The problem of 24-hour news and wanting to get major announcements out at the first opportunity have been an irritant for Ministers in recent years. And now, matters have come to a head, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE, in ITT Hub’s unique industry summary
THIS MONTH IN PARLIAMENT – JUNE 2021
We were all hoping that by now most of the restrictions we have experienced due to Covid-19 would have been removed.
Our freedom day was supposed to be 21 June but the rise in infections caused the Government to keep restrictions in place for a further 4 weeks allowing more people to receive their vaccinations. In line with previous relaxations the Government was due to confirm, or otherwise, the relaxations on 14 June giving society a week to prepare.
Under the Ministerial Code, which is overseen by the Prime Minister, major announcements are required to be made to Parliament in the first instance.
This requirement has been an irritant for Ministers in recent years, given the growth of 24-hour news broadcasting and social media, as Ministers crave getting their announcements out at the first opportunity to meet or beat other events, and to gain major traction during the day.
The announcement on 14 June about the retaining of Covid-19 restrictions was trailed heavily and was formally announced in a Downing Street news conference before MPs were told in the House.
This prompted one of the severest rebukes to the Government by The Speaker that I have seen in my 30+ years of monitoring what goes on in Parliament.
And, if the Ministerial Code has any relevance at all, Sir Lindsay Hoyle was quite right in his rebuke.
I well remember then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott going to the House at 10pm one evening to announce that he had brokered a deal to save the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, gaining considerable brownie points with then Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, and MPs across the whole House. That, as they say, is the way to do it.
In the Chambers
At Prime Minister’s Questions on 23 June, Mark Pawsey urged the Government to proceed with a new gigafactory at Coventry Airport which was key to meeting the Government’s switch to zero-emission vehicles: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-06-23/debates/BA80A265-D450-45EF-91FD-4A3D82359DD8/Engagements
Still on PMQs, on 30 June David Linden referred the Prime Minister to Bullet Express, a haulage company in his constituency, which was experiencing severe shortage of HGV drivers. He asked the Prime Minister to add HGV drivers to the UK shortage occupation list: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-06-30/debates/6BC257CF-7BFF-41D3-A5FC-E397BBA03908/SpeakerSStatement
At the weekly Business Statement on 17 June, William Wragg called attention to the effect on public transport of people continuing to work from home: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-06-17/debates/B0CEB693-BDAE-479F-9863-07951208415C/BusinessOfTheHouse
The following week, Danny Kruger spoke about the importance of coaches for the tourism sector, and referred to Devizes having been awarded coach-friendly status, and Gavin Newlands alerted the House to the shortage of drivers in the haulage industry: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-06-24/debates/9DD091ED-51B7-4E58-991C-DAB62D0E63EF/BusinessOfTheHouse
On 10 June the House of Commons debated the aviation, travel and tourism industries, with a heavy steer on the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions. Alex Sobel, Shadow tourism Minister, referred to the impact on the coach sector and how it had not received the same level of support as other areas of the hospitality sector: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-06-10/debates/0922563F-114D-4D63-86F5-707A8DC2B434/AviationTravelAndTourismIndustries
On 16 June, Felicity Buchan secured a debate in Westminster Hall about the Government’s transport decarbonisation plan. A number of references were made to the need to invest and bring on-stream electric buses, notably from Alan Brown who said that hydrogen was an obvious solution for HGV and buses and spoke about the investment made and vehicles built by Alexander Dennis.
Nick Fletcher was concerned that new electric buses were being introduced in cities with older more polluting vehicles being used in non-urban areas, and called for the infrastructure to support electric buses being rolled out more widely. You can read the full debate here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-06-16/debates/EDDF6913-0F44-43A4-A87B-CA58136D7904/TransportDecarbonisationPlan
In Westminster Hall on 22 June, Nickie Aiken called attention to the recovery of Central London businesses post Covid-19. This prompted another comment about the impact of working from home on public transport: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-06-22/debates/978193C8-8090-49E2-94F4-9947F812EBDA/Covid-19RecoveryOfCentralLondonBusinesses
At the regular oral questions session to DfT Ministers on 24 June, Mark Fletcher said he would be launching a survey about bus services in Bolsover and hoped for a meeting with Ministers to discuss lost bus services and routes: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-06-24/debates/54E80E3E-87A1-4778-A96B-5AE285931D5E/RuralAreasTransportConnections
On the same theme, Mary Kelly Foy asked what was being done to help restore bus services to isolated communities. Responding Rachel Maclean referred to the Bus Back Better strategy and rural mobility fund bids:https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-06-24/debates/C9C1618E-1250-491F-9F89-691EF3FF7209/BusServicesIsolatedCommunities
At the start of the topical questions session Grant Shapps confirmed that a milestone was about to be reached on the number of rapid charging facilities available; Cat Smith asked what more could be done to save struggling bus and light rail companies; Mary Robinson called for more facilities to be made available for lorry drivers where they could safety take their required rest breaks: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-06-24/debates/E2928059-B51E-4DDC-9648-8857A6292B2E/TopicalQuestions
In a Westminster Hall debate on 24 June about Covid-19 support for Aviation, Tourism & Travel Industries, Gavin Newlands spoke at length about the problems faced by the coaching sector and referred to Baroness Vere’s comment that coaching was “essential”: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-06-24/debates/64ED01D3-7E0C-4670-B6B2-4DB2722C29FD/Covid-19SupportForAviationTourismAndTravelIndustries
The House of Lords debated an interesting question on 28 June from Lord Moylan who asked about the possibility of investing in a maglev rapid mass transport system to improve connectivity across the north of England. Responding, Baroness Vere of Norbiton said there were many technological issues to consider and the Government had decided that conventional rail would best suit the needs of the area.
A number of Peers raised the issue of electric vehicles and AI which could also be developed. You can read the full exchanges here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-06-28/debates/4D66CD67-3B09-4E5D-8D7D-FA08C1C8396B/NorthOfEnglandRapidMassTransportSystem
The House of Commons Transport Select Committee took evidence on 9 June from Chargepoint, Shell and National Grid (https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/2327/html/) and Transport for the North, Transport for London and Leeds City Council (https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/2328/html/) as part of the inquiry into Zero Emission Vehicles and Road Pricing. All had ambitions to see a wider roll-out of new vehicles but were mindful of the need for the supporting infrastructure.
Among the many dozens of written answers published each day, the following may be of interest:
Lord Bencathra asked about the amount of Government money had been made available to local authorities inside and outside London for transport-related purposes: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2021-06-08/HL843
Stephen Crabb asked what measures the Government was taking to address the backlog of HGV driving tests: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-05-26/7768
Stephen Crabb asked about driver shortages in the haulage industry: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-05-26/7767
Kerry McCarthy asked about the adequacy of lorry parking facilities in Kent and the rest of of England: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-06-04/10214
Dan Jarvis asked about support for the coach industry: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-06-07/11556 and for the transport industry in general: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-06-07/11555
Charlotte Nichols asked whether a grant could be made available to haulage companies to pay their drivers to train for Category C licences instead of introducing apprenticeships: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-06-04/10687
John Redwood asked about measures to train more HGV drivers: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-06-08/12054
Sir Greg Knight asked about the use of solar power for HGVs: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-06-14/15174
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