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Cumbrian MP and President of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron has today written to the Speaker of the House of Commons asking him to grant an ‘urgent question’ on the West Coast Main Line franchise. These questions and subsequent debates are usually granted sparingly and for major events like phone hacking.
He has previously called for Virgin Trains loss of the West Coast Main Line to be debated in Parliament, after a petition urging the Government reconsider the decision gained over 100,000 signatures but he has today stepped up his campaign.
Virgin Trains was stripped of the contract to run trains between London and Glasgow, which it has operated since 1997, last week when the Government awarded the franchise to FirstGroup. The contract was supposed to be signed this week but the delay has allowed Tim to ask for a 11th hour debate in parliament to allow MP’s to hold the government to account.
A customer of Virgin Trains set up the petition which now has over 164,272 signatures on it.
An urgent debate is called at short notice in the House of Commons on a subject of a "specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration". An MP may apply to the Speaker for an emergency debate under the rules of Standing Order No. 24. The Speaker usually grants no more than one or two a year and limits them to matters of national importance. They take place within 24 hours of being granted.
In his letter today he said:
'Dear Mr Speaker,
To ask the secretary of State for Transport if she will make an urgent statement on the West Coast Main Line franchise award to First Group.
Under standing Order Number. 24 can I petition your good offices to call for an urgent debate on the West Coast Main Line.
The decision to award the Minister’s franchise was made in the summer recess and did not allow Parliament the opportunity to debate the issue and hold the Government to account. I have been inundated by constituents concerned about the proposal to strip Virgin of the franchise and I wish to represent their concerns heard loudly and clearly to the government.
I believe the West Coast Main Line decision fulfils the criteria of being a "specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration".
I ask you to continue to stand up for Parliament and use your good offices to grant this urgent debate as soon as Parliament sits again after the recess.
Tim Farron MP'
The MP said: “I have written to the Speaker today to ask him to use his power to bring the Government to Parliament to explain their decision and allow us to debate this issue. Announcing the franchise decision in the recess makes a mockery of Parliament and I hope the Speaker uses his power to grant a debate. If he does I will use that opportunity to thank the over 150,000 people who have signed the petition already and try and get the answers that they need and deserve."