Where to start…

Party-Gate or Garden-Gate? While No. 10 should have been heaving a collective sigh as Covid restrictions eased, the headlines have been dominated by stories about booze brought in by the suitcase-load for a garden party. Despite this, transport received MPs’ attention, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE, in ITT Hub’s unique industry summary

THIS MONTH IN PARLIAMENT – JANUARY 2022

Quite!  Exactly where do we start?

2021 drew to a close with the omicron variant causing disruption across all aspects of daily life, but there was light on the horizon.  Gradually infection rates dropped, hospital admissions flattened, the vaccination programme continued. 

A Government which had grappled with an unprecedented set of issues brought about by Covid-19 would normally have been heaving a collective but guarded sigh of relief, hoping to be able to concentrate more efforts on the economy, the evolving issues with Russia, and not to be forgotten, Brexit.

It has not worked out that way, of course.  Stories of drinks parties across Whitehall Departments and in No 10 itself which took place when people were unable to mix has totally dominated the political and media agenda.  Sue Gray (a former colleague of mine going back many years) was tasked with having a look at what happened in the highest Government offices.

There are many questions that could be asked: Did the PM know he was attending a “party”?  What is a “party”?  Was it a sound judgement for the PM’s private secretary to send an email inviting colleagues to “bring your own booze” for drinks in the No. 10 garden?  Was a suitcase of drink really wheeled up Downing Street?  Did the Police at the gate have any suspicions”. And so on. 

As the PM battled on, the weekly PMQ session has been compulsive viewing, especially on 19 January when former Conservative leader candidate, David Davis, told the PM “…in the name of God, go”. 

On 24 January there was another extraordinary event over in the Lords Chamber when Lord Agnew, Minister of State for Efficiency & Transformation resigned at the despatch box and stormed out of the Lords after strongly criticising the Government’s failure to tackle billions of pounds worth of fraud in the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

Finally, after several days of delay, Sue Gray’s report was delivered to No 10 on 31 January, or rather a truncated version of her report.  Her conclusions did not make comfortable reading for anyone in the upper echelons of the civil service, or the Prime Minister.  

The Prime Minister’s statement to the House was a lively event, which even saw the SNP Leader in the Commons, Ian Blackford, told to leave the Chamber for inappropriate Parliamentary language.  There will be some changes made to the way No. 10 and the Cabinet Office function with the creation of The Office of the Prime Minister headed up by its own Cabinet Secretary.  I wonder if Sue Gray will throw her hat into the ring for that one?!

In the Chambers

At Prime Minister’s Questions on 12 January Jonathan Gullis said that a survey in his constituency (Stoke on Trent North) showed that 80% of respondents would travel by bus if services were improved.  A Bus Back Better bid for £90m had been made and he hoped that this would soon be approved: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-01-12/debates/CEFD521F-BECA-495E-8650-C4FF8E2C5428/Engagements

On 26 January, again at PMQs, John McNally asked the PM to confirm his commitment to securing funding for 4,000 zero emission buses: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-01-26/debates/5F56399B-B223-408A-A8EC-1BA001B62E4A/Engagements

At the weekly Business Questions on 6 January, Emma Lewell-Buck raised the issue of people being fined for alleged non-payment of the Tyne Tunnel toll: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-01-06/debates/3B17B141-F3A1-40A9-BF24-B88538598FF9/BusinessOfTheHouse

On 13 January, Bob Blackman drew attention to fines being imposed on drivers for use of bus lanes out of peak hours, including one bus lane which is a mere 39 metres long, and called for a debate on bus lanes and signage.  In the same session of Business Questions, Liz Twist called for a debate on the importance of bus services and how they could best be supported: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-01-20/debates/40C0F773-86E4-40BC-9F6C-CA182C4EA58B/BusinessOfTheHouse

On 12 January there was a debate in Westminster Hall about transport connectivity in Merseyside, prompted by Mick Whitley.  Bus services to and from the Wirral had suffered cuts and the Mayor, Steve Rotheram,  was looking to re-regulate bus services using the powers in the Bus Services Act 2017.  He also called on the Government to allow the creation of municipal bus companies.  https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-01-12/debates/5DBFDC32-ECAB-4D3E-B350-70E094FB8E99/TransportConnectivityMerseyside

On 13 January the chair of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee had a debate on the Committee’s report into Smart Motorways.  As well as safety concerns, there were also problems raised with retrofitting the existing motorway network. The Government has taken on the Committee’s concerns and paused the smart motorway programme. https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2022-01-13/debates/B68F7095-91C5-4251-9822-9FE5B133CC6F/TransportCommittee You can read the House of Commons Transport Select Committee’s report here: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/153/transport-committee/news/160214/smart-motorways-government-to-pause-rollout-of-alllane-running-schemes/

Similar points were raised in a Westminster Hall debate on the same topic later that day: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-01-13/debates/54466B1B-3524-40DB-AA6F-0544F868EAEB/SmartMotorways

Over in the Lords, on 19 January, their Lordships considered some regulations which updated various issues concerning driving licences, and removed the need for drivers of medium sized lorries and minibuses to take another manual test if they already held a manual entitlement in another category. 

The debate rather strayed from the purpose of the regulations, as is often the case, and a number of points about electric vehicles were also raised: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2022-01-19/debates/89508754-A180-42F7-BF2D-56680A431A95/MotorVehicles(DrivingLicences)(Amendment)Regulations2022

On paper

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

Drew Hendry asked a series of questions about Driver CPC procedures to combat driver shortages: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-12-14/92981

Rachael Maskell asked about the Bus Services Improvement Plan and its role in promoting low emission vehicles: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2021-12-16/94429

Sarah Atherton asked about HGV driver testing capacity in Wales: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2022-01-04/97179

Helen Hayes asked about price fixing in the truck manufacturing sector: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2022-01-06/99017

Nick Brown asked about the merits of harmonising bus concessions across the UK: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2022-01-18/106643

Vicky Foxcroft asked about funding for small bus operators to introduce audio visual announcements: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2022-01-17/105659

Mike Amesbury asked about the merits of the establishment of municipal bus companies: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2022-01-20/108612

Lord Truscott asked about the impact of emissions from diesel buses on public health: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2022-01-11/HL5349

Lord Bradshaw asked whether DfT’s budgetary changes would affect the amount of funds available for local bus service schemes: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2022-01-12/HL5357

Elsewhere

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