Skip to main content


Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 21 December 2010

The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Manufacturing Sector (CSR)

1. What estimate he has made of the potential effects on the level of demand and output in the manufacturing sector of the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review. (31813)

I am happy to report today that annual growth in manufacturing output is the fastest in 16 years, and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply reported the strongest manufacturing employment balance on record last month. This is a crucial contribution to rebalancing the British economy away from its dependence on debt. The Budget and the spending review will help to sustain that by cutting tax rates for manufacturers, investing in transport infrastructure and skilled apprenticeships, and providing the economic stability that our deficit reduction plan has delivered in an unstable world.

I thank the Chancellor for that reply, and I wish him and his fellow Ministers on the Treasury Bench, and all right hon. and hon. Members, including you, Mr Speaker, a happy and peaceful Christmas. Does the Chancellor agree that the best Christmas present he can give manufacturers in my constituency and throughout the country is a proper White Paper on growth? He has often promised to publish one. When exactly will he be bringing it before this Chamber for debate?

We have a specific review of advanced manufacturing to see what more we can do to help it, and I intend the Budget on 23 March to focus very much on supporting economic growth and removing the barriers to the expansion of manufacturing businesses and others. We are looking both at specific sectors, such as advanced manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, and at cross-government issues, such as planning and employment law, so that we provide not only the economic stability that we have delivered in recent months, but the platform for economic growth.

Further to that question and that reply, the Government’s efforts so far in that regard consist of “The path to strong, sustainable and balanced growth”. Frankly, it is an insubstantial document—well short of a strategy. The Chancellor has given us a firm lead on fiscal policy. Will he now commit to cutting through what appear to have been a large number of interdepartmental arguments about this, and give us a clear strategy for growth in his next Budget?

The first thing that I would say is that, of course, deficit reduction is an essential platform for economic growth. The fact that this Parliament, almost alone in Europe, is not having to discuss the sovereign debt crisis is in itself testament to the success that we have had. But we need now to turn around many Departments that have not really thought for years about this question: how do we stimulate private enterprise and private sector growth? We have inherited government machinery that is not equipped to deal with that. We are turning that around, and the Budget in March is the focus point that I expect all Departments to work towards.

Responsibility for our manufacturing sector rests, of course, with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who had some interesting things to say this morning about the “Maoist” nature of this Government. [Interruption.] Does the Great Leader—or rather, the Chancellor—recognise himself in the Business Secretary’s description of “cack-handed” Tories? Strictly speaking, does the Chancellor believe that the reason we have waited so long for any sign of a strategy on jobs and growth is that he is out of step with his Cabinet colleague?

The Business Secretary is a powerful ally in the Government in promoting growth—and, frankly, he has forgotten more about economics than the shadow Chancellor ever knew. I refer the shadow Chancellor to the statement that he gave recently about his own party:

“On economic credibility, we are in a really worrying position.”

We see this morning record borrowing for November, unemployment higher than expected and inflation well above where it should be. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, we are about to destroy £5 billion of economy activity through the increase in VAT on 4 January. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that absolute poverty—not relative poverty—will rise for children and working age adults, with 900,000 more slipping below the breadline over the next three years. If the Chancellor has not got a plan B yet, is he hoping to get one for Christmas?

I am glad that the shadow Chancellor reminds the House of the terrible economic inheritance that we are struggling with—and overcoming. He talks about the public borrowing figures today, and I am glad that he has brought them up, because they are a reminder of the fact that we have a record budget deficit. He is—if he wants to do Christmas analogies—the incredible no-man: every time we have put forward any proposal for deficit reduction, he has said no. He is running out of time to come forward with sensible credible contributions to the economic debate about how we get Britain growing again, because at the moment the Christmas lights are on but there’s no one at home.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the record borrowing figures announced today simply serve to underline the seriousness of the situation to which the spending review was addressed, as well as the importance of sticking to the fiscal plan that has been agreed and not deviating from it in the slightest?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This country has a record budget deficit; that is the situation we have inherited. We have made some in-year reductions, which have made it slightly less worse this year than it otherwise would have been, and then we have measures next year to try to bring the budget deficit down. Every one of those measures has been opposed by Opposition Front Benchers. They have put forward not a single plan, not a single proposal, to reduce the budget deficit, but our proposals have provided this country with economic stability, in a very unstable European continent.

Following on from the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), what does the Chancellor have to say about the Institute for Fiscal Studies report, which says that almost 1 million people will be below the breadline by 2014? That is an extra million people. Does the Chancellor not feel any shame about what will happen to so many of our constituents—certainly mine—as a result of the policies that he is pursuing? I would have thought that it was a matter over which the Business Secretary might wish to consider resigning.

As usual, the hon. Gentleman’s question is totally over the top. I would make this observation: we have inherited this economic situation—a record budget deficit—and we are taking the action to deal with it. We are also promoting social mobility by funding a pupil premium and giving new nursery entitlements to disadvantaged two-year-olds. Child poverty rose in the last years of the Labour Government. They set a child poverty target and entrenched it in law, knowing full well that they did not have the policies to meet that target in any way. We are putting in place the policies that will deliver greater social mobility and deal with entrenched poverty in our country.

Graduate Tax

3. What estimate he made of the effect on public finances of the introduction of a graduate tax. (31815)

A graduate tax would add billions of pounds to the budget deficit. That is just one reason why anyone in government, Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, who has ever looked at the facts has concluded that a graduate tax is unworkable, unfair and unaffordable.

Before I call the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), I remind him and the rest of the House that the supplementary question must be about the policy of the Government.

A graduate tax would be less progressive and less fair than the proposals that the Government have brought forward. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we scrapped our proposals and introduced a graduate tax, it would be a costly disaster for those entering higher education in the future?

I absolutely do agree with that. Interestingly, as I said in my opening reply, anyone who has ever looked at the issue in government, as we did over the summer and as the shadow Chancellor did when he was the Minister responsible for higher education, has concluded that it is unworkable. It destroys the independence of universities, and it is unfair, because some students would pay much more than the cost of their education, others would avoid it altogether by moving abroad, and millions of students on lower incomes than those specified by our proposals would be hit by a tax rise. It is also unaffordable, and as Lord Browne pointed out in the report that the previous Government commissioned, it would take until 2041 for the system to start paying for itself.

Has the Chancellor, in developing our policy on a graduate tax, been able to bear in mind the policies of the Opposition?

Order. The Chancellor does not need to bear that in mind. He has explained his position very clearly, and we are grateful to him. I now call Tobias Ellwood, as his question is also in this group. He is not here. Oh, dear. I call Mr David Hanson.

Will the Chancellor confirm that in adopting his policy on tuition fees he has raised the Government borrowing requirement to £10.7 billion by 2015—a rise of £5.6 billion—in addition to cutting at least £800 million from the university budget and tripling fees, which will deter poorer students? Will he now for once confirm to the House that his choice on tuition fees is about ideology, not deficit reduction?

What we are doing is taking the report commissioned by the Labour Government and improving on it so that it is more progressive. [Interruption.] Yes, we are increasing borrowing to help students; that is part of what we are doing to fund our higher education institutions.

The truth is this, and the shadow Chancellor said it this month: it would

“be very difficult to make a graduate tax a workable proposition.”

That was the shadow Chancellor, who is now advocating as an official policy of the Labour party something that he says would be difficult to make a workable proposition. We have come forward with workable propositions on higher education, which the Opposition used to agree with when they were in government. They have now mistaken opportunism for opportunity.

Private Finance Initiative

In the spending review the Government abolished the private finance initiative credit system, which provided Departments with a ring-fenced budget that could be used only to support local authority PFI projects. The change levelled the playing field between PFI and other forms of procurement.

What does the Chief Secretary think of the comments made by the former Paymaster General, who said that PFI contracts were far too generous and too expensive?

That has a striking comment, coming from a Minister who was in the Department responsible for those things, and it reflects the general attitude towards public money that was prevalent under the previous Administration. There is a great deal of work that we can do as a Government to ensure that in future PFI is used only where it is absolutely necessary, and that we get best value for public money. That is how we should approach these things.

One of my constituents thinks that the PFI contracts that have been negotiated are one of the greatest scandals ever, if only because one of his relatives has made millions out of one. Apart from the potential £875 cost of a Christmas tree, which PFIs have caused the Minister the most angst?

I am not sure that it would be appropriate for me at this stage to pick out individual examples. The important thing to say is that, in common with the work that we are doing to ensure that we get better value from our suppliers across Government and that those suppliers are making a contribution to reducing the deficit, we are working on examining the future costs of PFI, so that where we can we reduce those costs. That is very important for ensuring that we reduce the deficit effectively and have the maximum amount of money left for front-line services.

A reduction of just 0.05% in contractors’ fees could save some £500 million a year. What can we do to help the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor bring pressure to bear on equity holders and key industry PFI players to persuade them to cut voluntarily their annual charges for rentals and services?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his festive offer of assistance with these matters. I urge him and other colleagues on both sides of the House to draw the Government’s attention to areas where they see PFI schemes being wasteful, or to examples that they would like to bring to our attention. I would be only too delighted to pick those up if he drew them to my attention.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to read the Public Accounts Committee’s recent report on PFI in the credit crunch? It suggested that many projects are locked into very high financing costs for periods of up to 30 years. I wonder what scope there is to claw back some of the gains in the event of any refinancing.

The Treasury will respond in the normal way to that report, and it would not be proper for me to comment on it until we have published the relevant Treasury minute. The Treasury and the Cabinet Office are working closely together to ensure that the PFI industry contributes its fair share of savings from operational projects.

PFI was, of course, invented by the Tories; I may be in a small minority in having consistently opposed PFI and urged that we should have public investment instead. In making an assessment of PFI, will the Government make comparisons with superb public investment projects such as Luton sixth-form college, which has been rebuilt at far less cost than it would have been under PFI?

I am grateful for that comment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the decision that we took in the spending review to end the PFI credit system. Departments now have to look at the best way of funding projects within their own budgets; effectively, the PFI credit system meant that they could top-slice local government funding for local authority projects. The change that we have made means that Departments will have to make a proper comparison between PFI costs and the sorts of costs that the hon. Gentleman has described. I am sure that the House will have heard what he has said.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) said, PFI was an invention of the previous Tory Government, who were having difficulties building new hospitals. Is it beyond the wit of the Chief Secretary, who knows that most of those PFIs were local negotiations and have break clauses in them, to use his imagination and look into the break clauses?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As for the politics of the matter, it was, of course, the previous Government who oversaw a massive expansion of PFI. It does not come well from the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members to be criticising an approach that ballooned under the previous Government.

My constituent Jeanette May wrote to me recently about the cancellation of the PFI at Maghull prison in my constituency to say that cutting the prison will affect the local economy, especially the immediate population. Does the Chief Secretary understand the impact that cuts such as the cancellation of Maghull prison will have, and how they will hit jobs and growth in communities across the country?

I am bound to say that that is yet another example of a saving that is necessary to tackle the terrible inheritance left by the previous Government, which Opposition Members now seem to be opposing. They also oppose every single cut, yet do not recognise that the consequence of such an approach would be to put this country back in the economic mess that they caused.

Bank Bonuses

The Government have taken decisive action to tackle unacceptable bank bonuses. The Financial Services Authority has revised its remuneration code and new rules will be in place by 1 January 2011. In addition, the Government have introduced a levy that incentivises less risky banking activities, and we will continue to investigate the cost and benefits of a financial activities tax. In combination, those and other measures will ensure that remuneration is consistent with effective risk management.

The Minister will be aware that the Business Secretary has said that a big argument is going on in Government about the banks. He says that he wants a very tough approach but

“our Conservative friends don’t want to do that”.

Is the Business Secretary right?

The Government are totally united about the fact that we want banks to play their full role in the economic recovery by lending to businesses and recognising their wider social responsibilities.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is to resume his seat. He has come in on the wrong question I am afraid; we are talking about bank bonuses.

While the Minister reviews the undoubtedly well-stuffed stockings of certain bankers to determine whether they have been naughty or nice, will he acknowledge the significant amount of tax that they pay, and the institutions that choose London as their domain? Will he recognise that, as far as their choice of domain is concerned, the airports of this country will not always be closed?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. At the time of the spending review the Chancellor made it very clear that we want banks to pay the maximum sustainable tax. That is why on 1 January we will introduce a bank levy, which the Opposition rejected when they were in government. That levy will raise £2.5 billion more than the net amount raised by their bonus tax.

Will the Minister now admit that the more noise the Government make about this issue, the less action they appear willing to take? Will he confirm today that amidst all the PR and bluster, the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with Labour’s requirement that all bankers’ bonuses over £1 million be published? He may be willing to ignore the Business Secretary’s nuclear option, but the millions of Britons who are paying the real price of his austerity measures will never forgive him if he lets his friends in the banks off scot-free.

I am not going to be lectured by the hon. Lady about attitudes towards banks. Labour is the party that gave Fred Goodwin his knighthood, so I will not take any lessons from Labour politicians. They talk tough, but they did nothing when they were in government. This Government are taking real concrete measures to tackle bankers’ pay and to introduce the bank levy, which they refused to introduce. In Europe there will be a most stringent application of the Financial Stability Board principles on bankers’ remuneration.

Sovereign Sukuk

As chairman of the all-party group on Islamic finance and diversity in financial markets, my hon. Friend is well known for his close interest in Islamic finance. The Government believe that sovereign sukuk issuance would not offer value for money at the present time, but the situation remains under review.

I thank the Minister for that reply. A sovereign sukuk issued by the Government might lead to two benefits: first, providing funding for the Government’s borrowing requirement, and secondly, giving readier access to liquidity for the growing number of Islamic banks that operate in this country. Will he agree to meet a small group from the all-party group on Islamic finance and diversity in financial markets to discuss this matter in more detail?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We recognise the benefits that a sovereign sukuk could bring to improving liquidity in the sector, but significant costs would arise from sovereign sukuk issuance. However, I am sure that my noble Friend Lord Sassoon, who leads on this matter, will happily meet him and his colleagues.

Local Services (CSR)

9. What assessment his Department has made of the effects of the outcome of the comprehensive spending review on the provision of local services in deprived areas. (31822)

It is for Departments to decide how best to prioritise resources within their departmental expenditure limits. The consequences in particular locations will become apparent only once these decisions have been made. However, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced the provisional local government finance settlement on Monday, and the balance of the settlement is more heavily weighted towards councils that are more dependent on central Government grants and have greater relative needs.

Salford is ranked 15th in average scores for the 50 most deprived districts in England. The front-loaded grant cuts announced in the spending review mean that next year Salford council is faced with making budget cuts of 15%, or £40 million, which will have an impact on services such as social care for frail older or disabled people. How does the Minister square that reality with the Government’s pledge in the spending review to limit the impact of spending reductions on the most vulnerable in our society?

Had we proceeded with the spending formula that existed under the previous Government, some of the deprived areas that are most dependent on central Government grant would have faced a greater cut than the one in the proposals announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Does the Minister agree with me, and my constituents in Dover and Deal, that the council tax freeze is very welcome, and stands in sharp contrast to the massive rises that have hit the poor, elderly and vulnerable in recent years?

With reference to the comprehensive spending review, the council tax freeze and the other measures that we have announced demonstrate that we are making every effort to ensure that the difficult decisions that we have to make because of the deficit are reached in a way that is fair.

But will the Minister now acknowledge that the spending review was in fact brutally regressive and hit the poorest hardest, especially when we see how the figures announced last week will affect individual councils and communities? For example, how can he justify the percentage changes announced last week to the local authority specific grants for learning disabilities, Sure Start and One to One tuition? The most deprived 10th of local authorities will see a drop—minus 12%—whereas the wealthiest decile will see an increase of more than 24%. How is that fair or progressive?

When we look at 2011 and onwards, we see that this is a Government who are bringing in the pupil premium and funding social care. Labour Members, when they were in government, were planning to make cuts in 2011-12. Where would they have made their cuts? We have done everything we can to protect the poorest in the very difficult circumstances left us by the Opposition.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the pupil premium in the comprehensive spending review will have a transformative effect on helping the poorest in Brentford and Isleworth, and elsewhere?

Within the comprehensive spending review we have given priority to school funding. The pupil premium will help the poorest, which is indicative of the Government’s values in looking to the long term, looking at fairness, and ensuring that young people have an opportunity that they did not necessarily get under the previous Government.

Budget Deficits (Ireland)

10. What recent discussions he has had with his Irish counterpart on measures to reduce budget deficits. (31823)

The Government welcome Ireland’s effort to bring its fiscal deficit under control, and support the international assistance package currently being agreed to deliver stability.

The Chancellor used to speak of the Irish miracle as a shining example of economic policy making. Are there not, though, important lessons to learn from the misery that we are seeing in Ireland today? Is it not clear that simply increasing VAT, making large-scale public sector redundancies and cutting welfare does not add up to a successful path out of the global crisis?

Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman what he said about Ireland on 8 May 2007:

“The Irish economy has enjoyed a good deal of success over the past few years. The corporation tax regime has contributed to that, but there have been a number of other factors”.––[Official Report, Finance Public Bill Committee, 8 May 2007; c. 19.]

The truth is that the Irish economy, like our economy under the previous Government, had a banking sector that was poorly regulated and out of control. It is because we have tackled the legacy of the Labour Government that we are in a position to help Ireland.

Given the misery that economies on the periphery of Europe, such as Ireland, are suffering from the imposition of a single currency throughout Europe, will my hon. Friend advise his European partners that any future plan should be motivated by what the markets demand, and not what grandiose politicians want?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He may have read the shadow Chancellor’s remarkable statement last week, that the euro had had no impact on the problems in Ireland. It is important that the right mechanisms are in place to tackle the problems in the eurozone, and that those solutions are owned by the eurozone. That is why the permanent mechanism that will replace the financial stability facility will be a eurozone-only body.

Equalities (CSR)

11. What recent representations he has received on the overview of the impact of the spending review 2010 on equalities; and if he will make a statement. (31824)

Throughout the spending review process, the Treasury looked closely at the impact that decisions might have on different groups. We published “Overview of the impact of Spending Review 2010 on equalities” on 20 October, alongside the spending review document. Departments will consider the impact on equalities of decisions that are made as a result of the spending review, in the light of their legal obligations. On the day of the spending review, the decision to publish that document was welcomed by, among others, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Chief Secretary will recall that the document said that it

“would not…be meaningful to assess the impact”

on gender of the reductions in employment “at this stage”. Given that women’s unemployment exceeds 1 million and is at its highest level since 1988, when will the Government apologise to women for making them bear the brunt of their economic policies?

I do not accept that analysis. For the sake of completeness, the hon. Lady should recognise that the Government are cleaning up a mess left by the previous Government. If she is interested in the impact on women, she should consider the pay freeze that we have imposed in the public sector, which will protect jobs, and women’s jobs in particular. It is also of benefit to women that we are allowing pay rises for people earning less than £21,000, a disproportionate number of whom are female. For the sake of completeness, she should consider those facts.

Will the Chief Secretary join me in explaining to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) that the Government’s policies will reduce inequalities between men and women, particularly given our more flexible approach for part-time workers? Will he reduce other inequalities, such as in spending in rural and urban areas, and ensure that the balance is restored in favour of rural constituencies, such as his and mine?

The hon. Lady has made some important points. Throughout this process we will have regard to the impact that spending decisions have on different groups, including people who live in rural areas, and in particular the most disadvantaged. Our investment in early years education and the pupil premium are important to ensure that the most disadvantaged have the better life chances that we all want them to have.

Does the Chief Secretary accept the independent analysis that the poorest 10% of people will suffer 15 times more than the richest as a result of the Government’s spending decisions? With women and children being hit the hardest, support for people with disabilities being cut, and the Business Secretary suggesting that the winter fuel allowance is being lined up for the axe, no wonder there is growing public anger about big corporations and wealthy individuals seeming to be able to get away without paying tax altogether. What will he do to restore a sense of fairness and justice to the economic system?

I think that the hon. Lady was trying to get every subject into one question before Christmas. I do not accept the analysis that she offers. She should study more carefully the analysis in the spending review, which took into account the impact of taxation, spending reductions and welfare changes. It showed that as a share of people’s income, and taking account of benefits in kind from the state, people in the wealthiest quintile make a greater contribution to deficit reduction than the poorest. That is in keeping with the Government’s stated ambition of carrying through the unavoidable deficit reduction plan, which is necessary because of the mess that the previous Government left, in a way that is fair and supports economic growth.

Dyson Report

The coalition’s programme for government made a commitment to consider implementation of the Dyson review. The Government’s growth review will be one of the main mechanisms for taking forward the Dyson review’s aim of making the UK the leading high-tech exporter in Europe. The Treasury is currently consulting on the support that research and development tax credits provide for innovation, as part of wider corporate tax reforms.

I welcome that response. The Dyson report recommended tax credits for high-tech start-ups, including businesses such as Chelsea Technologies and TR Control Solutions in my constituency, which create new jobs by pioneering green technology. Can the Minister be encouraged to go one step further and introduce tax breaks to stimulate that niche area of the UK economy, which is good for jobs, revenue and the environment?

I take on board my hon. Friend’s comment, and we are determined to ensure that we do everything we can to help jobs and revenue. That is why we have been able to reduce the corporation tax rate from 28 to 24% over four years, and we are putting in place a stable and predictable tax system. I note his comments, and as I said, there is a review of the matter.

The Dyson report followed the work done by Hermann Hauser, and one of their recommendations is the creation of technology innovation centres, for which the Government correctly set aside some money in the comprehensive spending review. However, all the commentators who have passed judgment on the matter have said that the £200 million allocated, although welcome, will not go terribly far. What assessment has the Minister made of the long-term need to keep that funding stream alive, and is there a long-term plan to increase it substantially?

We continue to look at technology and innovation centres, and we need to do so in the context of what we already have in the UK, such as our science capabilities and industries. We need to take advantage of the commercial opportunities that they provide. I note my hon. Friend’s comments, and we continue to consider the matter.

Budget Deficit (CSR)

16. What assessment he has made of the Office for Budget Responsibility’s report on the likely effect of the outcome of the comprehensive spending review on the budget deficit. (31830)

The spending review set out more than £80 billion of spending reductions by 2014-15, and in its latest forecast, published on 29 November, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility judged that the Government’s overall plan had a greater than 50% chance of balancing the structural current deficit in 2014-15, a year ahead of our mandate. Of course, I welcome that judgment.

This year, the country faces a deficit of about £148.5 billion. Action taken by this Government will, according to the OBR, reduce that to £18 billion by 2015-16, yet there are those who reject that action and would prefer to do next to nothing. Does the Chief Secretary agree that to do nothing would cripple future generations with unbearable amounts of debt for which they were not responsible?

I agree completely, and it is worth adding that if the Government did not have a plan to reduce the deficit, as the previous Government did not, and we lost control of our public finances, the poorest in society would suffer most from that failure to take decisive action.

We read this morning that the Business Secretary has said that the Conservatives wanted to cut the winter fuel allowance in the comprehensive spending review. Will the Chief Secretary put it on the record today that there will be no cut to the winter fuel allowance and no change in the eligibility criteria during this Parliament?

We are sticking to the winter fuel allowance. We announced that in the spending review, and we have not changed our position. In addition, we have made permanent the £25 a week level of the cold weather payment. The previous Government had planned to return it to £8.50 a week. Imagine what that would be doing now to the millions of families who are suffering in the cold.

What assessment has the Chief Secretary made of the impact of the CSR on business confidence, and especially the ability to take on new people? For instance, the Dalton’s peanut factory in my constituency is taking on more people because of the confidence in the stability plans set out by the Government.

I am glad to hear about the companies in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which share the confidence of many businesses that we have a Government who have got to grips with the public finances. That gives companies the confidence to invest, which is an important part of ensuring the private sector-led recovery that we need.

Financial Services Sector (Remuneration)

The Financial Services Authority has revised its remuneration code for disclosure rules to incorporate provisions in the EU capital requirements directive, CRD3, which comes into force on 1 January 2011. The directive requires firms to make narrative and quantitative disclosures on pay policy and practices. Those requirements are at the forefront of global practice and will help ensure greater transparency in remuneration in the financial services sector.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), the Financial Secretary suggested that the Government were united in their approach to banking reform. Am I to conclude from that that the Business Secretary speaks for the Government when he says that the Conservative party is a roadblock to banking reform?

I hardly think that a Government who have embarked on a programme of radical regulatory reform of the financial services sector, introduced the bank levy, and set up the independent banking commission to consider the structure of banking in the UK could be viewed by anybody other than the Labour party as a roadblock to reform.

Graduate Tax

18. What estimate he made of the effect on public finances of the introduction of a graduate tax. (31832)

I agree with the assessment of the graduate tax that the Chancellor gave in answer to earlier questions. I add that, under a graduate tax, those on the lowest incomes after leaving university would pay more than they do under our proposals. From a progressive point of view, there is an important argument against a graduate tax.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that a graduate tax is neither fair nor progressive and that it would do nothing to help the 17% of my constituents who go on to higher education?

I agree. Our proposals, which the House has agreed, ensure that no one will make a payment up front when they go to university, or start repaying until they earn more than £21,000 after leaving university. I note that some hon. Members now advocate a graduate tax. They have said that they will produce their detailed plans by the end of the year, and we greatly look forward to seeing them.

Economic Growth

As the Chancellor said earlier, the Government have launched a growth review—a fundamental assessment of how each part of government can contribute to private sector success by addressing the barriers to growth that industry faces. That will report at the time of the Budget.

When a private business wants to grow, it invests, yet the Government are slashing not just current expenditure but investment. What are they planning to do to increase private sector investment? In particular, what are they doing to get banks to lend to small and medium-sized businesses?

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the previous Government’s plans for capital investment, but the plans that we set out in the spending review put slightly more into capital investment than the previous Government planned. In particular, we are expending more on capital investment in transport infrastructure—the sort of investment that is most valuable to many businesses—in the next four years than was spent in the past four years. He should give the Government some serious credit for that.

As all the indicators are beginning to show that the Government’s deficit programme encourages private sector investment and growth, would my right hon. Friend like to comment on the rumours in this morning’s financial pages following the recent summit with the President of the United States that the Americans are beginning to view us a model of how to promote growth by tackling deficits?

I am happy to restrict my comments to this country’s plans rather than remarking on those of other countries. However, our approach to reducing the deficit has been firm and clear. It has established confidence and is putting in place a firm platform—a precondition—for economic growth in future. It is therefore vital to stick to and deliver the plans that we set out in the spending review.

G20 (Government Deficits)

20. What discussions he has had with his international counterparts since the G20 Seoul summit on co-ordination of efforts to reduce Government deficits. (31835)

At the G20 summit in Seoul in November, advanced countries committed to developing plans, which reflected their situations, to tackle their deficits and promote growth. The Chancellor has been actively involved in discussions with international and European counterparts since the Seoul summit. As was the case with previous Administrations, it is not the Government’s practice to provide details of all such discussions.

Has my hon. Friend discussed with his counterparts the fact that the key to securing low interests rates for the long term is to take effective and decisive action on Government deficits?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are very fortunate in this country. Because the Government took difficult decisions to tackle the deficit when we came into office, we are in a much stronger place now—consider the turbulence in the eurozone. The difficult decisions that we took ensured that we stepped back from the brink of bankruptcy.

Global action on regulating the financial services sector through groups such as the G20 is vital. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee recommended a pre-funded deposit insurance scheme. It said:

“The Government should move towards pre-funding of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme as soon as”

possible. Why has the Treasury turned its back on that important measure?

If the hon. Lady speaks to building societies, which are finding it difficult to lend at the moment, she will hear their concern about the amount that they pay towards the financial services compensation scheme. Contributing to a pre-funded scheme would add to that burden and reduce the ability of banks and building societies to lend to support the recovery.

Government Members, including me, believe that the Chancellor and his team are doing an exceptionally good job for the country. May I suggest another policy to reduce the deficit in this country? A freeze on our contributions to the EU would save us £22 billion over the next five years, which should be given back in tax cuts.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is working with his international partners to freeze the EU’s budget over the next financial perspective.

Child Benefit

22. What his estimate is of the number of single-income families which will be affected by the decision to end child benefit for households with a higher-rate taxpayer. (31837)

The withdrawal of child benefit from families containing a higher-rate taxpayer in 2013 will affect around 200,000 single-income households.

The Minister will be aware that receipt of child benefit by full-time mothers with no other income triggers national insurance caring credits, which count towards those women’s pensions. Will he explain how the full-time mothers who will lose child benefit under the Government’s proposals can retain their link to the national insurance system and their pension contributions?

I can assure the hon. Lady that we will ensure that the link with national insurance contributions will be maintained, and that mothers in those circumstances will not lose out. We will announce details in due course.

Topical Questions

The core purpose of the Treasury is to ensure the stability of the economy, promote growth and employment, reform banking and ensure that Britain lives within her means.

Is the Chancellor embarrassed that independent analysis by the House of Commons Library shows that the provisional local government settlement will result in the most deprived areas bearing far bigger cuts than more affluent parts of the country? The two councils in his constituency of Tatton will see their spending reduced by less than 2 and 3%, compared with more than 8% cuts in deprived constituencies. Will he therefore stop saying that his austerity measures are fair, and admit that we are not all in it together after all?

The Prime Minister explained from this Dispatch Box that the cuts in his constituency are considerably greater than the cuts in the Leader of the Opposition’s constituency. Our reforms give local government greater control over budgets, but let me make another observation. Local government is responsible for a quarter of all Government spending. Labour proposed £44 billion of expenditure cuts. If Opposition Members are saying that they would not include local government in those proposals, they are less credible than I thought they were.

T2. The anticipated provident societies and credit unions legislative reform order will bring great advantages to credit unions, including the ability to pay fixed interest on savings and to offer services to community groups, social enterprises and companies, but it has been rather a long time in coming. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the expected arrival date of that LRO? (31839)

My hon. Friend takes a close interest in that matter as chairman of the all-party group on credit unions, a position he took over from the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). He is right that that LRO will bring significant benefits to credit unions. Following comments by the relevant parliamentary Committees that scrutinised the draft laid by the previous Government, amendments need to be made, and I hope to lay the amended regulations in late January or early February.

T4. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to take a particular delight in playing the role of Baron Hardup. May I say to him, in the nicest, most Christmassy way possible, that all his austerity talk provokes real anxiety in many of my constituents, who worry about their winter fuel allowance, the VAT increases in January and the major losses in construction jobs in the new year? May I encourage him to play, just sometimes, Prince Charming instead? (31841)

At least I am not the pantomime dame. The measures we are taking are dealing with the economic inheritance that the previous Government, of whom the hon. Gentleman was a Minister, left this country. As we go into the new year, we are one of the few European economies not facing concerns about their sovereign debt issues, and we are providing a platform for economic growth next year. That is why people are looking at the UK and saying, “There is a country that is dealing with the problems.”

T3. Treasury Ministers rightly assert that the vulnerable should be protected and that those with broader shoulders should bear the greatest burden. With that in mind, will Ministers report on the effectiveness of the initiative announced in September to bear down on the estimated £42 billion of tax that the wealthy do not pay each year? (31840)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight this issue. We announced that £900 million would be spent over the spending review period on reducing the tax gap, and that will begin in 2011. Earlier this month, we announced plans to tackle tax avoidance with several detailed proposals on issues that had been left for many years. We have taken a firm line on those and we hope that that will raise considerable revenue from people who should be paying more in tax.

T5. Will the Chancellor tell the House whether the Treasury has made any plans for the possible collapse of the euro? (31842)

We monitor the European situation closely. I do not think that a collapse of the euro is remotely on the cards, but obviously stability in the eurozone is in our interests. We want to see a comprehensive solution early in the new year to some of the fundamental issues on having a currency union while not having a fiscal or political union, and we know that eurozone member states are working on those. It is also up to individual member states to do what they can to put their own economic house in order, and we would urge them to do that as well.

T8. Does the Chancellor agree with the chief executive of a FTSE 250 engineering company, with whom I recently met, that the single most important decision by the coalition Government to date was to cut corporation taxes and thereby signal that Britain is open to business? What further plans does he have to reduce and simplify the burden of taxation on our businesses? (31845)

The reduction in corporation tax from 28% to 24% keeps the UK as an incredibly competitive place to do business and, over the next few years, will help to ensure that Britain gets its fair share of the growing global economic cake. The Office of Tax Simplification, which we have created, is specifically looking at the burden of tax on smaller businesses so that we can also bring benefits to them, although we have been able to avoid Labour’s increase in the small companies tax rate.

T6. The recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) shows clearly that both relative and absolute poverty will increase in every year up to 2014. Is not that the final nail in the coffin of the Government’s claim to be both progressive and fair in their policies? (31843)

The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that child poverty was rising under the last Labour Government and we have put forward policies to increase social mobility and tackle the causes as well as the symptoms of poverty.

T9. As the Chancellor knows, I have written to the Treasury with details provided to me by a Staffordshire resident of an extraordinary tax avoidance scheme inherited from the last Government. I hope that it will not last long. In the spirit of Christmas, will the Chancellor invite his predecessors around for a dram so that they can explain why they found tax avoidance such a hard nut to crack? (31846)

As we have heard, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ assessment of the tax gap was £42 billion, but we are taking measures to address that. It is right that we do so, and we showed our determination this month when we announced a series of measures to reduce tax avoidance.

I would like to get some clarity on the taxation of the banking sector. The Business Secretary made it clear over the weekend that if the financial services sector did not exercise restraint in bonus payouts during the current round of bonuses, which goes on until April next year, the Government would consider imposing further taxes above and beyond existing taxation arrangements and the banking levy. Will the Chancellor, who adopted quite a different tone in New York, please confirm whether the Government are considering imposing extra taxation, over and above the existing arrangements and the banking levy, on the banks if they do not exercise restraint?

We said in the Budget that we were looking at the case for a financial activities tax, which is one of the two taxes that the International Monetary Fund—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) says it has nothing to do with bonuses. I suggest that she goes and considers what a financial activities tax is. The IMF has set out some of the principles behind it, but we have followed the principles behind the other IMF proposal, which is the bank levy. In the past couple of weeks, we have demonstrated that we are prepared to increase the rate of the bank levy to sustain the revenue.

While travelling on a gap year in New Zealand, one of my constituents had a nightmare experience when she was left with no access to money after her bank cancelled her card, despite her having informed it that she would be abroad. In an increasingly globalised world, will the Government consider whether banks can be made to offer a better service for UK customers living, working or studying abroad to avoid problems such as that faced by my constituent?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I am sorry to hear about the situation that her constituent experienced. It is important that banks ensure a good service for those travelling abroad, and I would encourage her to suggest to her constituent that she writes to the Financial Ombudsman Service to raise a complaint. However, I am sure that the banks will have heard what she said and take heed of her comments.

What specific equality impact assessment did the Treasury carry out on the potential effects on women of the two-thirds reduction in Warm Front scheme funding next year announced in the comprehensive spending review?

As I said in answer to questions earlier, we carried out an impact assessment, which we published, of the spending review. Individual impact assessments were also carried out. The matter to which the hon. Lady refers was decided by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and it is the responsibility of that Department to carry out a specific impact assessment. The Treasury undertook its responsibilities fully in relation to the spending review as a whole.

What progress is the Chancellor making on the Government’s review of the complex rules surrounding foreign earnings inherited from the Labour party, given that those rules are encouraging a number of companies to leave these shores? Those companies include WPP, Wolseley and United Business Media. That means a loss of revenue to the UK Exchequer.

That was another of the problems in the in-tray. We have announced reforms to the controlled foreign companies regime, on which we published a consultation paper a couple of weeks ago, and I expect to return to the matter in the Budget.

The Chancellor has said that he will be tough but fair in his cuts to Britain’s public services. Is it fair that West Midlands police service, serving an area of high need, will be hit twice as hard as Surrey, and as a consequence lose 1,200 police officers, 270 of whom will be compulsorily retired by next April?

The police settlement is fair. Here is yet another example of the Labour party’s position. In the past hour, we have heard Opposition Members oppose all the welfare reforms, the local government reductions, and the reductions in the Ministry of Justice and Home Office budgets. Their position is completely non-credible.

The Prime Minister of Luxembourg recently proposed that the EU should start issuing common EU bonds, jointly and severally guaranteed by all member states. Although the eurozone countries can do what they want on bond issuance, will the Chancellor reassure the House that Britain will play no role in an EU common bond?

I can indeed give my hon. Friend that assurance. This is an issue that the eurozone is publicly considering, as well as other potential routes forward for the eurozone. My efforts are concentrated on getting our gilt auctions away, and I can reassure him that, thanks to the measures we have taken, that is going well at the moment.

I see on my copy of the Liberal Democrat “Whip” for this week that all Lib Dem Ministers have been instructed to visit Oldham East and Saddleworth three times before 13 January. Will the Chief Secretary to the Treasury tell me on what days he intends to visit, and will he take the Business Secretary with him, so that they can outline their “Maoist revolution”?

Order. I assume that the hon. Gentleman is requesting a visit in which the Minister will talk about the policies of the Government.

I am certainly not going to let the hon. Gentleman know of my intentions in advance, but it is characteristic of the attitude on his side of the House that Opposition Members do not have a single question to ask that offers a proposal for dealing with the economic problems that they caused. It is economic common sense on the Government side of the House; just nonsense on the Opposition side.

Many jobs today require a university degree, yet compared with the position on funding employees’ vocational training, there is no equivalent tax shield for employer contributions to higher education. Will the Chancellor explore changes to tax rules to encourage voluntary contributions from employers towards their graduate recruits’ higher education?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. That is something on which we are seeking official advice, and I will keep him informed of any progress that we make on it.

Now that the Chancellor has adopted a more belligerent tone in the last few minutes, will he open up and tell us what he really thinks about the WikiLeaks cable?

With relevance to Treasury matters, Chancellor—that is, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to respond. He is not under an obligation.

I am not sure that there is anything that I can say to the hon. Gentleman, except that I wish him a happy Christmas and I hope that he approaches retirement soon.

Order. I am afraid that, as usual, demand has exceeded supply, and there are points of order sprouting up all over the place.