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Topical Questions

Volume 613: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2016

My priority is to ensure the stability and prosperity of the UK economy. That means a combination of near-term measures to respond to the shock that the economy has received, and longer-term measures to manage the impact of transition out of the EU and to reposition the UK economy to maximise its potential in the new circumstances we will then face.

I add my congratulations to the new Front-Bench team. Leicestershire County Council is one of the lowest funded local authorities in the country. The council is reaching the point where it may not be able to meet all its statutory obligations. Given that, will my right hon. Friend help to arrange an urgent meeting between his counterparts in the Department for Communities and Local Government and council officials to discuss this matter?

As my hon. Friend notes, that is a CLG lead, but I am very happy to facilitate such a meeting for him.

The Chancellor will, I hope, have seen the research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies this morning. It shows that young people in work are still earning 7% less than before the crisis, while older workers have seen no improvement in their earnings for seven years. Will the Chancellor take this opportunity to put an end to what is becoming a lost decade of austerity, deliver the public investment that can provide well-paid, secure jobs across the country and scrap the anachronistic fiscal rule?

Since this is our first outing together, let me take the opportunity to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that I do not believe in the money tree; I am clear that we have to pay our way in the world. We have a very large fiscal deficit that we have to address, but while doing that we also have to ensure we maximise the productive capability of the UK economy. That means targeting our investment into skills—that does largely mean young people—and infrastructure, and encouraging capital formation in private businesses.

T2. Last year, the former Chancellor came to Hastings and committed to extending high-speed rail from Ashford to Hastings and Bexhill. This investment is the key to delivering local housing, a labour market and business expansion. I welcome the Chancellor to his position and ask for his commitment to this vital project. (905934)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. On the particular proposal he sets out, he is a strong champion for his constituents. If he will forgive me, in my new position of trying to control the purse strings all such matters have to be looked at. As I have made very clear, however, the Government are committed to improving transport infrastructure throughout the country, including in Sussex.

T4. I voice my compliments to the new Front-Bench team and my acknowledgement of the old. The prospect of moving to an ultra-low corporation tax rate has already been aired. That, of course, has huge implications for the revenues of developing countries. Will the Chancellor undertake to carry out and publish a spill-over analysis of the effect of UK tax rates and rules on developing countries, as the Governments of Ireland and Netherlands have done? (905936)

The position of the UK Government on corporation tax and the impact on developing countries is very clear. We believe in taxing the profits of economic activity that occur here, and that is as far as it goes. Over the last six years, we have consistently helped to build up tax capacity in developing countries and provided support to their revenue authorities so that they might be better able to collect the taxes that are due. The international system is moving towards helping those countries as well.

T3. I congratulate the Chancellor on his appointment and ask that when he looks through his in-tray, he pick up the recent report from the all-party group on financial education for young people. I chaired the inquiry that produced the report, which concluded that while it was a positive step that financial education was included in the national curriculum, delivery was still too patchy, meaning that millions of children were ill-equipped to deal with money when they left school. Will my right hon. Friend commit to making that issue a priority? (905935)

I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in this interesting and increasingly complex matter. It is very important that people have the skills they need to help them to navigate financial matters, which is why in 2014 the coalition Government made financial education part of the national curriculum in English schools. That said, I am quite happy to concede that there is more work to be done.

T6. Even excluding cuts to welfare and capital spending, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that funding for day-to-day public services will fall between 2009-10 and 2019-20 by the equivalent of about £1,800 per head, while between 2014-15 and 2019-20, day-to-day spending per head is forecast to fall by £1,000 per head. What plans does the Chancellor have to reverse this dangerous trend? (905938)

I have no plans at the moment to reverse the spending plans set out by my predecessor. Any such plans will be announced in the autumn statement. I would say to the hon. Lady, however, that Scotland now has devolved taxation and spending powers and can consider addressing the balance within its own competence.

T5. The Chancellor got his first job in my constituency, so it is a pleasure to welcome him to his latest job. The borough of Rushcliffe has now produced two excellent Chancellors of the Exchequer. In truth, however, Britain has not had a Chancellor since Nigel Lawson who has taken tax simplification seriously. As we prepare the economy for Brexit, will my right hon. Friend make it one of his priorities and consider, in the eight months before the next Budget, creating a commission on tax simplification? (905937)

We have created the Office of Tax Simplification and are currently legislating in the Finance Bill to put it on a legislative basis. It is setting out more and more ambitious plans for how the tax system could be simplified, and a large number of its recommendations have already been implemented, but there is still more to be done.

T7. As a proud Londoner, I believe that we must have greater control over taxes and public services, especially in the light of Brexit. I know that my friend Sadiq Khan has ambitious plans for London. Will the Chancellor commit to an initial devolution deal for London in his first autumn statement? (905939)

I am afraid that I will have to disappoint the hon. Lady, as I cannot commit to anything in the autumn statement at this stage, but I am meeting the Mayor of London later this week and look forward to a constructive discussion with him.

I congratulate the Chancellor and his new team. Do they agree that we need a broad coalition of countries around the world if we are to ensure that big businesses start to pay their taxes? Will he give his full support to the work in the OECD, the G20 and the G7 that started at the G8 summit at Fermanagh in 2013?

Yes, as one of my colleagues has already said, if we are to tackle the issue of profit shifting by global corporations, we have to do it on a global basis. This is an important topic on the agenda of the G20 Finance Ministers meeting this weekend in Chengdu, China, in which I intend to take a full part.

T8. What positive consideration will the new Treasury team give to the implementation of fiscal flexibilities to assist and underpin our tourism industry? (905940)

We will look in the autumn statement at all sectors of the economy, and where we believe that additional fiscal support is necessary, we will announce appropriate measures.

I welcome the Chancellor to his place. Does he agree that big business needs to change and that large multinational companies, including Amazon, Google and Starbucks, have a duty to put something back and pay off a debt to their fellow citizens, and a responsibility to pay their taxes?

T9. In a new report on living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK, the IFS finds that young people in their twenties are still earning 7% less than before the financial crisis, yet we know that the pressures on their incomes, particularly housing costs and student fees, are higher than ever before. What are the Government going to do to help this generation that is being left behind? (905941)

We have already had this question from the shadow Chancellor. Of course, we have introduced the national living wage, which will make a difference to people on low earnings at the bottom of the income scale. Interestingly, the hon. Lady perhaps hints at something else—questions of inter-generational fairness. The Prime Minister signalled early on in her tenure of office that that is one of the areas that she wishes to address.

I congratulate my right hon. Friends and indeed the entire new Treasury team.

With some softening of the market in house sales, will my right hon. Friend commit to looking at the data and consider whether the 3% additional stamp duty on second property purchases is necessary, desirable or indeed raises any additional revenue at all?

I can certainly commit to looking at the data, and I can tell my hon. Friend that my approach to taxation is that it is there for a simple purpose: to raise revenue for the Exchequer. I expect the taxes we put in place to achieve that.

T10. In the Queen’s Speech, the Government said that they will continue to support the northern powerhouse. Why, then, of the 15 infrastructure projects with the most public funding is only one in the north? (905942)

Some of the numbers quoted on regional impact do not take into account national projects such as HS2, which clearly benefit a number of regions. Let me be clear that, as I set out earlier, we have a very large commitment to infrastructure projects in the north of England, with something like 240 in the north-west and 300 in the midlands.

As part of the west of England devolution deal, business rates will be devolved to a combined authority. Will my right hon. Friend commit to full implementation of the previous deal on business rates and recognise the importance of this deal to the regional economy?

We have no plans to announce any changes to the business rate plans that are already in place.

The Government have announced that they are going to give £375,000-worth of banking fines to the Jo Cox fund that was set up by her family and friends to support charities that mattered to her. That fund has already raised £1.5 million in just a month. May I welcome the Government’s decision to allocate banking fines to support that fund? Will the Chancellor join me in encouraging people to give to the fund, which supports the White Helmets, Hope Not Hate and the Royal Voluntary Service?

I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in making such an appeal. I am glad that the Government have been able to support this very valuable fund in memory of Jo Cox, and I am sure that members of the public, seeing the Government contribution, will now want to redouble their efforts to support it.

I add my welcome to the Chancellor and the new Treasury team.

There is a great need in the south-west to provide more high-skilled jobs to boost productivity. In order to do that, we need to attract the right businesses. In this post-EU world, could the Chancellor kindly give his commitment, much praised so far, to the A358 upgrade for those in Somerset?

I am rapidly learning that, when it comes to road programmes and other transport infrastructure projects, it is for me to respond. We remain enthusiastic about improving our transport network, whether it be in the south-west of England or elsewhere.

Given the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year, does the Chancellor have plans to review the Financial Conduct Authority’s failure to enforce the prospectus rules in the Lloyd’s enhanced capital notes case? One of my constituents has been fighting hard for pensioners, who have lost over £3.3 billion.

As indeed have constituents of mine, so I am familiar with this case from the point of view of a constituency MP. I have not yet had a chance to look at it from the point of view of a Treasury Minister, but I promise the hon. Lady that I will do so.

Given the fall in long-term borrowing costs, the ability of infrastructure investment to show that we mean business and the enthusiasm shown by the Front-Bench team, will Ministers meet me to discuss an acceleration of the dualling of the A303?

That will be me again.

My diary is filling up, and I was planning to take a summer holiday, but I may need to reconsider. I should be delighted to meet my hon. Friend.

Two infrastructure projects are critical to the north-east: increased airport capacity at Heathrow, and an expanded Metro system. What funding commitment can the Government make to those projects today?

As I think has been made clear, a statement on airport capacity in the south-east will be made in the autumn. As for the Metro, I cannot add much to what I have said before, but the Government obviously want to support transport infrastructure throughout the country, and are looking at all good projects.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues, but we have had 20 topical questions, and we must now move on.