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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 671: debated on Tuesday 11 February 2020


The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

EU Single Market Access: Manufacturing and the Economy

1. What assessment the Government have made of the potential effect on the (a) manufacturing sector and (b) economy of the UK not having access to the EU single market. (900723)

We want a relationship with the EU that is based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and is centred on free trade. The economy has grown every year since 2010. Employment is at a record high and wage growth has outpaced inflation for 17 consecutive months. The upcoming Budget will set out ambitious plans to level up across the UK and usher in a decade of renewal.

The Chancellor will be aware that the CBI has spoken out and claimed that business is not ready for Brexit, which has already cost businesses billions of pounds in planning. But the advice is unclear. I spoke to the Federation of Small Businesses and to several small businesses last night, and they are extremely concerned that neither the infrastructure nor the advice is in place.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working very closely with individual businesses and their representative groups. The one thing they have certainly welcomed in the past few weeks is that we have ended the uncertainty around Brexit by actually leaving the European Union, as we said we would. We will be working very closely with business as we forge that new free trade agreement, which I know we will do.

Three years ago, at my first shadow Treasury questions from this Dispatch Box, I asked the Government about their plan to continue market access for financial services to EU countries after Brexit. Since that time, the Government’s ambitions have faded from the wide-ranging access-all-areas free trade deal that we were promised, to a basic agreement barely covering goods. The Chancellor has announced this morning that he is asking for enhanced equivalence for financial services, which the EU has already ruled out and which does not even exist in sectors such as insurance. This is our largest export sector, so how is it that we are still waiting for a credible plan after three years?

The hon. Gentleman needs to get his facts right. The EU has not ruled out equivalence. Indeed, it agreed in the political declaration to work at speed on an equivalence decision by the end of July this year, and that is welcome.[Official Report, 13 February 2020, Vol. 671, c. 12MC.] We are working very carefully and closely with the EU on having a broad agreement that will mean that our financial services continue to thrive—not only for our benefit, but for its benefit.

Figures released this morning by the Office for National Statistics show that GDP was flat in quarter four, growth is at one of its slowest rates since the financial crisis, the service sector is stagnating, and manufacturing has been particularly hard hit. When will the Chancellor accept the reality that these Tory Brexit plans are playing havoc with the economy, and damaging the wellbeing and prospects of all our constituents?

The hon. Lady will know that growth would have been hit by the uncertainty created in this Parliament before the general election. Since the general election, confidence is back because this country has said no to Marxism and has got on with Brexit.

The Chancellor puts forward a ridiculous prospect of the choices facing this country, because Brexit is the real and present danger for the economy. Just-in-time manufacturing is a critical part of the economy. Elizabeth de Jong of the Freight Transport Association has said of the revelation that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s smart border will not be ready until 2025:

“Frictionless trade has been kicked to the touchline… It’s going to be really costly for business.”

Can the Chancellor tell me what impact four years of Brexit chaos at the border will have on the UK economy and jobs in manufacturing in all our constituencies?

The hon. Lady talks about the importance of manufacturing. Since the change in Government in 2010, we have seen 58% growth in auto manufacturing and 22% growth in aerospace manufacturing. Again, because of the recent general election result, a survey of manufacturers carried out by the CBI a few weeks ago saw the biggest increase in confidence in the history of that survey—in more than 60 years.

The financial services sector generates 7% of UK GDP, provides 1.1 million jobs and is responsible for £29 billion-worth of tax revenue. Does the Chancellor agree that we need to ensure that the financial services sector is looked after in any trade agreement with the European Union if we are to pay for the infrastructure projects that we expect an announcement on today?

My right hon. Friend, as always, is absolutely right. The financial services sector employs millions of people—not just in London, but in Edinburgh, Birmingham and so many other parts of our great country—and generates more revenue for public services than any other industry. He is right that financial services will be a key part of forging that new relationship with our European friends.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to boost our manufacturing sector, and the economy, is by creating 10 new freeports—and the best place for a freeport is, of course, in Redcar?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of freeports. It is a reminder that, as we forge a new chapter for our country outside the EU, there is so much we can do to boost opportunity in our country, and freeports are a key part of that.

About 3,000 people work in the insurance sector in Chelmsford—it is a massive contributor to our economy and to the tax take. Given that the EU grants equivalence in the insurance sector to countries such as Bermuda, is it not perfectly reasonable that the EU should offer the UK the same?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. On day one, we will have exactly the same rules. We will not be rule takers. We will have the right to diverge in future, but on day one we can absolutely see why the EU will be looking very carefully at the equivalence decision.

In the South Lakes we have 3,000 local families waiting for a council home, yet the Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee says that the Government’s plan for visas and migrant pay will see an 8% reduction in the construction workforce. So will the Chancellor explain who is going to build the homes that families in the South Lakes so desperately need?

The hon. Gentleman will know that, under this Government, since 2010, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of homes being built. I think that last year there was the highest number of homes built in all but one of the past 30 years. When it comes to building more of those homes, of course we do need enough workers in the industry. That is exactly what our points-based system is about—making sure that it focuses on those areas where we need most support.

Transport Infrastructure Funding

2. What steps he is taking to allocate funding for improved transport infrastructure throughout the UK. (900724)

4. What steps he is taking to allocate funding for improved transport infrastructure throughout the UK. (900726)

19. What steps he is taking to allocate funding for improved transport infrastructure throughout the UK. (900742)

Better transport is central to our ambition to level up and spread opportunity across the United Kingdom. That is why the Chancellor will be unveiling, alongside his Budget, the national infrastructure strategy, which will set out further details of our plan to increase capital investment to record levels and transform the UK’s infrastructure.

South of Preston, there is only a single crossing of the River Ribble and a single-track bridge crossing the River Douglas, creating massive choke points for the residents and workers of Lancashire. Will my right hon. Friend consider additional bridges at these crossing points, which are strategically important for the whole of Lancashire as well as South Ribble?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of relieving congestion for improving day-to-day quality of life and driving economic growth. I am pleased that last year her constituency benefited from a £30 million investment to do just that. But there is always more we can do, and I would urge her to consider the Department for Transport’s pinch points fund.

Places such as Melton Mowbray in my constituency have very low unemployment thanks to a thriving food manufacturing sector and the business-friendly policies of this Government, but we need to see wages rise locally. What investment has my right hon. Friend’s Department made to make sure that local councils can provide the transport needed, particularly buses, so that people can get to work and revitalise our high streets?

I am delighted to hear about the economic growth that is happening in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that her local councils are a key part of driving that. I am pleased to say that the Government announced today a £5 billion package to support local transport infrastructure such as buses and cycleways, alongside our existing £3.6 billion towns fund, which 16 different places across the east midlands have benefited from.

Andy Street’s vision to revolutionise our transport networks in the west midlands, coupled with the continuation of the HS2 project, will hugely benefit my constituents in West Bromwich East, especially those in Great Barr. The vision that Andy set out only last week included the expansion of the West Midlands Metro system. Ahead of the Budget next month, will my right hon. Friend look at what further funding can be made available to level up our transport infrastructure in the west midlands?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of local intra-city transportation. Obviously the Prime Minister will be making a statement later about national infrastructure. We heard what Andy Street had to say. We are engaging with the Mayor on his exciting plans for intra-city transport and the expansion of the metro line in the west midlands area.

May I press the Chief Secretary on infrastructure funding for south Wales, and particularly our railways? I have been asking for three years for additional investment in station improvements, electrification and the level crossing issue in my constituency. If there is any additional funding for infrastructure, please do not forget Wales.

I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that this Government are committed to improving transport infrastructure across the United Kingdom. Obviously, some matters are devolved. Network Rail has a £48 billion plan for rail infrastructure. I would be happy to hear from him about the specific projects that he is interested in taking up with it.

Reports over the weekend that the Bradford city centre stop is to be dropped from the Northern Powerhouse Rail route are extremely concerning. Given the importance of NPR to any improved transport infrastructure, can the Minister confirm here today that the Government’s preferred route still includes Bradford?

I am a passionate believer in improving east-west connectivity across the north. I am pleased to say that I met the leader of Bradford Council just the other week. Bradford has an exciting future as one of the younger cities in the country. I believe that the plans that NPR has put forward include Bradford. We are happy to look at those. Transport for the North is actively engaging with local stakeholders on the various routes for improving connectivity between Manchester and Leeds, and that includes Bradford city centre.

What progress has been made on the feasibility study on a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland, as promised by the Prime Minister? More immediately, have there been any discussions with the Scottish Government on the upgrading of the A75—an important road link to Northern Ireland and important to the economic corridor in south-west Scotland?

The Prime Minister is passionate about improving connectivity across the United Kingdom. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) will know, that is one particular project that the Prime Minister has expressed interest in and he can assume that we are busy at work fleshing out what it might look like.

Net Zero Emissions Target

3. What fiscal steps he is taking to ensure that the Government meets its target of net zero emissions by 2050. (900725)

The clean growth strategy sets out our proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy through the course of the 2020s. This year, the Government will be setting out further detail on plans to reduce emissions in key sectors such as transport, energy and buildings, as well as publishing our net zero review.

The next UN climate conference is the perfect opportunity to set out exactly what we are doing to get our emissions down to net zero by 2050. Can the Minister assure me that the Government are committed to doing all they can to achieve that and to delivering the green jobs that come with it?

I am a passionate believer in the net zero agenda, and I believe that it is perfectly congruent with economic growth. COP26 presents a huge opportunity for the UK and globally. We are already a leader in tackling climate change, having reduced the emissions intensity of our economy faster than any other G20 country. We will be doing more at Budget.

The Minister will be aware that, as part of the drive towards zero emissions, there was a recent announcement about bringing forward the phasing out of diesel, petrol and hybrid vehicles to 2035. What assessment has he made of the economic and fiscal impact of doing so, and in particular the loss of jobs that will happen, because the industry is in imminent danger of collapse?

We are consulting on the option of accelerating the phasing out of petrol and diesel cars, because the average lifespan of a vehicle is around 14 years, and if we are to hit our net zero targets by 2050, we need to be sensitive to that. I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we are listening carefully to the industry on this issue. Just last week, I met the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders for a productive conversation on how we can do this in a way that supports the sector.

Small Businesses

The UK’s 5.8 million small businesses play a vital role in our economy. We have lowered corporation tax from 28% in 2010 to 19%. We have introduced the employment allowance, to reduce employers’ national insurance contributions bill by £3,000 every year, and we have reduced the business rates burden, so that more than 675,000 of the smallest businesses pay no rates at all.

Last week, Members from across the House came together to celebrate our beers, breweries and pubs. Will the Chancellor and his team raise a glass to our pubs and breweries and lower the duty on those institutions?

The Treasury team love pubs, and we recognise the importance of pubs to the economy and to community life up and down this country; they provide a place to socialise and drink responsibly. That is why we have frozen the duty over six of the last seven years, which means that a pint of beer is 14p cheaper than it would have been otherwise, and we are now at a 30-year low in real terms.

We all know that small businesses are the driver of growth and prosperity across our country, but too many struggle because of high business rates. Can the Minister confirm that the Conservative Government will extend the retail discount of 50% later this year, giving a much-needed tax cut to millions of small businesses on high streets across the country?

I am delighted to confirm that the retail discount of 50% will operate from 1 April this year. We will also extend the discount to include cinemas and music venues, extend the duration of the local newspaper office space discount, and introduce an additional discount for pubs, worth £1,000, for up to 18,000 pubs up and down the country.

Most businesses in my constituency are microbusinesses employing one or two people. The biggest problem they have is larger firms not paying their bills on time. What measures can be put in place to ensure that larger companies pay small companies on time so that they can continue with their business?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. That is why we have the Small Business Commissioner. We are working closely with trade bodies to ensure best practice. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads on this, but we work closely with that Department so that more progress is made on this vital matter.

But small businesses will be affected by the news over the weekend that there will not be frictionless trade and that the Government are insisting on not sticking to a level playing field, which will affect small businesses, whether they import or export. So what is the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Department doing to prepare small businesses for the inevitable changes that that will bring?

We are working closely with the representative organisations to understand those concerns, but it is important that we move forward, secure a free trade agreement and give certainty to small businesses. Their principal concern over the past year is a lack of progress, and it is our responsibility to remove that uncertainty and reach a clear position.

National Infrastructure

Infra- structure is a top priority for the Government, which is why we are publishing the national infrastructure strategy alongside the Budget. It will set out further details of the Government’s plan to increase investment to transform the UK’s infrastructure.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to vital national infrastructure, but does he agree that bespoke local infrastructure projects benefit the national infrastructure network by increasing connectivity? An example is the much-needed Chickenhall Lane road link in Eastleigh, for which my constituents have been waiting for over 20 years.

My hon. Friend is right. Local transport is the backbone of our community, which is why hopefully a welcome announcement will be made today on buses and cycling—a new £5 billion package on local transport. There is also the £150 million fund for smaller projects to deal with congestion hotspots. I would be pleased to consider the Chickenhall Lane link road in the next available competition.

Blaenau Gwent needs investment in the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff train line for extra services. The shared prosperity fund could be a crucial route to providing that. When will the fund be ready to support infrastructure projects in our eastern valleys?

The hon. Gentleman will know that, as we transition from EU structural funds to the shared prosperity fund, it will be important that we set out exactly how that will work. With reference to his question, it means that the Welsh Government will have to work closely with us to see how we can use that for infrastructure projects in Wales.

Thanks to heavy usage by HGVs, Surrey is sometimes called the pothole capital of England. What steps is the Department taking to invest in tackling potholes nationally, which I am very keen to see in East Surrey?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue that affects many communities. All our constituents would say that the number of potholes is unbearable nowadays, which is why we made it clear in our manifesto that we will have the largest fund ever put in place by any Government to tackle potholes, with more details at the Budget.

Off-payroll Working Rules Review

7. What progress his Department is making on its review of the implementation of changes to the off-payroll working rules; and if he will make a statement. (900729)

17. What steps he is taking to review the implementation of changes to the off-payroll working rules; and if he will make a statement. (900739)

The review of the off-payroll working rules reform was announced on 7 January 2020. The reform is due to be extended to medium and large-sized organisations in all sectors from 6 April. It is determining whether any further steps can be taken to ensure smooth and successful implementation, and a series of roundtables with stake- holders has already been conducted. The review will conclude by mid-February, after which recommendations will be made public.

With the roll-out of IR35 in the private sector fast approaching, there is already concern that companies are making blanket determinations, forcing genuine contractors into contracts that tax them as employees but with no employment rights. Ahead of the protest here tomorrow, will the Government listen, pause the process and work with the industry to do a proper review?

The hon. Lady may be aware that we have already made a small but important change to the roll-out as a result of the review. We are not aware of blanket determinations being made, although it must be said that many firms are choosing to acknowledge disguised employment and bring those contractors in-house. The hon. Lady should also be aware that there are various routes by which determinations can be challenged, including, if necessary, a submission under the income tax self-assessment process, for a final determination.

We all want to crack down on tax avoidance but legitimate contractors in my constituency face uncertainty about their status and tax liability thanks to unclear HMRC guidance and the unreliability of CEST—check employment status for tax—and the firms they work for are cancelling contracts because of the confusion. What is the Minister doing to address their concerns?

We are conducting a review to ensure that this is as smooth as possible. We recognise that there is difficulty here. Some 18 months have passed since the original reform of status determination was announced and in that process we have had a consultation, draft legislation and further discussions and consultation, and we are having a further review now to make sure it is properly and smoothly rolled out.

Against how many of the pillars of taxation did the Economic Affairs Committee in the other place judge the 2010 legislation on the loan charge to have failed?

We have a question about the loan charge later on, so I look forward to my right hon. Friend’s further question then. He can answer on the number of pillars because I am sure he has scrutinised the Committee’s hearings very carefully. What I can tell him is that the fundamental principle of tax is that it should be properly collected from people who owe it and who may be avoiding it, and that is what this is designed to do.

Zero VAT Rate: E-publications

8. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of introducing a zero-rate of VAT for e-publications. (900730)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question about e-publications and see by the way, Mr Speaker, that your predecessor Speaker Bercow’s book, aptly named “Unspeakable: the Autobiography” has just been published. Apparently it is an online bestseller in the rather surprising, slightly niche category of blues musician biographies. Unlike many other e-books, it is considerably cheaper than the book itself; whether that will remain so is not clear. I do not know whether you have had a chance to peruse the work, Mr Speaker, but if you have, I am sure you will agree that no reader would have their appetite to read it affected by a reduction in tax. What this brings out is that the pricing of e-books is a commercial decision, and it is far from clear whether changing the tax would affect that decision.

I thank the Minister for his entertaining answer. Scottish National party Members are very disappointed that the last Government refused to back our demands to remove VAT from electronic publications. So with the Budget only a month away, will he consider a change of policy so that at the very least, online children’s books and academic journals can become more affordable?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are benefits associated with extending the zero rate of VAT in this area, as in others. The task for Government is to work out what is the right thing to do, all things considered. All I can say is that we have responded to the Cairncross review in part of this area, and we continue to keep all taxes under review, especially in the lee of a budget.

While agreeing with the point made for the SNP by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), does the Minister not find it somewhat ironic that the only way we can reduce the rate of VAT to zero is through Brexit, yet the SNP wishes to remain in the EU, and we would therefore not be able to reduce VAT if that were the case?

That is a very telling point, and I draw the House’s attention to the parallel issue of sanitary products for women, on which I am pleased to say we will be able to act after we have left the EU.

Local Authority Funding

10. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the adequacy of allocations of funding for local authorities. (900732)

The financial health of local authorities remains a priority for the Government and for me personally as a former local government Minister. I am pleased to say that next year’s local government finance settlement outlines and will deliver the biggest year-on-year increase in local government spending power for over a decade.

For over 10 years, Enfield has been significantly underfunded, which has had a huge impact on the provision of local services. The proposed settlement goes nowhere near addressing the shortfall. Will the Minister meet me and the Enfield Borough Over 50s Forum to discuss Enfield’s needs?

I am pleased to say that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is undertaking a review of the funding formula for local government, and I am sure that Enfield Council has participated in that. There will be a formal consultation later this year, and I encourage the council to input its particular needs if those are not adequately captured by today’s formula. In the forthcoming financial year, Enfield can look forward to an almost 6% cash increase in the spending power it has available for its residents and communities.

In addition to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has the Chief Secretary had any discussions with the representatives of Hyndburn, Burnley, Leigh, Blackpool South, Colne Valley, Durham North, Keighley, Stoke-on-Trent Central and North or Workington concerning the adequacy of the funding for the councils covering their constituencies?

In my previous role I had many conversations with councils up and down the country. Indeed, in this job I take representations from the Local Government Association, the District Councils’ Network and the Core Cities consortium, among others. The point is that this will be an evidence-based formula that looks at the various needs of all authorities up and down the country. It is being done in partnership with independent academics to help us arrive at a formula that is fair for every part of the country and every local authority.

Clearly those discussions were not very productive, were they? I can tell hon. Members that, according to the LGA, the likely outcome is 6.6, 6.6, 6.5, 6.4, 6.2, 10, 10, 9 and 4. I am referring not to Olympic ice skating marks, but to the additional millions that will be lost respectively by the councils of the hon. Members I listed. In all, 37 councils of the 50 new Tory MPs—that is 70%—are set to lose millions under the Government’s so-called fair funding formula. Did the Chief Secretary mention that to his new colleagues, or has he been too busy keeping an eye on the potential job vacancies?

The figures the hon. Gentleman refers to are pure speculation. The formula has not been concluded yet, so it is a bit difficult to talk about the conclusions in advance of that. There will be a consultation. Regardless of the type of area that any Member in this Parliament represents—rural or urban, north or south—it will be an evidence-based formula. All the various criteria that drive local government spend, whether it is rurality or deprivation, will be taken into account. All Members can have input into that process and can have confidence that the final formula will be fair and, importantly, evidence-based.

The Treasury team will know how difficult it is to get a funding formula to operate for places like the Isles of Scilly, which are remote and sparsely populated. Good work is being done to bring health and social care together under one roof. Can the Minister shed more light on how difficult areas such as this can be funded in the future?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor met my hon. Friend and his local authority recently to discuss this issue, and I have taken representations from them in the past. My hon. Friend is right that rurality and the particular geographic challenges posed by his constituency should be taken into account in the new formula. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will do that when he looks at all the representations in the spring.

In addition to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has my right hon. Friend had a chance to speak to the Secretary of State for Education about the pressure on school budgets from the local government pension scheme? On a visit to the excellent Hanley Castle High School in my constituency last week, I discovered that almost half its payroll is covered by the local government pension scheme and that it is experiencing a lot of budgetary pressure from that.

The local government pension scheme is fully funded, which means that all local authorities contribute on an annual basis. It is right that that is taken into account when setting annual budgets. I am pleased that the Government have outlined a three-year school settlement, which will take school funding up by £4 billion in real terms over the forthcoming spending period. Those extra resources will allow schools to deal with the pension pressure and invest in our classrooms, which is where the money needs to go.

It was extraordinary to hear the Treasury Minister talk about the biggest year-on-year increase in funding after a decade of major cuts. He knows, because he can do the maths, that that is nowhere near making any recompense. The Public Accounts Committee looked in detail at local government spending and we concluded that in simple terms, it was being squeezed massively, particularly for children’s and adult’s social services. When will he acknowledge that for many things that his Government purport to want to deliver, local government is key and that it needs sustainable and increased funding to make up for the cuts of the previous decade?

Local government deserves enormous praise for the hard work that it did in helping to restore this country’s public finances to a sustainable state. We all know why we were in that situation a decade ago, but we can now look forward with confidence. Local government is benefiting from a very significant increase in spending power this year. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the pressure on social care, which is one of the largest areas of spend, which is why the Government have just committed an extra £1 billion in social care grant to help local authorities to alleviate that pressure this year and into the future.

Equity of Economic Opportunity

We will level up opportunity across the UK to ensure that every region and nation benefits from growth, including through better infrastructure, public services and investment in skills. I will set out more details in the Budget through the national infrastructure strategy.

Many of my constituents are delighted about the Government’s plans to level up funding across the country. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what that will mean for the people of east midlands and my constituents in Gedling?

As we level up opportunity in every region, we will make sure that the whole country benefits, including the east midlands. That includes, for example, the £3.6 billion towns fund that we have announced, with 16 town deals in the east midlands. The Government are also committed to the £250 million growth deal, which provides funding for the Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire areas and will include projects such as the Gedling access road.

This is beyond parody. The reality is that after 10 years of Tory rule, the five richest families in this country own more wealth than 13 million of us put together. Fourteen million of us live in poverty. Two out of three of those are in working households. Childcare, transport and the cost of rent hold millions back, so will the Chancellor accept some tests for his Budget? Will he cut child poverty? Will he cut homelessness? Will he end the need for food banks? Will his Budget match his words? The hell it will.

Let me tell the hon. Lady what we have seen under 10 years of Tory rule, after Labour’s great recession. We have had nine consecutive years of growth. We have an economy that is nearly 17% bigger than it was in 2010, and 3.9 million jobs have been created—I would think that a party that calls itself the Labour party would welcome that. Unemployment is at its lowest level for 45 years, and according to the International Monetary Fund, our economy will grow faster this year than those of Italy, Japan, France and Germany.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are critical to economic opportunity and would undoubtedly benefit from greater access to business finance, yet challenger banks suffer from the same capital requirements as larger banks, despite the fact that they do not present the same systemic risk. Will my right hon. Friend say what he might be able to do to change that situation?

This is something that I have discussed with regulators. My hon. Friend is right in his general point about challenger banks and the risks that they may or may not represent. It is right that we take a fresh look at this because having more competition in the banking sector is a good thing, especially for SMEs.

Co-operative and Mutual Businesses: Tax Contribution

12. What recent assessment his Department has made of the contribution to the public purse of tax paid by co-operative and mutual businesses. (900734)

I recognise the positive impact that co-operatives and mutuals have across all sectors of the economy, including retail, agriculture and financial services. No assessment has been made of the amount of tax paid by co-operative and mutual businesses, but I note that the report last year from the all-party group for mutuals found that mutuals generate over £130 billion to benefit the wider economy each year.

It is a matter of fact that the three largest co-ops in this country pay more tax than Facebook, Amazon and Caffé Nero combined, so not only are they creating jobs but; they are also paying fairly into the Exchequer. Will the Minister meet me and representatives from the co-op and mutuals sector to discuss that part of the economy and make sure that Britain can thrive in an inclusive way?

Yes, I will. There are 7,000 co-ops across the United Kingdom, employing nearly a quarter of a million people. I have had numerous meetings over the past two years with representatives of co-ops and mutuals, and we had a mutuals workshop last July. I am very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the recent Manchester mutuals report and to see what we can do together.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr Speaker—it has been so long!

Perhaps I should declare an interest as a member of the Midcounties co-operative. Will my hon. Friend consider broadening the eligibility for social investment tax relief so that more mutuals and social enterprises can deliver excellent services and outstanding social value?

I always listen very carefully to what my hon. Friend says. I think the best way forward would be for me to meet him to discuss his specific proposals and see what can be done.

Loan Charge 2019

14. How many people will be affected by the 2019 loan charge after the Government have implemented the recommendations of Sir Amyas Morse’s review. (900736)

20. How many people will be affected by the 2019 loan charge after the Government have implemented the recommendations of Sir Amyas Morse’s review. (900743)

Of the estimated 50,000 individuals affected by the loan charge, the Government currently estimate that more than 30,000 will benefit from the changes. That includes about 11,000 people who will be taken out of paying altogether. In addition, individuals who have settled or who are settling their tax liability with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will be out of scope of the charge.

Neither the law nor HMRC made clear the position regarding loans and self-employed people. Indeed, it was not until 2016 that it was announced that the law would be changed to include the self-employed and others who did not even find out until a year or two later, such as my constituent Dhruv Salotra. Will the Financial Secretary do the obvious thing, get rid of all retrospection and apply the loan charge from when the law was clear and applied to everyone, including the self-employed, and, in addition, clamp down on those who promoted these disguised renumeration schemes in the first place?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that it is important to crack down on promoters, and at the Budget we will bring forward a package about how to do that. Her wider point, however, is wrong: this is not a retrospective measure. It is also true that the Government have to some extent been vindicated by Sir Amyas Morse, who found that the loan charge was an appropriate way to respond to tax avoidance and, after detailed argumentation, suggested a date in December 2010 as the correct date from which to date the legality of it.

But even 2010 is 10 years ago, so if the law was clear then, as the report suggests, why did HMRC not act then? Surely this matter is its responsibility.

HMRC did pursue these cases quite vigorously. Sir Amyas found, on the basis of detailed consideration, that the law was clear then, and therefore HMRC rightly believed that people would accommodate it. Of course, it pursued people who had been avoiding tax through disguised renumeration schemes for many years before that, and it will continue to do so for those that have been carved out by the loan charge review.

The Treasury has accepted some of Sir Amyas Morse’s recommendations, but there is confusion about some of them. A constituent of mine got caught in a disguised renumeration scheme before 2010, and yet he is still not convinced that he is in the clear and has that fear hanging over him. What does the Financial Secretary have to say about that?

The hon. Lady is quite wrong. We accepted all but one of Sir Amyas’s recommendations, and we did not accept that one because the issue he raised was already being handled very well within the system. If the hon. Lady has a specific concern, she is very welcome to raise it with tax commissioners or, indeed, with me, although on an anonymised basis because obviously I cannot deal with specifics.


You ain’t no Deputy, Mr Speaker!

Increasing productivity is the best way to boost wages and improve living standards. We have worked hard to build a stronger, fairer economy, dealing with the deficit, helping people into work, and cutting taxes for families and businesses.

The link between investment in research and development and increased productivity is well recognised. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to encourage more private sector investment in R&D to help Britain become a leader in the fourth industrial revolution?

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done to put the UK at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution. He is right to raise the importance of research and development. We are committed to investing an additional £7 billion in R&D by 2021-22 —the largest increase in 40 years—and, as my hon. Friend will know, in our manifesto we committed ourselves to going even further.

The people with the least productive, lowest-paid jobs, although often highly skilled, are women working in care, retail or hospitality. Where is the Chancellor’s productivity plan for the women in our country?

The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that we have more women in employment than ever before in our history, and that the gender pay gap is the narrowest ever recorded. However, she is right: we need to do more, and more investment will help, whether it is in infrastructure or skills. What will also help is our new points-based immigration system. Too often businesses have sought to take unskilled labour from abroad and cut the wages of people locally, and we must put an end to that as well.

Topical Questions

We have ended the uncertainty over our departure from the European Union, and we stand at the beginning of a new chapter. I know that the future is bright as we level up our country and unleash Britain’s potential. We have confirmed that 31 million people will receive a tax cut in April, and in the Budget on 11 March I will continue to lay the foundations for a decade of renewal. We will also set out our plans for an infrastructure revolution and for better investment in our most important asset of all, our human capital.

Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that when we talk about levelling up, we are indeed talking about levelling up the whole United Kingdom—all regions and all nations? May I encourage him to show real determination to ensure that the devolved nations also see and feel the benefit of his ambitious infrastructure proposals?

I can absolutely confirm that to my right hon. Friend. We are blessed with talent throughout our country. Wherever we look, we have talent. Our country is oozing with talent, and that, of course, includes Wales: we have just seen a demonstration of that talent. We need to ensure that there is much more opportunity, which means investment in infrastructure and skills and retaining a dynamic, competitive economy.

In the last month we have seen the Financial Times predicting that the Chancellor will miss his balanced budget target, and today we have seen zero growth in the economy. At the same time, Mr Dominic Cummings has demanded cuts in taxes and massive spending commitments, so the Chancellor has resorted to floating a possible raid on middle-income pensions, a mansion tax—once described as Marxist—and a 5% cuts round to find some money to pay for Mr Cummings’s demands. Yet in the real world out there, the victims of Wonga, the payday loan company, were told a fortnight ago that they would receive less than 5% of the compensation that they are owed. Will the Chancellor take a break from his arm-wrestling with Mr Cummings, and introduce measures to compensate the Wonga victims fully?

I think that I have to correct myself. I said that there was talent throughout the country, but, judging by what we have just heard, I do not think that that includes the Labour party.

There is all sorts of speculation about the Budget, and I am not going to respond to that. However, the right hon. Gentleman will know that when the Budget is published, it will be published alongside a report by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility. Those are the figures that are going to matter, not the ones that are speculated about in the press. As for growth, the right hon. Gentleman will also know that although there has been a fall in global growth, the International Monetary Fund forecasts that Britain will grow faster this year than France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

I asked about Wonga. [Hon. Members: “You did.”] On the basis of that answer, I can see why No. 10 nicknamed the right hon. Gentleman CHINO: Chancellor in name only.

Wonga is just one example of the recent scandals in the financial sector. We have seen the scandals of closet tracking last year, London Capital & Finance, Woodford Investment Management, the tax avoidance by Lycamobile —a Tory party donor—NMC Health’s misreporting today, large-scale money-laundering, and audit failure after audit failure. Regulation of the finance sector—I say it again—is clearly failing, and now there is the risk to jobs resulting from the tardiness of a post-Brexit settlement. Let me put this to the Chancellor: can he assure me that the White Paper that he has promised today will address the failure of regulation and the culture of recklessness and abuse that has developed in some sections of the City, in addition to the risks from Brexit, so that we can plan a long-term stable future for our finance sector?

I remember that not long ago the shadow Chancellor stood here and said that he wanted to be known as the “people’s Chancellor”. I think the people had a very different idea, however. On his question about high-cost credit, when I was last in the Treasury as Economic Secretary, that was the first time that any Government had introduced proper regulation around high-cost credit. This is something that we keep under review, which is why, as we present our White Paper, we will be looking to see what more we can do.

T2. Many in financial services will warmly welcome the Chancellor’s remarks in the papers yesterday about equivalence arrangements, but does he agree that the real value to those arrangements is in the length of the revocation period? Will he therefore press for revocation notices of a minimum of a year and preferably three years? (900749)

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Equivalence arrangements, done properly, would require a period of stability to be agreed, and that is exactly what we are working on with our European friends.

T3. Funding for coal mining ended in 2012, but it carries on for oil and gas, as we saw at the recent Africa summit and in the lobbying for the Petrofac oil refinery in Bahrain. When is the Chancellor going to end funding for fossil fuel projects and take the action that is needed to tackle the climate crisis? (900750)

The UK takes our climate commitments exceptionally seriously, and we have pledged to end the use of unabated coal here in the UK by 2025. Clearly we want to ensure that that applies to our work overseas as well, and that is something that the Government as a whole take very seriously. It is the subject of ongoing ministerial discussions and we are determined to ensure that we support the right initiatives across the world.

T4. Over the past few weeks, I have met a number of businesses in the Meon Valley whose growth is being held back by poor internet connectivity. What funding exists to help businesses in rural areas to boost their productivity and growth by improving their broadband? (900752)

My hon. Friend is right to raise this matter. The Government have already put in place the gigabit broadband voucher scheme and the rural gigabit connectivity scheme, which is available to small and medium-sized enterprises and gives support of up to £3,500 per company. She will also be pleased to know that the Government have committed £5 billion to invest in new infrastructure to ensure that every part of our country has the best possible broadband.

T8. Will the Chancellor ensure, in the Budget in March, that the automotive manufacturing sector gets the support it requires? He will know that there was a decline of 14% in our manufacturing production last year, which represents a big hit to the Treasury. Will he put in place the support to ensure a transition from fossil fuels, so that we can still produce vehicles such as diesel-powered units in good numbers while supporting the switch to electric vehicles? (900756)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Tomorrow I am attending a roundtable at 11 Downing Street with representatives of the advanced manufacturing industry, and we are determined to take their views into account as we make this transition. We are supporting the industry through initiatives such as the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the Faraday battery challenge, and we are determined to ensure that the sector evolves in a way that boosts our growth prospects as we decarbonise.

T5. Last year my town of Southport benefited from a £25 million town deal. What more is my right hon. Friend doing to help other towns up and down the country to level up? (900753)

As the Chancellor said, the Government are committed to levelling up across the country, and part of that involves our town deals to help to revitalise our high streets. Also, as the Prime Minister will say later, we have unveiled a £5 billion package to improve local connectivity, including bus and cycle lanes, to improve the quality of life and economic opportunity in local towns.

T9. In September last year, standing at the Dispatch Box the Chancellor declared that austerity was at an end, but just last month he demanded that each Department cut 5% of its budget—hardly a glowing endorsement of the end of austerity. Will the Chancellor now admit that the Government never had any intention of ending austerity or easing the pain felt by millions around the country? (900757)

With respect, I think the hon. Gentleman is confusing cutting spending and tackling waste, and we know that the previous Labour Government was good at neither of those, with overspending and loads of waste. It is right that as a Government we look carefully at every single pound that is spent and make sure it is done so appropriately.

T6. Creditor enforcement action can greatly exacerbate the problems that people going through mental health crises can experience. May I commend the Chancellor and the Economic Secretary for the breathing space initiative, which will help to ease the pressure on those people and so many more? (900754)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, and I am very pleased that the breathing space scheme is moving forward. We published the impact assessment last week, and 700,000 people will benefit from the scheme next year when it comes into force. That number will rise to 1 million in the following year.[Official Report, 24 February 2020, Vol. 672, c. 2MC.]

Depending on which briefing to today’s newspapers was accurate, the infrastructure announcement will fund a grand total of either 250 or 1,000 miles of new designated cycleway. That is to be compared with the 1,800 being provided by the Labour Mayor in Manchester alone. How can a small city such as Exeter hope to get any of the help, resources or the powers it needs to deliver on the cycling infrastructure as it desperately wants to do?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the announcement today was of £5 billion of fresh funding for local transport—buses and cycling. When it comes to cycling—something we all want made easier to access for all our constituents—there will be 250 miles of new dedicated cycle track.

T7. I know that the Government are committed to renewing and improving our national infrastructure. However, those improvements have to represent value for money. I therefore urge the Chancellor to question both the cost and effectiveness of the current proposals for a new lower Thames crossing and suggest that he re-examines both the business case and the alternative options. (900755)

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns and he is right to raise this. He will be pleased that Highways England is conducting a supplementary consultation on the lower Thames crossing to make sure that any benefits are maximised. The consultation will close on 25 March, and I will then look at it carefully. I would encourage him to have his say.

As a former teacher, I know that a good education is a key driver to economic opportunities for young people, but sixth forms have been heavily damaged by years of under-investment. Will the Chancellor commit to implementing the recent recommendation from the Education Committee and Ofsted to raise the rate of funding per pupil to at least £4,760 in next month’s Budget?

Post-16 education and skills are a priority for the Chancellor and the Government. I am pleased to say that the recent spending round delivers a £400 million increase in funding for post-16 education, which makes it the fastest rise in a decade and means that the per pupil base rate that the hon. Lady mentions will go up faster than the schools total.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will know that I have written to him about the legal duty that the OBR has to produce two economic forecasts in each financial year, which of course has been complicated by the cancellation of the last Budget. Can I ask him to set out for the House the approach that he intends to take and how he will avoid the necessity of having two forecasts very close together saying essentially the same thing?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on being elected as the Chair of the Treasury Committee. I look forward to working with him and to the scrutiny that he will provide, as he is doing right now. The issue about the forecasts the OBR needs to provide is a live one, and we will make sure that the OBR meets its statutory requirements. I am pleased that the head of the OBR, Robert Chote, has discussed it with my right hon. Friend, and I would be happy to discuss it with him too.

The Chancellor will know of the association between productivity, economic opportunity and regional productivity. Noting that Flybe is in the news again today, and knowing how important it is to Belfast City airport in my constituency and regional hubs throughout this United Kingdom, will he remember those three principles as he charts a course to find a permanent solution for that aviation company?

Of course I will keep that in mind. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are absolutely committed to spreading opportunity throughout the country—throughout each of the nations that make up the United Kingdom—and we want to look at all the ways we can improve connectivity.

The Goodwin International training school in my constituency is an exemplar of skills training by a successful modern manufacturer with a world-class reputation. For less established firms such as challenger small and medium-sized enterprises, what support is on offer to level them up to Goodwin International standards?

I had a good meeting yesterday with my hon. Friend and fellow Stoke and north Staffordshire MPs. The Government are supporting small firms across England through the network of 38 growth hubs, one of which is based on Stoke-on-Trent. In our manifesto, we announced our intention to create a national skills fund, which will help to transform the lives of people who have not got on the work ladder and lack qualifications, as well as people looking to return to work or to upskill.

Every year Scotland exports a quarter of a billion pounds worth of salmon to the European Union. This week, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation expressed serious concern about the continuing uncertainty of Brexit. What assessment has the Chancellor of the Exchequer made of the impact on this vital industry of the Chancellor of the Duchy Lancaster’s announcement that “as friction-free as possible” trade with the EU means “not friction-free at all”?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working closely with the fishing industry, including salmon producers, to make sure that as we put in place our new free trade agreement, it will continue to thrive.