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Topical Questions

Volume 601: debated on Tuesday 27 October 2015

But for the Government’s defeat in the other place, 4,000 struggling families in east Hull would have lost, on average, £1,300 a year. Now that the Chancellor is in listening mode, would he please commit to dropping this vicious assault on hard-working families?

In Kingston upon Hull, which the hon. Gentleman represents in this House, unemployment has fallen by 32% since the Government came to office in 2010. That is because we have delivered economic security and committed to the fact that Britain should live within her means. Yes, of course we will listen, as I have said, during the transition we make to that lower welfare, higher wage economy, but we have to go on making savings in our welfare budget or else it will crowd out spending on our national health service and education system. That will mean that Hull does not have the resources it needs to thrive and prosper.

T6. Wage increases reduce the burden of tax credits on the taxpayer. What assessment does the Chancellor make of wage increases in my constituency, in the west midlands and in the UK? (901792)

We have very strong wage growth at the moment in the west midlands and across the country. That is, of course, very welcome. The introduction of the national living wage will benefit, I think, around 300,000 people in the west midlands, including my hon. Friend’s constituents. That is part of a package to support the working people whom she represents and to give economic security to that west midlands engine that we all want to see.

T2. Following last night’s votes, the Chancellor said that he would listen. Will he confirm that he will not be writing to the 3 million families before Christmas delivering the devastating news that their tax credits will be slashed? Surely the Chancellor—an aspiring future Prime Minister—does not want to go down in history as Scrooge delivering devastating news to millions of people. Or does he? (901788)

T7. The channel tunnel and port of Dover are very important pieces of national infrastructure. When there are disruptions to services, as we saw in chaotic scenes this summer, they cause misery for people in Kent. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and other Members from Kent to discuss what funding can be made available to find a long-term solution to managing road freight in Kent and ending the misery of Operation Stack? (901793)

Of course I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and other Kent MPs affected by the traffic jams that build up when there is disruption at the channel tunnel. We have made available Manston airport as a temporary measure to help alleviate the congestion caused by Operation Stack. There is a proposal from Kent about a much bigger investment in a longer-term solution and I will be happy to talk to my hon. Friend and his colleagues about that.

T3. Given the growing evidence that fixed-odds betting terminals are being used as a prime vehicle through which to launder money, will the Chancellor assure the House that there will be a prominent focus on the machines in his upcoming anti-laundering action plan? (901789)

The hon. Lady will be aware that we are in the process of considering how we implement the fourth anti-money-laundering directive. We will be looking closely at the evidence, and I encourage her to get in touch with me.

T8. The Black Country local enterprise partnership has done an excellent job in bringing jobs and investment to the black country, but does the Chancellor agree that the time has come for local enterprise partnerships to work together with the west midlands combined authority to deliver further growth, jobs and investment for the west midlands region? [Interruption.] (901794)

I hear the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) saying, “Well said!” Let me make this point. In the west midlands we have the real prospect of a further big devolution to the combined authorities with an elected mayor. We are working with the local authorities, the three excellent local enterprise partnerships and the local MPs. We are close to an agreement, but let us try to get it over the line. That would give the people of the west midlands the control over local decision making that we have now given to the people of south Yorkshire, Manchester, the north-east and Teesside.

T4. In my constituency, there are 9,000 families with children claiming tax credits. Some 5,500 of those are working families. The Chancellor said that he is listening but has dismissed every proposal so far. Millions of families need him to change course and make work pay. Will he listen now and introduce transitional relief so that those working families will not be out of pocket by £1,300? (901790)

We are listening, and we are listening in particular to what we can do to help with the transition to the lower welfare, higher wage economy that we want to see in the hon. Lady’s constituency and across the country. We will also take steps, as we always do, to ensure that work pays by increasing the personal allowance—we are committed to increasing it to £12,500 in this Parliament—by introducing the national living wage, which will help many thousands of people in her constituency, and by supporting the businesses in her constituency, without which we would not have the jobs that are now employing local people.

Since 2010, more than 37,000 of my constituents have had their taxes cut, enabling them to keep more of what they earn. Some of them have begun to accumulate savings for the first time. Can the Chancellor assure my constituents that the Government will continue to cut their taxes and support them with their future saving?

I can absolutely give that assurance to my hon. Friend, who represents his constituents in Bolton so well. We will go on delivering lower taxes to help the working people in his constituency. We will also ensure that we go on supporting savings in his constituency. We are introducing a new savings allowance and a help-to-buy ISA to help the people he represents to get on the housing ladder.

T5. The Chancellor seems to have taken issue with being told to think again by the other place last night. Will he now reflect on how thousands of my constituents—people who work hard and do the right thing—must feel at the prospect of losing thousands of pounds every year as a result of his actions? (901791)

As I have said, the people who suffer the most when the economy fails and when the country fails to control its public finances are precisely the people the hon. Lady is talking about: the low paid. They are the people who lose their jobs. They are the victims of economic insecurity. We are determined to deliver economic security and a controlled welfare bill—which, after all, the people she represents have to pay for through their taxes—and we will set out how we will ease the transition to that lower welfare, higher wage economy.

The coalition Government freed pensioners from mandatory annuities and encouraged saving through ISAs and auto-enrolment. However, tax relief on contributions to pensions is expensive and favours higher-rate taxpayers much more than others. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an area in which sensible reform could be considered, in order to help to balance the budget without disincentivising saving?

My hon. Friend is right to say that we have taken significant steps to encourage saving, not least by giving pensioners control over their pension pots in retirement and by trusting those who have saved all their lives with the money that they have earned and put aside. He is an expert in these matters, and he will know that we are open to consultation on the pensions taxation system at the moment. It is a completely open consultation and a genuine Green Paper, and we are receiving a lot of interesting suggestions on potential reform. We will respond to that consultation fully in the Budget.

T9. Will the Chancellor confirm that there is nothing in the passing of the charter for budget responsibility that will restrict the Scottish Government’s ability to borrow, which is already enshrined in statute under the Scotland Act 2012? (901795)

I am happy to confirm that the deal we struck with the Scottish Government on capital borrowing remains intact. Indeed, we want to strike a new agreement with them involving a new fiscal framework, and we are having a good discussion around capital borrowing powers, resource borrowing powers and the mechanism to ensure that Scotland genuinely sees the benefits and bears the costs of any decisions taken by the Scottish Government. That represents the true nature of devolution, which I am sure the Scottish National party wants to see, so let us make sure we get that agreement.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments last night on transitional arrangements, but does he agree that we simply must reform this crazy tax credit system, which enforces low pay, and that we will take no lessons from the Opposition, who have failed cities such as mine when it comes to helping the working poor? This tactic of bribing our lowest earners and most vulnerable people, not to improve social mobility or to help them but simply to win votes, is deplorable and must end in this country for good.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point: we have created a welfare system that subsidises low pay, and surely it is better to increase that pay. That is why we are introducing the national living wage and I know that will help many of the people my hon. Friend represents in Plymouth.

T10. Under the devolution deal, the Chancellor has committed £30 million a year to create a new investment fund for the north-east. Will this be wholly new money or will existing grants be cut? Where is the guarantee that he will not be robbing Peter to pay Paul? (901796)

It is additional new money and it is a long-term commitment to the north-east of England. Of course, we could not have reached this agreement without the support of the local Labour council leaders who have come together through the combined authority to strike what I think is an historic deal. There has been lots of conversation over many years about devolving power to the north-east; now we are going to have the elected mayor with powers that are currently exercised in London being exercised in the north-east. That is proper devolution.

Last week Mudgley cider producer Roger Wilkins told the local press that cider is

“an agricultural lubricant, an agricultural wine for the working man”.

Will the Chancellor continue to support hard-working people and lubricate the Somerset economy by cutting tax on cider?

I very much remember my visit, I think with the Prime Minister, to a cider producer in my hon. Friend’s constituency before the election. It turned out to be an extremely productive visit of which he is the living representative. He will know that in 2010 we reversed the cider tax that was being proposed by the previous Labour Government and we have been able to help cider producers. I think the industry is incredibly important and I will take what steps I can to support it in the future.

The Resolution Foundation has found that all tax and benefit measures announced, including the national living wage, will push an additional 200 children into poverty by 2016. Two thirds of those children will be in working families. By 2020 up to 600 further children will be pushed into poverty. Chancellor, you said you would listen to the Lords, and indeed the bishops, last night; will you now share with the House what constructive action you will take to protect the poorest families and children?

The hon. Lady raises her question in a perfectly fair way. I will listen to the concerns that have been raised in this, the elected Chamber, about the transition of the welfare reforms we have put forward precisely so that we continue to help working families. Those families are best helped when we have economic security, a controlled welfare budget and a system where we do not subsidise low pay but we increase wages through the national living wage. We will make sure in the autumn statement that we help working families.

I did not want to interrupt the question because I understood the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) was getting to her point. I understand why Members like to put their inquiries directly to the Minister, but may I please appeal to Members not to use the word “you” in their questions? We go through the Chair in debates for good reasons. I have no proposals on these matters. The Chancellor might have; we shall see.

Over the last three years unemployment in Tamworth has fallen faster than anywhere else in the country. As my right hon. Friend is in listening mode, will he tell the House whether he has heard any sensible representations from the shadow Chancellor or others about how to decrease business taxation and regulation to create more jobs in the west midlands?

I am sorry to say I have not, because the only proposals that have so far been put by the Opposition are for an increase in business taxation—that was in their election manifesto—and a wealth tax, which at the weekend, the shadow Chancellor was talking about potentially introducing in this country. So his proposals—and to be fair to him he has been entirely consistent on this for 30 years—are essentially for a high tax, big state economy where, frankly, private businesses do not have such a big role to play. I think that is the wrong direction for our country.

That is a very decent proposal for the autumn statement, to which we will give proper consideration. People who have been in Parliament with me for the last 14 years know that my view is pretty clear—we should have an elected House of Lords—but of course that view has not prevailed in this Chamber in the years I have been both on the Opposition and Government Benches. However, I do think that while we have an unelected House of Lords, it should respect a constitutional convention that has existed for 100 years, and we need to look at that now.