I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Derby’s bid to host the headquarters of Great British Railways.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for, I think, the first time, Mr Efford. I also warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to her place. The beauty of being a Back Bencher, with no ministerial responsibility—I have to add that I have never wanted that responsibility—is that we can do anything that we want to do. We can campaign for things that matter to us and we can be successful—sometimes—in those campaigns. Yesterday I was delighted to hear the Third Reading in the House of Lords of my Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, and we should get Royal Assent today or tomorrow, so that is a tremendous success for a Back Bencher. I have been passionate about that issue for many years, so it was a great delight to do that. Another of my passions was to get Derby designated the city of culture. Sadly, I failed miserably on that. As a team in Derby, we campaigned together, but we did not make it.
My other campaign is to get the Great British Railways headquarters to Derby. I have been talking about that for some time in Parliament and I am passionate that Derby is the right place for it to be situated. Sadly, we do not have many right hon. and hon. Members with us today to take part in this debate—probably because the House sat so late last night and 9.30 on a Wednesday morning is not people’s favourite time to come in—but I am passionate about the headquarters coming to Derby. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State established the competition, which he announced last year, to find the place that will host the headquarters of Great British Railways. Derby has submitted its bid and is eagerly waiting to find out whether it will succeed in making it through to the second round. Then there will be even more lobbying, but with a much-anticipated public vote.
I firmly believe, as you would expect, Mr Efford, that Derby is the right location for the headquarters. There are many reasons why it is an important place for Great British Railways and why the Minister and the Secretary of State should choose Derby for its headquarters. First, Derby is at the centre of the UK’s rail network. It has great connections north and south, from Scotland to London and beyond, and, crucially, east and west, offering a key path from the east midlands to the west midlands and Wales, as well as to the east coast.
Secondly, Derby has so much rail history. Derby station first opened in 1839, as one of the largest in the United Kingdom, when Derby was home to the world’s first factory and the Midland Railway. As soon as the railway arrived in Derby, the rail industry set up shop there, too. Derby locomotive works was constructed in 1840 and, in the years that followed, nearly 3,000 steam engines were built. The first ever roundhouse, for turning engines, was built by Robert Stephenson in Derby. It is part of what is now Derby College. [Interruption.] I welcome my hon. Friend Mrs Wheeler. From 1934, Derby produced diesels, and then in 1947 it built Britain’s first main-line diesel locomotives. Now, we are at the forefront of developing alternative train-based power sources that complement the progressive roll-out of electrification. HydroFLEX, Britain’s first train converted to hydrogen operation, was designed in Derby by Porterbrook.
I commend the hon. Lady for her dedication to all the subject matter on which she has delivered the legislation coming through on marriage. I support that and was very pleased to see it. I also commend her for her work in this area. Connectivity is critical but does she agree that that is also true of the private sector, of which I believe Derby has a large proportion? Connectivity is part of the pursuit of the headquarters of Great British Railways, but the partnership with the private sector is crucial to advancing it.
The hon. Lady mentioned hydrogen. We in Northern Ireland have some connections with hydrogen and we are pleased that she is promoting it. All I know about Derby is that it has a football team that is in trouble, but I am pleased to come here and support the hon. Lady.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It never fails to amaze me how the hon. Gentleman from Northern Ireland can have an interest in what is happening in Derby. It is very important that we include the whole of the United Kingdom and work with all of it when and if we get the Great British Railways in Derby. It is important that Northern Ireland, Scotland and all the other regions are included, so I thank him for that intervention.
Alstom, which has had various names and iterations, is the current train building company in Derby, and it plans to build the first brand-new fleet of hydrogen trains in conjunction with Eversholt Rail. Similarly, Porterbrook and Rolls-Royce recently launched the first 100 mph hybrid battery-diesel train on Chiltern Railways, which links London with Oxford and Birmingham. It is very important that we look to our history, but that we also look to the future of the Great British Railways and rail innovation.
Derby is at the heart of rail innovation. It is home to the largest cluster of rail engineering companies anywhere in Europe, with an international reputation for rail excellence and innovation.
The hon. Member is making a compelling case for Derby very effectively. Does she agree with me that Great British Railways would benefit from that innovation that she was starting to talk about? Derby’s rail industry is famous for the revolutionary tilting trains that have gone on to be hugely successful. They were first developed in Derby as a result of the technological know-how of the British Rail research team, and that expertise continues in our universities in both Derby and Nottingham. I believe that, at one point in the 1970s, the team also developed plans for a flying saucer. Is that not precisely the kind of innovative, radical thinking that Great British Railways needs?
We have the expertise in Derby and it is important that we spread it around. If the Great British Railways comes to Derby, it will benefit Nottingham and other counties, including Staffordshire and Leicestershire, because we are quite a tight-knit community. There are so many innovative companies based in and around Derby that it will have a knock-on benefit for so many people and the local economy. It is really important, as Jim Shannon said, that we have thriving private businesses working with Government organisations. Working together, they can achieve so much more. I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention.
We continue to be the home of rail research, as has been said. In 1935, the LMS Scientific Research Laboratory was established in Derby, which evolved into British Rail’s globally recognised Railway Technical Centre that opened in 1964, and that tradition of innovation continues today through special rail consultancies, dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises, and the University of Derby’s rail research and innovation centre, so there is a host of reasons why the Minister must choose Derby.
Derby is home to the largest cluster of rail engineering companies anywhere in Europe, with an international reputation for rail excellence and innovation. There are more than 11,000 rail sector employees in Derbyshire, spanning operations, design, manufacture, testing, safety, data and finance. Nowhere else in the whole country can we design, test and manufacture a train all on the same site. Not only that, but alongside the University of Derby, our rail industry is leading the way on rail decarbonisation—a huge part of our country’s efforts to achieve net zero by 2050. In addition to these practical reasons why Derby is the best choice, I would like to talk about the longer-term impact of such a decision, and how it fits in with the Government’s policy aims. First, for GBR, choosing Derby brings the opportunity to engage more closely than ever with the private sector. Last year, the Williams-Shapps plan for rail laid out clearly the Government’s intention for GBR to work ever more closely with the private sector, learning lessons and fostering innovation.
As I have explained, there is no better place for interaction with the private sector than Derbyshire, whether seeking to collaborate with the largest rail companies in the land, or to learn from and help to develop the most innovative engineering or railway technology businesses. I know I need not repeat, for the Minister has heard me make the point many times, that Derby is home to the largest private sector rail industry cluster in Europe, and the associated benefits that that would bring to our public sector rail body.
The east midlands is the rail capital of the UK, with a global reputation for excellence. I would like to quote the Government’s rail sector deal:
“The east midlands is one of the largest rail clusters in Europe…The success of UK rail will owe much to the successful nurturing of these clusters.”
In the recently published levelling-up White Paper, the midlands rail cluster is referred to as one of the largest in the world, incorporating rail operations, research and innovation, digital applications, manufacturing, technical services and finance.
Derby and Derbyshire, along with the whole of the east midlands, are often left behind when it comes to public funding. Levelling up is a phrase we have heard a lot recently, and it is really important for Derby. We have heard Ministers and the Prime Minister talking about it, but I would like to see it delivered for Derby. We must be clear that levelling up is about taking advantage of the talents and skills all around the country, not just about giving a handout. That is why bringing GBR to Derby really is levelling up. Placing the headquarters of Great British Railways at the heart of the largest railway cluster in Europe is an example of the Government taking advantage of the amazing skillset and industry knowledge that we have in abundance in the east midlands, which for so long have been overlooked.
The hon. Lady has been wide-reaching in the debate for Derby, but we can all take advantage. The Government and the Minister have given their commitment to levelling up across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady referred to that, which I fully support. Within that levelling up, there may be opportunities for businesses in Northern Ireland to buy into the levelling up that Derby can take advantage of. Does the hon. Lady feel that, when it comes to securing the Union, which we can do as we are all committed to that, levelling up is part of that process?
It is important that levelling up works for the whole country, and that we genuinely level up. We need a lot of levelling up in our region, and it is important for the Government to do what they say.
Alongside that, we will have the opportunity for many apprentices and to improve skills we already have. It is amazing that at Alstom, which builds the trains, there are some fantastic female apprentices. They are not straight from school; they have worked outside and come in as apprentices. They are so passionate about building trains and making it right. We have the workforce who want to do the job. With Great British Railways, and all the other businesses in Derby, we could provide an apprenticeship for everybody, because there are so many opportunities with so many different businesses in the area. It is incredibly important—
The hon. Lady is being very generous in giving way. People may think it is slightly strange that someone from Nottingham is supporting Derby, but it is important to take a view of the whole of our region. Does she agree that if Great British Railways were based in Derby, which of course is a key city of the east midlands, its employees travelling there would see that it is on a north-south line that is not fully electrified, and that, at the moment, we have very poor east-west connections to Birmingham and the west midlands? That might remind them every single day of the importance of the levelling up that she is talking about and the need for more investment in our transport network.
That is absolutely right. The people who come to work for Great British Railways will see the benefits of what we do in Derby and across the region, and that we need better links. We have links, but we need better ones. It is no good looking at places such as Birmingham, which has huge innovation and lots of other businesses, and does not specialise in rail. Derby specialises in rail, so locating Great British Railways there would have a huge impact on the economy and the area. That will add to the levelling up agenda, and Nottingham will benefit from that. Cities need to play to their strengths. Nottingham has different strengths, and Derby’s greatest strength is the rail industry, as well as Rolls-Royce aero-engines, the nuclear sector and Toyota. We have planes, trains and automobiles in our area, and huge skills in engineering, which are very important. Lots of people from Nottingham work in Derby, and vice versa, because there are opportunities for different industries to employ people.
I should not allow the impression to be given that there are not fantastic rail engineering companies in Nottingham. LB Foster in my constituency produces rail technologies, rail lubrication and friction modification. It has worked on Crossrail, and produced the original boards at St Pancras station. That technology is spread across the midlands, although Derby is very much at the heart of the industry.
Of course, that is true. The hon. Lady talks about local companies being involved in St Pancras station, and the bricks that were used there came from Butterley in Derbyshire, so we are steeped in the rail industry—from the construction of buildings, right through to the construction of trains and all the engineering in between.
The Minister may not be aware that Derby was home to Britain’s first railway staff training college, which opened in 1938. It is now known as the Derby Conference Centre. That amazing, beautiful building has been repurposed, but it was the heart of the railway staff training college, which is very important to Derby.
Derby’s bid is supported not just by Derby’s MPs, or even Derbyshire MPs. I am delighted by the support that colleagues from across the region have given to our bid. They not only recognise that Derby is the best location for the Great British Railways headquarters, but know that it will benefit GBR, Derby and the wider region in the long term. Some of those colleagues are here today. I would have liked to have said many, but the late night means that not many are here.
I remind the Minister of all the right hon. and hon. Members who have already publicly pledged their support for the bid, demonstrating their support for Derby and levelling up in the east midlands. First, there are Margaret Beckett and my hon. Friends the Members for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) and for South Derbyshire. Then there are all the other Derbyshire MPs from across parties. Several are Ministers so cannot speak in this debate, but I know that they have expressed their support to the Minister through other channels. We have also received support from outside Derbyshire. There have been key contributions from my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley, my hon. Friends the Members for Burton (Kate Griffiths) and for Bosworth (Dr Evans), and Lilian Greenwood, who is a former Chair of the Transport Committee and was shadow Transport Secretary for a long time, so understands the industry in the area. Also supporting us are my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith), for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) and for Mansfield (Ben Bradley)—who is also leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, which is important because it is fully behind us—and my hon. Friend Lee Anderson. That is a formidable amount of parliamentary support. It is not just Derby Members who want it. The support stretches across four counties and at least six upper-tier authorities representing the entire east midlands region.
We have over 11,000 highly skilled people in rail-related employment across the east midlands, with around 45,000 jobs connected to the rail industry delivering train building and refurbishment, infrastructure maintenance and renewals, operations, digital technology, safety management, specialist finance and other key roles.
The thing about Derby is that, compared with other cities in the region, we do not have many civil servants based in our city or indeed in the county. There is one very small rail industry body, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, but apart from that we have very few. If we are talking seriously about levelling up, it means bringing in Great British Railways to take part in this wider rail industry in Derby, Derbyshire and across to Nottinghamshire.
It is very important that GBR comes to Derby, because it would cement the whole of the rail industry. It would benefit from working with the private sector and learning about all the different private businesses there, as well as our huge innovation. A lot of apprentices go from Derby College into the rail industry. The university also works very hard with the rail industry. It is such a key place, and not just for history. History is important, but it is about the future.
The first railway cottages in the world are in Derby. They were saved by the Derbyshire Historic Building Trust many years ago. They were going to be bulldozed to make way for a four-lane motorway through the centre of Derby, which would have been crazy. These beautiful railway cottages are genuinely the oldest in the world. We have history, but we also have the innovation. We have the will of the people in Derby. I hope that the public vote will show that they really care about the railway industry in Derby. Another part of the jigsaw is to bring Great British Railways to Derby.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. My colleague from Derbyshire, Mrs Latham, has done a brilliantly comprehensive job of making the case for Derby to be the home of the headquarters. She has left very little for anyone else to say, but I will pick up on one or two points.
The hon. Lady covered this ably in her remarks, as did my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood, but I particularly want to stress that there is much to be said about the tremendous history of rail in Derby. It is something in which the whole community takes great pride. However, we are not just about the history of rail. The present and the future of rail also have a very strong base in Derby. That is the key point that I would like to leave with the Minister. There are other places with much past connection to rail, but I do not think there is anywhere else that has the unique combination of history, strength, community understanding, skills and families who have all lived with rail right across the city and its environs.
As the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire said, Alstom has the only facility in the United Kingdom—it has been the only facility for some time—that goes all the way from design to production of new rolling stock. As the Minister will know, Alstom, in partnership with Hitachi, is providing the rolling stock for Crossrail and for HS2, so Derby is both looking to the future and to delivering now.
The word “partnership” is very familiar to Derby, as it is in partnership with other places across the country—Hitachi is also in partnership in the north-east—and within our city and community. There is tremendous community spirit and co-operation in the whole business sector in the locality of Derby.
As the hon. Lady has pointed out, we are very much a transport hub; we are not just a rail hub. Toyota is based in the constituency of Mrs Wheeler, Rolls-Royce is based in my constituency, and a collection of people are working constructively together all the time. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire touched on the rail forum, which now has some 300 companies from across the UK. I am sure that the Minister will find herself invited, if she has not been already, to various functions in the rail industry, and she will find that a concentration of people are in or have come to Derby and that the spirit of partnership that we all need is very much present.
Reference has been made to the importance and strength of our geographical location, which makes it is easy to travel to places such as Cardiff. As well as the north-south connections, and although there is weakness in the east-west links to Birmingham and so on, people rarely highlight the impressive fact that CrossCountry trains, which run between Inverness and Penzance, run through Derby. In the near future, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy will visit the Met Office in Exeter, and I shall come home on the train, from Exeter straight through to Derby. Geographically, therefore, Derby is an extraordinarily convenient place. It deals with both the present and the future of rail.
As has already been highlighted, there is a great concentration of skills, knowledge and experience in the community, among the existing and the potential workforce, but more than that there is opportunity. There is training and a rail-specific educational engagement programme, run in partnership with Rail Forum Midlands. Those developments can all be of benefit to Great British Railways.
On the issue of whether enough, or any, civil servants are being brought out from the centre into our locality, it is a constant source of astonishment to me that Derby is not recognised more readily as an attractive environment for those who would come to work in the headquarters. We have an extremely competitive housing market—that may not please everybody, but it is certainly true—particularly for people who might be coming out from the centre. We have excellent facilities and, of course, we have on our doorstep one of the most beautiful national parks in England.
Derby has a great deal to offer and has an immensely strong sense of community. It is a community that looks outwards and is welcoming. I have experienced—perhaps the Minister has, too—places with a strong sense of community, but it is directed inward: “If you haven’t lived here for 60 years, you don’t really belong.” Derby is not like that. Even if people have been there only five minutes, we will treat them as if they and their grandparents before them had been there all their life. It is a very warm and welcoming place, where such new employment would be welcomed and could thrive.
As has been touched on, there is the whole question of research and development for the future. The plethora of companies that operate in and around Derby makes it a home of real innovation. For my part, I have a great attachment to the manufacturing industry and, within that, a particular attachment to innovation. We do not devote nearly enough attention to innovation, but it is where Britain has a great track record. It has been said that, under successive Governments, far too often we innovate but do not follow through—other people exploit our innovation. We certainly have the innovation and we should, I hope, focus more on how it can be exploited in future.
The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire also commented on support from across the local business community—not just rail-related business, but the whole business community in Derby and Derbyshire, which works well together on all kinds of projects. As I recall, we have support from Tarmac, which has quarries up in Derbyshire, serviced by rail, where it produces aggregate needed for the housing programme. Its efficient operation is dependent on the facility of rail. Right across the piece, therefore, we see an opportunity. The support should be there to develop rail to the maximum advantage, with a real interest in and pressure for research and future development.
No one understands Derby and its history as well as my right hon. Friend. Does she agree that one thing about Derby and the east midlands is the importance of freight? Derby brings not only that knowledge of rail infrastructure and rolling stock, but interaction with freight customers, which is important because they can sometimes be forgotten in the focus on passengers. Freight is important in our region, historically because of quarrying, and increasingly with the rail freight hub and proximity to the East Midlands airport, which is a huge freight airport. That brings a thinking that is unique in the country.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is slightly unfortunate that there is no better link at present, because, as she says, East Midlands airport is the freight airport, in particular for freight from the United States. It is very much an airport linked to freight. That gives us an opportunity to develop strengths and partnerships that might not have been fully developed so far. Again, that is an opportunity to innovate and develop support for the future.
I do not want to take too long or to simply repeat everything said by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire. However, I hope that we will convince the Minister and those organising the programme for Great British Railways that nowhere in the UK is better suited to house its headquarters—to everyone’s advantage—than the city of Derby. The massive support that the city and its environment can provide for the establishment of the headquarters will very much play in our favour.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Efford.
I congratulate Mrs Latham on securing this important debate and on the passion she shows for Derby and its proud industrial and railway heritage. In fact, I congratulate all Derbyshire Members on working cross-party for their area to win this prestigious prize.
We heard, eloquently, from my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett. I know that many other Derbyshire MPs could not be here because of the late sitting last night, but they too have shown their support. Derby is proud and privileged to have the support of the former Chair of the Transport Committee and former shadow Transport Secretary, my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood. Amazingly, it has also managed to get support from Northern Ireland, with Jim Shannon. The Minister, and everybody at the Department for Transport, will be left in no doubt that Derby has a very strong bid.
The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South have rightly placed Derby at the centre of the history of the railway, as a place where trains have been built since 1839. It is a centre of British engineering excellence to this day. I was privileged to visit Derby recently to see some of that engineering excellence, meet some of the workers and executives and see their impressive work, thanks to Rail Forum Midlands and its amazing chief executive officer Elaine. I even got to drive a train, which was a first for me. Subsequently I had the pleasure of having a meeting with Councillor Baggy Shanker and the Derby group of Labour councillors, where I heard about their strong support for the bid, with intricate details provided by the senior council officers. As we have heard, it is a bid that is supported by Alstom, which I also visited, the local enterprise partnership and the East Midlands chamber of commerce, among many others.
I am left in no doubt that Derby has made the strongest possible case and put together a very strong bid. However, as the shadow Rail Minister, I must stop short of making my own preferences known or endorsing one particular bid—even a bid as strong as Derby’s. I would get lynched by other Members who have also been on my case. It is a very crowded and impressive field. I think this is the sixth debate secured by a Member advocating their town or city. I understand that 42 places had submitted a bid by the time the deadline passed. There are so many places that speak to the rich heritage of the railway across the country, including Doncaster, York, Crewe, Darlington, Edinburgh, Swindon, and Wakefield, as well as many other wonderful places with a strong claim. However, despite its amazing connectivity, for some reason Slough, incredible as it is, did not quite make the cut. I noticed that Carnforth made the list; it will forever be associated with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson and their “Brief Encounter”.
The quality of the bids tells us that there is a lot of love for rail, and a vibrant railway manufacturing sector in our country that is still going, despite every challenge and obstacle. There is an enthusiasm to design, manufacture, build, create and produce. Embedded deep in our history are Stephenson, Trevithick, James Watt and the legendary Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who built the famous Great Western Railway that runs through my Slough constituency. However, we need to look to the future, too. I believe that Great Britain can have a great industrial future as well as a proud past, but it requires vision, investment and political will.
The current Government’s industrial strategy is inadequate to the task and is still ideologically enamoured with free markets rather than long-term planning. If recent events—whether that is Brexit, the pandemic, energy prices, war in Europe or the climate crisis—prove anything, it is the need for Government to work in partnership with industry to provide investment where markets fail, as well as strategic direction, planning and leadership. On the climate emergency in particular, we need to harness our engineering genius to meet the fierce urgency of tackling global warming with carbon capture, renewable energy and green manufacturing.
The railway is central to this green new deal. We need high-speed links across the UK, including the east midlands to Leeds leg, which the Government have unfortunately scrapped—so much for levelling up—and electrification, which should be rolled out further and faster. We need hydrogen-power trains, such as those pioneered and built in Derby. As has been eloquently pointed by hon. Members today, with more railway freight, we will have fewer lorries on our roads. More passengers on trains across the timetable will reflect the new changed realities of the world of work.
I welcome recent announcements of cheaper fares for the next few weeks, which will hopefully remind people that trains can be a viable means of transport. However, I cannot shake the view that it is simply a gimmick. Would it not be better if rail fares were affordable all the time, as they are in many of our European neighbours? As the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, pointed out, a return train ticket from Manchester to London bought on a Monday morning is £369. That is more than a return flight, booked in advance, to India, Jamaica or Brazil. That is absolutely ludicrous. Could the Minister update us on the long-promised plans for reforms of ticketing and ticket prices, and whether Government plans will truly make rail travel a viable option for people on middle and low incomes?
That brings me to my central point. We are discussing the headquarters for the new Great British Railways, as established by the Williams-Shapps rail review, but that body is merely the guiding mind of a railway system still dominated by private sector companies running those franchises. The new passenger service contracts will replace the emergency agreements agreed during the pandemic, but those contracts are with private companies and their shareholders and investors. As long as the profit motive is central to running the railways, there will be pressure for higher fares and more profits derived from the pockets of the long-despairing travelling public. Could the Minister offer her assessment of how much cash those franchise deals will cost the public purse for the first five years of the plan?
The great missed opportunity from the shock to the system provoked by the pandemic was the nationalisation of the railway in its totality, which would end the franchises and put people before profits. By bringing our railways back into public ownership, we could have a democratically driven railway that was owned by the people and accountable to Government—a people’s railway for all the people. That model, which is commonplace across the world, would guarantee recovery of our UK railways.
We need to keep down fares, speed up investment, boost green manufacturing and secure our railways for another 200 years. I wish the great manufacturing centre of Derby all the very best and hope to have the pleasure of visiting again very soon. I once again congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire and wish the other shortlisted towns and cities the best of luck, too. I hope we have a decision as soon as possible from the Department, before we have further such debates, which will no doubt be called by right hon. and hon. Members for their towns and cities. Most of all, I wish for a clean, green, safe, reliable and affordable railway that is accessible for all.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Efford. Before I respond to the points made by the hon. Members, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mrs Latham for securing the debate. She has made clear her passion for the city of Derby and the area she represents and she has highlighted some of the things that Members can do as Back Benchers. I hope that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, her private Member’s Bill, makes progress—fingers crossed it will receive Royal Assent. I know she has been working on it for a long time. As a Back Bencher, I was successful in taking two private Member’s Bills through this place and that is real proof that we can deliver things that we have a passion or enthusiasm for or an interest in.
Just last month, I was in the Chamber debating the merits of Crewe as a potential Great British Railways headquarters location. This is the fifth debate on the subject—Mr Dhesi and I may differ on whether it is the fifth or sixth overall. Others have been for Darlington, York, and Carnforth, and, yesterday, we were in Westminster Hall—so this is a little bit of déjà vu—for a broader debate on the merits of the York bid.
It has been absolutely heartening to see hon. Members from up and down the country engaging in the important conversation about the future of our railways and doing outstanding work to support the bids for their towns and cities. As Rail Minister, the other real advantage of the debates has been the opportunity not for just me, but, more broadly, for all of us to learn so much more about the history and heritage of our railways, and about our rail industry—about the manufacturing, the communities, and the families that are all part of our railways.
At the risk of repeating myself, as I said this yesterday, railways are close to my heart. Both of my paternal great-grandfathers worked on the railways, one in Wensleydale and the other in County Durham. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned railway cottages and I discovered that my dad was actually born in one. There is perhaps a sense that I have some railway heritage, or railway stock, myself, and I absolutely understand the importance of the industry and the amazing rail heritage of this country.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire set out, Derby has a very proud rail heritage. When the Midland Railway was formed in 1844, Derby became its headquarters, and Derby rail station is a major railway hub. As we have heard today, Derby became an important manufacturing centre for the railways through the famous Derby Works and the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works.
The first mainline diesel locomotives built in Great Britain were built at the Derby Works, which closed as a locomotive works in 1990. The Derby Carriage and Wagon Works continues to operate as a railway rolling stock factory today, run by Alstom. From the earliest days of the railways to the modern day, Derby has played, and will continue to play, an important role. My mailbox shows great evidence of the fact that many other towns and cities across the country have, of course, played an important part in our proud railway heritage, which hon. Members are proud to represent. The response to the competition has been positive and I am pleased that by the time it closed on
Hon. Members will be well aware that the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, published in May 2021, set out the path towards a truly passenger-focused railway underpinned by new contracts that prioritise punctual and reliable services, the rapid delivery of a ticketing revolution with new flexible and convenient tickets and long-term proposals to build a modern, greener and accessible network. Central to the Williams-Shapps plan for rail is the establishment of a new rail body—Great British Railways—that will provide a single familiar brand and strong, unified leadership across the rail network.
Great British Railways will be responsible for delivering better value and flexible fares and the punctual, reliable services passengers deserve. By bringing ownership of the infrastructure, fares, timetables and planning of the network under one roof, it will bring today’s fragmented railways under a single point of operational accountability, ensuring that the focus is delivering for passengers and freight customers. Great British Railways will be a new organisation with a commercial mindset and strong customer focus. It will have a different culture to the current infrastructure owner, Network Rail, and very different incentives from the beginning.
GBR will have responsibility for the whole railway system, and a modest national headquarters as well as several regional divisions. The national headquarters will be based outside London and will bring the railway closer to the people and communities it serves, ensuring that skilled jobs and economic benefits are focused beyond the capital in line with the Government’s commitment to levelling up. Hon. Members have spoken this morning about the importance of the levelling-up agenda.
The competition for the headquarters was launched by the Secretary of State on
Alongside a new national headquarters, GBR will have regional divisions that are responsible and accountable for the railway in local areas, ensuring that decisions about the railway are brought closer to the passengers and communities they serve. GBR regional divisions will be organised in line with the regions established in Network Rail’s putting passengers first programme, which reflects how passengers and freight move across the network today. Cities and regions in England will have greater influence over local ticketing, services and stations through new partnerships between regional divisions and local and regional government. Initial conversations are starting with local stakeholders on how those partnerships can best work together.
I was pleased to hear the contributions from the hon. Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and Margaret Beckett. I was also pleased to see the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Mrs Wheeler in the debate. One of the challenges of being a Minister is being unable to speak in such debates, but it was good to see her.
We have heard contributions about innovation. As a Minister, I have learned a lot recently about innovation in the sector, including the First of a Kind scheme. The importance of freight has also been highlighted; it is really important in building a cleaner, greener future for our country. The hon. Member for Strangford spoke, quite rightly, about levelling up. The right hon. Member for Derby South highlighted the importance of our rail heritage and its future. That goes for the country as a whole. The focus of this morning’s debate was Derby, but we should be proud of our heritage and look positively to our future.
There were contributions about the importance of partnerships, the rail community, rolling stock and ticketing. We recently launched our Great British rail ticket sale. As of yesterday, we have sold more than 700,000 tickets—an excellent example of how the Government are helping people to access rail and with the cost of living.
The reforms proposed under the Williams-Shapps plan for rail will transform the railways for the better, strengthening and securing them for the next generation. The reforms will make the sector more accountable to taxpayers and the Government and will provide a bold new offer to passengers and freight customers of punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets and a modern, green and innovative railway that meets the needs of the nation.
Although transformation on such a scale cannot happen overnight, the Government and the sector are committed to ensuring the benefits for passengers and freight customers are brought forward as quickly as possible. We have already sold over 200,000 of our new national flexi-season tickets, which offer commuters savings as they return to the railways. As I have explained, to help passengers facing the rising cost of living we also recently launched the Great British rail sale, which offers up to 50% off more than a million tickets on journeys across Britain. And the transition from the emergency recovery measures agreements to the new national rail contract is under way, providing more flexible contracts that incentivise operators to deliver for passengers.
GBR will work alongside the local communities that it will serve. Integrated local teams within GBR’s regional divisions will push forward design and delivery for their partners supported by new incentives that encourage innovation, partnership and collaboration. GBR will be designed and have the structure to become yet another example of this Government’s historic commitment to levelling up the regions across the nation. Both the Government and the GBR transition team welcome the interest and advocacy from different cities and towns, and also welcome the participation in the competition for GBR’s headquarters so that together we can really deliver the change that is required.
To conclude, we look forward to creating this new vision for Britain’s railways, in collaboration with the sector and local communities, and deciding on GBR’s HQ is just one of many steps we are taking to achieve that.
Today’s debate was about quality rather than quantity, probably because of the late night in the main Chamber last night.
The Minister will be aware that we have worked cross-party to provide the information for the bid. In Derby, we work cross-party a lot for the benefit of the city and the surrounding area. It is important on such matters, which are not party political, and we do it for the benefit of all our citizens.
The Minister will not be aware that some years ago, when Bombardier—now called Alstom—was threatened with closure, 10,000 people marched from Derby to show the strength of feeling in the city. That is how much rail is embedded in Derby. As Margaret Beckett said, different generations of families in Derby have worked in the rail industry, so it is in the city’s DNA and in people’s veins in Derby to work in this absolutely amazing industry on all fronts; every single front is covered.
I do not want to detain Members, but when the hon. Lady mentioned that march it struck me that—this is quite true—there are not many occasions when I have found myself marching, in a crowd of people all chanting to bring pressure to bear for the right outcome, alongside the Conservative leader of the council and Conservative MPs.
That absolutely shows our cross-party work in Derby when it matters to the city, and this question really matters to Derby. People will see the passion in Derby when we get through to the second round of the competition, and when my hon. Friend the Minister comes to visit the different bidding cities she will come across the passion for the rail industry in Derby. That is why it is another piece of the jigsaw for the city to embed Great British Railways in Derby, because the people working in that industry and that HQ will learn from those people in the city who are steeped in the history of the railways. Having said that, I know that this is about the future, not history. We have the history, as the Minister knows, but this is a question of the future. She talked about the six pillars that the bidding cities will be judged on and we have every one of them. Indeed, that could be our bid.
I am sure that the Minister will look forward to coming to Derby in the second round of the competition so that she can see for herself how passionate people in Derby are about getting GBR to the city. It is also about levelling up and Derby ticks every box when it comes to that.
I thank the Minister for her response to the debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered Derby’s bid to host the headquarters of Great British Railways.