A fine Mr Speaker, indeed

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The word of the month, it turns out, is ‘shenanigans’ as various rows have rumbled through Parliament, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE, in ITT Hub’s unique industry summary

THIS MONTH IN PARLIAMENT – NOVEMBER 2021

I may have said this before, but in my ever so ‘umble opinion, Sir Lindsay Hoyle is the finest Speaker since the formidable Betty Boothroyd held the position for most of the 1990s.  And boy is the current House of Commons testing his patience, and that of his deputies.

Much of early November was dominated by the story of former Cabinet Minister Owen Paterson and whether or not he breached the rules surrounding political lobbying.  The beleaguered Mr Paterson fairly swiftly walked away from his job as MP, but the sorry tale has once again reopened the barely-healed sleaze sore, and raised once again the whole issue of whether MPs should take second jobs. 

The issue rumbled along at the weekly PMQs and Business Statement for the first couple of weeks of November and came to a head on 17 November when The Speaker had to tell the Prime Minister to, in effect, sit down and shut up. 

Whilst every now and then an errant backbencher will incur the wrath of The Speaker and get a telling off, it is quite unprecedented for a Prime Minister to receive such a robust instruction.  To be honest, the most senior of our politicians should know better.

And just the following day, Deputy Speaker, Dame Eleanor Laing, had to call out MP Zarah Sultana for describing the Transport Secretary and Leader of the House as “dodgy”.

Dame Eleanor gently suggested that Ms Sultana use a different form of words to make clear she disagreed with the issue of building on airfield sites.  There were any number of ways her views could have been expressed but Ms Sultana declined to do so, saying “dodgy” was appropriate in the circumstances. 

Again Dame Eleanor tried to help but Ms Sultana stood steadfast, looking increasingly uncomfortable and unable to dig herself out of the hole she had created.

Then on 23 November, Stella Creasy MP stood to speak in Westminster Hall whilst cradling her baby son. 

This prompted The Speaker to agree to review the Rules of Behaviour and Courtesies in the House of Commons. A difficult one this. 

Yes, Parliament must be seen to be family friendly etc etc but as a place of work, is it appropriate for babies to be taken into debates.  Would it be appropriate for a teacher to take his or her child into a maths lesson?  Would you expect the person behind the till in Tesco to have their baby on their lap whilst passing your tins of beans across the scanner?  Answers on a postcard please!

In the Chambers

At Prime Minister’s Questions on 3 November Jack Brereton asked the PM to look at the possibility of local bus franchising in the Potteries.  Responding, the PM said he was a bus “fanatic” and urged the MP to take up the issue with the Transport Secretary.  https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-11-03/debates/DA26E685-87E2-430D-AD81-919688AE9400/Engagements

On 1 November at questions to the Department for Education, David Warburton drew attention to the difficulties being faced by parents in getting children to school due to the lack of school transport, particularly in rural areas: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-11-01/debates/B9F16D67-D423-42A5-B9FE-A0AE83419C07/TravelToSchoolRuralCommunities

At questions to the Treasury on 2 November Bridgit Phillipson was concerned about the supply chain and getting goods delivered in time for Christmas as a result of HGV driver shortages: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-11-02/debates/2A241653-8DF0-4529-BFFF-3CA8B535A65E/SupplyChainIssues

In a debate in Westminster Hall about COP26 and Air Pollution, Barry Sheerman suggested there was more research needed on the use of hydrogen power for smaller vehicles.  Dave Doogan, SNP Agriculture and Rural Affairs spokesman, said that whilst many city centres enjoyed electric buses, older more polluting vehicles were used where service profitability was marginal: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-11-02/debates/073B487A-769A-4BDA-8F79-A09170F00FD6/COP26AndAirPollution

On 4 November Grant Shapps and the Ministerial team from DfT answered oral questions in the Commons.  Some MPs were unable to reach the Commons Chamber due to demonstrators outside Parliament, much to the irritation of The Speaker.  Former Minister Andrew Jones was there, and called for the air quality benefits of electric buses to be extended to his constituency of Harrogate.  Daniel Zeichner referred to discussions during the passage of the Bus Services Act 2017 about the use of audio visual announcements and hoped for progress to be made:  https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-11-04/debates/01398D96-F699-4DA3-91B2-17512D1B4CA1/BusServices

Emma Lewell-Buck asked for a progress report on measures to address the HGV driver shortage.  Grant Shapps said that more than 1,000 people were having their licence applications approved each week: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-11-04/debates/CCBA6769-6B6B-42AC-86FA-18D03CCF7C6E/HeavyGoodsVehicleDriverShortages

Robert Goodwill called on Ministers to guarantee that orders for the target of 4,000 zero emission buses would be placed with UK based manufacturers.  Chi Onwurah asked for bus fares to be levelled down to encourage bus usage: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-11-04/debates/18920416-7762-4B85-BC40-10180E9AD126/TopicalQuestions

On 24 November Liz Twist had a debate in Westminster Hall about bus services in the north east.  Passenger numbers were still down on pre-pandemic levels and the end of the  bus recovery grant in March 2022 could mean services became unviable.  Problems of getting to work and appointments were exacerbated by driver shortages and increasing traffic congestion.  Responding, Minister Trudy Harrison referred to the investment going into bus development and the Back Bus Better strategy which would look to ensure bus travel was a real alternative to the car: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-11-24/debates/9EB5B5AD-97C0-4A23-A2DA-A1B78D5D4D88/BusServicesNorth-EastEngland

Committee corridor

On 2 November the House of Commons Transport Select Committee published its report on Smart Motorways calling for the roll out to be paused until safety concerns could be addressed.  You can read the full report here: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/153/transport-committee/news/158468/transport-committee-pause-smart-motorway-rollout-until-safety-can-be-delivered-and-assured/

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee began hearing oral evidence as part of its inquiry into the Freight Supply Chain.  On 24 November the Road Haulage Association, Logistics UK, Cold Chain Federation, Unite, and Driver Require gave oral evidence.  You can read the transcript here: https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/3078/pdf/

On paper

Among the many dozens of written answers published each day, the following may be of interest:

A written statement was made updating details of work between DfT and the Department for Levelling Up on reforms for lorry parking in order to support the logistics and supply chain: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Lords/2021-11-08/HLWS367/

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi asked about awareness and use of bus gates: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-10-25/62820

Ruth Cadbury asked about the number of women HGV drivers: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-10-27/64640

Rachael Maskell asked about support for bus services during the pandemic: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-10-28/65461

and the merits of local authorities running their local bus services in the event of an operator going into administration: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-10-28/65462

Mike Kane asked about hydrogen fuel filling points: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-11-17/76702

Lord Taylor of Warwick asked about changes to the Driver CPC to encourage more drivers back to the sector: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-10-26/HL3462

Lord Browne of Belmont asked about measures to support the tourism industry: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-10-26/HL3431

Elsewhere

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