Transport continues to be a hot topic in Westminster: And it will remain so…

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In the first of a series of monthly columns monitoring the key political developments and announcements that affect us all in the industry, Pauline Gaunt OBE, looks at the month in parliament

THIS MONTH IN PARLIAMENT: SEPTEMBER 2020

In the Chambers

MPs and Peers returned to their desks, or in some cases their screens, at the start of September after a Summer Recess like no other.

The new working arrangements in Parliament are still quite unfamiliar to those who are used to following the proceedings, and the disjointed voices and huge faces looming down into the Chambers must be disconcerting for those on the Front Benches.

Not surprisingly, Parliamentary debate and activity has been dominated by COVID-19 and more recently by the UK Internal Market Bill. 

This will clearly continue well into next year and the Parliamentary calendar will be further under pressure as a result of The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s (pictured) severe rebuke to the Government for not allowing the Commons a say on some of the more significant Covid-19 restriction measures.

But nonetheless, MPs and Peers are still  raising issues of concern and transport continues to be a topic raised on a regular basis.

While the Chambers are rarely packed to the gunwales, it seems very odd to see, for example, the Wednesday lunchtime Prime Ministers Questions session with just a socially-distanced smattering of MPs in attendance. 

You should never expect to hear anything new at PMQs given the amount of preparation which goes into the weekly session, and it doesn’t take a great amount of political nouse to anticipate which issues are likely to be raised. Labour Leader Sir Kier Starmer has used his time raising the Covid-19 response, particularly track and tracing.

“While the Chambers are rarely packed to the gunwales, it seems very odd to see, for example, the Wednesday lunchtime Prime Ministers Questions session with just a socially-distanced smattering of MPs in attendance”

During the first PMQs session on 2 September Angela Richardson (Guildford) referred to the redundancies announced by Alexander Dennis and the MP paid tribute to ADL and its “fantastic machines”, and hoped that the Government investment in green buses would be of benefit to ADL in the future.  You can read the exchange here: Engagements – Hansard

The fate of ADL was also raised the following day in the weekly Business Questions, this time by Douglas Chapman, the MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, and in response Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg also referred to the investments into passenger transport being made by the Government. You can read the exchange here: Business of the House – Hansard

At PMQs on 30 September, the Prime Minister confirmed the Government’s commitment to accelerating the introduction of electric, low emission and quieter vehicles in response to a comment by Ben Spencer (Runnymede & Weybridge) about air quality and noise improvements brought about by lockdown. 

The Prime Minister also indicated that he was planning to visit the new hydrogen transport hub in Redcar.  You can read the exchange here: Engagements – Hansard

Business Questions in the House of Commons is a much under-rated weekly Parliamentary event.

Its purpose is for the Leader of the House to announce the forthcoming week’s Parliamentary business and MPs take the opportunity to ask for time to be made for debates on all manner of issues, usually constituency related or matters on which they hold a personal interest. 

For example, on 3 September Fay Jones, MP for Brecon & Radnorshire, called for the Welsh Government to offer the same level of support for the bus and coach sector as offered in England, citing the example of Williams Coaches which had seen a dramatic loss in business due to the pandemic. You can read the full exchange here: Business of the House – Hansard

On 24 September Ian Paisley (North Antrim) looked forward to the increased development of hydrogen technology, hoping that Northern Ireland could be the UK hub for such technology to build buses, HGVs and cars. See here: Business of the House – Hansard

At the regular House of Commons transport questions, a number of issues related to the bus, coach and haulage sector were raised.  In particular, a number of questions were raised about the impact of Covid-19 on the bus and coach sector, and the supply chain. 

You can read the full exchanges below:

During the “topical questions” session, ie where MPs can raise matters without having given prior notice, Wera Hobhouse (Bath) asked for an update on the introduction of hydrogen bus towns and hydrogen hubs. 

Secretary of State, Grant Shapps, referred to the 4,000 zero emission buses due to come on stream and said the Government would continue to work with local authorities on improving local air quality. 

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk & Malton) suggested that the charging network was a barrier to the greater introduction of electric cars.  Lisa Cameron (East Kilbridge, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) asked when the Government would make a further announcement on audio-visual announcements on local bus services. You can read these exchanges here: Topical Questions – Hansard

On 10 September there was a wide ranging debate in the Commons about the impact of Covid-19 on tourism, and a number of MPs from all across the UK made passionate speeches about the devastating effect on coach companies. Tourism: Covid-19 – Hansard

Over in the Lords, former Transport Minister, Baroness Hayman asked an oral question about electric vehicles, referring to an LGA report which set out the benefits in terms of economic recovery and job creation opportunities.  During the exchanges there were calls for improved charging facilities and battery performance. Electric Vehicles – Hansard

Committee corridor

Many of the Select Committees are conducting their evidence sessions as ‘virtual meetings’, given the difficulties of social distancing in some of the smaller Committee rooms. 

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee is continuing with its inquiry ‘Coronavirus and the implications for transport’ and has taken oral evidence from TfL, the unions, the aviation sector, and DfT. You can read more about the inquiry, including transcripts of oral evidence, here: Coronavirus: implications for transport – Committees – UK Parliament

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into “Employment and Covid-19”.

Oral evidence has been taken from hospitality and leisure sectors, retail and commerce interests, skills training and the transport sector including CPT, Rail Delivery Group, Campaign for Better Transport, an Airlines UK. You can read more about the inquiry, including transcripts of oral evidence, here: Employment and COVID-19 – Committees – UK Parliament

On paper

Each day, several dozen written answers are given to Questions raised by MPs and Peers.  Below you can find links to a selection of the transport-related answers:

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) asked a number of questions about electric vehicle charging points (Written questions and answers – Written questions, answers and statements – UK Parliament) including one about the system in The Netherlands: Written questions and answers – Written questions, answers and statements – UK Parliament. Stuart Anderson (Wolverhampton South West) also asked about the adequacy of electricity supply: Written questions and answers – Written questions, answers and statements – UK Parliament

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) asked about the role of hydrogen passenger vehicles in de-carbonising transport: Written questions and answers – Written questions, answers and statements – UK Parliament

Elsewhere

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