Although Parliament’s work is currently paused (Prorogued) ahead of the Queen’s Speech on 11 May, there’s a full month of work in April to be examined, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE, in ITT Hub’s unique industry summary

THIS MONTH IN PARLIAMENT – APRIL 2021

In the Chambers

Both Houses of Parliament reconvened after the Easter Recess a day earlier than planned in order that tributes could be paid to HRH Prince Philip. 

And, sadly, two prominent and popular Parliamentarians also passed away during April: Baroness Shirley Williams who had a long and  distinguished political career, and Dame Cheryl Gillan who had been the MP for Chesham & Amersham since 1992.  Both also received tributes from their Parliamentary colleagues.

In better news, former Transport Minister Gillian Merron was introduced into the House of Lords on 15 April, taking the title Baroness Merron, of Lincoln in the county of Lincolnshire.

I was also amused to read that Baroness Boothroyd is under investigation by the House of Lords’ standards commissioner for failing to attend a “valuing everyone” course, which is compulsory for all Peers to attend.  (So far the course is optional for MPs.).  Baroness Boothroyd had a good excuse – she is currently self-isolating at home following heart surgery.  Remembering the way the redoubtable Betty Boothroyd dealt with MPs when she was the Commons’ Speaker, she could probably lead the course herself!

The Covid-19 still dominates the political agenda but in April was somewhat overshadowed by mounting controversy about political lobbying, access to Ministers, and most recently the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat.

On 21 April, Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) had a debate in Westminster Hall about the promotion of electric vehicles.  Whilst the debate focussed mainly on cars, there were a number of points raised which were relevant to the wider automotive sector, namely availability and reliability of charging points.  Jacob Young (Redcar) referred to investment in hydrogen cell buses and the hydrogen hub in Teesside.  You can read the debate here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-04-21/debates/CC6CF118-02FE-4FFC-BE59-919542FAD52E/ElectricVehiclesPromotion

Still in Westminster Hall, on 27 April, Munira Wilson (Twickenham) secured a debate on air pollution in London.  She urged the Government to push TfL and DfT for a greater commitment to the introduction of electric buses.  The debate is available here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-04-27/debates/42F8034A-2C92-4361-9588-657732FA41C5/AirPollutionLondon

Over in the Lords, there was a debate on 21 April about action to achieve net zero carbon emissions.  There were a number of calls for greater investment in low emission buses across the country.   You can read the debate here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-04-21/debates/9211C497-9577-4D22-BE83-1C777C1CE7F5/Net-ZeroCarbonEmissions

On 27 April, Lord Berkeley asked about the electrical power requirements needed to enable reliable hydrogen and battery availability.  Lord Tunnicliffe noted that HGVs would be more difficult to decarbonise due to their weight.  You can read the exchanges here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-04-27/debates/29673275-A902-4F16-B3C8-FB0A56AF0D0F/TransportZeroCarbonTarget

DfT Ministers answered oral questions in the Commons on 29 April.  Robert Largan (High Peak) hoped that cross-border and rural bus services would not be forgotten as Greater Manchester moved towards a system of local bus franchising.  Sam Tarry, Opposition spokesman, called for proper funding for bus manufacturers, such as Mellor, which was producing low emission vehicles.  You can read the exchanges here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-04-29/debates/0B57711F-BD9C-4C20-9211-B64EB7045449/RuralTransportConnections

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross) asked about bus services in the Highlands of Scotland, which was a devolved matter.  Grant Shapps urged him to remind the Scottish Government of his concerns about withdrawn services.  You can read more here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-04-29/debates/7C7EEEC7-85AF-4F0E-B8F6-9AF47D10547A/HighlandBusServicesNetZeroTarget

During a question about decarbonisation of transport, Gavin Newlands (Paisley & Renfrewshire N) quoted the comments made to the Transport Select Committee (see “Committee Corridor”) about investment in green buses in Scotland and urged the Secretary of State to match that investment: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-04-29/debates/406ED4CA-0E60-4BF7-931B-18BF79A2E7D7/TransportDecarbonisation

Katherine Fletcher (South Ribble) asked for an assurance that local communities would have a say in the planning of local bus networks as set out in the National Bus Strategy: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-04-29/debates/07E26FBA-3DD9-4EDB-B657-78E896130A8B/TopicalQuestions

At the close of business on Thursday 29 April Parliament was Prorogued, which means that the work of Parliament is paused and will resume with the Queen’s Speech on 11 May.  The final piece of business of the Parliamentary Session is the reading of the Prorogation Speech. MPs are summoned to the House of Lords to hear the speech, read in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, which sets out what the Government has achieved and what legislation has been passed during that Parliament.  The speech included this paragraph about investment in infrastructure:

“My Government prioritised investment in infrastructure and world-leading scientific research and skills. To unleash productivity and improve daily life for communities across the country, my Ministers brought forward proposals to transform rail, road, bus and aviation infrastructure and modernise the planning system. Legislation was passed to accelerate the delivery of gigabit capable broadband.”

The full speech can be read here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-04-29/debates/EF718975-20BA-4E1D-AC8C-2139F9557E6A/HerMajestySMostGraciousSpeech

Committee corridor

Following publication of the National Bus Strategy, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee held a one-off session at which it took oral evidence from Graham Vidler, CPT; John Carr, ATCO; Mark Kemp, Hertfordshire County Council; and Baroness Vere of Norbiton.  Graham Vidler was keen to ensure that when the Covid-19 restrictions eased, buses should be allowed the same element of freedom as other sectors and would be able to operate to their full potential.  He also defended the commercial market.  You can download the transcripts of the evidence sessions here: https://committees.parliament.uk/event/4202/formal-meeting-oral-evidence-session/

On 28 April the Committee held an introductory session for its inquiry into zero emission vehicles and road pricing.  The academics giving evidence included Claire Haigh, Greener Transport Solutions, and Ed Birkett, Policy Exchange.  You can download the transcripts here: https://committees.parliament.uk/event/4205/formal-meeting-oral-evidence-session/

On paper

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

Lyn Brown asked a series of questions about Large Goods Vehicle drivers including this one about trends in test pass rates: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-03-23/174057

Stephen Hammond asked about the criteria to be used to define model networks in the National Bus Strategy: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-04-12/178672 and whether a cost benefit analysis had been carried out on the value of bus franchises and enhanced partnerships: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-04-12/178668

Lilian Greenwood asked about the criteria used to define a socially necessary bus service: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-04-19/183125 and how the Government would implement low bus fares: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-04-19/183124

Natalie Elphicke asked about the adequacy of road transport provision for international freight traffic in East Kent: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-04-29/914926

Steve Baker asked what the Government was doing to restore confidence in the domestic coach sector following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions:http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-04-27/188100

Lord Bradshaw asked about the cost of providing low emission buses as set out in the National Bus Strategy: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-04-15/HL14957

Elsewhere

Keep up to date with Government and local authority announcements here:

Read more: Last month in Parliament – March 2021