Industrial Action on the Railway

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 20th June 2022

(1 week, 3 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I notice that the tone of the Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople has changed considerably since last week, when they each stood up and claimed that in whichever part of our great United Kingdom they run the Government, there were somehow not going to be strikes. The RMT strikes affect the entire country—Scotland, Wales and England. The only place that is being spared is Northern Ireland. The track and the responsibility of the unions—the RMT—to work with Network Rail means that the disruption, I am afraid, will be wholesale.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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May I press the Secretary of State, as a number of hon. Members have—[Interruption.] No, I have not received any money, if that is the conversation that he is having with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton). I want to press him on agency workers. He has been asked if he will legislate to allow agency workers to effectively bust industrial action in future. What guarantees will he give that those agency workers will have the necessary training in safety and all the rest of it? Is he suggesting that Network Rail should break the law this week by hiring agency workers, and who will pay the fines if it does?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, Network Rail obviously cannot do that this week, but yes, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will bring forward legislation quickly to allow for what the hon. Gentleman calls agency workers. For this purpose, that is actually more about transferable skills. It will mean that somebody who is sitting at a screen in a control room and is fully qualified to run the screen next door, but at the moment is not allowed to do so because of some antiquated union rules that prevent it, will be allowed to do so. That means that the whole country will not be held to ransom by union barons who prefer to pursue their narrow agenda, supported by the Labour party, when ordinary hard-working people want to get to work. We will be introducing that legislation, and we will be doing it very quickly.

Rail Strikes

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 weeks, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber
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Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I think my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) is a former union member, possibly even a former RMT member. He worked on the railways, so he knows what he is talking about. Madam Deputy Speaker has asked us to stick to the facts, so let us do that.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the RMT has donated almost £250,000 to the Labour party and constituency Labour parties over the last 10 years. For the fullness of the record, it is also worth pointing out that the Electoral Commission registered more than £100 million of trade union donations to the Labour party and CLPs over the same 10-year period. Those are the facts of the matter.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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My understanding is that the RMT is not affiliated with the Labour party, and I say that as an SNP Member.

We have the strictest trade union laws in Europe, and the thresholds have been easily surpassed in this particular ballot. What discussions is the Secretary of State facilitating between the RMT and the employers to resolve this issue?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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First, it will interest the House to know—this is in direct answer to the question—that the negotiations and talks are going on almost every day.

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Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
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Before I begin, I would like to declare a couple of interests: I am a member of the RMT parliamentary group and I serve on the Select Committee on Transport. In fact, I am a member of numerous trade union groups that I am very proud of—the National Union of Journalists, the Public and Commercial Services Union, the bakers’ union, the justice union—and I have the great honour of chairing the Unite parliamentary group. When I first started work—when I had a proper job—I worked on the railways at a time when they were part of British Rail. It was not the RMT in those days; it was the National Union of Railwaymen. That was my first paid employment.

I want to emphasise how important it is that we take the heat out of this situation and think about how we can move forward and get a negotiated settlement. It is absolutely clear that the unions are doing this as a last resort. After two years of talks and discussions, they want to find a resolution to the problems their members face. This issue is not simply about the pay scales for train drivers, although I would say that that is a group of workers we rely on every day—they keep us safe, they are highly skilled and they should be properly rewarded. It is about people who clean the trains, the signalmen and the people who maintain the track. Those are all vital jobs that keep our railways running.

The talks have revealed that the employers—the privately owned train operators and train companies—have an agenda that is being driven by the Government. That will be disastrous for rail workers and passengers alike.

It has become clear that the Government, and the Treasury in particular, are calling the shots and directing employers. They are, in fact, underwriting the costs of the strike. The Transport Secretary referred to modernisation and safety-critical infrastructure, but what we are looking at here are: fewer staff on trains, including the removal of guards and catering staff; cuts to cleaning; and the closure of nearly all ticket offices. That is absolutely no good at all for anybody with disabilities or for individuals who are vulnerable.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris
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I will give way to my good and honourable friend.

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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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Surely the fact that the industrial action ballot has overcome the threshold that the Conservative party put in legislation tells us the depth of feeling among RMT members on these issues.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris
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The feeling is very strong. I believe the margin was 71%, which is well above the Government’s threshold. Indeed, the treatment of the RMT Union and its members seems to be part of a wider agenda to weaken employment rights. I was one of many Members, including my friend, the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), and my hon. and right hon. Friends around me today, who were pressing the case for the Government to act on fire and rehire.

I was in the joint hearing of the Transport and the Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy Committees when we were taking testimony from the bad bosses of P&O Ferries who were boasting about their lack of consultation and their intention to drive down terms and conditions. We expect rather more from our own Government when it comes to the way in which the railway is being run. It is a huge and important national asset.

I want to put on record, so that there is no doubt, my solidarity with the RMT Union and with all the trade unions. Basic rights that govern pay and conditions at work were hard fought for and they were won through collective action; they were not handed out freely.

Let us not forget some of those appalling accidents at Ladbroke Grove, at Paddington and so on. One of the proposals that has been put forward is for 3,000 redundancies among people who maintain the tracks—

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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. It is not up to the Chair to determine whether Members should or should not declare any registrable interest. It is up to each individual Member to do so. Members should therefore reflect on what their circumstances are. Should anybody believe that another Member has not followed the guidelines, of course they always have open recourse to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to make complaints.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. During the debate, a number of Government Members quoted other Members’ entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Will you confirm that it was in order for hon. Members to declare those interests?

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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If I have understood the point of order correctly, it is about Members who have stood up and declared on both sides of the Chamber.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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indicated assent.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Then yes, those who have done so are absolutely in order.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 17th March 2022

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
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13. What assessment he has made of the potential role of rail electrification in the Government’s net zero strategy.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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17. What assessment he has made of the (a) potential merits of and (b) UK capability for accelerating the decarbonisation of transport.

Trudy Harrison Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Trudy Harrison)
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Our transport decarbonisation plan sets out how we will decarbonise the transport sector by 2050. Electrification will play an important role in decarbonising all modes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), the Rail Minister, has already said, over 1,221 track miles of electrification have been delivered in Great Britain since 2010, compared with 63 in the 14 years of the previous Administration, and we continue to expand the electrified rail network. For example, the integrated rail plan announcement confirmed that we will complete the electrification of the midland main line and deliver full electrification and upgrade of the trans-Pennine main line.

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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I can certainly give that commitment. I know that my hon. Friend has met with the Rail Minister and will do so again. As he knows, Midlands Connect is developing a business case for journey time improvements on the line connecting Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton and Birmingham. This will assess the enhancements required, the timescales for delivery and the costs and benefits of the scheme.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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Given the huge impact increasing transport costs are having on the cost of basic foodstuffs and day-to-day living expenses, does the Minister accept the Road Haulage Association’s estimate of an 18% increase in its members’ running costs? Is that another cost that will fall disproportionately on the poor? What action is the Department taking to ensure the poor are not expected to pay the price for a Government looking to escape the net zero tariff?

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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The decarbonisation of transport will bring benefits to our economy, our society and the environment. That is well and truly set out in our transport decarbonisation plan.

Road Traffic Offences: Fatal Collisions

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 15th November 2021

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure as always to see you in the Chair, Mr Rosindell. I am sure you will agree that we have heard a powerful and emotional debate, in the best traditions of the House, with first-class arguments used by hon. Members who have raised the issues so far. My heart goes out to those in the Public Gallery, and to my good friend the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), for the most tragic circumstances that they have found themselves in; because that is what the petitions before us today deal with.

It is really difficult to imagine how hard it must be to deal with the grief of losing a child or sibling in this way and still feel that justice has not been served; because it is the concept of justice that is at the heart of these petitions. It is perfectly acceptable for all of us to have differing opinions on what justice is. For some, it is the right punishment for those who have committed a harm to another; for others, it is the chance to get answers and to hear an explanation, or an apology. Of course, it can be a combination of both those things, but the fundamental principle is that the perpetrator of the crime is held to account. And the understandable frustration in the petitions arises from the feeling that neither of those concepts is fulfilled when a person flees the scene of an incident.

As we have heard, the Road Traffic Act 1988 deals with failing to stop or report an accident, and with dangerous and careless driving offences, which are the two fundamental types of offences engaged in instances of hit and run. As both petitions suggest, there is a gulf of disparity between the sentencing guidelines for failure to stop after an incident and those for death by dangerous or careless driving. As we have also heard, the former has a maximum six-month custodial sentence, while the latter has a maximum custodial sentence of between five and 14 years.

The Government have reiterated in their responses to the petitions that failure to stop offences are more often than not low-level traffic incidents, such as the clipping of a mirror or the scuffing of a bumper in a car park. However, on occasions where the failure to stop or report an accident relates to an incident that leads to the death or serious injury of another person, it can be an aggravating factor in the sentencing decision.

The question that we are considering today is whether that situation is good enough. It is a question that has gathered interest in recent years, as hon. Members have said, first with the consultation for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and then with the amendments to that Bill tabled by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), which would have created a new offence of failing to stop or report accidents where the driver knew that the accident had caused serious or fatal injury, or where they ought reasonably to have realised that it might have done so. I hope that the Government will consider the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment in the Bill Committee. He will certainly have my support for it, as he does for many other amendments he tables in the House.

It is the disparity between sentencing for failure to stop or report an accident and that for causing death or serious injury by carless or dangerous driving that has led hon. Members to suggest that there is a perverse incentive for people to flee the scene of an accident. This has been said before and it has been said again today. As hon. Members have explained, if a driver under the influence of drink or drugs kills someone and remains at the scene, the likelihood is that they will be tested, charged and prosecuted for that offence. However, if they flee the scene and have time to sober up, and there is no other evidence of careless or dangerous driving, they can be prosecuted only for the minor offence of failing to stop or report an accident. We really must deal with that situation in the future.

Just two months ago, on 11 September, 18-year-old Aidan Pilkington was struck by a car and killed on Crow Road in Glasgow. The driver of the car fled the scene. Aidan was about to move to Dundee to attend university and he was so well loved by his friends that they kept a daily vigil for over three weeks at the spot where he was killed. To date, an arrest has still not been made and the driver—whoever they are—remains out there, on the roads, in the knowledge that at 2 am on 11 September they struck a bright, well-loved young man and ended his life. Could it be that the driver was under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, or was driving a vehicle that they had no right to drive? That is something we really need to deal with, and I have the support of hon. Members who seek a change in the law.

The Scottish Government and Police Scotland are committed to reducing road deaths by half over the next 10 years. That is an ambitious target, but such commitments are required in order to make our roads safer for us all. Deaths and serious injuries caused on our roads can often be prevented, and it is our duty to ensure that we do all we can to improve driver behaviour and educate road users. The new road safety framework of Scotland sets out a vision for Scotland to have the best road safety performance in the world by 2030.

In conclusion, although the current measures go no way to achieving justice for the families who have tabled these petitions, what is happening in Scotland may go some way to ensuring that we prevent such tragedies. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on how the Government are looking at education to improve driver behaviour, and answering the calls for tougher sentencing and new laws to address the points raised in these petitions.

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Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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It is unwise for Ministers to comment on prosecutorial or judicial decisions. I was reading this week about a case just outside my constituency where somebody who had failed to stop was charged with death by dangerous driving. We need to look at the suite of options for the charging authorities. Simply strengthening the failure to stop and report offence may not be the most effective way of ensuring the justice that I know many families are seeking to achieve.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The concern that the petitioners and hon. Members have relates to the perverse incentive for people to flee the scene. Should there not be a new charge of failing to stop following a fatal or serious injury?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is something that the Department has been looking at, and that Baroness Vere, the Roads Minister, has been talking to families about. We are keen to see more evidence on the reasons behind failures to stop and report such serious incidents. As I have said, it is clear that the majority of incidents that are treated as a failure to stop and report are low-level motoring incidents; however, we need to gain more evidence on the most serious cases.

In some of the cases cited today, drivers said that they felt they hit a fox or a deer. Various other people panicked. A range of justifications have been used. Whether they are true justifications or not, it is important that we understand the situation more. The University of Leicester carried out some research in 2017 on behalf of the Motor Insurers’ Bureau, but we have to build the evidence base to ensure that whatever we do to reform the offences does not have unintended consequences, but strengthens the law and gets families the justice that they deserve.

Linking death or serious injury with a failure to stop as a cause, however well intentioned, could risk creating an unfairly severe offence. The law already imposes severe penalties for vehicle owners who cause death or serious injury, but a clear causal link needs to be provided between the driver’s behaviour and the outcome. The proposals in the e-petitions essentially equate the seriousness of a failure to stop with culpability for causing death or injury. I repeat that that would create serious anomalies with other offences, which could result in potential injustices.

I want to be clear, however, that the Government are not dismissing the concerns that have been raised. We are aware of the traumatic effects of such incidents, which we have heard so eloquently expressed by Members from all parties today. We agree that there might be something wrong with the law as it stands; it may not be working as well as it should in this area. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate from what I have already said that this is a very complex area, and any change in the law should fit within the current driving offence framework. Officials from my Department have been exploring options that could be pursued in this area. They include, but are not limited to: the available penalties; how the offence operates; how the offence is dealt with in the sentencing guidance; and the potential for a new offence as part of a longer term and wider approach to road safety. I am sure that officials will consider the points raised by Members from across the House in the debate today as part of their considerations of that offence. As the next step, the Department is considering conducting a call for evidence on parts of the Road Traffic Act. Although details are still being worked on, I expect this will include failures to stop and report as an offence.

UK Maritime Sector

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 16th September 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Sir George. I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on securing the debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it.

Such debates are all too rare. That, in itself, is an illustration of what the briefing from Nautilus calls “sea blindness”. One of the biggest difficulties the maritime industry faces is getting the political attention it needs in just about every respect—whether for its own development, for health and safety on vessels, or for minimum wage implementation. It all happens far from sight at sea. This debate is a welcome opportunity for those of us with an interest in the maritime industry to put some of those concerns on the record.

It has been a difficult couple of years for those working in our maritime industry. During lockdown, many seafarers found themselves in difficult situations, caught between different lockdown regulations—testing, tracing, self-isolating—in different countries. In its briefing, Nautilus highlights its survey, which shows that about 11,000 maritime professionals fell through all the gaps in the safety nets; none was able to get assistance from the job retention scheme or the self-employment income support scheme. That statistic illustrates the different way in which the maritime industries work compared to those based onshore.

Both the right hon. Member for North Durham and the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) believe that this is an industry with a future, and I endorse that sentiment. However, I would say that there is nothing inevitable about the UK maritime sector having a bright future; it will require a determined and driven strategic agenda from the Government to ensure that that actually happens.

We have seen the issue at different times over the years. Going back 15 or 20 years, the Blair Government introduced the tonnage tax—a really good, welcome initiative. However, it never really achieved its full potential, beyond getting tonnage to flag under the red ensign, because it was difficult for the Government to get the conditionality attached to it: getting the number of officers trained under the tonnage tax, and then getting the shipping companies that had trained them to keep them on. There was a commitment to train officers in order to qualify under the tonnage tax. After that box was ticked, there was a commitment to retain them for a year, but after that, there was a cliff edge. There was a glut of one-year post-qualification officers.

That is the challenge facing the Government, and I do not envy them. It is difficult for any individual country to take on companies operating in an effectively global environment. This is probably the best working definition of a global industry. In its briefing, the RMT illustrates some of the challenges affecting the enforcement of minimum wage legislation. This was something of particular concern a few years ago, when I discovered that many of those working on the freight ships going from Aberdeen to Shetland, in my constituency, were deemed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs not to be in its remit for enforcing the minimum wage because the boats operated in international waters. Its definition of international water is being outside the 12-mile limit.

I give credit to HMRC and the Government for having closed some of the loopholes, but we know that many of the jobs advertised will come nowhere near the level of minimum wage protection. The RMT briefing for today quotes some examples of that:

“The expansion of Irish Ferries into Dover is a case in point. Irish ferries pay below the National Minimum Wage to its Cypriot registered ships”.

That is Irish Ferries coming into Dover in Cypriot registered ships—seeing that, one begins to understand the complexity of international shipping. It continues:

“as revealed by recent inspection of the WB Yeats by the Inspector for International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) in France (Irish Ferries have blocked ITF access in UK and Irish ports)”.

It then quotes the pay rates on the W. B. Yeats, Rosslare to Cherbourg, in June 2021. A bar and galley steward gets an hourly rate of £6.47; an able seafarer has an hourly rate of £6.89; both a cook and a plumber had an hourly rate of £7.42; a receptionist earned £7.69; and a bosun earned £9.39. In fact, going back a few years, some of the ships that were operating in the North sea were paying figures that were less than half the lowest figures in the RMT briefing. It shows that, because of the way the industry is structured and operates, enforcement of conditions is a game of regulatory whack-a-mole.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I am grateful to my good friend for giving way. I congratulate him on the work that he has done in the last couple of years to ensure that national minimum wage rates are paid to seafarers. Does he agree that what we would like to hear about from the Minister is a proactive approach to ensuring the enforcement of the national minimum wage?

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is characteristically generous. Others in the House, him included, have been working on the issue as well. It comes back to the first point I made: as a former Prime Minister used to say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. People like us, talking about issues like that, on occasions like this, do allow pressure to be brought bear, which ultimately leads to progress being made.

The right hon. Member for North Durham spoke about the need for a more proactive, and less competition based, approach to the awarding of contracts. In principle I agree with him, and I understand what he is saying when offering comparators from Europe and around the world.

To sound one note of caution, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) knows, we have a difficult recent history of this north of the border. Two ferries are being procured from a shipyard owned by the Scottish Government: the replacement for the Glen Sannox and Hull 802—so called because, although it is now heading towards five years overdue, it still does not have a name. Partnership between Government and industry of the sort that the right hon. Member for North Durham is talking about worked very effectively with the procurement of the aircraft carriers and is something we should be taking seriously. However, the rigours of private sector involvement are needed to ensure that these ferries are obtained on time and give value to the taxpayer, as well as giving longer-term security for the workforce in the domestic shipyards we have left.

We saw this week that, in the tender for the construction of the two ferries to serve Islay and Jura, two of the shipyards tendering are in Turkey, one is Romanian, and one is in Poland. Not a single shipyard in Scotland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom is now being invited to tender by the Scottish Government. That shows that we need to have the strategy that everyone else has spoken about. If we have a gesture here on a difficult news day there, we do not do any favours for the people who work in these shipyards, never mind island communities such as Islay and Jura.

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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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As always, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir George. I think you are the first Chair in a Westminster Hall debate taking place during a reshuffle who is not of the governing party, so I do not need to send you good wishes for the reshuffle. I see that the Minister is still in his place, which I think we will take as good news for now.

I thank the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate. It has been very enjoyable listening to everyone. Of course, a debate such as this would not be the same if I did not mention that I am still proud to represent the Govan shipyards and the workers there, who are the undisputed greatest shipbuilders in the world. I am pleased that BAE Systems is now looking at shipyard investment and at ensuring that it can build ships more efficiently at the Govan site. That is something that I hope the Minister will take cognisance of, because many of us believe that the Government have a role to play in providing finance and helping companies to invest in their shipyards so that they can compete—not just for defence contracts, but for contracts elsewhere.

I very much agree with the right hon. Member for North Durham about the fleet solid support ship contracts. A number of us in the APPG have been chipping away at the issue for a while. I have always found it quite fascinating that we were told they were not defence ships, because I have tabled parliamentary questions to ask what weaponry there would be on fleet solid support ships. I have received a long list, so I am bewildered as to why they are not designated as defence ships, but it seems that progress is being made.

I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for his charitable interpretation of the CalMac ferries situation, because my personal view on that is probably not repeatable in Hansard. Those of us who advocated remaining in the EU, such as the right hon. Member and me, have always felt—I certainly have, as someone from a public sector background —that one of the weaknesses of the case was the EU public procurement rules. It would help if the Minister outlined whether the Government are looking at the procurement rules and perhaps making it easier for local authorities and public bodies to provide contracts to local suppliers in various situations.

I want to associate myself with the comments made about seafarers, because it really is important that the national minimum wage is now enforced. Many of us were grateful that the Government changed the rules so that the national minimum wage would apply. It is now important that that is enforced, because the RMT, in its excellent briefing, has already given us examples of where it is not being enforced, and where seafarers are not being paid the national minimum wage. I recognise that the Government produce a list every year, and it certainly would not surprise me if some of the shipping companies appear on that, but perhaps the Minister could outline what work his Department and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are doing to ensure that there is real enforcement.

The maritime economy is very important both to the Scottish economy and that of these islands. It is estimated that the direct value of the maritime economy to the UK’s gross value added was £46.1 billion in 2017, supporting 200,000 jobs directly and 1 million jobs both directly and directly. Shipping alone contributed £6 billion to the economy in 2020, representing 19% of all transportation, and the UK’s shipping fleet is the 24th largest in the world. Some £9.9 billion of the GVA is added to Scotland, with 41,000 jobs directly supported. Apart from the seafarers’ situation, workers in the maritime sector are usually highly skilled and well paid. According to Maritime UK, they are 42% more productive than the average worker. Pre pandemic, the sector was predicted to grow by 15% between 2018 and 2023, but obviously that has been disrupted, and the true level of growth remains to be seen.

It is also important that we should recognise the value of Scotland’s maritime economy and marine environment, and protect the environment while growing that economy in a sustainable way. Scotland has 60% of the UK’s fishing waters and an abundance of marine resources. It is important to treat those as national assets, to be protected, developed and enhanced, not just for this generation but for future generations.

Scotland included shipping, defence and marine tourism in its previous national marine plan. That will be developed into a maritime strategy, and a dedicated agency will be established to put Scotland’s marine assets at the heart of the blue economy. The Scottish Government have pledged support for the growth of sustainable marine tourism to turnover of more than £0.5 billion by 2025.

There are great opportunities to explore greater maritime trade with the UK, and we should be ambitious to increase direct trade with the European Union. I want to see that 102% rise in direct shipping to France since the Brexit barriers were put in place, because the EU sees it as harder to ship through England to Scotland. Brexit has led to direct shipping and ferry routes to Spain and Calais.

We ask the UK Government to commit to serious and sufficient investment in the maritime sector. Historically, the UK Government have not included international aviation and shipping in their carbon budgeting—although they have changed that now, which is important, as I am sure the Minister agrees. It is important to include shipping emissions, as they can make up 3% of carbon emissions every year. Decarbonisation should be a key part of investment in the maritime sector going forward.

I congratulate all hon. Members on their fine contributions today on the maritime sector. As someone who represents a great shipyard community, I will support other hon. Members in ensuring that we have a thriving maritime sector going forward.

Flybe

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 5th March 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend will know that we are working hard with the industry and the sector to understand some of the challenges. It is key to highlight that the Flybe collapse, in particular, has been reported as being due to the effects of coronavirus, so we are obviously seeing the impacts of that. We are not where we wanted to be as a Government—we were working hard to secure Flybe’s future. However, he is absolutely right, and as a responsible Department, we are making sure that we have those conversations with businesses and are absolutely on board with what is going on.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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This is the second occasion in six months when workers have tried to get to their workplace to be told that their company has ceased trading. This surely suggests that the regional connectivity review is urgent, so can the Minister tell us a timetable for the completion of the review?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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The regional air connectivity review is something that I am particularly interested in, and I am glad, as the Minister just appointed, that I will be heavily involved in it. As the hon. Gentleman would imagine, I am pushing for the review to be done as soon as possible.

Draft Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Tachographs) (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2019

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 7th October 2019

(2 years, 8 months ago)

General Committees
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I, too, will be short and sweet. I understand that the Government’s intention is to provide some sort of continuity, and—regardless of people’s views on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union—that is what the draft regulations are designed to do. I have one question, which is from Unite the union: will the Minister confirm that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the regulations will still apply?

Thomas Cook

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 25th September 2019

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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I will take remaining questioners if they have a short sentence each, but if it is longer I am afraid I will have to cut it off.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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Going back to the question of the £250 million, will the Secretary of State confirm that that was for credit purposes—that it was effectively in order for Thomas Cook to be able to say to the bank that it had that reserve fund of £250 million?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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Yes. The problem was that it was never apparent that there was a package to sit behind that that somebody putting money in would support—in other words, that it was not necessarily going to save the company even then.

St Rollox Railway Works: Closure

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 14th January 2019

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Paul Sweeney Portrait Mr Sweeney
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He raises the actions already taken so far; there has been a very rapid response from elected Members of all parties to address this critical issue facing such a strategic and iconic industrial facility in Glasgow.

I will come to the details of that action soon, but first I want to outline the extent of the work that could have been brought into the site but that curiously the current management has not been entrepreneurial enough to bid for, never mind secure. That includes class 320 work for ScotRail and its fleet owners Eversholt, which is potentially worth £6.5 million; class 156 work for Northern Rail, worth £3 million; class 156 work for ScotRail, worth £2 million; class 156 retrofitting for ScotRail, worth another £1.5 million; and class 153 ScotRail work, worth another £3 million. There is also exam and inspection work unable to be done at other ScotRail depots or in Scotland because they are at capacity and do not have the workforce. In addition, there is high-speed train conversion work also available and class 170 work worth another £3.5 million, as well as the Caledonian Sleeper work. There is a huge array of potential opportunities and investment to be brought into the site that it has not even considered bidding for. It is bizarre that the company would not be doing that if it is not a branch-plant economy and relationship.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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The hon. Gentleman’s speech has been very passionate and I agree with a lot of what he has said. Does he agree that another danger is that the 45-day redundancy notice does not give enough time for a solution to be found for the company and the highly skilled workforce at St Rollox?

Paul Sweeney Portrait Mr Sweeney
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I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman, who makes a pertinent point about the triggering of the HR1 statutory notice, which starts the clock ticking. In my previous job at BAE Systems, I remember when that clock was set ticking at a mass meeting in 2012. At that time, more than 1,000 jobs were put at risk on the Clyde, and I know how unpleasant that feeling was, especially just before Christmas. The workforce were really sold short by the management. In the morning they were given their Christmas hampers, and in the afternoon they were told that their works were closing down. What appalling corporate social responsibility that was.

This is a testament to the breakdown of trust between Gemini and the workforce, and we have to fight hard to delay the statutory notice as much as possible, because there is a viable solution. The site is fundamentally viable. Indeed, it is believed that one opportunity would be provided through the electrification of the line. We have recently seen investment in the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvements, and this is only a short distance away. It is less than a mile to the site, and the electrification of the line into the works would allow more work to be accessed readily without using shunters. A previous proposal was considered by the coalition Government, and it was anticipated that capital costs of approximately £700,000 would be required at that time. I urge the UK and Scottish Governments to instruct Network Rail to action an immediate feasibility study to look into electrifying the line into St Rollox under control period 6 of Network Rail’s funding.

I went to meet the workforce at the site, along with the MSPs from the area and the leader of the Scottish Labour party, Richard Leonard. We consulted the workforce directly, and a meeting was subsequently held with the Scottish Transport Minister, Michael Matheson MSP. He has confirmed that officials at Transport Scotland and Scottish Enterprise have been working towards pulling together several organisations that are members of the rail supply network, along with potential customers for the services that Springburn provides. He has also asked that Gemini postpone the commencement of the closure consultation to allow all the options to be explored, and we are absolutely confident that there is a viable future for this site. It is fundamentally viable, and it has improved massively. Indeed, I visited it when I was working with Scottish Enterprise, and I was very impressed by its modern nature, its highly efficient operations and the work that had gone into massively improving its efficiency, safety and costs over the period of ownership by Knorr-Bremse. I am hopeful that that can be sustained. There is a model for restructuring that could happen.

I had the opportunity to meet the rail Minister earlier today, and we discussed the opportunities for the site. There is huge disruption in the rail industry in the UK with the onset of new rolling stock, but this site has endured disruptions and changes across the railway industry from the dawn of the railway age. It was built when the first railway was constructed in Scotland, and it can endure again in the future. There is an opportunity to restructure the site and I am hopeful, as I know ScotRail is, that it can be a strategic component of Scotland’s rail industry long into the future. I believe that if the rail Minister is amenable to acting proactively and urgently with his counterpart in Scotland, we will be able to work collaboratively at all levels of Government to ensure that the site will endure for the next 150 years.

This is a huge opportunity for Scotland’s railway industry, and I would hate to see that value, opportunity and potential destroyed simply to serve the short-term benefit of a private operator that is clearly treating its workforce with contempt. I want that operator to understand that the opportunity to be involved in the site is not just in its own self-interest, and that it is also an opportunity to defend and promote the growth of Scottish railway engineering long into the future. The only reason that the community of Springburn exists is because of the railway industry, and to lose the last vestige of the purpose and unifying identity that underpins our community would be hugely tragic. The worst thing is that the site is not a lame duck; it is entirely viable but it has been sold out by a lack of effort and entrepreneurial spirit on the part of its private management. We must wrest back control of the site and relaunch it for the future, to ensure that Scottish railway engineering can thrive long into this century.

--- Later in debate ---
Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
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In the meeting this afternoon, the company said it would be very happy to participate in the consortium the hon. Gentleman describes, which seems very positive. I hope all sides will enter this opportunity with their eyes open and with a constructive attitude.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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As well as writing to the Scottish Transport Minister, the Minister could press Network Rail on what it can do to save these jobs in the city of Glasgow.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
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The work stream that Network Rail takes north of the border is determined north of the border, so I would be cautious about any discourtesy to Scottish Government colleagues by treading on their toes, but I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which I will resolve with the Scottish Minister before taking any action. But if Network Rail can play a part, it should do so. If the company can play a part, it should do so. With the company, the local political leadership, the national political leadership and the trade unions all participating in a positive way, it is possible that this plant may be saved, with the injection of opportunity via some changes to infrastructure. Ultimately, however, it will need to have a supply chain of orders, otherwise it will continue to be loss-making and its future will not be sustainable.

As I was saying, the opportunity is significant, because of the sheer nature of the investment being made across our railway industry. Even though things are devolved in this area, I recognise that the UK Government can highlight issues and we can discuss issues here. I will take the actions that I have described to try to encourage all the parties to come together to form a deal. I hope that I have been able to demonstrate that the Government take seriously the importance of the supply sector into the industry and that the actions we can take, although limited because of the devolution settlement, might help this deal come to fruition. I would be very keen if it did.

Question put and agreed to.

Seaborne Freight

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 8th January 2019

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
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Of course, it is not a single contract. There are multiple contracts, of which 90% is going to two of the biggest cross-channel operators—something the Labour party appears to be completely ignoring. The fact is that we have chosen to give a small proportion of the business to a legitimate bid from a small start-up business, and I think that is something the Government should do more often, not less.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I think our plea to the contractors is that we want these ships, not excuses. Quite astonishingly, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), we heard from the Secretary of State that there will somehow be driverless ferries—that there will be no staff—so presumably there is no national minimum wage requirement in the contract. First, will the Secretary of State publish the legal advice that he says he was given? That seems sensible, given the House’s concerns. Secondly, will he tell us what were the procurement requirements in relation to equipment, such as ferries, or indeed in respect of the socioeconomic impact in relation to wages, for example?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
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In effect, what we are doing is buying tickets in advance on cross-channel ferries on a number of routes around the country. That is what we are doing. It is no more and no less than that.