This Government have supported our economy through coronavirus with more than £350 billion to protect jobs, families and businesses. As we approach the next phase of our road map out of lockdown, our support continues to ensure that we emerge from the pandemic stronger and more united.
The Financial Conduct Authority has asked John Swift QC to investigate the mis-selling of certain business loans to small businesses, as well as their response to complaints about that mis-selling. The review has refused to take into account any loans that were settled with non-disclosure agreements between the businesses and the banks, giving a skewed view and a skewed outcome. Will the Chancellor speak to the FCA and ask John Swift to ensure that all evidence is taken into account, so that we get a proper review of the FCA’s dealings?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which is on an important matter. I welcome the conclusions of the Swift review, and I hope he will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment or intervene on the scope of that review, as it was set up to be completely independent of Government. That said, we have always been clear that the mis-selling of interest rate hedging products is wrong, and nothing that the redress scheme does means that businesses cannot still go to the FCA, the Financial Ombudsman Service or the courts if they wish. If he wishes to raise particular circumstances with either the FCA or the Swift review, he can do that directly.
Fishing is at the heart of many of our coastal communities, and I pay tribute to Mr Chapman and my hon. Friend for their commitment to the sector. I am happy that the Government are also championing and committed to the sector, and we have announced a £100 million fund to modernise our fleet and infrastructure. That is on top of £32 million that will replace EU funding this year, and £23 million that was made available earlier to support the sector, while adjusting to new export requirements.
A year ago, the Chancellor personally announced the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, or “our loan scheme for large companies”, as his Department put it. Allowing Greensill Capital access to that scheme put hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and thousands of jobs at risk. The Prime Minister said he would publish every personal exchange related to covid contracts. Has the Chancellor published his every communication relating to Government business on Greensill, including with David Cameron—yes or no?
We have actually responded to all the requests that I have been asked and, indeed, gone above and beyond in providing disclosure. I would say a couple of things to the hon. Lady. First of all, I am very happy to co-operate fully and constructively with both the independent Boardman review and the Treasury Committee inquiry, and those processes have begun. Secondly, on the substance, it is important to remember what was going on. We were in the midst of a financial crisis and we were keen to explore all avenues to support small and medium-sized businesses. We have heard in the House today that there are still challenges, so it was right to examine all avenues to do that. This was just one of many strands of work that the Treasury and I conducted, rightly and appropriately. It is important to notice that, in the end, we rejected the taking forward of any proposals on supply chain finance.
I will take that as a no. It appears that the Chancellor is less committed than the Prime Minister himself to transparency. That is not what I would call levelling with the British public. Let us see if he can level on another significant Government failure: the delay to imposing restrictions last autumn, which cost lives and our economy dear. In late October, when I asked the Chancellor if he was blocking a circuit breaker, he said,
“I agree with the Prime Minister”—[Official Report, 20 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 889.]
Now it is being suggested that he sided with others against the Prime Minister. We have grown used to the Chancellor chopping and changing his mind, but can he explain whether this change of heart is driven by science and the needs of our economy, or by the internal politics of the Conservative party?
The hon. Lady is confusing multiple things. She has asked me previously about circuit breakers. At the time there was a debate, appropriately, about whether a national intervention was right at a time when the epidemiology across this country was incredibly varied. That is something that the deputy chief medical officer himself spoke about at a press conference, and he said it would be inappropriate at that time to take forward national interventions. That is what I was referring to.
To go back to the shadow Chancellor’s previous comment about transparency, in fact I voluntarily published extra messages to aid the transparency of this process for people. I am fully committed to working constructively with the inquiry, both the Boardman review and the Treasury Committee inquiry. It is worth reminding the shadow Chancellor of something she herself wrote last April in The Daily Mirror:
“The ‘Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme’ seems to be stuck in the banks, and not getting to small businesses in particular, where cash flow is desperately needed.”
Well, the Government were also looking at how to get cash flow to small businesses, and I am sad and disappointed about what a conveniently short memory she has.
In my previous job as Minister for local government, I enjoyed many conversations with my hon. Friend about local government matters. He will know it is not for the Chancellor or indeed national Government to implement redress processes. There are established redress processes, which I would be happy to write to him about, so he can seek redress for his particular concerns.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are committed to levelling up opportunities across the UK, including in Rother Valley. The £4.8 billion levelling-up fund will invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK, including by regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in cultural and heritage assets. I look forward to working with him for his local area.
As I said in answer to earlier questions on this issue, the Government are providing unprecedented support to the steel industry. If the hon. Gentleman has something specific to bring to my attention about the steel industry in Hartlepool, I am happy for him to write to me and I will look at the issues, but I have already answered the question and talked about the measures of support that are in place.
There has been no change in the Treasury’s position since I updated the House in January 2019. The relevant records—the data relating to all payments made under the scheme—are retained, and will continue to be so for as long as that is legal. Contrary to the press reports, there are no plans to destroy records. There is a complaints process provided by the scheme, and those who are not satisfied may take their case to the independent review panel which resolved such cases before closure. Further to the oral evidence session to which my hon. Friend referred, the permanent secretary to the Treasury will be writing to the PAC to provide similar reassurance and clarification. Since the scheme has now closed, there will be no further funding on this matter.
I am not sure exactly what reduction in air passenger duty the hon. Lady is referring to. We are increasing air passenger duty in this year’s Finance Bill.
Of course I would be happy to look at the report to which my hon. Friend refers. He knows that addressing future local authority resourcing is a matter for future spending reviews and the local government finance settlement. However, I would remind him that at the spending review 2020 we provided an estimated 4.6% cash increase in core spending to local authorities. That is on top of the largest real-terms increase in their core spending at the spending review 2019, and that is in addition to the about £11 billion of support that has been provided as part of the covid response.
I am very sorry for the hon. Gentleman’s loss, and I know the whole House will join me in passing on those condolences. I am not aware of the particular proposal that he mentions, but if he writes to me, I will be happy to take a look at it.
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. On modern slavery, the landmark provision in section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 includes institutional investors that fall within the scope of the requirement and meet the criteria requiring them to publish an annual statement.
The Prime Minister has appointed Nigel Boardman to conduct an independent review of these various matters. With regard to covid in general, the Prime Minister has also said that at the appropriate time there will be all the necessary lessons to be learned.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he will know, we have covered this quite extensively in this debate so far. The self-employed scheme is very wide ranging and comprehensive. We have worked very closely with groups representing those who believe they have been excluded from the schemes—I have personally met many of them—and we have tried everything we can to incorporate them. We continue to engage with them, and we take the issue very seriously.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I salute the people of Carlton and I rejoice in the businesses of Mapperley. I encourage businesses across the constituency of Gedling to take advantage of the Government’s unprecedented package of support, including the £5 billion-worth of grant support that the Chancellor announced at Budget, which is providing a lifeline for businesses as they relaunch their trading safely.
I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.