All 34 Parliamentary debates on 23rd Nov 2023

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Thu 23rd Nov 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 23rd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thursday 23 November 2023
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

Thursday 23rd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks 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

Thursday 23rd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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1. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department during the covid-19 pandemic.

Oliver Dowden Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office (Oliver Dowden)
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The Cabinet Office played a crucial role in co-ordinating the cross-Government response to the pandemic, and we continue to learn lessons from it. Last year, the Cabinet Office published the resilience framework, an ambitious, wide-reaching and long-term plan that is already working to strengthen our national resilience.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Dhesi
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Those of us who lost loved ones during the pandemic have been left shocked and angered by the revelations being unearthed in the covid inquiry. They include quotes from the diary of the then Government chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, that the current Prime Minister thought

“just let people die and that’s OK”.

If that was not cruel enough, he was also overheard saying that Ministers should focus on

“handling the scientists and not the virus”.

Does the Secretary of State agree with me that this shows a shameful disregard for people’s lives and callous decision making at the heart of Government?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I should say from the outset that I simply do not recognise that characterisation, but that is the whole point of the inquiry. This Government set up the inquiry, for the sake of the victims and the nation, to get to the bottom of what was an unprecedented crisis not just here, but around the world. We have been totally open and transparent with that inquiry. We have given it over 56,000 pieces of evidence. I would gently urge the hon. Gentleman to allow the inquiry to complete its investigations, to hear from all the witnesses and to produce its recommendations. As I have committed to that inquiry, the Government will respond fully to every single recommendation from Lady Justice Hallett.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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During the pandemic, I could only see the true professionalism of civil servants in a variety of Departments, including the Cabinet Office, and I am very conscious of some of the pain being felt about the victims of that time. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that the civil service really stood up to the challenge of dealing with imperfect data and a rapidly changing situation? By the way, I include the civil servants of the Department for Work and Pensions in that regard. However, may I also encourage him to consider how we can strengthen analytical skills and capabilities right across the civil service? That is important, and I think it will be one of the key lessons that should come out of the inquiry.

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I thank my right hon. Friend for her question, and I pay tribute to her for her many years of service in the Cabinet. I agree with her characterisation of the civil service. Indeed, in my time working in various ministerial roles, I have seen true professionalism and dedication. However, I think she is absolutely right that we need to improve both our data analytics and the data flow into Government. One of the things we learned during the covid pandemic was, for example, that setting up the data centre in the Cabinet Office massively improved the amount of data we received. That enables us to deal with these very fast-moving situations and, indeed, we have used it in subsequent crises.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)
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The Deputy Prime Minister has just said that he does not recognise the alleged remark of the Prime Minister, who is supposed to have said

“just let people die and that’s OK”,

as set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi). I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister would agree that the way to deal with this is through transparency with the ongoing inquiry. I wrote to him last month to ask him about the Prime Minister handing over all his WhatsApp messages, particularly given that the Prime Minister’s account that he no longer has access to all of them seems implausible. With the Prime Minister appearing before the covid inquiry before the end of the year, can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that all the Prime Minister’s WhatsApp messages for this period will be made available to the inquiry?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will furnish the inquiry with every single piece of information it requires. Indeed, I would note that the Prime Minister and all those who are requested to provide information to the inquiry are legally obliged to do so. That is precisely what we have done. My Department alone has provided over 56,000 different pieces of evidence. I would gently say to him that the Labour party repeatedly called for this inquiry to be set up. We have set up this inquiry, and I think hon. Members should allow it to do its job, not jump to conclusions. When it produces its recommendations, I can assure the House that the Government will respond in full.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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2. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help ensure value for money in public procurement.

James Murray Portrait James Murray (Ealing North) (Lab/Co-op)
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13. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help ensure value for money in public procurement.

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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Value for money is central to the Government’s long-standing procurement policy, as set out in everybody’s favourite Treasury document, “Managing Public Money”. Current procurement regulations require contracting authorities to select the most economically advantageous tender. The Procurement Act 2023—I am pleased to say that it has recently received Royal Assent—will streamline procurement processes and ensure that value for money remains one of the central tenets of the UK’s procurement regime.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist
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If the Minister thinks that every pound of taxpayers’ money matters, what are the Government’s plans to recover the loss of billions of pounds in flawed covid contracts?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I am pleased to be able to remind the House that the Government have already taken extraordinary steps to recover fraud money during the covid period. His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs remains committed to the recovery of covid-19 support scheme fraud. The Government are also committed to bearing down on fraud in the covid loan schemes. Some £13.2 million has been allocated to the National Investigation Service over three years to double its investigative capacity on bounce back loans and to fund other activities. This is just a small sample of the work being done to combat fraud across our Government.

James Murray Portrait James Murray
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Further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), billions of pounds of public money was wasted during the covid pandemic through dodgy contracts that we know were signed off by the Government. Labour has said that we will appoint a covid corruption commissioner to pursue every pound of public money that has been inappropriately lost from pandemic-related contracts, fraud and waste. Will the Minister borrow our plans?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have noted—I imagine he pays attention to such things—that we already set out in the spring statement last year the public sector fraud authority, which is based in the Cabinet Office and very ably handled by my colleague Baroness Neville-Rolfe. We have debated fraud during covid many times in the House. All the contracts handed out during covid were signed off by extremely able and capable civil servants who were working in very difficult circumstances and the idea that there was ministerial sign off of these things is wrong and must be contradicted whenever it is raised.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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It is clear from the Chancellor’s autumn statement yesterday that we will need to make savings in public sector budgets for some years to come to overcome the impact of inflation, so can the Minister say how artificial intelligence will play a role in that in the public sector and what efforts he is making to procure the necessary systems?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We are still coming to terms with the potential of artificial intelligence to speed up Government processes, improve productivity and deliver value for money for the taxpayer. While we have procurement frameworks at present that help Departments across Government identify good AI systems they might wish to secure, we are also interested in developing our own AI within Government. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced earlier this week that we would hire more people with the highest levels of innovative skill to come into Government to build those systems for us and deliver value for money.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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3. What progress he has made on implementing the final recommendations on compensation in the second interim report of the infected blood inquiry, published on 5 April 2023.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
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9. What progress his Department has made on implementing the interim recommendations of the infected blood inquiry.

John Glen Portrait The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (John Glen)
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I strongly commend the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for her work for those who have been impacted by the infected blood scandal, and I look forward to working across the House on this important issue. The Government have accepted the moral case for compensation but it is only reasonable that the response is fully informed by Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report, which is anticipated in March next year.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson
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Eight months ago, recommendation 12 of the final report on compensation called for interim payments of £100,000 to be

“paid to recognise the deaths of people to date unrecognised and alleviate immediate suffering.”

The “Cambridge Dictionary” describes the word “interim” as something

“temporary and intended to be used or accepted until something permanent exists”.

I know the Minister is a good man and will want to do his best, so can he tell the House when those interim payments will start to be paid?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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May I welcome the Minister to his new Front-Bench role?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I cannot tell the right hon. Lady that today, but in the seven days that I have been in this post I have recognised this to be my highest priority in the role. There are a number of complex issues that I need to come to terms with, but I am familiar with the whole issue from my previous role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. This might be a matter of gamekeeper turned poacher, but I understand the mindset of the Treasury and how we can get a solution that deals with the range of recommendations. I cannot say anything more of substance today, but I will be having further meetings across Whitehall, with more this morning, and I am determined that this Government will respond as comprehensively as we can as soon as we can.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley
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I have raised in written and oral questions with the former Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), the case of a constituent of mine whose father died following infected factor VIII treatment. The family could not even grieve properly, because of the stigma around HIV and AIDS at the time. Compensation will not bring their father back, but it would give the family closure. My constituent contacted me after a statement in which the former Paymaster General said that the Government accepted that there is a moral case for compensation for those affected by the scandal, as the Minister has just done, but also said that those infected and affected have suffered enough. Given the acceptance by Ministers that the children of those infected have suffered enough, when will the Government make interim compensation payments to the estates of those who have died as a result of infected blood products and, separately, to those affected whose parents have died?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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The best answer I can give the hon. Lady is that it will be

“as quickly as reasonable thoroughness permits”,

as the inquiry chair said in his response. I am totally aware and sincere in my appreciation of the frustration that exists on this issue. As I say, seven days in, I am doing everything I can to move things forward and to gain assurances from across Whitehall so that I can update the House as quickly as possible. I sense the palpable frustration, and I realise that this issue needs action as soon as possible.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Nia Griffith Portrait Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
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I welcome the Minister to his new role. He will know that time is of the essence, with a victim of this scandal dying every four days. He also knows that there is nothing to stop the Government setting up a compensation scheme now. The failure to do so is weighing heavily on the minds of those affected. The cynical would think that the Government are just kicking the issue into the long grass. Can the Minister tell us when he hopes to report on preparations for compensation and appoint a chair for an appropriate body to run the scheme?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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What I can say to the hon. Lady is that I am familiar with the range of activities that need to take place. I am getting into the detail of every single one of them, but I have to gain collective agreement before I can announce anything to this House. This House will be the first place I make any announcements, when I have secured that. I acknowledge her frustrations, and I am doing everything I can. I will update the House as quickly as I can.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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4. What steps his Department is taking to improve access to public sector procurement processes for small and medium-sized businesses.

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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The Procurement Act 2023 will deliver simpler, more effective public sector procurement and help small and medium-sized enterprises secure a greater share of approximately £300 billion of expenditure per year. The Act places a requirement on contracting authorities to assess the particular barriers facing SMEs throughout the entire procurement life cycle and to consider what can be done to overcome them.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers
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The renewable energy sector offers great opportunities for SMEs to become involved in the supply chain. Many of them are unaware of the public sector tenders that are out there. What are the Government doing to ensure that SMEs are made more aware of the opportunities available?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I very much encourage my hon. Friend to take this matter up with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, but for my part I understand that anyone bidding for contracts for difference, our main renewable support scheme, must submit supply chain plans, including how many applicants will support SMEs. The Department is also consulting on reforms that will give greater revenue support to applicants using more sustainable supply chains, including those that make greater use of SMEs.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister for his response and the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) for raising this matter. Northern Ireland, and particularly my constituency of Strangford, have a great many small and medium-sized businesses that depend greatly on opportunities for Government contracts. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland on a united approach, similar to that referred to by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes? I would love to see that in Northern Ireland.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear, and will remember from discussions we had as the Procurement Act 2023 was making its way through Parliament, that Northern Ireland will benefit from the new post-EU regime that we have brought in. Unlike our friends in Scotland, who chose to opt out, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been able to shrug off the overly bureaucratic regime that we inherited from the EU and create, alongside small and medium-sized businesses, a brand-new way of doing things. I know that small and medium-sized enterprises in his constituency will ultimately benefit from that.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
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5. Whether he has had discussions with the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests on declarations of interest by the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
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12. Whether he has had discussions with the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests on declarations of interest by the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.

John Glen Portrait The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (John Glen)
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There is an established regime in place for the declaration and management of private interests held by Ministers, as is set out in the ministerial code. Preliminary discussions have been held with the Foreign Secretary, in consultation with the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, to ensure that all interests are managed appropriately.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh
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Since the Foreign Secretary was last in office, he has been working for a Chinese state enterprise that was sanctioned by the US Government and blacklisted for bribery by the World Bank. The Foreign Secretary was paid by the Chinese company to promote the building of a port in Sri Lanka, a country which has itself been accused of war crimes and where, since the end of the civil war in 2009, tens of thousands of disappeared people have still not been found. Does the Minister agree that the British people have the right to know when their Foreign Secretary has been employed by the Chinese Government?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s characterisation of the Foreign Secretary’s employment history. What I would say is that there is a thorough process in place through the ministerial code whereby the independent adviser publishes statements on Ministers’ relevant interests. Yesterday, I met the independent adviser for the first time to speak in general terms about his role, and work is under way on the next list to include the relevant interests of newly appointed Ministers—I think there are about 18 of them. The Government’s position on China remains unchanged. We believe in engaging directly and robustly in the UK national interest.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith
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When Lord Cameron, the public face of Greensill, was in the room where it happened—when key decisions were made, and attending board meetings regularly—there is a perception that he was part of Greensill’s inner circle. Has the independent adviser assessed whether Lord Cameron was considered a shadow director during his time at Greensill?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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The Foreign Secretary has accounted for his conduct in relation to Greensill Capital, and independent reviews by the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments confirm that no rules were broken. His ennoblement was also approved by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. I have referred to the process that is under way with the independent adviser for all new Ministers and the updates that will be forthcoming in due course from him. That is all I can say on the matter.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
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I welcome my old friend and sparring partner, the right hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), to his post. Questions have been raised about whether all benefits in kind received by the Foreign Secretary while he acted as a lobbyist for Greensill Capital have been properly declared. Will the Minister confirm whether his tax affairs were examined and considered by the House of Lords Appointments Commission before approving his appointment? If not, will the Government now investigate to see if all such matters, including any use of offshore trusts, were properly declared and taken into account before the appointment was made?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words—it is indeed good to follow him to the Cabinet Office brief. I will not comment on media speculation, but I acknowledge and thank him for his letter of yesterday. Lord Cameron’s appointment followed all the established processes for both peerages and ministerial appointments. The ennoblement was approved by the House of Lords Appointments Commission in the usual way, and that included a check with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Details of the way in which HOLAC works with HMRC are published on gov.uk.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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I want to ask about an angle of the matter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). The Foreign Secretary received fulsome praise from the China Harbour Engineering Company for his role in promoting the Port City Colombo project in Sri Lanka. Can the Minister tell the House who the ultimate client was when the Foreign Secretary received payment from KPMG Sri Lanka for his role in promoting that project? Was it the Sri Lankan Government or the China Harbour Engineering Company, which is owned by the Chinese state?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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That is a matter not for me but for the processes that I have set out, which have been complied with. I believe that Lord Cameron has made some comments with respect to those matters.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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6. What the responsibilities of the Ministers without Portfolio are.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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8. What the responsibilities of the Ministers without Portfolio are.

Esther McVey Portrait The Minister without Portfolio (Esther McVey)
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Ministers without Portfolio contribute to the policy and decision-making process of a Government. It is routine for the chair of the governing party to be made a Minister without Portfolio. As such, they serve as a member of the Cabinet. My role as a Cabinet Office Minister is to provide scrutiny and oversight across all Departments to ensure that we deliver best value for the public.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern
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I welcome the right hon. Lady back to the Front Bench. If a Prime Minister needs to install a Minister for common sense, is that an admission that they do not really have any?

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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I have seen the reports in the paper describing me as the Minister of common sense. I appreciate that the concept is difficult for Opposition Members to grasp. I am committed to delivering common-sense decisions, such as delaying the ban on petrol and diesel cars, delaying the ban on oil and gas boilers, scrapping High Speed 2 from Birmingham to Manchester and reducing the overseas budget—all common-sense policies that those on the Opposition Benches have voted against. Those on the Government Benches are full of common sense. I am building on all those policies.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
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I welcome the Minister to her post. If her Front Bench is full of common sense, which will she tackle first: a Home Secretary who thinks that Stockton North is a proverbial toilet; a Foreign Secretary who, during a critical time in geopolitics, is not even accountable to this House; or a Transport Secretary whose Network North plan thinks that Manchester is in Preston?

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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First of all, I did not hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say the comments that the hon. Member repeated; as far as I am aware, he has denied saying them. As I said, I am building on the success of this Government. Let me give another: the biggest permanent tax cuts in modern British history announced yesterday—cutting taxes, not like the Opposition, who want more borrowing and spending.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new role. Will it include the possibility of re-examining the vaccine damage payment scheme, which has been described at the public inquiry as not fit for purpose? The £120,000 maximum payment has not been increased since 2007, and the 60% disability threshold is causing a massive injustice. Will she address those issues, please?

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter, which he has worked extremely hard on, to the attention of the House. I am grateful for that suggestion; I will take it away and come back with further information.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)
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I congratulate the new Minister without Portfolio on her position, and I wish her well. Having seen the Prime Minister’s struggles using a contactless card at a petrol station, and his impression that a private helicopter is the best way to get to Southampton, I think he probably was in need of some common sense, so it is no surprise that the right hon. Lady has been referred to in that way. Given she is in the market for some common-sense ideas, I suggest that the Government adopt a policy that people who live here pay taxes on all their income, and abolish the non-dom tax status. Perhaps she could cast her mind to abolishing the tax breaks for private schools, and spend that money on the 93% who go to state schools. Is it just the case that this Government are totally out of common sense and ideas?

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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It does not surprise me that those on the Labour Benches attack private schools, which lots of parents want to send their children to. For them, that is common sense. For them, that is freedom of choice, which I stand by. Of course, should they close private schools down, the public sector would have to find billions more to fund it: again, not value for money—something that I am here to deliver—from Labour.

Michael Shanks Portrait Michael Shanks (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab)
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7. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of compliance with the ministerial code.

John Glen Portrait The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (John Glen)
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The Prime Minister made it clear upon his appointment that he will lead a Government of integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level, and he is delivering on that promise.

Michael Shanks Portrait Michael Shanks
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The Minister, a few moments ago in answer to specific questions, said that this was not a matter for him. Of course, the problem with the ministerial code is that the public do not have confidence that it is actually being delivered. There is very little transparency around investigations and around referrals to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. With particular reference to Lord Cameron’s appointment, will the Minister commit to publishing all the correspondence with the ministerial adviser on the code, and any correspondence around the list he had to give to the permanent secretary on his interests prior to appointment?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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With the greatest respect, I do not think the hon. Gentleman understands that the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests has wide-ranging powers. Within two weeks of appointment, a Minister will have to fill in a form which was recently changed—two months ago—and has over 30 pages covering a wide range of aspects of their interests. There is then a process where the permanent secretary of the relevant Department comments on that and the independent adviser will then publish an update of relevant interests. This is a thorough process. I met the independent adviser yesterday. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he writes to the independent adviser to seek the correspondence he wishes.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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When will the list of ministerial relevant interests next be published and will the interests of all the new Ministers be included in it?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I am not certain, but work is under way. There are, I think, 18 new Ministers. I think it will be a matter of weeks, but I will keep an eye on that. The independent adviser did not give me a date yesterday, but I will continue to work closely with him where I can.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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We would appreciate it if that list could be published before Christmas at the latest, because it is incredibly important. Section 7.25 of the ministerial code prohibits Ministers from lobbying Government for a two-year period after they leave office. It does not, unfortunately, say anything about interests before they are put into office. Does the Minister understand that with trust in politicians at an all-time low, the perception of Lord Cameron being put into the role, having clearly been lobbying on behalf of hostile foreign interests, does nothing for the perception of politicians as trustworthy?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I just do not accept the hon. Lady’s view. I have set out in previous answers this morning that there is an established, thorough process that is constantly being updated. There are regular updates by the independent adviser. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden), assures me that that update will be out before the end of this calendar year. That work will continue and I expect, and the independent adviser and the Prime Minister expect, the highest standards to apply. Where there are changes to an individual’s circumstances or interests, there is an urgent imperative to update the independent adviser.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
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10. What recent assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of the border target operating model on cross-border flows of goods.

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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The Government are delivering an ongoing programme of engagement with stakeholders across all sectors in all parts of the country and with key European Union trading partners to ensure goods continue to move across the border. We have not identified any specific risk to the cross-border flow of goods.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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It has been a very long wait to get border checks in place on the UK side. What evidence does the Minister have that EU businesses have the appropriate systems in place, including enough vets, to make them work smoothly? What estimate has he made of the impact on UK food security?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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The whole purpose of the exercise is to ensure that we have UK food security. The border target operating model will implement its next three major milestones on 31 January 2024, 30 April 2024 and 31 October 2024, which means that the regime will be introduced by increments. This will be good for British food and good for British animals.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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11. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the list of Ministers’ interests in ensuring that Ministers (a) declare and (b) avoid any conflict of interest.

Oliver Dowden Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office (Oliver Dowden)
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There is an established regime under which Ministers’ interests are declared and managed. Ministers seek the advice of their permanent secretaries and the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, who reports twice yearly. This is but one element of a network of ethics systems, including the ministerial code and the business appointment rules, which uphold the highest standards in Government.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
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The Minister says that there is “a network of ethics systems” for the appointment of Ministers, so let me ask a simple question: when was the last time Lord Cameron was not domiciled in the UK?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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That is a question for Lord Cameron, but I would be amazed if he had not been domiciled in this country for his entire life.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con)
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14. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of staff turnover in the civil service on domain knowledge and subject expertise among senior civil servants.

John Glen Portrait The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (John Glen)
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In July 2022 we launched a policy setting the expected assignment durations for the senior civil service—the SCS1 and SCS2 roles—at a default minimum of three years, to support the transfer of knowledge management and subject expertise. The initial impact of the policy will be reviewed by July next year, and there will be a fuller review in July 2025, following the completion of the first three-year cycle.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin
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I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment—and a very welcome one it is too. Does he acknowledge that although the problem of churn and generalism in the civil service has been around for 50 or 60 years, since the Fulton inquiry in the 1960s under Harold Wilson, it has become worse and worse? I thank him for the evidence that the Government have submitted to the Liaison Committee’s inquiry on strategic thinking in Government and how Select Committees can better scrutinise it, but if the Government do not have in place the experts and the people with domain knowledge, domain expertise and subject experience, there is not likely to be much good strategic thinking going on, given that Ministers often seem to know more about the subjects than the officials they are dealing with. May I invite my right hon. Friend to give us a supplementary note for the inquiry, so that we can understand their thinking on this matter more deeply?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend obviously knows a great deal about this as a result of his distinguished 31 years of experience in the House, but pivotal role allowances have been in place for 10 years to help us to retain certain key individuals. A number of initiatives were introduced by my distinguished predecessor Lord Maude, the former right hon. Member for Horsham, and I intend to build on those, but I am happy to engage with my hon. Friend, because this is a serious issue.

In 2022, the last year for which we have figures, there was a 12.4% turnover from the senior civil service, and resignations were at 5%. We need to look carefully at what that means across different roles, and at how we can retain the specialisms for longer periods so that key Government programmes benefit from the sort of leadership that has enduring expertise at the table.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)
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15. What steps he is taking to increase transparency of lobbying by businesses.

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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The Government outlined wide-ranging improvements to transparency in lobbying in their policy statement “Strengthening Ethics and Integrity in Central Government”, which was published in July. They include revising guidance to widen the range of lobbying engagements declared by Departments, and linked reforms of the consultant lobbying framework.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett
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If you are one of the tens of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises bidding for contracts from the public sector, you will be met with a wall of bureaucratic paperwork designed to prevent relationships between the contractor and the service provider. If you are an ex-Prime Minister, you can make dozens of phone calls on behalf of an interest in which you seem to have been involved, including nine texts to the current Prime Minister. Is it not clear that that was reprehensible behaviour, and that the lobbying rules allowed it to happen? When will the Minister tighten the lobbying rules properly to prevent people from being able to benefit from the old system of “It is not what you know, but who you know”?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I refer the hon. Gentleman to my previous answer; we have published a document called “Strengthening Ethics and Integrity in Central Government”.

On small and medium-sized enterprises, I am delighted to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Procurement Act 2023, which recently received Royal Assent, will make life much easier for SMEs that want to do business with the Government and get a share of the £300 billion of public procurement this Government have to offer.

Kate Osamor Portrait Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Oliver Dowden Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office (Oliver Dowden)
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The accession of His Majesty the King marked a new chapter in our nation’s history. This month, the Cabinet Office launched a scheme to make new portraits of His Majesty available to all public institutions. After the splendour of the coronation, this is a fitting addition to the fabric of our public life.

The Cabinet Office has also led efforts on artificial intelligence, including setting up a new AI incubator made up of a team of technical experts. We will use our convening power to drive AI adoption across Government.

Kate Osamor Portrait Kate Osamor
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I asked my constituent, who is sadly personally affected by the infected blood scandal, what he wants to hear from the Government. All he wants is to see justice and receive assurances that nothing similar is ever allowed to happen again. Following on from Question 3, asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), and for victims’ peace of mind, can the Minister ensure transparency in implementing the inquiry’s final recommendations so that, ultimately, this House can hold him accountable?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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The hon. Lady will have heard the answers given by my right hon. Friend, the Paymaster General. He has given a clear commitment, which I am very happy to endorse from the Dispatch Box, on both transparency and speed of response. That is the approach that he and I are pursuing.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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T8. My constituents who run small and medium-sized enterprises constantly complain about their ability to get Government contracts. The passing of the Procurement Act 2023 will obviously make that a lot easier. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on when that will be enacted? What will be the benefits to SMEs not only in my constituency but across the country?

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Alex Burghart)
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Procurement Act is a landmark piece of legislation that is going to make life considerably easier for SMEs, and it will do that in a number of ways. A new online procurement platform will make it easier for people to enter information once and use it many times, and make it easier to see the pipeline of upcoming contracts. Crucially, contracting authorities will also now have to have regard to the needs of SMEs in order to break down barriers and give them a bigger share of the pie.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Jonathan Ashworth Portrait Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab/Co-op)
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I welcome the Paymaster General to his place. In his new role, he will have responsibility for the efficient delivery of Government services and entitlements on which our constituents rely. One such entitlement, of course, is the winter fuel payment. Earlier this week, he was reported as saying that some pensioners do not need the winter fuel payment, so can he tell us which group of pensioners he had in mind when talking about who should lose the winter fuel payment?

John Glen Portrait The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (John Glen)
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I was talking to a group of students and explaining the complexities of making choices in my then role at the Treasury. As the Chancellor set out yesterday, although the Government are fully committed to the full uplift, using the triple lock, and maintaining all those benefits, all Governments have to make choices. I was making known my views on some of those choices and the challenges in delivering them. I was not deviating at all from Government policy, and I am very happy to put the record straight on the Floor of the House.

Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell (Sedgefield) (Con)
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Mr Speaker, you may remember that, earlier this year, I referenced a 102-year-old constituent who had completed the Great North Run, having done a 1,000-mile bike ride the year before and a 100-mile walk the year before that. We were compiling a submission so that the gentleman could get an honour but, unfortunately, he passed away in the last couple of weeks. Given the extraordinary service that this veteran gave to the country, are there any routes we can still follow to get some recognition for him in this unfortunate situation?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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May I begin by paying tribute to the extraordinary endeavours of my hon. Friend’s constituent, which I would never be able to achieve at any stage in life? I am afraid that it is a general principle that honours are not given posthumously, but we are in consultation with the palace to look at posthumous honours for people who have lost their lives in public service. We continue to keep this under review, but it is a complex area.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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T2. It may be true that the Cabinet Office’s Greensill inquiry established that Lord Cameron had not broken any lobbying rules or acted unlawfully, but a Treasury Committee report, in finding that he had not broken the rules, said that this reflected on the “insufficient strength” of the rules. So what progress has been made to strengthen them? What role will they play in measuring the past activities of Ministers who are to be appointed?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I refer the hon. Gentleman to a written ministerial statement I made to the House a couple of months ago, in which I explained how, at length, we have implemented many recommendations, for example from the Boardman review and others. That included strengthening the civil service contractual requirements in relation to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and introducing a deed of covenant for Ministers to uphold the findings of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. I continue to engage with Lord Pickles, who chairs ACOBA, about further such reforms that can be undertaken.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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The Deputy Prime Minister played a prominent role at the artificial intelligence summit in Bletchley Park earlier this month. One big question is whether open source should be encouraged and perhaps even required, in order to encourage openness and innovation, or whether it should be restricted, to keep the models in the hands of known actors. What is the direction of his thinking on that?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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As ever, my right hon. Friend raises an erudite question. My disposition, and that of the Government, is that open source AI is an important basis upon which we can build many world-leading applications. We can see companies in this country growing at a fast pace by developing innovative AI off the back of open source. Of course, there are risks associated with it, but there is a high bar to be met before the Government would start imposing additional regulatory burdens on open source AI, given the associated benefits for economic growth.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)
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T3. Palantir has this week received one of the largest contracts imaginable. The company is based in silicon valley in California. It was established by the CIA and it has continuing links with the American defence network. It looks as though huge amounts of British NHS money and profits will be migrating back across the pond to California, but the most concerning thing is that information about millions of our fellow citizens—their health data—will be handled by that company. How can that be right?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Obviously, any contract of any size that the Government deal with—the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS in this case—goes through an extremely detailed and careful process in order to ensure that we get the best value for money for the British public, that we help our public services solve the problems they face and that national security is maintained. If the hon. Gentleman has a problem with a particular element of that contract, he should bring it before the House. Otherwise, I believe he is just scare- mongering.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend help with a situation where Thales, the French defence contractor, and its UK subsidiary are insisting that materials should be procured not from the UK, but from India. How is that consistent with the Government’s procurement policy?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I cannot comment on a specific case on the Floor of the House, but I am happy to engage with my hon. Friend on the matter he raises. Frameworks are in place, but without knowing more detail it is impossible for me to comment here.

Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
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T4. The right hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) is the ninth Paymaster General since the contaminated blood inquiry reported. We have worked together on mesothelioma and other issues, so I know he is of good faith, but my constituent Fred Bates, who was a victim of the contaminated blood scandal, is now 74 and needs to know whether he will get compensation before it is too late.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I understand that and, through the hon. Gentleman, I say to Mr Bates that I am doing everything I can to update the House as quickly as possible. There are a range of activities that I am familiar with from the small ministerial group of which I was previously a part. There is a lot of complexity in securing the envelope of money and then working out how to allocate it, but I am doing everything I can to bring that forward as quickly as possible.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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The lives of all our constituents are greatly affected by public bodies that make decisions across a whole range of issues. Would it be better for many of those public bodies to delegate their powers to Ministers, so that Members of this House can question and scrutinise those decisions?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I will conclude my initial meetings this afternoon with a briefing on arm’s length bodies and the range of different entities that exist beyond Whitehall. I will think very carefully about what my hon. Friend has said and look at what more we can do to ensure that there is real accountability, maximum productivity and efficiency, drawing on my experience up the road at the Treasury.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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T7. In thirteen and a half years in this House, I have barely known a time when foreign policy is more important, so will the Secretary of State confirm that he is working with you, Mr Speaker, to find a way for elected Members of this House to scrutinise the Foreign Secretary directly?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the Procedure Committee has been examining this subject, and we continue to discuss it with you, Mr Speaker. There is a well-established convention whereby the office of Foreign Secretary has been held by a Member of the other place. That has worked well in the past, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is committed to further increasing his accountability to this place.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We are both working on a solution.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Ind)
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What steps are the Government taking to reduce the number of civil servants in order to achieve value for money for the taxpayer?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I am looking carefully at where we are with the plans for this year—obviously, there is a half-way point in that cycle—and at what policies we can put in place. At the beginning of October, the Chancellor announced a freeze on recruitment. I will be looking at what we need to do now to ensure that, as we move into future financial years, we use the benefits of efficiencies that exist and different ways of delivering services, which we can learn from across the globe and the private sector, so that we get value for money for all those who are employed and do a good job in the civil service.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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Does the Deputy Prime Minister think it is acceptable that Baroness Michelle Mone has more ability to scrutinise the Foreign Secretary than Members of this House?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I refer the hon. Gentleman to my previous answer about the well-established principle that Ministers can serve from the other place, which I believe last happened when Lord Mandelson was in the Labour Cabinet. However, the Government and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recognise this House’s desire to scrutinise him and he has committed to further measures to ensure that happens.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con)
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I thank the Government for publishing the report on governance and accountability in the civil service, which my noble Friend Lord Maude was commissioned to produce. May I point out that one of his recommendations in that very well drafted report is about learning from the experience of other civil services, such as those in New Zealand, Australia and Canada, where indeed they retain civil servants in post much longer by paying them better—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Many Members wish to speak, but they will not get in if we are not careful.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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Yes, I acknowledge that the Maude report had some very useful contributions. I am reflecting on that and will give a more substantial response and comment in due course.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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I listened very carefully to the Paymaster General’s replies to my colleagues about the contaminated blood scandal. Can he guarantee that we will have a statement to the House before the Christmas recess?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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No, I cannot guarantee that, because I do not yet have collective agreement, but I am working towards that ambition and that is what I want to achieve.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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Why have Scotland and Wales been able to set up psychological support services for the victims of the contaminated blood scandal, but England has not?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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It is because I have not yet secured collective agreement to do so. The funds are available, and it is absolutely right that we bring that forward as soon as possible. Again, that is one of the activities that I will be engaged in resolving later this morning.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Further to the questions from the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), what assessment has the Minister made of the number of people who have sadly passed away this year due to infected blood before their compensation has been available for claiming?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I do not have that number for the hon. Gentleman, but the point he makes illustrates the urgency of the work in which I am engaged and the need to ensure that over the next 10 to 12 working weeks—by the expected date for the report’s publication—the Government can bring forward a comprehensive response.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We will now suspend until 10.30.

10:25
Sitting suspended.

Speaker’s Statement

Thursday 23rd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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10:30
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Before we move to business questions and resume the debate on the autumn statement, I remind hon. Members that after they have spoken in a debate or in questions they must, at the very minimum, remain in the Chamber for at least the next two speeches or the next two questions. They must also return to hear the winding-up speeches from both the Opposition spokesperson and the Minister at the end of the debate. It has got worse, and it will not be tolerated.

If for any reason a Member is unable to return to the Chamber for the wind-ups, they are welcome to approach the Chair and withdraw their request to speak in the debate. Records are kept when Members speak and fail to return, and this is taken into account when deciding whether to call Members in subsequent debates. Both the Minister and the Opposition spokesperson responding to the debate are expected to remain in the Chamber for the majority of the debate so that they can respond effectively to the points raised by other hon. Members.

Business of the House

Thursday 23rd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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10:31
Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Penny Mordaunt)
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The business for the week commencing 27 November will include:

Monday 27 November—Conclusion of debate on the autumn statement.

Tuesday 28 November—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Wednesday 29 November—Remaining stages of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

Thursday 30 November—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) Bill.

Friday 1 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 December will include:

Monday 4 December—Remaining stages of the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
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I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business.

The agreement of a cessation in hostilities in Gaza and Israel, to release hostages and tackle the urgent and unacceptable humanitarian catastrophe, is welcome. Let us also hope that it could lead to a longer-lasting resolution. Will the Government keep the House updated as the situation develops? There really should have been a statement this week, and we really should be hearing from the Foreign Secretary, as we discussed last week. Members give careful consideration to these matters, and want to raise their constituents’ concerns.

In a few cases, however, we have seen the legitimate lobbying of Members by their constituents cross a line into intimidating protests and vandalism. I thank the Leader of the House, you, Mr Speaker, House staff, and the police for everything that they are already doing to support Members and their staff. Does the Leader of the House agree that the spreading of misinformation and the whipping up of hate is a threat to our democracy? Much of it takes hold on social media platforms. Given that the Government watered down the Online Safety Act 2023, does she believe that they have the tools to deal with online hate, misogyny, antisemitism and Islamophobia, no longer covered by the Act?

Turning to yesterday’s autumn statement, does the Leader of the House want to take this opportunity to correct the record, because the Chancellor did not seem to get his numbers right? The real figures were published by the Office for Budget Responsibility alongside his statement, and they do not match. He said that it was

“an autumn statement for growth”.—[Official Report, 22 November 2023; Vol. 741, c. 334.]

The OBR said that growth has been downgraded in each of the next three years. He said that he was cutting taxes. The OBR confirmed that this will be the biggest tax-raising Parliament on record, with 7 million workers now caught by stealth tax rises. Even with his cut to national insurance, the Government are handing back only £1 for every £8 they have taken in this Parliament.

The Chancellor said he was helping with the cost of living crisis, yet the Office for Budget Responsibility says this is the largest reduction in real living standards since records began, and energy prices rise again today, adding more pain. He said he had got inflation under control, but the OBR inflation forecasts have now gone up in every year of the forecast period, with prices rising higher for longer. He said that debt had fallen, yet the OBR said it would be 28% higher next year than when the Tories came to power. The Prime Minister said yesterday that he had reduced debt, yet the Institute for Fiscal Studies is clear that public sector debt is rising in cash terms, in real terms and as a percentage of the national income. Perhaps those discrepancies are why the IFS’s director said of the autumn statement that

“a lot of these numbers… are sort of made up.”

No matter what the Government do at this late stage, the facts for families will not change. Prices are up, tax is up, debt is up, mortgages are up, rent is up; that is their record, and nothing they said this week can change it. When people ask themselves whether they are better off after 13 years of a Conservative Government, the answer will be no.

The latest immigration figures are now out—up again. So much for the Foreign Secretary’s plan to get numbers down to tens of thousands. That is further evidence that this Government cannot stick to their promises, and in next week’s business there is still no sign of the emergency legislation on Rwanda. Where is it? What is the hold-up? Is it with the Leader of the House’s parliamentary business and legislation committee, or is with it the Home Office? Has she even seen it? She knows it will not work; it will absorb loads of time and it will not solve the problem. Maybe the delay is because the Home Secretary reportedly thinks that the Rwanda policy is “batshit”. Yesterday, he also said that Stockton was a “shithole”. Does the Leader of the House agree that besmirching another hon. Member’s constituency goes against all the courtesies of this place and is utterly disrespectful to their constituents? Will she ensure that the Home Secretary comes to this House and apologises? That sort of foul language may be accurate when describing Government policy, but not the great town of Stockton.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I place on record my thanks for hosting the UK Disability History Month event that took place in your rooms last night, Mr Speaker. We had great speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House about their disabilities and of course the performance of the Music Man Project. I promise you that the video of you dancing Gangnam-style to one of their hits will go with me to my grave.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I owe you one.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for, and join with, the sentiments she expressed about Israel and Gaza. We all hope that some of the hostages are able to be released in the coming days, and our thoughts are with everyone affected by that. It is incredibly important that this House is kept up to date. She will know that the Procedure Committee is looking at that and will shortly make some announcements on how it thinks the Foreign Secretary can best come to answer questions from hon. Members.

This week I met the director of national security and the director of consular and crisis services in the Foreign Office, as well as Home Office officials, on behalf of Members of this House to look at what they can do to support the families of hostages—not just the British nationals, but those who have a connection to the UK—and I know that they are in touch with those hon. Members directly concerned. A lot of that cannot be put in the public domain, for obvious reasons, but they are in touch with hon. Members on Privy Counsellor terms with things that cannot necessarily be put in the public domain.

May I also thank the hon. Lady for what she said about security? It is incredibly important. I refer Members to what I said last week on that point: we should be free in this place to use our judgment and vote accordingly, and we should not face intimidation for doing our duty to this House. Although it is a growing and moving challenge, I am confident that we have the tools to tackle misinformation online. She will know that we have stood up new services in the House of Commons Library, strengthening its ties with Government Departments—particularly the Department for Culture, Media and Sport —as well as with our security agencies.

The hon. Lady mentions the facts relating to the autumn statement and the OBR, and I am happy to remind the House of those facts. Inflation is now at 4.6% and will fall to 2.8%, and at the end of next year, towards 2025, we will be back to 2%. Headline debt is now 94% by end of forecast, down from a predicted 100%. Underlying debt next year is expected to fall to 91.6%, and we are due to meet our fiscal rule of having underlying debt fall as a percentage of GDP by the end of the next financial forecast. We have the second lowest debt in the G7.

The hon. Lady talks about the cost of living. On average, a person on benefits will be £470 better off, pensioners £900 better off, and those on housing allowance £800 better off. The national living wage has gone up. Our total commitment on cost of living measures is now over £104 billion, which includes £3,700 on average toward a person’s energy bills. She will know that the energy price guarantee remains in place until March next year.

On our ambitions to grow the economy, the hon. Lady will also know that we have a strong and resilient economy. That fact is evidenced by our continuing to attract inward investment. I very much welcome Nissan’s announcement of its commitment to continue making the Qashqai and Juke models in Sunderland. Yesterday, we made expensing permanent, as well as other measures to help businesses large and small, particularly on our high streets and in the hospitality sector. We have new investment zones, one of which is in her beloved Greater Manchester.

The hon. Lady mentions Stockton North, which will benefit from £20 million of levelling-up funding for Billingham town centre. With regard to the charge that she makes against the Home Secretary, he denies it and I believe him.

The economy is predicted to grow. We would like it to grow faster, and that is why we are focused on productivity. We have been able to cut tax through the tough decisions that have enabled us to create that headroom. We were able to do what we did during the pandemic, on furlough and other support, only because we paid down Labour’s deficit by 80%. Labour has opposed every measure that we have brought in to balance the books. Labour has blocked every measure to reform welfare in favour of denying people with disabilities the dignity of a pay packet.

Labour has blocked every measure to protect access to public service and cut waiting lists, in favour of militant unions. Labour has blocked every measure to make us more energy secure, in favour of Just Stop Oil. Labour has blocked every measure to raise education standards, and now wishes to tax education and halve apprenticeships. While we have been reducing fuel duty and holding down council tax, Labour put both up by 42% and 104% respectively. Where Labour is now in power, it taxes the lowest paid out of work. The ultra low emission zone has wreaked havoc in London and cost livelihoods. Sadly, I understand that those measures will shortly be coming to Wales.

Labour Members say that they have changed, but their actions past, present and planned for the future say otherwise. Further business will be announced in the usual way.

Jake Berry Portrait Sir Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)
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I am delighted to inform the House that, after 50 years, the crown jewels of Darwen—our freeman’s casket and our mace—will be returned from Blackburn to the Darwen Heritage Centre. After 14 years of campaigning myself, I congratulate the heritage centre and all its volunteers on their work to secure them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is high time for a debate about local government reorganisation? As well as getting its crown jewels returned, Darwen wants to break free from Blackburn, which would truly be the crowning glory of our £120 million town deal.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a successful, if lengthy, campaign, and I congratulate him and everyone who has worked on it on their diligence and on never giving up. I do not know about a debate—it sounds like we ought to be having a party to celebrate this. In all seriousness, I know that it means a tremendous amount to the local community. They are known as the crown jewels locally. I understand that some of them are very heavy—if they need a hand carrying them around, I know someone who can help.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the SNP spokesperson.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Things became a bit clearer for us all this week. For a time, we have been wondering what the Leader of the House meant when she delivered her infamous “stand up and fight” battle cry. She told us 12 times in 90 seconds that she wanted to have a fight with somebody, but we were not quite sure who the enemy in her head was. We know in Scotland that she likes having a fight with us; she is always telling us off for disobedience or treachery. In Tory Britain, we Scots really should know our place. But the Chancellor helpfully revealed who else her Government want to fight with.

If you are unable to work because of ill health, get ready for battle with the Tories. If you are among the 4 million families destitute in the UK, forget it—there will be no real help for you in your daily struggle to survive. As is clear from the covid inquiry, if you are a scientist or—God forbid—an actual expert, gird your loins. In England, Tories fight NHS workers. They fight teachers. They fight local councils. They fight the low-paid. If you are on pensions or benefits, sure, they threw you a few crumbs yesterday from their table, but the Office for National Statistics says that food prices are 30% higher than they were two years ago, so they will fight you at the checkout tills. There was not a word about fighting billionaires’ tax evasion, fighting dirty money being laundered through London, or fighting the corruption and fraud drenching this Government in sleaze.

When the Chancellor sat down yesterday, the independent OBR assessed that his measures would bring the largest reduction in living standards since records began. But never mind; I see the other place was debating the Pedicabs (London) Bill last night, so we can all calm down, knowing that this Government are focused on the things that really matter. And people ask us why we want to see Scotland independent and away from this bedlam of a place!

I realise that I will wait in vain for any actual answers to these questions—questions like, how is it exactly that the right hon. Lady’s Government can find fiscal headroom in their Budget when some of my constituents in Edinburgh North and Leith cannot afford to feed themselves? Is it not time her profligate Government stopped fighting everybody and held an inquiry into themselves and the many billions they have squandered over the last four years?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am not in any doubt who I am standing up and fighting for—the people of this country—and who I am standing up and fighting against, and the SNP are on the latter list. First, what the hon. Lady says is not the case. She spoke about the welfare measures that were announced yesterday. She knows that the closing claims measure does not apply in Scotland and does not apply to anyone with disabilities or a child. If she was not aware of that, I ask her to please read the documents that were put out yesterday and the Chancellor’s statement, and if she does know that that is the case, it would be helpful for her not to say otherwise.

The hon. Lady lists a number of things and makes various accusations. I would ask her to be a little more self-reflective. It is her party that has been subject to 22—and counting, I think—police investigations. The Serious Fraud Office is investigating GFG Alliance, the company to which the Scottish National party gave hundreds of millions of pounds to guarantee jobs that never materialised, and that just happened to be sponsoring its party conference at the same time.

The hon. Lady likes to lecture my party about values. Which party is it whose leader smirked while people booed the national anthem? Which party is it whose activists called BBC reporters traitors? Which party is it that bullied Conservative party members attending a conference in Scotland to the extent that it made national news? Which party is it whose behaviour was so horrific towards its own elected representatives that they said they suffered panic attacks, and some have crossed the Floor? Who is responsible for the bile-fuelled rants that are so evident in Hansard?

Once the hon. Lady has clocked that the answer to all those questions is her party, she might reflect on why that is the case and on the appalling legacy that such a warped, irresponsible displacement activity has seeded to a generation of Scottish children—a wrecked education system, a widening attainment gap, fewer teachers, maths scores declining in every PISA survey, science at a record low and plummeting literacy rates. But they will, of course, have somewhere safe and warm in which to take heroin. I am not going to take any lectures from the hon. Lady about values, responsibility or performance in office. This is why I will get up every week and stand up and fight against the slopey-shouldered separatism evidenced by the SNP.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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Part of my constituency is fortunate still to be served by a daily newspaper, the Grimsby Telegraph. The funeral of one of its most distinguished journalists, Peter Chapman, took place earlier this week, which caused me to reflect on the sadly declining role that local newspapers play in serving their community. May we have a debate about the role of local newspapers and how they can help build the foundations of their local community?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue—he is a huge champion for his local paper. As he knows, the pro-competition regime set out in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will help rebalance the relationship between the most powerful tech firms and those who rely on them, including press publishers, which will make an important contribution to the sustainability of the press. The next Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions are not until the new year, so I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard about his interest, and if he wishes to apply for a debate, I am sure it would be very well attended.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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In North Norfolk in East Anglia, we have some of the most important areas for sugar beet in the entire country. Does the Leader of the House think it is right for British Sugar to bypass the National Farmers Union, the beet growers’ sole representative in negotiations with the monopoly processor, while negotiations are ongoing to get farmers to sign up to a contract that the majority of them do not believe is in their best interests or reflects an adequate return for the sugar market?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he is doing to support his farmers—I know it is a lot. He is a consistent champion for their interests, and he is right to encourage them to stand firm. I am pleased that NFU Sugar and British Sugar are resuming negotiations on next year’s sugar beet price, and I hope they can work together to agree a mutually acceptable deal as soon as possible for the benefit of both growers and processors. My hon. Friend may wish to raise this matter on 7 December with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.

Ian Mearns Portrait Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab)
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I am always very grateful, Mr Speaker—thank you very much.

Ian Mearns Portrait Ian Mearns
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Well, you know. I see from the Order Paper that the Committee of Selection has done its business, and hopefully the House will agree the membership of the Backbench Business Committee on Monday night, which will mean that it will be able to meet on Tuesday afternoon. I gather that the Committee Clerks already have a dozen applications to be heard on Tuesday afternoon, so we look forward to getting back to work. We are also looking to the Leader of the House to award us a constant flow of time in which to air those debates, both here in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall.

Yesterday, we heard that benefits will be uprated from April and national insurance will be reduced from January, but overnight we also got news from Ofgem that it intends to raise the energy price cap by 5% from January. An inordinate number of my constituents are already spending more on daily standing charges than they can afford to spend on heating their homes and feeding their families. I understand that the Government intend to look at this issue, or are looking at it, but given what has happened in the last couple of days, could I ask for that work to be speeded up and done in anticipation of the price cap being raised in January?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the advert about the timetable for his Committee being re-established, which is very good news. We will certainly, as always, make sure there is time for the debates that hon. Members wish to have.

The hon. Gentleman will know from the answer I gave to the shadow Leader of the House that we have the energy price guarantee in place until the end of March next year, but I know that the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero will want to update the House on the ongoing work to which he alludes. I shall make sure that she has heard what he has said, and of course he knows how to raise it with her directly.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
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Over the last seven weeks, we have seen over 15,000 innocent men, women and children killed; hospitals, churches, mosques, refugee camps and homes attacked; numerous instances of war crimes; and food, water, power and medicine cut off in an act of collective punishment that is in violation of international law. Yet, even as over 2 million people remain trapped in the never-ending humanitarian nightmare in Gaza, we still have not had a substantial debate in this Chamber on the conflict. This is one of the most important issues to my constituents and to constituents of many hon. Members, so will the Leader of House finally allocate Government time for a substantial debate on this critical issue?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this. I know that the situation in Gaza, particularly what we hope might happen over the coming days, is very much at the forefront of people’s minds. He will know—and I have given many examples—the complexity of the situation there and what the Israel Defence Forces are trying to do in very difficult circumstances, but of course we all want to see a pause in hostilities to enable humanitarian assistance to get to where it needs to be and we hope for hostages to be returned home. There have been a number of opportunities to discuss this on the Floor of the House, not least with the usual Prime Minister’s questions and other questions to Departments. I shall make sure that the Foreign Secretary has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said, and he will know that the doors of consular services, but also of Departments that are closely monitoring what is happening on the ground, are always open to Members who have particular concerns.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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May we have a debate on antisemitism at the Football Association? The FA board, which for years lit up Wembley for numerous causes and campaigns, has now said that it will not light up Wembley ever again for any non-entertainment reason. This is because it has been shamed by its antisemitic decision not to light up the stadium when 1,400 Jews were murdered in the pogrom of 7 October. Should the national lottery even fund organisations that seem to regret every death and injustice apart from the death of Jews?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My right hon. and learned Friend the Culture Secretary discussed the lighting of the arch with the Football Association at the time and expressed her disappointment about how it approached that situation. As was announced in the autumn statement, we are making further funds available to combat the rise in antisemitism. We are also repeating the £3 million uplift to the Community Security Trust to fund its critical work, to ensure that that work is able to continue and to meet the unfortunate demand. However, my right hon. and learned Friend makes a very good point. Whatever businesses or organisations we are involved in, we can all make a difference by calling things out, while also, critically, showing support to particular communities. I think his point was well made.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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May we have a debate on improving road safety? I recently met a community speedwatch group in Bath, a bunch of highly dedicated and motivated people who stand for hours in all weathers, facing abuse. They have caught 80,000 speeding vehicles, yet they see very little result for their hard work. Speeding kills: a third of road fatalities are down to speeding. Would Road Safety Week not be a perfect opportunity for such a debate to show that the Government really take the issue of road safety seriously?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Lady for raising this—very sadly—timely question given the events of this week. As she knows, speeding is a critical issue and one of the biggest killers globally, affecting many countries. As well as measures we take at home, she knows that we make a big contribution to reducing the number of deaths on the road elsewhere. It is an excellent topic for a debate. I will download her interest to the Secretary of State, and I am sure that if she applied for a debate, it would be well attended.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend has already mentioned the financial impact on poorer families of the Labour Mayor of London’s hated expansion of the ULEZ—ultra low emission zone—scheme, but she is probably not aware that the Advertising Standards Authority has found him guilty of using incorrect statistics in the scientific evidence, which led to its expansion. Given that authorities across the country are now considering introducing similar schemes, would it not be a good idea to have a debate in Government time on ULEZ, so that we can expose these lies for what they are?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. That is a very good idea and topic for a debate, and he will know how to apply for one. There are schemes elsewhere in the country that address air quality issues which have chosen a different path to clobbering those who can least afford it, with terrible unintended consequences —people losing their businesses or livelihoods, charitable organisations being prevented from going about their work and the knock-on economic impact to surrounding areas. It is not just those in London or potentially in certain parts of Wales who are to be affected by these schemes; it is anyone who is going there to do business or for some other purpose. It would be very good to have a debate on these matters. There is good practice out there, and there is also appalling practice, based on shoddy evidence, and the Mayor of London is the top candidate for that accolade.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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The Chancellor said yesterday that he had taken steps to support people through the cost of living crisis created in Downing Street, so why have 2 million citizens had to rely on food banks in the past 12 months?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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As I stated earlier, the cost of living measures we have brought in now amount to £104 billion. We have been there through the immense crisis that was the pandemic and through furlough, helping people so that they could be at home and be supported and also, critically, keeping jobs and businesses going, which is why we were one of the fastest recovery nations. We have been there to pay energy bills. I shall not repeat the statistics I gave earlier, but the hon. Lady will know that we have protected those on benefits and also pensioners through the triple lock, and we are ensuring that those who are on benefits and trying to get into work have additional support to do so. The result of our record is 1.7 million more people lifted out of absolute poverty, 200,000 of whom are pensioners and nearly 500,000 are children.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has already found the Department for Work and Pensions guilty of maladministration on two counts in relation to the WASPI women—the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—once in 2005 and the other in 2006. I forget who was in charge at the time; it must be my age. Many women have suffered as a result in a variety of ways. Will the Leader of the House agree to having a statement so that the Government can show they are doing what they can to help speed up the processes at the ombudsman, which appears to be taking an inordinate amount of time in finalising its investigation and recommendations?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question and the work he has been doing campaigning on behalf of pensioners more broadly and his work on the triple lock, as well as with respect to particular cohorts of individuals, both his constituents and more widely. The ombudsman’s investigation is ongoing, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment on that, but I understand that it issued a statement on the timeline and the reasons for the delay. I will certainly make sure that it has heard what my hon. Friend has said today.

George Howarth Portrait Sir George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab)
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I note that the Leader of the House failed to respond to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) about the Government’s Rwanda policy. The right hon. Lady will be aware of reports that if, as seems likely, the Government are unable to find a legal way to take that policy forward, they are considering using the Falkland Islands as an alternative. Will she take this opportunity to either confirm or deny that the Falkland Islands is a possible alternative to Rwanda?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am very happy to knock that one on the head. It is not an alternative to Rwanda, and nor are various other places that have been mentioned, including the Orkney Islands. That would be definitely out, given the reliability of Scottish National party ferry services.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Ind)
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Last Sunday was International Men’s Day, which is a brilliant opportunity to highlight the positive contribution that men make to society, as well as some of the challenges we face. Foremost among those is men’s mental health and, in particular, the high rates of male suicide. I recently visited Conscious Recovery, an inspiring Blackpool charity that supports those dealing with mental health issues and raises awareness of those issues in our community. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking and praising those brilliant volunteers and charities who do enormous work in this area and who make so much difference? Will she support a debate on improving mental health and preventing suicide?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for championing Conscious Recovery in his constituency. I am sure the whole House would want to thank all the volunteers who work for that organisation, as well as those who work for many organisations across the country and in our own constituencies, too. I am pleased that he has been able to raise the profile of this important issue, and I thank him for his campaign work on it. It is critical, particularly for young men who are very vulnerable to not opening up about their mental health issues, often with terrible consequences. We should applaud all efforts to ensure that they get the help and interventions they need.

John Cryer Portrait John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)
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Further to earlier exchanges, many of us have constituents stuck inside the hell that is Gaza, and in trying to get them out, we are struggling to get information out of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I have always found the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) to be an honourable and honest man, and he is doing his best to help to get people out, but it is still difficult getting that information. Could we have a statement, or at least a written statement, setting out the channels that might be open to us so that we can get people home?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I will certainly make sure that the Foreign Office has circulated an updated contact list to all Members of this House. We will make sure that is done. The consular services are the best point of contact in most cases for hon. Members, but in the meeting I spoke about earlier in this session, I also emphasised the importance of the Foreign Office and in some cases the Home Office making sure that they are in regular touch with Members who have a particular interest in this issue. I would be happy after this session to ensure that the Foreign Office gets in touch with the hon. Gentleman to talk about any issues he needs support with.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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Will the Leader of the House update us on the legislation to create an independent regulator for men’s football? My constituents who support Everton are frustrated about the process their club has gone through and worry about unfairness. Fans of many clubs believe that the structure of men’s football requires much better governance, and there is support from parties across the House to crack on and legislate for a better system. Will she tell us when the Bill will be published and when Second Reading will be?

None Portrait Hon. Members
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Hear, hear.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Lady for raising that matter, on which there was audible agreement from around the House. I know that this issue is supported by many people, and I am one of them, as a Portsmouth football club fan and having done the largest and fastest ever community buyout of a football club in the UK. We have spent a great deal of effort on this. As she knows, we will be bringing legislation forward, and she will not have long to wait for that. She will not be surprised to hear that further business will be announced in the usual way.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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It is hard to know which is worse: the continued robbery of Scotland’s vast energy wealth while one in three house- holds in Scotland exist in fuel poverty, or the Scottish Government’s supine response to the closure of Grangemouth oil refinery. According to Petroineos, the precise timeline for implementing any change has yet to be determined. I agree with Derek Thompson of Unite the union, who said:

“Every option must be on the table in order to secure the hundreds of highly skilled jobs based at the Grangemouth complex for the long term.”

Will the Leader of the House bring forward a debate in Government time to consider the economic impact of UK energy policy on the people of Scotland?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the oil refinery, but I invite him to examine his party’s policies on oil and gas and the support it gives to that sector.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
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Quite rightly—[Interruption.] If the Scots can stop their spat for a moment. This country quite rightly maintains a list of the crown jewels of sport and of our sporting heritage and culture with a listed events regime, but the six nations rugby tournament is not on that list. Most people would think that it would be, but every few years the danger of it falling off free-to-air television broadcast comes along, and that is with us again following this week’s session of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Is it not about time that the Government added the six nations, which is a festival of friendship across these islands and Europe, to the listed events regime?

None Portrait Hon. Members
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Hear, hear.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion got a lot of support from across the House. It is the most fantastic tournament, with friendship as well as friendly rivalries. I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has heard his suggestion, as the Department’s next oral questions are not until 11 January.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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The Government’s “Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping” consultation closes in two weeks, and it is crucial that they do not rush through legislation without considering all the responses carefully. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be a sufficient window between the consultation’s closure and the introduction to the House of the tobacco and vapes Bill? Will she allow Members of the House an opportunity to debate the consultation’s proposals before a draft Bill is published?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for that advert for the consultation. It is very important that people are aware of it and able to contribute to it. Although I cannot give her a precise time that the Bill will come before the House, there will be good time between the consultation closing, the publication of its results and any debates in this place.

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
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My constituent Alistair Inglis of Duthie & Son motors in Montrose is suffering a prolonged issue with HMRC about its 2022 VAT return, which centres on misallocation of payments to the digital tax system using the dealership management system for the years 1993, 2001 and 2002. This has been going on since August 2022, and it is still not resolved—not, I must say, for want of effort on the part of officers within HMRC, who are trying their best with a system that will not resolve the situation. Can we have a debate on the dealership management system to see whether this is a localised issue to my constituent in Angus or it affects franchised car dealerships across the United Kingdom? Is there any other way in which the Leader of the House can seek to advance this apparently intractable situation for my constituent?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s constituent has had difficulty getting the right person in HMRC to resolve that. I will ask my officials to contact HMRC on his behalf, and ask them to get in touch with the hon. Gentleman’s office to have an individual sit down and work through what might be a complex case. There will be a solution at the end of it, and I am happy to do that on his behalf.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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Could we please have a statement to explain why the overhyped Hull and East Yorkshire devolution deal announced in yesterday’s autumn statement and described by a local, well-respected journalist in Hull as “cobblers” is worth only £13.3 million a year extra in funding over 30 years, and goes nowhere near the £111 million lost each year to Hull alone since 2010?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Lady will know that she can put that to the Secretary of State himself on 4 December. That devolution deal would not have proceeded if local stakeholders were not in favour of it, but if she has suggestions about other things, she can raise that with the Secretary of State.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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The Leader of the House is a stickler for detail, yet there was scant mention in her replies to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), or indeed by the Chancellor yesterday, of freezing personal tax thresholds until 2028. That will cost basic rate taxpayers an average of £720 more each year. Does Leader of the House think that people will not notice the effects in their pay packets?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I think that people will notice that this Administration has doubled the personal tax thresholds and lifted many people on the lowest incomes out of paying tax altogether.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
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Oak Square housing complex in Stockwell was built in 2010. Sadly, since then there has been a host of issues with the building, from leaks and defective cladding to faulty infrastructure. That has meant that my constituents have had to live in a nightmare for almost 10 years. I visited it earlier this summer to see the issues at first hand. The tenants continue to pay their rent and service charges to their landlord, Notting Hill Genesis. Can the Leader of the House please urge the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to accept my invitation to come down and see at first hand the nightmare that residents have to live in?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to hear the situation that the hon. Lady is in. I will make sure that the Housing Minister has heard of the ongoing situation, and I will ask that she be given any advice that is available from officials about further avenues she can pursue to get redress for her constituents.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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A few days ago, the Care Quality Commission found that more than two thirds of hospitals in London and more than half of hospitals in England offer substandard levels of care. Will the Leader of the House make a statement expressing her alarm and concern about that shocking revelation? Can she share with the House what she thinks has gone wrong?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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That is a question that she might like to ask the Health Secretary at the next available questions. I would ask her to look a little closer to home at life expectancy figures and at what is happening in her own constituency.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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Broadmarsh in my constituency is one of the most significant city centre development sites in the UK, with the potential to bring up to 1,000 new homes and more than 6,000 extra jobs. Nottingham City Council has already invested in a new bus station and big improvements to the public realm, and on Tuesday it will open the new central library. However, for the third successive time, the Government have failed to provide any levelling-up money to support its regeneration. Can we have a debate on this Government’s continued failure to back local authorities, which are facing high inflation, high interest rates and unprecedented levels of demand for social care, leaving so many teetering on the brink?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Lady will know that we have provided additional funding for social care. We have also been supporting both the care sector and the NHS to work more efficiently and effectively together. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard her concerns today, and she will know how to raise them with her directly.

Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
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My constituent Jess McNichols, who is receiving treatment for cancer at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, missed an important medical appointment due to the general disruption of Royal Mail services. Her letter arrived late. Could the Leader of the House counsel me on how best to raise this case further in this place?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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This is becoming a consistent theme for hon. Members on both sides of the House. Services are not meeting Royal Mail’s performance targets and he has just illustrated that that can often have a pretty devastating impact, with missed appointments and knock-on effects for inefficiencies in other public services. I have ensured that the relevant Department is aware of hon. Members’ concerns. I urge all hon. Members to do their bit, particularly on the issue of industrial action, to ensure that there is no further disruption to mail services.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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Today is Carers Rights Day, when we recognise that unpaid carers have rights too and need those rights strengthened. Carers UK today published new research that shows thousands of people are having to give up work due to the stress of juggling paid work and unpaid care. At this point, I would like to thank all carers across the Blaydon constituency who do so much, and Gateshead Carers Association and Carers Trust Tyne & Wear, who support them in that work. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can better support our unpaid carers who do so much?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Lady for that question. I think all hon. Members across the House would echo what she has said: the huge debt we owe these individuals who step up and take responsibility, both for their immediate families and others. We have, through the carers’ strategy, introduced a range of measures to support them. I think the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) also assisted us in delivering a manifesto commitment on access to leave for carers. There is always more we can do and if the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) were to apply for a debate it would be very well attended.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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In the past two years, Plymouth has suffered two incredibly bad tragedies: the mass shooting in Keyham, where we lost five people; and the murder of Bobbi-Anne McLeod, an 18-year-old who was taken from a bus stop and murdered. Members on all sides of the House have committed to tackle male violence against women and girls, so will the Leader of the House ask the relevant Cabinet colleague to come to the House to give a statement on what progress is being made, especially as we approach the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, to tackle not only domestic abuse and violence against women and girls, but the growing scourge of incel culture online?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter. All the work done to strengthen local communities, particularly after those two tragic incidents, is a credit to his constituents. He will know that a number of Departments, but particularly the Home Office, have done a huge amount in recent years on combating violence against women and girls. Measures need to range from education at an early age, right through to ensuring that victims and potential victims have all the tools they need to enable them to avoid harm. This is an issue that is keenly followed by all Members. If he were to apply for a debate it would be well attended, but I will make sure that the Home Secretary has heard what he has said today. We all send our best wishes to his constituents.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last year Bradford faced the highest increase in car insurance prices in the whole of Yorkshire, with the average premium standing at a staggering £879. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on the car insurance rip-off which means that law-abiding citizens such as her constituents and mine are left paying for the reckless criminality of others?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure that if the hon. Lady were to apply for a debate it would be well attended, because there is a huge amount of interest in these issues. As she will know, our legislation to ensure that competition is working well and the consumer really is king will also ensure that people are able to get the best price from, in particular, online companies, if need be going through a broker in the case of insurance. However, I shall make sure that the Department has heard about the hon. Lady’s concerns in the context of her own constituency.

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

My constituent Margaret Beveridge, a pensioner, took out a £20,000 loan for a ground source heat pump on the understanding that there would be a seven-year payback grant from Ofgem, which it has now withdrawn following an audit. Margaret’s installer is adamant that what Ofgem has said and done is wrong, but getting the information to Ofgem took her past the 28-day appeal deadline, and she is now left high and dry with energy and bank loan outgoings of £700 a month. How many more vulnerable customers will have to suffer before Ofgem’s rules and attitudes are reformed, and how can I get Margaret the help that she desperately needs?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very sorry to hear that. I shall certainly put pen to paper this afternoon and write to the relevant parties on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf, but I hope that Ofgem will have heard what he has said today and will be in touch with his office directly if there is anything it can do within the parameters in which it is required to operate. If he wants to give me further details about the specifics of the case, I shall also explore with the Department whether there are any other avenues of redress for his constituent.

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

The rise in the number of neurodivergent children is a cause of serious concern. In 2018 there were 42 diagnoses in York, but last year there were 118, and the number will exceed that this year. Moreover, the number of education, health and care plans has more than doubled. May we have a debate on the support that is there for families, the staffing that is there to expedite diagnosis, and the ongoing support of children in schools?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter. If we want to ensure that every child and young person can reach their full potential, we must also ensure that people have not only diagnoses but the support that they and their families need in order to thrive. The hon. Lady knows how to apply for an Adjournment debate, and the Backbench Business Committee has just been set up and will provide her with another avenue. However, I shall make sure that all the relevant Secretaries of State have heard her question today.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I again ask the Leader of the House a couple of questions about the position of minority religious groups? The first concerns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which has rightly been described as a state without parallel. Crimes against humanity go unpunished, while those who have escaped can face major human rights violations, which are particularly harsh in the case of religious people.

Secondly, many newspapers reported yesterday that what was happening in Darfur could now be considered genocide. People are being killed on the basis of their ethnicity and faith, while places of sanctuary, including mosques and churches, are being destroyed. I believe that departmental action is needed to stop this escalation of violence. As our representative—for I know that she asks questions on our behalf—will the Leader of the House bring the situation in Sudan to the attention of Ministers, and will she also ensure that they are aware of the crimes against humanity in the DPRK, that their escalation is addressed, and that we can do something here in the House to help these people?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman has again done something to help. He has sent a very clear message that all of us in this place are focused on the appalling human rights abuses and atrocities happening in Sudan, North Korea and elsewhere. I thank him for doing that, as he does every single week. I will make sure the Foreign Office has heard what he said, and I know we will do all we can to ensure that the chances of such horrors happening are lessened. He will know that, through the programmes run by the FCDO, we do all we can to help community cohesion in many parts of the world.

Bill Presented

National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Laura Trott, Nigel Huddleston, Bim Afolami and Gareth Davies, presented a Bill to make provision for and in connection with reducing the main rates of primary Class 1 national insurance contributions and Class 4 national insurance contributions, and removing the requirement to pay Class 2 national insurance contributions.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 27 November, and to be printed (Bill 12) with explanatory notes (Bill 12-EN).

Ways and Means

Thursday 23rd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text

Autumn Statement Resolutions

Thursday 23rd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
11:30
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think it is worth reminding right hon. and hon. Members of the statement that Mr Speaker made earlier about the importance not only of Members being here, obviously, for the opening of the debate, but of remaining in the Chamber for the majority of the debate—and certainly for at least the next two speeches—and, crucially, the importance of returning for the wind-ups from both the Opposition and the Government.

If anybody who is hoping to speak in this debate feels they may not be able to return for the wind-ups, they should please let me know now so that I can take their name off the list, rather than saying near the end of the debate, “I am terribly sorry, but I have to do something else that is more important than listening to the wind-ups,” because nothing could be more important than listening to the wind-ups.

It is also important that both the Minister and the Opposition spokesperson responding to the debate are here for the majority of the debate, so that they can respond to the points made by hon. and right hon. Members.

Rates of tobacco products duty

Debate resumed (Order, 22 November).

Question again proposed,

That—

(1) In Schedule 1 to the Tobacco Products Duty Act 1979 (table of rates of tobacco products duty), for the Table substitute—

“TABLE

1 Cigarettes

An amount equal to the higher of—

16.5% of the retail price plus £316.70 per thousand cigarettes, or

£422.80 per thousand cigarettes.

2 Cigars

£395.03 per kilogram

3 Hand-rolling tobacco

£412.32 per kilogram

4 Other smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco

£173.68 per kilogram

5 Tobacco for heating

£325.53 per kilogram”.



(2) In consequence of the provision made by paragraph (1), in Schedule 2 to the Travellers’ Allowances Order 1994 (which provides in certain circumstances for a simplified calculation of excise duty on goods brought into Great Britain)—

(a) in the entry relating to cigarettes, for “£393.45” substitute “£422.80”,

(b) in the entry relating to hand rolling tobacco, for “£351.03” substitute “£412.32”,

(c) in the entry relating to other smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco, for “£161.62” substitute “£173.68”,

(d) in the entry relating to cigars, for “£367.61” substitute “£395.03”,

(e) in the entry relating to cigarillos, for “£367.61” substitute “£395.03”, and

(f) in the entry relating to tobacco for heating, for “£90.88” substitute “£97.66”.

(3) The amendments made by this Resolution come into force at 6pm on 22 November 2023.

And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.

11:32
Kevin Hollinrake Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kevin Hollinrake)
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As someone who was in business myself, starting and scaling up businesses for 30 years prior to entering Parliament, it is a privilege to open this debate on behalf of the Government.

For any ambitious entrepreneur, “growth” is the most exciting word in the lexicon. The Chancellor’s autumn statement contains 110 separate measures to help businesses achieve exactly that. It will help to close the UK’s productivity gap by boosting investment by £20 billion a year in a decade. That is why I am wholly unsurprised by the positive response it has received from some of our most prominent business organisations.

The Federation of Small Businesses described the autumn statement as “game-changing”, adding:

“The Chancellor and his Treasury team deserve credit for driving pro-small business change and…acting to help build future prosperity.”

UK Finance said the autumn statement

“demonstrates a continued commitment to growth”.

And the manufacturing trade body Make UK said:

“This was a bold statement by the Chancellor who has”—

delivered—

“a transformational strategy designed to turbo charge investment.”

As the Chancellor rightly said, this is indeed an autumn statement for growth, but it is also clearly an autumn statement for business. I am very proud that my Department has been at the heart of developing these measures, which will have such a profoundly positive impact on this country. Our autumn statement will enable businesses to confidently invest in their futures. It will cut their costs through lower taxes and strip away burdensome red tape. Any of these measures in isolation would be a reason to be cheerful, but taken together, and alongside measures from the spring, they are expected to permanently increase the size of our economy, raise investment, reduce inflation, increase GDP and get more people into work.

On this side of the House, we know that the best way to grow the UK’s finances is not to embrace big government and high spending, but to boost businesses and boost competition—this is the so-called “supply side” of the economy. We will provide our innovators and risk takers with the right infrastructure, regulations and support, so that they can lead this country to greater prosperity.

As the Chancellor said yesterday, every big business was once a small business. For me, those words could not ring more true. This House will know about my passion for promoting the entrepreneurs, start-ups and independent shop owners that are the life and soul of our communities and economies alike. These businesses need investment so that they can flourish. They need freedom from overly burdensome taxes and regulations so that they can grow.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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I am delighted with the feedback that the Chancellor has received from businesses, but analysis by the Resolution Foundation finds that households will be £1,900 poorer at the end of this Parliament than they were at the start of it. That means people in our communities have less to spend in these businesses. So is it not the case that families are worse off under this Government?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is no doubt that we have had to take some difficult measures because of the hundreds of billions of pounds—about £500 billion—we put into the economy to protect people from the effects of covid and the cost of living. Conservative Members know that money does not grow on trees; that money has to be paid back. We have had to take those difficult decisions but we are improving the lives of the people the hon. Lady mentions—for example, through the national living wage. It has had a record increase this year to a record level of £11.44. That will put about £1,800 annually on the table for some of the people she mentions. That minimum wage is now double what it was in 2010. We are doing many, many things, including raising the personal tax threshold. Along with her colleagues, including the Front Benchers, she has to reflect on what the Labour Front-Bench team are going to do about the tax thresholds—this is the impact she is talking about. Are they going to increase those thresholds? Please say—[Interruption.] It is no good just standing on the sidelines and criticising. You’ve got to say what you’re actually going to do. [Interruption.] The shadow Minister says he is going to do that, which is great. The cost of doing what we are talking about here is £25 billion a year by 2025, so you are going to do that? [Interruption.]

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I am slightly worried that we are getting into a “you”, “you” exchange across the Chamber. As the Members know, they should speak through the Chair and when they say “you”, that means me. I think the Minister is trying to say “the shadow Secretary of State” and so on.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. Obviously, I am speaking through you—but I apologise. I was getting carried away, because this is such an important point. It is important that if people have different ideas about how we run the economy, they should explain exactly what they are going to do and how they are going to pay for it. The cost of the measures that are being proposed is £25 billion a year, and that comes on top of other spending commitments that the Opposition have made, including £28 billion a year in green investment. Labour Members should be clear about what their plans would be, rather than just objecting.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to being clear—so will he be clear and confirm that over this Parliament living standards are going to fall by 3%? That is the biggest hit to living standards on record. Will he be clear and confirm that that is the case?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said, there is no doubt that we have been through difficult times, but the hon. Lady should look forward optimistically to the rise in the national living wage and the probability that inflation will be halved again by this time next year, having already been halved. She needs to take a more optimistic view about will happen in the economy next year. I am very optimistic that people will see better times ahead, which is what we all want to see, but the Government are realistic. We have spent £500 billion providing support, saving jobs and businesses, and helping people during covid and the cost of living crisis, but that money has to be paid back. The Opposition need to explain how they are going to do that, if they were ever given charge of the economy.

Small businesses also need protection from late payers, so that they can safeguard their precious time and resources. The measures in the autumn statement seek to achieve all that and more, transforming the fortunes of businesses up and down the country. The statement contains a multitude of measures that will give businesses easier access to investments.

The UK has been something of a start-up miracle—we are second out of the 39 countries in the OECD for start-ups and seventh for scale-ups, which is still a good performance in relative terms but one that we need to improve. Capital holds the key. This Government could not be clearer about that fact and have introduced measures in that regard.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his positive attitude in response to the measures that have been put forward, but I have a request on behalf of my constituents who work in the hospitality sector. Rates and alcohol duties have been frozen for another year, including those on spirits, meaning it will not cost people any more to go out to pubs and other venues in the hospitality sector, but Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster has expressed concerns about energy prices. Do the Government intend to do anything about them?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. I chair the Hospitality Sector Council and meet large and small hospitality businesses regularly, so I understand the pressure they are under. The hon. Gentleman has some such businesses in his constituency and I do too, so we know that is a problem. We have put a huge amount into supporting businesses with their energy costs, halving the cost of energy for most businesses. Energy is much more affordable than it was this time last year, which was an incredibly difficult time, but some businesses are locked into expensive energy contracts from the backend of last year, when prices were very high. If the hon. Gentleman has any examples of such businesses, he should bring them to me, as we have commitments from the energy suppliers, so we can challenge them and try to smooth the contracts over a longer period to ease the pain. I am happy to help him with any individual cases in his constituency.

On capital investment, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Business and Trade will host 200 of the world’s leading investors at the Global Investment Summit this weekend and on Monday, which I hope to attend. It will showcase the UK as one of the world’s best places to do business, and drive billions of pounds of new and strategic investment into every corner of the economy.

The autumn statement has a host of innovative measures that will unlock investment and fuel growth. For example, our pension reforms will help unlock an extra £75 billion of financing for high-growth companies, while providing an even better deal for savers. Plans include a new growth fund within the British Business Bank to crowd in pension fund capital to the UK’s most promising businesses.

Another example is our plan for further funding for two British Business Bank programmes, including the long-term investment for technology and science competition. That will make £250 million available to successful bidders to increase investment in key science and technology sectors, with the private sector contributing at least as much again. Not only that—we have made £50 million available to extend the future fund breakthrough scheme, which backs businesses focusing heavily on research and development.

Although the Chancellor did not mention it yesterday, we have also introduced important measures for equity investments, including a 10-year extension to the enterprise investment scheme and the venture capital trust scheme, giving investors and businesses the confidence, certainty and stability to invest, which underpins the system.

Secondly, this autumn statement contains a series of measures that will provide smaller businesses with practical help. As we prepare to mark Small Business Saturday next weekend—I am sure that Members across the House will visit their small businesses on 2 December—it could not be a more timely moment to announce our business rates support package. It will help high streets and protect smaller firms, which are the life blood of our local communities, saving the average independent pub more than £12,000 a year, and the average independent shop over £20,000.

In addition, the autumn statement will include measures to toughen our regulations to tackle late payments. I have seen at first hand how this scourge can crush even the most determined of business owners’ dreams, so it is right that we act.

The Procurement Act 2023 means that the 30-day payment terms, which are already set for public sector contracts, will automatically apply through the subcontract supply chain. From April next year, any company bidding for large Government contracts will have to be able to demonstrate that they pay their own invoices within an average of 55 days and that will reduce progressively to 30 days.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for the steps that he has announced today, but of course the proof of the pudding lies in the enforcement. Sex discrimination at work has been illegal for almost 50 years, but it still happens. The Minister will be aware that, as well as calling for action on late payment generally, I have often raised an issue that we get in the construction and civil engineering sectors, where the main contractor is paid on time but keeps the money for an inordinate length of time. If the main contractor then does a Carillion and goes down, all the money becomes part of its administration and very often the subcontractors get nothing. Can we have legislation, a code of practice or something to protect small business subcontractors from being dragged down when the main contractor goes under?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned on this for some time and I have great regard for the work he does. It is worth him reading the “Payment and Cash Flow Review”, which was published yesterday alongside the autumn statement. It includes some references to retentions, to which he refers. There are other measures from the small business commissioner as well as more transparency on late payments. I am happy to engage with him further on this issue.

Although taxes pay for vital public services, this Government are clear that they must not stifle business owners’ ambitions. Quite simply, our economy relies on those ready to take risks and to innovate. Time and again, these entrepreneurs tell me that a simpler tax system would make life easier for them. This autumn statement will not just reduce tax but reform it, while putting more money into employees’ pockets.

The abolition of class 2 national insurance will save the average self-employed person £192 a year. Alongside the 1% reduction in the rate of class 4 national insurance, some 2 million self-employed people will be saving an average of £350 a year from next April.

In addition, from next year we will merge the existing research and development expenditure credit and the small and medium-sized enterprise R&D scheme. This will allow companies to claim back a proportion of their spending in this area through their tax bill, further simplifying the system and boosting innovation.

Finally, and very significantly, we have unveiled game-changing plans to make full expensing permanent. As the Chancellor set out yesterday, expensing aims to stimulate investment by giving larger companies £250,000 off their tax bill for every £1 million they invest. It was introduced, as hon. Members know, by the Chancellor in the spring and was set to last for three years, but it has been such a success, and the calls for it to continue have been so loud and clear that yesterday the Chancellor made it a permanent policy. This is the largest single tax cut in modern British history. It means that we now have not just the lowest headline corporation tax rate in the G7, but the most generous capital allowances too. That is hugely appealing to any business looking for a home in a global market.

The Office for Budget Responsibility tells us that this move alone will increase annual investment by around £3 billion a year, and by £14 billion over the forecast period. We are able to do this only because we have met our borrowing rules early, have more than halved inflation, and are seeing our debt go down every year.

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

Going back to the tax regime in general, one of the measures in the autumn statement—line 50 of table 5.1—was entitled “HMRC: Investment in Debt Management Capability”. According to the statement, investment of £160 million into the debt management facility of His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will somehow unlock £1 billion a year in debt recovery. What is that investment, why was it not undertaken previously and how will it realise an extra £1 billion of income for HMRC?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

HMRC has a responsibility to be understanding and compassionate when it comes to business difficulties, but if debts are owed to the taxpayer it is only right that we seek to return them. Many more businesses may have that difficulty because of difficulties in recent years, but if the hon. Member is implying that we should not chase debts owed to the taxpayer—

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

indicated dissent.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps we should have a conversation offline about that. I think it makes perfect sense to invest in reclaiming debt owed to the taxpayer.

I wish to turn now to another of my Department’s spending measures: the advanced manufacturing plan. The UK is a global advanced manufacturing hub. Recently—this is not a statistic that is often quoted in the media—we overtook France to become the world’s eighth-largest manufacturing nation. What is not to like about that? While we have a strong story to tell, there is fierce global competition. Already my Department has been instrumental in attracting significant global investment to our key future-leaning industries, including Tata’s £4 billion gigafactory and a £600 million investment to build the next generation of electric Minis.

Our £4.5 billion advanced manufacturing plan will help to safeguard the sector’s future and seal our reputation as the best place to start and grow a manufacturing business and to invest in this industry. It includes over £2 billion for the automotive industry—the single biggest Government investment ever in the UK sector—alongside £975 million for aerospace and £960 million for a green industries growth accelerator to support clean energy manufacturing. In short, the plan will ensure that our manufacturing success story can begin its most exciting chapter yet.

This is a Government who know business. We are for business because we are from business. This is a Government who believe in business. This is a Government who back business. Our autumn statement could not be a clearer illustration of those facts. Have no doubt that it will provide our most promising companies with the capital, certainty and support that they need to thrive long into the future. That is why I commend its measures to the House.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Secretary of State.

11:52
Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that you will not mind me saying, as someone born and raised in the north-east of England, not too far from Stockton, that it is unequivocally a beautiful part of this country. Anyone on the Government Benches who is not aware of that should visit it for themselves.

Yesterday’s autumn statement felt a bit like the season finale of this Conservative Government. While we might have been hoping for an uplifting twist in the tale, sadly what we were left with was a pitiful ending to an underwhelming story. It was an autumn statement made of pure fantasy: the Government Benches cheering a tax cut, when in fact taxes are higher than they have ever been; a Chancellor claiming to have delivered for working people, when in reality living standards face an unprecedented fall; the Conservatives desperately trying to address business investment, when in fact their chaos was what caused business investment to collapse to begin with.

I understand that it is tempting for Conservatives to buy into the Chancellor’s fiction, but in the real world people can see the cost of the Conservatives in their bank balance, mortgage bill, high street and public services. This country desperately needs hope for the future and a change of course. For all the spin from the Chancellor, people know that they are worse off after 13 years of the Conservatives. The statement confirmed that nothing that the Government will now do will change that. The Conservatives promised that it would be a statement for growth, but the reality is that growth will be down next year, the year after that, and the year after that. The Chancellor said that we have turned a corner, but all we got was confirmation that Britain has hit a brick wall.

Let us get one thing clear at the beginning of this debate: when inflation went up after the invasion of Ukraine, the Government said, “It’s nothing to do with us; it’s all global pressures.” Now, when some of those pressures have reduced and the Bank of England has operated monetary policy in the way we would expect, the Prime Minister wants personal credit for inflation falling. Do the Government really think they can get away with that?

On inflation, the Government oppose the single most important thing they could do, which is to reduce our exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices so that we are never again so vulnerable and exposed. Labour has a plan for energy independence and security so that Britain is never again so badly exposed to those volatile fossil fuel prices. That is the lesson we need to learn.

Let us also not forget that, while we all welcome lower inflation, it is still high, particularly food inflation. When I do the big shop in my local supermarket in Stalybridge, I wince when I see the price of some food items. Families are working harder than ever before, only to have to put the little things that they treat themselves with back on the shelf, or to cut back on what they would once have considered essentials. This is no time for Conservative Ministers to go around asking for a pat on the back.

On the Chancellor’s central claim that lower inflation means he can now spend money, he is simply not being straight with people. The public finances have not meaningfully improved. It is high inflation, not a stronger economy, that has led to higher tax receipts. It is the fiscal illusion of higher tax receipts caused by high inflation, but rather than using that to meet higher costs in the public sector caused by that inflation, he has chosen to spend it. The Minister mentioned his own business career and, as he knows, I personally admire him very much for that career, but if he had run his businesses in the same way that this Chancellor is running the national finances, I think he knows he would have gone out of business very quickly indeed.

There has to be a reckoning for what that will mean for schools, the NHS, the police and the criminal justice system. While the Prime Minister and the Chancellor may live in a different world, our constituents can see the public realm literally crumbling around them. That is the reality of Conservative Britain, and some fiscal trickery will not be enough to convince people that everything is fine. It is also important to say that the Chancellor’s fiscal headroom is now entirely dependent on things such as a large rise in fuel duty next year—and I imagine that very few Conservative MPs have come to the debate today to say that they support that.

Another major focus of the Chancellor’s speech was business investment, and I welcomed that. I enjoyed that bit of the statement because, as I have made clear, I believe that is a fundamental weakness that we must address. The UK, as the Minister knows, has the lowest business investment in the G7. When British innovation is so abundant, that is an appalling effort from this Government. Full expensing is not perfect, because there are issues with the scope of what is covered by the policy as it stands, but not making it permanent would have been untenable and our relative position in the ranking of attractiveness as a place to invest would have fallen off a cliff.

However, if the Government think that is enough to restore the business confidence that they have frittered away over the last 13 years, they are mistaken. The No. 1 thing that business leaders tell me they need is stability. I have been our shadow Business Secretary for two years, and in that time I have shadowed five different Business Secretaries, we have had four Chancellors and I think we have had three Prime Ministers. In the last 13 years, by my count, we have had 11 different growth strategies, and now it appears we are on to the 12th. We see that lack of consistency across every bit of Government.

Take HS2, which is a national embarrassment: billions of pounds wasted, businesses let down, regeneration plans lost, and a flagship Government policy that goes overnight when Parliament is not even sitting and is unable to ask the most basic of questions by way of scrutiny. Or take the phasing out of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030. There was a major announcement on the headline date, one not made at the request of business, that hugely undermines investment certainty, but without a corresponding change to the rest of the policy environment—the zero-emission vehicle mandate—that leads up to 2030. Therefore they lose the certainty and credibility of keeping the target, but do not gain any flexibility from moving it either. Businesses say to me time and again that they cannot rely on a word any Conservative Minister says, and they are right. What businesses need is a real industrial strategy that gives them certainty and co-ordination. They need real commitments on planning, to get Britain building again. They need politicians who are willing to say, “We need new homes and infrastructure, and we are willing to commit our political capital to deliver it.” They need reform of the apprenticeship levy, so that they have more flexibility over skills and training. They need a better trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union than the one we have at present.

On the energy transition, the Chancellor and the Minister spent some time attacking what Labour call our “green prosperity plan”—our policy commitment to ensure not only that the transition happens, but that the UK gets maximum economic benefits from it. We on the Labour Benches love wind turbines, but we are sick of seeing them built overseas. We love cars and vans, but we know that unless we build batteries for electric vehicles in the UK, we will not have an automotive sector in the long term. We want green steel, but we are not prepared to close down our blast furnaces and import virgin steel from the far east, as the Conservatives plan to do.

The key point is that the Government do not entirely disagree with us. In the last year, £0.5 billion in subsidy has been allocated to Tata Steel in Somerset. Similar sums have been promised for other steel. But what we want to know is what the Government will get for it. How do they get value for money if those are just ad hoc bilateral negotiations? How is public money protected? The difference between us is not the principle that the state will need to co-invest to deliver some of that private investment; it is a huge difference of ambition, transparency and effectiveness.

Labour will not respond to the challenges that we face through such panicked ad hoc announcements. We will face the future with confidence and with a full plan that delivers for British industry. That is what our national wealth fund will do: manage the investments that we will make and ensure that the British people see their money being well looked after. Fundamentally, we want to get the transition right rather than repeat the mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s, which still haunt many parts of the UK today.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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I agree with the principle of a sovereign wealth or investment fund. Look at Norway, which has a £1.1 trillion sovereign wealth fund—the largest in the world. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Westminster has missed a trick for successive decades by not creating an oil and gas fund, and is that not a damning legacy?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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Unsurprisingly, I agree with part of what the hon. Member said. We could have a lengthy and robust debate on the weaknesses of Conservative Governments in the 1980s and the consequences of their short-term decisions. I would—

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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What about between 1997 and 2010?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I will give way to the Minister if he likes.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I would simply say to SNP colleagues that their own independence White Paper made the fair case for a UK-wide energy market. That is because, as in many areas of policy, a UK-wide energy market is the best way to deliver for my constituents in England and for the constituents of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) in Scotland. That is a reality that I think SNP colleagues do not accept.

I think the Minister would like a second bite, so let us bring him in to see what he has to say.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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On the point about industrial strategy, can the hon. Gentleman answer a simple question with a yes or no? Will he reinstate the plans for HS2?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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You have sold the land; you have salted the earth.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. I have not sold anything.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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Absolutely. I apologise in full, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Government not only made that decision in their own short-term interests, which compares very poorly even with previous Conservative Governments, but by selling the land, they did so in such a way as to prevent a future Government from trying to correct it. That is the controversy that the Minister makes. Of course, we are still very much committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail—the Crossrail project for the north of England—which would be important for my constituency, but of course, that plan itself relies partly on what was going to be HS2 infrastructure.

As the Minister knows, his Government are making a series of quite bizarre short-term decisions, and trying to use those decisions to present themselves as the party of change at the next election. We all face the consequences, which is regrettable. If the Minister were being totally candid in private, I think he would acknowledge that the north of England has really suffered from those short-term decisions, which we should all very much regret.

The Chancellor spoke at length about long-term sickness yesterday, and again, he was right to do so. We are the only country in the G7 where the participation rate is still below pre-pandemic levels, with long-term sickness at an all-time high of 2.6 million. Unfortunately, all we got was the same old rhetoric and the same old policies. What we needed to hear are two things. First, we need to have some efforts to get people off NHS waiting lists. That is what we would do, by providing 2 million more NHS appointments from the revenue we would get from abolishing the non-dom rule.

Secondly, we need to focus on mental health. That is why we would guarantee people a mental health appointment within a month and make mental health support available in schools, paid for by ending the tax breaks for private education. That would be real support. They are better choices than those the Government have chosen to make, because we in the Opposition know that a strong economy, good public services and social justice are not competing demands; they are all integral to one another.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need for further investment in the NHS, which we on the SNP Benches would certainly support, but can he confirm the words of the shadow Health Secretary, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting)? Is it the intention of the Labour party to fight the next election on a manifesto that says it will

“hold the door wide open”

to the private sector in our NHS?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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No, and I think the hon. Member is being a little bit mischievous there, and he is aware of that. What my hon. Friend the shadow Health Secretary has reaffirmed is Labour’s historic and enduring commitment to a national health service that is free at the point of use and is managed and run as a national public service. He has also said that there clearly needs to be reform of the NHS to take advantage of new treatments and new ways of doing things; some incredibly exciting developments in life sciences and genomics have to be part of that. I think we would all recognise from our own constituency experiences that the NHS could do better in terms of how it interacts with people and how it gets people the treatment they need in a timely fashion.

What is relevant to this debate in particular is that, as well as being important issues about people needing healthcare and how they get it, these are economic issues. We want to get waiting lists down because we want people to have the medical treatment they need, but we also recognise that with so many people out of work and wanting to get back to work when they are waiting for treatment, it is imperative to get those waiting lists down. Under the last Labour Government, we saw tremendous progress in using the capacity available out there as part of a nationally run and nationally managed national health service to deliver that. Having successfully done that before in government, we believe we can successfully do it again, and that is what we intend to do.

Yesterday really lifted the lid on 13 years of Conservative economic failure. It laid bare the full scale of the damage that this Conservative party has done to our economy, and nothing that has been announced will remotely compensate for those 13 years. Only the Conservatives could preside over the greatest fall in living standards and call it a victory. Only the Conservatives could burden the country with the highest tax bill since the war and then pat themselves on the back for a cursory 2p national insurance cut. Only the Conservatives could crash the economy and send mortgages, food bills and energy costs rocketing and have the audacity to ask the country to trust them on the economy ever again.

As the credits roll on 13 years of Conservative failure, the reviews are in too: business has lost confidence in them, the public have lost patience with them, and even those on their own Benches know that this will not be enough to save them. While the Tories try to kid themselves, I do not believe the British public will be taken for fools. They know that after 13 years, we are all worse off under the Conservatives, and the only way we can truly turn the corner on this litany of failure is with a new and Labour Government—a Government who would put working people first, get energy bills down and get wages up; a Government who would give business the confidence to choose Britain again; a Government rebuilding our crumbling public services and getting waiting lists down; a Labour Government with the ambition, the ideas and the energy to get Britain’s economy really moving and deliver the real change our country is crying out for.

12:08
Robert Syms Portrait Sir Robert Syms (Poole) (Con)
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I tend to participate in these debates, because I think they are very important, and when we look at the Government’s record and certainly this Chancellor’s record, it is sometimes best to look back at the last three financial statements and Budgets. Twelve months ago, the Chancellor produced an autumn statement where the predictions were that Britain would have a major reduction in GDP and a recession. The Bank of England also produced similar forecasts, and I can remember the debate about the £50 to £60 billion black hole that the Treasury would have to deal with, which seems to have disappeared. The truth of the matter is that when we are dealing with very large figures and forward projections, we have to take them all with a pinch of salt. In all the time I have been in this House, we have been hearing that we are either about to go bust, or about to boom. The reality is that when it comes to economic forecasting, things are usually not as bad as people think, or not as good as they think.

The Chancellor is turning out to be a very good Chancellor: he is steady, he is solid, and the decisions he has taken have resulted in a better economic out-turn than people projected. What happened over the past year—did we have a recession? No, we have had growth. Even if we look at the OBR report, the balance of payments is showing signs of narrowing; post Brexit, that looks very hopeful, and we are doing a lot of very good trade deals. If we look at the overall situation in terms of business investment, although I was a little sceptical about the rise in corporation tax—I would prefer us not to do it—full expensing has led to more people investing more money, and extending that for longer and making it permanent is a rather good thing. However, I would still like to see the top rate of corporation tax reduced, because I do think there is a point at which we benefit from having a lower rate, as the Government in Éire do.

We have seen a fall in inflation. It has been a bit stickier than people expected, but that is partly because the economy has been a little bit more robust than people have expected, and in reality, things have not been too bad over the past 12 months. People talk about falling living standards, but the Budget projected a higher rate of falling living standards than we have at the moment, and from the previous iteration of the autumn statement a year ago, people expected it to be even worse. The gap is closing; it may well be that by the time we get to a general election, there has been no fall in living standards over the last period of Government. Inflation could well be lower—many of my friends who are monetary economists think that will fall rather faster than people expect—and we all know that pay settlements may be a little higher. Combined with the reductions in national insurance that the Government have implemented, we may well be in a situation where people are not that much worse off.

The reasons for the problems include covid—the Government protected people as best they could, which had an impact on the economy—and the energy price spiral as a result of war in Europe. Again, we protected people: let us not forget that we extended the energy price support by a further three months. That is the reason why living standards are not at a higher level. We can talk about the 1950s, but most Governments since the 1950s have not faced pandemics or major increases in energy costs, and Governments have to deal with the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. The important point is that living standards will rise for most of the next 12 months.

I think the OBR is too pessimistic about growth in the short term. I have a slight fear about what is over the horizon: I think that the Bank of England, by pushing interest rates up as much as it has and doing quantitative tightening at the rate it is doing it, is reducing monetary growth. M2 has reduced substantially and M3X has also reduced, so there is the possibility of credit getting quite tight in about 12 months’ time. If we have a better inflation outlook, we need to see interest rates coming down. I know that the Bank always pretends it is going to be stronger for longer, but it would not surprise me if in reality, we got back on track with interest rates at around 4% rather than 5%, which is what the OBR said in its previous report.

If we look at the result of the past 12 months, we can congratulate the Government on the fact that we made progress, but more progress has to be made. The reduction in national insurance is good: clearly, tax rates are going up because of the freeze on allowances, but I hope that this is the start of a process in which the Government are able to give more money back to working people, who have had to struggle over recent years. However, when we look at this in the context of the £104 billion that we put in to help people with the cost of living, still being able to reduce tax is quite a good result.

I support the triple lock. We made a pledge; we gave our word, and I do not believe in breaking our word. I have constituents who retire for 30 years. In the first 10 years, they have savings and pensions, and as life goes by, they may still have an expensive flat, but their ability to earn more money and their reliance on the state pension becomes much more important. As such, I am glad that the Government have kept their word on the triple lock.

I am also pleased that the Government are being realistic about energy policy, in terms of both nuclear and taking advantage of oil and gas. Today, 75% of our energy comes from oil and gas. It will remain a major factor—we will still need it after 2030—and it seems sensible that we produce it at home, rather than import it. At business questions, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) raised the possibility of the closure of refining capacity in Scotland. He made a very good point: if we are to continue producing oil and gas, we need to improve our refining capacity as well. In the recent energy crisis, we saw the shortage of refining capacity in the west and our reliance on some Russian refining capacity, which caused a problem with diesel.

The Government’s approach has been to help businesses by making full expensing longer term; to help smaller businesses by providing help with the uniform business rate; and to help working people through a reduction in their national insurance contributions. Generally speaking, those are all good things, and we have also done our best to protect the most vulnerable in society by uprating benefits and giving them special payments. I do not think the Government have anything to apologise for; if I have any criticism of the Government, it is that sometimes they do not make the best case for what the Treasury is doing, which is actually a pretty good job.

It is going to be an interesting year. I suspect most of the speeches in this House are going to sound like party political broadcasts about who is doing what and who can do things better, but we all know that to some extent, “It’s the economy, stupid.” At the end of the day—in October or November of next year, I suspect—the question will be whether or not the Government continue to make progress, as they are doing, and whether the people accept that and decide to hold on to nurse for fear of something worse, or believe the rhetoric of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and others that they can do better. We have a very good political system—we have robust debate, and Britain benefits from that—but I still think that when it comes to deciding the future of our country, the British people will take a very sensible course.

I will end my speech with a couple of points. First, the flash purchasing managers’ indexes for the British economy have today been revised up to over 50, which means that we may well have higher growth. Secondly, the eurozone looks like it is getting into deeper trouble, so the relative position of the British economy in three months, six months or 12 months may look rather better than that of other economies around the world. Let us face it: there are problems, but they are problems that the French, the Italians and the Germans also have. We also have opportunities, and in many areas such as fintech and technology, we are doing pretty well as a nation. If we can do more of what we do best and less of what we do badly, I think we will meet with great success.

12:18
Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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As with any major political announcement, the Government clearly had a whole series of long-term and short-term objectives for the autumn statement. I am pleased to confirm that the statement has already achieved what was probably the Government’s single biggest objective: it got good headlines right across the front pages of the right-wing press. They were not true headlines—they were completely untrue —but when did that worry the present Conservative Government? On the one hand, we have The Sun, The Times, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express—all bastions of responsible journalism—celebrating a tax-cutting Budget, and on the other hand, we have the BBC, Channel 4 news, Sky News, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation all saying that it is a tax-increasing Budget and we are heading for the highest tax burden any of us can remember. Who do we believe? That is a difficult question: who do we believe?

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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On that point, is it not a godsend that we do actually have something from the OBR this time, when 12 months ago we had nothing? That was a determined effort by the then Prime Minister and Chancellor not to have anything, so as to deceive the public.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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I do not know if I am allowed to repeat the verb that the hon. Member used—perhaps we should make it “persuade” the public, rather than “deceive” them, which I do not think we are allowed to say in this place—but I think the covid inquiry has blown that wide open. We have a Prime Minister who, as Chancellor, deliberately avoided asking for advice from the experts when he knew he was not going to like the advice he would get. It is barely a year since the Government Benches were full of people denouncing the idea of having an OBR because, in their words, “Economic forecasts are always wrong,” but as soon as economic forecasts begin to suggest that things may be improving, they suddenly want us all to believe them.

It is clear that by the end of this period of Tory rule, people will be paying more in tax in real terms than they were before. I am not against asking people to pay tax if they can see some benefit to the general welfare as a result, but that is not what is happening. We are looking at the largest reduction in real living standards since the 1950s. I did a quick check, and that is before either I or the Minister was even born. Perhaps there are one or two Members here who were alive at that time—I will not look at anyone in particular—but there are not very many. This is what has been described to us in Scotland as the “broad shoulders of the Union”. However, the broad shoulders of the Union have delivered the biggest reduction in real living standards in Scotland since before most of us were born.

While there are some aspects of this statement that we certainly welcome, the good bits do not go nearly far enough and the bad bits go far too far. I welcome the cut in national insurance, but let us not forget that that puts back into the pockets of workers only a quarter of the amount they are losing because tax thresholds have been frozen during a time of high inflation. When people have been getting 5% or 10% pay rises recently, it has not been a pay rise; it has just been trying to keep up with rising costs. Leaving the tax thresholds where they are means that somebody who in real terms is getting less top-line pay than they were two years ago is still having to pay more tax as a result.

The Chancellor boasted about the national insurance cut giving back, in his words, “nearly £450 per year” to average earners. Somehow he did not have time to mention that that drops to just £36 a year by the time we take account of the increases in real levels of income tax. Of course, as of this morning, it has been wiped out completely by the increase in fuel bills that we are all going to face next year. So this is not a giveaway budget; it is a pickpocket budget. It uses the classic pickpocket technique of using a nice thing to distract us—a tuppence cut in national insurance—while someone slips around the back and swipes the higher fuel bills, the higher income tax and higher everything else out of our back pocket at the same time.

We could have seen real action to address what is still the single biggest crisis affecting tens of millions of people on these islands, which is the very real panic people are in every week over the cost of living. We could have seen a continuation of the £400 energy bill rebate for households. We could have seen the Government funding a council tax freeze in the way the Scottish Government have done, meaning that Scotland now has the lowest—yes, the lowest—average council tax in the United Kingdom. They could have followed the SNP’s example and brought in a UK child payment similar to the game-changing Scottish child payment, lifting thousands of children out of poverty.

I welcome confirmation that benefits and pensions will not be cut in real terms. They are not increasing; they are being pegged in real terms, and that is all. However, the fact that that was under serious consideration until about 24 hours before the Chancellor’s statement tells us everything we need to know about where this Government’s values lie, and they do not lie in the same place as the values of Scotland. Alternatively, maybe there was never any danger of that cut being implemented, and they were just threatening it so they could make themselves look good when they announced no change. In the words of the Child Poverty Action Group:

“Struggling families have been worrying themselves sick for months about whether an unmanageable…cut was coming in order to provide the government with a rabbit-out-of-the-hat moment.”

Just as over the last few years we have seen the Tories wanting to punish homeless people for daring to be homeless and wanting to punish asylum seekers for daring to flee certain death, they are now planning to punish people who are ill and people with disabilities for daring to want to have a living at the same time as being ill or having a disability. We know what we should expect and what is coming next. The press were all trained to respond today, so we can expect an avalanche of rhetoric in the right-wing press denouncing anybody on disability benefits, in the same way that they have denounced migrants and asylum seekers for years and years. They denounced them as scroungers and fraudsters, all to give cover to a brutal and inhumane attack by a brutal and inhumane Government.

The party that last year demanded that all civil servants returned to full-time office working immediately, because working from home is not properly working, is now saying that people on disability-related benefits will face the choice between taking up a—non-existent—working from home vacancy or literally facing starvation. Yesterday, the Prime Minister either would not or could not tell us how many vacancies currently being advertised in DWP jobcentres would be suitable for home working, or maybe he just did not care enough to bother finding out. The answer, incidentally, is that about one in 20 of those vacancies might be suitable for home working, which is not nearly enough to get the number off benefits that the Chancellor claims to think is realistic.

More than 100 disability organisations have warned that the Government’s inhumane policy could lead to unnecessary deaths, and that is not a blank threat. Last year, a study by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health and Glasgow University found that over 300,000 deaths in Britain could be attributed to Government austerity policies. Austerity is not an economic necessity. Austerity is unnecessary, and those 300,000 deaths were unnecessary as well.

I welcome some of the measures announced to support small businesses. As I mentioned in an intervention, we still need to see real action to protect small subcontractors involved in big infrastructure projects, so that they do not go down if the main contractor goes down. A lot of small businesses have now stopped bidding for that kind of work because they are worried that it may put them out of business, rather than keep them in business.

It is disappointing that, yet again, there is no movement on the determined calls from the hospitality industry to reduce or abolish VAT on that sector, even temporarily. A few weeks ago, I lost yet another award-winning small business café in my constituency, because such people just cannot continue working eight hours a day and earning less than the legal minimum wage. It is a bit ironic that the Government who caused rampant inflation now expect us to cheer when they start to bring it down. It is a wee bit like an arsonist expecting a medal for helping to put out half the fire.

We welcome additional support for green industries, but look what is happening among our competitors. In the UK, the figure is £960 million in total by 2030—yes, very nice—but the equivalent figure in Germany is €4.1 billion and in France it is €500 million every year, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research.

What has happened to the hydrogen town announcements we were promised in March 2023? I have world-leading work going on in my constituency as part of the H100 project, which is a much smaller-scale project to assist in conversion from natural gas to hydrogen. That is a chance for Scotland, for Fife and for Methil to be at the centre of one of the world’s leading industries. Whether a bid from Fife or a bid from somewhere else is going to be successful we do not know, and we do not even know who has bid yet. That announcement was due in March, and it is now too late for that work to be done according to the original timetable. Can the Minister give us an update, or are the Government planning to just walk away from green hydrogen in the same way that they walked away from wave and tidal power in the 1980s and 1990s?

By comparison, despite the fact that the Scottish Government do not have anything like the borrowing power or indeed the legislative power of this place, and