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Confidence in the Secretary of State for Transport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:57 pm on 19th June 2018.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 2:57 pm, 19th June 2018

One thing that the Secretary of State has managed to do is to unite those on both sides of the Pennines—which is actually quite remarkable—in our view that it is time for him to go. Lancashire and Yorkshire do not normally get on that well, but we are united in this regard. Ministers will know that in recent weeks the great newspapers of the north have been united on their front pages in calling for the Secretary of State to go. ITV has also joined in recently. The Yorkshire Post and my own newspaper in Hull, the Hull Daily Mail, have made it very clear that we cannot carry on like this and that enough is enough.

We have heard a lot in recent weeks about the timetabling fiasco, particularly in relation to Northern, but as a Member of Parliament for the north, I want to look more broadly at what this Government have said about their commitment to the northern powerhouse and to the connectivity between the eastern and western parts of the north to bring together the great cities of the north. We know that, despite all the words we hear every time a Minister gets up to talk about this, the reality on the ground is very different. We know that the investment going into the north pales in comparison with what is going into London, which gets five times as much. We know that Transport for the North, which Ministers always talk about, is only a consultative body. It does not have statutory powers. It cannot do what Transport for London is able to do to bring in investment.

In recent years, we have also had the fiasco of the electrification of the lines across the Pennines. Hull was actually missed off the first plan that was put forward, and we had to put together our own plan, using private sector funds, in order to be part of the electrification scheme. That proposal went into the Department for Transport and then, several years later under the current Secretary of State, it was refused.

There is confusion about future electrification across the Pennines. We thought the line was going to be electrified, but the Secretary of State seems to have just discovered bimodal trains, which have been around for quite a long time. In addition, when the House was considering commercial space travel recently, I noted that it seems there will be commercial space flights before the line to Hull gets electrified.

Timetabling has been discussed a lot today, and one of the big issues is that for some strange reason Hull was given slower trains across the Pennines when the new timetable was agreed. The whole idea was that the changes would speed things up and connect cities, but Hull finds itself with trains that take 15 to 20 minutes longer to get across to Manchester. When the new rolling stock comes in as part of the TPE franchise, Hull will not get new trains but refurbished trains. However, Scarborough—I am not casting aspersions on the fact that a previous Rail Minister represents Scarborough—now has new and faster trains across the Pennines. How come the great cities of the north are being treated like that? I remind the Rail Minister of the three things that we would have expected the Secretary of State to support in Hull: a half-hourly express service across the Pennines as part of the northern powerhouse; a direct train to Liverpool; and a direct train to Manchester airport. I found out last week that Llandudno has a direct train to Manchester airport—good on Llandudno —so why does Hull not have one?

We have heard the dogma as to why franchising is continuing, but I want to discuss open-access trains. We had to fight hard to get Hull Trains, an open-access operator, to provide a direct service to London, but it is in meltdown, and I have heard nothing from the Department for Transport or the Secretary of State about that. Our rolling stock constantly breaks down, we do not have enough spare capacity, and drivers are trained only on the class 185s, which are unfit for the route down to London. FirstGroup, the parent company, does not seem to be doing anything about the fact that Hull Trains’ reputation, which was good in the city, is taking a nosedive, with people feeling that it is no longer a reliable service, but there has been nothing from the Department on that.

Looking at the franchise that the Department and the Secretary of State are involved with, TransPennine runs the station in Hull and has spent £1.4 million on it, but we are still among the top 10 worst stations in country. It has managed to build some small, smelly toilets to replace the old ones and some new retail units, which have remained empty for weeks. Every morning, I walk through Canary Wharf to get to Westminster, and I see Canary Wharf station, which cost £500 million and has a roof garden. Of course, private money has gone into that project, but we cannot even get a toilet attendant at Hull station. I want to highlight to the Secretary of State and the Minister the stark difference between the north and the south. This is like a “Carry On” film; it is a farce. The Secretary of State must take responsibility. The buck stops with him and he should go.