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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 669: debated on Tuesday 7 January 2020

Treasury

The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Per Pupil Funding

First, Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with the message you have just sent to our Australian friends? I also take this opportunity to wish you and all hon. Members a happy new year.

At last year’s spending round, I announced a £7.1 billion increase in schools funding for 2022-23 compared with this year. That will level up funding across the country and ensure at least £5,000 a year for every secondary school pupil next year and £4,000 a year for every primary school pupil in 2021-22.

During the election campaign, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor visited Bolton Lads and Girls Club, which is a real hub for inspiring our children. Does the Chancellor agree that the uplift in funding for schoolchildren right across Bolton North East will ensure that our young people fulfil their true potential?

I remember that visit, and I was incredibly impressed by the club.

May I say how delighted I am to see my hon. Friend take his place in this House? I agree with him wholeheartedly. Our plans will ensure that funding for every pupil in every school can rise at least in line with inflation. Schools in Bolton North East will attract £4,800 per pupil in 2020-21 on average and, based on the current number of pupils, that means a 7.7% total cash increase.

Having grown up in Bristol, the Chancellor will be familiar with the education system there, but we have a crisis in funding for special educational needs provision. More children are coming forward with special educational needs, but we do not have the funding to support them. I urge him to pay some attention to that and to donate the necessary funds to remedy the problem.

I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of making sure that special educational needs are properly funded. That is precisely why in the last spending round I increased spending by £780 million, which I believe is the biggest increase in a decade.

My right hon. Friend, coming from the west midlands, will know that Staffordshire has historically been one of the most underpaid counties per pupil. How will his changes affect counties such as Staffordshire and others in the f40?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. He has been a champion of fairer funding for schools, especially in the west midlands, and I agree with him about the importance of this issue. That is precisely why, in the spending round, we made an exception for schools by having a three-year settlement, which means there will be a £7.1 billion increase for schools throughout England by 2022-23, helping to bring fairer funding.

Carbon Emissions

2. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the adequacy of funding allocated to programmes to reduce carbon emissions. (900036)

19. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the adequacy of funding allocated to programmes to reduce carbon emissions. (900056)

The Government take our environmental responsibilities very seriously, and the Prime Minister established the new Cabinet Committee on Climate Change for that very reason. The UK is, of course, the G20 leader in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions while growing our economy. Later this year, the Government will set out further plans to reduce emissions in key sectors such as transport, energy and building while seizing the economic benefits of clean growth. We have launched a review into the transition to a net zero economy and how that will be funded, and the review will publish its findings this autumn.

I am pleased to see two ideas in the Queen’s Speech that were recycled from previous Labour manifestos: the waiving of NHS car parking charges, and renters’ rights. Will the Government go that bit further and adopt a third idea, our completely costed green new deal? Greenpeace rated the Labour party as best for the environment, whereas the Conservative party languished in fourth. This idea would help the Government to reach their carbon emission targets, which are woefully off track at the moment.

The electorate obviously gave their verdict on the relative credibility of our manifesto. This Chamber, on a cross-party basis, should welcome the real consensus that the UK has done the right thing by becoming the first major western economy to commit to a net zero policy. We have allocated £1 billion for the take-up of ultra low emission vehicles, £350 million for the industrial energy transition fund, and £800 million in our manifesto for carbon capture and storage.

The hon. Lady says our ambitions in this area are inadequate, but the Committee on Climate Change report of May 2019 did not consider it credible to reach net zero emissions earlier than 2050. The report called it the “highest possible ambition” supported by the science for us to target 2050 rather than an earlier date.

The UK Government currently offer more financial support than any other European state for fossil fuel industries. The oil giant Shell paid no corporate income tax last year due to tax rebates, despite making a £557 million profit in the UK. This situation is unsustainable and unacceptable in the context of a climate emergency. Can the Minister explain how a Government who continue to subsidise fossil fuel extraction to such a degree can ever be trusted to deliver net zero?

The most important thing to recognise is that last year was the first year on record in which renewable energy constituted more of our energy mix than fossil fuels. We also need to recognise that oil and gas support many thousands of jobs in the United Kingdom, and we must be careful not to jeopardise economic growth during the transition.

The best way to reduce carbon emissions is not to produce carbon when building houses. Given that the Conservative manifesto proposes to extend Help to Buy to people who wish to build their own homes, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows all about, will he meet me and the Right to Build taskforce to see how it can implement this excellent policy as quickly as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is very persistent in this area. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss following up on this issue.

The Minister is right about the growing role that renewables are playing in our energy mix, as 2018 was the greenest year on record for our energy system. Does he agree that the UK’s track record on cutting emissions, while maintaining jobs growth and economic growth, is remarkable at a global level and should be applauded?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. It is worth noting that between 1990 and 2016 the UK reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 42% while growing its economy by more than two thirds. We should be proud of that record; it shows that we are on track to meet our targets.

First, let me associate myself with the comments welcoming you to your place and your Chair, Mr Speaker—long may you sit there.

For what have been described as a “post-truth” Government, here are two clear and simple facts: first, COP 26 is coming to the UK and, secondly, the eyes of the world will be on this Government’s climate crisis policies—or, rather, the appalling lack of them. As Australia burns, millions in African states face climate-driven famine and floods have swept the north of England, will this Government give a damn about this existential threat and act, not posture?

It must be said that that was a rather ungracious recognition of the Government’s work in this area. We are clear that COP 26 is the centrepiece of the Government’s work on climate this year; the Prime Minister gave a presentation to Cabinet on it today. There is no question but that, led by our former Friend on these Benches Claire Perry, we have an excellent head of the COP, and we will have maximum ambition. The UK is clear that we are committed to the Paris agreement and delivering on it in full, and by committing to net zero we have led the world in this area.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that this Government do everything they can to help energy-intensive industries to reduce their carbon footprint and do not merely regulate and tax, as some would do, because that risks exporting not only the carbon, but the jobs?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we must avoid shedding jobs as we change our energy mix. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, we got £350 million allocated to the industrial energy transformation fund. I am also a big supporter of new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which can address the challenges of decarbonising energy-intensive industries.

Happy new year, Mr Speaker. May I associate myself and my colleagues with your remarks of support for the people of Australia? In that regard, may I ask the Treasury Front-Bench team whether this March’s Budget will be a Budget for the climate emergency? If it is, will Ministers look at the ideas of the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England to decarbonise finance and green the City, and come forward with the rules and regulations that will catalyse private investment to beat climate change?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We are clear that this is a central priority for the Budget in March. Obviously, I am not going to disclose details of that today, but the Government have a clean growth strategy. We are clear that green finance lies at the heart of the UK’s offer to the world, and obviously that goes for both the private and public sectors; we need to bring together the whole strength of the country to make a truly radical offer.

Productivity

Increasing productivity is the best way to boost wages, improve living standards and enhance prosperity. We have worked hard to build a stronger, fairer economy, dealing with the deficit, helping to get people into work, and cutting taxes for families and businesses. We will continue to invest responsibly, including by investing billions more in infrastructure, creating a new national skills fund and boosting investment in research and development. We will invest to unleash the potential of the whole country, so that no place is left behind.

Productivity is damaged if SMEs feel that there is no fair system for resolving disputes with their bank, yet the eligibility rules for the new Business Banking Resolution Service exclude 85% of historical claims, including, incredibly, those that have been through the recently discredited Lloyds bank customer review. Will the Chancellor meet me to discuss how we make this fit for purpose and not simply a fig leaf to cover past banking malpractice?

My hon. Friend speaks with experience on this subject and is right about the importance of access to finance. I know that he has broadly welcomed the voluntary Business Banking Resolution Service but is not happy with the way it is exactly working at the moment. I know that he has a meeting coming up with the Economic Secretary on this important issue.

High-quality infrastructure is a key factor in improving productivity, so will my right hon. Friend consider establishing both a sovereign wealth fund and an infrastructure bond, which would enable part of the financing solution to allow that necessary infrastructure to be implemented?

The Government’s fiscal policy will allow for a step change in infrastructure investment, which is what we need to level up and unleash the potential of the whole country. That is why I am open to looking at ideas for new financing instruments, but I would need to be satisfied that they represent good value for money, that they can be sustained for the long term and that they are consistent with our wider fiscal objectives. I would be happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend.

Only 15% of people who start their working lives in entry-level jobs progress beyond such jobs by the end of their working lives. In order to deal with that situation, will the Chancellor look again at the national retraining scheme to see what we can do to help people to progress further in work, to reduce poverty as well as increase productivity?

As usual, my hon. Friend raises an important issue. Some excellent work has been done on the issue, including work to which my hon. Friend has contributed. In our manifesto, we set out our intention to have a new national skills fund, which will help to transform the lives of people who are trying to get on to the work ladder, to get new qualifications or to return to work. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome that.

Transport infrastructure is a critical factor for improving productivity in my constituency. Can the Chancellor assure me that the Government will make the necessary investments in key arterial roads such as the A1 in Lincolnshire?

First, may I welcome my hon. Friend to his place? He raises the important issue of infrastructure investment and its importance to productivity. I understand the incredible importance of the A1 in Lincolnshire, and a number of colleagues have raised it with me. We will soon publish our second road investment strategy, which will set out our plans, but I can assure my hon. Friend that in this Government’s infrastructure revolution no part of our country will be left behind.

Having spoken to business leaders in West Bromwich and throughout the west midlands, I know that tackling productivity and imbalances across the region is vital, and key to levelling up our economy. Will the Chancellor commit to working alongside me to tackle the imbalances in West Bromwich East and the wider west midlands?

Yes, I will. May I also welcome my hon. Friend to her place? I remember my visit to her constituency last month; we met some excellent local businesses. She is right to talk about the need for further investment in the midlands. As a west midlands MP, I understand that as well, and I know exactly how much more potential can be unleashed. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend throughout this Parliament to do just that.

Is that it? The Prime Minister’s special adviser now wants a civil service—perhaps modelled on the Cabinet—comprised of:

“Weirdos and misfits with odd skills”.

As a member of that Cabinet, what weird explanation does the Chancellor have as to why, according to the Office for National Statistics, productivity is falling at its fastest annual pace for five years?

We have just had an unprecedented decade of growth: it is only the third time since 1700 that we have had an uninterrupted decade of growth, and that is thanks to the work of this Government. When it comes to weirdos and misfits, I know that there are many on the Opposition Benches, but they need not apply.

That speaks volumes, does it not? The worst recovery since the industrial revolution—is that what this Government can be proud of? It is absolutely pathetic. More bluster from the Chancellor, but the facts are absolutely clear: most people are worse off under Tory economic mismanagement, working longer hours on flatlining real pay. So, what targets has the Chancellor set for improved productivity? Will he make way for another weirdo or misfit when, inevitably, those targets are not met?

We should never forget that the Labour Government gave us the deepest recession in almost 100 hundred years, and the British people were clever enough not to allow them to do it again. Now, they throw stones at the firefighters who put out the fire that they set in our economy. That is what they do. We will not take any lessons from the Labour party.

May I first pay tribute to the economist Professor Andrew Hughes Hallett, who passed away on Hogmanay?

The Bank of England has said that pessimism and uncertainty around Brexit have had an impact on investment and productivity. That uncertainty has been compounded in Scotland by the fact that our Government found out only today in the media that the UK Government will finally be setting their budget, yet they have absolutely no certainty over whether that budget will include the £1.2 billion in Barnett consequentials promised by the Prime Minister during the election campaign. When does the Chancellor intend to meet the Scottish Finance Secretary to apologise?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position as, I think, Treasury spokesperson for her party.

When it comes to productivity, it is important that the Scottish Government play their role. They should examine their own policies, especially those on tax and infrastructure and skills, and see how they have let down the Scottish people time and again.

It is a huge disappointment. The Chancellor does not even have the dignity to apologise to Derek Mackay for making this announcement only in the media. Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman may not be aware, but 11 March is the date by which councils in Scotland legally have to set local tax rates. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has described this delay as extremely worrying. Its resources spokesperson, the Conservative councillor Gail Macgregor, has said that this will significantly impede local authorities and disadvantage Scotland’s communities. Will he tell me whether he thinks it is fair that Scottish local government must set its budgets blindfold without any notion of what its block grant will be? Is not the truth that the Chancellor has given absolutely no thought to Scotland at all?

In the election that we have just had, we talked time and again about the need to unleash the potential of the entire United Kingdom, and of course that includes all of Scotland. Scotland has been let down time and again by the SNP Government, which are charging Scottish people the highest taxes in the United Kingdom and providing the worst public services.

May I say how warm your words were, Mr Speaker, vis-à-vis the Australian Parliament and how well they will be received?

With regard to productivity, what plans does the Chancellor have in the upcoming Budget to tackle the lack of investment in further education? Investment has been cut by 50% since 2010, and productivity relies very much on colleges and high-quality education outside the university sector.

The hon. Lady is right to raise the importance of FE and technical skills—I went to an FE college myself—and it is one reason why, in the spending round back in September, I allocated an increase of £400 million for the forthcoming year to FE budgets, which is the biggest increase in a decade. In our recent party manifesto, we set out plans for £2 billion of investment in the FE estate throughout England.

Youth Services

In September, the Chancellor announced a new £500 million youth investment fund to build and refurbish youth centres and deliver high-quality services to young people across the country. That will include £250 million of capital investment, which is expected to deliver 60 new youth centres, 360 refurbished facilities and more than 100 mobile units for harder-to-reach areas.

Over the past decade, spending on youth services has been cut by more than £1 billion. In constituencies such as mine and across London, the number of youth clubs has almost halved. Will the Chancellor finally own up to the devastating effect that austerity has had on young people in my constituency and commit to funding a proper statutory youth service in his upcoming Budget?

What I can promise the hon. Lady is that the Government are committed to funding local government with a settlement, which was announced before the election, of an additional 4.4% in real-terms increase that will give local authorities that additional spending power alongside the youth investment fund announcement that I mentioned earlier.

Will my hon. Friend take steps to ensure that young people in Wycombe are not disadvantaged by excessively coarse aggregate measures of deprivation, which can obscure real need in constituencies such as mine?

I recognise the challenge of getting to the heart of the problems in different constituencies, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to better understand his specific concerns so that we can get to the heart of the problem in his constituency.

Loan Charge

11. What recent progress has been made by Sir Amyas Morse on the independent review of the 2019 loan charge. (900047)

Happy new year, Mr Speaker. Given that it is my first time at the Dispatch Box since you became Speaker, let me just say that I recall running an operation in 2014 to prevent your predecessor from rigging the selection of the Clerk of the House of Commons; I think it speaks to the esteem in which you are held across this House that one could imagine no such thing under your speakership.

The Government published Sir Amyas Morse’s independent review of the loan charge on 20 December, alongside the Government’s response to his recommendations.

Clearly the loophole had to be closed, but not in the retrospective fashion that has hit so many of my constituents. If these arrangements were already illegal when my constituents were charged, why was it necessary to bring in the loan charge in 2017 at all?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware from reading the review, it is a very thorough and comprehensive piece of work and Sir Amyas goes into this question. He has accepted the case for a loan charge in principle—he recognises that it was important to address the issue of abusive tax avoidance—but he said that it should apply to loans taken out after a specific date. In his judgment, that represents a fair balance between the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises and the loan charge, and the Government have accepted that.

The Morse report and the Government’s response are very welcome, and will help many of my constituents in Hertford and Stortford who have been deeply affected by the loan charge. Will the Minister agree to meet me so that I can share with him some of my constituents’ experiences and residual concerns, and discuss the Government’s response in more detail?

I hope I may join the Chancellor in congratulating my hon. Friend on taking her place in this Chamber. I have met many colleagues about this issue and would be delighted to meet her. She will understand that I cannot deal with individual cases, but I would be happy to meet her to discuss the issues of principle.

Infrastructure Investment Distribution

6. What steps he is taking to ensure an equitable distribution of infrastructure investment between London and the north of England. (900041)

May I congratulate the hon. Lady on being recognised in the new year’s honours list? It is a fitting tribute to her years of service, especially her campaigning work on contaminated blood; she deserves praise for that work.

Infrastructure is a top priority for the Government. We will be publishing the national infrastructure strategy alongside the Budget, and I can say now that that strategy will contain our ambition to level up across the United Kingdom, ensuring that every part of our country—not just London—has the opportunity to spread and drive growth in their communities.

I thank the Minister for his kind words.

It is good that there is consensus across the House about the need to invest, particularly in transport in the north. I note that the Chancellor agreed with those comments in the story published in The Times on 27 December. I just wondered whether this House and my constituents will really have to wait until the beginning of March to get the actual detail of what this will mean. Is it not right that this House hears first, rather than the newspapers?

I think the hon. Lady is referring to the Government’s plans to review all our frameworks, processes and mechanisms to allocate investment spending. That work is under way, and the Chancellor and other Ministers will update the House, as required, as more details emerge.

A very happy new year to you and everyone in the House, Mr Speaker.

The regional investment gap of £63 billion in transport alone is compounded by deindustrialisation. Yesterday, a senior Minister—anonymously—dismissed concerns over customs and rules of origin barriers as

“lobbying from industries that are in secular decline”,

but they are felt by all advanced manufacturers. What will the Chancellor do about his colleagues who seem to blithely accept further regional job losses in manufacturing?

I was in the Tees Valley earlier this week, and what I heard there from manufacturers was incredible support for this Government’s agenda of spreading opportunity, driving investment in regional infrastructure and sensible taxation of manufacturing companies, all of which will lead to higher growth, more jobs and better investment for their community.

Vehicle Excise Duty: Motorhomes

The Government introduced a graduated system of vehicle excise duty to encourage the uptake of vehicles with lower carbon dioxide emissions and to help meet our legally binding climate change targets. I have held productive talks with representatives of the industry and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) to discuss this matter, and I am sensitive to their concerns. As with all taxes, we keep VED under review, and any announcements are for future fiscal events.

When we escape the clutches of EU regulation 2018/1832, will the Minister restore the status quo ante as at September last year?

My right hon. Friend stands up with a positively lengthy question. As he knows, I share his enthusiasm for escaping certain EU regulations when we leave the EU on 31 January. We are, however, convinced of the need to incentivise the reductions in our transport emissions that I have referred to, which represent a third of the UK’s total CO2 output.

Does the Minister think that this green tax, which has increased vehicle duty by 1,000% for many motorhomes—which are used, on average, for 31 days per year and do about 2,000 miles per year—is fair, and will he review it?

The figure of 1,000% is somewhat misleading. Only motorhomes with the very highest emissions would fall into that category, and the extra VED applies only in the first year. But of course we keep all taxes under review. I am sensitive to the concerns of the industry; clearly, a significant number of jobs are supported by it. As always, we keep these things under a watching brief.

Street Crime

May I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his place, as a fellow Yorkshire MP? I am pleased to tell him that the Government are determined to keep our families and communities safe by backing the police with the resources that they need. That is why we have committed to finding 20,000 new police officers by the end of 2023 to help to keep our streets safe. To that end, we have additionally announced £750 million of investment so that the first 6,000 can be in place by the end of next year.

Will my right hon. Friend work closely with the Home Secretary to ensure that Don Valley gets its fair share of the 20,000 police officers so that my constituents not only feel safer but are safer on the streets?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am pleased to tell him that South Yorkshire will be allocated 151 of the initial wave of new police officers. That comes on top of the 55 that are being recruited this year, and, in addition, £1.6 million of funding has been allocated to his local force for a violence reduction unit that will further help. I hope that provides him and his constituents with the reassurance they need. We are committed to keeping them safe.

My constituents in Fleetwood have been left reeling over an unprecedented spate of armed robberies in shops in the town over the festive period. Does the Minister think that the cuts to police numbers and the fact that they now have to be replaced was the wrong decision to make a decade ago? Does he not see that not just the cuts to police numbers but cuts to youth services that help to work with young people have been the wrong decisions?

The hon. Lady talks about things a decade ago. A decade ago, this country was borrowing £150 billion—the largest deficit in peacetime history. That is why this Government had to take action to restore our public finances to a place of sanity, and that is why now, because of the careful management of the economy, we are able to invest in 20,000 new police officers and additionally give them the powers they need to keep us all safe.

We welcome the 50 new police officers for Dorset that we fought so hard to get, and 120 more are planned over the next two years. Can my right hon. Friend please confirm that we will definitely get these extra officers for Dorset?

I am pleased to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. That is why the Chancellor committed in the spending review to specific additional funding of £750 million for the first year, for the first 6,000, and additional funding will follow to ensure that we deliver on the commitment of 20,000 new officers across the country.

Does the Minister agree that not only need more police officers but a new partnership forged locally between youth services, the police and the educational sector? Is it not time for some new cross-party thinking about how we tackle the crime and disorder on our streets at the moment?

I fully agree with the hon. Member’s comments. That is why we are funding violence reduction units, which start to build partnership working at a local level between social services, police and local authorities. The Queen’s Speech contained a Bill that will further strengthen that duty on local authorities, police and other partners to work together to deliver the benefits that he rightly observed.

Frontline Health Services

We are delivering on our five-year NHS settlement confirmed in January 2019, which is the largest cash injection in our public services since the second world war and will provide the NHS with an additional £33.9 billion more per year by 2023-24 compared with 2018-19. The settlement will shortly be enshrined in law.

Flint Community Hospital in my constituency of Delyn was closed by the Betsi Cadwaladr health board back in 2013, with the loss of a minor injuries unit and several important community beds where the elderly especially were able to recover from surgery close to their friends and family. Despite this being devolved to the Welsh Government, what hope can my right hon. Friend give to the people of Delyn and Flint that funds will be available so that such vital services in the community can be resurrected?

My hon. Friend will know that the NHS is this Government’s No. 1 spending priority. I just wish that it was the same for the Labour Government in Wales, who have let down Welsh people time and again, especially when it comes to healthcare. In the recent spending round in September, the Welsh Government received an additional £600 million, much of which can be put to good use in the NHS system in Wales. I hope that they are wise enough to help the Welsh people and, in particular, to look again at resurrecting Flint Community Hospital.

One of the major crises is the recruitment of GPs, so it is not just money that needs to be thrown at the issues. What steps is the Treasury taking to ensure that when money is provided, it is spent well and, crucially, that it is not stop-start funding, so that the NHS can properly plan for the long term, particularly in the recruitment of frontline staff?

It is worth reminding Members that one of the reasons the NHS has so many problems, including with the recruitment of GPs and in hospitals, is the PFI policies of the previous Labour Government, which have cash starved many NHS trusts for far too long. We are now putting that right with our historic settlement. The hon. Member is quite right about the importance of recruiting more GPs to have more appointments, and that is why we set out in our manifesto exactly how we are going to do that.

The extra billions for the NHS are to be welcomed, but the real challenge in Goole, Scunthorpe and Grimsby hospitals is a backlog in capital. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, come the Budget, there will be capital funding to ensure that our hospitals can be upgraded?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He makes an important point. As he will know, the Government will have a comprehensive spending review later this year, and there will be a multi-year capital settlement. Having the right amount of capital to ensure that we do all that is required for our NHS will be a priority.

Some 50% of people living with cancer require radiotherapy treatment, and yet only 5% of the cancer budget is spent on radiotherapy. What that means in real terms is that constituents of mine have to make two, three or four-hour roundtrips to get life-saving daily treatment. Will the Chancellor commit to spending money on radiotherapy provision, to provide satellite units at places such as Westmorland General Hospital?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. We are absolutely committed to providing the resources necessary for the NHS to provide even better cancer treatment for all our constituents. That is one of the reasons for this record financial settlement. Capital is also necessary, and further capital investment to have better cancer treatment will also be a priority.

Net Zero Emissions

13. What fiscal steps he is taking to ensure that the Government meet their target of net zero emissions by 2050. (900050)

It is a great pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend to her place. The clean growth strategy sets out our proposals to decarbonise our economy during the 2020s. This will build on existing Government spending, including £2.5 billion for low-carbon innovation between 2015 and 2021, £1 billion for ultra low emission vehicles and £4.5 billion for the renewable heat incentive.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. I am sure he is aware of the immense appetite within London’s financial and professional services community to invest in green infrastructure, and the rapid development of the green and sustainable bonds market. Is he therefore willing to meet me and representatives of the Corporation of London to discuss how Her Majesty’s Treasury can further advise and support further investment in green infrastructure and private finance, and its backing of that?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK is already a global centre for green finance, but we need to do more. That is why the Government published a green finance strategy last July and why we have launched the Green Finance Institute, in close collaboration with the City of London—precisely to drive these outcomes. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will be happy to meet her at the earliest opportunity to progress this.

As always, the Scottish Government are ahead of the UK Government when it comes to climate change and taking steps to tackle this. The Minister rightly acknowledged that the UK Government have to do a lot more. Does he agree that they need to take away the subsidies to nuclear and actually reinvest in onshore wind in Scotland, and allow greater offshore deployment as well?

The whole United Kingdom needs to work together to make sure that we deliver on our climate goals. We clearly need a diverse energy mix to help to deliver on that, and nuclear has a clear role to play within that settlement. We are very clear that we obviously monitor all projects to make sure they deliver maximum value for money, but we do need some baseload power.

Topical Questions

The year 2020 marks the end of a decade of economic recovery—10 years of uninterrupted growth, which is only the third time this has been achieved since 1700. At the election, I warned of a double whammy of uncertainty that risked the economy: continued Brexit delay and an agenda from the Labour party that would bankrupt our economy. We have removed those uncertainties and the markets have welcomed that. Now, since the election, I have appointed an excellent new Governor of the Bank of England, I have confirmed the national living wage will rise by 6.2% in April and I can confirm that I will bring the Budget to this House on 11 March. This Government will lay the foundations for a decade of economic renewal for every corner of our great country.

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s having further reduced business rates for small and medium-sized enterprises in rural areas. However, for businesses that do not fall within the rate relief levels, such as South Brent village shop in my constituency, will he work with me to see those rates reduced and review all business rates?

I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. He is absolutely right about the importance of business rates, which are a real burden, particularly on smaller community and village shops. That is why we have made our exemption for the smallest businesses—some 675,000 businesses—permanent, and we have a rural and retail discount scheme. He will also know that in our manifesto we committed to a fundamental review of our business rates schemes. I look forward to working with him and hearing his ideas.

Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with your words about the tragedy taking place in Australia?

Let me say to the Chancellor that I welcomed his statement yesterday that we are to have a Budget at last, as well as that the Green Book is to be rewritten—only two years after Labour proposed it; and that there is a new fiscal rule to accommodate new investment—only four years after Labour proposed it. But there was another statement, which he made reference to, which was the statement before Christmas about appointing Mr Andrew Bailey to be the Governor of the Bank of England. During Mr Bailey’s tenure as chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, we saw the scandals of London Capital & Finance and the Woodford Equity Fund, and the continuing saga of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Global Restructuring Group. In all those scandals, many people—many on low incomes—were hit extremely hard. May I ask the Chancellor: did he consult any of the victims of these scandals before he appointed Mr Bailey?

First, I welcome the shadow Chancellor to his seat. He fought a hard campaign and I commend him for his efforts. As he noted, just before the Christmas recess, I announced the new Governor of the Bank of England—I have just referred to that. Mr Bailey was an outstanding candidate—the stand-out candidate to be the next Governor of the Bank of England. That is one of the most important public sector jobs that our country has to offer, and it is hugely important that it goes to a rightly qualified person. Any reasonable person who looks at Mr Bailey’s track record of outstanding public service will see that he is eminently qualified.

You will note, Mr Speaker, that I asked whether the Chancellor had consulted any of the victims of these scandals, and no response was received. Clearly, he did not. I referred to the Woodford Group, and in the filings lodged today at Companies House, it is reported that £13.8 million of dividends were received by Mr Ian Woodford, and his chief executive, in the 12 months leading up to the crisis that engulfed Woodford Investment Management and affected so many investors deleteriously. That adds to concerns already expressed by others that Mr Bailey was asleep at the wheel during his period of office at the FCA. Labour has already called for a short, sharp inquiry into the recent scandals, and into the regulation of the financial services sector. May I suggest to the Chancellor that it would be appropriate to postpone Mr Bailey’s installation in office until an independent inquiry into those failures of financial regulation had taken place?

I believe the right hon. Gentleman means Mr Neil Woodford, not Mr Ian Woodford. The ongoing inquiry is, rightly, being led independently. It is not a matter for Ministers, and neither should it be. We are, of course, interested to ensure that an inquiry takes place, and that we learn all necessary lessons. I believe the Economic Secretary to the Treasury again has a meeting with the FCA on this issue tomorrow, but we will let the inquiry take its course independently. Once it is complete, we will ensure that all necessary lessons are learned.

T2. The midlands engine for growth shows the Government’s commitment to the midlands, which is welcomed by me and by Derbyshire colleagues. What plans does the Chancellor have to push the engine forward and deliver investments and jobs for Derby North? (900061)

May I warmly welcome my hon. Friend back to her rightful place? Last month, I visited with her some excellent businesses in her constituency, and I want to see more such businesses, not just in Derbyshire and the midlands, but throughout the country. There is so much more we can do with the midlands engine, and in this coming Parliament we are going to really fire it up and spread opportunities. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and colleagues in doing just that.

T5. Let me wish you, Mr Speaker, and every Member a happy new year. The London Stock Exchange already has more bonds from African countries listed for trading than any other international stock exchange. What steps will the Chancellor take to support his colleagues in the Department for International Development to generate private sector investment in financial markets across Africa, so that services, businesses and start-ups can grow and create 50,000 jobs? (900064)

The Government are always willing to work with the City and interested parties to consider how we can advance investment across all those sectors, and I would be happy to discuss such matters with the hon. Gentleman.

T3. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor joined me in King’s Lynn during the election campaign, he heard from Merxin, an innovative medical company, about how our infrastructure revolution could benefit west Norfolk. Will he work with me, ahead of the Budget, to ensure that dualling the A47, and half-hourly rail services, are part of that investment programme? (900062)

I will work with my hon. Friend, and I welcome him to his place. I was incredibly impressed by Merxin, the company we visited together. It was a reminder of the difference the right infrastructure in west Norfolk can make and how it can attract even more local business success. I will work with him. We will have an infrastructure revolution. It will benefit Norfolk and it will transform the local economy.

T7. Durham County Council has developed a housing regeneration masterplan to tackle issues relating to absentee landlords, poor quality and low housing demand, but the scale of the investment requires a commitment from central Government. Will the Chancellor meet me and representatives of Durham County Council to discuss how the housing masterplan can be financed to deliver much needed regeneration in Horden? (900066)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Work has been done on absentee landlords, but there is always room for new ideas. I will make sure that the relevant Minister meets him.

T4. Now that Lord Berkeley has laid bare the overspend and lack of return on investment of HS2, will the Chancellor pull the plug on this white elephant project and ensure that the money is spent on infrastructure projects across the north to benefit the regional economy, starting with northern powerhouse rail, with a station stop in Bradford, and the much needed and long-awaited Shipley eastern bypass? (900063)

I thank my hon. Friend for his characteristically robust Yorkshire question. As a fellow northern MP, I am obviously very keen to get cracking with higher transport infrastructure investment in the north, which the Government are absolutely committed to do. On HS2 specifically, as he knows, the Government have commissioned the Oakervee review to evaluate the scheme. It will report in due course and we will lay its findings before the House.

Can I first congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your first and second election as Speaker? You are looking very well on it.

May I ask the Chancellor about the problem facing many people who are worried about whether they have cancer? The best way to save the lives of people with cancer is early detection and ensuring that tests come back very quickly. Unfortunately, nine out of 10 pathology labs in England, Wales and Scotland are short of pathologists, which means that people are waiting six and seven weeks. Is it not now time we had a major financial incentive to persuade more people to become histopathologists and pathologists in the NHS?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue, which is such an important issue for all our constituents. It is important that we ensure that at all times the NHS has enough funding to meet all demand, but especially for something as acute and as important as treating cancer. He is right about the need for more skills. Much more is work being done by the Secretary of State and we are looking to see what more can be done. If more funding is required, we will provide it.

T6. South Ribble is blessed with many creative and hard-working smaller businesses whose products can and do grace the world. Will my hon. Friend confirm how small business exports are growing our national economy and set out what the Government are doing to support them? (900065)

I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. I know she has great experience as an SME leader. The Government recognise that SMEs are the backbone of the economy. We have international trade adviser networks giving peer-to-peer support to encourage more exports. The Government’s export strategy, launched in August 2018, lays the foundations of how to extend that. I hope she will be able to make use of it during her time in the House.

The “back of a cigarette packet” policy to increase road duty by more than 700% for motor homes and camper vans is reminiscent of the caravan tax of 2013, which I think was invented by the Chancellor’s predecessor George Osborne. That would have decimated manufacturing industry in Hull. Will the Chancellor meet me, colleagues and those in the industry, who are very concerned about this policy, so that they can explain directly to him how disastrous this policy will be for manufacturing industry in Hull?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. I met the National Caravan Council in October to discuss precisely these issues. We are clear that we need to incentivise the production of lower emission vehicles, but none the less we are sensitive to the concerns of the industry. I will happily meet him for further talks on this issue.