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Topical Questions

Volume 727: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2023

Ten days ago, I announced the four pillars of our plan to transform productivity and make the UK one of the most prosperous countries in Europe. They all begin with the letter “e”, to help Opposition Members remember them easily: an enterprise economy with low taxation; world-class education and skills; high levels of employment, to reduce our dependence on migration; and growth spread everywhere, from South West Surrey to Leeds to Chorley.

Does the Chancellor recognise that it is his responsibility to deliver what people want, which is a fair tax system where everybody plays by the same rules? Will he disclose how many Government Ministers have personally benefited from non-dom tax status over the years, and how many have used overseas offshore trusts to reduce the taxes that they owe Britain?

I can tell the hon. Lady that, since 2010, no Member of Parliament has been allowed to benefit from non-dom status.

T2. I noted the Financial Secretary’s earlier comments about the implementation of the OECD’s global minimum corporation tax, but can she or the Chancellor provide some kind of clarity over the plans for the dispute resolution mechanism under pillar two and, importantly, say something about the assurances that will be given to businesses that will be affected by it in the next financial year? (903539)

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. The pillar two rules mean that large companies—these are defined as businesses with revenues of €750 million or more—are subject to a top-up tax if the profits that they make are not subject to at least a 15% tax. The reason that the international community is coming together to draw up these rules is precisely to do with the new shape that all our economies are taking, with international businesses spreading out around the world. We are trying to find a way to ensure that those very profitable businesses pay their fair share of tax.

Last week, Shell announced profits of £32 billion, the highest in its 115-year history. Today, BP announced profits of £23 billion, the highest in its history. Meanwhile, in April, energy bills for households will go up by £500. The cost of living crisis is far from over, so will the Government follow our lead and impose a proper windfall tax to keep people’s energy bills down.

I am glad that the right hon. Lady asked about windfall taxes, because our plans raise more money than she was advocating in the autumn, and they are also balanced and fair. Anything higher will stop investment, increase dependence on Putin and increase energy prices. I am afraid that it is more clean energy with the Conservatives and more expensive bills with Labour.

There we go again: the Government shielding the energy companies and asking ordinary families and businesses to pay more. Shell has spent more on share buybacks than it has invested in renewables. Last year, BP’s dividends and share buybacks were 14 times higher than investment in low carbon energy. The Government are allowing energy companies to make profits that are the windfalls of war, while ordinary families and businesses pay the price. Is it not the case that the Tories cannot solve the cost of living crisis because they are the cost of living crisis?

No, Mr Speaker. The total tax take from that sector is £80 billion over five years, which is more than the entire cost of funding the police force. The shadow Chancellor can play politics, but we will be responsible because we want lower bills, more investment in transition and more money for public services, such as the police.

T3. The Financial Conduct Authority is currently advertising for a personal assistant to its chief executive, to work alongside another PA, a chief of staff, a head of office, three private secretaries and a PA to the chief of staff. Given the largesse in their own affairs, what is my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary doing to hold financial service regulators to account? (903540)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is why the Financial Services and Markets Bill rightly improves the accountability of regulators to Parliament. It is about not just the cost of regulation, but the speed and efficiency of it. I read with concern work from TheCityUK suggesting that 90% of industry respondents thought that the speed of authorisations was either “somewhat” or “extremely” detrimental.

T4. It has been two weeks since it was revealed that the Treasury provided special dispensation for a sanctioned Russian warlord to use British lawyers to threaten a British citizen, Eliot Higgins. What has the Chancellor done in that time to get to the bottom of this outrageous scandal of the Treasury undermining sanctions and aiding our enemies to use aggressive lawfare tactics designed to intimidate those exposing the truth? (903541)

I answered the urgent question on this matter and said that we would consider what more can be done in these types of cases. That work is ongoing, but we will report in due course, when we have more to say.

T7. I only have to look at the Bench behind my right hon. Friend to know that the needs of Torbay will be at the centre of the Treasury’s thinking. What fiscal steps will he take in response to the “Communities on the Edge” report produced by the Coastal Communities Alliance? (903544)

I take that report and my hon. Friend’s advocacy for the needs of coastal communities seriously, and I look forward to meeting him shortly. Alongside the rural England prosperity fund, the £2.6 billion UK shared prosperity fund gives local leaders in coastal areas the freedom to target local issues, but I look forward to further conversations with him.

T5.   Last year’s register of overseas entities was meant to crack down on corrupt elites using the UK to launder illegal wealth, but today’s BBC and Transparency International report shows that it is clearly not working, with less than half the required firms making declarations and others fudging it. That brings into question the Government’s commitment to tackling illegal wealth and wealth inequalities. What will the Government do about this? (903542)

This Government bow to nobody when it comes to cracking down on tax evasion. It is wrong and illegal, and the Government do not support it.

T8. The Chancellor was right to argue last autumn that the NHS needs to help people into work. Will he bring forward more thinking on this as part of his inactivity review or in the Budget? (903545)

I discussed this issue with my right hon. Friend when she was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I would be delighted to engage with her further ahead of the Budget to tap into any sensible ideas she has in this important area.

T6. According to the Resolution Foundation, the previous Prime Minister’s unfunded tax cuts cost the economy £30 billion. Will the Chancellor confirm that he will not capitulate to her allies who are calling for the reintroduction of tax cuts for their wealthy cronies in next month’s Budget? (903543)

What I can confirm is that there will be no tax cuts funded by borrowing. I can also confirm that those of us on this side of the House, unlike those on the hon. Member’s side, believe in lower taxes.

T9. Businesses that had to renegotiate their energy contracts in the second half of last year did so at the top of the market, so how can we prioritise those businesses in particular for energy efficiency measures? (903546)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have already discussed energy support, but efficiency is also key. Businesses can take advantage of the £315-million industrial energy transformation fund, which supports industrial sites to invest in energy efficiency and decarbonisation projects. There are several important capital allowances that may help businesses to make energy-efficient investments, such as the annual investment allowance, which has been set permanently at £1 million, the structures and buildings allowance, and, until 31 March, the super deduction—

The recent inquiry by the child of the north all-party parliamentary group found that, under this Government, children in the north live in greater poverty, many in destitution, and that that problem is likely to keep growing. Why is it that, when it comes to children, this Government’s mission is always to level down rather than level up?

I gently say to the hon. Lady that there has been less poverty and inequality under this Government. We demonstrated that in the autumn statement, with a huge package of support—£99 billion—for houses and families up and down the country, targeted at the lowest paid.

Given the serious condition of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, does the Chancellor agree that it would be better value for money to build a new hospital rather than to patch this one up? Will the Treasury back the plan by the Department of Health and Social Care to do just that and include it in the new hospitals programme?

As we discussed when we met two weeks ago, it is a top priority for us to resolve the profile of spending for hospitals like that one, in which reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete was used and which need that urgent work. We are working on it quickly, but I do not want to steal the thunder of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who will ultimately make those decisions.

The Public Accounts Committee has expressed concerns about the difficulties taxpayers face in getting timely responses and action from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. My constituent Kirsty Lloyd and her former employer Llion James have missed out on thousands of pounds-worth of statutory maternity pay support, which they feel is because of delays and poor communication with HMRC. Their case has now timed out. Would the Treasury consider extending the time during which a claim can remain active in cases where there is a dispute with HMRC?

Would the right hon. Lady do me the very great honour of writing to me about it, so I can look into the detail for her?

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) has run a tenacious campaign for a freeport. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the benefits of such a freeport would be felt across north Wales and comment on the benefits that students in my own constituency might feel when considering a future career in north Wales?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that freeports offer tax relief, simplified customs processes and business rates retention. The evaluation process for the three bids that came in at the end of November is well under way and I hope that conclusions will be made in the very near future.

As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said, some businesses have bought in energy at a very high rate because of when they sealed their contract. Many of my local pubs and hospitality businesses will go bust in the beginning of the next financial year because their bills are so out of kilter; they say they would have to charge £15 a pint to survive. Even in London—even in Shoreditch—that is just not feasible. What extra support is the Treasury even considering as we approach the financial statement next month?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady and, though I do not know the specifics of her cases, she is welcome to write to me. On the hospitality sector and pubs in particular, we have done two key things: we have kept the reduction in rates, increasing it to 75% relief in the following year, and we have renewed our support with energy bills, saving a typical pub up to £2,400.

The Treasury Committee recently published a report titled “Fuel Duty: Fiscal forecast fiction”, because we do not think the Chancellor will really be able to raise fuel duty by 12p, as is currently baked into the Office for Budget Responsibility numbers. Will the Chancellor be able to respond to our report before the Budget?

It is worth stressing that, when we reduced fuel duty at the last spring Budget by 5p on both petrol and diesel, it was only the second time in the past 20 years that both rates had been cut. Future changes will obviously be determined at the appropriate fiscal event.

Interest in purchasing electric vehicles has escalated significantly and is expected to escalate further in the next 12 to 18 months. Will the Minister undertake to ensure that greater provision of public-facing EV charging points is rolled out right across the United Kingdom?

I am pleased to be able to announce that, through the more than £2 billion of funding the Government have committed to electric vehicle transitioning, 30,000 public charging devices have been made available with the help of industry. Of course we will look to do even more over the coming years.

May I appeal to the Treasury team to do everything they can in the forthcoming Budget to prevent people on fixed-rate mortgages from facing financial disaster when the fixed-rate term comes to an end?

My right hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. That is why I met Martin Lewis and the six big mortgage lenders before Christmas. We are very alive to those concerns and will monitor the situation closely.

It would cost around £1 billion to give nurses an inflation-matching pay rise. Scrapping the non-dom tax avoidance scheme used by the super-rich would raise more than £3 billion. Why, then, is the Chancellor putting non-doms before nurses?

The Chancellor is not doing that. There is a clear process in place, and we continue constructive dialogue with all professions in dispute with the Government and with their employers. This is obviously a challenging circumstance and we recognise how difficult it is.

When the Chancellor acceded to the Treasury throne, he appointed a panel of four advisers drawn from the City. Has the panel met, has he added anybody from small business or industry, and where can we find the minutes, please?

The economic advisory council has met, I believe, three times. I will write to my right hon. Friend with the details of what was discussed.