With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“In order to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”.
Amendment 11, in clause 4, page 3, line 33, leave out “effect of” and insert—
“desirability of securing improvements through”.
In the debate on the Bill so far, the need for the Bill and for Parliament generally to put the UK on course for a low-carbon, sustainable future has been very important for both Government and Opposition. Perhaps that was best summed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) on Second Reading. She said:
“the Infrastructure Bill should be the means whereby we balance economic development with environmental and social responsibilities.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 687.]
That should be a key purpose of the Bill.
The trouble is that the Bill comes nowhere near achieving that purpose. It contains provisions, which we will discuss later, that will water down standards for zero-carbon homes. There is no 2030 decarbonisation target, which the Labour party has committed to enshrining in law. There is no commitment in the Bill to use roads reform to achieve sustainable development.
The fact that such things are missing should not surprise us too much. I am not sure whether this is parliamentary language, but when we hear eminent people at the top of Government talking about ditching the “green crap”, we can see that there is some way to go to get the present Government to take our commitments to a low-carbon future as seriously as they should do. As for the recent much-vaunted autumn statement, the Chancellor did not mention climate change in it at all.
As I said on Second Reading, the days have gone—it is good that they have gone—when it was thought instinctively that anyone interested in a low-carbon future or in looking at sustainable development should, by definition, be against all road building, improvement of roads or the motor vehicle itself. Things are not as simple as that. From ultra-low-emission vehicles and electric cars to research and development into hydrogen fuel cells, the innovation of the automotive sector means that we are now credibly looking at a future of zero tailpipe emissions from the industry. On road resurfacing as well, there are things such as two-layer porous asphalt, which can substantially reduce noise pollution. In spite of great and massive innovation in such areas, the reality remains that road-based transport still poses a significant environmental challenge now and, perhaps more importantly, in the future.
Transport still makes up a quarter of the UK’s total emissions, and road transport accounts for the majority of that, at about 90%. Vehicle emissions also cause major problems for air quality, which are not only theoretical ones; it is now estimated that problems with air quality in this country could kill up to 29,000 people a year down the line. The road investment strategy may set a target for zero breaches of air quality regulations by 2040, which is good, but we are not compliant now. As the Government were recently told in a European ruling, we need to take urgent action.
The Environmental Audit Committee recently recommended that the Bill needs a clause to insert a legal duty to protect air quality. That is why it is imperative for the new company to have a clear purpose and duty to meet social, economic and environmental objectives, and to help put the UK on course to develop in a sustainable way.
The Government have accepted the need to put the company’s duty to consider the environment on a statutory footing, which is welcome. It is also welcome that the road investment strategy contains important targets and funding commitments on noise, low-emission vehicles and air quality. However, it also puts huge faith in the shift in the vehicle parc to achieve our legally binding climate change targets. It does not seem to be looking at managing demand or giving greater priority where appropriate to forms of transport other than the private motor car.
It says that the company’s aim is to “limit, and even reverse” environmental damage that the strategic road network can have. When the Department’s own forecasts say that emissions are due to increase in the 2030s, due to expected traffic growth, is it not time to start thinking about improvements? The amendment proposes that the Government have a clear role in achieving sustainable development. I am defining that as encouraging economic growth while protecting the environment and improving the safety and quality of life for current and future generations.
For the economy, that would mean ensuring that roads support productivity and competitiveness, and deliver the right solutions for the UK’s economic geography as a whole. That includes improving connectivity between and within regions, strengthening east-west connectivity and supporting agglomeration in cities.
For the environment, that would mean some ambitious thinking to cut CO2 emissions, reduce noise and air pollution, and improve the landscape and biodiversity. It may also mean having a proper review of the Department for Transport’s traffic forecasts, which historically have not proved to be hugely accurate, often overestimating traffic. We need to determine how we can best invest to promote sustainability.
Although the Government are not talking about it, they seem to have ended their opposition to targets for road safety, which I welcome. They have set an important goal in the Bill to cut deaths and serious injuries by 40% on strategic roads by 2020. We are saying that, although that is welcome, we should set out our long-term aim for zero fatalities across the road network. That is not unprecedented as other countries have set that kind of target.
I look forward to the Minister’s response. He may say that the duty of the company will be to comply with sustainable development and that compliance requirement will be in the licence. However, I do not think that is enough. In the other place, Baroness Kramer said that the Government did not want to put the words in statute as they are effectively a transport strategy and policy choice.
I do not agree. Are we saying that the mechanisms for achieving economic growth, environmental sustainability and quality of life may be policy choices and strategies? The principle of achieving those things is not a policy choice but an imperative. Section 110 of the Localism Act 2011 is entitled:
“Duty to co-operate in relation to planning of sustainable development”.
I do not see any reason why we are not planning land use and highways with the same objectives in this Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said recently, in past four years the political consensus that we thought was developing around sustainability has been undermined. If the Government were to accept the amendment or something like it, they would show that, although the consensus on sustainability has been a little shaky in the past four years, it has not completely disappeared.
We look forward to your benevolent chairmanship, Sir Roger, and I welcome you to the chair in that spirit. T. S. Eliot, the great intellectual, said:
“It’s not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them.”
No doubt, you will be following that line of argument yourself during our proceedings.
I understand why the amendment has been tabled. It is important that in all our considerations we take account of the impact on the environment in the broadest terms. It is absolutely right that the road investment strategy does so, which is why we placed a duty in the strategy to take account of environmental and safety concerns—indeed, they have become requirements that must be considered.
The recently published documents clearly show how the strategy will meet the nation’s social, economic and environmental aspirations. Those aspirations flowed into the objectives we set for Highways England and the strategic road network in the strategic vision, the investment plan and the performance specification documents.
I was looking at those documents while the hon. Gentleman was speaking. He will be familiar with them. They were published alongside the strategy document, and they make it absolutely clear that:
“The Company will need to demonstrate that it is playing its part in helping reduce carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gas emissions, in line with current and future government targets.”
They go on to clarify—the hon. Gentleman noted this, to be fair—that the Government’s objectives are that by 2040, there should be:
“Zero breaches of air quality regulations and major reductions in carbon emissions across the network” and
“Improved environmental outcomes, including a net gain in biodiversity from the Company’s activities.”
We have been crystal clear that these matters lie at the heart of all we do and that one cannot consider infrastructure investment of this kind without considering its environmental footprint more broadly.
In my earlier remarks, which I will not rehearse—I know you would be excited if I were to do so, Sir Roger, but you will be able to check this in Hansard—I said that a new series of aesthetic considerations should focus on the design and quality of what we build, which are crucial environmental considerations. The difference we make to how the place in which we live looks and feels is vitally important. The general duty is on the face of the Bill, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged. Therefore, it is not only in the performance specification and the licence, but in primary legislation. For all those reasons, amendment 9 is unnecessary.
I, too, looked at the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, whose views on such things I greatly respect. As chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, she recently looked at air quality, and I gave evidence to that Committee prior to its report. In her Second Reading speech, she cited the evidence of the Woodland Trust, whose work I acknowledge and welcome. It called for environmental considerations to be placed at the core of the Strategic Highways Company. I assure the Woodland Trust, the hon. Lady and this Committee that those considerations will indeed be placed at the heart of the process.
The Woodland Trust also called—I know this is the hon. Lady’s view—for performance against those objectives to be monitored and “overseen”. I can give that assurance too.
As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield knows, we are doing all kinds of things to support the objectives that I set out. We are investing £5 billion, which will help to connect housing, enterprise zones and other industrial developments to help economic growth. We are investing £250 million for cycling, safety and integration, improving safety and facilitating travel alongside and across the SRN, and we have set clear environmental commitments on reducing biodiversity loss and noise pollution, as well as securing Highways England’s support in tackling carbon emissions and air quality issues. Those are just some of the things that I could list.
Richard Burden rose—
I was about to invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment but I think that he may be going to anticipate the invitation.
I am grateful to the Minister and I accept that the importance of ensuring environmental sustainability is mentioned and stressed, in many ways, in the RIS and in other documents. However, what was said in the other place worries me. There is going to be a duty in the licence but, in the other place, Baroness Kramer said that she did not think that it was appropriate to have that duty on the face of the Bill because it was effectively a policy choice and a strategy. I think that there is a difference between those. If the Minister says that there is not a difference, I would be pleased to hear that. If the Localism Act was able to promote, on the face of the Bill, a duty to co-operate in relation to the planning of sustainable development, that is pretty much what our amendments are about. Maybe the wording of the amendments could be improved or changed. I fully accept that; we are in Committee, not on Report. We would like to see something on the face of the Bill that puts at centre stage that that is an objective of the legislation, not just a desirable outcome of particular Government policies.
To return to the point that the hon. Gentleman made about what is on the face of the Bill, he will know—I have the Bill in front of me—that clause 3(5)(a) says quite clearly,
“In setting or varying a Road Investment Strategy, the Secretary of State must have regard, in particular, to the effect of the Strategy on (a) the environment, and (b) the safety of users of highways.”
So the fundamental duty is, indeed, set out on the face of the Bill. I will turn to the specific issue of sustainable development when I come to amendments 10 and 11. I agree, in essence, with the hon. Gentleman that the company will have an important role in contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. In setting up the Highways Agency as a Government company, we must take the opportunity to ensure that its good work in contributing to sustainable energy continues and improves. That is why the licence that we are putting in place for the company already includes a clear requirement to conform to the principles of sustainable development. Therefore, the duty to have regard to the effect of the environment is on the face of the Bill, and the emphasis on sustainable development is in the licence. I do not think that there is much difference between us on the matter. Specially, that requires the company to balance a range of factors in meeting the long and short-term needs of the network.
The factors identified in the licence are supporting national and local economic growth; protecting and improving safety; protecting, managing and enhancing the environment; seeking to improve quality of life for road users and communities; and ensuring efficiency and value for money. What that does for the first time—this is very much in line with my view of such things—is to place well-being at the heart of considerations about road development.
I spoke earlier—I was going to say “eloquently” but that is for others to vouch for—about the need to take a slightly broader view of the effect of road investment beyond the utility that it clearly offers. Part of that is about understanding the significance of its effect on well-being. That is now, in the terms that I have described, at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. There are also further requirements in the licence on safety and the environment, which are set out specifically in the context of sustainable development and value for money.
On safety, the licence requires that the company seek to ensure the best possible safety outcomes across its activities, while working in the context of sustainable development and delivering value for money. On the environment, the licence requires the company to ensure the best practicable environmental outcomes across its activities. The company will also be required to prepare and publish route strategies for the network as the primary source of evidence for the development of future road investment plans. The licence specifically requires the company to fulfil this requirement by taking account of, for example, adjacent road and other transport networks and local plans for economic growth or housing development, and it must have due regard to these when planning and carrying out its activities. Again, the licence will have legal force. As such, the Government do not consider the amendments necessary.
So, in the spirit we have thus far conducted our affairs, I do not think there is a difference in objective between us. It is absolutely right that all we set out in terms of the strategy should be in the context of those wider public policy considerations and wider measures of efficacy. The environment—both local and more generally—and safety are central to any such consideration, but we have already taken vital steps towards meeting that objective. On that basis, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
The Minister is correct that as far as the licence and the guidance are concerned, the objectives that he mentioned are pretty clear, which is to be welcomed. However, we are concerned about what is in the Bill. He is right to mention that clause 3(5) talks about the importance of the company and the road investment strategy having regard to
“the effect of the Strategy on—
(a) the environment, and
(b) the safety of users of highways.”
It should be about more than simply having regard to the effect of that strategy. It should be about having a specific duty to try to improve and contribute to the protection of the environment. We will come back to this matter. I hope the Minister will reflect on it before Report so that we can come up with a form of words to meet some of the objectives. I will not press the amendment to a vote at this stage, but I think he understands what we are getting at. For now, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
“(c) the anticipated impact of the Roads Investment Strategy upon the condition and development of the local roads network and local transport provision;
(d) the anticipated impact of the Roads Investment Strategy on links with other nationally and regionally significant transport and infrastructure projects, including ports and airports; and
(e) the anticipated impact of the Roads Investment Strategy on the growth plans of city regions and sub-regional bodies.”
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 13, in schedule 2, page 82, line 23 after “and”, insert—
“(i) how that strategy is expected to impact upon the condition and development of the local road network and local transport provision and the growth plans of city regions and sub-regions;
(ii) how that strategy is expected to impact on the growth plans of city regions and sub-regional bodies;
(iii) how that strategy is expected to impact upon the condition and development of links with other nationally and regionally significant transport and infrastructure projects, including ports and airports; and
(iv) an assessment of the structural condition of the strategic and local road networks.”.
New clause 4—Walking and cycling—
‘Within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, Her Majesty’s Government shall lay before Parliament a strategy which establishes long-term commitment and funding to increase rates of walking and cycling, including in the planning of infrastructure projects.’
New clause 5—Route Strategies—
‘(1) The strategic highways company shall produce route strategies for all highways under its control (“specified highways”) and shall ensure such strategies remain up to date.
(2) In deciding how to divide up specified highways into route strategies, the strategic highways company shall have due regard to local government boundaries and travel to work areas.
(3) Route strategies shall consider—
(a) other transport modes, including railways and port facilities, that are served by specified highways or run parallel to them;
(b) the interaction between specified highways and other highways;
(c) opportunities to secure the expeditious movement of people and freight; and
(d) opportunities to reduce environmental impacts.
(4) The strategic highways company must—
(a) carry out such consultation, and arrange for such publicity, as the strategic highways company thinks appropriate in relation to a route strategy;
(b) consult such persons, and such descriptions of persons, as may be prescribed;
(c) have regard to the responses to the consultation and publicity in deciding whether to proceed with a route strategy.
(5) In setting or varying a Roads Investment Strategy, the Secretary of State shall have due regard to route strategies.
(6) The Secretary of State may make regulations about route strategies.’
There is quite a lot in this group of amendments and new clauses. This morning we touched on the question of linking up and sorting out local and strategic roads and different modes of transport. Amendments 12 and 13 enable us to raise a similar set of issues. Neither our local or strategic roads, nor our modes of transport as a whole, is planned or managed as effectively as it could be. New clause 5 is about providing the vehicle by which we hope that process can start to happen. It is also about providing assurances that that process will take place. If there is to be a major devolution of power and funding within England—today is perhaps an appropriate day to mention this—there is an urgent need to think about such issues.
The Opposition are committed to devolving £30 billion-worth of funding for transport, housing and skills. In the case of transport, we want to give London-style powers over public transport and transport planning to strong city and county regions. The Greater Manchester deal and the experience of Transport for London over the past decade show what can be done if we get things linked up in the way that they should be. There is a huge opportunity for joined-up transport planning to support local economic growth. Joined-up planning can radically change the structure and performance of cities and regions and improve people’s day-to-day journeys.
If that happens, it also means that traditional boundaries between city, municipal, strategic and local road networks and other transport systems will start to blur, and rightly so, because that is the reality of the world. What we are considering today—both the road investment strategy in general and, more particularly, the relevant provisions of the Bill—is still a pretty centralised roads programme, developed largely in the DFT and the Highways Agency and set to be delivered by an arm’s length company aiming to meet a five-year performance specification.
I urge hon. Members to look at the road congestion map on page 35 of the strategic vision for the RIS. It shows that by 2040, entry into city regions, and in some cases exit from them, will often come to a standstill. City regions are preparing 20-year growth strategies. What assurances do we have that the plans for the strategic road network, which are fundamental to the success of those strategies, are being developed in parallel with them? We need some fundamental standards to be set out in the Bill, to ensure that the Government’s national road investment plan will support our cities and regions to grow in the future. This group of amendments is about trying to achieve that.
New clause 4 is about walking and cycling. It specifies:
“Within six months of the day in which this Bill is passed, Her Majesty’s Government shall lay before Parliament a strategy which establishes long-term commitment and funding to increase rates of walking and cycling, including in the planning of infrastructure projects.”
We have now had some clear guarantees from the Government, which I welcome.
I will gladly pay tribute to them. A lot of what is happening in Wales is positive. The rest of the United Kingdom needs to be prepared to examine the idea of active travel legislation, which the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government are pioneering. We need to see whether we can adopt the same models. The point of new clause 4 is to put into the Bill the objective of doing just that.
The Government say these days that they consider pedestrians and cyclists to be users of the strategic road network. I welcome that, because often in the past pedestrians or cyclists have not been mentioned at all in relation to the SRN. When they have been mentioned, it has all too often been in a kind of tick-box at the end—they have to be mentioned, so they just appear in a list that does not mean much. It is good that the Government say that they consider pedestrians and cyclists important, and that the watchdog, which we will talk about later in Committee, will be able to advocate on their behalf. In the road investment strategy, £100 million is ring-fenced for about 200 cycling schemes, which should deliver more segregated cycle paths alongside trunk roads and safer junctions and crossings.
Those things are welcome, but neither of them adds up to the long-term commitment to walking and cycling that we really need to see across the UK. There is a danger that the Bill is the start of another round of stop-start investment in cycling infrastructure, and will not provide the certainty that we need in order to plan and invest in active travel in the future. Local bodies, cities and regions need predictable and continuous funding so that they can plan and invest in the street and road schemes, the maintenance and the promotion and education programmes that are needed to make walking and cycling an easy and safe option for shorter journeys. Local authorities need certainty and confidence for investment, just as the Highways Agency and the supply chain need certainty.
Unfortunately, the Government’s record in this area is similar to their record on strategic road investment. As well as scrapping the £4 billion-worth of plans for the Highways Agency in 2010, they axed Cycling England and its £60 million annual budget. We have seen some quite extraordinary fluctuations in the budget for walking and cycling, and We know that one-off funding announcements for a number of cities do not mainstream active travel for the UK as a whole, which is what needs to happen.
Despite the Government’s claims to have doubled funding for cycling in this Parliament, a lot of that spending seems to be smoke and mirrors. They have top-sliced the local sustainable transport fund money provided to Bikeability and double-counted money from the scrapped Cycling England. With local authority budgets having been slashed by a third under this Government, the research that we have done has shown that half of councils have had to cut spending on walking and cycling since 2010.
I do not need to remind the Committee of why a long- term funding commitment is so urgently needed. Just 2% of journeys are made by bike in the UK, and walking trips continue to decline. If we can increase that percentage and start to catch up with the levels that we see in some other European countries, the benefits for all will be clear. The national health service will save billions of pounds. It will help reduce emissions and cut air pollution, and it will tackle the congestion in our towns and cities in a really positive way. It will also maximise strained resources. The Department’s recently published research shows that investing in cycling and walking provision is highly cost-effective. The typical benefit-cost ratios for cycling and walking are over 5:1. Typical road schemes are normally at about 2:1, which is classified as good, or 4:1, which is classified as very good.
Are things about to change? Are we moving in the right direction? I do not really think that we are. After a year of delay, we now have the draft of a Government cycling delivery plan. When it was published and called a “delivery plan”, a number of cycling organisations and walking campaigners said that it would be better called a “derisory plan”. I thought that was a bit unfair, but they made their point powerfully. What they were getting at—and they were right—is that the delivery plan contains no ambitious targets to increase cycling in the future, and it includes an aspiration for funding rather than a commitment to it. As far as I can see, the DFT does not have any form of budget line at all for walking and cycling, and it does not have any long-term commitment beyond the end of the local sustainable transport fund, which is due in 2016.
When Ministers are questioned about the subject, they often say that it is “a local matter”, and that there is enough money in the local growth fund for local enterprise partnerships to invest in cycling and walking. However, from responses to parliamentary questions that I and other hon. Members have tabled, we know that walking and cycling will get just 4.1% of LEP transport spending over the next six years. That is £127.3 million out of a total £3.1043 billion pounds. Only 14 of the 38 LEPs plan to spend anything at all on walking and cycling, and more than half of all planned walking and cycling expenditure by LEPs is concentrated in just two LEPs: the south-east, with £45.1 million pounds, and the west of England. That means that, if we exclude the south-east and the west, spending on walking and cycling by LEPs over the next six years will account for just 2.3% of transport expenditure—2% of funding for 2% of journeys. If we are to change that reality and get Britain walking and cycling, we need a real Government strategy and long-term, predictable funding to make it happen. We have got that for rail, and if the objectives of the Bill are followed through, it appears that we will have it for roads. New clause 4 would establish it for types of travel that are just as important, although different—walking and cycling.
New clause 5 is about route strategies. It takes up similar themes to the other amendments and new clauses, which is presumably why it has been grouped with them. I spoke earlier about the need to for new mechanisms to get the strategic road network planned alongside local road networks and merged with it in a joined-up way. Hon. Members will know that in exactly the same way, we need to improve the links between different modes of transport. All too often, investments in road, rail, ports and airports seem to be made in silos, so the effectiveness of any of them is not maximised. We see a port struggling to fulfil its potential for imports and exports because it does not have the necessary surface access. We end up with a new road or bypass when a local transport solution might have been more effective and less environmentally damaging.
On Second Reading, the Minister affirmed how route strategies, which are described as the building blocks of the RIS, should be the vehicle for a new type of joined-up thinking. We agree that they can potentially play a really important role. Thinking about routes, regions and corridors, rather than modes, is absolutely vital if we are to deliver improvements for passengers and freight. The route strategy process will also provide a crucial opportunity to ensure that the strategic road network delivers what is needed at a city, regional or sub-regional level, which I will talk about when we reach the next group of amendments. However, although the idea is good, the experience to date has been patchy at best.
In my own city region area, the passenger transport executive has been involved in no fewer than five separate route strategies, all of which have an impact on Birmingham and the West Midlands. Some of existing route strategies do not even include parallel railway lines on their maps of roads, and when the Select Committee on Transport looked into the matter, it heard clear calls for route strategies to include an examination of proposals for the strategic road network as part of a wider transport system. New clause 5 is about making that process statutory and setting some parameters for how it should work. That includes ensuring that the strategies consider solutions across the transport network, and enabling the Secretary of State to prescribe which bodies involved in passenger and freight movement will be consulted. As the Institution of Civil Engineers said recently:
“Without better public engagement on infrastructure, there remains a risk that it just won’t be delivered”.
It may be that, in responding to the new clause, the Minister will say, “Good point, we will deal with it in guidance.” If he does say that, I will welcome it.
Before the break we were talking about route strategies. The purpose of new clause 5 is to ensure that the objectives and the intention of those strategies are delivered in practice and that that feeds through into proper, joined-up work and integration between different modes of transport. The RIS affirms that innovation has the potential to tackle congestion on the strategic road network. The way it puts that is really interesting. It states:
“More strategically positioned park and rides, greater numbers of high volume vehicles, such as coaches, and better integration with the passenger, rail and freight network” would enable this to happen. That is really good, but when we look at the RIS for 2015 to 2021, that does not seem to be delivered by the proposed schemes. That is why we want to make sure that that does not happen again. We want this kind of thinking to be mainstreamed inside the Department and the new company: that is why we want it to be included in the Bill.
It may be that new clause 5, as it stands, is not the finished article; it may be that there are other ways of firming up the route strategies and getting them mainstreamed into the thinking rather more. The Minister may want to come back with some new suggestions, but the principle is about getting a bottom-up process started and getting a joined-up planning process for transport infrastructure happening in practice. As for the other proposals in this group of amendments and new clauses, we feel strongly about the kinds of things that are mentioned in the amendments and about the promotion of active travel in new clause 4.
We have just returned from a vote in the Chamber, where I understand a Labour proposal was put forward. As I walked through our Lobby I heard Government Whips saying, “You do not need to vote on this.” That is fine: it achieved a result. If it happens in exactly the same way in this Committee, I, for one, will be very happy.
For those who have not served under my chairmanship, let me make it plain that we can have a clause stand part debate either at the beginning of a debate or at the end, but we cannot have both. Looking at the number and scope of the amendments, it is fairly apparent that by the time we have got through this lot, the clause will have been sufficiently debated and I shall almost certainly not be minded to grant a stand part debate at the end. I give hon. Members that caution now, in case any Member wants to raise something that does not fall strictly within the scope of the amendments that have been tabled.
I shall be brief, Sir Roger. I am delighted to speak under your chairmanship. I shall focus on amendment 12, which has to do with the road investment strategy, in particular the linking of airports and ports. The Minister will join me in congratulating Essex county council which, at the end of last week, committed to pledging £5 million towards kick-starting a consultation study of a design to dual the A120, not only between Braintree and Marks Tey, which is an 11-mile stretch, but linking Stansted airport to the port of Harwich. Unfortunately, there is a pinch point between Braintree and Marks Tey, which is not dualled. If we are to have a road investment strategy, as we are talking about at the moment, it is very important that we declog areas where there are such pinch points.
It is interesting to know that the place where one comes off the dual road into Braintree from Stansted airport is officially called Galleys Corner, but local people know it as cholesterol corner. It is not merely because traffic is clogged there, but also because we have the local Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and KFC there.
If we are to try to continue to regenerate this part of England and this part of the county, it is important that we have a proper road investment strategy. When I first came to the House, my very first Adjournment debate was on the dualling of the A120. That was back in 2006, and we are still talking about it today. I am absolutely delighted that Essex county council has finally said that it will put its money where its mouth is by committing that £5 million. I particularly want to pay tribute to the leader of the council, David Finch, as well as the leader of Braintree district council, Graham Butland, and of course Rodney Bass, who is in charge of highways and transport.
This is an important issue in our area. I know that I am joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Witham (Priti Patel) and for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), as well as the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell). It is a cross-party issue, and it is very important that we look at it. I am highly sympathetic to paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) of amendment 12, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield. However, I must say that, with the support of the Government, Essex county council is using its own initiative to address that point. We do not need more top-down instruction on what to do.
I urge the Minister to lend his weight to this important project. We are also looking for support regarding EU funding. A bit of Government support for that extra funding to kick-start what will probably be a £300 million project to dual this small amount of road is important. I will not say much more except to congratulate Essex county council on kick-starting this important project. I ask the Minister to put his full weight behind the initiative to dual the A120 between Braintree and Marks Tey.
Not for the first time in this Committee, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his advocacy of his constituents’ interests and, indeed, his celebration of the work of Essex county council. It is the second time we have celebrated Essex. We shall be celebrating Lincolnshire more liberally, and I will try to mention Kent if I get the opportunity to do so. As my hon. Friend was waxing lyrical about that particular junction, he took me back to my own Pizza Hut and KFC years. Those were preceded by my kebab years and followed by my Frankie and Benny’s and Pizza Express years, which I am still enjoying, not least due to my young sons, who like to frequent those establishments. From that romantic journey, we head speedily with your indulgence, Sir Roger, to the amendment.
I am very fond of Wales, and not only because of the hon. Gentleman. I think of Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and all those wonderful popular cultural icons who have sprung from the same soil from which he comes. However, I will not be taken down that tributary because you will chide me, Sir Roger, if I do not address the matters before us in the form of the amendments.
Order. I know that some feel that Christmas cards are expensive, but if we go through all the Christmas cards on everyone’s lists, we shall never get through the Bill.
Indeed. That is true, Sir Roger. To that end, let me deal with the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield. They would essentially affect how the road investment strategy is created and what it contains. I sympathise with a number of the sentiments, as I will make clear. However, I am not sure that they are needed and, in one or two cases, they might be counter-productive.
I turn first to amendment 12, which asks us to do things that are either beyond the remit of the company and the road investment strategy, are already required, or contain a level of detail that does not need to be specified in legislation. For example, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield suggested that the road investment strategy specify how it will impact on other transport modes. We have already set that out in the RIS documents that we published just two weeks ago, and we are upgrading links to five key airports, including Birmingham, helping 10 major ports, and facilitating the production of HS2.
I described myself as sympathetic to the sentiments behind the amendment, because I fully understand and appreciate that what is often described as a multi-modal solution to transport is an important consideration when looking at strategy. We can hardly have a strategy that looks long into the future that does not look laterally as well. I think there has been an underestimation of that in Government thinking in the past, and an underestimation of the relationship between different kinds of policy and investment across different modes of transport. However, I am not sure that the amendments in the form they have been tabled, as the hon. Gentleman rather generously acknowledged, do the job that we need them to.
Let me say what I think we can do. There is a duty in the licence—I think all members of the Committee will be intimately familiar with the draft licence document—and the hon. Gentleman will be familiar with paragraph 5.23(c), which discusses the evidence base, and says that the new body should
“prepare and publish route strategies for the network, taking account of relevant plans and developments concerning road and other transport networks, wider developments and government policy, and have due regard to these when planning and carrying out its activities.”
By referring to “other transport networks” and “wider developments,” we emphasise the lateral approach that the hon. Gentleman’s amendments attempt to address. Perhaps we could go further and be more specific, but I am not sure that we would want to do so in the Bill.
There is an argument, as this document develops, for speaking about what those wider developments might be. I am minded to consider the relationship between roads and ports, for example. As the maritime Minister, hon. Members will understand that I have a certain prejudice in that respect. None the less, when I visited a number of ports they emphasised that it was of vital importance that transport links to the ports were in good order. There may be an argument for fleshing that out, but the essence of what is needed is in the licence.
The role that route strategies play in part 6 of the licence, which sets out the basis for future investment, is also clear. Paragraph 6.8(b) says that in setting the road investment strategy there should be consultation with, and account taken of
“the views of relevant local and national stakeholders, including through the programme of route strategies, as required at 5.23(c)”,
which I raised earlier. It is both about setting the strategy and its development. As such, the importance of other transport modes are written into our thinking.
We have also considered, and the hon. Gentleman made reference to this, how the road investment strategy will support the growth of our cities. That is exactly why we have allocated £5 billion to be spent on 50 schemes to help to connect housing sites, enterprise zones and other industrial developments. Given how important that point is and how central it is to the first road investment strategy, something similar will undoubtedly be done for future strategies, which will be reinforced by the points I am about to make about route strategies and strategic studies.
As we analysed the investment options for inclusion in the road investment strategy, we accounted for the overall transport impacts on other networks, including local highways. It would not be appropriate for the strategy to have to undertake a detailed analysis of the impact on the condition of local roads or other networks, as that would impinge on the responsibilities of local highways authorities and would be a huge resource requirement that would cause confusion in the roles of central and local government. At the very least, it would lead to considerable duplication. It is right that local government considers the condition of local roads. As a former county councillor, I take the role of county highways authorities very seriously.
In addition, with the Government setting out a long-term investment plan, and Highways England producing a more detailed delivery plan, local highway authorities will have ample opportunity to sequence their own plans to align with, and take advantage of, the company’s plan.
I have been thinking about this matter over my rather lovely Christmas lunch—I took some of the staff in my Department out for lunch.
It was an early Christmas lunch, but it will not be my last—it was a preliminary lunch, as it were.
I was thinking about this matter, and there may be an argument for building it into our thinking more structurally. The opportunity I have described for local highways authorities to align their plans with the strategy will partly depend on their having the wit and will to do so, but we might be able to make it easier for them. There may be a mechanism that we can consider that will allow them to feed in their own thinking and will make the new body responsive for building that thinking into its plan. Some of that will happen naturally, but there is an argument for providing a catalyst for that kind of approach. On the basis of that additional assurance, and given what I said about its being built into the licence document, I hope the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield will withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 13 seeks to do what the hon. Gentleman’s previous amendment sought to do but from a different angle. Rather than set out what the road investment strategy must contain, he is attempting to include it in the Secretary of State’s proposals for a future strategy. As with the hon. Gentleman’s previous amendment, I do not think it is needed. It will create an unnecessary additional burden—
That was not deliberate, but I wish it had been.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield understandably devoted a good deal of time to discussing cycling and walking. It is perfectly reasonable to argue that we should take proper account of cycling and walking in our broader considerations of how future transport supply and demand will develop. I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. In the road investment strategy, we included £250 million for cycling, safety and integration, £100 million of which is for cycling, in particular. There is an additional fund of £100 million for air quality and £300 million for environmental considerations, including £75 million for noise reduction. We are enthusiastic about cycling.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the document that we recently published, and he ascribed criticism of it to others—I thought that was an elegant piece of politics. It is important to say that the Government, in setting out our plans for cycling, announced £94 million of cycling ambition grants to promote cycling across England. The Government plan to double cycling, where cycling activity is measured as the estimate of the total number of bicycle stages made each year, and to increase the percentage of children aged five to 10 who usually walk to school from 48% in 2013 to 55%. The Government, both in the funding that they are allocating and the ambitions that they have identified, are just as keen to promote cycling as the hon. Gentleman is.
I have see my own children walk to school—their primary school is local to me—and I observe how many of their contemporaries cycle to school. Cycling to school was once routine—most of us probably cycled to school—but one can tell from the number of bike racks at most schools that that is less and less true. Simple things we can do to promote the way young people travel on such routine journeys could change the culture with respect to cycling and walking, and Governments need to do that. Hopefully, what we are setting out will contribute to that and deliver healthier, fitter citizens, less congestion, less demand on roads and so on. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about cycling and route strategies, but I do not think that his amendments are necessary.
The hon. Gentleman’s idea of including in our proposals a statement on the condition of the SRN is odd. Highways England, as the network operator, is better placed than the Government to understand the condition of the SRN. If we were forced to accept the amendment, we would end up in the bizarre situation of asking Highways England for information, just to hand it straight back. The paradox I described may not be his intention, but that might well be the effect of his amendment.
That said, I understand the importance of asset condition and appropriate asset management. That is why we have detailed our requirements on those issues in the performance specifications and the draft statutory direction and guidance.
I turn to new clause 4. The Government are committed to cycling. Government spending overall on cycling has more than doubled since 2010, compared with the final four years of the previous Administration: between 2011 and 2015, £374 million has been committed. Spend on cycling is about £5 a person each year in England and more than £10 a person in London and our eight cycling ambition cities.
I have made it clear that I want my town, Spalding, to become a major centre for cycling and I am working with my local newspaper, the Lincolnshire Free Press—I am happy to give it a plug—to achieve just that. Other hon. Members will want to take up similar campaigns in their localities, perhaps working with their local newspapers to promote cycling in that way. Where I lead, others frequently follow.
In November, the Deputy Prime Minister announced a further £114 million for the cycling ambition cities and, as I am sure hon. Members are aware—the hon. Gentleman mentioned this—in October we published our draft cycling delivery plan, which is a 10-year strategy on how we plan to increase cycling and walking. As part of that, we will set out how the Government, local government and businesses can work together collectively to achieve a long-term vision.
We will also publish a cycling infrastructure programme with the Active Travel Consortium by March 2016 and we will deliver that during the 10-year lifetime of the cycling delivery plan, supported by relevant investment in cycling from central Government and local government and businesses to reach the aim of £10 a head funding in England by 2021 or sooner.
Such work between local authorities and other agencies of government is essential if we are to deliver transformational levels of cycling and walking in different localities. The growth fund has made £3 billion available for local transport schemes. That long-term funding, which will run until 2020-21, includes a £700 million package for the development of schemes that include cycling and walking and which will be suitable for and sensitive to local areas’ needs.
To meet our ambition to make the UK a cycling nation, other important measures are needed as well. For instance, we need commitment from local government leaders to recognise cycling and walking as crucial to the health of their localities, and we need to tackle safety issues and perceptions of safety. Earlier, I talked about cycling to school. A lot of the reluctance to do so, or to encourage our children to do so, involves perception of safety. Some of those issues can be tackled by good, locally-sensitive schemes—schemes that reflect local circumstances.
The Department for Transport has committed £1.5 million of funds to support the Active Travel Consortium to build capability in local government to deliver cycling and walking strategies, and for local authorities to deliver cycling and walking plans. Where cycling and walking are integrated with national networks, I would expect Government to be involved and I think it is important that, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield implied, in developing major schemes, we expect the new body to take active consideration of cycling and walking. I want cycling to become a routine part of the considerations in all the developments.
I have just two or three other points about cycling to make before I finish. Part of the issue is about parking spaces for bicycles. I mentioned bike racks in schools, but it is true for stations and all kinds of other places. There has been some improvement in that over the past decade or so, but more could be done. Sometimes, very simple changes, such as building into planning directions adequate space to store bicycles close to where people live, can make a huge difference. Rather than wax still more lyrical about cycling—I think I have said enough about cycling to satisfy the Committee that I am enthusiastic about it and the Government are committed to it—I hope that the hon. Gentleman has found my explanation reassuring and will not press his new clause 4 to a vote.
Briefly, turning to new clause 5, through the draft statutory directions and guidance, I have made it clear that the route strategies are the key building blocks for the development of future road investment strategies. We have placed a duty of co-operation on Highways England in the Bill, which covers important stakeholders such as local highways authorities. In the other place, Baroness Kramer said that we would ensure that Highways England agrees with Ministers the process of how the route strategies will run and make that process publicly available.
I recognise concerns about integration across road networks and between modes. I share those concerns and will ensure that the company addresses them, including looking at some means, perhaps structural, by which it does so. I will certainly ensure that, as core element of the next round of the route strategies, those should require integration. It is absolutely right that that consideration should be made at the very outset as such measures are drawn up. We will do that so that that underpins the second round of route strategy developments. Those route strategies should consider how integrative modes and the interaction between different modes of transport affect outcomes. We will go further than that and ask them to consider how local and national networks interface; the effect of that interface is the point that the hon. Gentleman made earlier.
As we have seen with the route strategies that have been developed to date by the Highways Agency, the future process will involve the company working hand in hand with local traffic authorities, local enterprise partnerships and other interested stakeholders on the integration of national and local roads as part of the long-term planning of the road network and of delivering a seamless service for road users.
In the case of devolved city deals, I will ensure that the company works closely with the cities involved jointly to develop the relevant route strategies. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that. I will also ensure that the same approach is taken for the six new strategic studies being undertaken by the Department on some of the biggest challenges facing the road network, announced as part of the road investment strategy. We initiated and then completed detailed feasibility studies for those schemes. It is important that we are absolutely confident now about the effect of those schemes on neighbouring roads and other transport modes in their areas, and we should publish the terms of reference for those studies early next year, including how integration will be addressed. We will add that to the studies and publish them before May.
In light of all that, we do not consider it necessary to make further legislative changes setting out how and when the route strategies will be carried out, what they contain or who must be consulted as part of creating them. I have considerable sympathy with the underlying concern, and I am prepared, as I have said, to take action to ensure that that concern is reflected in the steps that we take. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
One certainly finds out some interesting facts about people in Committee. I was not aware that the Minister had been through a KFC and Pizza Hut phase, which was interesting to know. I was getting a bit worried about the Christmas lunch that he just had and whether he had pushed the boat out and made it as far as Subway today. Food seemed to be a theme running through his speech. Having told us about his past delight in KFC and so on, he talked about what he would feed into the thinking of the roads investment strategy.
Turning to what has been said about the amendments, it is true that there are and can be examples of good practice. In the roads investment strategy, there are examples of the kind of joined-up, innovative thinking that members of the Committee from all parties have said is to be commended and encouraged. The hon. Member for Braintree, who is no longer in his place, made a good point about what is going on in his area, and we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd about the situation in Wales, where really good examples of creative thinking are going on; my hon. Friend particularly mentioned footpaths.
In my area of the west midlands, some things that have been negotiated around the LGF have been the product of the kind of integrated thinking that we have been discussing in relation to the amendment. It was good to see in the roads announcement that changes around the M42 will reflect thinking about how to integrate the railway to Birmingham, the potential of HS2, the role of Birmingham International airport and the road system around it. Those are examples in my local area. The recent round of LGF includes some welcome things about an upgrade to the station at Longbridge, and the locally developed plan integrates ideas for improving cycling, bus access and road access.
There are examples of existing good practice, but the purpose of the amendments is to say that if the Bill is to achieve what it sets out to achieve, a bit of oomph should be put behind that. One way to put oomph behind it is to suggest to the new company, and indeed to the Department and the Secretary of State, as the person accountable, that when roads investment strategies are being devised, planned and discussed, things such as the condition of the local road network, the impact that decisions will have on it and so on should be taken into account, and there should be duties to do so. The hon. Member for Braintree said that was in danger of becoming a top-down approach. I do not think so. It simply notes what they have to think about and look at. How that is put into practice, and the discussions that take place between local authorities about how local road networks are joined to the strategic road network and so on, is something else.
The amendment is absolutely not prescribing what should happen, but rather says that that should be a regular part of the process. I understood the Minister to say that he is in favour of that kind of thing and the wording of the amendment is not threatening, undermining or impractical in the way that has been suggested. When we conclude this discussion, we shall press amendment 12 to a vote.
On new clause 4, there are differences between us about whether the Government’s proposals on cycling are all they crack them up to be, and about whether the money that the Government say they are committing to cycling is recycled or new money, or the balance between the two. In my remarks on new clause 4, I explained some of the reasons that I and a number of people in the cycling and pedestrian world are worried about that.
I have no reason to doubt the Minister’s sincerity when he says that he wishes to see cycling and walking mainstreamed into thinking, and that he wants commitments about that. New clause 4 puts that intention into practice. It simply says that, following a suitable period after the Bill has been passed, there should be an obligation on Ministers to report to Parliament on what is being done and is going to be done to encourage greater take-up of walking and cycling. That would show whether the announcements that were made this autumn around the cycling delivery plan, for example, were—as we fear—a one-off announcement without much meat to them, or the start of predictable long-term multi-year funding for which the all-party cycling group and so many others have been calling. All new clause 4 says is: let us establish a duty for a report to Parliament following a suitable period after the Bill becomes law. I do not see why that is threatening, why it is a problem or why that would be resisted. At the appropriate point, I will seek to divide the Committee on new clause 4.
On new clause 5, there is no big difference between the Minister and me. We both agree that route strategies have to be integrated, have to bring together different modes of transport and have to straddle the strategic local road divide. It is a question of how we get that to happen. We have tabled a form of words in new clause 5 to make the point about what is needed. The Minister may be right that there could be unintended consequences with some of those specific words. I am gratified that he says he will reflect on how best to put what we are trying to achieve on route strategies into practice, whether it be in guidance, in the Bill or by some other method. The Opposition may need to return to that on Report, but I hope that that will not be necessary because the Minister has given some assurances that he will look seriously at that. I welcome that. It is unlikely that we will seek to move new clause 5 in Committee when the appropriate time comes, however I want to press amendment 12 to a vote now.
The Clerks have made a note that when we arrive at new clause 4 next year, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield will wish to move it. I should point out as a matter of courtesy, because courtesy is important, that the hon. Member for Braintree informed the Chair that he had a constituent coming into the House whom he needed to see. He gave me his apologies and I am sure that he meant no discourtesy to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield.
I absolutely take on board what you say, Sir Roger, about the hon. Member for Braintree. I am sure that no discourtesy was intended, and there is certainly none taken.
“(c) how the strategic highways company will co-operate with Network Rail for the effective integration of strategic road and rail planning and development, including a long route or utilisation strategies.”
Amendments 14 and 15 expand on the points made earlier about the importance of integration in our transport system and transport networks. As we discussed in relation to previous amendments, there is a severe lack of integration. Major decisions are being taken on roads, rail and airports in isolation from each other. I guess that one example of that is HS2 and the Airports Commission. There is an absence of a coherent national plan on passengers and freight.
Let us take the proposals for improving trans-Pennine connectivity. The Department for Transport is currently set to look at proposals for HS3, new trans-Pennine road routes which will possibly include including a tunnel or upgrades to the A69 and/or the A66 across the Pennines, as well as other rail improvements. I am sure that they are all very worthy things to look at. The problem is that they all seem to be being looked at in isolation; separately from each other.
The Minister has recognised several times today the need for better transport links. The road investment strategy states that the strategic road network needs to provide “world-class links” with ports, freight, hubs, airports, modal interchanges and other developments such as HS2. Saying it is one thing, but delivering it in practice is harder, particularly in the absence of any mechanism through which the bodies running our strategic road and rail networks can work better together.
The amendments are about clarifying that the new company must co-operate with Network Rail. Amendment 14 goes beyond that and proposes that the two companies should co-operate on their five-year investment plan, including through road and rail route utilisation strategies. As both companies will have five-year budgets once the proceedings are through, there is a real opportunity to change how we plan road and rail investment and to make the most of every single penny of investment. They must work together on routes, not only with each other but with local bodies, city regions and local enterprise partnerships, and they must consider future passenger and freight demand on the road and rail networks. We want Network Rail and the new company to sit down and share information, forecasts and plans across the UK. It seems ludicrous to most people that that does not already happen—I think that they assume that it does.
Our proposals for route-based strategies are about creating a new forum in which we can look at a congested or poorly connected route or area and how it can be improved through rail, road, public transport or other links. The Minister has repeated on many occasions that he is willing to look empirically at a range of options on route strategies, but I suggest that if we are to look empirically, we need to examine evidence of demand and capacity across the transport network. We have a big opportunity to end strategic rail and road planning in isolation and to start to think about how they can work together to underpin economic growth in a more coherent way. I hope that the Government will take that opportunity today.
We can deal with the amendments fairly briefly. The duty on the company is clear: it must co-operate in areas of highway planning where it has a statutory role. The duty to co-operate is with relevant stakeholders such as local authorities, devolved Governments, operational partners—such as the police and emergency services—and other bodies with a significant stake in the long-term development of the network. There is little doubt in my mind that Network Rail will be one such body.
We are using statutory directions and guidance from the Secretary of State in the licence to supplement the high-level duty. I referred to this earlier, but I will do so again, because I can perhaps satisfy the hon. Gentleman to a degree that even he, knowing how generous I am, will not have anticipated. Paragraph 6.8(b) of the draft licence is currently clear that the licence holder must:
“Consult with and take account of the views of relevant local and national stakeholders”.
I think that there is an argument for naming particular stakeholders there. They are not legion, and there are not many that are as significant as Network Rail, so there is an argument for specifying that Network Rail in particular must be consulted. I will take that back and we will probably do that because the hon. Gentleman has persuaded me of that need.
Of course, the Highways Agency and Network Rail already have in place a memorandum of understanding that has been established for five years and cements effective co-operation, joint understanding of issues and the development of mutual interests, as well as requiring them to consider transport integration. They meet regularly to talk through those issues and resolve matters that have escalated at operational level, or where a strategic decision or view point is required. Nevertheless, conceding another point, I wonder whether we ought to make some of that information more widely available. I will take a look at whether we need to give routine reports on how that co-operation works in practice. The meetings already occur and are opportunities to touch base and remain up-to-date on developments in each organisation. I assume that the memorandum of understanding will continue with the new body; I take that as read. However, perhaps there are ways in which we could make the process more transparent. The combination of that addition and my consideration of additional transparency is, I hope, sufficient to persuade the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
That was a helpful response. It is good to know that the memorandum of understanding exists at the moment, but that in itself probably indicates that something more is needed. In some of the examples that I gave, the thinking does not seem to be sufficiently joined-up, so something else needs to happen to supplement that. Perhaps the problem is not in the Highways Agency. It might be between the two institutions, or the problem might be in the Department. I do not know, but I am grateful to the Minister for his assurance.
Although the amendment was meant to probe, it probably is not wise to insert in the Bill a reference to Network Rail. In the unlikely event of the Government being re-elected, they might want to get rid of Network Rail and create something else that has been successful in the past, such as Railtrack. It is probably wrong to refer to specific organisations in the Bill, so I think the Minister is probably correct to try to get something in the guidance or in the licence. I am grateful to him for his assurances. We look forward to his further proposals on how the objectives in the amendments can be met. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
“(c) a target for vocational qualifications to be gained by individuals employed by the strategic highways company and carrying out activities in connection with preparing for, and constructing, the network referred to in section 1(1)(b)
On Second Reading, the Minister rightly identified one of the major challenges facing infrastructure delivery—I mentioned it in my speech, as did other hon. Members—and that is the question of skills. Last year, more than one in five vacancies were unfilled because of the poor skills base. With long-term and youth unemployment levels as high as they are, that is not good enough. Construction and engineering are some of the worst-hit sectors. It is now estimated that we will need around 780,000 engineers by 2020 if we are to meet the demands of industry. So, we need real change to deliver infrastructure and to support the skilled and quality jobs for Britain’s future.
First, as the Civil Engineering Contractors Association recommended, we need to do something about the current non-EU migration target and its impact on our skills base and being able to deliver the right number of skilled people. In its words, the target
“limits the availability of skilled employees required to deliver key projects.”
It needs to be proposed with a smart system of different levels and targets for different types of immigration, as the shadow Home Secretary has been calling for, rather than the current target that is too blunt, unworkable, and delivers consequences that are bad for our economy. So we need to do something there.
Secondly, we need major reform of vocational education. For too long our education system has focused opportunity through university. It has badly let down young people for whom a vocational qualification would have led to a successful career, and it has let down the businesses that need those skills too. That is why the Opposition are committed to a major reform of vocational education and apprenticeships. We want to deliver a gold standard, a technical baccalaureate in schools and colleges and technical degrees in universities. Our goal is to see as many young people succeed through apprenticeships as we see succeeding through universities by 2025.
Finally—this is where the amendment comes in—we need to use the power of Government procurement to boost skills and training much more effectively than is being done at the moment. That could involve requiring all firms with public contracts worth more than £1 million to offer apprenticeship opportunities. Will the Minister clarify whether the new company’s contracts will be public and subject to that kind of public procurement requirement—if indeed the Government, whether this one or the next, wish to introduce such a requirement? Will the company be listed under the Companies Act 2006? If so, what are the implications of that for achieving the kind of objectives I have been discussing? Will he back the principle of a target for apprenticeships and vocational engineering in the design, construction and management of the strategic road network in the new company and through its supply chain?
The Government accepted a similar amendment in the HS2 hybrid Bill. With Crossrail, there have been 400 apprenticeships over the lifetime of the project. We have seen how apprenticeship programmes can deliver lasting skills legacies in the industry. If the road investment strategy is to herald a new era of long-term thinking in the design and construction of our roads, it can also be used—if we have the will to do so—to deliver a major change in how we plan and offer great opportunities to train a new generation in construction and engineering.
We did that with Crossrail. I was there only last week, underground with some of the team. One of the things they are clearly very proud of is how the project has brought large numbers of young people through to gain valuable skills that will equip them well for the future, as well as contributing to a great infrastructure project. Indeed the buzz around the HS2 college in my city of Birmingham and up in Doncaster is giving the whole HS2 project added dynamism. It is a spin-off that can contribute directly to the expansion of our skills base.
Given the major skills shortage that we face as a country and the pressing need to train and equip young people for such careers in future and particularly given what the Minister said on Second Reading—there is common ground between us—I hope he will feel able to say something to give us comfort that the kind of objectives in the amendment will be taken up by the Government. Government draftspeople of legislation are reluctant to muck about with the wording of Bills in Committee, but is the wording of the amendment that threatening and that much of a problem?
The amendment proposes to set down a target of vocational qualifications to be gained by individuals employed by the strategic highways company in carrying out activities in connection with and preparing for construction of the network referred to. The amendment does not say what the target should be—it is not prescriptive to that extent. Rather, as we were saying about mainstreaming walking and cycling into transport planning and infrastructure development, we hope that through the Bill we can start to mainstream the skills agenda into the infrastructure agenda, which is the subject of the Bill.
I defer to no one in this House in the advocacy of vocational learning—I say that about nothing else, I think, apart from high Toryism, the divine right of kings, the musical canon of Amy Winehouse and the vintage of Château Musar. My views on vocational learning are well known and I do not want to rehearse them now, but I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman in three respects. First, we have concluded as an establishment—I was going to say “as a nation”, but I am not sure that is absolutely true—quite wrongly, for a long time, that the only form of accomplishment that mattered came through academic prowess. As a result, we have taken an insufficient view of the economic significance of vocational, technical and practical learning and of the difference it makes to well-being, both for individuals and communally.
Secondly, in terms of the impact on the economy, that has left us with the kind of shortage that the hon. Gentleman spoke of: insufficient people with the right skills to fuel the economy, which is increasingly in need of those skills as it becomes more high-tech. Thirdly, in the specific area of infrastructure and the road investment strategy, this area will be one of the biggest challenges that we as a Government, or any Government, face. It is not straightforward for Governments to devise a strategy of this kind. It is less straightforward still for Government to be bold enough to put money behind that design; but it is perhaps most difficult of all for Government to bring about the means by which the strategy can be delivered, because of course that is dependent on so many other agents and organisations, and those organisations depend on the skills of thousands—indeed tens or hundreds of thousands—of individuals.
One of the important challenges for Government will be using whatever means we can to incentivise, encourage or even oblige the development of those skills. To that end, I fully appreciate why the hon. Gentleman has tabled his amendment. I do not necessarily feel it right to agree to the amendment in its current form, but I think that, in the performance specification and outputs of the investment plan, it is important that we are clear about what we expect in respect of the necessary development of skills associated with the delivery of the strategy. In other words, we are absolutely clear about the scale of the challenge we face in implementing what we have set out. To that end, I think that apprenticeships are vital.
The hon. Gentleman will know that we recently celebrated our two millionth apprenticeship under this Government. The Government’s ambition is to have 3 million apprentices. I was lucky enough to be the Minister for Skills when we first came into government and was able to oversee the rejuvenation of the apprenticeship system by putting in place, for the first time, statutory requirements for apprenticeships, with a minimum length and changes to what was taught and tested to more accurately match real need. That is of particular significance to this Bill and all that it encompasses.
There needs to be a certain amount of operational discretion on the part of the company in developing the network, and it is absolutely right that it should put in place a training regime that is suitable for itself. Nevertheless, I am in discussions with the company and the supply chain more broadly about the most effective way of developing skills and apprenticeships, not just for Highways England but across the wider sector. The problem with doing that through the amendment is that it is rather too rigid. On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment. I give him my strong assurances that, after my discussions about training and apprenticeships, I will report back to the House on our early thinking about how to develop the skills necessary to implement our strategy.
I repeat that this challenge is the biggest we face. Getting to where we are was a big enough challenge, and there is more to do in setting up the company and establishing some of the things we spoke about earlier today, including the relationship of the strategies to the local authorities, other agencies and so on. The skills challenge is the biggest challenge of all, and I would not be doing my job if I did not commit to bring further information to the House about our early progress on setting objectives with the company to meet it. On that basis, I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
The right hon. Gentleman has been in this place for a long time, so he will know that when the Minister has wound up it is normally the Front-Bench Members who reply. I gather that he had an unfortunate experience this morning, so I will give in gracefully on this occasion, but I would be grateful if he made it brief.
I am very grateful, Sir Roger. I will be very brief indeed.
I was stung to rise to my feet by the Minister’s comments, which made no reference to the number of apprenticeships in the construction industry. He talked broadly about apprenticeships, but he did not refer to the fact that in the construction industry the number of apprenticeships has been declining. In the last year for which we have full figures—2013—there were just over 12,000 completed apprenticeships. That is the situation we face, and that is why this issue is urgent.
The Minister talked in his Second Reading speech about the urgency of this issue and the opportunity to tackle it that this Bill presents. I was very disappointed indeed that he gave us warm words but no indication of action to tackle an issue that urgently needs tackling. I hope he will think hard about it before Report, and I certainly intend to take the matter further if it has not been resolved by then.
Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that as a direct result of that question I will happily meet the construction industry training board with the Minister for Skills and Equalities before Report. This matter is highly relevant to the road investment strategy, and I will comment on it further either on Report or by letter prior to Report. It is important that we look at construction apprenticeships in particular, given the scale and character of what is set out in the road investment strategy.
It is clear from the comments that have been made by Members on both sides of the Committee that it is imperative that we improve our skills base. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich made an important point: the important thing is that it happens in practice, not simply in theory, because the challenge in construction is very real.
I am grateful for the Minister’s assurance that he will talk to the relevant training bodies and his ministerial colleagues and come back to the Committee in writing or on Report, but I ask him not to rule out putting something in the Bill. There are some similarities between our discussion here and the discussions about the HS2 hybrid Bill. Everybody agreed that HS2 presented a great opportunity, but they said that this kind of thing should not be put in the Bill. In fact, it was put in the Bill, and Members on both sides of the House now say that that was a really good thing.
I am not claiming that simply writing something into the Bill would make it happen, but it would create a duty and put pressure on Ministers to fulfil it. It may be that targets should not be in the Bill, but I hope that something can be included to address the issues we are talking about. I am happy to sit down if the Minister would like to intervene on that question.
I am concerned about the rigidity of the target, but I am determined that there should be an expectation that the new body will have new plans on recruitment and training sufficient to deliver the strategy. I am very happy to talk about that.
I am grateful to the Minister for that. The question was whether we could consider putting that in the Bill and he is being generous in saying that he will seriously consider the points we have made. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich made it clear that we will be looking for something specific before the Bill is considered on Report; otherwise we may wish to raise the issue on the Floor of the House. However, with those assurances from the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.