Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington, Labour)
Interestingly, the coalition against the expansion of Heathrow has been cross-party up until now. If I remember rightly, the Government’s deputy Chief Whip committed to lying down in front of the bulldozers if it ever came about, and he was not moved in the reshuffle, so I take that as another commitment to opposition to the policy. I hope that the Government will support an amendment to prevent the Bill from being used to give guarantees on the funding of the expansion of Heathrow, certainly during the lifetime of this Parliament. We can then debate the matter with the subsequent Government.
Like everybody else, I am desperate for infrastructure investment in my constituency, which is suffering from a housing crisis on a scale not seen since the second world war. Housing should be included. Mr Blunt argued for the funding of prison cells, but was not willing to argue that housing be funded. Housing my constituents is just as important as housing prisoners, given the housing crisis.
My schools also need to be renovated, because Hillingdon council pulled out of Building Schools for the Future at the last minute and pupils in my constituency are now being educated in crumbling schools. The buildings that are being built for new classes are portakabins, which are substandard for the long-term future.
On alternative energy, I want the green new deal to be implemented in my constituency as rapidly as possible. It has ground to a halt as a result of the Government’s measures on solar panels and on the funding of alternative energy in general.
As my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves said, there has been an element of déjà vu to this debate. I remember Alan Milburn arguing in favour of private finance initiatives in 1997. We were told then that PFI was the solution to our infrastructure and investment problems and that it would transfer the risk from the public sector to the private sector. With the greatest of respect to a number of my hon. Friends, that did not happen. What we saw instead was profiteering at vast expense to the taxpayer and profligate expenditure that produced very little for the amount that we invested.
The bizarre thing about the plan under discussion, which will introduce another scheme to keep expenditure off the books and within the parameters set by the European Union with regard to public expenditure, is that it will transfer the risk back from the private sector to the public sector, so now the public sector will take all the risk for schemes. My hon. Friend Hugh Bayley raised a number of detailed points that need to be answered and I have an additional question. If we look at the briefing paper for the Bill, we will see that it will also be able to fund revenue expenditure. Therefore, in addition to the capital expenditure, I take it that if some of these capital schemes go wrong, we will fund the revenue consequences as a result. There needs to be a detailed analysis—my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow mentioned the Public Accounts Committee—and it needs to take place now, before the next debate on this Bill. We are almost entering into another PFI-type situation whereby a grab of short-term resources will result in long-term costs.
That is all because no Government will grasp the real nettle, which is that there is no lack of resources in this country; the problem is that they are in the wrong hands and are not being used productively. The crisis in the economy was not caused by over-expenditure by the previous Government. The only time borrowing went up dramatically was when they had to bail out the banks and bring in large-scale quantitative easing. In fact, the level of public expenditure in relation to GDP just about met the John Major levels. The problem was that we never balanced that expenditure with an appropriate taxation regime. What we need to do now is introduce a fiscal package that includes a wealth tax, a financial transaction tax, land valuation taxation and measures to tackle tax evasion and avoidance, so that we can fund public expenditure and not have to create devices that in the long term will cost us more and produce so much less.
I regret that we may well be here in five years’ time—I do not look forward to it—as a result of this Bill, counting the cost as we did with PFI. Members need to consider the Bill’s detail as we move to the next stage, because it is the detail that will cost taxpayers dear and result in profligate spending and some abortive spending on some of the projects that have been mentioned tonight and that we all hold dear on behalf of our constituencies.
This has been an interesting debate, but I worry that when everyone agrees that we need to speed up and expedite the Bill, we will not give it sufficient consideration. That is what happened to the PFI legislation and we lived to regret it. I hope that we do not live to regret this Bill.