Clause 25 - Changes to, and revocation of, development consent orders

Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee on 6th January 2015.

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Amendment proposed (this day): 49, in clause 25, page 24, line 31, at end add “after consultation with the National Infrastructure Commission”—(Roberta Blackman-Woods.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

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

I remind the Committee that with this we are to discuss proposed new clause 11.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

Thank you, Sir Roger, for allowing me to have a small lunch break between the two halves of my speech. Actually I have gone through about a quarter of my speech with at least three quarters to come, perhaps more.

We were talking about the national infrastructure commission, what it would do and how it could be a beneficial replacement for existing structures, which are certainly imperfect. I for one am not a fan of how the Planning Inspectorate goes about its business in my constituency. As the shadow Minister said, this body would not replace Parliament and parliamentary scrutiny. It would not bind Ministers in their final decisions. We are inventing a new quango to do a job that I am sure we have invented plenty of quangos in the past to do. We have always been uncomfortable with whatever goes on this particular area of planning, because it is a bit too close to the knuckle for parliamentarians. One has to be fairly brave to say we need more airport capacity in the south-east; or that we do or do not need HS2 and stay on one side of the argument.

I am concerned that this is something that will again go around Parliament and will sit out there quasi-independent for a period of time, being lobbied. Would the lobbying industry that is regulated here be regulated in its dealings with any national infrastructure commission?

I asked the hon. Member for City of Durham about HS2 and what the timetable would be for that project using the national infrastructure commission. Would it speed it up or slow it down? There seemed to be no benefit in the timetable. I think people like having decisions made at the end of the day, whether they are for or against them.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Liberal Democrat, Taunton Deane

Is not the onus on elected politicians to make the case to the public why Britain, in order to be economically competitive internationally, needs sufficient airport and high-speed train capacity? Rather than dodging that debate because  we do not feel able collectively to make a compelling case to the electorate, and giving that responsibility to people who are not elected, should the onus not be on elected politicians to take both the lead and responsibility?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

The simple answer is yes. It is what our constituents expect of us. Greater politicians than I am have gone through this place and made big decisions about the future of the country that have been unpalatable to the people at the time. This proposal is playing to that theme, where we give power away to an independent body that will take some of the heat away from us. As I said before, I am not keen on the imperfect situation we have now, but I do not see how the national infrastructure commission in the guise proposed by the Opposition here and in the other place can do any of that.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

I am pleased to speak in strong support of the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham for the independent commission as recommended by the Armitt review. Before I go any further, I should draw attention to my interests as declared in the register.

Why do we need an independent infrastructure committee? As my hon. Friend said, our country does not have a great record on ensuring that infrastructure needs are met in a timely, efficient and well co-ordinated way. We have too many examples of stop-start and changing direction of decisions that have not been taken at the right time and on the right evidence base to give us the infrastructure we need.

We should all recognise that Sir John Armitt is one of the country’s leading civil engineers. When I first met him, he was responsible for a lot of work on the channel tunnel. He subsequently went on to hold a number of very senior positions and to deliver the Olympic site as chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, the body responsible for the site’s infrastructure development. We should pay heed to his words. In his report, he says that the current

“annual National Infrastructure Plan produced by Infrastructure UK is not strategic. It is essentially a list of projects which is not built up from an evidence-based assessment of the UK’s long term needs”.

He continues:

“Infrastructure UK does not enjoy the profile of independent bodies such as the Office of Budget Responsibility and the Committee on Climate Change. This means that its annual progress reports lack the authority that comes with statutory independence”.

He talks about the need for a new commission that will be strategic and evidence-based:

“Our proposals retain democratic accountability whilst reducing the present scope for policy drift that is so damaging to investor confidence. In particular: the Commission’s evidence based approach will promote a better public understanding of the key issues concerning the UK’s infrastructure. It will develop evidence about the state of the nation’s assets and the likely impact of key economic, environmental and demographic trends. It will also build an understanding of the implications of either delaying investment or doing nothing. In short, the Commission would provide the level of strategic thinking that has largely been absent in the UK over the past 30 years”.

We should take that very seriously indeed. The hon. Member for Daventry asked why the commission was necessary, and suggested that it would involve setting up a quango. The answer is that we already have the  quango, and it is called Infrastructure UK. The problem is that it does not have the independence or authority to be able to act independently, to say what is needed and to reflect the understanding of the wider world. There can be no better illustration of that than what is written on aviation policy in its first report, “National Infrastructure Plan 2010”. That report was the first iteration of an NIP produced by the present Government, and in it all that was written on aviation capacity was that we should be

“making best use of existing airport capacity to help improve the passenger experience”.

I am sorry, but no serious independent infrastructure body would agree with that assessment. We now know only too well that the Government take a different view. The 2014 iteration of the NIP goes into some detail about the importance of extra capacity. It says that that has been handed over to the independent Davies commission. So we have not one quango but two, and we have delay, because they have not been taking decisions; they are reasons for not taking decisions.

The hon. Member for Taunton Deane highlighted the problem of politicians not having the courage of their conviction and essentially passing responsibility across to other bodies. That is what we have at the moment. That is what the Davies commission is and that, I am afraid, is the problem which Sir John Armitt is trying to resolve. The solution—and it is an elegant one—is to have a body of independent experts who can assemble the evidence, who can show why the needs are there and what the priorities are from a national interest, taking account of economic, environmental and wider strategic issues.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case, so why bother with Parliament and ministerial scrutiny after that?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

If the hon. Gentleman had waited just a moment, I would have told him. The proposal was that this expert body would produce its report, then present it to Parliament. The responsibility of the Government would be to decide whether or not to accept it, because it would remain the ultimate responsibility of politicians. However, if they were not going to accept the recommendations, they would have to make a case and justify it. No one could justify ducking the issue of airport capacity, as the “National Infrastructure Plan 2010” did. There would have to be a credible answer. That is the argument: it is a balance between expert, informed opinion, and then political decisions.

In a sense, this will make politicians more responsible: they will not be able to duck issues conveniently and leave them, because an independent and separate body would be able to hold their feet to the fire and point out that, on aviation capacity, there has been a five-year hiatus during which nothing has happened while our competitors have gone ahead and expanded their airport capacity, taking business away from the UK.

There is a strong case for a new infrastructure body, and I hope that in replying to the debate the Minister will not fall back on the rather feeble line of defence put up by his counterpart in the House of Lords when the issue was debated there and say, “We are doing terribly well at the moment and really do not need this.” We are  not doing terribly well; we need to do better and Sir John Armitt has pointed a way forward. The issue is not partisan, and I hope that we achieve consensus on the need for a better framework for infrastructure planning.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Liberal Democrat, Taunton Deane

Happy new year, Sir Roger. I want briefly to echo some of the themes mentioned by the hon. Member for Daventry a few moments ago. I have a high regard for Sir John Armitt and agree with his analysis, although I did not vote for him and I am not sure whether anyone else here did. All Members present for today’s deliberations were voted for—that is what gives us an authority that others do not have. It is perfectly possible for people who have been elected to have strategic views; I do not accept the argument that politicians should be pushed to the peripheries of our national debate and have strategic input handed to us by people who are capable of thinking strategically.

Yesterday, nearly all the leading figures in British politics were prominent in the media. There is no law that says that they must produce dossiers, or rebuttal dossiers, or try to outscore one another on this spending pledge or that hidden tax rise, or whatever they were talking about yesterday—I was not paying as much attention as perhaps I should have been. I am not making a party political point. There was absolutely nothing to prevent any of the party leaders from making a compelling strategic speech yesterday about the United Kingdom’s national infrastructure requirements for the next generation and beyond. One could argue that the fact that they chose not to do that shows their failure as politicians, but there is no inherent reason why elected politicians should not be able to argue strategically.

What we saw yesterday is in part what makes politics quite dispiriting, because there is an absence of visionary thinking about what we can do to ensure that we are a globalised economy. It is a perfectly achievable aspiration for ours to be the largest economy in Europe within a generation, but we will require physical infrastructure as well as the so-called knowledge economy to make a success of that aspiration. I am afraid that that was absent from quite a lot of our debate. The hon. Member for Daventry made the point: ultimately, why have a general election if we are not going to debate these great issues?

Let me be frank: my party has faced a lot of criticism about student tuition fees, but last time around, in 2010, there was a conspiracy—that is a rather loaded word, so perhaps I should say that it was a benign conspiracy—against the electorate. The Labour and Conservative parties agreed that tuition fees were too difficult to discuss so would be “given” to an independent person to decide, with an understanding that whoever got into government afterwards would put into effect the independent recommendations. If the Lib Dems were guilty of anything, it was naivety at not entering into the conspiracy of silence before the election—

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Liberal Democrat, Taunton Deane

Yes, indeed, on this issue we did not play the game of shuffling responsibility as astutely as two parties with greater experience of government. We are entering into a conspiracy now. There is this airport  commission, and the only thing that it has really been told is not to come up with any views until after the general election. The time scale is entirely arbitrary. After the general election, when all the people who live near Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, or Manchester airport—or wherever it might be—have safely put their votes in the ballot box, there will be a puff of smoke and someone for whom no one has ever voted will come along and tell one group of people that their lives are going to be turned upside down.

Those people will go to the Member of Parliament they have just elected who will say, “It’s nothing to do with me; this is an independent commission. We don’t have the ability to meddle in this sort of business. We are not capable of thinking strategically, but if you would like help with some day-to-day stuff in your neighbourhood I am keen to try to help as your local MP.” I find that dispiriting. I think we should have bigger ambitions in politics than managing the ideas of unelected people.

It worries me that this is part of a wider phenomenon—the belief that elections and politics are not about big choices, which are what “experts” make, and that in any given situation there is a right answer and a wrong answer. If only people could get away from politicians who just squabble about things, and cut to the chase and find an expert—preferably somebody with some sort of academic credentials who looks suitably impartial—that person could give them “the right answer”.

I sometimes have that experience when talking to people who study politics at school, who say, “Well, you know, there is all this bickering. We just want to know the answer to the question. We don’t want all these politicians lying to us and telling us—you know. Which one is right and which one is wrong?” Sometimes I say, “Well, they might both be right or they might have different interpretations of what is right”. That is regarded as a completely unreasonable thing for a politician to suggest, but there are alternative visions. It is perfectly possible to argue that we should not have more airport capacity, in the name of environmentalism, or because a person is anti-globalisation, or hostile to trade. That is a perfectly respectable view. I disagree with that view, but if somebody agrees with it, they can put it forward at the general election.

There is an alternative view, which I hold, that in order to be a successful country in the 21st century we have to be able to interact effectively with people from around the world and our current airport capacity, particularly in the south-east, will increasingly limit our ability to do that. That is another point of view, but why do people not express it in Parliament? We do not need an expert to tell us. That is the whole point of the general election.

The reason I speak on this point is because we are acquiescing in the emasculation of our profession, if I can put it in such elevated terms. We assume that it will make the electorate like us more. What is dispiriting is that the more we go around telling everybody how inadequate we are and how little we can be trusted to make any big decisions, and how all we do is try to second-guess the decisions of experts who are not elected,  and the more that we pass ourselves off as entirely local caseworkers, admirable and important though that aspect of our job is, the more contempt the electorate seems to hold us in. It may be that we collectively should have the self confidence to believe in big ideas.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 2:15 pm, 6th January 2015

There might be an alternative analysis. Because of the length of time of most major infrastructure projects that last beyond the lifetime of any single Parliament, there is the inevitable vulnerability, which we have seen in reality, of incoming Governments cancelling previous commitments. That is what has happened repeatedly over aviation policy over the past 30 years. We have actually started work on schemes like Maplin and they were then cancelled. We have seen what happened to the Heathrow expansion plan in 2010. That is an illustration of the danger of that long-term perspective falling foul of the short-termism of politicians subject to five-yearly political cycles.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Liberal Democrat, Taunton Deane

The right hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. I remember what I regarded as a rather inglorious moment, but as a party loyalist I voted the way that it was suggested I should. In the last Parliament, when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both voted against any potential Heathrow expansion, as far as I could work out, that was because both parties wanted to be competitive in the Richmond Park constituency. In the end, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and Baroness Kramer both ended up being Members of Parliament, just in different Houses. What that tells you about democracy is another story, Sir Roger, but it did seem a rather limited basis on which we should make a major strategic decision about the future of the country. However, nobody compelled the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in that case to have such a limited scope in their considerations.

That decision was taken by both parties, and although the right hon. Gentleman has a fair point, the same could be said of a lot of issues, such as health service reforms. My personal view—I will not go a long way down this path, Sir Roger—is that the current model of funding the national health service is not sustainable in the longer term, but if there are going to be changes, they may take a while to bed in. Having said that, the Pensions Minister has introduced some radical changes in this Parliament, so it is possible to take longer-term decisions in the life of a Parliament, but I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point that it requires leadership to do so.

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

I do not want to anticipate my hon. Friend the Minister’s summing up, which will be considerably more eloquent than I could manage and will bring insight to these affairs, which I could not attempt to do. However, I want to say how much I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane about the guilt-ridden, self-inflicted damage that politicians do to themselves when they cede power to other agencies on the basis that those agencies are more competent to take decisions than they are. It undermines the case for the political legitimacy of this House and of Government, and, as he said, it broadcasts the message that we do not have the confidence to face up to the challenges that, as the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich is  right in saying, too many politicians and Governments have ducked in the past. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane agrees that the solution is not to sidestep that challenge, but to meet it.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Liberal Democrat, Taunton Deane

I said about five minutes ago that I was about to conclude and then the debate took what I regard as an interesting turn—although not everyone may regard it as interesting. I intend to support the Government, because I am a supporter of the Government, and if the Government, in their wisdom, have decided that this is the best route to take, I defer to the wise judgments of others, but I am making a wider point. It is almost a parting shot—but not quite; I will probably something else before I leave in three months’ time—about those who will be here in future Parliaments not assuming that the more powerless we make ourselves, the more people will respect us. I think it is still possible to make great decisions in the national interest as a leader and as a parliamentarian, and we should not acquiesce in the process of diminishing our status, because I think it will have unintended consequences.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

I hate to introduce a note of discordance into this debate, but we have arrived at a point where there is clearly a very obvious difference of opinion. That difference of opinion would not have been so severe had at least a couple of Government Members bothered to read what Sir John Armitt had said, because he does not take power away from the House. Indeed, he puts power into the hands of the Secretary of State. Does the Conservative-Liberal Democrat alliance not want power restored to the hands of the Secretary of State, because that is the net effect of what Sir John actually said?

I have worked with Sir John on a number of projects. In particular, I had the pleasure to serve with him on Ragnar Löfstedt’s panel looking at the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. He made an invaluable contribution to that work, which was a Government-initiated review undertaken entirely on a bipartisan basis. There was absolutely no way in which Sir John did anything other than put his professional thinking into the process, although he clearly said all the way through, “But, Minister, the buck stops with you, and it ought to stop with you.” That is his philosophy, and not only in governing infrastructure. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich mentioned Sir John’s incredible contribution to the development of the Olympic park, which he has been commended for many times and was an extraordinary achievement. Even on that project, Sir John was very clear that the authority belonged to the then Government, and I urge Government Members to read his report.

That brings us to my right hon. Friend’s intervention. We do have these things called general elections. When they are is a matter for interesting debate. I found myself in conversation with the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) this lunchtime and he and I found ourselves on the same side of ridiculing the concept of fixed-term Parliaments, but I shall not drift too far down that line. When general elections take place is a matter for us to establish by the peculiarities of our legislative process, but it is inevitable that some major infrastructure projects will spill over the boundaries of elections. Some take two or three Parliaments to plan. Look at some of the energy projects  that are absolutely mission critical. I remember saying in the ’92 Parliament that the only problem with the then Government’s energy policy was that they did not have an energy policy. That accusation could have been thrown back at the previous Labour Governments and we will use it again. We still have not got our heads round this mission critical part of our infrastructure.

Even on a smaller scale, in the north-west there is a major piece of infrastructure: the Mersey Gateway project. It could have started two years earlier had there been some vehicle to create the continuity to put on the desk of the incoming Secretary of State the work of a body such as the infrastructure commission. There needs to be a fresh look at this concept from the Government. First, they need to reread it and understand that Sir John is not saying that the commission takes authority; indeed, he says the exact opposite. Secondly, surely the Government must agree with us that the loss of time in important infrastructure projects is to the detriment of UK plc.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Liberal Democrat, Taunton Deane

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because I have already spoken, but, essentially, the point I was making is that there is no reason for the Government to lose time unless they choose to do so. There is no reason for the Government to not have an energy policy unless they choose not to. I am not making a particularly party political point because it could be made of lots of parties, but the previous Labour Government was in office for 13 years. For something such as Hinkley Point nuclear power station there was not even a constituency objection. I can see it from my constituency and it is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger). I can say with frankness that I do not think Labour is likely to perform very well in either my seat or Bridgwater and West Somerset at the general election in May, but there was not even a parochial reason for Labour to dither on that project. The point I am making is that it requires leadership, belief and vision. It does not necessarily require someone to tell you to have belief, leadership and vision.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

Again, the hon. Gentleman has clearly not read Sir John’s report and I would remind him what his party’s policy was on nuclear power during the previous Parliament—[ Interruption. ] It certainly was his party’s policy to oppose it. No wonder there were some local hiccups there.

The point I am making is not that Governments should not lead; I totally agree that Governments should lead. I expect Secretaries of State to come here with clear, thought-out policy positions. However, to adopt on day one of an incoming Government a fresh start on major infrastructure projects has manifestly created delays. There must be a better way. The Government surely ought at least to have a fresh look, engage in debate with the relevant bodies that are supporting Sir John’s report and look at the case for moving in this direction. It is an eminently sensible approach to how these longer-term strategic objectives are achieved, and I urge the Government to rethink their position.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 2:30 pm, 6th January 2015

First, I commend the hon. Member for City of Durham for her ingenuity in tabling an amendment that calls for  consultation with a body that does not exist on, I should remind the Committee, something as narrow as a non-material change to a development consent order? I also thank her for provoking such an interesting debate. I said earlier that this would not be as interesting as non-invasive species, but killer shrimps now seem small fry compared with the issues we have been discussing for the past 31 minutes.

I thank hon. Members from both sides of the Committee for their thought-provoking speeches, which will hopefully make my response a little bit more interesting than it might have been. I would particularly like to thank my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Taunton Deane. I will now put on record what I have said to him privately twice and which he has just proved with his remarks: his decision to leave Parliament at the next general election is a loss to not only the people of Taunton but to Parliament as well.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

The hon. Member for Taunton Deane could head up the commission.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

In making the important point about politicians perhaps surrendering decision making to other people, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane reminded me of a painful episode in not only our party’s history, in terms of how we deal with tuition fees, but in mine as well. This will be a very short departure, Sir Roger, to tell a story that I have not told before. In the garden of Downing street in 2009, Lord Mandelson, whom I shadowed at the time, put his hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes—it was quite an experience—and asked me to join the consensus that he was building with the Conservative shadow team, which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings was a member of, to surrender decision making on higher education policy to Lord Browne’s committee.

Boris Johnson, who was higher education spokesman for the Conservative party at the time, bought me a drink and tried to persuade me as well. I was actually open-minded to doing so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane will know, I had severe reservations about where my party was going. However, we are a democratic party and other people made the decision that we would not go down that route. Everything else that followed is history that is pretty well documented—accurately or inaccurately, in some cases—for people to read about if they wish to.

I return to the amendment and, more importantly, the new clause that the hon. Member for City of Durham was able to speak to because she tabled an amendment referring to a body that does not exist, provoking this debate. The Government recognise the importance of long-term strategy in the governance of UK infrastructure. That is why infrastructure investment is a key element of the coalition Government’s economic plan to build a stronger economy that is more competitive. The Government have introduced the national infrastructure plan, which has been mentioned several times and is a consolidated delivery plan for transport, energy, flood defences, communications, and water and waste networks. It has generated a new momentum in infrastructure  delivery, with 2,500 projects delivered during this Parliament—rather more than a list, which the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich referred to it as—and a pipeline of over £460 billion-worth of planned public and private investment for the future.

The national investment plan sets out an ambitious infrastructure vision for the next Parliament and beyond, reinforcing the Government’s commitment to investing in infrastructure and improving its quality of performance. Our plan recognises the importance of getting the fundamentals right, delivering key projects and programmes on time and on budget, while addressing the longer-term challenges concerning integration, resilience, skills and sustainability. We have introduced a road investment strategy to treble spending on strategic roads. Part 1 of the Bill effectively enables the delivery of that plan. We have introduced an ambitious new strategy to incentivise additional electricity capacity for the UK and to support low-carbon electricity generation. When we consider part 5, we will see that there are proposals in the Bill to further support that vision and plan.

The shadow Minister referred to a CBI survey, and in particular drew attention to the opinion and sentiment—which is, after all, what all surveys are, as they are not facts in themselves, they are simply canvasses of opinions—saying that there was lack of confidence in the Government’s energy sector in the future. The information that I have is that the United Kingdom has the fourth-most resilient energy policy in the world. I do not know which other countries are ahead of us. Maybe if there had been a survey of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, Norway would have got better statistics from a particular survey. None the less, the UK is in a strong position—much stronger than the hon. Lady made it out to be—in terms of our future energy supply and security.

Lots of comments were made about the lack of capital expenditure, particularly on infrastructure. Yesterday, I travelled from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington. For the first time the train went up and over the new viaduct outside Reading station, which gave an elevated view of Reading, if one wanted such a thing. The carriage appeared to have quite a lot of what I might politely call rail enthusiasts in it, saying what a wonderful innovation that was. The point is that it was an expensive innovation, which was approved in the early years of this Parliament. Every week for the past few years as I have travelled back and forth, I have seen the huge improvements taking place to that great bottleneck on our railway infrastructure. Now that bottleneck has been unlocked. On the line itself, I was able to see the gantries being erected from Reading further west towards Didcot for the electrification of the Great Western main line.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

What the Minister is telling us is very interesting but will he now please tell us what will be the necessary decision making about meeting aviation needs and, indeed, linking rail and road transport to the site of our expanded aviation hub? None of us know what the Government’s policy is.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I will come to the right hon. Gentleman’s contributions shortly. If he is patient just for a minute I will certainly address his point. To finish my point about the Great Western main line, I refer to another peer who was in the Cabinet of the previous  Government: Lord Adonis. I remember him announcing to great fanfare just before the 2010 general election that the previous Labour Government suddenly had a great vision for electrifying the Great Western main line, but that is all it turned out to be—an announcement. When we came to office, we found that there were no particular plans. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) opened the envelope from the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury containing a note which said, “There is no money.” There was certainly no money for that proposal. This Government took the decision, despite difficult budgetary decisions that had to be made in the emergency Budget and in the 2011 comprehensive spending review that the multi-billion pound investment in the Great Western main line was something that we should do and that would have far-reaching benefits for the country.

It is not true that politicians cannot make far-sighted strategic decisions about infrastructure. They can; it is a matter of will. I will just make one political point. Maybe it took the country’s first coalition Government and the certainty of a fixed-term Parliament of five years of being able to make long-term decisions to make a decision such as that because, after all, the new carriages and services will not arrive in my constituency or anywhere else in the west country until about 2017.

The Government have established long-term capital settlements to align with the national infrastructure plan, as well as establishing the UK Guarantees scheme, which has now approved support of projects worth around £4 billion. Our plan provides sound justification for infrastructure priorities that offer greater certainty surrounding the Government’s commitment. This approach has secured support and commitment from a wide range of stakeholders and has helped ensure stability and continuity of future investment. Changing the infrastructure governance at this stage, without giving consideration to how that change would come about, could hinder infrastructure delivery going forward.

For that reason, the Government disagree with the amendment and the new clause to introduce a national infrastructure commission, and have severe reservations about establishing an independent body without a clear understanding of the impacts of that change. Failure to examine that proposal carefully before considering going down that path would create uncertainty and would risk the successful delivery of UK infrastructure that is now well planned into the future.

New clause 11 does not tell us very much about the resourcing requirements for this new commission and the time needed to establish it, nor did the hon. Member for City of Durham tell us much in her speech. None of this appears to have been fully established or costed. A fundamental concern for the Government is that establishing a new independent authority for infrastructure would involve significant complexity and constitutional issues of precisely the sort that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane and others alluded to.

I think back to the first few sittings of the Bill Committee, when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield was sparring with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State about part 1 of the Bill. In the end we were united about many of the issues there—that even though we were changing the status of the Highways Authority to that of a company, it would be important to know that the Roads Minister or an ex-Roads Minister  or the Secretary of State for Transport would still be the person who set the strategic objectives of that company. It would still be Parliament, whether at Question Time or in the Select Committee on Transport or whatever, that would scrutinise the decision making of the Secretary of State for Transport when setting out the vision for the future of road networks of this country. Yet now we seem to be saying that we should, right across the piece—not just in roads or railways or anything else—give this responsibility to a body that is independent of elected politicians. That seems completely bizarre.

The hon. Member for Daventry made quite an important point about lobbying. Since I became a Member of Parliament in 2005, I have been lobbied several times—before I became a Minister in this Department—about whether a barrage should be constructed across the River Severn. It is an issue that has probably come and gone for many decades. I remember watching it as boy when I lived on the other side of the Severn. It was an issue in the ’70s and ’80s as well, and I am sure it will be an issue in the decades to come. There are lots of people who want to spend lots of money on consultancy, concrete and steel—I think it would take all the concrete in the world to construct a Severn barrage—and who are very keen that this barrage should be built, yet have not managed to persuade either the previous Government or this Government. I wonder whether they would be able to persuade an independent infrastructure commission that it should be achieved; if so, it would be quite hard for a Government to resist it.

The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said that the existing infrastructure plan did not have the credibility of some other more independent bodies that the Government have set up. The 2014 national infrastructure plan includes a long-term delivery plan. It has long-term funding settlements. It is well respected internationally and the Government have commissioned an independent planning and management framework to oversee the cross-sector plans on infrastructure delivery. That professional support comes from University college London and—I am pleased to say—Bristol university.

Drawing a comparison with the Office for Budget Responsibility undermines the right hon. Gentleman’s own point. Putting the Office for National Statistics on a statutory footing or giving independence to the Bank of England are other examples he could have given. All three deal with very narrow points where we were concerned about technical decision making or authenticating the veracity of Government statistics, in order to do away with the smoke and mirrors exercise that we were familiar with under the last Government. That is a very narrow point about whether housing statistics are accurate, or whether a forecast of inflation or of future tax receipts that form part of a Budget is reasonable. I understand that the Armitt commission proposes that a 10-year vision for the whole of the country’s future infrastructure investment should be handed over to a body independent of everyone elected to this place. That is entirely different from the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 2:45 pm, 6th January 2015

Will the Minister tell us why his pejorative phrase “smoke and mirrors” does not apply to the Airports Commission, which the Government still support?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My very next point was going to be about aviation. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane alluded to the fact that that has been difficult, for different reasons and at different times, for all three parties that have been in government for the past decade. The right hon. Gentleman’s party leader has changed his position on the matter since he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. It was widely reported at the time that he was highly sceptical about what the then Transport Secretary and Prime Minister wished to do, so I do not think there has been a consensus in the Labour party.

The Davies commission will report shortly after the general election, and it will be for the next Government, whatever their configuration, to grasp that opportunity to make a decision. I am sure we all have our views on what that decision should be, and those of us who hope still to be here after the next general election may have a role in making it.

It is vital that the Government continue to focus on delivery. The fundamental issue is to ensure that the UK has a long-term strategy that addresses the future challenges that will face our infrastructure network. Over the Parliament, we have worked to develop a strategy to meet current and future demand and to tackle climate change while facilitating growth through globally competitive modern infrastructure. It is unclear how the introduction into that decision-making process of a national infrastructure commission would assist in tackling those pressing issues. Although the Government welcome public discussion and ideas for infrastructure strategy, the concept of a national infrastructure commission remains an unproven idea with potentially significant complexities.

The Government will build on their proven track record for infrastructure delivery and will continue to take the delivery of infrastructure extremely seriously. As I have said, £460 billion of public and private investment is planned over the course of the next Parliament and beyond. Having made that clear, I hope that the shadow Minister is persuaded that amendment 49 and new clause 11 are not needed, and I invite her to withdraw them at the appropriate point.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I will begin with a point on which I, too, agree with the Minister. We may not have had killer shrimps in this debate, but in my quest for strategic and evidence-based policy making, I seem to have energised the Committee.

We have had a really useful debate, but it is unfortunate that the Minister’s response echoes, to a degree, the response given in the other place, which was basically that everything is fine with regard to how we plan and deliver infrastructure, and that we do not need to do anything to improve the current system. One point that got lost in the debate was that Armitt proposes a 25 to 30-year look ahead at our potential infrastructure needs, and proposals put forward to meet those needs would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and a vote. That would not be conceding power to another body; it would be using the evidence provided by the commission to help with policy making and to support Ministers and others to decide what is needed and the correct time scale for delivery.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I accept what the hon. Lady says, but does she not agree that it is surrendering the capacity to come up with a vision by politicians, whether from the Labour party, the Conservative party or the Liberal Democrats? Is she not saying, “We are not up to it, so we need to hand over the responsibility for coming forward with a long-term plan to somebody else”?

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I do not think it is doing that at all. In fact, it is doing the opposite: it is trying to give some real essence to a vision. To answer the Minister’s point about resources, we do not envisage that this independent infrastructure commission would need any resources additional to those already given to Infrastructure UK. We do not envisage that at all, because it is amassing evidence that is already available and putting it in one place. Critically, it will not only say what needs to be done, but will give very useful information, which may not be available at the moment, about what will happen if action is not taken. It will also put into the public domain and into Parliament a whole set of questions about what will happen if decisions are not taken in a timely manner.

The Minister gave a number of examples of how, in the current system, really difficult issues are simply batted into the next Parliament, or into the following one or the one after that. This will put a mechanism in place to prevent that taking place, or taking place as often as it does at the moment, by assisting Members and Ministers to come to decisions in a very timely manner.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Liberal Democrat, Taunton Deane

The shadow Minister talks as if batting decisions into the next Parliament, as she puts it, is inevitable, but there is absolutely nothing to stop the Leader of the Opposition making a speech this afternoon saying that if Labour wins an overall majority in May, it will proceed with the Heathrow option, the Gatwick option or the Thames estuary option. It does not have to buy into batting issues into the next Parliament, as she puts it; it is possible to show leadership.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we have come forward with a particular mechanism that will assist with leadership around a whole set of very difficult issues. If he wants to come up with another mechanism that will assist leaders in coming to more timely decisions, that is up to him. At the moment we seek to put a better system in place.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng Conservative, Spelthorne

It is not my custom to intervene a lot during these sessions, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was suggesting that we do not need a mechanism, so to say to him that he should suggest a mechanism is neither here nor there: he is saying that we do not need one.

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

Just to support my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, is it not the case that we are the mechanism—that politicians should retain the right to originate, to devise and to imagine? When we cease to do so, we are at our least attractive, because we are dull and mechanistic.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

Actually, I was hoping that we would delegate some of that mechanistic thinking to another body that would be better placed to put in one place all the information that is necessary for long-term, strategic policy making. It seems to me to be a very sensible approach and, as I indicated in my speech earlier, it is an approach that has been welcomed not only by the business community, but by elements of manufacturing: it has widespread support from the industrial sector and because of that I am minded to press amendment 49 and new clause 11 to a vote.

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

The hon. Lady will understand that we have not yet come to new clause 11: there will be an appropriate time to do that.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 11.

Division number 5 Decision Time — Clause 25 - Changes to, and revocation of, development consent orders

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 25 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.