House of Commons
Wednesday 11 March 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
The House will wish to know that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will make a statement at 7 pm today about the coronavirus. This will include the advice to the House on the situation as it affects Parliament following the announcement relating to the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), to whom we all send our best wishes for a speedy recovery and return to the House.
Oral Answers to Questions
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Women In Public Office
This House now has 220 women MPs, which is a record. I believe that it is through transparency and meritocracy that we bring more great people into the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being one of the first three Welsh female Conservative MPs.
Eighty-one per cent. of Wrexham county councillors are male. I am the first female Conservative MP for Wales and one could ask why it has taken so long, although that is for a different debate. Does my right hon. Friend agree that organisations such as Women2Win Wales and the Women’s Equality Network of Cardiff are vital and essential when trying to equalise the gender balance in higher public office?
The Centenary Action Group reports that only some of the diversity data on candidates seeking parliamentary nomination is collected and published; that is because it is currently voluntary. I hope that the Minister agrees that that is simply not good enough, so today will she either commit to enacting section 106 of the 10-year-old Equality Act or at least explain why she refuses to do so?
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that more transparency is always helpful in highlighting where we need better opportunities for people to get into public life and politics, but we have to recognise that it is partly down to political parties to show that leadership and make that happen within their own organisations.
Last year, NHS England announced that it would offer period products to every hospital patient who needs them, and the Home Office announced plans to change the law to provide period products to those in police custody. In January this year, the Department for Education launched a scheme to provide access to free products in state-funded schools across England.
That is welcome progress, although I would suggest that domestically there is still some work to do.
ActionAid tells us that one in 10 girls in Africa misses school because they do not have access to sanitary products or even private toilets. The Government have a target of eradicating period poverty in developing countries by 2030 and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) has introduced a Bill to improve transparency on that. Will the Minister meet me and my hon. Friend to discuss our Bill?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I am sure that we welcome the Bill. In 2019, the Department for International Development announced a global campaign of action on this very issue—to end period poverty globally by 2030. The global campaign was kick-started with an allocation of up to £2 million for the small and medium-sized charities working on period poverty in DFID’s priority countries.
A recent report by Women’s Aid shows that almost half of domestic abuse survivors living in refuges do not have enough money to pay for essentials. Schools, prisons and hospitals now provide free sanitary products for women and girls, so when can we expect victims of domestic abuse living in refuges, and their daughters, to be extended the same courtesy?
The hon. Lady makes an absolutely essential point. The tampon tax fund has dealt with a number of these points; it was established in 2015 to allocate funds generated from VAT on period products to protect vulnerable women and girls on this very issue.
Over 1 million children are benefiting from the Government’s investment in early years entitlements, which can save their parents up to £5,000 every year. In the next financial year, we plan to spend £3.6 billion on this. Furthermore, our manifesto commits to another £1 billion for more wraparound and holiday childcare places from 2021. We have already started working on the details.
Disabled children get an extra 15 hours of early years education from the age of two, and their parents can also receive extra support through tax-free childcare of up to £4,000 per child per year until the child is 17. The disability access fund also gives providers £615 per eligible child to support access to those early years settings.
I welcome the fact that, in their manifesto, this Conservative Government announced £1 billion for the flexible childcare fund, but, in light of the recent outbreak of coronavirus in Staffordshire, may I ask what extra provision the Government are providing for wraparound childcare while this epidemic continues?
Coronavirus is the top priority, and we must follow medical and scientific advice. Public Health England continues to advise schools and settings, and that includes early years settings, to remain open unless otherwise advised. We are aware of concerns from early years providers about potential closures and are working to minimise the impact. This is a top priority. In the meantime, there is a dedicated helpline for schools and their parents. Mr Speaker, the helpline number for schools and parents is 0800 0468687.
On a recent visit to the Overton Playcentre in my constituency of Clwyd South, the manager, Rachel Harris, described the childcare offer that they deliver to parents as “life-changing”. Does the Minister agree that the seamless transition that is offered by the Overton Playcentre between its childcare and the education at the nearby St Mary’s Church in Wales Primary School, with which they work very closely, offers an effective model for maximising the availability of affordable childcare?
May I pass on my congratulations to the Overton Playcentre? It is absolutely great when we see a pre-school and early years establishment work together with schools in the best interests of children. It really does make a difference. Last year, nearly three out of every four children were reaching a good level of development by the time they ended reception, and that is up from just one in two back in 2013. That is partly due to excellent playgroups and schools working together such as those in Clwyd South.
The SNP is transforming childcare and the lives of parents in Scotland with our commitment to the most generous offer in the UK. Currently, 600 hours are provided per year to all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds. We are increasing that to 1,140 hours from August this year. Why have the UK Government not yet matched that offer?
This UK Government are the most generous provider of childcare. Early entitlements for children in England is up £3.6 billion this year for 30 hours of childcare for three and four-year-olds plus an extra 15 hours for disadvantaged two-year-olds. It saves up to £5,000 per child per year. Furthermore, tax-free childcare gives every parent a maximum of another £2,000 per annum for every child, which goes up to £4,000 for children with disabilities.
I welcome the Minister’s comments about the helpline for early years providers worried about the corona- virus, but she will know that Lou Simmons, the owner of Abbottswood Day Nursery in my constituency, contacted me because the helpline was unable to give the answers that providers need. What assurance can my hon. Friend the Minister give that that helpline is now up to speed and that early years providers are getting the right information in a timely fashion?
I am aware of early years providers’ concerns about the potential impact of coronavirus. Early years providers give vital support to families and children, and it is important that they follow the advice to stay open. It is a top priority for me to give them the reassurance they need, and I will make that announcement as soon as possible.
My constituent is studying to be a teacher, but has had to pull back from her course because of the way in which universal credit interacts with student finance. Will the Minister look at this issue urgently to ensure that women are not discouraged from bettering themselves and their own lives because of the way in which the universal credit system works?
The Government are clear about the benefits of flexible working for employers and employees. Last year, we consulted on proposals to require large employers to publish flexible working policies and to advertise jobs as suitable for flexible working, and we will respond to that consultation in due course. Since then, we have committed in our manifesto to make flexible working the default. Subject to consultation, we will bring forward these new measures in our employment Bill.
The majority of unpaid carers in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are women caring for young children or elderly relatives. Does my hon. Friend agree that increasing opportunities to work flexibly will benefit women by sharing caring duties more equally, and will ultimately lead to more equality for women in work and more opportunities for women to get into work?
My hon. Friend is working on a modern “silicon Stoke”, and to get that he needs modern working practices. Flexible working helps people with a range of needs to remain in and to access work, including mothers, carers and parents. We want to give everybody a choice to determine how best they can balance their home and work life, including fathers. Flexible working can give them that choice, which is why we are keen to do more.
Women’s Life Expectancy: Disadvantaged Areas
Life expectancy at birth in England is the highest that it has ever been. Every single person deserves to lead a long, healthy life, no matter who they are or where they live. This Government have been clear that we will address the needs of all those who have been left behind.
Well, that is not true for women in the poorest communities in our country, is it? The Marmot review shows that life expectancy has fallen for women in the poorest communities. Frankly, that is what happens after 10 years of public service cuts and falling living standards. When are the Government going to take responsibility for the misery they have inflicted on the poorest women in the country?
I thank the hon. Member for explaining women’s health inequalities to me, but I fully support the Government’s commitment to delivering £33.9 billion of investment in the NHS—the largest cash boost in its history—which will make reducing health inequalities for all possible.
Will the Minister explain what action is being taken to support women—especially black and minority ethnic women, and single mothers—who have faced not only disproportionately more poverty under years of austerity, but also the greatest barriers to work? How are Ministers breaking down barriers to lift those women out of the poverty that this Government have put them in?
The hon. Member specifically asks about women from the poorest backgrounds, and black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), for the work she is doing in this regard. Through the long-term plan, the NHS will accelerate action to achieve 50% reductions in stillbirths, maternal mortality, neonatal mortality and serious brain injury by 2025, which specifically affect those women the most.
Office for Disability Issues
The Office for Disability Issues transferred to the Cabinet Office from the Department for Work and Pensions in November 2019. It joined the race disparity unit and the Government Equalities Office to be part of the new Equalities Hub in the Cabinet Office. The new cross-departmental disability unit will work closely with disabled people, and disabled people’s organisations and charities, to rightly bring disabled voices into the heart of Government.
Ministers will be aware that the DWP is currently preparing a cross-government national disability strategy. At the same time, the DWP has lost the cross-government Office for Disability Issues, as it has been subsumed into the Cabinet Office’s Equalities Hub. Do the Government believe that this will enhance or detract from the eventual national disability strategy? It must surely be to its detriment.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue and highlighting that it is part of the Cabinet Office’s Equalities Hub. In the meantime, the Department for Work and Pensions is bringing forward a Green Paper in the coming months to see how the welfare system can work with our claimants and people with health conditions. We have already done roundtables and workshops on this. This is a priority for this Government and my Department. Whether it sits in the Cabinet Office or not, it remains a priority that we will work together on.
Women Living in Poverty
Work offers the best opportunity to move out of poverty, irrespective of gender. We are proud that the female employment rate under this Government is at a record high of 72.4%, with nearly 2 million more women in work than back in 2010. Wages have outpaced inflation for 23 consecutive months. Shortly, from April, the national living wage will increase again, also benefiting women the most.
But a recent report by Welsh charity Chwarae Teg highlights the fact that 38% of women in Wales on universal credit are in work compared with 29% of men. What is the Minister doing to ensure that there is strong action in the Budget to tackle women’s in-work poverty?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. Wales and opportunities for women is an issue close to my heart—she will know that. I had my best opportunities working in Wales, and I want that to extend to everyone. Universal credit will offer 85% of childcare costs. The flexible support fund also helps women into work. I would urge all women to take the opportunity to go into their jobcentre and ask about the mix of benefits and support they can get. But one particular issue always holds women back, and that is confidence. Women should feel confident that they can go for it under this Government and under universal credit.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Under this Government, ensuring opportunities for women’s progression is an absolute priority for me, the Secretary of State and the Department for Work and Pensions. The fact that women get more childcare costs under universal credit is really important. Under the legacy system the figure was 70%, and under universal credit it is 85%. People should not forget the flexible support fund, which means that they can return to work at any time. If they talk to their jobcentre, it can help them with that.
If work is the best route out of poverty, why are four out of five people still in low-paid jobs 10 years later?
Ensuring opportunities for women’s progression absolutely is a priority, as I have already said at the Dispatch Box this morning. We need to see what the barriers are. Sometimes confidence about returning opportunities is minimal. We are using our fuller working lives policy and strategy. Tomorrow I will be in Newcastle talking to women returners to see what is holding them back. It is about time that women got the progression and the pay rises they deserve.
Over the past week, we have been holding a number of brilliant International Women’s Day celebrations, including a lively debate here in the House, the launch of The House magazine’s list of the 100 most influential women in Westminster, and last night a fantastic event at the US embassy celebrating brilliant transatlantic women. I was hugely inspired by the year 9 girls looking at careers in science with the Prime Minister last week at No. 10. We have a brilliant generation of young women coming through.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all the work she is doing to improve opportunities for women in this country and across the world. However, what steps are the Government taking to support and encourage disabled candidates seeking office in the forthcoming local and police and crime commissioner elections?
We want to encourage more people with disabilities to come forward. They often face extra challenges and costs. That is why we have extended the EnAble fund, to support disabled candidates in local elections and police and crime commissioner elections.
Can the Minister confirm that the disproportionate impact on women was specifically considered at the recent Cobra meeting dealing with the effects of coronavirus? Our country’s social infrastructure has been weakened by this Government’s cuts—86% of the cuts have fallen on women. The gig economy and zero-hours contracts have affected women more than any other group, hence the rise of in-work poverty. Caring responsibilities and volunteer work in our country are built on an army of women and grand- parents—the system is dependent on unpaid work by older women. What provisions have the Government made to address the adverse impact on women?
We have shown that we have delivered for women. We have a record number of women in work. We have more girls than ever studying science, technology, engineering and maths, with a 30% increase at A-level and an increase in the number of women studying STEM degrees. I suggest to the hon. Lady that her party should show a bit of leadership by enacting a female Labour leader.
We want to get more women and girls embracing sport and physical activity. Sport England’s “This Girl Can” campaign has already inspired 3.9 million women to get active. Sport England is encouraging more women to work in sport, including coaching and volunteering. We are hosting the Euro women’s football championship next year and the Commonwealth games in 2022, which will no doubt encourage even more women and girls to take up sport.
My Department is looking at everything to support people to stay in work. Our welfare system treats people as individuals and all genders equally. However, the upcoming legislation on this issue will be suitable for looking at everyone. For those on universal credit, that will be the right way to adjust for the money that they need. If people need any further help or support, they should contact their jobcentre. If they are unable to attend due to self-isolation, they should let their work coach know. We are prepared to support everyone through every eventuality, while protecting public health.
Schools and nurseries need to take the latest scientific advice, which at the moment is to stay open. Employees are entitled to take time off work to help someone who depends on them in an emergency, and that would apply to situations to do with coronavirus—for example, if they have to look after their children because the school is closed. There is no statutory right to pay for that time off, but some enlightened employers will pay.
We are determined to ensure that we protect our fantastic food safety standards in any trade deal that we do. The hon. Gentleman will welcome, as I do, the fact that the US has lifted its ban on British beef, benefiting British beef farmers—particularly the Ladies in Beef group, which represents women beef farmers.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There was a despicable cartoon about the Home Secretary in the weekend’s Guardian. She is doing a brilliant job—fighting crime, getting our new immigration system in place—and it is the hypocrisy of those on the left that, when it is not a woman they agree with, they do everything they can to undermine her.
A consultation on accessible housing was announced in June 2019 by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, but has not happened. Can the Minister say when the consultation will take place, and will he meet me and representatives of wheelchair users to discuss it?
We have been working across Government on accessible housing provision, and will consult in a matter of weeks on options to raise the accessibility standards in new homes. The consultation will consider making high accessibility standards mandatory, recognising the importance of suitable homes for old and disabled people. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member.
The Prime Minister was asked—
We need to build more homes on brownfield sites, but we also need to make sure that the houses we have are of a decent standard. In estates across my Birmingham constituency—the Three Estates in Kings Norton, Weoley Castle and Frankley—we need investment to make sure that those estates have decent homes. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that improving homes will help level up our economy and deliver for working-class communities like mine?
Our thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have sadly died after contracting the coronavirus, and those who are still suffering from the disease, including the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries). I want once again to pay tribute to our medical staff, who are working so hard to combat the spread of this disease and care for those affected. I think we should all express our gratitude to the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser, who have shown exceptional leadership throughout, and we will continue to follow their advice.
Sunday was International Women’s Day—a day when we celebrate the achievements of women around the world, recognise the advances made in working towards a goal of gender equality and, most importantly, reflect on how far we have to go to achieve that. A quarter of social care workers, who are overwhelmingly women, are on zero-hours contracts. It is essential that care workers self-isolate if they experience symptoms of coronavirus, but many may feel they have no choice but to continue working. Will the Prime Minister finally bring in emergency legislation to guarantee sick pay for zero-hours workers to help contain the spread of the virus?
I know the whole House will wish to join the right hon. Gentleman in wishing my hon. Friend the Mental Health Minister a speedy recovery; having talked to her, I know that she will make one. I know, Mr Speaker, that you have issued a letter to everybody across the parliamentary estate, and as you say in your letter, we will be
“guided by Public Health England…in our response to this situation”.
It is also providing guidance to hon. Members and to their offices.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, in just a few minutes we will be hearing from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor about what measures we are taking to protect everybody. As he knows, we have already brought forward statutory sick pay from day 4 to day 1, but for those who are on all types of contracts, we will ensure that they get the protection that they need and nobody who does the right thing by staying at home is penalised.
I hope that legislation comes rapidly, and that it does guarantee that people do not have to make a choice between spreading the virus because they have to go to work, and staying at home and self-isolating, as obviously they should do if they have the symptoms.
Can the Prime Minister explain why, according to a report by the Institute of Health Equity, life expectancy has gone down for the poorest women in our society?
Overall life expectancy stands at its highest level—the highest level ever—which is a tribute to the consistent work of this Government and others, but it is absolutely true that there are too many instances in too many parts of the country where we are seeing life expectancy not rise in the way that we would like. It is true that there are parts of this country where, for instance, only one in 50 pregnant women are smokers, and parts of the country where one in four pregnant women are smokers. What we want to see is a uniting and a levelling up across this whole country. That is why we are putting record sums—£12 billion—into public health, and that is why this is the Government and this is the party of the NHS, who are now putting record investment into our NHS, precisely for that purpose.
I don’t think the Prime Minister answered my question. It is no surprise that life expectancy has gone down, when 86% of the cuts made by successive Tory Governments have landed disproportionately on the shoulders of women. We are one of the richest countries in the world, and it is mind-boggling that life expectancy should be falling in this country. [Hon. Members: “It’s not!] For the poorest people in our society, life expectancy is falling, and the Government should have an answer to that.
The Prime Minister supports the absolutely horrendous rape clause in the child tax credit rules. Why does he think it right that 200 mothers have to prove to the Government that their child was conceived as a result of being raped, so that they can keep their child tax credits?
I want to correct a point that the right hon. Gentleman made earlier: as has been revealed in the last few days, mortality is at its lowest level in this country since 2001. [Interruption.] Since 2001. On his point about the recipients of benefits, he draws attention to an injustice, and we will do everything we can to rectify it.
Well, I would hope that means that the Prime Minister is going to introduce regulations to end the two-child policy in the benefits strategy, because that is exactly what happens—women who are victims of rape have to prove they have been raped in order to get benefits for their child.
Fifty years ago, the Labour Minister Barbara Castle introduced the Equal Pay Act, yet women are still paid 17% less than men. Under this Government, it is estimated that the gender pay gap will take another 60 years to close. Why has the Prime Minister not followed Labour’s lead and set a target for closing that gap by 2030?
There is a still a 17% gap. It is too big, too wide, and should be closed, and the Government should do something about it.
Every fortnight, three women are killed by their partner or ex-partner, and domestic violence is likely only to increase if large numbers of people have to self-isolate. Ten years of austerity has denied councils the funding they need to support victims of domestic abuse. Will the Prime Minister commit to the extra £173 million that is needed every year to ensure that survivors get the support they so desperately need?
We have just put record funding back into councils to support them in all their responsibilities. The right hon. Gentleman talks about domestic abuse, and we are committed to bringing forward a victims’ law, to guarantee the rights of victims. The Government have an outstanding record in tackling violence against women and girls, and that is why we are taking forward in this Parliament our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill.
Without funding, the Domestic Abuse Bill will simply be a piece of paper. There has to be funding to ensure that those who are victims of domestic violence get the support they need in the centres they need, which are underfunded by this Government.
The Prime Minister has made repeated offensive remarks against single mothers and their children. [Interruption.] Yes; he described them as
“ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate.”
He made remarks against Muslim women, saying that they look like “bank robbers”, and against working women, by suggesting that the best way of dealing with advice from a female colleague is to “just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way.” Words have consequences, and the Prime Minister’s offensive words are backed up with offensive and discriminatory policies, from the rape clause to dismantling local services on which women— particularly black, Asian and minority ethnic women, or disabled women—disproportionately rely. Will the Prime Minister apologise for his offensive comments, and ensure that those discriminatory policies are reversed by his Government?
I am proud of what the Government have done to promote the rights of women. I am proud that we have a record number of female MPs in our party today. I am proud that this is the only party that has produced not one, but two female Prime Ministers. Wouldn’t it be an extraordinary and amazing thing if the Labour party were to produce a female leader of its own? Don’t hold your breath, Mr Speaker. I will take no lessons on sexism from a party where good female MPs are bullied out of their party just because they have the guts to stand up against the climate of antisemitism in the Labour party.
As the numbers infected by coronavirus grow, the level of public concern naturally grows with it. Last week, the Prime Minister gave me a firm reassurance that no one would be financially penalised for following health advice, yet still millions of self-employed workers have been left in deep uncertainty as to what financial help they will be given if they are forced to stop working. In this House, we are in a privileged position. We will not be financially worse off. Millions of workers are not in that privileged position. They may be forced to rely on social security for an extended period because of this virus. For the record, can the Prime Minister tell me what the statutory sick rate of Ireland is compared to his UK Government?
It is not my duty to comment on the pay rates of other countries. What I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, which he knows very well, is that the Government have already advanced statutory sick pay from day 4 to day 1. We will make sure that those on universal credit and other benefits get the help they need from day 1. If the right hon. Gentleman can contain his impatience for just a little bit, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be telling him more about what we will be doing to protect everyone in society to make sure that nobody is penalised for doing the right thing.
Let me try to help the Prime Minister and perhaps inform him of the detail. In Ireland, in response to the coronavirus, the Government have just raised their statutory sick rate to the equivalent of £266 per week. That covers those employed and those in self-employment. In Germany and Austria, it is £287. In Sweden it is £230. In the Netherlands, it is £201. In Spain, it is £121. In the UK, Prime Minister, it is a meagre £94.25 per week.
Prime Minister, up to 80% of people across the United Kingdom could face infection in the weeks and months ahead. Many of them will be forced to rely on statutory sick pay. If the Prime Minister is truly committed to levelling up, a good place to start must be statutory sick pay. Will he take the opportunity to stand up today and commit to raising the UK payment to the average EU level?
As I think most Members of the House understand, the UK is distinct from many other countries around the world, certainly in the EU, because we have a universal free health system, free at the point of delivery. We have an extensive benefits system, free for people across this country, and indeed, our health system is very well managed and very well prepared for this epidemic. I congratulate everybody in the NHS responsible on making the preparations that they have.
Yes, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary and I are determined to advance robot technology—artificial intelligence—in the NHS. We have put in another £200 million. In my hon. Friend’s area, the NHS East Lancashire is receiving over £500 million more—a cash increase of nearly 5% on last year.
My right hon. Friend has made this point to me in person. I have heard from the war widows themselves about their own concerns. The Ministry of Defence is looking at what can be done to provide meaningful support to those who have lost their loved ones.
Given that the previous Defence Secretary sought and was refused permission from the Treasury to help the estimated 265 war widows whose pensions were cancelled when they remarried, and can be permanently restored only by their going through a divorce and remarriage to their second husbands, will the Prime Minister personally meet Moira Kane and Mary Moreland of the War Widows’ Association finally to put an end to this deplorable and dishonourable situation?
The Ministry of Defence is looking at this very problem, and I am conscious of the issue that my right hon. Friend raises—it has been raised with me. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to meet the chairman of the War Widows’ Association to discuss further what we can do.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I am glad that, starting this year, screening for babies with severe combined immunodeficiency will be evaluated for inclusion in the screening programme, but my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary says he is more than willing to meet her to discuss further how screening could be improved.
Further to the questions posed by my right hon. Friend the leader of the SNP, irrespective of what other countries are doing, policy in this country is the Prime Minister’s responsibility, so what will he do to help the self-employed during this coronavirus crisis?
What we are going to do, obviously, is ensure that nobody is penalised for doing the right thing and that everybody has access to the benefits and support they need. If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will set out more in just a minute.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the mighty Loughborough swim team on their five gold medal haul at the McCullagh international open league last month? The swimmers involved were: Luke Greenbank, James Wilby, Abbie Wood, Max Litchfield and Molly Renshaw. Surely, this is the very epicentre of sporting excellence.
I notice that support for breaking up the Union is actually declining in Scotland. Maybe that is because they have a Scottish nationalist party in charge that has the highest taxes anywhere in the United Kingdom, is failing Scottish children in their schools and is not running the Scottish health service in the way it should. Maybe the hon. Member’s bluff and bluster is covering up for the abject failures of the Scottish nationalist Government. Maybe the Scottish nationalists should stick to the day job.
As this is the country that brought railways to the world, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to celebrate their 200th anniversary in 2025? Does he stand with the people of Darlington to prevent the removal of Locomotion No. 1, the world’s first passenger steam engine, from Darlington, where she has resided for over 160 years?
I congratulate my hon. Friend and the people of Darlington on the historic role they played in our railway history and heritage, and I will do what they can to support his campaign to prevent Darlington from being despoiled of the iconic Locomotion No. 1.
Not only are we cutting national insurance contributions for everybody, whatever their pay; we are also lifting up the national living wage by the biggest ever increase, which will benefit people across the country to the tune of £4,000 a year. This is a one nation Government looking first at the needs of the poorest families in this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook) makes the case for Birmingham, but in the west midlands, more than 31,000 new homes have been built since Andy Street became our Mayor—smashing his own target of 25,000 new homes. The vast majority have been built on derelict brownfield sites. Will the Prime Minister support me to ensure that we keep the focus on the regeneration and remediation of brownfield sites?
Yes. I congratulate Andy Street on what he is doing, and on his fantastic record on homes. It is always the Conservatives who build the homes. This House will hear more in just a few minutes about what we intend to do to give everybody, and every young person, in this country the chance to own their own home.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue of veterans and their needs, and that is why this Government appointed a Minister for Defence People and Veterans, and a veterans taskforce—a special unit in the Cabinet Office. He will hear a little more in just a few minutes about what further steps we intend to take to protect and promote the rights of veterans.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He will have seen what the Governor of the Bank of England has done today to the cost of borrowing overall. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be meeting the banks continually to ensure that they look after the interests of all our people.
Rural areas such as my constituency are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to broadband connectivity and mobile phone signal. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this Government’s £1 billion deal with mobile phone providers will boost 4G right across the country, and especially in mid-Wales?
There are indeed some very hard cases, and some very tragic outcomes. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking at that, and is very happy to work with the hon. Gentleman to make sure that in such tragic cases, the family’s needs are met.
According to The Economist, over the past five years, salaries in Dudley have risen faster than anywhere else in the country. As part of his levelling up agenda, will the Prime Minister work with Andy Street to ensure that the west midlands continues to get the investment in skills and infrastructure that it needs to power the midlands engine?
Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the great south-west has a fantastic opportunity to become the first region to become not just net zero but net negative? Will he assure me that that will be a top priority in the levelling-up agenda?
Today is the 15th annual day in memory of victims of terrorism throughout Europe. Next week, in my constituency of Warrington South we will commemorate the 27th anniversary of the IRA terrorist attack in my town, which killed two children. Over the past quarter of a century, the Peace Foundation, based in Warrington, has worked tirelessly to provide the national support service for victims of terrorism in Great Britain. Will the Prime Minister join me in commending its work, and agree to ensure that its funding continues?
I associate my party with the good wishes sent to the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) and, indeed, to anyone who has contracted coronavirus. I welcome the fact that the Government are listening to experts on coronavirus, but given that the NHS has to face the coronavirus challenge with a record shortage of nurses, and the care sector has more than 120,000 vacancies, does the Prime Minister not agree that the three Conservative Governments since 2015 should have fixed the roof when the sun was shining?
I seem to think that the right hon. Gentleman was in that Government, but leaving that point on one side, there is now a record number of doctors and nurses in our fantastic NHS. There are 8,700 more nurses this year than last year, and we are recruiting another 50,000 more. The right hon. Gentleman will be hearing more about what we are doing to support the NHS in just a minute.
Protest (Abortion Clinics) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Sarah Olney, supported by Dr Rupa Huq, Sir Peter Bottomley, Caroline Lucas, Lisa Nandy, Liz Saville Roberts, Layla Moran, Munira Wilson and Daisy Cooper, presented a Bill to prohibit anti-abortion protests within 150 metres of abortion clinics; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 June, and to be printed (Bill 111).
Ways and Means
Before I call the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I must remind Members that copies of the Budget resolutions will be available in the Vote Office at the end of the Chancellor’s statement. I also remind Members that interventions are not going to be taken during the Chancellor’s statement or, indeed, during the reply by the Leader of the Opposition, or even during the reply by the Leader of the Scottish National party.
It gives me great pleasure to call, to deliver his Budget statement, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to get straight to the issue most on everyone’s mind: coronavirus covid-19. I know how worried people are—worried about their health, the health of their loved ones, their jobs, their income, their businesses, their financial security. And I know they get even more worried when they turn on their TVs and hear talk of markets collapsing and difficult times coming. People want to know what is happening and what can be done to fix it.
What everyone needs to know is that we are doing everything we can to keep this country, and our people, healthy and financially secure. We are clear that this is an issue above party. We will do right by you and your family, and I know I will have the support of the whole House as I say that. This House has always stood ready to come together, put aside party politics and act in the national interest. We have done so before, and I know we will do so again. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, alongside officials and scientists, is leading the work on the public health response. Today, I want to set out our economic response so we bring stability and security.
Let me say this: we will get through this—together. The British people may be worried, but they are not daunted. We will protect our country and our people. We will rise to this challenge. But let me also say, yes, this virus is the key challenge facing our country today, but it is not the only challenge. We have just had an election where people voted for change—change in our economy, change in our public services, change in the cost of living, change in our economic geography. This Budget delivers on that change. Yes, as we deal with coronavirus, it is a Budget that provides for security today, but it is also a plan for prosperity tomorrow. It is a Budget that delivers on our promises to the British people. It is the Budget of a Government that gets things done.
Madam Deputy Speaker, before I set out the details of our plan, let me first thank Members who have contributed to the discussions on how to respond to coronavirus—Members from both sides of this House. Our economy is robust, our public finances are sound, our public services are well prepared. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is working around the clock to protect the public’s health, and I will do whatever it takes to support the economy.
First, let me explain the nature of the economic challenge and my overall strategy. The challenge is this: there is likely to be a temporary disruption to our economy. On the supply side, up to a fifth of the working-age population could need to be off work at any one time, and business supply chains are being disrupted around the globe. This combination of people being unable to work and businesses being unable to access goods will mean that, for a period, our productive capacity will shrink. There will also be an impact on the demand side of the economy, through a reduction in consumer spending. The combination of those effects will have a significant impact on the UK economy, but it will be temporary. People will return to work. Supply chains will return to normal. Life will return to normal. For a period, it is going to be tough, but I am confident that our economic performance will recover.
So given this analysis of the situation, let me set out our strategy to deal with it. We cannot avoid a fall in demand, because the primary driver of that reduction in consumption—the primary reason people are not spending as normal—is that they are following doctors’ orders to stay at home. The right immediate policy response is to provide security and support for those who get sick or cannot work by funding our public services and a strengthened safety net.
On the supply side, the right response is to provide a bridge for businesses to ensure that what is a temporary impact on our productive capacity does not become permanent. In other words, our response will be temporary, timely and targeted. This is the right response, and at the right time.
That response is clearly and closely co-ordinated with the Bank of England. The Governor and I have been in constant communication about the evolving situation, and our responses have been carefully designed to be complementary and to have maximum impact, consistent with our independent responsibilities.
The Governor set out this morning the actions that the Bank will take to help UK businesses and households bridge across the likely economic disruption: a 50 basis point reduction to interest rates to support business and consumer confidence and cash flows; the introduction of an SME term funding scheme to help reinforce the transmission of the reduction in Bank rate to the real economy; and releasing the counter-cyclical buffer to further support the ability of banks to supply credit.
The Government’s response will use fiscal action to support public services, households and businesses. Together, we are taking action that is co-ordinated, coherent and comprehensive.
Let me now set out our three-point plan. First, whatever extra resources our NHS needs to cope with coronavirus, it will get. Whether it is research for a vaccine, recruiting thousands of returning staff or supporting our brilliant doctors and nurses—whether it is millions of pounds or billions of pounds—whatever it needs, whatever it costs, we stand behind our NHS.
Secondly, during this immediate crisis, if people fall ill or cannot work, we must support their finances. We will make sure our safety net remains strong enough to fall back on. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already announced that statutory sick pay will be paid from day 1, rather than day 4.
Today, with the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary, we can go further. Statutory sick pay will also be available for all those who are advised to self-isolate, even if they have not yet presented with symptoms. And rather than having to go to the doctor, people will soon be able to obtain a sick note by contacting 111.
But of course not everyone is eligible for statutory sick pay. There are millions of people working hard who are self-employed or in the gig economy. They will need our help too. So to support them during this period, we will make it quicker and easier to access benefits. Those on contributory employment and support allowance will be able to claim from day 1, instead of day 8. To make sure that time spent off work due to sickness is reflected in people’s benefits, I am also temporarily removing the minimum income floor in universal credit. And I am relaxing the requirement for anyone to physically attend a jobcentre—everything can be done by phone or online. Taken together, these measures on ESA and universal credit provide a boost of almost £0.5 billion to our welfare system.
To further support our people, I am also creating a £500 million hardship fund, distributed to local authorities, which will be able to use that fund to directly support vulnerable people in their local area. In total, that is a £1 billion commitment to support the financial security of our people.
But the best way to support people is to protect their jobs, and we do that by supporting our businesses—the third part of our plan. The measures I have announced today on statutory sick pay are crucial to support those who need to take time off work, but that cost would be borne by business. If we expect 20% of the workforce to be unable to work at any one time, the cumulative cost would hit our small and medium-sized businesses hard. So, in recognition of these exceptional circumstances, today I am taking a significant step. For businesses with fewer than 250 employees, I have decided that the cost of providing statutory sick pay to any employee off work due to coronavirus will, for up to 14 days, be refunded by the Government in full. That could provide over £2 billion for up to 2 million businesses. This will significantly ease the burden on businesses, but we can do more. I have asked Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to scale up the time to pay service, allowing businesses and the self-employed to defer tax payments over an agreed period of time. Starting today, there will be a dedicated helpline, with 2,000 staff standing ready to help.
Although time to pay is important, it will still be the case that some good, well-run businesses will face problems with their cash flow. They may struggle to pay people’s salaries, pay their bills or buy new stock. They will need loans to get through this period. So, today, I am announcing a new, temporary coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. Banks will offer loans of up to £1.2 million to support small and medium-sized businesses. The Government will offer a generous guarantee on those loans, covering up to 80% of losses, with no fees, so that banks can lend with confidence. This will unlock up to £1 billion of attractive working capital loans to support small businesses, with more as needed.
Taken together, I expect the combination of those measures to protect the vast majority of businesses through the worst of the crisis, but I have two other measures that will use the tax system to support businesses through this. Our manifesto promised that for shops, cinemas, restaurants, and music venues with a rateable value of less than £51,000, we would increase the business rates retail discount to 50%. Today I can go further, and take the exceptional step, for this coming year, of abolishing their business rates altogether. But there are tens of thousands of other businesses in the leisure and hospitality sectors currently not covered by this policy: museums, art galleries and theatres; caravan parks and gyms; small hotels and B&Bs; and sports clubs, night clubs, club houses and guest houses. They would not benefit from today’s measure, but they could be some of the hardest hit. So for this year I have decided to extend the 100% retail discount to them as well. That means that any eligible retail, leisure or hospitality business with a rateable value below £51,000 will, over the next financial year, pay no business rates whatsoever. That is a tax cut worth £1 billion, saving each business up to £25,000, and it means that, over the next 12 months, nearly half of all business properties in England will not pay a penny of business rates. I am also launching today a fundamental review, to be concluded at the autumn Budget, of the long-term future of business rates. But even with the temporary extension of the retail discount to the leisure and hospitality sectors, many of our smallest businesses already pay no business rates, so would not benefit from this policy. So to support them to manage their fixed costs, I am going to go a step further. I am providing, to any business currently eligible for the small business rates relief, a £3,000 cash grant per business. This is a £2 billion cash injection direct to 700,000 of our smallest businesses.
Let me summarise for the House the fiscal impact of our immediate response to coronavirus. Taken together, the extraordinary measures I have set out today represent £7 billion to support the self-employed, businesses and vulnerable people. To support the NHS and other public services, I am also setting aside today a £5 billion emergency response fund, and I will go further if necessary. Those measures are on top of plans that I will set out later in this Budget, which provide an additional fiscal loosening of £18 billion to support the economy this year. That means that I am announcing today, in total, a £30 billon fiscal stimulus to support British people, British jobs and British businesses through this moment. And of course, if further action is needed as the situation evolves, I hope the whole House knows that I will not hesitate to act.
I believe that this represents one of the most comprehensive economic responses of any Government anywhere in the world to date. The Governor of the Bank of England and I are in close contact with our counterparts around the world in the G7 and the G20, and to support the global response I am also making new funding of £150 million available for the International Monetary Fund’s relief efforts.
Madam Deputy Speaker, coronavirus will have a significant impact on our economy, but it will be temporary. I will do whatever it takes to get our nation through it. I am acting today with a multi-billion-pound commitment: more money for our NHS; more generous sick pay; faster access to benefits if you are self-employed; extra local support for the most vulnerable; tax cuts, loans and grants for businesses to protect people’s jobs—comprehensive action, and if more is needed I will take it. I know that all Members of this House will want to give this plan their full support.
Before I turn to the economic forecasts, I hope the House will join me in thanking the Office for Budget Responsibility, and Robert Chote in particular. After 10 years, this is his last Budget in charge. He has led the OBR with dedication and integrity, and established that institution as one that is respected around the world.
Madam Deputy Speaker, let me now turn to the growth forecasts. Since the OBR closed its forecast, it has become clear that the spread of coronavirus will have a significant impact on our economy in the coming quarters. But given that the nature of the shock is temporary, I still want to set out for the House the OBR’s judgment on the economy over the medium term. Even before coronavirus hit, we were facing a slowing world economy. There has been, across developed economies, including here in the UK, a decade-long slowdown in productivity. This, combined with the political uncertainty of the last three years, which affected business investment in particular, has led the OBR to downgrade our productivity over the forecast period and to slightly reduce GDP growth, compared with the March 2019 forecast.
But while the world may slow down, we will act here with a response that is brave and bold, taking decisions now for our future prosperity. We are investing in world-class infrastructure and to lead the world in the industries and technologies of the future. The central judgment that I am making today is to fund an additional £175 billion over the next five years for our future prosperity. The OBR has said that as a direct result of the plans that I am announcing, growth over the next two years will be half a percentage point higher than it otherwise would have been. For the benefit of the House, the GDP forecast, without fully accounting for the impact of coronavirus, would have led to growth of 1.1% in 2020, 1.8% in 2021, then 1.5%, 1.3% and 1.4% in the following years. And today the OBR has made an estimate it has never made before. It has said, in its words, that today’s
“large planned increase in public investment should boost potential output too”.
If future Governments have the same determination to continue our approach, the UK’s long-term productivity will increase by 2.5%.
The OBR has confidence in the long-term future of our economy, and so do I. More investment and higher growth mean more jobs and higher wages. We already have more people working in our economy than ever before, women’s employment is at a record high, and since 2010 full-time weekly wages have grown faster in every region and nation of the UK than they have in London. The OBR expects that half a million people more will be in work by 2025. Wages are expected to grow in real terms in every year of the forecast period. The story of this Government has been the story of a national jobs miracle—and given the last few weeks that I’ve had, I am all in favour of jobs miracles.
On inflation, the OBR forecasts 1.4% this year, increasing to 1.8% next year and then, for the rest of the forecast period, remaining on or around target. I am sure that the whole House will join me in taking the opportunity to thank Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, for his seven years of dedicated public service. We congratulate him on his new role as finance adviser for COP26 and welcome his successor Andrew Bailey, who takes up his post on Monday.
Let me turn now to the fiscal forecasts. The economic impacts of coronavirus remind us of the importance of fiscal responsibility. Our public finances are strong, with the deficit down from 10% in 2010 to less than 2% last year. Our economy is well-prepared for the future—and it is well-prepared because of 10 years of Conservative-led Governments and Conservative Chancellors.
I too will always act responsibly with the nation’s finances. But it is important that we update our fiscal framework to remain at the leading edge of international best practice. Our economic security depends on maintaining the following principles: low and stable inflation, delivering price stability; fiscal sustainability; and independent, effective institutions like the Bank of England and the OBR. These features of our framework will always be protected. But there is a live global debate about what our low interest rate environment means for fiscal strategy, about the case for fiscal policy to play a more active role in stabilising the economy, and about the best ways to measure productivity-enhancing investment in the economy, such as human capital or measuring value on the public balance sheet. So I want to take time to consider these questions over the coming months so that our fiscal framework allows us to make the right long-term decisions for our economic security and prosperity. I will review the fiscal framework, consulting widely with a range of experts, and will report back in the autumn if I conclude that any changes are necessary.
But at the same time, credibility comes as much from what we do as what we say. We were elected on a manifesto that promised to meet a specific set of fiscal rules. Today’s Budget is about delivering our promises. That is why, despite the speculation, today’s Budget is delivered not just within the fiscal rules in our manifesto, but with room to spare. I am setting the amount that the Government will spend for the rest of this Parliament within those rules as well. Today the OBR reports a current budget surplus in every one of the next five years, and in the target year of 2022-23 we have fiscal space of nearly £12 billion. The OBR forecasts that borrowing will increase slightly from 2.1% of GDP in 2019-20 to 2.4% in 2020-21 and 2.8% in 2021-22. It then falls to 2.5%, 2.4% and 2.2% in the following years. The OBR forecasts that headline debt will be lower at the end of the Parliament than it is today, falling from 79.5% this year to 75.2% in 2024-25.
I am sure the House will understand that, given how urgently we have developed our economic response to the coronavirus, that package of measures has not yet been captured in the fiscal forecasts, and nor have the fiscal impacts of the Bank’s actions. But the House will also note that the target year for our current budget fiscal rule is not until 2022-23. So even within our current framework, I have the flexibility to act as required over the next two years.
Madam Deputy Speaker, as we enter a period of challenge, we start from a position of strength: the economy growing, more jobs, higher wages, stable inflation and sound public finances. We promised to manage our economy responsibly, and we are getting it done. This Budget responds, at scale, to the immediate threat of coronavirus and it reports on an economy whose foundations are strong. It is a Budget that provides for security today, but let me now outline our plan for prosperity tomorrow. This is the first Budget of a new decade; the first in almost 50 years outside the European Union; and the first of this new Government. At the election, we said that we needed to be one nation. While talent is evenly spread, opportunity is not, and we need to fix that. This is a Budget that will deliver on our promises to the British people, and it is the Budget of a Government who get things done.
We promised to get Brexit done, and we got it done. We promised to let hard-working families keep more of what they earn. This Budget gets it done. We promised to back businesses, to innovate, to invest and to trade. This Budget gets it done. We promised to invest in science and research. This Budget gets it done. We promised to deliver green growth and protect our environment. This Budget gets it done. We promised to level up, with new roads, railways, broadband and homes. This Budget gets it done. And, yes, we promised record funding for our NHS and public services. This Budget gets it done. This Government deliver on their promises and get things done.
Our plan for prosperity starts immediately by putting more money in people’s pockets. It was a Conservative Government who in 2016 introduced the national living wage, giving Britain’s lowest-paid workers the biggest pay rise in 20 years. And in just three weeks’ time, around 2 million workers will see their wage rise again by 6.2%. For a full-time worker, that is a pay rise of almost £1,000. That is the biggest cash increase ever, but we have promised to go further.
Today we are publishing a new remit for the independent Low Pay Commission. It now has a formal target that means that as long as economic conditions allow, by 2024 the national living wage will reach two thirds of median earnings. On current forecasts, that means a living wage of over £10.50 an hour. We promised to end low pay. We are getting it done. As people earn more, we will also cut taxes on their wages. I am increasing, in just four weeks’ time, the national insurance threshold from £8,632 to £9,500. That is a tax cut for 31 million people, saving a typical employee over £100. Taken together, our changes to the national living wage, income tax, and now national insurance mean that someone working full time on the minimum wage will be more than £5,200 better off than in 2010. The Conservatives are the real workers’ party.
I can also confirm that now we have left the EU, I will abolish the tampon tax. From January next year, there will be no VAT whatsoever on women’s sanitary products. I congratulate all hon. and right hon. Members who campaigned for this, including the former Member for Dewsbury who led the charge.
Let me turn now to duties. Scotch whisky is a crucial industry and our largest food and drink export. My Scottish Conservative colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), have highlighted to me the impact that the recent US tariffs are having. We will continue to lobby the US Government to remove these harmful tariffs, but in the meantime I am announcing today £1 million of support to promote Scottish food and drink overseas and £10 million of new R&D funding to help distilleries go green. To further support the industry, I can also announce that this year the planned increase in spirits duty will be cancelled.
Pubs are at the centre of community life, but too many have closed over the past decade. We have already promised to introduce a business rates “pub discount” of £1,000 for small pubs, but I have heard calls from many hon. and right hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), that we need to do more, especially given the possible impact of coronavirus on our pubs. Today I can announce that, exceptionally for this year, the business rates discount for pubs will not be £1,000; it will be £5,000. I am also pleased to announce that the planned rise in beer duty will be cancelled, and because of decisions that I have taken elsewhere in this Budget I am also freezing duties for cider and wine drinkers as well. For only the second time in almost 20 years, that is every single one of our alcohol duties frozen.
I have heard representations that after nine years of being frozen, at a cost of £110 billion to the taxpayer, we can no longer afford to freeze fuel duty. I am certainly mindful of the fiscal cost and the environmental impacts, but I am taking considerable steps in this Budget to incentivise cleaner forms of transportation. Many people still rely on their cars, so I am pleased to announce today that for another year fuel duty will remain frozen. Compared with 2010 plans, that is a saving of £1,200.
Wages up; national insurance cut; the tampon tax abolished; spirits duty frozen; beer duty frozen; wine and cider duty frozen; fuel duty frozen. We promised to cut taxes and the cost of living and we got it done.
As Conservatives, we know that to put more money in people’s pockets we need a thriving private sector. That is what drives growth; that is what creates jobs; that is what lifts living standards. The second part of our plan for prosperity is to unleash the power of business. Businesses need support to start up, grow and export. Today I provide: £130 million of new funding to extend start-up loans; £200 million for the British Business Bank to invest in scale-ups; another £200 million for life sciences; more money for growth hubs; 21 cities with British Library business support; £5 billion of new export loans for businesses; and dedicated trade envoys representing the north, the midlands, Wales and the west of England in our embassies around the world.
Businesses also need a fair tax system. We were elected on a manifesto that promised to review and reform entrepreneurs’ relief. I have now completed that review, and here is what we are going to do. Entrepreneurs’ relief is: expensive, at a cost of over £2 billion a year; ineffective, with fewer than one in 10 claimants saying that the relief was an incentive to set up a business; and unfair, with nearly three quarters of the cost going to just 5,000 individuals. Just because it is called entrepreneurs’ relief does not mean that it is entrepreneurs who mainly benefit. For all these reasons, I have heard representations that I should completely abolish it. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has criticised it. The Resolution Foundation called it
“the UK’s worst tax break”.
I am sympathetic to that argument, but, at the same time, we should not discourage those genuine entrepreneurs who do rely on the relief. We need more risk-taking and creativity in this country, not less. So I have decided not to fully abolish entrepreneurs’ relief today. Instead, I will do what the Federation of Small Businesses called “a sensible reform” and reduce the lifetime limit from £10 million to £1 million. A total of 80% of small business owners are unaffected by today’s changes. Those reforms save £6 billion over the next five years, and I am giving almost all of that money straight back to business through three additional measures.
The research and development expenditure credit will be increased from 12% to 13%—a tax cut worth £2,400 on a typical R&D claim. The structures and buildings allowance will be increased from 2% to 3%, giving an extra £100,000 of relief if someone is investing in a building worth £10 million. And, to cut taxes on employment, I will deliver our promise to increase the employment allowance by a third to £4,000. That is a tax cut this April for nearly half a million small businesses. That is another step towards the dynamic, low-tax economy that we want to see. We promised to cut taxes on business. We are getting it done.
To help our businesses lead the next generation of high-productivity industries, we also need to invest now in the technologies of the future. We are the country of Newton, Hodgkin and Turing. Ours is a history filled with ideas, invention and discovery, and it is truly a national history. The first steam railway ran between Stockton and Darlington. The first television was invented by a Scot. A Welshman invented the first hydrogen fuel cell. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, born in Northern Ireland, discovered the first radio pulsars.
To compete and succeed, over the next decade and beyond, we need to recapture that spirit, so the third part of our plan for prosperity is to invest in ideas.
In our manifesto we made a promise to double investment in research and development to £18 billion. I will not be doing this today. Instead, I will increase investment in R&D to £22 billion a year. That is the fastest and largest increase in R&D spend ever. As a percentage of GDP, it will be the highest in nearly 40 years—higher than the US, China, France and Japan—and a major step towards our target of increasing public and private investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP. And we won’t wait to get started. Next year, funding will increase by 15%, the fastest year-on-year growth on record. Detailed allocations of our new investment in ideas will be set out at the spending review, but I can make some announcements today.
I am investing £1.4 billion in our world-leading science institute at Weybridge, where, as we speak, they are working to analyse samples of coronavirus. To secure our leadership in the technologies of the future, I am investing over £900 million in nuclear fusion, space and electric vehicles. As we invest in ideas, we are also changing the way we fund science in this country. I can confirm that we will invest at least £800 million in a new blues-skies funding agency here in the UK, modelled on the extraordinary Advanced Research Projects Agency in the US.
As we invest in ideas, we are also changing where we fund science in this country. Today, half of R&D funding goes to London, the east and the south-east of England, so we are investing £400 million of new funding in high-quality research, with much of that incremental funding going to our brilliant universities around the country. We promised to make this country one of the scientific research centres of the world—we’re getting it done.
There can be no lasting prosperity for our people if we do not protect our planet, so the fourth part of our plan for prosperity is to create the high-skill, high-wage, low-carbon jobs of the future; to level up, with completely new industries in our regions and nations; and to raise our productivity and lift our quality of life even as we cut our emissions. The Treasury’s net zero review will set out the Government’s strategic choices ahead of COP26 later this year. Today’s Budget takes the first steps.
First, we will increase taxes on pollution. Electricity is now a cleaner energy form than gas, but our climate change levy, paid by companies, taxes electricity at a higher rate. As another step towards equalising the rates and encouraging energy efficiency, from April 2022 I am freezing the levy on electricity and raising it on gas. I will support the most energy-intensive industries to transition to net zero by extending the climate change agreements scheme for a further two years. To tackle the scourge of plastic waste, we will deliver our manifesto promise to introduce a new plastics packaging tax. From April 2022, we will charge manufacturers and importers £200 per tonne on packaging made of less than 30% recycled plastic. That will increase the use of recycled plastic in packaging by 40%—equal to carbon savings of nearly 200,000 tonnes.
Let me now turn to red diesel. The red diesel scheme allows selected users to pay duty of just over 11p per litre for diesel, compared to almost 58p per litre for everyone else. But the sectors using red diesel are some of the biggest contributors to our air quality problem, emitting nearly 10% of the noxious gases polluting the air of cities like London. This is a tax relief on nearly 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year—the same as the entire population of London and Greater Manchester taking a return flight to New York. It has been a £2.4 billion tax break for pollution that has also hindered the development of cleaner alternatives, so I will abolish the tax relief for most sectors. That is the right thing to do, but I recognise that it will be a big change for some industries, so, firstly, this change will not take effect for two years, giving businesses time to prepare. Secondly, I have heard the concerns about agriculture, particularly from the National Farmers Union and rural colleagues—including, indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer)—so I have decided that agriculture will retain the relief. I will also keep the relief for rail and for domestic heating, and there will be no impact on fishing. We will consult over the summer with other sectors. Thirdly, to help develop cleaner alternatives to red diesel and other fossil fuels, we will more than double R&D investment in the energy innovation programme to £1 billion.
As well as taxing pollution, we will invest in and cut taxes on clean transport. We are introducing a comprehensive package of tax and spend reforms to make it cheaper to buy zero or low emission cars, vans, motorbikes and taxis; we are investing £300 million in tackling nitrogen dioxide emissions in towns and cities across England; and we are investing £500 million to support the roll-out of new rapid charging hubs, so that drivers are never more than 30 miles away from being able to charge up their car. Taken together, this Budget invests £1 billion in green transport solutions.
Many Members around this House will have seen the devastating impact of the recent floods on homes and businesses in their own constituencies, particularly the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), my hon. Friends the Members for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) and for Telford (Lucy Allan), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne). I can announce today that I am making £120 million available immediately to repair all defences damaged in the winter floods. To support those areas that have been repeatedly flooded, I am also providing £200 million of funding directly to local communities to build their flood resilience. To protect people and over 300,000 properties, I am doubling our investment in flood defences over the next six years to £5.2 billion.
We are also supporting natural habitats such as woodlands and peat bogs. I can confirm today that to protect, restore and expand these wonderful habitats, and capture carbon, we will provide £640 million for a new nature for climate fund. Over the next five years, we will plant around 30,000 hectares of trees—that is a forest larger than Birmingham—and restore 35,000 hectares of peatland. This Government intend to be the first in history to leave our natural environment in a better state than we found it.
I can make one further announcement on green growth. Carbon capture and storage is precisely the kind of exciting technology where Britain can lead the world over the next decade. I can announce today that we will invest at least £800 million to establish two or more new carbon capture and storage clusters by 2030. Once up and running, these clusters will store millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. The new clusters will create up to 6,000 high-skill, high-wage, low-carbon jobs in areas like Teesside, Humberside, Merseyside or St Fergus in Scotland. It is levelling up in action.
Green jobs; better flood defences; cheaper electric vehicles; innovative new technologies. We promised to protect our environment—we’re getting it done.
As a party, we know that talent is evenly spread in our country, but that opportunity is not. We have to put that right. We need to build the infrastructure that will lay the foundations for a new century of prosperity. We need to grab the opportunity to upgrade, to improve, to enhance and to level up. That starts today with the next part of our plan, as we get Britain building.
Over the next five years, we will invest more than £600 billion in our future prosperity. Public net investment will, in real terms, be the highest it has been since 1955. Take the average amount we have invested over the last 40 years in real terms—we are tripling it. Capital budgets in 2024-25 alone will reach over £110 billion. I will set out the detailed capital allocations at the spending review, but I am taking three major steps today. First, we are going to change the whole mindset of Government. To make sure that economic decision making reflects the economic geography of the country, we are reviewing the Treasury’s Green Book. We will have Treasury offices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I can announce today that we are also opening a new economic campus in the north, with over 750 staff from the Treasury and the Departments for Business, Local Government and Trade. And we will not stop there: our ultimate ambition is to move 22,000 civil servants outside central London.
Secondly, because of this changed mindset, we will invest more in our nations, cities and towns. Today’s Budget provides an extra £640 million for the Scottish Government, £360 million for the Welsh Government, and £210 million for the Northern Ireland Executive. I am announcing £242 million of funding for new city and growth deals, taking our investment in these deals to more than £2.7 billion. We have agreed today a new devolution deal in West Yorkshire, with a directly elected Mayor for the region. And to make sure that it is not just Londoners who benefit from the kind of long-term transport deal that helped Transport for London, I am announcing today that the new West Yorkshire Mayor will, along with the seven other metro Mayors, get new, London-style funding settlements worth £4.2 billion. These settlements are in addition to the transforming cities fund, which will invest over £1 billion in local transport in 12 further cities, including Stoke, Preston, Derby and Nottingham, and Southampton.
Thirdly, we are going to build broadband, railway, roads: if the country needs it, we will build it. Today’s Budget provides £5 billion to get gigabit-capable broadband into the hardest-to-reach places, and £510 million of new investment into the shared rural mobile phone network, which means that in the next five years 4G coverage will reach 95% of the country. Let me thank my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary, who will get this done.
We are also going to build better railways, with spades going in the ground on HS2, our commitment to fund the Manchester-Leeds leg of Northern Powerhouse Rail, funding today for a new station at Cambridge South and the midlands rail hub, Darlington station moving to the next stage of development and approval, and funding to make a dozen train stations more accessible.
And there is more money for our roads too. Today I am announcing the biggest ever investment in strategic roads and motorway—over £27 billion of tarmac. That will pay for work on over 20 connections to ports and airports, over 100 junctions, and over 4,000 miles of road. I am also announcing new investment in local roads, alongside a new £2.5 billion pothole fund—that is £500 million every single year: enough to fill, by the end of the Parliament, 50 million potholes. The details of all the road schemes that I am funding will be published later today, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary for all his efforts.
Our ambition is truly national: the A417 in the south-west; the A428 in the east; the A46 in the midlands; unclogging Manchester’s arteries; freeing the traffic north of Newcastle; and—something my north and mid-Wales colleagues will be particularly pleased to hear—we are protecting beautiful villages in the Welsh borders as we finally build the Pant-Llanymynech bypass. We promised to get Britain moving, and we are getting it done.
There is one more road I would like to mention. It is one of our most important regional arteries. It is one of those totemic projects symbolising delay and obstruction. Governments have been trying to fix it since the 1980s. Every year, millions of cars crawl along it in traffic, ruining the backdrop to one of our most important historic landmarks. So to the many hon. and right hon. Members who have campaigned for this moment, I say this—the A303: this Government are going to get it done.
Today we have announced the biggest programme of public investment ever: £27 billion for strategic roads this Parliament, funding to fill 50 million potholes, new railways, new stations, £5 billion for broadband, a new Mayor for West Yorkshire— investment in every region and nation of our United Kingdom. We promised to get Britain building: this Budget is getting it done.
Only by having a plan for prosperity will we grow the economy. Only by having a growing economy can we invest in our public services. And only by investing in our public services, the people’s priority, can we send a clear message to those who rely on them: you are our priority. Our public services are one of the most important tools by which we, the Government, can level up and spread opportunity, so that no matter who you are or where you were born, you will have every chance to succeed in our modern, dynamic economy.
And that starts with education. We have already provided schools with a three-year settlement worth over £7 billion by 2022. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is taking forward our plans to increase per-pupil funding next year by an average of over 4%. Today I am providing every region in the country with funding for specialist 16-to-19 maths schools; £25,000 per year, on average, for each secondary school to invest in arts activities; £30 million a year to improve PE teaching; and £8 million for the Football Foundation’s scheme to build new pitches for around 300,000 people to play on. And to support families, I am providing £2.5 million to fund research into how best to integrate family services, including family hubs, championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce).
Next, I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor and friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid). One of the issues he is most passionate about is levelling up further education. At the spending round, he increased funding for 16-to-19 education by £400 million. Today I can secure his legacy, with £1.5 billion of new capital over five years to dramatically improve the condition of our entire FE college estate. My predecessor wanted to level up further education—Saj, we’re getting it done.
I have one final education announcement. I have talked today about Britain being the country of scientists, inventors and engineers, but we are also the country of Shakespeare, Austen and Dahl. Our greatest export to the world is our language, our greatest asset is the free exchange of ideas and debate, and our greatest responsibility is the education of our young people. A world-class education will help the next generation thrive, and nothing could be more fundamental to that than reading. And yet digital publications are subject to VAT. That cannot be right. So today I am abolishing the reading tax. From 1 December, just in time for Christmas, books, newspapers, magazines or academic journals, however they are read, will have no VAT charge whatsoever. There will be no VAT on historical fiction by Hilary Mantel, manuals and textbooks like “Gray’s Anatomy”, or, indeed, works of fantasy like John McDonnell’s “Economics for the Many”. The irony is, it sold so few, it is literally his own little-read book.
Our second priority is to make sure people have affordable and safe housing. Today I can make good our promise to extend the affordable homes programme, with a new multi-year settlement of £12 billion. This will be the largest cash investment in affordable housing in a decade. To support local authorities to invest in their communities, I am cutting interest rates on lending for social housing by 1 percentage point, making available more than £1 billion of discounted loans for local infrastructure, and consulting on the future of the Public Works Loan Board. I am confirming nearly £1.1 billion of allocations from the housing infrastructure fund to build nearly 70,000 new homes in areas of high demand across the country, and a new £400 million fund for ambitious Mayors, like Andy Street in the west midlands, to build on brownfield sites. And tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary will set out for the House comprehensive reforms to bring our planning system into the 21st century.
But the housing challenge is most acutely felt by those with no home at all. So today, I am confirming £650 million of funding to help rough sleepers into permanent accommodation. That will buy up to 6,000 new places for people to live, enable a step change in support services and help us meet our promise to end rough sleeping in this Parliament. To fund those rough sleeping measures, I am confirming today that our manifesto promise to introduce a new stamp duty surcharge for non-UK residents will be introduced at a rate of 2% from April 2021.
I have one further measure to announce on housing. Two and a half years on, we are still grappling with the tragic legacy of Grenfell. Last year, we allocated £600 million to remove unsafe aluminium composite material, or ACM, from high-rise residential buildings. Today, I go further. Expert advice is clear that new public funding must concentrate on removing unsafe materials from high-rise residential buildings. So today, I am creating a new building safety fund worth £1 billion. That is what the experts have called for. That is what the Select Committee has called for. That is even what the Opposition have called for. That new fund will go beyond dealing with ACM to make sure that all unsafe combustible cladding will be removed from every private and social residential building above 18 metres high. My right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary will spearhead our efforts to make sure that developers and building owners do their fair share as well.
There is no more cherished public service than our NHS. Whatever resources the NHS needs to deal with coronavirus, it will get. We all benefit from a thriving health service, so it is right that we ask everyone to contribute. Business benefits from our NHS. So, as promised in our manifesto, the corporation tax rate will not be cut this year but will remain at 19%—still the lowest rate in the G20. Migrants benefit from our NHS, and we all want them to do so, but it is right that what people get out, they also put in. There is a surcharge already, but it does not properly reflect the benefits that people receive. So, as we promised in our manifesto, we are increasing the immigration health surcharge to £624, with a discounted rate for children. To raise further funds for the NHS, I am announcing a package of measures today to clamp down on aggressive tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance, including extra funding for HMRC to secure £4.4 billion of additional revenue.
Those extra contributions allow me to take three further steps to support our health services. First, mental health support can be critical for many people, and particularly for our veterans. Thanks to the campaigning of my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson) and for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), I will be supporting veterans with mental health needs with a £10 million donation to the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust. I am also confirming today that, to encourage employers to provide veterans with job opportunities, we will introduce a new national insurance relief.
Secondly, I have listened to concerns from all sides of the House that the pensions tax system is preventing doctors from taking on more hours. To significantly reduce the number of people who the tapered annual allowance affects, I am increasing both taper thresholds by £90,000, removing anyone with income below £200,000. Based on their vital work for the NHS, that will take around 98% of consultants and 96% of GPs out of the taper altogether. At the same time, I am reducing the minimum annual allowance to £4,000, which will only impact those with incomes above £300,000. This is a £2 billion commitment that supports our hard-working doctors.
Let me turn now to the overall funding settlement for the NHS. We have already provided the NHS with a record funding increase of £34 billion over five years—the biggest cash increase in public services since the second world war. Today, I can go further. I can announce over £6 billion of new funding in this Parliament to support the NHS. That new money will deliver 50,000 more nurses, 50 million more GP surgery appointments and work starting on 40 new hospitals—you heard that right: 40 new hospitals. We promised to back the NHS, and this Budget gets it done.
I have one last point to make about public services. We have now left the EU. We promised to get Brexit done, and we got it done. We promised to regain control of the money we send to Brussels, and for the first time ever, today’s OBR forecast shows that the billions of pounds we would have sent to the EU can now be spent on our priorities. Today, I am launching the next spending review, to conclude in July, setting out detailed spending plans for the Parliament.
Let me set out for the House our new totals for spending on public services. The OBR has said that today’s Budget will be the largest sustained fiscal boost for nearly 30 years. Next year, day-to-day departmental spending will grow at the fastest rate in 15 years. Over the spending review period, it is set to grow at the fastest rate since 2004, with an average growth rate in real terms of 2.8%—twice as fast as the economy. That means that by the end of this Parliament, day-to-day spending on public services will be £100 billion higher in cash terms than it is today. More police—safer streets. More nurses—better healthcare. More teachers—better education. The House now knows what the electorate already know: the Conservatives are the party of public services.
We are at the beginning of a new era in this country. We have the freedom and the resources to decide our own future—a future where we unleash the energy, inventiveness and creativity of all the British people, and a future where we look outwards and are confident on the world stage. That starts right now with our world-leading response to the coronavirus. This is a Budget delivered in challenging times. We will rise to this moment. We will get through this together. This Budget delivers security today, but it also lays the foundations for prosperity tomorrow.
This is just the start. Over the next few months, we will tackle the big issues head-on. From our national infrastructure strategy to social care and further devolution, this is the Budget of a Government that get things done—creating jobs, cutting taxes, keeping the cost of living low, investing in our NHS, investing in our public services, investing in ideas, backing business, protecting our environment, building roads, building railways, building colleges, building houses and building our Union. This is a Budget that delivers on our promises—a people’s Budget from a people’s Government—and I commend it to the House.
Provisional Collection of Taxes
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 51(2)),
That, pursuant to section 5 of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968, provisional statutory effect shall be given to the following motions:—
(a) Rates of tobacco products duty (Motion No. 40);
(b) Vehicle excise duty (motor caravans) (Motion No. 44).—(Rishi Sunak.)
Question agreed to.
We now come to the motion entitled “Income Tax (Charge)”. It is on this motion that the debate will take place today and on the succeeding days. The Questions on this motion and the remaining motions will be put at the end of the Budget debate next Tuesday 17 March.
Income Tax (Charge)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That income tax is charged for the tax year 2020-21.
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.—(Rishi Sunak.)
The coronavirus outbreak is an emergency, so I want to make it clear that we will have to work together, all of us, to meet this head-on and to overcome it. However, we will only overcome this virus because of the dedication of our NHS staff, carers and public servants. The steps the Government have announced today to head off the economic impact of the coronavirus are obviously welcome, but I have some points I wish to raise. We have to be straight with people that it is going to be much tougher because of the last 10 years of deeply damaging and counterproductive cuts to all of our essential public services. We are going into this crisis with our public services on their knees, and as today’s figures confirm, with a fundamentally weak economy. It is now flatlining, with zero growth even before the impact of coronavirus.
Today’s Budget was billed as a turning point, a chance to deliver in particular on the promises made to working-class communities during the general election, but it does not come close. The Government’s boast of the biggest investment since the 1950s is, frankly, a sleight of hand. In fact, it is only the biggest since they began their slash-and-burn assault on our services, economic infrastructure and living standards in 2010. Having ruthlessly forced down the living standards and life chances of millions of our people for a decade, the talk of levelling up is a cruel joke. The reality is that this Budget is an admission of failure: an admission that austerity has been a failed experiment. It did not solve our economic problems, but made them worse. It held back our own recovery, and failed even in its own terms. Today’s measures go nowhere near reversing the damage that has been done to our country.
I am sure the whole House will wish the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) well. Many people are understandably very worried about the impact of coronavirus on their own lives. The Government need to be very clear what they are announcing, and there are still questions to be answered about the Government’s response. What coverage is there for people on zero-hours contracts or those without a contract of employment beyond the reforms to benefits? Will statutory sick pay adjustments announced today be available to all workers from day one? What support will be made available for low-paid workers who do not meet the lower earnings limit for statutory sick pay? Are there any plans to increase the level of statutory sick pay, which itself is actually scandalously low? Will people who are doing the right thing by self-isolating continue to be punished with a five-week wait for universal credit payments? The benefits system cannot be the only support for the millions of workers not entitled to statutory sick pay.
The crisis is exposing the vulnerabilities in our economy and our public services. When 17,000 national health service beds have been cut, leaving 94% of the remaining beds full, and when 100,000 people were forced to wait more than four hours on trolleys in A&E departments in January, it is little wonder that people worry that the extra money for the health service is too little, too late. We have only a quarter of the intensive care beds per person that Germany has. We do not have enough ventilators to deal with a mass outbreak, or the people trained with the necessary skills to operate those ventilators. Across the national health service there are, at this moment, 100,000 staff vacancies.
Moreover, public health budgets have been slashed by £1 billion in recent years. What an irony! Public health is based on the principle that prevention is better than cure, but this Government are providing money only after a serious outbreak is under way. We know that the people most vulnerable to coronavirus are older people, and this is when we need a strong social care system, but social care is in crisis. There is an £8 billion funding gap since 2010. Instead of the Government presenting a social care plan, which the part-time Prime Minister told us was ready long ago, they are asking the rest of us to come up with ideas. Underpaid careworkers, a quarter of them on zero-hours contracts, travel from house to house to provide care to elderly and sick people. It is a model that could scarcely be better designed to encourage the spread of a virus, so it is vital that the Government do not wait a few months, but come up now with answers to ensure that careworkers do not lose out for staying away from work if they experience the symptoms.
The Chancellor shows not some but a lot of brass neck when he boasts that measures to deal with coronavirus are possible only because of his party’s management of the economy. Look outside: in the real world, we are still living through the slowest economic recovery in a century. Our economy is fundamentally weak. ONS figures out today show the economy is not growing: growth was 0.0% in the three months to January—0.0% in the three months to the end of January. [Laughter.] The Prime Minister might find this funny; those struggling do not.
Future growth has been downgraded yet again from 1.4% to 1.1% this year, and that is before coronavirus is taken into account. We have stalling productivity and flatlining business investment, and wages have only just scraped past pre-crisis levels. None of this can be blamed on coronavirus, and it is not all because of Brexit either. It is because the Government have failed on the economy. That failure has left us the most regionally unequal country in Europe. Investment spending per head in London is currently more than double that in the east midlands. Now they talk about levelling up, but who pushed huge swathes of our country so low in the first place? It is Conservative Governments who have starved the country of investment over the last 10 years, resulting in a £192 billion hole in infrastructure spending.
What has that meant for people? It has meant that bus services have been cut, there is patchy access to broadband, and homes and businesses have been ruined because of inadequate flood defences. The Chancellor expects plaudits for half-filling the investment hole his party created in the first place. Amid a blizzard of hype, he is claiming that today marks the biggest capital injection since the 1950s, but this is actually all smoke and mirrors. As a percentage of GDP, it only returns us to the levels we had before the Conservatives slashed investment so drastically in 2010. Given the challenge of the coronavirus crisis, we need far-reaching action to strengthen and stabilise our economy, and ensure we are in the strongest position possible to navigate the transition to new relationships with the EU and the post-Brexit economy, with the trade deals that will enable that to happen.
If the Government truly wanted to level up after Brexit, there is one thing they should be doing above all else: a green industrial revolution. They would have a plan to kick-start new green industries and create skilled jobs all across our country. The climate emergency threatens our very existence. It demands that we mobilise our resources on a massive scale. The environmental measures announced by the Chancellor today get nowhere near that. The Government have maintained the freeze on fuel duty without lowering bus and rail fares, showing complacency about the climate emergency. Young people especially will be dismayed by the lack of urgency to reduce our emissions, which they will rightly see as the Conservatives, once again, putting the profits of big polluters and oil companies above people’s safety and wellbeing. When the Chancellor announced, with such aplomb, a huge investment in road building across the country, where was the environmental impact assessment for that policy, or for the pollution that will come from that increased use of cars and traffic across the country?
Today’s Budget confirms that austerity has not worked, even under its own terms. We have had a decade of decline, and according to the New Economics Foundation, austerity has cost the UK economy almost £100 billion. The true cost, however, is incalculable, and I want to give the House an example to bring that home.
Errol Graham was an amateur footballer when he was young. By his mid-50s, and suffering from mental health issues, he had become reclusive, unable to leave his flat in Nottingham, and terrified of the world outside. He could not attend his fitness-for-work assessment, and because of the Government’s harsh and very uncaring attitude, his benefits were cut off. With no income for food, he obviously began to go hungry. He wrote a desperate letter to his Department for Work and Pensions assessor:
“Judge me fairly…It’s not nice living this way.”
Errol weighed four and a half stone when the bailiffs found his body inside his flat. He had starved to death in this, the fifth richest country in the world. When the Chancellor talks about the “difficult decisions” that the Government took in imposing austerity, is he thinking of the decision to deprive Errol, and people like him who are going through such trauma in their lives, of their income?
The worst thing is that austerity, and all that suffering, has been a political choice, not an economic necessity. The Conservative party continues to make the absurd claim that austerity was needed because spending on schools, hospitals and public services by Labour was somehow the cause of the worldwide financial crash in 2008. A US Senate report into the root causes of the crash singled out two investment banks for blame: Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank. A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister turfed out one Chancellor who had previously worked at Deutsche Bank, and replaced him with another one who worked at Goldman Sachs. Truly a Government of the people!
The Government want us to believe that austerity is over, but that is not true. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, it would take at least £54 billion of current spending this year, excluding health and social care, to get us back to 2010 levels. We have heard nothing even approaching that scale from the Chancellor today, but without it, the IFS says that austerity is “baked in” to our economy. Try telling local councils, which face a further £8 billion black hole over this Parliament, that austerity is over.
To end austerity truly and fund urgent action on the climate emergency and our public services, we need a fair taxation system, and that means making the richest pay their share. The Government’s changes to the national insurance threshold will mostly benefit higher earners, while those on lower incomes would be far better supported by boosting wages and real social security. The incomes of the poorest fifth of families have fallen by 7% in just two years. As the Resolution Foundation said,
“this has been driven by policy choices.”
How can it be right that 12 years after the bankers crashed the economy, the poorest 20% of the population are still being made to pay for it, while those at the top are rewarded yet again? Today we learn that the Government will not even scrap entrepreneurs’ relief—a huge subsidy that mainly benefits 5,000 people who make an average of £350,000 per year. I can assume only that those who fund the Conservative party have had a quiet word with the Chancellor, and told him to back off.
Creating a fair taxation system also means tackling tax avoidance and evasion. How can we have confidence that this Chancellor will clamp down on tax dodgers, when previously he worked for hedge funds that used the Cayman Islands, and he had a close business associate who engaged in a multi-million pound tax avoidance scheme? How can we have confidence when the Government’s big idea is apparently free ports—tax-free zones that allow the super-rich to dodge taxes and take away workers’ protections?
The last Chancellor resigned, saying that no self-respecting Minister could accept being controlled by advisers in No.10. The new Chancellor accepted that control, and has now presented a Budget just 27 days after taking the job. Through him, and the chuntering Prime Minister, may I pass on our congratulations to Dominic Cummings on writing a Budget so quickly?
But what a let-down it has been. When I first responded to a Budget, austerity was very much in vogue, and our demands for investment and spending were dismissed. The terrain of public debate has shifted dramatically in just a few years, but there is a gaping chasm between the rhetoric that the Conservative party has adopted, and the reality of what it delivers. Whatever it says, the Conservative party will never stand up for working class communities, and it will always, always, put the interests of its wealthy friends first.
The reality of today’s announcements will become clear. The hard sell and spin will fade away, and this Budget will be seen as a lost opportunity, a failure of ambition, and a bitter disappointment for all those people who have been promised so much but, from what we have heard today, will see very little.
There is no doubt that this Budget has been framed against one of the most challenging moments in this country’s economic history. As the Chancellor set out, many fundamentals of our economy are strong: record levels of employment; the lowest level of unemployment since 1974; low and stable inflation; and real wages that have risen over a two-year period. Nevertheless, the Chancellor was equally right to point to the huge challenges that lie ahead. He did not mention the trade deal that we are negotiating with the European Union, or—at least explicitly—the many accelerating challenges around climate change. Instead, he rightly and substantially focused on the challenge of coronavirus.
These challenges often emerge without much warning. In 2013, the then newly appointed Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, was asked by the Treasury Committee about what he saw as the main challenges over the coming years, and he did not mention one of the three external challenges that I have just presented. These things come at us pretty fast and are sometimes very unexpected, and the Chancellor is to be congratulated on looking closely at those challenges, and coming up with robust responses.
None the less, at the heart of this Budget hangs an important question: are the fiscal rules to which we are working robust enough, and do the spending and taxation proposals in the Budget—we will, of course, pick over them in some detail over the coming hours and days— stack up in terms of maintaining the fiscal responsibility that the markets expect of us? I think the Chancellor said that he was fundamentally sticking to the rules in the Conservative party manifesto to ensure that day-to-day spending is in balance over a three-year horizon. I think the Chancellor also suggested that, given the OBR’s forecasts, in about 2022-23 the head- room around those rules would be something in the order of £12 billion. That is all well and good—that is a reasonable level of firepower—but he also pointed out that the impact of coronavirus will not, because the cycle of the Budget forecasting by the OBR will have had a cut-off about two weeks or more ago, have been taken fully into account. I suspect that one of the key questions we will be putting to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he appears before our Treasury Committee this time next week, will be to probe the figures around the headroom that is assumed in those particular numbers.
Does my right hon. Friend not accept that in these very exceptional circumstances the rules have to be flexed for the temporary expenditure on the virus consequences, just as even the EU has said it to Italy, where Italy obviously has a very difficult problem?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we flex the rules to accommodate the circumstances. My point is that when we talk about headroom within our fiscal rules, we have to make sure that the number we are focused on is as accurate as possible. Given what is happening with coronavirus and the fact that the OBR struck its forecasts some time ago, the current forecasts are almost certainly already out of date.
Once again the OBR figures show a downgrade, so do today’s Budget announcements not mask a decade of failure of economic policy by the British Government?
My right hon. Friend intervenes exactly as I am about to move on to just that point. I assume that the Chancellor is adhering to the rules set out in the manifesto. In other words, we will borrow up to 3% of GDP, subject to a cap in the event that the interest on that borrowing meets or exceeds 6% of the Government’s revenues. It seems to me, from what I have quickly scribbled on the back of a piece of paper, that the kind of figures for public sector net investment he envisages rolling out—I think he gave a figure of £110 billion by 2024-25—probably pushes us right up against that 3% level. I am looking at the Chancellor and he is kind of nodding, slightly at least, so I am assuming that that is broadly correct. The Select Committee will want to probe how sustainable that is, particularly in light of possible recasting of forecasts going forward.
The Chancellor also raised a very interesting point about how to categorise human capital as between day-to-day spending and investment. I know he will be looking at that very closely. I can assure him that the Treasury Committee will be also be looking at that very carefully to make sure it is a rational and sensible thing to do, and not in any way shuffling the figures around to spend more and break existing arrangements. The announcements on greater spending on housing, green investment, flooding arrangements, roads, rail and the A303—thank you for what you are doing for the south-west, Chancellor—are all important, particularly given our historically low levels of productivity.
There has been plenty of green rhetoric in the Budget for sure, but Treasury decisions continue to drive the climate emergency. There will be a freeze on fossil fuel duty, over £20 billion for new roads, compared to just £1 billion on green transport, and no commitment to removing the climate-destroying duty to maximise the economic recovery of fossil fuels. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that when it comes to showing how muddled he is on green issues, the Chancellor is absolutely getting it done?
I am afraid I have to completely disagree. To give them credit, the Government were in the vanguard of making the commitment to net zero by 2050. Indeed, the Chancellor made a very important announcement just now about a huge investment in carbon capture and storage, which could be a part of further revolutionising the production of power and energy in our country, and making sure it is greener.
Turing briefly to the remarks the Chancellor made in respect of the Green Book and how investments are analysed, it is very important that we get that right, not least in encouraging green investment. The Chancellor might want to look at the kind of discount rates we apply to green investment propositions to make sure that the Government are encouraged to invest upfront rather than further back in time. On levelling up, the Green Book needs to accommodate the fact that we need to get away from the natural returns we get in London and the south-east, and get investment out into the regions, particularly the south-west of England. [Interruption.] I see the Chancellor nodding again. That all helps to meet our net zero quest.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, a fellow member and Chair of the Treasury Committee, for giving way. Does he agree that while there should be a rebalancing, it is important to recognise that inequality has to be tackled in cities like London as well as in towns and across the country? For instance, my constituency has the highest rate of child poverty in the country. We need a much more nuanced and granular response to inequality. Will he say something about the fact that the Chancellor has left out much-needed investment in local government? The investment in housing is welcome, but it needs to go a lot further to tackle the housing crisis.
On where the investment is going, I have yet to pore over the granular detail, as the hon. Lady suggests, in the Red Book. What I do know, with regard to looking after the less advantaged and the lowest paid in our society, is that important reference was made by the Chancellor to the increase in the national living wage, worth £1,000 a year. Of course, this is a Government who increased the personal allowance, taking millions of people, particularly the lowest paid, out of tax altogether. The changes to the threshold of national insurance contributions to £9,500 will also serve that particular purpose.
Turning to the support that the Chancellor has identified for small and medium-sized enterprises, this is absolutely vital and lies at the core of how we will cope, or otherwise, with what is to follow over the coming weeks and months. We face both a supply and demand-side effect for SMEs. The Bank of England dropped the base rate by 0.5% today, which was clearly co-ordinated with the Budget, and made changes to the counter-cyclical buffers that banks have to hold. That is all well and good and will help banks to put more money into those businesses, but the real issue will be around the fiscal measures that the Chancellor has announced, particularly relating to business rates, time-to-pay arrangements and the deferral of taxation.
I will just say to the Chancellor that the Committee will look at three particular aspects, the first of which is how quickly help can be got out there and whether HMRC is spring-loaded to ensure that businesses are aware of what is available and how to take advantage of it as quickly as possible. I am encouraged by his comments about the helpline. Secondly, is it enough support? That needs to be monitored very carefully. Finally, there is the targeting aspect. Businesses in particular sectors are hurting more than others. We need to make sure that additional help is provided for them, just as we did in similar circumstances in the 2001 foot and mouth crisis, when the agricultural sector needed support. We need to recognise that there are particular types of businesses in that situation.
I am conscious of the time that I have taken and the fact that other Members will want to come in, so I will end by touching on a specific measure that the Chancellor raised: entrepreneurs’ relief. He has taken a brave step, and the right step, in that respect. He is absolutely right that making the changes that he suggested—a reduction from £10 million to £1 million—is not about beating up on the self-employed or entrepreneurs; it is about making sure that tax reliefs are fit for purpose. The changes that he has made, including the increase in R&D tax credits, the more generous treatment in the structures and building allowance and the changes in the employment allowance, will be much more meaningful and powerful in supporting small businesses than entrepreneurs’ relief ever was.
Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concerns that the Chancellor is not doing enough to tackle the problem of the quality of social care, given that he barely mentioned it in the Budget statement and that 87 people a day die waiting for the care that they need?
The Prime Minister has been consistently clear that we will engage with other parties over the issue of social care, and those discussions will occur. My plea to the House is that people do not seek to take political advantage of the situation and that they engage in a constructive manner.
Finally, the fundamental review of business rates is most welcome. We know why business rates have generally been there—they are easy to collect and it is difficult for tax avoidance and so on to occur—but they are a huge burden on many small and medium-sized enterprises up and down the country. There was no mention in the Chancellor’s remarks of the digital services tax, and I hope I can take that to mean that we are going ahead with that—he is nodding—in the matter of a short few weeks. It is right that we do that.
Google, Facebook and Amazon—those kinds of businesses—need to pay fair taxes in our country. It is not a case of tax avoidance, but of the international tax regime being unfit for the 21st century. We have to get away from attributing tax rights simply to where the bricks and mortar, the people and the intellectual property are, and where management decisions are taken, and look more at where value is created. In the case of those businesses, a huge amount of that value is created here and we must tax it appropriately. I know the Americans will apply quite a lot of pressure and have done so already, but I urge him to stand up to that. We have engaged multilaterally with the OECD and the European Union for the preferred outcome of a multilateral approach, which will avoid double taxation problems and issues associated with going unilaterally, but we have waited too long. We must not, like other countries, step back under pressure. We must go forward with that tax as of the start of the next tax year.
I say to the Chancellor that we in the Committee are his candid friends and we look forward to working with him. Given the kind of pressures and difficulties for our economy and our country at the moment, we are, right across the House, all in this together, and we look forward to him appearing before our Committee on Wednesday next week.
Order. Just before I call the leader of the Scottish National party, who, I remind the House, will be heard without interruption, I warn Members who are seeking to catch my eye that there will be an immediate time limit of 10 minutes on speeches from Back Benchers. That is likely to be reduced later in the day, but it will start at 10 minutes.
Before I begin, I pass on my best wishes and those of my colleagues to the hon. Members for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell)—we are thinking of them and, indeed, all those who are caught up in this terrible virus.
The scale and seriousness of the coronavirus demand a collective response. As I said last week, this virus requires all of us to demonstrate calm and practical leadership. This is the very least the public deserve from us at a time of deep and natural worry. SNP Members are committed to that approach. That example of leadership has been clearly embodied by our First Minister of Scotland, and I welcome the close co-operation between the Scottish and UK Governments on this matter.
The first priority in dealing with the crisis has to be about maintaining the health of all our people. The scale of the coronavirus has and will put added pressures on the NHS in Scotland and across the United Kingdom. I take this opportunity to thank all our NHS staff for everything they do, but most especially now, as they deal with the outbreak of this virus.
I welcome the fact that the Chancellor has committed to providing additional funding, but I wonder whether he will take the opportunity to tell the House how much of that additional spending on the coronavirus will come to Scotland. I also urge him to go further—the SNP Scottish Government have ensured that frontline health spending in Scotland is £136 higher per person than it is in England. Social care funding is £130 per capita higher than it is in England. Matching Scottish per capita NHS spending would provide health services across the UK with the resources, equipment and staff that needed now during this crisis and in the longer term. It would also allow Holyrood to increase funding for NHS Scotland by over £4 billion by the end of this Parliament.
I will not.
We believe that that is the only adequate and prudent response to this unprecedented health crisis. As part of the Budget package, we also need to recognise the deep worry that people are experiencing about the impact of its consequences on their incomes, employment, rights and benefits. Just as our health response must be led by the best scientific advice, our economic response must be guided by the need for an appropriate fiscal stimulus that ensures that the economy is not tipped into recession. The employed and the self-employed need to be aided through the crisis. I acknowledge many of the measures taken today by the Chancellor to do just that, but more urgent and more targeted action is also required.
In particular, urgent measures are needed to help the tourism and hospitality industry, above and beyond what has been offered today. Industry leaders are already warning of the consequences of the coronavirus, with a raft of booking cancellations and a significant drop in numbers. The SNP is advocating a package of measures, including a temporary drop in the VAT rate to 5% to help businesses to reduce their costs—[Interruption.] I can hear the Prime Minister saying, “We’ve cut interest rates,” but—[Interruption.] Business rates, rather, but the problem, Prime Minister, is that these businesses are facing a crisis not of their own making.
Many of the businesses in my part of the world, in the highlands of Scotland, come through a fallow period over the winter. It is not just an issue of their seeing a reduction in business; in some cases, they are going to be desperately short of cash coming in through the door. Let us not forget that many of these businesses have relied on an EU workforce over the last few years. In anticipation of what is happening with the migration proposals from the Government and of the difficulty of recruiting labour, they have had to staff up. They have additional costs, but their revenues are about to fall through the floor. That is why I have written to all the major UK banks to ask them to support businesses and households through this period to make sure that working capital is extended to all businesses, and that no business—no good business in the hospitality and tourism sector—should be pushed to the wall as a consequence of what is happening.
Chancellor, a temporary drop in VAT would allow business to weather the storm as people follow public health advice and tourist numbers drop, but let me say, on the basis of the scientific advice that we have today, that Scotland is well and truly open for business, and I encourage people to come and experience the breadth and depth of our tourism offering. VAT was reduced in Ireland and it helped to boost both employment and tourist numbers. I urge the Chancellor, in the strongest possible terms, to consider a similar policy to help our tourism and hospitality sectors to come through this crisis.
Let me turn to the other measures in the Budget. The Chancellor has just delivered his first Budget speech—I welcome him to his position—and I give him credit for one thing: he did really well in fluently reading out Dominic Cummings’ handwriting. It is a strange irony that those who were most obsessed with taking back control from Brussels are now at the heart of the unelected, centralised elite who have grabbed control, not just in Downing Street but in the Treasury. Today they have produced a half-baked Budget thrown together by a bunch of Vote Leave campaigners drowning in the responsibility of government. I am talking about a group of ideologically driven campaigners—let us be charitable—so distrustful of Europe and the benefits it might have brought, economically, socially and culturally, and so caught up in their own meaningless slogans that they are blinded by the damaging reality they have caused. People are not fooled. The slogan “take back control” does not work when you have been in power for the last decade. We have not forgotten that the Tories have been in control and that we are all the worse for it. If the Chancellor really thinks that this Budget levels up after a decade of austerity, he must have bought himself a wonky spirit level. After delivering a decade of cruel cuts, the Tories are now offering a new decade of political and economic isolation outside the European Union.
The Budget is a warning of what may be ahead of us and a reminder of Scotland’s need to choose a different future. It has never been more stark: Scotland’s economic interests are not served by being part of this UK union. Rather than the instability and limitations imposed by the UK, independence now offers the Scottish people the chance to build a better, more prosperous and safer future. The 2016 Brexit referendum was the moment when our political futures met a point of divergence, and we are now on the cusp of the moment of decision for Scotland’s people. The Conservatives may have delayed our democratic right, but they cannot indefinitely block the voices and votes of the Scottish people. Scotland’s future will be ours to choose, and we will very shortly make that choice. I am more confident than ever that the Scottish people will choose to be an independent, equal and European nation.
As I have said, this is a Budget produced by a group of people who are expert in fabricating slogans but amateurs in delivering competent government. The Tories have a new slogan about levelling up funding and living standards. Let us judge them on their record. A reasonable place to start is basic income. The Office for National Statistics recently confirmed that the median income for the poorest 20% fell by 4.3% per year between 2017 and 2019. Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis shows that since 2010 the poorest 10% of households have lost an average of 11% of their income. That is £1,200 per year. For those with children the average loss was up to 20%, or £4,000. That is the cost of Tory Government to people in Scotland and the United Kingdom. That is the true Tory record: falling wages and growing hardship. While the gap between rich and poor grows, last month the ONS revealed that income inequality was as much as 2.4% higher on average than official figures had suggested over the decade since the financial crisis in 2008, and this Budget does not help by failing to implement policies that deal with growing inequality. The Tories still refuse to raise their pretend living wage to the real living wage and refuse to end the age discrimination that penalises our young people.
Another reasonable place to judge their levelling up record is overall public spending. Let us not be fooled by some of the rhetoric in the statement today. Since 2010, aside from health spending, the Tories have cut per person spending on public services by a whopping 21%. This Budget comes nowhere near either closing or reversing that devastating legacy. By any standard, by any measure, by any objective acknowledgement of fact, this Tory Government have failed to level up for anyone anywhere. They cannot be allowed to hide from these facts, just as they cannot be allowed to hide from their legacy.
Let us be clear: the poor becoming poorer was a Tory political choice. The Resolution Foundation has said that the fall in income for the poorest
“has been driven by policy choices, with gains from higher employment more than wiped out by benefit cuts.”
Why did the Conservatives take these political choices? As ever, they were serving their own interests and the interests of those they serve. For them, it is a simple and cynical calculation. A Government who rob Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. As far as the Tories are concerned, everyone else can go whistle.
I suppose we should not be surprised. This is a Budget advocated by a Prime Minister who once eulogised:
“some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and…is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”
Greed—a valuable spur to economic opportunity! That is the reality of the vision of the Prime Minister. That does not sound like a man determined to level up. The honeyed words and new slogans in the Budget will not change the long and bitter experience of Tory economics. People in Scotland know that they cannot believe their words, they cannot believe their promises, and they cannot believe that they will ever change—not ever.
If this really was the great investment Budget the Chancellor heralds, he should have started by paying up the moneys the Tories have been holding back from Scotland for years. I am grateful to a Scottish Parliament Information Centre—[Interruption.] I hear the Prime Minister talking about grievance. This is not about grievance; this is about the facts of what a Conservative Government have done for the people of Scotland. The Scottish Parliament Information Centre has confirmed that Scotland would be owed about £5.8 billion if the proper Barnett consequentials were applied to the DUP Brexit bung and the additional moneys since. That is the reality. That is added, of course, to the £175 million still owed to the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service—money that was stolen from our vital public services. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) saying it was against all the advice. It was the vindictiveness of his Government that took these funds from the Scottish public services. That is the reality. Let us be crystal clear: the UK Government have chosen to rob Scotland’s public services of that money, and the silence from the Scottish Conservatives—their failure to stand up for our police and firemen—is audible to all.
The Budget also turns its back on the oil and gas sector in the north-east of Scotland. These industries face months of instability and uncertainty in the aftermath of the latest collapse of an OPEC deal to stabilise prices. The oil price has plunged, yet there was not a mention of it from the Chancellor. The impact of the global oil price slump will reverberate around the world, including hitting Scotland’s vital oil and gas sector. The oil and gas sector has generated £334 billion of net tax revenues for the UK Government since 1970. Having used the sector as a cash cow, the Treasury must support it in its time of need. The UK Government must deliver crucial support for the sector as part of a just transition to net zero emissions. Scotland still bears the scars from rapid de-industrialisation under previous Conservative Governments. That must never happen again, and it must not happen to north-east Scotland.
The failure of the Government’s investment strategy— the Chancellor admitted it today, and we see it in the productivity record—has unfortunately failed to diminish their arrogance in trying to dictate the investment needs of the devolved Administrations. We are told that the Treasury is considering an intra-UK connectivity study, which sounds suspiciously like another Tory power grab on the devolved Parliaments. Chancellor, how can people be expected to have faith in a Prime Minister who cannot build a bridge between London and London, and a Scottish Secretary who thinks a bridge is a euphemism for a tunnel? Having ripped up the Sewel convention, the Tories are on a mission to level down devolution. Chancellor, your Government are neither competent enough nor trusted enough to invest in infrastructure in Scotland. Go back and think again, and allow the Scottish Parliament to use extra capital resources to provide for Scotland’s infrastructure needs. We will deliver for the people of Scotland.
The Budget fails to attempt to fix, or even to acknowledge, the underlying fundamental problem of the economy. For the past decade, the Conservatives have presided over a crisis in productivity. Only last year, about 6,000 companies revealed that uncertainty over leaving the European Union had lowered capital spending by about 11% on average. That is what is really going on in the economy. According to the Bank of England, that has cut overall UK productivity by between 2% and 5%—a reduction in productivity created by the Conservative Government in power in Westminster. The overall perception of the UK’s productivity is not helped by the Prime Minister’s productivity levels; he downs tools and hides away whenever the going gets tough.
Static productivity is a direct consequence of choices made during the financial crisis. There was a massive quantitative easing splurge in the wake of the crash, but there has been no real return on that investment for ordinary workers. It did do one thing, though; a Bank of England analysis of the impact of quantitative easing showed that between 2006 to 2014, the 10% least wealthy households saw a marginal increase in wealth of around £3,000. The wealthiest 10% saw a £350,000 increase. In other words, printing money for the financial services industry ended up helping only those working in the financial services industry. Improved productivity, and capital investment for wider society, never got a look-in. I challenge the Chancellor: will he commit to a review of the impact of the bonus culture in financial services and its effect on general economic activity?
As I have said, the decade of Tory austerity and the inequality it inflicted has hit the poorest hardest. The brutal cuts have targeted children and the most disadvantaged. The benefits freeze, universal credit sanctions, disability assessments, the cruel two-child limit, the rape clause—the list of failed and punishing policies goes on and on. It is a legacy the Tories should be ashamed of, and should have the basic decency to apologise for.
If the Chancellor is serious about looking after those who have been left behind, he can begin to prove it by committing to four things. Will he increase the monthly allowance for universal credit and end the benefit cap; increase benefits above inflation and restore their value after the four-year freeze; scrap once and for all the two-child cap on tax credits and the rape clause; and follow the lead of the Scottish Government and bring in a child payment scheme similar to theirs, which has lifted 30,000 of our children out of poverty? If the Chancellor cannot commit to those four basic measures, which would reduce poverty and bring compassion into the social security system, his words and promises of levelling up will be shown to be hollow.
The devastating Tory legacy on social security has especially hit pensioners, who still receive the lowest state pension in the developed world, according to the OECD. They have also been denied their full rights. I am proud that the Scottish National party, with others, has stood shoulder to shoulder with 1950s-born women since the beginning of their campaign, and we stand with them still. They deserve justice, and it is disgraceful that their plight continues to be ignored in yet another Budget.
Another Tory attack on pensioners, and another broken promise, is of course the removal of free TV licences for the over-75s. This will hit 240,000 households in Scotland and 3 million across the United Kingdom. Chancellor, this is your Government’s responsibility, not the BBC’s. It is time to pay up. Stop punishing pensioners, and keep the free TV licence for all those over 75.
By far the biggest budgetary and economic decision that confronts these islands—[Interruption.] We are talking about some of the poorest in our society, and women who have been denied their pensions. I say to the Prime Minister that when I knocked on doors in the election campaign, I found that a great number of elderly people were alarmed by the loss of their TV licence. That is what we get from the Conservatives, but they sit laughing and scoffing. I find it remarkable. It is okay for them; the rest of the population can go hang.
By far the biggest budgetary and economic issue that confronts these islands remains our relationship with the European Union. We hope that the negotiations on our future relationship can be successfully concluded, but all the signs from this Tory Government are that instead of co-operation and close relationships, they are heading for divergence and deregulation. The UK Government’s negotiation mandate all but confirmed that choice. The consequences for workers’ rights, environmental protection, the shape of our economy and the nature of our society will be profound, and—this will be of little interest to this Tory Government—the impact will be felt most by those who already have the least: the vulnerable and the poor. Scotland will end up paying a heavy price for a future we did not back.
Our Government’s modelling shows that even if the UK Government secure a basic free trade agreement, Scottish GDP would be 6.1%, or £9 billion, lower by 2030 than if we had retained full EU membership. We heard from the Chancellor about the impact of a slowing global economy, and have heard about the impact that coronavirus may have on us, yet the Government are prepared to crash our economy and put Scottish workers on the dole. Not in our name! The harsh reality is that that lost GDP—let us put it in cash terms—amounts to £1,610 per person. A no-deal Brexit—heaven help us—will raise that figure to £12.7 billion, equivalent to £2,300 per person. This Tory Government will sacrifice our economic health. Why? For an ideology––the narrow ideology of the Brexit fanboys, led by Dominic Cummings, now running the Treasury. As the trade negotiations unfold in the coming months, the numbers are worth reflecting on, because it is worth reflecting on the fact that the Westminster Government are actively choosing to make Scotland’s people poorer. It is not an accident; it is by design.
On top of all that, the National Audit Office—[Interruption.] I find it remarkable to watch the reaction of the Prime Minister. I challenge the Prime Minister to tell me that the figures that I have just given on the impact of a free trade deal or a no-deal Brexit are wrong. The Prime Minister knows, just as I know—just as we know—that the Scottish economy is going to be harmed by what he wants to do in these trade negotiations.
Order. Has the House forgotten that I said that the leader of the Scottish nationalists would be heard without interruption? It seems to me, though, that most of the interruption is coming from behind him. I am protecting the right hon. Gentleman.
Indeed, he did interrupt.
Despite all the money that has been spent, there is still not an ounce of clarity on the UK shared prosperity fund, which was supposed to be the great sweetener offered by the Brexiteers. There was nothing in the Budget from the Chancellor on that. There was no clarity, either, for young people in respect of their opportunities to enjoy the right to travel, work and education throughout Europe as part of the Erasmus scheme. We took those rights and benefits for granted. Around 15,000 people have been involved in the programme through nearly 500 Erasmus+ projects throughout Scotland. On Monday, Universities UK estimated that leaving Erasmus+ will cost around £243 million per year. So why do it? There was no clarity, either, for the vital research and development facilities in our world-leading universities, or on their ability to access the new multibillion-pound Horizon Europe project.
One of the biggest costs of the hard Tory Brexit will fall on rural Scotland. We know what the Government think of rural Scotland: their own adviser revealed that farming and fishing are not “critically important” to them. Farming and fishing are not critically important to the Government. In fairness, that was not really a revelation: rural Scotland has long since been wise to the Tory attitude of contempt, and more and more of our fishing communities are seeing it unfold before their eyes. With trade talks starting and the clock now ticking, we are now less than four months away from when the Tories repeat history and sell out on all their promises to Scotland’s fishing communities. The truth is that the Government will be able to secure a free trade deal with Europe only if they let EU fleets continue to access our waters on essentially the same terms as today.
I would like to think that Ted Heath felt some level of responsibility when he treated the Scottish fishing sector as expendable in the 1970s. It was expendable under Ted Heath in the 1970s and it is expendable under this Prime Minister in 2020. The sad truth about the Prime Minister is that he will not even bat an eyelid as he sells out on his promise to Scottish fishing communities. He simply does not care. The same is true for our farmers and crofters. In the Agriculture Bill Committee last week, SNP amendments—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister should calm down; I really worry about his blood pressure.
I am nearly there, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I care for the health of everybody, and I certainly care for the health of the Prime Minister.
In the Agriculture Bill Committee last week, SNP amendments gave the UK Government the opportunity to ensure that food and welfare standards will not be diminished and will not be on the table in any future trade deal. It tells its own story that the Conservatives voted against all our amendments, threatening our farmers and crofters with crippling tariffs, reduced standards and costly customs bureaucracy. That has left many of them burdened with very uncertain futures. Will the Chancellor’s Government pick up the bill to compensate our farming and fishing communities if they lose revenue as a consequence of a botched Brexit?
Let me move on to immigration. In this Budget, the Chancellor has failed to give any reassurance on one of the biggest areas of concern for Scottish businesses. From our NHS to social care, to universities, agriculture, tourism and hospitality, EU citizens play a vital part in our economy and are a core part of our communities. Unlike the Secretary of State for Scotland, we do not define these people as “cheap migrant labour”; they are our friends and our neighbours. They have come to Scotland to build a home, and under the SNP they will always be welcome. Rather than heeding concerns or engaging with tailored immigration proposals—including plans put forward by the Scottish Government for a Scottish visa system—the Tories are ploughing on regardless. It is time that this Tory Government woke up to the reality and started to listen to Scottish businesses. The Tories’ immigration plans will devastate Scotland and the United Kingdom, and the Chancellor needs to understand that a partial fig leaf to spare Scottish Tory blushes on immigration will not be enough. I urge the Chancellor, instead of blindly ploughing on, to work constructively with the devolved Administrations and our business communities on a migration system that works.
It is genuinely concerning that this Budget falls so far short when it comes to tackling the climate emergency. It is clear that the Conservatives’ green rhetoric is merely the language of electoral convenience rather than a real priority. The Government have just sacked the president of the UN climate conference in Glasgow, and the sub-committee promised by the Prime Minister has not even met. I am glad to say that Scotland is already a world leader on tackling the climate crisis and delivering green energy. It is time for the Conservatives to get their act together.
The UK Government must now do their bit by ditching nuclear power and instead investing in renewables, making sure that we deliver on carbon capture and storage, and supporting the North sea sector to play its part in the transition. While they are at it, they should ditch the madness of spending £200 billion on Trident nuclear weapons that we do not need. Climate change is already threatening our world; we do not need weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde doing the same. Instead of paying lip service to climate change, the Chancellor should have set out a plan that matches Scotland’s green ambitions, matches the Government’s Paris climate agreement responsibilities, and sticks to future EU emissions standards. As Greta Thunberg has said, our house is on fire. The inaction of the Tories is the equivalent of ignoring not only the fire alarm but the flames that are swirling around our feet.
As I move towards a conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] Well, I can certainly give Members some more home truths if they want them. The decisions and priorities needed to meet the challenges of the climate emergency are but one example of where Scotland has walked a very different and more progressive path than successive Westminster Governments. Last week, in the week when International Women’s Day fell, my colleague Kate Forbes, the Scottish Finance Secretary, became the first woman to present and pass a budget in our Scottish Parliament. She did that despite dealing with the unprecedented delay in today’s UK Budget and the fact that the Tories made a £13.9 billion cumulative cut to Holyrood’s budget.
The Scottish budget was everything this UK Budget is not: ambitious, green, collaborative and compassionate, and delivering £1.8 billion of investment in low-carbon infrastructure, progressive income tax rates, free bus travel for our under-19s, record NHS spending, additional funding for Police Scotland and £800 million for 50,000 new homes. It is a budget that reflects the vision and the values of all our people. It is a budget that puts the building blocks in place for a fairer society and that makes further progress towards a new Scotland—an independent Scotland in the European Union.
Order. Before I call the Father of the House, I have to put on a time limit of 10 minutes, which is a generous time limit. As I said earlier, it is likely to be reduced later in the debate, but for now it is 10 minutes. I call the Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley.
I think the most challenging speech after the Chancellor’s was the one by the Leader of the Opposition, and he discharged it well. The most challenging to listen to was the one by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), the leader of the SNP, who seemed to put each page of his notes to the back of the pack and go through them twice. We were told not to interrupt him, but he interrupted himself about six times, so perhaps we could have a go instead next time. I think he was really saying that he welcomed the freeze on duty on whisky and the promotion of Scottish products overseas, and he will probably welcome the Barnett increase in spending available to the Scottish Government. Having said that, I would like to turn to the UK side of the Budget.
The Government will have to recognise that our pattern and levels of taxation will change dramatically over the next 10, 20 or 30 years, with climate change and adaptation to it. If we think of the amount of money that has come from the duties on tobacco, fuel and the like, that is all going to change. We have to be prepared for a proper debate on what we are going to tax, when we are going to tax people and what we are going to spend the money on. I prefer a life cycle approach; I prefer giving people generous help when they are dependent, encouraging independence and making sure that, when people come to later stages of life, they can get proper, full help without having to ask for it.
One initiative from the Chancellor that I particularly welcome is the extra £1 billion to help people affected by dangerous cladding on buildings. That is in addition to the £600 million announced by a previous Communities Secretary. I pay tribute to the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, which I help to lead, and which has managed to give a voice to the voiceless. I deeply regret that the Government’s advisory service, LEASE, did not immediately tell the Government that private leaseholders in big blocks were completely exposed as the only tenants who were expected to pay for the waking watch and for the remediation of dangerous cladding.
I pay tribute to former and present Ministers for getting a grip of this issue, and I hope they will find a way of getting together with the campaigning charity, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, and with the National Leasehold Campaign. I also invite the major media to appoint housing editors and housing correspondents who can follow the details of these debates, so that they do not turn up just occasionally on Victoria Derbyshire’s programme—I pay great tribute to her and her producers, and I also pay tribute to some of the money programmes. We need to have housing experts in the media who can help to get these stories into the public domain so that the Government respond faster and more fruitfully more often.
I pay tribute to the Father of the House for his work. I want to raise a point that came through this week from a constituent who has been affected by the leasehold issues that the APPG has raised. In instances such as hers—she is in shared ownership—cladding is becoming an issue for those who wish to sell their homes. We need clarity about exactly who will be eligible, and any provisions need to be flexible enough to cater for all those who are affected.
I agree. I also think it would be a good idea in the medium term if the Government and the investment sector found ways of taking freeholds and landlordism away from some of the big, bad owners and giving them to a group of infrastructure holders who would actually treat leaseholders and shared ownership people fairly and properly.
I want to move on to a number of other issues, because of the time limits we are left with. In 2002, the Government gave up the Crown preference whereby a failing business had to find how to allocate the money that could be gathered in, especially where attempts were being made to reconstruct the business to keep it going. The Government gave up their priority, but they are now bringing it back. I hope they will meet UK Finance and recovery experts to go through the issues that were debated in the Committee on the Enterprise Bill—now the Enterprise Act 2002—on 9 May 2002. I hope they will ask whether it is necessary for them to try to take a small fiscal gain for themselves at the risk of a 10 times greater impact on our economy. We know that businesses fail, and it is important that they do, but it is also important that they can be brought back to function in our economy. I hope the Government will review the question of whether Crown preference should be brought back in the way it is being.
The Government have rightly paid attention to the pub sector, and I welcome the reliefs announced in the Budget today by the Chancellor. I would refer him to the worries of some family businesses in the brewery sector—I do not want to name any in particular. When a business has been in the same family for 200 years or more, and when the family invest five times their dividends in modernisation and pay a third of their revenue to the Government in taxation, the question of whether business relief on inheritance tax should be under threat is important. That is a separate point from the entrepreneurs’ relief the Chancellor spoke about, which could be a subject of debate now and in the future.
Business relief for inherited family businesses is important if we want to have middle-sized companies that invest for the future year after year, and if we want to have a way for them to pass down their assets to future generations. That does matter in this country. The gap has been identified almost since the Macmillan gap 50 years ago—when I was studying economics rather badly—and it needs attention now.
While I am talking about the pub sector, I should mention that there are many vacancies, especially in the south. The limit on people coming into this country with the £12.63 an hour rate of pay will leave a number of vacancies. I therefore hope the Government will talk to the family brewers, in particular, and work in detail through whether there can be transitional relief or arrangements that will allow our hospitality sector, employing two thirds of its people from this country, but requiring a fair number of cooks and others from overseas, to continue safely and securely.
I talked about the life cycle approach to things. I happen to believe that the change introduced by a previous Conservative or coalition Government to make child benefit ineffective for people on £60,000 a year or more was wrong. I believe that support for children should come automatically. In a couple in which both people may be earning £60,000 a year, the taxation they pay on their £120,000 combined earnings will easily outweigh the child benefit they receive. We do not need to have people declaring or opting out of child benefit, or discovering that some change in their pay during the year has put them in a tax trap. I would restore child benefit for all children and expect that the cost of that would come out in the wash for those who are very well off.
The leader of the SNP talked about the 1950s women and the WASPI campaign. Anyone who thinks we can rectify the whole issue of state retirement pension for women at 60 is wrong. That approach was put forward at the last election, and it was rejected. However, there should be some give. That might involve an actuarial calculation, which is something my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and I put to a previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, although he would not let his officials do the calculations. Equally, we could have at least some give, and give the Freedom Pass to these women so that they get some recognition of the fact that they have been double-hit by the changes. That would be a welcome initiative, and one that I would put forward to the Government.
While I am talking about pensioners, the biggest stain on this Parliament is that overseas pensioners in dominion countries and some others do not get the increases in the state pension. The law, as judged by case judges, is that while what the Government are doing may be legal, it is quite clearly wrong. The fact that we had pension agreements with Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and some of the Caribbean countries from the 1950s, when inflation was not an issue, should not leave us going on defending the indefensible. Why do half of our overseas pensioners get the increase and the other half do not? The Government really must build in getting rid of that anomaly by the end of this Parliament. It is unfair and unjustified, and it should not continue.
If we take a long view of taxation, we can afford to pay for essential public services and the cost of borrowing for investment. I do not believe our taxation system should be unchanged forever. We may find that people are willing to pay more at certain stages of life or in certain circumstances, and less at other times.
It is crucial that we recognise the value of health and education, and the Government have been doing that. The campaign to get fairer funding for schools has been successful, and those who tried to make school funding party political have failed, and they will fail if they try again. Let us unite on fairer funding for schools, as we have on leasehold issues, and on getting our health services to adjust the best way they can.
As an overall judgment, no one can tell what effect this coronavirus will have on the economy as a whole, except that the economy will be challenged in some ways that can be foreseen and in some ways that cannot. I hope the Chancellor will take the opportunity in the coming nine months to keep the balance between opportunity and fairness, with consultation on major changes before they are suddenly thrown on to an unsuspecting public.
The Government should never fear to talk about their options in the open, as they do between Government Departments. I wish the Chancellor well, I hope the Government succeed in our adjustment to being outside the European Union, and I hope our partnerships within this country, across Europe and across the world will bring the kind of prosperity that makes a difference to us.
I have been around long enough to know that, between 1979 and 1985, Britain went from being the sick man of Europe to being one of the most prosperous and most go-ahead nations. Some of those changes were planned and some were forced on us, but the key point is that we took advantage of the opportunities, and that is what we need to do again now.
It is a pleasure to follow the Father of the House. I agree with his view that we are on the cusp of a very major change in the tax base, and it is important that we debate what the nature of that change should be.
We are living in very uncertain times. We are on our third Conservative Prime Minister in four years, and this Budget was presented by the fourth Conservative Chancellor in as many years—a Chancellor who has been in place for barely a month and who had to agree to play second fiddle to Dominic Cummings as the price of his sudden elevation.
No Budget was delivered last year, and the Office for Budget Responsibility last published an official forecast nearly a year ago. To make up for that, we are now told to expect that 2020 will be a year of two Budgets and a spending review, so what the Chancellor announced today may be only the first in a trilogy of fiscal events this year.
This Government of Brexit obsessives have deliberately chosen to inflict a high level of uncertainty and disruption on our future trade arrangements. There is still the prospect of an effective no-deal cliff edge at the end of 2020 should the talks with the EU go badly. The Bank of England’s own assessment points to an 8.25% hit to GDP by 2024 in the event of a sudden, unmanaged WTO outcome to the talks, yet the Chancellor barely, if at all, mentioned Brexit in his hour-long speech.
If that were not enough, the country is now facing an immediate and massive threat caused by the rapid advance of coronavirus across the globe. In his evidence to the Treasury Committee last week, the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England said that coronavirus is likely to have a large but temporary effect on the global economy. Today, announcing an emergency interest rate cut of half a percentage point and an offer to banks of four years of cheap funding to ensure they continue to lend, the Bank of England noted a “marked deterioration” in the outcome of already weak economic growth in the coming months. With the persistence of historically low interest rates since 2008, the efficacy of monetary policy is now questionable. That makes the Chancellor’s fiscal adjustment and supply-side response in today’s Budget crucial in mitigating the coronavirus crisis.
Clearly, fiscal policy needed to be looser, temporarily at least, to protect otherwise viable businesses from being destroyed by the short-term abnormal supply and demand shock, so I welcome the Chancellor’s fiscal stimulus package, which he costs at £30 billion. We all hope he has done enough, and we all trust that he will return with more if the situation demands.
I echo the hon. Lady’s comments. The announcements on support for small businesses are welcome, but I have been contacted by many small businesses in my constituency that are worried about extra charges due to the new Financial Conduct Authority regime for overdrafts. The Treasury needs to look at this before the regime comes into force in May.
I certainly hope the banks will recognise the Government’s generosity to them on lending and buffers and will pass that on to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, as well as mine.
Climate change and the commitment to reach net zero carbon by 2050 also pose a major challenge, and the effect of being unprepared has been tragically evident in the flooding experienced this winter. This Budget offered an opportunity to address the need to introduce transformative policies to get us on the path to net zero before it is too late, but I do not see an awful lot of detail. I welcome the increase in expenditure on flood defences, which would have been even better had it not been preceded by major cuts in expenditure on flood defences. I look forward to the Treasury’s net zero review, which needs to outline the path forward to net zero, but I am puzzled about agriculture being excluded from the announcement on red diesel. Agriculture is the major sector that uses red diesel, so that needs more detailed scrutiny.
The UK economy remains weak in the face of these formidable challenges. The Office for National Statistics has just revealed that the UK economy did not grow at all in the last quarter of 2019, and annual growth of 1.4% last year is one of the weakest on record. The OBR’s forecast for this year was put together before the larger effects of coronavirus were taken into account. Its forecast for expenditure, excluding those effects, is an anaemic 1.1%.
The OECD recently said it expects coronavirus to cut global growth in half. If that is true, it puts us down to about 0.6% for the year, which is one of the worst performances we could expect to see. Monday showed that, even now, the markets are pricing in a recession, so there are vulnerabilities in growth.
There are also vulnerabilities in the UK labour market, in which 3.7 million people are in insecure jobs and have not seen real wages rise in 12 years. Inequality is rising, and one in five workers are earning less than the real living wage. Child poverty is soaring and is set to reach 5 million by 2024 due to the ongoing cuts to benefits and family support, of which there was no mention whatsoever in the entirety of the Chancellor’s speech.
Nearly 1 million workers are on zero-hours contracts, and 2 million are not earning enough to qualify for statutory sick pay. Those in the gig economy and the self-employed are similarly vulnerable to a loss of income so, as far as they go, I welcome the Chancellor’s announcements on statutory sick pay and support for those who self-isolate, but I am extremely sceptical about his announcement that those who work on zero-hours contracts will apparently be expected to apply for employment and support allowance in order to be compensated for doing the right thing. That is likely to be highly inadequate, and we need to return to that issue. I suspect the answer will be statutory sick pay for all from day one.
The lack of rights at work is a barrier in the fight against coronavirus, and it prevents a desperately needed transformation in productivity and investment in skills. The fight against in-work poverty barely features in this Government’s thinking. Recent analysis by the Resolution Foundation has shown that the poorest fifth of the population have experienced a 7% fall in their disposable household income in the past two years, as a direct result of choices this Government have made, which were not reversed by the Chancellor. A decade of swingeing cuts has decimated public services. Public sector workers have had to do more with less, and be rewarded by suffering a real-terms fall in pay and conditions. The NHS has 17,000 fewer beds. There are 43,000 nursing vacancies and 10,000 doctor vacancies in the NHS that we are expecting to deal with the coronavirus crisis. There is a £6.3 billion shortfall in the resources needed for social care. We can welcome the first new investment in a decade, but we have to be clear that it barely begins to restore what has been taken away.
We also have to remember that infrastructure spending, although welcome, does not deal with the current expenditure squeeze, which is ongoing. My local authority, Wirral Council, has £635 less per household to spend than it did in 2010. Merseyside police has seen £136 million of cuts since 2010, so the £28 million extra pledged in the spending review is welcome, but £5 million of it has to come from council tax increases and it will not restore what has been lost. We see the same in area after area: the Government trying to take credit, as though they were a new Government entirely, and distancing themselves from the Governments of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and her predecessor, who did all this cutting in the first place.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Today’s overspun announcements of a £600 billion investment programme are welcomed in the self-same Tory tabloids that denounced Labour’s manifesto plans to invest £500 billion as “ruinous Marxist nonsense.” Apparently, £100 billion extra is acceptable if it is the Tories doing it. Let’s face it: we have heard it all before. Let us wait to see what they deliver before we pat them on the back. We must never forget that the Government would not have to allocate £2.5 billion to fix 50 million potholes had they not neglected our roads system with their ruinous austerity policies in the first place.
The Conservative manifesto promised no increases to income tax, which was not mentioned today, national insurance or VAT, and the Chancellor’s fiscal rules, which he is apparently reviewing, give him only minimum headroom for any non-investment spending. His choice, therefore, is to find tax increases elsewhere or increase borrowing, which proves that the extreme cuts that have been inflicted on our society were not necessary in the first place and that the misery they have unleashed has been needlessly cruel. Starting to put right some of the damage they have done is welcome, but we will not forget the suffering and hardship they have caused, especially to the poorest in society. We will not forget the soaring levels of child poverty the Government have chosen to inflict, and the waste of potential and life opportunities that this indifference implies. We will not forget the attacks on the most vulnerable and the Government’s neglect of social care. We will continue to hold them to account for it at this and future Budgets.
There is no doubt that, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and other speakers have acknowledged, this Budget has had to be delivered against the very difficult background of the coronavirus. We had already seen a slowing in world growth and expectations of that in the coming months, and we have now also seen the negative impacts for economies around the world of the coronavirus. These are not theoretical impacts; we have already seen, through things such as what happened to Flybe, that this is a real, day-to-day issue that has an effect on people’s lives and livelihoods.
Against that background, it must have been difficult to have crafted a Budget, and made the predictions for future Government spending and revenue, let alone dealt with the challenges of preparing and ensuring that we had the best possible background for a post-Brexit Britain, in order to establish that global Britain that we all want to see. Having said that, the Chancellor was absolutely right to deal with coronavirus, to set aside the sums of money as he has suggested and, in particular, to recognise the impact on not only individuals but on businesses and on particular sectors of the business community, such as the hospitality sector.
I wonder whether, like me, my right hon. Friend would like to congratulate the Chancellor, particularly on highlighting the hospitality sector—our fantastic pubs, B&Bs and leisure areas—where all this money will help the continuity of business, particularly in our semi-rural areas. South Derbyshire will benefit enormously from that.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She is right to refer to the hospitality sector and the various elements of business within it, and the impact that the positive measures that the Chancellor has introduced will have on South Derbyshire, as they will on my constituency and constituencies across the country.
This was a difficult Budget to deliver, but I commend the Chancellor for his determination to deliver on our manifesto commitments in it. I trust that in the discussions that were held prior to the delivery of the Budget, there was the necessary tension between No. 10 and the Treasury in developing it. Generally speaking, Prime Ministers want to spend money and Chancellors want to manage the public finances prudently—at least Conservative Chancellors want to do that, because that sound management of the public finances has always been one of the unique selling points of the Conservative party. In my time in politics, I have seen, more than once, a Labour Government come in, trash the economy and leave office with more people unemployed than when they came into office and then a Conservative Government having to come in, restore the economy, restore the public finances and save the day. Although spending a lot of money may be popular and may seem the natural thing to do, there is of course that necessity to have a realistic assessment of the longer-term impact of those decisions and of the longer-term consequences. It is also necessary to ensure that we have that restraint and caution that enables us to make the public finances continue to be strong into the future.
In talking about the public finances, I note that of course the only reason we are able to take the measures we are on coronavirus and the measures my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) has mentioned is the sound management of the public finances by the Conservative Governments, so that those finances are in a good position at the moment. We have fiscal rules so that we exercise that restraint on the temptation to take reckless decisions on public spending and borrowing. Every Conservative Member stood on a manifesto of certain fiscal rules, and as was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), the Treasury Committee Chairman, the Chancellor said that this Budget was being delivered within those fiscal rules.
The Chancellor also said that it was a Budget where the predictions and forecasts that have been put forward did not yet fully take account of the impact of coronavirus, and I noted that he said he was going to be reviewing the fiscal framework in which we operated. I merely say, as I have said, that prudent management of the public finances is one of the USPs—unique selling points— of the Conservative party, and it is essential that any Conservative Government maintain that prudent management, because there are two things that we, as Conservatives, know that the Labour party and others never accept. The first is that the Government do not have any money of their own; they are spending other people’s money, and we owe it to them to take only as much as we need and to spend it wisely. The second point is that it is not about the amount of money we spend; it is about how we spend the money available to us.
I would like to welcome some specific issues in the Budget. On climate change, the money put into carbon capture and storage is important. The technology will be important for our future and delivering on climate change, but it has all too often been swept to one side and not been given the attention it deserves.
In the details, I note that there is welcome funding for the prevention of domestic abuse, particularly to enable police and crime commissioners and others to support perpetrator programmes such as Drive, which from all accounts is having some success. There is also the money for domestic abuse courts, which will be an important development in helping to address something that people across the House want to be eradicated. I welcome, too, the specific sums for counter-terrorism and intelligence services.
Underpinning the Budget has been the concept of levelling up—what I describe as “a country that works for everyone”. I want to focus particularly on two aspects of that. First, I welcome the emphasis on science and R&D, which is important for our future. I would say this to the Treasury, though: although I am pleased that the increase in the R&D tax credit will take us further down the road to the 2.4% of GDP target, it needs to consider the definition of research and development spending. There is some evidence that the Treasury’s rules are currently too narrow to enable certain expenditure that could genuinely be described as research and development to be incorporated.
The Budget also puts significant emphasis on infra- structure spending. I welcome the money that will be made available for Bisham junction on the A404; I would like to have seen funding for a third bridge across the Thames as well, but that may be for another time. However, important though infrastructure is, it is not the only thing that delivers a country that works for everyone. What underpins delivering that and levelling up across the country is the industrial strategy. I noted that the Chancellor did not actually mention the words “industrial strategy” in his Budget; he is not the first Chancellor to have found it difficult to use them in a Budget speech, but the industrial strategy sets how we can ensure prosperity across the whole country.
Some would identify infrastructure spend as saying, “We are now spending as much money in this part of the country as we are in another part.” It is not about that; it is about ensuring that the environment is there to deliver the dynamic economy and prosperity that every part of our country deserves. What the industrial strategy does is focus on the other issues that matter—the importance of place, people and ideas. On place, the issue is about working at a local level, with local leaders and others, on delivering the increases in productivity. The city deals and growth deals have been an important element of all that, but that partnership working is very important.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement about investing £800 million into a model based on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency? That will make a huge difference to research and development.
I thank my hon. Friend for intervening. That is important—one of the interesting and exciting aspects of where we are going as a Government is the emphasis on science and on recognising that, if we are to have the economy of the future, we have to generate and develop ideas that will deliver prosperity for the future.
On the subject of ideas, I should say that people are very important. The Augar review, published about a year ago, set out very clearly the need to invest in further education, so I welcome the investment in further education in the Budget.
I also want to touch on something referenced by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) in his rather lengthy speech; he spoke for longer than the Leader of the Opposition. He mentioned the shared prosperity fund, which is another part of ensuring that our country works for everyone. This is particularly important: the purpose of the shared prosperity fund is to reduce disparities between and within regions. That will not be done if the Government adopt a “devolve and forget” approach to the fund.
We must recognise the importance of the fund in maintaining the health of the UK economy as a whole. Yes, we need to work in partnership with the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government, but our approach needs to be holistic to ensure that the fund is indeed delivering on the need to reduce disparities within and between regions. I was sorry that the leader of the Scottish nationalists failed to welcome the £640 million extra going to the Scottish Government.
I thank the right hon. Member for giving way. She spent an awful lot of time working to get the Northern Ireland Executive back up and running. The deal that was crafted by the British Government to do that contained many, many promises and many, many commitments. The Barnett consequential payment of £210 million that has been announced by the Chancellor today will go nowhere near dealing with the commitments contained in that agreement. That needs to be thought about, and we need some clarity from the Chancellor. Does she agree that it is just not enough to say that we will have all these commitments but we have no money to pay for them?
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that commitments were made in that agreement. I am sure the Government will look very closely at how they can deliver on those commitments. The figures that have been announced in the Budget are the Barnett consequentials of the decisions that the Government have taken, but I am sure that he will have an opportunity to raise that matter further. None the less, the Government will be looking closely at how to deliver on those commitments, because they were made in good faith and were about bringing the Northern Ireland Executive together.