‘Outrage’ and Coronation Street: Two very different debates in Parliament

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A very heated exchange in the House of Commons earns a ban for a Scottish MP, while on-screen tussles in the nation’s ‘favourite soap’ contrast the range of debates this month in Parliament. Transport-related matters cover road pricing, government support for the bus and coach industries, Brexit and problems for freight at Dover, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE

THIS MONTH IN PARLIAMENT – DECEMBER 2020

In the Chambers

There have been very encouraging developments during December on the continuing fight to control Covid-19.  The roll out of what we all hope will be the first of many vaccines is well under way, and testing of schoolchildren should help in the spread among young people, which has caused concern in the latest spike.  That said, the tier system and arrangements for hugging granny at Christmas continued to attract criticism. 

So it was almost a relief to see Brexit occupying considerable amounts of Parliamentary time as the negotiations towards a deal, or no deal, continue. 

There was some drama when the UK Internal Markets Bill, dubbed the “Brexit Bill’ cleared the Commons.  Drew Henry, the SNP’s business spokesman in the Commons could not contain his anger and shouted “THIS IS AN OUTRAGE”, refused to take his seat, grabbed the Mace and stomped off towards the doors. 

Deputy Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton (who some may remember as an erstwhile transport minister) quite rightly suspended Mr Henry from the Commons.  But he got his 15 minutes of fame. 

Drew Henry MP (SNP Business Spokesman) grabs the mace. The mace is the symbol of royal authority and without it neither House can meet or pass laws. Dating from the reign of Charles II the mace is a silver gilt club about 5ft long. Everyday the House sits, the mace is carried into the chamber in front of the Speaker’s procession. The mace is placed on the table of the House, unless the House is in committee in which case it is placed underneath the table

Tampering with the ceremonial Mace is of course not a new pastime for disgruntled MPs and a young Michael Heseltine gained notoriety for doing exactly the same thing in 1976. 

On this occasion the Labour Government was attempting to pass legislation to nationalise parts of the aircraft and shipbuilding industries. 

When the first vote on the Bill went to the Government on the casting vote of The Speaker, some Labour MPs broke into a rendition of “The Red Flag”.  

This was too much for Michael Heseltine who took hold of the Mace and attempted to swing it above his head.  It was the song, apparently, that prompted his outburst and he later apologised.

Another highlight in Parliament during December was a nicely lighthearted adjournment debate celebrating the 60th anniversary of the arrival of Coronation Street on our screens. 

The debate was prompted by former actress Tracy Brabin (Batley & Spen) who appeared in the long running soap for three years.  It is always nice to see a friendly debate, with amusing asides whilst recognising the important issues that have been tackled by Corrie over the years.  The debate can be read here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-12-02/debates/2E82D9A6-B1FD-4591-8ACC-742740EAB69B/CoronationStreet60ThAnniversary

Tracy Brabin, who played Tricia Armstrong, gives Ken Barlow ‘what for’ in Coronation Street. Now the MP for Batley and Spen, Tracy Brabin appeared in the soap between 1994 and 1997. She became an MP in October 2016, following a by-election after the murder of Jo Cox.


But on to transport, the Prime Minister was accused at Prime Minister’s Questions on 16 December by John McNally (Falkirk) for not supporting the bus manufacturing sector. 

The Prime Minister said that there was not another member of the House who had built or caused to be built, as many buses has he had, and repeated the Government’s commitment to supporting the manufacture of 4,000 zero-emission buses.  You can read the exchange here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-12-16/debates/DD262F24-3FDA-4121-8C31-B91705445160/Engagements

At the weekly Business Questions on 10 December, Ian Paisley (North Antrim) suggested that it was no longer appropriate to subsidise the purchase of diesel via BSOG and that instead there should be incentives for operators to invest in zero-emission buses.  You can  read his comments here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-12-10/debates/A0D5EB3C-E00C-42CF-BBEC-0D5CAD8AEE28/BusinessOfTheHouse

At Treasury oral questions on 1 December Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) asked the Chancellor what support was being given to the UK’s hydrogen fuel cell use and economy.  In response the Exchequer Secretary (Kemi Badenoch) referred to the £23m hydrogen for transport programme.  You can read the exchanges here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-12-01/debates/B3A86693-DBCE-4DF1-BE21-0D98533BC2C8/HydrogenTechnologyFiscalSupport

At Transport oral questions on 2 December there was a set of exchanges about decarbonisation of transport. Gavin Newlands (Paisley & Renfrewshire North) said there was little evidence of the money to support the development of zero-emission buses.  You can read more here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-12-03/debates/BED92B0C-9E5D-4C92-9E24-8D7DCF6A808B/TransportDecarbonisation. Roger Gale (North Thanet) asked what more could be done to abandon Euro 6 vehicles and promote a move straight to hydrogen vehicles: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-12-03/debates/3B00C757-D38C-4926-96AC-C7E3A0907AC3/HydrogenFuelInTransport

Later in the session David Morris (Morecambe & Lunesdale) asked what was being done to support hauliers in the lead up to the end of the transition period.  Responding, Minister Rachel Maclean said there was a readiness campaign being run together with advice sites and literature which had been translated into 13 languages: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-12-03/debates/6DCD8208-69D8-4B6D-900E-F3806CDC6B16/HauliersEndOfTransitionPeriod

Peter Aldous (Waveney) hoped that the importance of rural bus services would be recognised in the forthcoming national bus strategy: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-12-03/debates/715A9842-44C4-4735-8682-5E5466E4F92F/TopicalQuestions

In Westminster Hall on 10 December there was a wide-ranging debate on the coach industry. 

Those who contributed shared stories from their constituencies where local coach operators were facing catastrophic losses and potential closure, and that there had been little support from Government during the pandemic. You can read the debate here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-12-10/debates/20121042000001/FutureOfTheCoachIndustry

Just before a Recess, a Recess Adjournment debate takes place in the Commons. 

The purpose is for MPs to say that the House cannot possibly rise for a Recess before it has had a debate on this or that, but in practice is an opportunity for MPs to raise any matters of local concern. 

On 17 December Matt Rodda (Reading East) paid tribute to all those working in the transport sector for their role in keeping the country moving during the pandemic: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-12-17/debates/30EDA914-5283-4A7C-B2A1-593F8AD610D1/ChristmasAdjournment.  David Amess (Southend West) was disappointed that Arriva had withdrawn a new eco-friendly service in Southend and had replaced it with older more polluting buses. https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-12-17/debates/2C4DD699-C5BF-4E08-9EEF-7F6864EFD0A1/ChristmasAdjournment

Over in Westminster Hall that afternoon Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) prompted a debate on the UK hydrogen economy. 

He said the UK was well placed to become a world leader in the technology and had been impressed by Wrightbus’s hydrogen bus development. Making several contributions was former transport minister John Spellar. You can read the full debate here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-12-17/debates/DC53B27D-0753-4AF3-8934-563C3D679AC5/UKHydrogenEconomy

Increasing the use of hydrogen was raised a number of times, with calls for more government support

Over in the Lords, there was an oral question on 16 December by Lord Bradshaw on the national bus strategy and measures to combat congestion. 

During the exchanges, buses minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton turned down an invitation by Lord Snape to join him on a journey on the longest urban bus route in Europe, the number 11 National Express route in Birmingham, to visit the Regional Transport Coordination Centre. 

Baroness Randerson hoped that the Government would ensure that the public were reassured that buses were safe to use: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2020-12-16/debates/F6F271D0-6BFB-4015-AB49-61A081A60A91/NationalBusStrategy

On 17 December Baroness Randerson asked an oral question about delays at ports and airports and the impact on the freight industry, and said that the current delays being experienced at Dover could have been avoided with proper preparedness. 

Lord Bradshaw asked about facilities for lorry drivers during the delays. The full exchanges can be read here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2020-12-17/debates/31C21D90-DB19-43AB-B6EE-49E7650D22AF/FreightIndustryDelays

Committee corridor

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee announced an inquiry into Major Transport Infrastructure Projects: Appraisal and Delivery. 

Written evidence is being accepted until 15 January 2021.  Full details are here: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/887/major-transport-infrastructure-projects-appraisal-and-delivery/

The Transport Committee is also looking at the implications of Zero-Emission Vehicles and the shift towards Road Pricing.  Evidence is being accepted until 17 February 2021.  Full details can be found here: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/900/zero-emission-vehicles-and-road-pricing/

The Transport Committee is looking at the implications of Zero-Emission Vehicles and the shift towards Road Pricing.  Evidence is being accepted until 17 February 2021. 

The House of Commons Treasury Select Committee is looking at the long term economic effects of Covid-19. This is the next stage in a wider inquiry.  Written evidence can be submitted until 29 January 2021: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/224/economic-impact-of-coronavirus/

The House of Commons Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Committee held an evidence session on 8 December as part of its inquiry into Business & Brexit Preparedness.  Among those giving oral evidence was the SMMT: https://committees.parliament.uk/event/2750/formal-meeting-oral-evidence-session/

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee published its report on 14 December following its inquiry into Employment & Covid-19.  There were no specific recommendations relating to transport and the general thrust of the report was to call for additional support for businesses.  The Government is due to publish its response in February: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/480/employment-and-covid19/publications/

On paper

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

Marco Longhi asked about the cost benefit analysis of hydrogen and electricity as a means of powering motor vehicles: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-11-24/120153; and http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-11-24/120151

Kerry McCarthy asked about the timescale of the introduction of zero-emission buses and the allocation of Government funding: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-11-30/122613

Ian Paisley asked how the Government was promoting the use of hydrogen in transport: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-11-25/120869

Charlotte Nicholls asked what loans had been made to major bus operators in response to the effects of Covid-19: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-11-30/122919

Tom Tugendhat asked if Covid BSOG payments to operators could be expedited: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-02/124236

Following on from the Westminster Hall debate on the coach industry, Alexander Stafford asked some further questions: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-04/125319 and Grahame Norris asked about inter-departmental discussions about support to the coach sector: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-14/128933

Jim Shannon asked about the regulation of “mega lorries”: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-07/126037

Cat Smith asked whether bus operators in receipt of Covid-19 support could amend ticket validity: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-09/127593

Following the Westminster Hall debate on the hydrogen economy, John Spellar asked some additional questions about deployment of hydrogen buses: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-12-14/128869

Baroness Coussins asked about guidance to hauliers in the lead up to 1 January: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-11-26/HL10743

Viscount Waverley asked about Kent access permits for hauliers: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-11-26/HL10792

Earl Attlee asked about the impact of the tyre ban on older large vehicles: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-11-23/HL10563

Baroness Randerson asked about long term financial support for bus operators: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-12-03/HL11090

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