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Volume 611: debated on Wednesday 25 May 2016

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker—as always. The Prime Minister is attending the G7 in Japan, and I have been asked to reply on his behalf. This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House, I will have further such meetings later today.

I am sure Labour Members will disagree, but the first priority of any Government has to be the defence and security of our country, so will the Chancellor outline the steps this Government are taking to replace our Trident nuclear deterrent?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The first duty of the Government is to defend the country. For almost 70 years our independent nuclear deterrent has provided the ultimate insurance for our freedom. We will review our Trident deterrent, and bring forward votes in this House; we ask MPs from all sides of the House to support this vital commitment to our national security. When she stands up, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), representing the Labour party, should indicate that support today.

We look forward to the vote on Trident—he should get on with it.

Given the overnight news of the French authorities’ dawn raid on Google, investigating allegations of aggravated financial fraud and money laundering, does the Chancellor now regret calling his cosy little tax deal with the same company “good news” for the British taxpayer?

It is good news that we are collecting money in tax from companies that paid no tax when the Labour party was in office. The hon. Lady seems to forget that she was the Exchequer Secretary in the last Labour Government; perhaps she can tell us whether she ever raised the tax affairs of Google with the Inland Revenue at the time.

Obviously, the Chancellor has done a bit more research this time. I regard that as a compliment.

From that answer, I think the Chancellor is far too easily satisfied with his cosy little tax deal. I note that even the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) labelled that deal “derisory”. The British public think it is even worse. Despite all the rhetoric, on the Chancellor’s watch the tax gap has gone up, and his tax deal with the Swiss raised a fraction of the revenue that he boasted it would. The Office for Budget Responsibility has blamed the lack of resources in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, so why has he sacked 11,000 tax staff since 2010, and when is he going to give HMRC the resources it needs to do a proper job?

We increased resources for HMRC to tackle tax evasion and avoidance. We have introduced a diverted profits tax so that companies such as Google cannot shift their profits offshore anymore, and have made sure that banks pay a higher tax charge than they ever did under the last Labour Government. I come back to this question. The hon. Lady was a Treasury Minister. She stood at this Dispatch Box. She is asking me what we have done to tackle tax evasion and avoidance. When she was Exchequer Secretary, did she ever raise the tax affairs of Google? We should know that before she asks questions of this Government. [Interruption.]

Order. Members must calm themselves, and remain calm. Members on both sides should take their lead from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who always sits calmly and in a statesmanlike manner. That is the way to behave.

We all have a great deal of respect for the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). The Chancellor of the Exchequer will know that the Exchequer Secretary deals with taxes on vices, not on Google. I did my job in taxing vices when I was in the Treasury. The Chancellor will be judged on results. He has been in office for six years. Given that France is demanding 10 times more from Google than he is, the public will make their own judgment.

Labour is campaigning to ensure that the UK remains in the European Union because that is the best way to defend rights at work as well as jobs and prosperity, but the Conservative party is split right down the middle and is descending into vicious acrimony. Last week the Minister of State for Employment called for Brexit, so that there could be a bonfire of workers’ rights. Does the Chancellor agree with her, or does he agree with Len McCluskey that a vote to stay in the European Union is the best deal for Britain’s workers?

First, the hon. Lady has confirmed that when she was in the Treasury she asked absolutely no questions about the tax affairs of Google. As she knows—we agree on this—I think it is better that Britain remains in the European Union, so why not now have some consensus on other issues, such as an independent nuclear deterrent? Let us have a consensus on that, and on supporting, rather than disparaging, businesses. Let us have a consensus on not piling debts on the next generation, but on dealing with our deficit, and a consensus that the parties in this House should have a credible economic policy.

I think the Chancellor has just agreed with Len McCluskey.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary said this week that the Chancellor’s Brexit report should not be believed by anyone, and he branded the Chancellor “Pinocchio”, with his nose just getting longer and longer with every fib. Meanwhile, the general secretary of the TUC said that the Treasury report gives us

“half a million good reasons to stay in the European Union”.

Who does the Chancellor think that the public should listen to? His former Cabinet colleague, or the leader of Britain’s millions of trade unionists?

It is no great revelation that different Conservative MPs have different views on the European Union. That is why we are having a referendum, because this issue divides parties, families and friends, and we made a commitment in our manifesto that the British people would decide this question. If the hon. Lady wants to talk about divisions in parties, I observe that while she is sitting here, the leader of the Labour party is sitting at home, wondering whether to impeach the former leader of the Labour party for war crimes.

I am glad that the Chancellor agrees with Frances O’Grady, but it is a pity that he cannot get half his Back Benchers, and most of his own party, to agree with him. Given that the former Work and Pensions Secretary has just called the Prime Minister “disingenuous”, and that the former Tory Mayor of London has called him “demented”, I would not talk about Labour splits. The Chancellor should get his own House in order before he talks about us.

Following the Chancellor’s second omnishambles Budget earlier this year, I see that his approval ratings have collapsed by 80 points among his own party. Given that he seems to be following a similar career path, is it time that he turned to Michael Portillo for advice? [Interruption.]

Order. This question will be heard. Those prating away should cease doing so. It is stupid, and counterproductive.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Last week, the former would-be leader, Michael Portillo, said of the Queen’s Speech:

“After 23 years of careful thought about what they would like to do in power, and the answer is nothing…There is nothing they want to do with office or power…The government has nothing to do, nothing to say and thinks nothing.”

Even this “nothing” Queen’s Speech has caused a revolt on the Chancellor’s Back Benches, and forced yet another U-turn to avoid the first defeat of a Government on their legislative programme for 92 years. Does that tell us all we need to know about this Prime Minister and Chancellor? It seems that they cannot even get their Back Benchers to vote for nothing without a fight.

I will tell the hon. Lady what we have done in recent weeks: we have taken another million people out of tax; we have frozen fuel duty; we have cut business rates for small businesses; we have seen the deficit fall by another £16 billion; we have delivered a record number of jobs; and we have introduced a national living wage. That is what we have been up to. What has Labour been up to? She talks about U-turns. They have turned the Labour party from a party that gave Britain its nuclear deterrent to a party that wants to scrap it; from a party that created the academies programme but now wants to abolish all academies; and from a party that once courted business but now disparages it—the prawn cocktail offensive is just plain offensive these days. As a result, it has gone from a Labour party that won elections to a Labour party that is going to go on losing elections.

With 29 days to go until the most important decision this country has faced in a generation, we have before us a Government in utter chaos—split down the middle and at war with themselves. The stakes could not be higher, yet the Government are adrift at the mercy of their own rebel Back Benchers, unable to get their agenda through Parliament. Instead of providing the leadership the country needs, they are fighting a bitter proxy war over the leadership of their own party. I notice there is no “outer” here: all the Brexiteers have been banished from the Government Front Bench. [Interruption.] It is nice to see the Justice Secretary here. I think the Chancellor has put the rest of his Brexit colleagues in detention. Instead of providing the leadership the country needs, they are fighting a bitter proxy war over the leadership of their own party. Instead of focusing on the national interest, they are focusing on narrow self-interest. What we need is a Government who will do the best for Britain. What we have got is a Conservative party focused only on itself.

The hon. Lady talks about our parliamentary party. Let us look at her parliamentary party. They are like rats deserting a sinking ship. A shadow Health Minister wants to be the Mayor of Liverpool, the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) wants to the Mayor of Manchester, and the shadow Home Secretary wants to be the Mayor of both cities. When we said we were creating job opportunities we did not mean job opportunities for the whole shadow Cabinet. They are like a parliamentary party on day release when the hon. Lady is here, but they know the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) will be back and it is four more years of hard labour.

Today, we are voting on a Queen’s Speech that delivers economic security, protects our national security and enhances life chances for the most disadvantaged. It does not matter who stands at the Dispatch Box for Labour these days. They are dismantling our defences, they are wrecking our economy and they want to burden people with debt. In their own report published this week, “Labour’s Future”—surprisingly long—they say they are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the working people of Britain.

Q5. What a privilege it is to be called by you, Mr Speaker. If the remain team have their day on 24 June, I shall have to apply by email to Herr Juncker to ask a question. Airbus is a wonderful example of European co-operation —European, not EU—with fuselages built in France and Germany and wings built in this country. Planes cannot fly without wings. Our remaining inside or outside the EU will have no effect on this business, for, as the Chancellor knows, it is trade and the hard work of businessmen and businesswomen that creates jobs and prosperity, not politicians and bureaucrats. It is their job to nurture growth and enterprise—[Interruption.] (905066)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is their job to nurture and not to make threats to business, enterprise, jobs and aspiration?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that jobs and enterprise are created through the ingenuity of private businesses that we in the House should support and nurture.

Lachlan Brain is seven years old and attends the Gaelic medium primary school in Dingwall in the Scottish highlands. Next week, the Home Office—I see the Home Secretary briefing the Chancellor—plans to deport him and his family, despite the fact that he arrived as part of a Scottish Government initiative backed by the Home Office to attract people to live and work in the region. The case has been front-page news in Scotland and raised repeatedly in the House. What does he have to say to the Brain family and the community, which wants them to stay?

As I understand it, the family do not meet the immigration criteria, but the Home Secretary says she is very happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman on the details of the case.

I am sorry but this has been going on for weeks and that answer frankly is not good enough. Appeals have been made to the Home Secretary by the Scottish First Minister, the local MP, the local Member of the Scottish Parliament and the community, and it is wall to wall across the media of Scotland, yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer clearly knew nothing about it. The problem in the highlands of Scotland is not immigration but emigration. Even at this late stage, will the Chancellor, who knows nothing about it, speak to the Home Secretary and Prime Minister and get this sorted out?

As I said, the Home Secretary will write to the right hon. Gentleman with the details of the case, but may I make a suggestion to the Scottish National party? It now has substantial tax and enterprise powers, so if it wants to attract people to the highlands of Scotland, why does it not create an entrepreneurial Scotland that people want to move to from the rest of the UK in order to grow a business and have a successful life?

Q6. Why is the Chilcot report not being published before the EU referendum? Is it because the Prime Minister and the Chancellor do not want the public reminded, ahead of the EU referendum, of how the Government of the day and the establishment are prepared to produce dodgy dossiers, make things up and distort the facts to con the public into supporting something they otherwise would not? (905067)

No, it is because it is an independent report and the inquiry team decides when to produce it.

Q2. In the spirit of consensus, may I say that few things unite the House more than a concentration on the periodic reviews of the Boundary Commission, which are studied with fierce intensity and result in covetous eyes occasionally being cast on neighbouring constituencies? We note, however, that the electorates of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the City of Westminster have declined precipitously and against all logic. Does the Chancellor believe that the Prime Minister should be concerned about this? If so, what should he be doing? (905063)

I thought the hon. Gentleman was the Member of Parliament for Ealing North. The Boundary Commission is doing its work and drawing up boundaries independently—that is a good thing about our country—and we will see its initial proposals later this year, I think.

Q11. Will the Chancellor join me in congratulating Barnardo’s, the UK’s oldest and largest children’s charity, which this year celebrates 150 years of supporting and protecting vulnerable children? Does he agree that young people need support beyond the age of 18 to maximise their life chances and that the Government’s new care leavers covenant, which extends the duty of care to 25, is therefore a fitting way to build on Barnardo’s proud history of giving young people the best opportunities in life? (905072)

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that Barnardo’s is a brilliant charity and that we should all congratulate it on the work it does. We have a huge responsibility to people who are in the care of the state, which does not end when they are 18 years old. That is why we are announcing new measures in the Queen’s Speech to include support from a personal adviser, for example, until these people are 25 and to make sure that other bodies such as local authorities have a care for those people, bringing all the opportunities to their attention. This is part of the life chances strategy, which lies at the heart of this Queen’s Speech.

Q3. The Chancellor wanted a march of the makers, and today hundreds of steelworkers are marching to Parliament for their future and for their communities. Why do the Government back China’s bid for market economy status against the interests of British steelworkers? Why does this Chancellor block changes to the lesser duty tariff against the interests of British steelworkers? When will he set down an industrial strategy to put British steelworkers’ interests ahead of his own? (905064)

Our thoughts are, of course, with the steelmakers and their families at this very difficult time. [Interruption.] If we take a step back, we can all acknowledge that there is a global crisis in the steel industry, with tens of thousands of jobs lost across Europe alone and many tens of thousands beyond that. We are taking specific action today to help Tata, Port Talbot and related works across the country. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has been to India with the First Minister of Wales in a cross-party effort. Nationally, we have taken action to reduce energy charges on energy-intensive industries; we have taken action to ensure that there is more flexibility with emission regulations; we are doing everything we can to help this industry at a very difficult time, including making sure that there are tough tariffs on Chinese dumping. As a result of the tariffs introduced on rebar steel, those imports are down by over 90%.

Q12. Will the Chancellor confirm reports in the press today that former Labour Minister, Lord Sugar has joined the Government as our new enterprise tsar? Does he agree that this is a sign of people abandoning Labour for the prosperity, security and jobs offered by this Government? Will the Chancellor finally confirm that he has no new plans for a sugar tax? (905073)

I can confirm that we have hired Lord Sugar to advise on enterprise. He will bring his knowledge and expertise to that task. Apparently, Lord Sugar has told the Labour party, “You’re fired.”

Q4. I have a 14-year-old autistic constituent, who got on very well at primary school, but since moving to secondary school, its uncompromising one-size-fits-all approach has left him with a special school as his only option. What will the Chancellor do to make sure that when the independent expert group looking at initial teacher training reports back, Ministers will ensure that specific autism training forms part of their curriculum? (905065)

The hon. Lady raises an important issue, and I think she will receive a lot of sympathy from colleagues of all parties. The Education Secretary shares her concern and has personally raised the issue with the chair of the initial teacher training review, Stephen Munday. My right hon. Friend has stressed the importance of ensuring that teachers are properly trained to support young people with special educational needs and specifically autism. As a result, the chairman will include recommendations in the report on how core teacher training should cover special educational needs. The report will be published shortly.

Q15. My local clinical commissioning group is currently consulting on its appalling plans to downgrade A&E at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. Does the Chancellor agree with me and with thousands of “Hands Off HRI” campaigners, led by Karl Deitch, that all options should remain on the table and that a plan B must come forward to keep good-quality local health services? (905076)

My hon. Friend is a strong champion of his local area, and we all know that Huddersfield Royal Infirmary has been struggling with the private finance initiative contract that it signed under the last Labour Government. Any service changes must be made by the local NHS, and must be based on clear evidence that they will deliver better outcomes for patients. It is right for these decisions to be made by local clinicians rather than by politicians, but they must meet the four key tests that have been set out: they must demonstrate public and patient engagement, have the support of GP commissioners, be based on clinical evidence, and take account of patient choice. I expect the local NHS to consider all those options in reaching any decision.

Q7. The House of Commons Library estimates that 4.9 million UK citizens live or work in other countries, yet in my surgeries, week in, week out, I meet constituents from overseas who cannot obtain visas, residency or citizenship here. The whole of Scotland is outraged at the threat of deportation facing the Brain family. What, in the Chancellor’s view, is the difference between an economic migrant and an expat? (905068)

I think all the hon. Gentleman is demonstrating is that we do have border controls in this country, and that we do have immigration rules that need to be complied with. That is a very important aspect of the European Union’s Schengen area agreement, which we are not part of, and I think that it is part of the special status that we have in the European Union.

Will the Chancellor join me in welcoming the crew of HMS Duncan—the last and best of our Type 45 destroyers, which is currently moored in London for the commemorations of the battle of Jutland—some of whom are watching from the Gallery today? Will he also support the work that is being done by the all-party parliamentary group on the armed forces covenant to ensure that all our armed forces and their families have the very best housing that we can offer them?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in welcoming the crew of HMS Duncan, and in celebrating all that they do on behalf of this country to keep us safe and to represent Britain around the world. In return, we owe them a duty of care, and the armed forces covenant enshrines that duty. No such covenant existed before we came into Downing Street, and now that we are in Downing Street we are honouring our promises to Britain’s armed services and to the Royal Navy.

Q8. Not content with just trebling tuition fees, the Government want to raise them even higher. Why has the Chancellor changed his view since 2003, when he said that tuition fees were a tax on learning? (905069)

Back then, the Labour party was voting for tuition fees. The difference is this: we have learnt our lesson, and Labour Members have forgotten theirs. As a result, we have a credible higher education policy that is giving us the best universities in the world, a record number of students, and, crucially, a record number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds—which the Labour party said would never happen—and, in contrast, Labour Members have a completely incredible policy to abolish the tuition fees that they themselves introduced and create a £10 billion hole in the public finances. It is time that they were straight with students and made it clear that that is completely unaffordable, and that we go on funding our higher education system and asking graduates who are going to earn more, on average, than other taxpayers to contribute to their education.

St Albans and many other areas in the south and east value their green belt. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, 3 million people may come into this country if we remain in the European Union. Would the Chancellor like to suggest which bits of the green belt—about a quarter of a million acres—will be needed, and where they will be? We need to provide homes and infrastructure for those people.

We have made a clear commitment to protecting the green belt, and the planning laws that we have introduced, and propose to introduce, meet that commitment.

My hon. Friend and I disagree on European Union membership—and I have seen no particular evidence from the leave campaigners that immigration would fall; indeed, they seem to be telling some communities that they would let more people in—but let us at least agree on this. We will have a referendum, and, in the end, it will not be up to my hon. Friend or me to decide. It will be up to the British people.

Q9. No one should underestimate public support for the BBC. In the last week, more than 200,000 people have signed a petition about the removal of the recipes website. The Government may have been forced to pull back from some of their more extreme proposals, but there is still plenty to cause concern. Will the Chancellor agree to hold a debate and a vote on the Floor of the House, so that Members of Parliament can provide the parliamentary scrutiny that the charter renewal properly deserves? (905070)

We want a great BBC—a great public broadcaster—and we have agreed a deal with the BBC that it has welcomed. The specific issue that the hon. Lady raises was an operational decision by the BBC, not a decision taken by members of the Government. I have made the observation that we have a great national public broadcaster in the BBC but we do not want a great public newspaper in the form of the BBC. As newspapers increasingly move online, the BBC—as it has itself acknowledged—wants to be careful about what information it has on its website, so that we can also have a flourishing private press. I think that the BBC has got that balance right.

Will the Chancellor explain why the House of Commons Library and ONS figures for 2015 clearly show that although we export 44% of our goods and services within the single market, we run a disastrous loss or deficit on those exports of £68 billion per annum, up £9 billion since last year alone, in relation to the other 27 member states, whereas Germany runs a profit or surplus of a massive £82 billion in relation to those same 27 states? Is not that a bad deal?

We are a massive exporter of services; our services represent 80% of the British economy. We are home to one of the most successful car industries in Europe, and we export cars to the continent. We are also home to the world’s second largest aerospace industry and part of a European supply chain. That is why those leading businesses are in favour of our membership of the European Union. My hon. Friend and I disagree on this issue, but we stood together on a manifesto to have a referendum and to let the British people decide.

Q10. Headteachers and NHS and private sector employers in my constituency are telling me that they have few if any qualified applicants for a range of skilled roles, and that too many experienced staff are leaving. The single most common reason for this key worker crisis is the cost of rental and purchased housing in west London, which the Government’s housing policies will not address. Even the subsidies to buy— (905071)

Order. I am sorry to have to say to the hon. Lady that we now need one sentence with a question mark at the end of it, and it had better be a short one. Sorry, but we must press on.

Will the Chancellor acknowledge this recruitment and retention crisis and do something about it?

Of course, we have 25,000 more clinically trained staff in our national health service, but I completely agree with the hon. Lady that there is a challenge of housing in London. I met the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, earlier this week and we are going to see where we can agree on policies that will help to address that issue.

In my right hon. Friend’s enthusiasm to bludgeon the British voter into supporting a European Union that they do not really like, how can he justify planning to break the law? Is he aware that the Public Administration Committee has now published three legal opinions from Speaker’s Counsel—[Interruption.]

Order. I hope that this sentence is coming to an end and that there will be a question mark at the end of it. Very briefly!

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Public Administration Committee has now published three legal opinions from Speaker’s Counsel that make it perfectly clear that it is illegal for the Government to keep their pro-EU propaganda up on Government websites during the purdah period?

Of course the Government will comply with the law and the Government websites will comply with the purdah rules. We are confident that they do so. May I make a general observation? My hon. Friend and I have fought for this referendum and it is now taking place. There are huge issues at stake about Britain’s economy, Britain’s security and Britain’s place in the world, and we have perfectly honourable disagreements on those big issues. Let us debate the substance rather than the process, so that the British people can feel that they have had a range of opinions and can make their own minds up.

Q13. The care sector faces a crisis made worse by the Chancellor’s failure to fund increases in the minimum wage properly. The 2% social care precept does not cover all the costs, so the Local Government Association asked the Chancellor to bring forward £700 million of better care funding from 2019 to this year and next year to help with the increased costs. Will the Chancellor listen to local councils and will he fund his own minimum wage policy? (905074)

Of course, we always listen to local authorities and are in dialogue with them, but we have given them the power, which many have used, to apply a social care precept, which came in in April in many areas. At the same time, we have put more money into the better care fund, and we are therefore confident that social care is funded. However, I agree with the hon. Lady that more needs to be done to help the social care sector, and the key thing here will be integration with the national health service over coming years so that the service is much more seamless for our citizens.

At the Conservative party conference last year, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the future that we, the state, provide for children in care was shameful—the dole and an early grave or the streets. Yesterday, the Prison Reform Trust, of which I am a trustee, produced a report identifying that far too high a proportion of children in care come into contact with the criminal justice system. Will my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the Prime Minister ensure that policies are implemented right across Government to prevent unnecessary contact between children in care and the criminal justice system, so that those children can have a good future?

My right hon. and learned Friend speaks powerfully. We of course must have a care system that does the very best for children who find themselves in it. As I said in reply to an earlier question, the Queen’s Speech contains measures in that respect. The other thing that we are doing with my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor is reforming our prison system so that, yes, people are punished for crimes, but that they also have a chance to rehabilitate themselves. That is one of the social reforms of which I am proudest to be part.

Q14. A Southampton letting agency has recently been banned from trading for three years for not giving tenants their deposits back, using them for other purposes. Letting agencies are almost completely unregulated, and it is pot luck whether Southampton residents actually get a fair deal. Does the Chancellor intend to do anything about that? (905075)

We are looking at what we can do to make sure that people who rent have proper consumer protection, including protection from landlords who withhold deposits unreasonably.