You’re on mute…

A dodgy internet connection, ‘making the speakership great again’, border controls in South Yorkshire, National Lorry Week and serious questions about government support for coach operators were all part of the mix in transport-related matters raised in Parliament in November, reports Pauline Gaunt OBE


It happens to us all….!

Towards the end of November, the news that the Prime Minister had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19 and therefore had to go into self-isolation meant that the PM’s attendance in the Commons had to be a virtual affair, including Prime Minister’s Questions on 19 and 25 November. 

Things were not all plain sailing however and in the middle of the PM’s statement on the Covid-19 Winter Plan on 23 November, the sound failed, much to what seemed to be the amusement of The Speaker who teased the PM asking if he had inadvertently hit the mute button. 

Fortunately Health & Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, was on the front bench and took over. 

A day or so later the PM remarked that it had been problems at the Commons’ end which had caused the problem, rather than with the system at No 10. But I’m not sure anyone really cared….

In the Chambers

I was somewhat astonished to learn at Prime Minister’s Questions on 4 November that a year had passed since Sir Lindsay Hoyle had been elected Speaker of the House of Commons!  Where did that year go? 

And who would ever have guessed then that the thorny subject of the UK’s exit from the EU would be replaced in the headlines by a world pandemic, with new words and phrases such as “furlough”, “social distancing” and “Covid-19” would trip easily off the tongue. 

Sir Lindsay’s predecessor, John Bercow, had been a controversial figure and I think all Parliamentarians and Westminster watchers would agree with the Prime Minister when he said on 4 November that Sir Lindsay had “made the speakership great again”.

At that first Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) of the month, in response to Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) the Prime Minister confirmed that DfT was engaged on the matter of a border control point in Don Valley to ease congestion in the south east and help trade flow through the country.

Border controls in the Don Valley, Sheffield? Well, it was brought up in PMQs…

Natalie Elphicke (Dover) urged the PM to ensure that Highways England progressed improvements to the A2 to improve access to Dover port.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) made the case that coach operators were part of the “excluded” businesses and were not able to take advantage of the full range of financial support as coach travel had not been classed as tourism or indeed leisure and urged the PM to set up a special fund similar to that announced for Northern Ireland. 

The PM asked for more details of her constituent’s needs.  You can read the exchange here:

On 25 November Navendu Mishra (Stockport) pushed for the extension of the Manchester Metrolink route from East Didsbury to Stockport town centre in the interests of reducing congestion and improving air quality. 

Later in the session, Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) hoped the PM could meet with South Pennine Community Transport to discuss the trial of new low-cost, low-carbon bus services which, she said, could transform rural bus services.   You can read both exchanges here:

On to the regular weekly Business Statement, and on 19 November Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) reminded the House that it was National Lorry Week and paid tribute to hauliers, specifically Cullimore, Smiths and Howard Tenens in her constituency, for keeping the country supplied with food, medicines, machinery and other goods during the pandemic.  Leader of the House, Jacob Rees Mogg, agreed that “HGV Heroes” was an appropriate term.  You can read the exchange here:

Cullimore Group: Named as a HGV Hero in the House of Commons

On 3 November the Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, prompted a short debate via an “Urgent Question” to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about the economic support available to individuals and businesses during and after the second lockdown. 

Caroline Johnson (Sleaford & North Hykeham) asked what could be done to support the coach tourism sector.  A & P Travel and Sleafordian Coaches in her constituency had worked hard to ensure their operations were covid-secure but noted that venues etc were able to receive funding, coach operators were not. 

Chief Secretary, Steve Barclay, referred to the extent of Government support available, some of which had been available to coach operators.  You can read the exchange here:

The lack of support for family-run coach operators was raised with the Government numerous times during the month

At questions to the Northern Ireland Secretary on 4 November, Jacob Young  (Redcar) said that Wrightbus was leading the way in producing hydrogen buses and called on the Government to invest further in the development of the hydrogen economy.  In response, Northern Ireland Minister, Robin Walker, agreed that Northern Ireland had proven expertise in the field and was looking at ways to secure specific funding for Northern Ireland.  You can read the exchange here:

On 10 November it was the turn of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Ministers to answer questions in the Commons.  Felicity Buchan (Kensington) urged the Government for increased investment into electric vehicle infrastructure, such as vehicle-to-grid charging.  Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said that £30m had been invested so far to support the technology and confirmed the Government would regulate next year so that consumers would benefit from smart charging.  You can read the exchange here: Later in the session, Paul Howell (Sedgefield) made the case for coach operators to be more adequately supported:

During a Westminster Hall debate on 10 November about support or SMEs during the pandemic, Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West) spoke at length about the plight of coach operators and suggested the Government had not understood the value of the sector to the economy, and referred to a number of operators and the difficulties they were facing. You can read the debate here:

On 25 November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the results of the Spending Review, which was of course very heavily influenced by the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Among the announcements was a commitment to invest in over 800 zero-emission buses:

On 12 November three Statutory Instruments (SI) were approved by the Commons relating to HGVs.  These were EU-related concerning type-approval, which would ensure the Government gives effect to commitments under the Northern Ireland protocol, and would enable unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the Great Britain market. 

Another SI removed a 4 metre vehicle height limit, and a third SI would allow the UK Government to set and enforce emissions targets in the same way it can for cars and vans. The full debate is here:

On 16 November the same SIs were approved by the House of Lords after a short debate which focussed mainly on cars.  Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate posed a number of questions to the Minister including whether the term Euro 6 would be replaced by UK 6.  The Lords debate is here:

A further batch of Statutory Instruments were considered in the Commons on 23 November relating to commercial traffic operating in Kent. 

Whilst the Instruments had cross-party support, Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) referred to a conversation with the Road Haulage Association and felt that the Government had not done enough to prevent delays at the end of the transition period, and was concerned that facilities for drivers held up in delays on the M20 would be inadequate.  You can read the debate here:

Over to the Lords and on 11 November, Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Baroness Randerson, asked what plans the Government had to improve rural bus services.  Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton referred to the forthcoming national bus strategy, and referred to the £20m rural mobility fund designed to support demand-responsive services. Other Peers who contributed to the discussion also raised the need for more demand-responsive services and greater local investment.  The oral question can be viewed here:

On 30 November, Baroness Meacher asked the Government about support for the hydrogen sector.  She was keen to know whether there would be sufficiently qualified staff available to take up the some 75,000 jobs expected to be created. 

Support for the growing hydrogen sector was raised with the Government

Baroness Randerson asked how many of the 800 zero carbon buses announced in the Spending Review would be hydrogen powered. Responding for the Government, Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist referred to the Government’s support for low carbon buses including the 62 hydrogen buses and supporting infrastructure already in operation. You can read the exchanges here:

Committee corridor

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee is still accepting written evidence as part of its inquiry into Employment & Covid-19.

The House of Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into Air Quality is continuing.  On 3 November the Committee heard oral evidence from Bristol and Derby Local Authority councillors.  On 16 November the Committee held a final evidence session with Ministers from DEFRA, DfT and the Joint Air Quality Unit.

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into Reforming Public Transport after the Pandemic is continuing, and the Committee held a round table discussion with transport workers and stakeholders on 4 November:

The Transport Committee is also holding an inquiry into the work of DVSA, with Chief Executive Gareth Llewellyn giving oral evidence on 25 November.  This will be Gareth Llewellyn’s final appearance before the Committee as Chief Executive.  It was announced on 26 November that Loveday Ryder will take over the role on 1 January 2021:

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:

Andrew Selous asked two questions about support for the bus industry in purchasing zero-emission buses:;

Sir Alan Campbell asked about the role of biomethane in decarbonising HGVs:

Emma Hardy asked about a retrospective grant to bus operators for the purchase of Euro 6 vehicles:

Subsidy, zero-emission buses, COVID effects and Euro 6 were among the bus-related subjects discussed this month

Former Transport Minister Paul Maynard asked about the effect of Tier 3 restrictions on the bus industry:

Lilian Greenwood asked whether eligibility for BSOG should be amended to take account of hydrogen fuelled buses:

Selaine Saxby asked about inter-Departmental discussions regarding zero emission buses:

Barry Sheerman asked about support for fleet operators to help switch to electric or hydrogen fuelled vehicles: and also asked about the effect of haulage vehicles on air quality:

Over in the Lords, Baroness Randerson asked what proportion of carbon zero buses would be manufactured in the UK:

 and asked for details of the infrastructure required of these vehicles:

Baroness Randerson also asked about publication of a handbook for freight drivers using UK ports:


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