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Commons Chamber

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 2 November 2021

House of Commons

Tuesday 2 November 2021

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Support for Business

Last week’s Budget set out an ambitious package to support business, enterprise and innovation: the super-deduction, new relief to incentivise investment, a reduction in business rates and investment in infrastructure, innovation and skills to drive future growth. This was a Budget that backed businesses across the United Kingdom.

Business rates are broken. Business owners on Boston Road and The Broadway in Southall in my constituency do not want hypocritical answers. They want the system fixed to support smaller businesses and help them to thrive. What will the Chancellor do to help them?

Last week’s Budget set out a £1.7 billion tax cut for many small and medium-sized businesses across the UK. It will mean that retail, hospitality and leisure businesses will see a 50% discount in their business rates next year, up to the value of £110,000 each. That will, of course, benefit many of the shops in Southall that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and hopefully I can do my bit by visiting to buy my Diwali mithai later this week.

The Chancellor will know that Bracknell has successfully reinvigorated its town centre and continues to be a great place to do business. Noting that Bracknell and neighbouring Wokingham have one of the lowest centrally funded budgets in the country from central Government, will he please reassure me that east Berkshire will not be passed by when it comes to levelling-up funding?

I can assure my hon. Friend that, whether through the levelling up fund, the community ownership fund or the community renewal fund, this Government have ambitions to level up across the entire United Kingdom. With regard to the local government funding he asks about, last week’s spending review set out £1.6 billion over the year of additional cash grant, the precise allocation of which will be set out in due course by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in the local government finance settlement.

I wish the Chancellor and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) a very happy Diwali. As well as all the tax rises on income and business that the Chancellor has announced in the past six months, buried in the Budget Red Book is a plan for a stealth tax on the self-employed of £1.7 billion over the next few years. After the past 18 months, in which many self-employed people have had no help at all, and when they are already being hit with the other tax rises he has announced, why are the self-employed now being hit with this extra tax rise, which he did not even mention in his Budget speech last week?

There were no extra taxes for the self-employed in last week’s Budget; the right hon. Gentleman may be referring to a timing difference that was reflected in the Budget scorecard of previously announced policies. With regard to the self-employed, he should take a moment to reflect on the fact that this Government provided almost £30 billion of support to millions of self-employed people throughout the crisis, and I am very glad that we did so.

May I first thank the Chancellor for the steps in the Budget to help retail, hospitality and leisure businesses? They have gone down very well in my constituency, where those businesses are important, were hit hard during in the pandemic and were grateful for the support they got. People have commented to me that the most useful thing he can do is to focus on getting the public finances in order, as he spoke about in the latter part of his speech, so that we get taxes on a downward path as we go through this Parliament. That is the best fiscal way to help businesses to prosper in the future.

As always, my right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I thank him for the eloquent speech he made on this topic last week. I wholeheartedly agree with him. My intention and goal over the rest of this Parliament is to reduce taxes, and we both know that the best way to create growth and prosperity in this country is to unleash the entrepreneurial innovation of our private businesses.

A happy Diwali to the Chancellor and all who are celebrating. Hospitality and tourism businesses face a tough winter, with rising fuel, staffing and supply costs. While the Scottish Government, to their credit, have brought in 100% rates relief, the Chancellor’s proposals of a few pence off a pint are small comfort in comparison. A greater help would be maintaining the 12.5% value added tax rate right through next year, not putting it back up to 20% in the spring. Will he bring forward proposals to do that and to support our tourism and hospitality businesses in the Finance Bill?

The reduced rate of VAT was put in place to support the hospitality industry during coronavirus. It extends all the way to next spring; it does not step up until next March, as the hon. Lady pointed out. As she also pointed out, the Government are putting in place business rates support to help businesses in that industry—as I said previously, up to £110,000 for each business next year through a 50% discount on their business rates, with Barnett consequentials flowing to Scotland as a result.

Brewers have gone through a really challenging time throughout the pandemic, so the Chancellor’s announcement of a reduction in the draft beer duty rate was extremely welcome. Keith and Dave Bott, owners of Titanic Brewery, want to pass on their thanks to the Chancellor directly and hope that he can come and enjoy the Bulls Head in Burslem to celebrate this fantastic achievement.

I thank my hon. Friend for the kind invitation, which he also sent me by phone. I look forward to accepting it soon and to celebrating Stoke’s success in not one, not two but three levelling-up fund bids.

Supply Chain Issues

Current stresses on supply chains are a consequence of global factors; as economies around the world recover, demand is outstripping supply. Where it makes sense, we are taking action to support UK supply chains, such as increasing the supply of lorry drivers to help the haulage sector meet demand for deliveries.

Last week’s National Audit Office report on supply chain finance highlighted that huge contracts involving Greensill Capital, signed off by the Treasury, provided no benefits to the NHS. Does the Minister accept the NAO report, and will she ensure that in the future, contracts are properly awarded to avoid this kind of insidious lobbying?

I am sure that the Government will be responding to the NAO report in due course, but I can assure the hon. Member that the Treasury works very hard with the Department of Health and Social Care to make sure that funding for the NHS, which we are increasing substantially, goes to good use and improves care for patients.

Mr Speaker,

“energy price rises…increased evidence of supply bottlenecks …shortages in key occupations”.

Those are not my words but those of the Office for Budget Responsibility, which has issued a clear warning that the Government’s supply chain chaos will weigh on the recovery beyond its current forecast. Can the Minister help businesses and families prepare by explaining how much this chaos will cost the country this year?

I thank the hon. Member for her question. I do not agree with the picture that she paints. As I said earlier, there are global factors affecting challenges to the supply chain. We are providing support where it is appropriate. Specifically on energy costs, customers are already supported by the energy price cap, and we are providing £500 million extra help to households that need it during this winter.

The run-up to the festive period is a busy and crucial time for many businesses. They simply cannot afford delays in getting goods to warehouses from our ports, yet that is exactly what the logistics industry is warning that the shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers is causing. Can the Minister guarantee that no presents will be missing from under the tree this Christmas because of her Government’s complete failure to plan ahead?

We are indeed taking steps to support the haulage sector, where there is a long-running situation with vacancies for HGV drivers. The action we have taken includes making available 5,000 temporary visas for the short term, increasing the number of tests available so that there is greater capacity for new drivers to take tests, changing cabotage restrictions, and funding improved facilities for drivers. In the longer term, we need to see both better pay and better conditions for lorry drivers.

Economic Inequality

Distributional analysis published at the Budget and spending review last week shows that in 2024-25, tax, welfare and spending decisions made since the spending round two years ago will have benefited the poorest house- holds most as a percentage of income. This Government believe that work is the best route out of poverty. That is why the Government are investing £6 billion in labour market support over the next three years.

Analysis of the Chancellor’s Budget and tax and spending plans for the next six years shows that they will cost women an additional £48 billion over that period. That is a staggering amount of money to be taken from women, and it is in contrast to the planned tax cuts for banks. Is that why the Government have failed to produce an equality impact assessment for this Budget, as they are required to—because the Chancellor knows that his tax choices are totally unfair?

The hon. Lady must have missed a number of measures announced by the Chancellor in the Budget last week in which significant investment was made to support families through the household recovery fund and support for women in particular to get back into the labour market, alongside a whole range of other interventions.

One issue concerning me at the moment is the lack of access to cash in the north of my constituency, which suffers from significant degrees of inequality. I was pleased to be at the opening of Kingshurst post office, which will restore some cash services, but the issue remains a problem as retail banks reduce their estate. Does my hon. Friend agree that shared banking hubs are a good way forward? Will he highlight to the House what work is being done to increase access to cash?

Banking hubs will absolutely be a part of the solution, alongside a whole range of other interventions. The Government have committed to legislate on this matter, but in the meantime, I am very hopeful that industry will come forward with meaningful proposals for a range of options to deal with the declining use of cash and ensure access is available everywhere.

The colossal economic inequality facing rural communities is something that I hope the Government take seriously. Is the Minister aware of the collapse of local housing in communities such as mine—and indeed in the Chancellor’s next-door constituency—into the second-home and holiday-let markets? Following the Welsh Assembly Government’s example, will the Minister look at doubling council tax on second-home properties, so that communities such as mine do not lose their local populations and become riddled with ghost towns?

The Government are looking at tightening up the rules around second homes and council tax. We would be very happy to engage with the hon. Gentleman on the matter.

NHS Trusts: Capital Spending

14. What steps his Department is taking with the Department of Health and Social Care to help ensure scrutiny of NHS trusts’ capital spending. (903993)

It has just been announced, through the spending review, that the NHS will receive: over £12 billion of capital funding for investment in and maintenance of the NHS estate; £5.9 billion for diagnostics, technology and elective recovery; £4.2 billion for at least 70 hospital upgrades and 40 new hospitals; and funding to eradicate mental health dormitories. That is on top of £500 million of additional capital funding given for the second half of this year to help tackle the elective backlog. It means that NHS capital budgets will have increased by over 8% year-on-year above inflation since the start of the Parliament.

I welcome the funding for the new hospitals programme, and highlight to the Minister that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, with 200 props holding up its structurally deficient roof, has a compelling case to be one of the new schemes. Given the inevitable need to rebuild the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is far better to have a properly funded new hospital using modern methods of construction, rather than its being an unplanned cost, with emergency funding constantly being needed to prop up its failing building?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s clear and obvious passion for improving the lives of his constituents. As well as committing £3.7 billion to make progress on the 40 hospitals named last year, the Government have committed to fund a further eight new hospitals by 2030. The process for selecting those eight is being led by the Department of Health and Social Care and will be based on a range of criteria, including clinical need and deliverability. I encourage my hon. Friend to engage in that process, but I am happy to have any further discussions that would be useful.

I thank the excellent Front Bench team for a brilliant Budget which benefited every member of my constituency. I know the Treasury team cares passionately about delivering value for taxpayers. When it comes to significant capital spend for NHS projects, such as the Shropshire plan to build a state of the art critical care unit on the Welsh border, where costs have escalated from £312 million to £560 million, will my right hon. Friend say who is responsible for ensuring value for money and how they are held to account? Can he also assure me that no more cash will be allocated to that project until a ringfenced sum is allocated for accident and emergency care in Telford?

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words about the Budget. I agree: it was a major fiscal event, one which puts the country on a strong path for continued growth. She is absolutely right to highlight the importance of delivering value for money. That is certainly something I take very seriously. It is, obviously, a shared responsibility across Government. In terms of the specific concerns she raises about that case, I urge her to speak to colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care about the right hospital configuration for Shropshire. Again, I am always happy to have any conversations that are useful.

I am pleased that the Minister mentioned the opportunity to provide eight additional rebuilds of hospitals, because Stepping Hill Hospital has served the people of Stockport and surrounding areas well since it was built in 1905. However, all hospital buildings reach the end of their useful lives and, with a £40 million maintenance bill, that one certainly has. The council and the foundation trust have submitted ambitious plans to rebuild the hospital on a new site in the town centre, moving it to a more accessible location with state-of-the-art facilities and helping to regenerate the centre of Stockport. This is a win-win, so will the Minister look favourably on these plans?

The hon. Gentleman makes a passionate case for Stockport and the health facilities there. Obviously, we will always look at these proposals seriously, as will Departments including the Department of Health and Social Care. Although I cannot comment on this proposal specifically, not having had sight of it in detail, I am always happy to have conversations with him.

Levelling Up

Levelling up is this Government’s defining mission; it is a golden thread running through this Budget and spending review. We are creating the right conditions for businesses to grow and giving people the right skills to succeed. We believe that the place where someone grows up should never limit their prospects.

This Government are rightly committed to levelling up all parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. Improving transport links by extending the Borders railway in my constituency from Tweedbank to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle would be a very good way of improving the economic opportunities for people living in those communities. Will the Minister confirm that the UK Government support the extension of the Borders railway as part of the levelling-up agenda?

I commend my hon. Friend for his forthright campaign for the extension of the Borders railway. I reassure him that the Department for Transport and Transport Scotland are discussing the options to extend the railway, and, as I think he knows, the £350 million Borderlands inclusive growth deal includes up to £5 million to assess feasibility.

My constituency contains Gatwick airport and, by many measures, has been one of the most negatively affected by the covid-19 pandemic. Will my hon. Friend say how levelling up will support my constituents to recover from the pandemic?

I know my hon. Friend’s Crawley constituency well and I recognise the importance of aviation to livelihoods there. I am sure that he will welcome the extension of the airport and ground operations support scheme that the Chancellor announced to help airports such as Gatwick to recover from covid. We have also provided £180 million in covid loan schemes to support businesses in Crawley and, as he knows, Crawley has already received £21 million through the towns fund.

First, may I put on record my thanks to the Chancellor for announcing that Radcliffe will receive £20 million from the levelling-up fund to regenerate the town centre, with new leisure facilities and a space for adult learning and new business? Following that extra funding and the previously announced new high school for Radcliffe, does the Minister agree that the Government are committed to creating new opportunities for young people so that they have the best chance to get on in life and fulfil their potential?

I congratulate my hon. Friend, because his constituency is indeed receiving £20 million from the levelling-up fund to deliver a new civic hub in Radcliffe, which will improve access to adult education while freeing up vital space for a new secondary school. As I am sure he saw in the Budget and spending review last week, we are fully committed to providing people with the skills that they need to succeed in life.

My constituency is officially one of the most economically deprived constituencies in the country. If the rhetoric of levelling up is going to be a reality, the bid from Leeds City Council to upgrade and redevelop Fearnville sports centre to turn it into Fearnville wellbeing centre is exactly the kind of bid that should be agreed. Local people were therefore shocked when, the day after the Budget, the leader of Leeds City Council received a letter from the Government turning down the bid. The Chancellor is sitting on the Front Bench; will he step forward now and agree to meet me, the leader of Leeds City Council, James Lewis, and a delegation of local residents with a view to approving the council’s bid for the upgrade of Fearnville sports centre?

I thank the hon. Member for his question, which gives me the opportunity to remind him that his area is receiving hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in transport infrastructure. We look forward to receiving further bids for future rounds of the levelling-up fund, for instance. We are delighted to invest in constituencies such as his.

The Exchequer Secretary says that levelling up is the defining mission of this Government, yet if we look at the spending review priority outcomes and metrics, we can see that across the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Treasury, there is just one metric on which to judge the Government:

“Economic performance of all functional economic areas relative to their trend growth rates”.

That is all that they are being measured on, so will she be specific? By how much does she expect to close the economic gap by the end of this Parliament?

I thank the hon. Member for her interest in our objective to level up across the whole United Kingdom. As she repeated, it is the defining mission of this Government; as she can see, it is the golden thread running through the spending review and the Budget, with steps taken and investment made across Government to support levelling up across all our constituencies.

The English metro Mayors submitted levelling-up fund bids—I declare an interest—but only one was successful. The South Yorkshire bid was well crafted and focused on improvements to our bus services that would have supported the levelling up and net zero agendas. Will the bids be looked at again as part of a second round?

South Yorkshire will receive a share of the £5.7 billion for transport for the region. Overall, as the hon. Member will know and as he will have heard when he attended our debate yesterday afternoon, support for levelling up and investment have been received by constituencies all around the country and represented by hon. Members across the House. There will be further rounds for levelling-up funds to put in for.

Young People: High-skilled Jobs

Through our plan for jobs, nearly 95,000 young people so far have started a kickstart job; we have extended that scheme to March 2022. More than 100,000 apprentices, of whom 75% were under 25 years old, have been hired under our new incentive payments. More than 17,000 young people have started a traineeship, and we have provided funding for 24,000 traineeships a year at the spending review.

Many of the manufacturers that I have visited recently in my constituency, including Don-Bur and IAE, have told me about the challenges that they face when recruiting for engineering roles. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the Government’s work to encourage more young people into those highly skilled roles and attract more apprenticeships to Stoke-on-Trent?

My hon. Friend is always a fantastic champion for Stoke and the wider community. There are 145 employer-designed apprenticeship standards that relate to engineering and manufacturing roles. At the spending review, we announced that funding for apprenticeships will increase to £2.7 billion by 2024-25. We are also continuing to improve the system for employers. That includes an enhanced recruitment service for small and medium-sized enterprises, supporting the use of flexible training models, and a new return-on-investment tool so that employers can see the benefits that apprentices create in their business.

We all welcome the fact that nearly 100,000 young people across the country have already started a job through the kickstart scheme, including 20,000 in London. Does my right hon. Friend agree that by extending the scheme until March next year, we are giving more young people the opportunity to develop the skills, confidence and experience that they need to get into high-skilled, high-wage and long-term sustainable jobs?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Kickstart is providing valuable jobs and work experience to thousands of young people. As of last week, nearly 95,000 young people had started a kickstart job, compared with 56,000 young people at the equivalent point for the last Labour Government’s future jobs fund. That shows that it is a very successful programme. With the current pace of starts, we are confident that earlier this month, 100,000 young people will have started a kickstart job.

Education is central to highly skilled jobs. This week, a report by the all-party parliamentary university group, which I chair, showed that young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds most understand the value of a university education. Will the Chief Secretary celebrate the work of universities across the country and perhaps suggest to some of his colleagues that they stop devaluing courses by describing them as of low value?

The hon. Gentleman is right to champion the university sector. We in this country are fortunate in having such a fantastic set of universities, and it is important for young people to have the opportunity to enrol on courses that will meaningfully improve their life chances and career prospects. However, it is also important to balance a strong offer for the university sector with an equally strong vocational offer, and we are keen to strike that balance through the new T-levels and our investment in skills—which was a defining theme of this Budget and spending review—so that whatever young people decide to do, they have a strong and credible route to employment and success.

Scotland leads the world in the development of wave and tidal technologies. The expansion of that sector could create fantastic chances for more young people to secure more highly skilled jobs, and could set them up for possible worldwide opportunities. However, if the sector is to expand, it will need a ring-fenced pot of money in the forthcoming contracts for difference auction. It is believed that the Treasury blocked that concept. Will the Chief Secretary meet me to discuss how changes could be made that would allow the sector to bid and be successful in scaling itself up?

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the contracts for difference mechanism, which has been hugely successful in helping to drive the improved economics of technologies including offshore wind. I think that we as a country should be very proud of that, especially in the week of COP.

There is no doubt that there are exciting opportunities for young people. I think that the Department with which the hon. Gentleman would do best to engage on that is the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I am always happy to have any conversations that would be useful in this regard.

Net Zero Emissions

8. What fiscal steps he is taking to contribute towards achieving the Government’s net zero emissions target. (903985)

10. What fiscal steps he is taking to contribute towards achieving the Government’s net zero emissions target. (903987)

As 120 world leaders gather in Glasgow today, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) asks a very pertinent question. Our net zero strategy outlines measures to enable us to make the transition to a green and sustainable future. As for fiscal measures, the Budget and spending review commit us to £30 billion of public investment towards net zero.

There is an obvious and pressing need for all fiscal announcements to be fully aligned with our country’s net zero target. To that end, will the Minister commit herself to at least the publication of the estimated emissions impact of decisions in future Budgets and spending reviews?

The hon. Member will know that in our Budget we set out a number of measures to enable us to make the transition to a net zero world. We have made announcements relating to transport and warmer, greener buildings as well as energy and industry, and of course the Treasury always considers the impact in relation to net zero targets.

The Chancellor claims to want to tackle climate change and improve air quality through measures including the decarbonising of transport. If he is serious, this week of COP26 presents him with a great opportunity to commit himself to the electrification of the East West Rail line from day one to avoid the need for diesel locomotives and the future costs of retrofitting. Will he make that commitment today?

The hon. Gentleman has raised the important issues of electrification and the importance of making our transport green. As he will have seen, the Budget provided research and development funding to commercialise low and zero emissions technologies. I would be happy to talk to him about the local issue he raised.

I thank the Chancellor and the Treasury team for the significant levelling-up funds awarded to my constituency in the Budget last week. Hydrogen will be key to net zero, and one project that will be able to benefit from that investment is Riversimple, a hydrogen fuel cell car manufacturer in Llandrindod Wells. So that we can reach our net zero targets as early as possible, may I urge the Minister to visit Llandod, meet representatives of Riversimple, learn about what they do, and above all give us the chance to say thank you in person?

I am very pleased that my hon. Friend’s constituency has benefited and is taking part in the progress towards net zero. I should be happy to visit her there.

In his Budget statement last week, the Chancellor did not use the word “climate'” once. On the biggest issue of our time, he had nothing to say.

As well as deciding to cut domestic air passenger duty, which will lead to 400,000 more domestic flights a year, the Chancellor failed to invest in public transport. He is subsidising those who can already afford to take domestic flights, while putting up taxes on ordinary people. How on earth does he think that this sends the right message as the COP26 summit begins? Is not the reality that he is flying in completely the wrong direction when it comes to tackling climate change?

I am sure the hon. Lady will have seen the net zero strategy, which was published the week before the Budget. I am sure she will also know about the significant progress that the Chancellor has made on bringing other countries together to increase the international effort on climate finance. Yesterday, we set out our commitment to increase our international climate finance by £1 billion by 2025, on top of the £11 billion that we have already announced. The Chancellor, together with other Finance Ministers, is making sure that we help to reduce to net zero emissions through a number of measures. I am very happy to—

COP26 is under way in my constituency, and the Scottish Government have set an ambitious target to reach net zero by 2045. In contrast, the Minister has completely failed to justify the cut to air passenger duty on internal flights while allowing the already eye-watering price of train tickets to rise again at the turn of the year. This is no pro-Union policy, as the Government like to pretend, because 62% of Scots think that cutting APD is entirely the wrong priority. So, in this week of COP, will the Minister do her bit for the planet and scrap this climate-damaging policy once and for all?

I am grateful to have this opportunity to address the issue of air passenger duty. The hon. Member will know that, as well as cutting the duty on domestic flights, we have increased taxation on long-haul flights. She will also know that domestic flights are contributing less than 1% of the UK’s carbon emissions.

Public Finances

The fiscal rules announced at Budget will ensure that the public finances remain on a sustainable path and support a strong economic recovery. The Government will borrow only to invest in future growth, so that future generations are not unfairly burdened, and I am pleased to say that the Office for Budget Responsibility’s analysis shows that the Government’s fiscal plan is working.

I welcome the new fiscal rules set out by my right hon. Friend in his Budget last week, which will mean that the Government borrow only to invest and that they get the debt falling again by 2024. Does he agree that, unlike the Labour party, which has no plan to deliver responsible public finances, these rules show how it is only the Conservatives who can be trusted to manage our public finances responsibly, avoiding higher interest rates and even higher taxes in the future?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best foundation for our success as a country is a strong economy and responsible public finances. In contrast to the Labour party, which comes out with unfunded, reckless promises that would lead to our debt rising uncontrollably, it is this Government, and only this Government, who can be trusted to manage the nation’s economy responsibly.

Given the commitments that the Prime Minister is making at the climate circus in Glasgow this week, how can the Chancellor possibly say that the public finances will be managed effectively when the huge costs of net zero are not even published by the Treasury, let alone known by the public? We are already seeing taxes increasing to pay for the huge infrastructure changes that reaching net zero is going to entail.

I very much appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s concern about the cost of transitioning to net zero. The Government are also mindful of those costs, and the net zero strategy, which my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury mentioned earlier, sets out a comprehensive approach to transitioning, backed up by £30 billion of investment. Indeed, as a result of the spending review and the Budget, the Northern Ireland Executive will receive on average about £1.5 billion a year in Barnett consequentials to help to fund priorities as required.

Plan for Jobs

12. What assessment he has made of the efficacy of the Plan For Jobs in supporting people into work. (903989)

15. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Plan For Jobs in supporting people into work. (903994)

Some 1.6 million people have moved into work having received support from work coaches, and hundreds of thousands of jobseekers have been supported by our other Plan for Jobs programmes, such as kickstart. It is clear that this plan is working; unemployment is now expected to peak at less than half of what was initially predicted.

Unemployment in West Berkshire has fallen in every month since April, in no small part thanks to the apprenticeship levy and the kickstart scheme. However, among the over-55s who lost their job in the pandemic the picture is more mixed. Can my hon. Friend set out what the next stage of the Plan for Jobs will do to target that group, particularly given their risk of long-term unemployment?

Yes, I can. My hon. Friend is right; unemployment is at 3.5% in her constituency, as against the 5% average. On people aged 50 to 64 who unfortunately lose their job and find a return to work less likely, this spending review announced an enhanced 50-plus offer worth more than £20 million to ensure that that cohort of the workforce receive that support to remain in work and benefit from living those fuller working lives. That is in addition to the other interventions across the whole of the working age group.

Right now, in this country, about 1 million children are growing up in long-term workless households. Does my hon. Friend agree that the measures the Chancellor took in the Budget last week to boost the national minimum wage and the work allowance, and to lower the universal credit withdrawal rate when people move into work, mean that we have the best opportunity in more than a generation to really bear down on long-term unemployment and improve the life chances of children growing up in homes where there is no role model of someone going out to work every day?

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend, who has been a champion in this area, throughout his experience in government and in his work now as Chair of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. In addition to what he has set out, we responded to the call to raise the national living wage. It may interest him to know that the April 2022 increase will mean that a full-time worker’s annual salary will have increased by more than £5,000 since the national living wage was introduced, when he was in government, in April 2016.

I recently visited the newly opened jobcentre in Knowle to support people back to work, and I have previously been chair of the all-party group on apprenticeships. I cannot fathom why the Government are abolishing BTECs, which are a crucial bridge for young people in Bristol South. Has the Treasury done an assessment of abolishing BTECs, and will the Government reconsider?

The hon. Lady will know of the Government’s investment in T-levels and the additional investment last week in apprenticeships, as well as a number of other interventions that the Chancellor has worked tirelessly with employers’ organisations and trade unions on to develop the workforce and opportunities over the past 18 months.

Wages: Lowest-income Households

16. What steps his Department is taking to increase wages and support the lowest-income households. (903995)

We are increasing the national living wage to £9.50 an hour from April 2022. We are also cutting the universal credit taper rate from 63p to 55p. Those measures will increase the incomes of millions of people and support the lowest-income households.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that statement. I strongly welcome the increase in the national living wage to £9.50 and the cut to the UC taper rate. Those are strong work incentives, which will help people to keep more of their money. However, given that not everybody will read the Budget, may I ask what her strategy is to make sure that those who can benefit from these changes will know that they have taken place?

I thank my hon. Friend for his support. He will agree that the best way to support people is by supporting them into work and helping them to progress once they are in work. He makes an important point about communications. The Government run an annual public communications campaign to inform workers and employers of the change to the minimum wage rates. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs also has a dedicated team who actively provide information to individuals and employers on minimum wages, and the UC changes will also be reflected in the claimants’ statements once they are in effect.

All those announcements are, of course, welcome for low-earning households in which somebody has a job, but none of them will deliver a single penny into the pockets of the very lowest-income households in which nobody is able to get a job. They are being hit by a £1,000 a year cut in universal credit. What is there in the Budget that will reinstate that £1,000 cut for the very lowest-income households on these islands?

We want to encourage as many people as possible into jobs. The Chancellor has put forward a plan for jobs, with a number of work programmes to ensure that we get both young people and the over-50s into work. Crucially, through the restart scheme we will get people off universal credit and into jobs. We also recognise that some people cannot work, which is why six weeks ago the Chancellor announced £500 million to help those who need our support, to be distributed through local authorities.

Topical Questions

Last week’s Budget delivered a stronger economy for the British people, with stronger public finances; support for business; stronger public services; investment in infrastructure, innovation and skills to drive future growth; and a significant tax cut for the lowest-paid, because this will always be a Government who support and reward work.

My constituent Peter Phillips fell victim to the loan charge in 2019 and settled before 30 September 2020. HMRC advised him, like many others, that that was the right thing to do. In effect, those who settled before the Morse review did not get the benefit of the changes that were implemented: my constituent paid more than someone who disclosed nothing to HMRC. Does my right hon. Friend think that was in the spirit of the Morse review? Has HMRC got it wrong?

It is obviously difficult for me to comment on the case of a particular individual. The previous Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), asked Lord Morse to conduct an independent review and the Government accepted and implemented the vast majority of its recommendations. People who settled early had the benefit of certainty from their settlement, but my hon. Friend should write to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and we will ensure that we look at that case, as he requests.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Government’s supply chain chaos, woefully inadequate post-Brexit planning and a lack of HGV drivers have contributed to higher inflation. The cost of the weekly shop is already going up and up, as the Chancellor will have heard from shoppers in Bury last week. Does he have any idea of how much the average weekly supermarket shop is expected to increase in the next year for a typical family?

We are cognisant of and aware that there is price inflation; indeed, last week’s Budget addressed that and explained to the British people some of the global factors that are behind the rise in prices and are not unique to this country. As I said then, where this Government can act, we will. Whether it is the interventions for HGV drivers that my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury set out, the £0.5 billion household support fund or, indeed, the freezing of fuel duty, this Government are doing what they can to help with the cost of living.

Let me help the Chancellor with the answer to that question. The typical family shop is likely to go up by £180 more next year. It is not just food prices that are rising: gas and electricity bills are already up by £139 and they are only going to go up more. The Chancellor had the opportunity in the Budget to help people with their gas and electricity bills by reducing VAT to 0% through the winter months—something that Labour has called for and that the Prime Minister backed when he was campaigning to leave the European Union. Who should the public blame for VAT on heating bills not being cut: the Prime Minister, for not keeping his word, or the Chancellor, for choosing to cut taxes for bankers instead?

With regard to a VAT cut for fuel, perhaps I should point out to the hon. Lady some of the remarks from independent commentators about what that would do. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the benefit would accrue “to higher-income households.” The Resolution Foundation said a VAT cut

“would not be targeted and would be quite expensive”.

Tax Research UK said:

“This cut will not help the poorest much…this plan is a subsidy to the best-off, not the least well off.”

Instead, we have provided £0.5 billion, targeted at those who need our help. The hon. Lady mentioned £108; the household support fund will be able to provide £150 to between 2 million and 3 million of the most vulnerable families in our country. Indeed, the national living wage is going up next year, which will ensure a £1,000 increase for someone who works full time on the national living wage, and because of the cut to the universal credit taper a single mother with two kids who works full time and rents will be £1,200 better off.

T2. I thank the Chancellor for his commitment of £75 million to preserve civil nuclear fuel manufacturing in the UK. As my right hon. Friend will know, Springfields site in Fylde is the only civil nuclear manufacturing site in the UK, and efforts are ongoing to diversify projects undertaken on the site to safeguard its future. Will he agree to look into proposals to support manufacturing on the site and help beat off international competition to bring those jobs and skills to Springfields? (903968)

First, may I put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend, who raised this issue with me some months ago in the run-up to the spending review? I hope that he and his communities are pleased with the funding that was allocated, thanks to his and other interventions. I am of course prepared to work with him and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to consider all relevant proposals and assess the right options for the taxpayer in this country.

T4. Hospitality is one of the major sectors in Liverpool, Riverside, representing up to 20% of the economy and accounting for 50,000 jobs and 4,000 businesses this time last year, but, sadly, many have been forced to close due to covid. While the freeze on VAT on hospitality until April next year is welcome, the 50% hike to bring it up to 20% in six months’ time is causing a real panic to small businesses in my constituency. Will the Chancellor acknowledge that the planned hike to VAT in hospitality poses a significant risk to our economic recovery and that what we need now are measures that shore up our recovery rather than slow it down? (903970)

We did have a measure in last week’s Budget to support the hospitality sector with its recovery, and that is the £1.7 billion cut to business rates next year. That represents the largest single-year cut to business rates in more than 30 years outside of the coronavirus. It provides a 50% discount to hospitality businesses, which I know are important to our local communities. I am sad that the hon. Member did not raise the not one but two levelling-up fund bids that Liverpool enjoyed last week, which I know will also help to regenerate parts of the city and provide improved transport connections to benefit local businesses.

T3. Last week’s Budget included lots of positive news for the High Peak, such as the tax cut for the lowest paid and the 50% business rate relief for the high street. However, plenty of other towns across the north were celebrating additional millions of pounds of investment through the levelling-up fund. Unfortunately, High Peak was not one of those areas because High Peak Labour council failed to submit a bid on time. It has now agreed to submit a bid and I am keen to work on a cross-party basis with it, but can the Chancellor assure my constituents that there will be a second round and that High Peak will still be treated as a top priority for levelling up? (903969)

I am happy to provide my hon. Friend with that reassurance and I hope that his council engages constructively with him, as so many others have and have seen the benefits of that in last week’s announcements. We will open round 2 in due course and it will most likely launch no later than the spring. I can tell him also that we have no plans to change the current way that we assess the priority categorisations, so High Peak should remain as it was.

Does the Chancellor agree with the Conservative party donor, Mohamed Amersi, who once claimed that the Tories were operating an access capitalism scheme for their major donors, and described corruption as a “heinous crime”, but who was later seen to have been part of a £162 million bribe to the daughter of Islam Karimov, the awful former president of Uzbekistan? If so, can he look at this and bring forward the response to the Pandora papers, particularly the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill?

The Government are committed to making the UK a hostile place for illicit finance and economic crime and ensuring that all donations to political parties comply with the legislation that the Labour party enacted in Government. We have taken tough action through our No Safe Havens strategy to ensure that the correct UK tax is paid. Our landmark 2019 economic crime plan builds on that, and we will continue to work on these matters.

T5. As my right hon. Friend may know, this week is Evidence Week. Will he therefore let the House know whether, in his opinion, the evidence still indicates that the proposed lower Thames crossing represents value for money? (903971)

I know that my hon. Friend has paid close attention to this issue, which obviously has a particular impact on his constituency. He will know that the current Dartford crossing is one of the most congested pinch points in the entire strategic road network, which is why the Thames crossing development is part of the Department for Transport’s plans. We also recognise that it needs to be brought about in a way that maximises the benefits and mitigates the cost to local communities and businesses. The commitment does include an obligation to create tens of thousands of new jobs. I understand that National Highways has recently launched a consultation, in which I know my hon. Friend and his communities will be engaged.

In reforming domestic air passenger duty, the Chancellor could have done something really clever; he could have incentivised the use of low-carbon forms of transport domestically, and in areas where those do not exist, mitigated the impact with a best alternative. Instead, he has done something that is making travel relatively more expensive for those low-carbon alternatives. How on earth, in the week of COP26, is this contributing to the Government’s net zero efforts?

As has been pointed out about three times today, alongside the cut in domestic air passenger duty, we introduced a new ultra-long-haul band with a higher rate. The net effect on carbon emissions of those two things is at least a wash, and one independent forecaster said that it would actually reduce carbon emissions. That comes alongside significant investment of £180 million to incentivise sustainable aviation fuel, and billions more for electric transportation for consumers.

T6. With many thousands of new homes going up to the west of Leighton Buzzard and the north of Houghton Regis, will the Government ensure that there is a direct link between thousands of new homes and increased general practice capacity? (903972)

The Government are focused on delivering more homes where they are most urgently needed, but we need the right infrastructure in place to facilitate this. Many of the Government’s core housing supply programmes, including an additional £1.5 billion announced at the spending review, focus on precisely that point. Recent reforms to the NHS capital regime, some of which have been legislated for through the current Health and Care Bill, will further improve the system, including through better integration between the NHS, local government and care providers.

In an earlier answer, the Chancellor confirmed that the levelling-up fund round 2 bids would be some time in the spring. Many Members across the House want to engage in the process, as does Bridgend County Borough Council, which covers the majority of my Ogmore seat. However, it is difficult to plan if the Treasury will not confirm the date of the conclusion of the round 2 bidding process. May I press the Chancellor to tell us more than just spring next year, because spring does tend to be an awfully long time when the Treasury are making decisions?

I am glad that there is widespread support for the levelling-up fund, and we are keen to work with all Members. I say spring because we want to ensure that we quickly learn the lessons from this round and incorporate them into future rounds. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that our desire is to get on with this, because we want these projects to be delivered so that our communities can start to see the benefits as soon as possible.

T7. I thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for £19.8 million from the levelling-up fund that will put Eastbourne on the map and really bill it as the gateway town to the South Downs national park. I also thank him for the investment that sits behind the kickstart scheme, which has so far delivered hundreds of new opportunities in my town. I promote the scheme everywhere I go, as I travel from north to south and east to west. Will the Minister join me in encouraging local businesses to step up ahead of the 17 December deadline to provide these golden opportunities for young people in my home town? (903973)

I know that my hon. Friend will have campaigned hard for the funds that have come through. We will continue to support people across the House and in her constituency to level up.

Rather than talk about competitive bids for funding, could we talk for a moment about mainstream council finances? We know that this Budget will significantly shift the burden to local authorities and require a significant rise in council tax, which people can ill afford. We also know that councils’ finances have not fully recovered and they have not been fully compensated. What is the Chancellor doing to talk to local councils about the pressures that they are facing?

I actually did engage with representatives from local authorities in the run-up to the spending review. Last week’s spending review outlined an additional £1.6 billion a year of cash grant for local authorities, which will ensure that local government core spending power will rise at about 3% a year in real terms over the spending review period; that is historically high. It has been warmly welcomed by local councils up and down the country, and will ensure that council tax increases can be kept at more moderate levels.

T8. I, too, thank my right hon. Friend for the £56 million for three innovative levelling-up bids in my home city of Stoke-on-Trent. We warmly welcome this as the biggest investment in Stoke-on-Trent for 50 years. However, investing in our social fabric and growing our local social infrastructure must be community-led to achieve the best results. Will he update this House on whether the shared prosperity fund will target grassroots community capacity-building investment in developing our social infrastructure rather than capital funding? (903974)

I congratulate my hon. Friend and fellow Members representing Stoke-on-Trent on the £56 million their city was awarded in the first round of the levelling-up fund, winning not one but three bids to fund regeneration projects across the city, delivering new homes, community facilities, and office and hospitality space. She makes an important point about funding grassroots community capacity. I assure her that the UK shared prosperity fund, which is worth over £2.6 billion, will allocate funding across the UK. Further details of the fund will be set out later this year.

The women-run Acton firm Fashionizer, which makes uniforms for hotels, diversified into mask manufacturing during the pandemic. The firm is now getting back on its feet, but the order book is just a third of what it was, so those working there ask the Chancellor if he could please extend the rate relief for the hospitality industry to those who supply hospitality, including food and laundry services, some of them exclusively. They have given me a few of their masks for you, Mr Speaker, for the Chancellor and for anyone who wants one. I think a few of the hon. Members on the back row of the Conservative Benches could do with them.

I commend those at the hon. Lady’s business for what they have done through the pandemic and beyond with the manufacture of masks. We have moved out of crisis phase now, so our interventions to support the economy are broader in scale, but I am confident that the measures we are taking to invest in infrastructure, innovation and skills will lead to economic growth and benefit her businesses, not just the one she mentioned.

T9. I commend the Chancellor for his announcement in the Budget introducing a simplified system of duty that taxes alcoholic drinks according to their strength. Although this change will not come into force until 2023, it represents a welcome improvement, geared toward promoting public health. Does he agree that the proposed changes to our alcohol duty system will encourage manufacturers to innovate and promote lower strength drinks, which will help to reduce health harm associated with alcohol? Will he meet me to discuss alcohol harm? (903976)

I sincerely agree with my hon. Friend and thank him for his support. We are overhauling the UK’s outdated alcohol duty rules—the biggest simplification for 140 years—and taking a common-sense approach. Drinks will be taxed in accordance with their strength, encouraging responsible drinking, tackling the problems caused by cheap high-strength drinks, and supporting our pubs and our hospitality sector.

The Chancellor promised the aviation sector a bespoke support package before breaking his word. Instead these businesses will have to make use of other support schemes, including time to pay. What does he say to those businesses now hit by tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds in interest charges by HMRC when the sector is quite clearly still very badly affected by the pandemic?

Obviously it would not be right for me to comment on the individual circumstances of any business, but HMRC’s time to pay service has supported tens of thousands of businesses through the crisis with flexible repayment periods. Similarly, the bounce back loan scheme introduced by my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary comes with a pay-as-you-go option to ensure that businesses can settle on a payment plan and stretch out repayment in a way that suits their cash flow.

My pubs and brewers are pleased with the reduction in beer duty, but may we have clarification on keg size, as my small brewers ship their beer in different sizes, including 20-litre pins? May we also have an indication of when the changes to the small brewers relief will be announced, ideally removing the 2,000-hectolitre limit and the cliff-edge at the 5,000-hectolitre limit?

We are delighted that we are introducing the draft relief to support the on trade for people purchasing drinks in pubs and hospitality venues. We will consult on the details, including keg size. We will also bring forward the technical changes to small brewers relief, which my hon. Friend asks about.

The pretence has to stop. The Budget was climate-illiterate, with just £7.8 billion of new money given to climate and nature mitigation to reach the 2024 target, when £62.9 billion is required. How will the Chancellor close that gap, or is the Prime Minister’s performance at COP26 simply a façade?

The hon. Lady is not doing justice to what the Government have committed to. We have the £30 billion net zero strategy just the week before this fiscal event, and clearly we have had a number of announcements during COP already, including today’s on forests. That is clear evidence of how this Government are moving to ensure we double down on our international commitments and show the rest of the world the way to deliver on net zero.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, 15 days ago, I asked the Home Secretary an important question in oral questions concerning the long-running extradition case of the west midlands three, two of whom are my constituents. I asked her for information about the evidence used to justify their arrests. The Home Secretary claimed she did not hear my question and that she would instead answer separately, but, regrettably, that has not happened. No effort has been made by the Home Secretary to answer my question, and I have not received any correspondence about it. My parliamentary office has now contacted the Home Secretary’s private office on numerous occasions, and we have not received any clear communication or answers in return. I see little point in the Home Secretary coming to this place to answer questions if she does not do just that—answer the questions we ask. With that in mind, is it in order for the Home Secretary to fail to answer a question in the Chamber like that and then fail to provide an answer to me? If it is not in order, what action can I take to get an answer from the Home Secretary? My constituents deserve a response.

I am absolutely appalled that we are still not getting the message across. Members of Parliament deserve answers. The Leader of the House and I are absolutely committed to ensuring that Members, rightly and deservedly, get their answers. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice of her point of order.

If the Minister gave such an undertaking to respond, that should of course happen promptly without the hon. Member having to keep pressing the Home Office for an answer. I know that those on the Treasury Bench will be listening, and I expect them to pass on this point to the Home Secretary to ensure that an answer is given as early as possible. If necessary, the hon. Member can also consult the Table Office about the avenues that are open to her to pursue. Please keep me informed if that answer is not forthcoming.

I have to say—it needs to be heard loud and clear—that Members of Parliament on both sides rightly deserve answers to questions, especially as they are representing their constituents. We base this House on democracy, and part of that democratic process is that Ministers answer to Members.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I rise to represent the 649 MPs who, as the House was sitting last night, saw a report, perhaps with some consternation, on some notable websites—notably the Guido Fawkes website—that the House of Commons Commission had made changes to our working practices in this place with no reference to us. Rightly, Mr Speaker, you have done some great things over the past 18 months to keep this place going. I could make some points about the content of the announcement last night, and notably about Lord Ridley’s excellent speech in the other place about the usefulness of masks, but I would say that you rightly castigated my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who is no longer in his place, and some of his colleagues last week. Surely what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

I am not quite sure about the last bit —who is the goose, who is the gander, and what it was about. I am pleased by how the hon. Member has approached the question. It is a bit better than your email earlier today, Mr McCartney, which was pretty offensive; we ought to think about how we address each other in emails. I certainly respect your views and the views of all Members.

We have to work together. We have come this far because the House pulled together, ensuring that we got through it. We are one of only eight legislatures, I think, across the world that have managed to keep open every day, because we have done the right thing. It is about us doing the right thing. I want to help and support you; I want to help and support all Members.

In fairness, this is about safety. We have had an increase in covid-19 across the House, which has been badly reflected recently in the rising numbers. The UK Health Security Agency has determined that the risk of transmission on the parliamentary estate is now greater. As a consequence, the parliamentary authorities have decided to take further action to ensure that case numbers do not continue to rise. These measures have been communicated to Members and staff and I do not wish to debate them in detail on the Floor of the House. The measures have been introduced with immediate effect and will be reviewed in two weeks.

I will say to Members that if we can get through these two weeks, I believe we will get through to next year, but these two weeks are crucial. Numbers of infections have been rising on both sides of the House and among staff. Unusually, the transmission has been on the estate, and that is why it is a greater worry than before. Please, let us pull together and not try to undermine the officials of the House, who have to do a job—a thankless task. They get the kicks when they should not. Aim them at me; that is quite right. The hon. Member for Lincoln is right to have addressed me with this question.

I will always put the health and safety of the House first, so please help me to keep the House open by trying to get through a very crucial two weeks. After that, we will be in a much safer place, and I think we will be in the right place. I have to say that the measures have not been stringent. They could have been even more stringent and they might have to be, so please let us pull and work together. In the end, I do not want to have another Christmas like the last one, and I want to protect all of us, so work with the staff and try to remember that they have a job to do along with us. The main basis is that I know that we can see it through. I appeal to the Whips of all parties to work together to try to make it safe.

I understand the frustration. From my point of view, there is nothing better than having a full Chamber and seeing the hon. Member for Lincoln back in this House. As much as he gives me grief, I like seeing him on the Benches. I still prefer him in the House than on television—that is even more scary—but seriously, I have to say, let us all work together and pull together.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. With reference to the announcements, I deprecate the announcement of things outside of this Chamber and have been known to criticise the Government for that, so it would be churlish of me not to be surprised by what appeared in the press last night. You mentioned the UK Health Security Agency’s advice. Are you aware of that agency giving any institution or venue in this country the same advice that it has given us? In terms of the parliamentary authorities quoted in the email sent to Members, may I ask when the Commission met to discuss it? I assume those authorities refer to the Commission, because the agenda and decisions come only from the 18th—

Order. I think I can help. As I said earlier, I will not go into further debate. I have the greatest respect, but I am certainly not going to be tested today.

Plastics (Wet Wipes)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the manufacture and sale of wet wipes containing plastic; and for connected purposes.

I thank the Bill’s sponsors, many of whom are here today, and the many MPs from all parties who have shown their support for it. I also thank the Marine Conservation Society, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Thames21, the Green Alliance, Water UK and my water company, Thames Water, for their support for the Bill and for the ongoing campaign.

This is a Bill that everyone agrees with, from constituents to conservation organisations, water companies, MPs from all parties and the industry. The UK Cleaning Products Industry Association believes that plastic-free options are the right way for the industry to go. We were promised that by the Government in 2018, when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced that it would target plastic-containing wet wipes in its bid to eliminate all avoidable single-use plastic within 25 years. A DEFRA spokesperson at the time said,

“As part of our 25-year environment plan, we have pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste, and that includes single-use products like wet wipes.”

But where is that ban? I hope that my Bill gives the Department the nudge.

I welcome the Government’s amendment to the Environment Bill to introduce additional charges on single-use plastics, but that just will not wash—pardon the pun. Hygienic wipes are a single-use plastic, but subjecting them to additional charges will only hit the pockets of families, instead of making the profit-making polluters pay. I welcome the Secretary of State’s promise this morning of a consultation on whether to restrict the materials used in wet wipes, but I hope that the consultation does not kick the issue into the long grass. As Her Majesty the Queen said about COP26, we need actions, not words, and this is an example of such action.

To be clear, I am not talking about banning wet wipes; I am talking about banning the use of plastic in wet wipes. I have spoken to so many MPs who have picked up wet wipes from their rivers and coastlines. They have seen the scale of the problem at first hand and want more action. In this week of COP26, we are looking at the big picture of climate change and biodiversity, yet that picture is made up of many individual, bold actions. If our global house is on fire, we will need many buckets of water to put it out, and here is one of them. I will outline the scale of the problem; what the problem is with plastic; whether a ban is possible; and what else needs to be done.

First, on the scale, as a mother of four children, I have used a lot of wet wipes, and I completely understand the pressures that parents are under and how useful wet wipes are. I know that parents also want to do the right thing for the environment. Wet wipes have made life easier for millions of people and families. The market is worth $3.7 billion globally and growing rapidly, especially because of covid. In 2019, an astonishing 11 billion wet wipes were used in the UK—163 for every single person— and that was before the pandemic. We have seen a huge surge in the use of wet wipes and hygiene products since then. Between 2005 and 2020, the great British beach clean has seen an increase in wet wipes found per 100 metre stretch of beach from 1.7 to 18. The scale is increasing enormously.

About 90% of wet wipe products contain some form of plastic, which breaks down into microplastics that never dissolve or biodegrade. When those plastics enter our local marine environment and water systems in such large volumes, the damage is devastating. Globally, 100 million marine animals—from birds to fish, and other marine organisms—die each year from plastic waste alone. They eat the plastic, which sits in their stomach indefinitely, not being digested, and slowly and agonisingly it starves and suffocates them to death as they cannot process food. Plastic wet wipes are designed to absorb toxins, bacteria and chemicals, so they also act as a deadly poison when consumed by unwitting marine wildlife.

It is not just animals but humans who are affected. Globally, the World Wide Fund for Nature believes that a human could ingest about 5 grams of plastic every week—the equivalent of a credit card. Mr Speaker, we might literally be eating a credit card’s worth of plastic every week and wet wipes are a huge cause of that.

That is not all. Wet wipes are behind 93% of blockages in UK sewers and are even changing the shape of our rivers as they pile up on banks and beds. In 2018, Thames21 volunteers retrieved more than 5,000 wet wipes from about 100 metres of the Thames bed during an operation on the river. Every year, water companies spend £100 million dealing with 300,000 sewer blockages. That money is added to consumer bills—our bills; it costs us as well as the environment. The Thames Water area alone—my area—has on average 85,000 blockages a year due to fat and wet wipes congealing. [Interruption.] I am sorry about all these facts, but we need to know them.

Yesterday, I visited Becton sewage treatment works to see the 30 tonnes of unflushable material that it removes every day, most of which is wet wipes. It is not a sight that I will forget in a hurry. I have also been out at low tide on the Thames to see thousands of wet wipes in a wet wipe island washed up on the Thames foreshore. They are found widely on our beaches, too. That is the scale of the problem—it is large. But can wet wipes be banned? Is it feasible? Can they be made without plastic? They can. Many companies produce plastic-free, bio- degradable wet wipes in the UK and I have spoken to several. Many non-plastic alternatives exist, for example bamboo fibre wet wipes and plant-based wet wipes such as cellulose or viscose. There are alternatives.

I give credit to Holland & Barrett and The Body Shop for being the first two retailers to commit to stop selling plastic wet wipes and replace them on their shelves with environmentally friendly alternatives. Sainsburys has now made its own brand of wet wipes plastic free, using material from renewable sources. It is perfectly possible to do and, since more of the production of the plastic-free wet wipes happens here in the UK, it is also a source of UK green jobs.

The next question is whether, if wet wipes are made without plastic, they will still be economical. Will they not pass on a price hike to the consumer? That is not what we want. Yet again, companies such as Pura prove that it can be done, and with a greater scale of production, driven by a ban, even more could be done. A ban would create a boost for innovation in the sector and a level playing field between companies, ensuring that costs are not passed down to the consumer because some companies are still using plastic and others are not.

What else is needed? Far too many people believe it is okay to flush wet wipes. I am here to say that it is not. It is never okay to flush wet wipes. The “fine to flush” standard has helped to move the industry towards more decomposable wet wipes, but the labelling is voluntary, a bit confusing and unclear. I challenge any hon. Member in the House today to go to their supermarket shelves, look at the wet wipes and try to work out from the labelling what is the right thing and what is not, what contains plastic and what does not.

The Government need to apply extended producer responsibility to producers of all other types of single-use wet wipes. The polluter should pay for the damage. We need legislation, because the scale of the problem is so big, so damaging and increasing so fast. Ask any marine conservationist, any water operator, any engineer clearing a fatberg or any volunteer clearing up sludge from our rivers—they will tell us we simply cannot afford to wait for the industry to catch up.

I hope my Bill will lead to action from the Government and that they will come good on that 2018 promise to ban plastic in wet wipes. Otherwise, those promises are just hot air. My Bill sets out the need for a clear plan for reduction on the way to a ban. It will be a win for consumers and for the environment. I urge the Secretary of State to take action that can stop the mass killing of wildlife from microplastics, the destruction of our rivers and the chaos in our sewer system. I urge him to listen to civil society, the water companies, the consumers, our constituents and his own MPs, and to ban plastic in wet wipes once and for all.

Question put and agreed to.


That Fleur Anderson, Philip Dunne, Caroline Lucas, Ms Diane Abbott, Tim Farron, Barry Gardiner, Jim Shannon, Patrick Grady, Helen Hayes, James Gray, Dr Lisa Cameron and Ben Lake present the Bill.

Fleur Anderson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 November, and to be printed (Bill 182).

Ways and Means

Budget Resolutions

Income Tax (Charge)

Debate resumed (Order, 1 November).

Question again proposed,

That income tax is charged for the tax year 2022-23.

And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.

In 2019, we made a promise. We promised to give the people of this country world-class public services and to strengthen the entire fabric of this country so that everyone benefits. Everyone is entitled to have access to the same opportunities to make the most of their lives, whether they are at school, at work or whatever their personal circumstances. That is what we meant, and what we mean, by levelling up: making this country fairer for all who live in it.

On the subject of levelling up, will the Secretary of State tell the House why he thinks it is acceptable for schools to be worse off in real terms now than they were in 2010?

Respectfully, it is quite the opposite. I will get to that point later. Schools will be £1,500 better off per pupil than in 2019-20—not even 2010— but we will return to that subject in a moment or two.

I was getting to the point about those who are more vulnerable. For those who are most vulnerable, levelling up means that extra support will always be there for them. The covid virus has put enormous pressure on all our public services, and I know the whole House will want to join me in again thanking our magnificent public heroes—our nurses and doctors, our teachers and nursery workers, our care home staff and our delivery workers—for how they have helped us all to weather the pandemic storm.

The national health service has been the frontline of this pandemic and we must build up its resources after an unprecedented 18 months. We are committing £5.9 billion to tackle the NHS backlog of non-emergency tests and procedures, which will include £2.3 billion for ensuring that there are at least 100 community diagnostic centres where people can get health checks, scans and tests closer to their homes.

Digital technology is transforming every aspect of our lives, so the package includes £2.1 billion over the next three years to support its use in hospitals and other care organisations to improve efficiency, freeing up valuable NHS staff time and ensuring the best care for patients, wherever they are. There will also be £1.5 billion from that package over the next three years for new surgical hubs, increased bed capacity and equipment to help elective services to recover, including surgeries and other medical procedures.

We have promised an overhaul of our adult social care system, improving social care outcomes through an affordable, high-quality and sustainable system. We are therefore allocating £3.6 billion for local government to reform adult social care provision, including capping personal care costs at £86,000.

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; he is always very generous. I draw his attention to the letter from the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, a Conservative-led authority, to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, stating that,

“the council has 302 assessed individuals requiring 4,114 hours of home care per week that we are currently unable to provide.”

The letter was dated in October. It identifies extra money that the Government have given, but says the council still does not have the funding needed to care for the people who need help in the East Riding.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I am sure the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will take a careful look at her letter and respond in good time.

Nevertheless, it is this Government who have grasped the nettle of adult social care and will deliver on capping personal care costs, which can be so debilitating, at £86,000. While £1.7 billion will improve the wider social care system, including the East Riding of Yorkshire, as announced in September, at least £500 million of that will go towards improving qualifications, skills and wellbeing across the social care workforce.

Is it not the case that the additional money for adult social care is on a promise that might come along in a few years’ time, and that most local authorities will not see a penny immediately to tackle the immediate problems that they have in adult social care? That is why I tabled my amendment; it was quite rightly not selected, but it would have brought in £15 billion extra and not harmed anyone earning under £50,000. Why will the Government not just make national insurance a flat rate for everyone?

I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. I think he may have missed, while trying to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, what I just said about the £1.7 billion to improve the wider social care system that was announced in September. The additional £3.6 billion to local government that was announced in the Budget is more money. This is not an arms race on how much we can spend; this Government are interested in delivering outcomes. Covid has, no doubt, added extra challenges to our reforming agenda, but it has not deflected us from delivering our promises; it has made our commitment more focused as we deliver and build back better. For me, that means skills, schools and families.

I detect a hint of complacency on funding for social care. The Secretary of State mentioned £500 million to go towards workforce issues. That is nothing; it is a drop in the ocean for the issues with the social care workforce. There are more than 100,000 vacancies in social care and turnover is 30%. The money just will not touch the sides. The reaction to the Budget from the social care sector, which I hope to speak about today, has been one of profound disappointment and disbelief, really, that the Government do not understand what a crisis the sector is in. I really think it is about time for the Secretary of State to change his tone on that.

I have to respectfully disagree with the hon. Lady. In my time as vaccines Minister, I saw the social care sector rise to the challenge and deliver. I opened my remarks by reminding the House of that and thanking the workers on the frontline. Of course, money does make a difference, including the £500 million announced to make sure that we retain and inspire the social care workforce.

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being very generous with his time. He talks about the investment in social care, but does he not agree that there will still be a gaping hole of over £500 million in disabled children’s social care support?

I will return to children’s social care later in my speech. Mr Speaker, you will, I hope, recognise that I have given way several times. I would now like to make some headway in my speech and return to my theme, which hon. Members will hear from me and my team and from across Government: skills, schools and families.

World-class public services demand world-class skills, and in this country we are entering a new era—the era of the skills economy. We are investing over £3.8 billion over the course of this Parliament in further education and skills to make sure that people have access to the kind of high-quality training and education that will open the doors to good jobs, which in turn will boost productivity and support levelling up. For too long, employers have complained that young people just do not have the skills that their businesses need, particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths. For too long, students have studied subjects that will not result in a meaningful or satisfying career. That mismatch is not just bad for students; it is bad for business and it is catastrophic for our economy, especially as we try to rebuild after the pandemic.

We need people with the skills for tomorrow’s industries, so we are making the largest investment in skills in a decade, and it is going to deliver the technical education our economy needs. Our skills economy will power innovation and growth, and we will all feel the benefit.

Yesterday I was speaking with members of the tech industry, and they were lamenting the fact that there is only one hour a week for computing in secondary schools. Our growth will be in the technological sector. What will the Government do to improve computing education in schools?

I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. I know that he cares passionately about this subject and the overhaul of information and communications technology in the curriculum. I think an £83 million investment in that is a signal to the sector of how important it is to the UK economy. I saw at first hand at Barnsley College how T-levels in technology are delivering for young people. We will invest £2.8 billion of capital funding in skills and further education, including to further expand our new T-levels, which are set to offer a new gold standard in technical education and will be more than a match for A-levels.

I recently visited the university technical college in Warrington, which is a great example of skills-based education, linking with employers such as Sellafield. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is exactly the sort of education we need to see across the UK?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the UTC and the work it is doing with Sellafield is exactly the sort of high-skilled, high-ambition, career-developing education that we need, giving those young people, when they become young adults, a real outcome. Of course, higher wages and a more successful economy will be by-products of that, but the real outcome is that rounded adult who has a real career path in the economy.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend is saying. Can he confirm that there is a 42% increase in the skills budget in cash terms? Does he not agree that if we spend that money right, we will create, for the first time, a parity of esteem between skills and higher education, and that rather than just “university, university, university”, our mantra should be “skills, skills, skills” and “apprenticeships, apprenticeships, apprenticeships”?

There is no greater champion of this agenda than my right hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education. “Skills, skills, skills” runs through his veins, and I thank him for that point. I absolutely agree with him on the uplift in the investment that we are making.

I would like to take a moment to tell the House all about the visit I made to Barnsley College just a week or so ago. The college was the first in South Yorkshire to roll out T-levels. While I was there, I met several of its students, including one whose name is Greg. Honestly, I have rarely met a more inspiring individual. He told me that with his T-level—I will quote him word for word:

“I’m looking at unis now and thinking, ‘Which one am I picking?’ not ‘Which one of them is picking me?’”

Greg is living proof of the transformative effect our skills programme is having.

The same is true for apprentices. Apprenticeships funding will increase by £170 million to £2.7 billion, alongside other improvements to support more small businesses to hire new apprentices.

I want to make sure that others get a chance to participate in the debate, so I will make some headway. I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me; I beg her indulgence.

These investments are putting employers at the heart of our skills economy so that education and training respond to local business needs. In this way, we will not only build one of the best technical education systems in the world, but drive local prosperity and levelling up.

Of course, we know that skills training is not just for the young. As technologies change and develop and businesses adapt, so people will find that they will need to reskill or retrain throughout their lives. Globalisation and automation are changing the modern workplace. Jobs and industries that are flourishing now might not be in five or 10 years. Our skills economy must be sufficiently agile to flex not just for today but for tomorrow and long into the future.

With our “Skills for Jobs” White Paper, we are committed to boosting the job prospects of adults across the country by making sure that they can get the training they need to adapt to a changing workforce. A total investment of over £550 million will make sure that adults at any age can retrain or upskill, and that is part of our national skills fund commitment. We will be investing more in boot camps, which offer free flexible courses of up to 16 weeks, giving people the opportunity to build up specific skills with a clear route to a job at the end. We are also investing more to help adults in England take advantage of our free courses for jobs offer. There are now more than 400 courses to help more adults gain the skills they need to boost their career prospects. There will be opportunities for adults across the whole of the UK to develop their numeracy skills through the multiply programme the Chancellor announced, funded by another £560 million through the UK shared prosperity fund. That means that wherever people live and whatever stage they are at in life, they will be able to access training and education that gives them the skills employers want and which can lead to good jobs and career progression.

This is a national effort. A lot of attention has quite rightly been placed on the areas in the north of England that are targets for levelling up, but will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that levelling up is a national agenda and that there are poorer areas in the south of England and London that will receive priority funding from the Government?

Levelling up is at the heart of the Government’s agenda. Levelling up means empowering local leaders and communities to drive real change: boosting living standards, particularly where they are lowest; spreading opportunity and improving public services, particularly where they are weaker; and restoring local pride across the United Kingdom. Every local authority across the UK is eligible for the levelling up fund. In line with the Government’s mission to level up, it is right that we have prioritised areas that have been objectively assessed as most in need of the kind of investment that the levelling-up fund provides. That includes areas in the south of England which are most in need.

Schools are equally important and they have done well in the spending review. One of the biggest challenges we currently face is helping the young people who have suffered so much disruption to our schools during the pandemic. Those young people have been foremost in my mind and are central to the significant investment we announced this week. We know that world-class public services will help to turbocharge our economy. They will give us the skills, knowledge and technical excellence to drive productivity and growth. To deliver them, we have to begin with our schools.

All of us here, without exception, will owe a great debt to a teacher—maybe more than one—who helped us to get to where we are today. Colleagues will be aware that I have more reason to be grateful than most, having arrived here at the age of 11 as an immigrant without a word of English. I will always be grateful to the teachers who helped me on my way, which is why it gives me particular pleasure today, as Education Secretary in Her Majesty’s Government, to say that we are going to increase our spending on our country’s schools. Core funding will rise by £4.7 billion in 2024-25, building on the largest cash boost for a decade provided in the 2019 spending review. That equates to a total cash increase of £1,500 per pupil compared to 2019.

I will make some headway. I have taken many interventions.

Let us not forget that these are not normal times for any of our schools and colleges. The task in front of them, helping every young person to get back to where they need to be, requires all our teaching and education staff to continue to deal with the fallout from the pandemic. To reflect that, we will be allocating nearly £2 billion extra to support young people who are struggling to catch up on missed learning, following the existing investment in tutoring and training for teachers.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has described the increase in education funding over the past decade as the worst for 40 years. The Secretary of State says he is increasing funding for schools, but by next April, 12 years on, we are only about to achieve the same level of funding that existed in 2010. That is a damning indictment of the Conservative Government over the past decade. Why have young people in our schools been forced to pay the price of Tory austerity?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, but respectfully he is completely wrong. It is not the same level of funding as 2010. Let me try to explain it to him and his constituents. The £1,500 per pupil extra by 2024 is £1,500 more than in 2019-20. That is a significant investment in the future of this great country.

To reflect that, we will allocate—as I was saying on recovery—£2 billion extra to support young people who are struggling to catch up on missed learning, following the existing investment in tutoring and training for great teachers. That is in addition to the 6 million tutoring courses and 500,000 training opportunities we have already made, which takes overall investment specifically dedicated to pupils’ recovery to almost £5 billion. That includes an additional £1 billion of catch-up funding that goes direct to schools so that they can best decide how to support education recovery for those of their pupils who most need it. Teaching unions wanted that additional flexibility—I thank them for that—and I listened to them and made representations to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. As they told me, this funding might pay for specialist small groups, or hiring staff to lead extra-curricular activities outside the school day. In that way, an average secondary school could receive about £70,000 a year in additional cash. That is money that can make a real difference to young lives. Evidence shows that the pandemic has had a significant impact on older pupils who have the least time left in education. We will be investing £800 million in extending the time they spend in colleges.

It is no secret that the most important person in any classroom is the one standing at the front of it, which is why this settlement enables us to raise teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000. We promised that in our manifesto and we are delivering on that promise. That is in addition to a salary boost of up to £3,000 tax free to teach maths, physics, chemistry and computing, which we have already announced, to increase the number of teachers in subjects that are facing the greatest shortfall. It will also build on our groundbreaking teacher recruitment and retention reforms. We want our brightest and best graduates to be queueing up to be teachers. We now have far more compelling reasons for them to do so.

As a former families Minister, I care passionately about giving children a great start in life. That means giving families every support. I have seen for myself on many occasions the incredible effect that our investment can make on helping struggling families. Around 300,000 of our most vulnerable families will be supported with an extra £200 million boost to the Government’s flagship supporting families programme, which supports families through complex issues that could lead to family break- down. That is an approximately 40% real-terms uplift in funding for the programme, taking total planned investment across the next three years to nearly £700 million. As I said, we are being driven by three things: skills, schools and families.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to the supporting families scheme. The certainty around that for the long term will be very beneficial. He will recognise, as a former families Minister, that the big pressure on local government budgets is not social care—I wish I could spend the money, but I cannot employ anybody—but children’s services. The cost is growing exponentially. We need to move to more proactive preventive services, such as supporting families. Will he make a commitment to ensure that the transition in local government to preventive services will continue beyond this Budget? It is very welcome, but it has to be a long-term trend. Will he commit to supporting local government to do that?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I thank him, not least because of his deep experience in local government. We will continue to engage with the MacAlister review and we will take very seriously the points that my hon. Friend made about the pressures on local government.

As I said, this is about skills, schools and families, which is why we are setting aside £50 million over three years—

Let me make some headway, because hon. Members might find this interesting: we are setting aside £50 million over three years for parenting programmes to help parents and carers build positive relationships with their children and around £80 million to create a new network of family hubs—a one-stop shop where families can get help and support services when they need them in 75 local authorities across England. Almost half of local authorities will have a family hub. I will give way to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne).

I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I welcome the Government’s new-found conversion to something that sounds particularly like the Sure Starts that we had in 2010, but I want to ask him about a practical point. The fact is that in large parts of the country—usually where the facilities are needed most— the Sure Start centres are just not there physically in the community, because of the reductions in the revenue support grant to local government. They have been subsumed into schools, removed or sold. Will he prioritise areas such as Tameside so that we can build back this network of family support in our communities? We do not have the Sure Start centres; we need capital funding to bring them back.

The hon. Gentleman will know that, as Children and Families Minister, I tried to follow the evidence, and I will do the same as the Secretary of State. I will always be evidence-led. My difficulty with his statement about Sure Starts is that when we look at the evidence, we see that much of the investment went into buildings rather than to the families that we really needed to access those services. The difference here, as I saw through the evidence from family hubs in Harlow and elsewhere, is that with this multi-agency, wraparound approach, we can get to the families that need to access the service. I am glad to hear that he welcomes this announcement, because I know that he will probably be an outlier in his party in wanting to work constructively to get the 75 centres up and running.

We also continue to invest in early education, with around £170 million every year—the sector was slightly confused, but I know that the Children and Families Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), set them straight—to increase the hourly rate for free early education entitlements, supporting families with the cost of childcare. As we would expect from a Government who are as committed to levelling up as this one, much of our focus is on those who need additional help, especially the most vulnerable in society.

I know that Mr Speaker is looking at his watch, so perhaps the hon. Lady will forgive me if I make some headway and let others into the debate.

Indeed, Mr Speaker. We are investing £2.7 billion of capital funding to improve provision for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.[Official Report, 2 December 2021, Vol. 704, c. 10MC.] That funding represents a significant investment in high needs provision and will help to deliver tens of thousands of new places for some of the most vulnerable children in our country. Over the next three years, we will provide £259 million to expand the number of places available in secure and open residential children’s homes. That will provide high-quality, safe homes for some of our most vulnerable children and young people.

We will also support families through our adoption strategy. That will go a long way to improving the process of matching children who need a home with the adopters who are desperate to provide one for them. That means encouraging all those who can provide a loving home to come forward, not just those from a narrow, rather middle-class demographic. We will, in due course, see more centres of excellence for our regional adoption agencies.

Every child deserves to grow up in a secure and loving home and every single one of us, young and old alike, deserves to live in a community where we feel safe. The whole country has been shocked to the core by the recent violent attacks on people who have been walking home or out enjoying themselves, especially vulnerable young women. This is simply unacceptable. We promised to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers in 2022-23 and we are putting an extra £540 million into recruiting a further 8,000 additional police officers. We are allocating £42 million for new crime and drugs programmes. That will help to fund our Safer Streets programme and will help more people to improve home security, especially in areas that have a high incidence of burglary, car theft and robbery. We have always taken a zero-tolerance approach to crime, and tackling drugs is a priority, especially through our county lines programme. We will set up a national crime and justice lab to analyse crime reduction and prevention data.

Part and parcel of keeping our streets safe is making sure that those who threaten that security are dealt with quickly and efficiently through our criminal justice system. The covid pandemic has had a massive impact on this, so we are making an extra £2.2 billion available to manage the increased number of offenders being brought to justice and to reduce backlogs in criminal courts. There will be an extra 20,000 prison places, which builds on the additional 18,000 prison places that we announced at the last spending review, plus a further 2,000 temporary places. That represents the largest prison-building programme in a generation.

For those people who have been victims of crime, we will increase our support services to over £185 million a year. Security, safety and support are going to underpin our public services, but we must also take a proactive approach to make sure that all our communities are vibrant, resilient places where people can live, learn and work. One of the chief ways to make sure that everyone can get from A to B smoothly and efficiently is through world-class public services, and we will need world-class local transport systems. The investment there makes a huge difference across the board.

I know that you are anxious about the time, Mr Speaker, so I will conclude. This Budget will provide billions of pounds to deliver the public services that the British people deserve. It puts skills, schools and families at the centre of everything we do and it embeds levelling up throughout all our services and our national infrastructure. The Budget is a clear statement of intent: world-class public services backed by £150 billion a year in cash terms.

It is a great pleasure to follow the Secretary of State in today’s debate. Our public services keep the nation going. In the last 18 months, we have relied on them more than ever: on nurses, doctors, NHS and care staff, who have looked after us in the most difficult conditions; on police and the emergency services; on transport staff; and, of course, on teachers, lecturers, school and college leaders, early years, childcare and education support staff, who have kept children safe and learning. It is because of their dedication and the importance of the services that they provide that we needed a serious plan in this Budget to rebuild the services that the Government have cut to the bone in the last 10 years, and a plan to remake Britain. Instead, we got a high-tax, low-growth Budget that hits working people with a £3,000 hike in their tax bills; a Budget that did nothing to reduce living costs, tackle soaring energy bills or support working families this winter; and a Budget that failed to address the deep-rooted pressures on the public services on which we all rely.

Over the 74 years of its existence, the NHS has been a source of huge pride to this country. However, under the Conservative party, life expectancy among the poorest has fallen and health inequalities have widened, so measures to tackle that state of affairs were very much needed. Instead, we got the Chancellor pretending that a new wing or new unit somehow counts as a new hospital. We got a sticking plaster for social care, with local authorities having to levy their residents to pay for it. Incredibly, after the 18 months we have all been through, the Government failed to prioritise public health, which has suffered a 24% cut in real terms since 2015-16.

In the Treasury Committee yesterday, we heard evidence from the Office for Budget Responsibility, which predicts that 95% of councils will raise their precept to the maximum to cover social care—another thing that will have an impact on the cost of living. The letter that I quoted from earlier, which was written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care not by me, but by the leader of Conservative-led East Riding of Yorkshire Council, says that adult social care is in crisis.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The levy to fund social care is one more tax that will hit hard-pressed families in the spring and will do nothing about the deep-seated need to address the social care crisis and the increasing pressure from an ageing demographic—it will not even touch the sides.

Is it not the case that the Labour party still has no plan for social care? When we put forward a plan only a few weeks ago, Labour Members voted against it.

The hon. Member may not remember the Dilnot plan, which had cross-party support until Conservative Members torpedoed it. He may not have read the five principles that Labour has set out to underpin our approach to social care, including preventive investment to keep people at home and living independently for as long as possible, as we all want to. We have a plan that would invest in the workforce. It is not enough just to wish for better social care; the people have to be there to deliver it. That is Labour’s plan, and if the hon. Member would like more details, I am very happy to send them to him.

Despite 1.6 million people waiting for treatment, there was no guarantee in last week’s Budget that mental health will receive its fair share of NHS funding. Health stakeholders were most critical of the lack of a workforce strategy or a multi-year funding settlement to support it. We cannot deliver world-class healthcare if we do not invest in recruitment, retention and staff development. It is no wonder that the NHS is struggling when the number of adult health and care students declined by 15% in the three years before the pandemic.

The pandemic also shone a light on the problems that our schools, colleges and early years providers were already facing. No doubt it exacerbated them, but it did not create them. Last week, the Chancellor set out a £3 billion investment in skills, and the Secretary of State claimed that it was the biggest in a decade—but it comes after a decade of cuts to post-16 provision. The Learning and Work Institute calculates that funding over the spending review period will still amount to only 60% of the 2010 figure.

It is astonishing that at a time when our economy has to adapt to the challenges that the Secretary of State referred to—globalisation, digitisation and climate change in the post-Brexit environment—investment in skills remains so lacking. Four in 10 young people are leaving education without the level of qualification they need, the number of apprenticeships has fallen by more than 40%, and 9 million adults lack basic skills in literacy or numeracy. No wonder the Chancellor can promise only a paltry 1.5% increase in growth in the final three years of the forecast period.

At the same time that it is talking up the importance of vocational education, the Department for Education is scrapping most BTECs—well-recognised and respected qualifications that give opportunities to hundreds of thousands of young people.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the importance of BTECs, because for many young people and indeed many adults, BTECs are the route through the education system. As somebody who has a BTEC national certificate in business and finance and a higher national diploma in business and finance, I know that—it was my route through the education system. Let us make sure that we keep it open for future generations, too.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Again and again, I have met people who have described their learning journey from BTECs to university and an excellent career. Of course we want T-levels to succeed, but there is no reason to remove other qualifications that provide a different route that is more appropriate for some young people. Under Labour, every young person will receive education that is appropriate to them, whether that is an apprenticeship, technical education or university, and will leave it ready for work and life.

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will make some progress.

OECD data show that the UK has some of the world’s highest childcare costs—the cost of nursery provision for a one-year-old increased four times faster than wages between 2008 and 2016—but despite the high costs for parents, many early years providers are struggling to stay afloat. This year alone, nearly 3,000 childcare and early years providers have closed their doors. This Budget could have been an opportunity to put provision on a sustainable footing, reduce costs to parents and invest in quality, making a real difference to millions of families, but the announcements that we got were inadequate.

Don’t get me wrong: any investment in families with young children and in support for new parents is welcome, but the family hubs project is a pale imitation of what the Conservatives inherited in 2010. [Interruption.] “Nonsense,” says the Minister, but let me tell him that when Labour left office, there were 3,500 Sure Start centres delivering support to more than 2.9 million children in every local authority in the country. Since then, 1,000 children’s centres have closed. A moment ago, I think the Secretary of State was promising new family hubs in only half of local authorities. Can he tell me how many family hubs in total will be created as a result of the spending announcements?

By the 2021 summer term, children had missed an average of 115 days of schooling, and on 21 October, just before the half-term break, 248,000 children were still out of school as a result of covid, yet the Government’s response falls well below the scale of ambition needed for children’s educational recovery. The extra £1.8 billion announced by the Chancellor last week brings the Government’s recovery plans up to a total of £5 billion—far short of the £15 billion that their own expert adviser said would be needed to ensure that children make a full recovery from the pandemic.

Labour, by contrast, remains committed to our £15 billion children’s recovery plan. Whereas the Government will provide tutoring to just one in 16 pupils this year, Labour’s plan would resource schools to deliver tutoring to all who need it. We would deliver universal catch-up breakfast clubs and extend the school day for additional activities—I noted that the Secretary of State seemed to be in favour of that at Education questions yesterday, but he got nothing from the Chancellor. We would invest in training world-class teachers and teaching assistants and in supporting the early years sector, schools and colleges with an education recovery premium. We would prioritise young people’s mental health, giving every school access to a professional mental health counsellor.

I have totted up all Labour’s uncosted spending plans to about £400 billion. From what I can see, Labour is proposing about £5 billion of extra taxes. Can the hon. Lady explain where the extra money will come from? Is it not still the case that Labour is the party that cannot be trusted to run the economy?

I have absolutely no idea where that £400 billion figure comes from. The hon. Member says that it is uncosted, but there is no such uncosted plan; he needs to check his figures. The £15 billion costed plan—a plan advised by the Government’s own expert adviser—will, of course, be covered by the covid funding pot that the Government themselves admit has to be set aside to meet the costs of the pandemic. If the hon. Member cares to examine the tax burden from the Budget, he will see that it is not Labour that is increasing taxes on hard-pressed families. Taxes will hit families by an extra £3,000 as a result of his Chancellor’s Budget.

The hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) talks about financial prudence, but this Government spent £39 billion on the failed Test and Trace. How can Conservative Members talk about financial prudence?

My hon. Friend makes the case.

Labour’s plan would deliver the wellbeing and academic support needed to meet the scale of the challenge and ensure that all children can reach their potential. That is the level of the investment that the Government should have been making in the nation’s children.

When we look at overall school spending, the picture does not get much better. The Chancellor announced a 2% per annum real-terms increase in school budgets over the next three years. I want the Secretary of State to listen to this very carefully, because we are messing around a bit with figures here. That increase will finally return school spending to 2010 levels, in real terms, in 2025. As Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has said,

“To have no growth in 15 years in such an important part of public services is unprecedented’’.

This means that 732,000 children in state-funded reception classes in 2010 have seen their whole school careers affected. A whole generation of children has been failed by consecutive Conservative Governments.

The Secretary of State spoke of a cash increase in school spending as a result of the Budget, but schools are facing a host of rising costs to set against that: covid costs, energy bills, and employer national insurance contributions. The ending of the public sector pay freeze is overdue, but it is schools that will have to fund the teacher pay settlement.

The impact of this underfunding is plain to see. Some 200,000 children are growing up in areas with not a single primary school rated good or outstanding. Forty per cent. of young people leave compulsory education without essential qualifications. By the time they finish their GCSEs, pupils from poorer families are 18 months behind their wealthier peers in terms of attainment, and a third of teachers leave our schools within five years of qualifying. Last week’s Budget was an opportunity to fix those deep-rooted problems, but the Chancellor failed to do so.

Youth services help to equip young people with the skills and confidence that they need for life. They provide careers guidance and mental health support, they are one of the most effective ways of tackling the root causes of crime, and they help to build community cohesion. However, although they have already experienced a decade of cuts, last week’s Budget went on to inflict on them the single biggest one-off cut in youth services for a decade, leaving a £470 million hole in the youth budget. The Chancellor’s boasts of investment cannot disguise this crippling cut. Under the last Labour Government, youth services were accessible to people whatever their background; today, they are a patchy postcode lottery.

I am about to finish my speech, so I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not.

This Budget failed to address the challenges facing our education system—from early years to schools and from skills to higher education, about which the Chancellor said almost nothing last week—just as it failed to address the challenges facing the country. There was no plan to tackle the growing cost-of-living crisis, no plan to remove the enormous tax burden that the Conservatives have placed on working people and businesses, and no plan for growth, which is crucial to boosting our economy. This is not a Budget for the stronger economy of the future about which the Chancellor boasted; it is a Budget that lets down business, lets down our public services, and lets down the British people. They deserve better from this Conservative Government.

Order. I am going to try not to impose a time limit, at least at the beginning, but I will give an indicative time limit. If Members speak for about six minutes, including interventions, they will not be going far wrong. As the House knows, that is a luxury by today’s standards.

I will definitely not take my full allocation, Mr Deputy Speaker. I just want to make a few brief remarks about the Budget. I want to refer to a couple of measures that I think are very positive and pay tribute to some of my Front-Bench colleagues who have worked to bring them about, to mention an issue connected with defence spending that makes me quite uncomfortable, and then, I am afraid, to talk about something a little bit ugly in relation to spending on veterans’ affairs. But let me start with the good stuff.

I warmly welcome what has been done about universal credit. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor knows, I have campaigned for it for many years. The return of the taper rate to where it should have been when it was designed is perhaps the single biggest factor, over and above the argument about whether people should or should not keep the £20 uplift. The taper rate and the twin-track approach to universal credit have the greatest impact in communities such as mine, with a high take-up of universal credit and other benefits. I am extraordinarily grateful for my right hon. Friend’s work, and for everyone’s work, to make that a reality.

This is a good Budget for Plymouth, in terms of the levelling-up fund. We received £20 million, and we will be dualling the road from The George up to the top of town. I know that it does not mean much to people here, but many of us in Plymouth have sat for what seemed like hours of our lives in that traffic jam. It is very encouraging to see the Government pushing funds downstream towards Plymouth. The living wage is fantastic news for a low-wage economy like ours. People have spoken to me about business rates so many times on the doorstep, and as a result of the Budget, 90% of businesses will see a 50% reduction. When we express our qualms about the Government, it is important to mention what is being done right as well.

I see that the Chief Secretary is in his place. As he knows, I am a huge fan of his, but I am going to give him a slightly hard time over the Ministry of Defence budget. I do not understand why we should talk about global Britain and about record settlements for the MOD, and then reduce its budget in real terms over the current spending period. This is a reduction of 0.4%, which admittedly is not a lot, but the point is the message that it sends to those who are serving and those who want to engage with us in a global Britain to match the threats that we are constantly discussing. I am afraid that the two are not in sync. If we want to be taken seriously, we must get our message right, and it must be done with money.

However, the main issue that I wanted to talk about at a national level—I know it is terribly boring for everyone—is the issue of veterans and spending. The distribution of money for the Office for Veterans’ Affairs was mentioned in the Budget, and I am pleased about that, but the amount is £5 million. There are 2.2 million veterans in the country, and that would buy them each a pint—in Plymouth, where beer is not £6 a pint as it is in London. We need a seismic shift in our attitude to veterans.

While I have been sitting here, I have been looking at some figures. It is difficult to compare apples with apples when it comes to veterans’ affairs, because different countries do this differently, but in America, for example, £270 billion a year is spent on veterans. That includes allowances, payments for injuries and so on, but it is a lot of money. We compare better with countries such as New Zealand, with 31,000 veterans. This time last year, it spent £10 million in its office for veterans’ affairs purely on administration. The closest match, however, is probably Australia, with 325,000 veterans. It spent £11.5 billion in its Department of Veterans’ Affairs last year.

Obviously £5 million is better than not having £5 million, but I would caution against making a song and dance about what we are doing for veterans without taking account of the reality of how they feel in their communities. It is still hard for them to know where to turn for help, and it is hard for them to get on to a care pathway where someone will pull them through and care about their outcomes. Op Courage is fantastic, but far too many people do not know about it, because we have not gone out and sold it.

Australia had a problem with veteran suicides and did not know what to do about it, so it established a royal commission which looked into the facts and produced a report. As a result, it provided A$302 million in additional resources for its Department of Veterans’ Affairs. It provided A$12.1 million to support veterans and their families, and A$55.4 million specifically to tackle the issues raised.

I know that I consistently pursue this theme, but there is no point, at this time of year in particular, in taking nice photographs of us all looking sombre at memorial services and buying poppies. That stuff matters, but it does not matter to a working-class guy or girl on an estate in Plymouth, or Basingstoke or Birmingham, who does not know how to access care—who hears about all the fantastic mental health care that is available but does not know where to turn, does not know the right people and does not know about the charities. There was a seismic moment for the Office for Veterans’ Affairs to pull all this together, but it cannot do that if it is asked to reduce its budget from £5 million to £3 million in the first year.

One group of veterans whom we talk about regularly in the House—I raised this subject with the hon. Gentleman when he was the Veterans Minister—are the nuclear test veterans. I have not heard him talk about them, and he did not speak much about them in his former role. Perhaps he would like to say a little about them now.

With respect, I have spoken a lot about nuclear test veterans. I was the only Minister who met their group, and I have spoken about the fight to get some sort of medallic recognition. I reviewed the nuclear—