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Topical Questions

Volume 579: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2014

My constituents were very worried indeed when the shadow Chancellor told them four years ago that the Chancellor’s attempts to rebalance the economy would result in a 1 million increase in the number of unemployed people. Would the Chancellor be kind enough to inform the House of the actual impact of his long-term economic plan on the Kettering economy, and to explain how my constituents can look forward to a more secure financial future as a result?

Our economic plan is delivering stability, and it is now also delivering the economic growth and jobs that we all want to see. We are coming out of the very deep mess in which the shadow Chancellor and his team left the country, with the result that in Kettering the claimant count is down by 30%, and 1,500 new jobs have been created in the last year. As my hon. Friend well knows—because, as an assiduous Member of Parliament, he has lobbied hard for them—major improvements have been made in the road and rail infrastructure in the Kettering area, to ensure that there is a balanced economic recovery.

T3. The Chancellor spends taxpayers’ money in Brussels on defending big bank bonuses, but he has not lifted a finger in four years to deal with the falling real wages of millions of ordinary working people. Is he not just presiding over recovery by the few, of the few, and for the few? (903765)

Well, I do not think the hon. Gentleman is Abraham Lincoln, but the point I would make is that we can only see an increase in the living standards of the British people if the British economy is growing and jobs are created. That is exactly what our economic plan is delivering.

T2. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), the House will also recall that earlier this year the shadow Chancellor said:“do I think the level of public spending going into the crisis was a problem for Britain? No, I don’t, nor our deficit, nor our national debt”.As the last Government were spending more than they took in as early as 2002, does my right hon. Friend agree that this shows they still cannot be trusted to take the difficult decisions needed to control public spending and get the deficit down? (903764)

I absolutely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor is chuntering away, but this is what he said on the radio this morning: “I don’t think I’ve been too pessimistic in the last few years.” He predicted that the economy would be choked off and that jobs would be lost, but the reverse is happening. In Sleaford and North Hykeham, as my hon. and learned Friend knows, the claimant count has come down and 1,700 jobs have been created.

T4. When the Chancellor said earlier this month, “If you are hiding your money offshore, we are coming to get you”,did he mean “coming to get you to work in the Treasury”? (903766)

This Government have taken action against tax avoidance that the last Government never dreamed of taking. We have increased the resources for tackling avoidance and evasion. I will tell the House something else: we do not preside over a tax system in which cleaners pay higher tax rates than the people they work for. That was the tax system that the Labour party voted for, and we have got rid of it.

T5. I thank my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for visiting Cornwall last week, when he will have been impressed by the resourcefulness and enterprise in the Cornish economy. Will he make sure that those charged with managing the Cornwall EU structural fund programme are granted the appropriate delegated powers of intermediate body status in future? (903767)

I was indeed impressed, and also convinced by the strong support from the Cornish businesses I met for the policies the Government are putting in place to secure the long-term future of the British economy. Having announced on that visit the Government’s recognition for the Cornish identity, values and culture under the European convention, it would seem odd not to take seriously the request that there should be a degree of autonomy in the management of the European structural funds programme. I urge my hon. Friend to work with the local enterprise partnership to make that case strongly to the Government, as part of the growth deal process.

T6. With average wages down, ordinary working people are increasingly being driven into the arms of payday loan lenders with their usurious rates of interest. What measures are the Government taking to give ordinary working people access to fair credit? (903768)

We are introducing a cap on payday lending, and that will be an important—[Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor chuckles. He was the City Minister; he could have taken that decision at any point when he was—[Interruption.]. Why has it taken so long? Labour had 13 years to do these things—13 years when its team were running the Treasury. That is why people will not listen to what they have to say. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is this: by supporting credit unions, capping payday lending and encouraging competition on the high street, we will help his constituents and many others.

T8. As the economy continues to prosper and grow under the excellent stewardship of our Chancellor, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the tube workers who turned up to work today to keep London moving, and in congratulating the workers who went to work this morning despite the antics of the RMT? (903770)

I join my hon. Friend in thanking those who went to work today on our tube system. The strike is totally irresponsible and unnecessary. It impacts on the economy and makes it difficult for people in London to get to work. [Interruption.] Well, perhaps the reason that so few Labour MPs are at Treasury questions is that they are manning the barricades with the RMT.

T7. My constituent Mr Effard works on a zero-hours contract and does not know from week to week whether he will be given enough hours to be able to cover his bills. Mr Effard wants to work, but admits that in many ways jobseeker’s allowance provided him with more stability. Will the Chancellor admit that the normalisation of these contracts under his Government means that for people such as my constituent a job no longer guarantees financial security? (903769)

The last study on the impact of zero-hours contracts was undertaken by the previous Labour Government, who concluded that they wanted to retain the flexibility that such contracts offer to business. However, we are not satisfied that all the work has been done on this, which is why the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is consulting on what changes potentially need to be made to zero-hours contracts. We have received a lot of representations, we are looking through them and of course we will come forward with a response shortly.

T9. Within a few months, Norwich will no longer be the UK’s largest city not to be connected to the dual carriageway network. Can the Chancellor confirm that the excellent progress of the coalition’s A11 dualling scheme in Norfolk is meeting Treasury expectations, and will he keep this in mind when considering destinations for further infrastructure investment? (903771)

I can confirm that the scheme is meeting our expectations. It is a major scheme for the region, with estimated investment of £102 million. The Secretary of State for Transport, who is in his place, confirms that it is on track and scheduled for completion in December 2014. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that a major milestone was delivered yesterday, as the Elveden bypass opened to traffic for the first time.

If the Government’s economic plan is working so well, why is the Chancellor planning to borrow £190 billion more than previously planned?

This country was borrowing £150 billion a year when this Government came to office, and we are on course to reduce the deficit by a half this year. We are taking—[Interruption.] What exactly is the Labour party’s complaint? Is it that we are not doing enough to reduce the deficit? Labour said that we were doing it too quickly and opposed all the things we proposed in recent years. Labour simply has no explanation for why the economic growth it said could not happen has happened.

T10. Does my right hon. Friend agree that politicians would do well to listen to senior business figures who warn that the anti-business policies put forward by the Labour party would put jobs and investment at risk, and would prevent Britain from having a stronger, more competitive economy? (903772)

The Opposition do have an anti-business agenda, but the Government are taking a different approach. We are reducing business taxes; we have introduced an employment allowance this month which will help small companies with their jobs tax; and of course next year we are taking under-21s out of the jobs tax. Labour’s plan is now not only to increase corporation tax; the party is discussing plans to put up the jobs tax, which would be a total disaster.

Since May 2010, long-term unemployment in my constituency has increased by 27%, long-term youth unemployment has increased by 40% and average real weekly wages have decreased by £116.93. Does the Chancellor want to take credit for that?

The hard-working people of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency should take credit for the fact that unemployment is down by 21% in his constituency and youth unemployment is down by 29% there.

Will the Chancellor join me in warmly welcoming this morning’s announcement that Dyson is to invest £250 million in expanding its headquarters in Malmesbury in my constituency and intends to employ 3,000 more people, 2,000 of whom will be high-quality engineers, designers and a large number of apprentices? Does he agree that that is hard evidence that that shrewd operator Sir James Dyson has every possible confidence in the Chancellor’s long-term economic plan?

I think the hon. Gentleman is planning an Adjournment debate on the subject. I have that distinct sense, although some people may think he has already had it.

The jobs being created by Dyson at Malmesbury are excellent news. Many people will know Dyson’s products, but its facility at Malmesbury, which I have visited, is fantastic. We went to James Dyson to ask how we could replicate some of that success elsewhere in our economy. He came forward with proposals—which became our innovation and catapult centres—to bring applied science to commercial success. We are building on the success of Dyson, not just for the people my hon. Friend represents, but for the whole country.

How often have the Chancellor and his colleagues referred to the long-term economic plan during this Question Time? Is it because the shorter-term economic plan that he announced in 2010, allegedly to get rid of the deficit and reduce the debt by next year, has failed and he is instead adopting something much closer to the two-term offer that Labour proposed?

I have not been keeping count of how many times the long-term economic plan has been mentioned, but the hon. Lady has just added two more to the total. That long-term economic plan is reducing the deficit, which is due to be down by a half this year, seeing the creation of 1.5 million jobs in our economy and supporting the growing economy, as we have seen in the GDP numbers today.

The elimination of the deficit by the end of the next Parliament still requires reducing general Government consumption to its 1948 level. Will the Chancellor confirm that that is in the national interest and that the Labour party does not have a snowball’s chance in Hades of achieving it?

The Labour Government left us the highest budget deficit in the peacetime history of this country. The numbers to which my hon. Friend refers assume that there are no savings in welfare. I have made it clear that I think we should consider savings in welfare. Of course, other parties, such as the Labour party, have put forward proposals to increase tax.

Given the great success of the Labour Welsh Government’s Jobs Growth Wales scheme, which is on target to help 16,000 young people into sustainable jobs, mostly in the private sector, will the Chancellor now commit to a similar UK-wide scheme funded by a repeat of Labour’s tax on bankers bonuses?

This week, the help to work scheme came into force, which is helping long-term unemployed people, providing them with more support and ensuring that those who need to sign on daily do so, and that those who need work experience and who need to be in work can take community jobs. We are reforming welfare, and that is part of the approach that we are taking to create jobs in this country by ensuring that work always pays.

There is no doubt that low interest rates have played a crucial part in the Chancellor’s long-term economic plan and brought about today’s widely welcomed news, but low rates will not be good news for those people who have worked hard, done the right thing and now wish to see a safe return on their cash. Will he explain to the House and to savers in my constituency what he is doing to promote their interests by supporting saving?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the low interest rates put in place by the independent Bank of England have made life more difficult for savers, although, of course, the growing economy is good news for savers as well as borrowers. My hon. Friend has warmly supported what we have done in the Budget, not only to give people access to their pension pots but to introduce the new ISA. We have also introduced the new savings bond for pensioners, which will come into effect at the end of the year, with higher interest rates to help those in his constituency who have worked hard and saved hard.

Real wages have fallen by £1,600 since the election, so will the Chancellor now answer the question repeatedly asked by Opposition Members: will wages in real terms be higher or lower at the next election than they were at the last election?

Britain is better off because we are rescuing this country from the economic mess in which the Opposition left us. There is a complete fantasy in the Labour party, demonstrated again in the past hour, that one can have an economic policy that destroys the banks, destroys business and destroys the public finances but somehow helps the people of the country in the process. As we learned to our cost under the previous Labour Government, that is not the case. They wrecked the economy and we are recovering it.

Last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary saw the world-class robotics engineers of Anthony Best Dynamics in Bradford-on-Avon. What is he doing to create the conditions in which such successful manufacturers can continue to grow right where they are?

I did indeed see the fantastic work at Anthony Best Dynamics, which supplies 20 out of the top 20 automotive companies in the world. Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister and I visited the Transport Research Laboratory to announce £500 million of support over the next five years to ensure that the United Kingdom is the best place in the world to develop and manufacture ultra-low emission vehicles.

According to the Office for National Statistics, unemployment in the west midlands has risen to 8.2%. Can the Chancellor explain why?

The statistics for the hon. Lady’s constituency show that unemployment is down 20%, youth unemployment is down 20% and long-term unemployment is down 20%. In the west midlands, during the boom years—the unsustainable boom—private sector employment actually fell. That points to what went wrong with the previous Government—they put all the bets on the City of London, the shadow Chancellor did not regulate it properly, it blew up and we are now retrieving the situation that he created.

In Rossendale and Darwen, the majority of our large employers are in the construction and manufacturing sectors. People want not just new jobs, but security and stability in those jobs. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the latest figures show that those two sectors are growing at their fastest rate for 10 years?

My hon. Friend, who so ably represents his constituency, is absolutely right that in his constituency, manufacturing is doing better. That is because, in the Budget, we introduced a package of measures to support manufacturing and, above all, through the long-term economic plan, we are providing the economic stability that allows for investment in construction. I have every confidence that, when he takes that argument to the British people, he will see off the red princeling who is standing against him.