House of Commons
Tuesday 29 November 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Economic Growth: Coastal Areas
The Government are committed to helping coastal communities unlock barriers to economic growth. For example, we have invested more than £125 million in more than 200 projects across the United Kingdom through the coastal communities fund. That investment is forecast to deliver more than 18,000 jobs and help to attract more than £240 million of additional funds to coastal areas. Last week, in the autumn statement, I announced the allocation of £1.8 billion from the local growth fund to all regions in England.
Coastal areas face specific challenges because they do not have 360° access to trade with neighbouring areas, and the Isle of Wight faces additional challenges because we have no physical link with the mainland. Does my right hon. Friend regard the Isle of Wight as a special case that deserves extra support from the Government?
I know that every single one of my right hon. and hon. Friends will regard his or her own constituency as a special case, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the Government recognise the specific barriers to economic growth experienced by coastal areas such as the Isle of Wight. That is why we are extending the coastal communities fund by at least a further £90 million across the United Kingdom over the current Parliament. In addition, as my hon. Friend will know, through the Solent growth deal the Isle of Wight has benefited from nearly £15 million of investment to expand the skills base, support business growth and improve transport links.
Coastal areas in the north of England have been left behind for too long. We now know that the cost of Brexit to our economy will be the best part of 60 billion quid. Will the Chancellor commit himself to replacing the EU structural funding that gives coastal areas such as New Ferry, in my constituency, half a chance to make economic progress?
We have already made announcements about EU funding during the transition period, giving a Treasury guarantee to underwrite funding that is allocated to projects in the UK, so that people who bid for that funding can do so with confidence. However, as the hon. Lady suggests, after we leave the European Union we will need to review for England, and discuss with the devolved Administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, how we are to replace the streams of EU funding to which many regions have become accustomed. We need to have a debate in the House to ensure that that funding is used in a way that reflects the UK’s priority in the future, not the priority of the wider European Union.
Selsey Bill, in my constituency, is a special case, but the best thing that can be done for coastal areas is to secure stronger growth throughout the economy. Mario Draghi has suggested that UK growth would be lower if, as a consequence of Brexit, the UK economy were less open to trade and investment. Does the Chancellor agree that both the UK and the EU benefit from an open economy, and that, if the European Central Bank is worried about a Brexit shock to the eurozone, he can and should be lobbying EU leaders to press for a high degree of mutual market access in the Brexit negotiations?
Absolutely, Mr Speaker. I agree with Mario Draghi that a reduction in openness would be very bad for the economy of Selsey Bill, and my right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. I entirely agree that the best way for the Government to protect the UK’s economy is to argue for the most open possible trading relationship with the European Union after we leave.
The coastal communities of Cumbria were deeply affected by Storm Desmond last December. The River Kent, which meets the sea at Morecambe bay, is one of Britain’s fastest-flowing and shortest rivers, and when it flooded last December, untold damage was caused to communities and the economy throughout the county. In last week’s autumn statement, the Government went back on their word from last December to fund the resilience of bridges to help prevent future flooding. Will the Chancellor apologise to the flood-hit communities of Cumbria for that betrayal, and, even at this late stage, will he change his mind?
We did announce funds for flood resilience in the autumn statement, distributed from money that had already been set aside for that purpose in the spending review. I did not mention Cumbria specifically in the autumn statement, but I will look at the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and will write to him.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcements of the various sums, and may I suggest that the sums the Government have put aside for coastal defence are critical for places such as Whitstable, in my constituency, for generating economic as well as social confidence among the people who live there?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and of course flood defences are categorised as economic infrastructure precisely because they are a critical enabler of business activity and are critical to protect transport, communications, infrastructure and so on, and we will continue to invest in them.
It is about time we heard from this Government about support for our coastal economies because we have just seen, in last week’s autumn statement, a catalogue of six and a half years of abject failure, whether on infrastructure, skills or support for businesses. The coastal communities of Formby and Crosby in my constituency need to hear a lot more from the Chancellor. They need support now and in the future.
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, what he would have heard last week was a catalogue of 2.7 million new jobs created over the last six and a half years, a deficit inherited from Labour at a peacetime record high slashed by two-thirds, a million new jobs created in the UK, record employment levels and 865,000 fewer workless households, all of which will have made an important contribution to improving living standards and prospects in coastal communities throughout the UK.
The Government are committed to supporting housing supply and ensuring that the housing market works for everyone. Good progress has been made since 2010, with housing supply now at an eight-year high. In October, my right hon. Friend the Communities and Local Government Secretary launched a £3 billion home building fund to provide loans to house builders to unlock over 200,000 homes. However, the scale of the challenge requires us to go further, which is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that the Government will invest £2.3 billion in a new housing infrastructure fund that will deliver up to 100,000 homes, and will invest an additional £1.4 billion to deliver 40,000 new affordable homes.
Will the autumn statement’s £3.15 billion boost for London housing be flexible enough to meet the aspirations of both Londoners wanting a home they can afford to rent or buy and London’s homeless, whose complex needs include the need for supported housing?
I can provide that reassurance to my hon. Friend. The Government are committed to supporting housing supply and ensuring that the housing market works for everyone, including Londoners. London’s £3.15 billion affordable housing settlement will deliver over 90,000 affordable housing starts by 2020-21 across a range of tenures, including homes for low-cost home ownership and submarket rent, as well as supporting housing for Londoners with particular needs, and of course London will also benefit from the housing infrastructure fund.
More people in my constituency rent privately than own their own homes and for most of them ownership is a distant or impossible dream. Are the Government considering looking at the supply of private rented housing on longer tenures, perhaps with rent guarantees, and possibly using tax reliefs or other mechanisms the Treasury has in its armoury, to encourage landlords to provide those longer-term tenancies and better security for the many private rented sector tenants?
The Government are taking action to ensure that we build more homes. There is a need for flexibility in terms of tenure, which was at the heart of my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), but last week’s autumn statement included a series of measures that will help to ensure that we are building more homes in this country, which is what we need.
We were very clear that the 2% increase in insurance premium tax was a revenue-raiser that enabled us to introduce the measure on changing the taper for universal credit, which increases the incentives to work. We believe that was the right course of action, but if we look at the autumn statement, and indeed the announcement made at the Conservative party conference, what is very clear is that this Government are committed to ensuring that we build more homes, which is what the public rightly expect.
The independent National Audit Office is carrying out an inquiry into the Concentrix contract and it plans to publish its report in early 2017. That is in addition to Select Committee and Public Accounts Committee scrutiny, which has been extensive to date and will no doubt be extensive in the future.
I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), who is not in her place, whose hard work got this issue on to the agenda and forced HMRC to act. In July, the independent Social Security Advisory Committee said that the Concentrix contract was a
“major departure for HMRC, as decisions about a claimant’s past eligibility to a benefit are being made by a commercial organisation”,
“this same organisation is then performing mandatory reconsiderations when a claimant challenges the initial decision.”
What are the Government going to do to prevent this situation from happening again?
The chief executive of HMRC addressed that particular issue in one of his evidence sessions to a Select Committee. I hope the House will be pleased to hear that HMRC has taken back and completed all 181,000 cases from Concentrix and has now cleared most of the mandatory reconsiderations. [Interruption.] There are of course issues to consider. That is why the National Audit Office is carrying out its inquiry, which is already under way, and the Government will of course respond to its report in due course.
The Concentrix scandal left huge numbers of people in hardship, and some of them are still paying off the debts to loan sharks that they took out to see them through. Ministers must have seen the complaints letters, and they must have seen what was in the media. Were they asleep at their desks? Were they just caught napping? Concentrix, HMRC and the Minister at the time need to be held responsible for this, and we need a proper inquiry.
I would make the point to the hon. Gentleman that a proper inquiry is exactly what the National Audit Office will be undertaking, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and her Committee will have that report in front of them in due course. This matter will be properly looked at in some detail. Over the course of the contract, considerable savings were made for the taxpayer in relation to fraud and error, but it is true that things went badly wrong towards the end of the contract, which is why swift action was taken.
While recognising the points made by the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on the Concentrix contract, which will be covered in the Select Committee’s report, I would like to congratulate Treasury Ministers on responding very fast when these issues really came to a climax in August and on being extremely prompt in looking after constituents who contacted their MPs about this matter.
I thank my hon. Friend for those words. Having looked carefully at the profile of complaints from Members over the period of the contract, it is clear that there was sharp increase in their number right at the end of the contract, when it became apparent that a number of Members were contacting us on behalf of their constituents. As I have said, it was the sharp decline in service that led to the actions that we took. It is also worth noting that all the 181,000 cases that were taken back have now been resolved and that, where appropriate, compensation has been paid. Most importantly, when claims have needed to be renewed and reinstated, this has been done.
Given the issues in my constituency that I have raised, I am pleased that the Concentrix contract has now been brought to an end. Does the Minister agree that an inquiry by the National Audit Office, which works for and answers to this House, will be far more effective in getting lessons learned than a long-winded public inquiry that could become a lawyer-fest?
My hon. Friend is exactly right to say that the National Audit Office inquiry is the way to go. This is an area in which it is deeply experienced and the work is already under way. The report will be produced in the new year. In order to draw conclusions and to find these reports helpful, that speed of inquiry is important. We will have the report early in the new year, and the House will have further chances to scrutinise it at that time.
HMRC Penalty Surcharges
Ultimately, the Government want to collect the right tax at the right time, not charge penalties. As it happens, we are currently reviewing ideas for how we charge penalties. A discussion document was published last year, and we recently consulted on a new approach to sanctions for late submissions of returns and late payment of taxes. We are currently considering all the comments received and if my hon. Friend wants to contribute to that process, I will be happy to look at any detailed points.
I am more than happy to contribute. A small building company in my constituency has paid large VAT bills on time since 1972. However, on one occasion, because of a mistake by a member of staff, the company’s VAT return was one day late and the company was hit with a totally unfair £12,000 penalty charge. During the review, will Ministers consider changing the penalty charge system so that they are levied only on businesses that repeatedly fail to pay their VAT on time? “Three strikes and you’re fined” might be a good system.
I note what my hon. Friend says with interest. It is worth clarifying that the VAT default surcharge system already contains safeguards to help businesses avoid penalties and that no business incurs a surcharge the first time it makes a late payment. My hon. Friend may want to write to me about that individual case because I cannot address it here in the House. The current system of surcharges is structured in a way that allows the smallest businesses up to four late payments without incurring a surcharge, so I suggest that he writes to me with the details, which I will pass on to HMRC.
The new “Making tax digital” arrangements, which will require businesses to submit quarterly returns, increase the likelihood of sanctions being imposed following late returns or non-submission. How does that fit in with the Government’s promises to make it easier to start a business, to cut red tape and to make businesses more competitive?
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s description of “Making tax digital”—an important reform that we will consider carefully. We said in the autumn statement that we will respond in the new year, but it is not right to say that there will be four returns; information will be digitally uploaded to the system more regularly. It is also the case that one of the driving forces behind “Making tax digital” is to help small businesses to get things right first time, because there is an awful lot of error that often costs businesses money that they would otherwise be owed.
I must press the Financial Secretary on that point. I appreciate that the “Making tax digital” programme does have advantages, but many small businesses are worried about quarterly reporting. Will she consider making it voluntary rather than mandatory?
I reiterate to my right hon. Friend that it is envisaged that people will upload information quarterly, but that is not the same as four tax returns a year, something which got some currency at the time. Several significant concessions regarding the number of small businesses that were exempt from the system were announced over the summer, but I am listening carefully to the points being made both by colleagues in the House and by some of the important stakeholders with whom we have been engaging. That is why we said that we will respond in the new year. We do not want to rush our response; we want to consider all the points carefully.
Investment and skills are front and centre in our plans to raise productivity across the country, including in the south-west. The autumn statement announced a new £23 billion national productivity investment fund that will be targeted at four areas that are critical to improving productivity: housing; transport; digital communications; and research and development. We also announced in the autumn statement that the south-west will receive £191 million from the local growth fund to back local priorities and support new jobs and £19.5 million extra investment to bolster the area’s resilience to flooding.
I welcome the Chancellor’s words and appreciate that he is keen for funding to be granted and attached to infrastructure projects that will bring a positive economic effect. With that in mind, will he consider supporting road improvements on the Toneway-Creech Castle corridor that leads into Somerset’s county town of Taunton, which will unlock 3,000 housing units?
I understand that the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership bid for this scheme is part of its local growth fund submission; as I said, £191 million has been allocated to the south-west, and details of the individual LEP allocations will be announced in the near future. The Government are very supportive of using infrastructure to open up house building and employment opportunities, and from what she has said about this road, it sounds as though the project in question would fit very well with Government priorities.
As the Chancellor will know, Bristol is making a real contribution to productive growth, not just in the south-west, but across the country. But as the mayor of Bristol said in his response to the autumn statement,
“if the government wants a ‘watertight’ UK economy it needs to stop punching holes in local government’s hull.”
Will the Government commit to giving Bristol and cities like it the devolved powers, infrastructure investment and funding they need to deliver on productive growth locally?
The Government remain committed to the devolution agenda and, in particular, to supporting mayoral authorities, to ensure that economic growth and productivity are driven from the bottom up. We will continue to work with those authorities to make sure we deliver the funding available in the most effective way to get the result the national economy needs.
I very much welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to road, rail and broadband. Openreach should be broken away from BT to deliver proper competition, because in the hardest-to-reach areas for broadband in my constituency and across the west country, we need some greater players and greater competition.
I appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying. He will know that there has been a long and heated debate about the best way of delivering our broadband infrastructure in the future, and Ofcom is at the heart of reviewing this issue. I shall continue to have meetings with Ofcom, and with representatives of BT and others, over the coming days, as will my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary.
The south-west’s productivity has drifted down since 2010 and, according to the House of Commons Library, the UK overall has seen the widest productivity gap with the G7 since 1991, when the data series began. What plans, if any, does the Chancellor have to pursue his predecessor’s so-called “Fixing the foundations” productivity plan? Or is that another failed policy that this Chancellor is trying quietly to jettison?
No, and if the hon. Gentleman looks at the document we published last Wednesday, he will see that it contained a specific reference to “Fixing the foundations”, which is the base document setting out the Government’s agenda for addressing productivity issues. Of course, the key announcement in last week’s autumn statement was an additional £23 billion of borrowing specifically targeted at the highest-return investment projects; this is designed to raise Britain’s productivity by raising the productivity performance of our regional cities, in particular, and our regions more generally, to that of London and the south-west.
It is six years late. The productivity gap has widened for both the south-west and the country, and so has the gap in earnings and wages. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the outlook for wages is “dreadful”, with workers likely to earn less in real terms in 2021 than they did in 2008, and with the biggest losers being lower-income families, with the poorest third likely to see incomes drop. So in tandem with action on the productivity crisis, what are the Chancellor’s plans for action on the wages crisis?
First, if the hon. Gentleman that if he looks at real household disposable incomes, he will see that the picture is rather brighter, and they present a much more real picture of what people in the economy are experiencing. He is right to say that real wages are a reflection of productivity performance, and the only way sustainably to raise real wages is to raise the productivity performance of this economy. So rather than whinging about whether something was done this year, last year or six years ago, and perhaps with a careful eye on the performance of the previous Labour Government in this area, he might care to welcome the announcement made last week as an appropriate initiative to try to raise the UK’s productivity performance, and raise real wages and living standards over the long term.
Business Investment: UK and East Anglia
The Government are taking significant steps to encourage business investment in East Anglia and in all regions of the UK by cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in the G20, delivering a £6.7 billion business rates package and allocating the £23 billion of public investment through the national productivity investment fund to ensure increasing and improved productivity. The autumn statement also announced £27 million for the Oxford to Cambridge expressway road link, as well as funding for the east-west rail link, and local enterprise partnerships in the east of England will also receive up to £151 million of local growth funding.
I welcome the Chancellor’s reply and the announcement of investment in the Oxford to Cambridge corridor and the transformational effect that that could have. Will he also ensure that other schemes to the east of Cambridge, such as the vital Ely North rail junction and improvements to the A47, also go ahead on time? He will be aware that they are crucial to the future economy of west Norfolk and other parts of Norfolk.
I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend’s comments about that particular rail scheme to my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary. My hon. Friend will know that we have a large programme of rail infrastructure in place and that the additional funding for the east-west rail link that was announced last week was outside that core rail programme. I hope that he will agree that the Oxford to Cambridge corridor represents a real growth opportunity for the south and the east of England to exploit Britain’s two best known universities and their world-class research reputations to enhance the productive capacity of our economy.
Since 23 June, there has been a significant depreciation of sterling and two announcements of major investments in UK motor manufacturing. The prospects for investment in UK manufacturing more widely are now much improved. Will the Chancellor be seeking to ensure that the more sensible exchange rate welcomed by Lord Mervyn King, among others, is sustained?
No. It is not the Government’s business to sustain or manage the exchange rate in any way, as the hon. Gentleman very well knows. We have an inflation target, but exchange rates are set by markets and reflect market views about the economy and expectations of the trajectory of the economy in the future. He is absolutely right to observe that, over the past six months, we have seen some remarkable endorsements of the British economy through large inward investment decisions made by foreign inward investors.
May I congratulate the Chancellor on the £23 billion of extra money for this national productivity investment fund, which will confer huge benefits on the whole of the United Kingdom? Although I do not expect him to comment on the considerable merits of the A610 growth corridor and the improvements to the road at Giltbrook, I am very happy to meet him to persuade him of them. On a serious note, will he do everything he can to ensure that excellent schemes such as those are expedited and not caught up in what can sometimes be bureaucratic tangles?
It is an excellent scheme indeed. My right hon. Friend will know that it is not only the £23 billion of additional funding for economically productive infrastructure that was announced on Wednesday last week, but a core £150 billion of funding for the same defined purposes over the remainder of this Parliament and the Government’s commitment, repeated last Wednesday, to move to a roads fund from 2020, funded by the revenues from vehicle excise duty, all of which adds up to a sustained commitment to investment in our roads.
Brexit is putting business investment on hold at the expense of job losses. This comes after a long period of escalating debt and slumping growth. Furthermore, quantitative easing has failed to raise confidence and stimulate business investment in the real economy. The autumn statement measures announced are simply insufficient. What else will the Chancellor do?
I simply do not recognise the picture that the hon. Gentleman paints. The Bank of England’s monetary actions have undoubtedly had a positive effect in stimulating the economy. The performance of consumer demand over the past few weeks has demonstrated that very clearly. We have the key elements in place, both monetary and fiscal, for our current circumstance, which is the potential for a more difficult period ahead. We need to muster our resources, make sure that we are able to support the economy through this period, and, at the same time, address the fundamental challenges, such as the productivity problem, to ensure that Britain is match fit to meet the challenges that it will face as it leaves the European Union.
In that regard, I am sure that the Chancellor would agree that research and development investment is critical to obtaining a high skill, high wage economy and one that increases productivity, as he has recognised. It is therefore disappointing that the autumn statement has failed to match R and D investment as a percentage of GDP in line with other major economies. What will the Chancellor do to fill that gap?
What I will do over the medium to long term is get the British economy back on to a firm footing, so that we can fund all those investment needs—which we do have, as the hon. Gentleman points out. Let me turn the question around. Scotland will receive £800 million of additional capital funding through Barnett consequentials as a result of the announcement made last week. From the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I feel sure that the Scottish National party will want to confirm that that money will be used in Scotland, as it will in England, to target productivity-raising capital investment, so that the Scottish economy can perform more strongly in the future.
Leaving the EU: SMEs
The UK remains very much open for business and the Government are committed to supporting SMEs to access the capital they need to grow, as demonstrated by the £400 million increase in funding for the British Business Bank announced at the autumn statement, unlocking £1 billion of funding.
The Minister will be aware that more than £10 billion of EU structural funds is invested annually in the UK, particularly in Wales. Indeed, in my constituency of Ogmore, many small and medium-sized businesses have benefited from Jobs Growth Wales, which is a success of the Welsh Labour Government. Will the Minister give a cast-iron guarantee to the people of Wales that structural funding will continue, pound for pound, after we leave the European Union?
We want to see the economy benefit every part of the UK. It is interesting to note that there are almost 1 million new businesses in our country since 2010, and I note the Prime Minister’s announcement at the CBI conference about the new patient capital review, which will be interesting, I am sure.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Brexit is essentially a red herring for SMEs in this context, that what matters is that the Government create the right conditions for businesses to do business and that the banks are in a sufficiently capitalised position to lend money?
What would be the impact on SMEs, particularly those in the supply chain of big manufacturing firms such as Jaguar Land Rover or Airbus, if we were to leave the EU without full access to the single market or a free trade deal with the rest of the EU and if we were forced to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs?
Does the Minister agree that the City of London plays a very important part in helping businesses to raise capital and that maintaining clearing in euros in the City of London will be an important way to ensure that the City retains that status?
In the autumn statement, we prioritised additional high-value investments, specifically in infrastructure and innovation, that will directly contribute to raising Britain’s productivity. The Chancellor announced a new national productivity investment fund of £23 billion to be spent on housing, transport, digital communications and research and development over the next five years. Local enterprise partnerships will receive £1.8 billion of growth deal funding. This will go towards the projects needed to bring about economic growth in local areas, including new homes, transport improvements and supporting businesses and people to access the skills they need.
I welcome all those measures to boost productivity and particularly to turn attention to infrastructure and the specifics for the east of England given yesterday. However, given the strategic importance of the A14 trunk road linking Felixstowe port with Cambridge and the rest of the country, as well as its significance to 80% of businesses in Suffolk, does the Minister agree that further improvements to a road that he knows well are vital to productivity?
My hon. Friend is right—it is a road that I know well. We certainly agree that the A14 is a critically important part of the network. We are investing £1.5 billion for a major upgrade to cut congestion on the A14, including a new 21-mile road between Huntingdon and Cambridge, and only yesterday my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary was able to go there to witness the start of the work.
No, that is not true. There is a balanced package and all parts of England will benefit from the transport measures. The Barnett consequentials should mean that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can also benefit in this area. A specific announcement about the midlands hub was made in the autumn statement and there is more to be said about the midlands engine. This is a Government who are determined to ensure that the whole country benefits from economic growth.
My hon. Friend highlights the fact that digital must be key to improving productivity. That is why a £1 billion package was announced in the autumn statement. There was also specific help for rural areas through rural rates relief. Our ambition is clear: to provide the best digital infrastructure we can for urban and rural areas.
In table 4.21 of the report Office for Budget Responsibility’s it forecast that the Government will underspend on infrastructure by £15 billion in the next five years—two thirds of the additional money announced by the Chancellor last week. Why should the public have any confidence in the ability of the Government to deliver on their promises when their own watchdog clearly does not?
The OBR has always taken a cautious view on delivery of infrastructure, but let us remember that we have already delivered 3,000 projects. We have set out an ambitious plan for delivery of infrastructure improvements in the course of this Parliament, and that is exactly what we will deliver.
The Government are committed to ensuring that exporters receive world-class support. That is why the autumn statement announced the doubling of UK export finance capacity.
Last week, the OBR reduced its trade forecast, stating that this is
“due to the loss of trade that the OBR judges will result from the UK leaving the EU.”
We all know that this Government would like to have their cake and eat it, but changes to export finance alone will not bridge the gap between ambition and reality. Do the Government seriously expect to meet their own target of doubling exports without continued membership of the single market and without a comprehensive plan to do so? Do the Government stand by their exports target?
We do, and it is interesting to note that the Federation of Small Businesses, for example, welcomed the doubling of export finance because it felt that it would help small and medium-sized enterprises reach new markets. It is also interesting to note that the Scotch Whisky Association highlights the importance of exports, and it has seen an increase of 3.1%, to 531 million bottles. Perhaps the hon. Lady might remove uncertainty in Scotland by stopping banging on about a second referendum.
Last week’s autumn statement should have been about providing answers to meet the challenges of Brexit and at least information on the options available. Instead, it appears that the only information we can glean is from photos snatched of the notes of a senior Conservative official in Downing Street. We know now, in the light of that leak, that many of the Chancellor’s senior colleagues in the Government are reluctant to pursue the transitional deal being called for by businesses when we leave the EU. Will the Minister now provide some clarity by inviting the Treasury and the Office for Budget Responsibility to undertake a full assessment of the public finance implications of the range of policy options associated with Brexit, including access—or not—to the single market, being in or out of the customs union and the potential for transitional arrangements?
I take that as a no.
Last week, we learned in the OBR report that the OBR was denied any information in respect of assurances provided to Nissan. The OBR said:
“On this occasion we asked specifically whether any contingent liabilities had been created in respect of assurances provided to Nissan and the Treasury declined to say.”
This level of opaqueness on an existing deal undermines the certainty businesses need to invest in any future deals. Will the Chancellor now provide the OBR with the information it has requested, so that it can provide a more accurate forecast, rather than being left in the dark or, as it put it, “none the wiser”?
Perhaps we should welcome the jobs to start with. However, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question, it was, unfortunately, not possible to confirm this to the OBR in time to feed into the drafting process. Her Majesty’s Treasury therefore provided the same answer as it would to any query on contingent liability.
Public Infrastructure Spending
In the autumn statement, as I have said already, I announced the creation of a new national productivity investment fund to provide £23 billion of additional investment. That is on top of the £150 billion that is already baked into the baseline, and it is focused on the key areas for boosting productivity—housing, infrastructure and research and development.
I welcome the £800 million in Barnett consequentials, which the Scottish Government will invest on top of the £100 million they have already announced for capital projects, but what further steps will the Chancellor take to address the almost 10% cut to the Scottish capital budget since the Tories came to office?
The Scottish Government will have a full share of infrastructure spending through the Barnett formula, and we will work with the Scottish Government and all other devolved Administrations and regional entities, as we work to raise the UK’s productivity game. That is about infrastructure investment—both public and private. It is about raising skills. It is about raising management capability, and we announced that we would fund the Charlie Mayfield initiative to disseminate best management practice across small and medium-sized enterprises. It is about doing all these things to ensure the UK is match fit to prosper in the global economy in the future.
May I ask the Chancellor not to blindly hand over any extra infrastructure spending in West Yorkshire to the Labour-dominated West Yorkshire Combined Authority for it just to pump money into the Labour heartlands, and instead make sure that money can be spent in other parts of West Yorkshire, including on a Shipley eastern bypass, which would benefit the local economy and the economies of my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), too?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I did not know that Labour had any heartlands left, so that is an interesting comment. I will pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary and ask him to take them into consideration when he makes his allocations.
My principal responsibility is to ensure the stability and prosperity of the economy. In the current circumstances, I judge that that requires a combination of near-term measures to ensure resilience 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. The package announced in the autumn statement last week delivered on both requirements.
So far the Chancellor has disregarded Members’ requests to give justice to the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—women. Will he now listen to bodies such as North Tyneside Council, which, under our elected mayor, Norma Redfearn, has written to the Government to ask for a fair transition of the state pension right for all these women?
This is year four of Small Business Saturday, and the campaign continues to get bigger each year. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are the backbone of the British economy. The Government will continue to support Small Business Saturday this year with events across the country. I encourage right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to be in touch with their local enterprise partnerships and their local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses to find out what is going on locally and to get out there and support it.
Last week, we saw the accumulation of six wasted years of failed economic policies supported by both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. Following last week’s autumn statement and the publication of the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, can the Chancellor confirm how much worse off a pensioner on the state pension will be by 2019-20 as a result of the OBR’s downgrades to wage forecasts?
I am slightly mystified by the hon. Lady’s question, because the downgrades to wage forecasts will not be the driver of the circumstances of a pensioner on the state pension, given that we have introduced a triple lock that guarantees pensioners an increase in line with inflation, in line with earnings, or 2.5% as a minimum. However, I am happy to look at the specific question and to write to the hon. Lady with a calculation.
Let me inform the House that the forecast is this: a pensioner on the state pension will be £429 worse off by 2019-20, with only the triple lock preventing an even worse decline. After claiming in the autumn statement that the triple lock will now be subject to review, will the Chancellor end the uncertainty and worry he has caused older people and join me in committing to preserve the triple lock throughout the lifetime of the next Parliament?
Well, this was worth waiting for: we have a firm commitment by the Opposition to run the triple lock through the lifetime of the next Parliament. I wonder whether the hon. Lady knows how much money she has just spent, without knowing the fiscal circumstances the country will face. What we have said, and the only responsible thing to say, is that all the commitments we have made for the duration of this Parliament we will review at the spending review before the end of the Parliament, and we will decide then which ones we can afford to renew and which ones are appropriate to renew. I think this tells us everything we need to know about the Opposition: three and a half years out, they are willing to spray around commitments without any idea of what it is going to cost them.
My hon. Friend is right to point to the fact that we inherited a complex system in that regard. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has enhanced its online services. There will be an online service, for example, for people making new claims for tax credits starting in April 2017. The use of real time information through pay-as-you-earn has really helped to pick up potential errors in claimants’ income, and it is making a difference.
I will take that as a representation and make sure that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is aware of it. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are already setting out an ambitious programme for road spending over this Parliament. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made announcements last week about putting in more funding to improve our road network across the country. I am happy to look at the case that the hon. Gentleman raises.
I recently visited ASV Global in Portchester, an innovator in unmanned and autonomous marine technologies. In just six years, ASV has designed 70 new products, which it has delivered to 10 countries and 40 customers. What further support for research and development is available to companies such as ASV to boost job creation and wealth?
We have done two things. Within the £23 billion that I announced last week to raise the UK’s productivity game is a significant increase in public R and D investment. We also said—we will do this before the Budget—that we would carry out a review of the way that tax support for privately funded R and D works, with the objective of ensuring that the UK is the most attractive place in Europe to do private R and D work. I will report at Budget 2017.
No, not necessarily at all. We spend our ODA in different ways, and different Departments have relatively small pools of ODA. Of course, the great majority of it goes through DFID. Where GNI contracts and the ODA budget needs to be trimmed accordingly, we will look to take away the lowest-value ODA spending. I think that that is the way the taxpayer would expect it to be done.
Further to the Chancellor’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), could he set out how QuestUAV in Amble, a manufacturer of mapping and survey drones, and other high-tech north-east businesses will be able to access the R and D funding that he talks about?
Public R and D funding will take two principal forms. There will be further funding to the science base in our universities, and there will be funding through Innovate UK, which is accessible by companies to support innovation. We already have an excellent base in basic science. What we need to do now is to up our game in innovation and the application of that science.
The right hon. Lady and I have recently spoken about this issue, and as she knows, there has been some work done to look at the broader issue. It is complicated, but I undertake to look at it again and respond to her. Of course, some of the broader aspects of the gig economy will be covered during the Taylor review.
According to the Library, infrastructure spending per head is 2.5 times greater in London and the south-east than in the regions. Does the Chancellor agree that now is the time for a fairer distribution of investment spending across the UK?
The Government are committed to investment in all the regions of the UK. We have delivered more than 500 infrastructure schemes in the north since 2010, and more than £13 billion of spending is planned on transport in the north during this Parliament. In Yorkshire, this includes new trains on the east coast main line, the trans-Pennine railway upgrade and bringing the A1(M) up to motorway standard for its full length. I would just say to my hon. Friend that figures for London and the south-east are distorted by the effect of the strategic Crossrail project, with a cost of £14.8 billion.
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise date, but I have discussed this with the business managers. The rules of the House mean that 28 days must elapse before the charter is laid. I think that that will put it in the second half of January, but we will have the debate as soon as we can after the statutory period.
As other Members have mentioned, there is growing alarm about the impact of making tax digital on small business people, of whom I am one. Will the Chancellor confirm that, in time, quarterly tax returns will also apply to Members of Parliament?
As my hon. Friend mentioned, we touched on this earlier. Making tax digital is an important reform. I have mentioned already that some important concessions were made during the summer, by taking many very small businesses out of making tax digital, but it has much to offer small businesses. I am looking carefully at all the responses that have been made, and as he knows, I have listened carefully to the points that he has made on a number of occasions.
It is not a vehicle to interfere, but we have been clear from the very beginning that if the Northern Ireland Executive wish to reduce corporation tax rates in Northern Ireland, they need to do so in an environment in which we can be confident that the public finances are on a sound footing in Northern Ireland.
When I met the leader of North East Lincolnshire Council yesterday, he emphasised to me that one of the major challenges facing our coastal community is that many people retire there and put additional strains on the adult social care budget. Will Ministers assure me that that will be considered when allocating departmental budgets?
With just one in six people with autism in employment, would it not have been better to invest in improving the Work and Health programme, rather than cutting it, to assist people to gain employment and thereby save on benefits? They want to work.
The reforms that we have announced will enable us to spend £330 million on practical support to ensure that people in the work-related activity group can work. May I point out that, over the past three years, the number of disabled people in employment has increased by nearly 600,000?
The key insight of the Government’s productivity plan is that value can be unlocked through more timely implementation, so will the Chancellor have a word with the Transport Secretary to see how he can speed up the completion of the final part of the Oxford to Cambridge link from Bedford to Cambridge?
Does the Chancellor realise that if he tries to push the funding gap in social care on to local councils, it will be grossly unfair for areas such as Doncaster, where a 1% increase in council tax would raise 21% less than it would for the council in the Prime Minister’s constituency? Will he commit to funding social care fully?
As I said on Wednesday, with the additional social care precept and the better care fund, we have measures in place that will make £3.5 billion of additional funding per annum available for social care by the end of this Parliament. But we recognise that local authorities have a challenge in the profiling of that money. My right hon. Friends the Health Secretary and the Communities Secretary are very much aware of that and are in discussions about it with health bodies and local authorities.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement in the autumn statement of £1.7 million of LIBOR money going to Sea Sanctuary to help with mental health provision in Cornwall. Does he agree that that will be a huge help for people all over Cornwall who in the past have had to travel many hundreds of miles to access such services?
To follow on from the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton), the demand for social care services in my constituency is set to rise by 10% in just one year, so will the Chancellor take the opportunity today to commit to additional funding for social care?
No, these are not the occasions when we commit to additional funding. We have a funding settlement in place and substantial increases in social care funding will become available by the end of the Parliament. But as I have said, we recognise that some authorities are facing some challenges on the profiling of that funding, and my right hon. Friends the Health Secretary and Communities Secretary are discussing that issue with local authority leaders.
Does the Chancellor agree that one way to improve productivity in the west midlands economy is to agree a more ambitious second devolution settlement, building on the success of the devolved settlement agreed with the West Midlands Combined Authority?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As I said on Wednesday, the Government continue to discuss with west midlands authorities the possibilities for further devolution in the west midlands. The other way to get the west midlands economy motoring is to elect a mayor with genuine business experience, like Andy Street.
The Scotch whisky industry is the largest net contributor to the UK’s balance of trade and goods. In the light of Brexit, what options is the Chancellor examining to make sure the industry can keep that privileged position of exporting?
We will have discussions with the Scotch Whisky Association, as we do with many trade associations. Without getting into a technical discussion, I should say that dutiable goods are less likely to be adversely affected by a change in the way we trade with our European neighbours than many other goods, because there is already a specific regime for dealing with them that is unlikely to have to change as a result of Brexit.
Historical Sexual Abuse (Football)
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what the Government are doing to support victims of historical sexual abuse in football, and what steps are being taken to help to ensure that there is no repeat of it.
Nothing is more important than keeping children safe. Child sex abuse is an exceptionally vile crime, and all of Government take it very seriously indeed, as I know this House does.
Children up and down the country are able to play football thanks to the dedication of thousands of adults, many of them volunteers. The vast majority have no stain on their character. However, where people who work with children betray their trust, the effect is devastating.
I pay tribute to those who have summoned up the courage to speak out. It is vital that they know that their voices will be heard, whether they are speaking about historical crimes or about anything that is happening currently. Coaches and parents have a duty of care to children—indeed, everyone does—and must also speak out where they suspect abuse.
My Department, the Home Office, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice all have responsibilities in this area. Recent allegations of sex abuse are currently an operational police matter, so Members will understand that I cannot comment in detail.
As soon as this news broke, I spoke to the chair of the Football Association, Greg Clarke, and the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, Gordon Taylor. I made it very clear that the Government will support them in addressing these issues head-on.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has set up a hotline, supported by the FA, which anyone can call if they want to talk to someone in confidence. That will help to build a picture of the potential scale of both historical and more recent abuse to inform next steps. The number is 0800 0232642.
The FA has instructed independent leading counsel Kate Gallafent QC, an expert in child protection, to deal with its review of the allegations. The internal review will look at what the FA and clubs knew, and when, and what action was or should have been taken. Alongside that, the child protection in sport unit, which assists the FA in relation to its safeguarding procedures, will carry out an independent audit of the FA’s practices. Today, the Minister with responsibility for sport, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), will write to all national governing bodies to ask them to redouble their efforts to protect children who play their sports. Additionally, I have spoken to Chief Constable Simon Bailey this morning, the national police lead on child abuse. We have agreed that I will convene a meeting with him, the FA and others to discuss the situation.
It is important to say what measures we have in place today to prevent abuse. The child protection in sport unit was founded in 2001 to work with UK Sports Councils, national governing bodies, county sports partnerships and other organisations to help them to minimise the risk of child abuse during sporting activities. The unit helps organisations to identify adults who are a threat to children and young people, and to develop safeguarding knowledge and skills among all staff and volunteers. Since 2002, the Disclosure and Barring Service, previously the Criminal Records Bureau, has provided a mechanism to request criminal record information relating to people working or volunteering with children.
The first duty of any Government is to protect its citizens, and the first duty of all of us is to protect children.
I thank the Secretary of State for her response. I begin by paying tribute to the members of the Chapecoense football team and all those who lost their lives in the tragic plane crash earlier today. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.
We must pay tribute today to former footballers who have shown unparalleled bravery in sharing their stories and in bringing this issue into the public light. I met some of them on Friday morning and expressed that in person. In the light of recent allegations of historical sexual abuse in football, the Professional Footballers Association has said that six football clubs have been named by victims; that more than 20 former players have now come forward; that five police forces across the country are opening up investigations; and that FIFA is monitoring the situation closely.
I welcome the NSPCC opening up its hotline. It received more than 50 phone calls in the first two hours of opening. What else are the Government doing to ensure that victims have a safe place where they can speak out confidentially, which is vital?
The FA, in conjunction with regional associations, needs to ensure that the message goes right through our game, from Sunday league to premier league. What are the Government doing to reassure parents, who will no doubt be worried about these claims? This situation has the potential to seriously damage the reputation of football in our country. I welcome the FA announcement that Kate Gallafent QC will lead the investigation. Let us remember that 99.9% of coaches and volunteers have children’s best interests at heart—an overwhelming majority want the best for them.
We need representatives from the FA, the Government, schools and relevant organisations to work with the police not only to ensure that any historical claims are fully investigated, but to ensure that abuse is stamped out and that our young players have a safe and confidential way to report incidents. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what steps the Government are taking to ensure that all the relevant bodies work in conjunction to ensure that victims are supported? As more victims come forward, and as the number of named clubs grows, the police investigation will undoubtedly get bigger. Is there a plan in place to ensure that the police have all the resources they need, and how is the DCMS team looking across the sports sector to ensure that such cases do not happen again in any sporting environment? We have a cross-party duty to protect our children and young adults. Upon this I am sure we can all agree.
I join the hon. Lady in sending my condolences to the victims of the plane crash today. Such events remind us how fragile human life is and how important sport is to people. This tragedy has affected people greatly.
I concur with what the hon. Lady said about the unparalleled bravery of the victims and survivors. In my previous role in the Home Office, I met many survivors of child sexual abuse, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), who is here today, continues to do. It never ceases to amaze me how brave and profound somebody is who comes forward and talks with such honesty about their experiences.
The hon. Lady asked about the support available, and of course we have talked about the NSPCC helpline. The NSPCC and its helplines stand ready to support any victims of child abuse from whatever walk of life. The PFA also reassured me last week that it stood ready to support victims. It is happy to take calls from victims of historical and non-recent abuse, so that it can support them and make sure that appropriate measures are taken.
The hon. Lady is right that the vast majority of coaches and volunteers are honourable and working in the best interests of children, but it is true that parents and others must remain vigilant, as in any walk of life, and make sure that our children are not left vulnerable to abuse. We must take those necessary steps and remain vigilant, no matter what the activity, be it sport, music, dance, creativity or anywhere children might be with people who might wish to hurt them.
The hon. Lady is right that we need to work together, and I welcome her cross-party support for what we are doing. As I said, I spoke to Chief Constable Simon Bailey prior to coming to the Chamber, and he reassured me about the work of Operation Hydrant, the long-standing cross-force police investigation into all allegations of non-recent abuse. He has assured me that there will be a single policing lead for each of the investigations to make sure that all the information coming in is treated appropriately and that all intelligence is shared. It is incredibly important that we bring perpetrators to justice.
Finally, the hon. Lady asked about other sports. As I said, my hon. Friend the sports Minister is writing today to all national governing bodies and regularly meets them, as do I, to make sure that the safeguarding measures in place are as robust as possible. We need to learn all lessons and continue to be vigilant.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the FA’s internal review must be a properly resourced investigation looking at the culture within football that allowed abuse to take place for so long and to go unreported and un-investigated for so long? Furthermore, does she agree that if the report is to have credibility, it must be published in full and in public, so that we can all learn the lessons of football’s problems and make sure that children are safeguarded properly in the future?
My hon. Friend is right that the review needs to be properly resourced, and the FA has assured me that that will be the case. When I spoke to Greg Clarke, he made it absolutely clear that it would be transparent in every way. No good will come from anybody trying to cover anything up. We need to know exactly what happened, how it happened and what went wrong, and to make sure that those mistakes are not made again.
On my behalf and that of the SNP, I echo the comments by the Secretary of State and the shadow Minister about the tragic plane crash in Colombia this morning.
The allegations of sexual abuse are abhorrent and deeply tragic. Anyone who abuses a position of trust to prey on young people and children must be brought to justice. Stereotypes of masculinity in football and society in general can make it extremely difficult for men and boys to come forward and speak out as victims of abuse. The players that have come forward have shown immense courage in doing so, and we hope any other victims will be able to do the same.
The Scottish Football Association has backed the dedicated NSPCC helpline, and remains in contact with the NSPCC and is working with it to respond appropriately if more victims come forward. The SFA has also set up a dedicated email address—childrenswellbeing@scottishfa. co.uk—for people to get in touch confidentially. If anyone in Scotland has been affected, we urge victims to come forward and seek help and support using this email address or the NSPCC helpline. May I ask the Secretary of State what structures her Department will put in place to ensure a joined-up approach across the UK in supporting any victims who come forward?
I start by congratulating the Scottish Football Association, which has done joint safeguarding work with UNICEF. I believe that to be a very positive step and I offer my congratulations on it. My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has been in contact with the SFA this morning, as she has been with other football governing bodies from other parts of the United Kingdom. We want to make sure that we work together on this matter. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on wearing his white ribbon. I am fiddling in my pocket, but I do not seem to have mine there. The white ribbon campaign is a fantastic one, demonstrating that we all stand against abuse. I appreciate that the white ribbon campaign deals specifically with violence against women and girls, but the fact that men are standing up against that abuse as well is incredibly important.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the bravery of the individuals coming forward in a very masculine world, and I think we live in a changed environment in this respect. I think there is more opportunity for people to come forward nowadays. I listened to an interview on Radio 5 “Sportsweek” on Sunday, and I was impressed by the honesty with which an individual victim spoke. It was incredibly brave. It is very difficult, but I urge all victims and survivors to come forward.
The revelations about football are shocking, and I applaud the fact that the Minister for Sport is going to write to the governing bodies of other sports. When it comes to the monsters who perpetrate these disgusting acts, in times gone by there was a chance that they would have looked at the possibilities in other sports as well. What else, then, are we going to do, other than write to the governing bodies, to ensure that there is a proper investigation into other sports to make sure that this was not going on elsewhere?
I understand that my hon. Friend is particularly concerned about this issue. He, like me, represents a constituency that is close to where the allegations took place. As a constituency MP, I pay particular attention to what has happened to my constituents. I urge both my and my hon. Friend’s constituents to come forward in this respect. The Minister for Sport will write to all governing bodies, as I have said, but this is an ongoing process, and we continue to work with all sports to make sure that safeguarding efforts are as robust as they possibly can be.
We have to pay tribute to Andy Woodward for starting this process. He took an extremely brave step. I concur with the Secretary of State that we need to encourage others to come forward and speak in confidence in the first instance to the helplines that are available. Simon Bailey has said that he expects other institutions to be brought into this, which might result in other sports’ governing bodies having in effect to investigate themselves. There must be some sort of independent oversight, so will the right hon. Lady tell us what discussions she has had with colleagues in other Departments? What are the Government going to do to ensure that this House and the public can be reassured that there is independent oversight of the investigations into these sports’ governing bodies?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the bravery of Andy Woodward. I understand that during the time I have been on my feet, over 250 reports have been made to the NSPCC helpline, of which 51 are in Cheshire alone.[Official Report, 30 November 2016, Vol. 617, c. 5-6MC.] It is also important to make sure that the police have the time and space they need to carry out proper investigations and inquiries, ensuring that they obtain all the evidence. We want to see perpetrators brought to justice wherever possible, and we need to make sure that the police have time to do that. I understand from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth, who has safeguarding responsibilities, that the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse will look to establish whether it is appropriate for this issue to be covered as part of its overarching work to understand what happened with historical child abuse and the failings in the system.
Before I was elected to this place, I worked as a criminal barrister for 16 years, so I have defended more than my fair share of paedophiles. It undoubtedly takes huge courage for someone to come forward and explain how they were abused as a child. It is also an unfortunate part of the particular wicked perversion of a paedophile that they should be cunning and deceitful. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although we do not want a witch hunt, we do need to be sure that everybody involved with children in sport understands the nature of these wicked, horrible people? That is why it is so important to put in place rigorous measures to safeguard our children and keep them safe.
I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend, who has huge experience of the criminal law and of this particular area. In my previous Home Office role, I met a number of sporting bodies regarding DBS and other checks, and this included the FA, which I know takes this matter incredibly seriously.
I associate myself with the remarks of others about the hideous and tragic crash in Colombia earlier today.
I pay tribute to those who have come forward and initiated the national discussion that we are now having. It takes immense courage, but the impact on others who might have suffered is huge, encouraging them and strengthening their resolve to come forward. Last weekend, I stood on the touchline watching my son play for Milnthorpe Corinthians against Kendal Wattsfield. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of children play football every weekend. It is our national game. I thoroughly respect what the FA is doing with its investigation. What I am saying is in no way an attempt to undermine or criticise the FA, but given that this is the national game and the potential scale of the problem, will the Secretary of State ensure that there is independence in the investigation and that resources are put into it? We must not simply allow the sport to investigate itself.
The hon. Gentleman speaks about the huge enjoyment that children get from grassroots sport. In common with him, I enjoy seeing my children play in grassroots sport. I do not think any of us should ever forget the massive benefits that come from children’s involvement in sport—being part of a team, being outdoors, getting into the routine of turning up for practice and the general camaraderie of it all. That is incredibly important. When it comes to grassroots sport, we should take the same approach as parents as we do with any other situation that we put our children into. We make sure that we are confident that we trust the people whom we allow to make contact with our children. We must trust and respect them, and ensure that they go through the appropriate safeguarding checks.
On the issue of an independent inquiry, it is important to remember that the inquiry led by Professor Alexis Jay is looking at a variety of matters. For example, it has taken the reports of Dame Janet Smith from the BBC, and it is important that the inquiry is given the time to look at institutional failings. Even more importantly, we must allow the police the time and space they need to carry out their investigation.
All Members share a sense of horror about what we have heard in recent days. Will the Secretary of State thus confirm that all the appropriate resources are in place, so that these matters can be thoroughly investigated. Will she also undertake to ensure that this will be kept under constant review?
Yes, and I think our record as a Government stands firm. We could look at Rotherham, for example, and the extra resources that were put in there to make sure that the survivors of child abuse had the confidence to come forward, so that cases could be brought. Yes, the Government stand ready to provide support.
Many parents might be shocked to know that, under changes brought in by the previous coalition Government, there is no requirement for volunteers, such as a football coach, to have a Disclosure and Barring Service check if they are being supervised by someone in regulated activity. This was raised many times when the Bill went through the last Parliament. Will the Secretary of State consider looking further at that to give the reassurance to parents that their children will be kept as safe as possible?
I think the hon. Lady should recognise the need to ensure that safeguarding takes place in an effective way. DBS checks are required for people who may be left alone with children. We must ensure that those checks are maintained and that the DBS is allowed to do its job. Of course, if failings are found as a result of these inquiries, I will stand ready to work with other Departments to ensure that safeguarding takes place as robustly and appropriately as possible.
These really are shocking allegations, but do not many of us here know inspirational coaches in our communities who inspire our children to play sport not just for the sake of achievement and winning medals, but to get fit and to experience that sense of team spirit, togetherness and camaraderie? I fear for the volunteers who give up their time, come rain or shine, to work with young people and encourage them to become involved in sport. Will the Secretary of State work with all sports governing bodies, including the Professional Footballers Association and the Football Association, to ensure that those who give up their time to volunteer will continue to do so?
My hon. Friend has made a point that I have been attempting to make. We must ensure that those inspirational coaches—volunteers who give up their time because they genuinely want to help and work with young people and who have no intent to hurt those young people—are allowed to do their job. We must ensure that we have appropriate, robust safeguarding that gives parents the comfort that they need and protects our children, but we must also ensure that volunteers come forward and those inspirational coaches are allowed to do their fantastic work.
I have had extended conversations with the right hon. Lady’s Department, with the Department for Education and with Sport England. What my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) said is true: there is a big loophole. Indeed, there is a loophole when sports do not have governing bodies, and there is also a loophole when the people involved are self-employed. Will the Secretary of State undertake to look into that, given that it will also be affecting music tuition?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) on tabling the urgent question and my right hon. Friend on the way in which she has responded to it. In a place like Kettering, football is 95% a voluntary activity for the players and coaches. Basically, the dads are the coaches and the mums wash the team kit. [Interruption.] In the vast majority of cases, the dads are the coaches and the mums wash the team kit: that is what life is like in middle England. I think that they would want me to ask the Secretary of State to ensure that the judges get the message that, when these people are caught, exemplary sentences must be handed out to make clear that such behaviour is totally unacceptable.
I think I ought to put on the record that it is quite clear that not all coaches are male. My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport is a grassroots football coach, and an extremely competent one at that. I also know of many husbands who are very good at washing the dishes and making the food. I am sure that my husband, if he is watching the debate, would be concerned if I did not put that on the record. However, my hon. Friend’s point about the sentencing of offenders is very important, and I can tell him that I work with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that appropriate sentences are available.
Given the growing number of professional clubs that are allegedly accused of being somehow involved in this affair, is it not time that the Government concentrated on football governance again? For six years we as a Parliament have dragged our feet, and the coalition and this Government have done nothing about it. Corporate governance and the “fit and proper persons” test should be involved in deciding who runs football clubs, so that those at the bottom, our children, can be assured that they are being looked after by those at the top and that there is responsibility.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government published the new governance codes for sport on 31 October, and I hope that he welcomes the work we have done to ensure that all sport is subject to proper and appropriate governance. It is important for us to be certain that we can have confidence in our sports governing bodies.
I pay tribute to the courage and bravery of those who have exposed this dreadful act. I know that we are talking about historical football abuse, but will the Secretary of State tell us what strategy she has to work with the Department for Education, the devolved Administrations and, indeed, all the governing bodies of all sports to reassure parents that their children are safe when playing sports, and also to reassure the coaches who give up their time, mainly voluntarily, to provide the sporting infrastructure that enables children to participate?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that the police are making inquiries and that the DBS checks would ensure that those with criminal convictions would not be given disclosure certificates allowing them to work with children. They would also probably be barred from working with children.
Football, by its very nature, is a transient sport. Children move from club to club, and, obviously, professional football players move from club to club and even from country to country. Can the Secretary of State confirm that enough resources will be made available to ensure that victims are positively identified, rather than our relying on self-referral to the helpline? We need to understand how many victims there are if we are to assess the scale of the problem and offer support where it is needed.
It is important to look at patterns of behaviour to establish whether players may have been exposed to perpetrators, as would happen in any other investigation of this nature, regardless of what the background of the contact between the perpetrator and the victim might have been. It is also important for victims to come forward. While I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about the need to go out and actively seek those victims, we will not find any unless some are prepared to come forward. Once again, I pay tribute to the bravery of the victims and survivors who have come forward and told their stories in such an honest way, allowing the police to obtain the evidence that they need, so that we can bring the perpetrators to justice.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement about the Government’s corporate governance Green Paper, which we are publishing today.
Successful businesses are the backbone of our society and our economy. They are the reason why ours is the fifth largest economy in the world. They create employment opportunities, and they contribute significantly to the funding of our country’s public services. There are many reasons why Britain is a reliable place in which to do business: for instance, our legal system and framework of company law have long been admired around the world. The Government are proud of our thriving industries, and we want to build on those strengths and enhance our competitiveness even further.
One of our biggest strengths is our record on corporate governance. It is already highly regarded around the world, especially for its combination of flexibility and high standards. Despite that record, however, our strong reputation can only be maintained if the Government and business regularly review and upgrade those standards. We want to guarantee not only that Britain is an excellent place in which to do business, but that it is where business is done best.
I am privileged, in my position as Secretary of State, to meet regularly not just those who run successful businesses, but their employees and customers. I have discussed with company heads the way in which their corporate governance is an integral part of their success. It inspires confidence among investors, loyalty among employees and trust among customers. Ordinary working people who work hard for their living deserve to feel confident that businesses act responsibly and fairly. When an individual business or businesses lose the confidence of the public, faith in business generally diminishes, to the detriment of us all.
There is no conflict between good corporate governance and profitability; indeed, poor corporate governance is a prelude to financial disaster. This Government are unequivocally and unashamedly pro-business, but we also hold business to a high standard. It is right to ask business to play its part in building an economy that works for everyone. Over the last few years, there have been a number of proposals, from both the Government and those representing business, to update our corporate governance framework. In some cases these have been made in response to concerns about the actions of a very small number of businesses which have undermined the reputation of British business generally, whose standards are among the highest in the world. Today, we are launching a discussion paper on how corporate governance could be reformed. I will, as is usual, be placing a copy of the Green Paper in the Library.
The paper considers three aspects. First, it asks for opinions on shareholder influence on executive pay. Members of the House will be aware that executive pay has grown much faster over the last two decades than pay generally and at times is not in line with corporate performance. The document seeks views on this issue, and in particular on strengthening shareholder voting rights with a view to making them binding, encouraging shareholder engagement with executive pay, and promoting greater transparency over pay.
Secondly, the document asks whether there are measures that could increase the connection between boards of directors of companies and their employees and customers. It asks whether the establishment of advisory panels and the appointment of designated non-executive directors to take formal responsibility for articulating employee, customer and other perspectives is the right way to proceed. We are not prescribing how this should be done; it would be whatever is most appropriate for the business.
Thirdly, our discussion paper asks for views on whether some of the features of corporate governance that have served us well in our listed companies should be extended to the largest privately held companies.
These are issues about competitiveness, and creating the right conditions for investment, as much as they are, importantly, also about fairness. This Green Paper is designed to frame that discussion, so that we can move quickly to consider which changes are appropriate at this time. We want to hear from as many people as possible about how best we can increase confidence in big business and achieve better outcomes for our economy. This does not mean the imposition of regulation when other avenues are open. One of the strengths of our system of corporate governance has been the use of non-legislative standards adopted by business itself.
We are determined to make Britain one of the best places in the world to work and carry out business. This review will help us achieve that aim and the views of businesses, investors, employees, consumers and others with an interest in successful business are warmly welcomed. I commend the statement to the House.
It is a shame that the Secretary of State did not share the statement with us in advance; presumably we are now expected to get first sight of Government policy through a long lens on Whitehall. But after weeks of press briefings, at least they have finally decided to come to this Chamber, because we have heard a lot about the Prime Minister’s policy on corporate governance, but the more they said, the less we have actually known.
When the Prime Minister launched her leadership, she said she wanted a change in the way big business is governed. She said:
“later this year we will publish our plans to have not just consumers represented on company boards, but workers as well. Because we are the party of workers.”
But it seems there has been a change of mind because just weeks ago we heard it was not about putting workers on boards but about finding a model that works for everyone. Perhaps it is the same model as for Brexit: to have their cake and eat it.
When we debated in the Chamber last month the fate of Sir Philip Green, I said that the most shocking thing about the whole affair is that everything he did was legal. A key question today is whether anything that has been proposed would change that: do these proposals pass the BHS test?
Bringing private companies into the plc rule book is a move so targeted at a particular series of events that I expect it will come to be known as the BHS law, but had the proposals outlined today by the Secretary of State been in place six months ago, I am not wholly convinced we would have avoided the corporate governance scandals that have plagued the last summer. To force private companies to abide by the corporate governance code will do little unless the code is tightened. BHS may have been a private company, but Sports Direct is not, and we all know what has gone on there.
Similarly, to strengthen the power of boards to give oversight on how companies are run or their remuneration structures will change little unless the make-up of those boards is also shaken up, yet we all know what has happened to the Government’s commitment to put a diversity of voices on boards. It is a weakness of too many discussions of corporate governance, and a weakness reflected in this Green Paper, that they are dominated by high-profile scandals.
For too long our economy has suffered from an inherent short-termism—a short-termism that sees the long-term health of a company being sacrificed for a quick buck, and that all too often obscures the link between rewards and long-term performance. In 1970, £10 in every £100 went on dividends; now, it is between £60 and £70. It is employees and investment that have lost out from this shift. We see that in our pitiful investment and productivity rates. Britain now languishes 33rd out of the 35 OECD countries on investment rates. Seen in this light, it is no surprise that it takes British workers five days to produce what German workers produce in four—and we see this in the yawning gap between top pay and average pay: in the 10% increase in executive pay when workers are suffering 10 years of stagnant wages.
Our damaging short-termism is also seen in corporate takeovers that occur against the public interest and the company’s interest—takeovers that have instead served as a means to asset-strip, as when Kraft took over Cadbury with hedge funds buying up 31% of the shares and selling Cadbury short.
When the unacceptable face of capitalism surfaces, as it has in the last few months with the scandals in BHS and Sports Direct, what we are witnessing is the extreme manifestation of these broader problems, and that is what makes today so particularly disappointing. Corporate governance reform is not just about improving the image of our corporate sector or placating our innate sense of injustice at the lack of proportionality between the salaries of directors and their employees; nor is it just about fulfilling the wishes of the six out of 10 members of the public who, as TUC figures show, want to see workers on boards. These things matter, of course, but corporate governance reform is also about changing the way our companies, and therefore our economy, work.
The recasting of how our economy works is key to Britain’s success. Without more long-termism in our corporate practices, we will not be able to address the problems—
Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his five minutes. I do not know whether he was then proposing to put questions, but I gently say to Members that in these matters there is a form to be followed—a procedure to be adhered to—and although I have listened to the hon. Gentleman with great care and attention, he has contributed in the manner of a debate rather than a response to a statement. Ordinarily, I would be very happy to hear his questions, but Members cannot make a long preamble and exceed their time, and then almost as an afterthought get around to some questioning. So I think we will for now have to conclude that the hon. Gentleman has concluded his contribution. But I am sure the Secretary of State will find in the commentary some implied questions, using the great intellectual dexterity for which he is renowned in all parts of the House.
You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker, and I apologise.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will contribute to the consultation. It is clear that he shares an interest in improving the standards of corporate governance, which we have done from time to time in this country over many decades. We have a good reputation for corporate governance, and it is important to record that the rest of the world looks, and has looked, with admiration at the British economy, the rule of law and the non-legislative aspects involved. I hope he will agree that the examples of poor corporate governance he mentioned are blemishes on a very strong overall record of responsible corporate behaviour in this country. We should put on record our recognition of the importance of business and our support for the job creators, the risk takers, the innovators and the investors—the people who, through their profits, generate the taxes that sustain our public services.
It is reasonable to have a constructive discussion on this matter through the consultation, and that is what we intend to do. The hon. Gentleman said that executive pay had been escalating. Perhaps he would like to reflect on the fact that the biggest rise in chief executive pay was actually in the period from 1998 to 2010, when the average rose from £1 million to £4.3 million a year and the ratio of chief executive pay to full-time employees’ pay rose from 47:1 to 132:1. He is a reasonable and generous man and I know that he will concede that, under the years of Conservative leadership, the average pay for chief executives has fallen from £4.3 million to £4.25 million a year and that that ratio has fallen from 132:1 to 128:1. So we are moving in the right direction and these further reforms will take us further.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the proposals to have workers and consumers on boards. The Prime Minister has been very clear on this, and it is testament to her leadership that she set out her intentions right at the beginning of her term of office and that we are now coming forward with these proposals. She made it clear that we would have not just consumers but employees represented on company boards, and these proposals will allow that to happen and encourage the practice to be taken up.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the relevance of our reforms to the more high-profile sources of controversy. Of course, one option is to extend the good provisions for public companies to our very largest private companies. He will know that the Financial Reporting Council’s governance code requires extensive monitoring of risk levels for plcs over and above the requirements placed on limited companies. He mentioned cases involving listed companies, and I hope he will agree that having a greater connection between employees and directors is a step in the right direction. Conservative Members are unashamedly and unequivocally pro-well-run business, and I hope that he shares our view. Consistent with that, it is important to work with business, employees and other groups from time to time, to look at what we can do to stay ahead of the pack. That is what this consultation does.
We are encouraging a greater role for shareholders in driving behaviour in the boardroom, because this is a matter of concern. It is connected to the point that—to be fair to him—the hon. Member for Norwich South made about long-termism. We want to see a more patient form of capital sustaining businesses that have the capacity to grow, and I hope that this will come out as part of the consultation.
May I start by giving a cautious welcome to the Secretary of State’s announcement? It represents some progress, but there are aspects missing and more clarity is required in some areas. There is general consensus that the pay gap between executives and employees is too large, and we firmly believe that addressing that by properly valuing and investing in employees is a key part of addressing the productivity problem. Companies need to be transparent about pay. If their pay for executives is justifiable, they must justify it to their staff and to their shareholders. In particular, the move to give shareholders greater control and a binding vote on executives’ pay is welcome. Indeed, it is incredible that such a situation does not already exist. What is the timescale for the entire process, and when will the changes be implemented?
More needs to be done about boardroom diversity. I was given very short notice of the statement, and it remains unclear what is to be done about diversity in the boardroom. Will the Secretary of State expand on that aspect of the proposals? I think we would all like to see boardrooms reflecting society more completely. That would be good for business and it would send a clear message to everyone across the country that business is a place for them.
Let me turn finally to the question of workers on boards. In the Prime Minister’s party conference speech, she said:
“Too often the people who are supposed to hold big business accountable are drawn from the same, narrow social and professional circles as the executive team.”
From my reading of the proposals and from what the Secretary of State has said, it appears that that will remain the case, but with one person from those same narrow social and professional circles designated to speak to the employees or consumers. That does not go far enough; it is a missed opportunity. When the Prime Minister said, “We are the party of workers,” was that post-truth or was it never true at all?
I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman started his remarks, at least. He struck the right tone in welcoming the proposals as a sensible way to proceed, as I believe all business organisations, consumer groups and others have done. I hope that he will contribute to the consultation. He made a point about the value of transparency, and that is very much what we are proposing. We do not want to specify the appropriate pay for a chief executive—I do not think he does either—but it is right that companies should justify their decisions to shareholders and to employees. They should make their case for the pay and the package that they are choosing to offer.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the timing of the consultation. It will close in three months’ time, in February, and we will respond as soon as possible after that, depending on the number of responses. He also asked about diversity on boards and remuneration committees, and he will see that both questions are addressed in the Green Paper. It is important that remuneration committees are advised by and have a greater connection with the workforce, and that they should be less insular in their approach. There has been some criticism that the overlap of remuneration committees in public companies has excluded outside voices. The consultation refers to particular reviews of gender and ethnic diversity on boards, and it is important that we continue to make progress in that regard. We have further to go. Finally, the Prime Minister was very clear that we should have consumers and workers represented on company boards and that is what the proposals will do. This is a big advance and it has been warmly welcomed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support it too, when he makes his response to the consultation.
Order. I would like to accommodate the substantial interest in the statement, but if I am to do so, given that there are two notable pieces of business to follow, pithiness will be required from those on the Back and Front Benches alike. That pithiness is first to be exemplified by Mr Michael Gove.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement today. We all know that the dynamic growth on which our future depends will be secured only if there is public support for the free market system that generates such growth. To that end, what more can he say about ensuring that we have working-class representatives at the heart of decision making in our great companies, and about effective curbs on executive pay when pay follows failure?
As ever, my right hon. Friend makes his points powerfully. It is important that all the talents are represented in our boardrooms, for that is how we will achieve corporate and industrial success in this country. It forms part of the case we make in the Green Paper. Pay is appropriate when it is to attract the best talent and to reward success, but what is not in the interests of the company or confidence in industry is when pay does not reflect performance.
The pay of top executives, bosses in particular, has been scandalous, and some of these people are not keen to pay their taxes and use tax havens. The most effective way for working people to defend themselves in their place of work is to belong to a trade union and for that union to be recognised. Time and again, when the worst exploitation is exposed, the cause is often a lack of trade union representation.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will congratulate the Government on their reforms over the past five years that have increased the scrutiny and moderation of executive pay. I hope that the trade unions will contribute to the consultation. I met Frances O’Grady last week, and trade unions have an important role to play in our economy.
I welcome this statement. Will my right hon. Friend assist the House by saying how the plans tie in with the need to ensure that business owners comply with not only the letter of the law, but the spirit? I am thinking in particular of the Companies Act 2006 and corporate governance failures that have led to prosecutions—something that may be relevant when the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) talks about BHS.