A 70th anniversary, issues around road freight to/from the EU, alternative transport fuels including hydrogen, the plight of the coach industry and what next for public transport after the pandemic were all discussed by parliament this month. And, why well-known member likened himself to Mr Toad…
A little bit of history
It almost passed without a mention, but on 26 October the House of Commons ‘celebrated’ – if that’s the right word – the 70th anniversary of its return to the Chamber following major reconstruction work due to bomb damage.
On the night of 10/11 May 1941 the House of Commons roof and Westminster Hall suffered severe damage during an air raid. Firefighters could not save both, so the decision was taken to focus efforts on Westminster Hall, the oldest and most historic part of the building, leaving the House of Commons all but destroyed.
It was subsequently revealed that MPs were already conducting Parliamentary business in nearby Church House, fearing that the Palace of Westminster was an obvious target for German bombers.
After the 1941 bombing their Lordships also moved to Church House. Given the extent of the damage, MPs were not able to return to their ‘replica’ green benches until 26 October 1950.
But back to October…!
Fast-forward 70 years and October 2020 continues to see Parliamentary debates and activity dominated by efforts to control Covid-19 with the introduction of the 3 tier system.
The average person in the street could be forgiven for forgetting all about that other momentous event facing the UK in the next few months, that is the end of the transition period after which the UK will be fully out of the EU.
Just because this is not making headline news every day as it was earlier in the year, we should not forget that a huge amount of negotiating is going on in Brussels and London, and indeed elsewhere, to try and reach a deal.
Something else which makes October 2020 different from other years is that Parliament usually enjoys another two or three week Recess at the end of September/early October for the annual Party Conferences.
These were all virtual events this year and other than the leaders’ speeches passed largely unnoticed. But the House of Commons did take a break for the last week of October for ‘half-term’.
In the Chambers
On 1 October it was announced in the House of Lords that Lord Freeman would be retiring. Roger Freeman was a Minister in the then Department of Transport with responsibility for, among other things, the rail network and steered the Railways Act 1993 through Parliament.
At oral questions to the Cabinet Office on 1 October, Neil Parish (Tiverton & Honiton) asked for measures to be taken to ensure that the UK could continue to export goods through ports once the transition period for leaving the EU had ended.
The Paymaster General (Penny Mordant) said that the Government hoped to agree reciprocal arrangements to allow UK road transport operators to move to, from and through the UK and EU, and was keen to see no additional burdens were placed on hauliers. You can read the full exchange here: End of Transition Period: Ports – Hansard
At Business Questions on 1 October, Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) asked the Leader of the House what could be done to incentivise electrical-vehicle production. Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Government wanted to see the UK become a world leader in the field, and referred to the money committed to research and develop commercial low carbon or automated innovations.
Later in the debate, Andy Carter (Warrington South) hoped that some of the £460m port infrastructure fund could be made available to improve the roads and introduce weight limits around the site of the proposed new inland customs clearance centre in his constituency, and to mitigate the impact of additional HGVs on the location.
You can read the full exchanges here: Business of the House – Hansard
Investing in electric vehicle infrastructure was raised at Business Questions on 22 October by Felicity Buchan (Kensington) and she hoped that by doing so petrol and diesel could be phased out more quickly than 2040.
Leader of the House Jacob Rees Mogg referred to the Government’s consultation document on the issue but also said he rather liked older vehicles, likening himself to Mr Toad!
“Leader of the House Jacob Rees Mogg referred to the Government’s consultation document but also said he rather liked older vehicles, likening himself to Mr Toad!”
However he believed the Government was succeeding in changing people’s views of alternative fuels. During the same debate, there were several comments about the London congestion charge and the financial predicament of TfL. The full exchanges are here: Business of the House – Hansard
On 6 October, Matt Western (Warwick & Leamington) secured a debate in Westminster Hall about alternative fuelled vehicles and energy provision.
He called on the Government to make the UK the world leader in the ultra low emission vehicle technology with improved battery factory investment and the supply chain to support it.
So far as large vehicles was concerned he hoped the UK Government could have similar ambitions as the Korean Government for hydrogen vehicles and refuelling stations. Cleaner diesel was needed as part of the transition towards electric vehicles.
Winding up the debate for the Government, Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that as the UK recovered from Covid-19 there was an outstanding opportunity to speed up the development of clean technology and said that the decarbonisation of transport should be speeded up, with a Government strategy to be unveiled before the end of the year.
Lots of interesting comments by other MPs in the debate too – you can read the full exchanges here:Alternative Fuelled Vehicles: Energy Provision – Hansard
Meanwhile, over in the Lords that afternoon Baroness Randerson (Liberal Democrat transport spokesman) had an oral question about support to the transport industry during the Covid-19 crisis.
Lord Snape reminded the House of the plight of the coach sector which had not been able to benefit from the specific grants available to the bus and rail industries, and cited the example of family firms which had had to close.
The Minister understood the concerns and noted that 80% of the revenue in the coach sector came from tourism. She had been encouraged by the innovation taking place in the sector having visited York Pullman, as an example.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market took the opportunity to call for increased investment in electric vehicle development and charging points. You can read the exchanges here: Covid-19: Transport Industry – Hansard
Both Houses considered, on 12 October, the statutory instruments which extended the requirement to wear face masks in taxis and PHVs in line with other public transport services, as well as a wider range of indoor settings, and to introduce a more stringent penalty regime.
On 14 October in the Commons there was a wide ranging debate prompted by the Opposition on the Covid-19 economic care package.
During the debate, Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) referred to the hardship being experience by coach operators and said 27,000 jobs could be lost in the sector unless support was forthcoming: Covid-19 Economic Support Package – Hansard
On 20 October Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) secured a debate in Westminster Hall about clean air targets. Throughout the debate there were various references to the importance of bus use as a way of encouraging people out of their cars, with examples of where services could be improved.
Many MPs recognised the introduction of cleaner buses but the use of congested roads by large vehicles was also seen as a contributing factor to poor air quality. The full debate is here: Local Clean Air Targets – Hansard
David Linden (Glasgow East) presented a petition to the House of Commons on 21 October calling for additional measures to help support the travel industry including the aviation and coach sectors as well as holiday booking agencies, in recognition of the economic consequences caused by the effect of Covid-19 on the tourism sector.
You can read the petition here: Support for the travel industry – Hansard. The Government will publish its “observations” on the petition in due course.
At the regular oral question session to DfT Ministers on 22 October, Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill) asked whether the Government would support hauliers and traders in the event of delays and blockages at the UK border if a deal with the EU could be be achieved.
In response Grant Shapps said that plans were very advanced to ensure the transition was smooth.
Dave Doogan (Angus) said that the coach sector had received very little support from the Government. Grant Shapps acknowledged that the coach sector had been at the forefront of the crisis and was pleased that funds had been available via the Department for Education when schools had reopened.
“Grant Shapps acknowledged that the coach sector had been at the forefront of the crisis”
He also acknowledged that the sector would not be able to operate “full pelt” until the Covid-19 crisis was over, but the Government would continue to work with CPT to help support the sector.
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne) hoped the Government would act to ensure bus fares were kept affordable.
Sara Britcliff (Hyndburn) had written to the Government highlighting the benefits of a freight terminal at Huncoat that would support business in the area. Responding, junior transport Minister Rachel Maclean said she would be pleased to meet and discuss the proposal further.
Someone else who was promised a meeting was Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) who asked to meet the Minister and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles to allow the rapid charging fund to be utilised in his constituency.
Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) was concerned that due to social distancing bus capacity was severely reduced. The Minister referred to the increased funding which had been made available and referred to the forthcoming national bus strategy. All these exchanges can be viewed here: Transport – Hansard
The House of Commons Transport Select Committee is expected to begin oral evidence sessions as part of its inquiry into “Reforming Public Transport After the Pandemic”; the deadline for the submission of oral evidence was 24 September.
The deadline has also been reached for the submission of written evidence to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into “Coronovirus: Implications for Transport”.
The membership and work of the Committee can be found here: Transport Committee – Summary – Committees – UK Parliament
The Public Accounts Committee has invited written submissions to support its inquiry into “UK Border 2020: Preparedness” – the deadline for submissions is 13 November. The call for evidence can be found here: Call for evidence – Committees – UK Parliament
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:
Bill Wiggin asked a series of questions about electric vehicles, adequacy of electricity demand and number of people employed: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-09-23/94349; http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-09-23/94350; http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-09-23/94351
Kevan Jones asked what tailored support was available to the coach sector during the Covid-19 pandemic: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-09-28/96001
Barry Sheerman asked about the merit of adhering to EU drivers’ hours and tachograph rules for lorries driving in the EU after 31 December: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-09-30/97466 and also asked a question about the what steps the Government is taking to encourage environmentally-friendly HGVs:
Patricia Gibson asked about cross-Government discussions relating to the role of hydrogen to decarbonise transport: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-10-05/99013
Mick Whitley asked what discussions had taken place about ending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and its impact on the automotive industry: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-10-06/99739
Ann Marie Morris asked what penalties could be imposed on bus operators for non-compliance with Covid-19 restrictions: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-10-06/99615
Lord Browne of Ladytown asked about the impact of Covid-19 on the UK automotive manufacturing industry: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-09-17/HL8235
Baroness Doocey asked about support to the tourism industry especially where employers were unable to meet the 33% of normal wages requirement for the Job Retention Scheme: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-09-28/HL8514
Lord Roberts of Llandudno asked how much land would be made available for lorry parking at Holyhead at the end of the transition period: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-09-29/HL8609
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