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Infrastructure Investment

Volume 565: debated on Tuesday 25 June 2013

In a difficult economic climate the Government are committed to investing in infrastructure. We have increased our infrastructure spending plans in this Parliament and have committed to a further £3 billion a year from 2015-16. We are using this country’s hard-won fiscal credibility to support and offer up to £40 billion in guarantees for infrastructure projects, and I will set out our plans for further investment in infrastructure on Thursday.

As an MP for the north-west, may I ask whether the Government can give assurances to the House that large-scale infrastructure projects such as HS2 will proceed under this Government?

Yes I can, and the House will be considering High Speed 2 tomorrow. I hope my hon. Friend and other Members on both sides of the House will give the project very strong support, because it is a massive project that has the capacity completely to transform the regional economic geography of this country. This Government are totally committed to delivering it, and we will do so.

Can the Chief Secretary confirm that only seven of the Treasury’s infrastructure projects in the pipeline have been completed? In view of its overall conversion finally to the need for infrastructure investment, is that not a disgraceful record?

I do not accept that figure, and I tell the hon. Gentleman a very large number of projects are completed or under way that we have announced. There are national road schemes, motorway schemes around the country, local transport schemes around the country, Crossrail under way—tunnelling started in May 2012—and major improvements to over 134 railway stations since May 2010. There is a great deal of investment in infrastructure going on, and he should welcome it.

23. Ahead of tomorrow’s comprehensive spending review, can I make yet another plea about the importance of the M4 around Newport? It is the gateway to the south Wales economy and it needs to be upgraded. That is long overdue; it was ignored by the last Government for so many years. (161242)

Let me reassure my hon. Friend that I am very well aware of the importance of that project. We have been in discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government about the matter, and it is very much tied up with the Silk report, and together those two things will help that project go forward.

20. Why have 80% of the projects in the Treasury’s infrastructure pipeline not even started construction yet? (161239)

A vast number of projects are under way, and a vast number of projects are in the pipeline to start, where work and planning permission are going on. These projects are being delivered up and down the country, and I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he should show a little humility in this matter. After all, this Government are investing a greater share of our nation’s income in infrastructure during this Parliament than his party managed during its 13 years in office.

I look forward to my right hon. Friend’s announcements about infrastructure on Thursday, but already on my weekly journeys from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington I can see the gantries going up around Reading to provide the electrification of the great western main line. Is it not the case that this Government are already presiding over the greatest investment in railways since the Victorian era, providing a stimulus to the economy in Bristol and all stations between there and London?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and rather than laughing, the shadow Chancellor should welcome the fact that there is the largest investment in our railways since Victorian times. Electrification is under way, ahead of schedule as my hon. Friend suggests; the intercity express programme train purchase programme will help to improve journey times yet further; what was in our announcements in the autumn statement last year will allow direct western rail access to Heathrow from his constituency and other communities served by that line.

If it is all so wonderful, can the Chief Secretary explain why, two years after he published the national infrastructure plan, according to the Office for National Statistics the level of infrastructure investment in our economy has plummeted by a staggering 50% in the first quarter of this year, its lowest level since he came to office? Why?

The hon. Gentleman should remember that the capital investment we are putting into infrastructure in this economy is much greater than in the plans his party set out before the last election. As the former Foreign Secretary said, Labour was going to halve the share of national income going into capital spending. We have added to that, and by using the fiscal credibility that this Government’s tough approach to the deficit has secured to offer infrastructure guarantees, we are enabling infrastructure projects in the private sector to come forward that would not be doing so otherwise.

What planet is the Chief Secretary living on? A year ago, the director general of the CBI was asking:

“Where are the diggers on the ground?”

A year later, the diggers are still gathering dust. I realise that the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor are busy focusing on headlines for the next general election, two years away, but why are they not taking the advice of the International Monetary Fund and bringing forward capital investment now, in 2013, to make up for their lamentable incompetence on this infrastructure plan?

We are investing more in infrastructure this year than the hon. Gentleman’s party planned during its period in government. We are supporting the private sector to bring forward further investment in infrastructure, thanks to our infrastructure guarantee programme. We are supporting the construction of more affordable homes than his party managed; after all, his party presided over a decline of 421,000 affordable homes in this country. We are increasing investment in that. He should welcome this Government’s infrastructure programme, not criticise it from the position of weakness that he is in.