Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill
Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove, Conservative)
I thank the shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie, for his warm words of welcome. This has been an excellent debate. It has highlighted the areas on which we agree—the importance of safeguarding the flow of investment into this country’s critical infrastructure, for example—as well as those on which we differ. I would like to thank those on the Labour Front Bench for backing the Bill so that we can get on with the important investment that this country needs. There have been some excellent contributions to the debate—I have counted 22 of them—and I will comment on them shortly.
First, I want to make one critical point. As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said, the action that we are taking, which this legislation makes possible, is possible only as a result of the decisive action taken by this Government to deal with the economic mess that we inherited. In the decade before we came to power, Government debt had risen from £346 billion to over £900 billion; that represents almost a tripling of the national debt. That created the conditions for the severe economic crisis that we are all now suffering from, and mortgaged the future for our children and grandchildren.
Because of the lack of a credible plan from the Labour party, on general election day in 2010, 10-year gilts were 3.8%—the same as those of Italy and Spain. Because of the tough decisions we have taken, however, and the responsibility and credibility of our long-term fiscal plans, the UK is now a safe haven from the global debt storm. The 10-year gilt interest rates are now 1.9%—less than half what they were when we came to power. We are now in a position to unlock private sector infrastructure investment only because of the immense strength of the UK Government’s balance sheet.
Opposition Members seem to be under the illusion that this credibility has come at the expense of infrastructure investment, so let me clear up that misconception. We are spending more on transport and communications infrastructure than the previous Government decided to spend at the height of the boom. That is despite the fact that they ran deficits every year for eight years, including when times were good. Now that Britain is restrained and is responsible in the face of a global debt storm, we are nevertheless delivering the public investment that Opposition Members say they want to see, while we are making tough decisions and taking control of spending, such as welfare, where we can.
We announced £18 billion in retail investment in the spending review and a further £9.4 billion of infrastructure enhancements in the summer. In the Budget, we announced that there will be 10 super-connected cities across the UK that will enjoy ultra-fast broadband and high-speed wireless connectivity. On top of that immense investment, we now propose to unlock potentially billions of pounds of further investment from the private sector.
Let me deal with Back Benchers’ contributions to the debate. I start with one of the most thoughtful speeches, from my hon. Friend Mr Blunt. This was the first time that I, as a new Member of Parliament, have heard him speak from the Back Benches. He made an extremely thoughtful speech, which was a great contribution to the debate. He suggested using the
facility put in place by this Bill to invest in prisons, and I hope that that will take place. He also drew attention to the economic credibility that the Government have won, as did my hon. Friend Graham Evans.
A number of hon. Members referred to particular projects in their constituencies. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale mentioned the Mersey Gateway project, while my hon. Friend James Morris mentioned the Birmingham international airport, and Hazel Blears raised the issue of MediaCityUK and superfast broadband. My hon. Friend Priti Patel mentioned roads in Essex as another example. Strong cases were made, and they were all duly noted. If the promoters of these projects have not already done so, they should start the discussion immediately with the UK infrastructure team in the Treasury.
There were a number of other good contributions. My hon. Friend Dr Coffey raised an important point about how Labour’s investment in infrastructure paid very poor attention to value for money.
Some Labour Members made some interesting contributions. The first, from John Healey, was thoughtful, and I welcome his support for the Bill. His experience as a former Minister shows. I believe that he was once a Housing Minister—he raised the issue of housing—and also a Minister in the Treasury. Indeed, I think he once held my job. Mr Robinson, who is not in his place, also raised the issue of housing. It was strange that he raised that subject—I think he was talking about whether the Bill should back investment in housing, but financing housing is something he has great experience in.
The right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles raised a number of important issues; I am pleased that she welcomed the Bill. Chris Williamson, who I do not see in his place, made a speech that would have fitted well with a Labour conference in the 1970s. For a moment I thought that I was listening to Derek Hatton. The speech made by Nic Dakin towards the end of the debate was in a similar vein.
Hugh Bayley asked a number of good questions. He asked, for instance, whether flood defences would be included. I am advised that there is no reason for them to be excluded, and we envisage their being part of the infrastructure that is being considered. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.
My hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt made some excellent points about Portsmouth’s infrastructure needs, which were duly noted. Mr Bain did a very good job of following his Whip’s brief, but he asked one interesting question: where were the members of the Scottish National party? I was asking myself that as well, especially given that the Bill is UK-wide and is intended to support infrastructure throughout the United Kingdom, including all the devolved regions. It was surprising that we did not hear much from SNP members. I had thought that they would be here today, fighting for the interests of their constituents.