Great British Railways will incentivise improved services for rail users through new passenger service contracts, and there will be opportunities for new and innovative open access services where spare capacity exists.
I share the Minister’s attractive vision for more choice and variety on our railways; the trouble is that that is not what the Government’s plans will introduce. They weaken competition, reduce choice and extend state central planning and control enormously. Anyone using Hull Trains, Lumo or Grand Central Rail can kiss them goodbye, because they will be the last of their kind. I could understand it if these proposals were being introduced by a Labour Government, but they are not. It is we Conservatives who are doing this, not them. I urge Ministers to take a long, hard look in the mirror before introducing any legislation based on these plans.
I am conscious of my hon. Friend’s strong interest in open-access services. Where there is spare capacity on the network, we will support applications from open-access providers who promise new and innovative services that benefit passengers without leading to significant costs for taxpayers. To be clear, I assure him that as part of the Government’s reform proposals the Office of Rail and Road will maintain its role as the independent regulator for access, ensuring that applications are treated fairly, and it will be able to direct GBR to grant access should it think it appropriate.
This Government are presiding over complete transport chaos. We have had backlogs at the ports and backlogs at airports, even though people cannot get passports, and our railways came to a grinding halt thanks to Tory-induced rail strikes. While millions of Brits are suffering from Tory tax hikes, inflation and stagnant wages, rather than doing his job the Transport Secretary has been busy touring media studios to union-bash, pitting rail workers against the British public and washing his hands of all responsibility. Now Ministers are proposing to use agency staff to cover absences, which is both unsafe and reckless. If I can organise and attend meetings with both the Network Rail chief executive and the RMT union general secretary, why are Ministers finding it so difficult? Is it because the Tory Government are prioritising stripping workers of their rights—[Interruption.]
Order. When I stand up and ask the shadow Minister to sit down, I expect him to sit down, not just carry on ranting. I do not think that is acceptable. I worked with him to get him in at this point, because he would not have got in otherwise. Please do not take advantage of the Chair or the Chamber. We expect your question to be shorter. Minister, I am sure you can answer briefly.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to put on record that we had a very good meeting following your request for a meeting about stations in your own constituency. [Interruption.] He is nothing if not enthusiastic.
Going back to the matter of industrial action, let us be absolutely clear: we are incredibly disappointed that the unions took the step to go down the route of industrial action. It should be the last resort, not the first resort. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about meetings, he will know full well that it is the place of the employers to have the negotiations with the union, not for the Government. It seems a bit rich that the Opposition go on and on but the simple thing to prevent the strikes—[Interruption.]