Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 616: debated on Tuesday 25 October 2016

My principal responsibility is to ensure the stability and prosperity of the economy. In the current circumstances, that requires a combination of near-term measures to respond to the shock that the economy has received and longer-term measures to manage the structural adjustment as the UK transitions out of the EU and to address the UK’s long-term productivity challenge.

Today is my 30th wedding anniversary, so will the Chancellor join me in wishing the long-suffering Mrs Double a happy anniversary? Does he agree that the marriage tax allowance is a demonstration of this Government’s support for marriage? However, take-up has been low, so ahead of the autumn statement is the Chancellor considering increasing the allowance? If he is not, may I encourage him to do so?

I certainly join in wishing my hon. Friend and his wife a very happy 30th anniversary. Taking my queue from last week, I probably will not suggest how Mrs Double might commemorate the event.

My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight the value of marriage in society. I hope that I can reassure him that the Government remain firmly committed to supporting this important institution through the marriage allowance. Eligible couples could benefit by up to £432 this year, and we have just passed the landmark of 1 million families who have made successful applications. I agree with my hon. Friend that take-up of the marriage allowance is not high enough, but HMRC will launch a new campaign early next month to increase awareness and take-up.

Bringing the Chancellor back to Brexit and the role of his Department—happy anniversary, by the way, to the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double)—before the referendum, as the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) said, the Treasury published a paper warning that the impact on Government receipts of leaving the single market would be a loss of up to £66 billion. Last week, Tom Scholar, the permanent secretary to the Treasury, told the Treasury Committee that the figures were “not directly applicable”. The Chancellor then questioned his own Department’s calculations by referring to mitigating factors that were not taken into account. There is fumbling chaos about Brexit not just in the Cabinet, but in the Treasury as well. Will the Chancellor clarify his Department’s exact calculation of the outlook for public finances if access to the single market is not achieved?

The right hon. Gentleman can characterise it however he likes, but the simple fact is that all economic modelling must make assumptions. The model that the Treasury produced in April assumed no policy response by Government—we know that there has been a monetary response in the form of the monetary expansion delivered by the Bank of England on 2 August—and that an article 50 notice would be served immediately after the referendum, which we know was not the case.

As for the ongoing work, the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait until 23 November when the Office for Budget Responsibility will publish its forecast.

No figure is attached to anything that the Chancellor has said, which again confirms the chaos in Cabinet and in his Department. Can I ask the Chancellor to pass on my thanks to the officials who helpfully published on the Treasury’s website a document labelled

“Public Sector Finances Briefing – Official: Sensitive for internal use only”?

The document at least gives us some reliable information in that it confirms that the Government are failing to meet predictions on tax receipts and deficit reduction. It also reveals that that data are based on

“activity from before the referendum so any post referendum downturn will exacerbate this.”

Does that not prove once and for all that far from fixing the roof while the sun shone, this country was scandalously economically ill-prepared and politically totally unprepared for the Brexit decision?

Just so that the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely clear, it is quite wrong to suggest that my Department does not have any figures—it does, but I am just not giving them to him.

As for the document that the right hon. Gentleman spent such a lot of time yesterday rather unsuccessfully trying to tout around the media, it was published by mistake, but all the figures in the document have already been published elsewhere. All of them are in the public domain.

T2. Kevin Lancaster and Simon Davis started their business, Aqua Cooling, from scratch in Fareham in 2000, and it now generates £1.7 million in profit and is a leading industrial cooling firm. Last week, the Institute of Physics awarded Aqua Cooling its business innovation award for its innovate application of physics to generate jobs and profit. Will the Chancellor join me in congratulating Aqua Cooling and outline what the Government are doing to support research and development, so that other self-starters like Kevin and Simon can grow their businesses? (906773)

I think that all Treasury Ministers would be delighted to congratulate Aqua Cooling on the innovation award it has won. As has been said, the Government have committed to supporting research and development in British businesses, providing one of the most generous R and D tax credit schemes in the world to UK small business. I am delighted to say that it was claimed by more than 18,000 small and medium-sized enterprises in 2014-15.

T7. Why does the Chancellor believe that corporation tax receipts collapsed in September 2016 to their lowest level since 2009? Why does he believe borrowing will overshoot the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast by an extra £17 billion this financial year? (906778)

I am sorry to be boring, but all these issues will be addressed at the time of the autumn statement, when we will have the latest fiscal projections from the OBR.

T3. I know that there will be a statement on this in a moment, but it has been reported that Heathrow is the chosen option for expansion. It is important that every part of the UK benefits from this and so do our regional airports. Will the Chancellor agree to meet me to discuss how we can improve connectivity to Leeds Bradford airport and how we might get funding for a rail link to it? (906774)

As my hon. Friend and the House will know, an announcement has been made that the airports committee this morning decided to move ahead with the north-west runway at Heathrow, and my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be making a statement to the House very shortly. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that regional connectivity is vital. Regional slots at Heathrow have been squeezed out by the pressure on the runways there, and we will ensure, as a part of this package, that regional slots are protected in the future.

Tens of thousands of UK jobs depend on euro-denominated clearing in the UK. Will the Chancellor tell us how important he regards its still being permissible in the UK after we leave the European Union?

The right hon. Gentleman has put his finger on an important issue. As he will know, the European Central Bank has already had one go at trying to prevent euro-denominated clearing from taking place in the UK, and it is no doubt a very iconic issue for many of our European partners. It is an important part of the overall financial structure in London and it is not easily separated from the other activities that operate in London, but in terms of the jobs and value attached to it, it is a relatively small part of the total.

Following the announcement at Budget 2016, UK Asset Resolution Limited has launched a programme of sales of the Bradford & Bingley mortgage assets that it holds. That will be designed to raise sufficient proceeds to repay the £15.65 billion debt to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and, in turn, the corresponding loan from the Treasury. It is expected, subject to market conditions and ensuring value for money, that this programme of sales will have been concluded in full by the end of 2017-18.

The Government gave £5 million in funding for the refurbishment of the Burrell collection in my constituency, with the money coming from cash collected from the LIBOR scandal. Will the Chancellor consider a similar funding scheme for Holmwood house in my constituency, given that it is the bicentenary of the architect’s birth next year and it needs some TLC?

I am glad that at this stage of the process before the autumn statement, I am able to say that all submissions will be carefully considered, and if the hon. Gentleman would care to let me have something in writing, I will happily look at it.

T5. . Will the Chancellor provide an update on what the Government are minded to do about air passenger duty, in response to impending APD changes in Scotland? (906776)

The Government are reviewing the potential options to support regional airports, following the discussion paper that was published last year, and of course we will set out full details of our response in due course. We received 53 responses to the consultation. They were good, constructive, valuable responses and we are looking carefully at them.

What is the Chancellor’s assessment of the effect of inflationary pressures on the prices of goods and food over the next 12 months?

Clearly, the decline in the value of sterling will have an inflationary impact. How quickly that passes through into the UK economy is a subject of modelling by all economists who carry out these types of analyses. The Bank of England will very shortly be publishing its next inflation report, and that should give an indication of the forward trajectory.

T6. Under what circumstances would my right hon. Friend the Chancellor authorise another round of quantitative easing if requested by the Governor of the Bank of England? (906777)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as he has asked me a very important question. He knows that the operation of monetary policy in the UK is independent of Government. Monetary policy, including measures such as quantitative easing, has been highly effective in supporting the economy. Because of the fiscal implications of an indemnity for the Bank, packages have to be formally agreed by the Chancellor. Although I cannot prejudge any hypothetical request, no request for quantitative easing has ever been refused, and I see no reason why circumstances would be different in future.

The latest reports on the dash for cash in RBS’s Global Restructuring Group show even more misconduct by this bank. Given that we own a majority of RBS shares, does the Chancellor not believe that the UK Government have an obligation to the people of this country to conduct a robust investigation into the allegations of misconduct?

Michael Fabricant—not here. That is unprecedented in the history of my being in the Chair. I have never known the hon. Gentleman not to be here, but, fortunately, Mr Philip Davies is here.

T9. How much UK taxpayers’ money used to bail out and to loan to other EU countries by the EU has been repaid to the UK, and how much is still outstanding? What is the Chancellor doing to ensure that we get all that money back when we leave the European Union? (906780)

No UK taxpayers’ money has been used in the EU’s lending to other member states. Only in the event of default would the UK be asked to pay its share.

What impact has the Secretary of State made of his predecessor’s austerity economics on the nation’s prosperity and would he like to apologise for that divisive and discredited ideology?

I assume that the hon. Lady means what assessment I have made. Since 2010, we have brought this country back from the very brink. We have borrowing down from more than 10% of GDP to around 4% with more to deliver. We have created 2.7 million new jobs, making this economy the fastest growing in the G7 for the past three years, and the fastest job creator in the developed world. That is a record of which we can be proud.

T10. To what level must the astronomical costs of HS2 rise before the Chancellor advises his colleagues that the project is no longer good value for money for the taxpayer? (906781)

We believe that HS2 is part of modernising our transport system and ensuring that we have infrastructure fit for the 21st century.

In light of the upcoming report of the RBS’s Global Restructuring Group and given that past systems of redress for small businesses have been ad hoc and have failed, will the Chancellor meet the all-party group for fair business banking to see whether we can involve a permanent and effective system of redress?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but we should wait until we receive the FCA report before we proceed.

Mr Speaker, you will have seen the latest Office for National Statistics survey that found that Newark is the happiest place in mainland Britain. However, what is testing the people of Newark is the appalling state of their local roads. Will the Chancellor do another favour for Newark, and in his autumn statement bring forward the new Newark northern bypass?

As a former resident of my hon. Friend’s constituency, I am delighted to acknowledge that it is the happiest place in Britain. Certainly some of my happiest times and memories are of living there. As I said earlier, we are currently in the process of receiving submissions from hon. Members across the House, and I would be very happy to receive a written submission from my hon. Friend.

As the Chancellor is considering investment in roads in his autumn statement, will he look sympathetically at the need for investment to support the substantial Carrington development in my constituency, both in the M60-M62 network and in the relief road that will be necessary to support journeys in and out of the Carrington area?

I do not know the project that the hon. Lady talks about. I assume that it is a housing development, and we are certainly interested in the way in which infrastructure investment can not only deliver in its own right, but enable much-needed housing development. If she would like to let me have a written submission, I would be happy to look at it.

Does the Chancellor support Cheltenham’s Cyber Innovation Centre, and does he agree that spending on our world-class defence and security assets, such as GCHQ, can play a vital role in nurturing the high-tech civilian jobs of tomorrow?

Yes. I was privileged as Foreign Secretary for two years to have oversight of GCHQ, which is truly a world-class facility, and using that facility not only to ensure Britain’s security but to create a cutting-edge business sector is an entirely sensible thing to do. I welcome the success of the Cheltenham Cyber Innovation Centre.