Transcript: Transport Secretary Harper refuses to deny Government interference at TSC

Ben Bradshaw: You cannot claim that you did not see the splash on Monday in The Daily Telegraph claiming that No 10, at the last minute, has added driver-only trains as an issue to the dispute. Was that report incorrect?
Mark Harper: Mr Morris asked me a question about a report today, which I have not seen. I was specifically—
Ben Bradshaw: It was on Monday. Secretary of State, did you not see this report? Is it true?
Mark Harper: I have been very clear. I was asked to facilitate a new offer—
Ben Bradshaw: Has the issue of driver-only trains been introduced by No 10 or the Treasury at the last minute? It was not on the table before.
Mark Harper: On reform, we are very clear that we need to see—
Ben Bradshaw: No. Answer the question.
Mark Harper: We are very clear that we need to see reform—
Ben Bradshaw: Answer the question.
Mark Harper: On the specifics about detail, detailed negotiations are taking place between employers and trade unions. It is not the Government’s role to micromanage the detail of the reform, but we have been clear that we do need to see workforce reform—
Ben Bradshaw: Train operators and the unions both say that this issue has been inserted in the last week by No 10 or the Treasury, which has scuppered a deal that was on the table. That is what both the train operators and the unions have told us.
Mark Harper: On that point about scuppering a deal that was already on the table, when I met Mr Lynch, he made it very clear to me that he had not had an offer on the train operating side of the house. There had been an offer on Network Rail. I met the trade unions and was asked to facilitate an improvement. We then saw—
Ben Bradshaw: That wasn’t my question. You are not answering the question.
Mark Harper: Well, I am telling you what has been going on. There was then an improved offer to the unions from Network Rail, and an offer then came on the train operating side of the house that the unions could consider. I regret that they rejected that offer. I think it would have been better if they had continued talking to try to hammer out some detail.
Ben Bradshaw: If you will not answer the question, why do you think that Scotland and Wales have settled?
Mark Harper: There have not been preconditions. Yes, there needs to be reform—I have been very clear that you have to have reform to drive the savings—and I am telling you what is going on. I am not going to provide a running commentary on things that newspapers set out.
Ben Bradshaw: You are avoiding the question. The public want to know what is going on here. They have a right to know if No 10 intervened to stop a deal by adding driver-only trains at the last minute, which is what the companies—not the unions—say happened.
Mark Harper: No-one is trying to stop a deal; quite the reverse. I met with the trade unions, and I felt that that conversation was important. Actually, we then saw an improved deal coming on both sides—for both the train operating companies and Network Rail. We are trying to reach a deal here; it is the trade unions—the RMT—who have rejected it. I think that is regrettable. I have said that it is very disappointing from the point of view of passengers. I am very clear: I want to see a deal reached. I think we have made a fair—
Ben Bradshaw: You could have avoided the Christmas chaos. No 10 have now guaranteed Christmas chaos, haven’t they?
Karl McCartney (Chair): Let the Secretary of State finish, and then we are moving on.
Ben Bradshaw: He’s not even answering the question.
Karl McCartney: Ben, everybody can watch and the record will show that you have asked your questions and the Secretary of State has answered them.
Mark Harper: I am answering the—
Ben Bradshaw: The public will have seen that you haven’t answered the question.
Mark Harper: I am answering the question. You might not like the answer, but there is a fair and reasonable offer on the table and I think it is regrettable that the RMT is going ahead with strikes rather than putting that offer to its members.
Ben Bradshaw: Shameful!
Committee member Ben Bradshaw quizzes Transport Secretary Mark Harper about the industrial relations situation at the House of Commons Transport Committee on 7 December. Source: Hansard