House of Commons
Monday 11 July 2022
The House met at half-past Three o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
As the House will be aware, we have started our proceedings an hour late today because of the leak of some water into the Chamber from an air conditioning unit to an office nearby—not the one to the Chamber. I have been assured that it is safe for us to sit in the Chamber. All of today’s business has protected time, so no debates have been curtailed as a result of the delayed sitting. I am grateful to Members for their patience, and to the House staff who have ensured that we are able to sit today; thank you everybody.
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Cost of Living Payment: UC Claimants in Gedling
Despite what has happened today, our spirits will not be dampened, and I am sure that the Chamber will be in full flow before we know it.
Universal credit claimants who received at least 1p during assessment periods that ended between 26 April and 25 May 2022 will be eligible for the first instalment of a cost of living payment worth £326. Latest statistics show that 4,800 households in Gedling were in receipt of universal credit in February 2022.
Disabled People: Support in Work
We are absolutely delighted to see 1.3 million more disabled people in work than in 2017, smashing our commitment of 1 million lives changed by 2027 five years early. We remain committed to reducing the disability employment gap and, over the next three years, we will invest £1.3 billion in employment support for disabled people and people with health conditions.
The UK has the highest levels of in-work poverty this century, which, as the Minister will know, disproportionately impacts groups facing higher living costs, such as disabled people. In the middle of this Tory man-made cost of living crisis, will she ensure that the UK Government’s health and disability White Paper addresses the suitability of the current statutory sick pay system, increase the Access to Work fund and end the payment cap, as well as create statutory timescales for the implementation of reasonable adjustments?
As is the hon. Member’s wont, she introduces a series of serious points, which I look forward to continuing to discuss with her here and in other places. I can confirm that we shall be bringing forward our health and disability benefits assessment White Paper, and I very much look forward to discussing the full breadth of the contents with her. I can also confirm that our goal is to help as many disabled people as possible and as appropriate to start, to stay and to succeed in work, because that is one way of being more resilient to economic crises. That is in addition to our extensive cost of living support.
The Government-commissioned National Centre for Social Research report confirms that many disabled people live in poverty. Ministers claim that work is a route out of poverty, yet the disability employment gap remains stubbornly at 28%. We have a bureaucratic Access to Work scheme, with an ineffective spending cap, which, ironically, is not available in all accessible formats. A mere £128 million is spent on it, compared with £64 billion on disability benefits. What does the Minister say to those disabled people who want to work, but who are faced with a system that, frankly, is not fit for purpose?
I think the hon. Member is wrong to say that the disability employment gap is static at 28%. It is moving in the right direction, which is important to acknowledge. While we have made progress, we need to be able to make more. It is important to recognise what has gone on, in that we have more disabled people in work and the disability employment gap is reducing. We need Access to Work to be a strong part of the solution. There is a great deal of work going on to transform Access to Work to make it even more effective in helping disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work. Those will all be continued priorities of this Government and this Department.
Cost of Living Increase: Pensioners
Mr Speaker, I hope to be a better Pensions Minister than the one from whom I have just inherited the job.
The United Kingdom Government have provided £37 billion-worth of support for those most in need, including pensioners. Some pensioners will receive in excess of £1,500 over and above the state pension, which is up this year.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but pension credit figures show that an estimated £1.7 billion goes unclaimed. Not only are 850,000 families missing out on this essential support, but they are also ineligible for the £650 cost of living payment. Will the Minister consider extending the cut-off date for entitlement to that payment to next March? Will the Department finally look at a proper benefits take-up strategy such as the one we have in Scotland?
The hon. Member will be aware that, by reason of the pension credit awareness campaign from April and in particular the pension credit day of action on 15 June, the numbers for pension credit have massively increased—by well over 275% for that period. He will also be aware that there is a huge effort being made to ensure that pension credit take-up increases. I ask all hon. Members please to encourage their communities to apply. Finally, he will also be aware that pension credit is retrospective, so people have until 24 August to apply and still be entitled to the £650 cost of living payment that this Government will be making from Thursday.
Following the resignation of the Prime Minister, there is a real risk that the House turns in on itself. I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the serious cost of living crisis facing families and pensioners in this country. Sadly, the Government broke their promise to keep the triple lock on the state pension at the very time that inflation was starting to rise. As a result, pensioners struggling to get by have each lost more than £500 this year. How can the Minister possibly justify letting down pensioners in this way?
I was the Minister who saw that the Labour party at the time did not object to our taking the actions we did in respect of the triple lock. The hon. Gentleman talks about a loss but, as he knows, the state pension was less than £100 in 2009, before the Government changed in 2010. He also knows that we have now virtually doubled the state pension and that there is in excess of £1,500 extra money going to pensioners this year, by reason of the winter fuel payment, the cost of living support for those who are most vulnerable, the council tax rebate worth £150 and the energy support fund, which arrives on or around 1 October.
The reality is that even before the Pensions Minister scrapped the triple lock, taking £500 out of the pockets of pensioners, the UK had pensioner poverty rates higher than small independent European countries. We now know that the Chancellor is reviewing the corporation tax rates, which were intended to raise £50 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament. How can he guarantee that the triple lock will not be sacrificed once more, trapping pensioners in poverty just to pay for Tory tax giveaways?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the United Kingdom Government have provided £37 billion-worth of support—[Interruption.] Oh, we most definitely have. That takes the form of four different payments over the next six months and is a real support to the most vulnerable in our community. Without a shadow of a doubt, we will continue to support those most vulnerable.
Pension Credit Campaign: New Claims
It was an honour and a privilege to visit my hon. Friend’s Kettering constituency. Although the figures on new pension credit claims cannot be broken down by constituency or region, the pension credit campaign has been highly successful, with more than 10,000 claims received across Great Britain during the week of the pension credit day of action on 15 June. That was an increase of 275% for the relevant period compared with 2021, which also saw an increase.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being the longest-serving Pensions Minister ever and thank him for visiting Kettering on Friday 1 July and supporting the Kettering Older People’s Fair. I urge him to use the fact that pension credit is a gateway benefit in encouraging people to take it up. Not only could it be worth £3,300 in itself, but it gives access to extra help with council tax, heating bills, NHS dental treatment and free TV licences.
As my hon. Friend knows, I am in day three of being the Pensions Minister—but the previous one was very good, I did hear. The practical reality is that pension credit is a difficult benefit to try to get out, because everybody has to apply. It is very much our role as Members of Parliament across all parties to ensure that we send out the message that, if anybody is in doubt, they should apply. That can apply to any particular member of our community because the circumstances differ in any particular way, but my hon. Friend is right that this benefit is a springboard to so much else, with £3,300 on average that people can apply for.
I am not quite sure of your connection with this question, as a Scottish MP, because obviously it is about Northamptonshire and England. There must be one, but I cannot see it. Are you sure there is a connection to the question? [Interruption.] It is limited to three areas—the responsibility is for those areas. I call James Sunderland.
Fraud and Error in Welfare System
In May this year, we published “Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System”, which details our proposals for reducing fraud and error, including legislative change and closer working across Government.
The claimant rate in Bracknell is way below the national average. My constituency enjoys high employment, but we still have lots of job vacancies. What steps is the Department therefore taking to ensure that the remaining claimants are helped into work?
With a record 1.3 million vacancies, our focus is not only on tackling fraud but on continuing to help people to get back into work and to progress in their careers. A multi-billion-pound plan for jobs will continue to help our constituents and people across the UK to find work and progress in employment.
With regard to DWP issues, one of the largest problems I see in my mailbag is people who go for assessed benefits, such as the personal independence payment, being turned down at the first stage, having to go to appeal and, in huge numbers, winning on appeal. Why are there so many errors in the assessment process?
I thank the hon. Member—another good Cheshire MP—for his question. We are working hard to make the right decisions first time, every time. All health professionals undertaking assessments on behalf of the Department must be registered practitioners who have also met requirements around training and competence. We are working hard to make sure that we can further improve the quality of those assessments with clinical coaching and monthly performance meetings.
Phoenix House DWP Office: Proposed Closure
The Department’s priority will be to retain, retrain and redeploy colleagues either within the Department for Work and Pensions or within other Government Departments in the area, and with no reduction in the overall services people receive.
The plan to close Phoenix House in Barrow will result in more than 40 specialist jobs leaving the area. This matters because the people there are the only team in the country able to deal with the really complicated industrial disablement benefits that they process. Only recently, largely due to our industrial heritage in Barrow, we were confirmed as having the highest rate of mesothelioma in the UK. The team at Phoenix House help not just Barrow residents but people across the UK with such complex diseases. I have written at length to the Secretary of State about this, with detailed testimonies from charities, service users, staff members and third-party organisations that want to keep the centre open. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can find a way to make this work?
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for his constituency and for the wider area, and the jobs that he is concerned with, and I give him great credit for that. I am not the responsible Minister, and I know that that letter has only recently arrived into the Department, but I will ensure very definitely that the Minister in respect of this particular decision will meet him in the near weeks so that there can be a proper discussion in respect of the situation for impacted staff.
Disabled People in Work
As I said to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) , we are absolutely committed to being able to continue to increase the number of disabled people in work. There is a range of Government initiatives to achieve this, including the Work and Health programme, the Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme, Access to Work, Disability Confident, and supporting partnerships with the health system.
My office is part of the Disability Confident scheme started by the Department. I strongly support the scheme because it encourages employers to think differently about disability, and to take action to improve how they recruit, retain and develop disabled people in their workplace. How will my hon. Friend work to promote that scheme, which is a valuable tool to close the employment gap that we have already talked about today?
First, I thank my hon. Friend and any other hon. and right hon. Members who are members of that scheme, because it is incredibly important that we do that from this place as we encourage employers of all shapes and sizes to be involved in the scheme. Secondly, we will continue to promote the scheme from the Department as widely as possible through a variety of communications. Thirdly, because our goal to continue to reduce the disability employment gap remains at the forefront, we want to grow commitment and action across and outside of Government. It has to be a shared ambition across society and that is well encapsulated in the Disability Confident scheme.
The Government’s response last November to the Select Committee’s report on the disability employment gap promised key improvements to Access to Work to make it easier for people to use. Can the Minister give us an update on progress with that? Specifically, the trial of Access to Work passports started last November, so that people can take their support from one job to another. Can the Minister tell us whether that will be extended to everybody on the scheme and when we can expect that to happen?
These are incredibly important details and aspects of the Access to Work scheme, and the right hon. Gentleman is correct that those improvements are in the pipeline. We have been able to pilot a number of different passports. I will write to him with details and I am also with his Committee next week, where I can provide the precise details of that. By way of example, a passport now in operation assists freelancers and people who work in contract form to be able to carry their requirements with them from job to job, so that it is easier for them to stay and succeed in work, which is the goal we are talking about. I also look forward to talking further with him about the digital improvements we want to make to the process, again to help people get that support earlier and faster, so that they can get the benefits of being in work.
Unemployed People: Help into Work
It is a privilege to be here, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), for all her incredible work in this role. We want everyone to be able to find a job, to progress in work and to thrive in the labour market, whoever they are and wherever they live. On 26 January 2022, we launched the Way to Work campaign, moving more than 520,000 job-ready claimants into work by the end of June.
I warmly congratulate the Minister on her appointment. Unemployment is at extremely low levels across the country, which is very welcome, but in my constituency of Aylesbury, we still have some small areas where some people struggle to find a job, despite there being vacancies nearby, often because they do not have the skills required to take those jobs. How can my hon. Friend’s Department help those who need new skills to get back into work?
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend raises the important issue of skills. We empower work coaches to build individual, tailored support packages to help claimants into work and to progress into better work. The DWP has a range of programmes that work coaches can use to help claimants to gain new skills in areas of local labour market need. That includes sector-based work academy programmes and DWP Train and Progress.
I also welcome the Minister to her new job. Can I ask her to give someone a good kick on the kickstart scheme? It was the skill delivery mechanism for this Government, and it has quietly been put down in some back room. The fact of the matter is that this country needs more skills and this Government are not interested in skills and are not doing their job. Can she not get on with it, and get on with it now?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Kickstart has delivered more than 163,000 starts, and I think that is hugely to be welcomed. One of the things that is so amazing to me in this role is to recognise the absolute impact on the individual people concerned of those 160,000 job starts. That is something we should welcome.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and her updated DWP team on their successes up and down the country. It is okay that it is my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford who is at the Dispatch Box, rather than anyone else. Delivering help and opportunities up and down the country—true levelling up in action in jobcentres—has been the difference for the Way to Work campaign. Can I ask my hon. Friend, the new Minister, how she is looking to continue to progress for everybody, building on the success of getting half a million people into work through the Way to Work scheme?
Again, I pay tribute to all the amazing work that my hon. Friend did in her role. She is right to talk about the way to work scheme. We are pleased that we have the DWP youth offer, which will continue to offer huge opportunities to people in that age group, and which extends to 16 and 17-year-olds. There are also a multitude of other valuable schemes, such as the 50-plus champions, the job entry targeted support scheme and in-work progression—a whole host of schemes—that we are working hard to deliver.
I welcome the Minister to her new role. Does she share my concern at recent data showing up to 70,000 armed forces veterans in receipt of universal credit? Does she think that the 50 armed forces champions around the country, who are no doubt doing their absolute best, have the capacity to provide the support to those who have served our country so that they can weather the cost of living crisis?
That is a vital area. Our veterans deserve our respect and every bit of help and assistance that they can receive. We are extending the veterans champions scheme; I will be looking at that in much more detail. This is day one, but I look forward to focusing on that and ensuring that I engage with the hon. Gentleman and others who are concerned about it.[Official Report, 13 July 2022, Vol. 718, c. 4MC.]
I welcome the new Minister to her role. She joins the Government at a unique and special time. I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies). I do not agree with her very much on employment, but I know how hard she worked and that many people in the Department will miss her greatly.
As the Minister is new, I will ask her an easy question—all I am looking for is a single number. By the time she leaves office, how many of the 1 million people who are estimated to have left the labour market will be back to work?
Living Cost Increases: Benefit Claimants
Our £15 billion cost of living package includes a one-off £650 cost of living payment to low-income households in receipt of a means-tested benefit, a one-off £150 disability cost of living payment, and a £300 top-up to the winter fuel payment for pensioners. That is on top of a wider package of measures that takes the total Government help for households to £37 billion this year.
The Minister will be aware that during a recent Work and Pensions Committee meeting, the Secretary of State told me that she was not satisfied with the progress of bereavement benefits for cohabiting partners, and that she was meeting her officials the next day. When will the second remedial order be laid so that people who would qualify for that benefit can meet their living costs?
The hon. Member is a determined terrier on this issue, and understandably so. Important issues have been raised and it is vital that we get it right. We are carefully considering the issues and we will lay the order before the House as soon as we are able. In parallel, DWP officials are working at pace on implementation plans for the order, as I have discussed with him separately.
State Pension: Cost of Living
The Government have announced a £37 billion package of support to help people with the cost of living. The full basic state pension is now £2,300 a year higher than in 2010 and is supported by many other measures.
It is good to see the Minister back; there is nothing like organised labour to effect progress.
In reality the state pension has not managed to keep up with the multiple crises we face: we have the Ukraine crisis pushing up food and fuel prices on top of the existing cost of living crisis. Yet the Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991 dictates that last week’s non-returning Ministers, including an alleged groper, are set to net £423,000 in severance payments. Given the widespread public revulsion among our constituents feeling the pinch, including state pensioners, does the Minister not see that there is an argument for the non-exercise of that provision in this instance, because—
This is about the pensions Act, Mr Speaker; I asked about this on Thursday. Does the Minister not see that this looks really bad to the general public in a cost of living crisis and that there is a good argument for the non-exercise of the Act in this instance?
The Minister is not new to his job. In the order of 1 million pensioners who should be in receipt of pension credit are still not receiving it, and he will know that they lose out not simply on the credit but on all manner of other benefits. Will he show some urgency and compassion for those struggling with the cost of living increases?
I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman joined in on Pension Credit Day of Action on 15 June, because it is incumbent on all Members of Parliament to get behind the efforts of the Government, and successive Governments, to improve pension credit take-up. The fact of the matter is that this Government have done more to increase take-up and the number of claims than any previous Government. There is no doubt whatsoever that we should all get people to apply, with £,3,300-worth of benefits applying for those receiving pension credit.
Universal Credit Migration: Disabled People
We estimate that 600,000 people on employment and support allowance will be better off on UC, which is of course a modern, flexible benefit that includes targeted support for disability and which helps to simplify the benefits system, providing support in times of need and making work pay. I can add that the Department holds regular engagement sessions with external stakeholders, including of course disabled people and others in the health and disability sector, seeking their input into the process.
In 2019 the then Secretary of State promised that the Department would pause the migration to UC after a pilot of 10,000 cases, would report back and would provide parliamentary scrutiny of legislation for the wider roll-out. Instead of breaking this promise, does the Minister accept that migration to UC will make thousands of people worse off in real terms just when inflation is going through the roof, and will she now pause the process?
The answer is no, and that is because, first, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State updated the House through a written ministerial statement only recently in which she explained precisely the point about the prior piloting and exploratory work. Secondly, Parliament voted in 2012 to end legacy benefits and replace them with a single, modern benefit system, and on top of that, committed to providing transitional financial protection. That is the key point in this case: where a claimant may not already be better off—as we have said, in the majority of cases, they are—they are supported.
The truth is that many people migrating will be worse off because of the timing—in a period of high inflation. We know that the legacy benefit group to be transferred on to UC is on average much more vulnerable than those in the existing UC caseload; the great majority of legacy ESA clients are in the support group. Can the Minister tell us exactly how the migration process is going? Has it been tested at scale to ensure that it is safe for vulnerable clients?
As my right hon. and hon. Friends have laid out extensively to the House, the process being followed is one of initial discovery. After that, it will be possible to provide fuller answers to the House of Commons about how the broader process will work. The vast majority of claimants will either be better off or no worse off, and I want to lay on record one more time that 55% of people will see an increase in their award, 10% will see no change, and 35% will be protected transitionally.
Poverty Levels: April 2023
It is not usual to project poverty levels in terms of statistics—[Interruption.] Does someone want to join in? [Interruption.] I just cannot hear. Somebody is talking. Projecting poverty levels is not something we normally do. However, the latest official statistics show that in 2021, some 8 million people were in poverty in absolute low-income before housing costs, which was a fall on the previous year. I am very conscious of the challenge of the cost of living right now, which is why we are providing a £15 billion support package targeted at the most in need, but I am proud of the fact that we are getting more and more people into work—over half a million in just the past five months. We know that for most people, the best way to get out of poverty is to get into work.
Even using the Government’s preferred measure of absolute child poverty, the proportion of children living in absolute poverty rose in every north-east local authority area between 2014-15 and 2019-20, and continued to rise in the first year of the pandemic. In Stockton, that figure is up by 7.1 percentage points; in Hartlepool, it is up by 7.2; in Darlington, it is up by 7.9; in Redcar, it is up by 9.4; and in Middlesbrough, it is up by a colossal 13.9 percentage points. Those are not just numbers: they represent thousands of children. Can the Minister tell the House which of the Tory leadership candidates will be content to see children in places such as Stockton go hungry, and which of them will take action to ensure they do not?
I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would give me the specific source of his statistics, because I believe that statistically, child poverty has actually fallen, something of which Government Members are proud. Nevertheless, he will be pleased by the fact that people have opportunities and are getting into work. That is what we will continue to do, because we know that children in workless households are undoubtedly more likely to be in poverty. That is why we continue to focus on getting their parents into work.
One in three children in Barnsley are living in poverty. My constituent cares for his disabled eight-year-old son. He recently started a part-time job to supplement his income, but after working just two hours’ overtime, he had a whole month of carer’s allowance deducted. The Secretary of State has just said that the best route out of poverty is to get into work, so can she explain why those who receive carer’s allowance are penalised for doing just that?
I expect that the hon. Lady’s constituent is receiving the caring element of universal credit, rather than carer’s allowance specifically, which is a slightly separate approach. Universal credit is a dynamic benefit. It reflects the fact that when a person is working more, they receive less support from other taxpayers, and—just as happened at the beginning of the covid pandemic—when taxpayers are working less, they immediately started receiving more. That is the success of universal credit, and we will continue to encourage people to get into work.
Workplace Pension Auto-enrolment: Crawley
Some 35,000 people have been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension in the Crawley constituency since 2012. We thank the 1,690 employers who have declared compliance with their enrolment duties. Some 10.7 million people across the country are now saving into a workplace pension.
I am grateful to receive those figures from the Minister, and I congratulate the Government on the record numbers of people auto-enrolled into workplace pensions, both in my Crawley constituency and across the country. Will he also pay tribute to some of the pension providers, such as B&CE, the People’s Pension, which is headquartered in Crawley?
I know the People’s Pension very well, and have met its staff many times. I have had the great privilege of coming to Crawley and meeting the team behind such a great organisation. It is a much-valued employer that is doing great work in making pensions accessible to the working population, both in Crawley and all across the country. That matters, because we used to have 26% of young people and 40% of women saving for a pension, and those figures are now well above 80% across the country.
Young People: Support into Work
Following the success of kickstart, which has seen over 163,000 jobs started by young people, with approximately 30,000 still on that scheme, the DWP youth offer remains in place to support those who still need help. That includes youth hubs, which bring together partner organisations and the DWP in local communities to provide employment and skills support.
I have spoken with many young people since becoming an MP. They believe that waiting and fighting for their dream job is the right thing to do. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that our young people should take opportunities that arise which will get them earning while still applying for their dream job, as that will not jeopardise their chances but will, most probably, do exactly the opposite?
As ever, my hon. Friend talks common sense. It is really important that people realise that the heart of our Way to Work campaign is ABC—any job, better job, career. We know that having a job already allows people to build a lot of skills so they can progress, perhaps in the job of their dreams. Through support such as the DWP youth offer, work coaches will continue to help unemployed young people move into a range of roles. The skills and work experience that people can gain from a job will help them to progress.
Universal Credit: Performers and Creative Workers
We recognise that earnings can fluctuate for all self-employed people, including performers and creative workers, and that it takes time to establish a business. That is why we offer a 12-month start-up period, giving claimants time and support to grow their earnings and reach their agreed minimum income floor before it is applied.
I understand the objective of the minimum income floor, to get into sustainable employment, but perhaps the Minister does not appreciate that for people in the performing arts and creative sectors it is not just a short-term period for which they have unpredictable and fluctuating incomes. By the nature of theatre, music, performance and so on, shows are cancelled at short notice. In fact, established performers with viable careers still get hit disproportionately by the minimum income floor. Would it not be sensible to collect the data on a sector-by-sector basis, so that we do not have a one-size-fits-all approach but can tailor it to achieve the objective he wants, which is to reach the need of each specific sector?
Universal credit supports self-employed people and the Department ensures fairness by treating all sectors equally. I have already talked about the 12-month start-up period, which is designed to strike the right balance between supporting claimants to make a success of their business and protecting public funds.
Cost of Living: Disability Benefit Claimants
Six million people in receipt of an eligible disability benefit will receive a £150 disability cost of living payment, as well as the £400 energy bill discount. Many will also be eligible for the £650 cost of living payment for lower-income households, the first instalments of which are being paid this week.
I thank the Minister for that response, but at the time when the then Chancellor came up with that support package in May, Ofgem’s cap prediction was that a typical bill would rise to £2,800 in October. It now looks as though it could be something like £450 more than that, with yet another rise in January. What additional support will whoever the Chancellor is, or will be in a couple of weeks’ time, come up with to ensure people with disabilities can manage to pay their fuel bills?
The helpful thing I can add here is that disabled people can, of course, also benefit from the package previously announced in the spring statement, which continues in the format of the household support fund. Many millions of pounds have already been allocated to local authorities, which are best placed to direct help to those who need it most.
At this moment, I am delighted to have a team who are making sure that the wheels of government keep turning. That is particularly true given that we are the biggest delivery Department in Whitehall, on which so many vulnerable people rely.
It is certainly my focus to deliver help for households. As the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) pointed out, we will be sending out the first instalment of the £650 cost of living payments, starting from this Thursday.
We are also building on our successful Way to Work scheme, having smashed our ambition to get half a million people into a job in just five months, thanks to help from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies). Dare I say, Mr Speaker, that that is way to go for Way to Work!
We are now putting more focus on those further from the labour market who are economically inactive or most at risk of inactivity, whether through the lifetime MOT offer or the £1.3 billion-worth of employment support for disabled people. That will help to grow the economy and ensure that more people are on the path to prosperity and prospects through work.
Many of my Luton South constituents are struggling to make ends meet. In fact, across the east of England, 50% of Citizens Advice debt clients are in a negative budget, with their monthly expenditure on essentials exceeding their income; that is up 12% from the same period in 2019. Does the Secretary of State still think that it is a good idea for the Government to raise taxes this year, when the UK is the only G7 country to do so?
The hon. Lady will be aware of the £37 billion package that is going to households, £15 billion of which is being deployed this year. People will already have received some elements of that through council tax support, and I have outlined the cost of living payment support. I could add to that the lifting of the national living wage to £9.50 an hour and the reduction in the taper rate to 55% for people who are working and on universal credit. We are targeting support at the most challenged low-income households, and we will continue to do that. Meanwhile, we will continue to try to do what we can to grow the economy to help households, so that we can tackle inflation overall.
My hon. Friend continues to be a champion for his constituents. He will be aware of aspects of the Way to Work campaign that are different from how they were in the past. Far more job fairs are happening, bringing employers into jobcentres for interviews. That enables us to make quicker decisions, find out what is going wrong in the process and support people so that they can more quickly get the pay packet that they cherish.
As we have heard, it is expected that the energy price cap will rise by £450 more than was anticipated when the Government announced their cost of living package. A typical household will face energy bills of £3,250; that is more than a third of the value of the state pension. How on earth does the Secretary of State expect pensioners and families to cope this winter?
I think the right hon. Gentleman is referring to an external analyst’s prediction of what might happen with energy prices. Nevertheless, the Government have responded. We deliberately made sure that our cost of living payment package came out when Ofgem made its announcement, and that is why we tailored the cost of living payment support to help households. We will make sure that support for household energy costs goes to every single household in the country, in addition to our comprehensive package. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads on fuel poverty. I am conscious that in making decisions, he will consider the vulnerable the most, as all of us in the Government do.
I appreciate that the Secretary of State may not be in her place come this October—who knows?—but she is currently in a Cabinet with a Chancellor and a Foreign Secretary, and she shares the Government Benches with a whole host of colleagues, who have made £30 billion to £40 billion-worth of unfunded tax cut commitments. Is not the truth that those tax cuts can be paid for only by further cuts to the state pension, further cuts to universal credit and further cuts to disability benefit, and that the reality is that the next Tory Prime Minister will make the cost of living crisis even worse?
Far from it; as has been shown yet again, this Conservative Government have stepped up to deal with the cost of living challenge, just as we did through covid, and we will continue to do so. That is why we will be spending £37 billion on this. As for support going forward, I am conscious that people who are running to be leader of the Conservative party and the future Prime Minister want, quite rightly, to make sure that we have an active, growing economy. I will leave them to be judged on their policies. I am the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and we are going ahead with the additional payments, starting this week. Many households will be looking forward to them, and I am pleased that we are able to deliver them.
As always, my hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for her constituents in South East Cornwall. Jobcentres work with employers in all sectors to help them to connect with jobseekers who are looking for work, and to fill their vacancies. I encourage any employer to reach out to their local jobcentre. DWP staff recently held events alongside the National Farmers Union to promote jobs in agriculture and connect people to our sector-based work academy programmes.
The UK Government recently rejected the Work and Pensions Committee report’s recommendation to
“extend Child Benefit to all British children irrespective of their parents’ immigration status.”
People with no recourse to public funds do not qualify for the additional cost of living payments. Children are literally starving and suffering malnutrition because of this cruel policy. Does the Secretary of State believe that this is acceptable in the 21st century?
The hon. Lady refers to the fact that people without recourse to public funds are not eligible for benefits. When people arrive, I accept that they are not going to be eligible for child benefit. Any family in a state of difficulty can apply to the Home Office for a review of that status; it is for them to do so. At the same time, as I think we confirmed to the Select Committee when we discussed the matter at the hearing last week, it is for local councils to design the way they do the household support fund. It may be possible for people without recourse to public funds to apply to their local authority.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that support for the welfare state depends on a kind of social contract where people realise that those who are pensioners or out of work should be helped because they have paid their taxes? How is support for the welfare state improved when 60,000 people a year are pouring across the channel, paying illegal smugglers—these are not the poorest of the poor—and being kept on social security, maybe for 10 years, without ever being deported? By the way, what does it cost?
I am conscious that through the help—the visa schemes—being put forward for Ukrainian citizens and for Afghan resettlement, there is access to public funds. My right hon. Friend will be aware that people who arrive in the country illegally are given a payment via the Home Office, I think, of a very small amount of money to pay for the day-to-day, but they are not eligible directly for benefits.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the state pension has almost doubled under the coalition and this Conservative Government. He will be aware that pensioner poverty is going down. He will be aware that the state pension is up on last year and the year before. He will also be aware that we are paying £1,500-worth of support. He should very much be aware of pension credit and should be making the case for it to all his constituents who can access the £3,300, on average, plus the household support fund. I am sure he is making the case to each and every one of his constituents.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that we take very seriously in the Department. We want to get the correct support to people as early as possible and in a way that engenders trust and the proper levels of support from our Department. He will, I am sure, be an avid reader in due course of the health and disability assessments White Paper, which will go into some of these points in greater detail, following on from the Green Paper, to which we had 4,500 consultation responses. However, I can assure him, and all other right hon. and hon. Members, that we want to be able to ensure that the right decisions are made in the first place, and considerable resources are being put into the Department for that purpose.
Last year there were 337,000 overpayments as a result of errors by the DWP, with the debt waived in only 10 cases. Claimants spend these funds in good faith, but are then required to make repayments that they simply cannot afford. Will the Minister agree to bring universal credit in line with legacy benefits by making no-fault debts non-repayable?
It is obviously important to ensure that we get our payments right, and we are working hard to do that, but it is also important to balance the needs of the taxpayer with those of benefit recipients. We do need to get that balance right.
The Department’s annual report, released last week, has revealed that the estimate of the number of women who have been short-changed over their retirement pensions has risen by a further 103,000. That is not quite the rosy impression that the Select Committee was given when the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary appeared before it recently. Just how long will these women have to wait before they receive their legal entitlement, and can the Minister confirm that there will not have to be a further upward revision of these estimates?
It is unquestionably the case that this Government are trying to resolve matters that date back some 20 years. I might have wished that some of my predecessors who occupied the illustrious position of Pensions Minister, some of whom now sit on the Opposition Benches, had made a better job of monitoring these matters. We are fixing the problem. We have—definitely—more than 500 people working on it now, and, as I explained to the Select Committee, we will have upwards of 1,000, rising to 1,300, working on it on an ongoing basis; so it will be fixed in the very near future.
I know what the Government have said they are doing to increase the uptake of pension credit, and that is good; I do not want to hear it again, though. I also know that people can backdate their claims for pension credit, so anyone who makes a successful application by 24 August this year will receive the £650. However, I have been campaigning for the deadline to be extended to the end of the fiscal year, because I think that as we go into the winter, that is what will concentrate people’s minds when they have to make the very real choice between heating and eating. I am not asking the Minister to commit himself to doing this today, but will he commit himself to at least considering extending the deadline to 31 March next year?
The uptake of pension credit is clearly to be applauded, and I sincerely hope that the hon. Lady was behind the pension credit day of action and is behind the messages that we are all trying to put out. That is not all, however. On Thursday we will make the £326 cost of living payment, which will drop £1 million in payments every single working day, and there will be a further £324 payment in the autumn. We are also providing the energy support grant of £400, which will go to every individual in the country, as well as the £300 winter fuel payment, the council tax rebate, and various other household support grants. All those are available to individuals up and down the country, and will also support pensioners.[Official Report, 14 July 2022, Vol. 718, c. 6MC.]
Ministers’ Severance Pay
The severance pay for Ministers is established in legislation that was passed by Parliament in 1991 and that has been used by successive Administrations over several decades. The Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991 states that where a Minister of eligible age ceases to hold office and is not reappointed to a ministerial office within three weeks, they will be entitled to a severance payment of a quarter of their ministerial annual salary. The context of this legislative provision is the reality that ministerial office can end at very short notice indeed, that reshuffles are a fundamental part of the operation of Government and, by their nature, routinely remove Ministers from office, and that, unlike in other employment contexts, there are no periods of notice, no consultations and no redundancy arrangements. Section 4 of the Act therefore makes provision for severance payments.
This is a statutory entitlement, and it has existed and been implemented for several decades, by Governments of all stripes. Severance payments were made and accepted by outgoing Labour Ministers between the Blair and Brown years, as well as during the Administration in 2007, and by Liberal Democrat Ministers during the coalition. To ensure transparency, severance payments are published in the annual reports and accounts of Government Departments. As an example of the previous operation of this provision, the data published in 2010 indicated that severance payments made to Labour Ministers in that year amounted to £1 million. Finally, let me be clear that although this is a statutory entitlement, Ministers are able to waive such payments. This is not a matter for the Government; it is an entirely discretionary matter for the individuals concerned, and this is an approach that has been taken before.
Thank you very much for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I welcome the fact that there is a Minister to respond. In the middle of a cost of living crisis, and with families struggling to make ends meet and get to the end of each month, the British public will be rightly watching this distracted Government with disgust. They are too busy infighting to provide real solutions, and to add insult to injury, thousands of pounds of people’s hard-earned taxes will be handed out to former Ministers. By my reckoning, £250,000 of severance pay will be given to Ministers who have not been reinstated. Five former Secretaries of State will receive more that £16,000 each, including the former Secretary of State for Education, who was in post for 36 hours and is due to receive close to the annual starting salary for a teaching assistant.
This unprecedented wave of resignations and the avalanche of abdications make this a unique case. The vast majority were not sackings or forced resignations. The departures were caused entirely by a discredited Prime Minister clinging to office and a Conservative party unwilling to deal with it. Now our constituents are forced to foot the bill, paying for this Government’s chaos yet again. So I ask the Minister: what is the exact cost of these resignations to the taxpayer? Have any payments already been made to former Ministers? If so, how much and to whom? Will Ministers receive the severance in a one-off payment to their bank account? How do these payments represent good value for money to the public, and what arrangements are there to ensure that they can be waived, as she identified, and returned to the Treasury? Former Ministers need to look themselves in the mirror and decide if their constituents would wish them to accept this payment, and this whole Government must tell us if they can really defend this use of our money.
Could there be a more fitting end to the tenure of one of the most discredited Prime Ministers in living memory than to have a slew of his former Ministers, motivated in the main by naked self-interest, finally abandoning the ship that everyone else could see was sinking months ago and, in the process, costing the public purse hundreds of thousands of pounds? It is quite astonishing, particularly when, for so many people across the United Kingdom, keeping body and soul together at this time of crisis is a daily challenge that will only get tougher.
I appreciate that the Minister has said that this payment is discretionary and that no one is forced to accept it, so will she join me in asking everyone in receipt of such a payment to refuse it, to return it or to donate it to charity? Will that be made public when it is done? Does she agree that this system, whereby a disgraced Prime Minister—one who is heading out the door, we think—can appoint Ministers knowing they will be entitled to severance pay in a few months’ time, is fundamentally broken and requires an immediate overhaul?
I am afraid I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is quite clear that, within the three-week period, Ministers who have left can decide for themselves whether they should accept the money and make that decision clear to the permanent secretary so that no money leaves the Treasury before having to come back. I hope that is totally clear.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is outrageous that the Liberal Democrats put out an article last week stating that I, as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, was paid £22,375 for a job we all know is unpaid, and that I received £5,594 in severance pay? Does she also agree that this type of libellous statement, which the Liberal Democrats choose to put out about us, has earned them the nickname of “the Fib Dems”?
That is an astonishing thing for the Liberal Democrats to put out. It is a straight, flat lie that they should know very well should not be put out by any political party. When the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) stands to ask a question, which is a perfectly reasonable thing for her to do, I sincerely hope she apologises and confirms that the Lib Dems will put out a clarification as large as the original piece.
I make it clear that I do not want to cast aspersions on any individual Minister.
This morning I visited the care workers of the St Monica Trust in Bristol. One worker told me that the average wage is between £16,000 and £17,000, and that the trust is asking them to take, in one case, a reduction of £6,000. The House will consider legislation later today that enables agency workers to undercut striking workers, in an atmosphere in which we are talking about levelling up. Does the Minister understand that these payments should not be made where a Minister resigns voluntarily? I understand it if a Prime Minister says, “Your services are dispensed with,” but to make any such severance payment following a voluntary resignation is really wrong.
First, I commit to responding directly to the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) and the Minister on what statements were put out.
This seems to be a situation entirely of the Conservatives’ making. We are potentially at risk of making a mockery of our system. Given that the Minister says it has been more than 30 years since this legislation was looked at, does she agree that now is the time to revisit it and that, at the very least, we should look at a minimum term of service before a Minister or Secretary of State is entitled either to waive or to receive a severance payment?
I understand that approximately £400,000 will be paid out in severance payments. Will the Minister agree to publish a full list of the amounts being paid out to those individuals? Will she confirm that these moneys will be coming from Departments, such as the Department for Education, and will therefore have an impact on the budgets of much-pressed Departments and, for example, on schools or other institutions?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Absolutely, we do not use names, do we? I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. It is very simple: this is a matter of statute law, it has been around since 1991, and all the different political parties have taken use of it. That is where we are.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. When the new Education Minister gave a one-fingered salute to the crowd outside Downing Street, that was symptomatic of this Government, who have been putting two fingers up to the entire UK for the tenure of the former Prime Minister. Given that we have a zombie Government, with Ministers who are clearly in place on a temporary basis, does this Minister agree that they should not take severance payments when they rightfully get sacked when a new Tory leader comes in?
The hon. Gentleman is slightly off point regarding the Education Minister; I would like him to remember that the lady in question has had seven death threats against her, and the way the baying mob were reacting at the time was astonishing. As regards anything else, people will use the three-week window to decide whether they take the severance payment or not, and the law is the law.
It is a sensitive time. People are going hungry, they are going to be cold, although they are not at the moment, and they have to deal with energy prices. Yes, we hear, “This is statute and that is it. It is up to the individual.” We were told this once before, and the individual can do something, but surely at this time, with all that is going on, when we are in a poor state as regards respect from our public, we should call on the relevant people to reflect the sensitive situation and to say en masse, “We do not want this. We will not accept it.” That would go a long way with the public.
I thank the hon. Lady, whom I know to be an unbelievably caring lady. It is important that comments and sentiments like that are expressed in this Chamber, as they make the House of Commons the sort of place that everybody in a living democracy wants to have. I will reflect on her views. I repeat, loudly, that there is a three-week window and individuals can reflect on the situation themselves, but I do thank her for the question.
Parliamentary Elections (Optional Preferential Vote) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Paul Maynard, supported by John Stevenson, presented a Bill to introduce the optional preferential voting system for Parliamentary elections; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the first time; to be read a second time on Friday 9 September, and to be printed (Bill 138).
Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill: Business of the House
That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill:
(1) (a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken at today’s sitting in accordance with this Order.
(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
(d) This paragraph shall have effect notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the intervals between stages of a Bill brought in upon Ways and Means Resolutions.
Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put
(2) When the Bill has been read a second time, it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put.
(3) (a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chair shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
(4) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (1), the Chair or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply:
(a) any Question already proposed from the chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment, new Clause or new Schedule selected by the Chair or Speaker for separate decision;
(d) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;
(e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other questions, other than the question on any motion described in paragraph (9)(a) of this Order.
(5) On a Motion made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chair or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
(6) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (4)(d) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chair or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.
(7) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (4)(e) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chair shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.
(8) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.
(9) (a) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.
(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.
(c) Such a Motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed.
(e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.
(10) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(11) (a) The start of any debate under Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) to be held at today’s sitting shall be postponed until the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.
(b) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply in respect of any such debate.
(12) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(13) (a) Any private business which has been set down for consideration at a time falling after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders or by any Order of the House, be considered at the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.
(b) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business so far as necessary for the purpose of securing that the business may be considered for a period of three hours.—(Mr Simon Clarke.)
Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
People across the country are facing rising energy costs and an increase in the overall cost of living. Of the basket of goods and services that we use to measure inflation, a record proportion are seeing above average price increases. Indeed, the country is now experiencing the highest rate of inflation for 40 years, which is causing acute distress to the people of this country. In May the Government announced a series of measures to help the British people during this difficult time, in which we have seen oil and gas prices reach new highs; oil prices have nearly doubled since early last year and gas prices have more than doubled. This is a global phenomenon that is driven by factors out of any single Government’s control, in large part resulting from Russia’s illegal war.
With increased prices at the global level, profits from oil and gas extraction in the United Kingdom have also shot up. These are unexpected, extraordinary profits—above and beyond what forecasters could have expected the sector to earn. Because of these extraordinary profits, and to help fund more cost of living support for UK families, the Government are introducing an energy profits levy. The temporary levy is a new 25% surcharge on the extraordinary profits. When oil and gas prices return to historically more normal levels, it will be phased out.
The answer is: prices of an order that we saw prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and prior to some of the inflationary pressures resulting from the covid disruption—prices more akin to those seen in 2021. Indeed, we could also refer to factors that predate that, back to 2019. The system has clearly been in flux, but I would certainly not want to encourage the artificially low prices of 2020 to be seen as a baseline for these purposes.
I thank the Minister for giving way again. Getting investment into the industry is one of the Government’s big arguments for the tax break incentives they are providing to the industry. How can that possibly happen when they do not even say what a normal price is?
I will set out more about our investment incentives in a moment. We are not going to tie ourselves to a specific price level, but will obviously look towards a return to more normative market conditions—not, as I said, the artificial lows of 2020—such as the pre-crisis situation in 2019 and some of the much healthier pattern of last year, prior to what Russia has done in Ukraine, which has obviously driven prices to new highs. That gives the House a sense, but we will obviously set out our thinking well in advance of repealing the levy.
I am firmly committed to our net zero strategy.
No, I will not; I am going to make some progress.
As set out in the energy security strategy, the North sea will still be a foundation of our energy security for years to come. Currently, about half our demand for gas is met through domestic supplies. In meeting net zero by 2050, we have to be realistic; we will still be using about a quarter of the gas that we use now. It is therefore necessary to incentivise investment in oil and gas, and to encourage companies to reinvest their profits to support the economy, jobs, and our energy and security, but it is possible to tax extraordinary profits fairly and to incentivise investment. That is why, within the energy profits levy, a new “super-deduction” style relief has been introduced to encourage firms to invest in oil and gas extraction in the UK. We expect that the energy profits levy, with its investment allowance, will lead to an overall increase in investment. Indeed, one oil and gas company has already said that the immediate investment allowance should spark further investment in the North sea. The new 80% investment allowance will mean that, overall, businesses will get a 91p tax saving for every £1 they invest, providing them with a clear incentive to do so. This nearly doubles the tax relief available and means that the more investment a firm makes, the less tax it will pay. Unlike Labour’s windfall tax in 1997, this levy both incentivises investment and raises more revenue.
The energy profits levy contains an investment allowance that doubles the overall investment relief for oil and gas companies, unlike Labour’s proposal of a few weeks ago. Our levy raises around £5 billion over the next 12 months against Labour’s estimate of around £2 billion for its proposals. Its windfall tax would raise less than £70 per household, not £600 as it claimed. In fact, the Opposition’s regressive VAT plans would give millionaires in mansions more off their bills than those in need. They are now caveating their windfall tax costings by stating that their £600 per household support will be supported by “other measures”. By that I presume they mean more public spending and a higher rate of taxation for hard-working people across this country. As usual with Labour, the sums sadly do not add up.
The new tax we are introducing today ensures that the extraordinary and unexpected profits from which oil and gas companies have benefited are taxed fairly and provide a significant investment incentive. This is a sensible considered move and one that will be warmly welcomed across the House.
Our plans mean that the oil and gas producers can claim the allowance when their spending on investment is actually incurred. This is unlike the allowance under the existing permanent tax regime for oil and gas companies, which can be claimed only once income is received from the field, subject to the investment, and, as some Members of the House will know, that can take several years.
I want to make it clear what the investment allowance will apply to. First, if capital or operating expenditure qualifies for supplementary charge allowance, it will qualify for the energy profits levy allowance. As the levy is targeted at the extraordinary profits from oil and gas upstream activities—that is the profits that came about owing to global price increases—it makes sense that any relief for investment must also be related to oil and gas upstream activities.
Secondly, such spending can be used to decarbonise the oil and gas production, for example through electrification. Therefore, any capital expenditure on electrification, as long as it relates to specific oil-related activities within the ringfence, will qualify for the allowance.
I thank the Minister for giving way once again; he is being very generous. On that specific point, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury stated the same last week. It is good to have that clarification, but why is it not written into the text of the Bill?
I can provide that assurance from the Dispatch Box. Examples of electrical expenditure on plant and machinery will be things such as generators, which include wind turbines, transformers and wiring. I also remind the House that there are other tax and non-tax levers to support non-oil and gas investments, such as in renewables. Those levers include the super-deduction and our competitive research and development tax credit regime. Importantly, the returns on these investments are taxed at 19% rather than at 65% as for UK oil and gas profits.
We have been listening closely to feedback from industry. Late last month, my right hon. Friend the former Chancellor met industry stakeholders in Aberdeen to discuss the levy and to make sure that it works as the Government intend it to. As my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury confirmed in a debate last week, the Government have changed the legislation, which is reflected in the Bill before us today.
Tax repayments that oil and gas companies receive for petroleum revenue tax related to losses generated by decommissioning expenditure will not be taxed under the levy. These are repayments that are typically taxed under the permanent tax regime. However, as wider decommissioning expenditure is also left out of the account for the levy, this change is both consistent and fair. I wish to reiterate my thanks to those in the industry with whom we have engaged on this matter, and to again reassure the House that, with this change, the Government still expect the levy to raise around £5 billion over the next year.
On how long the levy will be in place, it will take effect from 26 May this year and, when oil and gas prices return to historically more normal levels, it will be phased out. The sunset clause in the Bill ensures that the levy is not here to stay. There are very few taxes that have their expiry date set in law, so this provision demonstrates the Government’s commitment to keeping the levy temporary and gives oil and gas companies further reassurance as they seek to plan their investments.
Our permanent oil and gas tax regime is competitive globally against similar operating environments and is lower than that of Norway, the Netherlands or Denmark. However, it is both fiscally prudent and morally right that we have a temporary and targeted levy that applies to extraordinary profits in our oil and gas sector and reflects an extraordinary global context.
Through the Bill, the levy will raise some £5 billion of revenue over the next year so that we can help families with the cost of living through significant and targeted support to millions of the most vulnerable. These are extraordinary times and we are seeing extraordinary prices, and that requires extraordinary Government action.
I did not come in to politics to raise taxes, nor did this Government, but we are about delivering the action required to support families in their time of need. At the same time, the Government are clear that we want to see the oil and gas sector reinvest its profits to support our economy, jobs and energy security. For those reasons, I commend the Bill to the House.
I thank the Minister for setting out how North sea oil and gas producers will be affected by the measures the Bill seeks to introduce—even though he seemed unable to say the words “windfall tax” when referring to it at any point during his speech.
This Bill is long overdue. We are finally debating this legislation in Parliament, more than seven months after the shadow Chancellor first set out Labour’s plans for a windfall tax on oil and gas producers’ profits. In the seven months since Labour first called for a windfall tax, cost of living pressures for people have grown relentlessly, and in those seven months, oil producers’ profits have soared.
Since the start of this year, energy bills have spiralled by £700 for a typical household, inflation across the board has hit 9.1%, the highest in 40 years and, despite Tory smoke and mirrors with thresholds, average earners will still be paying £300 more in national insurance contributions by 2027.
The hon. Gentleman is making the point that Labour has campaigned on this for seven months. At the same time, the SNP has been calling for a much wider profits levy to address excess profits of other companies. Why is Labour not looking at that? I will give an example: Tesco chair John Allan, as we know, called for the windfall tax on oil and gas, but Tesco trebled its profits from £636 million to more than £2 billion. Why not an excess profit levy on Tesco and others that have profited through the pandemic?
I look forward to the hon. Gentleman supporting Labour’s amendments and new clauses to the Bill as we seek to cut some of the loopholes the Government have introduced, which I will turn to in a moment.
Let us not forget that, while cost of living pressures on people across the country have soared relentlessly, oil and gas producers’ profits have climbed too, with some tripling this year. A fair solution has been staring the Government in the face: levy a one-off windfall tax on North sea oil and gas producers’ profits and use that money to help to cut people’s energy bills at home.
Yet when, on 9 January this year, the shadow Chancellor first called on the Government to levy just such a tax, Conservative MPs opposed it outright. Leading that opposition the very next day was the then Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi). He is now of course the Chancellor, so this is his Bill. At the time of our announcement, the now Chancellor, who was an oil industry executive before becoming an MP, came out firmly against the tax on the grounds that oil producers were “already struggling”. When she responds, I would be grateful if the Financial Secretary to the Treasury confirmed whether the Chancellor supports his own legislation today.
Back in January, of course, it was not only the now Chancellor who opposed the tax. The Business Secretary opposed it too, saying:
“I have never been a supporter of windfall taxes.”
The then Northern Ireland Secretary, the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), said that he thought a windfall tax sounded attractive, but did not work. The Deputy Prime Minister claimed it would be disastrous. Ministers and their Back-Bench Conservative colleagues then went on to vote against our plan for a windfall tax on three separate occasions.
This demonstrates the difference between Opposition Members and Conservative Members, in that we do not come lightly to the decision to increase taxes on successful British industries. Labour and the SNP would tax anything that moved; we take a long time to think through our plans carefully. That is why we are presenting this plan today, which is far removed from Labour’s plan. That would decapitate the oil and gas industry—which, by the way, Labour does not support—and we would have the taps turned off tomorrow.
The hon. Member is right that Conservative Members have taken a long time to come round to this. They have taken seven months to come round to it—seven months in which the cost of living pressure on people across the country has risen relentlessly and in which oil producers have seen extraordinary profits. That delay has not been without cost.
Despite our common-sense plan for a windfall tax having wide support across the country for many months, with even oil bosses backing its logic, Conservative Ministers and their colleagues on the Back Benches simply refused to get on board—until 26 May, the day after the Sue Gray report was published. That was the day the Prime Minister and the former Chancellor suddenly changed their minds. It seemed clear that what had finally caused the Conservative leadership to change course and back a windfall tax was not the deafening calls from people across the country for help with their energy bills, nor the blatant unfairness of oil and gas producers’ profits soaring in the middle of a cost of living crisis; rather, it was the need for a different set of headlines in that week’s news. That is a grubby way to govern, and it is proof, if further proof were needed, that the Conservatives are not fit to lead our country.
Now, after months of refusing to act, Ministers are rushing this Bill through Parliament with just one day of debate and with a consultation period on the draft legislation of just seven days. As Tax Justice UK, working with the campaign group Uplift, has said, such a short period of just one week for consultation on the draft Bill is
“a breach of well-established legal principles of procedural fairness.”
As it points out, having a longer consultation period would not delay the levy taking effect, as the Bill names its start date as 26 May. It fears that the shorter consultation period the Government have chosen offers
“those with most resources—such as oil and gas producers—more opportunity to influence the shape of the legislation.”
It is good that the hon. Gentleman mentioned Tax Justice UK. It is probably worth speaking to it about pandemic profits and a wider profits levy, because that it is what it advocated. Hopefully when he is discussing the oil and gas stuff with it, he will discuss a wider profit levy as well.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We discuss many matters with Tax Justice UK, not least its response to the ridiculously short consultation period on the draft of the Bill that the Government are now seeking to rush through Parliament in a day.
Despite the fact that Ministers may be in a rush today, we know that their story until recently has been one of delay. Those months of delay in backing a windfall tax mean that the public finances have missed out on billions of pounds of tax revenue that could have gone towards further help for people struggling with the cost of living. But whatever it took to get the Prime Minister and the former Chancellor over the line, we were relieved that they finally agreed to back a windfall tax. On behalf of the people we represent across the country, we were relieved that some help with soaring energy bills was finally on its way. That help is set to include a payment of £400 to all domestic energy bill payers. We welcomed that promise of support announced alongside the windfall tax, and we were relieved that the Government had finally listened to what we and so many others had been saying as they agreed to drop the “buy now, pay later” compulsory loan scheme that had been promised before. But we were dismayed to learn that some of the people who need the help least will be getting that £400 payment several times over. Because this package has been cobbled together at the last minute, people who live in more than one home will get £400 for each of them, so a total of £200 million of public money will go towards people with multiple properties. That is not fair, it is not a good use of public money, and, as we see far too often, it is public money being casually wasted by this Government.
While that particular loophole may have been the result of carelessness or haste, the Bill contains another loophole that has been created by design—a brand-new tax break for oil and gas producers that will give money back to the same firms that were supposed to be paying their fair share through the windfall tax. This tax break means that oil and gas producers will receive an unprecedented level of subsidy for their spending on oil and gas-related activities. For every £100 an oil and gas producer invests in the North sea, they will receive £91.25 from the taxpayer. That compares with £25 that companies receive for investing in renewable energy—a figure that will fall to just £4.50 from April 2023.
Although the hon. Gentleman is talking about how the Labour party likes to support working people, he is quite obviously abandoning all those working people who rely on the oil and gas industry for their employment, including the many thousands who live in my constituency. Given that he has had so many months to think about this, how many times have he and his shadow Cabinet colleagues actually met those in the oil industry to discuss this and see how it impacts on them?
No, I am not going to give way. I have been generous in giving way, and I am going to make some progress now.
This is a subsidy that not even oil executives think is necessary. BP’s chief executive, who in November last year said that soaring global commodity prices had made his company a “cash machine”, told shareholders in May that the company’s £18 billion of investment plans were
“not somehow contingent on whether or not there is a windfall tax.”
Yet despite even oil executives questioning its worth, the Government are pushing ahead with this tax break. Our analysis has shown that this means a third or more of any revenue from the new levy could be handed straight back to oil and gas producers.
The truth is that this tax break means that money that is supposed to be helping people struggling with their home energy costs will instead go back to the very oil and gas producers that have been making record profits during the energy crisis. Furthermore, that money will subsidise projects that almost certainly would have happened anyway. There is no requirement in the Bill for investments claiming this tax relief to be additional to what was already planned.
I wonder whether the Financial Secretary to the Treasury wants to correct what she said in this Chamber on 6 June. That day, she said:
“The investment relief should not be available for investments that are deadweight. It should be for new investments.”—[Official Report, 6 June 2022; Vol. 715, c. 546.]
Yet there is nothing in the Bill to make sure the tax relief it introduces goes towards investments that are new. Above all, let us remember that we are currently holding the COP26 presidency and being trusted with a position of leadership in the world’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis. It is astonishing and appalling that, at this of all times, we are giving 20 times more in taxpayer incentives to oil and gas producers than will be offered to firms investing in renewable energy.
While this Bill has plenty to say about tax breaks for oil and gas producers making extraordinary profits, it is silent on the idea of a windfall tax on the electricity generation sector. We know the Government were planning to tax the sector’s profits, as it was widely briefed in late May that the former Chancellor had ordered Treasury officials to draw up plans for a windfall tax on electricity generators. The uncertainty created by this will-they-won’t-they hokey-cokey on taxing profits from electricity generation risks discouraging vital investment in our future energy security.
As the Government are well aware, the price of electricity generated from renewable sources is currently linked to the price of gas. The spike in gas prices we are facing has therefore pushed up electricity prices, despite the costs of generating electricity from renewable sources not having changed, yet there is nothing about the electricity generation sector in today’s Bill and no detail on any wider plans from the Government to delink electricity prices from the price of gas. All we were promised in the explanatory notes published with the draft Bill was a vague intention that
“the government will urgently evaluate the scale of these extraordinary profits and the appropriate steps to take.”
I therefore urge the Financial Secretary in her response to take this opportunity to say, once and for all, whether the Government will or will not be introducing additional taxes on this sector, and when the Government will bring forward urgent legislation to delink the price of electricity from the price of gas. We are not claiming that a solution to this is simple, but it is the job of Ministers, and a sign of leadership in government, to plan ahead and solve the challenging issues our country is facing.
The windfall tax is a way to offer immediate help to people now, but we need to be investing in the long term to keep energy bills down and make our economy more secure and more sustainable. That is why the Government should be adopting not just our plan for a windfall tax, but also our wider plan to improve energy security and keep energy bills lower in the future. Labour’s plan would see us accelerate home-grown renewables and new nuclear, double onshore wind capacity, reform our broken energy system and retrofit 19 million homes to save households an average of £400 a year on their bills. From the Government, however, all we have in front of us today is a Bill that gives a tax break for oil producers’ continued spending in the North sea. Once again, this Government lurch from crisis to crisis with no plan to fix our broken system and provide the security we need.
We are relieved that the Government are finally proceeding with the windfall tax, and we will be supporting this Bill today, but we will come back to the detail of it in Committee of the whole House. At that stage, we will urge Ministers to make right their delay in introducing the windfall tax and to drop the unnecessary tax break for oil producers that undermines the impact of this windfall tax and our country’s wider efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
The Conservatives’ approach to the windfall tax shows that they are not fit to govern. When we called for a windfall tax, they wasted months opposing it before finally changing course. Now they are undermining their own windfall tax with a new tax break for oil companies. When it comes to the long-term challenges we face, they simply do not have the plans we need for the future. That goes for the former Chancellor, the current Chancellor and all the Conservative leadership candidates as much as it does for the outgoing Prime Minister. Changing the person at the top of the Conservative party will not change anything. We need a change of Government, and that means we need a Labour Government.
This Bill is of particular interest to me, as not only is the cost of living crisis hitting hard in the Waveney constituency, but we need jobs based on the North sea to revitalise the local economy. I should also point out that I chair the British offshore oil and gas industry all-party parliamentary group, as the industry is a significant employer in the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth area.
It is necessary to balance the need for short-term measures to support people through an unprecedented challenge, caused by covid and exacerbated by Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, against our long-term priority of promoting investment in the UK continental shelf, which will not only revitalise coastal communities but help us achieve our net zero obligations. It is important to point out that the activities taking place on the UK continental shelf are not just the extraction of oil and gas, but those in emerging new lower carbon industries such as offshore wind, hydrogen production and carbon capture, utilisation and storage, all of which are inextricably linked. Any levy on the oil and gas sector, if poorly thought through and poorly drafted, could have a negative impact on investment in those emerging industries, which are so vital to our future.
There is concern that there is a lack of a coherent long-term energy strategy. This Bill, printed on 5 July, in many respects conflicts with the Energy Bill published the very next day. The latter Bill aims to boost the UK’s energy independence and security, attract private investment, reindustrialise the economy and create jobs through clean technologies. What is required is a seamless thread that runs through all aspects of energy policy, from our long-term strategy for producing energy to the need for a major step change in how we insulate our homes and our businesses, right through to the support for those who need it most at the current time. Those latter initiatives should build on policies already in place, such as the energy price cap, the warm home discount and the energy company obligation. We should also look to add to them with support such as the social tariff.
Underpinning this integrated approach should be how we ensure that we fully realise the great opportunity to create exciting, new jobs and how we can best provide people with the necessary skills. In mapping out the strategy with particular regard to this levy, the Government should have in mind the following considerations. The first is the vital importance of not inhibiting investment in decarbonised projects that will create jobs and help us meet our net zero obligations.
Secondly, the Government must have it in mind that investment in energy projects is global and footloose and, if we have an unstable fiscal regime, business will go elsewhere. Thirdly, they must ensure, and not undermine, the security of our energy supply. Fourthly, they should have regard to the negative impact on not just those high-profile oil and gas majors, but the supply chain companies located in many constituencies that are invariably highly innovative small and medium-sized enterprises and are the lifeblood of our local economies. Fifthly, notwithstanding that the Bill contains a sunset clause, there remains some uncertainty on the levy’s timeframe, which I hope the Minister will clarify.
Taking those considerations into account, the amendments and clarification that the Government have made are welcome. They include the exclusion of petroleum revenue tax rebates from the levy, reassurance that capital expenditure on electrification linked to oil and gas is included in the investment allowance, and the inclusion of the aforementioned sunset clause.
That said, more changes would be welcome to reduce the fiscal uncertainty, so I would be grateful if the Government considered the following suggestions. To support SMEs, they should introduce a small profit allowance to allow companies with small profits to be exempt from the levy. That would assist small companies that have been investing for many years. They accumulated significant losses when oil and gas prices were low and are now making only marginal profits.
There should also be support for decarbonisation schemes to ensure that projects such as the electrification of oil and gas production facilities benefit from the capital allowance. A regular review mechanism should be included to ensure that the levy is delivering on its aims and is not having any unintended consequences. There is also a need for regular ongoing dialogue with the industry and the sector’s investors.
I understand why the Bill is being introduced—we are in unprecedented and deeply troubling times—but I am mindful that unintended consequences could undermine much-needed inward investment into the UK, particularly along the North sea coast, which is vital to the regeneration of towns such as Lowestoft. I therefore urge the Government to do all they can to address those concerns, and I hope that the Minister will do that in her summing up.
It would be remiss of me as MP for Aberdeen South not to reflect on the fact that last week marked 34 years since the Piper Alpha disaster. It is all well and good for Members to talk about the Bill, but it is important to reflect on the sacrifices that many people have made in the North sea, particularly my constituents and those of the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) and for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), who continue to work in inhospitable terrain daily. I also reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that was paid by so many people long ago; I am sure the Minister will join me in that in her summing up.
On a less serious note, it is funny that we are in the midst of a leadership contest where all we hear about is tax cuts—some have promised £200 billion of tax cuts—yet the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is in the unenviable position of coming to the Chamber to tell us that he will hike taxes to 65% on the oil and gas sector. The irony of that will not be lost on anyone present. Importantly, that tax hike is four times greater than the £1.2 billion that the Opposition pushed for in January, so I congratulate him on being the only Conservative at this moment who appears to want to hike taxes.
Seriousness is important in this debate, however, because we are talking about why the legislation is needed. All hon. Members present are aware of the severe challenges that people up and down the country are facing. Energy prices are absolutely skyrocketing and we have all seen the troubling news in the last couple of days that they are expected to go higher than even Ofgem anticipated. There is also the knock-on impact of inflation, which is away to hit double figures. Fuel costs are skyrocketing. Clothing costs are skyrocketing. Food costs are skyrocketing. Interest rates are going up. Whichever way people turn, irrespective of where they live on these isles, they are getting squeezed and hammered. And the situation is not going to get better: we know the UK under the leadership of the current United Kingdom Government has the slowest growth in the entire G20 outside of Russia and the true effects of Brexit continue to be felt.
So implementing a policy that puts money into people’s pockets is necessary and we of course support the principles of what the Government are seeking to do in that regard. It is worth reflecting on the fact that we are now at a point where the UK Treasury has coined some £400 billion from Scotland’s North sea oil and gas sector. Is it not a pity that we are returning to the well once again? We look enviously across the North sea at Norway, which has a sovereign wealth fund from its own oil and gas sector. It is a bigger basin there, but that fund sits at around $1 trillion. What a comparison to this Government. Not only are they going back to the Scottish well to try to put in place financial support for people, but they are at this crux, where they do not necessarily know what it is and where they are seeking to go, because the Bill was undoubtedly hastily written on the back of Sue Gray’s report, as the Minister acknowledged earlier, when he could not even tell us at what price the levy would be removed. He talks about a normal price for oil and gas. I do not know what a normal price is for oil and gas; I am the MP for Aberdeen South and I have no idea what a normal price for an oil and gas barrel should be, and I do not think any Members on the Government Benches do. That offers absolutely no certainty to industry, irrespective of what the Government seek to suggest.
Perhaps the most glaring omission from the Bill is the fact that the Government are going to offer tax incentives in relation to further exploration, but we will not have anything in the Bill on renewable technologies directly linked to the offshore industry. Those tax incentives are not going to be applied to the renewables industry itself. We were told that is outwith the scope of the Bill, but it is a great disappointment that the Government had an opportunity to seriously incentivise investment in renewables and chose not to do so.
We are of course talking about the wider picture at the present time and I reflected earlier on the UK Government’s desire to cut taxes, but we have not heard about climate change from any single Tory leadership candidate; what are their views on climate change? It is disappointing that there is no talk in relation to this Bill about the journey to net zero or the climate compatibility checks that I think we all across this Chamber, and indeed in industry, agree with.
It is clear, from looking at the situation at the moment, why the Bill is needed. The Government chose to introduce it when they did for reasons of political expediency, but we cannot allow the Bill to simply go through without attempting to improve it and I look forward to doing that at Committee stage.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is with great pleasure that I rise to make my maiden speech today. The people of Wakefield have placed their trust in me to restore their rightful voice in this place, and I hope I will reflect their affinity for no-nonsense straight talking in my contributions in this House. I will speak briefly on the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill before begging Mr Deputy Speaker’s indulgence to speak about the wonderful constituency that I now proudly represent.
What took you so long? It has been seven months since the shadow Chancellor, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), first set out Labour’s plans for a windfall tax on oil and gas giants—seven long months of dither and delay as Government Members attacked the common-sense, compassionate plan to help millions of people facing soaring energy bills and the choice between heating and eating. Why? Pride. The Government could not possibly embrace an idea proposed by the Labour party, so instead of focusing on the people crying out for help, they attacked and ridiculed the idea, while millions worried about how to make ends meet.
I have spent the past few months telling people that this was their chance to tell the Prime Minister he should go. I am delighted that the voters of Wakefield took my advice, but am slightly surprised that 53 Conservative Ministers did, too. We need a change in Government and a fresh start for Britain. Everywhere we look, we see things that are broken, but under this Government, nothing gets fixed. They are incapable of governing in the national interest, and should move aside and call a general election. Those, perhaps, are not the words expected of a Member still exhausted by the rigours of a by-election, but it is an important message to deliver when the Government show such a clear detachment from reality.
I was not born in Wakefield, but I was made in Wakefield. It opened my eyes to a world of opportunity, and I fell in love with the people and the place when I moved to West Bretton to study for my theatre acting degree at Bretton Hall College, which is nestled in the glorious grounds of the world-renowned Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The city also boasts the Hepworth gallery, which was designed by the British architect David Chipperfield and takes its name from the artist and sculptor Barbara Hepworth, who was born and educated in the city. Wakefield constituency includes Wakefield—the merrie city, as it is known—and a large rural area to the south-west. It also includes the towns of Horbury and Ossett, each with their proud history and unique identities.
Wakefield has a proud mining heritage, and I pay tribute to those who powered our nation and kept our lights on. At the National Coal Mining Museum, situated in Wakefield, people come from all over the country to learn about that important industry and its important place in our history. While we cherish our proud heritage, we also have our eyes set towards the future, as shown by the recent opening of CAPA College, which is inspiring, training and educating the next generation of performers, creatives, designers and technicians. I was also pleased to visit the construction site of Tileyard North a couple of weeks ago. That exciting 135,000 square feet creative industries hub, based at Rutland Mills, is transforming the site into the UK’s largest creative community outside London.
As is tradition, I would like to pay tribute to some of my predecessors, including Mary Creagh, who I watched from the Gallery delivering her maiden speech some 17 years ago. A tenacious campaigner and advocate for the people of Wakefield, she successfully introduced the Children’s Food Bill in 2005, which sought to introduce minimum nutritional standards for all school meals. She went on to hold various positions, including shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and was pivotal in delivering the new Pinderfields Hospital.
I also pay tribute to David Hinchliffe, who represented Wakefield from 1987 to 2005. He was Chair of the Health Select Committee and, in 1988, became the founder and first secretary of the all-party parliamentary rugby league group—coincidentally, the first all-party parliamentary group I joined upon my election. Finally, I pay tribute to the right hon. Walter Harrison MP, who represented Wakefield from 1964 to 1983. He proudly served as a Government Whip from 1966 to 1970, and as Deputy Chief Whip from 1974 to 1979. I believe Walter remains the only half vote recorded in Hansard, having jammed his foot in the Lobby door just as it was about to close, after being delayed in a lift.
It will not have escaped the notice of Members that I have omitted my most recent predecessor, who left the people of Wakefield without a voice in Parliament, but what I would like to do is pay heartfelt tribute to all victims of sexual abuse for their bravery in pursuing justice. Their actions leave the world a safer place and send a message to those who perpetrate such heinous crimes that we, as a society, will not tolerate sexual violence and abuse. No matter what your status, you are not above the law.
The reality of sexual violence and abuse in England is truly shocking: one in four women have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult; one in 20 men have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult; and one in six children have been sexually abused. Those are staggering statistics and represent an uncomfortable truth that must be heard—and, more importantly, urgent action must be taken. Our justice system is failing when only one in 100 rapes are reported to police and charged that same year. Sadly, most victims and survivors of rape do not report it to the police: five in six women and four in five men do not report it.
The biggest tribute we can pay to victims is our action, our perseverance and our commitment to demanding better, to doing more and to being honest with ourselves and admitting that when victims and survivors are forced to wait three years for their case to get to court something is badly wrong. We can and must do better. So, I pay tribute to all victims and survivors of sexual violence and abuse, and promise to always be straight-talking on this issue, and to ensure that the voices of victims and survivors are always heard.
Before taking my seat, I proudly worked for the national health service and witnessed the sheer exhaustion and the struggle that those on the frontline continue to face, and the frustration of those seeking to access NHS services stretched far beyond their limits. I worked with some real-life superheroes. As we move into a world where we live side by side with covid, I urge all colleagues to remember that for the NHS, the impact will be with us for many years to come. They deserve our respect, our patience and our gratitude for all they continue to do.
The people of Wakefield are weary of our politics and their trust has been eroded, but I promise to rebuild that trust every day and be their strong voice in Parliament, fighting every day for the betterment of my constituency.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood) on an excellent speech. He told us about the wonderful heritage, arts and culture in his constituency. I went to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a long time ago now, and it was absolutely beautiful. I encourage everybody to go. I hope he will not suffer the fate of one his predecessors and get his foot jammed in one of the Lobby doors. Maybe if he comes early for voting, he can avoid that fate.
We Liberal Democrats have been calling for a windfall tax since last year. It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) who first suggested, last October, a windfall tax on the super profits of the oil and gas giants that were taking millions of pounds in profit while households were starting to struggle badly. For months the Government tried to resist a windfall tax, defending the indefensible. The Government have finally caved in, but too late for many. For example, my constituent wrote to me in January saying that he had to stay in bed because he could not heat his home. Our Liberal Democrat analysis shows that more than double the amount could have been raised if the Government’s levy was tougher now and had been implemented earlier. The equivalent of £200 is lost to each household because the Government are doing too little too late.
I could not agree more. The Government have dithered and delayed. They could do something about it and back our amendment, which would ensure that the new levy on oil and gas companies is backdated to last October. That would at least reflect the dither and delay and do something about it.
What should we make of the proposals to exempt those companies investing in new oil and gas exploration? There is nothing in the Bill to incentivise investment in renewables. That flies in the face of the Government’s commitment to get to net zero. In fact, it demonstrates once more how quickly they are prepared to U-turn on their promises, making it harder for struggling households to get on top of soaring energy bills now and in future and failing to take serious action on climate change. What is more, where is the programme to transform the pace of home insulation, which is lagging shockingly behind? Where are the planning laws to ensure that we build zero-carbon homes now rather than allowing developers to build homes that will require very costly retrofitting in a few years’ time?
We need bold and swift action to help families with the soaring cost of living and energy prices. The cheapest form of energy is onshore wind. When will the Government drop their effective ban on onshore wind and turbo-charge its revival? That would be the surest way to help struggling households to bring their energy bills down in the near future. The Government, however, can only fire-fight, and they have no vision and no real ambition.
Under Liberal Democrat plans, we would cut most emissions by 2030. That would be good not only for the climate, but for people’s pockets as we wean ourselves off global oil and gas markets as soon as possible. The Government have to come clean on the fact that even if gas and oil are produced in the UK, that will do nothing for household energy costs, because the price of oil and gas is fixed globally, not nationally.
On new green jobs, cleaner air, warmer homes and lowering living costs, the levy could have done so much more. We Liberal Democrats support the Bill but deplore the lack of a much greater ambition from the Government to rein in soaring energy costs and tackle the climate emergency.
It is a pleasure to respond on Second Reading on behalf of the official Opposition. I thank all hon. Members; this has been a good debate with many interesting contributions from across the Chamber. I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood) on his excellent maiden speech—isn’t it great to see Wakefield turn red again? I know that he will be a great champion for Wakefield and his constituents, and I look forward to hearing many more of his speeches. I also thank the hon. Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), who made interesting speeches; it is good to hear them supporting Labour’s policy.
The message that we have heard loud and clear from hon. Members today is that the Tory cost of living crisis is far from over. In fact, the financial pressures that many people are facing grow larger and larger. Food, fuel and energy bills continue to rise and families across the country are already worrying about the winter that lies ahead, as we all see reflected in the emails that we get from our constituents across the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield mentioned, in that context, we are finally considering this long-overdue Bill, seven months after my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), the shadow Chancellor, set out Labour’s plan for a windfall tax on oil and gas producers—I repeat: seven months.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (James Murray) said, since Labour first called for the windfall tax on oil and gas producers, energy bills for typical households have risen by a shocking £700, inflation has rocketed to its highest level in 40 years, and, of course, people’s taxes have gone up as the Government have pressed ahead with the national insurance increase. In that period, oil and gas producers’ profits have soared. Indeed, we estimate that between Labour first calling for the windfall tax in January and the former Chancellor and soon-to-be former Prime Minister finally accepting our arguments at the end of May, nearly £2 billion of tax revenue could have been raised to help people with the cost of living crisis. In that time, Conservative MPs voted against our plans for a windfall tax not once, not twice, but three times. Ministers repeatedly claimed that such a plan would not work. Famously, the current Chancellor said that oil and gas producers were “already struggling”; I would be very interested to hear from the Chancellor whether he has changed his mind about that.
It is shameful that it took the Government so long to come to their senses and finally do the right thing. That is yet more evidence, if we needed it after last week, that this Government are on their last legs, out of touch, out of ideas and now truly out of time. With the windfall tax and with so many other issues, it is Labour that leads and the Conservative party that follows. We are relieved that the Government are finally legislating for a windfall tax, and we will not oppose the Bill today, but there are several areas of concern for us.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the Bill’s tax break for oil and gas producers. We simply do not think it right that the Bill will hand back money to the same companies that are supposed to be contributing their fair share to tackling the cost of living crisis. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North said, for every £100 that an oil and gas company invests in the North sea, it will receive £91.25 from the taxpayer. How is that right? I compare that with the £25 that companies receive for investing for renewable energy, which is set to fall even further. A third or more of the revenue from the windfall tax will be handed straight back to oil and gas producers. How can it be right that we are subsidising oil and gas projects, which companies have said would happen anyway, to this level? It is an insult to families who are struggling and it makes a mockery of our climate commitments.
I turn to electricity generation and the excess profits in the electricity sector.
The hon. Member is making a very passionate case. A similar question was asked earlier of her Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray), but I would be keen to know when shadow Ministers last met industry representatives in Aberdeen to discuss their views on the matter. I ask out of interest.
As the hon. Member knows, Labour has been consulting regularly with organisations and stakeholders about the matter. We are willing to meet anybody who would like to meet us. Our door is open.
We called for the windfall tax months ago and are glad to see that the Government are taking it forward, but I have to say that they have been all over the place on the issue. In May, it was suggested that the Chancellor had asked the Treasury to draw up plans for a windfall tax on excess profits by electricity generators. I really wish that the Government had been vocal on the issue when Labour raised it months ago. As hon. Members will know, the price of electricity is closely linked to the price of gas; electricity prices have therefore been pushed up, although the costs of generating electricity from renewable sources have not changed. That is leading to significant profits for the sector. It was reported that such a windfall tax could raise up to £10 billion, but the Bill says nothing about the electricity generation sector.
As the Government have gone quiet on wider plans to decouple electricity prices from the price of gas, I would be grateful if the Financial Secretary would shed some light today on the Government’s plans for the electricity generation sector. It is clear that the market needs urgent reform so that it delivers for consumers and businesses. I hope that she can tell us why the Government are delaying bringing forward an energy market reform Bill that will finally break the link between gas and electricity prices.
Hon. Members have mentioned the support announced alongside the windfall tax. Of course it is a relief to our constituents that the Government have finally brought forward payments to help with energy bills and have scrapped their proposed “buy now, pay later” scheme, but we think it simply wrong that owners of multiple properties will receive the £400 payment for each and every property that they own and live in. There are surely far better uses for the money than that, so I urge the Government to think again.
Although we will support it today because we have long argued for a windfall tax on oil and gas producers to help people with soaring energy bills, we know that the Bill will not be enough. It is simply not ambitious enough. We need a long-term plan to guarantee the UK’s energy security and bring down bills for families. We have called for an acceleration of home-grown renewables and new nuclear, a plan to double onshore wind capacity and reform our broken energy system, and a national mission to retrofit 19 million homes to save households an average of £400 a year on their bills.
I think that I have already been very generous.
Given the crisis facing the Conservative party, I do not have much confidence in them to deliver these essential priorities for Britain. While they spend the summer arguing among themselves, we on this side of the House will continue to provide the leadership that our country needs, just as we have with the windfall tax. We will stand up for families through the cost of living crisis, we will back British businesses and we will provide economic security for our country.
It is a pleasure to close this important debate on behalf of the Government. We have talked today about the context of the Bill: the high oil and gas prices, and the extraordinary profits that are being received by the industry while working people struggle with the cost of living. We are introducing a temporary, targeted levy to fund cost of living support, at the same time as encouraging companies to invest.
Let me start by responding to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray). He criticised our levy for not raising enough, but, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), Labour’s proposal would have raised only £1.2 billion at the time when it was made, whereas our levy will raise £5 billion—more than the £4 billion called for by Greenpeace, more than the £3.7 billion called for by the Green party, and, as I have said, significantly more than the amount proposed by the Labour party.
The hon. Member for Ealing North criticised our scheme because it will encourage investment, while the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) said that we needed domestic energy security. We are ensuring that the important oil and gas sector will continue to invest so that we have that domestic energy security. The hon. Gentleman criticised us for not listening to industry, but I noted that neither of the Labour Front Benchers was able to say how or when they had engaged with industry. As Conservative Members know, last month the Chancellor held an industry roundtable which was attended by me and by the former Exchequer Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately).
Let me quote some of what has been said by representatives of the industry about our investment proposal. Orcadian Energy has said:
“We believe the immediate investment allowance, included in the Energy Profits Levy, has transformed the attractiveness of domestic oil and gas projects for companies extracting oil and gas in the UK and it should spark further investment in the North Sea.”
Cornerstone Resources has said that there has been
“more interest in partnering with us”
in the last few weeks. I could go on, but what we are trying to do is raise money to help with the cost of living, at the same time as encouraging industry to invest in a vital sector.
Let me now answer some of the questions put to us by the hon. Member for Ealing North. First, I can confirm that the Chancellor supports the Bill. I also want to respond to the point about consultation. The hon. Gentleman was, of course, encouraging us to do this a long time ago, but now he says that we should have consulted for longer and, therefore, introduced the measure later. We have sought to engage, and put the industry on notice, as much as possible regarding the announcement of the levy. Ministers in my Department have been in regular contact with the industry and we also undertook a short period of technical consultation on the legislation for the levy. Hon. Members will know that draft legislation was published on 21 June, with stakeholders able to provide technical feedback on it until 28 June.
The hon. Member for Ealing North asked what we were doing about the electricity generation sector. As the former Chancellor said at the time, that is something we are urgently looking at. The hon. Gentleman said that we should follow Labour’s plan. Well, let us remember what Labour’s plan is. Labour has put forward £100 billion-worth of spending proposals, of which only £10 billion-worth are fully funded.
I would like to mention the passionate and important speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). He rightly identified the need to balance short-term measures with long-term investment, and I hope that that is what we are doing. He raised the importance of renewables. As I have had the opportunity to discuss with him before, there are other tax levers and non-tax levers to support non-oil and gas investment, including the super deduction and the UK’s research and development tax credit scheme. There is also the contracts for difference scheme, which provides developers of low carbon electricity generation with direct protection from volatile wholesale prices, and the £1 billion carbon capture infrastructure fund.
My hon. Friend also asked about the timeframe. That is an important point, because this is a temporary measure. There is a sunset clause in the legislation. It is rare to include a sunset clause, but we have done so to underline that this is a temporary measure with a timeframe of 2025. He raised the importance of dialogue with the industry, and I reassure him that we have engaged fully with the industry and will continue to do so.
On carbon capture infrastructure, the Minister is well aware that the Scottish cluster has been made a reserve and been let down yet again. Can she define what “reserve” means, because nobody seems to know? Does she expect one of the two selected projects to fail, at which point the reserve would step up, or is it a question of dangling a carrot in front of it? What does “reserve” really mean, and why do the Government not just make the Scottish cluster a track 1 cluster?
The hon. Member makes an important point, because we value the investment and work that is going on in Scotland in the oil and gas sector and in renewables. He knows that, because I and Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have stood at this Dispatch Box and engaged with him regularly on this. He is right to identify that that cluster is in reserve, and I am sure these matters are being discussed with the relevant Ministers in BEIS.
I recognise the points that the hon. Member for Aberdeen South made about the sacrifices made by those who work in this sector. I am grateful to him for making those points, which I am happy to associate myself with. He asked what the normal price was, and I would like to refer him to the comments that the former Chancellor made when he was questioned on this by the Treasury Committee. He said:
“The last time this was done, a price target was published, which was $74 or $75 for Brent…If you look at average Brent price over the last five or 10 years, that will give you something like $60 or $70 for oil…so that gives you a sense.”
This is something we will be considering in due course.
I was of course aware of the former Chancellor’s fluff in relation to this topic. Is the Minister confirming to the House and to the industry, which will be watching, that if the price of oil falls to around $60 or $70 a barrel, the levy will be no more?
As I have just said in responding to the hon. Gentleman’s earlier point, the former Chancellor said that that “gives you a sense”, and I too am happy to relay that sense of where the prices would be, but we also have the long-stop date, which should give the industry some certainty as to when this will finally come to an end.
I welcome the hon. Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood) to this place. I was born and made in Leeds so I am very pleased to welcome a neighbour, in one sense of the word, and to hear him extol the virtues of Wakefield. He made a passionate speech about standing up for victims of sexual abuse and I welcome him to his place in the House of Commons.
The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) asked for bold and swift action, and that is what this Bill is about. Tonight this House has the opportunity to support the introduction of an energy profits levy on the extraordinary profits of UK oil and gas producers. It has the opportunity to support investment in the North sea through the levy’s investment allowance, and to support the automatic expiry of the levy in law, giving companies additional reassurance that the levy is temporary. This is a balanced approach that allows the Government to deliver support to families while encouraging investment and growth. For those reasons, I urge Members of this House to support the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill
Considered in Committee (Order, this day)
[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
Charge to tax
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to consider the following:
Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 2, line 42, at end insert
“, which may include electrification investment that decarbonises upstream oil and gas activities”.
This amendment would put on the face of the bill that electrification investment which decarbonises upstream oil and gas activities is eligible for relief.
Clause 2 stand part.
Clauses 3 to 11 stand part.
Amendment 1, in clause 12, page 9, line 32, after “levy” insert
“and the amount of tax relief on additional expenditure treated as incurred that the responsible company is claiming under section 2 of this Bill.
(2A) The data submitted by responsible companies under subsection (2) of this section must be published in aggregate on a quarterly basis.”
This amendment requires companies making a payment of the levy to also provide information to HMRC about the amount of extra tax relief they are claiming under section 2 of the Bill, and requires the total amounts of levy received and tax reliefs claimed every quarter to be published.
Clause 12 stand part.
Clauses 13 to 19 stand part.
That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.
That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.
New clause 1—Assessment of revenue effects of a higher Energy Profits Levy—
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, no later than 30 September 2022, lay before the House of Commons an assessment of the effects on—
(a) tax revenues, and
(b) oil and gas company profits
of the Energy Profits Levy being charged at 45%.’
This new clause would require the Government to publish an assessment of the effect on tax revenues and on oil and gas company profits of charging the Energy Profits Levy at 45% rather than 25%.
New clause 2—Review of the impact of tax relief on additional expenditure treated as incurred—
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, by 26 August 2023, publish an assessment of the impact of the tax relief provided by this Act on the UK’s energy market, including the impact on—
(a) net zero obligations;
(b) energy security;
(c) renewable energy supplies; and
This new clause requires an assessment, within three months of the end of the first year of the levy being in place, of what impact the Bill’s extra tax relief for investment expenditure by oil and gas companies would have on the UK’s net zero obligations and other aspects of the energy market.
New clause 3—Review of impact of earlier start date of the levy—
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, publish an assessment of how much the levy would have raised between 9 January 2022 and 25 May 2022 if it had been in place from 9 January 2022.’
This new clause requires an assessment, within three months of the Bill becoming law, of how much extra revenue would have been raised if the levy had been introduced on 9 January 2022 rather than 26 May 2022.
New clause 4—Review of the amount of tax relief on additional expenditure treated as incurred—
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, publish an assessment of—
(a) how much tax relief on additional expenditure treated as incurred under sections 2 to 7 of this Act will be claimed; and
(b) how much of the tax relief expected to be claimed is estimated to be in respect of investment that would have taken place if the tax relief had not been in place.’
This new clause would require the Government to assess the amount of tax relief for investment expenditure introduced by this Bill expected to be claimed by oil and gas companies, and to estimate how much of this is a deadweight cost.
New clause 5—Review of the impact of limiting the scope of the tax relief on additional expenditure treated as incurred—
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, publish an assessment of the impact of making ineligible for the tax relief on additional expenditure treated as incurred any investments that—
(a) do not align with the IEA’s net zero emission scenario for a 1.5 degree temperature increase;
(b) have been announced before 26 May 2022; or
(c) are incurred by companies that have engaged in share buy-backs in the three previous financial years.’
This new clause would assess the impact of limiting the scope of the tax relief introduced by this Bill to exclude investments on the basis of their impact on climate change, whether they had already been announced, and whether the company making the investment had engaged in share buy-backs in the last three years.
New clause 6—Environmental impact of exploration activity on which levy relief is claimed—
‘The Government must undertake an environmental impact assessment in relation to any claim for relief in respect of exploration activity, which must include an assessment of whether the exploration activity is consistent with the Government’s net zero commitments.’
This new clause would require the Government to assess against its net zero commitments any investment in oil and gas exploration activity against which levy relief is claimed.
New clause 7—Regular reviews in relation to oil and gas market—
‘The Government must publish a review of the oil and gas market by 26 November 2022 and every six months thereafter during the period of the levy, which must include an assessment of—
(a) whether there is a continued need for the levy, and
(b) whether the levy should be continued in order to promote further decarbonisation of upstream oil and gas activities.’
This new clause would require a six-monthly review by the Government of the oil and gas market to assess whether the levy is still needed and whether it should continue in order to promote decarbonisation of upstream oil and gas activities.
New clause 8—Assessment of revenue from a permanent levy rate of 30%—
‘The Government must within six months of Royal Assent lay before the House of Commons an assessment of the expected change in levy revenue if the levy is set at a permanent rate of 30% so that taxation on oil and gas company profits was permanently set at 70%.’
This new clause would require the Government to produce an assessment of the amount of revenue which would be generated if the level of taxation on oil and gas company profits was permanently raised to the global average of 70%.
New clause 9—Assessment of levy revenue if investment relief not permitted—
‘The Government must within six months of Royal Assent lay before the House of Commons an assessment of the revenue that the levy would yield if no relief was permitted in respect of investment expenditure.’
This new clause would require the Government to produce an assessment of how much revenue would be generated by the Energy Profits Levy if the investment allowance were removed.
New clause 10—Assessment of investment allowance on compliance with climate change targets—
‘The Government must within six months of Royal Assent lay before the House of Commons an assessment of the impact of the levy investment allowance on compliance with the requirements of the Climate Change Act and the global agreement to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees.’
This new clause would require the Government to produce an assessment of the impact of the investment allowance on achieving Net Zero by 2050 and limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.
Just to remind everyone: as I am sitting down here, I am the Chair of the Committee and not Mr Deputy Speaker, so it is “Mr Evans”, “Chair” or “Chairman”. Anything like that will do.
Thank you very much, Mr Chair. I open this debate by reminding the Committee of the purpose of the energy profits levy. The levy is a temporary 25% surcharge on extraordinary profits being made by the oil and gas sector as a result of the substantial rise in energy prices precipitated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It will help to fund the cost of living package for UK families that we announced in May. It will raise around £5 billion over the next year and will apply to companies within the ringfenced corporation tax regime. Specifically, these are companies involved in the exploration for and extraction of oil and gas in the UK and on the UK continental shelf.
The Government have been clear that they want the oil and gas sector to reinvest its profits to support the economy, jobs and UK energy security. That is why the Bill includes the 80% investment allowance. This new super deduction-style relief is being introduced to encourage firms to invest in oil and gas extraction in the UK. In future years, if oil and gas prices return to historically more normal levels, the Government will phase out the levy. However, the first clause in the Bill specifies that the l