House of Commons
Tuesday 24 April 2012
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 1 May (Standing Order No. 20.)
London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords]
That the promoters of the London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords], which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2007-08 on 22 January 2008, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills.)—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Tuesday 1 May.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Bank Bonus Tax
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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 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.
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)
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.
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.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on whether she will establish a public inquiry into recent allegations that corruption within the Metropolitan police force interfered with the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
May I first apologise to the House for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who is overseas on Government business?
It is a matter of deep regret that it took 19 years to achieve convictions for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. In the years since he was murdered, the Lawrence family fought tirelessly for justice and, without their efforts, it is unlikely that either Gary Dobson or David Norris would have been convicted. I hope that the verdicts in January will finally have delivered some comfort to the Lawrence family.
Allegations of corruption in the murder investigation have been looked at on two previous occasions. They were examined by the Macpherson inquiry, which concluded that
“no collusion or corruption is proved to have infected the investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder.”
The allegations were also looked at by the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2006, which again was unable to find any corruption in the original murder investigation. Following the convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris, further allegations of corruption have come to light. As a result, the solicitor acting on behalf of Mrs Lawrence has written to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asking her to set up a public inquiry.
Allegations of police corruption must always be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. It is essential that we ensure that the actions and behaviours of any corrupt police officers do not undermine public confidence in the police’s ability to respond to, investigate and fight crime. The Metropolitan police are currently carrying out an internal review into these corruption allegations and we await their findings. I would like to reassure Members of the House that my right hon. Friend is treating these issues with the utmost seriousness. She is currently considering her decision and has offered to meet Doreen Lawrence to discuss the issues further. My right hon. Friend will keep the House updated.
I welcome the Minister’s statement, as far as it goes. The murder of Stephen Lawrence, and his family’s campaign for justice, led to the Macpherson inquiry, which was a landmark for policing in this country. One of Macpherson’s conclusions that remains in doubt relates to whether police corruption hampered the inquiry into Stephen’s murder. We have now seen fresh evidence that might call that conclusion into question.
Over the past two months, I have tabled questions on two occasions but have been fobbed off with holding answers. Yesterday, however, reports in the press that had clearly been sanctioned by the Home Office suggested that the Home Secretary had told the Lawrence family that she shared their concerns. If that is the case, can we take it that the Minister accepts that there is evidence of police corruption that is worthy of further inquiry?
There is also speculation that one of the Secretary of State’s reasons for not setting up an inquiry is cost, and it has been stated that there could be swifter and cheaper ways of dealing with the matter. According to reports, the police have taken six weeks and still cannot confirm whether all the relevant documents relating to Operation Russell were sent to the inquiry. In the light of that, will the Minister tell us what constitutes “swift” in the context of an inquiry? We cannot have any more bluster and delay. There has been far too much since the moment Stephen Lawrence was murdered.
Stephen’s family are asking for an inquiry into this matter. Will the Minister now answer my questions? Does he accept that only an independent, public inquiry will satisfy public concerns over the new allegations? Does he also accept that, as there has already been too much delay, such an inquiry should be expedited as quickly as possible, either by reconvening the Macpherson inquiry or by setting up a new inquiry team to follow on with its work?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions and underline the seriousness we attach to the current allegations. The Home Secretary is looking very closely at this matter, but wishes the Metropolitan police’s internal review into the current allegations to conclude to inform her determination of what next steps are appropriate. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that those investigations should be carried out by the Metropolitan police swiftly in order to inform further consideration of whether a public inquiry is or is not appropriate.
I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that this matter will be looked at speedily and closely by the Home Secretary, who will continue to have discussions with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. It is essential to have trust and confidence in the policing provided within London and in the rest of the country. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the Home Office has not sought in any way to brief this out, and that any decisions made by the Home Secretary should be reported to this House first. I can assure him that this matter will be dealt with entirely appropriately to provide the necessary reassurance on this significant matter—to him, to his constituents and to the Lawrence family.
I hope that my hon. Friend will, in time, be able to give fuller replies to the questions put by the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), to whom I pay tribute, along with John Austin, for calling for the original inquiry.
I suggest that the Home Secretary or my hon. Friend consult the original commission—including John Sentamu, now Archbishop of York, and Dr Richard Stone—and acknowledge that, although we recognise that possible criminal proceedings may follow in this case, it was possible for criminal convictions to take place after the original Macpherson inquiry.
We all know that most police want to nick criminals and bring them to justice, and that most police officers are not racist by institutional or any other means, but those who are need to discover that the time has gone when the colour of someone’s skin should be viewed as more important than the colour of their eyes or their hair.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s last comment: racism has no part and no place in the policing of our country. I pay tribute to the important steps that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has taken in underlining that message and to some of the actions that he is already taking to ensure that that message on policing in London is sent out loud and clear, including the introduction of CCTV cameras into some vehicles to provide greater transparency and accountability. These are issues that the Home Secretary is taking into careful consideration. As I said, she wishes the response of the current corruption investigations conducted by the Metropolitan police to be reported to her; she will then be able to determine the appropriate next steps in that regard.
The Minister has confirmed the evidence given by the Home Secretary to the Select Committee on Home Affairs this morning on this very point. Doreen Lawrence has written to me and other members of the Committee about the issue of an inquiry. What concerns me is the fact that the inquiry conducted by the Metropolitan police is an internal one. In order to satisfy the public and all those Members who have been aware of this issue over a long period, would it not be better if this were conducted not by an external force, but by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, so that the Lawrence family can feel that a proper look has been taken before the issue of a public inquiry can be decided on?
The appropriate course of action is for the Metropolitan police to conclude its current investigations appropriately, but as speedily as is practicable. Following the receipt of that report, the Home Secretary will determine what further action may be appropriate to give necessary reassurance about the process to the family and to the community. My right hon. Friend will then consider whether a public inquiry is or is not appropriate in the light of the responses she receives from the Metropolitan police.
The whiff of corruption has long hung over the investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder, and I hope very much that, as a result of these inquiries, the truth about just how incompetently it was conducted will finally emerge. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that having faced the charge of institutional racism, the Metropolitan police have risen to the challenge and have left no stone unturned in trying to bring the killers finally to justice, and does he share my confidence that this inquiry will be expedited with accuracy?
I think we should recognise the steps that have been taken since the Macpherson inquiry to try to root out racism in the Metropolitan police and, indeed, in other police forces, but there is clearly more to be done. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said recently:
“We have a duty to challenge or report any behaviour by colleagues which is less than the high standard demanded by the service and Londoners themselves”.
“ You cannot avoid that duty. Nor can I."
He also said:
“I will not stand for any racism or racists in the Met.”
I entirely endorse that message.
I welcome the urgent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), and also his persistent campaigning and determination to secure justice for Stephen Lawrence on behalf of his family.
Stephen Lawrence was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack 19 years ago on Sunday. The country was shocked both by the murder and by the failure of the initial investigation to bring Stephen’s murderers to justice. It is only the determination and dignity of the Lawrence family that has persisted, and has led to the two recent convictions.
Two new allegations of police corruption in the original inquiry have been reported in the media. Those allegations are very serious. The first is that information on corruption was available, but was not passed on to the Macpherson inquiry. The second is that additional witness testimony about corruption in the original inquiry is now available, and must be looked at afresh.
I urge the Home Secretary to go further than simply organising an internal Met review. The new information should be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission immediately so that it can pursue a full criminal investigation of the allegations. I also support the call by Doreen Lawrence, and by my hon. Friend, for a public inquiry, perhaps through a reconvening of the Macpherson inquiry. We need to know not simply whether criminal corruption was involved, but whether information was withheld from the original inquiry and whether that has implications for the inquiry’s conclusions. A public inquiry could also take the opportunity to review the progress that has been made in implementing the 70 recommendations of the Macpherson report.
There have been progress and change over the last decade, but people are still rightly concerned about the recent serious allegations of racism against individual officers, which are now being investigated. The Minister quoted the new commissioner, who has rightly made clear his determination that there should be zero tolerance of racism in the Met and, of course, any force. In support of his work, a new inquiry could review the progress that has been made and could also make further recommendations.
Confidence in the police must be complete, and the mistakes of the past cannot be left to fester. We owe it to Stephen’s memory to ensure that these allegations are investigated in full now.
I welcome the shadow Home Secretary’s recognition of some of the important steps that have been taken since the initial Macpherson inquiry. I think it essential for us to emphasise that racism has no place or part in modern policing, and to be robust in confronting issues of corruption.
It is notable that some of the more recent claims, cases and allegations involving racism in the police have come from within the force itself. That, I think, underlines the fact that the police are taking these issues much more seriously, and are ensuring that officers who engage in unacceptable behaviour are dealt with appropriately.
The right hon. Lady has identified some of the serious new allegations made about the original Macpherson inquiry and also about the availability of information or otherwise. It is precisely those matters that the Metropolitan police are examining. The Home Secretary is awaiting their response before considering any appropriate next steps and whether a public inquiry is needed to give the necessary reassurance to the Lawrence family, the community and the public. It is therefore appropriate that the investigation be undertaken appropriately, but also with due speed, to ensure that we can take the necessary action and that the necessary support and safeguards are put in place. We therefore look forward to receiving that report from the Metropolitan police, so that the Home Secretary can then determine what is appropriate in the context of the next steps.
I absolutely agree, which is why the cases are being considered by the Metropolitan police. Also, there are separate, ongoing investigations into other allegations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. However, it is important that we take broader steps to deal with issues of corruption. The Government have set in train a number of inquiries and reports, and we shall be following through on that, underlining the point that if such incidents are not dealt with appropriately, they undermine the very confidence in the police service that we all want to enable it to get on with the job of protecting our communities.
The Minister will be aware that the circumstances of the death of Stephen Lawrence echo down the years. He will know—and I remember—that in the early years after the death, it was impossible to get interest in the case, either in this House or in the media. In fact, the then Conservative Government refused an inquiry over and over again. Given the history of this case and the slowness of the past Government to act on it, does the Minister agree that in order to give closure to the Lawrence family, affirm the importance of public confidence in the police, and say to the wider society, “Racist violence and collusion with racist violence in these current, difficult economic circumstances will not be tolerated,” it is important that the coalition Government should bring forward an inquiry in which everybody can have confidence?
I accept the hon. Lady’s general points about the need for public assurance. Our judgment is that it is appropriate for the Metropolitan police to investigate the current allegations of corruption, and that once that has been provided, it is absolutely right and proper for the Home Secretary to look at that and consider whether a public inquiry is or is not required to provide the necessary reassurance to the public.
We must listen to the Lawrence family. They have lived with the tragic death of their son and with police incompetence for nearly 20 years. Will the Minister comment on whether a public inquiry might also need to consider earlier cases of police corruption, such as that involving Daniel Morgan?
I certainly pay tribute to the work of the Lawrence family. As I think I said in my opening response, I am sure that if it were not for their tireless fight for justice, we would not have seen the convictions that we have. I do not want to speculate on what the response may be once we see the outcome of the response from the Metropolitan Police Service. However, let me say to my right hon. Friend that the Government take the issue of corruption in the police service extremely seriously. That is why we have established the Leveson inquiry, why the Home Secretary commissioned the Independent Police Complaints Commission to provide a report on corruption in the police service, and why she commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to consider instances of undue influence, inappropriate arrangements and other abuses of power in police relationships.
Will the Minister update the House on investigations involving the other defendants in the original trial? Will he also say why the Home Secretary has such confidence in an internal review given all that has happened in the Met in relation to allegations of corruption, and why in this case it is not thought that the IPCC should be engaged in any review?
In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s first question, what I can say is that the police have been very clear that investigations in relation to this matter continue, and it is right and proper that all appropriate lines of inquiry are followed through. I say in response to his second question that I think it is appropriate for the Metropolitan Police Service to be able to look at this matter and provide a response, and then for the Home Secretary to determine what the next steps should be.
The vast majority of serving Metropolitan police officers abhor racism in all its forms, but clearly there are still pockets of concern. What discussions have taken place with the commissioner on protecting whistleblowers who bring such matters to the attention of senior police officers, because officers must be protected and feel confident about reporting misdeeds?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: police officers should be able to air their concerns and be confident that those matters will be dealt with appropriately. A number of recent cases have been brought as a direct consequence of reports being made by police officers. I hope that that will continue and give confidence that if matters of this kind are referred, appropriate action will be taken clearly and robustly.
While recognising both the progress that has been made in the Metropolitan police since the Macpherson inquiry and the determination of the current commissioner to root out corruption and racism in the Met, as a south-east London MP—whose constituency is very close to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), who raised the urgent question, and in whose constituency Stephen Lawrence was murdered—the Minister will, I am sure, recognise that the legacy of this case has had a corrosive effect on the local community’s confidence in the integrity of the police, and that nothing less than a genuinely independent examination of these latest allegations will suffice.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I am under no illusions as to the impact this appalling case has had within the south-east London community, and more broadly, and the need for proper examination. That is what is happening in the current corruption investigation that the Metropolitan police are undertaking. We judge it to be appropriate for that to be followed through, and for the report on that to go to the Home Secretary and for the Home Secretary to decide what steps might then be appropriate in the light of that report.
In my constituency, many young people from the black and minority ethnic community do not believe the police force is their police force. One of the principal reasons is that they think racism still manifests itself in a minority of police officers. Regardless of the Home Secretary’s deliberations and decisions, does the Minister agree that the true cost that should be paid is for senior police officers to get hold of these individuals and sack them for gross misconduct?
Any allegations that have been made should be investigated properly and thoroughly, and anyone found to be responsible for wrongdoing should be dealt with in the firmest and most robust way. I think it is appropriate that matters are allowed to be investigated, but I do not in any way underestimate the seriousness of the issues at hand, the need for matters to be resolved speedily and the need for the public to have the necessary confidence in the police.
May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)? What we do not want is a rerun of what occurred after the murder, when all attempts to get an inquiry were dismissed. I was one of those who, along with my hon. Friend, was urging such an inquiry at the time. Was not the inquiry set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) fully justified? Just imagine what the position would have been if it had not been established. I hope the Home Secretary will seriously consider the latest requests from the family.
Certainly I recognise the very important recommendations made as a consequence of the Macpherson inquiry. As I have said, the police service has taken really important steps since then to deal with racism in the police. The police service is not institutionally racist, but further steps do need to be taken. The lead that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has provided on this in his recent statements should be followed throughout the police service across the country.
Given how long it took to bring Stephen’s killers to justice, is it not important that we get swift answers to these latest allegations in a way that instils public confidence, not just for the sake of Stephen’s family, but because of the urgent need to build confidence in our police among black and minority ethnic communities and because a single allegation of corruption or racism against one officer undoes all the good work that so many officers do on our streets?
My hon. Friend has, again, made a very important point about the impact that allegations of corruption have on confidence in our police. This is why the Home Secretary takes these current allegations extremely seriously. In this broader context, it is also why she has set in train a number of steps to provide assurance on these issues. Obviously relevant inquiries have been undertaken in respect of corruption to provide recommendations so that we can all have that confidence in our policing. So many good police officers are out there doing a difficult job day in, day out, and it is important that these matters are dealt with appropriately so that their work is recognised and they can get on with their job.
Is not the principal allegation currently that the Russell report, which investigated the behaviour of a key police officer in the original matters, was not given to the inquiry members? As the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) has pointed out, it is possible to ask current inquiry members whether they got that report. Given that the allegation is that the Metropolitan police were able to suborn a public inquiry, I am deeply concerned at the extent to which the Minister seems to think it is all right to leave the timetable in the hands of the police. Can he reassure the House on this?
I certainly can reassure the hon. Lady as to the absolute seriousness with which the Home Secretary takes this matter; I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be having further discussions with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner about the timing of the investigations, in recognition of the public concern attached to this.
On a day when some parts of the media have not necessarily had the most cordial of exchanges with politicians, would the Minister like to put on the record, with me, the thanks of many hon. Members for the work of the Daily Mail in campaigning for justice for Stephen Lawrence and his family, and trying to stamp out racism?
As I said, the tireless work of the Lawrence family in seeking to bring about justice has been extraordinary, and I know that others have campaigned tirelessly in support of them. Obviously, convictions have been secured and investigations continue in relation to this appalling crime. I very much look forward to the police’s further work in seeking to follow all appropriate lines of inquiry in their continuing investigations into the Lawrence murder.
As my hon. Friend will know, the Government are taking a number of different steps to create greater professionalism within the police service with the establishment of the new police professional body to lead work to develop professionalism and set standards for the service. Obviously, we will also look to the introduction of police and crime commissioners later this year to provide more direct accountability between the public and the police and to ensure that the police remain in close connection with the communities they seek to serve.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he has got the message from London MPs and from others that although we absolutely applaud the new commissioner’s robust attitude, everybody now wants the new Mayor, whoever that will be, and the commissioner to refer independently for assessment the continuing racist allegations as regards the Lawrence case as well as other racist allegations? Does he agree that the best thing the Government can do is to ensure that every one of our 43 police forces in England and Wales better reflects the community it serves, particularly in the ethnic mix at the highest level?
My right hon. Friend has highlighted the point about the need for the police service to reflect the diversity in our communities. Although the proportion of black and minority ethnic officers has more than doubled since 2000, there is clearly more work to be done, particularly among the more senior ranks. We are examining whether direct entry or quicker progression might be able to assist in that regard. I can assure him that these matters are considered with the utmost seriousness by the Home Secretary and by me. Let me make it absolutely clear: racism and corruption have absolutely no part to play in our police service.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I believe that you have had advance notice of this point. I seek your guidance on how best to elicit a response from the Treasury on a number of questions that I tabled about the average tax paid at different high income levels. On 28 February, I tabled three written parliamentary questions to the Treasury, numbers 97755, 97800 and 97801, for named day answer on 5 March. I received a holding reply and on 27 March I tabled a further named day written question, asking when I would receive a response to the previous written questions. On 16 April, I received a further holding reply. As the House is shortly to prorogue and as there is a danger that the questions will fall if they are not answered before Prorogation, I would appreciate your advice on how I might best receive a response. Whether it was intentional or accidental, this is inexcusable and an insult to democracy and I hope that you can help me.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me advance notice of her intention to raise it. Ordinarily, I would say to the hon. Lady or to any other Member who was dissatisfied with an answer that they should consider taking the matter up with the Procedure Committee, which monitors such matters. In general terms, I stand by that advice. When the objection of the hon. Member is not to the content of an answer being in some way unsatisfactory or out of kilter with the spirit of what the House expects but rather to the fact that there has been no substantive reply at all, that is an extremely serious concern. It was flagged up several times earlier in this Parliament and in the previous Parliament and I hope that the presence of the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House on the Treasury Bench will suffice to ensure that the relevant Ministers are chased with some urgency to provide substantive—not holding—replies to the questions posed by the hon. Lady before the House prorogues, thereby avoiding the need for the hon. Lady to have to return to the matter in the new Session.
It will not do for Ministers simply to wait several days or even weeks and then to reply by saying, “I will reply as soon as possible.” The Leader of the House and I share a distaste for that practice.
Housing (Selective Licensing of Private Landlords in Exempted Areas) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Graham Jones presented a Bill to give local authorities the power to apply selective licensing conditions to private landlords in exempted areas with social housing stock.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April, and to be printed (Bill 330).
Food Labelling (Halal and Kosher Meat)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce compulsory labelling of halal and kosher meat and products containing halal and kosher meat by retailers at the point of sale; and for connected purposes.
I thank the large number of colleagues from both sides of the House who have contacted me to support the Bill. I am grateful also to organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals which have also given the Bill their support. As I hope hon. Members will see, my Bill is supported by colleagues not only in the Conservative party, but in the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Democratic Unionist party.
As many hon. Members will know, I am a firm believer in individual freedom of choice, and with my background in customer service and marketing at Asda, I believe in particular in consumers’ freedom of choice. That is why today I am introducing a Bill to make labelling of halal and kosher meat and products containing halal and kosher meat by retailers at the point of sale compulsory. My sole reason for introducing the Bill is to give consumers more information, so that they can exercise their freedom of choice.
Current British legislation requires the stunning of animals before slaughter, with religious exemptions for halal and kosher meat for communities whose religious traditions sometimes require slaughter without stunning. The religious exemption dates back to the Slaughter of Animals Act 1928, which applied to Scotland, and the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933, which applied to England and Wales. The EU also granted derogation from stunning to those religious communities in Council regulation (EC) No. 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009.
In recent years, animals rights groups, notably the Farm Animal Welfare Council, have advocated the labelling of meat from non-stunned animals to reduce the amount of such meat purchased, and therefore the amount produced. Neither the British nor the European Parliament has passed a law requiring slaughtered meat to be labelled, but implementation of such laws has been much discussed in recent years. In 2003, the Labour party announced a consultation on a voluntary labelling scheme for slaughtered meat, but a parliamentary question in April 2007 revealed that there had been no real progress on labelling. The matter was raised in November 2009 in a report in the European Parliament, which passed a proposal to have a category labelled, “Meat from slaughter without stunning”, but that proposal was not contained in the final EU food information regulations. In the past two years, Members of this Parliament and of the European Parliament have expressed interest in continuance of a labelling law, but no such law has been set in place. In November 2010, the Government’s position on labelling was summarised by Lord Henley, who stated:
“I can say that we have no plans whatever to make the practice of halal or kosher killing illegal. However, we think that it is worth considering the appropriate labelling of all meat so that people know exactly what it is that they are eating and how the meat has been killed.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 November 2010; Vol. 722, c. 1006.]
It is not often that I parrot statements from Ministers, but on this occasion I could not agree more.
I propose to make labelling of halal and kosher meat compulsory, because as a strong believer in freedom of choice, I think one of the consumer’s fundamental rights is to know what they are purchasing. At present, consumers cannot satisfy their preferences because not all meat products are labelled, so legislation to require retailers of meat to label their products is essential to enable consumers to practise their right to make an informed decision.
According to the EU Dialrel project, the exemption for religious slaughter in schedule 12 of the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 clearly states that it applies to people of that religion, not to everybody. This implies that halal and kosher meat should be consumed by those of Muslim and Jewish faiths, respectively, because this type of slaughter is specified for their religious needs. This is obviously not the case at present because Muslims make up around 3% of the UK population, yet the Halal Food Authority estimates that halal meat makes up about 25% of the meat market. Similarly, it has been estimated that 70% of the kosher meat was not consumed by the Jewish community.
There have been cases of state schools, hospitals, pubs, sports arenas, cafes, markets and hotels serving halal meat to customers without their knowledge. In fact, many of my hon. Friends may be interested to know that, according to The Scotsman in November 2010, halal meat has even been served without labelling in House of Commons canteen. To my dismay as a former retailer, I recently learned that Britain’s largest supermarket chains, including Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, are selling halal meat without notifying unsuspecting shoppers. Some of the large food chains, including Pizza Hut, Dominos and KFC, are doing the same. I am ashamed to say that even my former employer, Asda, has been guilty of this.
If consumers knew what kind of meat was being sold to them, many might decide to make different purchases. For example, in August 2010 there were protests when Harrow council announced its plan to serve halal-only menus in the borough’s state primary schools. Parents complained that it was unfair that meat slaughtered according to sharia law was being forced upon non-Muslim children.
There are some people who wish to ban halal and kosher meat on animal welfare grounds. I want to make it clear that I am not one of those people. I am very happy for people to make the decision for themselves, but they should be able to make an informed decision. My Bill would benefit those people who want to make sure that their meat is kosher or halal before purchasing it, just as much as those who want to make sure that it is not kosher or halal before purchasing it. My Bill does not favour one or the other; it seeks to help everybody.
I had a supportive letter from an individual who wrote that
“as a Sikh and someone who doesn’t eat or believe in halal and kosher meat, I think this is a great idea as it does not feel like there is choice anymore for those who do not wish to eat halal meat.”
Some may argue that this can be left to the market and that we do not need any legislation—an argument with which I would generally have a great deal of sympathy. However, I believe that for practical reasons we need some legislation to help consumers. When people go to an Indian restaurant they are entitled to expect to eat halal meat, but when they go to Subway or KFC, they do not expect to do so and should be told.
Interestingly, Masood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food Authority, in September 2010, said:
“As Muslims have a choice of eating halal meat, non-Muslims should also have the choice of not eating it. Customers should know it is halal meat.”
In an article in the Daily Mail in September 2010, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), secretary of the all-party group on animal welfare, said:
“I don’t object to people of different religious groups being catered for but it’s not something that should be imposed on everybody else . . . The outlets have a duty to let their customers know because some will object very strongly, not least because of the animal welfare implications of halal.”
These two gentlemen agree with me, and I hope many other hon. Members in the House will do so too.
I oppose the Bill. I declare an interest. I am an orthodox Jew and I was brought up in a household where only kosher meat was eaten. None of these issues was raised throughout my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.
I do not believe for a moment that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has the tiniest anti-Semitic feeling in him and I am sure that he is not proposing the Bill for that reason. However, large numbers of Jews would be very greatly distressed if what he proposes were to become law. I speak not only about Jews, but Muslims. I represent many thousands of Muslims in my constituency—good, decent, law-abiding people who, because of their religious allegiance, will eat only halal meat. I do not see why Jews and Muslims alone should be compelled by law to have the meat they eat labelled in a way that no other meat is labelled.
If the hon. Gentleman’s proposed Bill had a wider remit—for example, if it said that all chickens had to be labelled in a certain way if the birds had been battery hens—or if he had proposed that meat had to be labelled in a certain way if the animals had been kept in dreadful conditions before being killed, and killed in an extremely brutal way, as shown in the documentary narrated by Sir Paul McCartney, which revealed the astonishing, abominable and utterly dreadful conditions in which large numbers of animals, whether cows, pigs or whatever, are kept, I would at least regard him as consistent. But he is not being consistent. He has picked on two small minorities who share the way in which the meat they eat is killed. Indeed, when Muslims first came to Manchester and Leeds and wanted their animals killed in a halal way, they went to Jewish slaughter houses in order to do so.
During my whole upbringing, I ate only kosher meat. I am afraid that I did not keep to that in later years, but I still will not eat pigmeat of any kind because my mother and father brought me up in such a way that that meat is what we call “trayf” in Yiddish, and I will not eat trayf food. I think that the hon. Gentleman is picking out two small minority religions that have a special way in which the meat they eat is killed and asking that they, and they alone, have their meat labelled.
I say this as someone who has spoken on animal welfare in this House for many years. I was the leading person who got the hunting ban passed, because of my understanding of the procedures of this House—I say that with some vanity, but it is a fact. I have been involved in the campaign to ban the keeping of wild animals in circuses, something on which I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman as having been hyperactive.
The proposed Bill would have profound implications for religious feelings, and I would be letting my faith and my family down, alongside many good, decent, fine and religious Muslims in my constituency, if I did not state my total opposition to it. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman withdraw the motion so that the House does not even have to vote on it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport assured the House that in respect of the News Corporation bid for BSkyB, he was acting as Secretary of State in a quasi-judicial capacity, and above all in a way that was impartial and fair. In view of the evidence that has been adduced before the Leveson inquiry today, it appears that the Secretary of State has fallen woefully short of the standards expected from him in his office and in the public interest. I believe that the right thing for the Secretary of State to do would be to come to the House to offer an apology and tender his resignation.