And in non-snow related Parliamentary news …

by Stephen Tall on February 2, 2009

As the whole of the south-east (y’know the bit the media lives in) Britain is brought to a grinding halt by the descent of some iced preciptation, rumour had it that the House of Parliament had also shut down for the day. And just think what chaos might have ensued then!

Fortunately, reports of its dearth proved to be exaggerated, and so today’s Lib Dem opposition day has proceeded as planned (though I concede the possibility it might have been slightly overshadowed by metereological events on the news):

(1) Government capital expenditure during the recession; (2) Standards of conduct in Parliament and constitutional reform

Anyway, here’s how Vince opened up on (1), summing up all this recession talk rather well, rather unsurprisingly:

That this House notes that the International Monetary Fund believes that the UK will suffer the worst economic contraction among advanced countries; notes with alarm that the Pre-Budget Report 2008 announced an effective 16.5 per cent. decrease in public sector net investment from 2012–13; further notes with concern that the Learning and Skills Council has decided to halt funding decisions for college rebuilding; expresses concern that there are currently 1.77 million people on the social housing waiting list, an increase of 100,000 on last year; further notes that only £400 million has been brought forward out of £8 billion to spend on social housing; notes how little investment the Government has made to ensure that homes are energy efficient and well-insulated; believes that the Government has neglected the current opportunity to invest in expanding the rail network; and calls on the Government to immediately bring forward funding for capital projects, particularly for schools, colleges, social housing, public transport and environmental works, all of which will create assets for the taxpayer and generate future income as well as countering recession in the short run.

The ministerial statement set out the chilling context in which this debate takes place. We are dealing with rapidly rising unemployment, much of it centred on the construction industry, and the situation is bitter and divisive. We shall try to suggest a positive approach to the problem through fiscal stimulus from capital spending.

I wish to make three simple points. First, fiscal stimulus is necessary, and the best way of providing it is through properly targeted public investment. Secondly, despite the Government’s claim to be bringing forward capital investment, that is not happening. There are severe problems in the public investment area, and the situation is complicated by the virtually complete collapse of private finance initiative projects. Thirdly, if we are to have public investment in an environment where there are growing anxieties about public debt, we need a mechanism for proper evaluation of such things in a way that does not happen now, because much of it takes place in the framework of the commercial secrecy that surrounds PFI projects.

The full transcript courtesy of Hansard is available here. We’ll bring you news of (2) – the Lib Dem motion calling for “urgent reform of Parliament” – tomorrow.

PS: I see even the Lib Dems haven’t been entirely immune to today’s weather-induced disruption: the BBC tells us that “Nick Clegg had to reschedule a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research – on the social and political causes of the current economic crisis – to next week.”