Labour has called on the Government to slash Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s pay by £2,400 after the East Coast Main Line debacle.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald moved the motion in the Commons, telling MPs that Mr Graying had “fallen desperately short” in his handling of the franchise agreement with Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC).
Last week, Mr Grayling announced that services on the line would be overseen by the Department for Transport (DfT) from June 24 after it emerged that VTEC had “got their bid wrong” and could no longer operate the franchise.
In a scathing attack, Mr McDonald accused the Transport Secretary of being “asleep at the wheel” and said he was “incapable of being direct with Members of Parliament and the public alike”.
First opposition debate today is a vote of censure in Chris Grayling for his handling of the East Coast fiasco. This little used but well established parliamentary device seeks to test whether the Commons supports a Govt Minister in the carrying out of their responsibilities pic.twitter.com/CxISyVneiO— Labour Whips (@labourwhips) May 23, 2018
He said: “Stagecoach knew they wouldn’t meet their revenue targets weeks after taking over the East Coast in March 2015; the company was in constant dialogue with the department about it.
“The Secretary of State has been in post since July 2016 and must have known about this for that period of time. Why did he do nothing? Hasn’t this Transport Secretary been asleep at the wheel?”
He added: “The strategic vision embodies a Secretary of State’s approach to his ministerial brief and to announcements in this House, smoke, mirrors, ambiguities, jargon, technicalities, empty aspirations and discourtesy.
“Like his time at justice, this Secretary of State must hope that he be moved on before his wrecking ball approach to decisions at the DfT reveal their true horrors.
“This Secretary of State seems to be incapable of being direct with Members of Parliament and the public alike.
“Given his track record, is it any wonder that no-one takes the East Coast partnership seriously? Where on earth did he come up with it? In the back of a taxi on the way to Parliament to deliver his statement?”
VTEC is the third private operator to fail to complete the full length of a contract to run services on the East Coast route.
GNER was stripped of the route in 2007 after its parent company suffered financial difficulties, while National Express withdrew in 2009.
Services were run by the DfT for six years until VTEC took over in 2015.
The franchising model is totally broken, it's finished, it's a dead parrot, it is no moreShadow transport secretary Andy McDonald
Mr McDonald went on to welcome the move to bring the East Coast back under control of the DfT, telling MPs the franchising model is “totally broken, it’s finished, it’s a dead parrot, it is no more”.
Mr Grayling dismissed Labour’s motion, turning to Tory backbenchers to say it was “a lot incoherence”.
He said: “I’m not going to go through line by line the process I’ve been through in the last few months to reach what I believe is the right position for taxpayers and passengers and employees.
“I have been struck by how little Labour understands how the process for a situation like this has to be managed and indeed how little they appear to understand the financial structure of franchising or rail laws or the fact that Government has to operate within the legalities of the contracts and the laws that exist.”
The motion to slash Mr Grayling’s pay by £2,400 was set to be voted on by MPs on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr Grayling later said he is not intending to permanently renationalise the East Coast main line.
He said: “It’s not my intention that this is a permanent arrangement, but what I am saying – and said all along – is when we move ahead with the full future shape of the LNER we’re not going to do everything exactly in the same way because what’s been done in the past on this railway hasn’t worked and I don’t intend to do it again.”
Labour’s Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) said: “The Conservatives are ideologically constipated on free markets to the extent that they cannot see the reality of our rail network and what it needs.”
Labour said it was seeking to dock £2,400 from Mr Grayling’s salary as it is the cost of a season ticket to London from his Epsom and Ewell constituency.
Paula Sherriff, Labour MP for Dewsbury, said: “I’m quite worried that if we continue to say to the Secretary of State that we’ll cut his pay if he continues some of the incompetencies, that he will actually turn out to be on less than the minimum wage by that point.”
Tory Simon Hoare (North Dorset) said: “If there is any ideology that underpins this debate, it is the vindictiveness of some pettifogging deduction of a ministerial salary.
“(But) an ideology that British Rail was marvellous, that nationalised is best, that the private sector doesn’t know what it is doing.
“It is going backwards and we all know that trains going backwards are not the ideal way of making progress in transport terms, unless of course you are shunting into the sidings, a mode and direction of travel which I hope the Labour Party continues.”