A staggered start…

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It has all been rather stop-start for Parliament, since it rose for Christmas in the third week of December, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE

THIS MONTH IN PARLIAMENT – JANUARY 2021

First, Parliament was recalled on 30 December so that MPs and Peers could debate and ultimately approve the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill, following the deal brokered with the EU.  During the debate Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West) raised the plight of coach operators and lack of Government support. Her contribution is here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-12-30/debates/a286e65a-333c-4f5d-b028-0245b3ae58c6/CommonsChamber

And then the Commons was recalled on 6 January to hear the measures being taken to cope with the new variant of Covid-19 that was sweeping the country, which of course resulted in another lockdown likely to continue until March at the earliest.

Parliament will continue to hold some debates “virtually” and the Standing Orders to allow Select Committees to operate in this way until the end of April were amended.  As an additional measure, debates in Westminster Hall have been suspended for the time being. 

There is no facility to hold those debates virtually – there must be a limit to how far technology can be rolled out in what is an ancient building in much need of refurbishment itself.  But there is also the problem of space in Westminster Hall where MPs would be seated more closely together. 

During the debate about the suspended sittings, it was pointed out that MPs joining debates in the main Chamber via Zoom were unable to seek to intervene – they would normally do so by standing during a debate and asking for whoever was speaking to “give way”.  Difficult, if not impossible, when joining via a screen. 

So life in Parliament remains anything but normal in these strange times.

In the Chambers

The flavour of the weekly Wednesday session of Prime Minister’s Questions has of course reflected the latest Covid-19 related developments including the new lockdown measures, the content of food parcels, roll out of the vaccination process, and the tragic milestone of 100,000 deaths recorded within 28 days of a positive test, but also the loss of records from the Police National Computer, and congratulations to the newly inaugurated Joe Biden as US President.

In a Point of Order raised on 11 January, Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) raised the problem of lorries being held at ports thereby causing delays to filling supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland.  You can read his Point of Order here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-11/debates/AC3AC6E7-1C98-46EE-86CE-FFD9D86720AD/PointsOfOrder

In one of the last Westminster Hall debates before their suspension, former Labour Transport Minister, John Spellar (Warley), during a debate on the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality sector, gave the coach industry as an example of an industry overlooked by the Covid-19 protection measures: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-11/debates/FCAB0ADE-7DE7-4C5D-8A14-D74F0D5B760C/HospitalityIndustryGovernmentSupport

At oral questions to DEFRA Ministers on 21 January, in response to Bambos Charalamous (Enfield, Southgate), Secretary of State George Eustice noted that the flow of lorries across the short straits was at 6,000-7,000 per day, and whilst this was less than normal levels, it was rising: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-21/debates/91518EAC-1F0F-4101-870C-6A410AC1CF45/FoodImportsAndExports

On 25 January the Commons approved some amendments to the Drivers’ Hours & Tachograph (Amendment) Regulations.  The purpose of the Regulations was to reflect changes made as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. 

Safety measures such as maximum driving time and rest breaks were maintained.  The main thrust of the Regulations was to ensure that rules applicable to journeys between the UK and EU member states were enforceable.  In the short debate, Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) paid tribute to the haulage sector.  You can read the Commons debate here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-25/debates/7f932df6-8b5b-4504-80a5-b4e9d5c8b1f7/DRIVERSHOURSANDTACHOGRAPHS(AMENDMENT)REGULATIONS2020

The House of Lords approved the Regulations on 26 January.  During the short debate Lord Berkeley was concerned that the numberplate recognition software used in the UK was no longer compatible with that used in Europe and feared many infractions would go unnoticed.  The full debate is here:

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2021-01-26/debates/8CCB7D72-D6FC-47D6-AF5C-D42585DE1D96/Drivers

At oral questions to Transport Ministers on 28 January Alan Brown (Kilmarnock & Loudoun) said that much needed to be done to de-carbonise transport and hoped a forthcoming Bus Strategy would emulate the Scottish Government-EU initiative which saw the development of the first hydrogen double-deckers, and hoped for an announcement on timing of these initiatives: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-28/debates/DC45D478-702D-47DE-AAF0-1F2BE15BC6CD/TransportDecarbonisation

Natalie Elphicke (Dover) asked for better traffic management to be deployed in the Dover area following the delays to Channel crossings and the resulting problems caused by queueing lorries: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-28/debates/B151774E-70B7-4E24-9A48-2745893A9E11/TrafficManagementKent

Neil Hudson (Penrith & The Border) hoped that additional funding would be made available for rural bus services: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-28/debates/18A185FD-EB87-4EF7-8A54-7C64ABE4BF61/AccessToBusServicesCumbria

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) asked what measures were being taken to support hauliers transporting goods to/from the EU, and invited Minister Rachel Maclean to join him for breakfast at the Road King truck stop on the A5: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-28/debates/F587929A-F0DB-423B-9DDB-F1B8430C98AD/SupportForHauliersTransportingToAndFromTheEU

Grahame Morris (Easington) asked how coach operators and manufacturers were being supported during the pandemic, making the point that most of the Government support was not accessible to coach operators: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-28/debates/580CD5AB-C672-439F-81E1-BF7316F47F7A/Covid-19SupportForCoachOperatorsAndManufacturers. Later in the session Scott Benton (Blackpool South) made the case for the coach sector and its importance in local tourism: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-28/debates/9C7F38AE-D783-4329-9963-C6A0F66FAD9B/TopicalQuestions

Committee corridor

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee will meet with Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, on 3 February to question him on his performance.

On paper

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

Grahame Morris asked if finance holidays could be extended to coach operators: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-30/132861

Bill Wiggin asked about the take up of grants for domestic electric vehicle charging points: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-16/130650

Damian Hinds asked about the transition to electric vehicles in rural areas: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-17/131235

Gavin Newlands asked about driver welfare provisions in Operation Stack and Operation Brock: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-30/132991. A similar question was asked by Lord Roberts of Llandudno: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-12-30/HL11694

Emma Hardy asked about the ECMT permit process: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-17/131434

Clive Betts asked about private investment in hydrogen production facilities: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-01-06/133661

Simon Jupp asked what support would be given to coach operators converting from Euro V to Euro VI: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-30/133304

Baroness Randerson asked about continued Covid-19 support to the bus industry: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-01-18/HL12238

Baroness Randerson asked about financial support to the coach sector: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-01-20/HL12375

Elsewhere

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