New Clause 10 - Power to abolish Public Works Loan Commissioners

Part of Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 13th January 2015.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 4:45 pm, 13th January 2015

The hon. Member for City of Durham raised a number of questions, and before she did so was very generous—rather too generous, actually—in saying that I have been a model of how a Minister should behave in Committee. There have always been Ministers who have involved the Opposition in consideration, and I benefited from that as a shadow Minister under the previous Government.

Let me try to deal with all the questions that have been raised. I will not necessarily deal with them in the order that they were offered, because I want to add some excitement to our affairs, even at this late stage in the day. I will deal first with the remark that the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich made about coincidence. I, as other members of the Committee I am sure will rush to agree, generally take the view that Archbishop Temple took of coincidence, in that I think, as he did, that people ascribe God’s miracles to coincidence until they stop happening and they realise that there is no such thing as coincidence. But there certainly is serendipity. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is serendipitous—and no more than that—that the provisions in new clause 10 should find themselves adjacent to changes to the Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal.

I will return to the right hon. Gentleman’s second remark towards the end of my consideration, once, as a matter of chivalry and courtesy, I have dealt with the shadow Minister’s important questions. The hon. Lady asked what responsibilities the commissioners retain. It is right to say that in practice their function has become redundant, but she has perfectly properly asked what their responsibilities remain in statute. Their responsibilities are to produce an annual report—a review—which they  sign. In practice, they meet once a year, and the report is prepared by officials. To confirm, there is no scope at all for commissioners to exercise influence or discretion over the Public Works Loan Board’s activities. I cannot be plainer than that.

The shadow Minister asked, “Why now?” The Treasury carried out a review of the Public Works Loan Board in April 2014; this Bill was therefore the most appropriate legislative opportunity to make the changes that had their origin in that review. She also asked, “Why have a further consultation?”—a fair question, given what I have just said. However, perhaps I can respectfully remind her that we are obliged to do so under section 10 of the Public Bodies Act 2011, which means that we have to consult on any change of this sort.