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Living Standards

Volume 573: debated on Wednesday 8 January 2014

3. What assessment he has made of the effects on living standards in Wales of the measures announced in the autumn statement. (901765)

7. What assessment he has made of the effects on living standards in Wales of the measures announced in the autumn statement. (901769)

The autumn statement set out further measures to ensure that there is a responsible economic recovery. That is the only way to achieve the sustained rise in living standards in Wales and across the UK that we all want to see.

May I associate myself with the tributes that have been given?

I thank the Minister for his answer, but many of us are dismayed that the autumn statement did little to address issues related to poverty. Does the Secretary of State really believe that it is right that food bank usage in Wales has gone up 1,400% since 2010? Surely that is not acceptable.

We know that the Labour party discovered food banks only in 2010. Before that, Labour Members denied that they even existed. In the autumn statement and at the end of last year, we saw average wages in Wales increasing at double the rate of inflation and personal disposable income in Wales increasing. The situation is still very challenging for many households in Wales, but the overall picture is positive, and the hon. Lady should support that.

In my constituency of Aberavon, real wages have fallen by £2,000 in recent years and some 5,000 households have witnessed a reduction in their working tax credits. That comes against the background of rising energy prices, which are higher in south Wales than anywhere else in Britain. Does the Minister agree—as a reasonable person, I am sure that he does—that the best way to address the squeeze in living standards on the people of my constituency and of Wales is to endorse Labour’s proposal of a freeze in energy prices, which would benefit 30,000 households in my constituency?

We are going further than that by delivering a reduction in energy prices of about £50 per household. One of the best ways in which we can equip households in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and throughout Wales to face these challenging times is by returning more money to their pockets. We are taking 130,000 people in Wales out of income tax altogether and freezing fuel taxes, so that petrol prices are 20p per litre lower than they would have been under Labour’s plans. That is the way to help households meet the cost of living.

As the only Welsh Conservative MP who had the privilege of serving alongside Lord Roberts of Conwy, may I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks? May I also associate myself with your remarks, Mr Speaker, about Paul Goggins, whose untimely death has come as such a shock to us all?

On living standards, will my hon. Friend confirm that the cumulative effect of the autumn statement will be that petrol prices will be 20p per litre lower than they otherwise would have been and that the average taxpayer will pay £700 less?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. The Government are taking those practical steps to help people on the lowest incomes in particular. We are determined that this should be a recovery for all sections of society in Wales.

The autumn statement contained very welcome measures to reduce the burden of business rates on small businesses in England. What efforts will the Minister make to ensure that the Welsh Government follow suit, to support small businesses in Wales?

In the autumn statement, we made resources available to the Welsh Government to take exactly the same action as the Government in Westminster have taken to help small businesses with their business rates. I was pleased that the Welsh Minister announced yesterday that they would take forward the cap on business rates in Wales. We have yet to hear whether they will deliver the £1,000 discount for small businesses that we are delivering.

11. May I associate myself with your words, Mr Speaker, on Paul Goggins, who was a great friend, and with the Secretary of State’s words on Lord Roberts, who was a great Anglesey man? Wales is a net producer of energy, a major electricity generator and a major terminal for imported gas, but people in Wales are paying some of the highest prices in the United Kingdom for gas and electricity. Will the Minister look closely at the distribution companies that are passing on extra costs to the Welsh consumer to ensure that there is a level playing field on prices? (901773)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue for his constituents and people throughout Wales. At the Wales Office, I regularly meet companies such as Western Power Distribution and National Grid to discuss why many consumers in Wales are paying those higher costs, and for all kinds of reasons. If he has specific questions that he would like me to follow up, I would be happy to meet him to do that.

May I, too, associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks about Lord Roberts and in particular express my sadness at the passing of our friend and comrade Paul Goggins? I worked with Paul at the Northern Ireland Office, and I can say from personal experience that he was a wonderful Minister, a lovely man, and a hugely dedicated Member of the House. All our thoughts are with his family; everybody who knew Paul will miss him greatly.

A moment ago, the Minister said that measures in the autumn statement would cut energy bills for families in Wales by £50. That was one boast made by the Chancellor in that statement, and it came to fruition in Wales this morning with the announcement by SSE—Wales’s biggest energy supplier—that it was helping families with a price cut. Will the Minister confirm what that announcement actually means for families in Wales?

The action that we are taking across a broad range of measures—energy, fuel prices, income tax thresholds—means that we are helping people on the lowest incomes in Wales with the challenges of the cost of living at the moment. The hon. Gentleman does not refer to the fact that we are seeing improvements in wages in Wales and in personal disposable income, and he should welcome the overall positive picture that is emerging in Wales.

I had hoped that the Minister would have made a new year’s resolution to be a little more straightforward with the Welsh people. The truth is that the announcement by SSE this morning, following the announcement by the Chancellor that bills will be cut by £50, is actually that bills will rise in Wales this year by £70. It is a con trick, plain and simple, and the Minister should admit that and urge his colleagues to adopt Labour’s price freeze as the only way to curb these profiteering energy companies.

I am sorry to say this to the hon. Gentleman, but if he talks to people in industry out there who understand the economics of energy, they will all tell him that what the Labour party has proposed for energy does not make sense at all and has no credibility. The Government are taking real practical action that helps families at difficult times, and the picture that we are seeing in Wales overall is positive.