidance.

The Opposition recognise the Bill as necessary for Brexit preparations and it is right that the Government prepare for contingencies on leaving the European Union. A failure to retain an essentially unchanged operating environment would damage the UK haulage industry and the wider economy, which is why we believe the Government should continue to use the Community licence post Brexit. We hope the measures in the Bill will never be used, but it is imperative that the Government press ahead with their trailer safety review and report to the House next year.

I thank the Government for co-operating with Labour to improve the legislation. I also place on record my thanks to colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and staff both in this House and in the other place whose hard work helped to secure improvements relating to trailer safety and to increase Ministers’ accountability to Parliament in relation to the powers given to the Secretary of State in the Bill.

I heard what the Minister said regarding the allocation of permits. I cannot let the moment pass without adding my note of caution on including such careless words in legislation as

“may include first come, first served or an element of random selection”.

Using that sort of language in statute brings us to a poor place.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) for her superb campaign on trailer safety following the tragic death of three-year-old Freddie Hussey from her constituency. She has also summoned a safety summit in her constituency, which has been so effective. She will be warmly congratulated by all hon. Members.

Road haulage is vital for the UK economy. Any post-Brexit arrangement that impedes the ease of transit of goods, or that places additional costs or administrative burdens on hauliers, will damage the sector and the wider economy and must be avoided. The haulage industry has been clear about the threat of additional administrative and financial burdens and the risks presented to UK supply chains.

Throughout the Bill’s previous stages, Labour has done all it can to reduce the disruption that would be caused if the measures become necessary, but the negotiations will determine how much damage and disruption Brexit will cause to such industries in respect of the retention of the Community licensing scheme. Broader issues such as whether we will be part of a customs union and avoid the introduction of customs checks at the border, and the consequential gridlock of our ports and roads, are also a matter for the negotiations. I have visited a number of ports during my time as shadow Secretary of State for Transport and the consequences of failing to retain an unchanged operating environment are stark.

It is concerning that the Government’s calamitous attempts at negotiating Brexit make it increasingly likely that the measures in the Bill will not be a contingency but will be put into effect. Unfortunately, the negotiations are not something we are able to address as a part of the Bill. I do, however, believe we have improved this necessary but hopefully never-to-be-used legislation. Labour will be voting in support.

See more like "National Policy Statement: Airports"

National Policy Statement: Airports
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Monday 25 June 2018

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard

My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point because this whole process is predicated on banking technological achievements that do not currently exist. We must be more thoughtful about this.

The Committee on Climate Change’s last progress report saw the UK failing to stay on track to meet its 2030 carbon targets. The CCC publishes its latest report on Thursday, and it reportedly will detail just how badly the Government are performing. The third runway will increase the number of flights by 50%, as per the Airports Commission report—table 12.1; page 238—yet any increase in aviation emissions will require other sectors to reduce their emissions beyond 85%. That is astonishingly imbalanced. The Department’s own projections show that a new runway at Heathrow will directly lead to a breach of at least 3.3 million tonnes of the 37.5 million tonnes carbon dioxide limit for 2050 set by the CCC without new policies to mitigate emissions.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 6:32 p.m.

It might be helpful if the House were to understand whether the hon. Gentleman’s position is that there should be no expansion of aviation at all.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 6:33 p.m.

I thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to provide some clarity from the Dispatch Box about the breach of the CO2 limits that I have just described, but instead he asks that question. In fact, we know that we are talking about considerably more than that. It is utterly absurd for the Government to ask the House to vote on expanding Heathrow without a plan for reducing aviation carbon emissions. Under the revised NPS, there is a very real risk that aviation’s carbon emissions will be higher in 2050. Furthermore, the Department for Transport is not due to publish a new aviation strategy until 2019.

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Confidence in the Secretary of State for Transport
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Tuesday 19 June 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
19 Jun 2018, 2:05 p.m.

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets that figure from. If the Government take franchises back when they run out it costs diddly squat to take them back—zero—so he is talking utter nonsense.

No one other than the Government hold responsibility for their dogmatic stance. This dogma causes them to stand by and defend the rail structure that is manifestly not fit for purpose. It then falls to the Department for Transport to get involved to try to run the railway properly. It cannot do this. Today’s railway cannot run itself effectively because it was decapitated by privatisation and chopped into bits to facilitate private profit taking. Because there is no guiding mind overseeing the railway, the Department has to wade into the railway much more deeply than it should. Having taken this approach, the Government assume a greater deal of responsibility, but they have not shown themselves capable of discharging that responsibility.

The Department for Transport’s oversight has failed in three major ways. First, it appears that, when there was a decision on whether to press ahead with the timetable changes affecting Northern, the Department stood against allowing a deferral. Why did the Department not believe the professional advice it was given? Secondly, the Transport Committee heard from Network Rail yesterday that Thameslink phasing was first raised by the GTR readiness board in June 2017. Mr Halsall, the route managing director for the south-east, said the Department stood by and did not make a decision until November 2017—an astonishing five-month delay. What did the Secretary of State know and when did he know it?

Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Jun 2018, 2:07 p.m.

I can confirm that the decision to proceed with a slimmed down timetable was taken by me in July 2017.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
19 Jun 2018, 2:07 p.m.

Well, I am saying to the Secretary of State quite clearly that a competent Secretary of State would have known this right at the outset and taken the appropriate steps. He did not. He allowed the situation to unwind.

Thirdly, the Thameslink industry readiness board—readiness board, there’s a laugh—formally requested that the GTR timetable changes should be scaled back, yet the Department dithered for two months. GTR boss Mr Horton said the board did not have an executive role, so he could not explain who was responsible for the meltdown—no one accountable and no one responsible.

I do not want to personalise the issue and I do not expect the Secretary of State to know every detail of what happens in his Department—[Interruption.] No, it is just everything he does and everything he stands for; it’s nothing personal. However, the three points I have described are all important failures of the Department for Transport at a high level. Stephen Glaister from the Office for Rail and Road is not an appropriate person to conduct a review into the timetable failings. The ORR itself has failed in its regulation of Network Rail, so it cannot be expected to conduct an independent investigation. This is yet another bad judgment by the Secretary of State for Transport. A new rail timetable is due to be implemented in December 2018. What funds, resources and support will the Secretary of State provide to ensure Network Rail’s planning capability can deliver the changes due in six months?

Today’s Financial Times reports the managing director of Trenitalia complaining about Network Rail and, in particular, the lack of integration between Network Rail and the train operating companies since privatisation. Did the Italians not do their homework on the reality of the UK’s railway? Recent events demonstrate more than ever that our railway is not integrated. I am afraid that the breach of faith and trust is so great that the Secretary of State’s credibility will never recover. There comes a point when the publicly accountable politician in charge of the railway should step up and shoulder the blame. It seems to me, and I suspect to many rail users, that we have more than reached that point.

Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Hansard
19 Jun 2018, 2:09 p.m.

Before I respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), can I just say a couple of things? First, I saw the comments that he made yesterday, and I thought he was very brave on the whole issue of medicinal cannabis—I pay tribute to him for that. The other thing is that I echo his words about the tragic events at Loughborough Junction yesterday. Our hearts go out to the families of those concerned and, indeed, to all those who dealt with what was clearly a horrible incident on the ground. We owe a huge amount to the British Transport police in particular and to staff across the railway who deal with horrendous situations like this from time to time. I am very grateful to them for what they did.

For years, the Opposition have demanded that the railways be renationalised and run by the Government, and they have claimed that they would be run much better if they were. Now it appears that they think the railways are already run by the Government, and that if something goes wrong, it is down to us. Frankly, I am going to let their confusion speak for itself and concentrate today on what really matters: getting things back into shape for passengers.

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Airports National Policy Statement
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Tuesday 05 June 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Jun 2018, 12:39 p.m.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport.

The Government have a clear vision: to build a Britain fit for the future and a Britain with a prosperous jobs market and an economy that works for everyone. That is why I come to the House to mark an historic moment. Today I am laying before Parliament our final proposal for an airports national policy statement, which signals our commitment to securing global connectivity, creating tens of thousands of local jobs and apprenticeships, and boosting our economy for future generations by expanding Heathrow airport. It is an example of how the Government are taking forward their industrial strategy.

As you know, Mr Speaker, taking such a decision is never easy. This issue has been debated for half a century. My Department has met with local residents and fully understands their strength of feeling. But this is a decision taken in the national interest, based on detailed evidence. In 2015, the independent Airports Commission concluded that a new north-west runway at Heathrow was the best scheme to deliver additional capacity, and in October 2016 we agreed. We ran two national consultations during 2017 and received more than 80,000 responses. All the points raised have been carefully considered, and today we are publishing the Government’s response.

To ensure fairness and transparency we appointed an independent consultation adviser, the former Court of Appeal judge, Sir Jeremy Sullivan. Our draft NPS was scrutinised by the Transport Committee, and I thank the Chair of the Committee and her team for the thoroughness of their work. I was pleased that they, like me and my colleagues in the Government, accepted the case for expansion and concluded that we are right to pursue development through an additional runway at Heathrow. We welcome and have acted on 24 out of 25 of its recommendations. Our response to the Committee is also being published today.

This country has one of the largest aviation sectors in the world, contributing £22 billion to our GDP, supporting half a million jobs, servicing 285 million passengers and transporting 2.6 million tonnes of freight last year. The time for action is now. Heathrow is already full, and the evidence shows that the remaining London airports will not be far behind. Despite Heathrow being the busiest two-runway airport in the world, its capacity constraints mean that it is falling behind its global competitors, impacting the UK’s economy and global trading opportunities.

Expansion at Heathrow will bring real benefits across the country, including a boost of up to £74 billion to passengers and the wider economy, providing better connections to growing world markets, and increasing flights to more long-haul destinations. Heathrow is a nationally significant freight hub, carrying more freight by value than all other UK airports combined. A third runway would enable it to nearly double its current freight capacity.

In addition—this is crucial—this is a project with benefits that reach far beyond London. We expect up to 15% of slots on a new runway to facilitate domestic connections across the UK, spreading the benefits of expansion to our great nations and regions. As well as new routes, I would expect there to be increased competition on existing routes, giving greater choice to passengers. I say very clearly that regional connectivity is one of the key reasons for the decision we have taken.

I recognise the strong convictions that many Members of this House and their constituents have on this issue, and the impacts on those living in the local area. It is for that reason that we have included strong mitigations in the NPS to limit those impacts. Communities will be supported by up to £2.6 billion towards compensation, noise insulation and improvements to public amenities— 10 times bigger than under the 2009 third runway proposal. This package is comparable with some of the most generous in the world and includes £700 million for noise insulation for homes and £40 million to insulate schools and community buildings. The airport has offered 125% of the full market value for homes in the compulsory and voluntary purchase zones, plus stamp duty, moving costs and legal fees, as well as a legally binding noise envelope and more predictable periods of respite.

For the first time ever, we expect and intend to deliver a six-and-a-half-hour ban on scheduled night flights. But my ambitions do not stop there. If the House agrees and the NPS is designated and the scheme progresses, I will encourage Heathrow and airlines to work with local communities to propose longer periods of respite during a further consultation on night flight restrictions. We will grant development consent only if we are satisfied that a new runway would not impact the UK’s compliance with air quality obligations. Advances in technology also mean that new planes are cleaner, greener and quieter than the ones they are replacing.

Earlier this year a community engagement board was established, and we appointed Rachel Cerfontyne as its independent chair. It will focus on building relations between Heathrow and its communities, considering the design of the community compensation fund, which could be worth up to £50 million a year, and holding the airport to account when it comes to delivering on its commitments today and into the future.

There has been much debate about the costs of this scheme. Our position could not be clearer: expansion will be privately financed. Crucially, expansion must also remain affordable to consumers. We took a firm step when I asked the industry regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, to ensure the scheme remains affordable while meeting the needs of current and future passengers. This process has already borne fruit, with the identification of potential savings of up to £2.5 billion. I am confident that that process can and should continue, that further cost savings can be identified and that the design of the expansion can continue to evolve to better reflect the needs of consumers. That is why I have recommissioned the Civil Aviation Authority to continue to work with industry to deliver the ambition that I set out in 2016 to keep landing charges at or close to current levels. That work will include gateway reviews, independent scrutiny and benchmarking of proposals, which I know are of paramount importance to British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and the wider airline community.

I want to talk now about scheme delivery and ownership. The north-west runway scheme put forward by Heathrow was selected by the Government following a rigorous process. Since then, Heathrow has continued to make strong progress, having already consulted on its scheme design and airspace principles earlier this year. Some stakeholders have suggested that we should now look again at who delivers expansion. While I, and we, will always retain an open mind, my current assessment is that caution is needed at this stage. Heathrow is an operational airport under a single management, and I am clear that it is currently the only credible promoter that could deliver this transformational scheme in its entirety.

I welcome the Civil Aviation Authority’s April consultation, which expects Heathrow to engage in good faith with third parties to ensure that expansion is delivered in a way that benefits the consumer. However, that needs to be balanced against the need for timely delivery, and that is why my Department will be working closely with Heathrow to enable delivery of the new runway by its current target date of 2026.

Heathrow is already Britain’s best-connected airport by road and rail. That will be further strengthened by future improvements to the Piccadilly line, new links to Heathrow through Crossrail, connections to High Speed 2 via an interchange at Old Oak Common and plans for western and southern rail access to the airport. On 24 April, I met the industry and financial backers who can potentially come forward with plans to deliver the new southern rail access to the airport.

Even with today’s announcement, a new operational runway at Heathrow is still a number of years away. The Airports Commission recommended that there would also be a need for other airports to make more intensive use of their existing infrastructure, and we consulted on that in the aviation strategy call for evidence last year.

Apart from Heathrow, I would also like to confirm today that the Government support other airports making best use of their existing runways. However, we recognise that the development of airports can have negative as well as positive local impacts, including on noise levels. We therefore consider that any proposals should be judged on their individual merits by the appropriate planning authority, taking careful account of all relevant considerations, and particularly economic and environmental impacts.

Furthermore, in April we set out our next steps, which will see us work closely with industry, business, consumer and environmental groups to develop an aviation strategy that sets out the long-term policy direction for aviation to 2050 and beyond, while addressing the changing needs and expectations of passengers. It will set out a framework for future sustainable growth across the United Kingdom, how we plan to manage our congested airspace, and how we plan to use innovative technology to deliver cleaner, quieter and quicker journeys for the benefit of passengers and communities. Airspace modernisation has to be taken forward irrespective of the decision on the proposed new runway, and to do so we expect multiple airports across the south of England to bring forward consultations on their proposals on how to manage the airspace around their locations.

Returning to Heathrow, the planning system involves two separate processes: one to set the policy—effectively outline planning consent—which is our national policy statement, and then, if the House votes in favour of it and it is then designated, a second process for securing the detailed development consent that the airport will require. The next steps would therefore be for Heathrow to develop its plans, including details of the scheme design and airspace change, and hold a further consultation to allow the public a further say on the next phase of Heathrow’s plans and additional opportunities to have their voices heard. Any application for development consent will of course be considered carefully and with an open mind, based on the evidence provided. The process includes a public examination by the independent Planning Inspectorate before a final decision is made.

Alongside the NPS today, I have published a comprehensive package of materials that I hope and believe will enable Members of the House to make an informed decision ahead of the vote. It is very comprehensive, and I hope that it will provide answers to the questions that Members will have.

I hope that Members will feel that the scheme is crucial to our national interest and that we need to work together to deliver it in order to create what I believe is an absolutely vital legacy for the future of this country. I hope that Members across the House will get behind the plan and support this nationally strategically important project, and I commend this statement to the House.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Jun 2018, 12:50 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement.

Today’s statement has been a long time coming. We have had 11 years of consultation and nine years since the expansion was given the green light. The Secretary of State came to the House yesterday to explain the calamitous implementation of new rail timetables. He now stands at the Dispatch Box today and expects the House to accept what he says about the most significant of infrastructure projects. I am sorry, but this Secretary of State has form. The only reason he is at the Dispatch Box is that the Prime Minister is too weak to sack him. I regret that he simply does not enjoy the confidence of the House. [Interruption.] Government Members complain, but I did not hear them shouting their support for him yesterday. In fact, the loudest criticisms came from Members on their Benches.

Labour will consider proposed expansion through the framework of our well-established four tests: expansion should happen only if it can effectively deliver on the capacity demands; if noise and air quality issues are fully addressed; if the UK’s climate change obligations are met in their entirety; and if growth across the country is supported. We owe it to future generations to get all those factors absolutely right. If the correct balance is not found, the law courts will quite rightly intervene.

I commend the superb work of the Chair and members of the cross-party Transport Committee. Their report into the airports national policy statement published in March left no stone unturned. Their support for approving the NPS is explicitly conditional upon 25 recommendations being addressed. The Secretary of State says that he has “acted on” 24 of the 25 recommendations. What does that mean? Are they going to be conditions or simply aspirations and expectations? For example, the Committee concluded that there was a high risk of the NPS breaching air quality compliance. Furthermore, the Department for Transport has not published a comprehensive surface access assessment, so it is impossible to demonstrate that the target of no more airport-related traffic can be met. His statement today takes that issue no further forward.

The Committee highlighted that there was almost no mention of potential cost and investment risk. What guarantees can the Government provide that the high-cost risks will not end up being covered by the public purse? How can the business case for expansion ensure that passenger benefits are met? The Secretary of State says he will keep charges close to current levels. What sort of assurance is that? Further uncertainties remain about the NPS as originally drawn, on noise analysis and flightpath modelling. It remains to be seen whether the revised NPS adequately addresses those and other issues.

The Secretary of State says that he will encourage Heathrow to work with communities on longer respite periods. What teeth are there in any of these proposals or promises? His claims about the benefits of new technologies have to be based on real evidence and not some fanciful expectation of future advances. Some of us have not forgotten his empty promises on dual fuel trains, which we are now told do not exist. He says he intends and expects 15% of slots to be for domestic connections. How will that be secured? Intentions, expectations and encouragements are simply not enough.

It is imperative that the Government provide guarantees to the House that the recommendations and conditions established by the Transport Committee will be embedded in the revised NPS. Yesterday reminded Members across the House that the assurances of this Secretary of State are anything but cast-iron. It is absolutely essential that the Government embed the Select Committee’s recommendations in their revision of it. I remind the House that the Committee says very clearly that the planning process should move to the next stage only if its concerns, as detailed in its excellent report, are properly addressed by the Government in the final NPS. It is our task to scrutinise the revised NPS in full detail in the coming days. Labour will faithfully follow our framework tests and follow the evidence across the 25 recommendations. We will not rely on the Secretary of State’s assurances, which are sadly not worth the Hansard they are printed on.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Jun 2018, 12:56 p.m.

I think you will agree, Mr Speaker, that that was a rather disappointing response. The one thing the shadow Secretary of State did not say was whether he actually supported the expansion of Heathrow airport. I happen to believe that it is strategically the right thing for our country, for business and for jobs. I very much welcome the positive encouragement I have received from Members across the House in the past few months. I regard this project as being vital to Members of Parliament in the north of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the south-west—I see the links to Newquay airport as being one of the real opportunities here.

The shadow Secretary of State raised several detailed points. There is a huge amount of material—thousands of pages—that he and others can read through, but let me pick up on just a few of the items he raised. He mentioned air quality. The runway cannot be opened if it does not meet air quality rules, but I have been clear all along that the air quality issues around Heathrow are much more than issues of the airport itself; they are typical of the air quality issues that face metropolitan areas in this country and elsewhere in the world, which is why my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary has brought forward an air quality plan. In addition, Heathrow Airport is consulting on a low emissions zone that would make it impossible, without a substantial charge, to bring a higher-emission vehicle into the airport when the runway is open—assuming that the parliamentary and development processes go according to plan. So that has to be addressed; it is not an optional extra for the airport—it has to happen.

The shadow Secretary of State made a point about night flights. That has to be and will be a planning condition. He also asked about the Select Committee’s recommendations. About half have been embedded in the NPS; the remaining half will either happen at the development consent order stage or are requirements for the CAA to follow up on and deliver. We have accepted the recommendations, however, and will follow faithfully the Select Committee’s wishes to make sure that its recommendations are properly addressed at each stage of the process. As I said earlier, this is a multi-stage process, and the Committee’s recommendations referred not just to the NPS but to the subsequent stages.

The shadow Secretary of State asked about landing charges, which, of course are regulated by the CAA. I have been clear that landing charges have to stay pretty much at current levels in real terms. This cannot be an excuse for the airport to hike its landing charges substantially. That would not work for consumers or our economy. Equally, the commitments on night flights have to be addressed. This project will not have credibility if such promises to the local community are not properly fulfilled.

The shadow Secretary of State asked about investability. We have had the investability and delivery date independently assured. I have also talked to Heathrow shareholders, who have emphasised to me their commitment to this project. I am absolutely of the view that the project can and will be delivered. We simply have to look at the price at which slots for Heathrow airport sell on the open market to realise that this is one of the world’s premier airports and enormously attractive to international airlines and that expanding its route network will deliver jobs all around the country.

That is the most important thing for everyone in the House to bear in mind, whether they are in Scotland, the north of England, the south-west, Wales or Northern Ireland, and we should not forget our Crown dependencies and Gibraltar either. They also depend on air links to the UK. This project is a way of making sure that our citizens—the people we represent—and the businesses they work in have access to the strategic routes of the future that they will need. If we are to be a successful nation in the post-Brexit world, we will need advances such as this one that can make a real difference to the future of this country.

I am disappointed, therefore, that the Labour party has not said that it supports expansion in principle. I do support it, as do Members in all parts of the House, and in the coming days we will have a vote—we have 21 sitting days before the deadline for that vote. In the time ahead, I and my officials will happily talk to parliamentary colleagues about the details and, I hope, reassure anyone with doubts that this is the right project for the country.

See more like "Rail Timetabling"

Rail Timetabling
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Monday 04 June 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2018, 5:04 p.m.

I am pleased to take the earliest opportunity to update the House on the recent difficulties around the timetable changes, in particular on some GTR and Northern routes.

I want to be absolutely clear: passengers on these franchises are facing totally unsatisfactory levels of service. It is my and my Department’s No. 1 priority to make sure that the industry restores reliability for passengers to an acceptable level as soon as possible. I assure the passengers affected that I share their frustration about what has happened, and that I am sorry that this has taken place.

The timetable change was intended to deliver the benefits to passengers of major investments in the rail network, meaning new trains, including all trains on the Northern and TransPennine Express networks, being either new or refurbished; the Great North Rail Project infrastructure upgrades worth well over £1 billion, such as those at the Ordsall Chord and Liverpool Lime Street; and in the south-east, through the Thameslink programme, new trains and improved stations, including London Bridge and Blackfriars.

The huge growth in passenger numbers in recent years demanded expanded routes, services and extra seats, but this timetable change has resulted instead in unacceptable disruption for the passengers who rely on these services. The most important thing right now is to get things back to a position of stability for those passengers, but it is also vital to understand what has happened and why we are in the situation we are in today. The circumstances of the failures are different on the Northern and GTR networks.

The investigations that are being carried out right now are providing more information about what has gone wrong, but it is worth being clear that the industry remained of the view until the last moment that it would be able to deliver the changes. That is the bit that everyone will find hard to understand and it is why there has to be a proper investigation into what has taken place.

On Northern, which is co-managed through the Rail North Partnership by Transport for the North and my Department, early analysis shows that the key issue was that Network Rail did not deliver infrastructure upgrades in time, in particular the Bolton electrification scheme, with damaging consequences. This forced plans to be changed at a very late stage, requiring a complete overhaul of logistics and crew planning. The early analysis also shows that on GTR’s Thameslink and Great Northern routes, the industry timetable developed by Network Rail was very late to be finalised. That meant that train operators did not have enough time to plan crew schedules or complete crew training, affecting a range of other complex issues that impact on the service on what is already a highly congested network.

It is also clear to me that both Northern and GTR were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale. GTR did not have enough drivers with the route knowledge required to operate the new timetable. Neither Northern nor GTR had a clear fall-back plan.

In GTR’s case, the process of introducing the new timetable has been overseen for the past two years by an industry readiness board, comprising some of the most senior people in the industry, which told me it had been given no information to suggest the new timetable should not be implemented as planned, albeit with some likely early issues as it bedded down. This body was set up specifically to ensure that all parts of the rail network—Network Rail, GTR, other train operators—were ready to implement these major timetable changes. It should have been clear to it that some key parties were not ready. It did not raise this risk.

The Department received advice from the Thameslink readiness board that, while there were challenges delivering the May 2018 timetable—namely, the logistics of moving fleet and staff—a three-week transition period would allow for minimal disruption. My officials were assured that the other mitigations in place were sufficient and reasonable. Indeed, as few as three weeks before the timetable was to be implemented, GTR itself assured me personally that it was ready to implement the changes. Clearly this was wrong, and that is totally unacceptable.

The rail industry has collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves. It is right that the industry has apologised for the situation we are currently in and that we learn the lessons for the future, but right now the focus should be on restoring the reliability of its service to passengers. This morning, I met again with chief executives of Network Rail, GTR and Northern—the latest in a series of meetings that I and my Department have been holding with these organisations—and the Rail Minister has today been to Network Rail’s control centre at its Milton Keynes headquarters. We have made it clear to them all that the current services are still not good enough. I have also demanded that Network Rail and the train operator work more collaboratively across the industry to resolve the situation, where necessary by using resources from other train operators to support the recovery effort. Officials in my Department are working around the clock to oversee this process. We have strengthened resources in both the Department and Rail North Partnership, which oversees the Northern franchise, to hold the industry to account for improving services.

I would like to be able to tell the House that there is an easy solution or that the Department could simply step in and make the problems passengers are facing go away—if there were a way of doing so, I would do it without a moment’s hesitation—but ultimately the solution can only be delivered by the rail industry. These problems can only be fixed by Network Rail and the train operators methodically working through the timetable and re-planning train paths and driver resourcing to deliver a more reliable service. It is for such reasons that I am committed to unifying the operations of track and trains, where appropriate, to ensure that we do not encounter such problems in the future.

Northern Rail has agreed an action plan with Rail North Partnership that is focused on improving driver rostering so as to get more trains running as quickly as possible; rapidly increasing driver training on new routes; providing for additional contingency drivers and management presence at key locations in Manchester; and putting extra peak services into the timetable along the Bolton corridor. Work on this action plan has been under way for some time. They have also published temporary timetables that will be more deliverable and will give passengers much more confidence in the reliability of their service. This will mean removing certain services from the new expanded timetable while still ensuring an improvement in the total number of services run by Northern compared to before the timetable change. Alternative arrangements will be made for passengers negatively impacted by the changes. I believe that this temporary measure is necessary to stabilise the service and enable improvements to be introduced gradually.

On GTR, there are more services running on a day-to-day basis today than before the timetable change, while Southern and Gatwick Express services are performing well on some routes but not all. GTR is not currently able, however, to deliver all planned services on Thameslink and Great Northern routes. In order to give passengers more confidence, it is removing services in advance from its timetable rather than on the day and reducing weekend services to pre-May levels. These measures will be in place until a full re-planning of driver resourcing has been completed.

I would like to make it clear that, while I expect to see stable timetables restored on both networks in the coming days, I expect the full May timetable and all the extra trains to be introduced in stages over the coming months to ensure it can be delivered properly this time. Once the full service is operating on GTR, 24 Thameslink trains will run through central London every hour, and by next year, 80 more stations will have direct services to central London stations such as Farringdon, City Thameslink and Blackfriars. There will also be 115 new trains and more than 1,000 new carriages providing faster, more frequent and more reliable journeys for passengers.

On Northern, the great north rail project, an investment of well over £1 billion in the region’s rail network, will enable by 2020 faster and more comfortable journeys as well as new direct services across the north and beyond. By 2020, the train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express, will deliver room for 40,000 extra passengers, and more than 2,000 extra services a week.

That, however, is the future. What matters now is restoring a stable service for passengers today. I completely understand their anger about the level of disruption that the timetable change has caused in recent weeks. There must, of course, be a special compensation scheme for passengers on affected routes on both GTR and Northern. In the case of Northern, the scheme will be subject to agreement with the board of Transport for the North, although I doubt that the board will have a problem with it. The purpose of the scheme, which will be introduced and funded by the industry, will be to ensure that regular rail customers receive appropriate redress for the disruption that they have experienced. The industry will set out more details of the eligibility requirements, and of how season ticket holders can claim, but I think it is very important for passengers—particularly in the north, where disruption has been protracted—to be given entitlements similar to those conferred by last year’s Southern passenger compensation scheme. Commuters in the north are important, as important as commuters in the south, and they should receive comparable support.

It is clear to me that, aside from Network Rail’s late finalisation of the timetable, GTR and Northern were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale, so today I am also announcing that work has begun to set up an inquiry into the May timetable implementation. It will be carried out by the independent Office of Rail and Road, and chaired by Professor Stephen Glaister. It is necessary to have a full inquiry, and Professor Glaister will lead one. The inquiry will consider why the system as a whole failed to produce and implement an effective timetable. Its findings will be shared as early as possible with me and with the rail industry, so that lessons can be learnt in advance of future major timetable changes. The final report will be published by the Office of Rail Regulation by the end of the year, but I want to see initial responses much sooner than that.

In parallel to the inquiry, my Department will assess whether GTR and Northern met their contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of the timetable change. It will consider whether the issues could have been reasonably foreseen and different action taken to prevent the high levels of disruption that passengers are experiencing.

In GTR’s case, the assessment will cover whether the operator had sufficient resources and skills to deliver the new timetable and whether drivers could have been trained in a faster and more effective way, and will examine the contingency and risk management arrangements currently in place. If it is found that GTR is materially in breach of its contractual obligations, I will take appropriate enforcement action against it. That will include using the full force of the franchise agreement and my powers under the Railways Act 2005, and consideration of how such a failure affects GTR’s eligibility to hold a franchise bidding passport. In the case of Northern, my Department will assess the operator’s planning, risk assessment and resilience in preparing for the May timetable change. Bearing in mind Network Rail’s failure to deliver infrastructure on time, we will hold the operator to the terms of its contractual obligations.

I will not be afraid to take enforcement action when it is necessary, but it is right to go through the process of the inquiry and to understand where fault truly lies. I will not hold back from taking appropriate action if the review finds that there has been negligent behaviour.

Given the importance that Members throughout the House ascribe to these issues, I have arranged for both Northern and GTR to come to the House this week to discuss with colleagues any specific issues that they wish to raise with the operators. I am also meeting Members in all parts of the House today to discuss the issues with them. I am incredibly frustrated that what should have been an improvement in services for passengers has turned into significant disruption, and I am sorry about the levels of disruption that passengers are experiencing. I am also sorry for the staff members who have been caught at the sharp end of these changes.

There clearly have been major failures that have led to the situation that we are in today. I am clear about the fact that the industry must and will be held to account for this, but my immediate priority is to ensure that we improve train services to an acceptable level as quickly as possible, and that will remain my priority.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2018, 5:14 p.m.

I am grateful for advance sight of the Secretary of State’s statement—for once. Here we go again, with yet another chapter in the never-ending story of our troubled railways. Not only have train timetables been turned upside down, but the Transport Secretary seems to have run into his own timetabling problems in meetings with Members today.

It is said that Henry Kissinger once asked who he should call if he wanted to speak to Europe. The answer was not clear. Similarly, I would ask who I should call if I want to speak to the UK rail industry. Therein lies the heart of today’s problem and the whole rail debate more generally: no one will take responsibility for Great Britain’s rail industry. But, amid all the clamour, recriminations and buck-passing that characterise discussions about rail there is one person who is ultimately responsible: the Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). But he blames Network Rail for the timetabling failures. Yes, Network Rail has not delivered, but he seems to forget that, as a company limited by guarantee, Network Rail has one member: the Secretary of State for Transport—him. He is the man in charge—allegedly. The right hon. Gentleman might want to blame Network Rail, but it is he who has failed in his responsibility to oversee it; the buck stops with him. What is more, the right hon. Gentleman has burnt his bridges with the leadership of Network Rail, which can only have damaged his oversight of this process. Is not this a terrible failure of him and his role atop the system?

The Northern Rail and Thameslink contracts were awarded by the right hon. Gentleman’s Department to private operators. It is the job of his Department to ensure that the companies fulfil their contracts. Arriva and GTR have had years to prepare for these timetable changes; neither have trained enough drivers to deliver the timetable changes, yet the Department has failed to hold the companies to account. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is within the franchise agreement for Arriva to report directly to him on progress in recruiting and training drivers? Does not the buck, once again, stop with him?

GTR even had its own readiness board to implement the timetable changes, except that it was not ready; we could not make this up. Chris Gibb’s report on Southern exactly a year ago highlighted the issue of driver numbers as a major operational issue within rail. Why did the Secretary of State not take the report as an alert to review the availability of the train drivers that were needed across the country and do something about it? He says the Office of Rail Regulation will report on the failings by the end of the year, but, with the new timetable due in December, this will be too late. What confidence can we have that it will not be another shambles? Is not the reality that this Secretary of State has been asleep at the wheel and this is just the latest episode in a series of rail management failures on his watch?

The right hon. Gentleman is determined to cling on to the micromanagement of the railway when it suits him, but he will quickly point the finger of blame when things go wrong. He cannot have it both ways. The Secretary of State says he is sorry for the disruption passengers are facing. That is not good enough; he should apologise to passengers for his failures that have put their jobs at risks and played havoc with their family life.

The travelling public and the rail industry have no faith in this Transport Secretary to fix this situation. Were the Prime Minister not so enfeebled, she would sack him. If he had any concept of responsibility, he would resign. The Transport Secretary should do the right thing and step aside.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2018, 5:19 p.m.

I was rather expecting the hon. Gentleman to say that, and I respond simply by saying that it is my job to make sure that the problem is fixed, and that is what I intend to do. But the Opposition cannot have it both ways: half the time the hon. Gentleman is saying to me that the Government should run the railways, but when something goes wrong he says that it is the Government’s fault that we are not running the railways properly. They cannot have it both ways.

There are two specific points. On what we are going to do about the timetable in December, I have been very clear in the letter I sent to all colleagues last week that we are not going to do a major change of this kind again in the way that has happened in the last couple of months; it must be done in a more measured and careful way. We are already doing work now on how that timetable change should happen—how it should be modified—and the incoming chief executive of Network Rail, Andrew Haines, who I think will bring enormous experience to this, is the person who was responsible 10 years ago for the very successful timetable change on South Western. I have great confidence that as he comes into the organisation in the coming months, he will be able to put in place a plan for timetable change both at the end of this year and in the future that works better for passengers, who are the most important people in all of this.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me why we did not pay more attention to Chris Gibb’s report last year. Actually, we did. We appointed Chris Gibb chairman of the industry readiness board. Chris is one of the most experienced and respected figures in the rail industry, but that board still did not gather the scale of the problem that lay ahead when it last reported to me in May. Lessons have to be learned by the people on that board. We have to make sure that this cannot happen again, and everyone in the rail industry—and everyone in my Department, including me—is working to ensure that that happens.

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Oral Answers to Questions
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 24 May 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
24 May 2018, 10:21 a.m.

In my view, there is never a justification for industrial action causing that degree of disruption to the lives of individual passengers and of other workers. It is not fair on them; it is the wrong thing to do. Disputes should be solved through means other than strike actions on our public transport system. However, I do remember being informed on regular occasions by the Mayor of London, when we had the troubles on Southern, that he would be much better at coping with these things because there would never be a strike on his watch. He has already broken that one, because he has had them already. It looks like he will have some more.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
24 May 2018, 10:22 a.m.

This week’s timetabling debacle is characteristic of all that is wrong with the railway. The Secretary of State told the press yesterday, and not this House, that Northern Rail issues were his top priority and that he would improve train driver rostering and driver recruitment to improve things, but he cannot simply tinker with rosters and pick new train drivers off a shelf. Does he not realise that it takes a year to train a driver and that roster changes have to be worked through, with the workforce, well ahead of their introduction?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard

First of all, the hon. Gentleman has not been following things too closely, because my recollection is that when I was in this House yesterday afternoon I expressly talked about the issues with the timetabling.

Secondly, Northern does not have a shortage in overall terms of drivers. The problem has been caused by the operational difficulties that resulted from, first, Network Rail’s failure to deliver the electrification to the schedule that was expected on the line to Bolton, and, secondly, from Network Rail’s failure to finalise timetables in time. That has been the prime reason for disruption, which was not helped, I might add, by an unnecessary work to rule by one of the unions.

What has happened has been unacceptable for passengers, but I also remind the hon. Gentleman that this is the most devolved franchise in England. The management of the franchise is shared by my Department and northern leaders through Rail North, so it is not simply a question of my Department. I will be working now to see whether Rail North together has done enough of a job in monitoring these problems.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard

Northern Rail issues may be the Secretary of State’s top priority, but what about the long-suffering passengers on Thameslink and Southern? This is the fault not of 400 hard-working timetablers, but of train companies that do not have enough drivers with the right knowledge in the right places at the right time. Is it not the case that these train companies have had years to prepare for this and that this Secretary of State simply trashes the hard-working men and women across the industry who strive to deliver rail improvements? He simply throws them under the bus.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
24 May 2018, 10:24 a.m.

If I am not mistaken, the hon. Gentleman has just trashed the hard-working men and women of the train companies, who are trying to do a decent job for passengers; he cannot have it both ways. I am afraid that this is a problem with Network Rail, and I have said that it cannot happen again. We have now had the late delivery of the timetable twice in six months. It is not what I would have expected to happen at this moment in time, with such a big, complex change. None the less, it is happening because we are running vastly more trains to more destinations. New trains have been running this week, and there are people getting on trains this week who have a seat for the first time in four years. That is a good thing.

See more like "Transport Secretary: East Coast Franchise"

Transport Secretary: East Coast Franchise
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Wednesday 23 May 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
23 May 2018, 1:39 p.m.

Had the hon. Gentleman been here for the entirety of the debate, he might have heard me refer to that; I know he has just walked in. The object of the exercise is to put rail professionals in charge of the railway system.

Is it not the reality that the franchise system is totally broken? It’s finished; it’s a dead parrot; it is no more. The one thing the Secretary of State is right about is that track and train should be unified, but that should not be done simply to further his ideological obsession with parcelling up public services for profiteers. I am glad, therefore, that this service has been taken out of the franchising system and placed under public control, although the fact that it is a consortium of private companies brought about during the partial privatisation of the “operator of last resort” prevents it from being properly described as full public ownership.

A minimum estimate is that £725 million flows out of the railway every year into the pockets of shareholders. In addition, £200 million each year is wasted through a disjointed system. Breaking the railway up into pieces was necessary to sell it off, but it has created an inefficient railway. A few years ago, the McNulty report found our railways to be 40% less efficient than European comparators.

I do not agree with the Members who favour a “halfway house” option—having a degree of public ownership, but retaining the broader franchising model, along with a public sector operator or two—as that would mean failing to realise the full benefits of public ownership. What is needed is a fully integrated railway that is fully in public ownership. A unified railway in public ownership, serving the interests of British citizens, their communities, their jobs and their businesses is what Labour will deliver, and the sooner we can have a general election to bring it about, the better. I commend the motion to the House.

Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Hansard
23 May 2018, 1:40 p.m.

What a lot of incoherence from the Labour party and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald)! Who does the hon. Gentleman think runs the railway today except rail professionals? It is a nonsense.

What we also have seen today is a classic example of the definition of the word “hypocrisy”. This morning the Welsh Labour Government announced their plans for what will be a public-private partnership to develop a new metro service on the Welsh valley lines. This afternoon, the Labour party at Westminster is trying to censure me for announcing a public-private partnership to improve services on the east coast main line. That says a great deal about what the Labour party has become.

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
23 May 2018, 1:45 p.m.

It appears that the Welsh Government—the Welsh Labour Government—take the same view, because they have just awarded the contract for the Wales & Borders franchise to a French state business in partnership with a Spanish-owned private business. Again, the Labour party says one thing in one place and does something else in another.

What we have heard from Labour in the last few months has been a litany of misinformation, misunderstanding and inaccuracy. Let us take the bail-out point. Labour Members claim that there has been a £2 billion bail-out. That is just plain nonsense. It is wholly inaccurate to claim that there has been a bail-out now, when the railway will continue to make a healthy profit for the taxpayer. It would equally be inaccurate to claim that Labour had bailed out National Express when it did not push through nearly £1.5 billion of future premium payments after 2009. The railway carried on making a profit then, and it will carry on making a profit now.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
23 May 2018, 1:46 p.m.

Had the franchise run its full term, would the Secretary of State have expected Virgin Trains East Coast to pay the full £3.3 billion in premiums?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
23 May 2018, 1:46 p.m.

Any franchise that runs its full term is expected to pay the full premiums, but when National Express went under and there was a further £1.5 billion of premiums to pay, that money continued to be paid by the new operator, in the same way that the premiums that we are expecting will continue to be paid by the operator in this instance. This is my point: the hon. Gentleman does not understand how the finances of the railways work, and that is why the Labour party is so unfit to be in opposition, let alone to govern.

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East Coast Main Line
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Wednesday 16 May 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Hansard
16 May 2018, 12:58 p.m.

Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the future of the east coast main line. As was made clear in the point of order that we have just heard, it has been quite important to try today to handle the release of this information in as controlled a way as possible. We did, of course, approach the Opposition earlier this morning, and explained how we were going to communicate the information to them. My officials shared this statement with the Opposition parties shortly after 12 o’clock, at approximately the same time that Stagecoach was itself told about this—both would expect to be given warning of what is a significant and, for them, market and price sensitive announcement.

Let me set out what I have to say today. The House will recall that, back in November, I set out details of our rail strategy, and our plans to integrate the operation of track and trains. I also indicated that one of the key parts of that plan was to address what were then well-documented problems on the east coast main line by creating a new, integrated rail operation on that route.

In February, I gave the House an update on the financial problems on the east coast main line, and indicated that the current franchise would run out of money within months. This is not because the route is failing—it continues, and will continue, to generate substantial returns for the Government, and the most recent figures show passenger satisfaction at 92%. The route has its challenges, but it is not a failing railway. However, as I explained in February, Stagecoach and Virgin Trains got their bid wrong and they are now paying a price. They will have lost nearly £200 million meeting their contracted commitments. This means that taxpayers have not lost out because revenues are lower than predicted; only Virgin Trains East Coast and its parent companies have made losses at this time.

As the Brown review said in 2013, in an effective railway industry franchises can occasionally fail. But we do not, and cannot, expect companies to hold unlimited liabilities when they take on franchises—they would simply not bid for them if they had to. This means that franchises sometimes do fail, which is why a Conservative Government previously created the structures for the operator of last resort to ensure that we can always guarantee passenger services if franchises cannot continue.

In my statement in February, I said that I was considering two options to continue delivering passenger services in the run-up to the creation of the new east coast partnership. The first was to permit Stagecoach to continue to operate the railway on a not-for-profit basis until 2020, and to permit it to earn a performance-related payment at the end of its contract. The alternative was to implement an operator of last resort, bringing the route back into the temporary control of my Department, as provided for in legislation. Last autumn I established a team to prepare this as an alternative to use if required.

In the past two months, my Department has carried out a full analysis of these options, focusing on how each performs against the key principles that I set out in February: protecting passenger interests; ensuring value for money for taxpayers; and supporting investment and improvement in the railway. I am today publishing my Department’s assessment. To summarise, the analysis suggested that the case was very finely balanced, with some elements favouring a contract with the existing operator and others favouring the operator of last resort. When judged against my key principles, neither option was obviously superior. I have, however, taken another factor into account. I want to make the smoothest possible transition to the creation of the new east coast partnership. Given this finely balanced judgment, I have taken into account broader considerations and decided to use the current difficulties to drive forward sooner with our long-term plans for the east coast partnership.

I have decided to begin the transition process towards creating the new partnership now. This will be in the long-term interests of passengers, as every member of staff on the railway will be focused solely on delivering an excellent service for the future. I am therefore informing the House that I will terminate Virgin Trains East Coast’s contract on 24 June 2018. I plan to use a period of operator of last resort control to shape the new partnership. On the same day, we will start with the launch of the new, long-term brand for the east coast main line through the recreation of one of Britain’s iconic rail brands, the London and North Eastern Railway.

The team that have been working for me since last autumn to form the operator of last resort will take immediate control of passenger services, and will then begin the task of working with Network Rail to bring together the teams operating the track and trains on the LNER network. I am creating a new board, with an independent chair, to oversee the operation of the LNER route. The board will work with my Department to build the new partnership. It will have representatives of both the train operating team and Network Rail, as well as independent members, who importantly will ensure that the interests of other operators on the route are taken into account. I will appoint an interim chair shortly, and will then begin the recruitment process for a long-term appointment.

When the new LNER operation is fully formed, it will be a partnership between the public and private sectors. In all circumstances ownership of the infrastructure will remain in the public sector, but I believe that the railway is at its strongest when it is a genuine partnership between public and private. The final structure of the LNER will need to be shaped in conformity with the primary legislation that governs the industry, but my objective remains to move to a situation that leaves one single team operating the railway, with the simple goal of ensuring that they continue the work of the existing operators in improving services for passengers.

The rigorous process that we have followed underlines our commitment to ensuring that businesses operate under firm but fair rules. This Government are willing to take tough decisions when necessary to ensure that we build a stronger, fairer economy for all. I do not want these changes to cause passengers any anxiety at all. I want to reassure them that there will be no change to train services, the timetable will remain the same, tickets purchased for future travel—including season tickets—will continue to be valid, and customers will continue to be able to book their travel in the normal way. The ambitions that we have for services will also continue.

I want to reassure staff that the changes will not impact on their continued employment. It will be no different from a normal franchise change. Indeed, I want the LNER to have employees at its heart, so I am instructing the new board, working with my officials, to bring forward proposals that will enable employees to share directly in the success of the LNER as a pure train operator and subsequently as the new partnership. I am pleased to announce that Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and the former chief executive of John Lewis, has agreed to provide the team with informal advice about how best to achieve this.

I have already set out my plans to restructure the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise, following the successful delivery of the Thameslink programme. I have indicated that we will separate it into two or more franchises after the end of the current contract in 2021. We have not yet reached a decision on how to operate Great Northern services. However, I have had initial discussions with the Mayor of London about the possibility of transferring some of these to London Overground, as recommended in Chris Gibb’s report. Any change will be subject to consultation, but there is also an operational case for integrating Great Northern services from King’s Cross into the new LNER operation. I am asking my officials and the new LNER board to do feasibility work on this option.

I have also taken official advice about the future of the passports currently held by Virgin Holdings and Stagecoach, determining whether they are fit and proper to operate on our railways. A multidisciplinary panel has considered the situation and recommended that both companies continue as train operators. The panel advised that there is no suggestion of either malpractice or malicious intent in what has happened. Clearly we have to be vigilant about future financial commitments, but in my view those organisations have paid a high financial and reputational price for what has happened. This Government operate firm but fair rules in their dealing with business, and I have been advised that it would not be reasonable to remove or place conditions on the companies’ passports. However, this decision is provisional and will be subject to further to review at the point at which the VTEC contract is terminated.

It is vital that we remember the benefits that the railway has seen since privatisation. Passenger numbers have doubled. New trains with new technology are being rolled out right across the network. Innovation has driven up passenger satisfaction. We are seeing a huge amount of private investment in the future of our railway, and the lessons of the financial failure of the east coast main line are already being, and must continue to be, learned. But our ambitions are bigger.

In the rail strategy that we published last year, we began to look at the future of the industry in order to make the private sector model fit for changing travel patterns and new technology, and to focus on a better quality passenger experience. These advances would not be possible if we returned to nationalisation and lost private sector innovation. This work will conclude in time for the spending review to ensure that we improve how we enhance the private sector drive to improve services for passengers in the coming years in a way that is fair for taxpayers and passengers.

Of course, the passengers on the east coast main line are the most important people in all this, and 92% of them say that they are happy with their travel experience. The steps I have put in place today will help to deliver even more for them, with the recreation of one of Britain’s most iconic rail brands; the start of the proper recreation of an integrated regional rail operation; and the arrival of the brand new intercity express trains later this year, the majority of which will be built at Hitachi’s plant in Newton Aycliffe in County Durham, continuing to support 700 jobs in the north-east. I believe that this strategy will set this railway on a path to a better future. I commend this statement to the House.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
16 May 2018, 1:08 p.m.

May I just comment on the point of order made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown)? I was given sight of this statement 30 minutes before I entered this House. I was not given an electronic copy, I was not allowed to take one away and, as I sit here right now, I have still not been provided with a copy of the statement. I consider this absolutely reprehensible. The Secretary of State does this every single time—relying on confidentiality and market sensitivity. Every single time he treats me, with contempt, Her Majesty’s Opposition with contempt, and the House of Commons with contempt. It is about time he changed his ways. This is a shameful practice.

Today, the i newspaper reported that the millennial railcard announced in the 2017 Budget has been scrapped because the Treasury will not agree to fund it. In that case, why did the Chancellor announce it? This Government have nothing to offer that age group other than spin and broken promises.

In the past year, the Transport Secretary gifted Virgin and Stagecoach a £2 billion bail-out after they had failed on the east coast main line at the same time as awarding those same companies a lucrative contract extension on the west coast main line. Yet he has the audacity to come to the Dispatch Box and say that it is not reasonable to remove or place conditions on their passport. It is absolutely ludicrous. Three times in under a decade, private companies have failed on the east coast main line. Its only successful period was from 2009 to 2015 under public ownership, when £1 billion was returned to the Treasury. It was the best-performing operator on the network before being cynically re-privatised on the eve of the 2015 general election. The then Secretary of State for Transport said:

“I believe Stagecoach and Virgin will not only deliver for customers but also for the British taxpayer.”

What nonsense! Report after report by the Public Accounts Committee, which described the Government’s approach as “completely inadequate”, and by the Transport Committee detail the failure of the privatised franchising system on its own terms. The Government’s incompetence has been disastrous for passengers and led to misery for millions of people.

We have been here before many, many times, year after year. The Secretary of State and his predecessors have stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House that privatisation is being reformed. We have had reform, reform and reform. We have had bail-out after bail-out. Rail companies win; passengers and taxpayers lose. There is a definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and again and expecting different results. This is the situation we find ourselves in today. Franchising remains at the heart of the alleged partnership. No amount of tinkering can solve the failings of a broken privatised system where the public take the risk and the train companies take the profit, aided and abetted by the Transport Secretary.

Can we really believe anything that the right hon. Gentleman says? Rail investment is promised; rail investment is cancelled. He makes claims about technology despite his civil servants telling him that it does not exist. No one takes his announcements seriously. Every announcement is a smokescreen to divert attention from the failures of his rail franchising policy. The east coast main line is but one vulnerable rail franchise. What about Northern, TransPennine, Greater Anglia and South Western? Will there be bail-outs for operators on those lines who fail to meet their targets?

Let us be clear about the privatised public sector operator of last resort—how ridiculous is that?—on the east coast main line. These companies—multinational Canadian engineering company SNC-Lavalin, Arup, and big-four accountancy firm Ernst and Young—are not running the east coast main line for nothing. This is Conservative-style public ownership—more private profit. Only Labour’s version of public ownership will deliver what the railway needs.

There is a clear solution to the problems on the east coast main line. It was a successful public company between 2009 and 2014, thanks to the previous Labour Government. I am just sorry that the Secretary of State will not accept the stark staringly obvious answer: an integrated railway under public ownership, run for passengers, not for profit.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
16 May 2018, 1:13 p.m.

The first thing to say is that I could have done what has been done previously and made a stock market announcement at 7 am this morning, and not come to the House first. I actually chose on this occasion to come to the House first to provide the information, albeit price sensitively, in the best possible way. I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman does not believe that that is a more appropriate way to handle such an issue than making a 7 am announcement to the stock market, as has been past practice.

The hon. Gentleman talks about nationalisation. Let us deal with this issue head on. Labour has spent the past few months desperately trying to take us back into the ambit of the European Union. Let me explain this to him very simply: his policy on rail nationalisation is illegal under European law. It is all well and good Labour Members arguing that we should stay in the single market and have a second referendum and all the rest of it, but his version of nationalisation is not legal under European law, so why would we take him seriously when he talks about this? I am interested in what works, and that is what we are doing with today’s announcement.

The hon. Gentleman harks back to the period of public operation of this railway. During that period, fewer staff were employed, it generated less money for the taxpayer, and passenger satisfaction was lower than it was subsequently. So it was not some great nirvana period. Yes, things were done in a way that moved things beyond the collapse of National Express in 2009, but the performance of the team currently running the railway has been good. It is not their fault that the parent company got its sums wrong. We should pay tribute to the team who work on that railway and say that it is not their fault that I have had to make today’s announcement.

The hon. Gentleman keeps going on about a £2 billion announcement. That is another example of why Labour does not understand any of this, because otherwise he would realise that no bail-out has taken place, any more than Labour bailed out National Express. This railway line is continuing and will continue to make a substantial contribution to the taxpayer. When he talks about a £2 billion bail-out, he does not understand the finances of the railway. It is not true today and it was not true when National Express collapsed. The reality is that this is the best way to take forward what has been a difficult situation on this railway on a path that I believe in and I think the public believe in: it is better to bring back the operation of track and train, and that is what we will do.

The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the railcard having been scrapped. That would justify his not believing everything he reads in the papers.

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
16 May 2018, 1:30 p.m.

I will make two points. The custom and practice is to provide an advance copy of a statement to Her Majesty’s Opposition. It has also been the custom in recent years to provide one to the third party. Both of those were done this morning, so I have followed conventions as per normal.

The hon. Lady talks about bailing out a private franchise. I have not bailed out any private franchise; I have just taken away its contract.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
16 May 2018, 1:56 p.m.

The hon. Lady is being a bit churlish. She is getting brand new trains for Bristol and the best ever train service to London. We are in the process of dualling the Filton Bank. We are working with the combined authority mayor for the Bristol area to develop the plans for the Bristol metro, MetroWest, which I regard as one of the most important projects for the country—[Interruption.] MetroWest is rail. It is going to be one of the most significant developments that Bristol has seen for a very long time, developing the kind of suburban rail network that it really needs.

See more like "Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords]"

Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords]
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Monday 14 May 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
14 May 2018, 5:26 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Irish Government are part of the European Union negotiations. We continue to discuss this and other transport issues as part of those negotiations, and I am entirely confident that we will reach a sensible place at their conclusion.

Let me sum up. As I have outlined, we are committed to ensuring that the road haulage industry can continue to prosper as we leave the European Union. As part of our programme of EU exit legislation, this Bill prepares us for a range of scenarios. It will ensure that the UK can fulfil its international obligations and will be ready when we leave the EU.

The Government have been supported by the industry in bringing forward these sensible measures, and we have talked extensively with it over the past few months. I believe that this represents prudent planning for different eventualities. I personally want to lead a Department that is prepared for all those eventualities and that can deal with whatever circumstance lies ahead, notwithstanding my view that we will reach a sensible partnership agreement for the future this autumn that will enable us to remain good friends and neighbours of the European Union, and that will allow the trade between us to carry on flowing as it does today. I commend the Bill to the House.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
14 May 2018, 5:28 p.m.

The Bill presents a long overdue opportunity to consider the importance of the transport and logistics industries to the United Kingdom and the commercial road haulage sector in particular. The industry employs more than 2.5 million people and is the fifth biggest sector of the economy contributing £124 billion.

One of the privileges of my job is to meet people from across the transport, freight and logistics sectors. In the course of those discussions around transitional and post-Brexit arrangements, I hear an increasing frustration and anger at the cavalier “it will be all right on the night” approach from this Government, and rightly so, because there is no evidence that economic self-interest will prevail.

As we debate the prospect of a permit system for the haulage industry in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it should be recalled that the UK has 600,000 goods vehicle driving licence holders. There are nearly half a million commercial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes registered in the UK, which are responsible for moving 98% of goods. This is a serious and vital industry and we meddle with it at our peril.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
14 May 2018, 5:35 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. One does wonder why no such contingency has been put in the Bill, and we will have to address that in Committee.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders tells me that, on average, 1,100 trucks from the EU deliver components worth £35 million to UK car and engine plants every single day. The UK automotive industry relies on just six major ports for the export of 95% of completed vehicles. The SMMT says that some manufacturers face costs of up to £1 million an hour if production is stopped due to component supply issues. A 15-minute delay to parts delivered just in time can cost manufacturers £850,000 per year. Is it not blindingly obvious that the current trajectory of this Government, with Brextremists at their core, means that we are heading for economic and trading chaos?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
14 May 2018, 5:37 p.m.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question? If business shares the pessimism that he is laying before the House, can he explain the string of positive announcements of investment in the United Kingdom that we have seen in the past few months by Vauxhall, Toyota and others? If things are so bleak, why are they choosing to make substantial investments in their future in the United Kingdom?

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
14 May 2018, 5:37 p.m.

If the Secretary of State had looked at the papers over the weekend, he would have seen exactly why. A lot of people are making their plans to get out of the UK if necessary. That is exactly what has happened. He is playing with fire on this, and he really should wake up and smell the coffee.

The Government have done little to help the road haulage industry. They have made a complete and utter dog’s breakfast of contingency planning for the M20 motorway. A lorry park off the motorway has been desperately needed to help alleviate problems during Operation Stack, and it is all the more needed ahead of Brexit next March. Yet the Department for Transport failed properly to undertake the critically important environmental risk assessment before the planning process for the £250 million project and had to scrap it last September. This incompetence will have disastrous consequences. If this Government cannot successfully plan how to build a lorry park in Kent, how do they expect anyone to believe that they are capable of introducing an alternative haulage permit scheme?

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Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords]
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Wednesday 18 April 2018

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
18 Apr 2018, 2:29 p.m.

I am not a physicist, but I think the key word is “coherent”, in that a beam is coherent if it focuses the light in a way that represents a danger to the public. As I have said, I encourage my right hon. Friend to join the Bill Committee—this may be one of the issues that are well worth debating—and I have no doubt that my colleagues on the Treasury Bench will be delighted to offer him such an opportunity. It is a serious point, however, and we will double-check.

I am very grateful to the other place, which has done a detailed job of scrutiny. Amendments made there have removed ambiguity and extended the provisions beyond vehicles to include air traffic control facilities. I thank my noble Friend Baroness Sugg and those in the Lords who took part in debates on the Bill, and the external stakeholders, particularly the UK Laser Working Group, that have made an important contribution to shaping the legislation.

It is important to say that there are legitimate uses for lasers. They are used as alignment aids in the construction industry, by lecturers in classrooms and by astronomers in the course of their work. We intend to legislate not against the use of laser pointers at all, but instead against their illegitimate use. They can dazzle, distract or blind those in charge of a vehicle, with serious and even fatal consequences. We know that, in aviation, such incidents take place during take-off or landing, or when aircraft such as police helicopters are carrying out civil safety duties.

Back in 2003, 15 years ago, there had never been a reported case of a laser being shone at an aircraft. The following year there were six cases, and by 2008 there were 200. There are now 1,000 a year, as indeed there were last year. Thankfully no aircraft, train or road vehicle in this country has had an accident as a result of these dangerous and senseless acts, but it is all too easy to imagine the potential consequences—for instance, a pilot being blinded by a laser when trying to land a passenger jet, or a train driver being dazzled from a bridge and missing a signal as a result.

It is already an offence, under the Air Navigation Order 2016, to shine a light at an aircraft to dazzle or distract a pilot. However, the maximum penalty is a £2,500 fine, and we do not think the fact that this is a summary offence gives the police adequate powers to investigate and pursue it effectively. Offenders can also be prosecuted, under another air navigation order, for the offence of endangering an aircraft. That carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and a £5,000 fine, but it involves legal complications. It is sometimes difficult to prove the endangerment of an aircraft.

The Bill will simplify the position. It is a straightforward measure, which will make it an offence for a person to shine or direct a laser beam towards a vehicle if it dazzles or distracts, or if the action is likely to dazzle or distract a person in control of a vehicle. It will extend to all transport modes, will give the police that the powers they need in order to investigate, and will provide penalties that reflect the seriousness of the offence. This will be an either-way offence, which means that it can be dealt with in the magistrates courts or, as an indictable offence, in the Crown court. It gives the police powers, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, to enter a property for the purposes of arrest, and to search a property after an arrest. Those powers are not currently available to the authorities in respect of existing aviation offences. The maximum fine will be unlimited, and the maximum prison sentence will be five years. The Bill will extend to the whole United Kingdom. We have been working with the devolved Administrations, who are very supportive, and I am grateful to them for their co-operation.

As I said at the start of my speech, the Bill has already faced scrutiny in the other place, where it received strong cross-party support. It reaches us in much better shape as a result. One of the positive additions in the other place was the extension of the provisions to air traffic control, which has a key role in our aviation sector. It is right and proper for those who attempt to shine one of these devices at an air traffic control point to be treated in the same way. That is a constructive example of the way in which debate on Bills such as this can improve them.

The Bill has received widespread support from both the authorities and the transport industry. The British Airline Pilots Association has welcomed its reintroduction—it was, of course, debated before the general election, but had to be set aside because there was not enough time to proceed—saying that it is good news for transport safety. It has also been welcomed by airlines and airports, the National Police Chiefs Council, the National Police Air Service, the Military Aviation Authority, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Rail Delivery Group, Public Health England, and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. That is a pretty good list of supporters.

Everyone agrees that we need to do something about this problem, and everyone agrees that the actions of the small number of individuals who behave in this way are utterly unacceptable. We must give our police the powers to deal with them in the toughest appropriate manner. I hope and believe that today, in the House, we can give our support to a measure that I believe is absolutely necessary for public safety, and whose time has come.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
18 Apr 2018, 1:06 p.m.

Labour fully supports the Bill. Our concerns about it were addressed as it made its way through the other place. However, this is not the first occasion on which I have had a strong sense of déjà vu when discussing legislation introduced during the current Session. The issues dealt with in this Bill, along with those in another two Bills that have been presented since June last year, were first put before the House more than a year ago as part of the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill. The Prime Minister’s gamble in calling a snap election not only demolished her majority in this place, but had the knock-on effect of disrupting much of the business of Parliament. A host of important Bills, including the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, were dropped ahead of the election.

Having expended a great deal of parliamentary time and effort debating issues like those contained in this Bill, we were surprised to note that there was no reference to the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill in the Queen’s Speech. Instead, the Government decided to take up even more parliamentary time by fragmenting the previously proposed legislation, splitting it between what became the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing Act 2017 and the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill. In fact, the Queen’s Speech made no mention of laser misuse, and it was only after Labour raised the issue with the Government during the debate on the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing Bill that they introduced this Bill.

While Labour Members are happy to see these measures finally making their way into law, it is disappointing to note that 50% of the Government’s transport programme during the current Parliament has consisted of clauses taken from the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which should already have passed into law. Moreover, having introduced three separate Bills, the Government have yet to include a number of clauses from the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill that should be on the statute books by now. There has been no legislation on diversionary driving courses, and the clauses relating to air traffic services appear to have been axed as well.

All those facts only go to show that this minority Government are utterly out of ideas, and cannot competently deliver those that they attempt to recycle. It is astonishing that they are willing to take up so many hours of Parliament’s time with business that should have been dealt with a year ago, when such a vast number of pressing transport issues require our immediate attention. For example, we have heard nothing from them about what action they will take to address the crisis in local bus services, the collapsing rail franchising system, the huge disparities in regional transport investment, or the air pollution that is causing 50,000 premature deaths each year. This Bill could have given them an opportunity to legislate on drones. There were 70 reported near misses with aircraft in 2016, and the number is rising year on year, but they simply have not addressed the problem at the required pace.

While it is disappointing to see the Government drag their feet on important problems relating to the transport sector, it is nevertheless a good thing that they are listening to the Labour party and legislating on laser misuse. Worryingly, we have seen a sharp rise in the misuse of lasers in recent years. According to figures released by the Civil Aviation Authority, between 2009 and 2016 there was a 70% increase in the number of incidents in which a laser was shone at an aircraft in the UK. The British Transport Police reported 578 laser incidents between April 2011 and November 2017, an average of 96 each year.

It is currently an offence only to direct or shine any light at any aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot of the aircraft, with a maximum penalty fine of £2,500. A suspect can be imprisoned for up to five years under the Aviation Security Act 1982 if intent to damage or endanger the safety of aircraft can be proved. The Bill will extend the offence to other vehicles, remove the cap on the amount that offenders can be fined, and make it easier to prosecute offenders by removing the need to prove an intention to endanger a vehicle.

The Government have taken on board the points raised by my Labour colleagues in the other place about the definition of “laser beam” and the types of vehicles covered in the Bill, as well including a new clause making it an offence to shine a laser directly towards an air traffic control tower. The Opposition would like to put on record our gratitude for the work of our colleagues in the other place, particularly Lord Tunnicliffe, to make those significant improvements to the Bill. It is with pleasure that Labour can take responsibility for a piece of legislation that the Conservatives omitted from their programme for government and only introduced after heeding our calls. Indeed, when they did so, the work of Opposition spokespeople in the other place was required to get it into its current shape. If we were in government, we would have passed this legislation into law a year ago, and we would now be getting on with the business of implementing our policies to save local bus services, fix our railways, equalise the disparities in regional transport investment and address the air pollution crisis.

All the Conservative party has to offer are recycled bits of legislation and sticking plasters for an ailing transport system that is in need of major medical assistance. While I reiterate Labour’s full support for the Bill, the transport needs of the nation are many and varied, and, sadly, the totality of the Government’s legislative programme is utterly deficient in addressing them.

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Oral Answers to Questions
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 01 March 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Mar 2018, 9:51 a.m.

We certainly keep the franchise process under continual review to work to improve it but, as I said a moment ago, a public railway is not the panacea that everyone on the Opposition Benches claims it is. I intend to do two things: to take the right decisions for the taxpayer and the travelling public on that route, which is really important, and to act within the law, which is also important.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Mar 2018, 9:51 a.m.

On Monday, the chief executive of Stagecoach said that he knew there was a problem with the east coast franchise’s finances just weeks after taking over the contract in March 2015, and that he had been talking to the Department about it for two years. Given that the Department was in dialogue with the operator about the difficulties, why did the Secretary of State not put together a contingency plan for the route? The Secretary of State has had two years to sort out this mess; is it not simply incredible that he still does not know what to do?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Mar 2018, 9:52 a.m.

The shadow Secretary of State clearly cannot do his sums, because I have not been Secretary of State for two years. We have been planning—

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Mar 2018, 9:52 a.m.

From 2016 to 2018.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Mar 2018, 9:52 a.m.

I have been Secretary of State for 18 months; the shadow Secretary of State cannot do his sums. Since I became aware that there was a problem on the east coast route, we have been doing careful contingency planning, so we have a long-term plan and short-term options for the route. We cannot put those short-term options into place until the appropriate moment arises at which they are necessary. We are prepared for when that moment arises and will deliver the alternatives.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
1 Mar 2018, 9:52 a.m.

Given that the taxpayer has already lost out on more than £2 billion of premium payments, can the Secretary of State advise the House as to whether the financial ramifications of the termination of the franchise are now completely known and concluded? If not, what sums of money are earmarked to settle any further system-gaming demands from Messrs Branson and Souter through litigation or arbitration?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard

Again, the Labour party cannot do its sums. We have no more written off £2 billion than Labour wrote off £1.4 billion when National Express collapsed. The reality is that the east coast is and always has been in recent times a profitable railway. Whatever happens, it will continue to generate a substantial return for the taxpayer. It is about time that Labour did its sums properly, rather than misrepresenting the reality.

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Rail Update
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Monday 05 February 2018

(2 years ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 5:07 p.m.

With your consent, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on rail franchising. I apologise to the two Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople for the slightly late delivery of copies of the statement—the speed with which we took this afternoon’s urgent questions caught us all a bit by surprise.

I informed the House on 10 January that my Department was preparing contingency plans for running train services on the east coast main line in the event of the existing franchise failing. Despite delivering significant returns to the taxpayer and having some of the highest passenger satisfaction scores in the country, the lead operator of the franchise, Stagecoach, has been incurring significant losses. During that debate, I promised to return to the House to provide an update on the situation, and I am doing so today.

Since 2015, the franchise has met all its financial commitments to the taxpayer, returning nearly £1 billion to the public purse, but that has come at a substantial cost of nearly £200 million to Stagecoach. I have already informed the House that the franchise will, in due course, run out of money and will not last until 2020, but it has now been confirmed that the situation is much more urgent. It is now clear that the franchise will be able to continue in its current form for only a very small number of months and no more.

Last week, following detailed analysis, my Department issued the franchisee with notification that the franchise has breached a key financial covenant. It is important to make it clear to the House, and indeed to the public, that that will not affect the railway’s day-to-day operations. The business will continue to operate as usual, with no impact on services or staff on the east coast, but it does mean that in the very near future, I need to put in place a successor arrangement for operating the railway and to end the current contract.

Given the imminent financial pressure that the existing franchise is under, I am taking action now to protect passengers who depend on these train services and to ensure continued value for taxpayers’ money. Given the urgency of the situation, I would like to take this opportunity to update the House on my plans.

It is worth remembering that our franchising system, as a whole, has delivered great benefits to passengers. New private investment has totalled £6.4 billion over the past 11 years, passenger journeys on the rail network have more than doubled and the private sector is paying for new trains all around the country. There are those who want that to stop, because of a dogma that the state could run the railway better, but we see the fruits of private investment all around the network.

There has also been much misinformation about the franchise, so it is worth stressing again at the outset that, because payments to the Government have been subsidised by Stagecoach, the taxpayer has continued to profit financially from this franchise. Passenger satisfaction is high, and preparations are well under way to deliver state-of-the-art new trains on this railway.

The problem is very straightforward: Stagecoach got its numbers wrong. It overbid and it is now paying the price. Contrary to widespread speculation and rumour, no deal has been done on this railway, and I have not yet made a decision on the successor operator to run the east coast railway until the longer-term plans for the integration of track and train can begin in 2020. There is no question of anyone receiving a bail-out. Stagecoach will be held to all its contractual obligations in full. But, as the Brown review said five years ago, this is what we expect in a competitive franchise system: private businesses risk substantial amounts of their own capital, and if they fail to live up to their stretching targets, they lose out, not the taxpayer. For anyone who thinks that the nearly £200 million that Stagecoach will lose is insignificant, let me put it into context: the combined profit of every train operator in the country was only £271 million last year, and the loss equates to more than 20% of Stagecoach’s total market value. So this is a significant amount of money by any measure, and it should also act as a stark warning to any company tempted to overbid in future. Moreover, the franchising system has now been adjusted to deter further optimism when bidding.

The priority now is to ensure the continued smooth running of the east coast franchise for its passengers. I have therefore asked my officials to conduct a full appraisal of the options available to the Government to ensure continuity of service until we implement the east coast partnership on the route from 2020. My decision on which option to choose will be made in accordance with the key principles set out in the statement on how I use my rail franchising powers. These include: protecting the interests of passengers; preserving the interests of taxpayers by ensuring value for money; and supporting investment and improvement in the railway, including through the deployment of new inter-city express trains on the east coast line.

In order to inform this decision, the Department will assess the extent to which each option performs against those principles. Our value-for-money assessment will be based on a number of criteria, including which option returns most money to the taxpayer, the risks attached to each, and the value of any improvements in passenger services. I will also have regard to the effect of my decision on other franchises. The decision will be taken in a transparent way; the Department’s assessment of the option will be published and it will be properly validated.

At this stage, one of the options is to consider the possibility of Stagecoach continuing to operate services on the east coast line under a very strictly designed short-term arrangement. The current management has a strong record of customer service and to rule out its involvement now would go against the principles I have outlined. However, given the circumstances in which the Government are having to step in to protect passengers on this line, I am prepared to consider that option only on the basis that the franchise would be operated on a short-term, not-for-profit basis. The only acceptable financial reward for Stagecoach could be received at the end of the contract—and only in return for the delivery of clearly specified passenger benefits and improvements. The company cannot be allowed to continue to run this franchise and simply make a profit, given what has happened. It got its sums wrong, and it will pay the price for that, not the taxpayer.

The second alternative is for the east coast franchise to be directly operated by the Department for Transport through an operator of last resort. My Department will subject that option to the same rigorous assessment to establish whether it would deliver value for money for taxpayers and protect the interests of passengers. This option is very much on the table and will be selected if the assessment that I have set out determines that it offers a better deal for passengers and taxpayers than the alternative.

In either scenario, the east coast main line is expected to deliver substantial revenue to the taxpayer. The line will also continue to deliver premium payments to the Government once the east coast partnership is in place in 2020. So let me be clear that the east coast franchise will continue to offer and deliver a healthy operating profit for taxpayers. It has done so over the course of this franchise so far and it will do so in future.

There will be those who claim that because Stagecoach overbid, it should be excluded from bidding for future franchises. I have to be clear that the legal advice on this is clear. As the company is meeting its financial obligations to support the franchise, including with the full parent company’s support, and because it has operated services on the east coast line successfully, the Department has concluded that there are no adequate legal grounds to restrict it from bidding on current and future franchise competitions on this basis. Members will understand that it is my duty to follow legal advice, but let me be clear that we will keep its eligibility for current and future bids under close scrutiny and constant review.

It is vital that we continue to focus our attention on delivering benefits for passengers across the network and on securing the genuine benefits of privatisation, so in addition to the transparent, rigorous process for the east coast line that I have set out, I am making some additional franchising announcements that will deliver benefits to passengers on the west coast and east midlands routes. In December 2016, we set out our plans to award the west coast partnership—the franchise that will deliver the first High Speed 2 passenger services. In that announcement, we made clear our intention to agree a short direct award with the current incumbent to allow the time necessary to design the west coast partnership. The negotiations have been completed and we have agreed a direct award with the existing operator, Virgin Trains west coast.

Let me be absolutely clear that the east coast and west coast franchises should not be confused. As with the east coast franchise, the west coast operator is meeting all its financial obligations, but the west coast franchise has a completely different corporate structure, in which Virgin Trains is the majority shareholder. As was set out 14 months ago, the direct award is a sensible bridge between the existing contract and the west coast partnership. Once that partnership is ready, the direct award will cease to exist.

Virgin has transformed the west coast franchise from a poorly performing service that required a subsidy of more than £75 million a year into a franchise that has one of the highest passenger satisfaction rates, at 91%, and which returns more than £200 million per year to the taxpayer. The transformation has included: the introduction of trains every 20 minutes between London and Manchester and between London and Birmingham, and hourly services between London and Scotland; the installation of wi-fi on every train; the lengthening of the Pendolinos to 11 carriages to accommodate growing passenger numbers; and the introduction of free at-seat entertainment services.

My decision is in keeping with the three key principles that I set out earlier: protecting passengers, ensuring value for money and supporting investment. I look forward to the release of the invitation to tender for the west coast partnership in due course and am confident that we will see strong competition for this exciting new franchise, which will help to transform rail travel in this country through to and including the delivery of the first HS2 services.

In the coming years, we will also transform the east midlands franchise, with the biggest investment in the midland main line since it was completed in 1870. Passengers will benefit from more seats, new trains and dramatically reduced journey times from Nottingham and Sheffield to London. Once the work is complete, there will be almost twice as many seats into London St Pancras during the peak compared with today.

The next operator will be required to deliver many of the improvements, so I shall set out today the next step of the competition that will award the contract. Abellio, Arriva, Stagecoach—the incumbent—and a joint venture between First and Trenitalia have all been shortlisted to run the east midlands franchise that will deliver improved services. As I have said, the Government have no adequate legal grounds to restrict Stagecoach from bidding, but the completion will be run on a fair and transparent basis, with new safeguards against over-bidding. Ultimately, the winner will be the firm that offers the best service to passengers and the best value to the taxpayer.

In a competitive market, franchises will sometimes fail. When that happens, my duty is to protect passengers and taxpayers, and to ensure continued investment in the railway. Stagecoach has paid the price for failure, as stipulated in its contract. Passengers on the east coast main line can be assured that services will continue as normal. The Government will undertake a transparent appraisal of the options available to ensure that passengers and taxpayers are protected.

I know that I will hear a lot about nationalising everything. It is worth remembering that, as we have heard today, renationalising our water companies would cost £90 billion. We have heard nothing about the cost of renationalising the railways—due to not just losing the private investment that is bringing in all those new trains, but the billions that would have to be spent to bring those trains back on to the public books. We remain committed to the success of a private railway. Over the past 20 years, passenger numbers have doubled. We have one of the safest railways in Europe, passenger satisfaction is high across the network and other countries are now adopting Britain’s model for running the railways. The plans I have set out will allow the British public to continue to benefit into the future from an ever-improving railway. We have challenges to meet, but we will meet them. I commend this statement to the House.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 5:18 p.m.

I would like to thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, but as I was given it just 15 minutes before he started to speak, I am not sure that I need to be over- grateful. Given the content of his statement, I am not surprised at his reticence. Let us see whether the markets deliver the sort of share value boost that his last statement secured.

Today’s announcement is yet another monumental misjudgment to add to a growing list of miscalculations by this Secretary of State. It is increasingly clear that he does not care about taxpayers, rail passengers or the rail industry itself, but will do everything in his power to protect and support Virgin, Stagecoach and their ilk, and the failed franchise system.

Members on both sides of the House can be in no doubt: the bail-out culture at the Department for Transport is alive and well—it has never been better. Virgin-Stagecoach failed to deliver on its contract on the east coast route. No problem—the Government will step in and bail it out, kissing goodbye to the £2 billion that Virgin had previously agreed to pay. But, guess what? Let us just give both companies a new contract to run the west coast line as well.

Listening to the Secretary of State’s statement, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. His argument that a direct award to Virgin-Stagecoach for the west coast and east coast represents a good deal is truly laughable. The idea of more profits and less risk for those companies is an insult to Members and their constituents. What makes me want to weep is that he is giving yet more gifts to Richard Branson and Brian Souter. What is more, he is using our public money to fund his failure. Let us not forget that Virgin and Stagecoach are companies that extracted hundreds of millions of pounds in rigged compensation payments from taxpayers during the upgrade of the west coast main line between 2002 and 2006—£590 million to be precise. [Interruption.] Similar tactics are now being deployed on the east coast, as the companies blame Network Rail for their failure to deliver on their contract.

Virgin Group games the system in rail and Virgin games the system in health. It has done it before, and it is doing it again: Virgin Trains is a company that shakes the system down. The Secretary of State’s failure to stand up to Virgin and Stagecoach is a disgrace. He is supposed to protect the taxpayer interest, not to sacrifice it to Branson and Souter, yet he stands by this model. Companies are not bidding for franchises, which makes a mockery of competition, and his taxpayer bail-outs make a joke of train operating companies paying premiums to the Treasury. What does this Secretary of State do instead? He just gives train operating contracts without competition. Since 2012, there have been more contracts directly awarded than franchises let after competitions. Why? Because he is ideologically opposed to running the railways in the public sector. He just will not do it. He cannot do it, even when the clear majority of the public are in favour of bringing the railways into public ownership. His solution is more taxpayer support and ever higher fares for passengers.

The Secretary of State refused to answer my questions about these contracts in a debate in this House on 10 January. He does not do long-term thinking, only crisis management. Franchise failure should mean forfeit. If a private train company cannot deliver on the contract, it does not deserve the contract. That was what the Labour Government did in 2009 with the east coast line. This Government’s failure to grasp reality is costing passengers and taxpayers dear. That is why a Labour Government will bring in a railway for the people and businesses that it is intended to serve, and put a stop to this appalling, profiteering racket.

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 5:26 p.m.

As we were caught short by the speed of the urgent questions, I know that the hon. Gentleman did not have as much time as he might have wished to prepare, but I am not sure that he listened to a word I was saying. He talked about a bail-out culture, gifts and standing up to people, but I have just announced that we will terminate a contract and that we may bring the operation of this railway back into the system of operator of last resort, which is, if I recall correctly, what Labour did in 2009.

I intend to ensure that I do what offers the best value for the taxpayer and the best option for the passenger at a time when exciting things are happening on this railway. New trains arriving in the coming months will transform the journey for passengers on the route, and that is long overdue. In the next control period, there will be investment in different parts of the route in order to improve performance in places where it is desperately overdue. The future is promising for the passengers on this railway, as they will have a better travel experience in the months to come.

The hon. Gentleman talked about long-term thinking, which is precisely what the east coast partnership is about. It is about unifying track and train in a way that I believe the public of this country want, and people on the railway believe that this will lead to a more efficient railway. The more that we can reunite the day-to-day operation of the track and trains right across the network, the more reliable a railway we will have.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 2:30 p.m.

Nationalise it.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 2:30 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, “Nationalise it” but this country has done that before. It was called British Rail and it became a national laughing stock. Whatever else we may do, I have no intention of leading our railway system back into the days of British Rail, when lines were closed, routes were axed and the system received a lack of investment year on year because it was competing with schools and hospitals for the capital available. I have no intention of recreating British Rail, although Labour may do. I have a strategy that involves bringing together track and train, a long-term vision of investment, expanding our network and new trains. That is what passengers want.

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 5:30 p.m.

We are going to hear a lot today about the public versus private argument. What SNP Members, and indeed Labour Members, have not remembered is that if the investment has to come from the public sector, it competes with money for schools, hospitals and the armed forces. That means that, as happened in the days of British Rail, our rail network is starved of investment, and we saw the consequences. By contrast, the new trains that are shortly going to be arriving in Edinburgh Waverley and going up the east coast to Aberdeen are paid for by the private sector.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 5:30 p.m.

They are paid for by the customers!

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 5:31 p.m.

Of course they are paid for by the customers. The private companies make the investment and they make the return on that investment because the passengers pay for fares. That is the way that business works. Perhaps Labour Members do not understand the way that business works. Customers buy something they want to buy. I am absolutely certain that customers want to travel in brand-new trains. That is long overdue on the east coast main line, where they have regularly failed to do so. However, there are clearly lessons to learn on this. That is why we have moved much more towards a quality basis for new franchises. I want an increased quality of service delivered to be the basis for the allocation of new franchises.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) asked about the west coast main line direct award. As I said, it will run for between one and two years. It will finish as soon as possible. I want this up and running. We are going to issue the ITT for the west coast partnership very shortly.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of staffing. The private sector-run east coast main line is today employing more people than it did in the public sector. As somebody who believes passionately that we need more customer service staff on the railway rather than fewer, I think that is a good thing.

The hon. Gentleman asked again about the devolution of Network Rail. I simply reiterate that I think that the SNP Government have quite enough to do without going beyond the devolution recommendations that we have put in place.

As regards the travelcard, it is being issued by the industry, which is moving ahead quickly with preparations for it.

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 4:19 p.m.

Absolutely, and indeed, that has already happened. I am absolutely clear that Virgin-Stagecoach will fulfil this contract to the letter.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
5 Feb 2018, 5:39 p.m.

What about the £2 billion?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard

The shadow Secretary of State has failed to understand what I keep saying, which is that this railway every year continues to generate a substantial contribution to the taxpayer, and that will continue right the way through until 2023 and beyond.

See more like "High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill"

High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Tuesday 30 January 2018

(2 years ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard

I am very well aware of the potential impact on ancient woodland. We have already made changes to the design of the project to try to mitigate that impact, and there is an absolute commitment to look to plant afresh and to develop environmental measures to compensate for any loss of woodland. Also, there are some exciting potential projects on the route that can enhance the natural environment at the same time as we are having to make changes elsewhere. I assure my hon. Friend that we are very sensitive to the issue she mentions, and we will do our best to make this project in as environmentally friendly a way as possible. We cannot build something new like this across the whole country without having some impacts, but we can try to mitigate them and put money into positive alternatives. That is what we are committed to, and that is what we will do.

This is a step on the way towards creating a 21st century new rail network: phase 1 to Birmingham, phase 2a to Crewe, eventually phase 2b to Manchester and Leeds, and then across the top with Northern Powerhouse Rail, and then, through that, the connections to the north-east, which the shadow Secretary of State will hold dear, to Scotland—colleagues on both sides of the House representing Scottish constituencies are keen to see that connection put in place—and into north Wales through the Crewe hub that we are working on at the moment.

This project will provide the capacity our transport system needs in the 21st century. It will deliver better journey times and, particularly importantly, much better connections between our northern cities—Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds—where there are poor connections at the moment; this will make a huge difference to them. But above all this is about making sure this country has a 21st century transport system. I hope the project commands support across the House. I know that some Members have issues both about the principles of the project and constituency impacts. To those with constituency impacts I simply say again that we will do our best to minimise those and to work as closely as possible with them to make sure that people who are affected are treated as decently as possible.

This Bill is enormously important to this House, to the future of this country, to our nation, to strengthening our Union, and to delivering economic growth across the whole country, and I very much hope that this House will give it its support today.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard

I am pleased to stand here today to support a project which was instigated by the last Labour Government. National infrastructure investment is too important to be left to the vagaries of the election cycle. It is to the Government’s credit that they have continued to back both HS2 and Crossrail since 2010. Labour has always maintained that HS2 must be built as a network rather than a standalone piece of infrastructure. It is this approach which will deliver the maximum economic benefits. Both main parties can agree that HS2 is about more than transport. High-speed rail is about unlocking the economic potential of the north and the midlands. It will drive a rebalancing of the UK economy by improving connectivity between the north and south.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 3:14 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and it is key that HS2 integrates. We have just heard words from the Secretary of State about the need to ensure that it does connect with our northern cities, but we are yet to see those plans unfurl. We have heard about Transport for the North’s aspirations, but this cannot be a stand-alone project; it is essential that it links into our great towns and cities throughout the nation.

Linking the great cities of the north and midlands is equally important and will bring much-needed economic benefits to those regions. Labour supports the nearly 30,000 jobs the construction of HS2 will deliver and the huge uplift it will give to apprenticeships and training, particularly outside London. It is not too early to consider how we will retain and develop those skills in the future in other infrastructure projects both at home and abroad. I would be interested in any comments the Secretary of State has on this point, particularly with regard to Northern Powerhouse Rail and Crossrail.

I also make a plea that we must not repeat the catastrophe of the Carillion experience with apprentices. Apprentices in my constituency are being left flapping in the wind, not knowing whether they are going to be paid. We hear today that their employment will come to an end at the end of this month. It is a disgrace that £6.5 million of public money has gone into an apprenticeship programme that leaves our apprentices short of their qualifications and without employment. The Government should intervene now to guarantee that those apprentices will receive that assurance from this Government today.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 3:17 p.m.

I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for giving way, and he and I share that view. I can assure him that, on the HS2 project, the apprentices who were employed by Carillion are migrating to work for Kier and those employed by Carillion have been moved on to the project with the other two partners. So not only should there be no hiatus in the work taking place, but, more importantly, the people on those projects are moving to different companies involved in them. There are obviously some very difficult circumstances elsewhere as a consequence of the collapse of Carillion, but I have been very keen with this project to make sure we have the seamless transition we contracted for last summer, and I am delighted to see the apprentices move on in a way that enables them to carry on with their apprenticeships.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
30 Jan 2018, 3:19 p.m.

I am grateful for that reassurance in the context of these projects, but I am particularly concerned about these apprentices in the here-and-now; there are 100 out of the 1,400 who have been prejudiced in my community and we want to see this Government respond by coming to the table and making sure those young people have a future. It is difficult enough to encourage people into these industries in the first instance without leaving them high and dry, as has happened on this occasion.

I welcome the commitments contained in HS2’s environmental principles. It is imperative that environmental standards and air quality are at the forefront of the project. Many of the arguments about why we need HS2, and why we do not, have been well rehearsed in this House over many years: passenger rail numbers have doubled since 1995; rail freight has grown by two thirds over the same period; and the existing network has been operating at full capacity for years. No amount of timetable-tinkering can change this; I trust that all Members are in agreement about that.

Although it is important to maintain our vital road network, there is an urgent need to secure modal shift across transport: we cannot build our way out of congestion on our roads, and we must be watchful about the sustainability of domestic air travel. In addition, we face the prospect of the population of Britain reaching 70 million by the end of the decade. So the question is: how are we going to move our people around our nation? It is no exaggeration to say that the very economic and social livelihood of this country is at stake. Our capacity to move people by rail and bus is therefore crucial.

See more like "Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill"

Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Monday 29 January 2018

(2 years ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
29 Jan 2018, 8:45 p.m.

This has to be a United Kingdom-wide effort. Scotland is no different from the rest of the United Kingdom: it has rural areas, remote rural areas and busy urban areas. We will need to make sure that all those who seek to buy these vehicles have access to the appropriate charging points. This legislation will help to do that, as will Government funding. The Barnett consequentials of the Government funding announced in the Budget will enable the Scottish Government to play their part, along with private investment.

Taken together, the measures in the Bill will ensure that the UK is at the forefront of this profound technological shift. It will provide cleaner vehicles, easier travel and safer roads—all part of a transport system that works for everyone in this country, both today and in future. I am grateful to everyone who has been involved in working on the passage of the Bill. I hope that it makes a genuine difference. I am grateful to the whole House for uniting behind the Bill’s principles. Let us go forward and make sure that this country is a real success story in this field.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Jan 2018, 8:46 p.m.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not know whether you remember Raymond Baxter and James Burke all those years ago on “Tomorrow’s World”, saying that vehicles would connect and talk to one another—you are too young, I am sure, but seemingly that day is dawning.

I thank the Government Front-Bench team for the spirit of co-operation in which they have handled the Bill. Had the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) been in his place, I would have thanked him and told him that if Carlsberg did legislation, they would probably do it this way. However, I cannot say that to him because he has gone for his dinner.

As these clauses were largely included in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which was dropped following the Prime Minister’s decision to call a snap general election, they have been scrutinised in Committee in the Commons twice. I place on record my thanks to all those who have been involved so far in improving the legislation. The Transport Secretary is correct when he describes the potential for electric and automated vehicles to transform transport in the coming years. It is right that a Bill is brought forward to allow those technologies to be facilitated and encouraged.

It is necessary to address certain issues successfully, including questions of insurance and what powers are necessary for the development of charging networks, for the UK to stay ahead of the curve on transport. It is right to legislate to encourage research and innovation that will shape how we travel in future and create the highly skilled jobs that our economy needs, as well as tackling the environmental and climate change challenges that confront us. Sadly, road deaths are at a five-year high, but there is considerable potential for automated vehicles vastly to improve road safety, not just by avoiding the errors that lead to so many crashes, but by using the information gathered to aid the design of safer roads and infrastructure in future.

The UK is in the midst of an air pollution crisis that the Government have failed to address. Recent studies show that 50,000 deaths in the UK last year were attributable to air pollution. This is a higher proportion than in Germany, France, Spain and many other European countries. For that reason, I welcome the Government’s commitment to an electric charging infrastructure, as announced in the autumn Budget, and the continuation of limited subsidy schemes for ultra low emission vehicles. The UK is also in a strong position to become a world leader in the production of automated and electric vehicles and to enjoy the greater economic benefits that will flow therefrom, although we may have to cope with the new condition of range anxiety.

The Bill alone does not add up to the wider policy framework that is required for the UK to take advantage of the opportunities presented to us, but it is an important Bill, which we support. Labour wishes to continue to work constructively with the Government in pursuit of these objectives. Creating the insurance frameworks needed to allow automated vehicles on our roads is a necessary step but not itself sufficient. The Transport Secretary has announced that driverless cars will be in operation on UK roads by 2021. Although the Bill is needed if that is to be the case, it is the pace at which the technology develops that will determine whether that target is met.

It is disappointing that the Government chose not to support our amendment in Committee to require a consultation prior to devolving the definition criteria for automated vehicles, which we regard as an unaddressed issue with the Bill. Although road-ready, fully-automated vehicles are still some years away, there has been a significant increase in assistance systems and partial automation over recent years, and those advances are in operation currently. The Bill assumes a clear distinction, but it is not apparent that one exists, and it is important that the Government draw on the available expertise to avoid inaccurate or confusing definitions in the future.

We are also concerned that the Bill does not require the provision of charging points to be distributed across the country more evenly, but I welcome the Minister’s commitment to publishing the Government’s strategy by the end of March—I just hope that that is March of 2018, not of some future year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) stated earlier, however, the Government have acknowledged the need to monitor closely how charge points are rolled out and the need to get a clear view of where the concentrations of charge points are and what needs to be done to fill in gaps that emerge.

To conclude, when the Bill is debated further in the other place, the noble Lords will in all likelihood look for greater clarity from the Government on their strategy for electric charging infrastructure and how they will ensure a fair geographical spread, so that the benefits of these technological developments can be felt across the country. If we are to secure the opportunities that these exciting technologies present, this is a necessary Bill, and we are happy to support it.

See more like "Private Sector Rail Investment"

Private Sector Rail Investment
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 18 January 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
18 Jan 2018, 9:52 a.m.

My right hon. Friend will be relieved to know that the demise of Carillion, a tragic event for this country and for corporate Britain, will none the less not affect the HS2 project. The existing contract is part of a three-company consortium, and the other two companies, Kier and Eiffage, are taking over responsibility for the project. The apprenticeships are being transferred, the staff are being transferred and the project will continue uninterrupted.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
18 Jan 2018, 9:52 a.m.

On 17 July last year, the day on which Carillion was confirmed in the HS2 contract, I asked the Secretary of State about the financial instability of the company. He declared himself to be confident that the expected results would be delivered. Given the unfolding events of the last few days, has he now reflected and does he now accept that he got it spectacularly wrong and that his judgment and confidence were disastrously misplaced?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
18 Jan 2018, 9:52 a.m.

I do not accept that at all. The hon. Gentleman referred specifically to the HS2 contract. At the time, I reviewed those carrying out the contracting very carefully, and I have carried out due diligence since. As I said a moment ago, the HS2 project will not be affected by this, even to the point, I am pleased to say, that the apprentices working with Carillion on the project are being transferred to one of the other two partners. The work will continue uninterrupted. There is no delay and there are no cost implications.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
18 Jan 2018, 9:53 a.m.

On Monday, The Times newspaper said:

“The transport secretary’s decision to award lucrative contracts to an ailing Carillion is only the latest worrying misjudgment to come to light.”

It highlighted his trip to Qatar on the day of the biggest rail fare hike in five years, the notorious £2 billion east coast bail-out and his dysfunctional dealings with trade unions in the private sector, saying that the Prime Minister

“needs to consider whether it is time that this transport secretary left the station.”

Has not The Times got it absolutely right?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
18 Jan 2018, 9:54 a.m.

The only station that I am going to be leaving is Euston station for a visit to the midlands this morning. There has been no £2 billion bail-out of Virgin Trains East Coast. The contracting with Carillion was actually not with Carillion, but with a consortium of companies that are equally responsible for delivering the contract and will do so. I am happy to stand here to defend the record of a Government that have done more for our transport system than has happened in decades. That is in sharp contrast with what the Labour party did over 13 years in government, which was very little indeed.

See more like "Rail Franchising"

Rail Franchising
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Wednesday 10 January 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard

My hon. Friend makes his point powerfully.

Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 4:30 p.m.

I will not respond in detail until I make my speech, but it is important to put on record that this morning’s report had nothing to do with the Northern rail franchise. I hope the hon. Gentleman will confirm that to the House.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 4:30 p.m.

I will do that very thing. I will confirm that the damning report was about Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, not Northern, and showed that that franchise has been appallingly managed.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 4:40 p.m.

Let me take the last point first. The European Union dictates that persons with restricted mobility are not served by the Pacers. The time of the Pacers has been up for a long time, and I am glad to see the back of them. I am glad that plenty of people work on the railways, and delighted that the previous Labour Government went about making the railways safe, given the disaster that was Railtrack, which delivered us Potters Bar, Hatfield and Paddington. That was the legacy that the previous Labour Government inherited, and we turned our railways into the safest in Europe, so I am very proud of what we did.

Direct awards and franchise extensions in the rail industry have been overlooked in many of the rail debates. These are contracts that the Government cannot or will not refranchise, and which they are ideologically opposed to running in the public sector. The train companies name their price to the Government for running these hand-to-mouth contracts, which simply keep the trains running in the short term and provide no long-term benefits or investment.

The west coast route has operated on a series of direct awards since 2012, with reports of another extension beyond 2019. Another key inter-city franchise, Great Western, has been operating under a direct award since 2013, when the Government cancelled the franchise competition. Scandalously, Great Western may run as a direct award for 10 years until 2023. The Government cannot refranchise the rail operation because their management of Network Rail has been so poor and the Great Western electrification programme has been such a shambles.

I predict that there will be more direct awards and contract extensions to rail franchises announced by the Government. The east midlands franchise is already on an extension to 2019 and will probably get another one. I also predict that the Secretary of State will need to give Virgin and Stagecoach a direct award on the east coast because he will not be able to deliver on his east coast partnership by 2020. It is simply inconceivable that he will be able to establish a framework, gain regulatory support, put the idea out to tender, receive and evaluate bids, and award the contract within the timeframe he has set out. A direct award to VirginStagecoach on the east coast will allow the companies to continue to profit from the line while they invest even less.

Once again, the Secretary of State needs to be entirely candid with this House: does he, or does he not, anticipate giving Virgin-Stagecoach a direct award to run rail operations on the east coast while he sets out his east coast partnership? Can he confirm whether that will take place? If he does, can he tell the House how much less the value of premium payments to the Treasury would be under this arrangement than under the original franchise?

What is the Secretary of State’s solution to his failing franchising model, as competition dwindles and premiums to the Exchequer reduce? It is quite simple: more taxpayer and fare-payer support for train operating companies. The next franchises to come up are Southeastern and west coast. Under his new revenue support arrangements, taxpayers will top up revenues if growth targets are not met. What is the point of franchising if the operators do not take any risk? In return, the Government will want close financial monitoring of the operators. Do we really want civil servants in Marsham Street poring over train company balance sheets? Is there not enough DFT interference in the railway already?

Rail privatisation’s vested interests have spent more than 20 years trying to get franchising to work. Despite the Government changing and tweaking the system for them time after time, all they have done in return is to reveal ever more and new sorts of failure, while the public continue to suffer substandard services and ever-higher fares. Enough is enough. We need to change the system entirely.

Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Hansard

May I begin with the one thing on which we agree this afternoon? I thank the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) for his generous comments about my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who has been a great servant of my Department and other Departments for a very long period. He has been on the Front Bench for 19 years, in government and in opposition. That is an epic career, and we all very much appreciate the work that he has done, particularly on legislation and on building bilateral discussions and so on, so I pay tribute to him for all that he did. I am grateful for the warm words from the hon. Member for Middlesbrough.

Apart from that, we have just heard about 25 minutes of complete nonsense from the Opposition. I suspect that you would say it would be unparliamentary of me to call them hypocritical, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will not do so, but I have no doubt that others in the know will be astonished by the gall with which they simply forget their actions in government; with which they pretend that their ideas will not cost a penny—I keep hearing that, but it is absolutely untrue—and with which they make inaccurate claims based on a lack of facts about subjects they appear not to understand.

Let me set out why the Opposition’s ideas do not stack up and why their positions do not add up.

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 4:49 p.m.

I make no apologies for the huge investment programme in the Thameslink network, the massive expansion of London Bridge station, which has just been completed, and the introduction of brand-new 12-coach trains across the network. What I do apologise for is that we were not able to avoid the extraordinarily ill-judged actions of the trade unions, which caused massive trouble for passengers. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough talked about the Gibb report. Chris Gibb had a simple conclusion, which was that although there were problems on the network—that is why we are spending £300 million on improving it—by far the biggest disruptive factor was the trade unions.

Of course, we want rail staff to be paid fairly, but trade union leaders such as Mick Cash drive up ticket prices for hard-working people. The same unions that want CPI increases on fares want RPI—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Middlesbrough should listen. The RMT guidance to their negotiators is that

“any attempt by an employer to link a pay award to CPI…must be refused.”

Mick Cash wants bigger rises for his members and lower rises for passengers. Where is the money coming from? It does not add up. Labour’s policies do not add up, and the unions’ policies do not add up.

Of course, you will remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, who pays the Labour party’s bills. Even the shadow Secretary of State has received financial contributions from the RMT. The Opposition are in the pockets of the trade unions, and that is simply not acceptable.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 4:51 p.m.

I know it has taken 100 years for the Conservative party to realise it, but we are the Labour and trade union movement. The Secretary of State needs to understand that. It is the cleanest money in politics—I would rather take from trade unions than from hedge fund managers and private health companies, as some who populate the Conservative Benches do.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 4:51 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is bankrolled by the people who are inappropriately disrupting parts of the network and are politically driven. They disrupt the lives of passengers for political purposes. The Labour party should disown the unions and their current action. The hon. Gentleman’s conduct on this is not acceptable,

Break in Debate

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 5:03 p.m.

No—forgive me, but I am going to explain this in detail.

Passenger numbers are rising on this railway; customer satisfaction is up; and the line is generating a healthy and growing operating surplus that is providing a much greater return to the taxpayer than when it was in the public sector. It is also worth saying that it is running more services and employing more staff. The money that the franchise pays to the Government is today 20% higher than it was under public ownership. But Virgin and Stagecoach got their numbers wrong. They have been losing money steadily, and have now lost the best part of £200 million in the past three years. Despite that, I am holding them to their full financial obligations, taking every last penny of the £165 million guarantee that we insisted on when they took on the franchise.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 5:02 p.m.

rose—

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 5:03 p.m.

I am going to finish this point, and then I will take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, if that is okay.

That is a huge sum of money for a British business with a market capitalisation of under £1 billion pounds. It is also one of the biggest bonds of its kind ever provided in the rail industry. But despite Labour’s claims, this is not a bail-out. There is no viable legal mechanism through which I can extract any more money from the company. My Department is preparing contingency plans as we do not believe that the franchise will be financially viable through to 2020. I clearly have a duty to do that for passengers. When we reach a conclusion that works, I will come back to this House and make a statement. However, I do plan to go ahead with the east coast partnership, as I indicated in my statement a month ago. People in this country do not understand the separation of track and train, and as part of our reforms we are bringing the two together, as Sir Roy McNulty recommended in his report. I now give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 5:04 p.m.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State. Can he make this clear? He is talking about the parent company guarantee, which will be paid. What about the premium payments from 2020 to 2023, which amount to £2 billion? Is the company going to pay those premiums, or not?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 5:04 p.m.

As I have just said, we are currently not convinced that the franchise will make it as far as 2020, so we will put in place alternative arrangements. The hon. Gentleman was clearly not listening to what I was saying. However, this railway will continue to deliver a substantial operating surplus—a premium to the taxpayer—whatever the situation. Whatever happens, this railway will continue to deliver large sums of money to the taxpayer.

See more like "North-south Rail Connections"

North-south Rail Connections
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 30 November 2017

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
30 Nov 2017, midnight

If the hon. Gentleman wants to meet the Government to discuss the removal of the Barnett formula and the move towards needs-based allocation of funding across the piece for Scotland, I am sure that would be a very interesting discussion; but in this country over the past few years we have tended to follow the Barnett formula. Most recently, we have provided additional funding to Scotland through the allocations in the Budget. Money has been spent on capital investment in England and money is to be spent based on the Barnett formula in Scotland. That is the way we operate.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
30 Nov 2017, 9:40 a.m.

We learned yesterday that the east coast rail franchise will be terminated in 2020—three years early—potentially forfeiting billions of pounds in premiums due to the Treasury, yet the Secretary of State told the House that Stagecoach will meet in full the commitments it made to the Government as part of this contract. So, can he confirm that the full £3.3 billion due from Stagecoach-Virgin will be paid to the Treasury, in accordance with the terms of the original contract?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
30 Nov 2017, 9:40 a.m.

Every time a franchisee takes up a new contract it makes a parent company commitment to the Government. That commitment will be kept in full.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
30 Nov 2017, 9:41 a.m.

Can we get to the heart of this? Will the premiums of some £2 billion due under that contract covering the years 2020 to 2023 be paid? Will they be paid—yes or no?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard

Self-evidently, given my announcement yesterday that we would have the east coast partnership in place in 2020, there will be new arrangements in place in 2020. As I have said to the hon. Gentleman, every franchisee makes a parent company commitment before taking out the contract and we will hold that that commitment will be met in full.

See more like "Topical Questions"

Topical Questions
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 30 November 2017

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
30 Nov 2017, 10:36 a.m.

We have finished the design of neither Crossrail 2 nor northern powerhouse rail. My focus right now is on the projects that are under way, including electrification across parts of the north of England and a £3 billion upgrade to the trans-Pennine routes. We are already seeing better investment in the north. When we see the final shape of Crossrail 2 and northern powerhouse rail, we will see what the answer to the hon. Lady’s question is.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

See more like "Rail Update"

Rail Update
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Wednesday 29 November 2017

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2017, 1:30 p.m.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about our plans for Britain’s railways. Those railways were privatised in the mid-1990s against a backdrop of what many regarded as terminal decline. The radical Beeching cuts of the 1960s had been followed by further line closures under British Rail, and passenger numbers had been falling steadily since the second world war, yet privatisation sparked a remarkable turnaround in the railway’s fortunes. More than a million and a half more trains are timetabled each year than was the case 20 years ago, and passenger demand has more than doubled. Other countries are now adopting Great Britain’s rail model in their own markets.

To support that growth and reverse decades of underinvestment in the infrastructure, we have embarked on the biggest rail modernisation programme since the Victorian age. In addition to Government funding, billions of pounds of investment from the private sector is helping to renew and expand train fleets, upgrade stations and transform services across the country, and franchises are making an increasing contribution to the public purse. The rail renaissance we are seeing in Great Britain today is the direct result of a successful partnership between public and private sectors.

That partnership has delivered real benefits for passengers for more than 20 years, but that success has created its own challenges. As the number of services has increased, our network has become more and more congested, making the delivery of the punctual, reliable services that passengers expect more challenging. On much of the network, our railway is operating on the edge of what it can cope with. It carries more passengers today than it did in its heyday in the 1920s, on a network that is a fraction of the size. When things go wrong, the impact can be widespread and quick, causing significant frustration for the travelling public.

That is why last year I announced plans to start bringing together the operation of track and train on our railways. I said at the time that it should be a process of evolution and not revolution, and that the exact approach might differ from area to area, but the outcome must be the same: a railway that is predominantly run by a joint local team of people with an absolute commitment to the smooth running of the timetable whether they are planning essential repairs, responding to incidents on the line or communicating with passengers.

Today I am publishing more details about our plans, and an update on what we are doing and the steps we are taking to realise our ambitions. That publication, “Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail”, explains how we will create a new generation of regional rail operations with a relentless focus on the passengers, economies and communities they serve. It represents the biggest change to the delivery of rail services since privatisation.

Although we have already achieved significant structural improvements—with joined-up working between operators and Network Rail, and Network Rail’s own transformation into a series of regional route businesses—the document explains our plans to go much further. Where doing so will deliver real benefits for passengers, many future rail franchises will be run by a joint team, made up of staff from Network Rail and the train company, and headed by a new alliance director. That will make the railway more reliable for passengers by devolving powers to local routes and teams, and ensuring that one team is responsible for running the railways and the related infrastructure.

Today I am issuing the invitation to tender for the next south-eastern franchise. That will, among other things, deliver longer trains, providing space for at least 40,000 additional passengers in the morning rush hour. A simpler, high-frequency “turn up and go” timetable on suburban routes will boost capacity and provide a better service to passengers. As part of the unification of track and train, the day-to-day operations on the south-eastern network will be run by a joint team led by a new alliance director who heads both the train and track operations. On the east midland main line we will also introduce a joint team approach, bringing more benefits to passengers.

Hon. Members will know that the east coast main line has had its challenges in recent times, and I intend to take a different approach on that route. From 2020, the east coast partnership will run the intercity trains and track operations on this route. That partnership between the public and private sector will operate under one management and a single brand, overseen by a single leader. It will take a leading role in planning the future route infrastructure and meeting the challenges that it faces. Bringing the perspective of train operators to decisions on rail infrastructure will help to ensure that passenger needs are better represented in the process. While we run a competition to appoint the east coast partnership members, we are in discussions with the existing east coast franchise operator to ensure that the needs of passengers and taxpayers are met in the short term, and laying the foundations for the reforms I have just outlined.

I want the passenger to be central to train operators’ strategies. On some parts of the network, that will mean that we introduce smaller train companies. I am today launching a consultation on the great western franchise, to seek views on how it can best meet the needs of passengers and communities in the 2020s and beyond. We want to establish whether it should be retained in its current form or divided into smaller parts, with more of a local focus, to deliver best for customers. We will also begin the process of splitting up the Thameslink, southern and great northern franchise in 2021. The two franchises were put together with the intention of helping the implementation of the £6 billion Thameslink upgrade investment programme, which is now near completion.

Despite the improvements in the railway since privatisation, we are still some way from achieving the modern, high-performance, low-cost and customer-focused industry we all want to see. That is why we must continue to reform and invest in the railway, and maximise the contribution that both public and private sectors make to improving services. We will continue to deliver the biggest investment programme in our railways since the steam age, something the Labour party never did when it was in government.

Getting to grips with industry structure will go hand in hand with investment in infrastructure. We need new capacity to cope with growing demand, and new links to support economic growth and housing development. The great north rail project is transforming journeys across the north, providing faster, more comfortable journeys, new direct services and room for tens of thousands more passengers. Every single train in the north of England will be replaced with as-new or brand new stock—that change was never made when the Labour party was in power.

I intend to invest around £3 billion in upgrading the trans-Pennine route to deliver faster journey times and improved capacity between the great cities of Leeds, York and Manchester. In the south, flagship projects such as Crossrail and Thameslink are coming on stream and providing the capacity to underpin economic growth. Our investment in HS2 will bring north and south closer together, and bring benefits to people across the country. It is a new railway for a new era for rail. It is a bold and ambitious project, but if it were not for ambition and faith in the power of rail to transform the country, we would have no railways at all.

Our vision rejects the mentality of decline that characterised the railway in the second half of the 20th century. To complement record levels of private investment, we recently announced Government funding of up to £34.7 billion for the railway in the years 2019 to 2024, as part of an overall expected spend of £47.9 billion. That will support an overhaul of the network’s ageing assets and other vital work and improvements. Passengers value reliability more than anything, and this commitment will help to deliver it.

We also want to create new connections. We are establishing the East West Rail company to restore the rail link between Oxford and Cambridge that was lost to passengers in 1967 and to provide a major boost to the region. I expect construction work to begin next summer. We will look at other opportunities to restore capacity lost under Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s, where such projects would unlock development and growth, offer value for money and unlock the potential for housing.

Large projects and industry reform take time, but passengers want faster improvements in their day-to-day experience travelling on the railway. We do too, and we are doing something about it. We are pushing to have smart ticketing available across almost all the network by the end of 2018. We are improving arrangements for compensation and dispute resolution when things go wrong, including by supporting the establishment of a new passenger ombudsman. We are working with industry to extend the benefits of discounted rail travel, to ensure that all who are aged 16 to 30 can access appropriate concessions. We are investing in new digital technologies and better mobile connectivity. We are committed to improving the accessibility of the network and delivering a modern customer experience that is open to all.

I know that the Labour party does not believe this, but privatisation brought a revolution to our railways—that is why there are twice as many passengers as there were 20 years ago. But now is the time for evolution to build on that success: joining up track and train, expanding the network, modernising the customer experience and opening up the railway to innovation. We have a vision of a revitalised railway that is used to its full potential, delivered by a partnership between the public and private sectors, supporting people, communities and the economy. We are taking real action to make that vision a reality. I am making copies of the strategic vision available in the Libraries of both Houses, and the great western and south-eastern documents are now on the website of the Department for Transport. I commend this statement to the House.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2017, 1:39 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement, the contents of which have already been well trailed in the media.

The Secretary of State and I can be in agreement on rail’s need for investment and new capacity, and I am delighted that he has picked up Labour’s manifesto commitment to reopen branch lines. The problem is that the current system and the structure of the railways do not lend themselves well to the receipt of new investment or the delivery of new capacity. The majority of the recent problems on the railway can be traced back to the planning for control period 5, when the Office of Rail and Road said that Network Rail had to make efficiency savings of 18%. The ORR got this wrong, and the railway has suffered the consequences.

We are where we are on rail, and I am afraid that the Secretary of State has, frankly, now run out of ideas for what to do with the railways, but Labour has a solution, which I will refer to in a moment. The Secretary of State proposes an alliance on the east coast line between track and train. This was done only a few years ago between Stagecoach and Network Rail on the south-west franchise, but Stagecoach pulled out because it was too expensive. Trains on the east coast may be labelled Virgin trains, but they are actually run by Stagecoach. What makes the Secretary of State think that this alliance with Stagecoach will be any different?

The Secretary of State says he will break up the GTR’s southern and great western franchises. GTR was always going to be broken up at the end of the contract in 2021, so this is not new. His calamitous oversight of the contract only adds to the urgent need to put the whole thing out of its misery for the sake of the passengers.

The Secretary of State says he will reopen lines. He announced the Oxford-Cambridge line a year ago. His new, privately funded line will operate with polluting diesel trains. What about the air quality? Labour supports reopening lines, but, without financial backing, the Secretary of State’s proposals mean nothing in reality. It is all well and good to reverse the Beeching cuts, but what about reversing the Grayling cuts to the great western, the midland mainline and northern railways? The Department’s website hails the reopening of the line

“from Blyth to Ashington in County Durham.”

If it is all right with him, I would prefer Blyth and Ashington to stay in Northumberland.

The Secretary of State’s proposals offer nothing for commuters on overcrowded trains who are facing a fare hike of 3.4% in January on top of the 27% rises since 2010. The truth is that the rail system is broken. No amount of rearranging the furniture will change this central fact. I regret that the Secretary of State cannot recognise or admit this.

Today’s announcement is a total smokescreen. We can put all this to one side; the real issue is that the east coast franchise has failed again and the taxpayer will have to bail it out. Markets do not lie, and the Stagecoach share price has risen by 12% this morning following the news that the Secretary of State has let it off the hook for hundreds of millions of pounds by ending the current franchise early. He has moved the goalposts to suit Stagecoach. He is tough on everyone except the private sector. Labour took the franchise into public ownership in 2009, and it should have stayed there. Conservative dogma put it back out to the market in 2015, and it has now failed again.

The Government’s proposals are more window dressing that will solve none of rail’s urgent problems. Only Labour has the vision and the courage to deliver the railway the public deserves. The public want public ownership of the railways, and the next Labour Government will deliver it.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
29 Nov 2017, 1:40 p.m.

Fortunately, this country will be waiting a long time for that to happen. What Labour Members really want is to take us back to the days of British Rail, but they have not explained to us how they would pay for all the new trains currently funded by the private sector, or how they would pay for longer trains and better services all around the country. What they do not tell us is that, with a publicly run railway, trains would have to compete for capital costs with hospitals and schools and we would just not get the investment we are currently getting in our railways. Going back to British Rail is simply no solution for the improvements this country desperately needs.

The hon. Gentleman asked a series of specific questions. What is different is what is happening within Network Rail. The devolution within Network Rail—more of a local focus, local decision making, local budgets—is absolutely crucial in making local partnerships possible. We are driving through that change right now, off the back of Nicola Shaw’s report on Network Rail, and it is the right thing to do for the future.

The hon. Gentleman talked about GTR, but I remind the House that the independent Gibb report showed that the GTR problems were substantially down to the actions of the hon. Gentleman’s friends in the unions. Such conduct was unacceptable, and the Labour party’s continuing support for the disruption that unions are causing to passengers on the railways is utterly unacceptable.

The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the Oxford-Cambridge railway line. I did actually give an update on that. Last year, I said we were going to do it. This year, I am saying that we are now ready to start work on that route in the next few months. This Conservative Government are delivering real improvements and real investment on the railways.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the finance for reopening lines. He may have missed these announcements in the Budget, but I can assure him that there will be £2 billion more for investment in transport in our cities, and there will be £47 billion for investment in the railways over the next five years. We will, indeed, be funding investment in the expansion of the railways, because that is what is needed.

The hon. Gentleman asked a question about electrification. I say again that in a world where we have more flexible technology, I regard it as more of a priority to provide more services and more routes for passengers than to save one minute on the journey time to Sheffield and no minutes on the journey time to Swansea. I am doing what we need to do, which is to deliver better journeys, better journey times and new trains for passengers, which is what they want above all. They are not worried about how the trains are powered, but about whether they will have a nice new train that gets them to the right place, and that is what we are doing.

The hon. Gentleman raised a point about the Blyth-Ashington line. It is one of the projects I am looking at seriously. I think it has real potential to expand the investment we are already making in the Metro in Newcastle upon Tyne, and it is another example of this Government’s commitment to the north-east.

The hon. Gentleman asked what we are doing for commuters. All around the country, we and the private sector, together in partnership, are delivering new trains and longer trains to create more space for people who travel on our crowded railway lines each day.

On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, let us be absolutely clear for the House that as we bring the east coast franchise to a close and move to the new arrangements, no one will get any bail-out at all. It is absolutely clear that Stagecoach will meet in full the commitments it made to the Government as part of this contract, and that is what will happen.

See more like "Monarch Airlines"

Monarch Airlines
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Monday 09 October 2017

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Hansard
9 Oct 2017, 3:42 p.m.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the steps the Government have been taking to support those affected by the collapse of Monarch Airlines, in particular the 110,000 passengers left abroad without a flight back to the UK and the almost 2,000 people who have lost their jobs.

This situation is highly regrettable and all parties considered options to avoid the collapse of the company. Ultimately, however, Monarch’s board took the decision to place it into administration and it ceased trading at around 4 am on Monday 2 October. The engineering arm of the group remains a viable business and continues to trade. Ahead of the collapse, my Department had been working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and several Departments across Whitehall to prepare contingency plans, and the response since last week has been swift and substantial.

To put the situation into context, this operation is the largest of its kind ever undertaken. The CAA has essentially set up one of the UK’s largest airlines to conduct it. Let me give Members a sense of the scale. We have put arrangements in place to bring back 110,000 people to the UK, with 700 flights over a two-week period. We have had a maximum of 35 aircraft in operation at any one time. The CAA is working to secure planes from 27 different airlines. More than 200 CAA staff are working on the project with thousands more in partner organisations taking part. There are 40 airports involved in the UK, around the Mediterranean and beyond. That has required 267 coaches carrying more than 13,000 passengers, and so far there have been more than 39,000 calls to our customer service centres, all swiftly answered by more than 250 call centre staff. There have been more than 1 million unique visitors to a dedicated website— monarch.caa.co.uk—and 7 million page views. Furthermore, more than 1 million people have been reached through our Facebook promotion. Ten Government Departments and agencies have been involved, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and our extensive diplomatic and consular network in the affected countries.

I have seen at first hand the work being done across Government and the CAA to make this operation a success. I have spoken to some of the passengers who have returned to the UK on Government flights. I have been hugely impressed by what I have seen, and we have had a very strong, supportive response from the passengers affected, many of whom deservedly praised the CAA and all the Departments involved in this enormous operation.

Normally, the CAA’s responsibility for bringing passengers back would extend only to customers whose trips are covered by the air travel organisers’ licence scheme, but this is the largest airline failure in UK history and there would have been insufficient capacity in the commercial aviation market to enable passengers to get home on other airlines. The danger was that tens of thousands of passengers abroad would have no easy means of returning to the UK. That is why I instructed the CAA to ensure that all those abroad were offered an alternative flight home. As of last night, around 80,000 passengers had returned to the UK; that is almost three quarters of the total number who were abroad at the time of the collapse. We have had teams of Government officials at overseas airports providing advice and assistance to passengers.

Despite those robust plans and the smoothness of the operation so far, the situation is hugely distressing for all concerned. Obviously, it has been a priority to get people back to the UK, and our hearts go out to those who have lost bookings as a result of the collapse, but in addition to supporting passengers we have been focused on working to ensure that the almost 2,000 former Monarch employees receive the support they need. I am pleased to report that airlines have already directly appealed to those former employees. For example, Virgin Atlantic is offering a fast-track recruitment process for cabin crew and pilots, and easyJet has invited applications for 500 cabin crew vacancies. I and members of my team spoke to the airlines when it became clear what was happening to try to secure their help in getting those opportunities for staff, and I am pleased to see that coming to fruition. easyJet is also calling for direct-entry captains or first officers who meet captain qualifications.

All former Monarch employees will have received information from Jobcentre Plus outlining the support available to them. In total, Jobcentre Plus has pulled together a list of more than 6,300 vacancies across the major UK-based airlines—that is more than three times the number of people being made redundant—which I hope will help those former employees to remain in the airline business. The Minister with responsibility for aviation has been in contact with Members whose constituencies have been hardest hit by these job losses. They have our assurance that we will work with them and the industry to offer what support we can.

I am also aware of the Government’s duty to the taxpayer. Although affected passengers have been told they will not have to pay to be flown back to the UK, we have entered into discussions with several third parties with the aim of recovering the costs of the operation. The ATOL scheme of course provides financial cover for those with ATOL protection. We are currently engaged in constructive discussions with the relevant credit and debit card providers so that we can recoup from them some of the cost to taxpayers of the repatriation flights. We are having similar discussions with other travel providers through which passengers may have booked a Monarch holiday, and I thank all those with whom we have held discussions for their constructive and realistic approach.

The initial response to this unprecedented situation would not have been so successful without the support and co-operation of many players. I am sure we would all say that the loss of a major British brand that was close to celebrating its half-century is a really sad moment. However, it should not be seen as a reflection on the general health of the UK aviation sector, which continues to thrive. We have never had the collapse of an airline or holiday company on this scale before, and we have responded swiftly and decisively.

Of course, right now our efforts are rightly focused on getting employees into new jobs and getting passengers home. After that, our effort will turn to working through any reforms necessary to ensure that passengers do not find themselves in this position again. We need to look at all the options—not just ATOL, but whether it is possible to enable airlines to wind down in an orderly manner and look after their customers themselves, without the need for the Government to step in. We will be putting a lot of effort into that in the months ahead. Our prime task has been to get people home, and I am immensely grateful to all who have taken part in what has proved, so far, to be a smooth and successful operation.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Oct 2017, 3:49 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.

Britain’s fifth largest airline, Monarch, collapsed because of a litany of failures by the Government, the regulator and the company’s financial backers and advisers. Its demise must also be seen in the context of a ferociously competitive aviation sector, which is adjusting to major overcapacity problems and the loss of services because of terrorism. A further backdrop to the industry is the foggy skies of Brexit, and the total lack of certainty from this Government for the British aviation industry after March 2019.

The airline’s bankruptcy has left huge losses on the shoulders of the public, rather than of the parent company or the regulator. It is the staff, customers, the taxpayer and pensioners who will pay the price. Creditor bills include the £60 million paid by the Government to repatriate holidaymakers, not forgetting the £26 million paid last year when Monarch previously came close to collapse; the £7.5 million to the Pension Protection Fund; the 45 days’ pay owed to the 2,000 staff who were made redundant; and the ticket refunds for the 750,000 outstanding bookings at the time of the collapse.

Why did the Government not do more to support Monarch and ensure that the company was viable, if only for the short term? The German Government recently stepped in to assist Air Berlin and the Italian Government have supported Alitalia. At the very least, an orderly wind-down of the airline would have been preferable to sudden administration.

Monarch is reported to have had £50 million in the bank. Why was the airline not granted a short-term ATOL licence extension, which would have allowed it to continue trading and at least bring its passengers back? Who decided not to grant Monarch an ATOL licence extension? More time would have allowed Monarch to be sold in parts. For example, Monarch’s landing slots are reported to be worth £60 million. Such assets could have been realised in an orderly wind-down. Instead, moneys from the sale of these assets will go to the secured creditor and former owner Greybull Capital, while the public purse gets nothing.

The statutory role of the CAA is to provide choice and value for money for passengers. British consumers now have one less airline to choose from. On its watch, there has been a surge in the cost of UK air fares following Ryanair’s cancellation of flights last month. Monarch’s demise will only push up flight costs further. There is an estimated £200 million in the CAA-administered ATOL compensation fund, yet it only covers about one in 20 of Monarch’s customers. Why is the public purse paying while the outdated ATOL pot sits largely untouched? Monarch Airlines continued to sell flights until Sunday 1 October, even though the airline knew it was going into administration the following day. Why did the CAA not act to stop that?

Greybull Capital’s takeover of Monarch in 2014 was the beginning of the end for the airline. Greybull is a private investment firm that has already presided over the collapse of My Local convenience stores and Comet, among others. Serious questions must now be asked about the conduct of firms such as Greybull, the way they invest and their wider stewardship.

A report in yesterday’s edition of The Sunday Times suggested that the £165 million rescue package for Monarch last year was largely funded by Boeing, as part of a cut-price deal for an order of 737 aircraft. What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the role of Boeing in the financial engineering of Monarch? The Prime Minister recently criticised the conduct of Boeing against Bombardier in Belfast, in support of her Democratic Unionist party allies. Why is there no criticism of Boeing’s role in the loss of 2,000 jobs in Luton?

The role of KPMG must also be called into question. The firm was appointed to seek buyers for Monarch’s short-haul business prior to its collapse. It was actively doing so. Why is the same firm now acting as Monarch’s administrator? Does the Secretary of State agree with me that that is a glaring conflict of interest?

Finally, the way in which Monarch met its demise should set alarm bells ringing, so will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be a full investigation into the concerns that have been raised?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Oct 2017, 3:49 p.m.

I am sorry the hon. Gentleman did not have a good word to say for all the efforts put in place to bring people back. I would just remind him that, interestingly, in 2008—the last time we had an aviation failure in this country, Excel Airways—the Labour Government followed a very similar path to the one we have followed, with taxpayer-funded repatriation. They did the right thing then, and we are doing the right thing now. I am simply sorry that Labour Members have forgotten that they did the right thing in government, and cannot now say that our doing the right thing this time is indeed the right thing to do. [Interruption.] They did the right thing then, and we are doing the right thing now, and I am just sorry that he could not say a good word about those involved.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the reasons for the collapse. First, this is not an issue about Brexit. The airline had been struggling for three years, and the first concerns were raised about it long before the referendum was even held.

I had hoped that this summer, after the rescue package last year, the airline would see its way through. As its chief executive said, it has been a victim of the anxieties about tourism in the east Mediterranean for security reasons. Those have led to a concentration of business in the west Mediterranean and the traditional resorts of Spain and Portugal and a price war from which the company was ill equipped to recover. That is what has happened, no more no less.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the licence, and there was no issue about its renewal. What happened was never about the renewal of the licence—the business had simply reached the end of the road. Its board came to the conclusion that it could not carry on.

The hon. Gentleman asked why the company carried on selling tickets the day before. The reality is that any airline that runs into difficulties will carry on selling tickets until it can no longer do so. The moment it stops doing so, it collapses, and that is what happened. It would happen any time an airline ran into such difficulties. There is no other way to do it. The moment it stops selling tickets, it stops doing business, and that is precisely what happened.

The hon. Gentleman talked about competition, and other airlines are already stepping into the breach. Jet2, one of our fast-growing, emerging airlines, has already said that it will step in and run some of the routes. That is what a market does. If one business fails, others step in. The tragedy of the Labour party in the last few years is that it has moved away from understanding markets to being utterly hostile to markets and the private sector.

We have a thriving aviation sector with competition between airlines delivering a good deal for consumers, and occasionally—once under a Labour Government and once under ours—something has gone wrong. In both of those situations, the Government of the day stepped in to try to make sure that we looked after the travelling public. I have no doubt that if it ever happens again, someone will do the same.

We do have to learn the lessons. We have to understand whether we can make sensible changes to the laws to ensure that this does not happen again. We are already legislating to extend the ATOL scheme to provide better protection for people who book over the internet in a different way from how they have in the past. I am clear that the job of the Government is to look after the travelling public and step in when things go wrong. We have done that, and we are seeking to get back as much money as possible, as Labour did in 2008. Above all, our job is to do our best for the travelling public and the employees. That is what we are doing. I am proud of what we are doing, and I am just disappointed that the Opposition cannot even say well done to the people who have worked so hard in support.

See more like "HS2 Update"

HS2 Update
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Monday 17 July 2017

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) - Hansard
17 Jul 2017, 10:14 p.m.

I am grateful to you for allowing this statement, Mr Speaker. I am pleased to be here in front of the House tonight. As you know, sometimes these things can happen as a result of cock-up rather than conspiracy.

Today marks a major milestone in the Government’s plans to deliver High Speed 2. High Speed 2 will deliver economic growth across the United Kingdom. It will provide the rail network with the capacity we need for the next century, faster journeys and better connections between cities across the UK.

As announced to the House this morning, we will be awarding stage 1 of the main works civil engineering contracts for the phase 1 route from London to Birmingham. This stage primarily covers design and pre-construction activities, although it is worth saying that the initial works have already begun. We expect these contracts to be signed by the end of this month after the completion of the mandatory standstill period. The expected total value of these contracts covering stages 1 and stage 2, which is the full construction phase, is £6.6 billion. They will support around 16,000 jobs across the country and are expected to generate around 7,000 contract opportunities in the supply chain, of which I expect around 60% to go to small and medium-sized enterprises. I have also confirmed the shortlists for the station design contracts and Euston master development partner procurements.

As well as that announcement, today I am introducing the phase 2a High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill to the House. This seeks the powers to construct HS2 from the west midlands to Crewe so that this important section, which links up to the west coast main line just south of Crewe, can open in 2027.

The design of the route set out in the Bill is largely as announced in 2015. However, there are three refinements I have decided to make, following consultation last year. I have decided to move the connection to the west coast main line and the start of a tunnel in Crewe further south. I have also decided to move the construction railhead, and subsequently the infrastructure maintenance facility for this part of HS2, from the Basford area near Crewe to a location near Stone. I am very sensitive to the impact that that could have on the local community, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has diligently drawn to my attention, but I believe this site is a better location from which to construct and maintain phase 2a. The new location near Stone is strategically located midway along the phase 2a route, which means that it can support construction activities heading north and south simultaneously, offering significant programme and construction benefits. Of course, the site at Stone benefits from good transport links, with access to the M6 and the existing rail network right at that location.

In Crewe, moving the railhead from the Basford area avoids planned housing regeneration in that part of Cheshire. It also negates the need for maintenance loops at Pipe Ridware, thereby reducing impacts along the phase 2a route. It is worth saying that that area of Basford is one of Cheshire’s most significant economic development and housing development sites, and I have been very sensitive to that. The construction railhead and infrastructure maintenance facility have been carefully designed so as to minimise impacts locally, particularly on the community of Yarnfield. Having heard local concerns, I have made sure that Yarnfield Lane will remain open.

In preparing the Bill, HS2 Ltd has sought to minimise impacts on the environment and on communities. Following the deposit of the Bill, there will be a consultation on the scheme’s environmental statement. That will provide the opportunity to comment on the environmental effects of the proposed phase 2a scheme and the reasonable alternatives considered and reported by HS2 Ltd. The process will result in a report from an independent assessor, which will be provided to all Members of the House before Second Reading.

Turning to Crewe, the HS2 business case has always included two trains per hour stopping at Crewe. The phase 2a Bill includes the interventions needed to support that, but I know that there is a strong ambition to achieve even more. Today, I am therefore launching a consultation on options to develop a Crewe hub. This work shows how such a service pattern could support an HS2 service to Stoke-on-Trent and bring benefits to places like Chester, north and south Wales, Shrewsbury and Derby. Future decisions will be subject to affordability and value for money. Funding the broader vision for a Crewe hub will require national and local government to work together, but I believe that there is the potential to deliver even more benefits.

Finally today, I am announcing my decision on the outstanding sections of the phase 2b route to Manchester and Leeds, which we consulted on last year. After carefully considering the responses to the consultation, I have decided to confirm the following changes to the route. The western leg rolling stock depot will move from a site near Golborne to a site north of Crewe. That site will be included in the full environmental assessment being undertaken for the whole route and I will look carefully at that assessment.

A 26 km section of the route in the Middlewich and Pickmere area of Cheshire will change and be raised as it passes through the Cheshire salt plains, to avoid brining and gas storage infrastructure. The approach to Manchester Piccadilly station will be adjusted to improve operational efficiency and reduce impacts on residential areas and a primary school. The route near East Midlands airport will now closely follow the eastern side of the A42. This avoids tunnelling under the airport and reduces the impacts on some communities. At Long Eaton, after much consultation with the local community, the route will pass through the town on a high viaduct.

The route in South Yorkshire will be the route we consulted on in 2016, which in part follows the M1 and M18, and serves Sheffield city centre via a spur from the HS2 line. I am also asking HS2 Ltd to take forward the provision of a northern junction back on to HS2, giving a city centre to city centre connection between Leeds and Sheffield in less than 30 minutes. That is very important for the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail. We will also continue to work on a possible parkway station.

Finally, I have decided not to proceed with the proposed change of route to the east of Measham. Instead, I am confirming a modified version of the 2013 preferred route to the west of Measham. In Measham itself, the route is moved approximately 80 metres and the viaduct extended to mitigate commercial property impacts. I have heard the concerns raised by local communities about the proposed eastern leg rolling stock depot at Crofton. HS2 Ltd believes it has found a better option, on which I am now consulting, which is east of Leeds in the Aire valley, adjacent to the M1 on a brownfield site.

I intend to bring forward a third hybrid Bill for phase 2b in 2019. In preparation for that Bill, HS2 Ltd is today launching a consultation on the technical scope and methodology to be used in the environmental and equality impact assessments.

Today’s decisions bring certainty for communities who have been unsure of the route for some years. I am updating the safeguarding directions for the phase 2b route to protect the land required for the construction and operation of the line. I can also confirm that the same range of property schemes currently operating for phases 1 and 2a will be available for phase 2b. This goes over and above what is required by law and gives assistance to those along the line of the route. I have also made amendments to some of the detailed urban/rural boundaries for phase 2b and to the treatment of properties around tunnel portals.

A report published today by property specialists Carter Jonas tells us that the particular circumstance of the Shimmer estate development in Mexborough, South Yorkshire means that this package may not allow some homeowners to acquire a similar property in their local area. In the light of the report’s findings, I therefore also confirm that the Government will ensure that Shimmer homeowners can secure a comparable home, as referred to in my summary document “High Speed Two: From Concept to Reality”, which is also being published today. That is really important.

We need HS2. Since privatisation, the number of passenger journeys on our railways has doubled. It has nearly tripled on the key west coast inter-city corridor. We cannot continue to rely on the legacy of our Victorian forebears, far-sighted though they were. By providing new routes for inter-city services, HS2 will free up space on our existing railways. It will reduce overcrowding and allow options for more varied and frequent services, including for places that currently do not have a good connection to London. This released capacity could allow more freight trains. It could also more than double the current number of peak-time seats on busy services from Manchester Piccadilly towards Stoke and Crewe, and from Leeds towards Wakefield. It has the potential to almost double peak seats from London to Peterborough and east coast destinations further north.

Any significant investment needs to offer good value for money, as HS2 does. Today I am publishing the updated business case for phase 2, which shows that, including the wider economic benefits, the full HS2 network will create £2.30 of benefit for every £1 spent. We want to make the most of our investment in HS2. When phase 1 becomes operational, HS2 trains will run to Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, Warrington, Wigan and Glasgow. Phase 2 will further reduce journey times between London and Glasgow and Edinburgh to around three hours and 40 minutes. To my Scottish colleagues, let me say that we will continue to work with Transport Scotland and Network Rail to look at the best ways of further reducing times, towards an ultimate ambition of a three-hour journey time between London and Scotland. We are also looking at opportunities to use HS2 to support Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Connect.

Finally, I know that today’s announcement will not be welcome news for those living along the line of the route. There will be concern about how HS2 will affect their homes, communities and businesses. That, sadly, is inevitable if we are going to do big projects of this kind for our nation, but I am determined that we will engage extensively with everyone affected and that we will show fairness, compassion and respect. All the products mentioned today are in the Libraries of both Houses.

Our plan for Britain is a plan to build a stronger, fairer country, with an economy that works for everyone—one in which wealth and opportunity are spread across the country and we are set up to succeed in the long term. Investment in economic infrastructure is a key part of this. HS2 will be the new backbone of the UK rail network. It will transform a rail network built for the 19th century into one designed for the 21st century. It will increase capacity and connectivity across our rail network, bring our country closer together and support economic growth. The benefits of HS2 will be felt across the whole of the United Kingdom. I commend the statement to the House.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
17 Jul 2017, 10:17 p.m.

May I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement? I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for hearing the point of order made earlier today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) about what could be done to encourage the Secretary of State to better inform the House of the crucial decisions that he has reached on one of the most significant and costly pieces of transport infrastructure that this country has proposed for many a year.

Perhaps the Secretary of State will be kind enough to explain what happened earlier today, given the widespread trailing of an oral statement on the anticipated announcement and the House’s subsequent disappointment at initially being asked to settle for a written statement, until such time as the outcry seemingly reached the Transport Secretary’s ears and his somewhat belated appearance in the Chamber tonight.

Labour has consistently supported HS2 and the attendant benefits it will bring—indeed, we were its initial proposer in 2009—but that support brings with it many questions. On the construction, there are concerns that companies selected to do the work were previously involved in the practice of blacklisting workers.What assurances can the Secretary of State give that no such practices will be tolerated in the delivery of HS2? Far too often in the case of significant projects in recent times, overseas contractors—and several have been awarded contracts here—have brought in their own labour, and have recruited exclusively from jurisdictions outside the United Kingdom. HS2 clearly represents huge employment and career opportunities for apprentices and established workers alike. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the practices we have seen in the construction industry that have excluded British workers from UK projects will not be allowed to obtain in the construction of HS2?

There are also concerns about the financial health of Carillion. What measures has the Secretary of State put in place to ensure that any financial instability of any of the contractors will not delay or add to the cost of the project? He said in evidence to the Treasury Committee that it was not his job to monitor conflicts of interest in the delivery of HS2, but given the revelations of the revolving door between HS2 and the engineering firm CH2M, does he accept that he does, in fact, have such an obligation if the public are to have confidence in the arrangements between HS2 and the contractors?

What assurances and guarantees can the Secretary of State give that the total overall cost will not exceed the stated £55.7 billion, and will not spiral, as has been alleged in certain quarters? In one of the many documents published today, we are told that in adopting the M18 route in south Yorkshire, although HS2 Ltd has included in the costs estimate the delivery of a junction north of Sheffield and back to the HS2 main line, it has not costed electrification of the midland main line between Clay Cross and Sheffield Midland, or from Sheffield to the north. Does the Secretary of State intend the line to be electrified in readiness for HS2—and if so, when—or is he working on the basis that trains to Sheffield will be bimodal, and the line will remain unelectrified?

Will the Secretary of State provide further and better particulars of his proposals and preferences in respect of potential parkway stations? Will he also provide an update on the progress of the northern east-west rail and the extension to the north-east—“Crossrail for the north”—and its connection with HS2, and on what discussions he has had with Transport for the North in that regard? Finally, will he reassure the House that his announcement about progress on HS2 will not be followed by an announcement of yet further delays to electrification of the trans-Pennine route?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
17 Jul 2017, 10:27 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) for the Opposition’s continued support for the HS2 project. I hope that we shall be able to work on it together. I think that the House, or a large proportion of it, is united in believing that the project is necessary to the economic development of the future.

As I said a moment ago, I am very pleased to be here now. I should have preferred to be here earlier, but, as I said, it is sometimes a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy.

Let me begin by saying something about the construction contracts. We have contracted a range of significant British companies as part of the awarding of contracts today. A range of consortiums is participating, and many of them are already an integral part of Crossrail, which is our biggest engineering project—and the biggest in Europe. We have a good team of UK and international organisations that are used to working as a team to deliver big infrastructure projects. However, the assurance that I give the hon. Gentleman and the House is that, as I have made clear all along, the companies that win contracts for HS2—whether construction, design or, ultimately, rolling stock contracts—will be obliged to make a commitment to leave a lasting skills footprint. That means apprenticeship programmes and skills development, and I think the two high-speed college campuses that we have established in Birmingham and Doncaster will help to develop real expertise for the future.

The hon. Gentleman talked about Carillion. Carillion is a big UK construction business which is clearly going through a troubled time, and we all hope that it will pull through, because we want to see British business succeed. However, I can tell him that Carillion is part of a consortium in which all the organisations involved have committed to delivering their part of the contract, and I am confident that whatever the position in respect of Carillion, that consortium will deliver the results that we expect.

The hon. Gentleman talked about conflicts of interest and CH2M. As he is aware, it pulled out of that particular contract. I have every intention of ensuring that we have proper behaviour by companies in future; they will be unable to continue to work for us if they do not do the right thing.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the total cost of the project. Over the past 24 hours there have been some wild rumours about the cost, based on people who are not involved in the project putting a finger in the air. I simply remind the House that it is incredible, inconceivable and simply nonsense to suggest that HS2 will cost five times the amount of HS1 per mile. This project has a total cost attached of £55.7 billion. It is currently on time and on budget, and I expect it to stay that way. In this country we have experience of major projects, such as Crossrail and the Olympics, and we have been pretty good at delivering on time and on budget. I am sure that we will carry on doing so.

The hon. Gentleman asked about electrification of the M18 route. I can confirm that the route from Sheffield Midland north to Leeds will also be electrified to ensure that through services can run to Leeds. That link is also an important part of northern powerhouse rail. On parkways stations, work is continuing to look at the best options. With regard to the whole northern powerhouse rail project, I am waiting for Transport for the North to bring forward its proposals. With regard to trans-Pennine modernisation, nothing has changed.

See more like "Topical Questions"

Topical Questions
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Thursday 13 July 2017

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
13 Jul 2017, 10:17 a.m.

I regularly meet the combined authority, so I will happily discuss that issue with it. The creation of the major roads network and its bypass fund will, I hope, mean that in future we can unlock some of these schemes that will make such a difference to towns like Shipley around the country.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
13 Jul 2017, 10:18 a.m.

Two weeks ago today, the High Court gave the Secretary of State 14 days to make a decision over Southern rail’s claims that its appalling service was not its fault, but was all down to industrial action. With the record fine that has been imposed today, such nonsense has been totally blown out of the water. After months and months of the Secretary of State and his Ministers coming to the Dispatch Box and blaming the unions, they have had to come clean and accept that Southern rail is simply not fit for purpose. Does the Secretary of State now accept that continuing to tolerate such ineptitude—expecting a rail service to rely on workers’ overtime, and compromising safety and accessibility—simply will not wash any longer, and that he has to call time on Govia Thameslink Railway?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
13 Jul 2017, 10:19 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman clearly still has not read the judgment from two weeks ago in this case—a case that we actually won. Let us be clear about what is being done today. For months I have said that the problems on this railway are not purely down to industrial action; there are other reasons. I am very clear, and so is Chris Gibb’s report, that the prime responsibility for the trouble on that network in the past few months lies with trade unions fighting the battles of 30 years ago, and still they get support from the Labour party. The reality is that the Labour party and the unions are colluding to bring trouble to passengers, and it should stop.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
13 Jul 2017, 10:19 a.m.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

We are missing appendix 9 from the Gibb report. Can we see it, and will the Secretary of State tell us which claims he accepts and which he rejects?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard

Today’s penalty has been for partial non-performance of contracts. The House and the country would expect me to impose penalties where they are needed and I have not sought to do anything otherwise. The reality is that, this afternoon, we expect the result of a ballot for yet further strike action for a 23.8% pay rise and a deal that has already been accepted by the ASLEF union on the same routes for the same company. This politically motivated set of threats of action should stop, and the Labour party should stop supporting it.

See more like "Chris Gibb Report: Improvements to Southern Railway"

Chris Gibb Report: Improvements to Southern Railway
Debate between Chris Grayling and Andy McDonald
Tuesday 04 July 2017

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Read Full debate
Commons Chamber
Department for Transport
Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:25 p.m.

There is no reason why talks cannot start again tomorrow. I say to the unions that they should call off the industrial action and come back round the table. They are trying to turn the clock back. Sensible arrangements have been in place for years that do not require a train to be cancelled if the previous member of staff has been delayed. Ultimately, this is about whether we are going to modernise our railways or not. We have a rail system that is bursting at the seams due to the successes it has enjoyed in the past few years. Our railways are packed, and we need to look for smart uses of technology and smart ways of working to deliver the capacity that we need for the future, and we need to invest in infrastructure to make sure it is reliable. Those are things we want to do and plan to do. The unions need to work with us, and the message from Chris Gibb’s report is that the unions should stop fighting change and modernisation. Nobody is losing their job and nobody is having their pay cut. I believe that we will need more customer service staff in the future rather than fewer on our railways. I am not in the business of removing staff from working with customers, but we need to have an industry that has the freedom to adapt, develop and equip itself to deal with the challenges of the future. This dispute is all about preventing that from happening; it is about retaining old-fashioned union power and the ability to halt the railways at the whim of union leaders. That is not acceptable. It has been a tragedy for the people on the Southern rail network that they have been on the raw end of this for the past 18 months. Just when we thought things were getting better and the services were getting back to normal, it has started all over again, and it is a tragedy. Opposition Members should say to their union friends, “Stop doing this. Call off your action,” and then we will talk to them again.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:29 p.m.

May I make it plain from the outset that I am a proud member of the Labour and trade union movement, and very happy to declare the support that I have received from all three trade unions in the rail industry? I am grateful for this opportunity to debate Southern rail and the Gibb report, but it should be noted that this debate should have taken place six months ago, when the report was finished and presented to the Secretary of State. Unfortunately, he decided to sit on the report for six months and wait until after the general election before publishing it, denying this place—and, most importantly, passengers—the opportunity to scrutinise this assessment of the Southern rail fiasco. The Secretary of State should not bury reports until after a general election, when passengers deserve the opportunity to see the findings immediately.

Just last week, the Association of British Commuters went to the High Court seeking a judicial review of the Government’s handling of Southern, motivated by the Transport Secretary’s refusal to assess the force majeure claims of Southern, which is requesting that it not be found in breach of its contract for its abysmal performance—the worst in the country. Those claims were made in April 2016, more than a year ago. The High Court has now ordered the Secretary of State to produce a report on Southern rail within 14 days. Long-suffering passengers should not have to resort to crowdfunding for legal action to seek accountability, and the Secretary of State should not have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, by the High Court to do the job he was appointed to do.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:30 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that we won the case?

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:30 p.m.

Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to confirm that he has been ordered by the High Court to produce the report within 14 days, and that he would not have done it otherwise. Who won that one?

Crucially, the section of the Gibb report that would have been the most informative—appendix 9, “Recommendations regarding the GTR franchise agreement”—has been redacted. Where is it? What is there to hide? The Secretary of State has prevented us from seeing the part of the report that would give us more details of the botched franchise design, for which his Department is responsible; the nature of the agreement with GTR, which has been cloaked in secrecy; and the changes that Gibb has recommended. That is to say that the Secretary of State has redacted the parts of the report that would present the greatest political difficulties for his Government if they were released.

It is highlighted that industrial relations are not the only issue. The Gibb report clearly identifies failures to assess accurately the number of available drivers, to train and recruit enough drivers, to anticipate turnover with any accuracy, to plan for the impact of infrastructure enhancements, to account for changes in Network Rail and for timetable expansion, to get the right trains in the right places, and to cater for growth in demand on overcrowded stations.

I do not recall the Transport Secretary doing anything but oppose every single piece of industrial action. It is wrong of him to attack the men and women who operate our railways while washing his hands entirely of the collapse in industrial relations.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:35 p.m.

It demonstrates what can be achieved when we sit down and have an intelligent conversation with people.

Where there is a willingness to talk on all sides, it is clear that agreements can be reached that benefit passengers. To put it simply, the Secretary of State’s militant anti-worker, anti-trade union stance has significantly worsened industrial relations and had a devastating impact on passenger services. While I am at it, he must come up with evidence for his allegation that the leader of the Labour party conspired in the way that he said he did because it is a complete and utter fantasy. He knows it and he should not come to the Dispatch Box and just make things up that he knows are not right.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:36 p.m.

If the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of the industrial dispute is correct, can he explain why the Labour council and Mayor on Merseyside have taken exactly the same approach as the Government on this issue?

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:37 p.m.

That is not accurate and I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why. If it were not for the stitch-up with Serco and Abellio taking £17 million out of the deal and £5 million that we could use to have a guard on every train, we would not have the problem. So, yet again, he just serves this up to his mates. He does his deals with these people, extracting the value from our railway system. [Interruption.] Absolutely not. It is important to point out that the Gibb report makes no assessment of the merits and de-merits of driver-only operation. However, despite a lack of assessment, Chris Gibb makes it clear that he supports DOO and thinks that any industrial action is wrong.

I would like the Secretary of State to reflect on the following passage from appendix 1 of the Gibb report. It says:

“We have undertaken this project for CLGR Limited, a consultancy company owned and operated by my family and I, and CLGR Limited has been contracted to Govia Thameslink Railway, as facilitated by the DfT. Discussions have been held under the terms of a confidentiality agreement between CLGR Limited and GTR.”

There we have it—Chris Gibb is contracted to Govia, the very company he is supposed to be reporting on. It is more than just “he who pays the piper”. Surely even this Secretary of State can see this latest blatant conflict of interest. Where is the independence in this report? It is just another stitch-up.

What is it with the DFT? Its senior civil servant, who previously told the world he wanted unions out of his industry, has his own consultancy company—First Class Partnerships, I believe—to advise the parent company of Govia, the very company that was then handed the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern concession on a £1.2 billion-a-year gold plate. This Government would refuse to recognise a conflict of interest if it got up and bit them on the gluteus maximus.

Labour, like the staff who understand and operate our rail network, the passenger groups who have been protesting and have been motivated to take legal action, and disability charities, simply do not agree with the assumption that destaffing and deskilling our railways is a positive step. Despite being first introduced more than 30 years ago, DOO is only in use on a third of the national rail network. It was originally introduced on three or four-car trains at a time of declining passenger numbers. Passenger numbers having increased hugely in recent years, it is now proposed to introduce DOO on trains with as many as 12 cars. In the past 15 years, passenger numbers on Southern have increased by 64%, from 116 million to 191 million a year. That enormous rise in numbers means that at the platform-train interface there are inevitably increased risks to passenger safety, as anyone who travels on Southern services can see.

Break in Debate

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:42 p.m.

To put it quite simply, because they could not get in the door, as has quite rightly been pointed out, when the Government were holding talks at the TUC that were an attempt to divide and conquer—a typical Tory trick to keep the critically important trade union out of the discussion in the first place. Had the Secretary of State had any real intent in that regard, he would have got everyone around the table and got on with resolving the dispute—[Interruption.] He says from a sedentary position that it was the TUC that oversaw things. It did its level best to try to bring this to a conclusion, but not because of the assistance of the DFT or this Secretary of State, because he deliberately excluded the relevant parties.

Sadly, the inference that the Government apparently seek to draw from the ORR report—that all is well and that there is, in effect, no cause for concern over safety—does nothing to assist the process of resolution. Indeed, the Rail Safety and Standards Board has been reluctant to describe DOO as definitively safe, saying:

“DOO does not create additional undesired events but may increase the likelihood of an event occurring or increase the severity of its consequence.”

By the way, Mr Deputy Speaker, you can no longer find that entry on the website—I wonder why.

At a time when there are increased risks of terrorist attacks and a spike in hate crimes, it seems foolish in the extreme to prioritise removing trained staff from services. The safe management of a train when difficulties arise is also key: a case in point was the derailment—

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:43 p.m.

Let me make this point; then the Secretary of State can have a pop.

A case in point was the derailment near Watford Junction on 16 September last year. After a train hit a landslip caused by torrential rain, the guard evacuated the train when the driver was injured in the incident, trapped in the cab and incapable of doing so. If such an accident were to occur on a DOO service, the safety of hundreds of passengers could be compromised. Why does it take a catastrophe to bring this Government to their senses in dealing with issues of safety, rather than wanting to compromise on safety at every turn?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling - Hansard

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that today on Southern rail there are more on-train staff than there were before the dispute started? Is he actually saying that it is Labour policy that if a member of staff is delayed, the previous arrangement, whereby the train could carry on running, should stop, that the train should be cancelled, and that passengers should be turfed out on to the platform?

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald - Hansard
4 Jul 2017, 4:44 p.m.

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what Labour party policy is: to ensure that there is a second safety-critical trained member of staff on that train. [Interruption.] It means that they have the appropriate training and are not outsourced or sold short on training, which is exactly what the Government want to do.

The changes proposed by the Secretary of State would be retrograde for disabled passengers, whose independence would be wound back. Without a guaranteed second member of staff on board, the ability of passengers with accessibility requirements to turn up and go is severely restricted, requiring passengers to make arrangements 24 hours in advance. Southern passengers have been left stranded on station platforms because, as there is no on-board supervisor on DOO services, there was no one to assist them so that they could get on the train.