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Topical Questions

Volume 496: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2009

Does the Chancellor think that a 50p rate of income tax would slow the economy’s return to growth?

As I said in the Budget, it is necessary for us to raise revenues and I think it fair to look to people who have the broadest shoulders to take some of that burden. Other countries will face exactly the same problems over the next few months and years, and I believe that the measures I have announced as a whole in the Budget and the pre-Budget report will help to support our economy and help it to grow.

T3. Is my hon. Friend aware of the level of concern about the high charges for mortgage arrears being charged by some providers—for example, up to £150 by a debt counsellor, and up to 2 per cent. in standing monthly charges? Will he talk to the Financial Services Authority and see whether some controls or standards can be set to keep down the very high charges that are affecting a number of my constituents? (286216)

We do of course recognise the worries that many households have about meeting mortgage payments, keeping their home and falling into negative equity. We will explore any avenue that will help people in that situation.

T2. If all taxpayer liabilities against RBS and Lloyds are taken into account, the current loss is more like £20 billion, rather than the £11 billion claimed by United Kingdom Financial Investments Ltd. In that context, can the Chancellor of the Exchequer give the House an assurance that there will be no early sale of these assets—before the general election, say? (286215)

Yesterday, the UKFI was simply recording the book price of the shares for RBS and Lloyds, which are actually worth a bit more than in February, but as the shares are not being sold today, it is not a real loss. I can tell the House that it is our policy to return these shares to the private sector, but we will only do that when it is the right thing to do for the taxpayer, for financial stability, and for the wider economy. All those conditions were clearly set out in both the UKFI annual report yesterday, and in the White Paper that I published last week on the regulation of financial markets. We will enter into a sale only when we judge that the time is right: in other words, we are in no hurry to do so.

T4. Is the Governor now satisfied that the Bank of England has the necessary powers to fulfil its statutory responsibility to protect the stability of the financial system? (286217)

As my hon. Friend knows, I set out the Government’s proposals last week both to strengthen the powers available to the FSA and to build on the additional powers that we gave to the Bank of England under the Banking Act 2009, which was passed earlier this year. We will continue to consider, with the Governor and the FSA, what additional powers might be necessary, but the measures I announced last week, which are broadly in line with what other Governments and countries are doing in different parts of the world, will make it easier in future to ensure that we act on warning signs if things start to go wrong. That is very important.

T5. While the Chancellor and his colleagues are responsible for some bank assets, is there not an opportunity to use them to provide guarantees or loans for the infrastructure that we need for the green and renewable energy products and plant that the Prime Minister and the rest of the Government keep telling us that we need? Is not now the time to use this asset at this moment of environmental crisis? (286219)

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt recall that in the Budget I set out proposals significantly to increase the amount of money that we are spending to improve environmental and energy efficiency. He will no doubt also be aware that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will publish a White Paper tomorrow, which contains significant proposals that will go a long way to ensuring that we meet our obligations. We have already done more than most other countries in relation to our Kyoto obligations, and we will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that we have secure energy supplies that are much cleaner and greener in the future.

I wish to return to the subject of the bingo industry. Will my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary seek an early meeting with the Bingo Association to clarify the point that she made on Report, when she said that she was still waiting for information fromthe association about its figures? She also said that the industry had accepted the taxation regime that the Government introduced in the Budget. I am sure that she meant to say that it had accepted the calculations. Will she seek an urgent meeting to clarify that information to the industry?

As I clarified earlier, dialogue with the bingo industry is definitely ongoing. The last meeting I had was two weeks ago, at which the industry presented some data, but they were not complete. We have agreed that the industry will bring more data forward.

T6. The Chancellor will be aware that the current comprehensive spending review gave a further £2 billion for PFI initiatives in waste disposal management options to enable the UK to meet its EU landfill directive obligations and recycling targets. Does the Minister acknowledge that none of those PFI projects has gone forward because the banks need more details and more reassurance, so the landfill targets will not be delivered within the prescribed time limit? (286224)

This is the kind of infrastructure project that we keep under constant review. It is also closely watched by regional Ministers through the work that I do with the Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination. We will look into the schemes that the hon. Lady highlights, and if they are being held up through a lack of information, we will make sure that steps are taken to accelerate these projects and get delays out of the way.

Last time I looked, the objectives of the Audit Commission were to drive efficiency and effectiveness in local public services, but last week its chief executive dismissed critics of public sector cuts as “shroud-wavers”. Will the Minister have a quiet word with Mr. Bundred, put him back in his box and explain that one of the roles of the public sector is to help to sustain the economy during a time of recession?

That is an argument that the chief executive and chairman of the Audit Commission would recognise. Indeed, fruitful conversations take place day to day and week to week between Ministers and the commission about how we can strengthen the role of local authorities in delivering what is a broad package of help, put in place and financed by this Government to ensure that this recession does not cut for long or deeply.

T7. With rising repossessions and 500,000 more families on local authority housing registers, what assessment have the Government made of the effectiveness of their policy to intervene to protect those in the most desperate housing need? (286225)

As the House will know, a wide range of measures is in place to ensure that we minimise the number of people who lose their home during this recession. I know that the Council of Mortgage Lenders has already revised down at least once the number of repossessions that it anticipates this year, and it acknowledges that it is the rapid action taken by the Government, and the range of help that has been put in place, that will help to deliver that lower number. Obviously, every repossession is a tragedy for the family concerned: we want to ensure that we act to keep such repossessions to an absolute minimum.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure health service workers that the recommendations of the pay review body will be honoured in full?

T8. Why does the Chancellor of the Exchequer think that the First Secretary told the nation that there would be no comprehensive spending review before the general election? (286227)

I listened very carefully to all the interviews given by my right hon. Friend during the course of that day and I entirely agree with much of what he said.

I urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to continue with his present economic policy, remembering the chaos brought about by the Lady Thatcher Government through the cuts that they introduced in the immediate post-1979 period. Looking to the future, will he resist the idea that he should commit to an overview of the future years, given that the Conservatives are simply looking for legitimacy for the planned cuts that they wish to announce?

My hon. Friend is quite right. Under the Conservatives, there would be cuts now followed by more cuts later. He is also right to say that they are looking for cover for what they have always wanted to do and for what they have always done.

Given that the Calman commission in Scotland and, last week, the Holtham commission in Wales have now produced their reports on the Barnett formula, will the Government publish their factual paper on the formula, which was first promised in January 2008?

As the House will know, another place is looking in some depth at the whole question of the Barnett formula and how it should operate in the years to come. We will look very closely at what emerges from the Holtham commission, too. The next real bit of news will be the report from the ad hoc committee that was set up in another place.

It is right for our Government to have a commitment to gaining the same sort of benefit for Britain from the new technologies to limit carbon emissions as we gained from manufacturing in the industrial revolution. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor, in replying to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), said that he had introduced measures in the Budget. Has he any estimate of the number of jobs that might result from these measures to develop new low-carbon technologies?

I believe that there will be thousands of jobs created in the future through new green technology. That is all the more reason why we should resist calls to start cutting public spending now when public spending can be used to help our industries to compete in the future. That is another clear dividing line between the two sides in this House. We believe that Government have the power to influence things and to ensure that we can be at the forefront of these new industries, which will create thousands of jobs in the future.

Given the parlous state of the public finances and the need to borrow so extensively internationally, does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that the failure to bring forward a comprehensive spending review will make it even more difficult and uncertain to borrow from the capital markets?

No, I do not. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the international commentary and studies into our economy, he will see that most of them believe that what we do and what we are doing is exactly right and is in contrast to the policies that he and his fellow Conservatives advocate, which is to do nothing. I do not believe that that is a sensible thing to do at a time like this.

Will the Chancellor take this opportunity to amplify that which he uttered on television a few days ago about adequate funding for our armed forces in the Afghanistan conflict? Will he make it abundantly clear at the Dispatch Box now what funding is immediately available to our armed forces and what will be available in a reasonably immediate time scale—perhaps until the end of the year—so that there is no misunderstanding or ambiguity among all who are involved and all who are interested? Will he take this opportunity?

It is very important that we support our troops on the front line in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I can tell the House that in the year 2006-07, we spent £700 million on urgent operational requirements. That rose to £1.5 billion in 2007-08 and £2.6 billion in 2008-09. This year, we expect to spend more than £3 billion in support of our troops. Our commitment to our troops is essential, especially at this time when so many people are facing dangers—we have been reminded over the past few days of the tremendous sacrifice that has been made by so many people, not just for Afghanistan but for this country, too.

On Sunday, a constituent aged over 80 came to see me. He said that he was now receiving his 25p pension supplement, which he saw as a gross insult. It does not even buy a pint of milk. When is the Chancellor going to sort that out?

I know that the hon. Gentleman is not the only Member of this House to have had constituents raise the question of the 25p age addition. However, I am quite sure that he took the opportunity to point out that his constituent received the increased winter fuel payment—something that his constituent would not have received had there been a Conservative Government.

With this being the final opportunity for the Chancellor to address the House before it resumes in October, will he rise at the Dispatch Box and apologise to the House and the British people for presiding over the precipitate decline in our public finances? It is the worst fall of any OECD country, and his is the worst record of any Chancellor, ever.

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense, and I suspect that he knows it. Like every country in the world, we are facing the severest downturn for well in excess of 60 years. The difference between this side of the House and his side is that, faced with that, we took action to support our economy and stabilise the banking system. We then made sure that we put money into the economy to help us get through this. Most other countries believe that that is the right thing to do. It is only the Conservative party in this country that has made it clear that, far from supporting families and businesses, it would make cuts this year, next year and the year after.

Can the Chancellor confirm that there will be extra resources for constituencies such as mine, where the number of children seeking primary school places exceeds the number of places available?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has made it clear already that there will be a guarantee in place from this September. He keeps what schools require under review, so that we can ensure that we maintain our commitment to the children of this country.