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Topical Questions

Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2015

We hear from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the gross impact of the higher minimum wage will be about £4 billion, but that the cuts to tax credits represent about £6 billion. The proportion of children in poverty who are from families in work rose from 54% to 63%, and that statistic can only get worse. It is little surprise that the Government want to redefine child poverty. To change a definition is to change the truth—

Order. I thought the hon. Gentleman had a background in the financial world. He cannot have been allowed to prate on at that length when he was busy making important decisions with commercial substance involved. He will really have to practise.

Let me give the hon. Gentleman a figure: 200,000 workers in Scotland will gain from the new national living wage, which is 9% of the workforce. The Budget is offering people in Scotland and across the United Kingdom higher wages, lower taxes and, yes, lower welfare, as part of a new contract whereby this country lives within its means. That is one reason why jobs are being created in Scotland.

T2. I welcome the Chancellor’s recent announcement on Sunday trading hours. What steps can he take to ensure that neighbouring authorities take a joined-up approach, so that consumers have confidence in the consistency of Sunday trading hours and we provide the maximum possible benefit to our economy? (901137)

I remember visiting a vibrant high street in my hon. Friend’s constituency before the general election. It is for local areas to decide whether to extend Sunday opening hours and to work in partnership with other local authorities. My personal view is that doing so will help to protect the high street because an increasing amount of online shopping is done on Sundays. However, it will be for local people and local authorities to make that decision.

T5. The Treasury loses out on hundreds of millions of pounds each year by allowing high-earning hedge fund managers to pay capital gains tax at 28%, rather than income tax of 45%, on carried interest payments. Does the Chancellor agree that we should close that loophole so that we can invest the money in properly paid apprenticeships and tackling child poverty? (901142)

Under the last Labour Government, such people were paying 18% tax. Indeed, people in the City boasted that they were paying lower tax rates than the people who cleaned for them. We have changed that and increased the capital gains tax rate to 28%. As a result of the Budget, we are also insisting that that rate is paid across the venture capital industry.

T3. I am delighted that in the Budget an allocation of £7.2 billion was made for transport infrastructure in the south-west. Will the Chancellor kindly confirm that that allocation includes funding for the much needed upgrade of the A358, the Henlade bypass and junction 25 of the M5, all of which will pave the way for a new strategic employment site? (901138)

The short answer is yes. All those vital projects for Somerset and the south-west are included in a massive investment in the transport of the south-west.

T7. How can the Chancellor justify making people who go out to work worse off while he spends £1 billion on cutting inheritance tax for people who are already wealthy? That is not rewarding hard working; it is rewarding the fortunate few. (901144)

We have increased the personal allowance, taking low-paid people out of tax, and we are now introducing a national living wage, but we make no apology for supporting aspiration and the human instinct that people have to pass something on to their children. If the Labour party is against that as well, it really is moving backwards rather than forwards.

T4. The Chancellor’s announcement on the living wage was widely welcomed, but what assurances can he give to residential care homes that offer subsidised places, of which there are many in Worthing, which will suffer from the proposed changes but will not benefit on the other side from the record reductions in corporation tax? (901140)

The reduction in corporation tax now applies to small companies as well as larger ones, and we have increased the employment allowance, which will help with the national insurance bills of companies in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We are of course aware of the pressures on the social care system, and that is one thing we will address in the spending review.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out last week that although the number of workless households in poverty has fallen, that fall has been matched by a rise in the number of working households in poverty. Will the Chancellor acknowledge the scale of in-work poverty, and does he accept that cutting tax credits for working families and repealing the child poverty legislation will make the situation worse, not better?

I do not accept that cutting people’s taxes and introducing a national living wage will in any way hurt working people—it will help working people. The people who suffer most when we cannot afford Government services and welfare are the poorest in our country, and we saw that when Labour was in office. We have taken the approach of entrenching economic security by making sure that Britain lives within its means. Last night this House voted through the important welfare package. Now we have launched the spending review to finish the job.

T6. The announcement that the free childcare available for working parents of three and four-year-olds will double to 30 hours a week in 2017 is excellent news for families across Pendle. Does not the fact that we are delivering that commitment demonstrate that only by taking tough decisions can we afford to provide the high-quality services that hard-working families deserve? (901143)

My hon. Friend is right, and he does a brilliant job representing his constituents, bringing in investment, and supporting working people in Pendle. Working parents now have the added help of 30 hours of free childcare, which his Labour opponent in Pendle—and indeed Opposition Members here—have still failed to welcome.

The Northern Ireland Assembly faces a £600 million overspend on its budget this financial year as a result of the blocking of welfare reform changes. What steps does the Chancellor intend to take to deal with this fiscal anarchy that is causing disruption in schools and hospitals and for all those who depend on public spending, and drives a coach and horses through spending limits?

We are well aware of the difficult situation with the finances of the Northern Ireland Executive, and of the objections in some quarters of the Assembly to what are, I think, sensible welfare reforms that will help people in Northern Ireland into work. We are working with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to resolve that impasse, but it is clearly not sustainable to allow a devolved Administration to ignore the controls placed on them. I know that the hon. Gentleman and his party support that position, and we are working with him, and others, to resolve the issue.

Will my right hon. Friend continue to encourage Opposition Members to support our Budget proposals, noting that the legislation for a budget surplus comes before the House later this year?

There will be another interesting question for this House when we vote on the new fiscal rules. Two weeks ago the shadow Chancellor said that he supported a surplus, yet he has objected to every single welfare change that is being introduced in this House, and he refused to support our legislation last night. We shall see what he says about the spending review in the next few hours, but we cannot will the ends if we do not will the means, and that means difficult choices to ensure that our country lives within its means.

This Chancellor has missed every one of his own deficit reduction targets, and borrowed more than any other Chancellor in history. Will he confirm that, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast, the fiscal changes in the summer Budget mean £26.8 billion more public borrowing in the next two financial years, and that since 2010 he will have borrowed a full £200 billion more than he planned?

I think that is exactly the same question that was read out about half an hour ago—I am not sure that it says much for improved productivity on the Labour Benches.

In her reply to my Westminster Hall debate last week, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury spoke warmly of bank sharing. Will she join me in encouraging HSBC and NatWest, which are proposing to close their branches in Barton-upon-Humber, to delay that closure so that sharing can be seriously considered?

Residents in Barton-upon-Humber are very fortunate to have such a champion as my hon. Friend representing their interests. I am sure that as he has raised the matter in the House the banks in question will have noted his point, and he has represented his constituents well.

May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that I was not confusing him with Mr McCaig? I thought Mr McCaig wished to ask a question earlier. The hon. Gentleman is unique, we all know who he is and we want to hear him.

I can do it any day of the week.

Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer not got a bit of a cheek to be constantly using Question Time to attack the Labour leadership elections—[Interruption.] Take your time! The Chancellor is involved in an election himself. Every time he opens his mouth, it is directed towards the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and the Home Secretary. Does he not realise that the Home Secretary has already knocked him out with the water cannon? Remember, some of us are watching that contest very carefully. The Chancellor should be careful he does not knock himself out.

With particular reference to his Treasury responsibilities, I call the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

What the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party fail to understand is that we cannot stand up for working people unless we create a strong economy that lives within its means. I would only make this observation: he has a Labour party he is very happy with now, and so do I.

Does the Chancellor agree that the national living wage will not only improve the lives of working people on lower incomes but will improve the gender pay gap, because it is often women who are the worst paid?

My hon. and learned Friend is right. The good news is that the gender pay gap is at its lowest level in history, but we have more work to do and that is why we have introduced the new audits for companies. Of course, women will be the biggest group of winners from the national living wage.

I listened to the Minister and Chancellor talking about tax credits earlier, but here is a bit of reality. A couple in my constituency told me that as carers for a disabled child, they work part time and will lose around £2,000 in tax credits under the Chancellor’s reforms. But they will not benefit from a higher minimum wage because their jobs are professional level and their hourly pay is already above that rate. Does the Chancellor think it is fair that his reforms will make families with disabled children poorer?

We have to look at the entire Budget package, because that is the new contract. Part of that is a tax cut, which I suspect will help the hon. Lady’s constituents, because we have increased the personal allowance. They may also be eligible for the new 30 hours of free child care. Many more of her constituents will also benefit from the national living wage. But what is the alternative? It is to have an unsustainable welfare system, the cost of which goes up and up and squeezes out spending on infrastructure, education and science, and puts our country at risk from economic storms abroad. That is what we lived through 10 years ago and we do not want to go back there.

The Chancellor is the darling of beer drinkers throughout the country, with his three tax cuts on beer and getting rid of the tax escalator. Will he continue his support for the brewing industry? Should he do so, it may even help any leadership bid that he may or not make at some time in the future.

I shall take that as an early representation for next year’s Budget. We have been able to help by reducing beer duty and ending the beer duty escalator that was putting pubs out of business. Other measures, such as those on apprenticeships and the employment allowance, are also helping the pub industry which is such a big employer of young people in our country.

The Scottish renewables sector supports more than 11,000 jobs, as well as contributing to a sustainable economy. Will the Chancellor please explain his reasoning for the removal of the climate change levy exemption for renewables, and tell the House whether he plans to start charging alcohol duty on soft drinks next?

I can certainly rule out the latter point. The point about the renewables levy is that it was introduced before the framework that we now have in place to support long-term investment in renewable energy through the levy control framework and the renewables obligation. We found that a third of the money, which after all comes from the electricity bills paid by the people we represent in Parliament, was going to overseas generators, so it was not really a fair approach. The approach we are taking now—supporting long-term investment in renewables and building up the UK industry—is the right one.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues. Treasury questions is a box office occasion and demand tends always to outstrip supply. We must now move on.