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Topical Questions

Volume 700: debated on Tuesday 7 September 2021

Over a year ago, the Government launched their plan for jobs, a comprehensive and ambitious plan to help people back into work to earn more and to gain the skills they need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow. The latest data shows that our GDP and our economy is recovering quickly, unemployment is falling, jobs are being created, and, indeed, household incomes have been protected. All of that tells me that this Government’s plan for jobs is working.

Cutting universal credit by £20 a week will hit working families very hard. It will leave support for unemployed families at the lowest real terms level for over 30 years. It will undermine the recovery and scupper the prospects for levelling up. Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer understand why every single former Work and Pensions Secretary since 2010 has opposed his cut?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about economic recovery. We are forecast to grow faster this year than any other country in the G7. The recovery is under way. Jobs are being created, people are getting into work, wages are rising. That is the right strategy for us to pursue. Our plan is working and we will stick to it.

T3. Will the Chancellor provide an update on the follow-up to the discussions we have had on maintained nursery schools, and will he urgently bring forward a long-term funding settlement for these brilliant schools? (903287)

My right hon. Friend is right to highlight this issue, which I know is of particular importance to her and her constituency. I assure her that I have spoken to my team about it and, as part of the spending review, we will further those discussions with the Department for Education. I look forward to the Chief Secretary and she and I talking about this issue again.

The Prime Minister’s and the Chancellor’s plans to increase national insurance will hit workers and businesses hard at the worst possible time. The British Chambers of Commerce described it as a “drag anchor” on jobs growth. The Federation of Small Businesses stated:

“If this hike happens, fewer jobs will be created”.

The TUC said that it is wrong to hit young and low-paid workers while “leaving the wealthy untouched”. We agree. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer therefore explain why he is choosing a tax on jobs rather than on other forms of income?

I am very pleased to see the Labour party finally focus on the importance of jobs in this House. We also agree that it is important to support companies to hire people, which is why there is no national insurance payable on those employing people under the age of 21, on most apprentices up to the age of 25 or on people who are going to be employed in new freeports. And, because of the steps that Conservative Governments have made to the employment allowance, 40% of all small businesses pay no employer’s national insurance at all.

You cannot have it both ways. Cutting national insurance either benefits jobs or it does not. The Chancellor told voters at the election:

“Our plans are to cut taxes for the lowest paid through cutting national insurance”.

That promise is now in flames. The Chancellor is not cutting national insurance; he is putting it up. It cannot be right that nurses and builders are set to pay hundreds of pounds more each year in national insurance, yet those getting their incomes from a large portfolio of shares, stocks and property will pay not a penny more. Labour cannot and will not support this Tory Government’s manifesto-breaking, economically damaging and unfair tax on jobs. So let me ask the Chancellor again: why will this Government not fund health and social care in a way that is fair for families and for businesses?

I will be brief, Mr Speaker. When the hon. Lady was appointed shadow Chancellor, she went out of her way to say that any policies that the Labour party put forward on her watch would be “fully costed and we will explain how they are paid for”. We have heard about uplifts to welfare. We have heard about more money for public sector pay. We have heard about opposing every difficult and responsible decision that this Government have made. We have not heard once how the Labour party will pay for anything and we know what happened last time around when it did that.

T5. The levelling-up fund is about improving a region. In Bosworth, we are putting forward the Twycross zoo for its national centre of conservation and education. It will be a world-leading scientific, education and conservation centre, driving tourism and the local economy. It is backed by the borough council, the county council, the local enterprise partnership and the midlands engine. Would the Chancellor like to come and visit it and, failing that, would he like to meet me to discuss how we can make this a symbol of the levelling up of the nation? (903289)

I do not know about the Chancellor, but I am sure my children would love to come and visit the zoo. I thank my hon. Friend for putting forward a bid for the levelling-up fund. As he will know, bids are currently subject to competitive assessment against objective criteria, but more generally, I think the whole House will welcome the fact that zoos are once again fully open to the public this summer. They provide a wide range of valuable benefits.

T2. Scottish communities, other than those in Shetland, failed to benefit from the North sea oil and gas bounty landing on their shores. Now that the North sea’s offshore wind is casting ashore on East Lothian, will the Treasury ensure that East Lothian will actually benefit, as opposed to it all simply being transmission-stationed down south? Or will it go the same way as Scotland’s oil and gas: down to the Treasury? (903286)

We support the UK oil and gas sector, especially as gas is a transition fuel to net zero. The sector supports 147,000 jobs directly in its supply chains. I take the point that the hon. Gentleman raises; if he would like to write to me with more detail, I think I will be able to give him more comprehensive answers.

I commend my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for all his determination to create new jobs and new investment and to upskill the workforce; I believe it is paying dividends, as we are seeing in the economy. Does he agree that further education colleges have a vital role in upskilling our workforce, both young and not so young, to get the best jobs for the future?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the important role of FE colleges, which is why I was pleased in the last Budget to invest billions over this Parliament to improve the infrastructure and the quality of our FE estate. With the Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee, FE colleges will be instrumental in delivering to all adults the extra qualification that they need to get better-paid jobs. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on that.

T4. The Government should lead by example with their spending power and with the design of public contracts to buy more from Great Britain, as Labour would, but the UK strategic steel sector has been neglected by this Conservative Government. Highly skilled jobs have been lost because a huge proportion of our steel, including for HS2, is purchased from other nations. Will the Chancellor explain why his Government do not even have a non-binding target for the use of our own steel in our national public infrastructure projects? (903288)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very valid point. It is right that we maximise the opportunities from domestic suppliers; my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is focusing on that through the industrial strategy. It is also linked to targeting the seven innovation sectors funded through the significant uplift in our research and development budget.

We are working hard in Shropshire on a £500 million investment in modernising A&E services in our local hospital. There is a funding shortage; I have written to the Chancellor on the issue and would be very grateful for a response. There is nothing more important than modernising A&E services for the safety of our patients and constituents.

I know that that is a very important constituency issue, and my hon. Friend has championed it frequently. He will know that, through the long-term plan, there is a £33.9 billion uplift in core funding, in addition to the other funding through covid and other measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I am very happy to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend; I know that it is a key constituency issue, and he is right to focus on it.

T6. Research by the Disabled Children’s Partnership has revealed that nearly three quarters of disabled children have regressed in managing their conditions during the pandemic as vital services have been delayed. Ahead of the forthcoming spending review, will the Chancellor consider offering a lifeline to families and funding dedicated recovery to help disabled children and their families to catch up on missed services? (903290)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important point. I would be very happy to make sure that it is considered as part of the spending review.

The Chancellor referred earlier to the record amounts being invested in the rail network. May I urge him to ensure that one of the projects that he supports is an east-west freight corridor linking the Humber ports to the west coast? That would greatly maximise the benefits of freeport status; it would also aid the levelling-up agenda.

I am in no doubt about the importance and the merits of my hon. Friend’s approach to freeports, not least after an early morning meeting that he and I had—last week, I think—on that very topic. As part of the integrated rail plan, we are looking at how we link that to levelling up across the UK. He is quite right to highlight the growth and productivity opportunity that freeports offer.

T7. At the last Budget, the Chancellor gave a £25 billion tax break to the top 1% of businesses in the form of the super deduction, but when the school catch-up tsar came to him asking for £15 billion over a three-year period, he said that he could not fund“everybody who comes knocking on my door.”Why is it that when an Amazon-style business comes knocking, the door is wide open, but when students come knocking, asking for money to get over the challenges of the past few years, the door is slammed in their face? (903292)

That is absolutely not right. When it comes to the super deduction, what the Labour party will never understand is that we want to support businesses to create jobs. That is what the super deduction does. I just gave the hon. Gentleman the example of BT creating thousands of new jobs because of the super deduction. When it comes to education, this Govt have invested £3 billion—£800 per pupil—in helping children to catch up with lost education, on top of a record increase in schools funding, which means that per-pupil funding in real terms at the end of this Parliament will be the highest it has been in over a decade.

Jobs are the most important way of helping communities to move forward. Those who have been out of work for 12 months or more can access the restart scheme, worth nearly £3 billion. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that part of his plan is helping everyone to have proper, decent work and decent training to enable them to get the right job?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight not only the importance of restart to the long-term unemployed, but how it sits alongside the kickstart scheme, the tripling of traineeships and the boot camps for skills. That is part of a plan for jobs that is working.

T9. Will the Chancellor clarify which Department is paying the £200 million for the Prime Minister’s vanity yacht? What does it say about this Conservative Government’s warped priorities when the Chancellor approves that while planning to cut universal credit for those who need it the most? (903294)

This Government are proud of the record investment that we have made in our armed forces—a record settlement for the next few years to support our forces and the work that they do around the world to ensure that we can play our responsible role.

We will end on this note, I think. We have had a good debate today, but one thing is clear: the difference between us and the Labour party. We believe in supporting people into work, we believe in supporting their skills, and, crucially, we believe in our plan for jobs, because it is working.

I thank the Chancellor for his willingness to make extremely difficult decisions to fix the crisis in waiting lists in the NHS and the problems in the social care system. The Health and Social Care Committee heard this morning that we need 4,000 more doctors to tackle the backlog. Does he agree that this is about reform as well as money, particularly in respect of the way we plan our workforce?

My right hon. Friend speaks on these matters with extreme authority and experience, and I thank him for all his engagement on them with me and others. He is right to want to make sure that we have a long-term plan for people in the NHS. He will know that we are committed to delivering 50,000 more nurses and 50 million more primary care appointments, but as part of that plan we must ensure that we get the number of GPs right as well, and I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend on that.

Given that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have already decided to break their manifesto commitment on overseas aid and are now gearing up to break their solemn manifesto promises on the tax lock and the pensions triple lock, why should any voter believe ever again that a Tory manifesto promise is worth the paper it is written on?

What people know they get from this Conservative Government is a Government who are on their side, a Government who are delivering their priorities, whether their priority is 50,000 more nurses, 20,000 more police officers, record investment in every part of our country, or having a Government who are creating jobs and prosperity wherever people live. It says in that document that this is a people’s Government, and that is what we are delivering.

I know that this Government are listening to the levelling-up agenda, especially in the north of England, and on that note I should like to suggest that the best way of getting people back into work is putting forward new initiatives. Will the Chancellor meet me shortly to talk about Eden Project North?