If it’s not one thing, it’s another. As the year draws to a close Parliament’s precious legislative time has been eaten away by Covid while the Prime Minister is having a torrid time. Yet the little-reported issues with ‘dastardly deeds’ highlight something else, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE, in ITT Hub’s unique industry summary
THIS MONTH IN PARLIAMENT – DECEMBER 2021
This time last year who would have thought that Parliament’s precious time would still be totally dominated by Covid-19 and all that goes with it?
The recent emergence of the latest variant – Omicron – has seen infection rates soar to unprecedented rates, and the Government, scientists and armchair experts are all having their say.
The Prime Minister suffered a huge rebellion in securing approval for the latest round of Covid-19 measures and had to rely on Labour’s votes to win the day.
But it was the reports of a so-called “party” which took place a year ago in Downing Street that really put the skids under normal business. Was it a “party” or just some colleagues cracking open a bottle or two?
Then there came the leaked footage of a practice press conference which resulted in the scalp of the Prime Minister’s spokesman, and a trickle of stories of other “parties” in and around Whitehall last December. Investigations are underway.
However it was the feisty Deputy Speaker, Dame Elenor Laing (pictured) who caught my attention this month. As the controversial Nationality & Borders Bill reached its final stage in the Commons there were reports of dastardly deeds.
Opposition MPs were said to be hiding in toilets to escape the Whips and delay the final vote, and the SNP blocked the aye lobby and attempted to raise points of order.
This was too much for the Deputy Speaker who bellowed at the SNP to “SIT DOWN”. I don’t recall a time when a Speaker and his, or her, deputies have had to shout at MPs and demand they resume their seats quite so often as has been the case in the last few months.
Parliament has now risen for the Christmas Recess and will return to welcome a new Liberal Democrat MP who secured the North Shropshire seat following the by election caused by the resignation of the beleaguered Owen Paterson.
I can’t see the Prime Minister having a particularly Happy Christmas……
In the Chambers
At Prime Minister’s Questions on 8 December, John McNally asked for progress with securing the manufacture of 4,000 zero-emission buses. No orders had been placed and production lines in Falkirk, Ballymena and Scarborough were desperate to get started: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-12-08/debates/45C3B261-14F7-4DDC-A7D8-EB8A76097CFB/Engagements. A similar comment was made on 9 December by Gavin Newlands in a Westminster Hall debate about electric vehicles: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-09/debates/21120970000001/ElectricVehiclesTransitionBy2030. At questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland on 15 December James Davies also asked for progress with delivering a zero-emission bus fleet: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-15/debates/1008FC2D-AF9C-4056-9820-C5CD8ED41DD2/Cross-BorderTransportConnectivity
At the weekly Business Questions session on 2 December, Andrew Selous called attention to delays at DVLA which was hampering HGV drivers to have their licences renewed: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-02/debates/A4715ABE-60CD-4104-B1AF-765177BD3452/BusinessOfTheHouse
During questions to Treasury Ministers on 7 December, Chris Elmore asked what was being done to ensure the supply chain held up in the lead up to Christmas. Responding, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that drivers’ hours rules had been relaxed, late night deliver restrictions and the use of MOD’s vehicle examiners were being used to increase HGV testing capacity. https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-07/debates/29C9D986-2B0C-40AE-9163-F30A5A9E83E4/UKPortsPreventionOfDisruptionOverChristmasPeriod
On 8 December the Opposition held a debate on the Rail Investment and Integration Plan. Robert Largan called for greater integration between rail and bus services citing the Hope Valleu Explorer bus pilot scheme: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-08/debates/760F5D9C-557F-4914-BC26-24F83DF0600D/RailInvestmentAndIntegratedRailPlan
A statutory instrument to increase the number of HGV test slots available as part of a package of measures to help address the shortage of HGV drivers was approved by the House of Lords on 7 December, and the House of Commons on 13 December: Commons on 13 December: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-12-14/debates/65BCA4B4-A84E-48AA-9CD0-C26BEE910AA3/MotorVehicles(DrivingLicences)(Amendment)(No5)Regulations2021 and: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-13/debates/ba430745-f51e-4317-ac6a-d216127b76e8/DraftMotorVehicles(DrivingLicences)(Amendment)(No5)Regulations2021.
On the final day of business for the Commons, 16 December, DfT Ministers answered oral questions. David Warburton asked what measures were being taken to address delays at DVLA. Grant Shapps assured MPs that the backlog had been cleared with applications being turned round in 5 days, despite a number of MPs still experiencing difficulties in their constituencies: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-16/debates/5C7A62FF-F136-469E-BA67-9BDB3AC0A23B/DriverAndVehicleLicensingAgencyDelays
Bus manufacturing was raised by Liz Twist with a number of MPs giving examples of manufacturers in their constituency which still had no orders for zero-emission buses placed. In contrast, Scottish order books were “full to bursting” which contradicted comments made at Prime Minister’s Questions on 8 December: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-16/debates/4E93A4DD-F31D-4903-8BE7-2C60F083EE77/Zero-EmissionBuses
Chi Onwurah asked what measures were being taken to support affordable bus travel in the north east of England: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-12-16/debates/9F4E35F6-04F9-4F7F-B139-55911E5D68BF/AffordableBusTravelNorth-EastEngland
HGV driving tests also occupied some time in the Lords during October with a question from Baroness Randerson. In response the Whip answering for Lady Vere set out the various measures including a description of the various secondary legislation being brought forward: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-12-01/debates/59E774E0-E3EB-440D-8668-5D7F7D57BA7E/HGVDrivingTests
On 6 December Earl Attlee prompted a debate on HGV driving licences on the basis that the temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours rules did not sufficiently address the shortage of tests and consequently, drivers available:https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-12-06/debates/6E6A1347-485E-40CE-990B-806A4EA8260E/DriversHoursAndTachographs(TemporaryExceptions)(No4)Regulations2021
Among the many dozens of written answers published each day, the following may be of interest:
Navendu Mishra asked for a statement on progress with delivering zero-emission buses: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-11-29/83508
Rachael Maskell asked what measures were being taken to support the development of electric HGVs: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-12-02/86133
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi asked how many migrant workers had been granted HGV licences: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-12-03/86613 A similar question was asked by Darren Jones: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-12-07/88819
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi also asked about the impact on HGV drivers of the extended drivers’ hours: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-12-03/86614
Justin Madders asked about the merits of extending the bus recovery scheme beyond the current financial year: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-12-01/85306
Gavin Newlands asked about the costs involved in low/zero-emission schemes: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-11-30/84385
Rachael Maskell asked about the proportion of electric HGV and buses: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-12-02/86134
Alan Brown asked about the roll out of hydrogen fuelling stations: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-12-08/89611
Lord Bassom of Brighton asked about the number of unsold vocational HGV test slots: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-11-29/HL4452
Lord Howarth asked if the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation would be reformed to include hydrogen: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-12-03/HL4679
Keep up to date with Government and local authority announcements here:
- Department for Transport: Department for Transport – GOV.UK
- Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – GOV.UK
- Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy: Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – GOV.UK
- Local Government Association: Home | Local Government Association