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Report (3rd Day)

Part of Infrastructure Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 10th November 2014.

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Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative 9:00 pm, 10th November 2014

My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this debate. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkin for his experienced view. I accept his stricture that it would have been hard in 1970 to foresee the flows from North Sea oil. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Teverson, for their support.

There was a characteristically combative speech from my noble friend Lord Forsyth from which I drew four things. The first was that the priority must be debt repayment; otherwise, it is a charge on future generations. That is fine, so long as you do not think that there should be any intergenerational fairness and you think that the assets that flow from shale gas are ours to use to repay the debts that we have created. That is a philosophical question. Secondly, he said that we should not spend money that we do not have. However, a sovereign wealth fund is not spending; it is saving. It is not actually spending but making sure that we do not spend it. Thirdly, he said that it is like going along to your bank manager and asking to borrow £1.4 trillion. Of course it is, but what we are doing at the moment is saying, “We’re not going to take the actions to cut that; we’re going to pledge some future assets that actually might belong to future generations”. That is the conversation that we are having with our bank manager rather than one about how we cut our coat according to our cloth. On my noble friend’s last point, this is a permissive amendment. It is not designed to set out how things are going to work; it is designed merely to say that, if things develop in a certain way—that is, profitably—then we should look at it again at that point.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, on the question of hypothecation, when we are talking about a finite natural resource that might belong not just to this generation, we should consider whether there is a special case for dealing with it in a particular way, which you might or might not call hypothecation.

Finally, I turn to the Minister’s reply, for which I thank him greatly. It is interesting that, given institutional concern about this, the Kuwait Investment Authority, which is the sixth largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, is worth about $600 billion. It was set up in the 1950s, at a time when Kuwait looked to this country for guidance and help and support, by a team entirely from the UK Treasury. So we have tried to deal with the sovereign wealth fund idea, but not here—only with people who were looking for our advice.

I recognise, and am grateful for, what is at least half—probably more than half and possibly two-thirds—of a loaf tonight. I think that I heard my noble friend say that he wholeheartedly commits to the principle of a sovereign wealth fund, a commitment which he said the Chancellor will reaffirm in his Autumn Statement. Further, the Chancellor will at that time commit to bringing forward a proposal for a sovereign wealth fund in the next Parliament.

There is of course many a slip between principle and practice. I equally have to recognise that my amendment is a pretty rough and ready one on which to hang such a radical new departure for British public policy. Weighing all of these factors up, I am going to trust that practice will follow principle, and watch developments closely. In the mean time, I thank my noble friend for his reply, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 118 withdrawn.

Amendment 119

Moved by Lord Jenkin of Roding

119: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—

“Part 4AImpact of infrastructure spending on costs for consumers

Impact of infrastructure spending on costs for consumers

(1) The Treasury may by regulations make provision for the regulators to provide data, in a manner prescribed by the regulations, about the anticipated impact of infrastructure spending on the cost of products for consumers.

(2) Regulations made under subsection (1) may prescribe—

(a) the type of infrastructure spending about which data must be provided;

(b) the nature of the data to be provided;

(c) the methodology for collating and manipulating the data, including assumptions that should be made;

(d) the form in which the data should be presented;

(e) the persons that should receive a copy of the data.

(3) The regulations may make different provision for different regulators where necessary.

(4) The Treasury must scrutinise the data provided under subsection (1) and assess—

(a) the impact of infrastructure spending on the cost of products for consumers;

(b) the affordability of any anticipated increases in the cost of products for consumers, taking into account factors other than infrastructure spending that are also likely to significantly impact the cost of products; and

(c) differences in affordability between different groups of consumers, if any.

(5) The Treasury must publish the data provided under subsection (1) and the assessment made under subsection (4) in such manner as it reasonably deems appropriate.

(6) The Treasury must take into account the assessment in subsection (4) in making decisions about the extent, prioritisation or timing of infrastructure spending.

(7) In this Part—

“consumer” means any individual or household of individuals that purchases a product or products;

“product” means a good or service the provision of which is regulated by a regulator; a “regulator” means any of—

(a) the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation;

(b) the Office of Communications;

(c) the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets;

(d) the Office of Rail Regulation;

(e) the Water Industry Commission for Scotland; and

(f) the Water Services Regulation Authority, and “the regulators” means all of them.”