Gavin Newlands – 2022 Speech on the National Rail Strike

The speech made by Gavin Newlands, the SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, in the House of Commons on 20 June 2022.

What a pile of nonsense. The glee with which the Secretary of State spoke on Thursday and again today rather tells the story. He spoke of the support for the rail industry and the fact that no one has lost their job. If only we had seen that same support for the aviation industry, which was promised, we would not be seeing the scenes we are up and down this country at airports across this land. In response to P&O’s unacceptable behaviour in replacing staff with agency staff, he called for the company to be boycotted and for it to reverse its decision. Now he is planning to legislate to allow agency workers to replace striking staff. Why does he not care for the rights of rail workers, given that he appeared to care so deeply for the rights of ferry workers?

ScotRail, with the encouragement of the Scottish Government, has negotiated a settlement with drivers to end their pay dispute, get services back up and running and support workers. Despite that, services will still be disrupted as a consequence of the industrial action that the UK Government have stoked with Network Rail workers. Does the Secretary of State agree that devolving Network Rail powers to Scotland is the only way to protect Scotland? Despite his claim that the unions are solely responsible for these strikes, we now know that the UK Government have prevented meaningful negotiations. With inflation heading over 10% and a Tory cost of living crisis, how can he explain or defend preventing negotiations on wage increases, unless stoking an industrial dispute to force through anti-union laws is actually the Government’s aim?

Finally, does the Secretary of State share my concern for the welfare of the Scottish Conservatives, none of whom are with us today? On the ScotRail-ASLEF issue, the Scottish Conservatives’ Twitter account said

“The SNP must sort this mess out and address the travel misery facing commuters.”

Graham Simpson MSP, the Scottish Conservative transport spokesperson, no less, called for the Scottish Government to get involved and get round the table. That is the difference in approach we get from the Scottish Conservatives depending on which Government they are addressing. So does the Secretary of State think that the Scottish Tory approach is shameful; shameless; the standard utterly hypocritical politics of the Scottish Tories; or all of the above?

Grant Shapps

I will address the point about P&O, because the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) also raised it. I am surprised that they cannot see the glaring and obvious differences in the disgraceful treatment of P&O workers. For a start, it fired its workers and brought in foreign workers at below the minimum wage—I would have thought that was a fairly obvious difference. Secondly, no one’s wage is being cut here. Thirdly, let me remind the hon. Lady that in the industry we are talking about train drivers have a median salary of £59,000 and rail workers have a median salary of £44,000, which compares rather favourably with that of nurses, who have a median salary of £31,000, and care workers, whose median salary is perhaps £21,000. No one is talking about cutting salaries; everybody here is trying to get the modernisation that could secure the future of our railways, and it is a great pity to see respected Opposition Front Benchers trying to mislead the public by somehow suggesting that this is something to do with the P&O situation when it is entirely separate and different.

The other point worth quashing is the idea that somehow we have not provided a negotiating mandate or that we have told Network Rail not to negotiate. That is simply not true. Network Rail has a negotiating mandate and is able to negotiate. It is negotiating on a package of measures that includes more than 20 areas of reform, which are deeply technical and require not only the input but the work of the employers to negotiate. In return for these reforms lies the route to better salaries—higher pay. But I want to ensure, once and for all, that we quash the idea that our railway workers are poorly paid in this country; they are not.