There have been 12 exchanges between Helen Whately and HM Treasury
|Tue 2nd April 2019||Business Rates||3 interactions (137 words)|
|Thu 28th March 2019||Beer Taxation and Pubs||3 interactions (66 words)|
|Tue 8th January 2019||Finance (No. 3) Bill||21 interactions (1,380 words)|
|Tue 22nd May 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (64 words)|
|Wed 28th March 2018||Social Mobility and the Economy (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (89 words)|
|Wed 21st February 2018||Finance (No. 2) Bill||28 interactions (908 words)|
|Mon 11th December 2017||Finance (No. 2) Bill||11 interactions (1,201 words)|
|Thu 23rd November 2017||Budget Resolutions||7 interactions (840 words)|
|Tue 14th November 2017||Tax Avoidance and Evasion||3 interactions (62 words)|
|Mon 6th November 2017||Paradise Papers||3 interactions (58 words)|
|Tue 31st October 2017||Taxation: Beer and Pubs (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (61 words)|
|Wed 5th July 2017||Public Sector Pay Cap||3 interactions (111 words)|
Order. Before the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent intervenes, I must make two points. First, I think it important for the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) to be allowed to finish responding to one intervention before being interrupted by another. Secondly, I know that it is very tempting to look at the Member who has intervened, but it is a good idea to face in this direction because of the microphones. Obviously, no one would want to miss a word of the debate.
I do apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for not facing you. Of course I should like to face you all the time, but my hon. Friends have been tempting me in the other direction. I will try not to be tempted again.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The problem for nurseries is partly a business rates problem, but it is also connected with the pledge in our manifesto to grant free nursery spaces for an extra number of hours. That means employing extra staff, which the nurseries are finding hard to do. Nurseries—and I visit some in my constituency—are facing difficulties of all sorts. We must help them where we can. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister has heard my hon. Friend’s intervention; perhaps he will say that we can help in some way.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, which is one of those that needs to be considered. I understand the Treasury’s concerns about the risk of fraud, the ability to actually enforce it, and particularly, at the moment, legality under the current European duty framework.
Beer duty has divided this House in the past, but there is now a general agreement on all sides that it is already high and we certainly need to avoid rises. When the hated beer duty escalator was introduced by Gordon Brown, beer duty rose by a staggering 42%, while beer consumption in the UK fell by 16% overall and by nearly a quarter in our pubs. Almost 7,000 pubs called time for good, and more than 58,000 beer-dependent jobs were lost. This was a very expensive policy failure, and the price was paid by beer drinkers, publicans and employees alike. I am delighted that, as a country, we are now drinking more beer but also paying less tax on it as a proportion of the cost. However, the amount of this beer being sold in pubs continues to fall, and while the rate of pub closures has slowed, as I said, they are still closing at a disturbing rate.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) would also agree, with St Peter’s being a major advocate of this argument as well. The European Union, within its beer duty framework, is in the process of changing those thresholds. I would hope that the Treasury, regardless of what form of Brexit we end up with, will make sure that, at the very least, we follow the mechanisms that are already in place, amending the threshold for low-alcohol beers to one where it is rather more viable for brewers to produce at that strength. Encouraging people to go down from over 4% to around 3% is better for their health, and if we can make sure that it is fiscally better for the brewer as well, then so much the better.
As CAMRA has made clear, one of the opportunities as we leave the European Union—we know from last night’s discussion that there is an element of disagreement as to what should happen next—is that we are able to take back control of our excise duty regime. This gives the Chancellor an opportunity to look afresh at how we tax beer in pubs, in particular—how we can use fiscal measures to help pubs to thrive, to support responsible drinking, and to redress the competitive disadvantage that our community pubs have as against, in particular, supermarkets that are able to stack drinks high, sell them below cost, and use them a loss-leader.
I agree. I am not sure if the Minister is listening, but that is the point. Surely the Government would want to know whether their policies were working, so that they could do more of them. And if their policies were not working, all of us would want the Government to change tack.
Poverty and inequality should be at the heart of everything the Government do and of everything this Parliament demands. All that the new clauses and amendments are doing is saying to the Government, “Look at what your policies are doing. Look at the impact out there. What are you doing to tackle the utterly unacceptable inequality, child poverty and increased use of food banks that we see in our country? How are your policies going to address this?” That is the purpose of the new clauses, which I totally support.
I want to reciprocate by expressing my respect for the hon. Lady and for the work that she does in this place on mental health. I have huge experience in this area. I spent more than 20 years working on health inequalities and specifically on the assessment of policies to ensure that we get them right. That is part of the reason that I came into Parliament, and I know that this can be done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) said, if we are all so committed to reducing poverty and inequality, let us assess our policies before they are implemented, to ensure that they do just that.
I totally support what the hon. Lady is saying about importance of inequalities and health inequalities, but does she not recognise that two thirds of children in poverty have a working parent? People are trapped in low-paid work, and they are still poor, and she knows from her time on the Health and Social Care Committee that poverty is the biggest driver of ill health and health inequalities.
My hon. Friend has mentioned some of the benefits of having a working parent or family member, but it also sets an enormously good example for the children. Children brought up in workless households have low aspirations and ambitions when it comes to obtaining work themselves, so somebody being in work is not just about money, it is about psychological and educative factors, too.
I am completely insulted by the point made by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main). I grew up in in-work poverty. My parents were working, and I saw them struggle day in, day out, but I assure the House that my aspirations were not stopped. It may do some Members good to understand what people living in such conditions have to go through day in, day out, and Members should not patronise people when they simply do not understand the situation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that making sure people can keep more of their earnings before they pay tax, introducing the national living wage and reducing the very high taper rate for people on legacy benefits will all contribute to helping people to get out of the in-work poverty trap?
My hon. Friend is making an important point about aspiration. In this House we often get caught on economics and money, but social capital is just as important. In many communities right across the United Kingdom, we need to be helping people to see the true opportunities, both inside and outside their communities, to allow them to realise their true potential. It is important that we consider the social alongside the monetary in all these debates.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the challenge for Parliament changes over time? In the Labour years we were very concerned in Parliament about the number of workless households—there were 3 million then. There are now a lot more people in work, but there is this issue, which has been rightly raised, of the quality of that work, of the skills involved and of whether it rewards people adequately. That is the new challenge, but we are making progress.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately).
I rise to oppose new clause 1, and I do so for these reasons. If any Members were so inclined, they should please come and visit my constituency of North Dorset. If they visited North Dorset, they could easily be forgiven for thinking that everything in the garden was rosy. There are pretty villages, attractive market towns, lush fields, healthy-looking cattle grazing and a strong local economy where unemployment is virtually zero. If Polly Toynbee or the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) were to arrive in North Dorset and say to me, “Simon, would you take me to your most deprived ward?” I could not, because I do not have one, but I know that I have pockets of deprivation and of poverty in each village and market town in my constituency.
One of the big challenges facing any suite of financial policies is recognising that poverty manifests itself in various ways and guises, but right the way across our nation. It is, I would suggest, far easier to identify large pockets of urban deprivation and poverty. The real public policy challenge is also to recognise and address those of rural poverty, often in sparsely populated areas where the instinct—maybe it is part of the rural community DNA—is slightly to shy away from asking the state, either local or national, for support and to demonstrate a strong sense of resilience and smaller communities trying to work together, although that is no excuse for any Government to shy away from focusing like an Exocet on trying to deliver policies that help to address rural poverty.
I am motivated by this every day. I know the figures move around, but the average national salary for the UK is in the region of £24,000 or £24,500 per annum, as I understand it. In North Dorset, when I was first elected in 2015, the figure was £16,500 and it has just risen to about £18,000, but rural jobs always pay less, if people are in the agricultural sector, food production or the hospitality trade. In those rural areas we do not have those big, high-paying employers. That is why we should always focus on trying to deliver support.
The hon. Lady correctly identifies the underlying problem: the nature of retailing is changing. Britain is leading the world in the adoption of online retail, which has huge opportunities, but will also bring huge changes. This is a microcosm of the changes we will face in this economy over the next 10, 20 or 30 years, as the digital revolution changes fundamentally the way we do business. The answer is not to try to resist change, but to embrace it, and to make sure that we train our people so that they can take up the new challenges and have the new opportunities that this economy will bring.
We have taken steps that I have already outlined this morning to reduce the burden of taxation on businesses large and small, although of course small businesses are most beneficially affected by the £10 billion programme of reducing business rates costs and through the reduction in corporation tax levels. But we are always looking for further ways to support the smallest businesses and to encourage them to become larger businesses.
The hon. Lady is right—this must be a two-way street. I put the call out to teachers to have the confidence to work with businesses that want to come and help raise aspirations for their young people, just as teachers themselves do. Inspiring the Future works successfully with thousands of schools—primary and secondary—around our country. We know such activity can work and we know how it benefits those children. Today, I am seeking to expand the opportunities for children who currently do not have enough of them.
I am grateful for that intervention because it gives me the chance to point out that a recent study up in the north-east showed that 83% of young people felt that having work experience should be a compulsory part of the school curriculum. The challenge that they and we face is that there are not enough opportunities for them to do that—it does not matter whether they are growing up in Kent or in Newcastle. Businesses alone can help us to close that gap between the work experience that young people know they need and want, and the opportunities for them to do that while they are going through school.
The final piece of the pledge is about open recruitment practices. Changes such as introducing name-blind recruitment or contextual recruitment can help to promote a level playing field for candidates. In name-blind recruitment, the candidate’s name is replaced by a number and their CV is then assessed as normal. Employers can have unconscious bias in respect of black and minority ethnic candidates, and name bias based on gender and traditional working-class names, so name-blind approaches work. That is why Clifford Chance, a major law company, uses name-blind recruitment—in fact, it is one of the founding companies signed up to the pledge.
Contextual recruitment, which was referred to in the Social Mobility Commission’s annual report in 2016, takes into account the situation in which the academic and personal success of a candidate have been achieved, and how their performance compares with that of their peers from similar backgrounds who have had similar opportunities. It is already used by companies such as Deloitte, and by some of the magic circle law firms such as Linklaters. The research shows that disadvantaged applicants were 50% more likely to be hired using contextual recruitment than they otherwise would have been.
Finally, I am especially grateful for the support of the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce, and the many businesses that have signed up to the pledge, including companies such as BT, ITV, Adidas, Severn Trent, Viacom, KPMG, Aviva and PwC, to name just a few. The British Chambers of Commerce is encouraging all 75,000 of its members to sign up to the pledge, which is fantastic. Achieving that would be transformational. Similarly, the Federation of Small Businesses is behind the pledge and is encouraging its 170,000 members to commit to it.
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—
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
The hon. Gentleman will know, if he has had an opportunity to study the Budget closely, that the Chancellor referred to the housing deals that we are working on in Greater Manchester, Leeds and the west midlands. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the trans-Pennine railway, and he will know that the Chancellor offered an additional £300 million yesterday for the trans-Pennine railway. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that. Many councils are, like hers, willing to take what may be tough decisions, provide the land for new homes and give the planning permissions, only to find that developers do not build those homes out at all, or that they do so far too slowly. The measures in the housing White Paper are hugely welcome and will make a difference, but I am not sure whether they are enough. That is why we wanted to have an independent inquiry, and I am sure that it will make a big difference.
The whole planning and building process will be overseen by our new national housing agency, Homes England. That agency will be based on the Homes and Communities Agency, but its remit will be far larger and will bring together money, expertise, planning and compulsory purchase orders. That will allow it to offer specific solutions to the barriers faced by different areas, maximising its impact and getting more of the right homes built in the right places.
It is no good building homes if people cannot afford them. Growing the economy and raising wages are key to that but, as I said last week, young people face a housing market that is very different from the one that their parents’ generation enjoyed. We are going to get more homes built, but that will not happen overnight. What has happened overnight is a change that means that no stamp duty will apply for the vast majority of first-time buyers. On average, a first-time buyer will save £1,600. In addition, we have provided £200 million for a pilot to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants in the midlands, allowing people to own the homes in which they have lived for many years and giving them the same opportunity as that enjoyed by council tenants.
Break in Debate
Yes, from north Wales—even better. [Laughter.] In all seriousness, one of the reasons why I feel so proud to have been born in this country is that I know the quality of our public servants across this country—the people who teach in our schools, the people who work in our hospitals, our firefighters and our police—who go above and beyond to serve us every day and right through the night. We often speak in statistics in this place, which is fair enough, but that is why we are right to feel aggrieved that there has been no real movement on the public sector pay gap. This is now as much a matter of morality as it is one of economics, and I regret the fact that the Government have not taken this more seriously.
Yesterday, I heard the very sad news of the passing of Mrs Anne Davies. She was a schoolteacher in Ponciau junior school in my constituency; indeed, she was one of my teachers. She served the communities of Ponciau and Rhosllannerchrugog with great distinction. She was a school teacher between the late 1940s and the 1980s, and I reckon she must have taught about 1,200 children. Think of the effect that one of the best teachers in Wales and one of the strongest people in those communities had on so many children. That is why the current public sector pay freeze does a grave disservice to people across the length and breadth of our country.
I agree with the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford, when he points out that the Welsh governmental budget will still be 5% lower in real terms in 2019-20 than it was in 2010-11. I feel concerned that, as the Chancellor said yesterday, we are only beginning negotiations on the north Wales growth deal. Those negotiations have been beginning for a long time, and it is time we had some action. Wrexham County Borough Council, which is run not by Labour but by a coalition of Conservatives and independents, makes that point on its website. It has already saved around £18 million in the past three years, and it thinks that it will have to find another £13 million over the next two years. It states:
“We have less and less money to spend every year”.
Yet as we hear about these great concerns, we recognise that we are now giving away £3 billion to pay for the Government’s failure in the Brexit negotiations—they never put that on the Brexit bus did they! UK national debt is now of staggering proportions. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, debt that was £358.6 billion in May 1998 now stands at £1,726.9 billion—a staggering sum. In a phrase worthy of Jim Hacker, yesterday the Chancellor said that our productivity performance “continues to disappoint”. Had Sir Humphrey been sitting behind him, he would have said, “A brave comment, Chancellor.”
The Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Ben Broadbent, stated:
“Productivity growth has slowed in just about every advanced economy, but it has been more severe in this country than in others.”
The Daily Telegraph, that most Tory of Tory papers, commented that “productivity growth has crashed”. The journalist Tim Wallace spoke of how the 1860s was the last decade of negative real income growth. He wrote:
“That the move to electricity did spark a resurgence in growth would provide reassurance if only we knew that the next technological revolution was sure to bring the same benefits in the 21st century”.
That is the view from Planet Tory, which shows how the Government are failing. Finally, the Government really need to sort out land banking for the sake of Heol Berwyn in Cefn Mawr and other communities.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). I hope the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) uses his new-found freedom on the Back Benches to join me and many other Members in calling for the Red Arrows order to be brought forward to secure jobs at BAE.
The short-sightedness of the Government’s continued addiction to austerity is astounding, and the Government clearly have little understanding of cause and effect, but I hope with this speech that I can convince the Chancellor to make a proactive decision that will save NHS England money. On 18 October, I led a Westminster hall debate on transvaginal mesh. Transvaginal mesh has been used to treat stress incontinence on the NHS for 20 years and it is the most commonly used mesh implant. More than 120,000 UK women have had this in the past 10 years. Prolapse mesh has been used on the NHS since 2002, and is placed either vaginally or through the stomach. The draft National Institute for Health and Care Excellence report, expected for publication in December 2017, announces that vaginally placed prolapse mesh must only be used in a research context. We know this is surgeons’ code for “do not use”. Mesh was ruthlessly marketed as a quick inexpensive fix. However, a recent report shows evidence that about 10% of women have suffered complications after surgery.
This week, representatives of the all-party parliamentary group on surgical mesh implants met campaigners from Sling the Mesh. During the meeting, Kath Sansom illustrated the cost of mesh failure to the NHS. Mesh-injured women face the long-term costs of pain medication and removals, but no one has yet realised the extent of the increased health costs because of our fragmented NHS. Mesh-injured women are an unplanned extra cost to an NHS budget that is already overstretched: for example, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust in my constituency has a deficit of £11.5 million.
Many mesh-injured women suffer chronic pain and urinary infections; many have leg pain, ranging from moderate to severe. Some are in wheelchairs, or are using sticks to help them to walk. Risks are serious, they are forever, and they are devastating. Many of these women claim benefits. Some work reduced hours and claim working family tax credit, while others receive personal independence payments or other disability benefits.
During the APPG meeting, Kath mentioned four women in connection with the costs to the NHS. I have just enough time to mention two. Joanne is an NHS administrator. She costs the NHS £180 a month, and in 11 years she has cost it £55,000. Jemima went from being super-fit to using sticks to walk, and is in daily agonising pain. Mesh has sliced her insides so badly that she knows that, at some point, her bowel will have to be removed. She is delaying that by using a special kit to pump herself out every day. It costs £900 a year, plus prescription medication costs of £135 a month.
In her response to my Westminster Hall debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), dismissed my call for a public inquiry and a retrospective audit. She said:
“I think it is more important that we get the treatment that is needed, but I encourage everybody to report their cases through the yellow card scheme.”—[Official Report, 18 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 317WH.]
Most women are not aware of the yellow card scheme, and have no idea how to use it.
We need a retrospective audit on mesh so that the NHS can gather the necessary evidence of the scale of the injuries suffered by those who have had mesh fitted. The refusal to fund and commission such an audit is incredibly short-sighted. More women are having this operation every day, and the level of risk is unknown. We could be adding astronomical costs to our NHS daily as a result of future mesh failure. However, the costs of mesh failure are not just to the NHS; they are to all our public services.
How can Hull City Council provide the support that is needed both by mesh-injured women and other disabled adults when it has lost 32% of its funding since 2010? Those cuts are having an impact on its ability to deliver local services, including adult social care. East Riding of Yorkshire Council faces an increase in adult social care costs of more than £21 million, without the increased budget to pay for it. Some mesh-injured women need supported housing because of their disabilities. Many of them are suffering from both depression and anxiety, which adds more pressure and demand on our already overstretched mental health services. Our councils cannot continue to foot the bill for the Government’s failure to take the action that is needed. The councils need budgets that will enable them to provide those services for everyone.
One way in which the Government could save money for our NHS and our councils would be to fund a retrospective audit for all mesh-injured women. That would save the costs of treating and caring for them in the future.
I completely concur with my hon. Friend’s important remarks.
It is our job, as the elected representatives of those who are angry, to do what we can to put a stop to tax injustice. Tax avoidance should be not an issue that divides us, but one on which we work together in the interests of all taxpayers and in order to protect our public services. The Paradise papers are the latest in a series of leaks unmasked by the international press. I salute the professional investigatory journalists involved in making sense of the millions of documents passed to them, especially those at The Guardian and on “Panorama”, who have been working on the papers for a year, and I salute the public-spirited courage of the whistleblower who first passed the papers to the German newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Paradise papers contain 13.4 million files from just two offshore providers of tax advice and the company registries of 19 tax havens. The scale of the data is what makes the leaks so important.
We have had the Panama papers, the Luxembourg leaks, the Falciani leaks, the so-called Russian and Azerbaijani laundromat revelations on money laundering, and now we have the Paradise papers. We will continue to see new leaks splashed over our papers and filling our television screens until the Government act firmly to clamp down on the avoidance that is so blatant and yet so wrong.
As the hon. Lady will know, this Government have brought in £160 billion in relation to tax avoidance since 2010, including £2.8 billion in respect of individuals attempting to hide funds overseas. She raises the issue of HMRC. As is quite right and proper, it is going through reconstruction and reassignments at the moment, so that we have a series of hubs with a critical mass of individuals in them and the right technology and infrastructure to go after those who, as assessed on a risk basis, are avoiding taxation.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. As I have pointed out a few times already, we are currently looking at reporting standards. We are also looking at various recommendations coming out of the BEPS regime, some of which were covered in the Finance Bill, to stop flagrant tax avoidance, sometimes on the part of some of the largest corporations in the country. As I mentioned earlier, the Labour party sought to kill that Bill on Third Reading.
I must continue because a lot of colleagues are waiting to get in.
The beer industry is a true success story for home-grown British manufacturing. A staggering 82% of all beer consumed in this country is made in the UK. The UK now has more than 2,000 breweries, producing 25 million barrels of beer a year. With 923 million pints exported to 110 different countries, beer is the third largest food and drink export sector in the UK and it is worth £550 million to the UK economy. In my constituency alone, the sector accounts for 1,156 jobs, of which 313 are held by under-25s. It also contributes more than £37 million to our local economy.
I thank my hon. Friend, who represents our oldest brewery. It is important that we support established breweries as well as more recent entries into the market. The beer and pub sector adds more than £23 billion to the UK economy, and I know that the Minister will be very grateful for the £13 billion of taxes that it contributes to the Treasury.
There has been a suggestion that duty changes have little or no impact on beer sales in pubs. That is simply not true and is not consistent with the available evidence. The last Labour Government introduced the hated beer duty escalator in 2008. It was hated because the escalator saw beer duty increase by a staggering 42%, hitting beer sales, making pints less affordable and closing pubs at a faster rate than ever. Beer sales have been falling for many years. However, we saw that trend accelerate sharply under the escalator. In the six years before the duty escalator, on-trade beer sales fell by about 3% a year. During the escalator years, on-trade sales fell by more than a quarter, which was about 5.4% a year on average. Almost 7,000 pubs called time for good, and more than 58,000 beer-dependent jobs were lost. However, although beer duty increased by 42%, beer duty revenues rose by only 12%. It was a very expensive failure of a policy and one that I hope the Labour party has put firmly in the past.
Beer duty is now 20% lower than it would have been with tax rises previously planned under the escalator. In the years between 2013 and 2016, when duty was cut or frozen, the annual decline in on-trade beer sales was not 5.4%, but 2%, which year on year makes a significant difference to the number of jobs and the size of the industry. However, the return to a retail prices index-linked rise in this March’s Budget was disappointing. Announcing a second duty rise in the same calendar year would in effect take us back to the days of the beer duty escalator through the back door.
As the price difference between sales in pubs and supermarkets has widened, consumers have become increasingly price sensitive, especially pub-goers. A respected consultancy, Oxford Economics, which has consistently and accurately forecast the impact of duty changes in recent years, calculates that even a freeze in beer duty in next month’s Budget, rather than the planned increase, would boost pub sales by about 33 million pints per year against the current baseline and that that would mean more than 2,000 additional jobs.
The Exchequer Secretary will remember the front-page headlines praising the previous Chancellor for cutting beer duty. I cannot promise the Exchequer Secretary the front page of the Evening Standard—maybe he knows a man who can—but I have no doubt that if the current Chancellor freezes beer duty, the whole Treasury team would be carried shoulder high across Whitehall.
The financial benefits of the beer and brewing industry are clear, but just as great is the social impact of pubs and the detrimental effect that pub closures have on the fabric of our society, because pubs are a great addition to the social make-up of our country, at the heart of our local communities. They offer a safe environment in which drinking can be supervised and highly regulated, which is in stark contrast to much street drinking.
As I have outlined, pay is determined by a very clear process. Independent pay review bodies make recommendations on areas such as pay for the police and nurses. We will look very carefully at those recommendations to balance fairness for public sector workers, and recruitment and retention of the best possible people, with affordability for the public finances. That is a responsible approach to take, and it will ensure that our economy grows and unemployment continues to move in a positive direction.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that, by having this balanced policy, we have protected jobs in the public sector and we have protected important services. The Office for Budget Responsibility outlined in its report that our policy protects the jobs of 200,000 public sector workers. That is important for those people, but it is also important for our constituents who receive those public services and who are seeing improvements in our schools and hospitals, and a reduction in crime. It is important that we take that balanced approach.