Keeping up standards: Speaker intervenes as MPs grapple with terminology

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Tentative signs of normality are starting to be seen, as the first Westminster Hall debates (with social distancing in place) restarted. Meanwhile, truck, bus and coach all received scrutiny from MPs and Peers, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE, in ITT Hub’s unique industry summary

THIS MONTH IN PARLIAMENT – MARCH 2021

In the Chambers

Apart from the obvious continuing efforts to thwart Covid-19, matters such as the Budget, women’s safety, and Policing, have occupied large amounts of Parliamentary time during March. 

With an early Easter this year, MPs and Peers departed Westminster for their Easter Holiday last week. 

By the time they return in the middle of April more of the Covid-19 restrictions will have started to be relaxed, including the reopening of non-essential retail. 

There were also signs of a tentative return to normality in the Commons in mid-March when debates resumed in Westminster Hall, albeit with social-distancing etc being applied.  So, hopefully, we are getting there.

In reading through Hansard compiling this report, I noticed that Mr Speaker had to remind several MPs – and not just the recent intake – to use appropriate Parliamentary parlance, ie speaking through the Chair and not referring to Ministers as “you”. 

I mention this simply because this usually happens soon after a General Election when there is a new clutch of baby MPs learning the ropes.  You’d have thought they would have got to grips with the terminology by now.  Wouldn’t you?!

At Prime Minister’s Questions on 17 March, Geraint Davies asked the PM to instruct DfT Ministers to engage with DVLA unions to avoid strike action due to concerns about Covid-19 safety. You can read the exchange here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-03-17/debates/71B145C7-8537-4F38-9941-0CF0850C2435/Engagements

In the days following any Budget statement several days of debate follow in the House of Commons where MPs quiz Treasury Minister’s on their economic and fiscal policies. 

On 8 March, Greg Smith brought plight of the coach sector into the debate highlighting the huge losses experienced and the debts that companies have built up.  You can see his remarks here (at 9.25pm):  https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-03-08/debates/C9D0D02D-90F8-4116-AA23-5E7E459E0DDA/BudgetResolutionsAndEconomicSituation

The follow day, Ian Paisley and Sam Tarry urged the Government to “turbocharge” its investment in new buses to make half of new buses fuelled by hydrogen, with Sam Tarry also referring to the amount of job losses in the bus and coach sectors (4.55pm): https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-03-09/debates/507B79B1-90D6-4F98-9C06-886A53C6C00B/BudgetResolutionsAndEconomicSituation

By convention, the House of Lords does not trouble itself too much with financial matters and just holds a “take note” debate following The Budget. 

This took place on 12 March.  Baroness Doocey was disappointed that The Budget did not give more support to the tourism industry and specifically mentioned coach tour companies. You can read her remarks here (11.55am): https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-03-12/debates/7B8D47C7-DE8F-4C19-9198-8100A136BBBF/BudgetStatement

During oral questions to Treasury Ministers on 9 March, Alexander Stafford asked what measures were being taken to join up transport services. 

Responding Jesse Norman referred to the funds that had been made available to bus operators since the start of the pandemic. You can read the exchange here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-03-09/debates/774D5A54-3CE4-46B7-9B25-DAAF7E07AD63/TransportConnectivity

Greg Smith again referred to the debts built up by coach companies and the Chancellor referred to the grants that can be made available via local authorities:  https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-03-09/debates/AB9DD536-739D-4459-AFBF-E7E545EF25FC/Covid-19SupportForBusiness

Thursday 11 March saw the regular question session to Transport Ministers. 

An interesting set of questions were raised about increasing the use of electric vehicles, where Sam Tarry referred to zero emission buses.  You can the exchanges here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-03-11/debates/DB1D5FA0-35F0-434B-9E01-EE808113F61D/ElectricVehicles

On 15 March Grant Shapps published the long awaited National Bus Strategy by way of an oral statement to the Commons. 

The Strategy received mainly positive reactions from MPs, with the Secretary of State noting that he “did not mind who runs these services: I just want them to run properly” when quizzed about the measures in the Bus Services Act 2017.  You can read the full exchanges here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-03-15/debates/23CE4D18-4636-40CD-B20F-56BE8F8E14EC/NationalBusStrategyEngland

The House of Lords heard the statement on 18 March when again it received support: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-03-18/debates/EFBE8A7A-53D6-495C-86A3-4915BC7E01ED/NationalBusStrategyEngland

Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords, Baroness Randerson, prompted a debate on 18 March on the Drivers’ Hours & Tachographs (Temporary Exemptions) Regulations. 

Her debate was on a “motion to regret”, which is Parliamentary speak for Baroness Randerson having a number of concerns about the Regulations, which are already in force.

The purpose of Regulations was to deal with the situation over Christmas/New Year and increased the number of hours that could be worked. However, she believed these Regulation should now be reviewed: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-03-18/debates/E2C47D43-B7D2-4810-A38A-0B5CC6940D35

Committee corridor

On 18 March the House of Commons Transport Select Committee held an evidence session looking at the impact of coronavirus on the coach sector. 

Witnesses included CPT, an operator, Transport and Tourism Ministers.  Further information is here: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/153/transport-committee/news/152904/impact-of-coronavirus-on-the-coach-sector-evidence-session/.

Transcripts of the sessions are here: https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/1956/pdf/ and here: https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/1957/pdf/

On paper

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

Grahame Morris asked whether the coach sector could be included in Additional Restrictions Grant: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-02-24/158014. And also: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-03-22/172975

Kerry McCarthy asked whether financial support could be made available to haulage companies setting up offices in EU countries: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-02-23/157026

Harriet Harman asked about the additional steps required to allow specialist music hauliers  to resume business: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-02-22/156240

Kerry McCarthy asked about progress meeting the target for 4,000 low emission buses coming on stream: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-03-01/160561

Julian Lewis asked what discussions had taken place with French authorities concerning the withdrawal of Roaming Permits for heavy loads: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-03-03/162503

Tom Tugendhat asked whether the consultation on smart motorways should include provisions for unloading coaches in the case of an emergency: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-03-15/168970

Emma Hardy asked about the impact on hauliers of the restrictions on drivers since the en of the transition period: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-03-17/170724

Lord Berkeley asked about the use of bus lanes by powered and unpowered “cargo bikes”: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-02-22/HL13363

Lord Foster of Bath asked about cabotage rules for touring performers and orchestras: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-02-22/HL13363

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