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Spending Review

Volume 662: debated on Tuesday 2 July 2019

12. Whether he plans to launch a three-year spending review before the summer recess; and if he will make a statement. (911686)

As the right hon. Gentleman would have heard me say if he had been in his place earlier, I announced in the spring statement that it is the Government’s intention to conduct a three-year spending review, concluding this autumn, subject to a deal with the EU being completed. He asks whether I plan to launch the spending review before the summer recess: I can tell him that Departments have already been commissioned to carry out the work necessary for such a review. It must be for the new Government to decide, in the circumstances, whether it is appropriate to conduct a full three-year spending review or a one-year exercise.

I can assure the Chancellor that I saw him give that response on television earlier. What would be the impact on the comprehensive spending review of either the proposal of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), for a £13 billion cut in corporation tax and a £12 billion increase in defence spending, or the proposal of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) for a £9 billion higher rate income tax threshold cut, £11 billion national insurance contributions cut and showing the public sector “some love”? Would those unfunded bribes be paid for by tax increases, cuts in services or both?

I fear that the right hon. Gentleman is manifestly asking the wrong person that question. I literally cannot answer it. The purpose of a spending review is that such matters can be looked at in the round, and the responsible way to do a spending review is first to set the envelope of what is affordable, and then to look at the different bids, which will—I can confidently predict—greatly exceed the available spending power, and prioritise. That is the difficult business of government, and that is why I am not in favour of ad hoc spending commitments or tax cut commitments being made.

The Chancellor is a clever chap, but his capacities do not include the capacity to penetrate the minds of colleagues, especially those in competitive vote-seeking mode.

Homes England indicates a current pipeline of some 15,000 community- led homes in England. That shows the significant positive impact of the community housing fund. Will my right hon. Friend confirm the continuance of the fund so that those much-needed homes can be built?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have signed off the Truro funding decision, and I am sure she is happy about that. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that dealing with the challenges in the housing market is a priority for the Government, and in the spending review we will continue to prioritise funds to support both the housing market and the provision of social and affordable housing.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal and the Chancellor is still in his post, does he envisage there being enough fiscal headroom following the spending review to give the top 10% of earners a tax cut worth more than £9 billion? Surely that is wholly unjustified.

I think the hon. Gentleman has sketched a highly unlikely scenario, but I can answer his question. We have built up about £26 billion or £27 billion of fiscal headroom, and the purpose of that headroom is precisely to protect the UK economy from the immediate effects of a possible no-deal exit. I have no doubt whatsoever that in the event of a no-deal exit we will need all that money and more to respond to the immediate impacts of the consequent disruption, which will mean that no money will be available for longer-term tax cuts or spending increases.

Let me go further: the Government’s analysis suggests that in the event of a disruptive no-deal exit there would be a hit to the Exchequer of about £90 billion, and that will also have to be factored into future spending and tax decisions.

I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that we need to be careful with our spending pledges, but I think that investment spending is different, particularly when the investment is in the north. Has my right hon. Friend had time to consider our letter of 29 April—signed by 80 parliamentarians—which calls for £120 billion of investment spending over 30 years and a bringing forward of the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme?

We are committed to investment in infrastructure. One of the things that I have done in my three years as Chancellor is move the balance of spending towards investment in economic infrastructure, and we now have the highest level of public capital investment for 40 years. We have a National Infrastructure Commission to set long-term guidance for the Government on how to invest in infrastructure investment, and that will be considered in the zero-based capital spending review that sits alongside the main spending review. However, I assure my hon. Friend that this Government are committed to investing in the productive capacity of the UK economy, because it is the only way to raise real wages and living standards, and that is what government is all about.