Infrastructure Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee on 6th January 2015.

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[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member) 9:25 am, 6th January 2015

Good morning. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a productive and interesting new year?

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

On a point of order, Sir Roger. I would appreciate your guidance on something before we move on to today’s selection of amendments. The Minister may want to say a few words on issues arising from the point of order.

On Thursday 18 December, the Minister tabled a number of additional amendments to the Bill, and on 19 December we received notice of a letter from the Minister to you, Sir Roger, and your co-Chairs, setting out a proposal that the Government wish to reform the electronic communications code, and some other areas. In fairness to the Minister, he has been at pains, until this point, to keep us informed of changes to the Bill and on the proposed reforms to the electronic communications code prior to sending that letter. The amendments covered areas that went a lot further than that, and I would appreciate guidance, Sir Roger, about how they could be handled procedurally without sacrificing the scrutiny that the Committee is charged with exercising.

One matter is the issue of mayoral development in Greater London, which is a completely new area. If that was the first that we knew about it, how will the Committee have time to see what the authorities in Greater London and elsewhere think about it? It may be non-controversial but with just three days in Committee left after today, we do not see how we are going to manage that time-wise.

New clause 10, relating to the abolition of the Public Works Loan Board, raises even more issues. It brings yet another Department to the Bill, covering a board that has an important role for local authorities. We do not know how we are going to have the time to consult stakeholders, let alone talk about things in Committee.

The reason that I raise the issue with you, Sir Roger, is that to exercise scrutiny, at the start of Committee we agreed a timetable motion based on a range of things being in the Bill, but the amendments add completely new areas. Indeed, one of them even involves changing the long title of the Bill. I understand from Clerks that it is in order to change the long title of the Bill once it has been through the Lords, has come to the Commons and Committee sittings are under way, but I have never come across that before. It seems a strange thing to do. I would appreciate your guidance, Sir Roger, because if we are going to do that, when in the course of our discussions do we do it? Do we change the summary of what the Bill is about and talk about that when we have discussed the Bill? It seems to raise significant procedural issues.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab) rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

Before the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston comes in with a supplementary to that point of order, as I have a feeling that he is poised to do, let me try to respond. I am grateful to the shadow Minister for his courtesy in informing me of his point of order, because it has given me the opportunity to look into the background to the issue. Matters of courtesy, of course, are not the business of the Chair, although it is fair to say that the Minister has, in so far as is possible, been as courteous as possible in trying to give information, as the shadow Minister indicated, in timely fashion.

The amendments were tabled before Christmas, in the main; there are some starred amendments, which have been tabled since and will not be called today even if they are reached. If they are reached on Thursday, that is a different matter as they will no longer be starred. As far as the amendments tabled before Christmas are concerned, adequate notice has been given. I appreciate that there has been a holiday period in between, and that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee wish to have time to look at the issues properly. The timetabling of the Bill is a matter for the usual channels, within the bounds of the agreement reached on the Floor of the House of Commons. That will have to be discussed between the usual channels, and it is matter for the Committee how much or how little progress is made. It is highly unlikely—in fact, I think it is impossible—that we will reach the amendments tabled before Christmas today. That effectively means that there will be adequate time for all members to apprise themselves of the amendments and to ask any necessary questions.

Finally, concerning the long title of the Bill, there is plenty of precedent for the long title of a Bill introduced in the House of Lords to be revised in the House of Commons, as I understand there is plenty of precedent for the long title of a Bill that is introduced in the House of Commons to be changed in the House of Lords. I have to say that I was unaware of that, but that is the case.

That is where we are and I cannot see that there is any issue that the Chair can properly address arising from that as it stands. There may be matters that members wish to discuss personally and in private, or through the usual channels, but that is a matter for hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies and not for the Chair. Unless the Minister has a burning desire to intervene further, we will get straight on to the business.

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

Further to that point of order, Sir Roger. To be very clear and very brief, three things relate directly to what you and the shadow Minister have said. First, there is no desire on this side of the Committee not to have proper scrutiny. We will endeavour to ensure that the matters that the shadow Minister raises are properly scrutinised in Committee. As you said, Chairman, that is a matter for the usual channels to discuss in terms of timing.

Secondly, I will ensure that on these three additional matters that were tabled before Christmas, a briefing is made available both in writing and at a meeting for all  members of this Committee—Government and Opposition —before they come to this Committee, in other words, this week.

Thirdly, I am happy to meet Opposition spokesmen on both these matters, and on electronic communication code amendments, which we aim to take this week. I commit to tabling those measures this week so that there is adequate time to consider them in Committee. However, I will organise an additional special meeting before then with shadow Ministers.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

That does not raise any further issues for the Chair. I think the Minister has made his position clear and has done so in good faith, and I suggest that we now move forward.