Debates between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell

There have been 11 exchanges between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell

1 Wed 17th October 2018 East Coast Main Line Investment 7 interactions (2,703 words)
2 Thu 11th October 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Transport
5 interactions (497 words)
3 Wed 11th July 2018 Increasing Choice for Rail Passengers 2 interactions (952 words)
4 Thu 5th July 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Transport
5 interactions (381 words)
5 Tue 19th June 2018 Confidence in the Secretary of State for Transport
Department for Transport
2 interactions (1,583 words)
6 Wed 6th June 2018 Northern Rail Services: Greater Manchester 7 interactions (1,736 words)
7 Wed 23rd May 2018 Transport Secretary: East Coast Franchise
Department for Transport
2 interactions (444 words)
8 Wed 28th March 2018 Cotswold Line Upgrades 4 interactions (3,767 words)
9 Tue 6th March 2018 British Transport Police/ Police Scotland Merger 2 interactions (1,376 words)
10 Tue 27th February 2018 Department for Transport 2 interactions (2,296 words)
11 Wed 10th January 2018 Rail Franchising
Department for Transport
2 interactions (1,613 words)

East Coast Main Line Investment

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Wednesday 17th October 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
17 Oct 2018, 3:35 p.m.

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Owen, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for opening the debate with many pertinent points, as well as going over the heritage of our railways. I am pleased to say that the Rocket will end up residing at the National Railway Museum in York where it will have a good home. Our city can certainly boast its share of rail heritage.

I represent York, which is the mid-point on the east coast main line and a significant railway hub that brings many networks together. I therefore have a constituency interest to ensure that we get the right upgrade—as we have heard, it is well overdue. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) and from the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) about the significance of good connectivity through to London—my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and other hon. Members also mentioned connectivity. We must ensure that we get right that connectivity to the main line, and keep those flows moving through. Although we are talking about the east coast main line, this debate is also about routes that feed into that line and are being brought into the modern age, so that they are not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North described, a kind of heritage rail service. We must ensure that control period 6 considers the continuum of a journey as opposed to the segregation of different routes.

Too often with transportation not only are road, rail and other forms of transport segregated, but separate segments of our fragmented rail system go to different places. Instead, we need to understand the power of connectivity and bring that forward. One of our biggest frustrations in the north is the fact that the Government have downgraded the trans-Pennine opportunity—Crossrail for the north—which would create connectivity between Liverpool, Manchester, through to Leeds, York and Hull, stretching north and south and, importantly, feeding into Sheffield and getting that connectivity right. We must connect up the powerhouse of the northern cities and drive the economy forward. Without that we have linear routes as opposed to the rail consolidation we need—that point was made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North.

This is not just about rail; it is about economic growth. The tremendous site of York Central sits adjacent to the main line. We want investment, and upgrading the east coast main line is one opportunity to drive that forward. Connectivity to the ports and across the trans-Pennine route will enhance that, as will heading north to Newcastle and Scotland.

We unquestionably need more capacity and speed, and we certainly need fewer delays—that is the real frustration faced by many passengers. It was shocking to learn this week that stations in York had the second highest number of delays in the country. The measure was just one minute, but that still leads to the stark realisation that we need great improvement across our rail networks.

The lack of investment in control period 5 has brought that into sharp focus. There are bottlenecks. There are overhead power line failures around, I think, the Retford area, which cause constant delays there. There are problems with old-fashioned fencing, through which animals come on to the tracks with great frequency. If animals can get on to the tracks, so can people, which creates a safety risk. The numerous level crossings along that route snarl up different conurbations. We need to ensure that the power needed to drive our railway into the future is available.

We also all know about the issues with our old infrastructure and rolling stock. That brings me on to the new Azuma trains, which have been put on pause by the Office of Rail and Road. Will the Minister tell us more about that? We understand that ORR has put the pause on because it requires Hitachi to resolve some safety issues, yet it has not withdrawn trains elsewhere on the network that have the same problems, including the Pendolino trains. There seems to be inconsistency in the safety features of those new trains and we need to understand why. I sat down with representatives from LNER last week who were also scratching their heads about that inconsistency, as were those from Network Rail. We therefore look to control period 6 to deliver a railway for the future.

Engineers say that one of their biggest frustrations is that they are brought in to find the best way to generate the most efficient and cost-effective rail enhancements at the wrong stage of the process. We need to ensure that, when engineering takes place, it is of the highest spec possible, because this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the east coast main line. We do not want to have to keep going back and tinkering with and tweaking the spec. We want that investment at the forefront. Why have we seen a downgrade in the money? LNER and Network Rail told me that more resource is needed to bring the enhancement and opportunity to the east coast main line that we need, so I want to know why that spec has been reduced.

Tracks are being upgraded, which we recognise the need for, as is the overhead line equipment between Peterborough and Doncaster—I mentioned Retford—and the power supply for digital signalling. Anyone who has the opportunity to visit the Rail Operating Centre in York will see the absolutely mind-blowing things that digital signalling can achieve. We will also have welcome upgrades of fencing and bridge-strike prevention planning. I talked to engineers in my constituency from Low & Bonar about their using laser technology to look at the strength of bridges and the opportunity that that provides. They can use digitalisation to engineer infrastructure, and to work with train designers as they do so. Level crossing closures are also needed. However, the opening up of Kings Cross will also be a real enhancement to the line.

We need to make sure that we have the full benefit of digital rail on the east coast main line, because that is where the future of our rail network sits. That upgrade is therefore important—it is a passion of the route operator of the east coast main line. It is certainly also one of mine and will be one of any future Labour Government. We will take those strides into the future, not into the past.

We know what needs to be done on the railways and do not need another year-long review. The power of bringing operations back under public control has been shown, with an increase in LNER patronage since it took over the east coast main line franchise. There is no appetite for a fourth franchising process. However, we need to bring track and train together in the public sector to bring the connectivity together. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (John Grogan) that we absolutely believe that we should invest in new routes and new opportunities, and that we can do that under a national rail service. That is certainly what we want to do. It will not be a big, centralised body, as in the British Rail days. We are looking for a new model of public ownership that very much listens the voice of the passenger at the local level when devising what to do. He will have to hold his breath before seeing the details. We have been working with the industry, and it is very excited about the model we are putting forward.

We also need to ensure that we see a return for the passenger as well as the state, and we believe that our model will deliver that. We have rightly heard of VTEC’s £2 billion scandal. It robbed that money from passengers and got away with it, and passengers are now paying more and more for tickets.

There is without doubt great opportunity for the future of the network. Journey times will be down. We also have to think of the opportunity for growth. Some 80 million passengers travel on that route each year. We want a modal shift, with people having confidence in the reliability of rail and moving out of their cars. Since 22 May, people up and down the country have lost confidence in rail because of the timetabling chaos. Our model will make sure that that can never be repeated. Putting responsibility for operations and infrastructure in one place will mitigate against such disasters as those we have seen on the Government’s watch.

We want to make sure that rail is focused on the passenger, with good environments for passengers from stations through to trains, making sure that it is a public service in which people can once again have confidence. That requires good investment, which is what we want from the Government.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Joseph Johnson) Hansard
17 Oct 2018, 3:47 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing the debate and on giving us the opportunity to discuss investment on the east coast main line. She is the chair of the APPG which, as she mentioned, I was pleased to attend a meeting of earlier in the year. She takes great pride in the railway and its contribution to her region of the north-east. The Government very much want to build on that heritage and ensure that we leave a railway that is stronger for future generations.

As the hon. Lady says, the east coast main line is a great national asset. Its sheer scope makes its huge importance to the national economy absolutely inevitable. It runs from London, through the east midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, north-east England and reaches Scotland. The scope of the line speaks for itself. The extent of that scope creates wonderful opportunities for communities that depend on the line to access many other parts of the country, such as the region so well represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers).

That said, the route is not without areas that need investment. The Government are committed to ensuring that we provide the money, time and resources that those areas require. I will take a few moments to describe to right hon. and hon. Members some of the investments that we are making in the east coast main line. However, before doing that, I will quickly respond to some of the more general points made about the distribution of transport infrastructure spending across the country, which is obviously a subject of great importance to Members for understandable reasons.

The chair of the Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), criticised the Government’s appraisal methods when deciding where to spend transport infrastructure funds. We do not accept that our methods do not provide regions with a fair share. As her Committee acknowledged, it is difficult to assign benefits specifically to one region from spending in that region when we have a national system such as the rail system. Benefits often spread beyond the area in which a specific investment is geographically located.

However, the Government have long acknowledged that the economy is imbalanced and needs rebalancing, and that changing the distribution of transport infrastructure spending to redress past patterns of underinvestment is an important part of what we need to do as an economy. We will therefore invest significantly in the north of England over the next few years. For example, between now and 2021, we will invest £13 billion in transport infrastructure in the north of England. Some of our biggest transport infrastructure items will be in the north of England, such as the trans-Pennine upgrade, which has been allocated £2.9 billion for the next five-year spending period from 2019 to 2024.

It is often asserted, seemingly without challenge, that the south gets more planned transport infrastructure spending from central Government than the north, but analysis by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority suggests otherwise: for the next four years, it reckons that the three northern regions will receive more per head than southern regions.

Let me focus on what the Government have been doing to ensure that the east coast main line continues to play an important role in our national economy. Hon. Members will be aware of the £5.7 billion Government-led intercity express programme—the new trains to which hon. Members have referred. The programme will provide the east coast and Great Western routes with a completely new fleet of trains equipped with the latest technology. The trains are being built at Hitachi’s County Durham factory, which is home to more than 700 permanent staff and supports thousands more in the national supply chain. Up to 70% of the train parts will be incorporated from sources in the UK. The full roll-out should be complete by 2020, as planned. As part of the programme, Hitachi has invested in a new state-of-the-art maintenance facility at Doncaster and has enhanced other ageing depots along the length of the line.

As I informed the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North in my letter last month, and as she mentioned in her speech, the Prime Minister has announced funding of up to £780 million in control period 6—the next five-year planning period—for the east coast enhancements programme. The programme will provide funding for important works, some of which the hon. Lady mentioned; they include power supply upgrades between Doncaster and Edinburgh, a new rail junction at Peterborough, modifications at Stevenage station to allow turn-back, and track remodelling at King’s Cross station. Together, those works will reduce congestion and enable more services to operate.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard
17 Oct 2018, 3:53 p.m.

Will the Minister explain why there has been a reduction in the amount made available to provide the upgrade when £900 million was requested?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
17 Oct 2018, 3:54 p.m.

First of all, I would point out that this money represents a very significant increase in spending on the east coast main line. In control period 5, from 2014 to 2019, we spent about £400 million on upgrades to the line. In control period 6, that amount will increase to £780 million—it will almost double. To cast that increase as a reduction does an injustice to the Government’s ambition for this section of our network. That spending will be coupled with a £5.7 billion programme of investment in the new rolling stock, a significant proportion of which will result in increased capacity and more comfortable journeys for passengers along the east coast main line—that cannot be described as a reduction.

Of course, there will always be bids for further Government spending on all bits of the transport network. They cannot all be accommodated at the same time, but as and when business cases develop for specific pieces of work, they can be considered as part of our enhancement programme.

Break in Debate

Joseph Johnson Hansard
17 Oct 2018, 3:54 p.m.

May I deal with a specific point raised by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn) about the trains and the line? He questioned whether they would operate at their potential. The top line speed on the east coast main line is 125 mph, and the new Hitachi Azuma trains will run at that speed. Passengers will benefit from journey time improvements delivered as a result of the trains’ improved acceleration and reduced dwell times in comparison with the existing fleet. Some of the passenger benefits from saved journey times are striking: journeys will be 10 minutes quicker between London and Newcastle, 15 minutes quicker between London and Edinburgh, and so on up and down the line. Those time savings should be celebrated.

The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) mentioned issues with electromagnetic interference on IEP trains. Hitachi and Network Rail are working together to resolve those electromagnetic compatibility issues and ensure that new trains can operate in electric mode when they enter service as soon as possible.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard
17 Oct 2018, 3:56 p.m.

I was referring to the cabling of the trains and to the fact that passengers or members of the public could climb up on the roof. There was an electrocution on a Pendolino train because of that design, yet those trains are still running on the Great Western route, even though the Office of Rail and Road has stopped them running on the east coast.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Thursday 11th October 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Joseph Johnson Hansard

The son of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent clearly had a terrible experience, and our sympathies go out to him. The Department is working closely with train operating companies on the Secure Stations Scheme, to give more stations across the network accredited status. CCTV will have an important role to play in stations, just as it does in the new rolling stock that we are introducing across the country. I remind Opposition Members that we want more staff working on our railways, not fewer, and for operators where there have been disputes relating to staffing levels, such as Southern and South Western Railway, that is indeed the case.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 9:30 a.m.

Every day, women make choices on the basis of their safety, continually planning, checking and trying to read situations. Since 2012, sexual crime has seen a staggering 167% increase on our railways, to a record 2,472 cases last year. Women are 13 times more affected than men and the highest increases are in areas where trains operate without guards. What strategy are the Government deploying to ensure that all women feel, and are, safe?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 10:16 a.m.

All passengers and all women must feel safe when travelling on our trains. The Department takes this issue exceptionally seriously, as do all train operators and the British Transport police. In concrete terms, Project Guardian is ensuring that the reporting of sexual offences becomes easier than ever before. We have introduced a new discreet safe texting service, 61016, which has encouraged much greater reporting of sexual harassment on trains or assaults of a sexual nature—[Interruption.] Guards and conductors have not been removed from trains, as Opposition Members are suggesting. It is very frustrating that that line is being propagated in this misleading way. Driver-controlled operation means tasks such as closing doors can now be performed safely by the train driver, freeing up more time for guards to look after passengers, including women.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Parliament Live - Hansard
11 Oct 2018, 10:17 a.m.

Public order offences also rose by 116% over the same time period. A staggering 11,711 violent crime offences were committed just last year, with a total of 61,159 criminal offences in 2017-18, again hitting record highs. As we know, the presence of people in authority reduces the prevalence of crime, so can the Minister tell the House why he supports removing guards from trains—the very people who are passenger safety champions?

Joseph Johnson Parliament Live - Hansard

We want the railways to be safe. In terms of crimes per million passenger journeys, they are safer than they were a decade ago. There are 19 crimes per million passenger journeys today, and a decade ago there were 30 crimes per million passenger journeys, but that is still too many and we want crime levels to come down. That is why the British Transport police are focusing on this very carefully. We have better reporting schemes, such as 61016, which I mentioned. As I said, we want more staff working on our railways, not fewer. That is the case for operators such as Southern and SWR, where there have recently been disputes.

Increasing Choice for Rail Passengers

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Wednesday 11th July 2018

(2 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard

No one has ever told me that before, so thank you, Mrs Moon. I will come to my conclusion.

We want to ensure that the rail system works for passengers, that it improves social mobility, that it drives our whole economy forward and that it causes modal shift, to ensure that people are not getting into their cars, as they are today, but back on to the railways. That is why Labour’s model will work, and when we get into power, we will put it in place.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Joseph Johnson) Hansard
11 Jul 2018, 5:30 p.m.

It is a pleasure, Mrs Moon, to serve under your chairmanship.

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) on securing this import debate, which, as he is aware, follows hard on the heels of a similar debate yesterday. We wait months for a debate on open access, then two come along at once. He made a terrific and really powerful speech, and I very much look forward to addressing in my remarks some of the points that he and other right hon. and hon. Members raised.

First, I will say that I and the Government are truly grateful to all the staff on the railway network. In about 90 minutes, I am sure that many of them would want to watch England play Croatia in the World cup semi-final, but instead they will be performing sterling duties, keeping the railways running and the trains moving. I just want to register for the record how grateful I am to them for that. This is a debate about choice and competition, and those members of staff will not necessarily have that choice later on today.

The choice to be able to travel by rail at all is one of the most important things that we can offer people. Whether they travel to commute to work, to do business or to connect with friends and loved ones, we want to offer people the choice of a wide range of journeys and services, and the railway has been steadily delivering more and more of that choice. The number of passenger journeys on offer in Great Britain has increased by over a quarter since privatisation and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) said earlier, passenger numbers have more than doubled.

Since 2015 alone, we have opened 21 new stations on the national rail network, including in communities such as Bradford, Midlothian and Devon. These stations offer new journey opportunities and relieve the urban congestion that slows down growth.

Having just heard the remarks of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), I believe that she would do well to heed the concerns that were conveyed by the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan). I believe that he is absolutely right to be concerned about the loss of choice that would undoubtedly result from the policy of wholesale nationalisation of the entire railway network advocated by the Labour party.

Our commitments to go further and to make further investment will meet demands for more capacity on the network. That was a point spoken to powerfully by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood). He was absolutely right to ask the important questions that he did about how we can deliver more capacity more efficiently, and he made important and valuable points about the need to accelerate the roll-out of digital signalling and the development of the digital railway in general, and also about the need for further investment in passing loops. I reassure him on digital signalling that we absolutely recognise the benefits that he spoke of, and that the roll-out of digital signalling across the UK is under way. Emblematic features of that roll-out are in parts of the Thameslink programme, for example, and in Crossrail.

We are also committed to giving passengers the choice of how to pay for their journey, including smart cards, contactless cards and mobile phone payments. The railway also offers passengers a range of times at which to travel and flexibility over when they want to return, all provided for through a single, joined-up ticketing system. So we are fully behind the idea of offering passengers choice and our strategic vision for rail, which was published last November, set out our plans to offer even more choice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare spoke about a further type of choice in his remarks—indeed, it was the focus of his remarks—and that is choice of operator. For many journeys, passengers have a choice of operators. However, it is not always practical or efficient to have multiple operators running on the same route. On many commuter routes, having a single operator is the best way to meet passengers’ preferences. This was recognised by the Competition and Markets Authority in its 2016 report on passenger rail competition. Passengers on these routes generally want a “turn-up-and-go” service, whereby they can get on the next train. With multiple competing, non-franchised operators, this would not be possible, because passengers’ tickets would only be valid on one operator’s services.

However—I am about to make remarks that I believe my hon. Friend will find more encouraging—I agree that there is a place for choice between operators in some specific cases. That is particularly so on inter-city lines, where travel is often more discretionary; for example, where people are visiting family and friends, or indeed many of the great tourist destinations that the UK has to offer, including, obviously, Weston-super-Mare, which is a place close to my heart. These passengers often book in advance and take a specific train, allowing them to choose a service that best suits their needs.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the east coast main line in his remarks.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Thursday 5th July 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Joseph Johnson Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Jul 2018, 10:02 a.m.

Rail operating companies will be held responsible for that portion of performance for which they are responsible and accountable, and that is now under way. The Secretary of State has set in train a hard review of GTR, and at the end of that hard review, all appropriate options will be on the table and available to the Secretary of State and to the whole Government.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
5 Jul 2018, 10:03 a.m.

It was a Labour Government who established the NHS, and today we thank all who have served in it since.

Following the Secretary of State’s statement on the timetable chaos to the House on 4 June, he said in his response to the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) that, with regard to compensation, the train operating companies

“will have to meet the cost of that.”—[Official Report, 4 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 59.]

That is so untrue. It is Network Rail that will be funding the compensation. Last year alone, it paid out £482 million through schedules 4 and 8. Does the Minister agree that, while the operating companies write the cheques, it is the state that pays?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
5 Jul 2018, 10:04 a.m.

The Secretary of State has always been clear that we will review where responsibility lies, and the rail industry will be responsible for undertaking that appropriate compensation to make sure that passengers have the right redress. As Members will be aware, the rail industry is partly in public control through Network Rail and partly run by private operators. Each will pay its fair share.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard

Astonishing. Network Rail paying compensation means that this is coming from the public, so, in effect, passengers will be funding their own compensation for delayed and cancelled trains, for missing exams, for being sacked from their jobs or for lost business revenue—passengers paying their own compensation. How much has the Minister budgeted for to pay compensation for the Secretary of State’s decision to press ahead with this rail timetable chaos, or will he instead cut more Network Rail projects to pay for it?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
5 Jul 2018, 10:05 a.m.

As I have already said, the compensation involves four weeks’ cash compensation for passengers on the most severely disrupted routes on Northern services and one week’s compensation further afield in Yorkshire. Similarly, GTR announced yesterday a comparable package of special compensation for passengers on the most affected Thameslink and Great Northern routes.

Confidence in the Secretary of State for Transport

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Tuesday 19th June 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard
19 Jun 2018, 3:48 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes the point so well—more chaos on our railways.

In the past 24 hours, hundreds of passengers have shared their experiences with me, including a relationship breaking down, trains so packed that people are standing for hours while paying more for their tickets, cancellations of trains for hours on end, and people leaving home at 5.30 in the morning to face a four or five-hour commute. One person had no choice but to walk home for four hours in the rain in the middle of their exams. There is lots of stress about getting to work on time and getting home to pick up the children, and lots of stress for those sitting exams and simply not knowing if they will get there on time.

A mother had to sing “Happy Birthday” to her child from Waterloo station because she would not make it home for their birthday.

We all know that the problem is much deeper rooted. Were Robert Adley alive today, he would have seen himself truly vindicated for his call to halt the Railways Act 1993, for he foresaw how fragmentation would eventually create complete chaos across the railways, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), the shadow Transport Secretary, set out. Mr Adley dubbed that Bill the then Tory Government’s “poll tax on wheels”. The fate of the poll tax is a stark reminder of what happens when Governments continue to blame everyone but themselves and fail to listen to the public. The public now overwhelmingly call for the renationalisation of the railways, which Labour will deliver.

The failure of one part of the Secretary of State’s Department to talk to the other, with franchises promising one thing despite Network Rail not having the capacity to deliver on his promises, demonstrates that the buck stops with no one but the Secretary of State. No Government can sleepwalk their way through a crisis, and this weak and floundering Government most certainly cannot. To ignore the public, to ignore the industry and now to ignore Members of this House shows utter contempt, for which the public will not be forgiving—not least when people have lost their jobs, been unable to sit vital exams, or missed precious moments of family life. Passengers are exhausted from working very long days due to their uncertain commutes. Passengers are unable to plan. Passengers are unable to have any form of life as their short journeys have been replaced by waits at stations that are 10 times the length of their journeys.

It is clear that commuters are not just frustrated with this totally avoidable Government failure, but with their own MPs for not securing change at the top. Today, we all have the opportunity to make the necessary change. If it is not addressed today, it most certainly will be at the ballot box, and MPs who were silent today when they had the chance to act on behalf of their constituents will find that those constituents will vote accordingly come the next general election.

The problem is that all this rail chaos, which was well known in advance by the Secretary of State, was allowed to happen on his watch because he put his ideology of private interests ahead of public service, because he failed to co-ordinate franchises across the divides in his Department, because he did not intervene and stop the timetable changes when he had the chance to do so, and because he evidently has put himself and his career above passengers and theirs. He was warned time and again but failed to act.

This afternoon’s vote is simply about confidence. Voting against the motion or even sitting on your hands would not only highlight how hon. Members are complicit in the chaos that has ensued over the last few weeks, but show support for how the Secretary of State conducted his Department, his actions in the months preceding the introduction of the new timetable, and the way in which he has let the public down consistently over the last 30 days. Constituents who were late to work again this morning will want to know how their MP voted today—did they place their confidence in the Secretary of State, despite all that has happened, or were they willing to stand up for their constituents and vote for this motion? When constituents miss their family meal and time with their children tonight, will they look up to their MP for taking action through the first step of removing the heart of the problem—the Secretary of State—or will they remember that their MP, when given the opportunity to do something, sidestepped the issue?

Perhaps the Prime Minister will show her full support for the Secretary of State this afternoon by neither voting for the motion nor taking any action to replace the person at the heart of the crisis, thus tying her own leadership to this national public disaster, or perhaps she will start to distance herself from all that has happened and find someone who can respond to this crisis. Surely she cannot continue to back a Secretary of State who has not only failed rail passengers but will continue to preside over the chaos that, as we have heard, he will unable to resolve for weeks if not months. Anyone who understands the need to make a fresh start after a public disaster knows that they need to deal with those responsible, which in this case means pulling Northern and GTR back into public ownership with immediate effect. The public will not forget how the avoidable rail chaos was woefully responded to.

There is one more issue that I want to raise: public safety. Even as we speak, public safety is being put at risk. We heard the Secretary of State take a swipe at the unions—he always does—but they represent the very people who work relentlessly across the network and, in particular, have kept passengers safe over the past few weeks. They have taken action today because they fear for public safety as guards are removed from trains. They are right to do so. If anything makes the case for guards on trains, it is the experiences of the last month. The guards are the very people who help the public in times of need. Labour will never put ideology above safety, let alone public service.

There is another public service issue on which the Secretary of State is failing. In this chaos, I have heard reports of stations crammed with passengers and trains crammed with people. Those people are fortunate to get on board—disabled people have been left stranded at stations because they cannot push their way on to trains. This is a seriously unsafe situation. The country must remember above all that national disasters have occurred when people have been squeezed into spaces that are too tight to hold them. When they are not just standing for hours on their commute but physically restrained on trains, it is easy to imagine how someone could fall on the tracks or fall ill on a train, especially in this heat. If nothing more, all hon. and right hon. Members should vote with Labour to put down a clear marker that they urge the Government to address this very serious issue. The choice today is to stand up for passengers, or to stand up for the Secretary of State and his failure on the railways. I trust that I will see hon. Members from both sides of the House in the Aye Lobby shortly.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Joseph Johnson) Parliament Live - Hansard

The disruption faced by passengers over the past three weeks on parts of the GTR and Northern franchises is unacceptable. That was reflected in the powerful contributions we heard from my right hon. Friends the Members for Wokingham (John Redwood) and for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), and my hon. Friends the Members for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami), and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). It was also reflected by Opposition Members, including the hon. Members for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), for Luton South (Mr Shuker) and for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), who spoke powerfully about the difficult travelling conditions that their constituents have faced in recent weeks.

I want to reassure colleagues on both sides of the House that the Department’s overriding priority is to restore the reliability of service across the network. The Secretary of State has left the rail industry under no illusion that it must urgently improve its operational response including, if necessary, by changing top management, as is now happening at GTR. He has commissioned an independent inquiry by Stephen Glaister of the Office of Rail and Road, the independent regulator, to examine why we are in this situation and to reduce the chances of it ever happening again.

Turning to the performance on Northern, passengers continue to experience disruption on some parts of the network. There is a long way to go until performance is where it needs to be, but we are beginning to turn the corner. The introduction of a temporary timetable by Northern on 4 June will help to rebuild passengers’ trust. The first signs are promising, as industry figures show that over the first two weeks of the reduced timetable, 80% of trains arrived on time, and 4% of trains were cancelled or arrived significantly late. In the previous fortnight, 66% of trains arrived on time and an average of 12% of trains were cancelled or were significantly late. That improvement must continue over the coming weeks.

Northern Rail Services: Greater Manchester

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Wednesday 6th June 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Joseph Johnson Hansard
6 Jun 2018, 3:43 p.m.

That is a good question, and one of the things that Stephen Glaister’s review will be looking at very carefully. It will look at all the processes that went into the creation of the May timetable and all the planning and preparation around it, to answer those kinds of questions and to see what lessons can be learned for future timetable changes, including the December timetable change. I will come on to compensation, if the hon. Lady hangs on for a second; I want to ensure that I complete the account of how we got to the May timetable change and what lessons we can learn from that.

I was talking about the training of drivers. Some drivers have been unavailable for their normal train-driving duties while they were and are undergoing that training. To make a difficult situation worse, Northern was unable to ask its drivers to work on their rest days for the last three months of this period, because, as hon. Members will know, ASLEF declined to extend the rest day working agreement that ended in February. That meant that Northern has not been able to absorb those exceptional or last-minute training needs and provide the additional flexibility for the train driver rosters that it needed to.

Let me turn to the questions about who knew what, when, and about where the DFT was in all this. In January, Network Rail informed the Department that it would not complete its upgrade of the Manchester to Preston route in time for the May timetable change. In response, Northern developed a new timetable in a compressed period and briefed stakeholders on the reasons why that was required. Following that, the late completion of the Blackpool to Preston blockade in mid-April meant that Northern had less time to complete those plans and its driver training. Northern then did not finalise its plan for the timetable until three days prior to its introduction. Industry readiness boards assured the Department and the Secretary of State that the timetable was ready for introduction, and the Department was not made aware of any expectations of high levels of cancellations.

Hon. Members have asked about compensation to reflect the significant inconvenience experienced by passengers. There is no doubt, and the Department accepts, that Northern passengers have faced totally unsatisfactory levels of service. I have met with many colleagues in the House, and I have also heard directly many stories from the travelling public of how the disruptions have impacted the lives of all those constituents.

It is entirely right for all those affected by the disruption to be properly compensated. I encourage passengers, in the first instance, to continue to use Northern’s Delay Repay compensation mechanism for affected journeys. Northern operates the Delay Repay compensation system for all its passengers. Under that scheme, as hon. Members will know, passengers are entitled to claim compensation for each delay of 30 minutes or more that they experience, whatever the cause of the delay. There are no exclusions for weather or other delays outside the control of the rail industry.

The Office of Rail and Road guidelines require train operators to respond to claims within 20 days of their receipt. Northern has assured the Department that it is working hard to respond to all claims within industry standards. I acknowledge the complaints that the hon. Member for Bolton North East has made about various aspects of the Delay Repay scheme. The Department is discussing with Northern ways in which we expect it to reduce its processing time for Delay Repay claims.

In his statement on Monday, the Secretary of State announced that, in addition to the standard Delay Repay compensation mechanisms, there would be a special compensation scheme for Northern passengers, subject to agreement by the board of Transport for the North. It is to be funded by the rail industry and will ensure that regular rail customers receive appropriate redress for the disruption that they have experienced. The industry will imminently set out more detail of the eligibility requirements and how season ticket holders can claim. However, the Secretary of State has already indicated, at a high level, that he expects that the scheme should offer Northern passengers who have experienced protracted disruption of this kind similar entitlements to those under Southern’s passenger compensation scheme last year.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard

Can the Minister set out exactly who he means by “the rail industry”? Clearly, we are talking about Network Rail, which is culpable for some of the issues, as well as the Department for Transport and the operators themselves.

Joseph Johnson Hansard
6 Jun 2018, 3:49 p.m.

I want to allow us a few days to refine the details of how the compensation scheme will work. We are working carefully with all players in the industry to ensure that a fair scheme is put forward that adequately provides redress to passengers. The Secretary of State has been clear that this will be funded by the industry. We will be bringing forward further details imminently, which I hope will answer the hon. Lady’s question.

What are we doing concretely to fix the problems that have occurred? Acting through the Rail North Partnership, the Department for Transport has put in place an action plan with Northern, which includes improving driver rostering to get more trains running now, increasing driver training on new routes, additional contingency drivers and management presence at key locations in Manchester, and putting extra peak services in the timetable along the Bolton corridor. Northern has also announced that, until the end of July, it will run fewer services than were originally planned, per the May timetable, to give passengers greater certainty and to increase opportunities for driver training. I believe that this temporary measure is necessary to stabilise the service, enabling improvements to be introduced gradually. Northern will then get back to a full timetable service.

The interim timetable, rolled out on Monday, will see an approximately 6% reduction in the number of train services—about 165 out of the normal 2,800 daily services. Northern is expecting to start to see significant improvements this week, from today, as their drivers are fully rostered on to the new interim timetable. The timings for today, as of 10.35 am or so, saw Northern achieve 86% on the public performance measure. With 665 or so trains operated, 2% were very late or cancelled, which is about 15 trains. There is positive progress here. This is Northern’s best weekday morning performance since the timetable changed. That 86% compares with weekday out-turns of between 60% and 70% for the first two weeks following the introduction of the May timetable.

Break in Debate

Joseph Johnson Hansard
6 Jun 2018, 3:53 p.m.

The May timetable is a big timetable change. It is roughly four times larger than any previous change over recent years of such timetables. It was a six-monthly timetable change. It was a very big change that reflected the massive investment that has been going into the rail system and all the opportunities to create new services across the country. In those circumstances, the timetable change did not just affect Northern and Thameslink, it affected every train operation in the country. All those other train services around the country had interlinkages with the train services being run by Northern, Thameslink and other Govia Thameslink Railway services.

As a consequence, simply suspending the timetable was not possible, because all the other train operators had put in place their own driver rosters and driver training programmes for all the other services running across the rest of the country. Not introducing the May timetable at that point would have been a far worse and more disruptive solution. This is progress. We recognise that there is significantly more to be done. We want to get back to where we were meant to get to, which was the full introduction of the May timetable, as soon as we can, but we want to do that gradually and to reintroduce services as soon as we can, once the appropriate driver training has taken place.

How can we ensure this does not happen again? As I have mentioned, work has begun to set up the independent inquiry into the timetable, implementation and deliverability of future timetable changes. That will be chaired by an independent transport expert, the chair of the current independent regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, Professor Stephen Glaister. In parallel to the inquiry, the Department for Transport is assessing whether Northern met its contractual obligation—a subject which a number of hon. Members asked about—in the planning and delivery of this timetable change. We will carefully assess Northern rail’s planning, risk assessment and resilience in preparing for the May timetable change.

We are currently reviewing whether Northern is in contravention of the franchise agreement. If it is found to be so, it would be referred to the Department’s enforcement advisory panel. The purpose of that panel is to review any contraventions of the franchise agreement fairly and consistently across all franchises. It will seek to respond in a consistent manner where different train operators commit similar contraventions, taking account of the Department’s enforcement policy and previous enforcement decisions, and will recommend the appropriate response, including any remedial plan or enforcement action, if required.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard
6 Jun 2018, 3:55 p.m.

Will the Minister set out a timetable for that? I think passengers have a real interest in knowing what timetable that scrutiny will cover.

Joseph Johnson Hansard
6 Jun 2018, 3:55 p.m.

Work has been underway over the last few weeks on this question, and we expect to come to a conclusion as soon as is reasonably possible.

In assessing whether Northern has breached its franchise agreement, it is important to bear in mind that there are other players in this story and Network Rail is an important one. While bearing in mind Network Rail’s failure to deliver the infrastructure I mentioned on time, I want hon. Members to be assured that we will hold the operator to the terms of its contractual obligations.

I want to give the hon. Member for Bolton North East a chance to wind up at the end. I thank all colleagues for their contributions. I remind them that once this phase has been completed, passengers on Northern will benefit from 1,300 extra services a week. Rail users of Northern have much to be hopeful about in the future of their rail services. Brand-new trains will soon be introduced, building on the improvement to timetables and stations already made in recent years. We are working closely with train companies to drive down cancellations and will support Network Rail and the wider industry in delivering these significant improvements.

Transport Secretary: East Coast Franchise

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Wednesday 23rd May 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard
23 May 2018, 3:45 p.m.

I can make it absolutely clear to the hon. Gentleman that the French railway system and the German railway system have trains in national ownership, not only in their country, but in our country, too.

Right across the country, it is crystal clear that this Government’s transport policies daily fail the public. They charge more and more for the public to use the trains while signing dodgy deals to enable private companies and even foreign Governments to suck money out of our railways; and they waste money on livery and uniforms, as we have heard in today’s debate. I must put on record that it is the staff who are at the heart of the constant change, and we thank them for their endurance through this process.

Labour would put that money back into our trains, back into upgrades, back into building our public services and therefore back into our economy. Today’s debate has clearly demonstrated that the Secretary of State has completely failed this nation and has completely failed our railways. It is time for a new Secretary of State, and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) is ready to take our rail back and get our nation back on track. Labour will rescue and generate our rail service once again.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Joseph Johnson) Parliament Live - Hansard
23 May 2018, 3:49 p.m.

As we have heard from right hon. and hon. Members, the railways always stimulate passionate debate, even if some of the arguments made by Labour Members do not seem to have moved on much since the 1970s.

Leaving aside Labour’s unwarranted, ad hominem, vindictive attacks on the Secretary of State, which only serve to underline how thin its substantive arguments are, it would have us believe that our future lies in returning to the bad old days of British Rail. However, scores of Conservative Members have used this debate to restate the merits of what has been achieved since privatisation, and they are entirely right to recall its considerable successes.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) made clear, privatisation has transformed the railway. Passenger numbers have doubled, with 1.72 billion journeys in 2016-17. Passenger satisfaction has increased—ours has the second-highest satisfaction levels of any railway in Europe—and we have unprecedented levels of safety, meaning that the British railway is one of the safest in Europe. The public and private sector, working together, have responded to demand by delivering more services to more stations across a busier network. Some 71 more stations are open today than in 1994-95, and more than 7.3 million passengers services were planned on the Great Britain rail network in 2016-17, which represents an increase of 29% from 1997-98.

Cotswold Line Upgrades

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Wednesday 28th March 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 4:49 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, for this excellent debate. I thank the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts), who gave an excellent presentation. I have read his vision for the Cotswold line in his response to the GWR franchise consultation, in which he set out a coherent vision for his constituents. I also thank the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), although I contest his claim that Mid Worcestershire is the best place to live—I would certainly put York on the map. I would welcome him to York, which has really good rail connectivity. The hon. Gentleman highlighted incredibly well the situation for his constituents, and it was good to hear about the reopening of the link between Cheltenham and Broadway, with the opportunities that that will bring.

On the future franchise model for GWR, I must first stress that we cannot afford to see greater fragmentation of the railways. The hon. Member for Witney talked about consistency across the south-west and Oxfordshire area, making a sound case for what Labour believes is the way forward, which is one railway. He has said:

“I would instinctively prefer to keep the franchise as one…Having one, integrated, coherent service in coherent regional groupings is preferable…to have greater vision for the system as a whole, have greater economies of scale and have resilience in challenging circumstances. Secondly, it is preferable for passengers, as they have one coordinated service with one simplified fare structure and the same standard of service.”

I could not have said it better myself—the same standards, one ticketing methodology and greater co-ordination. We want to see that in the public sector, which is perhaps where we differ on such matters, but we certainly agree with the sentiment that we want the railway system to come together after fragmentation and the pain that that has brought.

Indeed, the Government recognised some of those strengths on pages 23 and 24 of the consultation document on the future of the Great Western rail franchise. The document calls for the franchise to be extended by a further 12 months and then, following discussions, a further two years—another example of a direct award, an extension of a franchise, again demonstrating that the franchising system is simply not working.

We would also strongly make the case that transport cannot be seen in silos. First, on active travel, as a cyclist I concur with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Witney—it is crucial that we look at how people access our transport system through cycling and walking. Some of the developments in cycling, in particular in the Netherlands, have been inspirational. When the Dutch talk about multi-storey buildings at railway stations, they are talking about bike parks, not car parks. We have much to learn from other European countries about the progress they have made in achieving a modal shift.

We also need to ensure connectivity with the bus network and other forms of transport. For passengers, a journey does not take place in a silo; it starts at their front door and ends at their destination. We must see seamless transport moving through, ensuring that options are available to the passenger, so that we see the modal shift off the roads and on to more suitable public forms of transport.

Why? We believe that investment in a fully co-ordinated transport infrastructure is, first and foremost, essential for the environment—something that barely got a mention in the franchise document, only two small paragraphs. I want to see the Government put more emphasis on the environmental necessity of having a secure public transport system. Investment can also address issues such as congestion which, whether it is on the A40 or the A64 just outside my constituency, exists on our road network across the country. We need to see modal shift for those reasons, and we know that would be better for business and for the economy, and to enhance quality of life.

In fact, we would say that road building in future should be the last resort, not the first. For example, when looking at parking capacity, we need to look first at the public transport alternatives to bring about the modal shift, so we can ensure that public transport solutions are trialled first and foremost. That means having discussions with current bus franchise holders. We also believe that determining some bus routes to support the rail network is vital.

Talking about connectivity, I remember when I used to travel between Norwich, where I was living, and Cambridge for a while. I had 59 minutes to wait at Ely station, and that kind of connectivity is incredibly frustrating. We need to ensure good connectivity on our rail system. That is essential if we are to motivate people to use that form of transport. We believe that discussions about bringing track and train—wheel and steel—together is vital to ensure good co-ordination throughout the network.

We also need effective bus services, as I said, particularly in rural communities, which are not well served by buses across the board. We need to see a shift there. We also need to ensure that running times for public transport, as the hon. Gentleman said, whether train or bus, match what the commuter and the wider passenger require, as opposed to what is most convenient or profitable. We need to see that as a public service, extending late, weekend and early running to fit in with the patterns of the economy and people’s lives.

Connectivity on branch lines should also be at the forefront. With my medical background, I always use the analogy with the blood system—the arteries carry the main flow of blood, but it is through the capillaries we see the gas exchange. That is, passengers coming on to the network and feeding into the main systems. If we are to realise the capacity of the railways, we need to ensure that we release that capacity by enhancing the branch lines and the feeder networks of different modes of transport.

When assessing future demand and opportunity, we believe that that should begin now. I call on the Minister to do just that, to see whether the Cotswold scheme and other schemes provide that compelling case that has been presented to us today. I therefore ask for clearer understanding of the Department for Transport’s methodology for making such assessments. Perhaps it would be good if all Members were written to, because I am sure that many across the House have compelling cases for improvements to their public transport networks. A copy might even be placed in the House of Commons Library so that people can make that assessment of how to improve transport and connectivity in their constituency and through further discussions with, obviously, Network Rail and other railway bodies.

I heard loud and clear the hon. Members for Witney and for Mid Worcestershire make the case for the redoubling of track. It seems to me that there is a real opportunity here—in particular in the light of the opening remarks by the hon. Member for Witney, when he talked about the increased demand on the railways—so we should have a close look at that. We want to see demand go up, but we want to match that with good transportation links to ensure it is possible.

Where possible, Labour also believes that we have a real opportunity to look at issues such as reversing Beeching closures or at new proposals, perhaps even seeing profitability coming out of that. There is a real future for investment in the railways, and we now need to work with Members across the House to ensure that we get the decisions right. We cannot talk only about high-speed rail; we must also talk about the branch lines, which are of equal if not more importance, so we can see a real shift in how we travel.

We need better connectivity, greater frequency, better timetabling and improved accessibility—we believe it is crucial to ensure that all disabled people have access to the network. It is unacceptable that disabled people often have to travel long distances by road in order to access the railway. I believe that more could be done by the Government to improve accessibility for all passengers, upgrading stations accordingly.

We also need to see electrification of the railway network. That is crucial as we move forward. It is greener, cleaner and what is being demanded. There are also new technologies, such as batteries and hydrogen, so we need to see that investment. The Minister has put forward the ambition that by 2040 there will be no further investment in diesel; I would like to see more ambition from the Government in this area, perhaps to drive innovation by scientists, to see what advances they can make, and to put that innovation at the heart of our economy and growth.

We want to ensure that the passenger experience is enhanced. We are talking about modern facilities for passengers—dependable wi-fi and sockets on trains, which are basics that commuters expect today. We also want to ensure that there is good communication with passengers, and to look at how we can use apps more so that passengers can be kept up to date with intermodal transport forms. We need to have two forms of communication because not everybody uses a phone, but there is real opportunity in the power of technology to communicate far better with the great British travelling public.

We have all seen the real power of the Oyster card. From the regions, we look on with envy because we know the real success that that has brought across different modes of transport. But that should not be the preserve of just London passengers—it should spread across the country. I call on the Minister to update us on the work that the Government are doing in that area, and to look at smart technology. It is crucial that we take that leap forward as we have those opportunities, not least because passengers demand that from the Government.

We must address the issue that the hon. Member for Witney made very clear from his meeting with his constituents, about passengers’ frustration about paying more and seeing a decrease in the levels of service on the railways. We need more transparency in ticketing. It is the No. 1 issue—everyone thinks they are being diddled out of a decent price on the railway. People go on the internet and they do not know if they have the best deal—perhaps if they had logged on half an hour ago or in half an hour’s time, they might get a better deal. We need transparency—people want to know where they are. Could the Minister tell us the work that the Government are doing on that? The public demands it.

The hon. Member for Witney rightly reminded us of the importance of safety on the rail network. It must be the No. 1 priority. He talked about his constituent Ms Evans who lost her life at a crossing. It is vital that we look not just at safety on the track but the wider infrastructure. No one should lose their lives on our rail network. At places such as level crossings, there is more access to the line, and that creates a risk. I would be interested in hearing an update from the Minister on exactly what is being done to reduce risk on the rail network.

In reading the hon. Gentleman’s submission, I picked up on some of his constituents’ frustration at being fined because they cannot get tickets out of the ticket machine. That is an injustice—people who in good faith have tried to travel on the network should not be penalised. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain how he would approach that issue, to ensure that there are not barriers to people having confidence when travelling on the rail network.

I will come on to the issue of stations, if I may. It is good to hear about the developments coming for two stations, but stations should be seen as a community asset. They are somewhere warm and dry, a place to wait where passengers can sit—often, it is difficult to find seating at stations these days—but also to read and work, have access to toilets, get a drink and meet basic needs. We need stations to provide that facility, but also be a community asset in welcoming people to a community. They are the gateway to a local economy. They are there for residents and visitors, as well as businesses. Although we have seen the hard commercial aspect of stations in recent times, we must think about the community value as we move forward, perhaps to marry up both those agendas and to enhance a facility for the local community at stations. A lot more work can be done on stations.

Finally, I congratulate the hon. Member for Witney on bringing forward this debate. It opened up a number of issues. The speeches from him and from the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire have been exemplary. I believe in their quest to move the railways forward in their constituencies. It is important that we look at how we move the rail service across the country. When a Labour Government are elected at the next general election, we will prioritise an integrated transport system that serves the passengers at its heart.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Joseph Johnson) Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 5:05 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing the debate and providing us with an opportunity to discuss upgrades to the Cotswold line. As always, he and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) have demonstrated their hard-won reputations as extremely focused and dedicated constituency MPs.

All rail services in Witney are provided by Great Western Railway under the Great Western franchise. The debate is timely, as the hon. Gentlemen noted, because it is a little more than a month since the conclusion of the Department for Transport consultation on the future of the franchise. I am delighted that we received more than 800 responses, demonstrating the importance that passengers and stakeholders attach to rail services. The Department is analysing the considerable volume of responses and will respond later this year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire, with the support of our colleague my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), raised the question of splitting the franchise. I should like to emphasise that, at this point, the Department has made no decisions. Any decision in favour of such a split would need to be made on the basis of real benefits, including to passengers.

It has been suggested that Cotswold line services could be split off to the operator as a separate franchise, with comparisons being drawn with the Chiltern Railways franchise. Such a comparison is not straightforward, and certainly not as straightforward as it would seem on paper—the Chiltern franchise operates close to 10 times as many train services as those on the Cotswold line. Having said that, the Department will look at all suggestions made in response to its consultation. I am grateful for the thoughtful way in which my hon. Friends made those suggestions.

Billions of pounds are being spent to upgrade services for passengers on the Great Western franchise. They aim to improve significantly the services experienced by a hundred million passengers a year, serving them all the way from London to Penzance and from Portsmouth to Worcester. The improvements will include brand new electric and bi-mode trains that will provide many more seats and more comfortable journeys, while timetable changes will mean faster and more frequent trips on many routes by 2019. The new intercity express trains have started operating on the Cotswold line, replacing the older high-speed trains and other types of train. The same trains will operate all fast services between Oxford and London Paddington, complementing those operating on the Cotswold line, ensuring through services on 125 mph trains, even though it has been necessary to defer electrification of the line north of Didcot to Oxford.

The Government have decided to extend the franchise, as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) noted, for the current operator GWR until March 2020, to make sure passengers get the best possible service while these upgrades are carried out. The Department for Transport will seek to agree terms for GWR to continue operating until 2022, which will allow the improved services to bed in fully before running a competition for a new long-term franchise.

On the future of the Cotswold line, in his response to the Department’s consultation, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney made many detailed comments about what he considers should be the priorities for the development of the route. Given how Hanborough has developed as a key access station for fast-growing communities in west Oxfordshire such as Witney, he focused on the developments and the train services he rightly would like at that station. Today, six services from Hanborough arrive at Oxford in the morning peak. He argues for an even more frequent service. He rightly recognises the importance of science to the economic development of the area by asking for some trains to run direct on a reopened route to Cowley, serving the important area around the Oxford science park. Those improvements and others highlighted in his response to the Department’s consultation would require substantial further development of the rail infrastructure in the area, as he noted.

I have seen with interest the formation of the north Cotswold line taskforce, which brings together a wide range of interested parties along the whole route. It would have seemed incredible 20 years ago to aim for a half-hourly service with far shorter journey times. That could be made possible only by a combination of the infrastructure upgrades we are putting in place, including further redoubling of the remaining sections of single track, and the division of the train service into a new regular express service supplemented by slower trains that stop at the smaller stations. I am particularly struck by how the taskforce thinks creatively about financing options and does not simply assume that the only feasible option is more Network Rail control period spending.

The taskforce’s work and my hon. Friend’s response to the Great Western consultation also highlight that rail is seen as a real and valuable alternative to the car. He put centre stage in his concerns the regular serious congestion on the A40 and other roads in his constituency, and rightly addressed modal shift.

Those who have attended recent rail debates will know that the Government are careful to ensure that they do not commit too early to specific projects in Network Rail’s control period 6, which starts in April 2019. I cannot commit at this stage to the project that my hon. Friend advocated so powerfully, because the control period 6 process remains under way, as does the rest of our analysis of responses to the Great Western consultation.

Elsewhere in my hon. Friend’s reply to that consultation, he raised the prospect of a new station at Yarnton in his constituency. I referred to the Department’s new rail strategy, “Connecting people”, which was published in November last year, which makes it clear that, as with the reopening of lines, a strong business case needs to be demonstrated where Government funding is sought for new facilities. The Government will consider proposals on a case-by-case basis, based on the economic benefits put forward by local partners.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the Tackley station crossing. The debate has focused mostly on train services, but that crossing is important. It is a passenger level crossing on a busy cross-country route with many passenger and freight trains, and it is used not just by users of the station, but by locals who want to cross the line and walkers who want to access the Oxford canal walk and the Oxfordshire way. As he mentioned, some years ago it was the site of the tragic death of a user. I recognise that it is not the easiest location at which to provide a safer alternative that is as accessible for all users, but we are encouraging Network Rail and local users to engage in a constructive dialogue so that we can find an acceptable outcome.

Hon. Members raised the issue of operational performance, which is obviously a critical question for passengers. When the Secretary of State announced the control period 6 funding for Network Rail last July, he put particular focus on better performance. The Government are determined that the railway should become more focused on issues that matter most to passengers, including punctuality and reliability. A more reliable railway would play a critical role in underpinning economic growth and bringing the country together, which is why the Government are committed to taking action to achieve those outcomes. My hon. Friend expressed forcefully the rising concern among his constituents about the level of cancellations on some GWR routes. It is critical that GWR does everything it can to minimise disruption to services and to address passenger concerns when services are cancelled.

On my hon. Friend’s points about integration and a more holistic approach to public transport, I draw hon. Members’ attention to the smart ticketing initiatives that are under way. Those projects have considerable potential to promote cross-modal use and intermodal shift more broadly. A GWR scheme is in place, and we are looking to develop that more broadly across the country.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 5:16 p.m.

Will the Minister update the House on progress on smart ticketing? I am sure all passengers are interested in that.

Joseph Johnson Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 5:16 p.m.

I am happy to update the hon. Lady. Good progress continues to be made on the smart ticketing initiative, and we continue to hope that the smart ticketing system will be in place in full across the network by the end of the year. That is our objective, and it is crucial to ensuring that we get all the benefits that modern technology offers our rail system.

Overall, rail users in Witney and Mid-Worcestershire have much to be hopeful about. Brand new trains are already being introduced, building on the improvements to timetables and stations in recent years. The Cotswold line has come a long way in the past 25 years, but there is clearly considerable potential for it to be further upgraded and developed. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney and groups such as the Cotswold Line Promotion Group and the north Cotswold line taskforce are powerful advocates for change and improvement. Between them, they have an exceptional record of achievement on behalf of the travelling public. The Cotswold line deserves the best possible rail service, which is what the Department is determined to provide.

British Transport Police/ Police Scotland Merger

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Tuesday 6th March 2018

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell - Hansard
6 Mar 2018, 10:45 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. That point came out strongly in one of the submissions to the consultation, talking about things such as the management of football fans and ensuring that that is done through co-ordination between Scotland and England. It is important that we see that integration continue.

Coming back to issues of expertise, the British Transport Police Federation chairman, Nigel Goodband, said:

“Given the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, and the ongoing and significant threat from terrorism, I am writing to you as a matter of urgency to implore you to suspend the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill.”

Here we have somebody in a lead position of expertise imploring the Scottish Government to put this proposal, as it is presented today, on ice, who is backed by the trade unions, the police and Labour.

We need to ensure greater alignment and good collaboration—I think everybody in this debate would agree with that—but we must remember that policing is needed across borders too. Rail does not respect borders, and neither does crime. If this is about keeping the public safe, we need to ensure that we have good communications between station staff and police throughout the network and on board the trains. We cannot afford to lose or regress on the skills that have been developed over time. We are talking about 284 staff and officers who have gained those skills over numerous years and built up a specialism.

We must respect specialism in the police, but many issues are now pulling that expertise away from the service. Many people say they will leave—I believe it is 16% of experienced officers and staff—with 14% going elsewhere in the British Transport police and 22% uncertain over the future. They are uncertain because there is no clarity on pensions and terms and conditions. We are talking about not only existing staff, but the future workforce, who have not been referred to in the debate.

I welcome Audit Scotland’s reviewing the debacle that this has turned out to be, but I also press it on the Minister today that we should see a pause in the laying of orders before the House and ensure that the work goes back to the scoping phase, to reflect properly on the responses to the consultation, which reject the SNP’s proposals, and instead to put forward a sensible model of greater alignment and collaboration as we move forward, thereby ensuring that public safety is put first.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Joseph Johnson) Hansard
6 Mar 2018, 10:48 a.m.

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) on securing today’s debate on this important subject. I am aware of his long-standing interest in this matter, both as a Member of this House and previously while a Member of the Scottish Parliament. Before setting out the Government’s position, I would like to make a point that I am sure we all agree about: that the continuing safety and security of the travelling public and of the staff who work on our railways must remain our No. 1 priority in this matter.

As hon. Members will be aware, the decision to devolve the functions of the British Transport police honours the cross-party Smith commission agreement, which explicitly set out that

“the functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland will be a devolved matter”.

The Scotland Act 2016 gives effect to that recommendation. Legislative competence for railway policing in Scotland has been devolved. The Scottish Government have stated their intention to integrate the Scotland Division of the BTP into Police Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament has passed legislation setting out the Scottish Government’s plans for the future policing of the railway. The process of devolution is therefore under way. It is now for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to use the powers they have been given.

For our part, the UK Government are committed to devolution and to delivering the Smith commission’s recommendations in full. We have been working closely and effectively with the Scottish Government, the two police forces and the two police authorities through a joint programme board, which has been established to oversee the delivery process. We want to see a smooth transition to the new arrangements for policing the railways, with the focus on ensuring that the safety and security of rail passengers and staff remain at the forefront of the process and that the UK’s interests are fully recognised and protected.

Significant progress has been made on a number of aspects of integration, including in preparing the secondary legislation that will transfer those BTP officers and staff currently responsible for policing the railways in Scotland to Police Scotland, and on mapping their terms and conditions. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) asked when we would lay the orders in question. We had planned to lay them in the autumn, but given the delay until a new plan and timeline for the project has been determined, we do not know now when we will lay them.

It needs to be said that any deferral will be for a period of one or perhaps more years, because of the contractual arrangements through which policing costs are recovered by the British Transport police authority from train operators. The transfer can take place only at the start of any given financial year, so we need Police Scotland, working with the BTPA, to commit to a specific, achievable deadline by when it will be operationally ready to deliver the transferred functions, as and when it is in a position to actually receive them. That timeline must work for the BTPA, ensuring that the BTP can continue to focus on its critical activities.

We have been very clear throughout this process that it is our intention that the transfer should take place on an as is basis, ensuring that transferring officers and staff see no change in their terms and status. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray and the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) mentioned pensions. We are currently working with the pension trustees on how best to deliver the commitment that pensions will be preserved. The question is how that can be best achieved while ensuring that costs fall where they should. The UK cannot cross-subsidise police pensions in Scotland after the transfer.

Last month, the joint programme board was advised by Police Scotland and the BTPA that a number of significant operational issues remain to be resolved, and that the scheduled transfer date of 1 April 2019 could not be achieved without undue risk to rail staff and passengers, with further time needed to deliver integration most effectively and safely for railway passengers, staff and officers.

In particular, a number of issues were raised about the integration of critical functions, such as ICT, with Police Scotland’s systems. Police Scotland has found itself unprepared to receive the transfer. Scottish Ministers accepted that advice, and a detailed re-planning exercise, supported by external advisors, will now take place to ensure that robust delivery plans are in place and to establish a new delivery date. That will allow also for increased engagement with both industry and staff.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to listen to concerns and criticism and to agree to delay the transfer. I also recognise the concerns raised by hon. Members about Police Scotland’s ability to take on railway policing. Our No. 1 priority remains the safety of the public, and all parties agree that the transfer cannot take place until it is safe for that to happen. However, let me be clear: this is a delay to an agreed process. The Scottish Government have been clear that the transfer will still happen—that is their decision—but only when they are satisfied that all of the necessary actions have been completed. 

I must again emphasise that this is devolution at work. The Scottish Government have the power to take decisions and therefore have to take responsibility for the outcomes of those decisions. For our part, the UK Government remain fully committed to delivering the devolution of railway policing, and will in due course bring forward the secondary legislation required in the UK Parliament to enable that to happen.

I assure hon. Members that, as with any effective relationship, we will continue to be absolutely clear and frank with our partners in the Scottish Government as this process continues.

Department for Transport

(1st reading: House of Commons)
Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Tuesday 27th February 2018

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 6:42 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for opening the debate. She made an excellent point about how central transport spending is to productivity and the wider economy—purpose, people and place, as we heard from the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes).

It is right to say that 2017-18 has raised many questions about the governance of public resources. Questions asked in numerous National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports have highlighted the Government’s failed stewardship of our transport system, as has also been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). While passengers have paid and paid again into the leaky finance pot, the failed leadership has ricocheted across industry, which has had to respond to frequent announcement of U-turns by turning on and off skills, on and off orders, changes to specs, cancellations and delays.

The Government have made a complete mockery of control periods on the railways and road investment strategies on the roads—processes that were designed to bring certainty have, in the hands of this Government, turned into chaos, and at a price. Only last week the Public Accounts Committee highlighted the numerous mistakes by the Department for Transport in its management of the Thameslink renewal programme. The Committee’s report was littered with examples of “careless mistakes”. Poor planning is systemic, and that is something I will return to.

Paragraph 2.12 of the “Memorandum on the Supplementary Estimate 2017-18” states that there was an increase of £65.7 million in the cost of the intercity express programme, attributed to “depot costs and contract variations.” That is bound to happen when the Government cannot decide what trains they want to run and keep cancelling rail infrastructure upgrades. Can the Minister tell us what impact these contract variations on the intercity express programme had on the east coast rail franchise? When were they due to come on line? What were the obligations promised under the franchise to the train operator? How were they communicated to Network Rail? We need answers. A parliamentary question on 20 February revealed that two variations in the IEP contract have taken place since 2012, with the last in June 2015. Why has it taken nearly three years for the costs of the variation to be included in the departmental budget?

This Government never fail to tell us how well the rail franchising system is working, but point 2.27 on page 15 of the memorandum states that the passenger rail income for this year is £248.6 million less than expected due to a decline in revenues received from train franchises including Thameslink, Southern and Greater Anglia. What is more, Her Majesty’s Treasury will pay an additional £60 million to cover the shortfall. It is yet another magic money tree—just wait until those leaves fall on the line, or should I say in the pockets of shareholders?

The Government caused the problems on Southern rail by refusing to take responsibility for the specifications included in its contract, leaving the hapless Govia Thameslink Railway to do the dirty work. Its approach to industrial relations has caused misery to millions of passengers and staff—staff rightly making the case for the safety of passengers. I say “rightly” because the number of assaults on our trains is rising. This fall in revenues follows the Government’s multi-billion pound bail-out of Virgin-Stagecoach on the east coast and a sweetheart deal for the same companies on the west coast. We want the Government to come clean as to how much this will show up on the balance sheet. The public have a right to know.

Since 2012, the Department has granted 13 direct awards because it does not have the resources to refranchise or the courage to take the contracts into public ownership. Why should the public continue to bail out a broken franchising system? Again, the public deserve to know.

Page 20 of the memorandum tells us that Network Rail paid train companies compensation to the tune of £339.4 million in control period 4. This is a disgraceful leakage of money from the rail system that could be used to fund infrastructure upgrades. This leakage is seen in the cuts to the electrification programme and rail upgrades announced by the Department last summer. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) has highlighted that the Department has wasted £50 million on the midland main line planning. People, including my constituents in York Central, want answers as to where the money is going.

We have heard from Members right across the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), about the inequality of spending. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) called for investment in railways across the country. I look forward to the Minister’s statement tomorrow as the strategy on the peninsula rail taskforce is published.

This completely broken franchising system is managed by Whitehall’s third highest paid civil servant. However, since his appointment we have seen direct awards, franchise failures and a system in disarray. I note the £308 million of supplementary expenditure outlined in the memorandum, with no loci or accompanying strategy.

Turning to roads, we have also had the debacle of the untaxed road vehicles. The new system was promised to bring in £10 million a year. In fact, £107 million a year is being lost. It is a complete scandal, and incompetent stewardship has brought us to this point. I should mention road investment strategy 1. We have seen projects cancelled, 22 projects delayed and 19 enhancements pushed into the next control period—road investment strategy 2. We want to know what the Government are doing. Are they re-profiling RIS 2? Are they providing wider support for some of those Carillion contracts? As we have heard from the Treasury, £150 million has been put aside. Will the DfT be liable to pay out some of that? Time and again, the public are bailing out private failure.

I also want to mention the cancellation of the £250 million lorry park near Folkestone to ease Operation Stack congestion on the M20. It was cancelled because an environmental impact assessment was not done. That is more than just a careless mistake: it is a costly one, as the Government drive us off the white cliffs with their Brexit strategy.

Bus journeys have decreased by 1.7% and funding has been cut by 33% since 2010, and by nearly £30 million in just the last year. Meanwhile, fares have risen 13% above inflation since the Conservatives came to office. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) highlighted the impact of that and I thank her for her work on the Transport Committee.

Then there is community transport. Most Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick), mentioned the licensing consultation, and I trust that the Government will take heed. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) talked about the need for a modal shift on to active travel.

Finally, I must mention the millennial railcard: kept a secret from those who had to pay for it, and now the train operating companies are on strike. How much will the Department have to fork out to honour this announcement? Such poor stewardship of our constituents’ money—money just pouring into private profit at the expense of taxpayers! That is why the public support Labour’s plans for a publicly owned railway, buses under councils’ control and a plan to serve them, their communities and our country.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Joseph Johnson) Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Feb 2018, 6:55 p.m.

This wide-ranging debate has covered everything from digital signalling to road maintenance, and from HS2 and Crossrail, all the way to community transport. I shall try to cover as many points and answer as many questions that have been put to the Government as I can. I shall write to hon. Members if I am unable to deal with their points.

We have heard today about why transport matters, how it binds our economy together, and the jobs and opportunity that it brings to every part of the country. That is why it has been such a priority for the Government over the past eight years. The challenge that we face as a country is considerable. We need to build capacity to meet ever-rising demand for mobility; to tackle congestion on our roads and overcrowding on our railways; to clean up transport and reduce harmful emissions; and to devolve power away from Westminster so that cities and regions play a greater role in managing their own transport services.

In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) spoke to the importance of public transport for the sustainability and independence of communities. She specifically mentioned our bus system, which is obviously a concern to Members on both sides of the House. Public-spirited, caring and compassionate community transport operators, which were hailed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), are crucial in this respect, as they providing a vital service. The point had cross-party recognition—from the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), my right hon. Friends the Members for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) and for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), and my hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) for Witney (Robert Courts) and for Erewash (Maggie Throup).

We do recognise concerns that some community transport operators that use permits are competing with commercial operators. We need to make changes to the permit guidance system to ensure that we comply with EU regulation and, where appropriate, that there is a level playing field between small commercial bus companies and permit holders. The Government have no plans to end the current permit system but, as hon. Members know, we are consulting to clarify which operators will require professional licences. We recognise that community transport provides a vital service in all areas of the country, particularly remote ones, which is why the Government have just announced £250,000 to assist drivers with public service vehicle licensing costs.

When we formed the coalition in 2010, the UK was one of the lowest spenders on infrastructure in the OECD. We had decades of under-investment in transport. We were making do with ageing assets, and we had a history as a country of cancelling important transport projects because of legal or planning objections.

One of the first decisions we faced as a Government was whether or not to cancel Crossrail, which we were being recommended to do by officials in the Department for Transport. That was because the economy then was in crisis and the new line would have required significant investment, but we saw it differently as a Government. We recognised that the Department for Transport has a fundamental role to play in the UK’s economic recovery, not just by channelling record investment into the network and improving public transport, but by building for the longer term, with the can-do approach recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart).

We have embarked on the biggest rail programme since the Victorian era and the biggest road investment strategy for a generation. We have rebuilt Manchester Piccadilly, King’s Cross, Birmingham New Street and Reading stations. We are in the process of building HS2. We are supporting a new runway at Heathrow, and we are about to open the Elizabeth line.

Those are just the headline schemes. Crucial work is going on all over the country. The hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull North and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) highlighted the need to correct, not reinforce, regional disparities in funding. This important debate needs to be informed by accurate figures, which is why I want to correct some of the misapprehensions about spending in the north and in the south.

Our analysis as a Government shows that over the four years to 2020-21, central Government’s transport infrastructure spending per head will be almost equal between the north and the south of the country, with the north in fact about £10 per head above the south. To get an idea of the scale of our investment in the north, we are investing more than £13 billion over this Parliament to improve northern transport. Up to 2020, every single train in the north of England is being replaced or refurbished.

Every part of the country will benefit from our investment programme, and I wish that I had time to dwell on other areas that are going to see benefits. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) spoke powerfully about the need for further investment in infrastructure in Essex. She is doing great work with her Anglian taskforce, and we are considering her proposals very carefully.

I want to pay particular attention to the far south-west, which had powerful advocates in the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris). The Secretary of State will not disappoint them tomorrow when he fulfils his commitment to respond to the Peninsula Rail Task Force with further details of the Government’s plans for Dawlish. I also want to tell my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) that we have received his bid for work on the north Devon link road and are giving it all the attention it deserves.

We are investing across the country. We are creating a major road network, funded by vehicle excise duty. We are allowing local authorities to improve or replace the most important A roads in their areas, and to tackle bottlenecks, reduce congestion and connect new housing right around the country. This Government are committed to transport infrastructure as no Government have ever been, and I commend the estimates to the House.

Rail Franchising

Debate between Joseph Johnson and Rachael Maskell
Wednesday 10th January 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Department for Transport
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 6:45 p.m.

Fares, franchises and failure, all entwined: that is how my hon. Friends have summarised the issues that dominate passengers’ experience of the railways today. My hon. Friends the Members for Lincoln (Ms Lee), for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for High Peak (Ruth George) and for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) really brought to the fore the impact that this is having.

The rail sector is full of fantastic people, but it is distracted from its core function of providing passengers with affordable access to a fully integrated system—train and track, wheel and steel—that works across the entire network and enables seamless intermodal travel. While the Secretary of State is firmly at the faultline, defending a broken system that he has made far more centralist in its control than even Labour’s national rail service will be, it is passengers who have to straddle the cracks, continually having to pay, and pay again, for the basic purpose of going to work or having a day out with the family, and as we have heard, they pay for poor performance, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) set out.

It is not just Labour Members who are increasingly highlighting the failure of the Government; the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) also spoke of problems with franchising. “Putting passengers at the heart of the rail service” should be the Government’s mantra, but sadly it is not. Research by Transport Focus, the official voice of the travelling public, found in the largest survey of its kind that failure on ticketing is the No. 1 issue for passengers. The issue is not only the 32% rise in fares since 2010—three times the rise in wages, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) said—the 3.4% increase on last year’s ticket prices and the 3.6% increase for season ticket holders; everyone believes that they are being diddled out of a fair price—and they are right. There is different pricing depending on which operator runs the service, what time a person logs on to book their ticket, and when and at what time of day their journey is.

When this is coupled with extortionate ticket price increases, passengers ask where their hard-earned cash is going—and it is a good question. Let me tell them: £725 million went straight into the pockets of shareholders. While Thomas might be under the Fat Controller’s orders, today passengers are most certainly under those of the fat cats. It is a great train robbery. Then there is the financial haemorrhage from multiple tiers of private subcontractors across the network, each taking their cut, and the exorbitant cost of leasing trains and the huge profits harvested there. Fragmentation brings additional costs, too. But this scandal pales into insignificance when passengers consider that when Richard Branson’s Virgin Group gets into a bit of a pickle, it goes cap in hand to the Secretary of State, and makes demands of him. Just look at how quickly the Secretary of State buckled on this—a point made eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for Keighley (John Grogan), for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), for Blaydon (Liz Twist), and for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney).

The Department for Transport, under the Secretary of State’s orders, set up a franchise on the east coast that would involve Network Rail in delivering infrastructure upgrades, but due to the Government’s failed control period 5 process and the scaling down of the infrastructure upgrades, Network Rail was unable to deliver. The Government did not even speak to Network Rail about this when touting for an operator who would rip the service out of public hands—which, by the way, put £1 billion into the Treasury, to be reinvested in public transport. No, they just blindly put out a contract that was undeliverable, and the Government need to understand that it is their responsibility; they let the franchise. VTEC said it could not reap the gains it was hoping to under the infrastructure improvements, and guess what it did? It went to the Government to put the pressure on and now has been let off £2 billion, and the Secretary of State will not come to the Dispatch Box to deny this fact. It is a complete and utter shambles, as are so many other services; we have heard today from my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) about the impact these services are having on their communities.

So not only are the passengers paying for this now, but they are also having to prop up dodgy deals. And they are dodgy deals: we just need to look at the way these train operators are working their way through the system to get as much money as possible not just out of ticketing, but also by threatening to sue the Government and seeking compensation payments. It is a complete scandal.

The problems are clear: a failed, fragmented franchise system; private profits over passenger interest, with a resultant decline in patronage, as we are now seeing; and a Secretary of State who refuses to put the passengers’ interests at the heart of the railway. That is why Labour will introduce a new public railway owned by the public and working for the public. This is not about going back, as we will not revisit the models of railways past, but take us forward—and not just take our rail services forward, but our economy too.

Drawing on global best practice, Labour’s rail system will really be for the many and not the few—fares overhauled; smart ticketing; new lines opening; more capacity; more seats; more trains; embracing high-tech and digital rail; making space for freight and smart logistics; clean and green with electrification, not a return to dirty diesel; planning for the long term; and no more on-off, start-stop funding. The whole railway system will be working as one, with passengers and businesses knowing the deal and being at the heart of the deal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) has called for for Wales—and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East has said he does not want to see the fragmentation reintroduced now by the Scottish Government.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) and for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) said, we must make our railways safe, and we will make them safe and accessible by ending the scrapping of the guards—a resolve the trade unions are calling for today—so that disabled people can have their dignity restored in using rail, while women can feel safe on trains both day and night. This is the rail service that the British people are demanding, and it will take a Labour Government to deliver it.

Before I sit down, may I welcome the new Transport Minister to his place, and hope that he does not take to defending the indefensible in his new role, as he sought to in his previous role earlier this week? We have a transport crisis and we need this Government to do something about it or, better still, make way for a Government who will.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Joseph Johnson) Hansard
10 Jan 2018, 6:53 p.m.

We have had a full and excellent debate on the important subject of rail franchising, and I thank the Members on both sides of the House who welcomed me to my new position. I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who acquitted himself exceptionally well in this role over a considerable period of time.

A lot has been said in today’s cordial debate—it has certainly been a more pleasant debate for me to sit through than the urgent question on Monday—and I will endeavour to respond to as many of the points raised as possible, but let me start by recapping some of what has been achieved, initially by looking at privatisation in the round. The statistics are compelling: last year we published our rail spending commitments for 2019 to 2024, and we will be investing £48 billion in our railways, as well as investment from private sources.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) asked for specific comparisons between investment from 1997 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2020. As we have repeatedly made clear, this Government are making the largest investment in our railways since the Victorian era, with £48 billion over the five years from 2019. Let me give the House an example of what that means in practice. We will have ordered 7,122 vehicles for the rolling stock fleet, compared with 5,720 in the period from 1997 to 2010. That should give Members a feel for the tangible and practical impact that the increased investment will have. It will mean improvements in punctuality and reliability for passengers, as well as supporting thousands of jobs in the supply chain and activity in the wider economy.

The privatisation of our railways has succeeded. Passenger journeys have more than doubled since 1995, and we have a claim to being the most improved railway in Europe, and the safest major railway, too. And all this is happening in what is not only one of the oldest railway networks in the world but one of the most intensively used. In fact, more people are travelling on our railways today than in any year since the 1920s, and on a smaller network. It is thanks to this success that we are investing £38 billion in Crossrail and HS2 in the period up to 2019, and £48 billion in the years to come.