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Exclusive | Aldous doubts his retentions bill will ever be passed


Conservative MP Peter Aldous has told New Civil Engineer that his bill to reform retention payment practices in the construction industry is unlikely to succeed.

His comments came after the second reading of the bill was pushed back for a fifth time in January. The bill proposed the introduction of a compulsory retentions deposit scheme to protect suppliers from insolvencies further up the supply chain. 

Carillion’s collapse put the issue of retentions in the spotlight last year. Following the construction giant’s collapse, trade bodies Build UK, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association and the Construction Products Association urged the government to abolish retentions. They claimed Carillion held an estimated £800M in retentions when it failed.

Speaking exclusively to New Civil Engineer, Aldous said: “I describe [the bill] a bit like a relay race. It is rather a long relay race and I am not the first person who has put forward a bill to address this problem.”

Aldous highlighted the SNP’s Alan Brown, Labour’s Debbie Abrahams and the DUP’s David Simpson as examples of MPs who had tried unsuccessfully to address the issue of retentions by proposing legislation in Parliament.

He added: “I am holding the batten at the moment. I would love to be the person holding the batten when we cross the finishing line. The chances are I will not, and I will be handing on the batten to someone else who will be that person.”

The MP for Waveney explained that the allotted time for private members’ bills such as his during the current parliamentary session would be scarce, making retentions reform unlikely in the current session.

He said: “There is a limited amount of parliamentary time made available to backbenchers for promoting [private members’] bills.

“With such a large number of bills, very few private members’ bills are going to get through and onto the statute book.”

Aldous’ bill, formally known as the Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill 2017-19, had been due to be heard for a second time in the House of Commons on 25 January, but the second reading has been pushed back to 8 March.

The second reading was pushed back four times last year. It was scheduled for April, then June, then October and finally November.

Aldous doubted that the bill’s second reading would take place on March 8 either. “I think it will get put back to another day,” he admitted.

He added that prolonged Brexit negotiations have not helped his case. He argued that Brexit had limited opportunities for the retentions reform he seeks through his bill to be added onto other legislation or to command the attention of civil servants.

“It has not helped, but if we were in normal times and there was not Brexit and we had a fairly standard session of Parliament lasting a year then it would still be highly unusual and the odds are against a 10-minute rule bill like this getting through the whole private members’ bill process,” he said. 

Aldous told New Civil Engineer that  around 250 MPs support the bill. Its prominent backers include defence secretary Gavin Williamson, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable and ex-Green Party leader Caroline Lucas. “I think we have got all or most of the chairs of select committees supportive of the bill,” he added.

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