Back in the fray

After their summer holidays – interrupted by Afghanistan – MPs have returned and there are changes in the Commons Chamber, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE, in ITT Hub’s unique industry summary


MPs and Peers returned to their green and red benches at the beginning of September after their annual summer hols.  Of course, there was plenty to occupy their minds during their break – Coronavirus, Afghanistan (a debate on which had seen Parliament recalled for a day on 18 August), and most recently an acute shortage of HGV drivers which in the final week of September led to queues at petrol stations and closed forecourts. 

Both Houses are starting to look a little more normal, if that’s the right word. 

The days of the virtual debate have gone, so the large screens with the faces of MPs looming down on the benches have been taken down.  Some of the perspex screens around the Clerks seem to still be in place and I’m sure there remain bottles of hand sanitiser dotted around the building.  

But I was interested to see that in welcoming the return to almost normality Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has updated the Rules of Behaviour and Courtesies.  This alerts MPs to how they should dress, act and behave in Parliament. 

A smart dress code for one thing – no jeans or chinos, sports clothes, tee-shirts or trainers please.  Remember when Labour’s Tracy Brabin caused a stir by showing a bit too much bare shoulder when her dress slipped down whilst she was at the dispatch box?  Perhaps there is a definition of how much flesh should be visible. 

It is a privilege to serve your constituents, said Sir Lindsay, and that privilege should be reflected by wearing smart business attire. 

Something else Sir Lindsay has outlawed is “rowdiness” in the form of singing and clapping.  Quite right too, in my humble opinion. 

As an observer of Parliamentary goings on for several decades now, the sound of clapping in the chamber is akin to nails being scraped down a blackboard.  Stop it now. Don’t do it.  Let’s get back to the days when to show their delight MPs waved their Order Papers aloft with a shout of “hear hear”. 

And personally I think the requirement to don a collapsible top hat if you raise a point of order during a division should be reinstated.  Much more civilised and Parliamentary, if you ask me.

In the Chambers

At the first Prime Minister’s Questions session after the Recess, Ben Lake put up a marker about the problems likely to be caused by a shortage of HGV drivers and called for improved facilities to attract more people to the sector:

This was echoed at the weekly Business Statement on 9 September by Sir John Hayes who called for the Government to ensure driver training could go ahead.  Rather than answer the question, or refer the issue to the Transport Secretary, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, for some reason, reminded the House that Sir John Hayes’s constituency in Lincolnshire was well known for growing pumpkins:

HGV driver training was raised the following week by Jim Shannon.  In a slightly more helpful answer than that received the previous week, the Leader of the House said that DfT was aware of the problem and had measures in place:

On 7 September Charlotte Nichols introduced a Bill that would create a passenger charter for disabled passengers setting out their rights, the legal obligations of transport operators, complaints procedures, passenger assistance schemes and accessibility requirements.  In practice the Bill may not reach the statute book but is likely to gain some support across all Parties.  Speaking about her Bill, Charlotte Nichols sited the difficulties faced by a number of disabled people.

In Westminster Hall, Ben Bradley secured a debate about the economy of the East Midlands and called for further investment in transport infrastructure, a sentiment echoed by a number of other MPs who participated:

At the regular transport questions session on 9 September disruption to the supply chain due to the shortage of HGV drivers was a key issue.  Grant Shapps referred to the relaxation in drivers’ hours, measures to increase the availability of tests, but at that stage resisted the calls for immigration to help ease the problem: Rachel Hopkins asked a question about the impact of the relaxation of driver’s hours on road safety. Grant Shapps said that the relaxation allowed greater flexibility rather than a longer period behind the wheel:

In a later question about the impact of restrictions on travel companies, Wendy Chamberlain asked whether the measures to allow more driver tests to be undertaken would also apply to PCV drivers, and asked for large companies such as Stagecoach to carry out in house tests:

Lee Rowley asked what steps the Government was taking to encourage people to use public transport post covid-19:

During the topical questions session Sam Tarry asked about the manufacture of low emission buses:

On the continuing theme of HGV driver shortage, the Speaker allowed Jim McMahon an emergency debate about the problem.  Responding, Grant Shapps said it was a global problem and outlined the measures the Government was taking including increased number of tests and relaxation of drivers’ hours. Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Huw Merriman asked about HGV driver pay levels and overnight facilities for drivers: The House of Lords held a similar debate later the same day with Baroness Vere of Norbiton repeating the need for improved conditions for drivers and doubting the answer lie with recruiting drivers from EU countries who had similar difficulties with driver shortages:

At questions to the Business Energy & Industrial Strategy Secretary, Andy Carter asked what steps the Government was taking to support hydrogen production in the UK:

In the Lords, Lord Rooker asked about the potential of hydrogen as an alternative to battery powered vehicles. Baroness Vere of Norbiton said that the Government recognised the benefits of hydrogen power and was focussing on the use in heavy vehicles such as lorries, buses and coaches:

Committee corridor

The House of Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee launched an inquir into how labour and trade issues was affecting the food supply chain. The deadline for receipt of written evidence is 15 October:

On 22 September the House of Commons Transport Select Committee held a one-off evidence session with Grant Shapps about the work of DfT.  In this wide-ranging session the Secretary of State was questioned on the full range of issues including public transport use, HGV shortages, and bus services:

The House of Commons Treasury Select Committee took oral evidence from the CBI, TUC and a Professor from the LSE about jobs and economic growth post-Covid 19.  During this session, once again, the shortage of HGV drivers was raised:

On paper

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

Andrea Jenkyns asked a series of questions about HGV driver testing and shortages, and parking facilities:;;

Dan Jarvis asked about the protection of transport workers who were immunocompromised from Covid 19:

Peter Aldous asked whether the Renewable Fuel Transport Obligation could be extended to cover hydrogen from nuclear energy:

Daniel Zeichner asked how much of the covid 19 recovery grant for buses had been paid to each local authority:

Steve Reed asked about the availability of local authority-provided community transport schemes:

John Redwood asked what proportion of the bus fleet was low-emission:

Tim Farron asked how much money had been spent on research assessing the impact of the end of free movement on the haulage industry:

Sir Desmond Swayne asked whether the period for which foreign lorry drivers could drive in the UK could be extended:

Alex Cunningham asked whether Driver CPC could be reviewed in the light of the shortage of HGV drivers:

Kerry McCarthy asked about wage levels in the HGV sector:


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