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Valedictory Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:54 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee 2:54 pm, 5th November 2019

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As I said, it was an incredibly rewarding period.

Within a few days or weeks of being there, I found myself having to phone Richard Branson to explain why his company was going to keep the franchise for the west coast main line, although he had previously been told that Virgin had lost it; that conversation I remember well. I would like to say at this point that it is fair to say that people such as Richard Branson and Brian Souter have done more for rail passengers in this country than many Secretaries of State, and they have improved our railways in a very dramatic way. I hope that, whatever plans come in the manifestos, we do not lose the involvement of the private sector in the railways. They have transformed our railways, and I think that is partly as a result of the private investment we have seen.

I would like to take this opportunity, if I may, to pay tribute to some of the superb civil servants who supported me in my role. Among them, in my private office were Mark Reach and Rupert Hetherington, as well as Philip Rutnam, who was the permanent secretary for all the time that I was there, while Phil West was my principal private secretary for the entire four years I was at the Department. I had excellent special advisers—another often misunderstood role—in Ben Mascall, Simon Burton and Tim Smith, as well as a constituent of mine, Julian Glover, who knew more about the railways than anybody I have come across and would give me the history and everything else. He has written and had published not so long ago a book on Thomas Telford, “Man of Iron”, and it is great authoritative writing. People like them who bring outside expertise straight into the political arena are really very important.

I was encouraged by the unswerving support of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, who were both great infrastructure enthusiasts—so much so that one of my problems as Transport Secretary was that, when visiting a construction site, I was always third in line to get a hi-vis jacket and a hard hat. In 2015 I was reappointed by the Prime Minister. I remember him saying, “Patrick, you’ve been going up and down the country promising all these schemes.” I pointed out that I had only done so after he had promised them in the first place, and that it would have been difficult to row back on promises made by the Prime Minister.

Talking about infrastructure, one of the fascinating aspects of returning to the Department where I began my ministerial career was that I could appreciate fully just how long and difficult these major projects are. Crossrail is a good example. When I was first in the Department, in 1989, I remember the then Secretary of State saying, “We’re going to build Crossrail.” It is now being built. It has been delayed and gone over budget, but it will make a tremendous difference to London once it is finished.

That brings me to High Speed 2. HS2 is not about speed; it is about capacity. It is about building a modern railway that is fit for our times and for a modern country. I could spend a long time talking about HS2, but I think that might try the patience of my right hon. Friend Sir David Lidington, which I do not want to do. I accept the problems that he and his constituents face as a result of HS2, and those concerns must be listened to. However, I will find it ironic if I can take a high-speed train from London to Brussels or Paris, but not to Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds. It is absolutely essential that we increase our capacity.

As we prepare to leave the European Union, I well recall the Cabinet meeting on the Saturday morning after David Cameron had returned from the negotiations —given that he has written about this in his book, I can now break the rule not to speak about Cabinet discussions. I said in that meeting, “I would love to live in Utopia, but the trouble is that I would wake up and find that the EU was still there.” We have to be realistic about what we want from Europe. We are leaving the European Union, and it is right that we do so—we said that we would be bound by the result of the referendum, and I strongly believe that—but it is the European Union that we are leaving, not Europe. We must make sure that we get a good trading relationship with the rest of Europe as quickly as possible.

I will still be living in Derbyshire Dales. I shall miss tremendously being its Member of Parliament and being at the centre of things there. I am sure that I will still enjoy the company of so many good people, but it will be a different relationship. After 33 years, it is time to move on.

One of my greatest supporters and helpers has been my wife. It is fair to say that she has always been my strongest supporter in public—in private, she has often told me the truth, and I have been the better for it. I first entered the House in a by-election, and it was chaotic; after six weeks of campaigning, I arrived here in the thick of it. I decided only last week not to seek re-election, and I have to say that my departure feels the same. One of the best pieces of advice that my wife ever gave me was when she was helping me with a speech that I was preparing. After typing it up, she looked at me and said, “Patrick, I’ve never known you to make too short a speech.” On that note, I want to end by thanking everyone, including all the officers and staff, for their help.