House of Commons
Wednesday 31 October 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
My Department has no role in the allocation of any savings resulting from the reduction in MLA pay. The budget for the payment of salaries to MLAs is held by the Assembly Commission. Any savings would be returned to the central Consolidated Fund for redistribution within the Northern Ireland civil service, and their reallocation would be for that civil service to determine. I can also advise that the Secretary of State has today written to the Assembly Commission to bring the pay reduction into effect.
In their LGBT action plan, the Government allocated £4.5 million for an implementation fund that will be available to voluntary sector groups in England, but when I was in Northern Ireland recently, I met people in similar groups facing even greater challenges who have never received Government support from Stormont or Westminster. I have already asked the Secretary of State about that and I wrote to her on 7 September, and I have not had a reply. Will the Secretary of State consider supporting funding for these groups—if not from MLA pay, from another source?
I assume that the hon. Gentleman means from the allocation of the savings accrued, which renders it relevant to the question on the Order Paper?
Very good. Well done.
Thank you for clarifying that, Mr Speaker; it is much appreciated. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will receive a response from the Secretary of State very soon.
Any unspent money or savings would be returned to the central Consolidated Fund, for redistribution within the Northern Ireland civil service, and it is for civil servants to allocate as they feel appropriate.
Does the Minister agree that the pay reduction seems a bit unfair, because the vast majority of MLAs actually want to do their job; it is only a small percentage that are stopping the Assembly being reassembled?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the vast majority want to get on with doing their job; but we have to recognise that some of their duties have lessened, so we are making a reduction but recognising that they still have constituents to look after and are still voices within their communities.
I would be fascinated to know how much it has cost to pay the MLAs their full salary since the collapse of the Assembly and the Executive in January 2017. Is it £12 million, £13 million, £14 million? Does the Minister honestly believe that was money well spent, when our education budgets and our health budget in Northern Ireland are so overstretched?
I do not know what the precise sum is, but I fully appreciate and am happy to put on record the hon. Lady’s commitment to this issue, on which she has spoken regularly. When the talks collapsed, there was an element of good will and we hoped that the parties would return and form the Executive again. There has to be an element of good will, rather than instantly saying, “Right: we are making reductions.” We had that element of good will; we had to introduce legislation for the cuts, and we also had to have the review conducted by Trevor Reaney.
Last week, the Secretary of State said she wanted to see action on victims’ and survivors’ pensions. May I press the Minister, because legacy is a Northern Ireland Office responsibility? Will the Government pledge the considerable savings from MLA pay to those pensions and make good on the UK Government’s promise to the victims and survivors of the troubles?
As I said earlier, as far as any savings are concerned, the unspent money will be redistributed to the central Consolidated Fund for redistribution to the civil service, who can then reallocate. As far as legacy issues are concerned, the pension issue is actually a devolved matter.
The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill, which we debated last week, has now been taken through both Houses. It provides for a period in which an Executive can be formed at any time, allowing for time and space for talks to take place without an election having to be called. I continue to engage with the main parties to discuss the implementation of the Bill and next steps towards the restoration of devolution, and I have called a meeting for that purpose tomorrow, in Belfast. I am also continuing to engage with the Irish Government, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I will be in Dublin on Friday for a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Additionally, I am actively considering how and when external facilitation could play a constructive role in efforts to restore political dialogue. This will form part of my discussions with the parties. I am also extremely keen to support grassroots and civil society efforts to facilitate political dialogue following a productive meeting with Church leaders earlier this month.
I thank the Secretary of State for her response. As Conservatives and as Scottish Conservatives, we respect devolution—[Interruption]—unlike others. How best can we ensure that the people of Northern Ireland continue to have the ultimate say on what laws are passed on their behalf?
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend: as members of the Conservative and Unionist party, we know that devolution is the best way to strengthen our precious Union. That is why it is absolutely vital that decisions that are rightly devolved should be made by politicians elected by people in the nations and regions of our country, as appropriate under the devolution settlement.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the people of Northern Ireland deserve to have their devolved Administration restored so that their representatives can make crucial spending choices, such as on health and education?
My hon. Friend again makes an important point; we discussed it last week. The very best thing for the people of Northern Ireland is devolved Government—the people they elected representing them and making decisions on their behalf.
I welcome the legislation. How should it help to bring the Executive back together again in Northern Ireland?
The point of the legislation is that it provides the space and the time for the parties to come together and put the best conditions in place for those parties to come back around the table, do the right thing by the people who elected them, and form an Executive and get back into the Assembly.
In the continuing absence of devolved Government, the Secretary of State will be aware that a further 1,044 neurology patients have been recalled following the further revision of the notes of Dr Michael Watt in the Belfast trust area. That brings the total number of patients recalled to 3,544. Has the Secretary of State spoken to the Health Department in Northern Ireland about this issue, and what can she say today to provide assurance and relieve the anxiety and worry that many of these people will obviously have at the present time?
My Department’s officials and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), speak regularly to the permanent secretary and other officials in the Department of Health. I also meet the permanent secretary to discuss various matters, including those we discussed in terms of the Bill last week, which, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, will give civil servants the ability to make decisions, as they rightly should. But that is not a substitute for devolved Government, and we need to have Ministers in place to make important decisions, because these are devolved matters that should be dealt with by devolved Ministers.
I hear what the Secretary of State says, but these are people living with real anxiety and real worries at the present time, and she has an opportunity to do something about it now. Rather than wait, can she not say something to these people that will provide them with real hope that the inquiry will proceed quickly and that action will be taken to ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman, who as a constituency MP represents many people affected by this, cares deeply about this matter and wants to see action taken. I, too, want to see action taken, and I will be happy to discuss this with him separately in terms of what actually can be done under the devolution and constitutional arrangements in place.
If the Executive are not restored by the end of the year, will the Secretary of State use the powers she is about to get under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill to issue guidance to ensure that Northern Ireland gets a proper cancer strategy, since it is the only part of the UK that does not have one, and I am afraid that outcomes are reflecting that?
My hon. Friend, who served as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office and is Chair of the Select Committee, understands the devolution settlement and constitutional arrangements better than many people. He will know that it will be for Ministers to make the decision on the implementation of the cancer strategy, but clearly the guidance that accompanies the Bill will be issued after Royal Assent, and I would hope that civil servants will take the decisions that they can take within that guidance.
I think the House will want to recall that this is the 25th anniversary of the Greysteel massacre, and our thoughts go out to the victims and their families.
The Secretary of State makes the point that devolved matters should be dealt with by the Assembly, and she will recognise that social security is a devolved matter. She probably cannot tell the House how many people will lose as they transfer to universal credit, but what she can do is give guidance to civil servants saying that the roll-out will stop in Northern Ireland until there is an Assembly competent to make that decision.
I join the hon. Gentleman in marking the 25th anniversary of the Greysteel attack. It was a horrific and totally unjustified attack that killed eight and wounded a further 19, and 25 years on, we must not forget the sacrifices that were made or the huge progress that Northern Ireland has made since the Belfast agreement was signed 20 years ago.
The hon. Gentleman asks about welfare in Northern Ireland. Again, I refer him to the constitutional and devolution settlements. He knows how they operate; the guidance will be issued and civil servants will make appropriate decisions.
Last month, I travelled to the United States where I promoted Northern Ireland to politicians, business leaders and academia. I set out, as I regularly do, the fact that Northern Ireland is a great place to invest and do business, with much to offer, including a diverse and talented workforce.
As we leave the European Union, we clearly need to promote all parts of the United Kingdom and their fantastic trade potential. How does the Secretary of State intend to harness Northern Ireland’s potential, building on the success of the “Great” campaign, of which Northern Ireland is clearly an important part?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Great Britain and Northern Ireland truly are great, and the “Great” campaign helps to promote exporters from across the whole UK. It is complemented by UK Export Finance, which has provided nearly £33 million of support for exporters in Northern Ireland, resulting in more than £46 million-worth of overseas sales.
For business to export and grow, it needs adequate support. What actions will the Secretary of State to take to ensure that Northern Ireland’s businesses can benefit from some of the initiatives announced this week, including in relation to the high street?
The hon. Lady is a doughty campaigner for her constituents, and I know that she cares a great deal about ensuring that Northern Ireland is an economic success. I am sure she welcomes the £2 million that has been secured for in-year spending in Belfast to deal with the regeneration following the Primark fire earlier this year. The city deals also play an incredibly important part, but I repeat that devolved government is the way to give Northern Ireland the best opportunities and success, which is why we need to see Ministers in Stormont.
As the Secretary of State champions Northern Ireland’s businesses around the world, will she remind the European Union negotiators that, in the December joint report, they signed up to Northern Ireland businesses having unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom? She should remind them of this, because they seem to have forgotten.
I regularly remind many people about this. Paragraph 49 of the protocol is one that many focus on, but paragraph 50 of the joint report is equally valid. It deals with unfettered access to the markets of Great Britain and the United Kingdom and the fact that there should be no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. These are incredibly important for ensuring the economic success of Northern Ireland.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I should like to echo the comments made by both Front Benchers about the Greysteel massacre. Our thoughts are very much with those who were involved. Is the Secretary of State aware of recent comments made in Northern Ireland by the CBI president John Allan, when he said that business would always prefer a backstop to a no-deal Brexit? He added that the backstop could be an opportunity to open up frictionless trade between the EU and UK markets. Given that widely shared opinion, why is her supposedly pro-business Government seeking to undermine the backstop and therefore undermine business in Northern Ireland?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the Greysteel massacre, but I have to correct him on his second point. This Government are completely committed to all the commitments that we made in the joint report before Christmas. We are looking at how to put a backstop into legal text to ensure that the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom is respected and that there is no border on the island of Ireland.
Police: Border Funding
We have said categorically that there will be no physical infrastructure or related checks and patrols at the border. We are committed to a future partnership on security, policing and justice with the EU, including Ireland, that will allow the Police Service of Northern Ireland to continue to tackle national security threats and serious and organised crime. The PSNI has submitted its case for additional resources, and that bid is currently being considered.
The European arrest warrant is key to cross-border policing. Can the Secretary of State confirm that it will be retained post Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that the use of the arrest warrant is very important in Northern Ireland, and we have been clear that we need to have access to the same instrument or an equivalent for that to continue. I was a Minister in the Home Office when we were debating the 2014 opt-outs and opt-ins, and at that time I was determined that we would retain access to the European arrest warrant.
With more than 250 crossing points between Northern Ireland and Ireland, does the Secretary of State not agree that policing such a border would need a massive injection of cash and that the technological solutions for patrolling the border will not work and in fact do not exist?
The Government’s proposals for a facilitated customs arrangement are clear that there is no need for any border checks on the island of Ireland, and that is what our proposals are determined to achieve.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the review of police funding will consider Northern Ireland’s needs to ensure that every citizen is safe in that part of our country?
This Government have never shied away from the need to ensure proper funding for policing in Northern Ireland. Together with our security services, the PSNI does incredible work to keep us all safe. However, the threat level remains severe, which is why it is vital to ensure that proper funding for the PSNI continues.
The funding application now rests with the Treasury, so will the Secretary of State ensure that it is treated quickly? Will she also assure us that recruitment to the PSNI will not be blocked as a result of Sinn Féin’s closing down of the Northern Ireland Assembly?
I speak regularly with the Chief Constable, the assistant chief constable and others, and I am as committed as the hon. Gentleman to ensuring that the PSNI has the funding it needs. The bid is going through the proper processes, as it rightly should, and I am determined to ensure that the PSNI can continue to recruit as necessary.
Mr Speaker, you can scarce imagine how unbounded my joy was when I heard that austerity was over, or at least coming to an end. In view of that, will the Secretary of State confirm the lifting of the pay cap affecting the PSNI and the countless other public sector workers who feel, with some justification, that they have been abandoned by this Government?
I hope that I do not require the hon. Gentleman’s services again in mopping up water, which he so ably did for me last week. Many of his questions will be dealt with through the police funding settlement and the spending review next year, and the Minister for Policing and the Chancellor will quite rightly be making those announcements.
I think we can agree that the hon. Gentleman’s thespian skills are superior to his mopping up skills.
The Executive and Legislative Assembly
The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill provides for a period in which an Executive can be formed at any time without an election having to be called. I have remained in contact with the Northern Ireland parties during the passage of the Bill and will discuss its implementation and next steps in a roundtable meeting with them tomorrow.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the Independent Reporting Commission concluded last week that key factors in bringing paramilitarism to an end were political leadership and the re-establishment of political structures in Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State agree? If so, can she explain the absence of formal talks between the political parties since February?
As I said earlier, the best thing for the people of Northern Ireland would be if the politicians whom they elected come together to form an Executive, get back into the Assembly and make decisions on their behalf. As a member of this Government, I support devolution across the whole United Kingdom, and I want to see it operating properly.
Does the first report of the Independent Reporting Commission not illustrate that the political parties of Northern Ireland must choose one of two sides at this point? They are either on the side of getting the Executive back up and running, or else they are on the side of growing paramilitarism and all the attendant dangers that that brings.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The Independent Reporting Commission’s first report is clear that the decisions that would benefit everybody in Northern Ireland must be made by Ministers. We have passed a Bill that will enable civil servants to make decisions to allow the continued running of public services, but they are clearly no substitute for elected politicians and Ministers in Stormont.
Political Parties: Loans and Donations
The publication by the Electoral Commission of donations and loans data for the Northern Ireland parties from 1 July 2017 is a positive step that should be welcomed by the whole House. The decision to publish data from July 2017 was taken on the basis of consultation and broad support from the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland.
How can it be right that the very party that would come under investigation if donations dating back to 2014 were published essentially gets a veto? We know that the leave campaign is now under investigation for donations during the referendum. Surely Northern Ireland deserves that kind of transparency, too. Why are this Government ignoring the recommendations of the Electoral Commission?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady seeks to make political capital out of this. The then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), wrote to all the political parties in January 2017 regarding transparency and a date. With the exception of one party, they all agreed on the way forward. As for any other issues, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) cannot accept the broad view of the majority of parties in Northern Ireland.
Does the Minister agree that the loophole that allows millions of pounds of donations, including money from America, to be channelled to Sinn Féin through the Irish Republic drives a coach and horses through the UK’s financing rules that seek to prevent foreign influence on elections in the UK? This loophole needs to be closed for Northern Ireland to be brought in line with the rest of the UK.
I appreciate that this is a long-standing issue and a matter of concern. What I will say is that we have just introduced measures for transparency. It is important that we have some data as we move forward. Then, as with many other things, there is no reason why there cannot be a review. When that review takes place, there will be consultation with the Northern Ireland parties and the Electoral Commission.
IRA and INLA Victims
I have been deeply moved by the personal stories of pain and suffering endured by the families of the victims and survivors of the troubles. That is why we have consulted on how we best move forward and address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past. I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to be heard, and over 17,000 responses have been received. It is right that we take the time to consider those responses carefully. We will set out how we intend to move forward in due course.
I met the Home Secretary yesterday on behalf of Airey Neave’s family to discuss his brutal murder on these very premises almost 40 years ago. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland join me in saying that the victims of the IRA and the INLA on mainland Britain also deserve information and closure on the troubles?
My right hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for the family of Airey Neave, some of whom live in his constituency. We have spoken about the issue, and he will know that this matter is dealt with by the Home Office, as are all terrorist atrocities in Great Britain. I will work with him to get that closure.
I thank the Secretary of State for her response. The victims of the Irish Republican Army and the Irish National Liberation Army in Northern Ireland deserve recognition. What discussions has she had with the police to set aside money for those investigations to take place?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Today the Police Service of Northern Ireland, through its legacy investigations unit, is investigating far too many troubles-related crimes, and proportionately more killings relating to the military and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That is not right, and that is why we want to change the system. [Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. I would like there to be an appropriate hush for the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray).
The witch hunt against our brave veterans is unacceptable.
That is extraordinarily interesting, but I think we should start with Question 12.
The legacy consultation ran for 21 weeks and, during that time, representatives from the Northern Ireland Office engaged with a wide range of stakeholders, victims’ and survivors’ groups, political parties, community groups and others.
The witch hunt against our brave veterans is unacceptable. My constituent, who lives opposite the surgery where I used to work, has reportedly refused much-needed medical treatment so that he can get to court. Many will not forgive us, and nor should they, if he is lost due to disease once this case continues. When will the Government stop consulting and bring an end to these ridiculous cases?
We all owe a vast debt of gratitude for the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law during the troubles in Northern Ireland. The current system under which my hon. Friend’s constituent is being investigated is not working well for anyone, which is why we consulted on how we can improve it as quickly as possible. We are reviewing the thousands of responses received and we will set out in due course how we intend to respond.
Oh very well, we will hear the good doctor if it is a sentence. I call Dr Julian Lewis.
Does the Secretary of State accept that someone must cut the Gordian knot that is preventing us from ensuring that our armed forces veterans are not persecuted and pursued in the courts decades after they have faithfully served us?
My right hon. Friend has done significant work in this area, and I agree with him that the current system is simply not working for anyone and we need to change it. I look forward to working with him to find a way of changing the system that works for people.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know that the whole House would like to join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families of those who were killed in the horrific attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday. The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish friends across the world.
This is the last Prime Minister’s questions before Armistice Day, and this year’s is particularly poignant, as it marks 100 years since the end of the first world war. It is right that we remember all those who have served and continue to serve, those who have been injured and those who have given their lives in the service of this country.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I concur with the condolences about the horrific massacre and about those who have served in our armed forces. My Italian-born constituent Laura Nani has resided here since 1984, has attended school here, has had two children and has a British mother, yet the Department for Work and Pensions has just decided that she
“does not have a right to reside”.
That is partly because she cannot prove she has had five years of continuous work, a situation that many European Union nationals, including my wife, will find themselves in when formally applying for settled status. So what message does the Prime Minister have for Laura, for my wife and for other EU nationals who face rejection from this heartless UK Government?
EU nationals do not face rejection by this Government. We have been very clear about our commitment to protect the rights of EU nationals who are living here in the United Kingdom when we leave the EU.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that. He is absolutely right: the Budget did cut taxes for 32 million people, and the rise in the personal allowance will leave a basic rate taxpayer more than £1,200 better off next year than they were in 2010. Helping people with the cost of living is not just about those income tax cuts: the rise in the national living wage next year will give a full-time worker an extra £2,750 in annual pay since its introduction; and of course by freezing fuel duty we have saved the average driver £1,000 compared with pre-2010 plans. We will continue to help with the cost of living with our balanced approach to the economy.
I join the Prime Minister in sending our sympathies and solidarity to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The attack was disgusting, depraved and appalling, and I am sure that every single Member of this House would completely and unreservedly condemn it for what it is.
I will be joining the Prime Minister to commemorate Armistice Day and remember all those who lost their lives in the first world war and, indeed, all the other wars since.
“If I were a prison governor, a local authority chief executive or a head teacher, I would struggle to find much to celebrate”—
in the Budget.
“I would be preparing for more difficult years ahead.”
Does the Prime Minister think that that analysis is wrong?
If the right hon. Gentleman looks at what we set out in the Budget, he will see that we set out more money for schools, more money for prisons—[Interruption.] Yes, more money for prisons. What we have set out in the Budget is that austerity is indeed ending. What does that mean? Ending austerity is about continuing to bring debt down and putting more into our public services. We will set out further details in the spending review. Ending austerity is not just about putting more into public services; it is about putting more money into people’s pockets, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) just made clear. What we are doing in this Budget is giving the NHS the biggest cash boost in its history. The Leader of the Opposition used to ask me what taxes would go up to fund the rise in NHS funding; the answer on Monday was that it is fully funded without putting up taxes.
Just for the record, the words that I quoted in my previous question were from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Non-protected Departments face a real-terms cut of £4.1 billion. The Prime Minister promised that austerity was over; the reality is that it was a broken-promise Budget, and she knows it.
With violent crime rising, police numbers slashed and conviction rates down, why did the Government fail to find a single penny for neighbourhood policing in the Budget?
First, we did put extra money into counter-terrorism policing in the Budget. That was on top of the £460 million extra that has been made available for policing this year. That is in sharp contrast to what the Labour party was saying at the 2015 election, when it said that the police should take 10% cuts in their budgets.
“This is just another example of the contempt in which the Government holds police officers.”
Who said that? Not me; the Police Federation. No wonder the Police Federation and police chiefs are taking the Government to court over their pay.
With school funding cut by 8% per pupil, do the Prime Minister and her Chancellor think that the “little extras” are enough to end austerity in our schools?
What we actually see happening, as I said earlier, is more money for schools announced in the Budget. That is on top of the £1.4 billion extra that has already been announced for schools this year, and a further £1.2 billion will go into schools next year. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong, because overall per-pupil funding is being protected in real terms by this Government. What do we see in the Budget? We are ending austerity, bringing debt down and putting more money into our public services. We are taking the country forward. What would he do? His policy would mean borrowing more, taxing more and wasting more, and taking us back to square one.
“Many schools, including mine, have had to resort to asking students and their parents for funds.”
That is not me, but Sasha, a parent, worried about the future of her school, because this broken-promise Budget means that headteachers will still be writing begging letters to parents. Can the Prime Minister explain why she chose not to end the benefit freeze for 10 million households, but, instead, brought forward a tax cut for higher earners?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have put extra money into universal credit in the Budget. Importantly, universal credit is a welfare reform that ensures that people are encouraged to get into the workplace and that, when they are there, they earn more. I am interested that he chose to raise the question of tax cuts. On Monday, he said that cutting taxes for 32 million people was frittering money away on “ideological tax cuts”. Yesterday, the shadow Chancellor said that Labour would support the tax cuts. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] On Monday, the Leader of the Opposition, talked about tax cuts for the rich. Yesterday, his shadow Chancellor said what we have always known, which is that the tax cuts were for “middle earners”—
“head teachers and people like that”.
When the right hon. Gentleman stands up, perhaps he can tell the House whether he will back the tax cuts and vote for the Budget—[Interruption.]
Order. It does not matter; I have all the time in the world. It will take as long as it takes. The right hon. Gentleman will address a House that has the manners to listen. The same goes for when the Prime Minister is speaking. There will be a decent display of respect, and we will go on for as long as necessary, as the public would expect, to ensure that that is the way we operate. That is all there is to it.
The benefit freeze takes £1.5 billion—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman will wait a moment, I will explain my question.
Order. Mr Hands, calm yourself, young man. You are getting a little over-excited. I know that you have already asked a question. You blurted it out to the best of your ability and we are most indebted to you, but now is the time to keep quiet.
The benefit freeze takes £1.5 billion from 10 million low and middle-income households. A low-income couple with children will be £200 worse off. For them, there is no end to austerity. Labour would have ended the benefit freeze. As the Prime Minister well knows, Labour policy is to raise taxes for the top 5% and for the biggest corporations in the country. That would be a fair way of dealing with financial issues facing this country. Will she kindly confirm that there is still another £5 billion of cuts to social security to come in this Parliament—if it lasts until 2022—hitting the incomes of those with the least? Will she confirm that—yes, or no?
Of course, what the right hon. Gentleman fails to mention from the Budget is that, as a result of the changes that we have made on universal credit, 2.4 million people will benefit by £630 a year. When he talks about helping those who are on low incomes, I say, yes, we are helping people on low incomes—we are saving people money by freezing fuel duty. That has been opposed by the Labour party. We are letting people keep more of the money that they earn by cutting income tax. That has been opposed by the Labour party. He keeps claiming that he is backing working people, but I say to him again that if he wants to put more money into people’s pockets, and if he wants to take care of working people, he should vote for the Conservative Budget on Thursday.
I am really not very clear whether that was a yes or a no.
The Prime Minister once claimed to be concerned about “burning injustices”—well, that concern has fizzled out, hasn’t it? This was a broken promise Budget. The Prime Minister pledged to end austerity at her party conference, and the Chancellor failed to deliver it in this House. The cuts continue. Those on lower incomes will be worse off as a result of this Budget. Austerity has failed and needs to end now. It is very clear: only Labour can be trusted to end austerity, end the cuts for those on the lowest incomes and invest in our country again. Now we know: councils, schools, police, prisons—[Interruption.]
Order. Members may shout as long and as loudly as they like, and if they feel that they want to indulge themselves doing that, so be it. The right hon. Gentleman’s question will be heard—[Hon. Members: “When it comes.”] Yes, when it comes, but it will be heard in full, so do not waste your breath and damage your voices.
Mr Speaker, I am sure that some Conservative Members will not have heard what I was saying, so I shall repeat it for their benefit. Now we know: councils, schools, police, prisons, public sector workers and people reliant on social security still face years of austerity. Will the Prime Minister apologise for her broken promise that she was going to end austerity, because she has failed to do that?
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman talked about my commitment to tackle burning injustices. [Interruption.] “Yes”, they say from the Opposition Front Bench. Indeed. Was it Labour that introduced the Modern Slavery Act? No, it was not. Was it Labour that ensured that people in mental health crisis were not being taken to police cells as a place of safety? No, it was me. Was it the Labour party that introduced the race disparity audit, so that for the first time we can see what is happening to people from across our communities in this country? No, it was me and this Government. And I will tell him what else this Government have done—by taking a balanced approach to the economy and careful financial management, what do we see? Borrowing down, unemployment down, income tax down—[Interruption.] “Up”, Opposition Members say. I shall tell them what has gone up—[Interruption.]
Order. I said that the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) must be heard. The reply from the Prime Minister must be heard.
Labour Members want to know what has gone up. I shall tell them what has gone up—[Interruption.] As long as it takes, I am going to tell them. Support for public services up, growth up, wages up—but debt is falling and austerity is ending. Under the Conservatives, the hard work of the British people is paying off.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He raises a very important issue. Obviously, our thoughts are with those children and their families at what must be a really difficult time for both the children and their families. We continue to look at what we can do to help them. I believe that when he talks about children from his constituency going to the nearest specialist treatment centre, that is Great Ormond Street, which does wonderful work in this country for children. We have a healthcare travel cost scheme that allows patients to receive reimbursement for their travel costs if they are in receipt of a qualifying benefit and on a low income, but we absolutely recognise that there is more to do, particularly on the cost of living for cancer patients, including children and young people, as my right hon. Friend said. I know that the relevant Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care will be very pleased to meet him and the charity to discuss that further.
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks regarding the Tree of Life massacre and, of course, Armistice Day?
Can the Prime Minister guarantee the supply of medicines to the NHS in the light of a no-deal Brexit?
First of all, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are working for a good deal for Brexit. As he will also know, all Departments—indeed, we have issued technical notices to businesses and others—are making contingency arrangements should no deal occur.
Of course, that was no answer to the question, “Can the Prime Minister guarantee the supply of medicines in the light of no deal?”. Why did this Government, last week, quietly begin a dramatically truncated tender process to try to stockpile medicines, at a cost of tens of millions of pounds—funds that should be spent on frontline health services? The Prime Minister has only been concerned about how Brexit might harm the Conservative party; it is time that she woke up to the real harm her Brexit policies could cause to patients. Is it not the truth that this Government are in a blind panic trying to cover for a blind Brexit?
No. Let me just say to the right hon. Gentleman, first of all, that if he had been listening and paying attention over the last months, he would have known that actually in the Budget last year the Chancellor made it clear that there was money available for no-deal planning. We stepped up the no-deal planning in the summer. Departments like the DHSC are ensuring that they are making the responsible contingency decisions that any Government Department would make. What we are doing is working for a good deal for Brexit, and we are working for a good deal that will benefit the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.
I am pleased to see the support my hon. Friend shows for the Chancellor. What the Chancellor delivered this week was a Budget that is good for people up and down this country, and we should all be celebrating that.
In overall terms, we have been closing the tax gap over the years. As I think my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his Budget on Monday, since 2010, through the work we have been doing to close the tax gap to ensure that we deal with tax evasion and avoidance, we have actually collected, or protected, £185 billion of revenue for the Government.
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. He is, as I would expect, championing the cause of Cornwall, and one or two of my other hon. Friends from Cornwall are supporting him. We have awarded grants worth £31.5 million to enable satellites to be launched from UK soil, and we have also announced a £2 million fund, subject to business case, to help boost airports’ ambitions to offer horizontal space flight. That includes sites such as Newquay, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia. The UK space flight programme continues to consider these leading proposals, and I am sure it has heard my hon. Friend’s championing of the request for Cornwall.
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. I am pleased that I was able to set up the inquiry into child sexual abuse. As I said at the time, I think people will be shocked to know the extent to which children were being abused in this country in many different environments and circumstances. She has raised a particular issue in relation to Nottinghamshire. When the independent inquiry’s report comes forward, we will look at its recommendations very seriously. I will ask the relevant Minister to look at the issue that she raised about survivors’ groups. We have worked with survivors’ groups —I did so when I was at the Home Office. It was talking to them and hearing from them that made me realise exactly how terribly badly people have been treated, the appalling crimes committed and the appalling abuse they have suffered. That is why it is important that this independent inquiry gets to the truth.
Following the welcome call overnight from the American Administration for the ending of the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, will my right hon. Friend use Britain’s undoubted authority at the United Nations to press for a new Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire and meaningful and inclusive negotiations, to end what is the worst and most terrifying humanitarian catastrophe on the planet?
I thank my right hon. Friend, who I know has been consistent in pressing on the needs of the people of Yemen. We certainly back the US’s call for de-escalation in Yemen. He references our role in the United Nations Security Council. In fact, in March we proposed and co-ordinated a UN Security Council presidential statement, which called on the parties to agree steps towards a ceasefire. That remains our position, but as the Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), said in the House yesterday,
“a nationwide ceasefire will have an effect on the ground only if it is underpinned by a political deal between the conflict parties.”—[Official Report, 30 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 775.]
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed that matter last night with Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy. They agreed that the UK will continue to encourage all parties to agree to de-escalation and to a lasting political deal that will ensure that any ceasefire will hold in the long term.
I recognise the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. It is one that has been raised before. Of course, on issues like this, it is important that we take clinical guidance, but issues about the future of the NHS and how it operates are matters that those in the NHS are themselves considering as part of their long-term plan for the future.
Will the Prime Minister welcome the acquittal this morning by Pakistan’s Supreme Court of Asia Bibi, a young Christian, a wife and mother of five, who has spent over eight years in prison—mostly in solitary confinement—facing the death penalty on blasphemy charges merely for drinking water from a communal supply? Will the Prime Minister in particular commend Chief Justice Saqib Nisar for his courage and integrity in the message he has sent out regarding religious freedom for those of all faiths and none in delivering this judgment, setting Asia free and rectifying a great injustice?
The news out of Pakistan of the release of Asia Bibi will be very welcome to her family and to all those who have campaigned in Pakistan, and indeed around the world, for her release. Our long-standing position on the death penalty is well known: we call for its abolition globally.
We recognise that we need to take action in relation to rough sleepers. We have a commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and to end rough sleeping by 2027. That is why we have already published a strategy to deal with this; we have put initial funding of £100 million into it, and there are pilot projects being worked on in various parts of the country. If he is interested in this issue of rough sleeping, I hope he will support the proposals that the Government have put forward, which were confirmed in the Budget, for increasing stamp duty on those purchasing properties in the UK who do not live or work in the UK, with that money to go into supporting people who are rough sleeping.
Will my right hon. Friend join me, when she goes to the Cenotaph next Sunday, in paying tribute not only to our own war dead from this country, but to the 3 million who came from the Commonwealth to serve in the cause of freedom? I will, sadly, not be in Tonbridge this weekend; I will be laying a wreath in Delhi, paying my own tribute—and, I know, paying tribute on behalf of the whole House—to those who suffered and died.
Will the Prime Minister join me also in wearing a khadi poppy at some point, the reason for which is that the homespun cotton remembers Gandhi’s and India’s contribution to the effort? It is a vital reminder to all of us here of our links around the world, but particularly to India.
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the vital contribution that was made by soldiers from around the Commonwealth—he has highlighted particularly those from India. I also pay tribute to him for his own military service. We must never forget that over 74,000 soldiers came from undivided India and lost their lives—eleven of them won the Victoria Cross for their outstanding bravery—and he will know they played a crucial role in the war across multiple continents. I would also like to congratulate the Royal British Legion and Lord Gadhia on their efforts in recognising this contribution with the special khadi poppy, honouring the sacrifice of everyone who served a century ago.
I am certainly interested in wearing a khadi poppy at some stage over the period as we lead up to Armistice Day, just as I am pleased to be wearing—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), who is on the Front Bench opposite, says she is wearing one, which I am very pleased to see. I would also like to say that I am very pleased to wear the ceramic poppy today—I see a number of hon. Members are wearing them, and they were created by children at a school in the north-west. [Hon. Members: “St Vincent’s.”] St Vincent’s, indeed. It is very important, at this centenary, that we all recognise and that younger generations understand the immense sacrifice that was made for their freedom.
As I said earlier in response to the Leader of the Opposition, we were already putting £1.4 billion extra into schools this year, we are putting an extra £1.2 billion into schools next year and the £400 million announced in the Budget comes on top of that £1.4 billion this year. Crucially, overall, per-pupil funding is being protected in real terms.
Prime Minister, you quite rightly referenced the centenary of the first world war. Would that not be a very fitting time to end another burning injustice—namely, the legal scapegoating of brave Army veterans by others for political or financial gain? Last week, 104 of your Conservative colleagues, Opposition Members and over 50 Members of the other place, including four previous Chiefs of the Defence Staff, wrote to you and asked you to join with us in defending those who defended us. I know that there are only 104 of us—but nevertheless, are you with us?
I recognise the passion with which my right hon. Friend has championed the interests of our brave soldiers; we owe so much to them across so many different areas and so many different fronts—for their heroism, their bravery and everything they have done to maintain our freedom.
My right hon. Friend has raised particularly, in the past and now, the issue that was raised in Northern Ireland questions as well: the legacy concerns in relation to what happened during the troubles and the cases being taken against not just soldiers, but police officers, who also bravely defended freedom in Northern Ireland and acted against the terrorists.
We are committed to making sure that all outstanding deaths in Northern Ireland should be investigated in a way that is fair, balanced and proportionate. The current mechanisms are not proportionate: there is a disproportionate focus on former members of the armed forces and the police. We want to see these deaths being investigated in ways that are fair, balanced and, as I say, proportionate.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will make sure that the case is properly looked into.
I associate myself with the fine words of the Prime Minister and others about the armistice. May I invite her to warmly welcome the choir of the Bundestag and its President, who will join our own Parliament’s choir this evening at a commemorative concert in Westminster Hall to mark this historic occasion?
I was hoping that the right hon. Lady was going to offer us a little sample of what is in store.
I am very happy to join my right hon. Friend in welcoming the choir of the Bundestag and the German Vice-President to the concert taking place this evening—a fitting way to recognise the centenary of the armistice. As my right hon. Friend may also know, the German President will be laying a wreath at the Cenotaph this year. What armistice gives us is an opportunity to come together to remember the immense sacrifices made in war, but also to join with our German friends to mark reconciliation and the peace that exists between our two nations today. The concert this evening is part of that, as will be the German President’s presence at the Cenotaph.
The hon. Gentleman has named a number of sectors. We have heard from those sectors their concern about frictionless trade. The proposal we have put forward to the European Union would provide for that frictionless trade as part of a free trade area.
BD Foods in Hastings is a successful food manufacturer that supplies hotels and restaurants. It recently made a very good breakfast sauce called the Full English Brexit, which I think will be appreciated by many of my colleagues although it is a little hot for me. The chief executive, John Davis, has been in touch with me. He would like to invest £2.5 million, securing jobs and further investment in the business, but he is concerned about continued access to the single market as we leave the European Union, either through the single market or the common rulebook. Will the Prime Minister bear in mind, as she concludes the negotiations, the importance of protecting investment in jobs all over the country?
I think our hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) might well like to put the hot English Brexit sauce on his breakfast sausages. I reassure my right hon. Friend that the plan we have set out recognises the importance of protecting jobs in this country. We want a business-friendly customs model with the freedom to strike new trade deals around the world, but also a good trade deal with the European Union, with a free trade area—that common rulebook for industrial goods and agricultural products. That will be good for jobs and we are working towards that good deal.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important people understand their pensions and what they are entitled to. That is why the Department for Work and Pensions is working with the pensions industry on this issue. We are not just working with them; we have actually put some money forward as part of the project to ensure that that information is there and is available to people.
Will the Prime Minister give reassurance to those of us in this House and in the country who voted to leave the European Union that under no circumstances will she recommend or agree to any alteration in the exit date of 29 March next year?
I am happy to give that reassurance. We are leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019.
I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I said to his colleagues, that we are protecting EU citizens’ rights. That was one of the key issues we put at the forefront of the discussions before the December joint report was agreed. But we are actually going further than that. I was pleased to be in Norway yesterday and to discuss with European economic area and European Free Trade Association countries the protection we will give to EEA and EFTA citizens when we leave the European Union.
There are 50,000 amputees in Syria. Will the Prime Minister join me at the “Singing for Syrians” flagship concert in St Margaret’s to hear parliamentarians from across the House sing like they can hear us, and remind the people from Syria, the civilians, that we have not forgotten them?
I will look at my diary. I cannot guarantee, standing here, that I will be able to attend the concert, but I commend my hon. Friend and the parliamentarians who will be taking part in it for the work that they are doing. “Singing for Syrians” is a great movement. It is a great thing that not just raises money, but reminds people of the importance of remembering those civilians in Syria. As she says, we want to ensure that they know they have not been forgotten.
I will be pleased to make sure that a relevant Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy looks at the issue that the hon. Lady has raised.
During a recent meeting with primary school heads in Chichester, I was shocked to discover that every single one of them had been subject to violent attacks by pupils or parents. As the Government launch their NHS violence reduction strategy today, will my right hon. Friend consider what else we can do to protect our teachers in the valuable work that they do?
I am certainly happy to look at the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. She refers to what I assume is physical violence or attacks that teachers have been under. I have also seen cases where teachers have come under considerable, I would say, harassment and bullying on social media as well, so I think this is an issue that we do need to look at.
Black Cultural Archives, based in Lambeth—I am a patron of it—is the only national heritage centre dedicated to preserving and celebrating the histories of black people in this country. However, unlike other national institutions such as the National Gallery or the British Museum, which get over 40% of their funding from central Government, BCA currently receives none and is at threat of closure. The Prime Minister talked about the race disparity audit. Can I ask her to explain the differential treatment of BCA and in this Windrush year, of all years, to right this wrong and provide it with the funding that it desperately needs?
I say to the hon. Gentleman that a difference of approach is taken between those museums that are considered to be national museums and those that have developed in other circumstances. I recognise what he is saying about the importance of this particular organisation and the relevance of what it is commemorating and reflecting, and I will ask a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister to look at the issue that he has raised.
High streets are the centres of our communities, and they have a social as well as an economic function, but the internet has changed everything. That is why I welcome the levelling of the playing field announced in the Budget this week through the cut in business rates and through the future high streets fund, but will local businesses in Harrogate and Knaresborough be able to work with the local council to decide how that money is spent?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the help that we are providing to the high street through our future high streets fund. As he says, this will enable local areas to develop and fund plans to make their high streets and town centres fit for the future. We will be supporting local leadership with a high streets taskforce, giving high streets and town centres expert advice on how to adapt and thrive, and it will be possible for local businesses to work with their local authorities to develop the plans that will indeed ensure that we continue to have plans for the high street that are fit for our towns and cities.
Last week, the Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) over police pensions. This week, it has emerged that the National Police Chiefs’ Council has taken the unprecedented step of threatening legal action against the Government over their £165 million raid on pensions. Is not it the case that, under the Prime Minister’s leadership, this Government have destroyed relations with the police so considerably that they have risked public safety?
The hon. Lady is wrong in her portrayal of what has happened. I said that the pensions issue had been known about for a number of years, and indeed it has been known about for a number of years. We are committed to public sector pensions that are fair to public workers but also fair to the taxpayer. It is important that the costs of those public sector pensions are understood and fully recognised by the Government. The Budget has made it clear that £4.5 billion is available next year to support public services in managing these increased pension costs, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is working closely with the police to understand the impact of the pension changes and to ensure we make the right funding decisions to support frontline services.
Can the Prime Minister tell the House why she and her Government believe that Government spending should be increased faster on overseas aid than on hard-pressed schools and police and fire services in the UK? While this House might be typically out of touch with public opinion on this issue, will she accept that the vast majority of the British people think that that warped priority is crazy crackers?
I continue to believe it is right that the UK maintains its commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on international development. I suggest that my hon. Friend look at the speech I gave in South Africa in August when I explained how we wanted to ensure that international development aid not only helped the most vulnerable people across the world but helped countries to provide the economies, good governance and jobs that would take them out of needing that aid in the future. It is right that we continue with our commitment to the poorest people across the world and to helping countries to secure a long-term, sustainable future.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I am sure that hon. Members leaving the Chamber are doing so quickly and quietly so that the rest of us can attend to the point of order from the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire).
In helping my constituent C to push the Child Maintenance Service to pursue the well-off but self-employed father of her two young children, I tabled a written parliamentary question about the difference in maintenance recovery between self-employed and employed absent parents. The Department told me that it held the data but that it was too expensive to provide. What guidance can you give me, Mr Speaker, on how I can push past this brick wall in pursuit of feckless dads failing to pay their maintenance and letting down their children?
I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. My answer, off the top of my head, is twofold. Traditionally, the member of the Government who has felt a particular responsibility to chase answers from Ministers if they are not forthcoming, or to seek a substantive answer if it has not been provided, has been the Leader of the House. That has been the tradition over a very long period. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has approached the Leader of the House, but she is on the Treasury Bench and will have heard her point of order. It manifestly and incontrovertibly is the responsibility of Ministers to answer questions. I must advise the hon. Lady that there are circumstances in which it can genuinely and credibly be claimed that the provision of an answer would be disproportionately expensive, although that sounds rather unlikely in this case, given that the material is retained. She might seek to enlist the assistance of the Leader of the House. Alternatively, I would advise her to write to the extremely distinguished Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who may well wish to assist her in the way he has assisted Members across the House pretty much throughout his tenure as the distinguished Chair of the Committee. I hope that that is helpful.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a sensitive issue, and I hope that I phrase it correctly. We are all alert to the scourge of drugs in our towns and cities. I think the House would agree that if the sins of the father or the mother cannot be visited upon the sons, the same is true in reverse, but there is a case, as you will be aware, Mr Speaker, currently alive in the media involving a passholder in this place—and being a passholder is an honour, not a right—who has been found guilty of a drugs-related crime. In preserving what I hope all quarters of the House would agree is an important aspiration—namely, public confidence in this place and in those people who carry passes—what role do the Commission and other House authorities have with regards to Members of this place and those to whom they issue passes?
I am immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, though I am mildly disappointed that he did not furnish me with advance notice either of his intention to raise it or—better still—an indication as to its content. I say in all courtesy to him—I have known him for 30 years and he is a very decent chap—that it has absolutely nothing to do with the House of Commons Commission; it is a matter for me. I am very clear about that. If that matter is brought to my attention, ideally privately, I will discharge my responsibilities on the subject. I hope that my bona fides in such matters over a long period are unarguable. I hope that he feels satisfied that he has raised the point. I will deal with it sensibly.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has come to my attention that this week is Living Wage Week, but it was not raised this morning in Prime Minister’s questions. Can you advise me how I can further highlight the question of Whitehall cleaners and their massive pay disparity? They serve the House of Commons as well as anyone else.
I do not think they serve the House of Commons. I do not want to engage in a Second Reading-style debate with the hon. Lady—
Yes, they may well serve Ministers, who are Members of the House of Commons, but they do not serve the House of Commons as an institution. The hon. Lady has achieved her objective in raising this issue. I will just say, not least for the benefit of Members who came into this place in 2017—and I say it with considerable pride—that this House is a living wage employer, as it should be. I was determined that it should secure its accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation. Absolutely everybody who works here should be paid at least the London living wage. If there are examples of people working within the Government service who are not receiving that remuneration, that is a matter of considerable concern, but that concern will have been heard by a Treasury Minister on the Treasury Bench. I can advise further the hon. Lady that if she feels that it has been inadequately aired in this Chamber and she wants a debate on the matter, she might find she is successful.
I hope that the point of order appetite has been satisfied, at least for today, and on the assumption that it has, perhaps we can move on.
Banking and Post Office Services (Rural Areas and Small Communities)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require banks to provide certain services in rural areas and small communities; to make provision for access to Post Office services in such areas and communities; and for connected purposes.
The Bill would amend the law relating to banking and Post Office services; make provisions to strengthen access to banking for rural and small communities by placing the access to banking standard on a statutory footing; place a duty on banks that received taxpayer funds to establish a community investment fund for when those banks leave a community; and strengthen the provision of Post Office services for rural and small communities across the UK.
As a liberal Conservative, I believe in the free market. However, many banks and financial institutions must shoulder a considerable burden of responsibility for the 2008 recession and their subsequent actions. They have endangered customers and taken money from the Government and they are now happily abandoning some of the most vulnerable communities they claim to support.
I think very few people in this House would argue that the digital revolution is not having an impact on the way people bank. However, it is the speed at which banks are withdrawing those services, the uneven distribution of the services that remain, and the incredibly weak substitutes that those banks are offering that is so completely unacceptable to our constituents. According to Retail Banker International, the number of bank branches in the UK dropped by 37% between 2007 and 2017. Meanwhile, in 2015, the Campaign for Community Banking Services produced an estimate of the number of “unbanked communities”, which stated that there were 840 communities with only one bank left, and 1,500 communities that had lost all access to their banks.
Since 2017, the Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, has announced the closure of 603 branches across the United Kingdom since 2017, 60 of which were in Scotland and three of which were in my constituency. Scant regard has been given to the impact on rural communities of closing these branches. In the case of Comrie and St Fillans in my constituency, the elderly are expected to make a 50-plus mile round trip, taking approximately two hours by bus—a journey that will hardly become more bearable as we head into the cold, winter months in Perthshire.
It is also the profile of the closures that grates. As the University of Nottingham identified, the
“largest decline in branch numbers are characterised by...the least affluent third of the population bearing the brunt of two thirds of net closures”.
That analysis was further reinforced by the Reuters news agency, which, in its 2016 analysis of Office for National Statistics figures, found that more than 90% of the 600 closures between April 2015 and 2016
“were in areas where median household income was below the British average of £27,600”.
At a time when financial inclusion and the need for enhanced social mobility is more important than ever, banks are pulling up the ladders of financial advancement for our poorer communities.
Meanwhile, despite justifying the closures on the grounds of the movement in consumer behaviour from branch to digital, these retail banks are still opening branches—opening branches in the oh-so rural and disconnected wards of Chelsea, Canary Wharf and Clapham, areas with 99%, 96.2% and 99.9% superfast broadband connectivity respectively, versus the 85.5% in my constituency. They are serving the customers they want, not those who need their services.
In the meantime, these retail banks have come to Select Committees here in this House and told us that they have done enough to cater for our communities—providing mobile banks for the elderly in some of the coldest and most geographically challenging parts of the UK, driving banking online in constituencies that struggle with mobile signal, let alone superfast broadband, and providing single community bankers as a substitute for a full-service branch. It is simply not good enough, especially when many of these institutions took British taxpayers’ funding 10 years ago.
So, when the banks refuse to listen to their local customers and their elected representatives from across the House, I ask the House to do what it was intended for: to legislate and stand up for the rights of small communities and vulnerable individuals. The Bill I present today proposes to do three things. First, it would formalise the access to banking standard, making it a legal requirement for all banks. It would also strengthen the access to banking standard, adding a requirement for a “rural weighting” to be taken into consideration as part of the impact assessment that is included within the standard. These further considerations would be in addition to the criteria, and would take into account local geography and winter weather patterns; local public transport links, including frequency and routes; and broadband and mobile coverage—benchmarked against the national average
The Bill will also make it a requirement, if a bank branch is to be closed early, to state clearly what consultation has taken place with the local Post Office as an alternative provider of banking services. It will also include a requirement for an ATM and a deposit service to be maintained as a basic level of service in a town or village. That is not a criticism of the access to banking standard as it currently stands—indeed, quite the opposite; I believe it holds some excellent standards of best practice. It is simply that giving the standard a statutory footing would give it additional heft to hold the banks to account.
Secondly, the Bill will seek to establish a community fund of £100,000 for each branch closure of banks that have had Government funding, or have Government as a significant shareholder. It is widely recognised that bank branches not only provide vital services to local individuals, businesses and community groups, but often occupy key positions in a town or village, contributing to the vibrancy of the high street and providing an indicator of local economic dynamism. However, the banks’ movement towards cities and out of the settlements that they support creates a responsibility for them to provide ongoing services and support the communities and customers that they are abandoning.
According to figures provided by the Library, bank branch closures dampen lending growth to small and medium enterprises by an average of 63% in those postcodes that lose a bank branch. The figure grows to 104% in postcode areas that lose their last bank in town, where there is an average of £1.6 million less lending as a result of that branch leaving town.
Therefore, £100,000 would not only help address the loss of business, but would go some way in supporting the local community, to be allocated to projects that help boost local high street activity and fund provisions for vulnerable people to access banking services, such as the extension of broadband to rural properties—which could of course be used in conjunction with the Government’s gigabyte voucher scheme. The community funds follow a precedent established by many energy firms, where they create community funds and profit-share agreements as part of local deals to install onshore wind farms.
Thirdly and finally, the Bill will strengthen the provision of Post Office services, which are having to pick up the pieces of the banks’ abandonment of our rural and small communities. Building on the Government’s capital fund to modernise the Post Office, under the Bill a closing bank must, before leaving a small town or village, deliver a direct mail to all affected customers, detailing the alternative banking measures provided and what services will be available through the Post Office, funded by the UK Government, including solutions for more substantial cash deposits for small businesses.
Between 2010 and 2018, the Government invested over £2 billion in the Post Office network, allowing the Post Office to modernise its network and protect more than 3,000 “last shop in the village” community branches. The Post Office currently offers services on withdrawals, deposits, cheques and balance inquiries for both personal and business banking customers, meaning that it is already well set up to deal with the increase in cash transactions when a decision is taken for a local bank branch to close. These services are provided for virtually all banks.
Although the Post Office does not currently have specific provisions for rural branches, it does recognise that bank branch closures will be felt more keenly in rural locations. Currently, the postmaster is remunerated in line with the value of cash deposits and withdrawals made. While the existing framework with the banks has an agreed fee for that, the fee often does not reflect the true cost in time taken to undertake that work—a point that will only be exacerbated in rural branches. Therefore, if banks are closing their branches in rural areas and post offices are picking up the pieces of bank branch closures, it would be only fair that the fee be adjusted to a more competitive rate, which allows for a weighting that more fairly reflects the costs for a rural post office branch, especially as the banks are seeing savings in the closing of branches. This would go a long way to secure further the Post Office network in such rural areas.
I am a fervent believer in the market economy, but in a time of great change, Government must ensure that no community is left behind. When banks and institutions have accepted public funding, they must accept that it comes with public responsibilities. We cannot have rural and small communities being abandoned; we cannot have a two-speed United Kingdom, so I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Luke Graham, John Lamont, Kirstene Hair, Scott Mann, Kevin Hollinrake, Jamie Stone, Caroline Flint, Martin Whitfield, Pete Wishart, Stephen Gethins and Ben Lake present the Bill.
Luke Graham accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 281).
Ways and Means
Income Tax (Charge)
Debate resumed (Order, 30 October).
Question again proposed,
That income tax is charged for the tax year 2019-20.
And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.
The measures taken in the Budget position Britain as one of the nations on earth that can take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities that are transforming every economy, every trade and every industry in the world. During the past few years, much of the economic debate has centred on two big subjects. The first is how to repair the economy from the ravages of the financial crisis and the previous Labour Government, when borrowing soared to 10% of national income and nearly one in every four pounds of what the Government spent was borrowed. Through eight years of fiscal discipline, involving sacrifice by the British people but backed in three general elections, the public finances have now been transformed so that this year borrowing will be not 10% but 1.9% of national income, and our national debt will fall in every year ahead, falling over the period of the forecast by over 10% of our national income. Sound money is the foundation of a sound economy, and the Conservative party has once again restored it to Britain.
Secondly, much of the recent debate has of course been about Brexit, and the Chancellor was clear that we are looking to secure a good deal with the European Union in the weeks ahead, and that achieving that will provide a further boost to the economy as growth will be revised upwards and, with it, revenues, jobs and wages. Our modern industrial strategy, reinforced by measures in the Budget, can see us enhance the prosperity of every part of the United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State mentioned Brexit. Has he seen the Office for Budget Responsibility document that says that because of the uncertainty caused by his Government’s handling of Brexit the economy was between 2% and 2.5% smaller by mid-2018 than it would have been otherwise?
If, as I hope and expect, we secure a good deal, those figures will be revised upwards, with consequent benefits right across the economy.
This is one of the most exciting times in the history of business, technology, science and commerce. From farming to retail, from manufacturing to the creative industries, the analysis of previously unimaginable quantities of data is changing lives. Doctors can diagnose diseases and treat them successfully even before we display any symptoms. As Members with interests in the automotive sector will acknowledge, there will be more change in the cars we drive in the 10 years ahead than since the invention of the internal combustion engine, as electric motors replace engines and navigation by satellite and sensor replace human control.
As the Secretary of State knows, a lot of developments are taking place in the automobile industry, for example in Coventry on electric cars. He will also know that there are a lot of concerns in companies including Jaguar Land Rover in relation to the diesel tax on the one hand and Brexit on the other, and the Secretary of State has been very good in meeting us on those subjects.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. I am a regular visitor to the west midlands and to Coventry, and of course it is vital for one of our proudest and most successful industries that we should be able to build on that success by seizing the initiative in the years ahead. Every country in the world is moving to electric and autonomous vehicles and, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, we have some of the best brains on the planet in developing that new technology. I am absolutely determined that we will not do what happened in the past and invent the technologies yet see them deployed elsewhere, but that instead we will manufacture these batteries and these vehicles, and that we will do so in every part of the country.
I will give way first to another west midlands MP, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).
Will the Secretary of State recognise the real concerns expressed to him by the automotive industry about the contradictory and confused signals coming out of Government in relation to fiscal policy and vehicle excise duty? Is there not something wrong when the system as it is at present penalises worst the cars that are the cleanest and most CO2 efficient? In the next few months, as he and his colleagues consult the industry on the introduction of the worldwide light vehicle test procedure, will he ensure that such perverse incentives do not continue into the next financial year?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The next generation of diesel engines are much more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient than their predecessors, so to replace an existing old-style engine with a new one is a step in the right direction, and I have been very clear, as I think he knows, that diesel will have a role to play as we transition to a 100% emissions-free world. That is captured in the “Road to Zero” strategy on which we consulted the industry, and I know that he was involved in those discussions.
The Secretary of State talked about not losing our ideas. He will know that there are great ideas now in the marine energy technology sector, but they are at an early stage and companies need help and support before they can manufacture in this country. Will he have a word with the Chancellor so that we can have proper ring-fenced finance for this industry, as we had for wind energy under a Labour Government and for solar? Those sectors are now successful, but marine energy is lagging behind.
We have an expanding innovation budget and we will have more to say about that in the weeks ahead, because our industrial strategy recognises the importance seizing the opportunities that we have in clean growth, in which we are a world leader in many cases. I want to do with clean growth just what we are doing in the automotive sector, and marine and tidal energy is an important part of that.
This is not just about manufacturing. If we are going to be successful, we are going to need the raw materials. As the Secretary of State will be aware, there is great potential in Cornwall for lithium mining, which will become ever more important with all the electric vehicles we are going to have. So does he share my enthusiasm for that potential, not just for the Cornish economy but in securing a domestic supply of this ever more important metal for the UK?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and it is his second chance in the space of an hour to talk about Cornwall’s place in our industrial future, whether through lithium for batteries or as a centre for the launch of satellites and space vehicles. He makes his case passionately, and of course we want to make sure we can source the materials for this new technology. Cornwall is a good place for that.
On clean growth, last year was the first time since the industrial revolution, forged in this country, in which a day passed in Britain with no coal being used to provide our power supply. This revolution is gathering pace, and the most exciting thing about these transformations is that Britain—British businesses, British scientists, British designers, British inventors, British workers—can lead the world in every one of them. Of the satellites that gather and transmit information for cars to navigate, a quarter—[Interruption.] I am surprised that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who I thought had an interest in science and technology, would not want to acknowledge the fact that a quarter of all the communications satellites orbiting the Earth today were built in Britain. We have over half the entire world market in the booming small satellite market. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) pointed out to the Prime Minister today, we will have the first satellite launch pad in Europe. We are not just manufacturing and inventing the technology, therefore; we will be the go-to place to launch it as well.
The Secretary of State mentioned satellites. May I point out that 100% of the glass used in space technology and satellites around the globe is built in my constituency by Qioptiq?
I did not know that, but I will add it to my repertoire of boasts about our national capability, and I am very pleased to learn it.
We are now the leading country not just in Europe but in the world for deploying offshore wind energy. The cost of production has fallen by half since 2015, and factories and jobs are springing up all around our coasts, from Belfast to Hull, from Machrihanish to the Isle of Wight. I see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) is present; he played an important role in setting the strategy that has resulted in that investment.
Also, having been the place where the genome was sequenced, we are the place where the secrets that it unlocked are being discovered and applied to the benefit of patients.
Our modern industrial strategy reinforces Britain’s future as a place of competition, innovation and challenge where new ideas can take flight and where any incumbent can be challenged by the newest start-up. Monday’s Budget pressed home the advantages and continued the progress we are making, including in addressing areas in which we need to improve. We have the biggest increase in public investment in research and development that this country has had in its history, with £1 billion more for the industrial strategy challenge fund.
This morning, leaders in genomics met in the House of Commons. They are world leaders based in Britain, and they told us how cures and treatments are being delivered to patients in the NHS today. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is this Government’s investment in science and research that has led to us being a world leader in this area?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I had a good meeting with the global chief executives of some of the most important life sciences companies around the world, in which it was readily acknowledged that the strength of our science base, and the visibility of our commitment to reinforce it, to invest in it and to apply it in manufacturing, is causing investment to be made here. The global pharma and life sciences company MSD has announced that its new research centre is going to be here in the UK, and I had the pleasure of opening the Novo Nordisk facility just a few months ago. It is evident that there is more to come. One of the benefits of a long-term strategy and commitment is that it can have short-term results because people invest on the back of it.
The Secretary of State is talking positively about the future of the life sciences sector, but does he recall that just last week the head of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry told the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union that without full membership of the European Medicines Agency, the future of the life sciences industry was not tenable in this country?
I do not agree. I think that the future of the industry is strong under all scenarios. I regard our ability to participate in institutions and research networks as being of great importance, and that is why I hope that the deal that is being negotiated will succeed and that we will be able to move forward based on that confidence.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome our ranking in the climate change performance index? The UK is fifth in that index, ahead of Finland, France and Germany.
I do recognise that. The combination of a rigorous commitment to emissions reduction targets and an industrial strategy that makes it possible for us to glean the benefits of that is being admired by many countries around the world.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that carbon capture, utilisation and storage has enormous potential? I had a meeting with the Carbon Capture and Storage Association this morning, in which it emphasised clearly that a development pathway in 2019 would have enormous benefits for our ability to deliver a net zero target by mid-century.
I agree with my hon. Friend. That is a good example of how a strategy to integrate different strands of policy and work can be of great benefit to many of the industries on Teesside that he represents so well. We will have more to say about that.
Building on the success of the Faraday challenge, which aims to make Britain a place for the design and manufacture of new battery technologies, the Stephenson challenge referred to in the Budget will support innovation in electric motors. We are emphasising the “D” side of R&D: development as well as research. The “Made Smarter” review, which was championed and led by Juergen Maier, the chief executive of Siemens in this country, is spreading the take-up of new manufacturing technologies to businesses small and large. A national quantum computing centre will scale up quantum systems into workable machines. An industrial energy transformation fund will help many energy-intensive businesses to reduce their energy costs as they transition to a low carbon future, at the same time as making them more competitive.
New fellowships in artificial intelligence will attract the world’s best research talent to our shores, building on our success with institutions such as the Turing Institute. On infrastructure, the Budget ensures that the digital revolution will extend to all parts of the country, through new funding for new ways of deploying full fibre broadband in rural locations.
The one thing that goes across all the areas that my right hon. Friend has been talking about is our investment in fusion technology. He might be about to say something about that, but I was really pleased to see £20 million being given to that area in the Budget. Will he confirm that the Euratom issue is now over, and that we can look forward to a successful fusion technology industry continuing in this country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, which gives me the chance to confirm that there will be £20 million of investment—and it is investment—in the centre of excellence in fusion research. It will pay dividends for many years to come. The discussions on the successor arrangements to Euratom have gone as I hoped they would—that is, cordially and expeditiously—and good progress has been made on all the issues under discussion. We have made the necessary agreements with most of our major counterparts.
On places, the Budget announced extra funding for the Strength in Places fund, supporting local collaborations between business and research across the UK. This was also an important Budget for Britain’s small businesses. Extending the start-up loans programme will help more aspiring entrepreneurs to take the plunge. Further funding for the knowledge transfer partnerships will place graduates in smaller firms across the United Kingdom. The fivefold increase in the annual investment allowance will help to support firms as they invest and grow, and the £1.5 billion boost to small high street retailers, including £900 million in business rates relief, will support small businesses right across the country.
The post office in our high street has been downgraded from a Crown post office and its services are being reduced. Our retailers in our high street are worried that this will mean fewer people coming into the community. What can the Minister say to reassure the retailers in our high street?
One of our proudest achievements in Government has been to halt the destruction of the post office network—[Interruption.] It is substantially the same in numerical terms across the country as it was when we came into office. That is very important, for exactly the reason that the hon. Lady has set out. Post offices are crucial to many high streets and to the many small businesses that make use of their services.
We are in the early days of a period of spectacular opportunity for Britain. The truth is that none of the achievements that are within our grasp would be possible without the willingness of investors and entrepreneurs to take a risk in backing new ideas.
Notwithstanding the attractions of Cornwall, the vertical take-off site for the UK is going to be in my constituency, and I would be churlish if I did not express my thanks to Her Majesty’s Government for that decision. In Caithness, we have exactly the kind of skills and knowledge in Thurso and Dounreay that the Secretary of State is referring to. Will the Government ensure that those skills and that knowledge are transferred and used to boost the laudable scheme for the space launch in my constituency?
I am glad to hear that from the hon. Gentleman. I had a great visit to his beautiful constituency and he is right to say that it has skills that can be deployed in the space industry now. It also has the opportunity, working with local colleges, to develop and grow the skills that the space industry will need if it is to create good, well-paid jobs there in the future. This decision is great news for the north of Scotland and for the whole of the United Kingdom.
I welcome the £200 million more that is to be given to the British Business Bank as part of the Budget, and also the announcement that a team from the bank is to be based in Scotland. The Secretary of State knows that I have an ongoing concern about the availability of quality patient capital, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. What is his assessment of the current availability of that kind of capital?
My hon. Friend highlights a piece of advocacy that he has made personally and as a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to ensure that we give growing businesses the ability to expand. That investment by and through the British Business Bank, particularly through its regional focus on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is very important. It should be close to the people in whom it is investing.
By investing in new equipment and employing new people, it is businesses that create jobs, not the Government. Businesses provide people with the earnings they need to live good lives. After the family and education, it is businesses that provide most of us with the best opportunity to develop and make the most of our talents. It is businesses that pay for every single one of our public services, both directly and by employing people. Governments cannot do such things, but they can stand in the way. There is no successful society anywhere in the world that is not based on successful businesses.
However, at a time when we need national determination to invest in future business success through a long-term approach, we have an Opposition whose would-be Chancellor describes business as the “real enemy”. A month ago in Liverpool—a city that drove out business when the hard left last seized power, taking a generation to recover—a chilling warning was sounded to the world: “If you dare to invest in Britain, 10% of your value will be seized forever without compensation. You’ll be taxed at the highest level in the peacetime history of this country. You’ll be trapped in a nightmare economy where, at a stroke, the state goes a third of a trillion pounds more into debt. The would-be Government fully expect a run on the pound and capital flight.” Whatever uncertainty there is over Brexit, businesses tell me time and again that their biggest nightmare would be to have the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor in Downing Street.
The choice could not be clearer. Britain has the chance to be in the vanguard of the most exciting developments in the history of global commerce and innovation, or to be shunned by investors as one of the most left-wing, anti-enterprise, ruinously indebted nations in the developed world. The aim of this project is to build a country in which our children and grandchildren can look forward with confidence to ever-stronger security and ever-growing opportunity. That choice has never been more vital for Britain, and I commend the Budget to House.
With the leave of the House, I shall speak instead of the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), who has been taken ill and is disappointed not to be here today. We wish her a speedy recovery.
Every Opposition Member is disappointed by the Chancellor’s Budget, which can best be described as a “broken promises” Budget, despite the spin that the Secretary of State has tried to place on it. The Prime Minister promised the end of austerity, but the Chancellor was already backtracking within the first few minutes of his speech, simply saying that austerity is “coming to an end” and even that turned out not to be true. Austerity is certainly not over.
The truth is that the small giveaways in this Budget do not begin to even touch the sides of the cuts made since the Government took office. The £1.7 billion promised to universal credit is less than a third of the £7 billion of social security cuts still to come. School funding has been cut by 8%, but there was nothing to fill the gap, and the Chancellor’s idea that schools should be grateful for a one-off payment of £400 million for “little extras” is insulting. Local councils still face a funding gap of £7.8 billion by 2025, and budgets will be cut by a further £1.3 billion next year. How is that the end of austerity? In fact, the Resolution Foundation has predicted that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will have suffered a real-terms per-capita cut of over 50% by 2024.
The Secretary of State just mentioned Liverpool. Since 2010, Liverpool’s local authority budget has been cut by 64%. That is the problem that Liverpool is facing today.
My hon. Friend make an excellent point. All our constituents have had to suffer cuts to services, so for the Secretary of State to say that austerity is over is an insult to our intelligence.
Like Liverpool, Durham County Council has lost nearly half its budget since 2010, and the cuts are still going on. This Budget contained no change to next year’s cuts in revenue support grant, so another £40 million will be taken out of the council’s budget.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The services that make such a difference to our constituents’ daily lives face increased cuts, which is why our constituents know that austerity is not ending under this Government.
Do the hon. Lady’s constituents want to pay billions more in tax or to have the nation weighed down by billions or even trillions more in borrowing?
Our manifesto commitments show that 95% of the people of this country would not suffer any tax increase under a Labour Government. The Conservatives have managed to double our debt, while preaching austerity—doubling the debt because the economy did not grow significantly under the austerity ideology.
The Secretary of State may point to the increased spend on the NHS as an example of austerity ending, but the Health Foundation has branded it as simply not enough. Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said yesterday that if we look at total spending—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State seems to suggest that health spending is not relevant to the economy, but it is the wellbeing of all our constituents that enables us to deliver an economy that works for everyone. Paul Johnson of the IFS said:
“If you look at total spending beyond the NHS it’s not really going anywhere… If you look at total spending as a fraction of national income, it’s not really going anywhere... This is not a dramatic change in the sense of undoing much of the cuts we’ve had over the last eight years.”
The Chancellor has squandered an opportunity to repair the damage done to our public services and our economy by his predecessor’s pursuit of a failed economic ideology. That ideology has created many of the problems holding back our economy today, from chronically low productivity and business investment to eye-watering levels of inequality in terms of both income and geography.
What was eye watering was the debt under the previous Labour Government. Does the hon. Lady not agree that growth of over 1.5% going hand in hand with public spending is a phenomenal achievement and is thanks to a balanced economy?
The hon. Lady should finally recognise that the economic crisis—the crash—was caused by casino capitalism and reckless bankers, and the Conservative party chose to make the poorest people pay for it, and they continue to pay given the slowest recovery since the Napoleonic era.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the economy was growing and national debt was below 50% when Labour left Government? Debt has grown to 85% under this Government because of their failed austerity programme. Indeed, when we built the NHS in 1948, debt was 250% of GDP, but it dropped because we invested in the economy.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He could give a lesson in basic economics to most Conservative Members.
Is it not a fact that debt was 43% of GDP when Labour came to office in 1997 and went down to 40% by 2006? That was down to good management of the economy before the crash. Through those years, the Conservative party was not just agreeing to our spending commitments, but asking for more expenditure, so we will have no lessons from the Tory party about reckless spending.
Absolutely. The Conservative party initiated and promoted the reckless deregulation of our financial sector, which contributed significantly to the financial crisis, and then failed to manage the economy in such a way as to ensure sustained, significant growth. Under this Government, we have had half the historical level of growth.
The prognosis for growth is reflected in business investment, which is the lowest in the G7. We are the only major economy in which investment is falling. Our productivity is 15% lower than in other major economies, and it has not grown this slowly since the Napoleonic wars—there is an achievement. The average real wage growth since the second world war is 2.4% a year, but under the Conservatives, pay has fallen by 3% and the UK remains the most regionally unequal country in Europe.
We needed a big Budget to rebalance our economy and to provide the industrial strategy with the backing it needs to address the serious problems, but the Budget is deeply disappointing. We got an arbitrary announcement of more funding for the national productivity investment fund, but that will be in 2023, with no information on where the money will be allocated.
On research and development, we had another repackaging of money that was announced last year dressed up as additional funding when, in fact, of the £1.6 billion cited by the Government only £180 million, barely 10%, is new. Although we are pleased that there has been a marked increase in R&D expenditure, there is still no overarching strategy for its direction or for how the Government intend to meet their target of spending 2.4% of GDP on R&D. We are a world leader in science, but, let us be clear, the Government’s 2.4% target is average when it comes to R&D spend. Labour’s target is 3% to become one of the leading nations in R&D spend.
What little information there was in the Budget again focused on sexy high-tech areas like nuclear fusion and quantum mechanics. As an engineer, I understand the desire of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to be associated with sexy technologies, and it is of course a vital part of our industrial strategy to support the industries of the future, but he has repeatedly failed to recognise that supporting our biggest sectors to improve their productivity through technology and investment is so important.
Retail is one of the biggest employers outside the public sector, and it is facing a unique crisis. Over 100,000 jobs have been lost in the past three years, and over 25,000 shops stand empty. High streets are the centre of communities, and they should and can continue to be vibrant spaces of which communities are proud, but to achieve that we need proactive policies from the Government, as Labour have been demanding for months.
The Secretary of State has been a bit cheeky and stolen a number of Labour’s policies in this area. A register of empty properties, an adjustment to business rates and a high street taskforce were just some of the policy proposals in the conference speech of my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State. It would be churlish of me to demand our policies back, but that is where the consensus ends.
The Government’s overall package, “Our Plan for the High Street,” simply does not do enough. Business rates relief would not have saved a single House of Fraser or Debenhams—the vast majority of retail workers are employed in such shops. The British Retail Consortium has said that the Government
“must engage in more extensive business rates reform to help all retailers and their employees through this period of transformation.”
The CBI responded:
“Smaller businesses will be relieved by the support on Business Rates… But larger retailers and manufactures—and the millions they employ across the UK—will continue to suffer needlessly until there is a full, in-depth review.”
Yet the Budget contained no commitment to a review of business rates.
The future high streets fund is yet another fund allocated out of the national productivity investment fund, and there are no details of where the money will be targeted, who will be responsible for administering it or how quickly funds will be made available. The proposals for planning reform have missed the point. It seems that the Government’s idea to save our high streets is to turn them into non-high streets. Frankly, much more work is needed if we are to protect our high streets and the millions of workers who rely on them.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the high street. Does she agree that it is ridiculous of the Chancellor to ask that local authorities develop a plan for their high streets, which is something we support, while he is taking away the means for them to be able to plan for their high streets by introducing yet more permitted development?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The attack on the capacity of local authorities, as well as on their powers, means that their ability to determine the future of our high streets is severely limited.
Retail is our biggest employment sector, and many of the job losses will be in towns and cities outside London and the south-east where good jobs are already hard to find. The precariousness of work in the retail sector is one symptom of the crisis blighting high streets across the UK.
There is very little in this Budget for workers, across all sectors, who after eight years of austerity are facing an uncertain future. Only yesterday, workers marched on Parliament to demand proper pay and terms and conditions. Many of those workers are outsourced to private providers and are on precarious, poorly paid contracts. Yet the Government continue to turn a blind eye, and there is absolutely nothing in the Budget to improve the lives of those marching.
The hon. Lady is completely right on that point. Does she agree that it is a disgrace that, after Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy talked out my private Member’s Bill to ban unpaid trial shifts, which are a blight on retail, the Government now refuse to meet anybody to talk about it, despite acknowledging that unpaid trial shifts are a major problem?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, and I look forward to the Government’s response.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will now make some progress, as I am sure Mr Speaker will not indulge me much longer.
I am not sure what is needed for the Conservative Government to see that their economic policies are causing more harm than good. Rising prices and stagnating wages mean that people are now £800 a year worse off than they were a decade ago. Just under half a million young people are still unemployed, and one in nine are in insecure agency work, on a zero-hours contract or in low-paid self-employment. That is the everyday reality for millions of working people—the people behind the supposed record levels of employment bandied about by the Government as the marker of a successful labour market.
The truth is that there are real issues in our labour market—rising insecurity, stagnating wages and a productivity crisis—so it is disappointing to see so little to address them in the Budget. There are increases to the minimum wage or, as the Government have rebranded it, the national living wage, but it is still significantly below the rate set for the real living wage. One in five people earn less than the wage they need to get by, according to the Living Wage Foundation, and the increases will not change that. In addition, unlike the Government’s minimum wage, the real living wage is based on a review of the evidence on what is happening to people’s living standards right now.
The Government’s failure to immediately reform the IR35 rules, which govern how much tax those working as contractors pay, shows that they are refusing to take tax avoidance seriously. By pushing back those reforms to 2020, the Government are denying themselves much-needed revenue, which could be used to properly fund our schools and the NHS, or to pay workers a decent wage. How many more people need to take to the streets protesting about their precarious working conditions? How bad do things have to get before the Government finally take action?
We have heard lots of warm words about defence spending, but they are cold comfort to many of the workers in the shipbuilding industry, such as at Cammell Laird and Appledore, who are facing real uncertainty as to whether their jobs are safe. It is disappointing that the Government failed to announce any support for our manufacturing or shipbuilding industries, which are vital to our long-term economic success.
In the same month that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading authority on climate change, set out the devastating consequences for human civilisation of a business-as-usual approach and the scale of ambition needed to avoid dangerous climate change, what did the Chancellor do? He did not even mention climate change, and the Red Book was little better. The Chancellor left the carbon price support unchanged and said that the Government would seek to reduce the rate if the total carbon price remains high—that is as clear as mud. The Chancellor tinkered at the edges of the climate change levy, a policy introduced by Labour but undermined by his predecessor, George Osborne, who removed exemptions for renewable energy. The Government did announce a £315 million industrial energy transformation fund to support businesses to increase their energy-efficiency. That sounds good, but when we realise that it will be paid for entirely by money saved from scrapping capital allowances for energy and water efficiency, which enabled businesses to claim back the costs of investments, we see that it is really just rearranging the furniture.
What else was there? As has been said, the Government announced £20 million for nuclear fusion. I do not know whether the Chancellor’s understanding of nuclear fusion is as limited as his understanding of blockchain, but these figures should illustrate the challenge here: £20 million is 330 times smaller than the €6.6 billion the EU will contribute to one nuclear fusion experimental facility in France—this is not even a drop in the nuclear ocean. Of renewable energy—wind, solar and tidal—not a single mention was made, at a time when electricity and gas wholesale prices are rising, and we enter another winter with household bills surging and millions facing fuel poverty. There was £10 million for urban tree planting and a commitment to purchase £50 million-worth of carbon credits from tree planting, although it is unclear whether that is new funding. The lack of action on climate mitigations is disappointing.
I think the hon. Lady’s figures on fusion technology are completely wrong, as she is not comparing like with like. The project in the south of France is a commercial project to make fusion possible at a commercial scale. That means that the projects continuing in the UK do not have to be at that scale, and the £20 million is an enormous contribution to what they are trying to do.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but in fact he illustrates the scale of the problem. Nuclear fusion requires significant investment in order to commercialise it, as he would agree. The level of investment that this Government are making in it is entirely inadequate to meet the challenge and in respect of the contribution fusion can make to our economic and climate future.
Labour is serious about achieving a net zero emissions economy before 2050. We are developing policies to dramatically decarbonise energy and insulate 4 million homes in our first term, as part of our green jobs revolution. We believe in the power of people, the power of leadership and the power of government to address what are frankly existential challenges. After eight years of austerity and counting, it is evident that the Tories have given up on this. This Budget shows the Tories giving up on the planet, too. They lack both ideas and the courage to do what is needed. They must step aside.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), a fellow scientist, albeit some of her evidence could have perhaps benefited from a peer review. May I ask her, on behalf of the whole House, to pass on our best wishes to the Secretary of State for a speedy recovery—
Shadow Secretary of State—
Shadow Secretary of State, yes. I do not think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State requires any help in recovery. He is a formidable champion for business, as I know, sometimes to my cost, from my old job. He has been a brilliant exponent and driver of the enabling of the modernisation of the British industrial estate. I wish to pick up on one point made by the hon. Lady. She talked about the treatment of employees, the so-called “gig economy” and so on. My right hon. Friend was the one who brought us the Matthew Taylor report, with all of its innovative ideas to improve the protection of employees in our country and at the same time not destroy the jobs that they enjoy. That is pretty formidable in its own right, so I commend my right hon. Friend for that, although I do not intend to take us down that route today.
I have only three quick points to make. I shall be brisk and I probably will not take any interventions. Traditionally, the Budget is dominated by the technical metrics of growth rates, inflation rates, taxation, deficits, debt levels and spending. All those things are incredibly important issues. Indeed, one reason why it would be a disaster to have a Labour Government is that they would ignore all those things and deliver us into national bankruptcy, with the economic crisis and the social crisis that would follow. What is important is to understand that a Conservative Government do take all those things seriously, as they are the box in which we deliver the Budget. The Budget is about improving people’s lives and delivering the best outcome for our nation. As Conservatives, we believe in a narrative of a property owning democracy encompassing opportunity, personal responsibility, economic freedom, fairness and social mobility. For most of my colleagues, our view of the right sort of society for us is one where there is no limit to which anyone might rise and a limit beneath which no person may fall.
With that, I want to measure this Budget against the aspirations of our citizens: does it meet their aspirations to have a good university education; to get a job and build a meaningful career; to buy a home and raise a family? Those are aspirations that everyone shares, across the House and across the nation—we share them with all our constituents. Everyone should have the opportunity to pursue them.
All political parties talk a good story when they are trying to persuade people that they are on their side, but it is what Governments do, not what they say, that matters to the people. Nowhere is that more true than in the Budget; the language of public finance is the language of priorities, which is why this is so important. Starting with the definition of a decent society, both the ladder of opportunity and the social safety net are determined for the least well-off by the benefits system—by the welfare system. That is the key that underpins the opportunities and security for all the least well-off.
For decades, the British welfare system has been a nightmare of complexity in which hard work was in effect penalised, sometimes to the point of it being not worth while at all from an economic point of view, albeit that work is always worth while from a moral point of view. The coalition Government started the necessary reform by introducing the universal credit system. Much has been said about it—it has been controversial—but the whole system is a significant step in the right direction.
The tax credits and benefits system introduced by Gordon Brown all too often trapped people in a cycle of dependency, which was not unforeseeable. I was the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee when he introduced that system, which he copied from a system in America that was already failing, and it was clear what was going to happen. Many people who made the effort to go out and find work faced an effective tax and withdrawal rate of up to 95%.
A benefit system should seek to aid people’s return to work, not to trap them in unemployment. Universal credit seeks to correct that problem by helping more people into work and enabling them to keep more of what they earn, but it absolutely has to be properly funded. I therefore welcome the most important part of the Chancellor’s Budget: his announcement on universal credit. We must make sure that those in most need, including single parents—those who know me will know that single parents are of particular importance to me—couples without children, and those who should not be economically dependent on their partners, are not left wanting by subsequent changes. Universal credit will need further funding beyond what is promised in the Budget, and I shall certainly watch out for that. Nevertheless, the Chancellor has taken excellent action, for which I commend him.
The next most important way to help people make the most of their lives is through education and training, which the Secretary of State has been a great exponent of in his role. However, today, the cost of getting a university education, plus the confusion around financing, act as a disincentive to getting one. I am afraid the policy on student loans has failed. Almost half the loans will never be repaid. They are a falsehood in the national accounts. Crucially, the loans system has failed to deliver a market in university education—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) should not be smiling: Labour basically invented the system and created the problems that I am about to talk about.
The loans system has failed to deliver a market in university education, with the least valuable courses at the worst universities costing precisely the same as the most valuable course at the most prestigious university. That is not a market. At least some of the money has gone not into world-class research but into overpaying some pretty second-rate vice-chancellors. The whole system needs to be revamped and turned into a proper graduate-contribution system with honest accounting, clear rules and no retrospective changes to the interest rates or other terms. In the long run, we should move away from loans all together; that would have a liberating psychological impact on young people.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not give way on this issue.
I wonder why.
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why I will not give way: because he was part of the Government who invented the system that created this crisis in the first place.
We need to do more on housing, which is an issue of utmost importance. Home ownership levels are plummeting, and many young people believe that they will never have a home to call their own. As a party of aspiration, we must do better. Help to Buy is failing: it is not increasing the supply of housing; rather, it is increasing the cost of new homes by 15% and inflating developers’ bonuses. It should be scrapped immediately. We need to increase the supply of new homes dramatically and to make those homes attractive and affordable. Perhaps the best idea that is being mooted—forgive me if I go off piste for a second, Mr Speaker—is that of garden towns, garden cities and garden villages. Garden villages of between 1,500 and 5,000 houses will be big enough to justify schools, shopping centres, buses and so on.
The landowners where such developments are created make spectacular windfall gains—in the south of England, they make as much as £1 million an acre—which is where the Treasury comes in. There is no reason why half of such gains should not be funnelled in a way that reduces the final price of the house. That way, when we create affordable housing, it will be proper affordable housing, of a decent size—it will not be a little box, a progressively shrinking option. That is how we will get the affordable houses that we need. However we do it, we in the Conservative party have to grasp this problem and solve it. This party has for more than 50 years been the party of the home owning democracy. We need once more to make home ownership available to a whole new generation.
Since the Gordon Brown crash—I was going to call it the 2008 crash—we have heard a lot about the threats to capitalism, which are of course real in, for example, the personality of the Leader of the Opposition. The simple truth is that free markets, free trade, property ownership and social mobility have delivered improvements to the lives of billions around the world. Capitalism has taken people not just in Britain but around the world out of poverty and given them a future. The best defence of capitalism in this country is to deliver those benefits to a new generation of young people. Britain is an aspirational country and we are an aspirational party; we need to deliver on that.
The first step is the economy’s fantastic jobs performance. The Opposition never like to speak about the fact that we have the lowest unemployment in my adult lifetime and the highest employment ever in this country. That is a remarkable achievement given the mess we were given when we came into office. The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) intervened on the shadow Minister earlier to say that when Labour came into power in ’97, the debt was such and such, and so on. When Labour came into power in ’97, the chief economic adviser to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair said publicly, “This is the best economy any Government have ever inherited”—
No, I am not giving way; I am coming to the end of my speech.
We have never, ever inherited such an economy from any Labour Government in history, and there is a good reason why that is the case.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman’s leadership speech, but this is supposed to be a debate. He referred to something that I said earlier in the debate and would not let me come back on it. Is that in order?
I do not think the Chair is the arbiter of normality. Sometimes the Member on his or her feet gives way, and other times not. The right hon. Gentleman is experienced enough in this House to know that. He has registered his mild irritation, but the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) has adhered to the rules today, as on previous occasions.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. That attempt at an intervention came one sentence from the end of my speech, to which I shall simply add that it seems to me that some points of order are as bogus as the facts to which the right hon. Member for North Durham claims to aspire.
Throughout the past 50 years, Governments of all parties have made enormous claims for their intentions on social mobility, but in delivery they have fallen short on nearly all those claims. This shall be a Government who deliver on social mobility and on the real value of a capitalist economy. On that basis, I commend the Budget to the House.
The Prime Minister promised to end austerity. The Chancellor said it is “coming to an end.” The Budget proved simply to be yet another rebranding exercise. The Tories are good at making promises, but they are bad at keeping them. The Resolution Foundation pointed out that, to end all spending cuts through all Departments by 2022-23, the Chancellor would need to spend £31 billion. Ten years after the financial crash, nothing has changed. The Chancellor continues to balance the books on the backs of the poorest in society. And that is before we even consider the impact of Brexit, which, incidentally, merited only a passing mention in the Chancellor’s speech.
Household budgets face tougher times as Brexit goes from holding the economy in its teeth to biting down and spitting out those who can afford it the least. That is not an outcome that we want to see for people in any of the UK’s nations, but Scotland actively voted to avoid it. That is why we in the Scottish National party believe that the power over the future of the people of Scotland should be in their hands, not in the hands of a Government who are wilfully ignoring the wishes of the Parliament in Scotland.
The way in which the Government are playing their hand is making the case for independence for Scotland for us, but let us see whether they can at least do a few small things to make life a bit more bearable. We welcome the freeze on whisky duty, a perennial call from those on the SNP Benches, but the Government must now commit to ruling out the use of geographical indicators as a bargaining chip with the EU. Scotch whisky must remain fully recognised everywhere.
With the costs of the movement of goods and people facing increases owing to Brexit, the UK Government must work with the Scottish Government to fix the issues over the highlands and islands exemption and allow the transfer of air passenger discount to Scotland in a workable format. Incidentally, the Chancellor’s Budget contained a veiled threat to allow for a dangerous increase in that tax, which would further hit Scottish travellers. The UK Government must also ensure that EU funding will continue until the end of the current multiannual financial framework and that Scotland must not be worse off in any respect of those funding allocations. Crucially, they must respect devolution.
Freezing fuel duty is also to be welcomed, but what is not welcome is the freezing endured, especially by those on low incomes in the highlands and islands, who still get a red raw deal through higher electricity unit charges and unregulated off-grid gas and heating oil. When will they get fairness? When will they see the change that they deserve and need?
Despite attempts to rebrand the message—the Chancellor now calls austerity “financial discipline”—after a decade, Tory austerity is far from over. Instead it continues to be more dogma and neglect. In contrast, the Scottish Government are using their limited powers to build an economy of the future with measures to unlock innovation and drive increased productivity, and they would do even more if they had the power to do so.
Scotland’s 2019-20 resource block grant is down nearly 7%, £2 billion in real terms, compared with the 2010-11 figure. That is even after the additional funding announced. Even the £602 million headline increase fails to mention the £53 million of existing budget.
I will allow an intervention in a while, but I must make some progress just now.
We have yet to see the refund of joint VAT due to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Police Scotland. Where was the convergence uplift due to the Scottish farmers? Some £160 million that should be spent in Scotland was simply spirited away by Ministers for their own projects.
Could I go back to the hon. Gentleman’s point about the block grant? Does he agree that, between this year and next, the block grant for Scotland is up £866 million in cash terms and up £381 million in real terms? How is that a cut?
What the hon. Gentleman fails to understand is that, if you put £1 in but, because of the rising cost, take £2 out, that is a cut effectively. What we have seen is a real-terms cut—[Interruption.] I have to educate him. That is what a real-terms cut means. As he has raised that issue, let us highlight other real-term and actual cuts that Scotland has endured: £400 million, due through the previous regulatory agreement for railways; the city deals are £387 million short of the match funding that the Scottish Government put in; £53 million is missing for the NHS from this Budget; and the VAT for fire and rescue services and for Police Scotland, at £175 million.
My hon. Friend has rightly pointed out that £175 million has not been refunded to Scotland’s emergency services through VAT. Does he agree that it is bewildering that this money has not been refunded given that—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) is chuntering from a sedentary position, “You were told.” A special dispensation on paying VAT was given to academy schools in England, but not to Scotland’s emergency services.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point.
When the figures for what Scotland has lost are totalled up, agriculture VAT comes to £1.1 billion; and there is the £1.9 billion cut from 2010. That is £3 billion in total. When we look over the Irish sea, we see Ireland with its 7% growth in the last year alone. Ireland’s economy has grown by £18 billion. The Irish are getting £4 billion more in tax. What is the difference between Scotland and Ireland? Ireland, which is independent, is £7 billion ahead of Scotland with the Tories in Westminster. If that is not a wake-up call, what is?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. He points out exactly where the powers lie to make a real difference for people.
I will give way one last time.
Is my hon. Friend as curious as I am about the political influence on this Budget? Belfast has received £2 million from this Government for a fire fund, whereas Sauchiehall Street, which has suffered two recent fires, has not had a single penny from this Chancellor.
My hon. Friend makes the point succinctly about the way Scotland is treated on these matters and I thank her for that intervention.
This Government’s negligent actions have already drained our economy of much-needed, vital investment. The Chancellor failed to take the steps to support the economy and businesses. The Fraser of Allander Institute estimates that a hard Brexit could cost 80,000 jobs in Scotland between 2020 and 2030. Mark Carney told MPs in this building that Brexit has already cost households—families—up to £900 each. Again, there was no mention of that in the Budget. And we know why. The UK Government’s own figures have shown that there simply is no good Brexit, with a substantial hit to the economy, as a best-case scenario, running to a whopping 8% reduction in GDP. In context, that is a cost of £2,300 per person, per year by 2030. Even if the UK signs a free trade deal with the EU, Scotland’s GDP will be hit to the tune of £1,610 per person every year until 2030.
There was also a failure to support the oil and gas sector in the Budget. The UK Government have now taken more than £350 billion-worth of North sea revenues, and that is excluding, by the way, the supply chain, corporation, employment or business taxes, and we are supposed to cheer when the UK Government do nothing in their Budget for that industry, other than to float the idea of a tax increase and then say they are not imposing it, along with some vague verbal support for decommissioning. Where is the funding from the Secretary of State? Why has he not been arguing for the sector deal for oil and gas?
The Office for Budget Responsibility is stating that the outlook for oil and gas is showing a rise from £1.2 billion to £2.2 billion per year on average. Production statistics are up on 2014-15 levels by more than 23% and oil and gas sales values are up by nearly 20%. New fields such as Capercaillie, Achmelvich and Nexen’s phase two in the Buzzard Field underline the remaining potential. A study at Aberdeen University suggests an extra 4 billion barrels of oil from offshore, on top of 2017 estimates, yet the sector is still ignored. [Interruption.] Some Conservative Members are chuntering that the Greens will not like that. Let me tell them that, unlike the Chancellor’s passing mention or the green UK statement that came out, I intend to mention climate change in my speech. That neatly leads me on to say that the Government, having ignored the oil and gas sector, a sector vital for the coming decades—[Interruption.] I am going to make some progress. The sector is vital in the coming decades while we transfer to low and zero carbon. It is an utter disgrace. A sector deal must be brought forward now. It should include national hubs for underwater innovation, transformational technology and decommissioning.
Where was the UK Government’s manifesto pledge that committed them to working collaboratively with the Scottish Government for an ultra-deep water port for decommissioning? Oil and gas has always been a poorly discharged duty by successive Westminster Governments, complete with ministerial pinball and 20 energy Ministers in 20 years. This Government, however, are also falling asleep over their duties to climate change—
I shall let Members in, but I want to make some progress.
We need, and will need, oil and gas for our future heat while we transition to low and zero-carbon fuels, but meeting the Paris climate change targets means real investment in the technology to manage that switch. Anyone with an ounce of sense knows that carbon capture and storage is a vital component to achieve targets that are so important to us all.
The Secretary of State said earlier that he would not let the lead on technology slip, but where was that when the carbon capture and storage programme at Peterhead was abandoned? We had the opportunity to become world leaders, to demonstrate technological advancement and, crucially, to get a head start in the transition and to have marketable expertise and technology to export. Instead, three years ago, a £1 billion rug was pulled from underneath the industry, its companies and the people of Scotland. It was nothing short of betrayal.
Now the UK Government are back talking up carbon capture and storage, three years later. However, they say that they can catch up with only 10% of the original budget—which, incidentally, is the same amount that they squandered on the preparation work for Peterhead. You could not make this up. It is nothing more than lip service. With a will, however, the Government could sort this. There are still opportunities, including at Grangemouth, but the longer the wait, the more difficult and expensive it becomes, especially to man-made climate change. The Government must now fess up, about turn and push the pedal to the floor, properly fund the technology and at long last live up to the Paris commitments.
Does my hon. Friend get as frustrated as I do when he listens to the litany of failures from Westminster and realises the sums of money involved? Compare that with the sums of money following the growth in the Irish economy in the last year—£4 billion in extra tax revenue. They can do so much more with the powers of independence. We are shackled by the crew down here in Westminster, whose vision and imagination are so limited. All that they can do is cut and continue austerity. It is the same record at the same time—[Interruption.] Conservative Members should behave themselves, please.
I thank my colleague for making that point.
On the subject of new technologies, where was the serious investment in renewables research and development? According to Government answers, that sits at a paltry £51 million, which is a failure to commit to evolving technologies such as tidal, in which Scotland is a global leader. The Scottish Government have led the way in supporting tidal, and now the UK Government must work with them to explore where differentiation from the CfD—contracts for difference—process could be achieved to support this through to commercialisation.
I shall give way in a moment, because I did promise to, but it will have to be very brief. I want to come to a conclusion soon.
The solar industry has been battered by this Government, and now must be the time to reverse the plans to end the solar power export tariff for solar homes, small businesses and community energy projects. Ending that would be pernicious. The Government appear willing to pour unlimited amounts of public money into only one policy, however: they are obsessed with new nuclear.
Reports suggest that the Tory Government will pump £6 billion-worth of equity and about £9 billion of debt support into the failing Wyfla project, where project costs are trailed at about £20 billion. Both that and the huge white elephant that is Hinckley C have strike prices significantly higher than those for offshore wind. The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee warnings about value for money must be acknowledged. The public will be paying for those projects for decades to come, through higher bills. There was nothing in this Budget for the victims of green deal mis-selling.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Very briefly, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
The hon. Gentleman is keen to ask this Government what they are going to do, but what are his Government going to do about the historically slow growth rates in Scotland? Scotland is still growing 30% more slowly than the rest of the UK. Why is he not asking his own Government to deal with those issues?
The hon. Gentleman says nothing about productivity levels in Scotland, which continually outstrip those of the UK.
The Institute of Directors and the SNP made a demand for a small and medium-sized enterprises support line to help them deal with Brexit. The Chancellor also failed to deliver that. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Scottish Government help business with a £96 million investment to deliver the most attractive business rates package throughout the nations of the UK. Already, more than 100,000 businesses in Scotland pay no rates at all through the small business bonus scheme. Significantly, the Scottish Government are setting aside resources of £340 million to provide capitalisation for the Scottish national investment bank.
I wanted to talk about much more, but I shall cut a lot out to aid the process today. Before I finish, however, I want to cover the fair treatment of workers. Westminster has failed to end wage discrimination and give young people the real living wage. Young people are used to being short-changed by this Tory Government, as are those whose rights are infringed by the gig economy and unpaid-work trials. In the SNP, we believe that a fair day’s work should result in a fair day’s pay.
Contrast the Chancellor’s failure with the success of the Scottish Government’s real living wage accreditation scheme, ensuring that more than 1,000 employers now pay the real living wage and that, as a result, nearly 82% of workers in Scotland are earning it—the highest level in the nations of the UK. Imagine what more we could do if we had the power in Scotland to do so? In the meantime, the UK Government must stop ducking their responsibilities on pay. These measures are not only about doing the right and fair thing; they aid the economy by increasing productivity and boosting revenue through tax takes to spend on services. If the Government will not live up to their responsibilities for fair pay, fair conditions and young people, we should have the power in Scotland to do so ourselves.
I shall end on two things. First, in city deals around Scotland, the UK Government have fallen nearly £400 million short of the Scottish Government’s investment—so much for the 50:50 partnership. The Chancellor came up £50 million short on the Tay region deal and failed to confirm 100% coverage of Scotland, as promised by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—good at making promises, bad at keeping them. But of course that is nothing new. We saw that in the highlands with the Inverness and Highland city region deal, where the UK Government put in only about 20% of the funding—their £53 million dwarfed by the Scottish Government’s £135 million.
Healthy economies need healthy communities. This week’s Budget had one massive failure. That was the failure to deal effectively with the problem that is universal credit. It should have been halted, fixed and properly funded. Instead, like everything else, it only got lip service. After five and a half years, since the pilot to full roll-out in the highlands, we have seen the misery that people have had to endure. Despite all the begging, cajoling, demanding and asking of Government to listen, they failed to do so. They have made promises to people that they were unwilling to keep. It is about time that the Government took responsibility and sorted that out.
I call Sir Michael Fallon, who is not subject to a formal time limit, but I know that his natural courtesy will make it quite inconceivable that he would wish to address the House for longer than seven minutes.
I am most grateful, Mr Speaker. I remind the House of the business interests declared in the register.
Unlike the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), I commend the Budget and I look forward to supporting it in the Lobby tomorrow. The Chancellor of course had the advantage of rising tax receipts and lower borrowing, and he has made his choices, but they have been good choices. I look forward to supporting them.
In the end, this Budget should be judged on how it meets some of the bigger challenges: on how it strengthens the resilience of our economy as quantative easing comes to an end and capital might seek a more profitable home in the United States; on how it helps to narrow our still substantial productivity gap with France and Germany, as well as the United States—I commend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in particular for securing a massive increase in the investment allowance, which really will help our firms to start to narrow that gap; and on how it makes us properly match-fit for Brexit. I applaud the additional resources being given to UK Export Finance and the very significant increase in expenditure on research and development. It is in those areas that we are going to have to grow our capability if we are to succeed as a first-class global economy.
I would like to pick out three particular areas that I think require more attention. The first is infrastructure. Again, I was delighted to see a really significant increase in the roads budget. However, the recent proposal to take an entire motorway in my constituency and turn it into a potential lorry park illustrates just how fragile our roads system is if it can choke up so easily.
It is noteworthy that the three most important wealth-creating regions of our country—the south-east, London and East Anglia—are divided by the Thames. There are 17 bridges in London west of Tower Bridge; there are only two road crossings east of it. Every day, my constituents and thousands of others in Kent and in Essex, on both sides of London, are queuing to get over the River Thames, at untold cost to our economy and our business. That is because successive Governments have been ludicrously slow in giving us the infrastructure we need. It took 70 years to add a second tunnel at Blackwall and 28 years to add a bridge to the Dartford tunnel, and it now looks like taking 18 years to build the third lower Thames crossing. I urge my right hon. Friends to look again at the infrastructure bureaucracy to see how we can speed up the development of the critical infrastructure that we are going to need in future—the airports, the ports and the river crossings that will enable us to make a success of Brexit.
Secondly, there is investment in our schools and skills. I fully understand that education spending for the next spending period will not be determined until the spring, but I think my right hon. Friends are already aware that school budgets are struggling to cope at the moment, with rising pupil numbers and the huge increase in the number of pupils with additional needs, meaning that education authorities such as Kent County Council are continuing to have to divert resources away from the main schools funding block to deal with those particular pupils. I do not think I am alone in this House in urging my right hon. Friends to look again at the schools budget, not just for 2021 but for the new financial year for schools beginning in September.
My final point is on savings. The current savings ratio, at 4.9% of disposable income, is the lowest for 50 years. It has been falling year after year and is now the lowest since records began. Coupled with some of the steep recent increases in consumer debt, that should set alarm bells ringing. I am quite struck by the number of constituents I see in my surgeries who are living on the edge, if I can put it like that—who have nothing to fall back on when they hit harder times. We have to return to that in future Budgets.
One of the more painless ways of boosting savings, of course, is to encourage share ownership—not through the mandatory, confiscatory plan put forward by the shadow Chancellor, but by simplifying and incentivising the current share schemes. There are share incentive plans at the moment, but some of them are 40 pages long. There are employee ownership trusts, but they do not apply to companies owned by private equity. We need to look again at all this to simplify it so that it is easier for employees to have a genuine stake in their firms. We must reduce the holding period and improve the tax treatment so that we have genuine share ownership.
With Brexit looming, one might have expected a Budget that was a holding operation. This was much more than a holding operation; it was a very skilful set of choices. But outside the European Union, I believe, we are going to need even more ambition as a Government. We will need further, radical steps to improve our tax competitiveness, to improve our export record, to drive up our productivity, to modernise our infrastructure, and to improve the quality and quantity of our spending on skills and on schools. That said, I commend this Budget.
Order. As colleagues will see, a large number of Members want to contribute to this debate, so I am imposing a five-minute time limit on speeches.
This Budget has shown that the Government’s contention that austerity is over is not correct. Austerity is not over, and it runs deep throughout this Budget.
I want to start in the local sense, for me, with the north Wales growth deal. For the past three years, the Government have promised a growth deal for north Wales, and that has been put in the Red Book, but no money has been delivered. This Budget has delivered a figure of £120 million for the north Wales growth deal. I give that a cautious welcome initially. It will help with the purchase of land and the development of business; with transport and with infrastructure; and with the digital activity—connectivity in terms of a range of issues—that we want to see in north Wales.
Despite that cautious welcome, there are still some challenges with the growth deal. North Wales remains underwhelmed at the amount of resource that is being put towards the deal. On receiving the announcement, the Assembly’s Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford, said that it falls
“some way short of what we and the people of north Wales have been expecting and working hard towards”.
A business leader in north Wales, Askar Sheibani, who is the chairman of the Deeside business forum and the managing director of a major technical company, has said that this deal will leave the people of north Wales angry:
“We were expecting a lot more than that”.
The work that has been done by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), by Assembly Members, by local government and by business means that we should have received, potentially, £340 million. There have been meetings with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies); I can see Ministers on the Treasury Bench looking closely at what has been said.
We want to know, from a north Wales perspective, what deals have been done with local government to date, what assurances we have got for the National Assembly about match funding for this money, what support we have got for businesses, and what projects, and when, will be put on the ground in the near future with the £120 million. We have come a long way to date, and there has been a lot of co-operation, but we need more support for the future. The cautious welcome will have to remain cautious until we get answers to those questions.
I said that austerity is not over, and it is clear from the Red Book that it is not. Let us look at some of the figures in the Red Book. Let us take, for example, the Home Office. This year’s budget is £10.8 billion; the 2019-20 budget is £10.7 billion. This is at a time when police officer numbers have been cut by 21,000 from when I had the honour of being Policing Minister in 2010; when as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) has pointed out, only today the National Police Chiefs Council is potentially taking the Government to court over £165 million-worth of investment on pensions; and when shoplifting is up by 4%, robbery is up by 11%, theft is up by 6%, violence is up by 13%, and sexual offences are up by 46%. The Government are going to fall back on local taxpayers, yet again, to bail out the funding for policing. The Government themselves should be funding policing.
For the Ministry for Justice, this year’s figure is £6.3 billion and next year’s figure is £6 billion. That is a £300 million reduction in expenditure at a time when prison officers are under stress and attacks on prisoners are increasing—when there is a real challenge in the prison system. For the International Trade Department, at a time when we have the uncertainties that are facing us with Brexit, there is a cut of 25%—not much optimism about doing trade deals there.
Throughout the position set out in the Red Book, there are deep cuts in a range of key budget areas. This is at a time when the Government are also ensuring that almost half of the income tax cuts in the Budget are going to the top 10% of households, and when three quarters of the £12 billion welfare cuts—including the changes announced which are not really going to meet the problems of universal credit—remain Government policy from the 2015 election. Nobody begrudges a tax cut to middle-income doctors, nurses and police professionals, but yet again the Government have not raised the 40% tax rate to 45%. They have cut the bank levy from £2.6 billion to £1.1 billion. They are going to raise £32 billion from council tax this year but £40 billion in three years’ time. They are going to transfer the responsibility for funding to people on the ground rather than having central Government funding.
There are some things to welcome in this Budget, but austerity is still present, hurting my constituents’ incomes and the public services they depend on.
Budgets provide the Government of the day with the opportunity to demonstrate their vision and long-term ambitions and aspirations for the economy, the citizens of our country and our communities and businesses. As the noble Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, frequently said in his time in government, to govern is to choose. Setting a Budget is about exactly that—making responsible choices and decisions in the long-term national economic interest. Several Members have touched on some of the commendable steps taken, so my remarks will focus on where we have more to do.
In particular, we need to focus on the strong and unyielding case, particularly given what we hear from the Opposition Benches, for economic liberalisation and long-term monetary and fiscal competence. That includes the promotion of economic freedoms, led by pioneering policies on tax reform and simplification of the tax system—for example, by integrating income tax and national insurance into a single tax, to reduce complexity and bring parity between the employed and the self-employed. That would enable the Government to lower the tax burden further, so that people can keep more of the money they earn.
We have heard about home ownership. We need reform of property taxes, including stamp duty, to promote and support home ownership. We need to provide tax freedoms for local councils, so that they can compete and become engines of regional economic growth and competition, rather than centralise regional and local spending decisions in Whitehall, as we have seen for decade after decade.
We need to support our communities through a devolution revolution, so that regional leaders and organisations—ranging from business organisations such as the Essex chambers of commerce in my constituency and restructured business-facing local enterprise partnerships with a remit more relevant to their geography—are empowered to do more on economic growth. We must empower our police, fire and crime commissioners and regional transport boards to deliver the lower Thames crossing and enhance road improvements across our constituencies and our region. We must give those regional leaders the ability to deliver for people, communities and businesses.
We need to focus on outcomes, such as more police through localised budgets and accountable local police leadership; support for new economic corridors, such as the A12 in my constituency and the A120—essential roads that need investment if we are going to continue to meet the growing demands of the regional and national economy; and localising skills provision, which we do not speak about enough, so that it is led by businesses and not bureaucratic local government schemes that often replicate some of the unproductive aspects of Whitehall government.
On top of that, we cannot be complacent with the economy, which means the public finances as well, either now or in the long term. We are still borrowing large amounts of money each year, and deficit reduction must remain a core part of sound financial management. National debt now exceeds £1.8 trillion, which is the equivalent of 83% of our GDP.
As we look to the future, alongside a long-term ambition for the British economy, we need a long-term plan which demonstrates that the UK will have many opportunities for economic growth and progress once we leave the European Union. That means Brexit being accompanied by radically pro-growth, pro-enterprise economic policies that liberalise and empower not only communities but businesses and new industries to flourish and grow in the United Kingdom. We are competing with some of the brightest and the best in the world, and we now see an emerging middle class in some of the fastest growing non-western economies supplanting the established western middle class as the engine of economic growth across the world.
We need to focus much more on not only the short-term but the long-term policies that unleash our potential to grow and thrive. As Conservatives, that means promoting economic liberty, trust in people and local decision makers, addressing gaps in prosperity by boosting economic freedoms and applying fiscal discipline, so that we can give Britain and the British people a fair chance, through their own efforts, of economic security for themselves and their families, which this Budget goes some way to doing.
The Prime Minister said in her conference speech that this was the end of austerity. The Chancellor had an opportunity on Monday to make that a reality, but it did not happen.
The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy relied on the usual Conservative mantra, which is that austerity is all Labour’s fault. I remind Conservative Members that up until 2007, they did not complain about our spending; they said that they would match it. In some areas, they wanted more expenditure. They wanted less regulation of banks, not more. If we had done what the Conservatives suggested we did with the banks when they crashed, we would be in a worse state now. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) is correct: the economy was growing in 2010. It was the reckless emergency Budget in 2010 by the incoming coalition Government that crashed the economy, and it is that austerity we are suffering from now.
The Secretary of State said that Labour is anti-business. I am not anti-business. Business is very important for my constituents and the health of the economy, but strong local government and strong communities are also important for that. The Government have a role in ensuring that we have economic prosperity.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) said, austerity clearly has not finished in the Home Office, and it has not finished in local government. The one-off proposals show that Durham County Council, which has lost £200 million in grant over the past eight years, will lose another £14 million next year, because the revenue support grant has not been changed. There is no change—communities and councils up and down the country will still face austerity, so the idea that austerity has somehow finished in this country is complete nonsense.
On strong local communities, I welcome the commitment in the Budget to £2 billion for mental health, but the Government have got it wrong, because the investment needs to go into local community services. We do not want people to get to A&E. It is great having a psychiatric nurse or professional in A&E, but we have failed if people get there in the first place. Likewise, I welcome the proposal to put mental health workers in schools, but many of the young people we are talking about do not attend school. We need investment in local communities’ support network.
We must also ensure that we have the mental health professionals in place, because there is a crisis with them that we need to address. That is where the money needs to go. We need to hardwire mental health into Government policy making and not have this ridiculous situation where policies such as cuts to local authorities and universal credit lead to a mental health crisis. We need to address the core problem, and this Budget is not doing it.
I want to briefly touch on defence, which Members will know is another one of my interests. Great play has been made of the extra £1 billion for defence, but we must remember that in the past eight years, the coalition and Conservative Governments have cut 16% of the defence budget. I asked yesterday what the extra £1 billion will be spent on, but the Government cannot say. I suspect that it is not new money, but rather drawdown from the money already committed for the nuclear deterrent, so this will not be a bonanza for defence and will not meet the £20 billion black hole in the defence budget.
Likewise, I welcome the fact that the Chancellor announced £10 million for the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust to support veterans’ mental health, but is that new money or existing money? If we look at the covenant report, there is already £10 million in that budget annually. If there is an extra £10 million, that is good, but we do not need a sticking plaster. We need to mainstream veterans’ mental health in the health service and do what I suggested in 2010, which is to ensure that we have veterans’ tracking in the health service. We announced that in 2010, and the first thing the coalition Government did was to stop it and not replace it.
This Budget is a missed opportunity. Communities are going to suffer, and if we get what we have had from this Conservative Government in the past few years, even where there is extra money, it will be doled out like a pork barrel to areas that support the Conservatives. Other areas that they do not really care about will get nothing. We only need to look at the north-east to see that that strategy is continuing with this Budget, and it is an absolute disgrace.
There is a lot to praise in this Budget. I and my constituents particularly welcome the confirmation of the additional funding for the NHS and the additional money for social care, infrastructure, broadband, schools and defence, as well as of course the changes to business rates. I appreciate the fact that the Chancellor acknowledged my own representations on VAT, and given that I have 107 pubs in my constituency—about 35 more than the average—I particularly welcome the freeze on beer and spirits duty, as do my constituents.
The fact that the Chancellor was able to do all these things, announcing about £100 billion of additional spending over a five-year period, without increasing taxes—in fact, reducing them—is a remarkable achievement, and he deserves considerable praise. Although my constituents have been telling me for months—in fact, for years—that if it was necessary to increase tax, they would be willing for that to happen, I am glad that it has not happened.
This is not just about the total amount of money being spent; it is about where and how it is spent. I believe we have considerable further work to do on this, because if the money is not spent in a balanced way, areas of the country suffer. My area of the country is not getting its fair share of public expenditure. We are now seeing this in the fact that my constituency was ranked 522nd out of 533 in the latest social mobility index by constituency.
One key is education and education funding. There are few more important things in politics than enabling our children to reach their full potential, and education is the key route to doing so. It is my personal ambition to focus on that in Parliament. I am from a relatively modest background. My dad—my Labour-voting, trade unionist dad, by the way—worked in a factory and my Mum was on the tills at Asda, and I went to a comprehensive school. I was the first person from my school to go to Oxford, and the first person in my family to go to university. Social mobility is therefore key for me, and it is very important.
We know that education is not all about money, but it plays such an important role. It is no accident that the top-funded places in the country—they are mainly in London—also have the highest social mobility and, conversely, that the lowest funded areas are the lowest for social mobility. There is clearly a strong link. In my constituency, average funding for secondary schools is £4,875. It is one of the lowest figures in the country, and it is £500 below the average school. It is also £3,000 per pupil per year less than in Hackney and £2,000 per pupil per year less than in Islington. Yet average incomes in my constituency, at £404, are £39 below the national average. That is also £150 less than in the shadow Home Secretary’s constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington, so this is not just related to income.
This is unfair, and I am glad that the Government are taking action and, with the fairer funding formula, ensuring that we will make changes. I applaud the fact that we will do so as fast and in as easy a way as we can, and like my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), who is no longer in his place, I support significant increases in education funding. If that means increases in tax, I will support that and my constituents will support it. It is that important.
My area of Worcestershire is also suffering in other ways, such as in clinical commissioning group spending.
Before my hon. Friend moves away from education, does he agree that one of the key pressures on mainstream schools is that local authorities are seeking to take from mainstream schools to fund high needs, because of the burgeoning complexities in such areas? That is a very important pressure on our schools.
I agree completely. In fact, one of the main reasons why social mobility is such a challenge in my constituency is that there are a disproportionately high special needs. There is also a disproportionately high number of children with English as a second language. All these things require more attention, and they are causing genuine pressure on budgets.
I was mentioning NHS spending. The average CCG spending is £1,254, but the figure in Worcestershire is £1,138. There are areas of the country where average spending per person is up to £1,670. Again, my constituents are losing out to the tune of £500 per person per year vis-à-vis other areas. I do not resent the fact that other areas of the country are getting considerably more public expenditure than my constituents; I am just very jealous, and I want to make sure that my constituents get their fair share.
On infrastructure, whether broadband or road building, the midlands in particular—the area I represent—is underfunded compared with London and the south-east, which get so much funding. I am glad to see that that will change. There are announcements in the Budget for considerable increases in transport infrastructure spend. For example, I hope that the A46 will benefit.
I do not want to give the impression that it is all doom and gloom in my constituency, because it is frequently mentioned, after all, as one of the most desirable places in the country in which to live. It is obviously not because we are overfunded through public expenditure, but because the people in my constituency work hard. They are self-reliant, and if there is a problem, they look first in the mirror and try to resolve it themselves. It is unfair if my constituents have to delve into their own pockets to pay for things that are provided in other parts of the country through public expenditure. We need a balance, and a rebalancing, in where public money goes. In conclusion, I am arguing today not for special treatment for my constituents, but for fair and equal treatment, which I will do everything I can to deliver.
The Prime Minister declared austerity to be over and the Chancellor downgraded the prediction that it is coming to an end, but the reality is that each Department is having to make 3% cuts, which hardly backs up those statements. Of course, the corporate giants will still enjoy their £110 billion corporate tax giveaway, while 1,000 people have seen their personal wealth increase by £274 billion over the past five years. For my constituents and many like them up and down the country, the harsh reality of services slashed and under increasing pressure and the daily experience of living in poverty or just scraping by was not addressed by this Budget. We all know that the money is going to the wrong places, and it will take a radical Labour Government to restructure and transform our economy to make sure that we invest in people’s future.
I want to turn to the high streets. On 8 March 2017, resulting from the valuation process and the sharp rises in business rates, we were promised a full business rates review, but it has not happened. Instead, temporary relief schemes have been provided to local authorities, badly managed by local authorities and then withdrawn. We did not hear on Monday about how all the temporary relief has been withdrawn from small businesses. That has had an impact on pubs, which are losing £1,000, and on other small businesses, as well as medium-sized businesses—the anchors of our high streets—which will not be eligible for the one third reduction in their business rates. Again, this will have a massive impact on our high streets, but we did not hear about that from the Chancellor on Monday.
The announcement on business rates was again a short-term one—just two years. All such funding is so short-term; it is about the crisis management of our high streets, although businesses have to sign long— 10-year—leases. They cannot make such long-term investments if the Government do not back them up. We are still seeing the inequality between our high streets and the out-of-town retail sector and between our high streets and online shopping, and they were not properly addressed either. Plasters were thrown out last year and bandages this year, but what we need is surgery—with real reform taking place—on our business rates system. I will not give up until we get real reform.
We need to address the causation of this problem, about which I have yet to hear from this Government. We have investors—mainly offshore investors—owning properties on our high streets, and while the revenue they get from tenants is helpful, it is pocket money compared with the scale of their investments in pension schemes and other investments. That has not been tackled, and until it is, we will continue to have a crisis on our high streets. The escalation in rental values in places such as York is extortionate. The Government are providing relief for such corporate greed, but we need to address the greed where it sits. We are seeing the creation of bubble on our high streets, and when it bursts, there will be a real collapse. I therefore urge the Chancellor to address the real problem of business rates.
I want to highlight the suggestions that have been made about a turnover or profit-based tax, which is far fairer and will create the greater equality that we need. I want to mention one of my streets, Coney Street, in York. We have about 50 empty properties in York, and footfall in Coney Street fell by 9.3% on the previous year and by 15% in the past two years. That is just short of 27,000 fewer shoppers.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way. The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to put in to speak in the debate.
Since September 2016, there has been real decline on Coney Street: this year alone, 12 stores have closed. Unbelievably, that—a place where there is no traffic—is where the WH Smith that is meant to be hosting the new post office is based. The current post office, on a prime site in Lendal—the busiest thoroughfare of our city—is to close. It has been there since 1884. That is the most perverse decision, and I urge the Business Secretary, who is listening, to consider the case of York and reverse that decision so that we can have a vibrant post office, rather than losing that public service in a good place on our high streets. Yet another year passes. The Government are ducking the real challenges on our high streets. We need a Labour Government to revive our high streets and communities.
I rise to support the Budget, which comes at an important time in the history of our country, when we need to develop policies fit to face future challenges. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who is no longer in his place, that we should judge the Budget on whether it delivers practically for people, businesses and families across the country, including in my community. That is how we should judge what the Chancellor brought forward.
I want to highlight three areas on which the Budget delivers for my communities. In the end, individuals, businesses and communities are there to look for solutions, and the Government are there to help. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced significant help on business rates for high streets. In Halesowen and in the Rowley Regis area of my constituency—Blackheath, Cradley Heath and Old Hill—people are very attached to their local high streets. People in Halesowen’s business improvement district are working very hard to make it a more attractive place to do business and to encourage footfall. Those people working hard in my community have the real solutions. The Government can help, as the Chancellor has through his announcement of the measures on business rates. That is a positive measure for people in my community.
The second aspect that I wanted to highlight was the new investment in the national health service, in particular around mental health. I have been campaigning about the issue for many years. It is important because it is not just a philosophical principle—that there should be parity of esteem between mental and physical health in the national health service—but it actually helps people in my community lead more resilient lives and makes their lives more fulfilling. That is why we need to invest more money in mental health.
We have the opportunity to find community solutions to the increased prevalence of mental health issues. We must find ways for schools, local authorities and people in my community to collaborate and come up with solutions and help for people suffering from mental health problems, so that they can recover and lead fulfilling lives. That is why the issue is important—it is one of the biggest health challenges we will face over the next 20 or 30 years.
Economies grow only because of the work of people who want to start and develop businesses. Those people create jobs. One of the great success stories of the last few years has been the number of businesses that have started in this country. They are creating jobs in my constituency—people who get up in the morning, improve their lives and provide jobs and opportunities for people. The Budget is there to help people achieve those goals.
The increase in the annual capital allowance—encouraging investment, encouraging people to plan for the long term—helps those people. However, in the end it is the business people—the individuals, the entrepreneurs—who will drive our economy forward as we look to the future post Brexit. They will be the lifeblood of our economy. The Government can play a role, but they do not have all the solutions. The solutions are in the hands of ordinary people. But the Government, through some of the measures in the Budget, can help by providing practical solutions.
The Budget was a series of practical measures that will help people in my constituency and around the country by investing in our health service and helping the high street, which is facing real challenges. It is individuals and communities, working with the Government, who will solve some of those problems. The Government are encouraging business investment, investing in research and development for the future and supporting our businesses so that we can start to think of the future and build on the foundations that we have developed in government. In that way, we will build a country that can face up to the challenges and really take advantage of the opportunities out there in the world.
After eight years of austerity, people in St Helens are today, more than ever, feeling the effects of the swingeing cuts to our schools, our police, our NHS and our local government services. I am afraid to say that nothing announced in this Budget by the Chancellor can undo the impact that those cuts have had on our community and families right across the borough that I represent.
St Helens Council will have lost 71% of its central Government funding by 2020—the equivalent of over £500 for every man, woman and child in our borough. It is just short of two years’ worth of the entire social care budget at a time when almost 5,000 adults in the borough are in need of long-term care and almost 2,000 vulnerable children are in care or need some form of long-term protection. Meanwhile, the number of residents over the age of 90 is set to triple in the next 20 years and the number of those with dementia is set to increase by almost 60% in the next decade.
Unbelievably, the Chancellor said that he was announcing a “funding bonus” for schools to help with the “little extras”. Does he think that teachers and books are “little extras”? Those are what local schools tell me they cannot afford. There have been funding reductions of nearly £400 per pupil in my constituency, equivalent to over 200 teaching posts gone. This Friday, I am attending an emergency meeting at an outstanding primary school to see how we are going to address its deficit of £90,000 this year and £200,000 next year. When we hear those on the Government Benches, it seems that pupils, parents and teachers should be grateful for the £10,000 for the “little extras”.
Although I welcome the Government’s new found interest in renewing our high streets, I will be seeking clarity about how much of that is new money, and how much will be allocated to towns like St Helens and Newton-le-Willows. There must also be clarity from the Government about who is going to pay—it should be Whitehall, not the town hall.
Over the past eight years, the Government have taken billions of pounds from our public services and from the pockets of working people. St Helens and places like it have been disproportionately burdened with those cuts and a reduction in wages and living standards. If the Budget means that even the smallest fraction of some of the money taken is being returned, the Government can rest assured that I will be holding them to account and fighting to make sure that my community gets its fair share.
It is a tough time. There is a lot of uncertainty around Brexit: funding from the European Union has driven regeneration in some of the most deprived communities in Merseyside, but now we face the prospect of north-west economic growth slowing by 12%. In any scenario, my community will be poorer. I want to be clear: I did not come into politics to do anything that would make my constituents poorer, and I am not going to do it now. I accept that we are leaving the European Union, but I do not accept that in doing so we wilfully cause an economic catastrophe that will have a devastating impact on communities and business in the constituency that I represent and cause people who live there untold hardship.
Despite the challenges, we are ambitious. We are home to one of the best and largest chambers of commerce in the country. Our Ambassador programme brings together business leaders from right across the borough. The company Communications Plus in Rainford has won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise. ATG Access, its products made in St Helens, is at this very moment protecting us in this building and protecting many iconic buildings across the world. We have just had an international pharmaceutical company relocate, creating 200 jobs. The Liverpool city region, under Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, is investing in our infrastructure, with a new station at Newton-le-Willows and new road improvements at Windle Island. In sport, we will be a host venue for the Rugby League world cup. Most excitingly, 25 years after a Tory Government closed Parkside colliery in my constituency, we are on the shortlist to be the UK centre for a world-leading train manufacturer and for it to locate its business here. We are also achieving investment and working hard to be a nationally recognised centre for arts and culture. We have a music board, created by UK Music, to help to enhance the £135 million that music already contributes to our regional economy.
To conclude, the community I represent is resilient. It got through the ravages of deindustrialisation under a previous Tory Government. It will survive austerity and it will get through Brexit. Its civic, community and business leaders are proud of its past and ambitious for its future, but we need and we demand the tools from Government. If we have them, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
It is a pleasure to be called in the Budget debate and to follow the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn).
This was a good Budget for my constituents in North Cornwall. It brings investment and empowerment to our local communities and businesses, while maintaining the financial discipline that we on the Conservative Benches pride ourselves in. I welcome the big announcements on defence, broadband, the NHS and mental health, but in the time that I have I would like to focus on some of the micro-elements in the Budget that will really help some of my constituents.
First, I would like to mention the mandatory rate relief on public loos. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and I have been campaigning on this issue for quite some time. It seemed quite ridiculous that local authorities had to charge themselves for public toilets. We are delighted that the Treasury has now excluded them and provided mandatory rate relief. What does this mean for some of my communities? Many public loos have been closed under Cornwall Council. This morning, the mayor of Bude wrote to me to say that he is absolutely delighted with this new policy and that it will assist him in being able to reopen some of the closed sites in Poughill and Stratton. I have also had representations from Wadebridge Town Council and Bodmin Town Council showing their support for this policy. This issue might be a bit of a joke to some people, but being on a beach with a two or three-year-old child is no joke if the public toilet is three or four miles away. I can assure the House that in terms of tourism for North Cornwall, this is a really big deal.
Charities tell me that 2 million people cannot be more than 10 minutes from a loo. If we do not have public loos, they are in effect stuck in their houses.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Bladders are not seasonal, Madam Deputy Speaker. You cannot tell a two or three year old to hold their bladder while they are on the beach—that is impossible. We pride ourselves on our blue flag beaches. It is important to us that we recognise how good they are. We do not want people discharging themselves in the sea; we would much rather they discharged themselves in public loos. So we are delighted about this measure, Madam Deputy Speaker.
On high streets, I look around my high street and I see that the majority of businesses are small businesses. They are the lifeblood of the North Cornwall economy. Some 90% of those businesses will benefit from the reductions in small business taxation. One business wrote to me today: Lindsay from Linterior Design in Wadebridge told me that she has just expanded her business. The extra money from the rates cut will enable her to refurbish her business, putting some of her hard-earned money back into it. Real people with real businesses on the high street are saying that these are the real issues that affect them. The reform to the business rate shows how the Government have found a way to support enterprise and individuals in a fair way. Coupled with the tax on internet giants who gross £500 billion a year globally, this shows that the Chancellor has the best interests of small and independent stores at the heart of government. I am very pleased about that.
It was not mentioned at the Dispatch Box, but my colleagues and I in Cornwall care passionately about fairness on the second homes issue. We have been campaigning on this issue with Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers. It appears that some people soft let their second homes, paying neither council tax nor business rates. I was pleased to see in the Red Book that this is being reviewed. I represent an area with a number of second homes and I receive a lot of correspondence about it. It is important that everybody pays their fair share, so I am pleased that the Government are reviewing that particular policy. We have been lobbying on it for quite some time.
I was delighted by the announcement on single-use plastics. I represent a coastal constituency. Several groups, including the Polzeath Marine Conservation Society, Surfers against Sewage and the Bude Cleaner Seas project, have written to me about single-use plastics. The announcement was good, but I think we can go further on some environmental measures. I will mention my Bathing Waters Bill here, because the Government should consider the issue of sewage going into the sea. I understand that this is a matter not for the Treasury, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We find ourselves in a position where water companies are polluting the sea and that is just not right. I hope we can give further consideration to this issue at a later date.
On fisheries, I am delighted that £12 million will be dedicated to the fisheries industry. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has campaigned tirelessly to get transponders on smaller vessels, so I am delighted that £2 million of the fund will go to that. There will be £10 million for tech and innovation in the fisheries industry. We have not seen tech innovation in the industry for quite some time. It will enable us to fish in a more environmentally sustainable way.
On manifesto commitments, I am delighted that we are bringing forward big, macro policies on lifting thresholds. I represent an area where many people have modest incomes. They will see that money reinvested back into society. I am delighted with the Budget and will be supporting it in the coming days.
I will start by setting the record straight: the economic crisis happened in the United States. It started with Lehman Brothers and the US housing market. For the information of those on the Government Benches, George Osborne only a couple of months ago said it was not Gordon Brown’s fault. If the Labour Government had not taken the measures they did, most of those on the Government Benches would be sleeping rough tonight because their pensions and incomes would have all gone. They may want to ponder that when they make all sorts of allegations about the previous Labour Government.
I note that there has been no reference, certainly from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to any discussions he may have had about fracking. People are concerned about the consequences of fracking, so I hope that when the Minister winds up he will tell us where the Government actually stand on it. To say the least, there has been quite a lot of public disquiet. I also note that, as far as I could see, there was no reference in the Budget to a social housing programme. What I mean by that is council housing. The only way we can deal with the housing crisis is through proper social housing at affordable rents. In my experience, only local authorities can do that. I spent 22 years on a local authority, so I do have some experience of that.
Since their party conference, the Government have repeatedly said that the end of austerity is coming. I did not see that in the Budget. As expected, the Government have failed to live up to that promise. The end of austerity will come only when the Government increase funding across the board. This Budget does not give the police, schools, hospitals or local councils the money they badly need and for years have been denuded of.
Another issue I did not hear mentioned in the Budget was the issue of WASPI women and women born in the 1950s. WASPI women took the chance to express their disappointment a couple of days ago in the Public Gallery, so we have a good idea what they are feeling. These women have had sharp rises in income poverty, with their average weekly income falling by £32. The IFS put the gain to the Treasury from the rise in pension age at £5.1 billion per year since 2010, saving it £40 billion. Frankly, the Treasury can afford to pay them. Despite that, the Government have offered nothing to the 5 million people waiting longer for their pensions. It is no wonder then that the WASPI women are angry and are demonstrating on the streets.
On universal credit, the Chancellor was forced to increase universal credit funding amid Department for Work and Pensions mismanagement. We still do not know what the Government are going to do about that. Providing £1 billion of extra money over five years will make a difference, but not much to those losing out. Some 3.2 million families will lose £48 a week on average; the new funding means an extra £1.20 a week. Higher work allowances reduce losses for some, but the Government must fund universal credit properly or abandon it. As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said, the Government are still not adequately funding universal credit. They cannot keep delaying its roll-out forever.
The Budget gives schools a one-off bonus of £400 million to help to buy the “little extras” that the Chancellor referred to.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is utterly shameful that the Budget aims to claw back £700 million from the self-employed by reforming off-payroll working, yet only £400 million from the tech giants, which have avoided an astonishing £5 billion-worth of tax over the last five years?
I agree, but I point out to my hon. Friend that between 4 million and 5 million people earn poverty wages in this country, which demonstrates that work does not pay under this Government.
To turn back to education, the bonus averages out at £10,000 per primary school and £50,000 per secondary school—around £50 per pupil. If we think about that, the Government took £4.5 billion out of education, then put £1.5 billion back, so they still owe over £3 billion. Analysis suggests that schools in Coventry have faced almost a £300 cut to funding per pupil since 2014, so a £50 one-off payment per pupil is a drop in the ocean—barely enough to buy two new textbooks. Schools do not need small change or “little extras”; they need funding to rehire special educational needs senior assistants, to re-offer dropped subjects and to fund teacher pay increases fully.
As hon. Members all know, Coventry will be the city of culture and while I welcome the £8.5 million for that, the Government still have not given us the same amount of money that they gave Hull—in fact, it is nearly half. The city centre will benefit hugely, and it will also benefit from cuts to business rates for smaller businesses. However, as I said, the £8.5 million is below the £14 million that was given to Hull for 2017. I will work closely with my colleagues in Coventry City Council. Coventry must receive its fair share of funding to help to make the most of the city of culture opportunity.