Schedule 3 — Transfer schemes

Part of Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 9:26 pm on 26 January 2015.

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Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:26, 26 January 2015

Toward the end of his remarks, the Minister praised members of the Bill Committee and adopted a consensual approach, so perhaps I shall start in the same vein. I, too, thank all those who have contributed to debate on the Bill as it has gone through its various stages. In particular, I add my thanks to Labour’s team in the other place for the improvements they sought, and in some cases secured, and to my hon. Friends the Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), with whom I led for the Opposition in Committee and again today.

I also thank all members of the Committee on both sides who scrutinised the Bill, but two in particular: my right hon. Friend Mr Raynsford and my hon. Friend Andrew Miller. For both, this will have been their last Bill Committee, I suspect, unless they do something dreadfully wrong in the next few weeks. Both have given great service to the House. In fact, when we were both new in this place, the first Bill Committee I served on was also my hon. Friend’s first Bill Committee, so it is great that we have shared his last.

Finally, I thank the Minister and his colleagues, and all those who have contributed to today’s debate. We all know that infrastructure is critical to the UK’s future, from affordable energy in our homes to a modern communications system, or a transport system connecting people to jobs, opportunities and each other. Good infrastructure is vital to our economy and our quality of life. That is why it was so important to give the Bill the thorough scrutiny that it deserved. Given its wide-ranging nature, it should have had more than one day for Report and Third Reading; the way debates today have been truncated underlines that fact.

It is of course even more wide-ranging than what the Library briefing described as a “portmanteau Bill”, when it was introduced in this place. The Bill has had a new long title, and it has two more parts and many more clauses than when it was introduced. It ranges from the abolition of the somewhat mysterious Public Works Loan Board commissioners to invasive non-native species to the British Transport police, and everything in between.

Constructive criticism has strengthened the Bill, ensuring that a rushed and badly drafted reform of the electronic communications code governing mobile telephone infrastructure will be rethought. We have new requirements to support apprenticeships and training in road construction, and we have a walking and cycling strategy which is welcome and must be built on. Important actions that will follow from the Bill include the Wood review, whose implementation will be vital. If we needed reminding of that, the current situation in the North sea is such a reminder. In a victory for wildlife groups, communities in Devon and Scotland and the Opposition, we have protected the European beaver.

For making some of those changes and changes in other areas, including some of the roads clauses, I pay tribute to the Minister for the way that he has approached these matters. We still disagree on some key points, particularly on converting the Highways Agency into a Government-owned company, but he understands the need for scrutiny of Bills and he has made changes to the Bill in response to issues that we and others have raised. That shows how legislation can be approached. Sadly, that is the part of proceedings in this place that the public all too seldom see.

However, as we approached today’s debate, some things went badly wrong, starting with the timetable and the fact that we had only one day on Report. We have seen far too many last-minute changes to the Bill and things being tagged on without time for parliamentary scrutiny, despite the Minister’s best efforts. We saw it in the rushed electronic communications code, which ended up pleasing nobody and had to be rethought. It was not in the Bill in the other place; it came in more than halfway through the Committee stage and had to be withdrawn today. It was not necessary for that to happen. The issue should have been approached in a more measured way.

In relation to new regulations regarding planning and pubs, we tabled a thought-through amendment, but the response was a last-minute rushed statement to try to head off that amendment, instead of Ministers looking at what was being said, responding to that and enshrining it in the Bill. Most notable today has been the issue of shale gas extraction. I am pleased that the Government accepted our new clause 19, which introduces 13 conditions as vital protection if shale gas extraction is to be taken forward. The matter should not have had to be resolved today at the last minute with the Government finally accepting an Opposition amendment, presumably because they thought they would lose unless they did so. These issues have been raised in Committee and elsewhere, and they could have been resolved elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West has been raising them for three years. We now know that new clause 19 has been accepted and I welcome that.

I have to say to the Government that one or two comments made today suggested that although new clause 19 was being accepted today, when the Bill went back to the other place, there could be attempts to tinker with it—take a bit out here, put a bit in there. If the Government go down that road, they will be asking for trouble. That new clause was thought through. It is a package, not a pick and mix. I hope the Government will respect that as we go forward.

As the Opposition have continued to state throughout proceedings on the Bill, we face major infrastructure challenges—a population rising to 73 million in just 20 years’ time, the challenges of energy security, a chronic shortage of affordable housing, airports, roads and railways all straining under demand, and the threat that climate change presents to us all. There is a cross-party consensus on the need to address these issues, but all too often decisions are not taken, public support is not achieved and projects are not delivered.

We may be one of the world’s leading economies but we lag behind other countries that take a more strategic and long-term approach to infrastructure investment. As the noble Lord Adonis said last week, infrastructure investment

“will not happen on the scale required unless it is better planned, better led and better financed.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 22 January 2015; Vol. 758, c. 1392.]

During the Committee stage, the Institute of Government published a booklet called “The Political Economy of Infrastructure in the UK”, which concluded that we need to change the “institutional architecture” for infrastructure decision making. Labour Members completely agree. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham called for this House to back the proposal by Sir John Armitt, chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, for a national infrastructure commission that would look three decades ahead and consult across all sectors to provide an evidence-based assessment of infrastructure priorities in the UK. Parliament would be able to vote on these, and Governments would be held accountable for delivering them.

For me, the debates on this Bill have crystallised why that kind of evidence-based approach is needed so badly, from controversy about the priorities in the road investment strategy, to disputes about rushed electronic communications regulations, to the need for robust environmental and regulatory safeguards in relation to energy security. We need a more rigorous and independent look at infrastructure needs in energy, transport, telecoms and many other sectors. It is a travesty that the Government continue to oppose such a common-sense reform, which is backed by the LSE Growth Commission, EEF, the Institution of Civil Engineers, 89% of businesses surveyed by the CBI, and many more. By establishing that commission, the Bill could have set the UK on course for the challenges of the 21st century, but it has failed to do so. The repeated failure of the Government to address these issues in a sufficiently planned-out way is not good enough.

This could all have been very different. With a shared national purpose, long-term planning, proper public engagement and cross-party support for our world-leading engineering and construction sectors, we can deliver the improvements our country’s infrastructure needs. The 2012 Olympics were a model of that kind of approach. We urgently need the same framework for decision making and planning across national infrastructure. This Bill could have delivered that, but it has not done so, and we have a Government who are not going to do so. That is why it will take a change of Government in May to deliver the change that is needed.


John Byng
Posted on 27 Jan 2015 5:11 pm (Report this annotation)

I would wish Richard Burden to know that airports are not "straining under demand". In fact we have at least 10 major international airports in the UK only one of which is full.
It is important to realise that if Heathrow or Gatwick are allowed to build another runway it will be at the expense of other airports that already have a great deal of unused capacity. Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow could provide holiday flights to the many people who presently drive to Heathrow and Gatwick. And Luton and Stansted also have unused capacity. The airlines want more capacity at Heathrow so they can abandon the other airports and make greater profits at the expense of passengers and the environment.
The Government needs to return to the policy of NO MORE RUNWAYS - make use of the spare capacity at airports throughout the coutry.