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Infrastructure Investment

Volume 594: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2015

This Government have revolutionised the approach to infrastructure through long-term planning via the national infrastructure plan, which we conceived and published, that sets out an infrastructure pipeline worth more than £460 billion of public and private investment. In the 2013 spending round, I committed over £100 billion to support infrastructure investment across the United Kingdom.

I am delighted that the Government have made significant commitments to the south-west region, such as the fantastic £50 million-worth of investment for a new junction on the M49 in my constituency. Will the Minister confirm what further investments he is making for improvements to transport across the south-west region as a whole?

Investment in the transport infrastructure of the south-west has been a much higher priority for this Government than, I think, for any previous Government. We have committed £7.2 billion-worth of investment in the transport infrastructure of the south-west, including £2 billion in roads—for example, dualling the A303 and the new tunnel at Stonehenge, sorting out the A30 all the way to Camborne and the electrification of the Great Western main line with new inter-city express trains. I have recently asked the south-west peninsula rail task force to bring forward more proposals for investment in strategic rail schemes for the region.

Last month, a couple of hundred senior business figures gave a very warm welcome to the second stage of the review that Sir John Armitt has done on infrastructure for the Labour party, including plans for a new independent national infrastructure commission to identify the country’s long-term needs and monitor Governments’ plans to meet them. Business backs Labour plans; business organisations back Labour’s plans; will the right hon. Gentleman back them?

Of course, the Labour party’s belated conversion to long-term planning for infrastructure is welcome, although it was not the practice during its 13 years in office. I think that the national infrastructure plan and the architecture around it provides the right framework for delivering that long-term planning. I am not convinced that a new quango is the best way to solve the problem.

Last week, the HS2 Select Committee wrote to the Treasury asking for more flexibility on big infrastructure projects where farmers have difficulty finding suitable replacement land within the statutory time limits for capital gains tax relief, leaving the businesses not knowing whether or not a discretionary power could be granted. Can the Chief Secretary give some comfort to my constituents who are affected by this?

I do take seriously my right hon. Friend’s point. The Department for Transport is working on the plans to flesh out how these things will work in respect of HS2. I would add that HMRC can provide extra flexibility where there are particular impacts on particular farmers or other businesses. I would certainly want to maintain an open mind on the points that my right hon. Friend is raising.

I could not help but notice that when my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) was asking the Chief Secretary’s sidekick to answer a question about Lord Green, the Chief Secretary was constantly having a laugh at his expense. I am going to give him a chance: will he now answer the question about meeting Lord Green. Now is the opportunity to make a name for himself. Come on.

The hon. Gentleman has made his point, but unfortunately it does not relate to investment in infrastructure.

I am trying to use such powers of anticipation as I have, but let us hear the Chief Secretary respond.

I do not recall ever having had any conversations about investment in infrastructure with Lord Green. Matters relating to ministerial appointments are, of course, a matter for the Prime Minister. What matters is making sure that in this country we have a zero-tolerance approach to tax evasion and tax avoidance, and that where organisations are facilitating or encouraging tax evasion, we put in place the proper penalties.

Does the Chief Secretary agree that no British Government should fail to invest in the infrastructure, the personnel and the equipment of the armed forces at a rate less than the NATO-recommended minimum? Will he have a word with his leader and with mine to make sure that the necessary commitment is given before the general election?

We have met that commitment in the present Parliament, and we will do so in 2015-16 as well. Spending on defence will, of course. be a matter for the next spending round. However, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should have regard not just to the total amount spent, but to the efficiency of the expenditure. We have made great progress during this Parliament in securing better value, in terms of defence equipment and output, for the limited money that we have to spend as a country.

The Treasury has had meetings with the European Commission to discuss the reinstatement of the aggregate credit levy scheme for Northern Ireland, which could serve as a further tool of investment in infrastructure. What further discussions have taken place?

I know that discussions have been ongoing, and that the issue has been the subject of a protracted dispute. I have no further updates, but I will ensure that my ministerial colleague who is responsible for the scheme writes to the hon. Lady.