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Electric Buses

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that new electric buses supported by the Government are built in (a) Northern Ireland and (b) other parts of the UK.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Northern Ireland is renowned for bus manufacturing, including Wrightbus’s New Routemaster hybrid model, which is famously operating around London today, and I know that the new owners are pioneering hydrogen technology. As part of “New Decade, New Approach”, the UK Government are providing £50 million to support the roll-out of ultra low emission public transport in Northern Ireland. I am in no doubt that Northern Ireland manufacturers will continue to lead the way in developing these next-generation buses.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

I thank the Minister for that reply, and it is very welcome that money is going to electric buses and, indeed, ultra low emission buses, including hydrogen technology, but when I contacted my local bus company, National Express, it confirmed that the 29 vehicles already ordered are being built in Britain, but would not commit for future orders. It went on to express a hope that capacity would grow with demand—not just from it, but from other operators. Does the Minister agree that there is a real role for the Government here, and will he push for a whole of Government and industry approach to ensure that cash flowing into electric and low emission buses benefits bus builders in the United Kingdom, including Wrights in Ballymena?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. As he will know, the Prime Minister announced new funding to overhaul bus links in England and made a commitment to at least 4,000 new zero-emission buses. We want to work with the industry to ensure that those buses are flowing through to orders to all those UK companies, including, as he says, Wrights in Ballymena.

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

I agree whole- heartedly with the question that has just been asked. On an immediate strategy for bus builders and bus operators, the Government could underwrite Transport for London, Birmingham buses, Translink and National Express, encourage them to make the orders that they have already indicated that they wish to make over the next year, and put at least £100 million of liquidity into manufacturing in Northern Ireland and across the UK overnight. That would cost the taxpayer nothing— they are paying for this anyway—but it would allow manufacturers to continue and employees to have surety of employment and the ability to put bread on the table. I urge the Government to adopt this strategy.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I always listen carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s representations, and I am very happy to discuss that with colleagues at the Department for Transport. Further details are being developed alongside our national bus strategy, which we expect to publish later this year, but I absolutely understand the importance of the issues he raises and, as I say, I am happy to undertake that discussion.