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Topical Questions

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2015

The core purpose of the Treasury is to ensure the stability and prosperity of the UK economy. Today I can tell the House that the date of the Budget next year will be Wednesday 16 March.

My right hon. Friend has announced that the closure of the compensation scheme for Equitable Life policyholders will be at the end of this month. We will then know exactly how many claimants there are. Has he any plans to extend the amount of money that is being given to the victims of this scam?

I am, of course, always happy to listen to representations from my hon. Friend and others, but we have put a substantial sum of taxpayers’ money into compensating the people who lost out through Equitable Life. We have also ensured, through our payment system, that those payments have been made. That is why the scheme is coming to a close.

The Chancellor bowed to Labour pressure last week and made a U-turn on tax credits. Although tax credits will not be cut in the new year, as planned, the cuts to universal credit are going ahead in full, so he has not reversed his cuts to family incomes, but just delayed them. I am sure that he has looked at the impact of the changes in detail, so will he tell the House how much a single parent with one child who works part time on the so-called national living wage will lose as a result of his planned changes to universal credit?

First, let me say that I did not feel a huge amount of Labour pressure last week, but I am happy to see the hon. Gentleman at the Dispatch Box. With universal credit, we are introducing a fundamental improvement to our benefits system. Anyone on tax credits, including in the case that he refers to, who is moved on to universal credit by the Department for Work and Pensions from next year will have their cash awards protected.

Let me explain to the Chancellor exactly what a single parent with one child who works part time on the national living wage will lose. They will lose an average of £2,800 a year as a result of the cuts to universal credit. This was not an autumn statement that supported families, but one that punished them because 2.6 million families will still be worse off by £1,600 on average.

Let me offer the Chancellor another way out. If he reversed the tax giveaways to the wealthy that he announced in his summer Budget, he could reverse fully these cuts to family incomes, while still achieving his fiscal mandate. Will he now address the threat to these families?

Universal credit is a new benefit where it will always pay to work and it will always pay to expand the number of hours that are worked. It will get rid of a complex series of benefits. That will help working families. Let me make this point, since the gang of four on the other side of the House are chuntering away. The hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), who is a shadow Treasury Minister, has not bothered to turn up today because he is marching on the Labour party’s headquarters on a Stop the War march. The truth is that until the shadow Treasury team get their act together in this Chamber, their cases will not be listened to seriously.

T2. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the 60% reduction in unemployment in my constituency since 2010, the 100% rise in house building since 2014 and the fact that Helmsley won best market town in yesterday’s— (902434)

Order. I am sorry and I do not wish to be unkind, particularly to new Members, but we do not have time for these lists. What we need is single sentence questions.

My apologies, Mr Speaker. The A64 is still a bottleneck to investment and a traffic blackspot. Will the Chancellor look again at further investment in that important route, which would unlock further investment and economic progress for the northern powerhouse?

We certainly want to hear the good news about what is going on in Yorkshire. On the A64, we have committed billions of pounds to improvements to the road network of Yorkshire and, specifically, we have created a £475 million pot for local major roads. This is the sort of bid that should be put in.

T5. As the Chancellor was on his feet last week, the Department of Energy and Climate Change quietly issued a statement to the stock exchange on the removal of £1 billion of funding for carbon capture and storage. That was a breach not only of the Tory party manifesto, which is not surprising, I suppose, but of a promise to the people of Scotland during the referendum campaign. How can he justify that decision, which jeopardises 600 jobs in Peterhead? (902437)

We are doubling investment in renewable electricity and energy, and much of that is going into Scotland. We also increased the capital budget for the Scottish Government, so instead of lobbying us for capital projects, they now have the resources to pay for such things themselves.

T3. I recently attended the skills show in Birmingham, which was an incredible example of the opportunities on offer in Britain for young people, including jobs, training and apprenticeships. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the levy he announced in the autumn statement is an excellent further step to ensure that young people in the UK are earning and learning— or preferably both—as that is the route towards a more productive workforce that is ready for jobs in the 21st century? (902435)

The hon. Gentleman is a celebrated denizen of the House and he should provide a better example to his new colleagues. Questions from both sides of the House are just too long—good, but too long.

I was very excited, Mr Speaker, to hear about the skills show in Birmingham. My hon. Friend is right: by investing in apprenticeships and creating 3 million apprentices we address one of the great weaknesses of the British economy that has emerged over many decades, which is the low skill base.

Unfortunately, the Chancellor’s excitement is of no interest to the Chair. What is of interest is pithiness and progress, and everybody ought to be able to grasp that point.

T8. The Chancellor is a leading member of the Cabinet’s economic Sub-Committee that is considering airport expansion. The outcomes of that Committee are vital to growth in the north, and we were promised a response to it by Christmas. When can we expect that response? (902440)

I completely understand the hon. Lady’s interest in this subject, and the matter arouses a lot of interest across the House and the country. I am afraid she will have to be patient and wait for the Government’s response to that important report.

T4. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this autumn statement, which continues to make science a clear priority. Does he agree that the new Cheshire science corridor enterprise zone will play an invaluable role not only in the local economy, but nationally as well, and particularly for the northern powerhouse? (902436)

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is right. Support for Cheshire science goes across the county, and it particularly supports the brilliant work being done in Macclesfield and Alderley Park not just by AstraZeneca but by many new companies that have come to that estate. It is something that I know he champions.

As the hon. Lady knows—she has asked me about this before—we have a triple A credit rating with one credit rating agency, and we will let the others make their own decisions.

T6. Train services from Twickenham are inadequate and need to be faster and more frequent. Will the Chancellor look into what funding he can provide to improve services today, as well as for tomorrow with Crossrail 2? (902438)

I thank my hon. Friend and near neighbour for that question, and Crossrail 2 is also scheduled to go through my constituency. She will know that the Government have already committed money to feasibility studies in this Parliament. The National Infrastructure Commission has been tasked with reviewing further investment in London, and it will report back to the Government before the 2016 Budget.

What recent assessment has the Chancellor made of the performance of the UK Guarantees scheme? When it was launched, the Treasury said in a press release that it would

“dramatically accelerate major infrastructure investment”.

The only thing that has dramatically accelerated since then is the national debt under a Tory Chancellor who has missed every target that he set himself. Will he please acknowledge at least one of his failures?

The UK Guarantees scheme has already been approved for eight projects, including the Mersey Gateway bridge, the northern line extension, and Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. It has not always been necessary, and a further 18 projects worth almost £9 billion have been supported without the need for a guarantee.

T7. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on women and enterprise, I welcome the fact that more women than ever are working in Britain today. One of the barriers to forming a cohesive forward strategy for creating more female business owners is a lack of reliable data on how many there currently are. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss that issue and consider possible solutions such as the collection of data on HMRC returns? (902439)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to the APPG, and I look forward to working closely with him to provide the data that he seeks.

By what date do the Government expect to pay the national living wage to all their employees and all the contractors they employ?

T9. I welcome the Chancellor’s spending review last week, boosting the science budget and supporting silicon fen. Does he agree that the only way to continue to attract international investment to the region is good infrastructure, and now is the time to upgrade the A10 from Cambridge to Ely? (902441)

We have put a huge amount of investment into Cambridge, including of course the renovation of the famous Cavendish Laboratory, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the strong start she has made in recent months in championing her constituency. That has been continued today with a big bid for the A10, which I will take a close look at.

The Chancellor promised twice—at the Scottish referendum and in his manifesto—to have carbon capture and storage at Peterhead. Why has he broken that promise?

As I have said, investment in renewables will double over the next five years, and much of that investment will go into Scotland—[Interruption.] Look, the Scottish nationalists have a choice now. They have got some extra money and increased capital spending, and if they want to invest in carbon capture and storage in Scotland they can do so. It is called devolution.

Every three weeks, British taxpayers send more than £1 billion to Brussels. If the British people vote to come out of the EU, can the excellent Chancellor tell us how much earlier we would eliminate the deficit?

I will not get into the debate about our membership of the European Union, but what I would say is that—thanks to the hard negotiating of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—we have cut the EU budget.

By some mistake, there does not seem to be any question on the deficit on the Order Paper—[Interruption]—apart from the very interesting question we have just had. Can I ask the Chancellor the question he would not answer in response to the autumn statement: does he believe that by the time he leaves the Treasury for the last time, he will have finally dealt with our country’s deficit?

The Rushden Lakes development at Skew Bridge and Primark’s new warehouse at Islip are bringing thousands of new jobs to east Northamptonshire. Is not the added bonus that under the new business rates regime the local authority will be able to keep the windfall that will arise?

My hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate of the Skew Bridge project, and we have discussed it on several occasions. Of course, the devolution of business rates will help that project not only succeed, but make a big contribution to the local economy.

Given the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and given that the Chancellor has not met a single one of his own targets on economic performance, is he intending to go on and on, to the delight of the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London?

We promised to turn the British economy around and that is exactly what we have done. I know that the hon. Gentleman is out of sorts with the cultural revolution that is taking place on his Front Bench at the moment, but I just hope that in the modern Labour party they

“let a hundred flowers bloom”.

Entrepreneurs’ relief is a costly relief—and the Chancellor was right to reform it earlier this year—but it is an important way to incentivise our entrepreneurs to invest in businesses and to create jobs. Can he reassure our entrepreneurs that he remains committed to that relief and will take it forward in the years to come?

Of course we want entrepreneurs’ relief to be directed at entrepreneurs, and that is why we made the changes earlier this year, but during our time in office Conservative members of the Treasury team have doubled and redoubled that relief. We very much support that help for our enterprise economy.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

British pubs currently have 0.5% of British turnover, but pay 2.8% of business rates. Will the Chancellor meet me and officers of the save the pub APPG to discuss how we can better support pubs in the taxation system?

Of course, the pub industry has been supported by the reduction in beer duty, the increase in employment allowance, which is of huge benefit to many pubs, and the extension of small business rates relief, which we announced last week. I am happy to see what more we can do to support the great British pub industry, and I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman’s ideas.

Order. I am most grateful to the Chancellor and colleagues. Treasury questions always bust the box office records, as far more people want to take part than there is time to accommodate, so I hope that colleagues will understand.