Mr Hayes: With a certain elegance, the hon. Gentleman has conflated three matters and I shall try to deal with each of them. He talked about the planning process and he is right that it is not directly affected by this Bill, but it is also right that we need to make sure that information is made available in digestible form. He then mentioned safety. The Environment Agency continues to have

8 Dec 2014 : Column 663

responsibility for safety in this regard, as it always has, and some of the particular issues, such as waste water, have been dealt with by the EA—as they are in all water-intensive industries, by the way—and will continue to be so. Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman talked about broadcasting the right kind of information in the right way to the right people, and that is precisely why as Energy Minister I established the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, but he is right that we can do more, we must do more and we will do more to assuage doubts, to scotch those false assumptions that people have, and to make it clear that this can be done properly and safely in all our interests.

The Bill will allow Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to participate in the extractive industries transparency initiative and meet the UK’s commitment on higher international transparency standards.

Some of the changes in the Bill, like driving forward development of our shale gas reserves or reforming the Highways Agency, are potentially hugely transformative, while others may right smaller wrongs, but taken together they will undoubtedly deliver benefits that can be felt by people and communities right across the UK. In this Bill we have measures from seven Government Departments—which is why I have taken rather longer than I might have done ordinarily to make the case for this important measure. That is evidence that the Government see infrastructure not through a single lens, but as a kaleidoscope of interconnected elements. Whether it is building and maintaining our strategic roads, major schemes such as HS2 or nuclear power stations, housing developments such as new garden cities, or new industries such as shale and geothermal, or existing ones such as North sea oil, we must never lose our focus on the big prize—invest, improve, build, develop, and ultimately prosper.

Let us no longer look back in anger on the bad days of under-investment and mismanagement. I am not going to focus on the previous Government’s many failures; let us instead focus with the anticipation of a long-distance runner on the exciting road ahead.

Too often the stance of the Labour party on these matters brings to mind the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat as envisioned by Lewis Carroll. Alice asked to know

“‘Which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don't much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn't matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.”

Sadly, the Labour party remains in Wonderland: stuck down the rabbit hole, and presenting the economy with a bottle labelled “drink me.” In contrast to Labour’s shrinking potion, the measures in this Bill promise an effect similar to the cake labelled “eat me”: measures that enable the economy to grow at the same burgeoning pace.

I simply say this to the Opposition: they must be careful. As Disraeli once said:

“It is easier to be critical than correct.”

There are times for clever criticisms and there are times for meaningful scrutiny; times for short-term hard-edged

8 Dec 2014 : Column 664

politics, and a time for the long view. The Opposition should recognise that the time for this Bill has surely come.

This is a Bill fashioned by a Government determined to do the people’s will, and a Minster who, as the Opposition know, is the people’s voice. This Government with this Bill confirm our courage and our willingness to put long-term thinking at the heart of our programme. This Government with this Bill concrete our confidence—confidence in a vision that is bold and ambitious for Britain. This Government with this Bill cement our reputation as a regime. There is hope for our nation’s future, a future for our people as glorious as our past. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.45 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I thank the Minister for those few brief words of introduction to the Bill, and I look forward to debating its contents with him. If he will forgive me, I will not quote Disraeli quite so extensively as he did. I might not even quote “Alice in Wonderland” quite so extensively, although he might like to think about his own party’s performance as I remind him of another quote from the book, in which a character says that when he uses a word,

“it means just what I choose it to mean”.

That seems to typify the Government’s flip-flopping on infrastructure up to now.

The Minister has had criticism for Opposition Members today. Interestingly, he has also had some veiled criticism for his predecessors from those on the Government Benches, which surprised many of us. Perhaps that shows that infrastructure policy was not really in shape until he came along. Also, I could not help but notice that he kept referring to “my Department”. The Secretary of State for Transport, who is sitting alongside him, might need to be a bit careful about who is after his job.

This is a complex and wide-ranging Bill. It contains extensive provisions covering a whole range of Departments, which is why I am pleased to be joined on the Opposition Front Bench today by the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), as well as by my hon. Friends the Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods). The Library briefing on the Bill describes it as a “portmanteau” Bill, and we are pleased to welcome the Minister and his portmanteau to the House today.

The Bill comes nowhere near to meeting the challenges faced by transport, energy and housing, despite all that the Minister has said today. There is cross-party consensus on the importance of infrastructure to our economy. Economic and population growth and the need to decarbonise our economy will all add further strain to an infrastructure that is already creaking. There seem to be different views about that. I imagine that, while we might disagree on a number of aspects of the Bill, hon. Members on both sides of the House will have raised an eyebrow on hearing the leader of UKIP explaining that the problems with infrastructure were all down to immigration, but I guess that that is a matter for him.

The Minister said that the Bill proved the Government’s commitment to investing in infrastructure. We have heard a lot of talk from the Government on infrastructure over the past week or so. We have heard the

8 Dec 2014 : Column 665

re-announcement of a £15 billion road programme—two thirds of which, surprisingly, has been earmarked for coalition Members’ constituencies—yet this is happening after the Government scrapped £4 billion-worth of strategic roads investment on entering office. We have also heard another garden city announcement, yet Ministers have presided over the lowest peacetime level of house building since the 1920s. And we have had yet another infrastructure plan update, promising yet more schemes, when the reality is that less that a fifth of the projects are in construction and infrastructure output is down more than 10% since 2010.

Let me give the House an example of one of the supposed achievements of the plan that the Government have published. The Dartford crossing is a major bottleneck, with serious congestion. One of the achievements of the Government’s infrastructure plan is—wait for it!—to narrow down three options for improving one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the country to two.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): Since the hon. Gentleman is critical of this Government for narrowing down the options to two, will he advise the House which option he would choose?

Richard Burden: I have a feeling that in this debate Conservative hon. Member after Conservative hon. Member will stand up and ask me about this scheme or that scheme, and will say, “Come on. Will Labour go ahead with this or not?” We are not in the business of cutting long-term investment in our roads infrastructure in the way that the present Government cut long-term investment in infrastructure. But if we are looking through individual scheme after individual scheme, we are going to scrutinise them. We are going to see if they are all they are cracked up to be.

Let me give other examples. In many cases the Government’s figures do not add up. In some announcements there is £3.5 billion-worth of investment for 20 new schemes; in other announcements, that becomes £3.4 billion. In 2013 we read that £8.5 billion had been set aside for 26 schemes; that now appears to be £6 billion. In some announcements there has been £15.1 billion for 2015 to 2021, but in answer to a parliamentary question that I asked the Minister last week, the figure was £15.2 billion, and it is still unclear whether this is entirely Government money or whether the Department for Transport is still waiting for third-party contributions to make up the total. I shall not be able to give answers on individual schemes because as far as I can tell, those individual schemes do not add up, but we will scrutinise them. We will ask the difficult questions, because those are the questions that the public expect us to ask.

Mr Redwood: Now that the shadow Minister has seen the projected overall levels of capital expenditure laid out by the coalition Government in the autumn statement for the period up to 2020, does his party think they are the right levels, or are they too low or too high?

Richard Burden: As I said in answer to the previous question, we are not in the business of saying that we wish to cut back on capital investment. For goodness’ sake, we have been saying for four years that the Government have not been investing enough in infrastructure. It seemed from the Minister’s opening

8 Dec 2014 : Column 666

remarks that he was criticising the previous Government for not having spent enough. That is a bit of a change from what we have heard before—usually we are accused of having spent too much. Labour spent a total of £93.7 billion on our road network between 1997 and 2010. That is because we are interested and we are committed to repairing our creaking infrastructure. That will not change.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): It is nice to hear how much Labour spent on roads, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it took 60 years to get a bypass in my constituency, and for 13 of those years under Labour rule the scheme was knocked back and confused? It took me to get £123 million from this Government to build the road. It has been built.

Richard Burden: I am sure the hon. Gentleman has been a great advocate for his constituency, as are hon. Members across the House. That does not alter the fact that, as I said, I want to check that these Government announcements are all they are cracked up to be. Even a few examples indicate to me that there are a lot more questions to ask.

Investment in infrastructure needs to be long term. That is key, and that is why Labour is backing the proposal by Sir John Armitt, the man who delivered the Olympics—in practice, not just in theory—for a national infrastructure commission. That looks not just five years ahead, but 20 or 30 years ahead to produce an evidence-based assessment of national infrastructure needs. That should establish a cross-party consensus on priorities, breaking electoral cycles and ending the stop-start announcements we have seen up until now. It can also hold the Government to account for delivery. That would help the Government and it would help Parliament’s decision making. That is why it is backed by more than 89% of businesses surveyed by the CBI. For all that the Minister said about wanting to build a consensus on these things, words have, again, not been matched by actions. The Government had the chance in the other place to accept the idea of a national infrastructure commission, a cross-party body to plan infrastructure for the long term, and what did they do? They voted down such an amendment, and that commission is nowhere in the Bill today.

Let me now deal with some specific parts of the Bill. On highways and transportation, Labour supports long-term roads funding and we want to end stop-start funding. We want to give the supply chain the confidence to invest in skills and equipment, and enable the Highways Agency to negotiate better contracts and make efficiency savings. We want to see those contracts create new apprenticeships to train young engineers, as Britain will need 780,000 to meet demand by 2020. I am very pleased that the Minister has mentioned these matters in his opening remarks, and I am sure that if the Bill gets to Committee we will press him further on them.

There are three problems to discuss. First, Ministers have failed to prove why a top-down institutional reorganisation of the Highways Agency is needed to deliver long-term roads funding. After extensive debate on the rationale for this in the other place, the fact is—this came across clearly there—that the Highways Agency can deliver a five-year roads programme without being turned into a wholly owned Government company.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 667

The Alan Cook review showed that it can make £1.2 billion-worth of efficiency savings. That can be delivered through funding certainty, not because it should be a wholly owned Government company or because of institutional change. The cross-party Transport Select Committee has concluded that it is “not convinced” by the need for a new company. It is the roads investment strategy that will enable an efficient and faster delivery of roads, not necessarily an arm’s length body, and we will be looking for clear evidence from the Government of why this move is needed. I do not mean anecdotal evidence or what Benjamin Disraeli might have predicted; we need facts on why this is going to be needed to deliver long-term investment, as all we have seen to date is conjecture and confusion.

The Bill previously included clauses to set up more than one highways company. Fortunately, Ministers have rowed back from that, but the model is still confused. The body is to have a licence but officials recognise that it cannot have a “licence to operate” as it has no income stream or revenue-raising powers. With such a shaky rationale, is it any wonder that the Government proposal to set up a wholly owned Government company has met widespread concern from organisations ranging right the way from the Alliance of British Drivers to unions like the Public and Commercial Services Union and Prospect, who see this as a precursor to privatising an asset worth £111 billion?

Caroline Lucas: I am confused by Labour’s great love of yet more road building. We had a welcome article from Ed Miliband yesterday in which he talked about the importance of climate change. Some 25% of—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Lady must refer to the Leader of the Opposition as the Leader of the Opposition or by his constituency. This is not a tabloid newspaper; it is the Chamber of the House of Commons.

Caroline Lucas: I do apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. The right nomenclature momentarily went from my mind, but I am very happy to refer to the Leader of the Opposition—the honourable Leader of the Opposition. [Hon. Members: “Right honourable.”] The right hon. Leader of the Opposition. The point is that what he wrote about climate change is not in harmony with what we are hearing now, which is the Labour party saying that we need more roads. Roads are responsible for more and more CO2 emissions, which cause climate change.

Richard Burden: The hon. Lady is absolutely right on this point: protecting our planet and our environment has to be centre stage for any serious Government at the moment. It is also absolutely right that in a whole range of areas we need to look for the most effective and environmentally sensitive forms of transport. Does one conclude therefore that all road building is wrong and that congestion does not need to be tackled? No, because all those things must be done as well, but they must be done sensitively and in harmony with our environment. That was said by the Opposition in the other place, and we will be exploring all those areas if this Bill gets as far as Committee stage.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 668

Ian Lucas: Does my hon. Friend think it would be helpful for the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) to attend a meeting of the all-party motor group and to arrange a visit to Nissan in Sunderland to see the Nissan Leaf, an electric, non-petroleum-driven motor car, to see the innovation being taken forward by the motor industry on a real green agenda?

Richard Burden: My hon. Friend is right on that point. As well as being a shadow Minister with responsibility for roads, I have the honour of chairing the all-party motor group. Fortunately, the days of seeing the motor vehicle as an inevitable enemy of environmental protection are long gone. There is a great deal of innovation going on in the automotive industry. Although the hon. Lady has some very serious points to make, she should understand who brought in the Climate Change Act 2008, and who was Energy Secretary when some of the best initiatives on preserving the environment were taken in Britain. That should give her a little more confidence that the Opposition take our environmental responsibilities seriously.

Another area that the Bill does not tackle is that of local roads. The Minister talks about a roads revolution, but in reality this Bill addresses just 2% of the road network, as 98% of the roads in this country are local roads. Two-thirds of traffic is on local roads. Motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, HGV drivers and motorcyclists all rely on roads to get around. Nearly all our journeys start and finish on local roads, but it is those roads that are the most creaking part of our road infrastructure. A third of local roads are in urgent need of attention. There is a £12 billion pothole backlog that will take 12 years to fix, and congestion on local roads is set to rise by 61% by 2040. A record 91% of the public are dissatisfied with the condition of local roads. Nearly 90% of businesses surveyed by the CBI expect local roads to get worse, not better. That is not surprising, because spending on local road maintenance is down 11% since 2010. Under this Government, it will decline further in real terms by 2020. There is a risk that the Bill will make the situation worse.

Local government and transport campaigners have warned that giving strategic roads management to an arm’s length company could create a two-tier road system, pushing traffic on to local roads and into our towns and cities. We need proper joined-up planning between strategic and local road networks, with devolved bodies and local authorities having greater powers over local transport and traffic management to tackle congestion. That is why we on the Opposition Benches are committed to English devolution. City regions face huge congestion pressure between now and 2040. They are planning their 20-year growth strategies, and need confidence that the Highways Agency, or whatever it is called, is working to similar horizons. We need an independent commission to take that long-term view.

Ring-fencing money for environmental protection, innovation, cycling and safety is important, which is why I am pleased that there is a £100 million budget for cycling on strategic roads. The problem is that it is yet another one-off announcement. It is not the long-term commitment to funding to get Britain cycling. As far as I can tell, the Department for Transport still has no clear budget for cycling, and funding is set to end by 2016 when the local sustainable transport fund finishes. It seems ludicrous that we will have five years of that.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 669

After two years of calling for safety targets to be reinstated, I am pleased that the Government have finally recognised that axing them was a mistake. It is good to see in the road investment strategy a target to cut deaths and serious injuries by 40% on strategic roads by 2020. However, if it is right to have road safety targets for the strategic road network, why cannot we have safety commitments and targets for all UK roads?

It seems ludicrous that we will have five years of road and rail plans that will not be joined up. One of the most pressing transport problems is that, too often, decisions on road, rail and airports are taken in individual silos. Investments are not joined up and maximised. The Government’s proposals to study the options for HS3 include a tunnel under the Peak district and other trans-Pennine road improvements, but they are being considered separately when they should be looked at together. Where is the requirement for the new company and Network Rail to share forecasts, and to map and plan investment in a co-ordinated way?

Mr Hayes: I agree with both the hon. Gentleman’s last two points on integration and road safety more generally. If he brings proposals to the Committee, I will consider them both very carefully.

Richard Burden: I am grateful to the Minister. I am sure we can pursue and discuss the matter in Committee if the Bill gets that far.

My final point—perhaps the Minister has reassuring words on this—is whether the new agency will have adequate accountability, which the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) mentioned. Passenger Focus will be renamed Transport Focus because it will have a responsibility for roads as well as for rail and bus. Why is there still a silo mentality on the Office of the Rail Regulator, even though it will have a monitoring role? After pressure from the Opposition in the other place to give the new body more powers, it cannot be a regulator of roads. In the Bill, Transport Focus can represent only people who use strategic roads—it will not represent pedestrians or cyclists who use local roads, or motorists who are frustrated with conditions on local roads. I hope we can look at that if the Bill gets as far as Committee. With the recent ruling on the UK’s air quality infraction, should not a watchdog consider the environmental impact of any new company?

What about the Minister’s accountability to Parliament? Will hon. Members be able to table parliamentary questions and have proper debates on roads, whether in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall, or will we get letters from the chief executive of the new body instead? The chief executive of the Highways Agency has said that the reform will enable it to “set its own destiny”. The public depend on roads for daily life, so is that what we want? We will want to look at that closely in Committee if the Bill gets that far, and I hope the Minister reflects on it.

The Opposition support the extension of powers for the British Transport police to obtain driver information and take enforcement action outside the railways. That proposal was tabled by Lord Faulkner in the other

8 Dec 2014 : Column 670

place, with the Opposition’s support. It is an absurd situation when trained and effective British Transport police officers have to ask permission to take enforcement action on land outside railway jurisdiction. That makes no sense to the public. I hope the Minister will comment, today or later, on how that relates to the Smith commission recommendation that the British Transport police should be devolved.

The Opposition support a proper control regime for invasive non-native species, but we do not believe the Bill is fit for purpose. After the badger cull chaos, the Government listened to pressure from animal rights campaigners, wildlife groups, the National Farmers Union and Labour, and it is good that they included animal welfare protections in the regime. However, although there are three distinct categories of species in the Bill—native, former native and non-native—the definitions still seem problematic. We expect the Government to look at the EU habitats directive for those definitions, and will seek assurances that specific species such as the beaver will be given legal protection.

The Bill also includes a number of changes to the planning regime, none of which seem to go anywhere near addressing the housing crisis facing Britain today. Effective and efficient planning is vital, and we will support sensible changes to deliver a timely planning system, especially for nationally significant infrastructure projects. We want the Bill to define what the public can expect from garden cities in terms of high-quality design and sustainability for strong and inclusive communities for the future. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham will expand on that point later, say why the Bill fails to ensure that building standards reduce CO2 sufficiently, and explain our position on deemed discharge, land transfers to the Homes and Communities Agency, and the Land Registry. Suffice it to say that a trend seems to be emerging with the Government’s Land Registry reforms, which still seem rather confused, and they appear to have made a U-turn on putting those at arm’s length. Perhaps the most glaring omission on housing and land use is the fact that the Bill contains no acknowledgment of the housing crisis our country faces, of what the Lyons review said, or that Labour is right to call for ambitious reforms and 200,000 extra homes to be built a year. This Bill is a far cry from that.

Part 5 sets out a number of provisions on energy. Getting energy policy right is critical to our economy and vital to enable all infrastructure sectors to function. It is therefore a shame that the Bill contains no ambitious commitment or strategy to ensure that the UK will meet growing demand in a sustainable way. The Bill sets out a new community right for a stake in renewable energy schemes—that is fine, although we do not think it goes far enough—and it is good that it implements Wood review proposals for increasing oil and gas extraction, which have cross-party support. However, the issue that I am sure generates the most interest, both inside and outside the House, is in clauses 38 to 43 on underground access to shale and geothermal energy—there have already been questions on that.

Helen Jones: Is my hon. Friend aware that in constituencies such as mine people are concerned not only that there are no adequate safeguards in the Bill, but that even the Government’s minor concessions, such as the requirement on companies to notify people

8 Dec 2014 : Column 671

of their right to land use and of the payments that can be made, will be reviewed after five years? Does that indicate that the Government are not serious about putting sufficient statutory protections in place?

Richard Burden: My hon. Friend makes an important point that was repeated in the other place and if the Bill gets to Committee, and we will be seeking a much more robust regulatory environment. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) said that securing public confidence is not just important to us as parliamentarians when representing our constituents, but it is also important to the industry, which needs public concern about this issue like a hole in the head. If questions are to be answered they should be answered, and we should have transparency and a proper regulatory regime.

Barbara Keeley: The planning process for shale gas was changed on the first day of the recess last year—a day after we had debated it here—and there was no chance to comment. As my hon. Friend says, it is important that the public have confidence, which they cannot have at the moment. Planning authorities such as that in Salford should not have been denied the chance to comment on and take into account certain measures that were removed by the Government last year, and the time scale should not have been shortened. People need time to get their heads around this complex process, and planning authorities have fewer staff than they once had. I mentioned the payment scheme, which is totally unsatisfactory. People whose businesses lost money or who could not sell their homes will not be compensated by giving small amounts of money to the scout group down the road. This must be dealt with—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. I call the Minister.

Richard Burden rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: I beg your pardon. I mean Richard Burden.

Richard Burden: I am grateful Madam Deputy Speaker. Let us give it another five months.

It is difficult on Second Reading to go through the specifics of what is needed, but my hon. Friend has mentioned some important issues. There is a whole range of areas where we can tighten regulation. To give the Government some credit, they have so far accepted a number of our proposals—we put forward six—which is good, but there are still areas where they need to sharpen up. She mentioned timing. Our view is that, where there is monitoring, there is no reason why it should not take place over a proper 12-month period.

Andrew Miller: The Minister ignored what happened in the other place, although I understood it to be part of the constitutional process. My hon. Friend will know that one of the amendments was about baseline monitoring. It seems to me that we cannot have a proper, scientific assessment of any process without proper baseline

8 Dec 2014 : Column 672

monitoring. Will he give a firm commitment that Labour will press that point to the nth degree in Committee if we get that far?

Richard Burden: My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on and the answer is yes.

Jonathan Edwards: As I said earlier, over the weekend the Labour Government in Wales said that they wanted powers over licensing to be devolved to Wales. Will the official Opposition table amendments in Committee to support the position of the Labour party in Wales?

Richard Burden: The important thing in relation to these provisions is that regulation is robust and effective and that it happens at the most effective and correct level. We know that the Smith commission has made some specific suggestions, which we will be considering, and there are other issues that we can talk about. The important thing is that it works. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) was absolutely right to say that what the public want to know is whether it will work.

Ian Lucas: I think that a pragmatic approach is the correct one. My personal opinion, on the point the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) raised, is that it makes sense for this to be devolved, since so much of the planning regime in Wales is devolved.

Richard Burden: My hon. Friend is right that the most effective place for planning needs to be the place where these regulations operate.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I understand what he says about tighter regulation, which is welcome. However, the Smith commission has recommended devolution of these powers to Scotland. Planning already rests with the Scottish Government, whose attitude has perhaps been different from that of planners south of the border. Would it not make sense, before fracking is fully established, for all the powers to rest in the same place so that this can be looked at properly?

Richard Burden: I must say that I am a little confused by the hon. Gentleman’s point. As I understand it, the current situation, even without this Bill, is that shale gas extraction can happen in Scotland only with the approval of the Government in Holyrood. I also understand—perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong—that the Scottish Government, despite having an effective veto over any development in Scotland, actually voted against a shale gas moratorium earlier this year. He is right that the Smith commission has recommended the devolution of mineral access rights and the licensing process to Scotland. If this goes as far as Committee, I am sure that the issue will be explored there.

Labour is committed to the decarbonisation of the power sector by 2030 and to reducing our carbon emissions in line with the Climate Change Act 2008.

Mr Hayes: Before the hon. Gentleman moves on from shale gas, and leaving aside the issue of where power is exercised and how close that is to its effects, let me repeat that we recognise that this is an embryonic

8 Dec 2014 : Column 673

industry. We are very happy, during the course of the Bill’s consideration, to listen to reasonable overtures about safety and other matters such as those that have been raised in this House.

Richard Burden: I am grateful for the Minister’s comments.

As the Committee on Climate Change has said, within our legally binding carbon targets, gas can have a role to play as part of a balanced energy mix, along with renewables, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage. With 80% of our homes reliant on gas for heating, and in the context of declining North sea oil production, indigenous shale gas production may have a beneficial impact on our energy security. However, only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking, with the kind of robust regulation that I have been talking about, with comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, will we give people confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is safe and a reliable source that can contribute to the UK’s energy mix. That is why we are seeking to amend the Bill in Committee to ensure that any fracking could happen only under robust safety and environmental standards.

The issue of underground access rights is separate from the environmental and safety framework. It does not affect the requirement for consent to be sought for exploration and extraction through planning and relevant environmental permitting processes. Any application sanctioned by local authorities will require a strict environmental assessment. Other industries requiring underground access—such as coal mining, water, sewerage, and gas transportation pipelines—already have underground access rights without requiring the landowner’s permission. In principle, we do not oppose the reforms to underground access. However, we will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened, and for assurances that the responsibility for clean-up costs and the liability for any untoward consequences rest fairly and squarely with the industry, not with taxpayers or homeowners.

Important regulatory questions must be answered before large-scale extraction can begin, but Conservative Ministers have so far chosen to ignore those legitimate environmental concerns rather than address them and provide safeguards for communities. That is why we will table amendments to close a number of loopholes in the existing regulatory framework. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West will set those out in detail in Committee. We are taking a responsible approach. People will have confidence that shale gas is a safe and reliable source only if this Government provide robust regulations, set out a comprehensive monitoring process, and ensure strict enforcement of exploration and extraction. Sadly, we heard no such assurances from the Minister.

The Bill has some important provisions to help to facilitate and improve national infrastructure planning, but too many parts are weak or confused. Above all, it is no match for the infrastructure challenges that face the UK in transport, in housing, and in energy. That is why Labour wants an independent commission to set out the priorities and strategy that we need to deliver—not just announce, re-announce, and re-announce again—the infrastructure that the UK so urgently needs.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 674

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Am I to take it that the hon. Gentleman is moving amendment (b)?

Richard Burden: My mistake, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can let you into a secret: I received a note from my colleagues saying, “Don’t forget to move the amendment”, and I did precisely that.

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:

“this House declines to give a second reading to the Infrastructure Bill because, whilst welcoming efforts to further enable necessary infrastructure projects and acknowledging that long-term strategic planning and investment for transport infrastructure is urgently needed, the Bill fails to establish an independent National Infrastructure Commission to set out an evidence-based analysis of future infrastructure priorities in sectors including transport, waste and energy, and to hold governments accountable for delivery, because the Bill creates a new Strategic Highways Company, which could result in an increasingly two-tiered road system when there is no evidence that a new company is needed to deliver a road investment strategy, because the Bill fails to address the deteriorating condition of the local road network due to the cuts in spending since 2010 on local road maintenance, because the Bill does not ensure that unconventional gas extraction could only happen in the context of robust safety and environmental standards, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, because the Bill fails to give communities new powers so that they can build the homes they need locally in the places they want, and because the Bill fails to include Garden City principles to underpin the next generation of New Towns, fails to strike the right balance between communities and developers in the discharge of planning conditions, and fails to properly plan ahead to ensure that building standards address CO2 emissions and climate change.”

Madam Deputy Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his belated but sincere moving of the amendment. I call Professor Charles Hendry.

5.24 pm

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In case the House thinks that you have mis-titled me as you did the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), I should point out—I thank you for drawing attention to it—my professorship at Edinburgh university, which you and I were very pleased to attend; I should make it clear to the House that you were there some decades after I was. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in relation to some of these subjects.

This is a very important Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, it has a kaleidoscope of measures. It is positive and encouraging to see so many different measures brought together in one Bill; that shows the Government’s determination to make progress on many different fronts. Bringing the measures together in this way is eminently sensible.

I wish to focus primarily on the energy issues in part 5. I welcome the changes being made to improve the extraction rates in the North sea. We should pay tribute to Sir Ian Wood for his report and the work he did in identifying the real challenges in optimising the returns from the North sea basin. I also welcome the proposals on the extension of community ownership. It has always been my view that renewable energy projects will stand a greater prospect of being approved and endorsed by their communities if there is a significant proportion of local community ownership. We all hope that that will be done in a voluntary way, but the back-stop approach proposed by the Government is very sensible indeed.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 675

The meat of much of this Bill relates to shale gas issues, which I want to focus on. Recognition of the continuing role for gas in our energy mix will be of long-term importance in electricity generation. We need to have a flexible source of generation to make up for the peaks and troughs of renewable sources of generation. That is also vital to heating our homes.

It is clear to me, as president of the National Energy Action fuel poverty charity, that the biggest distinction in fuel poverty is between those whose homes are on the gas grid and those whose are off it. If we do not see greater use of gas in heating our homes, there will be more avoidable winter deaths. The Bill’s proposals recognise the contribution that gas can make in terms of both electricity and heat. There is a focus on security of supply and issues of affordability, and, because new gas will replace dirty old coal, it will also help us reduce our carbon emissions.

Security of supply issues will also be determined by the extent to which the gas will come from our own indigenous resources and the extent to which we will need to import it from elsewhere. If there is a significant source of gas under our ground, we need to quantify and measure it and consider the extent to which it is extractable—the two do not necessarily go together—and whether that can be done in an economical way. The extraction must then take place only if it meets the highest standards of environmental protection and safety.

The Labour party, whose amendment was reported in this morning’s Financial Times, is mistaken in its understanding of the core strength of our regulatory approach. The regulation of our oil and gas reserves—which, along with that of Norway’s, is considered to be the best in the world—is successful not because it is frozen in legislation, which can be changed only by another piece of legislation, but because it evolves and changes as new technology is introduced and new challenges emerge. It evolves because the onus is constantly on the producers—the companies involved—to use the best practices available to them to ensure environmental protection and safety.

That is why the European Commission wanted to replicate the British model elsewhere and why, after what happened in the gulf of Mexico, the Americans considered which elements of the British model they could import into the American system. That process of “best in class” has driven this forward and given us the toughest standards of regulation in the world.

Andrew Miller: When the hon. Gentleman was Energy Minister, he and I had some interesting conversations about the oil and gas industry. How can we have a regulatory structure that gives confidence to the public about potential methane leaks if there is no baseline monitoring?

Charles Hendry: We can certainly get into some of the specifics, and the hon. Gentleman may well have a good point on baseline monitoring. We need to be able to reassure people on such issues, where public confidence will be essential. The shale revolution in America has been possible because there are huge open spaces—for someone with 2,000 acres of North Dakota, it makes sense to explore the reserves of shale—but in a much more tightly compact country such as the United Kingdom, an entirely different debate is needed to reassure the public.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 676

Ian Lucas: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the fact that such extraction will take place on land in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland differentiates it from extraction in the North sea? We must satisfy the public by being much more open about the regulation. Is that not why we need a different approach?

Charles Hendry: We need to satisfy the public, but the principle remains the same: the best way to deliver the toughest standards is by putting an unlimited obligation on companies to meet them, and by using the best technology and skills available to do so. That has put us in a position where our system is trusted, and people from across the world look at it to understand how well such a system can work. I hope that in this debate and in the wider debate on shale, we can start to differentiate the legitimate concerns about the transportation of liquids, what is injected and water management from the wholly bogus claims that are often made.

Barbara Keeley: I want to make a point about open spaces. We have been through that issue in my constituency; there is a school secure unit a quarter of a mile from the site and residential streets just over half a mile from it. That is not an open space situation. Companies such as the one at Barton Moss can go around and select sites that are grossly unsuitable—right on top of schools and where people live. That should not be allowed.

Charles Hendry: I hope that those issues are entirely legitimate to raise within the planning process. Those matters should be looked at in that way to decide whether an activity is or is not appropriate, and I believe that the right processes are in place to ensure that that happens.

As the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield, said, the proposed underground access is not exceptional; it already happens for cables, gas pipelines, tunnels and coal mining. As the debate is taken forward, I hope that we can reassure people that we are not doing something draconian or very different, but simply allowing a change that brings the activity into line with others.

I hope that the Bill can still be amended in one area, however, so that it addresses an issue of gas security at the same time. The focus on the North sea and shale gas highlights our vulnerability on energy security. As a country, we are already dependent on imported gas. Historically, the North sea was our gas-storage capability—when we needed more, we pumped out a bit more—which is why we have never stored the same volumes of gas as the French and the Germans. As we move into a period of dependency on gas imports, we need to look again at gas storage.

That is particularly true in the current climate, with the oil price where it is. The risk from the oil price’s being lower than it was just a few months ago is that the North sea will be harder to sustain in the longer term. It is one of the most expensive basins in the world, and there is therefore a risk that some fields will be closed down earlier. They will be abandoned, and it will not be possible to reopen them. At the same time, a low oil price—the gas linkage comes into that—means that UK shale may, because of its cost, be harder or simply not economic to extract. We therefore need to consider how to preserve our security of supply, which means looking again at gas storage.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 677

We should pay tribute to, and recognise, the tremendous difference made by the liquefied natural gas terminals in the Thames and in south Wales, and the important contribution made by pipeline infrastructure from Norway—Langeled, for example—and what it has brought to this debate. However, looking back at gas issues over the past eight years or so, I think that we came too close for comfort during four winters, overwhelmingly because of factors over which we had no control.

The first time was in 2006, when there was a fire in our main gas storage facility at Rough. In 2009, there was the Russia-Ukraine dispute. Even though we were as far away in Europe as we could have been from those issues, gas was coming in through one interconnector and the same volume was going out through the interconnector next door to meet the demand in continental Europe. Eighteen months ago, the winter before last, we came within a few hours of running out of gas because the winter was so long and cold. We cannot leave the situation to chance. We need to take action now to guarantee our energy security for the future.

I believe fundamentally in market principles and approaches, but the market approach has not delivered the level of new investment that we would wish to see in this area. My right hon. Friend the Minister, who introduced the debate, well knows my views on this matter. We had a discussion a day or so after he took over from me as the Minister of State; I said that the one thing on which I wished we had done more was gas storage. I still hold that view today—perhaps even more strongly.

Mr Hayes: For the record, I confirm that. I should also let my hon. Friend know that I said precisely the same thing to the person who took over from me.

Charles Hendry: My right hon. Friend took the agenda forward on this matter and I hope that he will have a sympathetic ear.

Andrew Miller: The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way and is making an exceptional speech. Does he agree that the storage issue becomes more vital when one looks at the needs of our heavy energy using industries, some of which use gas as a feedstock? If we are not careful, they will be forced to close down in a bad winter. We have to attack this problem soon.

Charles Hendry: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. The head of the British Ceramic Confederation, Laura Cohen, and a group of its members, who employ thousands of people in this country in important industries, wrote to the Prime Minister last year to highlight just that point. They said that there was much greater volatility in prices for industry in the United Kingdom than elsewhere and that that volatility was unacceptably high. They said that the solution was more gas storage and that a public service obligation on gas storage was required.

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): My hon. Friend and I have battled on the same side on this issue for a number of years. In fact, I have been battling on this issue for most of the time I have been in this place. Does he, like me, hope that we will hear something more positive from the Government this evening than we have heard to date? The Labour Government and

8 Dec 2014 : Column 678

this Government have prevaricated consistently on the issue of storage. We want to hear something definite about it—tonight, hopefully.

Charles Hendry: I seek, on most issues, to be on the same side as my hon. Friend; we do not always manage that, but we often do. The Government introduced a new market mechanism, which we hoped would introduce more gas storage, but it has delivered only a small amount more. There are projects that have essentially been abandoned for the time being because, if they are to be funded on market principles, there has to be a bigger difference between the summer price and the winter price. That does not exist at the moment in a way that would enable those facilities to go ahead.

The Government have rightly looked at market mechanisms, but my conclusion is that we need to look more fundamentally at what is necessary to move this matter on, especially given the time it takes to build such facilities. It will be five years before a big facility can be brought on stream. Some have planning permission and could start very quickly. Billions of pounds of investment are ready to go into them, but a public service obligation on gas storage is needed to make that happen. I hope that the Government are prepared to look at an amendment along those lines in Committee or on Report. I will happily work with them on that.

In conclusion, we are right to explore market options. Normally, in most winters, that will be enough. However, too much of our energy policy in this area in recent years has depended on luck. We have always been on the right side so far, but one day our luck will run out. Taking steps now, with the support of the energy industry and the major companies that use gas, would be a fitting amendment to a Bill on infrastructure. It would help us to go forward with an even more robust infrastructure in the years ahead.

5.40 pm

Mr Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I draw the attention of the House to my interests as declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and to my non-pecuniary interests as a trustee of the Town and Country Planning Association. I was pleased to listen to the speech by the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry). He made a number of very important points. I hope he will forgive me for not following on directly from what he has said, but I will refer to him later in my speech.

This is a very diverse Bill that covers a very wide range of issues, but I want to focus on specific issues in part 4. It is not just a disparate Bill with a huge range of clauses; it will also have different impacts in different parts of the United Kingdom. We have been debating devolution quite a lot recently and a number of Members have advocated the case for MPs not being able to vote on measures that are devolved for local decision in the areas they represent. That is an issue we need to think about in relation to the provisions in the Bill. The explanatory notes give a pretty good feel on this matter:

“The provisions in Part 1 extend to England and Wales only, save that clauses 14 and 16 to 18 extend to the United Kingdom…In Part 2, clause 19(1) extends to England and Wales only and clause 19(2) extends to England, Wales and Scotland…The provisions in Part 3 extend to England and Wales only. The provisions in

8 Dec 2014 : Column 679

Part 4 relating to nationally significant infrastructure projects under the Planning Act 2008 extend to England and Wales and (in relation to certain oil and gas cross-border pipelines) Scotland.”

And so on. However, if we look at the Bill in detail, we can see that in clause 27 the provisions relating to the Homes and Communities Agency apply to England outside London, and that there are separate provisions relating to the Greater London authority in the London area. I therefore have to put it to Members who advocate voting rights being restricted to Members who do not represent an area with a separate devolved authority taking decisions, that I would like to hear how they propose the House should consider the provisions in the Bill and which particular sections would be open to voting by Members from different parts of the country, whether they come from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London or the rest of England, because parts of the Bill relate only to each of the areas I describe.

I intend to restrict my comments to part 4, which itself contains diverse provisions, not because the other parts are not important but because there is simply not time to do justice to them all. Clauses 23 to 25 relate to the planning regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects. There are some modest amendments to improve procedures. I personally have no objection to them, as I believe they are helpful. I merely reflect that when the Planning Act 2008, which introduced the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime, was debated in the House, the present Government were extremely critical of it. I am glad that they have now decided that this initiative, introduced by the previous Government, is worth while, and that they are supporting it and taking it forward.

Clause 26, however, raises an altogether more problematic issue to which I have already alluded. It allows the Secretary of State to pass regulations by statutory instrument that would allow specific planning conditions to be deemed to be discharged if a period of time elapsed without the planning authority having reached a decision. I accept entirely that delays in discharging conditions can prove highly problematic and burdensome for developers, and I am not arguing against sensible measures to accelerate the discharge of planning conditions. However, the clause is a blunt instrument and could well result in measures being arbitrarily prevented from mitigating the serious adverse impacts of developments on local communities. In its briefing, the Town and Country Planning Association says that the Department for Communities and Local Government technical consultation on planning

“reflects this dilemma by recognising classes of condition whose function is too important to be subject of any deemed discharged. The question must be whether any NPPF compliant condition can be regarded as so trivial as to have no impact on the wider community.”

I put that question to the Minister earlier, and I was pleased he agreed to reflect on it.

The TCPA continues:

“Paragraph 206 of the NPPF states that ‘planning conditions should only be imposed where they are necessary, relevant to planning and to the development to be permitted, enforceable, precise and reasonable in all other respects’. The tests of necessary, relevant and reasonable provide a strong framework and logically imply that there should not be a body of conditions which are in some way frivolous or unimportant.”

8 Dec 2014 : Column 680

That is a telling point on which I look forward to hearing the Minister’s view when he has had a chance to reflect on it, because it concerns a very significant issue. Ministers used to be vocal in their support for the principle of localism—of allowing local communities the power to promote their interests and reject proposals that damage the amenity or well-being of the area or its residents. I hope, therefore, that when they have had a chance to reflect, they will assure us that no planning condition relating to the material amenity of residents or the wider community will be subject to the deemed discharge provision.

One planning issue that surprisingly is absent from the Bill is an updating and clarification of the remit and role of the new town development corporations, which were established in the 1940s and played a key role in developing the substantial number of new settlements subsequently created in our country. Now that the Government have given their approval to the creation of a new generation of garden cities and have agreed that a development corporation is the appropriate vehicle to promote the projected new settlement at Ebbsfleet, it is time for a new statement of the purposes of new town development corporations.

Simply seeking to apply the urban development corporation model, which was devised for different circumstances and with no clear statement of its social and environmental objectives, is not adequate. In the other place, the concept of a new definition of the role and purposes of a new town development corporation was considered, and I hope that if the Bill is examined in detail in Committee, an appropriate new clause can be introduced to achieve this. The TCPA has undertaken substantial work in drafting an appropriate statement of the purposes and objectives of the new town development corporations, and I hope this can provide the basis for an improvement to the Bill.

The third weakness in part 4 that I would like to highlight relates to the low and zero-carbon agenda—another area in which the last Government made important advances. The ratcheting up of the energy requirements in part L of the building regulations, the creation of the route map to zero-carbon housing through the code for sustainable homes, the establishment of the zero-carbon hub and the setting of a target for reaching zero carbon in new homes by 2016 were all significant initiatives that have had a very positive impact. Our new homes now achieve much higher standards of energy performances than they did a decade or two ago.

I have first-hand experience of that. I live in a new home built in Greenwich millennium village, which was designed to be an exemplary development. It was pioneered by the last Government and set high energy efficiency standards. My flat is now eight years old, so it is not at the cutting edge of new energy performance, but last winter I did not need to have the heating on at all, so good is its energy performance. The hon. Member for Wealden referred to the previous winter, focusing rightly on the issue of energy supply, and said it was a very cold winter. In that very cold winter, I needed just 42 hours of heating.

My argument is this: just as important as energy supply —I entirely accept the emphasis of the hon. Member for Wealden on it—is energy efficiency to ensure that we are not wasting energy unnecessarily and that people have the benefits of warm sustainable homes in which they

8 Dec 2014 : Column 681

can afford to keep warm through winter. That is the great benefit of the whole low and zero-carbon programme. It is not just about helping to achieve our carbon reduction targets, but about improving people’s quality of life so that they live in better, warmer and more economically maintained homes.

That is why I find it very disappointing to see yet further evidence in the Bill of the Government backtracking from their previous position and indeed their predecessor’s ambitions—first by resiling from the previous ambition to meet code level 6 by 2016; then by watering down the standards to be met on site, even before offsite allowable solutions are invoked; and now by exempting small sites entirely from the obligations.

The UK Green Building Council had some fairly pithy comments to make:

“We see no reason why a development of 10 units should be treated differently from one of 11. Creating a disparity between the treatment of different sites opens up the possibility of unforeseen and undesirable outcomes, and possibly exploitation, where larger sites are broken down to qualify for the exemption.”

I wholeheartedly agree. It is very much the case that we should put the emphasis on helping small builders to meet the more demanding standards of high-energy performance homes rather than on providing exemptions not to meet those standards.

Sir Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD) rose—

Mr Raynsford: I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, who was a Minister in the responsible Department.

Sir Andrew Stunell: The right hon. Gentleman and I have had opportunities to disagree about things, but on this matter I wholeheartedly agree with him. Does he agree that there is no benefit—either to builders or the users of the buildings, let alone to the Government—in backtracking in any way whatever on the recommendations of the zero-carbon hub?

Mr Raynsford: I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope he can exercise some influence on his coalition partners.

Amid the many mixed metaphors and rhetorical flourishes that characterised the speech of the Minister who introduced the Bill, perhaps the most telling was his characterisation of the Government’s vision of infrastructure as “looking through a kaleidoscope”. I think he meant to imply a colourful view of the world. That would certainly be in keeping with his character, and I am sorry that he is not in his place to hear these remarks. If the Minister and his colleagues thought about it for a moment, however, they would appreciate that the view through a kaleidoscope is one of fragmentation, in which clarity and order are shattered into thousands of disjointed pieces.

There could be no better metaphor for this Bill—a veritable tessellated pavement of ill-assorted measures, some of which may have beneficial consequences, many of which will not. The sum total will not add up to the comprehensive framework for infrastructure development, as advocated in the Armitt report, which is so clearly needed in Britain. This is a wasted opportunity to provide a coherent, long-term commitment to infrastructure in the UK. I wholly endorse the critique presented by my

8 Dec 2014 : Column 682

hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) from the Front Bench: this Bill fails to meet our country’s infrastructure requirements.

5.53 pm

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Unlike the last speaker and the official Opposition, I welcome the Bill and its focus on the importance of speeding up infrastructure delivery. I would like to speak to three aspects of the Bill: part 1 on highways, part 4 on planning and part 5 on the proposals for fracking. I shall also identify one other aspect of infrastructure provision that I think is missing from the proposals and needs to be addressed.

On highways, it has been a huge step forward that the Government announced a roads investment programme for our strategic roads network. The time period for the programme is defined and the Government are providing the resources for it. I disagree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) who implied that the local roads network was somehow more important than this and was being neglected. In fact, in my constituency in West Sussex, it is the strategic road network that has been in need of significant investment, and the failure to provide it over past decades has put great pressure on our local roads network as traffic is forced up through the rural network, including through beautiful parts of my constituency in the South Downs national park. That causes environmental damage.

Up until now, proposals to deal with this problem, particularly relating to the A27, which is a major coastal route, have either not been developed, have been developed piecemeal or have been cancelled when they were initially taken forward. That is what happened in respect of the Arundel bypass, which was cancelled by the last Labour Government. I thus strongly welcome the Government’s major investment in roads, including a £350 million investment in the A27 and an Arundel bypass. It is precisely this kind of long-term vision for national infrastructure that will help to generate the necessary prosperity. If the creation of Highways England will assist in delivering that long-term vision and some accountability to ensure that these roads are built to time, it is welcome.

I agree with what the roads Minister said about the importance of aesthetics. I have already mentioned the fact that my constituency of Arundel and South Downs is a very beautiful one. The proposed Arundel bypass would run at the bottom of the national park across the Arun valley and through a very small piece of the national park if it is to take the preferred route, which achieved a great deal of local consensus when last proposed. I believe there is a powerful environmental argument for this bypass, but the design of this road and of a bridge across the River Arun would do a great deal to mitigate any concerns about the impact of the road on the aesthetics and beauty of the local area.

The French have done this very well in the past in the provision of some of its national infrastructure. We could think of notoriously stunning bridges that have been built in France such as the Millau viaduct over the River Tarn. That is a stunning piece of work by a British architect, and many would argue that it adds to the beauty of the area and does not detract from it. We should seek to achieve the same thing in the design of our roads infrastructure in the same way as the Victorians

8 Dec 2014 : Column 683

impressed us with their design of rail infrastructure—Brunel’s bridges, for example. In doing so, we would win much more public support for our roads proposals.

My second topic relates to planning. I agree about the importance of speeding up the provision of nationally needed infrastructure, but as a Government we also promised that we would deliver localism to communities. In fact, local communities are very concerned when planning permissions are given that local infrastructure should be sufficient to meet the needs of the new development. Too often in my constituency, the development of houses has not been matched with sufficient provision for schools, local roads or even basic things such as sewerage provision. This has resulted in placing great pressure on local infrastructure, and it undermines support for local developments.

The Government announced new guidance last year—I was grateful for it—that emphasised the importance of planning authorities ensuring suitable infrastructure provision before housing is delivered. It is important to enforce that guidance if we are to continue to build houses on a sustainable basis. In that respect, the provision of localism through the Localism Act 2011 was important in giving communities control through local plans and neighbourhood planning. Where that has worked well, with the early adoption of neighbourhood plans in my constituency, for example, it has commanded strong local support and even built support for development that would otherwise have been absent.

That process, however, can be undermined when speculative planning applications are granted by local authorities or overturned on appeal by the national planning inspectorate. The consequence is that development that would not have been permitted in the emerging neighbourhood plans or the local plans can be insisted on by that inspectorate, which I think can gravely undermine the localism we promised.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): My constituents are very excited about the idea of localism—local decisions made by democratically elected councils—but does my right hon. Friend agree that there is not much localism in action when a distant planning inspector is allowed to ride roughshod over local decision making?

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and I share his concern. While all four of the district councils in my constituency are preparing responsible plans for the delivery of substantial numbers of houses, speculative applications are being made by developers who are circling villages like hawks. They want to get in quickly and secure planning permission that would otherwise not be given under the local plans but is being allowed in this instance because the planning inspector is taking a view of the provisions for five-year land supply that is excessive and unrealisable.

The inspectorate has just examined Horsham district council’s plan. It makes substantial provision for housing in the area to meet local need, but the five-year land supply provision presumes that building could take place at a rate that has never been achieved by the local authority and never could be, because it does not take account of the fact that developers did not build using the existing permissions that were given by the local

8 Dec 2014 : Column 684

authority in the years of the economic downturn. The five-year land supply provision is resulting in the allowing of developments in villages in my constituency that will damage the villages and erode green space between them that should be maintained, and runs against what local people seek in their neighbourhood and local plans.

If we are to deliver the localism that we promised, it is important for top-down intervention by the planning inspector to be prevented. After all, in our Conservative party manifesto we made this pledge:

“To give communities greater control over planning, we will…abolish the power of planning inspectors to rewrite local plans”.

If we believe in localism—if we want to put power and responsibility in the hands of localities through neighbourhood and local plans, which is already proving very successful, and which does not produce fewer houses but produces them by consent in the places where people want them—we should not allow a body that is based in Bristol to come in and effectively rewrite those plans, because that undermines the localism that we promised.

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend suspect that the planning inspectors are overriding local plans because they want to chase councils to make them hurry up and complete their plans? Could that be a deliberate policy?

Nick Herbert: I suspect that there is something in what my hon. Friend says, and that the purpose of pursuing a tough approach is to ensure that local authorities produce their plans as swiftly as possible. The four district councils in my constituency are proceeding as fast as they can, making very difficult and sometimes controversial decisions about where development should take place. Villages in the constituency are beginning to write neighbourhood plans which require a great deal of local effort from volunteers, which are complex, and which take time. It is unfair to penalise bodies that are making responsible decisions by allowing speculative applications that harm the process of building consent.

John Mann: Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the Secretary of State and the Government changed the system when they issued national planning guidelines last year? As a result, 95% of local plans have not been adopted by the planning inspector, who works on behalf of the Secretary of State. What the right hon. Gentleman is moaning about is Government policy which is intended to force through more housing more quickly.

Nick Herbert: Opposition Members are calling for much more local housing as well. What we are discussing is the right way to deliver that. I am arguing that localism, if properly delivered, will empower local communities to make responsible decisions, and will produce the housing that is necessary. I do not believe that the planning inspector’s intervention will help to bring about consensus, or will produce the houses that are needed. I urge the Government to keep faith with the localism that they promised, to continue to back the development of local plans, and not to allow the inspectorate to make heavy-handed decisions that can undermine it.

Ian Lucas: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. Will he be opposing localism this evening by voting in favour of a Bill that

8 Dec 2014 : Column 685

limits the rights of local people in respect of shale gas exploration, and takes away their rights to the expression and acceptance of their views?

Nick Herbert: I shall deal with precisely that issue in a second. Let me say first, however, that if the Bill is given a Second Reading, I shall table amendments to restrict the power of the planning inspectorate to rewrite local plans, as we pledged to do, and, indeed, to abolish the inspectorate so that we can have a proper discussion about how localism should be delivered.

Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): I, too, thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity. Are councillors in his constituency starting to feel that developers see no need to obtain local permission for any new development because they know that the planning inspector will overrule any decision made by the councillors?

Nick Herbert: Local authorities are clearly nervous. They fear that if they do not give planning permission in response to a speculative application—although their plans are in the process of being developed—if that is overturned by the planning inspector, costs will be awarded against them. They feel that there is no equality in the process.

I do not resile from the importance of providing a great deal more housing, because it is clearly needed. The issue is how that can best be provided. I think that the early adoption of neighbourhood plans by consent shows that, given power and responsibility, communities provide the necessary housing, while top-down intervention of the kind that Government Members have always criticised can undermine that provision.

The third issue that I want to raise relates to the proposals in part 5 of the Bill to provide access to subterranean land for the purpose of fracking. This is a live issue in my constituency. An application to drill in an area of beautiful countryside that is very close to a national park was turned down by West Sussex county council, but is the subject of an appeal by the company involved.

Two sets of issues related to fracking concern local communities, and I think that we should try to separate them. First, there are the environmental concerns about the impact of the activity that takes place below ground. As many Members on both sides of the House have said, those concerns need to be addressed by means of proper regulation and controls, and we should discuss the importance of ensuring that they are adequate.

Secondly, there are the issues that relate to what happens on the surface, and the choice of sites for drilling. In my constituency, the choice of sites has been crucial. Opposition to the drilling does not just come from communities who are concerned about the environmental impact below the ground. Rural communities fear that they will experience significant lorry movements through their villages—which they would not otherwise have experienced —over an extended period. Wise site location which minimises disruption to communities on the surface is a second way in which the industry could address much of the concern about these proposals.

We now have a specific proposal in this legislation on trespass, which seeks to deal with the land ownership issues. That comes against the background of great concern about the activity. It is true that members of the public

8 Dec 2014 : Column 686

have largely misheard the proposals so far. In my constituency, I fear that many people believe that the proposals will license invasion on the surface of their land by those who wish to drill, without them giving permission and without any of the regulatory controls which exist. The Government must continue to reassure local people that in fact these proposals relate to deep subterranean activity and do not change any of the requirements for permission to be given by a landowner as to whether they want drilling on their land, nor any of the regulatory requirements.

Dr Whitehead rose

Nick Herbert: I will give way in a moment

On the specific proposal for subterranean drilling, there is a question mark over the way in which compensation is to be given to landowners via some kind of community fund, and one of the issues that needs to be explored is whether the compensation should go directly to the landowners who are affected. I think that might be a better way to ensure there is confidence in this procedure. It has been proposed not only by the Country Land and Business Association but by one oil company, INEOS. I hope the Government will consider that proposal carefully as a means to ensure that communities and individuals are properly compensated for these activities.

In conclusion—

Several hon. Members rose

Nick Herbert: I have been generous in giving way to a number of hon. Members.

There is one aspect of infrastructure provision that I do not believe is covered in this Bill but which I believe merits serious consideration, and that is broadband infrastructure. This is essential if we are to ensure continuing economic growth and is equally essential in rural areas. There will need to be further discussion of how we can close the digital divide that is in danger of opening up in rural areas that do not have access to superfast broadband. There are encouraging plans by the Government in co-operation with local authorities to deliver superfast broadband by 2017, but they still leave a gap. It sounds small, as it is intended that only about 5% of the population will have broadband access but not superfast, but in rural areas it becomes quite a big gap. This is a question for another day, but there must be a plan to close that gap and ensure that all parts of the country have access to superfast broadband in future.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The right hon. Gentleman was indeed generous in giving way—I make no criticism of him whatsoever; he was perfectly in order in his speech—but Members will be aware that many colleagues are seeking to catch my eye and a limited, although generous, amount of time is available. I am not going to put a strict time limit on speeches at this stage, but if everyone who wishes to speak takes approximately 10 minutes out of courtesy for everyone else who wishes to speak, then everybody will have the same opportunity. We will see how it works.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 687

6.13 pm

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): The longer this debate goes on, the more interesting it gets. The contributions so far demonstrate to me that the Infrastructure Bill should be the means whereby we balance economic development with environmental and social responsibilities. We should be working out how to align the required long-term planning for the infrastructure needs of this country with what is coming out of the sustainable development goals, which this country, as well as others elsewhere, will have to adopt. The more contributions we have had, the more we realise that there are live issues, and that this has not been thought through. However much of a “kaleidoscope” this Bill might be, it does not provide the means of reconciling and balancing these different issues. It will be interesting to see to what extent the Secretary of State for Transport, who is not in his place, takes on board the genuine concerns that have been raised, and I would like to mention some of them briefly.

I did not agree with what the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) said about regulation, and I will come to that later, but I did agree with his comments on gas storage. This is an issue that I and other Members of Parliament representing north Staffordshire and the potteries have raised, including with the previous Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon). We have repeatedly raised issues about gas storage, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am sure there would be support for seeing how we can get this addressed. It certainly has long been on the agenda of the British Ceramic Confederation, of which Laura Cohen is chief executive, and it could easily be addressed, if there is a political will to do so, through this Bill. The extractive industries are also an issue.

Other matters relate to the work of the Environmental Audit Committee. Only today we launched a report on air quality and, in terms of investment in new roads, we clearly need to be looking at design and engineering, and we must take sustainable transport into account. We heard about the importance of cycling and walking and making sure, through the planning regime and the national planning policy framework, that new developments go where they need to be. This Bill does not allow the planning considerations to sit side by side with the long-term economic investment decisions that need to be taken. For that reason, I am pleased to be voting for the Labour reasoned amendment.

On road investment, I genuinely hope that throughout the Committee stage the Secretary of State for Transport will be looking at what will happen with the new successor body to the Highways Agency. It is critical that it takes on board regulation and environmental considerations, especially in the light of representations from the Woodland Trust, which is very concerned about ancient woodlands. I am sure that is a concern in constituencies all around the country, and we have not got assurances that these areas can be properly protected. We would be a little more confident if the Government could tell us when they are going to bring forward legislation for the public forest estate. In the absence of that, it is difficult to see how we are going to apply these higher standards to such areas of exceptional beauty.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 688

I made an intervention on the Minister about zero-carbon homes, and I am sure many of my hon. Friends will refer to that later. Why have the Government decided that the right balance is to have higher standards for a development of over 11 properties and lower standards for developments of 10 or under? That is completely wrong and there is no logic to it. I say to the Minister that the Government have got this wrong and there is an opportunity to see whether amendments could be brought forward to deal with that.

I want to focus on clauses 38 to 43, which will, if passed, change trespass law to allow companies to frack under homes without notifying the landowner. This move comes at a time when there are a number of very significant unanswered questions about the impact of fracking which have not been addressed by the Government. Broadly, these relate to climate change and the current—inadequate—regulatory framework.

We know that we do not need new fossil fuels; far from it, because in order to avoid a rise of more than 2° C from climate change, only one fifth of existing global fossil fuel reserves, not including UK shale gas, can be burned. Talks are going on in Lima but Government Whips are apparently preventing our energy Minister from going out there to take part in those important discussions.

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, recently told a World Bank seminar that the “vast majority” of fossil fuel reserves should be considered “unburnable”. Those remarks were made in the context of the benefits of integrated reporting and highlighting the costs and benefits of tomorrow to inform the investments and credit decisions of today. That information has been shared with the Environmental Audit Committee by the Governor of the Bank of England.

BP has stated:

“We agree that burning all known reserves would probably cause global temperatures to rise by more than 2°C—and that addressing this issue will require the efforts of governments, industry and individuals.”

Shell, Barack Obama and the International Energy Agency have made similar statements. It is therefore unclear why the Government are giving huge incentives to, and deregulating, a new fossil fuel industry that will either add to the stock of unburnable carbon or threaten climate change targets. The former chief scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Professor David Mackay, wrote last year that without a global climate deal,

“new fossil fuel exploitation is likely to lead to an increase in cumulative GHG”—

greenhouse gas—

“emissions and the risk of climate change.”

So why are the Government doing this?

We often hear claims that shale gas is low carbon because it will replace coal. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that the only way in which shale gas could reduce emissions is by replacing coal. However, the best industry estimates state that shale gas will not be online until the 2020s. Meanwhile, the Committee on Climate Change has told us that coal must be offline by the 2020s. So by the time a shale gas industry is up and running in constituencies all around

8 Dec 2014 : Column 689

the country, there should be no coal to replace it. However, the International Energy Agency has warned that instead, shale gas

“could muscle out low-carbon fuels such as renewables”.

The time scale just does not add up.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that shale gas needs to replace coal, but that condition will not be met. It also states that methane leakage from shale gas wells must be “low”. However, there is a growing body of evidence to show that those emissions are not low. In fact, new reports have shown that methane leakage occurs during parts of the process that were not previously thought to be problematic. The IPCC recently revised upwards the global warming potential of methane, which, over a 20-year time frame, is 108 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. We therefore risk significantly increasing emissions at exactly the time when they should be rapidly reduced. So, given that fracking will add to unburnable carbon and that it will not meet the two key recommendations from the IPCC on coal and methane, the claims that shale gas can reduce emissions do not stand up to scrutiny.

Clauses 38 to 43 represent a lurch towards the further deregulation of fracking. We heard a lot about regulation from the hon. Member for Wealden. If passed, the clauses would give unprecedented rights of use to fracking companies. This would include activities that had not been assessed for their environmental safety, such as the keeping of substances or infrastructure within the land, with no limits on what could be kept or for how long. It is also worth noting, especially as we come up to the general election, that this change in the law is highly unpopular, with 99% of consultation respondents—and 74% of people more generally—opposing the change. Why have the Government decided to proceed when the outcome of the consultation was so stark? I do not believe that they should be doing so, given the response to the consultation.

It is also extremely worrying that the Government are pressing ahead with further deregulation when the evidence points to the need for a stronger, not weaker, regulatory framework. In last week’s autumn statement, the Government announced a new fund to reassure the public on fracking regulations. I believe that the public would be more reassured if the Government took steps to fill the gaps in the regulatory framework. Let us be clear: the evidence exists to show that fracking regulation is not fit for purpose. The often-quoted Public Health England report states that fracking could be safe if the regulatory framework were stringent. However, in the last two years, little progress has been made towards meeting the Royal Society’s recommendations on regulation.

It is not yet known whether fracking can be done safely. As highlighted by the United Nations environment programme, fracking could result in unavoidable environmental and health impacts if extracted properly, and more so if done inadequately. Other countries, such as Bulgaria and France, have introduced moratoriums. We should also take a precautionary approach in the UK. I am proud to be a lifelong member of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, which advocated in a recent report that we should adopt such a precautionary approach, and that a

“comprehensive research programme should be commissioned for the UK”.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 690

The report goes on to state that the Government’s plans should go ahead only

“if/when there is a satisfactory evidence base that suggests operations could safely commence without causing unacceptable adverse environmental, economic, public health or wider social impacts”

and that a

“full, independent environmental impact assessment should be a prerequisite to any initial exploratory operations commencing.”

It also advocates, as I did in our debate on the Water Bill before it became law, that

“Full land remediation must be a non-negotiable condition of any such approvals.”

To conclude, the risks from fracking are high and there are a number of significant questions that the Government need to answer before storming ahead with fracking in the UK. The risks are too high for them to proceed without addressing the big ifs. One thing is certain: if we had this level of political support behind energy efficiency, it would do much more to bring down fuel bills, create jobs right across the UK and reduce dependence on imported gas. However, the Government have overseen a collapse in energy efficiency installations. Instead of smoothing the path for an untested and risky new fossil fuel industry, they should be making energy efficiency an infrastructure priority in the Bill. I would like the Bill not to receive a Second Reading until those concerns had been addressed, but I hope that there will be an opportunity for a real debate on the issues in Committee.

6.27 pm

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) will forgive me if I do not pursue the points that she has raised, because I want to concentrate on part 4 of the Bill. It is an important Bill and, overall, one that I welcome; I shall be supporting it tonight. I shall concentrate on planning and related matters.

My first point relates to the arrangements for national infrastructure policy. I welcome the changes, which represent a logical development from what is currently in place and fit logically with the work that has already been done on the national planning policy framework. I should like to make a few observations. I have taken an interest in this area, both when I was a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government and subsequently. Professionals to whom I have spoken, including representatives of the National Infrastructure Planning Association and of the Compulsory Purchase Association, welcome the steps that the Government are taking in the Bill.

It is worth noting that development consent orders are a key element of the process, and it is valuable to tighten up the way in which they operate. There is a feeling, however, that we should be prepared to go still further in due course. I am not suggesting that that should be done in this Bill, but I hope that Ministers will bear in mind that, helpful though these changes are, there is a strong feeling among many professionals in the sector that they will not be a substitute for a comprehensive review of the operation of our compulsory purchase and land compensation legislation and its associated case law, and that such a review should be undertaken before too long.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 691

Some of the legislation is fairly elderly by now and I hope that in the next Parliament we will take a comprehensive look at the way in which land compensation works. My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) pointed out that other jurisdictions, such as France, deal with major infrastructure projects partly through quality of design and partly through much swifter and sometimes more generous land compensation arrangements when compulsory acquisitions are required. We may need to consider that in this country.

Clause 26 deals with planning conditions and deemed consents, which we discussed when I was a Minister. On balance, I support the proposed changes, which are necessary. It is worth taking a step back and remembering that planning conditions are an important part of the system. They are imposed essentially to make what might otherwise be unacceptable development acceptable, so they have a legitimate and proper role. The issue that arises here is not the legitimacy of the role, but the efficiency thereafter. There is a genuine issue that needs to be addressed.

Concern was flagged up as long ago as the Killian Pretty review of 2008 that one of the worst causes of delay is the post-consent process. There will come a time when conditions either have been complied with or are no longer necessary for various reasons and ought to be discharged. There is no reason, therefore, why speeding up the discharge of conditions should be a problem in terms of the principle of planning law. We need to make the process more efficient. Killian Pretty was clear about the problems that remained, and my right hon. Friend the Minister, in introducing the Bill, highlighted the fact that that remains a difficulty.

As well as looking at deemed consents imposed by the planning authority, we should pay particular attention to the situation where the planning authority has imposed a condition at the behest of a statutory consultee. It is sometimes difficult for planning authorities themselves, who may be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea—the legitimate desire of a developer to get on with important development. There are all too often delays by the statutory consultees in responding to the inquiries made of them. Part 1 happens to deal, in a different context, with one statutory consultee, but frequently the Highways Agency and the Environment Agency have been among the worst offenders in this regard, and local authorities are in a difficult position.

As well as doing what the Government are doing, which I support, I hope we might consider going further and deal with a situation where, in relation to applications, discharge of conditions and potentially also appeals, a statutory consultee fails to respond by the time limit. In such a case, why should there not be a provision deeming that the statutory consultee has no objection to the proposal involved? Such deemed assent by the statutory consultee would speed up the process and remove a pressure from the local planning authority that it cannot otherwise effectively control. Another mechanism that might be considered is some cost penalty against statutory consultees that delay the process.

During my time as Minister for the Thames gateway, I was repeatedly frustrated by the delay in getting decisions out of the Highways Authority about important aspects such as removing the tolling booths at the Dartford

8 Dec 2014 : Column 692

tunnel, when we were using technology that any Londoner had known about for many years, or the necessary improvements on the A13 between the DP World site, a nationally significant infrastructure site, and the Dartford crossing. I hope that whatever new arrangements we have for the highways company, as it is now to be, there will be a greater sense of the commercial imperative to speed up decisions.

I remember one important housing site, which everybody agreed was the right site for housing; an otherwise properly prepared and robust local plan by the planning authority for the area was suddenly thrown into disarray at the very last minute by the Environment Agency’s raising an issue about habitats, which ought to have been foreseen much earlier in the process. We need to put more pressure on statutory consultees not only to do their duty, but to do it properly and efficiently. I hope we might be able to strengthen the provisions of that part of the Bill.

I turn to two more technical areas, which are important. The first relates to easements, which I racked my brains about when doing planning law, but I eventually got to the bottom of it. These are particularly important in the context of London, so I speak now as a London Member of Parliament. Clause 28 makes changes to easements affecting land. The changes are good as far as they go. A particular problem arises in London, and I draw it to Ministers’ attention in the hope that we can address it in Committee. We all know that it is important that easements run with the land; that is a fundamental concept. I refer to the overriding powers of the Greater London authority, the Homes and Communities Agency and now mayoral development corporations, which I hope we may see replicated with joint authorities outside London. Allowing these bodies to benefit their successors in title will be hugely important for unblocking development, as is already the case in the capital.

Developers and specialist lawyers in the field have significant concerns that the law threatens development sites. That was an omission from the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, which clause 28 is designed to tackle—and it does so, up to a point. However, it is not retrospective. Usually I am not a fan of retrospective legislation, but in London we have a specific issue. Some key development land, in particular land in the docklands area, was transferred from the London Development Agency in 2012. A lot of land around the Olympic park, the lower Lea valley, was part of the land for debt swap that some right hon. and hon. Members will remember.

As the Bill is drafted, that will not be covered so there will not be the legal certainty that successors in title will benefit when the land is sold on down the development chain. I hope the Minister will look specifically at the Mayor of London’s request that the Government delete subsections (11) and (12) of clause 28. That will enable it to operate retrospectively in relation to those areas of development land in London that had already been transferred, before the Bill becomes operative. It is a technical matter but a very important one, because it affects some of the most significant housing and commercial development land in our growing capital.

The final technical area to which I shall refer relates to clause 32 and the allowable solutions arrangements for offsite carbon abatement measures. Clause 32 is a sensible clause and very useful, as far as it goes. The

8 Dec 2014 : Column 693

principle of allowable solutions is a fair one because not every site will permit a mitigation measure onsite, so a degree of flexibility is sensible. However, there is an issue in relation to the geography. Again, it applies particularly to a large strategic planning authority, such as London. Unless there are some additional protections from London’s point of view, the Mayor of London and the Greater London authority are concerned that the scheme could see investment draining out of London, because it would be cheaper for developers to provide their offsite alternative solutions in areas of lower land value—in other words, outside the capital, rather than within it.

Dr Whitehead rose—

Robert Neill: I shall give way in a moment, when I have developed the point.

It is important that there is some means of making sure that the investment is captured within the capital. There is some evidence to support that. Unintended consequences have occurred under the energy companies obligation scheme, so that the capital has received proportionately less in funding than it should receive. For example, about 13% of the national share of housing is in the capital but in the first year of the ECO scheme London received only 6.4% of the spending. That system, once in place, could generate about £90 million per annum, so it is important that London gets a fair share of it.

Sir Andrew Stunell: Does my hon. Friend not agree that the argument he is putting forward strengthens the case for saving the maximum amount of energy on site, so that the leakage and spillage to which he has referred does not arise in the first place?

Robert Neill rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman resumes his comments, may I say that it was pointed out by the Chair some time ago that 18 Members are still to speak and 10 minutes each would get us comfortably to the wind-ups? It seems that Members are ignoring the request for 10 minutes, which means that other colleagues will have their speeches curtailed. May I ask again that Members behave in a collegiate way, at least for today, and allow all their colleagues to speak in the debate? Mr Neill, you might like to look at the clock and see that you have been speaking for 12 minutes.

Robert Neill: I had almost finished, Madam Deputy Speaker. I simply observe, out of courtesy, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell) makes a fair point. Most of us would always prefer that the mitigation should take place on site, but where I slightly differ is in my view that there will be sites where that is not possible, and so the Government are right to introduce the flexibility.

In large planning areas—we have them in Greater London and we may be seeing them develop with the growth of joint authorities, which may take on more strategic planning powers elsewhere—it may be sensible for us to reflect on a means through which more of the investment can be captured within the local authority planning area, so as to give those communities an incentive to take on board the low-energy development that we want.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 694

6.41 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): This Infrastructure Bill is perhaps best described as infrastructure bits and pieces; it contains little on the infrastructure of the country and what we need for the next 50 or 100 years. It contains nothing on broadband and airports—nothing even on gas access, despite the fact that the very villages that do not have access to gas are the ones nearest the potential shale gas sites. The Bill contains nothing on cycleways. I am not a cyclist, but it is palpable that over the next couple of decades we are going to need bespoke cycleways separate from roads such as the A60, which goes through Bassetlaw, to allow people to cycle. The planning process needs to be skewed to incentivise that and make it happen sooner rather than later.

The Bill contains nothing on green energy, for which there are not only environmental arguments but a fundamental economic argument: we will lose a competitive advantage if other countries have large amounts of green energy and we have little, both in terms of our national accounts and our industry.

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con) rose

John Mann: No, I will not give way just now.

The Bill contains nothing on energy efficiency. Again, the current capital level and its efficiency into the future is fundamental to how we define infrastructure. The Bill does contain things on housing, but not all the right things. The local development frameworks, the localism and the neighbourhood development planning ought to be causing such mutiny on the Government Benches. Middle England is revolting over the issue and Bassetlaw is having an uprising, because 95% of local plans have either been aborted or rejected in the past year.

Virtually no local development frameworks are in place, because the Government changed the guidelines last year so all the housing targets, forced on councils previously, have had to be scrapped, with each council now having to consult its neighbouring authorities. Virtually no council has done that, so every council—having prepared for two or three years, with huge amounts of consultation, including a vast amount in Bassetlaw, to determine where the housing the Government are forcing on us needs to go—has to start the entire process again because it has not consulted the neighbouring authorities. That is the case across almost all the country and it is an absolute farce.

Let me deal with the concept that we all need more housing regardless. The Government inspector has been cited, but the Government inspector is the Secretary of State, instructed on the basis of Government policy. It is this coalition Government who are forcing housing on areas that do not want it. When we have developed our neighbourhood development plans in my area, people say, “Well, we will accept a bit of housing here. This bit of land is wasted and we could do with a bit of housing there.” When local people are in control they will rationally allow their areas to develop in ways that they want and which are popular.

Instead, what we get is, as in Retford recently, everybody, including the council, saying that we do not need housing outside the area of the town, but the Government saying, “You’ve got to have it.” If the council does not vote it through, the developer will win on appeal, citing

8 Dec 2014 : Column 695

Government policy, and the council has to pay £300,000 a pop in costs. Councils across the country, particularly Tory ones, are dealing with this problem day in, day out. That is total nonsense. Whether by backing amendments from the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) or by framing better ones myself, I will ensure that there are amendments allowing an approach that gives local people control over the planning system on housing.

The approach should allow us to define the kinds of housing. In my area, we could have 500 or 1,000 bungalows —some for rent, perhaps council bungalows, and some for sale, rather than five-bedroom, six-bedroom or seven-bedroom houses that nobody wants locally. That approach might be popular, but it is not popular with the developers. I hope this coalition understand that it is going to lose a lot of votes if it does not listen to me on this.

The second issue I wish to cover in the short time available is fracking and shale gas. I am not an extremist. I have a simple view, which I have put out there to the public: there should be nothing within 2 km of a settlement. There is enough land; those who are speculating for shale gas are saying that pretty much the whole of England can be covered, so it does not need to happen near any of the villages, hamlets or conurbations in my area, thank you very much. The public agree with that, and it would be a nice little amendment to slip in, although it does not satisfy those who say shale gas is bad.

We have another problem with fracking in my area: our water comes from the aquifer. People think, “This is a problem”—even the industry says it is a problem, pointing to the regulations, safety and its competence in dealing with the problem. We do not want the aquifer damaged in any way. So, again, we must let local people decide. By all means throw bribes at people in my area, because the bribes ought to go to the local community, not to landowners. As I have said, if there is a bribe it should be in the form of the green retrofitting of schools, churches and community buildings. If there is a bribe to be thrown in and the community wants to vote for it, that is fine; I do not have a problem with that. But if my communities say that they do not want any fracking—they do not want any shale gas or coalbed methane to be taken from a certain area and that it should be done somewhere else, we should have the right to make that decision.

The Government said they were in favour of localism, but on housing developments the opposite has been the case, as they have stabbed their own MPs and councillors in the back—all of them know it. It is the same with shale gas. We should allow local people to decide, but ensure that they cannot decide something that is going to damage aquifers or any other part of the infrastructure that affects everything else, which is why amendments relating to water will be important in the Bill.

Let us give local people the say rather than have the man from the Ministry—the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—giving the instruction and saying, “Here’s what will happen.” Then we can deliver infrastructure in a way that is popular. That might save the Government the election, but they will be too stupid to do it. Labour should vote for such a move, because the people would like it.

8 Dec 2014 : Column 696

6.50 pm

Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): I will be brief, because I am meant to be in the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Committee—I am sure that everyone here wishes that they were in there with me.

I welcome many of the provisions of the Infrastructure Bill, but I will focus mainly on those issues pertaining to transport, as that is the brief my party colleagues, in their wisdom, have given me.

The road network is vital to the economic sustainability of the UK, yet many Governments over many years have under-invested in it. We need a road network that is fit for the 21st century and consistent with broader economic, environmental and safety goals. It needs to be fit for the environment as much as for the economy. By reducing congestion, any major road projects must seek to reduce carbon output as much as drivers’ frustration. This year is set to be the warmest on record. It is no longer credible to pretend that global warming is not, at a minimum, enhanced by human activity.

Almost 90% of businesses say that the quality of transport networks impacts on their investment decisions. More than 70% of the members of the Federation of Small Businesses said that the use of a car is crucial to their business operations. It is sad that we live in a world in which that is the case, but that is the reality. Seven in 10 businesses obviously identify investment in road infrastructure as an important future Government priority.

In my constituency, we have a road that is incredibly loud, but improvement work is under way on some of the junctions on the M27, which is great because that should reduce congestion. We must consider any type of road building in conjunction with an ability to get people off the roads and on to public transport.

Investment in infrastructure is central to a Liberal Democrat ambition of creating a stronger economy and a fairer society. We need to ensure that economic recovery is based on that solid long-term investment. Liberal Democrat influence on Government policy has ensured that we have already invested more in railways than at any time since the Victorian era, but our major trunk roads and motorways are under increasing pressure, which does not help small businesses.

A well-functioning transport system must incorporate all modes of transport rather than look at each mode individually. Problems have come when we have treated rail as one thing, buses another, trams another and so on. Some of our Conservative colleagues insist that we should focus on only upgrading roads. The Liberal Democrats have pushed for greener, faster public transport throughout the country, but we need to do more, especially in rural areas where people are suffering from a failure in our public transport systems. There are some areas in rural counties where people cannot survive without a car, which makes it difficult for poor people and for those who believe in the environment to get about.

The Opposition have already mentioned electric cars, but we need to establish a full network of charging points for electric cars. We need to incentivise greener travel choices; update planning law to ensure new developments are designed around walking, cycling and public transport —we have seen a big investment in cycling—invest in major transport improvements to create a northern economic corridor to go along with the northern powerhouse; set out 10-year rolling capital investment

8 Dec 2014 : Column 697

plans so people know what is going on; develop a comprehensive plan to electrify all suburban and all major rail routes; reopen many smaller stations; restore twin track lines to major routes; and proceed with HS2, HS3 and perhaps even HS4. We also need to consider light rail and ultra-light rail schemes; continue funding for local economic and sustainable transport infrastructure; support the expansion of smart card ticketing systems; and make progress on the “Get Britain cycling” campaign.

As my time is limited, let me say briefly that I support much of what is in the Infrastructure Bill, but I do have some reservations, especially on the fracking proposals. None the less, this Bill will provide more jobs and an improved transport system for all of us. I urge the Government to give further consideration to public transport, especially in rural areas.

6.55 pm

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): This Bill covers a wide range of topics, some of which do not affect Scotland, but those that relate to energy most certainly do, and it is those areas on which I shall concentrate my remarks.

Part 4 of the Bill opens with provisions relating to community energy. By and large, we support the efforts to allow communities or community groups to buy a stake in renewable energy facilities in or close offshore to their communities.

I hope that those provisions will lead to more communities taking a stake in such important facilities—indeed, some community organisations are already making efforts to raise funds to invest in local renewable energy—and to greater involvement and acceptance of renewable generation. Should the Bill succeed, I hope it will lead to alternative visions of how we deal with off-gas grid properties, which are so often left out of the thinking on energy costs and energy efficiency.

I also hope that more community involvement will encourage energy companies to consider the wider interests of the community when proposing new developments, such as encouraging economic regeneration by supporting other businesses or by looking at ways in which they can help to deliver better broadband services to allow businesses to prosper.

I also note that amendments are proposed to the Petroleum Act 1998 that are designed to implement the recommendations of the Wood review to maximise offshore oil and gas extraction. I would disagree strongly with the Minister on what should be done with oil and gas revenue, but we are inclined to support the relevant parts of the Bill because both the Scottish Government and the UK Government strongly endorsed the Wood review.

Unfortunately, there are other aspects of the Bill with which we do not agree. New clauses were introduced in the other place relating to the process of hydraulic fracking. I have raised my concerns and asked specific questions on this matter at least twice in this House but have yet to have a clear answer, so I will try again—third time lucky, but I am not holding my breath.

In his introduction to the debate the Minister said that oil and gas was a reserved matter. That is true, but, unfortunately, the clauses on fracking cut across Scottish land law as well, which is very much a devolved matter. Given that the Smith commission proposed the devolution of those proposals to Scotland, it strikes me that now is the right time to do that. We should get all these provisions

8 Dec 2014 : Column 698

in one place while fracking is still at a very early stage. If we do not do that, it will be much more difficult to deal with it at a later stage. I should make it clear at the outset that I do not support fracking. Although we have heard much about its potential, I note that even in Denton, Texas, the very home of fracking, a recent referendum voted to end it. Other states in the US are turning against it because of environmental concerns. We should take note of such concerns, because if there are concerns about the impact of fracking in the wide open spaces of the American west, how many more would there be in densely populated islands such as these?

I wish to concentrate today on some specific questions relating to the process of fracking. Although development is at an early stage in Scotland, it is already causing a great deal of public concern. A large area of central Scotland, stretching through to my own constituency in Angus, has been identified as having potential for shale gas extraction. Much of the power over such developments lies with the Westminster Government rather than the Scottish Parliament. Westminster has the power to grant licences under the Petroleum Act to search for and develop shale gas, while local authorities and the Scottish Parliament have powers in respect of planning, which clearly give them some powers to restrict fracking. In his opening statement, the shadow Minister made the point that the Scottish Government have not introduced a moratorium. My understanding is that it is very difficult to do that, because planning is initially carried out at local authority level, and any such moratorium or attempt to put in standard conditions would lead to judicial review and endless litigation. It would be much simpler if all the powers relating to fracking were in one place. In that instance, the Scottish Government could take action by refusing the licences.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): I am pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman say that he agrees with the Smith commission’s proposals, as I do. Does he accept that the Scottish Government could, if they wished, issue planning guidance that would prevent fracking, as they have in relation to nuclear power?

Mr Weir: My simple answer is no. If the hon. Lady had listened, she would have heard me say that nuclear is completely different. Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 gave the powers directly to Scottish Ministers, so the situation is not the same.

The UK Government seem determined to have fracking. The changes proposed by the Bill remove the right of landowners to object to fracking under their properties. It has been reported that the UK Government are funding the British Geological Survey to carry out investigative boreholes to demonstrate the viability of fracking. Will the Minister confirm whether that is true?

Interestingly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed in his autumn statement last week to give, in effect, a sovereign wealth fund for fracking to north-east England. I note that, for many years, he refused even to consider such a thing for Scotland’s oil and gas. That has not gone unnoticed in Scotland.

As well as giving the right to grant licences to persons seeking to explore for shale oil, the Petroleum Act provides, in section 7:

“Subject to the provisions of this section, the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966 shall apply (in England and Wales and Scotland) for the purpose of enabling a person holding

8 Dec 2014 : Column 699

a licence under this Part of this Act to acquire such ancillary rights as may be required for the exercise of the rights granted by the licence.”

The 1966 Act includes the right to

“enter upon land and to sink boreholes in the land for the purpose of searching for and getting petroleum”

and to use the land for such specific purposes as erecting buildings and laying pipes, and ancillary rights. The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) made the point that there is no right to enter on to land—there is no such right in the Bill, but there is in the 1966 Act. The definition of petroleum in the Petroleum Act includes natural gas. There is a right in other regulations under which people can enter on to land. The ancillary rights laid down cover such rights as lowering the surface, the conveyance of gas or oil, and the right to occupy the surface of the property, among other things.

That illustrates the confusion and difficulty resulting from planning law, the Bill and the 1998 Act. Those are extensive rights for the licence holder. Rightly, under the 1966 Act, those ancillary rights need to be set out by a court if agreement cannot be reached with the landowner. That right is being taken away by the Bill. No longer would that disagreement have to go before a court—those doing the fracking will have an automatic right to frack.

I am not clear where planning law is involved in fracking. If someone has a UK Government lease to seek shale gas in a specific part of Angus, would they be entitled to go on to ground to do so even if the landowner objected? Do those rights override planning permission, or would people still need planning permission from the local authority? If so, where does the landowner stand? Is his only right to object to the planning permission?

There is a further difficulty. In any event, the planning process could cover only the area in which there is infrastructure for boring, but it will be very difficult to be sure where or how far any drilling into adjoining land will go until such time as the operation gets under way. Planning permission will not cover that. At most, it will cover the infrastructure for starting the bore. What happens once the hole is bored? What happens when the bore follows the gas deposits? No one knows where it will go once it has started. That is the difficulty.

The Scottish Government have powers over planning in Scotland and have taken a much more cautious approach to fracking than the UK Government have taken. They have called in the application from Dart Energy in Falkirk, and have introduced changes in planning guidelines for unconventional oil and gas. Another Member has made the point that the Scottish Government have confirmed that, for the first time, the concept of buffer zones should be applied to all proposals. They have asked for the additional requirement to prepare risk assessments to ensure a transparent and evidence-based approach for assessing the acceptability of proposed buffer zones. They have made it explicit that buffer zones will be assessed by the planning authority and statutory consultees, with a strong expectation that planning permission will be refused if they are unacceptable. They have ensured that operators are up front about their plans, and that communities are consulted on all unconventional gas developments, including close involvement in the risk assessment process. As an Opposition Member said, the

8 Dec 2014 : Column 700

Scottish Government require a fresh planning application and public consultation if permission had not been sought for hydraulic fracturing but developers subsequently intended to undertake the process. As the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) has said, the Scottish Government have also convened an expert scientific panel to review the scientific evidence on fracking.

I believe that all powers relating to fracking, and indeed everything else, should be moved from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament. The Smith commission recommended that powers over onshore oil and gas should be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. The political parties in Scotland agree on that, at least. It would be right and proper if all aspects, including planning and licensing, were dealt with in Scotland. That would reflect the views of the communities of Scotland where fracking might take place.

As I have said, fracking is at an early stage. Now is the time to transfer those powers. If we do not transfer the powers now, and if we wait until a Bill is prepared in the next Parliament after a general election, the transfer of the powers will, with the best will in the world, be at least a year down the line. A lot can happen in fracking in a year. We have the opportunity to have a proper look and ensure we do it right from the beginning, rather than transfer the powers in the middle of the process when it could be too late to stop some of those developments.

7.6 pm

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I get two kinds of letters about infrastructure. The first kind says: “The infrastructure in this country is inadequate. It is the cause of congestion, housing shortage and economic inefficiency. We must invest heavily and speedily in more infrastructure.” The second kind objects to any specific item of infrastructure being built or proposed. Those letters say: “A new road? No. We should be investing in rail,” or “A new rail line? No. We should be relying on short-haul aircraft,” or, “More airport capacity? No. We should be staying at home,” or, “Build more homes? No. We can’t build more homes because we haven’t got the infrastructure to support them.” We suffer from infrastructural schizophrenia in this country. To some extent, that has been exemplified in the debate.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who has responsibility for roads, on finding the one piece of infrastructure that does not arouse antagonism: the widening of the A1(M), for which my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) has campaigned so hard with my support. That has won near-unanimous support in our part of Hertfordshire, not least because it is economical, it will be done on an existing hard shoulder, it involves minimal disruption and it can be done rapidly.

I want to focus on the element of the Bill that empowers drilling under other people’s land. When I initially heard those proposals I was worried, although I am sympathetic to promoting and developing the shale oil and gas industries in these countries. The proposals sounded like an unprecedented invasion of people’s property and an act of trespass, but they are far from unprecedented. The London underground runs under

8 Dec 2014 : Column 701

the street where I live in London. I can often hear the rumble, even though we live a couple of floors above it. I doubt whether the owners of my property should have had the right to prevent the building of the London underground.

The tube is a maximum of 100 feet beneath the ground. Coal mining involves massive and relatively shallow tunnels, which can cause subsidence. Sewerage, water and other underground networks also run under other people’s property. By contrast, a lateral gas or oil well is usually just a 7-inch bore about 1 mile below ground. It can cause no conceivable disturbance to the surface landowner.

Dr Whitehead: The right hon. Gentleman observes that lateral drilling and fracking for gas takes place a mile underground, so why do provisions in the Bill deem deep-level land to be 300 metres underground?

Mr Lilley: Well, 300 metres is 10 times as deep as the London underground. The Bill states that deep-level land is at least 300 metres down, but normally drilling will be about a mile down because—as the hon. Gentleman will know from serving on the Energy Committee—about 7,000 feet of rock is needed to compress the shale sufficiently to turn it into gas or oil.

Rightly or wrongly, mineral resources in this country were nationalised before the war and, unlike in the USA, landowners do not have the right to extract them. I do not see why landowners should have the right to prevent the extraction of a national resource that is collectively owned by us all. After all, we do not have the right to prevent aircraft from flying over our property, although frankly the chance of an aircraft falling on our property is rather greater than that of anything welling up through a mile of rock and affecting our homes.

In theory we could revert to the pre-war situation, as in America, and give landowners rights over subsurface minerals and their exploration. If we did so, the general taxpayer, who stands to benefit from a 61% tax on profits from any shale gas, not to mention royalties and fees, would be the loser, while landowners lucky enough to own land above any of that natural resource would become richer—I am not sure whether that is the direction in which the parties of Keir Hardie or the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) are going, but I think we should keep things as they are. The resource is collectively owned; let us open it up for sensible, properly regulated and environmentally sound exploitation.

In the USA, when landowners are given the choice between preventing or allowing the exploitation of land from which they will profit, they overwhelmingly say yes. Despite strong campaigns to discourage the development of the fracking industry in north America, 2.5 million wells have been drilled and not a single person has been poisoned by contaminated water, nor a single building damaged by the minute seismic tremors that fracking can cause.

A lot of letters I receive say, “But this is against the laws of trespass. This is terrible. You’re trespassing under my land, which is as bad as trespassing on it.” Actually there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the law of trespass. My father did not have many political opinions but he was a libertarian. When we went out in the country and saw a sign saying, “Trespassers will be prosecuted”, he would say, “My son, as a free-born Englishman,

8 Dec 2014 : Column 702

you have the right to go anywhere as long as you do not cause damage. The landowners are bluffing and cannot stop you.” He was right, of course. Subsequently, Mr Fagan wandered into Buckingham palace and the Queen’s bedroom, but he could not be prosecuted because he had done no damage.

Ian Lucas: It’s the right to roam.

Mr Lilley: Indeed. Why on earth is it a sin to drill a hole a mile from where we live and separated from us by a mile of rock, when we do not prevent people from walking through woods as long as they cause no damage? I think we can dismiss the trespass argument. Of course, if there is damage on the surface from such activities, it is right and proper that people are compensated for that disturbance.

The organised opposition to shale gas drilling is part of a wider attack on fossil fuels. There is a legitimate case for opposing all drilling for oil and gas if we believe that hydrocarbons should be left in the ground to prevent emissions of carbon dioxide, and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley)—I do not know whether she is still in her place—honestly and frankly made that case. She does not want the stuff extracted because she does not want it to be burned, the energy used, or the CO2 emitted. I respect her and those who openly argue for that, but they know that they will not convince the people of Britain to give up using fossil fuels because our whole economy is based on them. If we were to try to transform our economy and move away from fossil fuels—well, we have been for 50 years, but with remarkably little impact—it would impoverish us and would be enormously disruptive. Those who cannot get that argument across therefore make it their duty to deploy unfounded scare stories and exaggerate them. They claim that fracking will harm the water table and trigger earthquakes, that it will use vast amounts of water and be of no advantage to society.

People with those fears should read the report by the Royal Society—our principal scientific body—and the Royal Academy of Engineering, which in its opening words concludes:

“The health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing…can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation. Hydraulic fracturing is an established technology that has been used in the oil and gas industries for many decades. The UK has 60 years’ experience of regulating onshore and offshore oil and gas industries.”

Why do eco-alarmists say that we must believe the Royal Society when it tells us that CO2 may increase the temperature by a degree or two in a century’s time, but ignore it when it says that we can frack safely in this country as long as we adhere to regulations that we have developed over 60 years, with some sensible amendments that have been proposed?

A number of Members have said that fracking is a novel technology, but 2.5 million wells have been drilled and fracked since the process was developed in 1948. As the Royal Society report states,

“more than 2,000 wells have been drilled onshore in the UK”,

of which 200 have been fracked, although relatively modest amounts of water and pressure were used compared

8 Dec 2014 : Column 703

with what is now proposed. I am not aware of any objections to those 200 wells. On the use of water the report states: