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Topical Questions

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 22 June 2021

As we have reopened our economy since the last lockdown, we have continued to provide extensive support through our £400 billion plan for jobs, protecting businesses, families and individuals. I am pleased to say that the early data on household incomes, employment, corporate insolvencies and consumer and business confidence all show that our plan for jobs is working.

Following the Treasury’s announcement of compensation to cover up to 80% of the losses of holders of mini-bonds with London Capital & Finance, will the Chancellor now also act to provide full compensation to the victims of another scandal, the collapse of Equitable Life? The vast majority have received just 22% of their losses.

I very much appreciate the hon. Lady’s raising the issue. She will know that the matter has been extensively discussed and debated for many years. The matter, after review, has been concluded and closed and is final in all respects.

The mother town of Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke is blessed to be the home of the outstanding British brewer, the Titanic brewery, founded and run by Keith and Dave Bott. More than 80 Conservative colleagues and I have shown our support for the introduction of a lower draft beer duty on beer sold in pubs from containers over 20 litres in size. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the proposal is being considered as part of the alcohol duty review? Will he tell us when the review will conclude? Our pubs need urgent help today. (901651)

I can assure not just my hon. Friend, but Keith and Dave from the Titanic brewery, that we have consulted industry on the prospect of such a lower rate as part of our ongoing alcohol duty review. The team and my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary are working closely with HMRC to further understand the practicalities and the cost of the proposals; we will provide further updates in due course. My hon. Friend is right about securing hospitality in the meantime. The temporary VAT cut, the business rates holiday and, indeed, freezing beer duty at the last two Budgets are all helping in the short term.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Whether on social care, on Northern Powerhouse Rail or on tackling climate breakdown, there is a growing gap with this Government between what is promised and what is actually delivered. The Treasury’s response to the net zero review was first due to be published in autumn last year, yet it is nowhere to be seen. The COP26 climate summit begins in November. While the UK is hosting, the Government cannot lead with authority, because the fact is that we cannot have a climate strategy without a sustainable economic plan behind it. Will the Chancellor please tell the House on what date he will publish the final report of the net zero review?

The net zero report will of course be published imminently, but the hon. Lady talked about last autumn. Last autumn, the Prime Minister published the green 10-point plan, perhaps the most comprehensive plan from any Government anywhere in the world, on how we will meet our net zero ambitions. Contained within that plan was £12 billion of new investment, creating probably a quarter of a million jobs when all is said and done, ensuring our leadership in industries such as offshore wind and creating jobs in places such as Teesside and Humberside, which is important to the future prosperity of this country, so I think we are doing a great job of getting on with meeting our climate ambitions and demonstrating leadership to the world.

Then why not publish the net zero review, Chancellor? When it comes to this Government’s net zero strategy, tomorrow never comes. There is no time to waste, because it is the responsibility of all of us to hand on to our children and grandchildren a more sustainable planet, creating new opportunities for our pioneering British industries and investing today in the jobs of the future, whether in hydrogen, tidal energy or electric vehicles, to ensure the fair and just transition that we need to see. So, as the Chancellor still cannot give a date, months after the event, for when he will publish his final report on the net zero review, will he commit to ensuring that our net zero carbon targets are hard-wired through the forthcoming spending review, as I would do as Chancellor?

Meeting our climate ambitions is obviously at the heart of everything that the Government are doing. The hon. Lady talked about sectors where we should show leadership: I have just talked about offshore wind, and we can keep going, with electric vehicles. This country now has more rapid charging points per mile than any country in Europe other than Norway, and we are doing more.[Official Report, 28 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 3MC.] She talked about showing leadership: as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) reminds me, we recently published the Dasgupta review, which is a groundbreaking piece of work on tackling biodiversity. She talked about infrastructure: we launched the UK Infrastructure Bank just last week, not a million miles away from her in Leeds, the home of the infrastructure revolution. And at the G7 summit that I recently hosted, we reached a landmark global agreement to get the G7 to agree to mandatory climate disclosures, because, much as she would like us to, this Government alone cannot solve all these problems. The private sector will have to play its part, which is why climate disclosures across the world would help to unlock billions in private capital to help us to meet our climate ambitions.

Businesses and local government alike will join me in welcoming the launch of the UK Infrastructure Bank last week. Its doors are now open for business and it is deploying capital. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is precisely the sort of intervention we need to deliver net zero? (901652)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I briefly pay tribute to him for his work last week on tech net zero. We launched the UK Infrastructure Bank last week in Leeds. Capitalised with £12 billion from the Government, it will unlock £40 billion of investment into tackling both levelling up and our net zero ambitions, and the team there are fantastic. I want to take this opportunity to say an enormous thank you to Chris Grigg for his superb leadership. It is brilliant that we can attract people of his calibre to lead these organisations, and I feel very confident about the UK Infrastructure Bank’s future progress.

Concerns have been raised that the narrow criteria of the Business Banking Resolution Service have left far too many ineligible, and also that not enough banks are participating in the scheme. With many businesses now at risk with covid-19 debt, can the Minister tell me what he intends to do about the situation?

The hon. Lady is right in the sense that many businesses have taken on debt to get through the crisis, which is why we have implemented something called Pay as You Grow. More than 1 million businesses took bounce back loans, and they now have the ability, at their option, to turn those loans instantly into 10-year loans, doubling the term and reducing their monthly payments by around half, and to take further six-months holidays or interest-only repayment periods. They can take any of those options and it will not have any impact on their credit score, because we recognise the burdens on cash flow and we want to do our bit to ease them and support our recovery.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will not introduce a tourism tax in England? Does he agree that if the Welsh Government were to do that in Wales, that tax bombshell would leave tourism businesses such as those in Porthcawl in my constituency at a distinct competitive disadvantage? (901655)

Of course, local taxation in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Government. The UK Government’s primary focus, as my hon. Friend will be aware, has been on supporting recovery from the pandemic, and we recognise that the tourism sector has been particularly hard hit. That is exactly why we have provided more than £7 billion so far through the reduced VAT rate for the hospitality, accommodation and attraction industries across the UK; it is why we have extended the reduced rate until 30 September 2021; and it is why we have put in place a much wider array of support as we come out and play it long in relation to the pandemic.

The youth investment fund remains an important manifesto commitment and will be valuable in supporting young people. Will my right hon. Friend inform me of its intended launch day and briefly outline the benefits it will bring to young people in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale once it is launched? (901656)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the youth investment fund. It was a manifesto commitment and it is due to launch in the coming months. He will recall that at the spending review 2020 we allocated some funding to inform pilots, as we shape that launch.

Almost every time that I, or others Members, have raised the plight of the millions of people excluded from covid support, Ministers reel off the various levels of support that have been made available to those who have access to it. Without again going through the list of supports that are available, will the Minister tell me when the Government are going to put in place some level of support for those who have had nothing so far, and when it will be backdated to? (901654)

The hon. Gentleman will know, as we have discussed it on many occasions, how we have absolutely bent over backwards to attempt to include as many people as possible and have leant into considerable discussion, both with excluded groups and with other related groups. As he will know, it is not a single picture; different groups are not included for different reasons. As a result, we have in part been able to evolve and extend the programmes, and he will be aware that we did so in the last iteration of the self-employed scheme.

I welcome the launch of the national infrastructure bank. Road infrastructure projects are needed in my constituency to meet the additional 14,000 homes to be delivered in our local plan, which is why I am calling for the A3 to be tunnelled under Guildford to ease congestion. As we move towards our target of net zero and transition our vehicles to being electric and hydrogen-run, there will be a decrease in revenue raised by fuel duty. Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps he is taking to replace that revenue and to help fund road infrastructure projects such as my tunnel? (901658)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the Government will need to ensure that revenue from motoring taxes keeps pace with the change away from petrol and diesel vehicles so that we can continue to fund infrastructure such as the A3, which she mentions. I am sure that colleagues in the Department for Transport can speak about her petition specifically, but I would like to reassure her and her constituents that this Government will continue to focus on record, unprecedented investment in the strategic roads network over this Parliament, through the £27.5 billion road investment strategy, which will deliver about 70 major upgrades.

Does the Chancellor have confidence in the Financial Conduct Authority’s ability to appropriately regulate and sanction companies that defraud their investors? Furthermore, does he believe that if it is found that the regulator has failed to prevent this fraudulent activity, the Government have a duty to compensate? (901657)

It is absolutely clear that there are significant lessons for the FCA to learn from the Gloster review, and I have regular conversations, including just last week, with the new chief executive on the transformation programme. He has employed five new senior executives to drive that programme forward urgently, and I look forward to seeing the results of that intervention.

The role of regulation has been in the spotlight recently in an independent report by the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform, which was welcomed by the Prime Minister. The report highlights that as the EU has expanded, its internal processes and regulation have become slower and more bureaucratic, impacting on economic competitiveness. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to reduce onerous regulation as regards UK Treasury matters to ensure that all such regulation reflects our national interest and ensures that the UK maximises its economic agility and competitiveness? (901659)

My hon. Friend rightly recognises the value of the TIGRR report, which we received last week, and we will be looking very carefully at those recommendations. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor chairs the better regulation committee, which has been established to drive forward a new strategy to deliver better regulation outside the EU. There is a lot of work to be done, but progress is being made.

My constituent is a travel counsellor who established her home-based business nine years ago. She has been excluded from Government support because she is not registered for business rates, and when she tried to register for business rates in 2020, she missed the deadline by six days because of delays at the Valuation Office. What financial support can the Treasury give her and others like her, who remain excluded from support? (901660)

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have made available to local authorities, initially at least, £1.5 billion and a further top-up sum, in order precisely to meet hard cases that may fall between the cracks of the very wide-ranging support that we have given otherwise. I strongly encourage her constituent to talk to her local authority about that funding.

On 3 March, when the Chancellor announced the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, High Peak was designated one of the top priority areas, and the Government committed to giving more than £100,000 to the council to help it deliver a world-class bid. However, despite my urging, and having had nearly four months, I regret to inform the House that my Labour council has failed to submit a levelling-up fund bid in time. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House and my constituents that there will be a second round for further bids and that High Peak will still be considered a top priority area in any future rounds? (901661)

I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration. He will know from the announcement at the Budget that the prospectus set out the process, the types of projects, and indeed how bids will be assessed. To reassure him, there will be further opportunities for local authorities to submit bids to the fund. One of the things that we are encouraging those local authorities to do is to work with elected Members of Parliament in the shaping of those bids, and I hope that they will now take the opportunity to do so.

More than half a million young people are out of work and thousands are on furlough. The delay in easing restrictions without associated support for businesses is set to further increase unemployment by 300,000. In the event of a third wave that triggers further restrictions, will Ministers commit to extending the coronavirus job retention scheme and other support that has been vital for our constituents and businesses in our constituencies? (901666)

The hon. Lady talked about outcomes in the labour market. She will know that we have now had six consecutive months of more people in work, which is something to be celebrated. Vacancies are now running higher than they were at the start of the pandemic, which is a fantastic sign of things to come. The unemployment rate, as I highlighted earlier, is now half what was forecast: 2 million fewer people are forecast to lose their jobs, which is lower than most of our major competitor countries. She is right to highlight, as we have discussed previously, the plight of young people. Our interventions, such as the kickstart scheme and the apprenticeship incentive, will continue to provide opportunity for them up and down the country.

Elddis caravans and motorhomes—owned by Erwin Hymer—on Delves Lane, Consett, in my constituency, has benefited hugely from the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s removal of the EU’s motorhomes tax. It is now growing as a business and struggling to get candidates to meet job vacancies. Will the Chancellor visit Elddis with me to meet the workforce and management and to see the impact that his tax cut has had? Will he also look at what more support can be provided for that vital manufacturing firm in my constituency? (901662)

I congratulate Elddis, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on giving Elddis profile, on fighting the campaign that he has, and on the outcome and its very successful results in this case. I have it on very good authority that the Chancellor would be delighted to visit Elddis, so I am in a position to make a binding commitment from the Government side, and I am sure that he looks forward to it very much.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business.

Sitting suspended.