Zero-emission Buses — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall am 9:30 am ar 21 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 9:30, 21 Mai 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the introduction of UK-made zero-emission buses.

I thank the Backbench Committee for listing the debate. At the outset, I declare my membership of the all-parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry. The chairman of that group, Sir Robert Goodwill, should have moved the debate, but unfortunately, as he is the Chair of a Select Committee, his duties today find him elsewhere in the House. I want to put on the record his commitment and his desire to have been present on behalf of the group.

It is also important to put on the record that I have a major manufacturer of buses operating in my constituency. The UK is blessed with three major manufacturers—Alexander Dennis, Switch Mobility and Wrightbus—and each makes a significant contribution to the UK economy and to local employment around the entirety of the United Kingdom.

The debate is about the introduction of UK-made zero-emission buses. Why do I say “UK-made” and “zero-emission” buses? Across the whole United Kingdom, 40,000 buses are on the road; about 3,000 of those buses are zero-emission, so there is a huge opportunity. Government, obviously and rightly, want to get away from diesel-powered buses and on to zero-emission buses. That is a massive opportunity. That opportunity, however, is under threat.

In 2020, in a very important statement, the Government made a commitment to level up across the country with 4,000 “beautiful, British-built buses” that are

“cleaner, greener, quieter, safer and more frequent.”—[Official Report, 11 February 2020;
Vol. 671, c. 712.]

What an ambition! It is an ambition that this House and the parties across this House got behind, and an ambition that I still hold to. I hope that we can deliver on it.

I am afraid, however, that the Department for Transport needs to look at how the policy is implemented, because I do not believe it is resulting in beautiful, British-built buses being purchased with the serious amounts of money that have been set aside for the zero-emission bus regional areas, or ZEBRA, zero-emission scheme. The original ambitions that drove the design of that policy to support UK bus manufacturers have been overlooked in the implementation and roll-out of the policy, resulting in many local authorities and transport authorities buying non-UK-made British buses.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. It is always good to support a colleague when they secure such an important debate. On the issue of UK-made buses—he has repeated “UK-made” several times, quite rightly—does he agree that that is all the more important now when we look at the challenge coming from China and the far east? More and more, a huge challenge is being made to the west and the UK. We have to meet that challenge and rise to it. As he indicated, that is what the Government need to respond to.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I was going to come on to that point later, but I will come on to it now, because it gets to the nub of the issue. The ZEBRA 1 and 2 schemes promised the United Kingdom £312 million of taxpayers’ money to fund the purchase of 2,270 buses. That is a major impact on the provision of zero-emission buses. I hope that Members are shocked by the next figure, however, because, according to the final purchasing decisions that have been made, 46% of those 2,270 buses will be manufactured outside the UK, principally by China.

On the one side, we have to giggle, because we are making zero-emission, green-energy buses, within our shores, for the home market, and therefore the footprint of the manufacturing of those things should also be green, but 46% of these buses are coming from what is, apart from Australia, the furthest away country in the world, and they are being delivered to us. I am not going to bash the companies that make them in China, but their buses have a shorter life cycle on our roads—almost a third less—and are therefore ultimately less efficient, yet 46% of the ZEBRA money is going overseas. What is that money doing? It is supporting overseas technology—cutting-edge technology. It is supporting overseas jobs. It is supporting cutting-edge, well-paid, highly skilled manufacturing jobs and it is supporting them in other countries, but we are crying out for that money to be spent on high-skill, green-energy, high-tech jobs across the entirety of the United Kingdom. Some 10,000 people are employed in the supply chain for manufacturing buses across the United Kingdom: electronics engineers, hydrogen engineers and manufacturers, engineers, of steel. All that is being undermined by a policy that was put in place to build beautiful, British-made, clean, green, better buses.

I am pleading, not on behalf of the companies, which are big companies, but on behalf of workers across the United Kingdom who are entitled to these jobs and who are entitled to bring stuff home to their wives and families and their husbands and families, to make sure that the jobs stay in British hands. I am not arguing that we buy an inferior product, but British-made buses, whether they are made by Switch, Wrightbus or Alexander Dennis, are the leading cutting-edge buses in the world. That is shown because they are manufactured not just for this country—other countries demand them. But we cannot go in and undercut other bus companies in countries that make buses. The countries that buy buses from us do not make buses, so we are competing in a fair market. Unfortunately, one of the largest countries in the world, the Chinese state, is manufacturing buses, subsidising their manufacture and the technology is coming here and undermining us. We have to take a good, long, hard look at that and ask the question: is that really where we want to be?

Every constituency in the UK benefits from British-made manufactured products. I do not say that glibly; it is based on fact. I have gone through a register of all the councils and local authorities across the whole United Kingdom that have received money from the ZEBRA zero-emission scheme, and have listed all the constituencies covered by that—it comes to about 180 constituencies, and those 180 constituencies benefit in some way from the manufacture of buses in the United Kingdom. They are getting ZEBRA money, but unfortunately 46% of the money is going outside this country and they are not buying the British product.

I will not do so, Mr Rosindell, but I could read out the name of every single local authority that has received millions of pounds. I have the information here and I am happy to leave it in the Library for hon. Members to study. It goes through every single local authority that has received millions on millions of pounds, yet some of those authorities are not spending that money on British-made products. A couple of examples stand out, and I will bring them to Members’ attention.

Last year in Blackpool, there had to be a complete retender after protests led by the chairman of the APPG, myself and other members of that group. We pushed the Government to retender the Blackpool order because it had gone to a Chinese company. It was an order for 90 buses, or about 30 million quid of manufactured goods. I am glad to say that the tender, which originally went to the Yutong company in China, was won following retender by Alexander Dennis. It was discovered that the social and economic benefit that flowed from the manufacture of those buses in the United Kingdom outweighed a slightly cheaper product being brought in from overseas.

Transport for London announced at the weekend the purchase of over 100 new double-decker electric buses. Unfortunately, that order was made to a Chinese company called BYD, further increasing the reliance on oversea supply chains. I want to deal with this matter of Transport for London. No matter which part of the United Kingdom we come from, no matter our passion about Ulster, Scotland, Wales or the north of England, London is our capital. It is the flagship. What happens in London, the world sees. It is the window into the United Kingdom. When I stand on the Terrace of this House and see bus after bus going over Westminster bridge, I know by the shape of them, “That one was made in Ballymena, and so was that one. That one was made in Scotland, and that one was also made in Ballymena.” I know by the shape of them that those buses are ours, and we are proud. That says to the workers in my constituency, “Look what you’ve done—isn’t that fantastic?” Their work is in the window to the world. People see them or jump on and off them and think, “These are fabulous advertisements of the skillset that is in the United Kingdom”.

I then hear today that a £40 million contract has been handed by TfL to BYD in China to make the next 100 buses for this city. There are thousands of buses in this city. People say, “You’ll hardly notice them”. That is not the point. The point of the matter is that that is where we are spending our money, and that will soon become the flagship. People say, “Well, they’re slightly cheaper.” That is penny wise and pound foolish if that is the way they are making the decision, because the situation is much more disturbing than it just being slightly cheaper.

I take the view that it is not green to buy the buses from so far away whenever we are manufacturing them at home. In 2021, the United Nations working group on business and human rights wrote to BYD, saying that it

“had received information that your company may be involved through your supply chain in alleged forced labour, arbitrary detention and trafficking of… Uighur [Muslims] and other minority workers”.

BYD did not respond to that inquiry from the United Nations. Whenever it was approached by the trade magazines to respond, BYD refused to comment. Our nation has a duty to ensure that if we are buying overseas products, we are not buying them from a country that uses slave labour or abuses its workforce. I will tell hon. Members one thing: our workforce in the United Kingdom is not abused. They are paid good wages, make good products and are proud of what they do. If that abuse is happening, it is a double offence on what we should be looking at and doing with this resource.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

My hon. Friend has underlined the crucial issue of human rights abuses and the persecution, trafficking and all sorts of things happening to ensure that China can produce a bus more cheaply. When it comes to our councils buying buses in the United Kingdom—it is brought up all the time in Parliament—is there not a need for central Government to ensure that if that is what is happening, those buses or, indeed, any product, are not bought?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

That is a point I will come to whenever I make requests of the Minister at the end of my speech. I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point.

I have an appeal for Transport for London, which has been one of Northern Ireland’s most brilliant customers. It allowed us to come up with the new iconic London double-decker bus, which is a flagship—it has been brilliant. Whether the administration has been controlled by the Conservatives or by Labour, the respective Mayors have been absolutely brilliant about helping Wrightbus to go forward, but the decision by the current Mayor and Transport for London should be taken back and looked at again. It is totally wrong and scandalous that our nation’s capital should have a bus with a questionable reputation concerning its manufacture and £40 million of ZEBRA money.

I have some policy asks for the Minister. I am delighted that he is visiting my constituency soon. I hope he will visit Wrightbus and other manufacturers, and see the supply chain across the whole of our country, including all the other little companies—micro-companies—that rely on this manufacturing giant. I want to draw the Minister’s attention to a number of things about the impact of ZEBRA. First, the Department for Transport should ensure that no ZEBRA 2 funding is used by local authorities to purchase buses from outside the UK, which was a point made by my hon. Friend Jim Shannon. To support this, bus operators should be encouraged by the Government to place a greater emphasis, whenever they are evaluating tenders, on social value for the tender and the wider economic community impact.

I am not asking the Government to do anything illegal or to use any sleight of hand. I believe the law allows the Government to weight the tenders in such a way that there will be a successful outcome for British manufacturers. I am not proposing that the company in my constituency is the only one that benefits. Alexander Dennis, Switch and so on are all competing companies making brilliant products, and they should all be allowed to have a fair crack of the whip. One camp dominates the entire market, but I want those companies to have a fair crack of the whip. They cannot have a fair share in the market if they are outbid and outmanoeuvred by what is happening in another country.

Secondly, the Government need to give industry long-term confidence in what they are doing, by setting an ambitious plan to say that a quarter of all the buses on British roads—10,000 buses—will be emission free from 2025 to 2030. If the Government said that to those companies, they would gear up and scale up, and it would reduce the overall cost of the final product, so the potential of these companies would be realised. Going forward, we would see a vast array of new tech coming through British companies and manufacturers, because they would have the confidence in there being 10,000 orders to keep their companies in business for year after year. That would increase investment in those companies.

The Department for Transport should consider creating a Crown Commercial Service framework for zero-emission vehicles to supply and expedite the tender process. It should collaborate with other Government Departments to conduct a formal review of how other countries purchase buses and prioritise domestic content when evaluating their tender process.

The DFT and the Department for Business and Trade should provide further detail on the Trade Remedies Authority and support with the process of gathering evidence of unfair practices. There have been allegations that some of these orders have led to kickback through other companies. That should be investigated, and this should be totally transparent. I can tell Members one thing—there is no kickback through the three British companies. What is going on is clear and transparent. I hope that the Government will allow us to have confidence in how we view the future, and so that our British manufacturing companies can say, “We have turned a page today and we are going forward on a new footing. In future, the lion’s share—the overwhelming majority—of ZEBRA money will be spent on British manufacturing.”

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee 9:49, 21 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate Ian Paisley and my right hon. Friend Sir Robert Goodwill on securing this important debate. I have worked on the subject of zero-emission buses for some time, both in my current role as Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport and in my previous guise as a Minister in the Scotland Office, when I had a number of dealings with Alexander Dennis in Falkirk.

I was particularly pleased when the Falkirk growth deal was agreed with Falkirk Council, the Scottish Government and local stakeholders. If memory serves me correctly, that included £10 million for a public transport net zero tech cluster that Alexander Dennis was closely involved in. This is a really important sector and I share the ambition of the hon. Member for North Antrim to have a vibrant zero-emission bus network, with the lion’s share manufactured by companies on these islands.

I want to put the issue in a slightly more balanced context. It is very easy to get into “Buy British” against “Buy overseas”. In reality, bus companies often work with each other. I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong, but I think Alexander Dennis, for example, has worked with BYD on part of the chassis. We have to be slightly more nuanced about what buying from a particular company means.

The hon. Member for North Antrim is absolutely right that we need fair competition. It is not in anyone’s interest to have an artificial purchase of buses, in whichever direction that is. It has to be good quality at a fair price. How that fair price is looked at is what matters; it is not just the headline price. I imagine bus showrooms are slightly different from car showrooms, but the sticker in the windscreen is not the full price. Wider issues have to be taken on board, such as the social value points the hon. Member identified.

The whole-life cost is important as well; this technology is still in nascent form. What does it mean when the bus comes to the end of its working life? Is there a second-hand market for it? What happens to the batteries, over what time? Those are important factors that need to be included when looking at the whole-life cost. If there are concerns about human rights, as Jim Shannon said, those also need to be factored into the equation.

Hidden subsidies may or may not be present. This example is not from the world of transport, but I have a company in my constituency that is world-leading in making industrial lifts, pickers and so on. At a recent event, the chairman of that company told me, “Our products are the best in the world.” He would say that, because they are. “But we are being undercut by competition from China.” Chinese products are good quality—perhaps not quite as good—but they are considerably cheaper. When the chairman asked how the competitor managed that, the reply was, “Our Government is very helpful to us.” The cost of running the factory there is significantly subsidised. That is the point I am making.

I want to see open and fair competition, so that world-leading British products can thrive fairly. The true costs have to be highlighted and be transparent, so that a local authority, or whoever, purchasing these vehicles has to show workings for the full cost of one bus against another. The point about fair competition was also made in a slightly different area of transport last week, when my Committee hosted a session on private electric vehicles. One of the questions I asked witnesses was: given that in the previous 24 hours President Biden’s Administration had announced tariffs for the import of Chinese-made electric vehicles and other products into the United States, should the UK and, indeed, Europe more widely consider such a tariff? I was somewhat surprised by the answer, as I thought there would be a demand for that. However, the witnesses said that no, many motor manufacturers do not want that. What they want is fair and open competition because that is what drives innovation, a better product and greater reliability and a better price for the customer. That is absolutely right, but it has to be on the basis of fair competition, looking at the costs in the round and not just the headline sales figure. I am not sure at this point exactly how we ensure that local authorities and others are obliged to look at that whole cost, but I hope the Minister will take that away and reflect on it.

The Government are right; they are putting a lot of money into zero-emission buses. The UK sector is world-leading and has enormous potential to become a major player both here and by exporting those buses overseas. However, I think we need to step back a little and look at the issue in the round. I hope today’s debate will help further that cause, and I once again thank the hon. Member for North Antrim for making the effort to secure it.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian 9:56, 21 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I start by congratulating Ian Paisley on securing the debate. I thought his speech was both passionate and spot on in terms of analysis and presentation. He and I may disagree on many aspects—in particular, on the constitution—but on his analysis of the requirement for these buses to be made in the United Kingdom, we are certainly in agreement. It is not that long since we were promised a Brexit bonus and it was branded on the side of a bus. The irony is that the bonus will be that the bus is imported from China, which is simply scandalous.

I am advised by Unite the union that there is a suggestion that the London buses bought from China will be £100,000 cheaper than those that can be manufactured at Alexander Dennis Ltd in Falkirk or elsewhere. There are two aspects to that. First, there is a great danger, as the United States has correctly acted on with regard to cars, that the market is flooded to create a monopoly situation, thus knocking out any competition. Then we are left with whatever those companies charge, because this is undercutting and buses are flooding in, as are manufactured motor vehicles. Secondly, if the factories that currently exist are lost, the costs to the taxpayer—as we see 40 years on from the miners’ strike, in terms of devastation to communities, unemployment benefit and all the accompanying social harms—are far greater.

It is on that basis that we have to ensure that orders stay in the United Kingdom. I would like to see them go to Alexander Dennis Ltd, but I appreciate that there are other factories in the United Kingdom, although not those that simply assemble buses made elsewhere. That is not acceptable and those that are simply a front for Yutong or whatever are not UK-made buses.

There is also a need to decarbonise, which should be about a virtuous circle. We have to change, because global warming is happening. Although huge progress has been made by the motor industry—I recall arguments in the city of Edinburgh over pollution from diesel buses, which has reduced significantly—there comes a time when we have to recognise that our vehicles have to transition as we change to renewable energy. I know that we are looking at electric buses, but I will come on to argue for hydrogen buses, which Alexander Dennis Ltd manufactures. There is good reason for that.

We know that electric cars are coming in, but that is one thing in the City of London and quite another in rural parts of Scotland. Travelling long distances in an electric car can cause considerable difficulty, not just in the highlands but in my constituency of East Lothian, where finding a charging station can be difficult.

Buses are also in a difficult situation. I recall a good friend of mine, the managing director of Lothian Buses, making the point that the company does have electric buses, but he was not particularly keen on them. They were double-axled, which made certain routes difficult—they certainly chewed up the road. Anecdotally and quite humorously, he pointed out that if every bus were charged at the Annandale Street depot at the top of Leith Walk in the heart of Edinburgh, nobody in Leith would be able to boil a kettle, such would be the drain upon the grid, so it is not so simple.

A particular point that my friend made that struck home with me was that his buses go out at 6 in the morning and return at 12 at night. The drivers change, but the buses keep operating. They do not want the buses off the road for two or three hours—they cannot afford that. They want those buses running. That is why hydrogen is the fuel that he wanted, but that requires an infrastructure, because the buses require to be refuelled.

Hydrogen buses operate in Germany, in Aberdeen and probably in the City of London. They certainly operate in Glasgow: Alexander Dennis Ltd is there. Scotland is decarbonising. Hydrogen is coming in. The National Grid electricity system operator tells me that it anticipates that 100% of the green hydrogen manufactured in the UK will be manufactured in Scotland. It is not rocket science to join the dots. Hydrogen is coming in. There is a plant going to Grangemouth, a stone’s throw from Alexander Dennis Ltd in Larbert.

A hydrogen plant is coming to my own constituency because there is decarbonisation going on in the whisky sector. When I spoke to the people bringing in the hydrogen factory, I said, “Will you have excess hydrogen?”. They said yes. I said, “Could we use it for fuel?” They said, “Absolutely.” I live in a more rural area, but it certainly makes smaller buses more affordable if we can have cheap energy that is being manufactured and would otherwise go to waste. That is why in the Orkney islands they are looking at hydrogen-propelled ferries: because they have so much hydrogen being manufactured on one island that they cannot get it off the island.

Hydrogen is the fuel, but we have to have a virtuous circle. We need to decarbonise and alter our society, but the new renewable future should not just be based on manufacturing. We need a just transition. We should ensure that the fuel that we are blessed with—cheap and available green hydrogen—is used to fuel buses that are manufactured here, preferably in Falkirk and certainly in the United Kingdom. That is a just transition. The purchasing of buses from China is an unjust transition. Like what is happening in the North sea, it is a selling out of those who have contributed to the economy of this country over years and who should be the basis of the new economy that we are required to enter into.

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Ceidwadwyr, Mansfield 10:02, 21 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I thank Ian Paisley for securing this important debate. It was a pleasure to meet him and the bus manufacturers he recently invited to the House to discuss in more detail this hugely important issue for jobs and the economy in Great Britain.

I want first to touch on the positive impacts of the ZEBRA funding that has come our way in Nottinghamshire, particularly in Mansfield. In March, we brought forward a £13 million investment in 23 new electric buses that will serve the people of Mansfield. We previously had two, which were made by Alexander Dennis—we continue to prioritise that UK manufacturer. We delivered the Berry Hill Flyer, an all-electric service, a couple of years ago, and 23 further buses on the 1, 6, 7 and 16 services will be delivered over the next 18 to 24 months, replacing the older diesel buses, with £2.8 million of that £13 million investment coming from the ZEBRA 2 scheme and from the Department for Transport. We are grateful for the opportunity to deliver a better public service and a clean and greener transition in our public transport network.

There are still challenges around the infrastructure. My hon. Friend Iain Stewart has touched on electric charging infrastructure in rural areas, an issue that I have recently spoken at great length about to bus companies in our part of the world. We are also developing significant hydrogen fuel technology in the east midlands through our hydrogen partnership, working with partners such as Toyota and the Trentbarton bus company on opportunities to deliver. Although there are challenges around the use of hydrogen in private vehicles, for bus companies it is a massive opportunity that we need to focus on and develop.

I am really proud to have worked in recent years on the new East Midlands Combined Authority, which will help to take that process forward and develop technology and skills in the industry. I am also grateful for the fourfold increase in transport funding locally that has been devolved down to our part of the world to help us to make a massive impact, deliver a better and more joined-up bus service, fill some of those gaps and support the transition to a cleaner service.

In addition to that investment and what it means for buses on the road, we are adding value locally through our partnership with Nottinghamshire County Council and Stagecoach, which is working with West Notts College in my constituency to support learners. Through the manufacturing scheme, learners are doing work experience with Stagecoach: they are working in engineering and manufacturing, working on vehicles, going out and learning the trade on the job, and getting relationships with employers and access to future job opportunities. It is fantastic that we are not only building buses in the UK, but supporting young people in my constituency to repair them, maintain them and work on them.

In any transport debate, it would be remiss of me not to mention that buses drive on roads, so it is also important that we continue to get investment in our roads around Nottinghamshire and around the country. We can shift as many people on to public transport as we like, but we still need that investment in our road network. There are huge challenges for us locally, after massive flooding and the wettest winter on record in Nottinghamshire.

We have had significant extra investment from Government, which is a step forward; it would certainly be much worse without that. We need to work with the new combined authority and the new Mayor to bring funding forward. A huge amount of funding is scheduled for 2025 onwards, which is a great opportunity for us, but we need it now. I urge the Minister to consider that point, as well as helping me to lobby our regional Mayor, who will have that funding, to bring it forward. I was very disappointed not to be elected to the role, as the House might imagine; I certainly had significant plans to bring that funding forward early and get the infrastructure investment delivered. I now need to lobby our Labour Mayor to deliver that, and I trust that Government will support me and colleagues in the region to do that.

Like the hon. Member for North Antrim, I want to see our new buses built in the UK. It is hugely important to jobs, skills and to young people looking to get into that sector, as I have described. We are massively short of skills, particularly in electric and hydrogen vehicles—just go down to any garage and try to get your car sorted! The other day, I went to a garage near where I live. When I said it was a hybrid, they said, “You can’t come here, mate, because we don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to hybrid vehicles.” We are massively short of those skills, so we need to develop them in our region, as well as working with colleges in the way that I have described.

I understand that procurement decisions are made locally by the bus companies—Stagecoach, in our case—working with us in partnership as a transport authority, and in the future with our regional combined authority as the new transport authority, but I want to know from the Minister whether the Government are doing everything in their power to ensure that we are taking full advantage of procurement rules and processes.

The hon. Member for North Antrim mentioned community and social value in the tendering process. It is pretty difficult to add value to a local community in the UK if we are building stuff in China. We need to ensure that we get added social and economic benefit here through fair competition, while making sure that the fair competition values the things that we value for our communities—the skills, investment, and jobs that are so important. Can the Minister reassure me that he and his Department will take all those steps to ensure that happens? What conversations has the Minister had with those local authorities that are bidding and seeking to deliver the investment to ensure that that is clear to them?

The Department for Transport might want to consider where the buses will be made when it decides where funding is given. The procurement process is one thing, but the Department will decide who gets access and who is granted the funding. That is another opportunity for the Government to assess and prioritise the question of where the buses will be manufactured. Although the procurement decisions are local, there are several ways and mechanisms by which the Department and its Ministers can ensure that we are getting the best value and that the majority of these buses can be built in the UK in future. Although there are no bus manufacturers in my constituency, there are certainly countless young people looking to benefit from the skills and career opportunities that working in automotive engineering and manufacturing can bring. Having high-quality, lower-emission vehicles on our roads will certainly bring huge benefits to my constituents.

As we look to push people towards using public transport and to deliver the new funding that I have worked to secure over recent years, a better and more joined-up public transport network will be a huge opportunity for us. I hope that the Minister can offer some reassurances about the Government’s commitment to British manufacturing. I certainly look forward to working with him and with our new regional combined authority, with its transport funding, to deliver a better network for my residents.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:10, 21 Mai 2024

It is an absolute pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank my hon. Friend Ian Paisley for introducing it so well. This is something that he has done not just today, but for all his elected life, and he deserves a lot of credit for what he has done over years. In particular, his commitment to Wrightbus in North Antrim can never be disputed. I wish him well.

My hon. Friend said that the Minister would be coming to his constituency. I can tell the Minister that whenever he comes to North Antrim, he will never get the lemon drizzle cake that he got in Newtownards, so my hon. Friend has an even harder task to take on. He can always ask me to send up the same drizzle cake from Newtownards, and I will ensure that it is available for the Minister’s visit. It is good to see the Minister and the shadow Ministers, the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood), in their place.

The factory in my hon. Friend’s constituency is a source of pride to all Northern Ireland MPs. The world-class, groundbreaking research and development carried out there is something that we in this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can be immensely proud of.

I want to refer, as I did in my intervention, to Chinese buses. We are always looking for a fair and level playing field. There is something incredibly wrong not just with the purchasing and pricing of buses, but with the Chinese human rights abuses and persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, whether they be Uyghurs, Christians, the Falun Gong or any other ethnic group.

Consideration of human rights abuses, including the persecution of those with a religious faith, should be an integral part of all trade. My hon. Friend was right to set the scene; others have spoken about the issue as well. I feel incredibly strongly about it. I chair the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, and it is always an integral part of our debate. Human rights and religious belief go hand in hand. If you take on one, you hurt the other. It is an important issue for countries across the world. China in particular seems to abuse and use people just because they are different and do not conform to what it wishes to see.

Like many others, I was delighted back in September when funding was announced for zero-emission buses. If we are ever to reach our global targets, this has to be a major part of our strategy. It was great to see that towns, villages and cities across England, including in the most rural parts of the country, were to benefit from zero-emission buses backed by £129 million of Government funding, which would also help to grow the economy by supporting green jobs at UK bus manufacturers. I particularly recall a point that was highlighted in the press release:

“To make sure more parts of England benefit from green technology, particularly remote areas where building the infrastructure needed for the buses is more expensive, the government has prioritised the first £25 million for rural communities.”

Hailing from the rural constituency of Strangford, I am very aware that we do not have infrastructure in place, and that this will take enhanced funding. The beauty of Wrightbus in my hon. Friend’s constituency of North Antrim is the capacity that it has for more. It has potential in terms of physical ability and skills levels, and it has a desire to press research further and deliver more. It is always innovative, looking to the future and going the extra mile to find its next potential track.

One reason why I supported Brexit—as most hon. Members present did, but not all—was solidified before 2016 when I heard that a contract for buses was outsourced to Germany rather than the Northern Ireland-based Wrightbus, due to scoring mechanisms. In other words, the criteria were weighted in favour of that company. I felt so much disappointment to be having that debate at the time. We are underscoring not a Brexit issue as such, but another issue of a bus company that has taken advantage.

I was therefore determined that our own businesses in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland should get first refusal. That is the foundation of this debate. I thank again my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim for highlighting the need for a full Government commitment to British engineering, local jobs and the development of world-class facilities, which there are.

I wholeheartedly support my colleague, knowing that a rising tide lifts all ships. It equals the expertise, the staff skill, the research and development, the vision and the reputation that are in place at Wrightbus, and that should form a key component of any future view as to how we progress British industry and meet our environmental obligations. The then Business Minister, Mr Holden, said:

“It’s been fantastic to be at Alexander Dennis and see how our £129 million investment will impact British bus manufacturing.

This brings our total investment in new zero-emission buses to almost £500 million, helping to kick-start a new generation of bus manufacturing in the UK and create good, high-quality jobs from Scarborough to Falkirk.

We’re leading the way by ensuring that Britain can take advantage of high-skill manufacturing while delivering cleaner public transport for passengers across the country.”

We cannot and should not forget the jewel in the crown of bus-making, situated in the United Kingdom, and that is in Northern Ireland. I implore the Minister to ensure that Government strategy makes the best of what we have and can do. That is found in an engineering sector in Northern Ireland, an integral part—indeed, a great part—of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are always better together.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 10:17, 21 Mai 2024

There was me, about to say that I agreed with pretty much everything that my DUP colleagues said, and then Jim Shannon made his final comment. I am sure he did so on purpose, as he always does.

I start by thanking Ian Paisley for introducing this debate and for bringing up this issue again, as he often does. As Kenny MacAskill said, it is uncomfortable to agree with pretty much everything that all the DUP representatives have said in the debate thus far, apart from the last sentence of the hon. Member for Strangford. That is not always a comfortable position for an SNP Member, but I thought the hon. Member for North Antrim set his case out extremely well to remedy the unacceptable situation in this country. He spoke of the three major bus manufacturers. I have visited Alexander Dennis in Falkirk and Camelon a couple of times and spoken to it many times. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the 40,000 buses, only 3,000 of which are zero-emission, and the 4,000 British-built green and clean buses that were promised by a previous, previous, previous, previous, previous Prime Minister—however many previous it is. They said that they would be manufactured in the UK. The initial aim of that commitment has been lost.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned imports, and that gets to the crux of the issue. Some 46% of those buses were manufactured outside the UK. The vast majority come from China. That is the case in my constituency. I will come on to say how good a job the Scottish Government have done in getting on with ordering zero-emission buses, but we have the same issue with the import of Chinese buses in Scotland. Renfrewshire, in my constituency, with McGill’s, has the highest concentration of zero-emission buses anywhere in the country outside of London, a fact of which I am proud. The fact of which I am less proud is that the clear majority of those buses are Chinese-manufactured. I wish to see that change.

Ultimately, these are highly skilled, highly paid jobs. They are the type of jobs that this Government—in fact, all of us—want to see not just retained, but increasing in this country. At the moment, we are in danger of losing some of those jobs.

The hon. Member for North Antrim spoke of the retendering of the Blackpool bus order, which was changed from Yutong to a UK manufacturer due to social and environmental benefits. In my mind, though, we should not be leaving it up to the operators or the local authorities to put those conditions in place—I will come on to that later. It should be for the Government to do so.

The Chair of the Transport Committee, Iain Stewart, made a far more balanced contribution to the debate. He spoke of the Falkirk growth deal, which I am well aware of, having visited ADL. He made a fair point on Alexander Dennis having previously partnered with BYD, which has been brought up. It used BYD chassis, but that is no longer the case; the new electric bus fleet is now manufactured entirely in-house.

The hon. Member for East Lothian spoke of the Brexit bonus that was plastered on the side of the bus; the irony is that we are not seeing the Brexit bonus in bus manufacturing in this country. He spoke of global warming, and how important it is that we decarbonise as quickly as possible. He made a very fair point that electric buses are not the solution—certainly at the moment—for many rural routes, particularly in Scotland: hydrogen may be a better alternative for those services. He also made the point that Scotland is almost uniquely placed in Europe to deliver the green hydrogen that would support such an endeavour—in fact, it is probably better placed to do so than anywhere else in Europe.

Ben Bradley spoke of the £13 million for the scheme towards a new zero-emission bus fleet, as well as the challenges on infrastructure, with which I think we all agree. He also spoke of his disappointment at not being elected Mayor—I suggest the hon. Gentleman is somewhat of a masochist, addicted as he seems to be to standing for election.

Of course, the hon. Member for Westminster Hall, West—the hon. Member for Strangford—who is always here assiduously, spoke rightly about the potential issues around human rights and religious freedom relating to some of these orders. The irony in all this, with all the contributions we have had from DUP Members today— I am not ascribing any blame to the DUP for this, incidentally—is that Northern Ireland has, by some distance, the worst charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in this country. This is an issue that the hon. Gentleman has brought up previously in debates in this Chamber. I will forget his concluding sentence and instead circle back to the sentence before, when he said that a rising tide lifts all ships, or all boats—you may choose the version you wish. I think that is entirely true.

I raised this issue in Transport questions last week. In his answer, the Secretary of State challenged the Opposition’s confidence in UK bus manufacturing. Given the DFT and wider UK Government’s delivery on this, I thought that was quite a brave challenge. We do have confidence in the bus manufacturing sector, but it is very difficult for that sector to compete on a level playing field with the significantly lower wages and the subsidies available in China.

The hon. Member for North Antrim was talking about TfL when he said that we are penny wise and pound foolish in this country, but I think we can say that in a wider context and in many ways when it comes to bus tendering or procurement in this country. To save a few per cent, we are sending hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of orders outside this country. I want the Minister to make it make sense, because it makes no sense to me. We are doing economic harm and losing jobs overseas. It makes no sense whatsoever.

In addition to the questions already asked by the hon. Member for North Antrim, I would like the Minister to directly answer these three questions. Does he think that highly skilled engineering and manufacturing in this country can compete with China on labour costs? What work has been done in Government to identify how other European countries that follow the same trade criteria obligations as us manage to support their domestic manufacturing sectors a hell of a lot better than we do? Lastly, particularly when compared to the Scottish ultra low emission bus schemes—SULEBS 1 and 2—and now the zero-emission bus schemes—ScotZEBs 1 and 2—would he agree that his Government’s ZEBRA schemes have been an unmitigated failure?

To conclude, the Minister also said in his response that those being awarded ZEBRA grants can put

“social value in their tenders”, but there is no reason why the scheme itself cannot embed that social value in the conditions for getting Government grants in the first place. Bluntly, local councils and combined authorities in England are financially under the cosh enough from this Government. They fear expensive legal challenges from companies with deeper pockets than their own, and the UK Government simply do not have that problem. France just a few years ago began beefing up its social and environmental procurement roles, and from 2026 public contracts must include conditions that specifically relate to broader social needs and employment protections. To be honest, they are in a far better place already without the beefing up of those particular obligations in 2026.

It is no use for the Minister to wring his hands and say that it is up to councils to decide; the UK Government are ultimately the ones handing over the cash. At the moment, that cash is allocated with no thought given—or allowed to be given—to any industrial strategy or economic policy that might benefit bus manufacturing on these isles. They have just thrown £143 million at ZEBRA round 2, and not a penny of that will be conditional on its being spent on buses made using labour that is covered by humane employment laws or with any kind of environmental accountability. UK manufacturers play by those rules; their competitors overseas, who will be able to grab a share of that windfall, cannot say the same. We all know that to be true.

There are world-class bus manufacturers in these isles—Alexander Dennis Ltd in Camelon is one of the leading ones—but if the Government carry on with their current course, they will push bus-making down the same road as our counterparts in the rail manufacturing industry—going from crisis to crisis, with the barely remaining operations here all owned overseas and supply chains completely devastated. The Government have it in their hands to stop the rot now and guarantee a future for a high-skill, high-value industry right here in these isles. They need to grasp that opportunity quickly, before it is too late.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:27, 21 Mai 2024

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to respond to this debate on behalf of the official Opposition. I extend my sincere thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for facilitating this debate, and to Ian Paisley for securing it. The hon. Member is a vociferous and passionate advocate for UK manufacturing—not just for Wrightbus in Ballymena, which is in his constituency, but for all bus manufacturers across the United Kingdom; for that I thank him.

This is a vital issue, and it is right that we have had the opportunity today for such robust discussion. I place on record my thanks to the excellent, insightful contributions that we have heard from colleagues throughout this debate, including Iain Stewart, Chair of the Transport Committee. I share his desire for a vibrant zero-emission bus fleet in the UK, with the majority manufactured on these islands, and I agree on the need for fair competition and that the true cost must be highlighted. I also thank him for his mention of the end-of-life processes for those buses and how those should also be taken into consideration.

I am afraid Jim Shannon had me at lemon drizzle cake—I would love to sample that—but he also made the important point about the significant capacity for UK manufacturers to expand their capabilities, given the right conditions and the certainty that they need. Gavin Newlands raised the real importance of recognising social and environmental benefits when awarding those grants. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.

Labour knows that decarbonising the transport sector is essential to achieving net zero. Decarbonising what is now the single largest source of the UK’s carbon emissions will be no easy feat, but Labour is crystal clear that with those challenges come enormous social and economic opportunities. Across road, rail and bus there are immense opportunities for secure, high-skilled green jobs to power our next industrial revolution. With bus being by far the most utilised mode of public transport, zero-emission buses are central to that.

Across the UK, operators and local transport authorities are already taking great strides to decarbonise their fleets, meaning that demand for zero-emission buses will only continue to rise. However, it is clear that the flagship decarbonisation scheme known as ZEBRA, which was announced with much fanfare two Transport Secretaries ago as part of bus back better, continues to be woefully off-target.

Bus back better promised 4,000 new zero-emission buses on the road, but it also promised to set a date for ending the sale of new diesel buses in the UK. Neither of those promises have been met. The Government continue to dither on the phasing-out date, leaving both manufacturers and operators in the dark. In July 2023, the previous Transport MinisterMr Holden—promised that a response to the DFT’s consultation would be forthcoming “within months”. Well, almost 12 months later, it is still the case that no Transport Minister is able to tell us on what date they will mandate the end of new diesel bus sales. The current Minister with responsibility for roads and local transport, who is here today, told the House in response to a written parliamentary question in January this year that more information would be provided “in due course”. Almost five months on, we are none the wiser.

In the absence of leadership on this issue from the Government, large operators have resorted to setting their own targets. National Express has committed to operating only zero-emission buses by 2030, and Go-Ahead, First Bus and Stagecoach aim to have fully decarbonised fleets by 2035. Although that is commendable, the continued silence from the Government on the end date for diesel bus sales will doubtless have the biggest impact on smaller and more rural bus operators.

The parameters of the Government’s consultation, which was launched back in 2022, could see a date for phase-out set “between 2025 and 2032”. Operators and manufacturers alike need certainty from this Government. It feels like a profoundly short-sighted, anti-business stance for the Government to refuse to grant that certainty, leaving it up to the sector to guess whether the phase-out could be as soon as next year or in eight years’ time.

As I mentioned, bus back better also pledged 4,000 zero-emission buses. I regularly quiz the DFT on the latest statistics about the roll-out of zero-emission buses funded by ZEBRA. The most recent statistics, which I was able to obtain last month, show that just 313 are on the road and 1,053 have been ordered using ZEBRA 1. That means that to date the Government have achieved barely a quarter of ZEBRA’s potential. The successful bidders in the next phase of ZEBRA—ZEBRA 2—were announced back in March, funding a further 955 zero-emission buses. But even if every single one of those buses is somehow on the road by the end of this Parliament, the Government will still fall considerably short of their target. Even the Chair of the Transport Committee said last year that “it seems increasingly unlikely” that the Government will meet their target.

Despite bold steps by operators, local transport authorities and manufacturers, it is clear that we have a long way to go before we decarbonise our bus sector. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me exactly how many zero-emission buses he thinks he will be able to deliver on the road by the end of this Parliament. For the UK’s leading bus manufacturers—Alexander Dennis, Wrightbus and Optare, or Switch—the ambition and appetite for zero-emission buses is an enormous opportunity. Our bus manufacturing sector directly employs 3,500 staff across the UK and supports a further 10,000 across the supply chain.

Those companies are world-class, trailblazing manufacturers producing some of the most advanced zero-emission and ultra low emission buses anywhere on the globe. Not only are their products world-class, but they are vital employers, contributing millions to the UK economy. I regularly meet them and they frequently tell me about their fantastic apprenticeship schemes and training and upskilling programmes. But under the Government’s approach to decarbonising the bus sector, those companies are at risk.

Research undertaken by Labour and—commendably—by the office of the hon. Member for North Antrim shows that 46% of the money spent by the Government on funding ZEBRA 1 has been used to purchase buses built outside the UK. The Minister will be aware that in addition to recent reports of more Chinese buses being procured, funding from ZEBRA has already been used to procure hundreds of Chinese Yutong buses. In last week’s Transport questions, I told the Secretary of State that it had emerged that a major UK operator was preparing to procure tens of millions of pounds-worth of buses, not from Wrightbus, ADL or Optare, but from China.

Labour is realistic about the fact that, as demand for zero-emission buses increases globally, competitive manufacturers will be involved in the supply chain. However, we are at a crossroads. Britain under the Tories risks losing the global race for the clean industries of the future, losing jobs overseas and betraying communities across the country. The hon. Member for North Antrim is right to question whether taxpayer-funded schemes to support the introduction of zero-emission buses should be delivered in a manner that helps UK bus manufacturing industries more. We must remember that the Government have refused to adopt a full-scale industrial strategy since 2017. We should make no mistake: the lack of a strategy from the Government is putting home-grown bus manufacturers at risk. Alexander Dennis tells me that, with enough joined-up thinking from the Government, the company could spool up production to meet demand, but, in the absence of certainty, it may have to reconsider its future in the UK.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am listening to the hon. Member’s speech with interest. I want to clarify one point before I address the Chamber. Is the Labour party’s approach to continue to be part of the World Trade Organisation agreement on Government procurement rules made in 2012? Surely that goes to the heart of the debate.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I do not agree with the Minister’s assertion. As others have said, the debate is about highlighting and acknowledging the important social and environmental benefits that UK manufacturing brings to these shores.

UK bus manufacturers are in a profoundly frustrating position when they should be leading our green transition. Support for them has not been sufficiently integrated into the national bus strategy from the start. It is a damning metaphor for the Government’s attitude that the front cover of the “Bus Back Better” document shows an image of a bus manufactured by BYD, a Chinese company.

Labour will always back British industry. A Labour Government will act as a strategic industrial partner, setting out clear priorities to provide the certainty that businesses and investors need to solidify the UK’s position as a leader in clean industry. That extends across the EV supply chain. Labour will accelerate domestic battery-making capacity with a national wealth fund to part-finance the new gigafactory capacity that we will need to support the green transition. Not only will that create thousands of good, green jobs in the supply chain and add billions to the UK economy, but it will provide the certainty that UK bus manufacturers desperately need to continue to play a leading role in the UK’s decarbonisation.

I will finish with a few questions for the Minister. On the battery supply chain, what is he doing to ensure that, as demand for electric bus batteries rises, so too does our battery manufacturing capacity? There are billions of pounds-worth of growth to be unlocked if Ministers get this right. The Government’s battery strategy is a welcome first step, but we are already behind the curve, and the scale of ambition in the strategy does not currently match the scale of the challenge we face to reach 100 GWh of capacity by 2030.

What steps will the Minister take to support UK bus manufacturers, in respect of everything that has been discussed today? In a similar Westminster Hall debate in 2022, the then Transport Minister, Trudy Harrison, was asked the same question. She said that she would look into going

“further to understand how we can support British-built buses.”

She went on to say she would explore the factors

“that may help to encourage competitive bids from UK firms”.—[Official Report, 5 July 2022;
Vol. 717, c. 290WH.]

I would be grateful if the Minister updated us on whether that work has progressed, and whether he considers the current procurement regime sufficient to back British industry when it comes to bus manufacturing.

Labour stands ready to embrace the green transport revolution and knows that zero-emission buses are essential to that. The UK has a world-class bus manufacturing sector that can, with the right policies from the Government, deliver millions of pounds-worth of economic growth by leading the transition. We need more action from the Government to ensure that our home-grown bus manufacturers can continue to thrive.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 10:39, 21 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I think it is the first time I have had the opportunity to do so since you returned to the House, and you are most welcome.

I congratulate Ian Paisley on securing the debate and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for recommending that it take place. I welcome it because it is an opportunity for us to discuss the successes and for me to set out the ways in which the Government are supporting the transition to zero-emission buses.

With respect, I welcome the nuanced way in which this debate has to be considered. Quite clearly, buses are at the centre of the public transport network; we are aware, are we not, that there are 4 billion bus journeys a year? It is utterly to the credit of this country that we have created and support a variety of providers.

The hon. Member for North Antrim is right that I am keen to visit Wrightbus, having sought to do so on several occasions in the past. I should, at the very outset, put to rest the cake rumours. Our former Prime Minister was famously ambushed by a cake in an incident that is well known to this nation. When I visited the constituency of Jim Shannon in a former role at the Department for Work and Pensions, I walked into the office and his assistant— I think her name is Claire—ambushed me with a lemon drizzle cake. I will not try the strong Strangford accent, but she said, “You’ll be needing a lemon drizzle straight away after the journey you’ve had, sir.” Sure enough, I was sat down with a large slice of cake before we had our meeting, in circumstances that I am quite sure will be matched, if not surpassed, when I visit Ballymena.

The UK has a proud history and particular expertise in bus manufacturing and it is right that we celebrate our successes. We acknowledge and accept that our bus manufacturers play a vital part in the UK automotive ecosystem, employing well over 3,000 people across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I suggest, with respect, that our bus manufacturers are very competitive. As has been outlined, Wrightbus has the first hydrogen-powered double-decker bus and Alexander Dennis continues to innovate with a new in-house series of electric buses developed with the knowledge and experience gained from working hand in hand with international partners. That has resulted in 2,300 zero-emission buses hitting the UK roads to date. The vast majority of the buses operating in urban areas are produced here in the UK and we are committed to continuing to make the UK one of the best places in the world for automotive investment as we transition to zero- emission vehicles.

There are certain frameworks that I want to try to address as a starting point.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Not yet. Let me try to set out the position and then I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

The starting position is that the UK is part of the 2012 World Trade Organisation agreement on Government procurement and the related WTO texts. As the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Iain Stewart, set out, that is a basis upon which all such organisations have to work. Were there to be any breach leading to unfair competition —the technical term is “dumping”—then, as the Secretary of State set out last Thursday, it would be the responsibility of the Trade Remedies Authority, the independent statutory body, to look at the circumstances.

It is the case that the UK Government support various manufacturers in a variety of ways. I will try to set that out in detail, but before I do so, I will give way to Paul Girvan.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

I want to make a point about other countries that are major manufacturers. We will not speak about the elephant in the room—although we probably will; it is China—but some of our neighbours sometimes play fast and loose with what is termed state aid. Unfortunately, companies in those places get the benefit of the opportunity to export at a reduced rate because of help and assistance given to them either directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, the UK tends to be too good at abiding by the rules and does not see that many companies are sliding under the radar and getting our markets because of the shortcuts that they are taking.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am told that the companies Yutong and BYD are not state-owned. That is the first key point. The second is that there is a degree to which we debate in this House the extent to which the state supports individual companies in their individual country. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. Clearly, on one simple basis, a worker in China is not paid the rate or salary that a worker in this country is paid, with automatic-enrolment pensions and all the welfare support and other bits that come on top of that. That is clearly a difference in scale. But I want to try to address a couple of the key points.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

No. I will try to address the point made by the hon. Member for South Antrim. As a Minister in a different Department, I brought forward ESG: environmental, social and governance regulations. Those apply across the City of London, all pension funds and, by and large, to how local authorities conduct their business. Those bodies must give due consideration to ESG in their purchasing. More particularly, under the Cabinet Office public procurement notice 02/23 they have to be mindful and cognisant of modern day slavery in the supply chain. Public sector suppliers must comply with all the applicable human rights and employment laws, as set out in the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

As was rightly set out, social value for the tender can be considered—and already is—by local authorities. There is a degree to which organisations seek for Government to say the local authority cannot do this, but it is for the individual local authority to look at the way it is commissioning. Matters of social value, ESG and the interpretation of modern day slavery and its impact are highly relevant when doing that. The fair point has been made by various Members that commissioning an environmentally friendly bus from somewhere 10,000 miles away seems an interesting call, given the consequences.

We must be aware that a lot of companies in this country also receive aid from the Government. I want to try to set that out. Members will be aware, I am sure, of the funding, research and development through the Advanced Propulsion Centre, which allows UK bus manufacturers to be supported by Government to seize opportunities for the future. Through the APC research and development competitions, the UK Government have awarded grants totalling £24.2 million for bus-related projects, with total costs of £52 million.

Those late-stage collaborative R&D competitions are an important part of the Government’s support for the UK automotive sector’s transition to zero-emission vehicles and provide backing for new market-leading technology to underpin battery and fuel cell electric buses. There is also £460 million in dedicated funding provided for the zero-emission buses this Parliament. The innovative technology is to be deployed, we suggest, at scale. More than 5,200 zero-emission buses have been funded across the UK since the Government committed to funding at least 4,000 this Parliament, and UK manufacturers are leading the way.

In March this year, we announced a further £142 million to support almost 1,000 more zero-emission buses. I look forward to UK manufacturers winning more orders. For example, I think Wrightbus has been named the fastest-growing and most successful business in Northern Ireland, having been struggling a few years ago, however one interprets the business as it was. On the back of Government funding for zero-emission buses, the company’s numbers have massively increased, from more than 1,000 to almost double that. Bus funding in this country has pretty much doubled in terms of Government subsidy and support over the past 14 years.

With respect, I suggest that the Government are fully supporting the bus sector, providing financial support, whether through Innovate UK or individual support in relation to hydrogen.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

The Minister talked about Government support. In fairness, it was before he was Minister, but he may remember a Transport Committee report that said that Scotland had ordered just over 10 zero-emission buses per 100,000 people, compared with 0.94 zero-emission buses outside of London. Does that highlight the success that the DFT has made of the roll-out?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

There was pretty much nothing in the hon. Member’s speech with which I agreed, aside from his comments in relation to the hon. Member for Strangford. I, too, believe we are better together, in so many different ways. The long and the short of it is that I am proud to stand up and defend the UK bus industry. I am also proud to defend and support the degree to which this Government have supported the bus industry, and we have seen companies such as Wrightbus and others grow on the back of that.

Is everything perfect? No, of course not. Is there still work to be done? Yes, of course. Is there still work to be done to ensure that local authorities and commissioners fully understand their obligations under the Modern Slavery Act, the impact of social value and all the consequences of any commissioning purchase? Can the Government work harder with, for example, the Department for Business and Trade and the Cabinet Office to ensure those rules are then disseminated to the commissioners? I do accept that more can be done in that space.

However, as an example, £76 million in UK export finance loans and guarantees have been provided to UK bus manufacturers in the past few years, which is turbocharging exports. Wrightbus, as I understand it, is exporting to Hong Kong, right on the doorstep of China, and UK manufacturers are continuing to win orders around the world. Although we clearly want UK manufacturers to be commissioned in this country, it is most important, surely, that they can also take orders from around the world; my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South made that fair point. The argument is nuanced. We want our manufacturers to be able to compete worldwide, and I believe they can.

We are also providing certainty for manufacturers on the pathway to a fully zero-emission fleet. The final decision on diesel buses will be made shortly; part of the process is understanding exactly the capacity and capability of our UK bus manufacturing sector—if one sets a date that is too soon, clearly there are consequences, but if one sets a later date, there are also consequences. We are very much engaged with finding the sweet spot for a date, and we will be making a decision without a shadow of a doubt in the very near future. We believe that will provide a greater degree of certainty, allowing further focus on research and development lines, and also shifting production to producing more zero-emission buses at scale.

It is also clear that as a result of the Government’s action, air pollution has reduced significantly, both since 2010 and, more recently, since the introduction of zero-emission buses: since approximately 2016 or 2017, there has been a true ramping up—a massive reduction in CO2.

I want to finish on a couple of the key points that have been made. My hon. Friend Ben Bradley rightly made a variety of points. We clearly are working with local authorities, like his good self’s. The £8.3 billion for road resurfacing, redirected because of the HS2 second-leg decision taken by the Prime Minister in October, has benefited all local authorities, not least Nottinghamshire. I saw that when I visited there about three weeks ago and met my hon. Friend Ruth Edwards. I actually visited the site and met some of the councillors and other individuals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield is clearly badgering me about a variety of roads and infrastructure projects. He is passionate about the A614, which, I assure him, is engraved at the very top of my to-do list. I will make sure that we get that project over the line, to the benefit of both his constituents and my right hon. Friend Sir Mark Spencer, who has been robust in his recommendations.

I have dealt clearly with the point about competition on labour costs, which is a fact that we cannot disagree with or ignore.

It is hard to disagree with anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South said. I do want to restate the point, though, that this is a nuanced argument. We want our manufacturers to be able to export, as well as to supply in the local environment. That has consequences when it comes to being part of WTO agreements. But we also want to make sure that we, as Government, are supporting manufacturers as much as we possibly can. I have addressed the issues of modern-day slavery and will not necessarily take that any further.

I want to finish, to allow the hon. Member for North Antrim to wrap up the debate with sufficient time. I genuinely welcome this debate. It has been an opportunity for us to cite, laud and praise a growing business in the UK. In these tricky times, there is no doubt that bus manufacturing in the UK is growing substantially. The best evidence is Wrightbus, with its massive increase in numbers. I look forward to visiting and being ambushed by a lemon drizzle cake in the appropriate way, and I greatly welcome the opportunity to set out the degree of support that the Government have given it.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 10:55, 21 Mai 2024

I thank all Members who participated in this debate. Some small friction has emerged here and there, but there has been a clarion call that we are all on the same page and want to see this industry flourish, and there is a vision of how it can flourish. Although the Minister was able to have his cake and eat it, I think our companies want to see more cake and get more slices of that cake; they are right to be ambitious about having that, and I hope that they can have it.

Ben Bradley quite rightly raised the point that he does not have a bus company in his constituency but that there is spin-out in terms of opportunities for young people, skills development and all the rest of it. If we get behind this skillset and opportunity and develop the best hydrogen bus, which we are already doing, we will then start developing the best hydrogen rail coaches, heavy goods vehicles, shipping facilities and aircraft. We will be in the midst of a technological revolution driven by these islands, but it will happen only if we get behind and push it. That will lead to jobs in the hon. Member for Mansfield’s constituency and to the tech and opportunities. It will lead to success, and it will be unrelenting, but it will happen only if we ensure that we actually deliver on the strategies being put in place and ensure that we are not lazy at any point and throw the odd bus order or manufacturing job here or there because we can.

We must get behind this and ensure that the outcome is in the interests of these islands, because unlike China we are not at the cutting edge of battery technology. We must buy practically every single battery from China. It has cornered that market, which is fair enough, but we are at the cutting edge of hydrogen; we could take over that market, but only if we see the vision.

I hope that the Minister gets behind us and replies to me in writing on the issues that I raised earlier. I plead with him and hope that we can see some of the success. When he comes to Wrightbus, I will ensure that Jenny Bristow, one of our local chefs, bakes him a cake that means that he will forget forever any other piece of cake he has had anywhere else.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the introduction of UK-made zero-emission buses.