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House of Commons

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tuesday 2 July 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the adequacy of social security spending in tackling poverty throughout the UK.

Elizabeth Truss Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Elizabeth Truss)
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Thanks to our welfare reforms, we have been able to get more people into work, we have the lowest unemployment rate since 1974 and more than 667,000 fewer children are living in workless households than in 2010.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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Some £30 billion of support to working-age people has been cut from the social security budget, and there is more still to come. Eight out of nine disabled people will not benefit from the measures introduced in last autumn’s Budget and over 4 million are living in poverty. In the Chancellor’s last few weeks in post, what will he do to right this wrong?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s analysis. The fact is that income inequality is lower now than it was in 2010 and absolute poverty after housing costs is at a historic low for children.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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Can the Chief Secretary confirm that the number of children living in workless households is now the lowest ever record achieved in our country?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is because of our welfare reforms and economic policy that more people are now in work and are benefiting from our cuts to basic rate tax, giving working families £1,200 a year extra in their pay packets.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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The Chancellor has been brave recently, speaking out on how no deal will impact our economy. Poverty will only get worse if we face no deal, so will the Chief Secretary be as brave as the Chancellor and tell this House the truth about poverty and no deal?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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I can tell the hon. Lady what would lead to greater poverty in this country: a Government who wanted to overthrow capitalism, declare business the enemy and ruin the private sector businesses that are employing people and giving them extra wages.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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The Chancellor has been at the forefront of arguing that a decade of austerity was necessary. This has led to 24% of Scottish children and 30% of English children being in poverty. If the Chancellor believes that this pain was not ideological and unnecessary, will he vote against a Tory tax cuts for the rich Budget, as proposed by the Prime Minister’s most likely successor?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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With respect to the hon. Lady, she clearly did not hear my earlier answer, when I said that absolute poverty after housing costs is at a historic low for children. That is true right across our country. Of course, the Scottish National party Government in Scotland could take steps to help children by improving educational standards; that is what they should be focusing on.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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The Minister might not want to tackle inequality, but the Scottish Government do. The polls show that a majority of Scottish people support the tax changes that mean the Scottish Government can fund a £10 a week payment to families with the most vulnerable children, mitigating the ideological austerity obsession of this Conservative Government. If the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) becomes Prime Minister, 53% of Scots will support independence. And who can blame them, given the Scottish Government’s plans to support and help young people, and this Government’s ideological austerity obsession?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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The reality is that the Scottish Government are now forecast to bring in lower rates of income tax than expected, because they have not followed through on our raising of the threshold to £50,000, so people in Scotland on £50,000 are now paying £1,500 more tax. The fact is that raising tax reduces incentives for people to get up the earnings ladder, reduces economic growth and means that we do not have the opportunities and funding for public services.

Chris Leslie Portrait Mr Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Change UK)
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As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) said, the poorest, most vulnerable people in society, even those who are in work but struggling to make ends meet, will be hit particularly hard by a catastrophic no-deal Brexit. The Minister cannot get away with simply deflecting this into an attack, which I would share, on the economic policies of the Labour party. This is the clearest, most present danger facing our country, and surely she will not happily move towards a no-deal Brexit.

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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What the hon. Gentleman is missing is the fact that if we continue to delay Brexit, first, we would not be delivering on what British people voted for over three years ago; and secondly, there will be continued delay in our economy—a continued lack of investment—due to a lack of certainty.

Lyn Brown Portrait Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab)
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Yesterday, the Chancellor slapped down both Tory leadership candidates for making irresponsible spending promises. Has the Minister noticed, as we have, that not one of those promises was aimed at lifting the 4 million children out of poverty? She is responsible for the management of Government finances—heaven help us! What does she think this says about the Tory party and the next Prime Minister?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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I am incredibly proud of our record, as a Government, of reducing inequality. Income inequality is now lower than it was in 2010. We have also cut taxes for basic rate taxpayers by £1,200 a year and put an extra £630 into universal credit for working families.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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2. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the economic effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU.

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr Philip Hammond)
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I regularly discuss EU exit with the Secretary of State for Scotland and other members of the Cabinet. The Government remain committed to securing a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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There might be two people competing to be Prime Minister, but I think there are at least five who think they will be the next Chancellor, so perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should just get to stay in post and then they will all be equally disappointed. He seems to be concerned that they are somehow going to ruin his deal dividend, but is not the truth that there is no real dividend from any Brexit, that the best possible deal for Scotland and the rest of the UK is the one we already have, which is membership, and that that is the case that he and other sensible Government Members should have the courage to be making?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
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I have consistently made the case and explained to this House that there is fiscal headroom within the current fiscal rules. If we have a smooth exit from the European Union through a transition that will remove the economic uncertainty that is hanging over our economy, it will then be safe to release that headroom and make it available for additional public spending or, at the choice of the next Government, to reduce taxation. Either way, we have the headroom available once we have removed the Brexit uncertainty.

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con)
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Is it not the case that Scotland, like everybody else, will know the plans for future public spending, for fiscal headroom and for the economic effects overall if the comprehensive spending review were to be started sooner rather than later? Is the Chancellor able to tell the people of Scotland, the people in this House and the people beyond when the comprehensive spending review will be starting?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
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I announced at the spring statement that it is the Government’s intention to conduct a three-year spending review concluding this autumn, subject to a deal with the EU being completed. Departments are already commissioned to carry out the work necessary for such a spending review, but it will be for the new Government to decide whether the circumstances make it appropriate to conduct a full three-year spending review or a single-year exercise.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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22. Mark Carney has warned that Brexit has already cost households up to £900, with the Fraser of Allander Institute suggesting that it could cost Scotland 100,000 jobs by 2030. Given that the Chancellor was a remainer himself, will he, as a Back Bencher—I wish him well in that, incidentally—vote against any deal removing us from the single market and customs union?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
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As I have consistently said in this House, I do not believe that a no-deal exit would be in the interests of this country, and I will do everything I can to ensure that we avoid it, but an exit based on a negotiated deal that allows us to continue a close trading relationship with the European Union can work for Britain, and that is what I will be arguing for.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con)
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Is the Chancellor aware that only 18% of Scottish exports go to the rest of the European Union but 61% go to the rest of the United Kingdom? Is not the Union that really matters to Scotland the Union of the United Kingdom?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
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Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. The Scottish economy would be far more adversely affected by a breach of trading relationships with the rest of the United Kingdom than it will by a breach in trading relationships with the European Union.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
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3. What progress the Government have made on establishing a shared prosperity fund.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)
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5. What progress the Government have made on establishing a shared prosperity fund.

Robert Jenrick Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Robert Jenrick)
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The Government will establish a UK shared prosperity fund to spread prosperity and opportunity across all four nations once we have left the European Union and the EU structural funds. The fund will seek to raise productivity, focusing on levelling up parts of our country whose economies are further behind. More details will be announced following the spending review, and the Government will consult widely on the funds.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill
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Analysis of local enterprise partnerships by the charity think-tank NPC found that only 26% of board members were women and that only 5% were black, Asian and minority ethnic. When will the Government finally come forward with their consultation on the shared prosperity fund? Does the Minister agree that funnelling the UK fund through the LEPs would be a mistake unless they are made more representative?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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We intend to consult later this year, following the spending review. Officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have already held 26 engagement events and have met more than 500 representatives from across the United Kingdom.

With respect to the hon. Lady’s very important point about representation on LEP boards, I should say that the LEP review conducted by MHCLG jointly with the Treasury last year did conclude that they needed to have broader representation from the groups that she mentioned—and from private sector businesses, large and small. Those rules and guidelines are now in force.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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Shortly after the referendum on Europe, I asked the then Prime Minister David Cameron what would happen to the £726 million of European funding that we were due to receive in the north-east. He could not answer. We are now three years on and none the wiser about the supposed replacement—the shared prosperity fund. How can anyone have confidence in this Government and their handling of Brexit if they cannot give even that basic information to the region that is set to be the worst hit by any form of Brexit?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The people of the north-east of England voted to leave the European Union; I know that the hon. Lady takes a different view, but we are trying to deliver on the outcome of the referendum. Had she voted for the withdrawal Bill, these matters would, of course, be progressing. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has already said, we are guaranteeing funding to the beneficiaries of all EU structural funds to 2023, so there is a degree of certainty as we move forwards. But the sooner that this House can coalesce on a good deal and that we can leave the European Union in an orderly fashion, the sooner this matter can be cleared up.

Derek Thomas Portrait Derek Thomas (St Ives) (Con)
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My constituency and the rest of Cornwall continues to be one of the less developed areas, even though there is much going for where we are and where we live. What would the Minister say to my county, the Duchy of Cornwall, about how soon it can expect to really contribute to the process of the shared prosperity fund?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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As I have already said, we intend to consult later this year. I strongly encourage my hon. Friend’s constituents to take part in that consultation; he and I have already spoken about this. I have met representatives from Cornwall Council, for example, to talk about the issue and some of the projects that they care strongly about—including, of course, the stadium in Cornwall, of which my hon. Friend has been a strong proponent.

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)
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Rebalancing the economy is not just about north and south or the different nations of the United Kingdom. Will the Minister ensure that the shared prosperity fund is distributed using a range of indicators, such as gross value added, the regional human poverty index and disposable income, so that areas in the west midlands in need receive their fair share?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Absolutely—those are exactly the kinds of questions that we dealt with in the consultation.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
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Some of the problems in our United Kingdom can be traced to the disparity between the regions and nations of the UK. Will the Minister ensure that the shared prosperity fund is not the end, but just the beginning, of ensuring that there is prosperity across the entirety of our nation?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: there are disparities of income and productivity across the United Kingdom, and what he mentions will be one of the key objectives. But the shared prosperity fund is not our only intervention in this area: we are taking a range of measures, including significantly increasing the amount of public investment in infrastructure—to the highest levels in this country since the 1970s.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op)
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Despite pledges that the Government would provide details on the shared prosperity fund by the end of last year, the Chancellor has been silent on how much communities could lose from the £17 billion-worth of structural funds. The Chancellor has only now woken up to the danger, splurging nearly £10 billion, almost half that amount, on tax cuts for the well off—as advocated, of course, by the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). Surely the only shared prosperity under the Conservatives is for those who are already well off.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Clearly, it is not possible to progress this matter until we have greater certainty about our exit from the European Union. Those Members of this House who want to see this matter progressed should be voting to leave at every opportunity, as we on the Government side have done. The important thing to point out on regional disparities is that this Government are investing far more than the previous Labour Government. In fact, £430 million a week more in real terms is being invested by this Government than under the previous Labour Government on infrastructure in all parts of the UK.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)
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4. What fiscal steps the Government are taking to support the northern powerhouse.

Robert Jenrick Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Robert Jenrick)
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The Government are supporting the northern powerhouse through devolution deals for, among others, Manchester, Liverpool, the West Midlands and, most recently, North of Tyne, as well as through over £13 billion of investment in better transport across the north. In addition, we have invested over £3 billion from the local growth fund in the region since 2015, and we committed at the Budget to announce a renewed northern powerhouse strategy later this year.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
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It is quite an achievement for the Minister to get up and say that without any sense of irony whatsoever. The truth is that we have had the incredibly disappointing news this week that Pacer trains in the north of England will not be removed by the end of this year, as previously promised. Despite the warm words about the northern powerhouse, the truth is that since 2014 spending on transport in the south of England has risen twice as fast as in the north of England. Will the Minister use the spending review as an opportunity to rectify these imbalances and finally give meaning to those words, “the northern powerhouse”?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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With respect to the hon. Lady, she is not correct on the numbers. This Government are investing more in the north than the previous Labour Government. Over the course of this Parliament, central Government investment in transport infrastructure will be higher in the north of England than it will be in London and the south-east on a per capita basis. We have seen a 40% increase in central Government funding per person in the north under this Government.

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison (Copeland) (Con)
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Will my hon. Friend confirm that this Government have invested more than £500 million in the northern powerhouse, attracting more businesses and creating more jobs?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Over the course of this Parliament and the last, this Government will have invested £13 billion in transport for the north. With respect to Northern Powerhouse Rail, which was mentioned earlier, over the last two years we have given £97 million to Transport for the North to build the business case and prepare the ground for that project. In the course of the spending review—our zero-based review—we will be considering how to take forward that project.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
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My constituents in Barnsley Central and people right across the north of England will judge this or any Government on deeds, not words. Does the Minister agree with me that if the northern powerhouse agenda is to be taken seriously, we need to see schemes such as Transport for the North’s strategic transport plan, which includes Northern Powerhouse Rail, properly resourced by the national Government?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and that is why we have given funding to Transport for the North to prepare a properly thought-through business case. We of course have decisions to make in the spending review about which of those projects should be taken forward and which provide good value for money. In the hon. Gentleman’s own city and city region of Sheffield, we have of course given money through the transforming cities fund to improve inter-city connectivity for his constituents.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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My constituency and the wider Humber region would greatly benefit if there were improved rail-freight connections east-west. What plans does the Minister have to fund those?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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We have received representations from the midlands engine, and from Midlands Connect in relation to transport, about both road and rail east-west connectivity. We are considering them carefully, and they will form part of the spending review.

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab)
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I spot the Leader of the House on the Treasury Bench, but I do not know whether he wants his old job back.

The Exchequer Secretary talks a good talk on fiscal steps to support the northern powerhouse, but the broader facts speak for themselves. Since 2015, for the first time in 50 years, the UK Government no longer provide regional investment aid in England, according to the Industrial Communities Alliance’s evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee inquiry. What is his explanation for that?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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We give many other funding streams to northern communities, including £3.3 billion through the local growth fund and £13 billion for wider transport schemes.

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
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So that’s an unambiguous no. The north is home to 15 million people in five major city regions, 265 towns and 1,000 villages and smaller communities. It has 29 universities, the UK’s largest airport outside the south-east and eight major ports, one in my constituency. Does the Exchequer Secretary agree that changing those eight ports, as suggested by the Foreign Secretary and the former Foreign Secretary, into not economic hubs of excellence but potential revenue-draining, tax-avoiding, money-laundering free ports—more like free-for-all ports—is no substitute for a focused, well-resourced and sustainable economic strategy for the north?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Perhaps unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am interested in any proposal that can drive economic growth in the north of England. Free ports are an interesting proposal, which we have discussed with a number of communities. We have urged them to come forward with well-thought-through business cases. We have yet to receive them from many places, but we have received one from Teesside and we will consider them carefully in future.

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con)
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6. What estimate the Government have made of the number of promoters of loan schemes subject to the 2019 loan charge who have been convicted; and if he will make a statement.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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10. What assessment he has made of the effect of the 2019 loan charge on people working in the (a) public and (b) private sector.

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
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The loan charge tackles so-called disguised remuneration arrangements, which use loans to avoid tax. It applies in the same way to people in the public and the private sectors. A tax information and impact note published in 2016 and a report on disguised remuneration published in March 2019 both considered the impacts.

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald
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What more can be done to tackle the promoters of loan schemes who gave workers and businesses assurances, even though the Treasury had made it clear that the schemes were unacceptable? Should they not be brought to book? Have any of them been convicted yet?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right and HMRC will continue to take firm action against those who promote tax avoidance schemes. As he will know, and I think has been made public, it currently has more than 100 promoters under civil inquiry. It is important to be clear that although there are no criminal offences of promoting or marketing tax avoidance schemes specifically, HMRC may conduct criminal investigations and make referrals to prosecuting authorities where, for example, there is evidence that promoters have deliberately misrepresented the facts to it.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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Perfectly innocent working people are caught in a terrible trap here and there have already been several suicides. HMRC said that

“teams are trained to identify customers who are anxious, worried or need extra support to ensure they get the help they need.”

Will the Minister confirm whether those people have had that training? Will a dedicated helpline be set up to help people who are under huge stress?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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The hon. Gentleman is right that there is stress, but he should also be clear that a large number of people have been systematically using those means to avoid paying tax, and the potential amount payable is more than £3 billion. He should be protective of the tax base more widely when he reflects on those matters. He is right that HMRC is taking careful steps to ensure that it protects and supports those who may be in genuine difficulty, and those who have other personal concerns can of course be referred to outside agencies.

Justine Greening Portrait Justine Greening (Putney) (Con)
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The reality is that many people caught up in the loan charge scandal were effectively mis-sold schemes that they were told had been QC vetted and were perfectly legal. That is underlined by the fact that no criminal charges are being pursued against any of the individuals who sold the schemes. Is it not time for this fresh Minister to take a fresh look at the Treasury’s approach to all this?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I think that my right hon. Friend misstates the case. A disclosure of tax avoidance number was associated with a large number of those cases. The people knew that they were in schemes that were potentially suspect. Every person is responsible for signing off their own tax return. I trust that my right hon. Friend will be reassured by the fact that recently six individuals were arrested on suspicion of promoting fraudulent loan charge arrangements. That speaks to a wider picture.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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20. Economic crime defrauds the Exchequer of countless billions in revenue. Two and a half years ago, the Ministry of Justice launched a call for evidence on corporate liability for that. Incredibly, as of this morning, it says it is still analysing the evidence that it received. Clearly, cracking the problem is critical to the Treasury’s funding public services. What are Treasury Ministers doing to wake their colleagues up?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I can only admire the ingenuity of a man who can crowbar a question about the Ministry of Justice, unrelated to the loan charge, into this issue. Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that regardless of what may be the case on that, HMRC is taking tens of billions of pounds, relating to avoidance and evasion matters, that are due. He should be very grateful and delighted about that.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
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The loan charge all-party group claims evidence for four suicides relating to the loan charge and HMRC has referred itself with respect to one. When I asked a parliamentary written question on the assessment the Treasury had made of the impact of the loan charge on the mental health of the people subject to pursuit, the answer was, to put it mildly, less than satisfactory. Will the Minister now tell us what effect the Treasury believes its policy has had on the mental health of all the people subject to pursuit in both the public and private sectors?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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May I put on record my surprise that a former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, with its concern for the public finances, should take that view? Some people may have been very adversely affected in mental health terms and we must protect them at all times using all proper measures. HMRC is attempting to do that. However, there is a much larger number of people who are simply seeking to avoid paying tax due.

Nic Dakin Portrait Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
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People were told that they could work particular jobs if they took on this way of remuneration. Will that be considered? Will the Minister take on board what the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) said and just take a fresh look at this issue?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I remind the hon. Gentleman that there were other signs that indicated to people that they were in tax avoidance schemes—for example, a very low or relatively low effective rate of tax. The signs were there and people would have been right to pick up on them. Even if they were mis-sold, that does not have a bearing on the question of whether tax is now due.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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7. What steps his Department is taking to tackle stakeholders’ concerns on the roll-out of the off-payroll working rules to the private sector.

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
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In response to stakeholder representations at Budget 2018, the Government announced that the extension of the off-payroll working rules reform would not take effect until April 2020. That was designed to allow organisations more time to prepare. The reform will also not apply to the smallest 1.5 million organisations. The Government have now consulted on the detailed design of the reform. Responses to that consultation will be taken into account when drafting the legislation.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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Nevertheless, there are concerns within the private sector about the forthcoming adoption of IR35. What lessons are there from its application to the public sector?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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That is a very important question. I hope my hon. Friend will be reassured. Independent research shows that the public sector reform has been meeting its objective of improving compliance with existing off-payroll working rules without disrupting public services or reducing labour market flexibility. The Government recognise that the private sector is much more diverse, but HMRC will continue to work with stakeholders to improve employment status checks and associated guidance. It will also provide a significant package of education and support to businesses to help with implementation.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)
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It is only correct that contractors pay their fair share of tax, but the IR35 rule fails to equalise tax equally between them and employees, and is overly bureaucratic. Will the Minister join me in urging the Chancellor to ensure that the 2019 Budget and Finance Bill improve the rule or scraps it altogether?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is only about a 10% compliance rate with proper tax payable in this sector. He should therefore be applauding, as I am, the means to raise the level of compliance. In many ways, this is a simplification of the rules, which is being carefully and deliberately handled.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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8. What recent representations he has received from the Secretary of State for Education on the level of Government funding for early years education.

Elizabeth Truss Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Elizabeth Truss)
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I regularly meet the Secretary of State for Education to talk about education funding. This issue will be settled as part of the spending review.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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I hope the Chief Secretary has learned from those conversations and will go out to talk to early years providers. The shortfall in funding is having a huge impact. I visited a nursery in my constituency recently and it is clear that it is the staff who are bearing the brunt of it. They are on only just above minimum wage. I cannot help thinking that if the people working there were not women perhaps their work would be valued more. Will she ensure that she makes representations, when the spending review comes, on lifting the freeze?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I point out to the hon. Lady that we are spending a record amount on childcare and early years support—£6 billion a year, which is £700 million more than in 2015—but of course we will look at representations as we go forward into the spending review and make sure we treat all parts of education fairly.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister look particularly at funding for two-year-olds? Providers of early years education in my constituency tell me they lose money on providing that service for two-year-olds because there are significant additional costs in looking after two-year-olds but only a small uplift in the rate paid.

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. We will look at that. It is important to acknowledge the progress this Government have made by introducing 30 hours of childcare for three and four-year-olds with working parents and 15 hours of childcare for children with parents on low incomes. Those are important steps. Of course, we will look in the spending review at the rates and ensure they are fair right across the country.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Children with higher educational needs are losing out even more. My local authority overspent by £760,000 last year and will overspend by £1.3 million this year and £1.9 million next year. Those children need this vital support in order to grow. Will the Minister look at the funding of the higher needs budget to ensure that local authorities can support those families?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is certainly right that we have seen demand for special educational needs funding rise. We need to look at that as part of the spending review, from both a local government point of view and a Department for Education point of view.

Kirstene Hair Portrait Kirstene Hair (Angus) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. What steps he is taking to maintain access to cash.

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the benefits that electronic payments are bringing to people and businesses across the UK. However, the Government recognise the importance of cash to many, particularly the most vulnerable members of society. That is why we have committed to safeguarding access to cash for those who need it. In the light of changing payment trends, the Government have created the Joint Authorities Cash Strategy Group. That Treasury-led group will seek to bring together the regulators and the Bank of England to inform and co-ordinate members’ activities related to cash and safeguard access for those who need it.

Kirstene Hair Portrait Kirstene Hair
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recently sent a survey about access to cash to thousands of my constituents. There was an overwhelming response, because they are terrified that we are going far too fast into a cashless society. The next time the Minister meets banks, will he raise with them the impact that rural banking hubs could have on our local communities, just as the pilot business hub has had in Birmingham?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise my hon. Friend’s excellent campaigning on this matter, which we have had meetings to discuss. The Government have no direct role in the matter, but we recognise the role that banking hubs have played for businesses across six trial sites. We are looking at that carefully, and I will be very happy to raise it with the banks when I meet them next.

Melanie Onn Portrait Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Government commit to working with cash machine suppliers to ensure that cash withdrawals remain free across the board? Charges disproportionately affect those on lower incomes, who make smaller cash withdrawals.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. We are looking into that. The Payment Systems Regulator, which was set up four years ago, is responsible for overseeing LINK. It has two schemes in place to safeguard access to cash in the most impoverished communities and to ensure that, when an ATM is vulnerable to closure, there is a responsibility to keep it open if constituents would have to go more than 1 km to access cash.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21. The town of Bungay has been without a bank branch and a free-to-use 24/7 town centre ATM since last May. That is causing serious challenges for traders, the elderly and those managing on a tight budget. Will the Minister put in place a regulatory framework to reverse this regressive trend?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I acknowledge the difficult situation that my hon. Friend has in Bungay. The Government-established Payment Systems Regulator is closely monitoring developments in ATM provision and, as I said, there are mechanisms in place to intervene. I am very happy to meet him to discuss the application of those to the situation in Bungay.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given that post offices and credit unions provide easy access to cash, is it not now time to offer business rates relief to both to enhance the provision of cash and other affordable financial services?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course small businesses receive that relief. The Chancellor will have heard that representation for the next fiscal event, but it is not a matter that I can comment on specifically at this point.

Toby Perkins Portrait Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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11. What discussions he has had with the high street banking sector on closures of the last bank in (a) Staveley, Derbyshire and (b) towns throughout the UK.

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While branch closures are commercial decisions for banks, I regularly engage with all key stakeholders on this issue and I recognise that it can be very difficult for some constituents, particularly if a branch is the last one in a community. The major banks have signed up to the access to banking standard, overseen by the Lending Standards Board, and that commits them to work with communities to minimise the impact of branch closures.

Toby Perkins Portrait Toby Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When the Government bailed out the banks, it was partly in recognition of the fact that banks were public services as well as profit-making businesses. I am disturbed—as will be the people of Staveley—by the Minister’s hands-off approach. Do not the Government either need to sit down with the banks and ensure they have a real commitment to having a bank branch in towns such as Staveley or adopt Labour’s proposal for a post bank so that we can have some Government control to make sure we have services where they are desperately needed?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have looked into the situation in Staveley and it will be served by a mobile bank following the closure. The post office, where a 24-hour ATM is available, is just a six-minute walk from Lloyds. The number of people visiting the counter at Lloyds bank in Staveley fell by 22% in the last year, so it is understandable why Lloyds has made that decision. The Government’s investment in the Post Office and its banking services facility is our solution.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister should make no mistake: communities up and down Britain are being deliberately starved of cash and banking services as the banks, with the support of Government, are trying to create a near cashless society. Can he say a bit more about what he is doing to help the more than 1 million poorer people who do not have access to a bank account?

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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A bit more, but not too much more.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise the difficulty and I am happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the issues in his constituency. We have invested considerably in the post office network and I am meeting the Lending Standards Board to look at the mechanism for transfer to the Post Office and to consider solutions on a case-by-case basis.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
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12. Whether he plans to launch a three-year spending review before the summer recess; and if he will make a statement.

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr Philip Hammond)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the right hon. Gentleman would have heard me say if he had been in his place earlier, I announced in the spring statement that it is the Government’s intention to conduct a three-year spending review, concluding this autumn, subject to a deal with the EU being completed. He asks whether I plan to launch the spending review before the summer recess: I can tell him that Departments have already been commissioned to carry out the work necessary for such a review. It must be for the new Government to decide, in the circumstances, whether it is appropriate to conduct a full three-year spending review or a one-year exercise.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can assure the Chancellor that I saw him give that response on television earlier. What would be the impact on the comprehensive spending review of either the proposal of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), for a £13 billion cut in corporation tax and a £12 billion increase in defence spending, or the proposal of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) for a £9 billion higher rate income tax threshold cut, £11 billion national insurance contributions cut and showing the public sector “some love”? Would those unfunded bribes be paid for by tax increases, cuts in services or both?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I fear that the right hon. Gentleman is manifestly asking the wrong person that question. I literally cannot answer it. The purpose of a spending review is that such matters can be looked at in the round, and the responsible way to do a spending review is first to set the envelope of what is affordable, and then to look at the different bids, which will—I can confidently predict—greatly exceed the available spending power, and prioritise. That is the difficult business of government, and that is why I am not in favour of ad hoc spending commitments or tax cut commitments being made.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Chancellor is a clever chap, but his capacities do not include the capacity to penetrate the minds of colleagues, especially those in competitive vote-seeking mode.

Sarah Newton Portrait Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Homes England indicates a current pipeline of some 15,000 community- led homes in England. That shows the significant positive impact of the community housing fund. Will my right hon. Friend confirm the continuance of the fund so that those much-needed homes can be built?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my hon. Friend knows, we have signed off the Truro funding decision, and I am sure she is happy about that. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that dealing with the challenges in the housing market is a priority for the Government, and in the spending review we will continue to prioritise funds to support both the housing market and the provision of social and affordable housing.

Chuka Umunna Portrait Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal and the Chancellor is still in his post, does he envisage there being enough fiscal headroom following the spending review to give the top 10% of earners a tax cut worth more than £9 billion? Surely that is wholly unjustified.

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the hon. Gentleman has sketched a highly unlikely scenario, but I can answer his question. We have built up about £26 billion or £27 billion of fiscal headroom, and the purpose of that headroom is precisely to protect the UK economy from the immediate effects of a possible no-deal exit. I have no doubt whatsoever that in the event of a no-deal exit we will need all that money and more to respond to the immediate impacts of the consequent disruption, which will mean that no money will be available for longer-term tax cuts or spending increases.

Let me go further: the Government’s analysis suggests that in the event of a disruptive no-deal exit there would be a hit to the Exchequer of about £90 billion, and that will also have to be factored into future spending and tax decisions.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
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I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that we need to be careful with our spending pledges, but I think that investment spending is different, particularly when the investment is in the north. Has my right hon. Friend had time to consider our letter of 29 April—signed by 80 parliamentarians—which calls for £120 billion of investment spending over 30 years and a bringing forward of the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are committed to investment in infrastructure. One of the things that I have done in my three years as Chancellor is move the balance of spending towards investment in economic infrastructure, and we now have the highest level of public capital investment for 40 years. We have a National Infrastructure Commission to set long-term guidance for the Government on how to invest in infrastructure investment, and that will be considered in the zero-based capital spending review that sits alongside the main spending review. However, I assure my hon. Friend that this Government are committed to investing in the productive capacity of the UK economy, because it is the only way to raise real wages and living standards, and that is what government is all about.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of his fiscal policy on living standards.

Robert Jenrick Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Robert Jenrick)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government’s decisions on tax, welfare and spending on public services have benefited households across income distribution, with the poorest gaining the most as a percentage of net income. That is supported by the distribution analysis published by the Treasury at the time of the most recent Budget.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is nonsense. The UK is already the most unequal society in Europe, and the gap is becoming wider. In order to mitigate the worst welfare cuts and reforms, the Scottish Government are having to pay out £125 million this year alone. The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has said that the situation is “unsustainable”. Does the Minister agree that instead of arguing about tax cuts for the rich, Westminster needs to reverse those welfare cuts?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The United Kingdom is not the most unequal society in Europe; it is not anything like that. The Government’s policies, such as our policies of investing in infrastructure and in boosting productivity, have been designed to level up the parts of the UK that need it the most. When it comes to poverty and living standards, things are improving. Real wages have been rising for 10 consecutive months, and more people are in work. In the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, unemployment has fallen by 60% since 2010.

Gareth Snell Portrait Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

23. One way in which the Minister could easily help to raise living standards would be to pay those under 25 the same national living wage rates as those over 25. I know he will not announce that at the Dispatch Box, but will he tell us what concessions under-25s are given in their housing costs, insurance costs and living costs that warrant their being paid less than those over 25?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our priority has been getting young people into work. In 2010 we inherited a youth unemployment rate of 20%; we have almost halved that. The priority for this Government will be ensuring young people get a great education; more young people are in good or outstanding schools than when we came into power in 2010, and we want them to get apprenticeships and get into work and get on in life.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
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14. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that charities are able to claim timely VAT refunds.

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Having run a capital project myself, I am keenly aware of the importance of good cash flow; I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. HMRC receives more than 2 million VAT repayment forms a year, and in 2017, the latest year for which figures are available, over 90% of them were paid within five days of receipt. A supplement is paid if it takes more than 30 days before payment is made, and HMRC also has a free dedicated charities help desk designed to help organisations with their tax inquiries.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Hodgson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4Louis is a charity set up in Sunderland in the memory of Louis, who was stillborn in 2009. It fundraised and built the Louis bereavement suite at Sunderland Royal hospital at a cost of £75,000, some £12,500 of which was paid in VAT. Another suite is planned at Durham at a cost of £100,000 and £20,000 of that is VAT. These huge amounts of VAT could be used by the charity to build another bereavement suite. What advice can the Minister give to it specifically on how it can attempt to get this VAT back?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady will understand that a range of schemes is available for some parts of the charitable sector. We recognise the concern that the hon. Lady is expressing; I cannot deal with individual cases, but obviously if she wants to write to me on the wider issue I will be happy to take it up with HMRC.

Mark Garnier Portrait Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A much loved local provider of employment for my constituents with learning disabilities has been forced to consider closure after a change in interpretation of the VAT rules regarding the provision of services under the personal payments arrangements; the retrospective VAT bill of around £150,000 means that Spokes, the trading arm of the charity the Emily Jordan Foundation, faces closure with the subsequent loss of a very important local resource. Will my hon. Friend consider meeting with Chris Jordan on behalf of the charity in order to discuss a way forward that can save this incredibly important local business?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, I absolutely recognise the concern, although of course I am not familiar with the details. I cannot get involved in a specific case, but my hon. Friend is welcome to write to me and I will refer the matter to HMRC.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr Philip Hammond)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My principal focus is to ensure the continued resilience of the UK economy and public finances at this time of uncertainty. Thanks to the hard work of the British people, our national debt is now falling sustainably for the first time in a generation, but it is still too high and it is vital that the Government continue to get debt down to ensure that the economy is resilient against future shocks, to prevent the wasting of billions of pounds more on debt interest payments, and to avoid burdening the next generation.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Since 2013 this Government have given tax handouts worth £4.1 billion to the big alcohol corporations at a time when the NHS is short of 40,000 nurses. Would it not be a sensible choice to invest in the nurses, doctors and police officers who have to deal with the problems caused by cheap alcohol?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have done so: by 2023-24 we will be spending an extra £34 billion a year on the national health service. That is a record cash injection to our national health service, which represents this Government’s commitment to it.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T5. Will my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirm that he is absolutely committed to maintaining the independence of the Bank of England?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Philip Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, it is a vital cornerstone of our institutional structure that the Bank of England remains independent, and those who have suggested that they would seek to politicise appointments to the Bank of England would be doing a great disservice to this country and our economy.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Chancellor, like most of us, has been watching the accumulation of spending promises by the Tory leadership candidates. They amount now—[Interruption.] They amount now to nearly £100 billion, and one of the Chancellor’s colleagues commented yesterday that they make me look like a fiscal moderate. May I ask the Chancellor what impact this level of unfunded commitments would have on his economic strategy, or can he tell us how they could possibly be funded?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are many people who could comment on spending commitments that have been made by candidates in the Tory leadership competition, but the right hon. Gentleman is not one of them.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me try this one. Both Tory leadership candidates are threatening no deal. This morning, the Chancellor has eloquently set out the consequences of no deal. Bearing in mind what he said, may I ask him very straightforwardly whether he will join us and commit himself to doing everything he possibly can to oppose the Prorogation of Parliament to try to sneak no deal through, and also to voting against no deal?

With your permission, Mr Speaker, if I may: this might be the Chancellor’s last Treasury questions and I just want to thank him for the civility with which he has always maintained our relationship. I also admit that there have been times when we have enjoyed his dry sense of humour. I gave his predecessor a little red book as a present. We have another red book today, but this is a guide to London’s rebel walks and we hope that he will enjoy it in his leisure periods.

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is very kind of the right hon. Gentleman; I much prefer this little red book to the one he gave my predecessor, although I have to say that I have not read this one and I have read the other one.

On the broader question, I have been consistently clear that I believe that a no-deal exit would be bad for the UK, bad for the British economy and bad for the British people. We cannot rule out that happening, because it is not entirely in our hands, but I agree with him that it would be wrong for a British Government to seek to pursue no deal as a policy. I believe that it will be for the House of Commons, of which I will continue proudly to be a Member, to ensure that that does not happen.

None Portrait Hon. Members
- Hansard -

Hear, hear!

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you.

Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian  Sturdy  (York Outer) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6.   My constituent Karen Harrison-Taylor’s parents are among the tens of thousands of pensioners who are stranded in their homes due to shared appreciation mortgages saddling them with debts of up to nine times their original loan. What steps are being taken to assist those who are unfairly tied up in these schemes?

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Borrowers who believe that they have been mis-sold a shared appreciation mortgage are able to take their complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The Government are unable to comment on group action cases relating to this issue as we have no role in deciding whether cases may be heard in court. I note that the annual review of the Financial Ombudsman Service in 2003-04 said that in most cases it had not upheld complaints of shared appreciation mortgage mis-selling due to the information being satisfactory. That is the situation at the moment.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has much good advice given to him, but is he picking up the nightmare scenarios that I am getting from senior business people in the north of England who fear that we are heading for a new global economic meltdown? They believe that that, combined with our crashing out of the European Union, would be a disaster for their businesses and for the country.

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Philip Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to storm clouds over the global economy. We tend to focus on Brexit-related issues and the domestic agenda, but I have just come back from the G20 in Osaka, and looking more widely, we can see that global growth is slowing and that global trade growth is slowing even more dramatically. A great deal hinges on finding a solution to the disputes between China and the United States. It is hugely in our interests that that dispute is resolved and that normal trading relations are resumed between the world’s two economic superpowers. As a middle-sized open economy, we are bound to be adversely affected if global trade slows down.

Colin Clark Portrait Colin Clark (Gordon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T7. Dean’s short- bread, based in Gordon, has been encouraged by the annual investment allowance to invest in new facilities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this policy is stimulating business to release pent-up investment and that it demonstrates the confidence of UK companies?

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to hear the news of new investment in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I take my hat off to Dean’s shortbread. As he knows, the two-year increase in the annual investment allowance, which the Chancellor announced in the Budget, is helping firms right across the country to invest in new plant and machinery. It gives 100% first-year tax relief on the first £1 million of eligible investments and helps small and medium-sized firms such as Dean’s shortbread to continue to grow.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T3. The west midlands has seen knife crime rise by 106% in the past five years, the average time for the Crown Prosecution Service to reach a decision has increased by 64% since 2013, and more than 2,000 police officers have been lost since austerity began in 2010. Will the Chief Secretary to the Treasury make money available to reverse 10 years of Government cuts to police services to ensure that my constituents can feel safe?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Elizabeth Truss)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I reassure the hon. Lady that we have already put additional funding into the police grant, and we have raised spending power such that it increases in real terms. Additional surge funding has been put into the west midlands to acknowledge the specific issues in that area.

Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T8. I congratulate my right hon. Friend and this Government on the net zero emissions climate change commitment. What are his plans to achieve that goal?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Philip Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We made an announcement this morning about our plans for green finance. Over the coming months and years, it will be essential to demonstrate how we are able to mobilise our capital markets and the instruments of a market economy to deliver on this huge enterprise. If we do not demonstrate how the market economy can provide solutions to decarbonising our economy, there are others with alternative solutions to present.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. During the Department for International Development estimates debate yesterday, there was a clear consensus across the House that the 0.7% of GDP aid commitment should remain and, for that matter, that DFID should remain an independent Department. Will the Chancellor restate that that remains the whole of Government policy, and does he believe that it should continue to be Government policy after 24 or 25 July?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Philip Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, that position is enshrined in statute, and only this House of Commons could change it.

Royston Smith Portrait Royston Smith (Southampton, Itchen) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

More of my Southampton constituents are in work than ever before, but many of their jobs are low-paid, with few career prospects, if any. What are the Government doing to improve employment opportunities for my constituents?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have worked hard to build a stronger, fairer economy, dealing with the deficit that we inherited, helping people into work and cutting taxes for people, families and businesses, and the result is that the economy has grown continuously for the past nine years. Employment is currently at record high levels, unemployment is currently at the joint lowest rate since 1975, and real wages are rising again. We have created 3.5 million new jobs, but the next stage must be about increasing real wages by raising productivity, because that is the only sustainable way to raise the living standards of working people in this country.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T10. Last month, the Wandsworth food bank published its yearly report. It showed that 5,770 emergency food parcels were handed out in a year—a 76% increase over five years; that nearly half of referrals were due to problems with social security, specifically the five-week wait for universal credit; and that nearly two thirds of those supported by a food bank adviser were disabled or had a long-term health condition. The consequence of Tory austerity is that record numbers of people are relying on charity to eat. Since this is probably the Chancellor’s final oral questions in post, may I ask whether he is proud of that legacy?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The reality is that that we have got a record number of people into work. Universal credit has been shown to help more families get into work, and it has made work pay. We have also made adjustments to universal credit to shorten the wait time, and we have put in an extra £630 a week for families.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It has been a while since I asked the Chancellor about the blockchain and distributed ledger technology, so I was hoping that he could present an update on how the Treasury is embracing this new technology.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The UK’s digital economy is thriving and is growing 10 times as fast as the wider economy. We are pursuing a range of measures to reinforce that leading position, and that involves implementing a 10-year action plan to unlock over £20 billion in finance growth in innovative firms and a further £7 billion for research and development since 2016, with internationally competitive research and development tax reliefs to support investment.

Diana Johnson Portrait Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has just pointed out, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has made £30 billion-worth of spending pledges and the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) has made £13 billion-worth of pledges. The Chancellor has said it will not happen on his watch, but that seems to suggest that a magic money tree has been found in the barren soil of the no deal for which we seem to be heading.

I want to ask the Chancellor about the pledges announced by the current Prime Minister in the past few weeks, which unfortunately have not included any compensation for the infected blood community. How have the Chancellor and the Treasury prioritised and costed those announcements?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Prime Minister has made a number of announcements since 23 May, including on modern slavery and mental health. All these announcements have been costed and are affordable within existing budgets for 2019-20.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that dementia care is adequately funded in the next spending review?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a very good point about dementia care, which is one of the issues that will be looked at as part of the long-term plan for health. Due to the fiscal responsibility exercised by this Government, we are able to put extra money into health services to deal with issues such as dementia.

Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Chancellor’s remarks about a no-deal Brexit and the disaster it would be for our country, costing jobs and livelihoods. Does he agree that both Conservative leadership candidates, who support a no-deal Brexit, should stop selling out the country to serve their own political ambitions? Will he commit to joining us in voting against a no deal when and if he returns to the Back Benches, and to voting with us on a no-confidence motion, if it comes to that, to stop a no deal?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Philip Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At this stage of my career, I will not speculate on my future actions. What I will say is that the Government’s analysis shows that a no-deal exit would mean that all the regions, nations and sectors of the UK economy have lower economic output compared with today’s arrangements and compared with the White Paper scenario that the Government set out. It is important we all understand that preparing for a no deal, which is a perfectly sensible thing to do because it might happen to us without our volition, is not the same as avoiding the effects of a no deal.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Net zero emissions by 2050 is a desirable but very costly policy. Does the Chancellor agree that we must do everything to protect low-income families in my Cleethorpes constituency and elsewhere from bearing an unfair burden?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes. This is a huge commitment, but it is the right commitment to make. The Committee on Climate Change recommended that the Treasury should undertake a review of the funding and financing mechanisms to ensure that this huge undertaking can be funded, and that it will be funded in a way that is fair to families, households and businesses across the UK, which is exactly what we will do.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The “All Kids Count” report, on the impact of the two-child limit after two years, was published last week by the Church of England, the Child Poverty Action Group, Women’s Aid, Turn2us and the Refugee Council. The report illustrates the devastating impact of the two-child policy, particularly on working families who are unable to compensate for the £2,780 a year cut by working longer hours. Before the Chancellor leaves office, will he scrap the two-child policy and its devastating impact on families?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The universal credit policy has been designed to make sure that people who are being supported by the Government are in a similar position to families who have to make their own financial decisions based on the wages they earn every week.

Jeremy Lefroy Portrait Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The decision by the European Union to suspend the equivalence agreement with Switzerland seems to be very damaging. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has done a fantastic job over the past few years. Will he confirm whether the United Kingdom was consulted on whether the decision should go ahead?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have been closely involved in this issue, discussing it both in the EU and with the Swiss. I can tell the House that although on the face of it the withdrawal of equivalence had a very significant effect on the ability of UK shareholders to trade Swiss shares on the Swiss stock exchange, the measures that the European Securities and Markets Authority announced on Friday significantly mitigate the impact. So we very much hope that the European Union and Switzerland will be able to reach agreement, and of course there is a very direct relevance to the UK’s own negotiations with the European Union.

Ruth George Portrait Ruth George (High Peak) (Lab)
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Will the Chancellor commit to enabling the 120,000 families on very low incomes who find out about a tax credit overpayment when they claim universal credit to have a fair chance to appeal against those deductions averaging £1,500 being made and to giving them a chance to raise themselves out of poverty?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the question, and I am happy to refer her to the welfare Secretary on the matter.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con)
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Does the Chancellor share my concern about the way some local councils are misusing Public Works Loan Board loans to speculate on commercial property, including many in Surrey?

Lord Hammond of Runnymede Portrait Mr Hammond
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My hon. Friend knows that I do share his concerns on this matter. The Public Works Loan Board is there to support local authorities’ capital spending. Some of the development activities of local authorities are perfectly legitimate: for example, the regeneration of urban areas. What is not legitimate is local authorities arbitraging the low interest rates of the PWLB to buy commercial property for yield, in order to develop income-yielding property portfolios. The Treasury is looking at how we can manage that situation.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. We have now had 20 topical questions. Whether this is the Chancellor’s last appearance at the Dispatch Box as Chancellor remains to be seen, but whether it is or not, he will always be able to tell his children that demand for him exceeded supply of him. He can say to them proudly, “I always left them wanting more of me.”

Business without Debate

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Constitutional Law

That the draft Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modification) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 16 May, be approved.—(Mike Freer.)

Question agreed to.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I remind the House that I have certified that the regulations apply exclusively to England. The motion could have been subject to double majority voting: the whole House and those representing constituencies in England.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)).

Community Infrastructure Levy

That the draft Community Infrastructure Levy (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 4 June, be approved.—(Mike Freer.)

Question agreed to.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am intrigued by the double majority that was required on a voice vote. I wonder whether your ears are so skilfully attuned now that you can distinguish the Ayes and Noes between Members representing seats north and south of the border.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I did not think that an abnormal level of skill was required. It was evident to me that the motion had been agreed to. The question of whether an abnormal level of skill would have been available to me is hypothetical and it would be immodest of me to answer the question in the affirmative. As I treat of the matter as hypothetical and am not required to answer, and as I note from the beaming countenance of the hon. Gentleman that he is teasing me, I take it in the spirit in which he has done so and proceed to the petition in the name of Mr John Howell.

Petition

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
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I present a petition that has been signed by 406 residents of the village of Woodcote in my constituency and by surrounding villages that feed into the school of Langtree. The purpose of the petition is to try to remove once and for all issues over school funding. This is a similar petition to the one that I submitted in connection with Henley itself a little while ago.

The petition states that the petition of the residents of Woodcote, Oxfordshire, of friends of Langtree School and of those from surrounding villages declares that a funding review is needed in relation to Langtree school; further that this school funding review should address how funding increases will be made in relation to schools in the Henley constituency in real terms beyond the amounts already being spent on schools and how to eliminate the gap between the best and lowest funded schools in the constituency; further that there must be a review of areas of inflationary pressures and situations where schools provide additional services such as social care, or deal with criminal behaviour to examine the real costs of providing education; further that there must be an assessment into the extent and access to capital funding; further that the Basic Entitlement must form an appropriate percentage of the National Funding Formula used locally; further that the Department and Treasury must ensure that small primary schools in the constituency remain integral to their communities.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[ The petition of residents of Woodcote and friends of Langtree School,

Declares that a funding review is needed in relation to schools in the Henley constituency; further that this school funding review should address how funding increases will be made in relation to schools in the Henley constituency in real terms beyond the amounts already being spent on schools and how to eliminate the gap between the best and lowest funded schools in the constituency; further that there must be a review of areas of inflationary pressures and situations where schools provide additional services such as social care, or deal with criminal behaviour to examine the real costs of providing education; further that there must be an assessment into the extent and access to capital funding; further that the Basic Entitlement must form an appropriate percentage of the National Funding Formula used locally; further that the Department and Treasury must ensure that small primary schools in the constituency remain integral to their communities.

The petitioners therefore request the House of Commons to ask the Department of Education and the Treasury to conduct a review of school funding in Henley that addresses the issues stated above, in advance of the Comprehensive Spending Review; and further requests that the findings of this review are communicated to the House of Commons.

And the petitioners remain, etc.]

[P002483]

Hong Kong

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

12:42
Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government’s response to yesterday’s protests in Hong Kong.

Alan Duncan Portrait The Minister for Europe and the Americas (Sir Alan Duncan)
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For a number of weeks now, the world has been watching massive yet largely peaceful protests in Hong Kong in opposition to the proposed extradition legislation. Unfortunately, a small number of protesters chose to vandalise the premises of the Legislative Council yesterday. Her Majesty’s Government strongly condemn any such violence but also understand the deep-seated concerns that people in Hong Kong have about their rights and freedoms. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the 1 July march yesterday did so in a peaceful and lawful manner.

The UK is fully committed to upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms under the One country, two systems principle, which is guaranteed by the legally binding joint declaration of 1984. We reject the Chinese Government’s assertion that the joint declaration is an “historic document”, by which they mean that it is no longer valid, and that our rights and obligations under that treaty have ended. Our clear view is that the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984 obliges the Chinese Government to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and its rights and freedoms, and we call on the Chinese Government to do so. In respect of the recent demonstrations, the main responsibility for addressing this tension rests with the Government of Hong Kong, including the Chief Executive.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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I thank the Minister for that statement. May I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for again allowing an urgent question on this ever-increasing and serious matter, which is heard not just in this country, but throughout the world? Last night, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) organised a meeting in the House under the auspices of Hong Kong Watch, and she and I co-chaired it. It was a very well attended and, sadly, timely meeting, with more than 100 people, mostly Hong Kongers, present. The message from that meeting, especially from activists such as Tommy Cheung and Willis Ho, was clear: they worry that the Government of the People’s Republic of China will see yesterday’s events as an excuse for ever more direct intervention in Hong Kong’s affairs. They want to hear that this country will continue to stand with them against that threat.

Unfortunately, the images that dominated our television screens yesterday were those of the occupation of the Legislative Council building. There was much less coverage of the fact that on Monday, half a million families, young children and older people marched down major roads in peaceful protests. In his representations to Carrie Lam’s Administration, will the Minister make it as clear as possible that any consequences for the actions of the hundreds of protesters in the LegCo building should not be visited on the many thousands—in fact, millions—of people who have protested on Hong Kong’s streets in recent weeks?

The images broadcast around the world yesterday were ones of violence and vandalism, but they were also images of fear and frustration from people who are increasingly desperate that the world looks on at their plight and will do no more than wring its hands. Will the Minister make it clear to Carrie Lam that there is much more that she and her Administration can do to reassure her own population? It is surely clear to all that a suspension—even a suspension sine die—of the Bill to allow for the amendment of the extradition arrangements is not enough. The people of Hong Kong need to hear that the Bill has been abandoned completely.

The Hong Kong police have described the victims of police violence in recent weeks as rioters, when we know that they were peaceful protesters. Will the Minister impress on the Executive that such use of language must be withdrawn? Will the Executive instigate an independent inquiry into the police violence on 12 June?

Finally, the Chinese Foreign Ministry yesterday declared the Sino-British joint declaration to be meaningless. I welcome the Minister’s repudiation of that from the Dispatch Box, but will the Government now consider all meaningful sanctions at our disposal, including the possible use of Magnitsky powers, to ensure that those who infringe the human rights of the people of Hong Kong will have no hiding place in the United Kingdom?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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First, I genuinely acknowledge and recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s interest in and deep knowledge of this issue, and I commend him for the activity that he generates in the House, which is shared in by so many other Members from all parties. I thank him for his analysis and for what I consider to be a measured series of questions that go very much to the point. We all agree with him that any actions taken in response to the vandalism that took place should be proportionate and within the rule of law, and should not be taken against larger numbers than those who were actually involved in that vandalism.

As the right hon. Gentleman recognises, and as I said in my opening remarks, a lot of the ability to address the tension rests with the Government of Hong Kong and the Chief Executive Carrie Lam, in respect of the extradition legislation that has generated so much protest. Whereas we fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the joint declaration remains valid—again, I said that in my opening remarks—we are not here to dictate and instruct either the Chinese Government, or that of Hong Kong itself, to do what we believe they should be doing within the autonomy that has properly been granted to them. I am sure the House will appreciate the delicacy of our wanting to uphold the rule of law while having to be careful not to instruct either Government about what they should do in specific detail.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
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It is good to see my right hon. Friend responding on this matter; his broad wingspan now covers yet more of the planet.

The disgraceful behaviour of the demonstrators who entered LegCo yesterday and the misuse of the Union flag should be noted by Parliament, as should the damage done to the case that they are making. I looked at the statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, who said that

“the SAR government decided to suspend work on the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019.”

He also said:

“The Chinese Central Government expresses its support, respect and understanding for the SAR government's decision”.

Surely a period of dialogue and discussion is now required to try to reach a mutually agreed solution to this complex problem.

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing out that I am answering questions that do not normally fall within my responsibility. My wingspan has stretched wider than I or any Member would normally expect.

My right hon. Friend is far more expert on this issue than I am, but the one point on which we can all agree is that a period of de-escalation and dialogue would be far preferable to any continuing tension and violence. I very much hope that all those who are involved in this issue can pause for thought and try to plot a way through this without further escalating any kind of conflict.

Helen Goodman Portrait Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
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The Hong Kong situation is spiralling out of control very fast now. It is unfortunate that, in the absence of a Minister with responsibility for the far east, the Foreign Secretary is not in his place. I agree with the remarks of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). He set out well the events of yesterday. I want to concentrate on four questions for the Government. First, Hong Kongers have made it abundantly clear that they want the disastrous extradition laws to be abandoned for good. That is not an unreasonable request. Will the Government finally take the side of the Hong Kong people and call on Carrie Lam to scrap this legislation?

Secondly, I welcome and agree with the Foreign Secretary’s call for a public inquiry into the actions of the Hong Kong police force. Evidence has emerged that the order to fire tear gas on the protesters was given by Superintendent Justin Shave, a British expat now serving with the Hong Kong police, and that two other expat chief superintendents were two of the most senior officers in charge of crowd control on that day in June. What are Ministers doing to bring to book these British citizens who ordered the police brutality?

Thirdly, after firing rubber bullets on the protesters, the Hong Kong authorities accessed hospital data records in order to arrest them. That is random and unfair. Will the Minister join me in condemning this appalling behaviour? Clearly, yesterday the events in the Legislative Council were unacceptable, but the police tactics appeared to have been totally confused. Finally, the root cause of the chaos is the fundamental democratic deficit in Hong Kong. The rights enshrined in the Basic Law and the promises to move towards universal suffrage are being trampled on. When will the Government listen to the voices of the citizens of Hong Kong and put democratic reform back on the agenda?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, let me point out to the hon. Lady that, of course, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would like to be here, but there are compelling reasons for him not being here, given that there are hustings for the leadership after which I very much hope that he will be picked as our next Prime Minister. The hon. Lady’s first question is a matter for Hong Kong and its Government. In respect of an inquiry, my right hon. Friend has already urged the Hong Kong Government to establish a robust investigation into the events of 12 June. With regard to universal suffrage, we believe that the terms of the joint declaration should, of course, be fully upheld.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is not unknown for Communist regimes to insert agents provocateurs into popular movements in order to discredit them? Will he bear in mind that the messages that we send to Communist China—for example, in sucking up to it over issues such as Huawei and our telecommunications infrastructure—need to be looked at through the prism of its human rights abuses?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is not for me to speculate on whether agents provocateurs have been going about such business. That is a matter for the Government of Hong Kong to investigate. In respect of the Chinese Government, the Prime Minister did speak to Chinese Vice Premier Hu on 17 June, and we do speak very directly to them about Hong Kong and, of course, about human rights in general.

Stephen Gethins Portrait Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for once again raising this issue, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. This is a deeply serious matter, and I think that that has been expressed by Members across the House. I welcome the remarks of the Foreign Secretary and of his deputy at the moment, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, that the authorities must engage in a meaningful dialogue and that the preservation of rights and freedoms are critical. I also welcome what was said by our partners in the European Union who have said that these rights need to be respected. There is never an excuse for violence—there cannot be an excuse for violence—but we must reflect on the concerns of non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about the use of torture and also, as has been reflected on by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, the concerns of the overwhelming majority who have undertaken peaceful protest; their voices must not be drowned out over the coming days. It is more important than ever that Hong Kong’s autonomy and the independence of the judicial system are respected. It will be good to hear the Minister’s plans to put that case, and also to urge the Hong Kong authorities to listen to legitimate concerns. The Foreign Office must do what it can to facilitate that and to work, where appropriate, to de-escalate tensions. Now is the time for calm heads.

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has just said. The autonomy of Hong Kong is very important. Hence we have to strike a balance between seeing what is happening but not dictating to Hong Kong how it should respond. On listening to concerns, it is, of course, the responsibility of the Hong Kong Government to listen to the concerns being expressed by their own people, but in terms of us expressing our concerns to them, we do so very forcefully and properly through proper diplomatic channels.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has couched his response in sensibly balanced terms. Does he agree that the Hong Kong Government have said that the extradition Bill will not be brought back to the Legislative Council until it lapses and that it is, therefore, effectively dead? Does he also agree that, whatever the frustrations of some protesters, the vast majority of the half a million people who marched yesterday do not want to see the vandalism that happened at the Legislative Council; and that Her Majesty’s Government should continue to balance strong support for the six freedoms enshrined in the joint declaration with support for the rule of law against violence, and encourage efforts to rebuild trust between the Hong Kong Government and the people of Hong Kong so that that the territory can revert to its peaceful and successful path under the one country, two systems formula?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent and well-informed question. His experience in the far east is very well known and understood by this House. He mentioned the procedural definition of whether the legislation is suspended or effectively dead. That is not quite for me to speculate on. From our own experience, we know the importance of procedure in this House, particularly as we are dealing with certain big issues at the moment that rely on it. As for the freedoms, indeed, the autonomy under the joint declaration is something that must be respected and not in any way diluted.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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May I reiterate the calls from around the House for a calm head and for the violence that started last night to stop? What is being done to try to encourage talks between the student protesters and the LegCo? In particular, how can the Government stress the importance of young people? With just 1,200 people having a say over the leader of the LegCo, how can the concept of democracy, or even a consultation about democracy, get on to the agenda so that young Hong Kong people can feel that they have some hope?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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The Basic Law specifies that the ultimate aim is for both the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council to be elected by universal suffrage, and that objective would be in the best interests of Hong Kong. In the meantime, as the hon. Lady sensibly says, we want to see a cessation of violence and the emergence of a dialogue, which has already been mentioned. In terms of us trying to persuade people to take those steps, I very much hope that this very moment in this House will be noticed in Hong Kong and elsewhere, so that people can see that a wider voice across the world is calling for such things.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Both Carrie Lam and the Chinese Government have repeatedly referred to the importance of upholding the rule of law in response to the protests. The Minister himself has spoken about and affirmed that principle at the Dispatch Box this afternoon, but does he agree that upholding the rule of law cannot be used as a pretext for suppressing legitimate and peaceful protest, and that when we speak about the rule of law we mean respecting absolutely the principle of one country, two systems and protecting basic civil freedoms in Hong Kong?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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Yes. In addition to one country, two systems, the same principles about the rule of law that we would apply here should apply in Hong Kong—that is, that peaceful protest is legitimate and violence is something that we condemn. We can quite understand the grievance felt, and the millions of people who have been taking to the streets show the intensity of that opinion, but in order to be effective protesters must, in their own interests, stick to peaceful protests and not allow a small number of people to destroy the credibility of their actions.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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Behind the specifics of this incident, is there not a bigger, wider and more problematic concern, which is that the Chinese Communist party is fearful of losing its grip on its people? That is why it is tightening its grip—squeezing harder and harder—and Hong Kong is just a tiny aspect of that. Is there not an irony in the fact that China is trying to argue in favour of the rule of law when it constantly flouts the rule of law around the world, even though Hong Kong has done China proud over the last 50 years?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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There is, of course, ample scope for analysing what is going on in Hong Kong within the broader question of what is happening in China and what role China wishes to play within China itself and across the world more widely, so the hon. Gentleman’s question is a valid one. However, with regards to the specific question we are addressing today, we should keep our focus on trying to de-escalate tension in Hong Kong itself so that a path forward can be mapped out for the benefit of everybody there.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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Is China in breach of the joint declaration?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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We obviously call on China fully to adhere to the joint declaration. I hope that will lead to the implementation of the full details under the Basic Law.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC)
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I welcome the decision of the British Government to prohibit the sale of tear gas to Hong Kong. However, the South China Morning Post reports that approved British export licences of lethal weapons to Hong Kong include grenade launchers, mortar bombs, sniper rifles, machine guns and gun silencers. Are the British Government considering those export licences as well?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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The primary focus of anything we have said so far in the context of these demonstrations has been about crowd control equipment. The Foreign Secretary announced on 25 June that we will not issue any further export licences for crowd control equipment to Hong Kong unless we are satisfied that our concerns raised on human rights and fundamental freedoms have been thoroughly addressed.

David Evennett Portrait Sir David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)
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We all condemn the terrible violence that has occurred in Hong Kong over recent days. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential for Hong Kong’s future success that the full extent of its autonomy and rule of law as set out in the joint declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law is implemented? What more can my right hon. Friend do to encourage more dialogue between the parties in Hong Kong?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on Hong Kong’s autonomy and upholding of the rule of law. It may well be that the most constructive way forward is to establish a dialogue in the next few days between the Government of Hong Kong and their own people that can help to reduce the tensions in Hong Kong that we have seen erupt on the streets over the past few weeks.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is very good to see the Minister spreading his wings. In fact, I hope he will soon return to the Dispatch Box to say something about the disgraceful and disturbing decision by the Japanese to start whaling again—killing hundreds of whales this year.

On Hong Kong, the fact of the matter is that what we have seen in the last few days is out of character. My suspicion is, who is going to gain from instability in Hong Kong? Of course, the answer is the Chinese Government, not the Hong Kongese.

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that China should see Hong Kong as something that can benefit China itself. A prosperous and stable Hong Kong is not only good for Hong Kong; it is also good for China. There is a symbiosis that can be mutually beneficial. I very much hope that in honouring the terms of the 1984 agreement in the years ahead, that mutual benefit can be put into practice and that everybody can win from it.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean (Redditch) (Con)
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Hong Kong is a really important partner for the UK because of our past ties and Hong Kong’s potential future prosperity. Will the Minister therefore confirm to the House that freedom of speech will continue to be enshrined in Hong Kong’s basic law as part of the one country, two systems principle, as we would expect from any partner that we trade and work with?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Basic Law will not change. It is there in the 1984 agreement. I hope that all its elements will be fully upheld, and that should include freedom of speech and the proper implementation of the rule of law.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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At a time when democracy and human rights are under attack by authoritarian regimes across the world, it is critical that Britain sets out clearly whose side we are on. I welcome the Minister’s statement that the Sino-British agreement is still valid, but what steps is he taking to validate that validity, as it were? Does he agree with the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, that that might be more effective if we were not simultaneously trying to negotiate a post-Brexit trade agreement with China?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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I do not think that it is really appropriate to link the two. We have the joint declaration in place; it is legally binding until 2047, and we expect China to uphold it. If there were to be a breach, we would pursue some resolution bilaterally, but in the meantime I hope that there can be an improvement of exchanges and dialogue between the Hong Kong Government and their own people to try to improve the situation that they are currently confronting.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
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What estimate does the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have of the number of Chinese People’s Liberation Army personnel in Hong Kong, and has there been any suggestion of an increase in that number?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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I hope my hon. Friend will appreciate that I am not in a position to give him an exact number. In as much as we have such an estimate, I will certainly write to him and give him the benefit of what we believe we can pass on.

Martin Whitfield Portrait Martin Whitfield (East Lothian) (Lab)
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I welcome much of what the Minister has said today. Of course, we cannot in any way condone the vandalism or violence of recent days, but the Minister will be aware of assertions that those who are in control of the police have orchestrated the police response over the past 24 to 36 hours to aggravate the consequences of the situation. Will the Minister comment on whether he has any evidence that those assertions are true?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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I am unable to confirm that I have any such evidence; I have not been advised as such. Obviously, it is very much our view that any police response should be proportional and lawful. Of course, if the demonstrations are peaceful, we hope that no such violent, or forceful, response is in any way needed, but if there are acts of vandalism, that would then put any such engagement into a different context.

Paul Sweeney Portrait Mr Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab/Co-op)
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While the escalation in violence in Hong Kong is deeply regrettable, and every effort should be made to de-escalate it, it is clear that there is continuous provocation by the Chinese side, particularly with regard to the repudiation of the validity of the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration that underpins the highly successful one country, two systems structure that has guaranteed Hong Kong’s success. Far from simply asserting Britain’s continued recognition of that declaration, what will we do to enforce it in practice?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
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We are not a position to, as the hon. Gentleman puts it, enforce it, but if there were a breach, as I said, we would engage China in a proper bilateral discussion. We speak very forcefully and loudly about upholding the 1984 agreement, and, in doing so, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in what he calls for.

Problem Gambling

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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13:09
Jeremy  Wright Portrait The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Jeremy Wright)
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Before I make my statement, Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to send my best wishes—and, I am sure, those of the whole House—to the Lionesses in advance of their semi-final match this evening. As you know, sport so often brings us together. The men’s football team did so at their World cup last summer and the women are doing so at their World cup this summer. We salute them for that. We congratulate them on their successes so far and wish them well for the game tonight.

This statement is about today’s announcement on support for those affected by problem gambling. While we all want a healthy gambling industry that makes an important contribution to the economy, we also need one that does all it can to protect those that use it. Problem gambling can devastate lives, families and communities. I have met those who have lost more than the UK’s annual average salary during one night of gambling online, and parents who are now without a child as a result of gambling addiction.

Over recent months, I have also met representatives from the gambling industry and colleagues from right across the House to discuss what more needs to be done. We can all agree that it is best to prevent harm before it occurs and to step in early where people are at risk, but we also need to offer the right support for those people who do experience harm. We have already acted to reduce the minimum stake on fixed odds betting terminals to £2 from £100. We have tightened age and identity checks for online gambling websites—an important step in protecting children and vulnerable people who may be at risk.

Today, five of the biggest gambling companies have agreed a series of measures that will deliver real and meaningful progress on support for problem gamblers. This announcement has been welcomed by the Gambling Commission, GambleAware and Gamban. These companies, together, represent about half of the British commercial gambling industry. At the heart of this package is a very significant increase in their financial contribution to fund support and treatment. Last year, voluntary contributions across the whole industry to problem gambling yielded less than £10 million. Now, five operators—William Hill; Bet365; GVC, which owns Ladbrokes Coral; Flutter, formerly known as Paddy Power Betfair; and Sky Betting & Gaming—have said that over the next four years they will increase tenfold the funding they give to treatment and support for problem gamblers. In this same period, they have committed to spending £100 million specifically on treatment. The companies will report publicly on progress with these commitments, alongside their annual assurance statements to the Gambling Commission.

Last week, as the House knows, NHS England announced that it is establishing up to 14 clinics for those with the most complex and severe gambling problems, including where gambling problems co-exist with other mental health problems or childhood trauma. It has also been announced that the first NHS problem gambling clinic offering specific support for children is set to open. The funding announced today enables a huge boost for the other treatment services that complement specialist NHS clinics, and it will help us to place an increased focus on early intervention.

I know that Members across the House have argued for a mandatory, statutory levy to procure funds for treatment and support in connection with problem gambling. I understand that argument. However, as the House knows, legislating for this would take time—in all likelihood, more than a year—to complete. The proposal made this morning will deliver substantially increased support for problem gamblers this year. It may also be said that receipts from a statutory levy are certain and those from a voluntary approach are not, but it is important to stress two things. First, these voluntary contributions must and will be transparent, including to the regulator, and if they are not made, we will know. Secondly, the Government reserve the right to pursue a mandatory route to funding if a voluntary route does not prove effective.

This is a clear financial commitment from industry to addressing the harms that can come from gambling. But this is not solely about spending money: it is a package of measures spanning a number of different areas to ensure that we tackle problem gambling on all possible fronts. First, a responsible gambling industry is one that works together to reduce harm and wants customers to be safe, whichever platform they use or however they choose to gamble. The companies already identify customers whose gambling suggests they may be at risk and take steps to protect them—their licences require this—but they will go further. We have already seen the successful launch of GamStop, the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme. I am pleased that companies have committed to building on this through the greater sharing of data between them to prevent problem gamblers from experiencing further harm.

Secondly, the five companies will use emerging technology to make sure that their online advertising is used responsibly. Where technology exists that can identify a user showing problem gambling behaviours, and then target gambling adverts away from that person, they have committed to using it. More generally, the industry has already committed to a voluntary ban on advertising during live sport during the daytime that will come into force next month.

Thirdly, operators have committed to giving greater prominence to services and campaigns that support those in need of help. They have pledged to increase the volume of their customer safer gambling messaging; to continue their support for the BetRegret campaign, which is showing promising early results; and to review the tone and content of their marketing, advertising and sponsorship to ensure that it is appropriate.

These are welcome commitments that represent significant progress in the support that operators give for those impacted by problem gambling, but as technology advances, we will need to be more sophisticated in how we respond. The five companies that have proposed these measures today will be working closely with the Government, charities and regulators so that we can address any new or developing harms. I commend the leadership of the five companies who have put these measures forward. They are proposals from some of the industry’s biggest companies. I believe that it is reasonable for the biggest companies with the largest reach and the most resources to do more and show leadership, but the industry as a whole needs to engage in tackling problem gambling, and we want other firms to look at what they can do to step up. And I repeat: it will remain open to the Government to legislate if needed, so this is not the end of this conversation. We will keep working hard as a Government to make sure we protect users, whether online or in the high street.

There is still much more to do, but today’s announcement is a significant step forward. It means substantially more help for problem gamblers, more quickly than other paths we could take. We must and we will hold the companies that have made these commitments to them, and we will expect the rest of the industry to match them. They will change lives for the better and contribute to the ongoing work we are doing to make gambling safer for everyone. I commend this statement to the House.

13:19
Tom Watson Portrait Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab)
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The whole House is united in supporting the Lionesses in their game at 8 o’clock tonight. The Opposition believe that we must capture the energy created by women’s football; 10 million people will be watching tonight. That is why we think that the next women’s World cup should be added to the “crown jewels” list of free-to-air sport.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Last September, Labour announced that we would introduce a 1% mandatory levy on gambling companies to pay for research, education and treatment of problem gambling. We stand by that commitment today: only a mandatory levy will do.

I am glad that the gambling industry has sat up and listened to what we and other campaigners, on both sides of the House, are saying on this issue. Credit where it is due: the big five companies have shown leadership and responsibility, which are sorely lacking in some other parts of the industry. Gambling addiction costs the economy an estimated £1.2 billion a year, yet the amount that the industry currently contributes to treating addiction is paltry.

The voluntary levy, as it currently operates, asks for 0.1% of gambling yield. That target is never met. The industry turns over £14.5 billion a year, yet contributes less than £10 million a year to GambleAware. Some companies contribute amounts that are, frankly, insulting to the voluntary system. SportPesa, which sponsors Everton, and Fun88, which sponsors Newcastle, gave only £50 each last year. Both are white labels of the company TGP Europe. Best Bets gave £5, while GFM Holdings Ltd gave just £1. Given that there are 430,000 gambling addicts, 55,000 of whom are children, that is completely unacceptable and deliberately insulting to those leading players in the industry who are trying to take responsibility. Will the Secretary of State tell us how he will make such companies take more responsibility if not through a mandatory levy?

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care now supports a mandatory levy; Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, supports a mandatory levy; the Gambling Commission supports a mandatory levy; and Gambling with Lives supports a mandatory levy. However, I cannot quite understand from his statement whether the Secretary of State, who has responsibility for this policy area, supports a mandatory levy—does he or not?

We in the Opposition believe that a mandatory levy is the only way to provide the structure and consistent funding that a proper system of research, education and treatment needs, and with the NHS at the heart of the process. In the announcement today, the so-called big five have said they will fulfil the 0.1% donation to GambleAware, but where will the rest of the funding go? Who or what will establish the proper clinical models and guidelines for service provision? Can the Secretary of State tell us how the Government will ensure that the money does not just go on the companies’ pet projects?

After today, we will still have inadequate regulation and a Gambling Act that is outdated and not fit for the digital age. Gambling companies licensed in the UK are sponsoring UK football teams yet operating entirely abroad, behaving irresponsibly and fuelling addiction in countries such as Kenya. Companies are allowing customers to lose tens of thousands of pounds on multiple credit cards in a single sitting. There are companies that bombard customers who try to self-exclude with advertising emails and offers of free bets, then make them sign non-disclosure agreements when they settle.

The gambling market is broken, and it is up to the Government to fix it. We do not need a voluntary patch, but a full overhaul of rules and regulations. I fear that the Secretary of State and the Government will fail in that task.

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for some, at least, of what he has said. I reassure him on a number of points. First, as he says, he has always been in favour of a mandatory levy that will raise 1% of gross gambling yield. The commitment being made by the five companies in question this morning is to fund 1% of gross gambling yield, so they are offering him what he has asked for. It seems sensible and reasonable to accept that that is what they are doing; I shall come to his other points about where the money goes in a moment.

It is also right, as the hon. Gentleman says, that the rest of the industry needs to do better—I said as much in the statement. It is important that other companies follow the example set by the five who have spoken this morning. They need to take more responsibility in the way that he suggests. As I have made clear, we do not take off the table a mandatory levy, particularly for those companies that are not prepared to proceed on a voluntary basis as the five now are.

I do not doubt that the reason why those five are proceeding in this way is a result of pressure applied by many in this House, including those of us in government who have met repeatedly with them to make clear what our expectations are and to say that, if those expectations are not met voluntarily, they will be met in other ways. I make the same clear to all those companies that have not yet come forward as those five have.

The hon. Gentleman makes the fair point that people will want to know that the funding goes to the right places and does not simply find itself recycled back into the budgets of the five companies. As a result of what has been announced today, there will now be consultation with the NHS, the Gambling Commission, GambleAware and others on where the funding should go. Those organisations, of course, are best placed to indicate where the funding can best be used. Then, of course, it will be for the Gambling Commission to audit how that spending is distributed so that we all know where it is going and we can all judge whether it has been sent to the right places. If it has not, we reserve the right to continue to act in a different way.

Hugo Swire Portrait Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)
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Some years ago, as shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, I was sitting where the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) is now. I witnessed the then Labour Government and their mammoth explosion of gambling, both online and elsewhere.

Despite repeated warnings, successive Governments have failed to tackle what is a pernicious problem, particularly among less well-off people. Historically, people with gambling and other addictions who have health insurance or money can get treated, so I very much welcome the fact that some of these companies are now going to fund treatment for the less well-off. But will the Secretary of State say a little more about how he envisages these clinics? Will they be sustained on a long-term basis? What is the geographical spread? Will the money be hypothecated? Critically, will the NHS match the money from the five companies to date?

I welcome the move today, but I have to say that I am not convinced that we will not need some kind of mandatory levy in the longer term.

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comments. He is right to be sceptical: we are all sceptical and remain sceptical in government about this. However, it would be wrong not to recognise the significant step forward that this announcement represents.

In answer to my right hon. Friend’s point about hypothecation, I should say that it has been made clear that £100 million of the money announced today will be reserved for treatment over the four-year period. We will want to make sure that the requirements for treatment are met via this contribution and those that we expect the rest of the industry to make.

As I mentioned in the statement and as my right hon. Friend knows, commitments have already been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to spend money on gambling, which is a recognised and real health problem. The money I have announced today is to supplement that. We must make sure that there is no duplication but rather that these contributions reinforce the money that is already committed.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP)
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I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I appreciate the progress that is being made. Having discussed many of these issues with the Secretary of State and his Department, I genuinely believe that he gets it and is improving the situation, but I would take issue with a number of points. The statement touches on the argument for a mandatory levy, but undermines it by saying that it would take a year to complete. That reminds me of the old adage that my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) often reminds me of: “When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty-five years ago.” If we do not start now, we will not be any closer a year from now. Is the Secretary of State suggesting that the gambling companies would withdraw their offer? If not, there is nothing to lose by starting the ball rolling now.

What we have now is an unacceptable compromise. Any amount that cannot be guaranteed, cannot be budgeted. If we are to provide education, research and support, it cannot be done piecemeal. We need to employ people, provide training and rent premises, and we need a strategy that can be followed over a five, 10 or even 15-year period. A voluntary levy does not provide such a platform. There is no continuity or security.

This offer is an attempted pay-off—a bribe—to appease the conscience of the gambling industry, and it takes the heat off. I fear it also allows the UK Government to absolve themselves of their responsibility. It leaves the commissioning of services to organisations favoured by the Gambling Commission, which is funded by the gambling industry. That is not a good model for commissioning harm-reduction services, or education and research. Will the Minister review the role of the Gambling Commission and its funding model to make sure it is effectively regulating gambling companies, including by legislating, if necessary, to ensure that responsible working practices are in place?

The draft statement says:

“I have met users who have lost more than the UK’s annual average salary on credit cards during one night of gambling online.”

Are we going to address gambling on credit cards? I see no word on that. It mentions fixed odds betting terminals, for which the maximum stake was set at £2, but let us not forget that the gambling industry was dragged kicking and screaming to the table on that particular one. I hope the same will not be said about harm reduction in years to come.

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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The hon. Gentleman started his comments with the mandatory levy. He is right, of course, that it will take time to do this. If someone is interested in how quickly they can do things, the sooner they start, the sooner they finish. All of that is true. I said it would take at least a year; it may in fact take nearer to 18 months because any of these changes will need to begin at the start of a tax year.

A mandatory levy would deliver a return of 1% of gross gambling yield. What is being put forward today—except by only five companies, but that represents about half of the commercial gambling industry—is exactly for that: 1% of gross gambling yield. We would not derive any more income from a mandatory levy than we will from this process, but via this process we will derive it more quickly, and that is a real advantage for the problem gamblers whom I know he and I are both very concerned to help.

I do not accept that this is a piecemeal commitment. It is a four-year commitment, which we—all of us; not just the Government—will have the opportunity to monitor. If it is not being met in the way we all expect, we can and will take further action.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the Gambling Commission receives its funding from the industry; that is generally the case with regulators. If we had a mandatory levy, it would still fund the same activities. However, I believe the Gambling Commission is the right body, as the regulator, to be able to give us the assurance, which the Opposition spokesman properly raised, that the money is being spent on the right things, not simply ploughed back into the activities of the five companies.

The hon. Gentleman knows I take the view that there is more to do in relation to gambling on credit. He knows, too, that the Gambling Commission is in the process of looking at this in detail. I want to see what it concludes, but I believe a lot more can be done on gambling on credit to make sure that those who are particularly vulnerable do not find themselves more vulnerable by gambling on credit.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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The Opposition spokesman mentioned an estimate of 55,000 children addicted to gambling. Do the Government accept that this terrifically large figure is accurate? If so, what proportion of it is a result of the advent of online gambling and what age verification measures are in place to supply at least part of the solution?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is difficult to be precise about the number of young people in particular who have problems with gambling, as my right hon. Friend will recognise, but it is a fair assumption that online gambling contributes significantly to that problem. As a result, we have already seen improvements in identification and age verification. We need to see further improvements to make sure that the trend decreases.

Ellie Reeves Portrait Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)
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I have been contacted by the family of a constituent who is addicted to online gambling and is trying to recover. There are some measures, to which the Secretary of State referred, to prevent online gambling, such as the website GamStop, which allows users to put controls in place to restrict their gambling activity. However, it is not compulsory for betting companies to sign up for this, and it is far too easy to bypass the current controls. Will the Secretary of State look at making GamStop mandatory, and will he support tougher controls?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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We will certainly look at what more we can do. The five companies we have talked about are signed up to GamStop, and it is important that more accept this as a useful mechanism to help those with problem gambling. It is also right that we look at banks to make sure mechanisms are in place to allow the people who choose to do so to indicate to their bank that they do not wish to spend money in these areas. We have already seen banks such as Monzo and particularly Barclays, which is a large bank, doing exactly this. Other banks are now looking at it, at our urging, because it is important that we have additional safeguards in place.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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While I understand the arguments made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) and sympathise with many of them because they are in the spirit of my ten-minute rule Bill, I cautiously welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, because I believe it will deliver money to start proper independent research and analysis of what can and should be done to protect the vulnerable.

With caveats, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to confirm: first, when will the voluntary levy start happening; secondly, can it be front-loaded, so that there is a pool of money to do the research as soon as possible; thirdly, who will determine who does the research; and, fourthly, how will those who have not yet volunteered be implored to join the party and to contribute a voluntary levy? Lastly, and slightly separately, what progress has been made on a ban on all gambling adverts during live sports?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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Perhaps I may start at the end. My hon. Friend will know that in a few weeks—on 1 August—we expect to see instituted a ban on advertising during the currency of live sporting events before the watershed. Progress is being made, and we are pleased to see it.

I thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the considerable pressure he has continued to apply to the industry. As I mentioned earlier, I believe the credit for this announcement goes not just to those making it, but to the many Members of this House on both sides who have applied consistent pressure on the gambling industry.

My hon. Friend asks when the voluntary levy will begin. As I indicated, one of the advantages of this approach in comparison with that of a mandatory levy is that we will start to see the fruits of it very shortly. By the end of this year, we expect to see additional funding coming through for the targets we wish to see addressed.

Secondly, my hon. Friend asks about front-loading. Of course, we want those who are going to be able to use this money to be able to set the parameters for how it should be used, so we must make sure that demand is met. At the moment, it is not likely that those who would be spending this money could spend £60 million a year. However, we of course want the industry to be receptive to requests for money as and when they are made, and it has indicated that it will be, so we must make sure we meet demand as it grows.

Thirdly, in relation to research funding and who will decide where it should go, as I have indicated, it will be for the industry to propose where this money should be spent, but it can be spent only in areas where the Gambling Commission and indeed others believe it is appropriate expenditure.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
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Last Friday, the inquest opened into the death of my constituent Jack Ritchie and I spoke to his parents shortly before the statement. He is one of too many young men who have taken their lives as a result of gambling addiction.

The BBC reports that a gambling industry spokesman has said that the welcome but modest—let us admit that it is modest—action today is to protect it from further, tougher action from us such as that on the tobacco industry. The gambling industry is right to draw the comparison with tobacco because it makes billions by creating misery and taking lives. Does the Secretary of State therefore agree that we need to go further? That would include banking the concession on the voluntary levy, but preparing now for a mandatory levy; effective, independent regulation of gambling products; and moving towards the comprehensive ban on advertising and sponsorship that applied to tobacco?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he may know, I have met Jack Ritchie’s mother, and I am grateful to her, too, for the considerable work she has done with immense dignity and courage in this field. I reiterate that the credit for the changes is to be shared widely. It is not simply for those in the House to take; it is for many beyond it, and Jack Ritchie’s parents are foremost among them.

The hon. Gentleman’s points are fair. I will not comment on what people may have said to the BBC. We must stick to the facts of the proposals and what they really mean, which is that we will recover from those five companies—as I have said, they comprise about half the commercial gambling industry— at least the same amount of money as we would if we had a mandatory gambling levy. There are questions about how we can be sure that the money finds its way to the right targets. We have sensibly dealt with those this afternoon and we will need to keep our attention on them. However, the amounts involved are similar if not identical to those that a mandatory levy would recover.

The proposals do not protect the industry from tougher action, and we will need to pursue matters further in a variety of ways—through advertising and other protections. We are not insulating anybody from further action on gambling. The Government will continue to do what we believe it is responsible to do to protect those who are vulnerable. However, it is fair to accept that the proposals are a significant step in the right direction and will produce a significant step up in the funding that gets to those who most need it, whose lives have been damaged by problem gambling and who require help now. The change will help us to deliver that assistance.

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison (Copeland) (Con)
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I thank the Secretary of State for the statement and the progress that he and the Department have made on this urgent problem, which blights the lives of many people in my constituency. Will he explain the steps that he is taking to ensure that the rules around online gambling keep pace with those for offline gambling?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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Yes. My hon. Friend is right that we all need to address the increasing prevalence of online gambling in the mix. She will know that the Department is currently concerned with a variety of so-called online harms, which we are trying to address more successfully than has been done thus far. However, one of the advantages of online gambling is that those companies know more about their clients because it is account-based gambling. Our expectations of them should therefore be higher, and they are.

Conor McGinn Portrait Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab)
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It is right that the gambling industry fulfils its responsibilities in tackling addiction, so today’s news is welcome, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) that much more needs to be done.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge the unique position of horse-racing and its relationship with gambling in terms of the levy, sponsorship and live advertising? Does he also agree that millions of people like me enjoy a flutter on the gee-gees, a bet on the football and a visit to the casino or arcade without any difficulties, as an enjoyable pastime?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is important to recognise that not all gamblers are problem gamblers and that we must focus our attention on those who are in difficulty. It is also right to recognise that, as I said at the outset, we want the industry to be successful. However, we also want it to be responsible, and I believe that the changes will lead to greater responsibility.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to focus on horse-racing. I know that he is a huge supporter of the industry and does a great deal in this place to raise awareness, which he has done again today. He will recognise that the Government have introduced several measures, including last year’s changes to the levy itself, which brought in substantially more income—about £45 million more. We want to ensure that gambling can continue for those who enjoy it and do it responsibly and that companies take full responsibility for ensuring that any problems are properly addressed.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome today’s announcement, which will lead to the biggest injection ever of funds to help with the treatment of problem gambling. I also welcome the commitment to take further action if required. Will the Secretary of State comment further on how we can use data to help solve the problem of gambling, particularly working with banks, credit card companies and the online sites, perhaps providing for the voluntary allowing of the use of data when people sign up to them?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right that we are in danger of missing some of the other important aspects of what has been proposed today. One of the proposals is that companies should share between themselves, with the consent of the individual gambler, information on any warning signs about problem gambling so that action can be taken by any provider of gambling services to which a problem gambler turns after starting with a different operator. It is important that that data is made use of so that people can be helped as soon as they arrive at the second gambling operator. If we can get consent to share that data, that will be a significant step forward.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks about the Lionesses. I have enjoyed their performances, with the obvious and I am sure understandable exception of the Scotland match.

I give the statement a small welcome. It goes some way towards addressing the problem, but not nearly far enough, and Liberal Democrats will continue to argue for a compulsory levy. Gambling addiction is a public health problem, with clear links to mental health issues, and it needs a public health response first. The real cuts in public health under the Government are estimated to be between £700 million and £1 billion. Does the Secretary of State believe that today’s commitment will somehow help reverse the damage done by the Government?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s gracious comments about the Lionesses. I appreciate that she would not have enjoyed their first match, but I hope that she enjoyed the subsequent matches much more.

The hon. Lady is right that we are considering a public health problem. As I said a moment ago, the Government are approaching it as such, and further action will be taken in the NHS plans to deal with problem gambling, for both adults and children. She is also right about the significant overlap with mental health problems, which of course we need to address in parallel. The money we are discussing is to enhance and add to that provision, not to replace it. It is important to say that. It is £100 million that will be diverted to treatment over four years and I hope that it will add considerably to what can be done for people who suffer from those serious problems.

Martin Whitfield Portrait Martin Whitfield (East Lothian) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I invite the Secretary of State to consider a mandatory levy from a slightly different point of view. In the statement, he rightly said that the five companies represent half the British commercial gambling industry. Would it not be fairer, under a mandatory levy, to spread that contribution across the whole industry, bringing everyone on board sooner rather than later, rather than expecting those five to pick up the bill for others, including overseas companies?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The point is that those companies are taking the action voluntarily. I welcome that positive step forward. However, no one in the House has said that that lets anybody else off the hook—quite the reverse: it demonstrates that if those five companies can do it, so can others. It is important that all others across the industry look carefully at the proposals and that we hold them to account for producing a similar commitment. If they are unwilling to do so, I have made it clear that we do not put away the prospect of further action.

Kelvin Hopkins Portrait Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Ind)
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The growing nightmare of online gambling, which is destroying lives and families, has been successfully halted in places across the world, in Germany and elsewhere, by simply banning it in law. May I suggest to the Secretary of State that the problem of online gambling could be solved at a stroke simply by making all gambling cash only?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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I think there is a different set of questions in relation to online gambling as an entire concept and gambling on credit. As the hon. Gentleman has heard me say, there is more we can look at specifically in relation to gambling on credit. I think we have to accept that the industry, like all others, is changing. As we live more of our lives online, people wish to exercise their leisure activities more online. I do not think it would be right to suggest that we should prohibit people entirely from gambling online if that is what they wish to do. As has been observed, most gamblers are responsible and able to gamble in a way that does not put them in difficulty. However, for those who do not have that capacity and do get into difficulty, we need to offer help. That help needs to be funded by the industry. That is what is being proposed here. For the rest of the industry that is not prepared to make the same commitment, we need to take further action.

Paul Sweeney Portrait Mr Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab/Co-op)
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The gambling industry is one that disproportionately preys on communities with the least disposable income and least able to afford the social harms caused. Glasgow, which is home to 26% of Scotland’s most deprived communities, has the highest per capita density of betting shops of any part of the UK outside London. Indeed, there are 2,588 people per betting shop in Glasgow, compared to the richest council area in Scotland where there are 12,000 people per betting shop. There is a clear statistically significant correlation with the impact that is having on poorer communities. In Glasgow, the social harms of gambling addiction alone are estimated to be £35 million a year. That accounts for half the revenue proposed to be generated from the levy. It is certainly inadequate to deal with the extent of the social harm caused. What will the Secretary of State do to redress the £35 million loss and social harm to the city of Glasgow?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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The Government need to do a number of things, and I indicated that there are actions we need to take in relation to the health service, but I believe that a substantial amount of the responsibility lies with the gambling industry itself. Again, I stress that this is a very considerable increase in the funding that is being offered. The £100 million is what is specified over those four years for treatment, but the general commitment is to 1% of gross gambling yield—exactly the same commitment that is asked for by those who argue for a mandatory levy. This is an acceptance by the industry that it bears a share of responsibility. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not get the sense from anything I have said that the Government intend to let up the pressure. We do not.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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The online gambling problem is significant, but betting shops present a problem on the high street. Will any of the levy go to help local authorities to tidy up the high street not just physically but in terms of crimes committed in the vicinity, such as drug dealing and violent acts, which do break out a lot around betting shops?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the wider issues that occur. She will recognise that the commitment being made here and the conversation around the mandatory levy relates specifically to research, education and treatment. It is focused on those who are already problem gamblers and who need assistance in the treatment sense and in a research sense more broadly. We expect all partners—there are many—to work together to deal with some of the social problems she has identified. I take the view that the gambling industry is one of those partners.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I, too, give a cautious welcome to the Secretary of State’s statement. It is good news, as everyone says, that £100 million over four years has been pledged by gambling firms. However, does the Minister believe that that is not enough? Does he agree that the best way of dealing with this is not through a voluntary levy based on the least that can be gotten away with, but, rather, additional tax legislation on every gambling firm—those that have committed and those that have not—to help offset the cost to the NHS of dealing with gambling addiction?

Jeremy  Wright Portrait Jeremy Wright
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The hon. Gentleman notes that the £100 million is specifically in relation to treatment, but more money is being pledged than that. He is right to draw attention to tax. As he will know, tax measures are already in place to derive revenue from the gambling industry. They raise about £3 billion a year at the moment and it is open to any Government to reconsider the tax regime if they think it appropriate to do so. At the moment, however, I believe we should approach this with an open mind. We should seek to ensure that not just these five companies make the contributions they are offering but that the rest of the industry does so too, so we can funnel that money to where it is most needed.

Points of Order

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(2 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber