Helen Whately contributions to the Finance Act 2018


Wed 21st February 2018 Finance (No. 2) Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
28 interactions (908 words)
Mon 11th December 2017 Finance (No. 2) Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
11 interactions (1,201 words)

Finance (No. 2) Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Legislation Page: Finance Act 2018

Finance (No. 2) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Helen Whately Excerpts
Wednesday 21st February 2018

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Dawn Butler Portrait Dawn Butler
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21 Feb 2018, 2:07 p.m.

Again, the problem is that very few companies have actually published, and the deadline is quickly approaching.

The letter from the right hon. Member for Putney went on to say that the Treasury would complete a cumulative impact assessment. I have yet to receive confirmation of that cumulative impact assessment, so will the Minister confirm that it has been done and whether a copy will be placed in the Library?

I know that it is often difficult for the Government to hear the Opposition’s views, so I urge them to listen to the voices of Conservative Members, such as the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), the Chair of the Treasury Committee. The Committee is obviously a little perplexed by the lack of commitment to equality impact assessments. The Chancellor has complained about the type of data gathered, but when he was asked whether he had asked the Office for National Statistics about the gathering of that data, he replied that he had not. That does not exactly show a commitment to equality, does it?

The Treasury Committee went on to say:

“The Treasury should use ONS and HMRC data to produce and publish robust equalities impact assessments of future Budgets, including the individual tax and welfare measures contained within them. A deficiency of data in respect of some protected characteristics is not a reason for failing to produce an analysis in respect of others for which data is available. Nor should the risk of misinterpretation or methodological complexity preclude the publication of an Equalities Impact Assessment.”

In short, just do it.

The only reference in the Budget to identified gender impact is where it disproportionately affects men. What possible reason could there be for that? I understand that the Treasury Committee would welcome an explanation of the Government’s thinking, and so would we. It just does not make sense. The Chancellor alluded to the fact that Ministers see the equality impact assessments for their Departments. That makes me wonder: if Ministers see them, read them and give proper due regard to them, why would they implement the policies they do?

If the Government fail to support this new clause, there can be no public confidence in the Government’s commitment to protect and not punish people with protected characteristics. For the record, let me say that the nine protected characteristics are age; disability; gender reassignment; pregnancy; maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. I understand that the Prime Minister is a little pre-occupied and weak at the moment and that she is dealing with a serious ransom note, but I honestly believe she will not be pleased that her legacy will be the hindering of women and their life chances.

More children are homeless or living in temporary accommodation now than at any time since the 2007-08 financial crash. Shelter says that homelessness is a national scandal and estimates that 140 families become homeless every day. The estimate of rough sleeping shows an increase of 134%. Every day, we see and hear the damaging effects that this Government’s policies have had on people, especially those with protected characteristics. This Government are damaging, not protecting, vulnerable groups in our society. Even when the Government conduct an equality impact assessment, they seem to ignore it. Just two weeks ago, they released an equality impact assessment that revealed more bursaries will be axed—this is for about 1,000 nurses who enter the profession each year. The assessment revealed that the latest change risks discouraging women who are ethnic minority or from poorer backgrounds, but the Government went ahead and did this in any case.

We need a Prime Minister who cares enough to start laying foundations by which we can bring about true equality for women, diverse communities, LGBT+ communities and those with protected characteristics. A Labour Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) would do just that. A Labour Government’s success will be measured by how they reduce inequality. The next Labour Government will ensure that we publish comprehensive equality impact assessments and conduct them before implementing policies. A Labour Government would have pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny to ascertain whether policies are making a situation better or worse. The Labour way will enable us to truly build an economy for the many and not the few. If the Government fail to support this very reasonable new clause, more people will question—

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)
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21 Feb 2018, 2:12 p.m.

rose—

Dawn Butler Portrait Dawn Butler
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21 Feb 2018, 2:12 p.m.

I am sorry, but I am just coming to the end of my speech. If the Government fail to support this very reasonable new clause, more and more people will begin to question why this Government are so intent on harming and hindering women and those with protected characteristics, as opposed to helping them.

Break in Debate

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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21 Feb 2018, 2:26 p.m.

Before the vote on the Scottish Government’s budget, they produced a paper on the rationale behind their proposed changes. They consulted each of the parties in the Scottish Parliament and asked them all to put forward their tax plans, so that they could be analysed. The consultation was first put forward in October or November—I am not entirely sure—and the vote is taking place today. That left a significant length of time between the production of the consultation documents and the first discussions and the actual vote in Parliament.

Here in Westminster, we have the Budget debate and then the votes on the Ways and Means resolutions. We have votes on proposals that are being put in place from that day. That is very different from the situation in the Scottish Parliament, where a length of time is allowed for consultation because the draft budget is produced. All the parties in the Scottish Parliament are welcome to produce an Opposition budget and they are welcome to take that to the Parliament to be voted on. Some of them have chosen to do that and some have not. I suggest that those that have not chosen to do that might be struggling to balance the books, or they might have just decided that ours is clearly the best option.

I do not wish to take up any more time. The call for equality assessments and for more transparency and information would be helpful not only for the Opposition, who scrutinise the Budget, but for the Ministers who take decisions. They would take better decisions if they could see all the impacts, particularly on people with protected characteristics.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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21 Feb 2018, 2:29 p.m.

I wish to make a few brief comments, particularly as I was unable to intervene on the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). I was quite shocked by some of the accusations she made and by what I consider to be her somewhat unsubstantiated claims about a rather illusory bright future under a Corbyn Government. I felt that she somewhat ignored the legacy of the previous Labour Government, who failed to build homes, thereby contributing to the current housing challenge; who failed on jobs, leaving many thousands of families jobless when the Conservative Government took over; and who increased inequality in our society.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op)
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The number of home-owning households increased by 1 million under the Labour Government and has fallen under Conservative Governments. I thought it important to correct the record.

Mr Speaker
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21 Feb 2018, 2:28 p.m.

It may be important to correct the record and I know that the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) was led into that by the observations of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately)—it is quite easy to elide into disorderly conduct—but it is important that we try to focus the exchanges on new clause 9, to which with laser-like intensity I know the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent will now turn.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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21 Feb 2018, 2:28 p.m.

The hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) made a different point from the one I made. My point stands because it was about the building of houses.

By contrast with the previous Labour Government, the current Government have made progress on the gender pay gap. This is the Government who are requiring companies to publish data on the gender pay gap. As we well know, and as has been said this afternoon, transparency is a huge driver of change. We have seen that in many sectors, including a lot in the health sector, which is where I got most of my experience. This Government introduced and are raising the national living wage, which disproportionately benefits women; this Government have taken the lowest paid out of tax; this Government are making sure that for every £1 that the lowest-income households pay in tax, they benefit from £4-worth of public spending; and this Government have overseen a huge expansion in jobs so that millions more are in work.

On the point that the hon. Member for Brent Central made about children, it is significant that many more children are now in households in which somebody in the family is working; far fewer are in workless households. We know that work is key to getting out of poverty.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Feb 2018, 2:30 p.m.

My hon. Friend is making a great point about our record on job creation. Does she also recognise that it is this Government who have overseen the greatest expansion of women in work since records began?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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21 Feb 2018, 2:30 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have put in place policies to help women. The extra free childcare for three-year-olds benefits both parents but, as women are often the main child carer, it particularly helps women who have an ambition to work.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
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21 Feb 2018, 2:30 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that, since the last Labour Government were in power, youth unemployment has been cut in half? That generates opportunities, the dignity of work, the chance to get on and the chance for women and children to achieve their best in society.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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21 Feb 2018, 2:31 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for making such an important point. This Government have given thousands of young people the opportunity to have a job. It was not that long ago that everyone was always talking about NEETs—the big debate was about all those young people not in education, employment or training. Those numbers have now shrunk phenomenally under this Government’s leadership.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Feb 2018, 2:31 p.m.

The hon. Lady has mentioned the power of numbers to be able to track progress. Obviously, new clause 9 is about the power of numbers to be able to track progress in tackling inequality. If she thinks that those numbers were so important in the battle to ensure that we did not leave young people behind, why does she not think the same when it comes to women and ethnic minorities?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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I am not surprised by the hon. Lady’s intervention. The point is that there is a thorough impact analysis of the Budget. Where does it get us if we endlessly go around these things, again and again?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
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21 Feb 2018, 2:32 p.m.

If we compare 2003 to 2006 under the Labour Government with 2013 to 2016, we will see that the number of women in business and entrepreneurship has grown by more than 40%. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows the Government’s commitment to women in business?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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21 Feb 2018, 2:32 p.m.

Another very well-informed point from a colleague about the great progress that women are making in the workplace with the support of this Government.

The headline point that I was keen to make is that this Government have a track record in reducing inequality. I am keen to ensure that we base what we say on the track record—the track record of improving the lives of people on the lowest incomes and of reducing inequality.

Stephen McPartland Portrait Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con)
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21 Feb 2018, 2:33 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is about not just incomes, but equality of opportunity and aspiration?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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21 Feb 2018, 2:33 p.m.

I agree. We should not just look at the outcomes. The outcomes are a desired end but, in order to get to a better outcome, the key is to give people opportunities to make the most of their lives. In particular, we should help those who have a difficult start, or who find themselves in a difficult situation. They may need extra help to access the opportunities but, absolutely, opportunity is the key.

Rather than painting a picture that can mislead people into believing this illusion of a perfect world, we need to base claims on substantial policies. I know that it is controversial, but universal credit is making a difference in my constituency for people who want to work and who want to work more hours. I have heard many criticisms of the policy, but genuinely it is making a difference and giving people the opportunity to increase the work that they do. Improvements in the standard of education and the opportunities coming through thanks to the industrial strategy—these are the concrete policies that will make life better for people. That is how we reduce inequalities and that is why I am delighted to support the Government throughout this Finance Bill.

Luke Graham
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Feb 2018, 2:34 p.m.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the chance to speak on new clause 9 and more broadly.

As I said when I intervened on the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), I appreciate that we should look at the distribution and at the impacts of some of the Budget provisions. That is what the Treasury already does. At every budgetary event, it does look at the impact on distribution across the United Kingdom. ONS statistics also look at distribution and the impact across different households.

When we talk about making sure that we shine a light on these issues and target equality, for which I and many Members share the hon. Lady’s passion, we should recognise that this is the Government who put pressure on companies to produce these publications. Although there is not yet full compliance, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will continue to put pressure on the sector—I referred to this matter earlier—to follow other industry-leading programmes such as Crossrail, which use publication and peer review to add pressure and to show companies what best practice is in the UK and internationally.

Let me pick up on some broader points about the pay gap, particularly the gender pay gap. I hope that Opposition Members saw the recent study quoted in the Financial Times just a month ago—I would be happy to share it with them—which looked at male and female pay rates. Those rates were actually very equal up to around middle-to-senior manager level, after which there was a big gap. The biggest disparity, and where some of the most uneven gap appears, was at the very senior roles, as in chief executive officer and chief financial officer roles. One of the key drivers for that, as stated in that study, was women taking maternity leave. So we have already identified the pay gap problem, and we should be looking at policies to increase flexible working and to help women back into the workplace after taking maternity leave. I know that colleagues on the Front Bench have been looking into that and have reflected that in the Budget.

More broadly, let me pick up on some of the points made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) about tax and equality. Just to be clear—new clause 9 refers to every part of the United Kingdom—some of the tax increases that have just been made in Scotland are said to produce a much fairer society, but, to clarify this for the House, the tax changes mean that those on the lowest incomes in Scotland get £20 more a year—that is it. That is 38p a week. When Scottish National party Members stand in this House and lecture this Front Bench and this Government on being unfair, let us remember that the tax changes that the SNP has introduced bring in 38p a week, or £20 a year, and the tax changes that the Conservatives have introduced bring in £1,500 a year through the changes to the tax threshold. Let us leave the SNP to bicker on the sidelines while the Conservatives bring about truly transformational change.

I was also amazed by what the hon. Member for Aberdeen North said about the marriage allowance. I am glad that she was pulled up on it, because the party has been in the papers about the marriage allowance just this weekend. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the UK Government had to stand up and guarantee to people living in Scotland that the Government will bridge the gap created in the marriage allowance by the tax changes that have been imposed by the SNP Administration in Holyrood. Yet again, it is the UK Exchequer that is having to stump up for SNP failures in Scotland.

When we talk about fairness, it is also important to recognise that it is this Budget that is increasing the block grants in Scotland in real terms. It was even recognised by the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, in the Scottish Parliament, that it is a real-terms increase. Therefore, on top of the £1,750 per head spending we get—or Union dividend we get—already, we are getting a further real-terms increase to spend on frontline services in Scotland.

I am conscious of the time, but one important area that impacts on equality issues is tax avoidance, which has been picked up in the Budget. I am talking not only about tax avoidance generally, but about the VAT provision. The Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, has been specifically interested in that. The provisions that have been included to target VAT avoidance, especially for international payment platforms and for international marketplaces, give the Exchequer a good opportunity to target those who are not currently paying VAT but who should. Hopefully, that will bring more money into UK coffers and allow us to close the equality gap further still.

Break in Debate

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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21 Feb 2018, 3:19 p.m.

If the hon. Lady can come up with a sure-fire way of identifying women who live with men who do not confuse them, we will probably make some progress. The point I am making is that this area is riddled with huge complexity, yet new clause 9 seeks to achieve the presentation of reports and assessments that have the imprimatur of Government and the Treasury upon them. They are relied upon to take very important decisions, yet the arguments I am prosecuting suggest that we would actually end up with an incomplete picture. In fact, I would go further than that and say that they could be misleading in a way that would be unhelpful to what I know the hon. Lady is seeking to achieve and indeed what the Government are also seeking to achieve.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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Does the Minister share the view expressed by many of us this afternoon that while those on the Opposition Benches are looking for very complicated analysis that may, unfortunately, be rather misleading, we actually have a very strong track record, if we take a step back, of reducing inequality and making things better for those on the lowest incomes?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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21 Feb 2018, 3:24 p.m.

Yes. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. We know that the gender pay gap is at its lowest level on record, for example. That is a very substantial achievement and we are making considerable headway in that particular respect.

Some of the other taxes mentioned in new clause 9 include employment and disguised remuneration. Disguised remuneration is a highly complicated area, as the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) will know, having discussed it in some detail in Committee. The mind boggles as to how one would possibly unpack the effects on the various protected characteristics of that particular taxation. Pension schemes are also extremely complicated. Settlements and air passenger duty are perhaps a little bit easier than some of the others, but the point is that overall—and we have to look at the new clause in its entirety—new clause 9 is extremely complicated indeed.

Finally, there should be no doubt that those of us on the Government Benches are entirely committed to ensuring that we drive the equality agenda and drive it very hard indeed. We should, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) suggested, look to our own record in that respect. We now have more women in work than at any time in our history. In the past year, 60% of employment growth came from female employment. We have the lowest gender pay gap in full-time employment ever. Those companies employing 250 employees or more, as we have said often in this debate, are now required by law to provide a gender wage audit. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) suggested, there are teeth. Penalties can be applied by the ECHR, and fines can follow where that is not done. For those who are disabled, we spend a record amount in excess of £50 billion a year on benefits. As has been said by a number of Government Members, the national living wage has disproportionately helped some of the most needy in our society. When we talk about equality on this side of the House, we mean it. I urge the House to reject new clause 9.

Break in Debate

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds
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21 Feb 2018, 6:07 p.m.

I do not believe that that is uniform across the country. Of course there would be implications if there were very rapid changes. That would concern many people, but we feel that in this area, when it comes to the cost for first-time buyers, there has not been a significant change. If the right hon. Gentleman has evidence that there has been a change for first-time buyers, I would certainly like to see it. There might have been a change across the whole piece, but it certainly has not had an impact on first-time buyers who are trying to buy the lowest cost houses, as many are struggling more than ever before.

Labour Members say that the situation might be different if the measure was accompanied by others that promoted the production of genuinely affordable homes. As it stands, however, any additional homes—at least those promoted by any Government policy—will not be in place before the stamp duty cut takes place. The funding allocated in this regard is woefully inadequate. Our most recent debate about this matter in this Chamber revealed that the Government’s new housing infrastructure fund moneys, such as they are, will not start to come forward until 2019-20, which means that the £585 million cost of stamp duty cuts in 2018-19 will not be accompanied by housing infrastructure measures, and the same will be the case the following year. It is only two years later that extra money for the infrastructure fund will be forthcoming. In any case, that will amount to less than half of what the public purse will have renounced that year because of the cut in stamp duty. It is extremely disturbing that the Government have chosen to plough ahead with this approach in the absence of measures to significantly boost supply.

I repeat the calls we made in previous debates on the Bill for the Government to come clean on the advice they received about this measure. What do the economists in the Treasury say about this approach in the absence of measures to substantially increase supply? Ministers can claim—we have heard this from the Chancellor—that the OBR has not taken the small clutch of housing measures in the Budget into account in its analysis, but most experts who have taken those very small changes into account concur with the OBR’s original assessment. Was that also the case with Treasury officials? We in this House deserve to know, as do our constituents, particularly if they are faced with any rise in house prices for first-time buyers, as anticipated by the OBR. I point out that the Government’s own assessment of a previous stamp duty cut, again in the absence of measures to boost substantially the supply of affordable housing, indicated that

“the tax relief has not had a significant impact on improving affordability for first-time buyers.”

We also need to know the regional impact of the measure. As colleagues mentioned in our previous debate on this matter, the upper limit of £500,000 in high-cost areas and £300,000 elsewhere means that the change will not have a positive impact in huge swathes of the country, aside from reducing the revenue pot overall, with the result that other taxes on individuals and companies have to take up the slack, unless public services are to be cut further. For many people, home ownership is a distant dream when there is no way they can afford the necessary deposit. Today’s figures showing that real wages have fallen for the seventh month in a row should give us all pause for thought about whether the proposed measure is appropriate.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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21 Feb 2018, 6:11 p.m.

It is difficult for first-time buyers in my area to afford a deposit and they welcome the help the Government are giving to increase their opportunities when they are competing against people who are selling properties and are therefore more able to afford a deposit. This sort of policy is therefore very welcome, and it goes hand in hand with measures to increase housing supply. We are seeing significant—and not necessarily popular—increases in the housing targets for areas such as my constituency, coupled with work to make sure that houses are built when planning permission has been granted. I therefore contest the hon. Lady’s remarks on that point.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Feb 2018, 6:12 p.m.

In practice, most of the commentary that I have seen from experts and those working in the housing sector suggests that in areas where there is extreme competition between different types of buyer—for example, first-time buyers, those buying additional properties, investors, and those moving to a second or third property—such a measure may help initially, but the overall cost increase will also affect first-time buyers. They will therefore be buying at a higher price, so most of the impact of the measure—as with previous stamp duty changes without a boost in supply—will help sellers, not buyers. That was the Conservative Government’s own assessment of the impact of their previous cut to stamp duty in the absence of additional measures to boost supply.

Finance (No. 2) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: HM Treasury
Legislation Page: Finance Act 2018

Finance (No. 2) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Helen Whately Excerpts
Monday 11th December 2017

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
HM Treasury
Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11 Dec 2017, 6:45 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The Government have reached the stage where they blame anyone they can. The gaffe-prone Chancellor has blamed disabled people for bringing down the productivity rate. He is so out of touch that such comments are water off a duck’s back to him.

As the Minister said, this is the third Finance Bill of the year. All three of them have failed to address the challenge that our economy faces.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)
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11 Dec 2017, 6:46 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman referred to low wages, but he knows that the Finance Bill contains measures to raise the national minimum wage, so we are addressing that. He seems to be reluctant to answer people’s questions, so I want to bring him back to some that he was asked a few moments ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) asked him a simple question about the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) asked him a clear question about the cost of Labour’s proposals. The answer is not written down anywhere, so may I ask—this is the 24th time—about the amount and cost of borrowing that would result from Labour’s tax proposals?

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11 Dec 2017, 6:47 p.m.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) might not like the answer that I gave to his question, but I have referred him to the documentation. If the hon. Lady is incapable of going to the internet and looking up the facts and figures, it is not for me to do that for her. The bottom line is that there is nothing in the Bill for public sector workers, who head into the new year with their wages continuing to fall and the cap sticking.

Break in Debate

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab)
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11 Dec 2017, 8:43 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) said, this Finance Bill is testament to an out-of-touch Government with no idea of the reality of people’s lives and no plan to improve them. In the time that I have, I want to make particular reference to the lack of any apparent willingness on the Government’s part to invest in the west to east Crossrail for the north that we in the so-called northern powerhouse so desperately need and want.

In the Budget, the Chancellor made no mention of investment to improve the trans-Pennine rail route other than an announcement about improved wi-fi. As the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said, at least we will be able to text and tweet our families and friends to let them know that we will be late. It is not just northern voices saying this: Derek Robbins, senior lecturer in transport and tourism at Bournemouth University, said:

“I would…describe the lack of progress towards a modernised and reliable transPennine rail route as more than disappointing, given that it is an essential investment for future economic growth in the north.”

Labour is planning to borrow to invest, unlike this Government who borrow to cover day-to-day spending. Investment that gives higher returns than the cost of financing the extra debt makes sense. The £10 billion cost of Crossrail for the north would unlock £85 billion of additional economic growth. However, I do not believe that this Government have the imagination or the will to make the northern powerhouse anything more than just a slogan. When I asked the Secretary of State for Transport what conversations he had had with the northern powerhouse Minister about Crossrail for the north, his response was to talk about the electrification of the line from Manchester to Liverpool. That lack of response led me to believe that the answer to my question was probably none. Maybe the Secretary of State has the same problem I have encountered when trying to set up meetings with the aforementioned Minister for the northern powerhouse. I am still waiting for a response to a request for a meeting that was sent in October.

Yesterday, we witnessed an historic moment for Manchester’s rail network, with the opening of the Ordsall Chord—an £85 million scheme linking the main central Manchester stations of Victoria, Oxford Road and Piccadilly. However, our enthusiasm for this achievement was tempered somewhat by our concern over Government investment in rail in the north. For Manchester to really benefit from the Ordsall Chord, we need investment in Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations. For High Speed 2 to bring any benefit to the people of Greater Manchester, we need expansion of Piccadilly station, and that expansion must also take in and plan for HS3—Crossrail for the north. Yet the Government have indicated that Piccadilly might get only a digital upgrade, rather than the extra platforms that are needed. This decision has been met with despair from rail action groups, which have pointed out the very real need for physical capacity for more trains to go through the station, and that digital signalling is just not enough.

As I said immediately following the Budget statement, that statement was notable more for what it did not say than for what it did say. There was nothing for our police and fire services, nothing for social care, nothing for children’s services and no adequate equality impact assessment. For the last seven years, we have had nothing from this Government but missed opportunities and missed targets. The five-year austerity plan did not work; now it is the 15-year austerity plan. The Government keep missing their targets, but they keep returning to them—just with a longer timeline every single time.

This Government’s obsession with deficit reduction is at the expense of investment for our future, and it is people in the north who are losing out the most. In terms of transport spending, London has received over five times more public spending in the last five years than the north-west—hardly a country that works for everyone.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes),although I could not help but notice that her speech was almost entirely about spending, with almost nothing about raising money for that spending. The Finance Bill is about raising revenue.

Liz McInnes
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If the £10 billion was spent on Crossrail for the north, it would bring revenues of £85 billion. I have talked about spending and raising money.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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11 Dec 2017, 8:49 p.m.

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s point, but I still think that she very much spoke about spending and not about the content of this Finance Bill.

Our job in this House is to make difficult decisions not just on what we spend money on but on how we raise that money—who we tax and what we tax, when we are reluctant to tax people and would much rather they had the money in their pockets to spend themselves. Our aim is to make things better for our constituents, young or old and those in between. It is not our job to make promises that cannot be kept, to write cheques that we cannot cash, and just to say things that sound nice, like massive amounts of spending, but might turn out to have nasty consequences like high unemployment. Labour Members may tell us differently, but spending that we cannot afford is not the moral high ground—it is the moral low ground.

This Finance Bill builds on the tough decisions of the Governments led by Conservative Prime Ministers over the past seven years who have reduced the deficit by 75%, while as of next year debt will fall as a share of GDP. Let us not throw that all away, as Labour Members would, with uncosted proposals and unquantified borrowing. As we heard earlier, they could not answer our questions on how much their borrowing would cost.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
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11 Dec 2017, 8:50 p.m.

Twenty-three times.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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11 Dec 2017, 8:51 p.m.

I think it was at least 25 times that Labour Members were asked, and still no answer other than “See if you can look it up for yourself.” Why it could not be said at the Dispatch Box, I do not know, but I fear that they are inevitably planning to pile up debt for future generations.

I welcome three things in particular. First, there is the Government’s commitment to help people on low wages. The continued increase in the personal allowance is taking people out of tax and enabling them to keep more of what they earn to spend as they need to. Alongside that, the minimum wage is rising, but at a rate that is manageable for businesses so that they do not have to lay people off in order to pay it. Policies in the Budget to increase the supply of houses should bring down rents, which, we acknowledge, have been going up far too fast. In this Bill, there is a stamp duty cut for first-time buyers to bring buying a home within reach of more families—a particular challenge for my constituency in the south-east. As Shepherd Neame brewery is the largest employer in my constituency, I should mention the very welcome freeze on beer duty, which will be good for it and good for beer drinkers across the country.

Secondly, I welcome the actions on tax avoidance and evasion to make sure that we collect more, if not all, of the tax owed. That builds on the Government’s track record in this area, as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury pointed out. Particularly in the context of my constituency, I welcome plans to cut down on online VAT evasion, with the advantages that gives to online businesses in paying VAT, because I want us to achieve a more level playing field between online businesses and those with premises such as our high street shops. Regarding the policy on landfill tax, in my area we have an ongoing problem with rogue land fillers who start off in line with the law and seem to end up not in line with it.

Thirdly, I welcome the incredibly important commitment to addressing our productivity challenge. This has been acknowledged by this Government many times—it is not suddenly news. In fact, the measures in the Budget and the Finance Bill are the product of a huge amount of work looking at how we can improve productivity—a long-running problem in this country. It is vital that we raise productivity because that means that people get more money for every hour that they work. That is the key to improving living standards and funding the public services that we want, particularly with NHS costs going up as people need and want more care. There are many factors underlying our productivity challenge. Skills are a challenge for us. There is an issue with companies investing in workers, and workers investing in themselves. It is, to some extent, a cultural challenge. One venture capital investor told me that the key difference that he notices between British and American start-ups is that it is common to see in the business plan of American start-ups investment in training for themselves as the founders of the business. He rarely sees that in British start-up companies. That is, to some extent, a cultural challenge; we do not see investing in ourselves and our skills as part of life.

We know that we lag behind other countries in the use of technology and investment in automation. One specific example is our robot density. In Japan, there are 305 robots per 10,000 employees. In Germany the figure is 301 and in the Netherlands it is 120, but in the UK it is just 71. That is just one example of where we lag behind in investment in technology and automation. We have to drive up investment in those areas, as the Finance Bill does. Such investment cannot just come from Government spending more; we have to stimulate private investment in those areas, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) said eloquently. We have to mobilise private capital through incentives such as the EIS, which really works. I welcome the increases in that area, which will help to ensure that more businesses start and grow in this country, to provide the jobs and the higher wages that our constituents want.

There are no easy answers; what matters is getting the right answers. We need to help people on the lowest wages to keep more of what they earn, get a fair contribution from high earners and global businesses, build a more productive economy and invest in skills and technology. We want people to have higher wages in the jobs of the future so that they can live as they aspire to.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
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11 Dec 2017, 8:56 p.m.

I am pleased to be able to speak in this important debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). I am speaking in support of Labour’s reasoned amendment, setting out our opposition to the Finance Bill. That includes our opposition to the £4.7 billion reduction in the banking levy while children’s services are cut, the lack of adequate equality impact assessments, the lack of provision for lifting the public sector pay cap, and the lack of provision for addressing the funding crisis in social care and our NHS. I also oppose what I see as a lack of concrete action to tackle tax avoidance and evasion properly.

There are a number of areas that I will not be able to cover, but I did not want to make a contribution without mentioning the Women Against State Pension Inequality. We in the Opposition want justice for the WASPI women. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), is no longer in his place, because there will be an opportunity for the Government to do something about the matter on Thursday, after the Backbench Business Committee debate.

I am concerned that the Budget does not do enough for disabled people. I am concerned about stagnant pay and the failure to provide resources to lift the pay cap. I am concerned about the failure to provide resources for local government and the funding of our police and fire services. On housing, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said that Labour were not proposing any concrete, tangible solutions. I have been around for a few years, and I can look back at what works. Legitimate concerns have been expressed about the stamp duty proposals, which are feared to be the wrong solution. My understanding is that 40% of council houses that were sold under the right to buy are now in private ownership and, on average, rents in the private sector are twice those for council houses in the social housing sector. That costs this nation £10 billion—not as a one-off, but each and every year.

Surely a sensible person would say that in those circumstances, we should be building many more social houses. The Government’s target is, I believe, about 200,000 or 250,000 houses a year—[Interruption.] It is 300,000; I am grateful for that sedentary intervention. The last time we got anywhere near that was in 1973. As I am sure Members will recall, that is the year that Sunderland won the FA cup. Ian Porterfield scored the goal, and Jimmy Montgomery made a marvellous double save from Trevor Cherry and Peter Lorimer. In 1973, 100,000 council houses were built. That is the scale and magnitude of the challenge we face, and the Government should take that into account.

Like several of my hon. Friends, I want to concentrate, in the short time I have, on making the case for more investment in integrated transport networks, particularly in the north-east—we have heard about the north-west; I want to put the case for the north-east. The Budget is the time when the Government make political choices, and they should be held to account. I acknowledge that the Government have announced an investment in the Metro on Tyneside, which is certainly important, but the Metro is 40 years old, and the investment is to replace the rolling stock.

I represent the constituency of Easington, and I would love to see the Metro extended to the hinterland of Tyne and Wear, providing opportunities for expansion to towns such as Seaham and Peterlee in my constituency. That would naturally promote economic growth in the north, help to join up communities, and allow access to jobs in places such as Sunderland, Gateshead and Newcastle.

I know that Ministers like to have an evidence base, and I draw their attention to an excellent Library publication, “Transport Spending by Region”, published just last month. It gives transport spending totals overall, with the margin of discrepancy, with population factored in, between investment in the north-east and London. Overall, there is 10 times more investment in London and four times more in the south-east than in the north-east, while for railways there is 20 times more investment in London and five times more in the south-east. They say there is a big investment in the Metro system, but we have to recognise that, in the five years from 2011 to 2016, there has been a massive lack of investment. We have had terrible under-investment during that period.