Today's House of Commons debates - Tuesday 01 December 2015

Version: Uncorrected | Updated 18:36


The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Support for Business


What fiscal steps he is taking to support businesses.[902443]


What fiscal steps he is taking to support businesses.[902454]

The First Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne):

This Government know there cannot be a successful economy without support for business and enterprise. That is why we are cutting corporation tax, increasing the employment allowance and setting a permanently higher investment allowance. It is also why last week we increased our support for industrial policy, including a boost for science, and announced that we had doubled small business rate relief again next year, helping 600,000 small businesses.

Jack Lopresti:

How will my right hon. Friend help small businesses compete with the de facto subsidy that businesses with complex overseas tax structures get, which result in their paying no, or very low, tax in the UK, particularly given that Small Business Saturday is coming up this weekend?

Mr Osborne:

Small Business Saturday is an incredibly important initiative that everyone in this House should, and I am sure will, support on Saturday. My hon. Friend makes a good point about the international tax rules. The good news is that they have started to change. We have an agreement in the OECD, and Britain is among the countries implementing those changes first. The best example of that is the diverted profits tax, which is already raising revenue and tackling the big multinationals that do not pay their fair share of tax in the UK. At the same time we are cutting taxes for small businesses, for example by increasing the employment allowance.

Rehman Chishti:

Thanks to the Government’s long-term economic plans, we have seen a record number of company registrations in my constituency, with 202 companies registered in Gillingham in the first quarter. One company, MEMS, which the Chancellor visited with me, has asked me to ask him to clarify the Government’s position on the annual investment allowance for businesses. Will the Chancellor do that?

Mr Osborne:

It is fantastic to hear the good news coming from Gillingham, and to hear about the new companies being registered and the jobs being created there thanks to the strong economy, the long-term economic plan that my hon. Friend refers to, and a strong Member of Parliament making sure that the infrastructure comes to that part of Kent. The annual investment allowance will now be set at £200,000, a permanent rate much higher than the one we inherited from the last Government. It will help companies like the fantastic MEMS business, which I visited with my hon. Friend, to continue to grow and expand.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op):

The Chancellor announced some significant tax rises for business in his spending review, and also cut quite a lot of business grants through his spending settlement for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but will he give an explanation of table 3.7 of the Office for Budget Responsibility Blue Book? It downgrades productivity for the UK economy—productivity per hour is due to fall from the OBR’s previous forecast for 2016 and 2017 and 2018. What is the reason for that?

Mr Osborne:

The OBR has made its assessment, but what it shows is that productivity growth picks up through this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman and I have had many discussions about this, and I think we are actually in agreement that productivity is a long-term challenge for the UK and has been a challenge for many decades. We are trying to solve that by measures like the apprenticeship levy which will be one of those so-called taxes he describes. It is not a tax in that people get their money back if they have enough apprentices, so it is a levy, and it is the kind of thing we need to try to deal with the productivity challenges in the UK.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP):

As part of his look at fiscal steps to support businesses, will the Chancellor give favourable consideration to the extension of the rural fuel rebate scheme to regions that have not already been considered?

Mr Osborne:

I am very happy to give consideration to that. We are operating within the maximum flexibility that we believe the European Union rules allows us on this. Any postcode that possibly qualified we put forward for the scheme we introduced in the last Parliament, but I am happy to look at specific cases in Northern Ireland to see if they qualify, too.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con):

The Chancellor said the apprenticeship levy is a levy, but of course what many businesses see is a 0.5% tax on employment collected through PAYE. Does the Chancellor think that is compatible with the tax lock? While he is answering that question, will he also say what estimate he has made of the cost of the apprenticeship levy to the public sector, which I cannot find anywhere in the Red Book?

Mr Osborne:

The fact that the apprenticeships levy is set up in such a way that a large company employing high-quality apprentices will be able to receive back from the Government more than it puts in sets it aside from classic payroll taxes. Indeed, it has been broadly welcomed by the business community, even though it accepts the additional burden it represents. That is going to be very important. We made the calculations for the impact on the public sector in our public finance projections, and I am happy to write to my right hon. Friend with the precise numbers.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP):

Will the Chancellor confirm that in addition to the 17% cut to the funding of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the autumn statement did, as other Members have said, add £11 billion to the tax bill of businesses, in the area of business growth and skills, and mainly driven by the apprenticeship levy?

Mr Osborne:

I would have thought and hoped that the Scottish National party supported an apprenticeships levy whereby we use the money to create 3 million apprenticeships in this part of the United Kingdom and make sure that there are arrangements to pass the money to the Scottish Government so that they can improve skills in Scotland. But of course if one looks closely at the record of the SNP Government, one sees that they have been cutting further education places in Scotland. As usual, the SNP says one thing here and does something different in Scotland.

Stewart Hosie:

The question was of course about the £11 billion extra tax cost for business and the cut to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—something the Chancellor does not want to talk about. Given that there was no increase in retail sales in the last quarter, that the CBI industrial trends survey is down, that consumer confidence is down, that the deficit in the trade in goods is a colossal £134 billion and that manufacturing output is down, why does this political Chancellor think that cutting BIS by 17% and adding £11 billion to business costs over the spending review period is even remotely sensible?

Mr Osborne:

Because we do not equate the health of the business sector with the size of the Business Department. We have increased the money going into innovation by raising the budget for the catapult centres, and we have boosted the budget for science, one of the great UK strengths, which would be undermined if Scotland became independent. I would make a further point. The hon. Gentleman asked about economic projections, but in the independent OBR forecast growth is up, jobs are up, living standards are up and wages are up. That is all part of a successful economic plan which is delivering the goods for the whole United Kingdom.


As my right hon. Friend will know, the tech economy in the west of England is one of the fastest-growing anywhere in the UK, and start-up businesses such as Claritize in my constituency have been set up because of the Government’s investment. Does he agree that such businesses will help to lead our economic recovery, creating jobs and increasing our productivity in the west of England?

Mr Osborne:

I certainly pay tribute to the very successful and thriving tech businesses in Bath and across the west country. There is an opportunity now, with the investment in cyber-security at GCHQ, not too far from Bath, in Cheltenham, to help create a culture of small start-up businesses and make sure that on the back of our national security we have commercial success and commercially successful companies building those sorts of businesses in the west country.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op):

Will the Chancellor outline what measures he introduced in the autumn statement to support the UK’s renewable energy businesses?

Mr Osborne:

We committed to double the investment in renewable energy over the next five years.

Seema Malhotra:

What did we actually get from this Chancellor last week? The £1 billion to develop carbon capture and storage was cut; feed-in tariff subsidies for solar panels were cut by 87%; we heard not a mention of national projects such as the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon; and we had Britain at the bottom of the European league for renewables. Does he agree with companies such as Tesco, IKEA, Vodafone and Unilever that his renewable energy cutbacks now pose a risk to UK businesses and undermine confidence in investment?

Mr Osborne:

We should all be proud of the fact that in this country jobs are being created and the economy is growing yet our carbon emissions fell by 8% in the past year. We are doubling our investment in renewable energy and at the same time putting investment into things such as low-carbon nuclear power and small modular reactors, which will be of real benefit to South Yorkshire and the north-west of England. My broader point is that we do not believe that the way to help save the Earth is by piling costs on people’s electricity bills, so we have also taken action to ensure that our home efficiency scheme is more efficient, so people’s household energy bills will go down by £30 as well.

HMRC Regional Hub


What estimate his Department made of the potential cost to the public purse of a HM Revenue and Customs regional hub being based at (a) Leeds and (b) Bradford.[902444]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke):

HMRC announced the planned locations of its future regional centres based on a number of key principles that will enable it to deliver more for less. In addition to cost, HMRC has taken account of the quality of local transport links, the local labour market and future workforce supply and the need to retain the staff and skills it needs to continue its transformation. The changes will reduce HMRC’s estates costs by around £100 million a year by 2025.

Philip Davies:

Does the Minister accept that basing the HMRC regional hub in Bradford would be cheaper for the taxpayer, that there is a suitable location available in Bradford but not in Leeds, and that an effective northern powerhouse does not mean basing everything in West Yorkshire, in Leeds? Will he think again about that matter?

Mr Gauke:

My hon. Friend is, as ever, a doughty advocate for the interests of his constituents. The point I would make to him is that this is a regional centre for the whole of the Yorkshire and Humber area. To retain as many members of staff as possible and reduce redundancy costs, HMRC’s assessment is that Leeds is a better location for those working in York, Sheffield and Hull from where there is a direct train service to Leeds.

Mr Speaker:

Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very illustrious fellow and a distinguished philosopher, but for the purposes of this question he is on the wrong side of the Pennines.

Business Rates


What steps his Department is taking to enable councils to retain receipts from business rates.[902445]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke):

The Government have announced a radical reshaping of the state. By the end of the Parliament, local government will retain 100% of business rates to fund local services. The Government will shortly begin consultation on those reforms.

Jo Cox:

My local authority, Kirklees, estimates that it will lose in excess of £30 million a year as a result of this policy and the changes to the local government grant. By comparison, Westminster Council’s income will increase tenfold. When will the Government provide clarity for councils such as mine on the redistributive element that will mean it will be able to plug that very significant shortfall in funding?

Mr Gauke:

The devolution of business rates will retain the system of top-ups and tariffs that currently exist, so there will be no immediate loss to any local authority as a consequence of devolution. The point is that it devolves power to local authorities so that they have stronger incentives to boost growth. Local authorities that grasp that opportunity will see their business rates revenue increase.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con):

Does my hon. Friend agree that the point about last week’s announcement was that it was a defining moment for local authorities? Those local authorities that accept the principle of devolution of business rates can incentivise strong local business growth, and secure a local economy that is strong and that has jobs for its constituents. That is the key point.

Mr Gauke:

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He puts it very well. That is the key point: it is about ensuring that local authorities have the incentives to boost growth, and then local people can hold those local authorities to account.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab):

What consideration has been given to doing something about business rates to support the steel industry in line with the outcomes agreed at the steel summit, which was chaired by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills?

Mr Gauke:

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear that the business rates review, which we have been undertaking in recent months, will be completed next year. Obviously, we are looking at all the representations that we receive in the context of that review.

National Living Wage


What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the national living wage on wage growth.[902446]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin):

The national living wage will mean that a full-time minimum wage worker will earn more than £4,700 more by 2020—a 40% pay rise. Additionally, owing to the ripple effect of higher wages, up to a quarter of workers will see some benefit. Economy-wide wages are expected to be, on average, 0.4% higher in 2020.

Glyn Davies:

There has been a widespread welcome for the Chancellor’s national minimum wage announcement. Inevitably, the minimum wage has a major effect on traditionally low-wage sectors, especially social and residential care. Does my hon. Friend accept that the Government and local councils must be mindful of the fact that fees will need to be adjusted to ensure the viability of these hugely important services?

Harriett Baldwin:

My hon. Friend is right that many of the 900,000 workers in the social care sector will benefit from the new national living wage, including many working in residential care. That is why last week in the autumn statement we made an announcement that councils will have the power over the course of this Parliament to access money that they may need to increase the amount that they pay for social and residential care, with new revenue streams for social care worth up to £3.5 billion by 2020.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab):

As the Minister will be aware, the national living wage does not apply to people who are self-employed, whose wages have been stagnating and whose pension contributions have fallen every year for the past five years. Why were self-employed people not mentioned once in the productivity plan, and what does she intend to do to tackle low pay and conditions among the self-employed?

Harriett Baldwin:

The hon. Gentleman speaks powerfully of the importance of the self-employed to our economy. We pay tribute to the excellent work that so many self-employed people, including many in my family, do to generate economic growth in this country. He is right that, as wages across the economy grow and as we put more spending power into budgets for social and residential care, we expect that to be passed on to those who are self-employed.

Disabilities Employment Gap


What assessment he has made of the potential effect on public finances of halving the disabilities employment gap.[902447]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Hands):

The Government are committed to halving the disability employment gap, which on current figures would mean helping about 1 million extra people to find work. The impact of meeting that on the public finances depends on factors that we cannot predict, such as what people are likely to be paid. However, this is about more than the fiscal impact. The Government want to help disabled people benefit from the security of employment, which is why we have announced a real-terms funding increase to help people with disabilities and health conditions to find work.

Jonathan Reynolds:

I am pleased to say that a delegation of young people with autism is visiting Parliament today to discuss how we can improve the transition from school to work for people with autism. Does the Chief Secretary agree that improving the routes into work for young people with autism and other disabilities will be a great thing for our national finances but also for the young people themselves, allowing them to participate in the workforce and lead the independent lives that they want?

Greg Hands:

I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming so many disabled people to Parliament today, and I agree with him about the importance of doing more to help disabled people into work. That is why we extended the access to work scheme and launched the Disability Confident scheme, to ensure that employers better understand the benefits of recruiting and retaining disabled workers, the specialist employability support and the Work And Health programme, which we launched this year.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con):

Will the Minister confirm that about 3.2 million people with disabilities are in work now, and that the Government are looking to see that number increase dramatically over the next few years?

Greg Hands:

My hon. Friend is right. This is one of the most important aspects of the Government’s work. He is correct to say that disability employment is now up to 3.2 million, which is an increase of 340,000 since 2013, up 74% on the year. We are increasing real-terms spending on disability employment by around 15% by the end of this Parliament.

Local Government Funding


What assessment he has made of the effect on local economies of reduced funding for local government.[902448]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Hands):

Total local government spending will be higher in cash terms in 2019-20 than it is this year. The Government are also devolving 100% of business rates, meaning that, for the first time since 1990, local areas will see the full benefits of local business rate growth in their budgets. When it comes to local economies, I am sure that the hon. Lady will join me in welcoming the fact that unemployment has fallen by more than 25% in the past year in her constituency.

Diana Johnson:

Hull City Council has lost a third of its budget from Government funding since 2010, while wealthier areas have increased their budgets in some areas. The business rate proposal the Government are putting forward will again benefit wealthier areas, so can the Chief Secretary say to my constituents how taking tens of millions of pounds out of the local economy will assist the Chancellor’s plan for the northern powerhouse for cities like Hull?

Greg Hands:

To be precise, local government funding is being protected in cash terms. The £6.1 billion reduction in central Government grants is more than offset by a £6.3 billion increase in other sources of income. The hon. Lady mentions the northern powerhouse. The Chancellor announced yesterday the appointment of John Cridland as chairman of Transport for the North. We have also announced £200 million for Transport for the North over this Parliament to transform transport connectivity in the region, to introduce Oyster-style ticketing and to make sure the northern powerhouse becomes a reality.

Peter Heaton-Jones (North Devon) (Con):

I very much welcome the measures announced last week by the Chancellor to allow local government to keep receipts from business rates. My local authority, North Devon council, is one of the smaller ones so the receipts, actual and potential, will always be slightly less. Can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that smaller local authorities such as mine will see the benefit from this measure?

Greg Hands:

Yes. A consultation on changes to the local government finance system will be launched shortly, to be implemented in financial year 2016-17. We ought to be clear that the 2% increase in the precept to fund adult social care will be across the board, including rural areas, for councils that are meeting social care pressures.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP):

The Prime Minister eloquently set out the difficulties facing public services as a result of the Chancellor’s cuts with reference to his own local authority. In the light of the lucky Chancellor’s £27 billion windfall, why is he still pursuing £12 billion in social security cuts and a 5% cut to the Scottish Government’s budget?

Greg Hands:

The hon. Gentleman mentions the Scottish Government budget, which I am not sure is entirely within the scope of the question, but I will try to answer. The Scottish Government budget has done relatively well. There is a 14% real-terms increase in capital spending over the course of this Parliament, and the reduction in resource spending is only in real terms and is far less than that of a lot of UK Government Departments.

Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) (Con):

Does my right hon. Friend agree that local economies such as mine in Somerset have an exceptional opportunity to benefit from the devolution of business rates and all the infrastructure spending that this Government are going to conduct there?

Greg Hands:

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it is so important that local authorities are able to keep the proceeds of growing their local business rates, if that is what they are capable of doing. I am sure my hon. Friend will play his full part in attracting more business to his constituency.

Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab):

Commenting on the Chancellor’s proposal to allow local authorities to raise council tax by up to 2% in order to fund social care, the Conservative vice-chair of the Local Government Association referred to the creation of a “postcode lottery”, stating:

“If you are in one of those areas with a very low council tax base, what you are likely to be saying is that, unless you are someone who physically cannot get out of bed . . . you are not going to get any help at all.”

What equalisation measures will the Chancellor take to ensure that there is no disparity between local authorities in the funding they receive and the resultant quality of service they can provide?

Greg Hands:

One of the other announcements that the hon. Lady might have missed was the extra £1.5 billion going into an improved better care fund, thanks to this Government. She quotes the vice-chair of the LGA, but she could have quoted the LGA chairman, also a Conservative, who said:

“The LGA has long called for further flexibility in the setting of council tax and it is right that Greg Clark and Greg Hands have listened to the concerns set out by local government.”

Savings and Home Ownership


What steps the Government are taking to support (a) people with savings and (b) home ownership.[902449]

8. Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con):What steps he is taking to help first-time home buyers. [902450]

The First Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne):

This Government back saving and home ownership. That support is exemplified by the Help to Buy ISA that becomes available today. This new ISA provides direct Government support to anyone saving for the deposit on their first home. For every £200 they save in the ISA, the Government will help them with another £50. Add it up and the Government will give them up to £3,000 towards their first home—all part of a plan to help working people in this country.

Christopher Pincher:

One of the best ways to help people build up their savings so that they can get a Help to Buy ISA and buy their own home is to make sure that they have good jobs with good wages. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to drive employment in my constituency, which has historically low unemployment, and across the midlands engine?

Mr Osborne:

I was in the west midlands yesterday seeing the fantastic investment that Jaguar Land Rover is making there, with Government help. Alongside that we are investing in the west midlands infrastructure. We have just signed an agreement with the authorities of the west midlands, across the political parties, to put more than £1 billion into the region over the next couple of decades. There is a long-term commitment to the midlands engine and the jobs in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Mrs Murray:

It was reported in one of my local papers last month that some areas in Cornwall have seen a 15% rise in house prices over the past year. Will my right hon. Friend outline what additional action is being taken to assist first-time buyers in beautiful parts of the country, such as Cornwall, that are popular with second-home owners? What difference will the increase in stamp duty make?

Mr Osborne:

My hon. Friend always speaks passionately on behalf of her constituents—in this case, those seeking to buy their first home. The Help to Buy ISA is, of course, available in Cornwall and will help her constituents buy their first home. The new stamp duty charge on second homes and buy-to-lets will raise money, and a portion of that will be given to local authorities and areas such as Cornwall, where there are quite a lot of second homes.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op):

Low interest rates have meant that many people have had to look at other savings vehicles such as buy-to-let. Measures in the Budget will deeply affect the buy-to-let market, as the Chancellor will be aware. What measures is he taking to help elderly people looking for better savings returns?

Mr Osborne:

There is general agreement across the House that there should be a level playing field, so that people trying to buy their first home are not disadvantaged by people trying to buy a second home or a buy-to-let property. The changes that we have introduced help to do that. Alongside that, we have made the ISA more generous and have created new pension flexibility, so that people can get the most out of their pension savings. The low interest rates, decided independently by our central bank, are part of the vital support for our economy going forward.


I acknowledge the work that the Chancellor has done on tackling the bias towards buy-to-let in the housing market, but would he consider extending that by cutting further the tax relief on buy-to-let properties? We simply have to widen the space for first-time buyers so that they can get into the market, particularly in London.

Mr Osborne:

I welcome the support that the hon. Lady gives; of course, the problems of getting on to the housing ladder are particularly acute for first-time buyers in London. In the summer Budget, we announced changes to mortgage tax relief for the buy-to-let market so that those on higher rates of tax, with larger incomes, will see that relief scaled back over the coming years. What we have set out now, with the extra stamp duty and the changes in the summer Budget, represents a fair and balanced package for homeowners—those buying a buy-to-let property, but above all those buying their first home.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con):

Will the Chancellor explain how first-time home buyers will benefit from his blueprint “A better deal”—what the Daily Mail calls a “blitz on rip-off” monopolies?

Mr Osborne:

I am glad that my hon. Friend has read the document. Part of what we are doing is making sure that mortgage fees are more transparent. Alongside that, we are ensuring that utility bills are more competitive for families and cutting the electricity tariffs that we talked about earlier. We are also making sure that people can get a better deal from their water company. This is all part of driving down costs for families and helping the working people of Britain.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab):

What will really support people with home ownership is massively increasing the supply of new homes—not, as the autumn statement does, simply subsidising people to bid up the prices of existing homes. After five and a half years in office, it is time that the Chancellor took some responsibility. He has a woeful record on house building, exacerbating the market failure that has led to restricted supply and consequently high prices. When will the Government increase supply very markedly by starting a real programme of mass house building—of homes for rent as well as to buy?

Mr Osborne:

Over the course of this decade we will have built more social homes than in the entire period when the Labour party was in office. Affordable housing should also be housing that people can afford to buy, as well as rent, and we are doubling the housing budget and undertaking the biggest house building programme since the 1970s. It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman was not with me in Wolverhampton yesterday seeing the new jobs being created at the Jaguar Land Rover engine plant as we make sure that we build homes for the people working at that plant.

Pension Age Qualification (Women)


What steps he is taking to assist women born between 1953 and 1955 affected by recent changes in pension age qualification.[902451]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Hands):

As we remove gender inequality, women born between 1953 and 1955 will receive their state pension at the same age as men, or earlier. The Government have written to all those affected by increases to the state pension age and have acted to ease the timetable, at the cost of £1 billion, ensuring that 81% of all women affected see a rise of a year or less under the Pensions Act 2011. As the Chancellor announced last week, the basic state pension will rise next year by £3.35 to £119.30 a week—the largest real-terms increase for 15 years.

Danny Kinahan:

It is very good to see the pension going up. However, research by the Pensions Policy Institute and Age UK shows that a third of women in work are ineligible for automatic enrolment into a workplace pension, leaving them at risk of not having a decent income later in life. What research has the Minister or the Department for Work and Pensions carried out in order to understand what difficulties they will have in future?

Greg Hands:

This continues a process that has been going on since the mid-90s to equalise the state pension age and the process begun in 2011 to increase the state pension to make sure that it can be more affordable overall in terms of its ability to meet our commitments under the triple lock and the big increase I mentioned earlier. I did not hear all of the hon. Gentleman’s question precisely, but I think he mentioned Age UK. The charity director of Age UK said that this big concession is

“a significant financial commitment from the Government at a difficult time. This will give a much needed 6 month respite to all the women who would have had to work an extra two years.”

Long-Term Economic Plan


What progress he has made on his long-term economic plan.[902452]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Damian Hinds):

The long-term economic plan is securing the UK’s recovery. We were the fastest growing G7 country in 2014 and 2013 and we are joint fastest this year. The deficit has more than halved and the national debt as a share of GDP is set to fall this year. However, the job is not yet done, and the Government will continue working through the plan to ensure Britain’s long-term economic security.

Steve Brine:

In the autumn statement last week, it was great to hear the Chancellor talk about rehabilitating our prisoners. Does the Minister agree that the sale of old Victorian prisons is a prime example of how economic and social reform can go hand in hand, bringing sales to the Exchequer, working positively with prisoners in these prisons, and creating new places for homes in our cities?

Damian Hinds:

I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned consistently on these issues since 2010. The justice reforms are an exemplary element of the long-term economic plan, combining savings with social reform and delivering economic dividends from improved employability to sites for 3,000 new homes. It is because of the strength of the economy, thanks to the long-term plan, that we can invest £1 billion to build nine modern prisons and close the old ones.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab):

Last night I launched the all-party group on adult education in recognition of the fact that at a time when we are all living longer, having many different jobs and even careers, and whole industries are being allowed to die, our long-term economic security depends on investing in adult education. The Chancellor was persuaded not to slash the further education budget. Will he now acknowledge that investing in further education is vital for the future?

Damian Hinds:

The hon. Lady rightly identifies the importance of continuing in further education and the fact that in the modern economy more and more people will have multiple careers through their lives, which means that the availability of retraining is very important. That is why I welcome the protection of this budget and the availability of loans, for example, for part-time students.

Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks)) (Con):

The Government’s economic plan rightly prioritises infrastructure, and I welcome yesterday’s announcement of a new chairman for Transport for the North. Does my hon. Friend agree that continued investment in Yorkshire and the north is vital to rebalancing our national economy?

Damian Hinds:

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, that is at the heart of the enterprise zones in the north, the city deals and the whole concept of the northern powerhouse—making sure that the cities of the north add up to something that is more than the sum of their parts—and Transport for the North, which he mentioned, is a vital part of that.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP):

What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on the long-term economic plan to grow the economy of the promises made and the policies put forward at the green junket in Paris this week in the mistaken belief that piling pounds on to power bills can somehow change the world’s climate?

Damian Hinds:

We of course recognise the challenges that come with energy costs, but it is true that the green sector supports a number of jobs in this country. It is very important that we seek to lead on research and development, and the autumn statement was another important step towards that.

Personal Allowance


What plans he has to raise the personal allowance during this Parliament.[902455]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke):

The Government are committed to raising the income tax personal allowance from £10,600 to £12,500 by the end of this Parliament. This is alongside our commitment to raise the higher rate threshold to £50,000. More than 30 million individuals will benefit from these changes. The summer Budget 2015 confirmed that the personal allowance will increase to £11,000 in 2016-17, and to £11,200 in 2017-18.

Sir David Amess:

In the light of what my hon. Friend has said, will he reassure me that, as the economy continues to recover and grow, the Government will follow the sound Conservative principle of allowing people to keep more of the money they earn to spend as they wish?

Mr Gauke:

Yes. If we are to continue to raise the personal allowance and meet our commitments on income tax, we also need to make sure that we show discipline in departmental spending and, indeed, the welfare budget.

Employment Trends


What assessment he has made of recent trends in the level of employment.[902456]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Damian Hinds):

With an employment level of 31.2 million, there are more people in work than ever before. Over the past year, employment growth has been driven by full-time employees and by high and medium-skill occupations, showing that we are now moving into the next phase of our recovery, with high-quality employment helping to boost productivity and raise living standards across the country.

Nigel Adams:

Against the backdrop of redundancies and potential redundancies in the mining and power sector in my constituency, will the Minister tell the House what support is available to businesses of all sizes in Selby and Ainsty to ensure that the trend of rising employment since 2010 continues?

Damian Hinds:

I commend my hon. Friend for his personal endeavours, including the annual Selby district jobs fair. He mentioned energy intensive industries. We of course recognise the particular challenges that some businesses in those sectors face. We cannot change world price levels, but we will bring forward compensation and legislate to exempt EIIs from renewables policy costs, helping with cash flow and providing greater business certainty. Businesses will of course also benefit from the further cuts to corporation tax and the higher permanent level of the investment allowance.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op):

I have been approached by constituents excited to get their first 15 hours a week job, hoping that it will lead to full-time employment. In retail in particular, however, the trend more than two years later is for more part-time employees to be recruited, but no full-time jobs to be given to those in post. Will the Minister look into this matter, and make sure that there are no perverse incentives for employers to create lots of small, part-time jobs without the opportunity for such people to progress?

Damian Hinds:

The hon. Lady raises an important point. In fact, full-time workers account for almost three quarters of the employment growth since 2010. The crucial reform in the welfare and social security system is of course universal credit, which specifically seeks to get over the spikes found in the hours scale so that it always pays to move from being out of work into work and, crucially, to move up the hours scale.

Household Debt


What recent estimate he has made of the level of household debt.[902457]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin):

Since the financial crisis, households’ financial positions have improved. Household debt as a proportion of income has fallen to 144% in the second quarter of 2015, down from a peak of 168% in the first quarter of 2008.

Mrs Lewell-Buck:

I thank the Minister for her response, but a large number of my constituents have been alarmed that mistaken overpayments of working tax credits made by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have been recovered, without warning, from their child tax credit entitlements. Is the Department’s policy now to push people into poverty and debt by punishing them for HMRC’s mistakes?

Harriett Baldwin:

The hon. Lady might remember the terrible roll-out of working tax credits that occurred when the Labour Government were in power. I can assure her that we will continue to improve the administration of tax credits. When her party was in power, people could have a £25,000 change in their income without it affecting their tax credits. We have brought the figure down to £2,500.

Mr Speaker:

The hon. Member for Havant (Mr Mak) looks animated and contented. Let’s hear from the fellow.

Mr Alan Mak (Havant) (Con):

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Household debt will be kept low, thanks to the Government’s support for savers, including the Help to Buy ISA that was launched today. Will the Minister join me in encouraging first-time buyers and young savers to take advantage of this new Government support, which is part of the Government’s long-term economic plan?

Harriett Baldwin:

I am delighted that, on behalf of his constituents in Havant, my hon. Friend has noticed that the Help to Buy ISA scheme launches today. Fourteen financial institutions are already offering this exciting new opportunity to save for a home, and I hope that many of his constituents will take advantage of it.


Citizens Advice has noted that household bills are now the chief source of the problem debt that people are seeking its help with. What will the Government do to ensure that guarantor and logbook loans are properly regulated, so that they do not simply replace payday loans as a source of poorly regulated credit that exploits the low-paid and the vulnerable?

Harriett Baldwin:

I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that, in the last Parliament, we took steps to bring credit under the regulation of the Financial Conduct Authority. As a result of that, payday lending has dropped sharply. We are also backing credit unions in many different ways in this country, and we want to ensure that people have an opportunity to save through their workplace credit union. If she will work with me, I can assure her that we will continue to ensure that households that have the lowest proportion of debt at the moment in their repayments will continue to see their financial positions—

Mr Speaker:

Order. We are enormously grateful to the Minister. We could not be more grateful.



What fiscal steps he is taking to help people to keep more of the money they earn.[902458]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke):

The Government have committed to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher-rate threshold to £50,000 by the end of this Parliament. In the summer Budget, the Government took the first steps towards meeting those commitments by increasing the personal allowance to £11,000 and raising the higher-rate threshold to £43,000. In 2016-17, 29 million people will pay less tax after those changes, and 570,000 will be taken out of income tax altogether.

Mr Jayawardena:

Will the Minister outline what measures have already been taken to help married couples to keep more of what they earn? Would he consider helping stay-at-home parents further by increasing the marriage allowance for all taxpayers?

Mr Gauke:

Since 2015-16, married couples and civil partners have been able to transfer 10% of their personal allowance to their spouse. The Government expect this to benefit up to 4 million couples by up to £212. This will increase in proportion to any increases in the personal allowance, which the Government have committed to raise to £12,500.

Philip Boswell (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP):

Given that the ratio of savings to household debt has gone down from 11.8% in the first quarter of 2010 to less than 5% today, and that the downward trend appears likely to continue, why are the Government not taking steps to reverse that trend?

Mr Gauke:

The Government are delivering one of the biggest increases in living standards that we have seen for many years. We have record levels of employment, we are providing economic security and we are one of the strongest growing economies in the G7. That is helping household finances up and down the country.


Will the Minister tell us what measures will be taken to ensure that parents in my constituency and up and down the country who are returning to work do not have to spend every penny they earn on childcare?

Mr Gauke:

My hon. Friend makes an important point. From September 2017, the Government are doubling the free childcare entitlement from 15 hours to 30 hours a week for working families with three and four-year-olds. That will be worth up to £5,000 per child. From early 2017, tax-free childcare will also be introduced, providing support worth up to £2,000 a year per child for working parents.

Topical Questions


If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The First Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne):

The core purpose of the Treasury is to ensure the stability and prosperity of the UK economy. Today I can tell the House that the date of the Budget next year will be Wednesday 16 March.

Bob Blackman:

My right hon. Friend has announced that the closure of the compensation scheme for Equitable Life policyholders will be at the end of this month. We will then know exactly how many claimants there are. Has he any plans to extend the amount of money that is being given to the victims of this scam?

Mr Osborne:

I am, of course, always happy to listen to representations from my hon. Friend and others, but we have put a substantial sum of taxpayers’ money into compensating the people who lost out through Equitable Life. We have also ensured, through our payment system, that those payments have been made. That is why the scheme is coming to a close.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab):

The Chancellor bowed to Labour pressure last week and made a U-turn on tax credits. Although tax credits will not be cut in the new year, as planned, the cuts to universal credit are going ahead in full, so he has not reversed his cuts to family incomes, but just delayed them. I am sure that he has looked at the impact of the changes in detail, so will he tell the House how much a single parent with one child who works part time on the so-called national living wage will lose as a result of his planned changes to universal credit?

Mr Osborne:

First, let me say that I did not feel a huge amount of Labour pressure last week, but I am happy to see the hon. Gentleman at the Dispatch Box. With universal credit, we are introducing a fundamental improvement to our benefits system. Anyone on tax credits, including in the case that he refers to, who is moved on to universal credit by the Department for Work and Pensions from next year will have their cash awards protected.

John McDonnell:

Let me explain to the Chancellor exactly what a single parent with one child who works part time on the national living wage will lose. They will lose an average of £2,800 a year as a result of the cuts to universal credit. This was not an autumn statement that supported families, but one that punished them because 2.6 million families will still be worse off by £1,600 on average.

Let me offer the Chancellor another way out. If he reversed the tax giveaways to the wealthy that he announced in his summer Budget, he could reverse fully these cuts to family incomes, while still achieving his fiscal mandate. Will he now address the threat to these families?

Mr Osborne:

Universal credit is a new benefit where it will always pay to work and it will always pay to expand the number of hours that are worked. It will get rid of a complex series of benefits. That will help working families. Let me make this point, since the gang of four on the other side of the House are chuntering away. The hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), who is a shadow Treasury Minister, has not bothered to turn up today because he is marching on the Labour party’s headquarters on a stop the war march. The truth is that until the shadow Treasury team get their act together in this Chamber, their cases will not be listened to seriously.


Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the 60% reduction in unemployment in my constituency since 2010, the 100% rise in house building since 2014 and the fact that Helmsley won best market town in yesterday’s—

Mr Speaker:

Order. I am sorry and I do not wish to be unkind, particularly to new Members, but we do not have time for these lists. What we need is single sentence questions.

Kevin Hollinrake:

My apologies, Mr Speaker. The A64 is still a bottleneck to investment and a traffic blackspot. Will the Chancellor look again at further investment in that important route, which would unlock further investment and economic progress for the northern powerhouse?

Mr Osborne:

We certainly want to hear the good news about what is going on in Yorkshire. On the A64, we have committed billions of pounds to improvements to the road network of Yorkshire and, specifically, we have created a £475 million pot for local major roads. This is the sort of bid that should be put in.


As the Chancellor was on his feet last week, the Department of Energy and Climate Change quietly issued a statement to the stock exchange on the removal of £1 billion of funding for carbon capture and storage. That was a breach not only of the Tory party manifesto, which is not surprising, I suppose, but of a promise to the people of Scotland during the referendum campaign. How can he justify that decision, which jeopardises 600 jobs in Peterhead?

Mr Speaker:

Thank you. We need to be much pithier.

Mr Osborne:

We are doubling investment in renewable electricity and energy, and much of that is going into Scotland. We also increased the capital budget for the Scottish Government, so instead of lobbying us for capital projects, they now have the resources to pay for such things themselves.


I recently attended the skills show in Birmingham, which was an incredible example of the opportunities on offer in Britain for young people, including jobs, training and apprenticeships. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the levy he announced in the autumn statement is an excellent further step to ensure that young people in the UK are earning and learning—or preferably both—as that is the route towards a more productive workforce that is ready for jobs in the 21st century?

Mr Speaker:

The hon. Gentleman is a celebrated denizen of the House and he should provide a better example to his new colleagues. Questions from both sides of the House are just too long—good, but too long.

Mr Osborne:

I was very excited, Mr Speaker, to hear about the skills show in Birmingham. My hon. Friend is right: by investing in apprenticeships and creating 3 million apprentices we address one of the great weaknesses of the British economy that has emerged over many decades, which is the low skill base.

Mr Speaker:

Unfortunately, the Chancellor’s excitement is of no interest to the Chair. What is of interest is pithiness and progress, and everybody ought to be able to grasp that point.


The Chancellor is a leading member of the Cabinet’s economic Sub-Committee that is considering airport expansion. The outcomes of that Committee are vital to growth in the north, and we were promised a response to it by Christmas. When can we expect that response?

Mr Osborne:

I completely understand the hon. Lady’s interest in this subject, and the matter arouses a lot of interest across the House and the country. I am afraid she will have to be patient and wait for the Government’s response to that important report.


I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this autumn statement, which continues to make science a clear priority. Does he agree that the new Cheshire science corridor enterprise zone will play an invaluable role not only in the local economy, but nationally as well, and particularly for the northern powerhouse?

Mr Osborne:

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is right. Support for Cheshire science goes across the county, and it particularly supports the brilliant work being done in Macclesfield and Alderley Park not just by AstraZeneca but by many new companies that have come to that estate. It is something that I know he champions.


When does the Chancellor expect the UK to regain its triple A credit rating?

Mr Osborne:

As the hon. Lady knows—she has asked me about this before—we have a triple A credit rating with one credit rating agency, and we will let the others make their own decisions.


Train services from Twickenham are inadequate and need to be faster and more frequent. Will the Chancellor look into what funding he can provide to improve services today, as well as for tomorrow with Crossrail 2?

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Hands):

I thank my hon. Friend and near neighbour for that question, and Crossrail 2 is also scheduled to go through my constituency. She will know that the Government have already committed money to feasibility studies in this Parliament. The National Infrastructure Commission has been tasked with reviewing further investment in London, and it will report back to the Government before the 2016 Budget.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP):

What recent assessment has the Chancellor made of the performance of the UK Guarantees scheme? When it was launched, the Treasury said in a press release that it would

“dramatically accelerate major infrastructure investment”.

The only thing that has dramatically accelerated since then is the national debt under a Tory Chancellor who has missed every target that he set himself. Will he please acknowledge at least one of his failures?

Greg Hands:

The UK Guarantees scheme has already been approved for eight projects, including the Mersey Gateway bridge, the northern line extension, and Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. It has not always been necessary, and a further 18 projects worth almost £9 billion have been supported without the need for a guarantee.


As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on women and enterprise, I welcome the fact that more women than ever are working in Britain today. One of the barriers to forming a cohesive forward strategy for creating more female business owners is a lack of reliable data on how many there currently are. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss that issue and consider possible solutions such as the collection of data on HMRC returns?

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin):

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to the APPG, and I look forward to working closely with him to provide the data that he seeks.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab):

By what date do the Government expect to pay the national living wage to all their employees and all the contractors they employ?

Mr Osborne:

The national living wage is coming in next April, so of course we will comply with it.


I welcome the Chancellor’s spending review last week, boosting the science budget and supporting silicon fen. Does he agree that the only way to continue to attract international investment to the region is good infrastructure, and now is the time to upgrade the A10 from Cambridge to Ely?

Mr Osborne:

We have put a huge amount of investment into Cambridge, including of course the renovation of the famous Cavendish Laboratory, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the strong start she has made in recent months in championing her constituency. That has been continued today with a big bid for the A10, which I will take a close look at.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP):

The Chancellor promised twice—at the Scottish referendum and in his manifesto—to have carbon capture and storage at Peterhead. Why has he broken that promise?

Mr Osborne:

As I have said, investment in renewables will double over the next five years, and much of that investment will go into Scotland—[Interruption.] Look, the Scottish nationalists have a choice now. They have got some extra money and increased capital spending, and if they want to invest in carbon capture and storage in Scotland they can do so. It is called devolution.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con):

Every three weeks, British taxpayers send more than £1 billion to Brussels. If the British people vote to come out of the EU, can the excellent Chancellor tell us how much earlier we would eliminate the deficit?

Mr Osborne:

I will not get into the debate about our membership of the European Union, but what I would say is that—thanks to the hard negotiating of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—we have cut the EU budget.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab):

By some mistake, there does not seem to be any question on the deficit on the Order Paper—[Interruption]—apart from the very interesting question we have just had. Can I ask the Chancellor the question he would not answer in response to the autumn statement: does he believe that by the time he leaves the Treasury for the last time, he will have finally dealt with our country’s deficit?

Mr Osborne:

That is certainly the plan.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con):

The Rushden Lakes development at Skew Bridge and Primark’s new warehouse at Islip are bringing thousands of new jobs to east Northamptonshire. Is not the added bonus that under the new business rates regime the local authority will be able to keep the windfall that will arise?

Mr Osborne:

My hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate of the Skew Bridge project, and we have discussed it on several occasions. Of course, the devolution of business rates will help that project not only succeed, but make a big contribution to the local economy.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab):

Given the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and given that the Chancellor has not met a single one of his own targets on economic performance, is he intending to go on and on, to the delight of the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London?

Mr Osborne:

We promised to turn the British economy around and that is exactly what we have done. I know that the hon. Gentleman is out of sorts with the cultural revolution that is taking place on his Front Bench at the moment, but I just hope that in the modern Labour party they

“let a hundred flowers bloom”.

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con):

Entrepreneurs’ relief is a costly relief—and the Chancellor was right to reform it earlier this year—but it is an important way to incentivise our entrepreneurs to invest in businesses and to create jobs. Can he reassure our entrepreneurs that he remains committed to that relief and will take it forward in the years to come?

Mr Osborne:

Of course we want entrepreneurs’ relief to be directed at entrepreneurs, and that is why we made the changes earlier this year, but during our time in office Conservative members of the Treasury team have doubled and redoubled that relief. We very much support that help for our enterprise economy.

Mr Speaker:

Last, but not least—and with commendable brevity, I feel sure—I call Mr Mulholland.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD):

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

British pubs currently have 0.5% of British turnover, but pay 2.8% of business rates. Will the Chancellor meet me and officers of the save the pub APPG to discuss how we can better support pubs in the taxation system?

Mr Osborne:

Of course, the pub industry has been supported by the reduction in beer duty, the increase in employment allowance, which is of huge benefit to many pubs, and the extension of small business rates relief, which we announced last week. I am happy to see what more we can do to support the great British pub industry, and I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman’s ideas.

Mr Speaker:

Order. I am most grateful to the Chancellor and colleagues. Treasury questions always bust the box office records, as far more people want to take part than there is time to accommodate, so I hope that colleagues will understand.