Infrastructure Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 26 January 2015.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 3:43, 26 January 2015

I beg to move,

That the Order of 8 December 2014 (Infrastructure Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

(3) The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

Table
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses, new Schedules, amendments to clauses and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 5 5.30pm
New Clauses, new Schedules, amendments to clauses and amendments to Schedules relating to Parts 3, 4 and 7 7.30pm
Remaining proceedings on Consideration 9.00pm

(4) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 10.00pm.

I will say a few words on the programme motion, if I might, Mr Speaker.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Mr Speaker, it is always a joy to perform in this Chamber under your benevolent stewardship, but a still greater joy to be able to move the programme motion on this important proposed legislation.

I will just say a word about the programme motion. It is important that we emphasise that, although we do not want to take up too much of the House’s time—this is a big subject—there is a range of subject matter contained in the Bill and the need to ensure effective and fair consideration of it is the basis of the programme motion. The House needs to be afforded sufficient time to debate all the Bill’s areas effectively. We considered the number of amendments and the strength of feeling among hon. Members to create a programme fit for the purpose of enabling the House to do so.

The programme motion accordingly provides until 5.30 pm to debate the new clauses and amendments relating to energy. Thereafter, it provides until 7.30 pm to debate the new clauses and amendments on environmental control of animal and plant species, and on planning, land and buildings. All other provisions, including those relating to strategic highways companies, will be considered until 9 pm.

In fairness, the Opposition raised the issue of needing more time on Report when the Government introduced new clauses and schedules in Committee. Given that the Government intend to remove the additional and, admittedly, late-in-the-day provisions on the electronic communications code, and that no amendments have been tabled against our new clauses on the Public Works Loan Commissioners, the reimbursement of persons who have met expenses in the electrical connections market and the mayoral development orders, I cannot see why they want time for further deliberation at this stage.

The Bill has so far been debated in the right spirit. Indeed, I would go further: the mature and measured consideration it was given on Second Reading and in Committee speaks well of the House and, if I may say so, of the Opposition. Their team scrutinised the Bill carefully and fully, but in a considered way, while not in any sense failing in their duty to test the Government’s arguments and to make good arguments of their own.

To that end and in that spirit, we have in turn listened carefully and taken on board some of the criticisms made of the Bill since its inception. In all the Bill does, it has evolved by a process of careful scrutiny, such as I have described. It has also moved forward because Governments need to think about the arguments made in this place and elsewhere when proposed legislation of such significance comes before the House.

It is in everyone’s interests to send a signal from this House that there is consensus on the Bill, and that we can deliver it on time. On that note, as a father might say to his young children, I say, “Don’t spoil it now.” Let us maintain that spirit and send out such a signal. Let us do right by the House, but right by the nation, too.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:47, 26 January 2015

Mr Speaker, I completely endorse your point about the Minister being an extraordinary specimen of humanity, which we commented on in Committee on many occasions.

I will not detain the House long, but may I say a few words? I welcome what the Minister said about the Committee stage, which was conducted maturely. There are still differences that we will debate today—fairly sharp ones in many cases—but there was movement, and I welcome the Minister’s approach in Committee on such areas. However, he is right to say that we asked for two days on Report. That should not have been too much to ask for a Bill that was introduced in the other place, and to which whole new areas were added when it reached this place, to the extent that even the long title had to be changed in Committee. That is not a good way to approach legislation. Against that background, it should not have been too much to have two days for proper scrutiny on Report and Third Reading; sadly, we have been denied that opportunity.

The problem with debating programme motions is that there is always this dilemma for the House and for the Opposition: do we debate the fact that we have not got enough time to talk about the Bill, or do we get on with talking about it in the time available? I will not detain the House by dividing on the programme motion, but for the benefit of all Members I want it to be recorded that the Bill was introduced and pursued in a cack-handed way, and that it should receive greater scrutiny today than the time available allows.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge 3:49, 26 January 2015

I will be extremely brief, because I do not want to take time away from the debates on the Bill.

My concern is not so much about the time available for debate, because we have had enough heat and no light already, but about the number of votes that the House will be able to have. There are a number of new clauses and amendments, and I am particularly interested in a range of them, such as new clause 6, new clause 9 and amendment 50, which I hope will be debated. However, I wish to highlight amendment 51, because 360,000 members of the public have signed a petition in support of it. It would be right for the House to have the chance to have its say; otherwise we will be letting people down.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 3:50, 26 January 2015

However lyrical, charming, elegant and extraordinary the Minister is, and however beautifully he has taken the Bill through all its stages thus far, it is a bit rich for him to enjoin us not to ruin it at the end, because unfortunately it was another Department that tried to ruin his Bill. His former Parliamentary Private Secretary, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, over whom he no longer seems to have any control whatever, insisted that large amendments be added only a week ago on a whole new matter that had nothing whatever to do with the Bill—the electronic communications code. That was part of some magic deal that was being done with the mobile telephone operators before Christmas, which has now crumbled to dust. Those amendments were foisted on the Bill—it is not so much a Christmas tree Bill as the whole of Oxford Circus, it has so many baubles on it.

The truth is that the amendments that were suddenly added to the Bill were interlopers. The Minister says that the programme motion is fine, because he now wishes to withdraw the amendments that he insisted were added to the Bill only a week ago—the shortest-lived amendments in the 750-year history of this Parliament, no doubt. However, we now have to debate removing them, having never had an opportunity properly to debate putting them into the Bill in the first place.

Although I accept that the Minister is a wonderful chap—I see that he is now pointing to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and telling him off—I gently say to the Government that it would have been far better if we had gone through the process properly and had a two-day debate on the important matters in the Bill. Fracking is an important issue to many people, and we will no doubt debate it at considerable length today, but we should have had a two-day Report stage.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 3:52, 26 January 2015

I am a little disappointed, because I wrote to the Public Bill Committee and asked whether it would consider an amendment, but I gather there was not time for it to do so. This is probably the only time I can raise the matter I want to mention today because, as Richard Burden said, the debates will be quite crowded. When there are huge pieces of infrastructure work such as the proposed 3.5 million square foot rail freight development in my constituency, there is no obligation on developers to at least consider green, environmental measures. It is a loss that we will not get to debate that today.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Yes, but I think that probably relates to amendments that it might have been in someone’s mind to table, but which have not yet been tabled and do not relate directly to the programme motion. However, the hon. Lady has opted for an elastic interpretation of the terms of the motion, and she has got her points on the record, so I hope she is content.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

My hon. Friend Chris Bryant is right that the clause providing for the electronic communications code is the shortest-lived clause ever—it survived just a week. The Government introduced it, but it is now being withdrawn from the Bill. As I argued in Committee, it is right that the Government should withdraw it, so I congratulate them on doing so—the code needs sorting out. Having said that, a huge amount of time has been wasted on it, meaning that we will not have adequate time today to debate many important details of the Bill.

The Minister knows that I am on his side on fracking. In principle, I want to see it go ahead in the right regulatory environment. The trouble is that he is putting the House in a difficult position by asking us to approve hugely important measures with just a couple of hours of debate.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield 3:54, 26 January 2015

I do not want to detain the House long. I have great respect for the Minister and have worked closely with him in his different guises, but the emollient tone in which he introduced the programme motion was inappropriate in some ways. Many of my constituents, and constituents up and down this country, read that a major infrastructure Bill is going through and they would expect us to have the time to tackle issues such as shale gas with great scrutiny, and with a great depth of probing of exactly what was going on and what was intended. The Environmental Audit Committee was right in recommending the moratorium, although in the long-term this should always be based on good evidence. Many people up and down this country would see that an infrastructure Bill is before the House and that the biggest infrastructure programme at the moment, HS2, means we are possibly going to spend £80 billion on an iconic railway rather than investing in the national health service. Those people in this country deserve a voice and they will not get it on this Bill or in respect of these two days of debate.

Question put and agreed to.