Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill
Graham Evans (Weaver Vale, Conservative)
It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful for a chance to contribute to this debate. I welcome the Bill, which clearly shows that the Government
are serious about growth, about rebalancing the economy, and about investing in infrastructure, especially in the north of England.
I want to start by addressing some of the bleating from Labour Members. It is easy for them to criticise the Government, but what infrastructure projects would they deliver? It is difficult to see what policy they have on anything. Their blank piece of paper remains blank, as far as I can tell. I am very concerned about what appears to be Labour’s thinking on investing in infrastructure. At last year’s “March for the Alternative”, when asked where Labour would make the £14 billion-worth of cuts that it said it would make that year, the party’s deputy leader, Ms Harman, explained that it would
“hold back on capital investment”.
Given that the total level of capital investment planned is far less than the amount that Labour says it will cut, and given that it has failed to specify any other areas for cuts, one might be entitled to assume that the right hon. and learned Lady intends to scrap all capital investment. Nobody seems to know whether this is official Labour policy; even Labour Members do not know. Perhaps they will take a more middle-of-the-road approach and scrap only half the schemes in the national infrastructure plan. However, it appears that, at the very least, Labour’s deputy leader wants to do the very opposite of what this Bill is designed to achieve.
Investing in Britain’s infrastructure is essential for delivering growth and ensuring the long-term competitiveness of our economy. Such projects can in themselves create thousands of new jobs and generate huge numbers of orders for hundreds of businesses. The benefits of the completed projects are almost impossible to quantify, but they include improved road, rail and communication links, and more reliable, clean and affordable energy supplies. They can help to bring people, money and ideas into parts of the country that desperately need it. They make Britain a more attractive place for people to do business in, and bring even more jobs, talent and energy to our shores. Infrastructure projects in the right locations can help to rebalance our economy away from dependence on the City of London and towards more manufacturing, perhaps in places in my constituency such as Runcorn or Northwich.
A lot of exciting infrastructure projects are planned which will bring huge benefits to my constituents in Cheshire. I could happily drone on for hours about High Speed 2, but today I wish to focus on other projects so will simply re-emphasise that HS2 is essential if we are going to solve the west coast main line capacity challenge. The northern hub rail plan will dramatically improve connectivity between northern cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. It will also make life considerably easier for a huge number of commuters, improving the rail network and easing road congestion. Such improvements do not just make our cities more attractive places to do business and encourage external investment; they help to improve the quality of life for many of our constituents too.
Another vital piece of infrastructure that I hope will benefit from the Bill is the Mersey gateway project. The fact that this project is going ahead at all is a testament to the Government’s commitment to Runcorn, Merseyside
and the north-west region as a whole. Despite years of hand-wringing, the Labour Government failed to approve the bridge. I remember that in the period immediately after the general election there were many fears that it would never happen. Thankfully, those fears were misplaced and this Government have come through. For those Members who are unaware of the scheme, allow me to explain. The project is about building a much-needed extra bridge across the Mersey between Runcorn and Widnes. We have the Silver Jubilee bridge, which is past its best. If it were ever to collapse—heaven forbid!—we would be in real trouble. The new dualled three-lane bridge and associated link roads will form a major new transport route, improving links from the Liverpool city region, north Cheshire and the wider north-west to the rest of the country. Combined with the new enterprise zone at Daresbury, the project will help to bring many new businesses and jobs to Runcorn and the wider north-west.
I am pleased to support the Bill, which will help to finance important infrastructure projects and allow work to commence on them as soon as possible. I hope it receives the support of the whole House, because that will tell the world that we are investing for the future and that Britain is open for business.