Pauline Latham – 2022 Speech on Derby’s Bid to be the Home of Great British Railways

The speech made by Pauline Latham, the Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire, at Westminster Hall on 27 April 2022.

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 the Member for South Derbyshire (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.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

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.

Mrs Latham

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.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)

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?

Mrs Latham

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 the hon. Member for Strangford (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.

Jim Shannon

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?

Mrs Latham

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—

Lilian Greenwood

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.

Mrs Latham

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.

Lilian Greenwood

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.

Mrs Latham

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 the right hon. Member for Derby South (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 the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), my hon. Friends the Members for Burton (Kate Griffiths) and for Bosworth (Dr Evans), and the hon. Member for Nottingham South (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 the Member for Ashfield (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.