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Topical Questions

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2022

This Government are relentlessly focused on growing the economy. Putin’s barbaric war in Ukraine continues to put pressure on gas prices so, with predictions of typical bills reaching between £4,000 and £6,500 a year, people needed immediate support to get them through this winter.

Last month we set out the growth plan, which will focus on breaking out of the high-tax, low-growth cycle in which we are currently trapped. This will put more money into people’s pockets and raise living standards for all our people. This week I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) to inform him that I will set out the medium-term fiscal plan on 31 October, and I wish to remind the House that it will be accompanied by a full economic and fiscal forecast published by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The Chancellor sat in a Cabinet that committed to increasing social security payments in line with inflation. Why will he not honour that promise?

As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I have repeatedly said, no decisions have been made. The usual statutory process is being undertaken, and we will have more detail at the time of the medium-term fiscal plan.

The Chancellor will know that Essex is a pro-growth county and a hub of economic growth. To support job creation and more economic growth, will he commit to funding the dualling of the A120 between Braintree and Marks Tey and, importantly, along the route that the county council, businesses and the local community have specified?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her role in the Cabinet and the Government. She is a fantastic colleague. I wish to confirm that the A120 between Braintree and the A12 remains under active consideration, alongside the rest of the third road investment strategy pipeline.

Since the Chancellor’s disastrous mini-Budget just 18 days ago, we have seen wild swings in the value of the pound, gilt yields up 100 basis points in a single day and the Bank of England stepping in because of, in its words,

“a material risk to UK financial stability”.

The International Monetary Fund has now said that UK growth is to slow further next year. This is a British crisis, made in Downing Street; no Government are sabotaging their own country’s economic credibility as this Government are. Are the Chancellor and the Prime Minister the last people left on Earth who think their plan is working?

To pick up on a point, the IMF said today that the plan—the mini-Budget—has increased the forecast for growth. That is precisely the opposite of what the hon. Lady has said. It is very clear where we stand on this. We have pro-growth, pro-enterprise, pro-business Conservatives on one side and the anti-growth coalition on the other—they want to tax more and commit us to low growth.

The Chancellor is in a dangerous state of denial, but the costs of these mistakes are all too real for everyone else: borrowing costs up; growth down; and mortgage payments set to increase by £500 a month. Now the Government scrabble around looking for cuts, hitting the most vulnerable and our public services. It does not need to be this way. Will the Chancellor put aside his pride, do the right thing for our country, end this trickle-down nonsense and reverse the Budget?

Which of the tax cuts do the Opposition want to stop? Do they want to stop the cut in the basic rate? Are they committed to having a high tax economy? The other thing I suggest is that the hon. Lady should get her facts right; the IMF today has said that our growth is going up, not down.

T4. Early results from my local business survey strongly suggest that a lower VAT rate would increase investment, which would boost recovery and growth in the hospitality sector in my beautiful constituency. Will my right hon. Friend be reviewing the case for a lower rate, to bring us back into line with some of our international competitors? (901572)

Eastbourne is indeed beautiful, as are North East Bedfordshire and many other parts of the country. My hon. Friend is right to talk about the importance of VAT to the hospitality industry, particularly as we moved through the period of covid recovery. As we now move towards the growth plan, we need to look at the level of taxes on small businesses in general. That is a key part of the work I will be looking at as part of the tax simplification plan.

T2. Push payment fraud losses increased by 71% in the first half of 2021, surpassing card fraud losses for the first time. What steps is the Chancellor taking to tackle this huge surge in fraud, and importantly, to ensure that victims, including my constituents, are reimbursed for their losses, instead of being unfairly penalised for falling victim to these increasingly sophisticated scams? (901570)

Push payment fraud is a growing problem, which the Government take very seriously. That is why we will be taking powers in the Financial Services and Markets Bill that will mandate reimbursement to consumers.

T7. It is a massive relief that the nightmare scenario of energy bills of £4,000, £5,000 or even £6,000 has been prevented by the energy price cap. Will the Government explain how they are reducing the cost to taxpayers of that scheme and stabilising the energy market for the future? (901575)

My right hon. Friend was 100% right to notice that the energy intervention was exactly the right thing. We are going to have a commitment to fiscal responsibility, which will stabilise the economic situation and picture, and I am sure that her constituents will fully understand what the growth plan is all about: putting more money into their pockets so that we can have a growing and dynamic economy.

T5. The Scottish Government announced yesterday that they will be doubling the December bridging payment granted to low-income families, to £260. The Child Poverty Action Group noted that this will make “a real difference” to households struggling with the cost of living crisis. What plans do the UK Government have to follow suit and bring in targeted measures for low-income households? (901573)

As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary said earlier, most of the measures that constitute the £37 billion intervention were targeted directly at the vulnerable constituents of all of us in this House. The energy price guarantee will also be greatly beneficial to people across our country who are suffering because of the cost of living. The Government are committed to a huge amount of intervention, and our top priority is making sure that everyone gets through challenging times as best they can.

T8. The Chancellor has provided families across Sevenoaks and Swanley with vital support for their energy bills. However, in the past year the price of heating oil has more than doubled for my more rural constituents who are off the mains gas grid. The £100 support is welcome, but will the Chancellor and the Business Secretary review the support in the light of those severe price rises? (901576)

Absolutely. I am in frequent contact with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, and we have sequestered and dedicated a pot to help people who are off the gas grid. We are happy to help my hon. Friend and her constituents in this challenging time.

T6. Given that the Bank of England is having to go even further to refinance the UK Government bond market, what discussions has the Chancellor had with the Pensions Regulator about the viability of defined benefit schemes and the devaluation of defined contribution schemes and annuities—or will workers have to pay for this? (901574)

My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and I are engaged with all the regulators, particularly the Prudential Regulation Authority, and we will be absolutely committed to getting to the bottom of what has happened, particularly in the long-dated gilt market, which has been over-levered in the past few weeks.

T9. The Chancellor has said that he will set out a fully costed plan to get debt falling as a proportion of GDP, and he has confirmed at the Dispatch Box that that will be done in just under three weeks’ time. This morning’s Institute for Fiscal Studies report suggested that in order to do so, there will need to be fiscal tightening of around £62 billion over the next four years. Does the Chancellor agree with that analysis? If, as I suspect is the case, he does not, will he set out why not? (901577)

As I have said repeatedly, I am not going to prejudge what is in the medium-term fiscal plan, which will be fully scrutinised not only by the OBR but, I am sure, by my right hon. Friend. I do not think that it is right for me to prejudge or anticipate those measures today.

Despite the Chancellor’s confident words, the IMF is predicting that inflation will last longer in this country than in other similar economies. In my constituency of Edinburgh West, which has half the national average rate of unemployment and claimants, people are so concerned that more than half of them are talking about cutting their essential budgets, and, according to recent reports, 20% are concerned that they might have to turn to food banks for the first time. When will the Chancellor reassess the potential impact of this growth plan and accept that maybe he has got it wrong?

The IMF specifically said this morning that the 2023 forecast for growth in this country has gone up as a direct consequence of the mini-Budget. In respect of helping constituents up and down the land, we have already committed £37 billion of energy support this year and a further £60 billion to houses and businesses over the next six months, and we are committed to making sure that every one of our constituents gets through this winter as best they can.

Numerous residents such as those at Harwood Bar caravan park have been in touch with me about the £400 energy support scheme. The previous Chancellor confirmed that there was an equivalent scheme for those in caravan parks and park homes. Could the Chancellor please provide an update for my constituents in Hyndburn and Haslingden?

As I said in relation to heating oil, a pot of money is going to be reserved to help people who are off the grid. We have already made announcements about that, but I would be very happy to speak with my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary.

The upkeep of the Chester city walls costs about £600,000 a year, but that money has to come out of the local authority’s highways budget. Can the Government set aside a small amount of money to help local authorities with the stewardship of internationally important heritage assets?

The Government continue to support the heritage and cultural sector. There are several sources of funding from Government arm’s length bodies such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England’s repair grants, so I encourage the hon. Gentleman to look into those.

Since the 1970s, residents in Eastleigh have long been expecting, and have been promised at times, funding for the Chickenhall Lane bypass, including being allocated funding in the 2015 Red Book. Will the Minister agree to meet me and Hampshire County Council to discuss getting this sorted for people who have simply waited far too long?

My hon. Friend is a tireless advocate for that and other projects in his constituency. I and perhaps colleagues from the Department for Transport would be delighted to meet him and his county council colleagues to discuss that important project.

The Chancellor was warned that unfunded tax cuts would force the Bank of England to increase rates and that is exactly what has happened. The Bank of England has said today that, in effect, the mini-Budget has caused a material risk to Britain’s financial stability. Can the Chancellor explain how people are supposed to pay their mortgages, which have gone up by £500 on average and £900 in London? What is he going to do about it, because it is not acceptable that his incompetence is risking people’s livelihoods?

I have two points to make on that. First, the Bank of England certainly did not say that the mini-Budget increased risk. Secondly, as rates are rising throughout the world, there is exposure. That is precisely why we thought that it was absolutely right to have the energy intervention, which is for two years—let us not forget that the Labour plan was for only six months —and to reduce the burden on people by reducing taxes.

Talking to people working in the housing industry in Winchester, I have found that they are not convinced that the stamp duty reduction will help first-time buyers while inflation and particularly mortgage rates are creeping up. Lenders are coming back with some good rates, and the Chancellor will know that, but when he delivers his statement on 31 October, will he ensure that it has confidence at its heart and that it is—knowing him, it will be—a relentlessly positive statement, so that we can push confidence right the way through the market?

It will be relentlessly upbeat. These are challenging times, but we have to live within our means and there will be an absolute iron commitment to fiscal responsibility.

Will the Minister admit that, if the Government do not increase the guarantee credit component of pension credit in line with inflation this year, they are effectively cutting the incomes of our poorest pensioners when they need help most?

We are absolutely committed to fairness and to helping the most vulnerable in our society—we are always committed to that—and I will not prejudge or anticipate measures in the medium-term fiscal plan this afternoon.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the cuts to national insurance will help not only working households, but businesses and the public sector, such as schools?

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is absolutely right. The reversal of the planned increase in national insurance will help businesses, individuals and the institutions to which he refers.

There will be more detail about investment zones. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be updating the House on the specifics of the zones.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The UK has rightly frozen around £30 billion of Russian foreign currency reserves. A number of countries are moving from freezing those assets to seizing them to pay reparations to Ukraine. Will my right hon. Friend look at similar measures from the UK?

Those measures have been discussed in the past; I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) talked about that earlier in the year. Those schemes are always being looked at in the light of what is an increasingly bleak and volatile situation in Russia and Ukraine.