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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 543: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2012


The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Bank Bonus Tax

1. If he will consider imposing a further bonus tax on banks to fund job creation for young people who are unemployed. (104789)

The bank payroll tax is a one-off measure, but the Government have gone further by imposing a permanent bank levy that will raise £10 billion over the course of this Parliament. Those funds will help to pay for the youth contract, introduced this month, which will provide up to 500,000 young people with new education and employment opportunities.

So the answer is no: they are not going to introduce a bank bonus tax that could provide jobs for 100,000 young people and still leave money to spend on providing a training facility at Markham vale, which would serve all the constituencies of south Yorkshire and the north midlands. What an opportunity! If this posh, arrogant Government will not do that, the next Labour Government will do it for them.

We have heard the same old stuff from the hon. Gentleman for the last 42 years. Perhaps it is time for him to help youth unemployment by creating a vacancy. We are providing young people with more help to get into work, with an extra quarter of a million apprenticeship places. I would have thought he would have welcomed the fact that the city of Sheffield enterprise zone is at Markham vale in his constituency. That is the sort of practical action this Government are taking to ensure that jobs are being created.

Will the Minister explain to employers—in Bolsover and elsewhere—that as of this month there is a youth contract that will pay them to take on unemployed young people?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some 160,000 wage incentives, worth up to £2,775 each, are available for employers who recruit an 18 to 24-year-old through the Work programme.

Can the Minister tell us how many young people have now been out of work for more than six months, and how that compares with the figure of a year ago?

I would have thought the shadow Chief Secretary would have welcomed the fact that youth unemployment fell last month. That demonstrates that the Government are taking action to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment—a problem that did not emerge under this Government, as youth unemployment also rose when her party was in government.

The Minister failed to answer my question, so let me tell the House that 170,000 young people have been out of work for more than six months. That is an increase of 114% since just a year ago. Does the Minister think it is fair that families with children are being asked to pay a higher price for deficit reduction than the banks, and if not, will he reconsider reinstating the bank bonus tax to support young people back to work—especially as his Budget has given a tax cut worth £40,000 to 14,000 millionaires?

I just point out to the hon. Lady that the last Labour Government ruled out introducing a bank levy. That levy is raising £2.5 billion, and it will raise £10 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament. I think it is right that banks should pay a fair contribution for the risks they have posed for the UK economy, and I would have thought she would have welcomed both the bank levy and the fall in youth unemployment last month.

Youth unemployment is clearly more acute in some parts of the country than in others. Why does the Minister think youth unemployment over the last two years has fallen in over a third of the country, including Bolsover, but not in some constituencies, such as Bradford West, where it has increased by 500?

My hon. Friend makes the important point that the pattern of youth unemployment varies across the country. It is important that the necessary support is in place to help young people looking for work, and the Work programme is likely to help 100,000 young people this year. That is just one of the practical measures we are taking to tackle the problem of youth unemployment—which, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband) said, started under the last Labour Government.

With the disgrace of having more than a million young people unemployed up and down this country, does the Minister not now regret scrapping the future jobs fund during the first few months after coming to power?

It was clear that the future jobs fund was not cost-effective in helping young people, and we have found that the work experience programme is 20 times more effective. We have introduced a range of measures to help young people find work. We have already talked about the increase in the number of apprenticeship places, the number of people being helped by the Work programme and the number of wage incentives in place through the youth contract. We are going to see more voluntary work taking place and more job experience. Those are the practical measures needed to tackle youth unemployment.

Manufacturing Sector

The Government have taken a number of steps to support manufacturing industry, including: reducing corporation tax rates, with the main rate falling to 22% by 2014, which is the lowest in the G7; introducing a new above-the-line credit to support research and development in the UK; and introducing the patent box to reduce tax on profits from patents.

Was the Chief Secretary as shocked as I was to hear the shadow Chief Secretary say on “Newsnight” that she opposed the coalition Government’s corporation tax cuts? Will he set out what particular measures could help businesses such as Monument Tools, a manufacturer of tools in my constituency that is able to compete with Chinese competitors?

I was indeed shocked to hear the shadow Chief Secretary say on “Newsnight” that she opposed the cut in corporation tax. I would have thought that the Labour party would welcome such a measure, as it is designed to increase investment in British businesses and support economic growth—that is something that Labour Members say they want to see. The constituency firm to which my right hon. Friend refers could benefit from the national loan guarantee scheme and the credit easing scheme that the Chancellor announced at the Budget, and it could participate in the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, which the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has announced, whereby £125 million is being spent to help manufacturers improve their performance.

Manufacturing businesses in the black country are adamant that what will help them improve their investment is an increase in capital allowances, rather than cuts and cuts in corporation tax. Why do the Government not do that?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have put in place enhanced capital allowances in a number of enterprise zones around the country, particularly to focus investment in plant and equipment in such areas. We announced in the autumn statement improvements to the short-life capital allowances regime, which had been a major request by manufacturing and, in particular, the engineering sector. I would have thought that he would have welcomed those changes.

The Budget identified a number of sectors for fiscal support. All Departments and all of us can think of deserving cases, particularly in our constituencies, but is it not the Treasury’s job to hold the line on industrial policy, remove the implicit subsidy from banking and other industries, and ensure that economic resources, through, for example, corporation tax cuts, flow to businesses that can succeed without state support?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that he would agree with me that the Vickers report on the banking sector does precisely the first thing he mentioned, and that our approach to corporation tax—reducing headline rates year by year to the lowest level in the G7 and one of the lowest levels in the G20—precisely achieves the objective that he set out.

Will the Chief Secretary tell the House whether he read the explanatory notes on his VAT on caravans proposal? If he did read them, why on earth did he support a proposal that reduces demand in manufacturing by 30% and hits tourist industries, such as those in my area, 100%? Will he now review it?

Of course I did read the explanatory notes. The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have listened to the representations in favour of extending the consultation period and have extended the deadline to 18 May to enable individuals such as him, and his constituents, to make representations as part of that consultation.

Budget Deficit

Every significant business organisation and international body has welcomed this Government’s decisive action to deal with the record budget deficit that we inherited from our predecessors. Not only has that action brought low interest rates for families and firms, but it has made Britain a safer haven in what, as everyone can see today, remains a very volatile European debt storm.

The Office for Budget Responsibility’s Budget report stated that the interest paid on our national debt will be about £43 billion this year, rising to about £60 billion by the end of this Parliament. That rise in interest payments is a direct consequence of the previous Government’s action, but what action is the Chancellor taking to ensure that this interest rate bill does not rise any further?

My hon. Friend is right to remind us all that the Government have to pay interest on the enormous debts that the Labour party racked up and the budget deficit it bequeathed us. The action we have taken means that we are paying £36 billion less in interest payments over this Parliament, which completely dwarfs any initiative ever put forward by the shadow Chancellor.

Why are the Government now forecasting that they will borrow £150 billion more than they envisaged a year ago? Has not cutting back too far, too fast completely backfired?

As a former teacher, the hon. Gentleman read that very well. He should also study the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ statement that if we had stuck to the plan left to us by the Labour party we would be borrowing £200 billion more than we are borrowing at the moment and, as I just said, paying £36 billion more in interest payments to creditors of the British Government.

24. In May 2010, the level of yield on UK Government 10-year gilts was the same as those of Italy and Spain. Now we are at record lows and they are at 7%, so what does that say about the credibility of the UK Government’s plan? (104813)

Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have very low interest rates in an environment in which many other European countries have much higher interest rates. That is a reflection of market confidence in the UK’s deficit reduction plan, and of course if we had pursued the path advocated by the Opposition—the same path that led us into this economic mess—we would be paying a higher interest rate, and there would be higher interest rates and families would have higher mortgage bills.

May I very gently and in the friendliest way possible suggest that the Chancellor should not be quite so arrogant about his record on public borrowing? In Washington this weekend, he said that

“we have sorted out our problems.”

That is what the Chancellor told us. We have high unemployment and slow to non-existent growth. When will he realise that public borrowing is £150 billion higher than he predicted in his spending review?

As today’s public finance numbers show, we have hit the deficit reduction target we set out in the autumn statement and in the Budget. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman brings up Washington and the IMF summit. Perhaps we will hear later from the shadow Chancellor, as we did not have a chance to yesterday, what he thinks about the fact that the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer completely disagrees with the position that he has taken on behalf of the Labour party.

Small Businesses

Lending to small businesses is a real concern at a time of stress in the financial markets. That is why the Government acted last month by launching the £20 billion national loan guarantee scheme. It is still in its first few weeks, but the signs are that businesses are getting cheaper loans, which will help support recovery.

Small businesses are obviously the key to the economic recovery. Will the Secretary of State reassure business people in Redditch that the Government will continue to look at funding for SMEs to ensure that finance reaches even the smallest companies?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance and say to businesses in her constituency and others that the national loan guarantee scheme is now available through most of the high street banks. We are also investing through something called the business finance partnership in non-bank financing of businesses. Some of that money will be for very small businesses, too, through peer-to-peer lending. As everyone accepts, I think, financial markets across the world, particularly in Europe, are stressed. That is why the Government have to step in and help, and that is what the £20 billion of guarantees that we are offering under the scheme will do.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer must be aware of the pressures being exerted by banks on small and medium-sized businesses. What more can he and his Government do to get the banks to assist by making credit available rather than undermining many of those very good businesses?

The hon. Gentleman is right that small businesses face difficult financing conditions because of the stress in the financial markets and the fact that banks are not able to access funding in the way that they were four or five years ago. That is why we have taken the step of credit easing, which is not something that a Government would do in more normal economic times, and it is why we have the finance partnership and are expanding the enterprise finance guarantee. Those are all designed as Government interventions, using the good credit worthiness that we have earned for this country, to ensure that those lower interest rates can be passed on to small businesses.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that in a banking sector where only up to about 2% of bank balance sheets is invested in the real economy, what we really need is a revolution in competition in that sector? What is he doing to ensure that there will be more new entrants into the banking industry in future?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which is that the banking industry has become very consolidated in recent years, because of the various mergers and failures during the financial crisis. Our ambition as a Government is to increase competition on the high street, and we took an important step towards that with our decision to sell Northern Rock back into the private sector and to support Virgin Money as a new lender on the high street, but of course other divestments are due to take place, and the ambition in the Vickers report, which we are implementing, is to increase competition.

With 50 businesses going bust every day, but still getting battered by the banks with high interest rates and charges, when is the Chancellor going to get a hold of the banks and get them to put some money into the country and into British business? After all, we are the ones who bailed them out.

I am glad the hon. Gentleman reminds us that the previous Government bailed out the banks with no conditions attached, and we are having to pick up the mess. We want to help small business lending by using the Government’s balance sheet and the low interest rates we have earned with a credible deficit plan. We intend to increase competition in the high street: we sent Northern Rock back into the private sector with Virgin Money, a decision that was welcomed in the north-east of England, but opposed by the shadow Chancellor. We are taking the steps necessary, but yes, we are dealing with one enormous mess left to us by Labour.

Age-related Income Tax Allowances

5. What assessment he has made of the effect on pensioners of the proposed changes to age-related income tax allowances. (104793)

No one will pay more tax in 2013-14 than they do today as a result of the changes. There are no cash losers. The Government remain absolutely committed to supporting pensioners. We have introduced a triple guarantee for the basic state pension, ensuring that it will increase each and every year by the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5%. We have also protected other benefits that make a real difference to the lives of millions of pensioners.

What does the Minister have to say to those who are turning 65 in just under a year’s time? They are set to be more than £25 a month worse off than they thought they would be, but they have no time to plan for that change.

Those who turn 65 next year will benefit from the biggest increase in the personal allowance that we have ever seen.

In the past couple of weeks, I have read in leaflets that pensioners have been hit by the Government axing free bus passes, free prescriptions and free television licences. Did I miss something in the Budget, or are those simply lies from the Labour party?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We saw that in leaflets before the election and we see it in leaflets now. None of it is true.

The Chancellor claims to be credible and consistent in his decision making, including his decision to withdraw the age-related tax allowances—the so-called granny tax that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) just asked about. In that case, will the Minister confirm why, in February 2009, the present Chancellor explicitly called for the tax-free allowance for pensioners to be increased?

In the light of the very substantial increase in the general personal allowance and of the concerns raised by the Office of Tax Simplification that the current structure does not have support, that is the right move. Pensioners are well protected by our policies and will continue to be so, but that move is one that results in a simpler and fairer tax system.

National Infrastructure Plan

We published an update on the national infrastructure plan alongside the Budget, showing the progress that has been made on all the priority investments. As an example, the Budget was able to confirm that the pensions infrastructure platform that we have established to enable British pension funds to invest in infrastructure in this country will be able to make its first wave of £2 billion investment by early 2013.

I very much welcome the plan and congratulate the Government on prioritising rail investment, such as the east-west line through my constituency. May I urge my right hon. Friend to continue that investment in the classic network, as well as finding the funds for High Speed 2?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The investment in High Speed 2 will not affect the amount of investment in the traditional rail network. It will allow us to go forward—for example, with the investment in the Oxford to Bedford rail line, which I know will affect his constituency, create 12,000 jobs and give a boost of £38 million to that area’s economy.

Does the Minister realise that those of us who represent the squeezed middle in this country—the northern and midland regions—are sick to death of seeing London and the south-east getting all the infrastructure investment, all the cranes, while we are waiting patiently for investment in our part of the world, where we have been in recession for three years?

In that case, the hon. Gentleman ought also to welcome the substantial investment, for example, in the northern hub rail project. He ought to welcome the substantial investment in the electrification of the trans-Pennine railway. He ought to welcome the substantial investment in the capital infrastructure around ports to enable the north and the north-east of England to benefit, particularly from the investment in renewables that we will see over the coming years. A fair picture would represent those things too.

Income Tax

8. What recent assessment he has made of the rate of income tax paid by those earning over £150,000 per year. (104796)

The Government are committed to ensuring that everyone pays their fair share of tax. The percentage of total income tax paid by the top 1% will be more than 27% in 2012-13 and in subsequent years, compared with an average of less than 23% between 1997 and 2010. Budget 2012 announced a package of measures to ensure that those on the highest incomes contribute more. This includes a cap on previously uncapped income tax reliefs, which will increase effective tax rates.

The Prime Minister claimed in the House last week that the 50p top rate of tax had raised barely anything at all, yet the HMRC document sets out a figure of more than £1 billion, and the Minister confirmed in the House on the same day that it had raised £700 million. Should not the Prime Minister come to the House and set the record straight?

No, the cut from 50p to 45p will have a direct cost in reduced income tax of about £100 million. As it happens, the indirect benefit of additional indirect taxes is likely to exceed that number.

It is important to remember, though, that for 12 out of the 13 years that they were in government, the Opposition thought it appropriate to have a top rate of tax at 40p. Is not the important thing the yield that is raised by the top rate of tax, not having a tax rate that is punitive just for the sake of having punitive taxes?

My hon. Friend is right. The Opposition had the 50p in place for only 36 days of the 13 years that they were in power. If a tax is judged on how much revenue it raised, the 50p rate was a failure.

22. Following on from the question from my hon. Friend and namesake the Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice), we are aware that Treasury data published last week gave details of the levels of tax avoidance among top-rate taxpayers, but can the Minister confirm that someone earning £1 million a year will benefit to the tune of £40,000 a year from these taxes?


The point is that the assessment made by HMRC, supported by the assessment of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is that the 50p rate failed to raise the revenue that was anticipated. It failed to raise the revenue that we needed. Instead, we are taking measures that will succeed in getting money out of the wealthiest, not failing.

To what extent does the Minister believe that having the top rate of tax in the G20 helps British competitiveness?

It clearly does not. It is striking that, as the HMRC report showed, the number of UK citizens moving to Switzerland rose by 29% when the 50p rate was introduced. It does nothing for our competitiveness. It does nothing to raise money. It was a failure of a policy.

17. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, one year is not long enough to judge the effectiveness of the 50p tax rate. According to HMRC, the taxable income elasticity is highly uncertain. Therefore, will the Minister admit that his decision to scrap the 50p tax rate was ideological, rather than based on some flimsy evidence that does not actually exist?


It is not flimsy evidence; it is evidence that shows two different models. It is consistent with the academic literature in this area, and it is supported as a central and reasonable estimate by Robert Chote, head of the Office for Budget Responsibility and former head of the IFS.

Growth Strategy

Energy costs have an impact on the economy. The plan for growth in the autumn statement and the national infrastructure plan announced a programme of more than 250 economic reforms and investment in infrastructure, with action in the energy sector, including electricity market reform. The Government are focused on ensuring that the UK can deliver the investment it needs to provide a secure, affordable and decarbonised energy sector.

The Minister will be aware that gas is an important feedstock in many industrial processes. As of this morning, the price of gas in the US was four times less than it was in the UK and Europe, which is driving GDP and reducing fuel poverty. Is she willing to speak with her colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change to ensure that we can emulate the US by driving GDP and also reduce carbon emissions?

Gas prices in Europe and Asia are higher than those in the US, which commentators have attributed mainly to the impact of the large-scale development of shale gas in the US. The Government are examining the potential barriers to investment in gas-fired electricity generation in the UK and the role gas can play in delivering a secure and affordable low-carbon electricity supply. That would include examining the potential role of shale gas in the UK. The Government, including the Treasury, DECC and other Departments, are working together and will shortly issue a call for evidence to inform our strategy for gas generation, which we will publish in the autumn.

Energy prices and uncertainty surrounding the support for low-carbon energy, alongside uncertainty about electricity market reform, are causing some companies to reassess their business plans in this country. Can the Minister assure us that the Chancellor and the Treasury will support market reform in the next Session of this Parliament and ensure that the subsidies are in place to get the jobs and prosperity that the country needs?

The Treasury supports electricity market reform, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows. He will also know that we have also laid out our support for energy-intensive industries. I have no doubt that he will be able to direct questions about programming to the Leader of the House.

Tax Collection

HMRC has managed both to reduce debt levels and to help businesses through difficult economic times. It offers help to businesses that are in genuine difficulty, including through time-to-pay arrangements. Where appropriate, it is taking faster and firmer action against those who fail to engage with it. The amount of customer debt owed to the Exchequer decreased by about £2.4 billion between February 2011 and February 2012.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and I must congratulate the Government on their plans to close loopholes, particularly for the super-rich, including through the gift aid system. Will he ensure that the Government do not weaken their resolve in that regard, and ensure that gift aid genuinely goes to support charitable activities?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that support. He is absolutely right. I think that it is unfair that reliefs can be used without limit to reduce tax liabilities so that some taxpayers with very high incomes have very low tax rates, even below the basic rate.

19. Why has not the Exchequer Secretary given Members of Parliament, or even the House of Commons Library, copies of the figures he released to the press last week suggesting that 330 millionaires are paying less than 10% tax, which he connected directly to charitable giving? Will he make those figures available to Members through the Library? (104808)

Well, the hon. Lady makes an important point about the availability of that information. It was released into the public domain last week, and I will ensure that the appropriate figures are laid in the Library.

Caravans (VAT)

11. Whether caravans designed and constructed for continuous occupation will remain zero-rated for VAT purposes under his proposals when used as holiday homes. (104800)

The Government have proposed a new definition of a zero-rated caravan, based on whether it has been designed and constructed for residential purposes. To achieve that, we have proposed a test, based on British Standard 3632, indicating that the caravan has been designed for continuous, all-year-round occupation. We are consulting on whether additional criteria should be added to ensure that the zero rate applies only to caravans intended for residential use, although I know that my hon. Friend argues that such additional criteria would not be desirable.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer, which demonstrates clearly the need for further consultation. There are 45 holiday caravan parks in Sittingbourne and Sheppey which will be hard hit by the imposition of VAT on static caravans. Will he listen carefully and sympathetically to representations from the holiday industry before making a final decision?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we will listen carefully and sympathetically to the arguments that are put to us. He, indeed, has already made strong representations on this point, and we have of course extended the consultation period to 18 May, as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury pointed out earlier.

Can the Minister explain to my constituents why VAT on ski lifts in the Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s constituency is being reduced, but in my constituency thousands of people are going to lose their jobs with the implementation of the Government’s plans to increase VAT on static caravans?

VAT is chargeable on mobile caravans, camper vans, narrowboats, beach huts and tents, and we are seeking greater consistency in the area.

With regard to ski lifts and other forms of cable-based transport, there is a reduced rate in France, Germany, Austria and Italy, and most areas of public transport are zero-rated.

I thank the Minister for agreeing to extend the period of consultation. During the consultation, however, will he not only reflect on the scope of VAT, but give some thought to the many thousands of people throughout the country who could lose their jobs if the proposals are implemented as originally announced? Will he give some thought to them before he decides whether to phase, delay, amend or withdraw these plans?

Of course, we will listen to the representations that are made, and my right hon. Friend has made representations to me on behalf of his constituents. We are seeking to have a fairer VAT system, but of course we want to listen to those concerns that are raised about the implementation of these matters.

Euro Preparations Unit

My hon. Friend asks whether we plan to re-establish the euro preparations unit in the Treasury, and the answer is no we do not.

I am delighted that we, unlike the Labour party, are committed not to join that foreign currency, which is failing at the present time. No doubt my right hon. Friend, before he became Chancellor, calculated the cost of the unit. How many police, doctors or nurses could we employ for the money that was wasted?

I only have the figures for the Treasury, but of course other Departments were also embarked on that Labour scheme. The Treasury spent £5 million on the civil servants required for the euro preparations unit, and that for example would pay for 17 nurses and five consultants. I guess, given that the Labour leader is committed to joining the euro, the unit would be re-established.

The Chancellor will have seen that the euro fell significantly deeper into crisis yesterday. Is the Treasury making contingency plans for the abandonment of the euro and the creation of national currencies?

As I have said previously in the House, the Treasury does make contingency plans for whatever the world economy and, indeed, the European economy throw at it, but I will not spell them out in detail.

Budget Changes

13. How many families in (a) the UK and (b) Liverpool, Riverside constituency receiving child tax credits will be economically disadvantaged by the changes introduced in the Budget. (104802)

Data limitations mean that we cannot assess impacts at a constituency level, but, taking into account the Budget’s unprecedented £1,100 increase in the personal tax allowance and the other measures that the Treasury can robustly model by household, I note that more than half of households entitled to child tax credits are better off and will gain on average £175 per year in 2013-14. There are less than half as many losers as winners, and their average loss is more than four times smaller, at £40 per year.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but more than 825 households in Liverpool, Riverside will lose all their child tax credit or working tax credit. How can it be fair to penalise hard-pressed families when millionaires are gaining £40,000 from the very same Budget?

The top 20% of earners in this country continue to make the biggest contribution to reducing the deficit, as has to be the case. The hon. Lady knows as well as anybody in the House that under the previous Government, spending on tax credits was out of control, with nine out of 10 families being eligible. Six out of 10 families will still be eligible for tax credits after our reforms.

Tax Incremental Finance Scheme

14. By what means his Department determined which core cities would participate in the tax incremental finance scheme; and if he will make a statement. (104803)

The main tax increment financing scheme will be available to all local authorities in England from April 2013 as part of the business rates retention scheme. We will set out more details on how it will work shortly. A second pot of longer-term funding will be allocated to the core cities—the eight largest cities outside London—on a competitive basis. We will invite applications from those cities for that pot soon.

Why was Coventry left out of the eight core cities, against the promise of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2010? Does the Chief Secretary realise that that will have a bearing on the Friargate scheme in Coventry, which will employ a lot of people when it is finished?

The eight core cities are a well-established group that have a proven role in driving economic growth in England. As I said, the main tax increment financing scheme will be available to all local authorities in England, including that of the hon. Gentleman, from 2013. We will set out the details of that shortly as part of the business rates retention scheme. Other pools of funding, such as the Growing Places fund, may be able to help with the scheme that he mentioned. The local enterprise partnership allocates those funds.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. If the city pilots are successful, will he consider extending this method of financing to all county authorities?

Tax increment financing has great potential in helping local areas to develop infrastructure projects and supporting economic growth across the country. As I said to the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), the main tax increment financing scheme will be available to all local authorities in England from April 2013. That will apply to the kind of local authorities that my hon. Friend described.

Working Tax Credit

15. What assessment he has made of the effect of changes to working tax credit on couples in households where one person is retired. (104804)

Working tax credit is a payment for working households that was introduced by the previous Government to improve work incentives. Retirement is not recognised in the tax credit system. However, there are separate eligibility rules for those over 60, and a level of income for those in retirement is guaranteed by pension credit.

My constituent, Mrs Orr, is losing £290 a month as a result of the tax credit changes. She lives with her husband, who is retired, and her 13-year-old daughter. She works for 20 hours a week at Crosshouse hospital and has tried to increase her contractual hours, but has been unable to do so. She works any overtime that is available. How do you suggest that she makes ends meet?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that example in which the couple’s ages are more distant from each other than is the norm. She makes an interesting point. However, as I said in my initial answer, there are arrangements for those over 60 and for those in retirement in the tax credit system, the pensions system and other benefit systems. As I have said in previous Question Times, the economy is moving, there are work vacancies out there and we believe that the changes to working tax credit are fair. For example, they place couples on a par with lone parents.

Small Businesses

The Government have announced a range of initiatives to help small businesses access finance from a wide range of sources, including the national loan guarantee scheme and the business finance partnership.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and welcome the Government’s efforts on this matter. Does he agree that in constituencies such as High Peak, micro-businesses are still having difficulties finding loans, despite the assurances of the banks that they are open for business? What words of support and advice can he offer the small, independent business owners upon whom the recovery depends to such a great extent?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and having visited his constituency, I know it is very rural. He might encourage businesses in his constituency to apply for the rural economy grant scheme, which is worth £60 million and is open to businesses operating in rural areas in certain markets, including agri-foods, tourism and digital media technology. I would encourage them to do so.

Income Tax

18. What estimate he has made of the revenue which would accrue to the Exchequer from maintaining the additional rate of income tax at 50 per cent in 2013-14. (104807)

The 50% rate raised a fraction of what was expected, which is why we are reducing it to 45% from April 2013. Maintaining the 50% rate would accrue an extra £50 million on top of what is expected in 2013-14, rising to £100 million a year once the impact on self-assessment receipts is included. However, any additional yield could be offset by reduced indirect tax revenues, and as such it may raise nothing relative to the 45% rate.

I think the Minister has somewhat deliberately obfuscated matters. What I wanted was a figure. It has been estimated that the 50p tax rate could have raised £3 billion in future years when there was not a forestalling effect. Have not the Government made a deliberate decision that they want tax cuts for millionaires as opposed to money being put back into the pockets of hard-working people?

It is worth pointing out that this £3 billion figure that the shadow Chancellor and others recite suggests an entirely static process. Nobody believes that a 50p rate has no behavioural impact whatever, but that is the Labour party’s ridiculous position. That was not its position when in government, and it is not a position that any credible economist would support.

Topical Questions

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

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to support successful small businesses that wish to take advantage of export opportunities?

We want to get small businesses exporting more, and UK small businesses have traditionally not exported as much as, for example, continental European small businesses. That is why UK Trade & Investment, under Lord Green, has set the specific ambition of doubling the number of small businesses helped by the Government. We want small businesses to be ambitious and look to overseas markets.

The Chancellor has had a difficult few weeks since the Budget. To be told by his own side that he is an out-of-touch posh boy who does not know the price of milk must be particularly hard to take. I will ask him today not about the price of milk but—[Interruption.]

Order. Let me say once and for all to the junior Whip, sitting next to a senior Whip: be quiet, do not heckle, and if you cannot keep quiet, leave the Chamber. Make a habit of that.

Shall I start again at the beginning of the question? I am going to ask the Chancellor today not about the price of milk but about a price that he surely must have considered at Budget time. I will ask him a specific question. What is—[Interruption.] I am going to ask the Chancellor a specific question that he must have considered at Budget time. What is the price of a litre of unleaded petrol at the pumps today, and what was it on Budget day a year ago?

Of course, the price of petrol today is about £1.40 a litre. It was less a year ago, but the international oil price has gone up since—I think it is 10% higher than it was last year. That is why we have cancelled some of the fuel duty increases that the right hon. Gentleman voted for when he was in government, cut fuel duty and got rid of the fuel escalator that he supported in government.

That is an answer that we will hang around the Chancellor’s neck for the next four months. He has admitted that the price of petrol is higher today than a year ago, when he decided it was too high for petrol duty to go up. Let me ask him a second question. His duty increase is due in August. If the price of petrol is still higher than the £1.33 a litre price of a year ago, will he commit now not to go ahead with the duty rise, or is the truth that he cut taxes for millionaires but does not understand about family budgets? Out of touch, out of friends and way, way out of his depth.

The right hon. Gentleman says it is my duty increase, but we are talking about his duty increase, which was set out in the March Budget before the last general election, which he voted for and helped to write.

The right hon. Gentleman says I am the Chancellor, and he is right. Since inheriting those fuel duty plans from him, I have cut fuel duty, cancelled the fuel duty increases that he voted for and got off the fuel duty escalator that he supported. That is what I have done to ensure that families are better able to cope with the economic mess he presided over when he was in the Treasury.

T2. I welcome the Financial Services Bill, which we debated yesterday. It is a significant step towards re-instilling confidence in the financial services industry, but does the Minister accept that regulators, including the current Financial Services Authority, have an obligation to work with other regulatory bodies that go beyond their competence to bring about negotiated settlements when the product is far more complicated than is covered by their jurisdiction, such as in the Arch Cru affair? (104815)

My hon. Friend raises an important question. There are a number of cases—Arch Cru is one of them—in which different parties are in different jurisdictions. It is important that regulators work together, along with the parties involved, to ensure that a good deal is put in place to help investors.

T3. A listed building that is dismantled and rebuilt as a new dwelling will be zero rated, but people will not be able to renovate an empty barn for the same price if it is VAT-able at 20%. Is that or is that not a perverse incentive to demolish empty listed buildings? (104816)

As financial advice, I am not sure it is necessarily wise to dismantle and then rebuild a listed building to make a saving, but there is an anomaly in the tax system: people pay VAT for a repair on a listed building, but they do not pay VAT for an alteration. That does not seem right.

T7. What action have the Government taken to prevent multinationals from funnelling their profits into tax havens, as some do, rather than paying their taxes to the developing countries where they have subsidiaries? (104820)

The Government have taken great action to increase tax transparency, and on ensuring that there is more of an exchange of information between jurisdictions. We have taken action to prevent Switzerland, for example, being used as a place to facilitate tax evasion. In addition, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs provides considerable support to developing countries to improve their capability and capacity to collect tax revenues, which are very important.

T4. Ramtech Electronics is a small business in my constituency that supplies wireless products to the static caravan industry. Tony Strickland, national key account manager, says that the effect of the Government’s decision to put VAT on caravans will be “catastrophic” for the industry and that it will“undoubtedly result in job losses.”Why does the Chancellor think that a tax cut for millionaires is more important than my constituents’ jobs? (104817)

It is important to point out that there is already VAT on mobile caravans, camper vans, narrowboats and a range of products. We are listening to the concerns of businesses and tourists to ensure that we can implement the measure fairly.

T8. In 2005, Germany exempted businesses with fewer than 10 workers from unfair dismissal regulations and created flexible mini and midi-jobs. Since that date, youth unemployment in Germany has halved. What steps are the Government taking to improve flexibility and to get more young people into jobs? (104821)

We need to reform the labour market, which is why, as my hon. Friend will know, we have this month extended the qualifying period for unfair dismissal cases from one to two years. That has been welcomed and will encourage people to take on new employees. We also have a call for evidence on compensated no-fault dismissal. I have no doubt that she will make a submission to that call for evidence.

T5. In view of earlier answers on corporation tax, will the Chancellor tell the House how many FTSE 100 companies paid full corporation tax in the last available tax year? It would be understandable if he does not have the figure now, but will he place it in the Library of the House for hon. Members? (104818)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, because he is an experienced Member and sits on the Treasury Committee, there is a very important principle of taxpayer confidentiality, so I am not shown the individual tax returns of businesses or indeed individuals. We have recently published data on the average tax rate that people on the highest incomes were paying under the last Labour Government, and we can see that it was very much lower than Treasury Ministers were telling us.

T9. Can the Chancellor tell me how many of my constituents will benefit from the lifting of the personal tax threshold? (104822)

Information is not available at constituency level, but I can confirm that for the east midlands government region 1.7 million people will benefit in 2013-14 from the largest ever increase in the personal allowance, which was announced in the Budget. Some 152,000 people will have been taken out of tax altogether in the east midlands by the policies of this Government.

T6. It has been reported in the papers that the Chancellor is prepared to meet with charities so that he can explain his tax hike and tell them how he can get it right in the future. For the sake of consistency, will he also meet with the purveyors of pasties, church leaders and caravan operators and manufacturers so that he can tell them how he will get it right in the future and they can tell him to drop these VAT hikes? (104819)

What I find extraordinary is that we have a Labour MP supporting the idea that the very wealthiest people in this country pay no income tax. That is an extraordinary thing for a Labour MP to advocate. As I say, we have made reforms in the Budget to improve the tax system and to ensure that people at the very top of the income scale pay some income tax.

T10. The Thatcher Governments unleashed a decade or more of enterprise in this country. Young entrepreneurs today are still key to a private sector-led recovery, but only 3% of 18 to 24-year-olds set up their own business. Will the Chancellor consider further support for the new enterprise allowance and other schemes to increase assistance to young entrepreneurs? (104823)

The new enterprise allowance has been introduced and already some 10,000 people are developing their own business ideas using the incentive of the allowance. As I set out in the Budget, we are considering the case for enterprise loans. The Government provide a loan for people going to university, but what about a loan for people who want to start their own business? We will come to the House with ideas on that subject later this year.

Rather than giving £10 billion to the IMF for the European bail-out fund, would it not be better to invest that money in a growth strategy in places such as Swansea to generate jobs and growth, and avoid the situation of the Chief Secretary suddenly announcing a further 5% cut in departmental spending, allegedly for a rainy day?

The political opportunism and empty opposition of the Labour party was brutally exposed yesterday when the shadow Chancellor opposed the contribution to the IMF and the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and one of the few people to emerge with real credit from the last Government, completely contradicted him. Not only are the Opposition not taken seriously at home, they are not taken seriously abroad either.

Will the Chancellor join me in welcoming the announcement by GlaxoSmithKline of a £0.5 billion investment in advanced manufacturing in the north of England? Taken together with the £800 million investment by Tata in Wales and the IMF’s upgrade of our growth forecast by nearly 20%, does this not suggest that the Budget for business is working?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the GSK investment. The chief executive of GSK explicitly credited the falls in corporation tax and the patent box for that decision. We have also had the investment from Jaguar Land Rover in the west midlands, the great news of Nissan’s investment in Sunderland and steel-making has returned to Redcar.

International connectivity is crucial to business in the north-east, and Newcastle international airport provides a vital link. Will the Government therefore support calls from regional airports for a congestion charge to be applied to air passenger duty to ensure the future viability not only of jobs and tourist income, but of international trade routes?

As briefly discussed during last week’s debate on the Finance Bill, the Government are undertaking various pieces of work on aviation strategy and, more recently, received representations on regional congestion charges and other things during the APD consultation. I can confirm to the hon. Lady that, although I have not spoken to her personally about the matter, I am happy to meet her, her colleagues and representatives of those airports to hear more evidence of what they believe might occur if we set different tax rates.

I am sure we have all received letters from constituents over the years saying that they did not want their taxes spent on one thing and preferred them to be spent on something else. It is right in principle, therefore, that the Government cap the ability of the super-rich to allocate taxes to charities of their choice. Will my right hon. Friend the Chancellor acknowledge, however, that universities and medical research charities have always depended on philanthropic support? In reviewing the cap on tax relief, will he ensure that those institutions’ interests are safeguarded?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the policy. As we said at the time of the Budget and in the Budget document, we are looking to explore with charities dependent on large donations how this can be implemented without it having a major impact on them. Of course, we will take into account the concerns of universities and others.

We cut business tax to make this country more competitive and to create jobs; we delivered an income tax cut for 24 million working people; we took 2 million low-paid people out of tax altogether; and, above all, we continue to clear up the economic mess left to us by the Labour party.

The plans we set out for public expenditure were measured, but they involved reducing the deficit. That has been very important. The public finance figures, published today, show that we are on track to meet our deficit targets. At the same time, we have found resources for things such as extra nursery education for disadvantaged youngsters, the pupil premium and all sorts of other things that support our objectives of a fairer and more balanced economy. [Interruption.]

West Dunbartonshire is the most difficult local authority area in the whole of the UK in which to find a job, yet the Scottish National party Government have refused us any help and refused to meet me. Have this Government also abandoned West Dunbartonshire or can we expect help to do one thing—to create jobs?

It is disappointing to hear that members of the Scottish Government have refused to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the help they could provide to her constituents. This Government’s actions—the youth contract, in particular—will be of significant importance to many young people in her constituency. In particular, there are the additional jobs subsidies available to businesses to take on young unemployed people in her constituency. I hope she will welcome that and promote it to businesses in her area.

Tomorrow, the European Commission will publish its proposed 2013 budget. Will Her Majesty’s Government do everything they can to ensure that there is no increase in that budget? More importantly, will they use their veto on the multi-annual framework to ensure that there is no increase?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. At a time when Governments across Europe are making difficult decisions to curb spending, it is completely unacceptable for the Commission to propose an inflation-busting increase in its budget and the medium-term financial framework. The Government will work with their allies to tackle those issues.

In normal times, the mortgage standard variable rate rises or falls as the base rate goes up or down, but we are aware that some banks—not all—are increasing their standard variable rates now, while the Bank base rate remains near the zero-bound. Will the Chancellor take this opportunity to fire a warning shot across the bows of some of those banks not to increase their standard variable rates and so put more pain on to people likely to have had pay cuts and wage freezes over the past two or three years?

It is important that we stick to the fiscal course to ensure that UK interest rates remain low for as long as possible. However, many banks face increased funding costs, partly because of the turbulence in the eurozone and partly because there is more competition for savings on the high street, and that works its way through to mortgage rates. It is important that banks provide the help they can to their customers to ensure they have the support necessary to deal with higher mortgage interest rates.

Order. I am sorry. Treasury questions have long been an appealing fixture to colleagues, but demand has exceeded supply and we must now move on.