Skip to main content


Volume 722: debated on Tuesday 15 November 2022

The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Oxford-Cambridge Arc

1. What recent steps he has taken with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to deliver the economic growth potential of the Oxford-Cambridge arc. (902244)

Oxford, Cambridge and, of course, Milton Keynes are part of a globally significant area with world-leading technology, life sciences and space sectors. However, their growth potential is constrained by poor connectivity, a lack of lab space and high housing costs. The Government are committed to working with local authorities and other stakeholders to unlock growth. The first section of East West Rail is in construction and will bring benefits to my hon. Friend’s constituency in 2025.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. A few weeks ago, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and I hosted an event for the East West main line partnership to launch its report, “Building Better Connections”, which sets out the wider economic benefits of the arc as a whole and the rail line in particular. I urge my hon. Friend to read that report and assure me that any investment decisions will be based on the wider economic benefit, not just on a narrow cost-benefit analysis.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his fine words and welcome. We will consider that report with interest, and I was glad to hear about the event that he hosted with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). I pay tribute to my hon. Friend as a long-standing champion not just of the East West Rail connection, but of the wider growth opportunity that links in with that. This is such an important area not only for international competitiveness, but for the UK economy. As he knows, the first section of East West Rail is already in construction and we will set out the next steps on the later stages shortly. I reassure him that we recognise the significant economic growth that the project could unlock by increasing connectivity and supporting the region’s high productivity sectors.

I hear the answer, but this issue is so important not just for the arc, but for unlocking the transport and housing issues in a city such as Cambridge. On different days of the week, we get different views from different Secretaries of State. Can we hear what the Treasury’s view is on the importance of restoring the rail link?

As a fellow East Anglian MP, it is great to see the hon. Member working in partnership with colleagues on these important matters for his constituency. He will know that the region was singled out by The Economist in August 2022 as being vital to invest in if the UK is to achieve growth and proper investment, and that East West Rail was a key recommendation in the National Infrastructure Commission’s 2017 report to unlock the potential of the Oxford and Cambridge area, including Milton Keynes. That has not changed and we are committed to it.

Bolton: Public and Private Investment

The Government have made significant recent public investment in Bolton. For example, the first round of the levelling-up fund invested £20 million to create the Bolton College of Medical Sciences, and Bolton received £22.9 million from the towns fund to support its long-term economic and social regeneration. On the second part of the hon. Lady’s question, the Government do not routinely make estimates of private investment in towns.

Last week, I met the chief executive of Bolton and Bury citizens advice bureau. Among the many pieces of work that it does, it employs money advisers. However, the Money and Pensions Service—the arm’s length body that funds citizens advice bureaux—is set to lose 10% of its funding. For my local branch, that means about £22,000, or the cost of one member of staff. With demand for its services doubling, given the energy and cost of living crises, how can the Chancellor push through those callous cuts to a scheme that supports some of the poorest and most vulnerable in Bolton? Will he reverse those cuts?

The hon. Lady refers to the Money and Pensions Service. During the pandemic, additional Government grants were made available to support debt advisers. Some of that money was not used. There has been an attempt to look at how that money is distributed, but I would be happy to take this matter back and refer it to the Economic Secretary to see what can be done to give clarification.

It is not just in Bolton but in the adjoining area of Darwen and Rossendale that we welcome public sector investment, such as the Darwen town deal, which is investing £100 million. However, we are keenly interested to hear what those on the Treasury Bench will do to support capital investment, particularly in manufacturing businesses. We hope that in the forthcoming autumn statement the Government will give some support to our great manufacturers in Lancashire.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; it is critical that we maintain capital investment, use that money efficiently, focus on outputs and outcomes, and ensure that we set the conditions for growth in the economy.

Cost of Energy: Support for Families

3. What recent steps his Department has taken to support families with the cost of energy bills. (902246)

The Government have taken decisive action to support millions of households with the energy price guarantee, which caps the cost of energy at £2,500 for the average household. We are also spending £37 billion to support millions of low-income households.

Will my right hon. Friend tell me what the average household energy bill would have been if the Government had not intervened to help hard-working families across Britain?

I thank my hon. Friend for his informative question, because it allows me to say that with the energy price guarantee at £2,500, the average saving for consumers across the country—including his constituents in Leigh, for whom he is a formidable advocate—is £700.

I have received correspondence from park home residents about the £400 of support with their bills. I recognise and welcome the measures to limit prices, but these households are seeing their electricity bills go up alongside the cost of their heating oil or gas bottles. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that his Department and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are working together to get support to park home residents before the end of the year?

I, too, have park home residents in my constituency. It is very important that we treat them fairly and give them the help that we are giving others, so we have set up the energy bills support scheme alternative funding as a way of helping them. It is designed to give them the equivalent of the £400 that we are giving to people with more normal energy consumption patterns. I will write to my hon. Friend with more details.

BBC Radio 4 erroneously claimed this morning that energy payments to consumers in Northern Ireland would be held up because of the non-operation of the Assembly as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol. Ministers have worked with the Minister for the Economy in Northern Ireland and have made commitments that payments will be made before Christmas, but some senior civil servants seem to be seeking to use non-payment as a lever to get the Assembly back into operation. Will the Chancellor confirm, first, that money is available for the package; secondly, that the energy companies are ready to deliver it; and thirdly, that the Government will keep their commitment to ensure that payments are made before Christmas? Will he also investigate whether civil servants are interfering in the political process in Northern Ireland?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely determined to ensure that support gets out to everyone in the United Kingdom as quickly as possible this Christmas. I am absolutely not aware of any delay of the kind that he suggests, but I will happily make inquiries to make sure of that.

The cold weather payment is a lifeline for those on low incomes, but the current £25 rate was set in 2008. Today, it should be worth £37. Will the Chancellor collaborate with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and look into updating the figure in the light of the energy crisis?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I have had extensive discussions with our excellent new Work and Pensions Secretary about how we support people on low incomes—precisely the vulnerable people that he is talking about. He will have to wait until Thursday for the details of our plan, but we have said that, in a very difficult time, protecting the most vulnerable will be our top priority.

Two years ago, in a video entitled “Rishi Explains: Green Home Grants”, the current Prime Minister enthusiastically took credit for the green homes grant scheme. Six months later, the scheme collapsed and £1 billion was cut from its budget. The truth is that we have the draughtiest homes in Europe, but when it comes to insulating homes, the Government are nowhere to be seen. If the Government had followed our plan last year, 2 million of the coldest homes could already have been upgraded, saving households more than £2 billion on energy bills this year alone. Home insulation should be a no-brainer. Will the Chancellor explain why the Government will not follow Labour’s plans and get on with it?

There are all sorts of bigger reasons why we do not want to follow Labour’s plans, not least because they would bankrupt the economy. On the scheme to help people to insulate their homes, the picture that the hon. Gentleman presents is not correct. We are spending billions of pounds to help hundreds of thousands of families up and down the country to insulate their homes. We completely recognise that that is a vital part of our long-term energy policy.

I welcome this latest Chancellor to his place. Many of our constituents, such as my constituent Angela, have seen their bills double. Angela’s gas bill has gone up from £130 to £260 a month. She lives in a tiny, two-bedroom flat on carer’s allowance and personal independence payment, with a son who has a disability, and she simply cannot afford these bills. Cornwall Insight has estimated that come March, when the energy support ends, the price cap will rise to £3,700. There has been talk of targeting support after that, but National Energy Action has pointed out the risk that many people who are already suffering in fuel poverty will be excluded. What reassurance can he give people out there whose bills are already unaffordable about what will happen in March?

I want to reassure the hon. Lady. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury spoke to John Swinney, the Scottish Finance Minister, yesterday. We are thinking very carefully about all these issues, but to correct any misunderstanding, let me add that the energy price support that we give to families will not end next April, and I will announce on Thursday what that support will be.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

4. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to reduce red tape for small and medium-sized enterprises. (902247)

7. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to reduce red tape for small and medium-sized enterprises. (902252)

11. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to reduce red tape for small and medium-sized enterprises. (902256)

12. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to reduce red tape for small and medium-sized enterprises. (902257)

The Government are rightly reducing the burden of regulation for tens of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises. Just a month ago, the presumption of exemption when Departments make regulations was extended from businesses with fewer than 50 employees to those with fewer than 500, and we expect 40,000 SMEs to benefit from that.

People in the Stroud district are looking for ways to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, but a constituent has raised with me the difficulty of securing finance for products such as solar photovoltaic and batteries. Will my hon. Friend agree to ensure that the Government work with me in looking into whether the Consumer Credit Act 1974 constitutes a barrier to banks providing finance for renewable energy solutions, and whether changes could be made to the Act to assist consumers and businesses without a cost to the taxpayer?

My hon. Friend regularly champions the cause of her constituents with Ministers. The Government are committed to reforming the Consumer Credit Act, recognising the need for modernisation of this regulation. I hope that such reform can support the vital investment needed to improve the sustainability of homes in her constituency and across the UK.

As a former small business owner in the financial services sector, I know all too well how red tape and disproportionate regulation hamper competitors in the industry, often to the detriment of consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable. The Financial Services and Markets Bill presents a great opportunity to ensure that our world-leading insurance and financial services industry remains globally competitive. Can the Minister confirm that he will take all possible steps to ensure that the Bill delivers to its full potential, with regulators being held more accountable for their decisions?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As he knows, the Government are committed to effective, efficient and proportionate regulation. He has advocated a number of amendments to that Bill, and I am giving them due consideration.

A common concern for small business people I speak to, in Watford and beyond, is cash flow, which has a heavy impact on organisations, for instance when Governments make late payments. May I ask the Government to ensure that the announcement to be made this week sends the clear message that all Departments and local government bodies follow the prompt payment policy robustly and, whenever possible, encourage businesses to follow the prompt payment code, so that SMEs can be paid quickly and fully and do not suffer in the efforts to make efficiencies and savings?

I know that my colleagues will join me in paying tribute to my hon. Friend for the time that he spends helping small businesses. As he says, the Government must lead by example on prompt payment. They are committed to paying 90% of valid invoices within five days and 100% within 30 days, which is absolutely right, and the Cabinet Office’s Procurement Bill will ensure that that happens throughout the public sector.

I recently attended a meeting with business leaders in Clacton who worry about being hamstrung on the global stage. We are going to be one of the highest payers of corporation tax anywhere. Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite recent financial upheavals, we must maintain our focus on growth and support our businesses, both large and small, by keeping a firm lid on corporation tax?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are on the side of small businesses and fiscal responsibly, and the introduction of the small profits rate will help the businesses that he talks about.

When the Government cut the red tape and open the box, they will find 2,400 pieces of retained EU law, so what are they going to do to help small businesses navigate all the legislation that is going to drop on them at the end of next year?

I welcome the hon. Lady’s conversion to the cause of easing the red tape that is buried within EU law. It is this Government’s objective to use our new-found freedoms to create regulations that are appropriate for the businesses of this country and that will help us to grow and deliver the prosperity we need for public services.

Some of our best SMEs are farmers and my constituency is blessed with many farms. Farmers regularly tell me that the duplication of forms is driving up prices and that pressures around energy are increasing food prices, so can the Minister set out what more meaningful support he will be giving to farmers in my constituency and across the United Kingdom? At the minute, the Government are found wanting.

Representing a rural constituency myself, I am familiar with the challenges to our food producers that the hon. Member talks about. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs writes to him setting out what we are doing to ensure that we continue to have security of food supply in this country.

High street SMEs keep telling me how unfair the current business rate system is, and of course Labour agrees, so as we enter a Conservative recession, will the Chancellor follow Labour’s lead by lifting the small business rate relief for 300,000 businesses to give our high street businesses the boost they need?

The Government have committed to review business rates, but it would be wrong for me to pre-empt the outcome of that review here today.

Following the mini-Budget, the former Chancellor promised to write to me about energy bill support for a small business in my constituency. That response has yet to materialise. Will the Chancellor please look into this and provide a response that I can share with my business, Equi’s Ice Cream?

Autumn Statement: Financial Support for Local Councils

5. If he will bring forward measures in his autumn statement to increase financial support for local councils. (902249)

The Government are committed to ensuring that local authorities are able to deliver vital public services. At the spending review last year, we provided councils with the largest annual increases in core funding in over a decade, and the Chancellor will set out further information on the Government’s fiscal approach at the autumn statement on Thursday.

If we are ever to have a sustainable set of council services, we have to move money upstream into services that can help us tackle rising demand. That is the non-statutory stuff—prevention services in communities, such as children’s services or youth centres, for example—but when budgets are tight, those non-statutory services are often the first to go, which removes councils’ ability to intervene and manage demand. With that in mind, what can my right hon. Friend do to support councils by ensuring that we take a long-term approach to managing those public services rather than adopting counter-productive plans based only on short-term budget pressures?

First, I would like to thank my hon. Friend for the four-page letter that he sent to the Secretary of State, which I have studied carefully. He makes some sensible suggestions and recognises the dynamics of different pots being used effectively within local government, and as a local authority leader himself, he is obviously on the frontline addressing these budgets. In last year’s spending review we put money into supporting families and family hubs, and provided £500 million of “start for life” investment, but he makes a sensible point and on Thursday he will see how we are going to make that money work.

My local authority of Hackney has suffered cuts of nearly 50% over the last decade or so, but it nevertheless delivers efficient public services. Money given to good local authorities can be more cost-effective and better value for money for the taxpayer, so will the Minister consider that as the Chancellor approaches Thursday?

Absolutely, I will. Of course, it is not just about the cash settlement; it is about the interaction with other pots of money that are being spent, particularly in the health service, which is at the top of my mind and the Chancellor’s mind as we concentrate on what to do on Thursday.

Affordability of Housing: First-time Buyers

The Government are committed to helping as many first-time buyers on to the housing ladder as possible. We are investing £11.5 billion in building more of the affordable homes that the country needs. First-time buyers can access first-time buyer’s relief for stamp duty land tax, which means that 90% of first-time buyers need pay no stamp duty at all.

For so many younger people, even those on really good wages, the idea of owning their own house is now a pipe dream. We have 1 million more people in private rented accommodation and, since 2010, 800,000 fewer under-45 households own their own home. What is it about 12 years of Conservative government that has been so brutal for young people with ambitions to own their own home?

The Government are very conscious and very supportive of people’s desire to own their own home, which is why we have made so many interventions on affordability. Underlying that is the strength of the economy, which offers great employment prospects for those who seek to work hard, to save and, ultimately, to purchase their own home. We are on their side.

The consequences of September’s disastrous mini-Budget continue to be felt, as we will see in the autumn statement on Thursday—the third Budget statement in two months from the fourth Chancellor since the summer, presided over by the fifth Prime Minister in six years. Whatever they represent, it is certainly not stability.

Mortgage rates are still well above what they were before the mini-Budget. I have a constituent who is a first-time buyer, and he is facing a £200-a-month increase on his mortgage quote compared with before the mini-Budget. Why should my constituent, and thousands like him, pay the price in their mortgage payments for the economic damage caused by the Government’s recklessness?

The right hon. Gentleman does this House and his constituents a great disservice with that characterisation, which did not mention once the tragedy of the events caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the fact that we are coming off the back of an extraordinary intervention to protect this country, jobs and businesses from covid. In the future, when he characterises the economy, he owes it to all of us to be more proportionate.

I know that, after 12 years, the Government quite like stealing our ideas, such as the windfall tax and the energy price freeze, so let me offer a suggestion. High deposit demands, increased unaffordability due to price rises and, now, rising mortgage rates all mean it is increasingly difficult for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder, so will the Government consider Labour’s proposal for a mortgage guarantee scheme, as operates in countries such as Canada, to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder and to protect them from negative equity in times of market turbulence? Would that not be a practical idea to stop people being trapped in the private rented sector and to help them buy a home of their own?

Not only is that a good idea, it is a Conservative idea that we have already introduced. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has belatedly latched on to it.

With interest rates rising around the world, many others countries are considering more imaginative ways of enabling those with mortgages to continue to pay. Will my hon. Friend look at the schemes operating in the United States that allow lenders to extend the duration of a mortgage to allow payments to remain on an even keel and, therefore, to remain more affordable for hard-pressed households?

Yes, I will do that. My right hon. Friend is right to point to the fact that mortgage rates have been rising throughout the world. This Government will always be on the side of trying to protect people with mortgages. Lenders are responsible and are willing to extend. The advice is that people should always speak to their lender if they have difficulties. I will certainly look at the case he mentions.

Economic Stability

Inflation is the enemy of stability and this Government have acted decisively to bear down on it, including through the energy price guarantee, which will take up to 5% off the headline rate.

I was very grateful for the Chancellor’s time last week when he listened to feedback from businesses in Milton Keynes about the economic situation and the situation they are in. As well as support for households, businesses, schools and councils, the main thing that came through all the things I managed to feed back to him last week was the need for certainty so that businesses can invest, forecast and plan. Will the package that he announces on Thursday contain a long enough period so that businesses can put that planning and investment into our economy, and we can grow our way to prosperity?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; having run a business myself, I know that that certainty and stability is what gives the confidence to invest. I want to reassure him that what I talk about on Thursday will include our plan for growth over the next five years as well as our plan for stability. Both matter, but in the end, as Conservative Members know, wealth is not created by Governments—it is created by businesses.

I know that my right hon. Friend is working intensively to ensure that the United Kingdom can meet its current spending obligations, but can he confirm that the same prudence extends to our national debt? Throughout the summer, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said repeatedly that we cannot allow debt to spiral and we cannot burden future generations with further debt. Does my right hon. Friend share the Prime Minister’s commitment and will he use his statement on Thursday to set out a pathway to debt reduction?

My hon. Friend will know that Margaret Thatcher said that there is nothing moral about spending money you do not have, precisely because of what my hon. Friend says: it passes the burden on to future generations to pay it back. Currently, our debt to GDP ratio is about 98% and we are spending debt interest of £22 billion more in the year to date than at the same time last year—that is more than the entire budget of the Home Office. So I absolutely agree with her.

Our growth rate in the 12 years since 2010 has been just 1.4%, which is lower than the OECD average, and behind that of the USA, Canada and Germany. The public should have an answer to this: why does the Chancellor think that is?

What the public know is that unemployment is the lowest for nearly half a century under a Conservative Government.

Energy inflation and food inflation are already making the finances of schools and local authorities almost unsustainable, with many in real fear of going bust in the next few months. May I urge the Chancellor, as he is thinking about Thursday, not to push this all down on to council tax, because many of the poorest areas of the country have the highest level of need and the fewest people who can afford to make additional contributions? So it would be entirely counterproductive to do that, and the ratchet effect could make local authorities even more unsustainable.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. It is going to be a very difficult announcement on Thursday, because we are going to be asking everyone to contribute more. But we will be asking people who have more to contribute even more, and that will be reflected in our decisions on council tax and every other tax as well.

I was encouraged by the Economic Secretary’s answer to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) about mortgages. I know that the Chancellor believes that the restoration of economic stability is essential for mortgages to come under control in the future, but will he confirm that he will bring in imaginative plans to protect people who took out mortgages in good faith and now find them unaffordable?

I can absolutely give my right hon. Friend that confirmation. Indeed, I intend to meet a group of lenders later this month to discuss that very issue.

I think people understand the difficult choices that they and their Chancellor face come Thursday, but will the Chancellor ensure that the small and medium-sized enterprises across the United Kingdom that provide the backbone of our economy and employment opportunities are not forgotten?

I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that undertaking. We must remember that, for those businesses, very often the most insidious taxes are those that they have to pay before making any kind of profit, because those are the taxes that can make them go under. As the Conservative party—the party of small business—we will think very hard about their needs.

Governments do not create wealth, says the Chancellor. Well, this Government certainly do not, nor did any of their predecessors.

Can the Chancellor tell us at what point in his predecessor’s so-called plan for growth did he realise that it was a recipe for economic disaster? If, like everyone on the Opposition Benches, he realised that before his predecessor had sat down, why did it take him so long to speak up about it?

I did actually reverse most of those measures within three days of becoming Chancellor, so, among my many failings, the one thing I cannot be accused of doing is being slow to change things.

As I understand it, the Chancellor is basing his fiscal strategy on Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, but does he agree that the only thing we know for certain about those forecasts is that they are wrong?

We know that all economic forecasts are inaccurate, but that does not mean that it is better not to have a forecast than to have one. In defence of the OBR, I would say that its forecasts are more accurate than the Government forecast that we used to use before it.

HMRC Mileage Allowance Rates

10. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of reviewing HMRC mileage allowance rates to promote retention and recruitment in the public sector. (902255)

The Government keep the approved mileage allowance payment rate under review. As the rate is set using an average, it is more appropriate for some drivers than for others. Employers, including public sector employers, can agree to reimburse a different amount that better reflects their employee’s circumstances.

Petrol costs are up by a third since January, but mileage rates for keyworkers have now been frozen for a decade. That means, for example, that midwives attending home births, social workers safeguarding vulnerable children and palliative nurses providing end-of-life care cannot afford in many cases the petrol they need to do their jobs. Will the Minister look to increase the mileage allowance payment rates?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I think we are all conscious of the general increase in costs faced by keyworkers and all our workers, but let me make this point about the specific HMRC-approved mileage allowance payments rate. He will appreciate that, ultimately, it is there as an administrative convenience for both employers and employees. The employer can choose to pay more, though of course they would have to check the tax impact with the employee. We do sympathise about the cost of fuel, but that is why we took that crucial measure in the spring statement to cut the rate of duty on petrol and diesel by 5p a litre for 12 months. That is worth £2.4 billion for everyone who uses an internal combustion engine, whether in the public or the private sector.

I am sure that I am not the only Member to be concerned that, as MPs, we get considerably more than care workers doing domiciliary care visits. Can we try to even that out, so that some of the lowest-paid people in the public sector get a decent allowance?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. In my capacity as a constituency MP, I recently met with a domiciliary care company, and it is clear that this cost of running its vehicles is significant. I repeat the point that these approved mileage allowance payments are really there as an administrative convenience, so that employers can support their staff. Employers can pay more, but, obviously, there may be tax implications. The crucial point is that we have cut the tax on both petrol and diesel, and that tax cut was significant. It was only the second time in 20 years that we cut both the main rates of petrol and diesel.

Energy Profits Levy

The energy profits levy was introduced from 26 May in response to sharp increases in oil and gas prices and to help fund cost of living support for UK households. It is an additional 25% surcharge on UK oil and gas profits. The Government have calculated that they expect the levy to raise more than £7 billion this financial year. All taxes are kept under review at all times.

Households and businesses are being crippled by energy costs, with support non-existent in the case of the Northern Ireland energy scheme. At the same time, Shell has reported quarterly profits of £8.2 billion and BP of more than £7 billion, but, under current rules, Shell is not expected to pay any windfall taxes in this year. It is encouraging that there is word that the Government are intending to extend the scope of the windfall tax, and it is not before time. Undoubtedly, there are difficult financial decisions to be taken, but this is not one of them. When even Shell is saying that this tax should be embraced, we know that the policy is in the wrong place. Will the Chancellor commit to increasing the scope of the levy and to closing loopholes on timing, share buybacks and the investment allowances that allow tax to be avoided by diverting profit into polluting and unsustainable fuels?

To be clear, the levy is an additional 25% surcharge on UK oil and gas profits on top of the existing 40% headline rate of tax, taking the combined rate of tax on those profits to 65%. The hon. Lady is right that the levy contributes to the support that will be going out to Northern Ireland; it will come in a month later, but will be backdated to 1 October, and it will include businesses as well as households.

Floating Offshore Wind

14. What fiscal steps he plans to take with Cabinet colleagues to support the development of floating offshore wind. (902259)

21. What fiscal steps the Government is taking to support the development of floating offshore wind. (902267)

We are committed to developing floating offshore wind to support our energy security and net zero ambitions. The contracts for difference scheme has already supported the first-of-its-kind TwinHub project off the coast of Cornwall, which will deliver enough energy to power 45,000 homes. The floating offshore wind demonstration programme provided £31 million in grant funding to support many other new innovative projects.

Floating offshore wind has the potential to transform the economy and jobs market in my Aberavon constituency and across south Wales, but it will only happen if floating offshore wind substructures and other components are manufactured and assembled locally. There are two concerns: first, the Crown Estate is putting in place leasing criteria that seem to be about the highest bidder rather than maximising local value and content, and secondly, there are rumours flying around that the Government may be cancelling the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme, which will be fundamental to facilitating the whole programme. Will the Minister confirm that he will urge Crown Estates to maximise local content in the criteria and that the Government are 100% committed to the FLOWMIS programme?

The hon. Gentleman is a staunch campaigner for his constituency’s ability to take advantage of this exciting new technology, and I pay tribute to him for that. As he knows, the Crown Estate works independently to manage the seabed and has an important role in the deployment of floating offshore wind. Its approach for the 4 GW leasing opportunity in the Celtic sea is focused on ensuring the development of this new technology market in the UK as quickly as possible. But, to be clear—cutting to his point about content—the Crown Estate has announced that for the first time it is reforming the tender process to consider supply chain plans, sending a clear signal to the market that UK content is important.

Many renewable energy projects are limited by a lack of grid capacity. We have more wind farms ready for investment in the coming decade than the rest of the world, but the grid is not ready. For future offshore wind projects, who will be paying for the grid connections?

This issue has certainly captured the imagination in East Anglia, where the hon. Lady may be aware that there are certain proposals to bring forward improvements in the grid, although that is ultimately the responsibility of National Grid. We need to address the grid, but I hope she will agree that the country has already made enormous progress in increasing capacity from offshore wind. She may be aware that in 2011 renewables made up just 9% of our electricity; that figure is now over 40%.

Floating offshore wind is emerging as a major new industry, both globally and for us in the UK, in places such as the Celtic sea. The key question for us is how much of the real economic value of that new industry stays here in the UK. To that end, I encourage my hon. Friend to meet Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers and the Crown Estate, to ensure that the leasing rounds are properly structured and that the contracts for difference process and other policy tools, such as the FLOWMIS port funding and the freeport policy hopefully coming to south Wales, are all properly aligned to deliver British content.

I repeat the point I made to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) about content. I hope that addresses some of my right hon. Friend’s concerns, but I am more than happy to meet him first and then feed back to other Ministers and see what more we can do. He is absolutely right that this is an extraordinarily positive opportunity and, if we seize it, it will deliver for parts of our country such as his constituency.

The BP Mona wind farm, 20 miles off the coast of Anglesey, will generate 1.5 GW of electricity and provide more than 1,500 construction jobs and £3.5 billion of investment in an area desperately in need of good-quality jobs. Will the Minister urge his colleagues in the Senedd to invest in the Holyhead breakwater so that BP Mona can move the project forward, and will he confirm that investment in Holyhead port is the responsibility of the Welsh Government, not the UK Government?

I cannot think of a colleague who champions energy investment in their constituency quite as much as my hon. Friend. I can confirm that the port of Holyhead is a very important part of the wider transport and economic infrastructure of the UK. I know that the Minister for Aviation, Maritime and Security has written to her and specified quite clearly whose responsibility that is, and she is absolutely correct.

The Government allow offshore wind but are still banning onshore wind. Ending the ban would give us a vital tool to reach net zero, make Britain a clean energy superpower, and open up new investment and growth opportunities. Keeping the onshore wind ban will make energy bills £16 billion higher between now and 2030. Why on earth are Ministers undermining green growth and cheaper energy by maintaining the self-defeating ban on onshore wind?

The Government are committed to delivering cheaper, cleaner and more secure power. That is why we included onshore wind in the latest auction round for contracts for difference, which have delivered a 50% technology cost reduction since 2015. The Government recognise the range of community views on onshore wind, and it is important that we strike the right balance between community interests and securing a clean, green energy system for the future. That is why we have committed to consulting on developing local partnerships for supportive communities in England who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure.

Topical Questions

May I start again and say that, subject to your agreement, Mr Speaker, I may be talking for rather a long time on Thursday, so I will be brief today? I will just say that, despite the difficulty of the package I will be announcing, I will sadly not be drinking any whisky as I do so.

I thank the Chancellor for the work he is doing and congratulate him on his new post. We hope that he lasts the week, or maybe the fortnight. The Government scandalously allowed organised criminals and fraudsters to take billions of pounds of public money through covid loan fraud as a result of the lack of proper checks. Estimates suggest that that has cost taxpayers £33 billion. Why should hardworking people pay for the Prime Minister’s fraud failures when he was Chancellor, and for the mini-Budget fiasco of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), who crashed the—

Of course, there are lessons to be learned about the way those schemes were administered, but I am very proud that unemployment remains at a 50-year low because of the decisions that the Prime Minister took on the furlough scheme and Government-backed loans. That was the right thing to do.

I regularly visit small businesses and entrepreneurs across my constituency of Bexleyheath and Crayford. They are the backbone of our local economy, but like families, they have been badly hit by the cost of living. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that this Government will do all they can to help small businesses across the country to thrive?

That is what Conservatives are all about so I am happy to give him that assurance. It is not just words; it is action: the halving of business rates for most retail, hospitality and leisure businesses; the freezing of the multiplier on business rates; the furlough scheme; the Government-backed loans and the energy price support that we are giving businesses. All that is because this Government back business.

Today’s numbers show that real wages are down £1,000 a year. The Chancellor himself has admitted that the NHS is on the brink of collapse, and he is preparing for more stealth taxes on working people later this week. Getting our economy firing on all cylinders is essential for fixing this mess, so will the Chancellor tell the House where the UK is projected to finish in OECD growth rates over the next year?

May I say what a pleasure it is to do my first questions session with the right hon. Lady? I will very happily tell her about the international situation. Inflation is higher in Germany, the Netherlands, the eurozone and Italy. Our growth forecasts are falling less than the forecasts in Germany. Interest rates since the pandemic have gone up less here than in America, Canada and New Zealand.

“Despite what some…suggest, the recession has not been restricted to the UK, nor did it begin here.”—[Official Report, 24 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 249.]

Those are not my words, but those of Alistair Darling in 2010. If the right hon. Lady wants to be the next Chancellor, she should listen to the last Labour Chancellor.

It would be nice if the Chancellor tried to answer some of the questions.

Out of 38 advanced OECD economies, the UK is forecast to finish last. That is 38th out of 38. All industrialised economies have had to face covid and the consequences of Russia’s illegal war, yet our country is trailing behind because of Conservative choices and Conservative failure. There is an alternative. Why does not the Chancellor match Labour’s ambitions for British industries in hydrogen, insulation, carbon capture, solar, nuclear and wind power to create new jobs here in Britain?

We will have many exchanges, so I ask the hon. Lady, when she picks a statistic about next year’s growth, not to do so too selectively because this year, we have the fastest growth in the G7. Since 2010, we have had the third highest growth rate in the G7, and we have the lowest unemployment for more than 40 years. That is because Conservatives take the difficult decisions that are necessary to make our economy thrive.

T4. Given that we have an energy crisis, will the Government allow onshore wind where communities want it, require built-in photovoltaics, where they will work, on new homes, and allow solar farms on 3b land? (902284)

Further to my previous answer, the Government are serious about delivering cheaper, cleaner and more secure power. That is why we included onshore wind and solar in the latest contracts for difference auction round, and we will include them in future rounds. The Government recognise the range of community views on onshore wind and the need the prioritise our most productive farmland for food production. It is important that the Government strike the right balance between community interests, food security and securing a clean, green energy system for the future. That is why the planning system is designed to take account of those issues.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Austerity is a damaging Tory political choice, which is responsible for 330,000 excess deaths. A responsible and compassionate Government would explore all options to avoid it. Will the Chancellor consider taxing share buy-backs, as the US and Canada have done? The Institute for Public Policy Research and Common Wealth have pointed out that oil and gas, financial services and other companies have funnelled their mega-profits into share buy-backs. Does the Chancellor agree that that is inexcusable when he wants to hike taxes on working people and slash public services?

The hon. Member had better listen to what we say on Thursday before she jumps to conclusions. We will approach the difficult situation that we face progressively. We will ask those who have more to give more. I advise her not to talk down the financial services and energy industries, which employ thousands of people in Scotland.

T6. As my right hon. Friend knows, Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine has driven up energy prices across the world. The Government were therefore right to support households throughout the country. What is the long-term plan to reduce our dependence on gas so that taxpayers do not have to subsidise energy bills? (902286)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the challenge of the past two years. Nationally, we are spending £140 billion more on energy. That is almost like supporting an entire second NHS. We have to have a long-term solution that is about energy independence and energy efficiency.

T2. The Chancellor will be aware of concerns about the adequacy of the £100 payment that the Government have proposed to support off-grid households with the cost of their heating. It is equally concerning that we still await details of when and how it will be paid, as well as the support that will be made available to off-grid businesses. When will the Government publish that information? (902282)

Like the hon. Gentleman, I represent a rural constituency, where probably the majority of households use heating oil. As he knows, the alternative fuel payment will ensure that all households that do not benefit from the energy price guarantee receive support for the cost of the fuel they use. We are currently consulting the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the timing and delivery mechanism for the alternative fuel payment. We are committed to delivering it this winter.

T10. FairFuelUK’s latest survey of 17,000 motorists and hauliers shows that they continue to be punished by crippling and needlessly high fuel taxation, from which the Treasury has benefited to the tune of £3 billion. That is why I am backing the campaign of The Sun and FairFuelUK to keep the fuel duty cut at the very least. Does the Chancellor agree? (902290)

My hon. Friend, like The Sun newspaper, is a champion of motorists, hauliers and all those in his constituency who rely on petrol and diesel vehicles for their—[Interruption.] Opposition Members laugh, but my hon. Friend is standing up for his constituents and doing the right thing. He is absolutely right to highlight the huge tax cut we put in place in the spring statement, worth £2.4 billion, through 5p a litre off the duty rate on petrol and diesel for 12 months. Of course, I cannot make fiscal decisions at the Dispatch Box, but we do keep these matters under review.

T5.   Earlier this year, Bradford submitted a levelling-up fund bid—the only bid developed from the grassroots up by local community groups—to build three new community-led health centres that would deliver transformational benefits for Bradford and act to reverse the crippling health inequalities that we face. Ahead of the announcement on Thursday, does the Chancellor see that if he does not back grassroots, community-led transformational projects like this, it is clear that the Government’s levelling-up agenda is truly dead? (902285)

The Government are completely committed to levelling up. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a second round of bids for the levelling-up fund. The results will be announced in due course, but he has made a very effective representation on behalf of his constituents and local authority.

As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on personal banking and fairer financial services, I have been in protracted correspondence with the Financial Conduct Authority about the Blackmore Bond scandal. Despite receiving more than 30 complaints and a whistleblower producing evidence, the FCA refused to investigate. I realise that it predates my hon. Friend’s appointment, but will he investigate this and force the FCA to take action?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this case. It was, sadly, outside the FCA perimeter, but I would be happy to meet him, because I understand that it raises important issues for him and his constituents.

T7. It is not just individual mortgage payers who are impacted by increasing borrowing costs; that is a particular problem for housing associations such as Parkhead Housing Association, which I spoke to this morning. Previously, housing associations were able to borrow at fixed rates of 25 and 30 years, but that has been reduced. Would the Chancellor be willing to meet me, to look at how we can pursue this with lenders, to ensure that we do not stifle competition when it comes to building housing association properties? (902287)

We are looking carefully at that issue, and I would be happy for the hon. Gentleman to meet one of my Ministers.

I welcomed the Chancellor’s predecessor to Rother Valley in the summer, to show him Dinnington high street and the money that was needed to upgrade it. He agreed to meet me further about levelling up. Will the Chancellor come to Rother Valley and Dinnington high street to see the levelling-up fund money that we need when the bid is in, and will he look kindly on our bid and make sure the whole of Rother Valley is levelled up?

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s outstanding bid, and I would be happy to visit him to discuss the needs of his community and all the work he has done over the last couple of years to stand up for his constituents and secure investment in his community.

T8.   My constituent registered with a regulated firm and invested in the financial product that an FCA-regulated broker recommended. My constituent and her father both lost money on the fraudulent product that the broker recommended. Does the Minister agree that the FCA should step in and support victims of scams, and will he empower and instruct the FCA and other regulators to be more aggressive in their support of the defrauded? (902288)

I will happily meet the hon. Member to understand more details of the case. It is important that the FCA provides protection for consumers. That is one of the objectives of the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

OnSide’s youth centres do an incredible job of transforming people’s lives, and I think young people in my constituency deserve that opportunity too. Will the Chancellor support my calls for the levelling-up fund to be spent on that important project in West Bromwich?

I am aware of the outstanding bid from my hon. Friend’s constituency. I cannot reveal the outcome of the deliberations on that competitive process, but I will be looking carefully at her bid and liaising with other Ministers on the outcome of that round.

T9. Last week, over 100,000 civil servants from the Public and Commercial Services Union voted to take industrial action following attacks on their jobs. For the first time ever, the Royal College of Nursing has voted to strike over pay. Lecturers, health workers, teachers, postal and transport workers—all people who aim to support this country—are suffering because of the cost of living crisis and the former Prime Minister’s £30 billion ideological rant. The autumn statement needs to show that working people are being listened to. Will it do that, or will it just punish them? (902289)

I believe it will do that, because the cost of living crisis is at the top of our minds. We recognise the hard work that public servants do in a whole range of sectors and, as I know, with my background, in the health service as well. We must tread a fine line, however, because if we give inflation-busting pay awards to people who may deserve them and may be working extremely hard, that will fuel further inflation. We need to get the right long-term solution that brings down the root cause of people’s anger, which is over-high inflation.

The Bedford to Cambridge section of East West Rail is rated “unachievable” by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and a “waste of taxpayers’ money” by the Business Secretary, and growth in the Ox-Cam arc does not depend on it. Can the Chancellor use the autumn statement to finally clear the uncertainty around this deeply flawed project?

I paid tribute to my hon. Friend’s huge business experience and his time at the Treasury on Second Reading of the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill. Perhaps we should both read the report that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) referred to earlier, because as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) knows, we strongly support the growth potential of the Ox-Cam arc. After all, that part of the country is internationally competitive, so it is the sort of place that we need to grow if we are to compete internationally.

Government advice to sit in the shade is not enough to protect our skin. Sunscreen products need to be more affordable. Will the Minister work with me and support my VAT Burn campaign to save the NHS money, keep more cash in our constituents’ pockets and help to protect our skin from melanoma and non-melanoma cancers?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Government received about £143 billion in the last financial year from value added tax, which helps to pay for the services that we all care about, such as the national health service, so strict restrictions have been placed on the goods that can be exempted from VAT. I understand her concerns, however, and I would be happy to meet her to discuss what other forms of support we can provide. For example, we can commend Tesco, which has taken the decision not to charge VAT on its products.

The noble Lord Berkeley in the other place has estimated that scrapping HS2 would save the British taxpayer £147 billion—more pessimistic estimates have the saving at £100 billion. With a day of difficult decisions coming up on Thursday, surely scrapping HS2 is an easy one?

My hon. Friend is consistent on this point. We are always keen to hear savings suggestions from colleagues, but to be clear, HS2 is a long-term investment that will bring our biggest cities closer together and boost productivity. It currently supports 29,000 jobs and will create 2,000 apprenticeships. Through better connecting the country, it will open up new employment and leisure opportunities for millions of people.

The Chancellor just mentioned my good friend Lord Alistair Darling. He should also look at the recent speech made in Huddersfield by another former Chancellor, Sir John Major. His analysis of what has happened to our economy since the Conservatives took over in 2010 is an absolute masterclass in what has gone wrong and what needs to be put right. Will the Chancellor read it and think about it before Thursday?

I always listen very carefully to anything that Sir John Major says. I know that he took difficult decisions that put the economy in excellent shape. The one thing that I do not want to do is bequeath it to a Labour Government.

As the Chancellor prepares for his autumn statement, will he remember the good voters of middle England—people who have rarely, if ever, been on benefits and who have worked all their lives for their mortgage and pension pot? They fear that more and more of them will be dragged into becoming higher rate taxpayers and that their pension pot will be attacked so that the state can get larger and more can be spent on those on benefits.

Absolutely. I say to my right hon. Friend that it is the good voters of middle England who want us to be a country that pays its way, that does not borrow at the expense of future generations, and that can be trusted when it comes to sound money. That is what we will deliver.

Skyrocketing inflation, much of it caused by calamities on the Government Benches, means that the Scottish Government’s annual budget is worth up to £900 million less than it was just a few weeks ago. When will the UK Government devolve more borrowing powers to Scotland, so we can give the extra, desperately needed assistance to those struggling the most in our country?

I spoke about such matters with Jon Swinney, in my second conversation with him since appointment three weeks ago, last evening. We discussed a range of matters, and I will always try to be as constructive as I can to find ways forward when the whole of the United Kingdom faces the inflationary scourge everywhere.

Given that we both agree on the need for a substantial increase in defence spending, does the Chancellor accept that any immediate, necessary freeze on it should not prejudice the goal of 3% of GDP in the medium term?

Let me just say to my right hon. Friend that he and I both agree on the vital responsibility of any Government to defend their shores and their peoples, and we are committed to doing what it takes to make sure we do that.

In a letter to the Chancellor last week, Lord Deben, the chair of the Climate Change Committee, said clearly that demand reduction is “now the biggest gap” in UK energy policy. Will Thursday’s autumn statement include an emergency investment of at least £3.6 billion over the course of this Parliament, so we can finally roll out the long-awaited and very overdue home insulation programme that this country needs?

Lord Deben speaks extremely wisely on environmental and climate change issues, and we would always take what he says with the utmost seriousness.