Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill
Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary, HM Treasury; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Liberal Democrat)
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Of course, the Bill will not discriminate between projects on policy grounds. We have set out some criteria, which I shall come to, but there are many energy projects—particularly in the renewables field—that are being brought forward in this country as a result of that framework and the policies that have followed from it. Some of those projects may well fall into the category that needs the support from the guarantees that the Bill will provide. In that sense, the Bill should give us an extra tool to ensure that the renewables investment that we need can go forward in a timely fashion, which I hope she would welcome.
The House will know that the Treasury already has wide powers under common law, not limited by statute, to issue guarantees, make loans and give other financial assistance in support of infrastructure. In some cases, Secretaries of State have statutory powers to support infrastructure; in others, they would need to rely on common law powers. However, many Members will
also know that there is a long-standing convention, dating back to 1932, that the Government should not rest significant and regular expenditure under common law powers on the sole authority of general supply legislation. Accordingly, in order to offer the support that we want to see, the Government need Parliament’s authority to incur expenditure in connection with agreements to provide financial assistance and to pay out on liabilities, should they be called on to do so. Today we seek authority for the Treasury, or the Secretary of State where appropriate, to incur up to £50 billion of expenditure in connection with giving financial assistance to infrastructure across the UK.