All 41 Parliamentary debates on 22nd Nov 2023

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Wed 22nd Nov 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Wednesday 22 November 2023
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(3 months ago)

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

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

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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1. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of childcare on family incomes in Northern Ireland.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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11. Whether he plans to provide increased funding for childcare in Northern Ireland.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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Early education and childcare are devolved matters, so policy and spending decisions are for the Northern Ireland Executive. It is vital that a new Executive are formed to ensure that all available funding is used to maximum effect in Northern Ireland.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy
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The Minister knows that free childcare is not available in Northern Ireland, but is he aware of the serious consequences that people across the north are facing, particularly women? Childcare is extremely expensive in Northern Ireland—the most expensive outside of London—so something really needs to be done. Rather than telling me that this is just a matter for the Executive, who are not even sitting, can he tell me what he is doing right now to secure free childcare for those women, and who is he speaking to about it?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I know that the hon. Lady does not mean to implore me to ride roughshod over the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, but we need to abide by the devolution settlement in that agreement. Northern Ireland has its own childcare system, and it is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Department of Education to put in place the much-needed policies for childcare support that the hon. Lady quite rightly raises. Successive Executives have not prioritised funding for childcare provision equivalent to that in England, despite having funding to do so through Barnett consequentials, so I hope she will join with me in saying to an Executive—which, of course, we hope will be restored—that they really do need to take care of childcare.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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Given that a post on the Prime Minister’s No. 10 Instagram account this week celebrated Northern Ireland’s businesses with the Irish tricolour, does the Minister think that parents would get a better child deal with the Republic?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I am confident that somewhere there is a junior communications professional lamenting the fact that they accepted the automatically generated flag on that Instagram post, and I do not wish to deepen their embarrassment by going further. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that I was proud to put out on my own Instagram the lapel pin that I am currently wearing.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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2. What recent discussions he has had with businesses in Northern Ireland on the implementation of the Windsor framework.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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6. What recent discussions he has had with businesses in Northern Ireland on the implementation of the Windsor framework.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Chris Heaton-Harris)
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Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings that killed 21 people and injured 182—the deadliest act of terrorism in England during the troubles. At this juncture, we should remember those who lost their lives, and in this 25th year of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement it is important to remind ourselves of the progress that has been made since 1998.

I recently attended a roundtable with the Northern Ireland Institute of Directors, and I meet regularly with Northern Ireland businesses to discuss a whole range of issues, including the Windsor framework. Officials across the UK Government are also in regular contact with businesses about implementation of the framework. We have continued the ongoing implementation of the Windsor framework, rolling out the first phase of the green lane on 1 October, cutting red tape and lifting bans on everyday products.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to businesses in Northern Ireland. Could he tell the House how many of them are now registered with the UK internal market scheme?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I am happy to confirm that more than 7,000 businesses have now registered with the UK internal market scheme, of which over 3,000 are businesses that did not benefit from the previous schemes. All of those businesses can now move their goods free from any costly issues and tariffs. In the future, businesses registered under the scheme will also be able to avoid completing customs declarations as we continue implementation of the Windsor framework.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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Does the Secretary of State accept that for as long as there are customs declarations, physical searches and ID checks for businesses moving goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, even in the green lane, the Prime Minister’s view that there is no

“sense of border in the Irish sea”

will ring hollow?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, I do not accept that. When we agreed to the Windsor framework, we committed to a certain number of EU laws being maintained in Northern Ireland, which has been of economic benefit to Northern Ireland even up to this point and will continue to be in future. Pretty much everybody involved in movements across the Irish sea—the businesses involved, including the new businesses using them—believe that they are simple and very straightforward.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the DUP leader.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
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Further to that excellent question from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), our objective is to ensure that Northern Ireland’s place in our biggest market, the United Kingdom, is restored and protected in law. Will the Secretary of State work with us to ensure that, where goods are moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, they are not subject to EU customs processes that are neither necessary nor fair and right? Save for reasons of animal health and the risk of smuggling, there should not be checks on those goods.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I very much enjoy working with him on a regular basis to try to achieve the aims he has set out. We have so far gone a long way in this space with the Windsor framework, but I look forward to continued engagement with him in the next few days, because we do need to find a resolution to these issues that also means we can re-form Stormont and deal with the other domestic issues in Northern Ireland.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson
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I thank the Secretary of State for the additional support that has been provided to businesses affected by flooding in Northern Ireland. Will he work with us to ensure that, whatever additional support is required for the recovery of towns such as Downpatrick, Newry and Portadown is delivered by Northern Ireland Departments working together with the Northern Ireland Office?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I would like to thank the local councils and the Northern Ireland civil service for the work they have done on this so far. The flooding, which I know we will talk about a bit later, was extraordinary and so many people were affected who did not expect to be. Some £15 million has been assigned for that at this point in time, but the right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that the consequences of the floods will have ramifications for months and years to come.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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3. Whether he has had discussions with the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy on improving the performance of Northern Irish universities as measured by the Times Higher Education impact rankings.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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Northern Ireland has outstanding universities and a high share of its population is educated to degree level. My ministerial colleagues and I have the pleasure of regularly engaging with Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, and we are proud to promote these institutions in the rest of the UK and internationally. I have glanced at the rankings to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and I am looking forward to hearing his further question.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
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Is the Minister aware that when I was speaking on the deck of the Titanic centre only two weeks ago, I was thinking about him and the Conservative Government? Is he also aware that I was speaking to universities and local businesses that are deeply worried about the inability of universities and businesses to get answers from the Government to enable them to meet the targets of the very important impact assessment from the United Nations?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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As keen as I am to keep abreast of the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts, I was not aware of his particular insights on that occasion. Of course, we continue to work with the universities and the Northern Ireland civil service, and I am keen to work with him on the success of those universities. What we need above all, of course, is for an Executive to return so that we can work through some of the issues before us.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Staff and students at Queen’s University Belfast are doing some incredibly impressive work on cyber-security. What can Ministers do to ensure that that expertise is deployed to make us a more cyber-resilient nation?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. I had the pleasure of visiting the national Centre for Secure Information Technologies, and I had a particularly interesting time testing some of its systems—I do not think I should comment any further on that particular experience. We are always keen to promote its work, and I am grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to say on the record that it does a fantastic job. Together with the National Cyber Security Centre, I am sure it will continue to promote cyber-security in the UK and, indeed, abroad.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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4. What discussions he has had with the Administration in Northern Ireland on the potential impact of budgetary constraints on the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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5. What discussions he has had with the Administration in Northern Ireland on the potential impact of budgetary constraints on the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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9. What discussions he has had with the Administration in Northern Ireland on the potential impact of budgetary constraints on the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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Northern Ireland’s finances are unsustainable, I am sorry to say, and the Departments are facing difficult decisions to live within their budgets. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has directed the Departments, using powers under the Northern Ireland (Interim Arrangements) Act 2023, to launch public consultations on measures to support budget sustainability and raise more revenue.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I thank the Minister for that answer. The Prime Minister announced on Monday that one of his five new key priorities is to improve education across these islands, yet at the same time his Government are starving Northern Ireland’s Department of Education of £300 million. We all know that the Government love fantasy economics, but surely the idea that cutting £300 million from education will improve it is a flight of fantasy too far even for this Government.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right when he said that education is the closest thing we have in public policy to a silver bullet, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council has acknowledged that Northern Ireland is currently receiving the funding it needs through a combination of the Northern Ireland block grant, locally generated revenue and additional UK Government funding packages. Those additional packages amount to some £7 billion in additional funding since 2014. I am afraid that the reality for schools in Northern Ireland is that they are long overdue reform, and the cost of running a divided education system is considerable. We need to see much more integrated education and much more efficiency, to ensure that children get the education they richly deserve.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald
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Recent analysis shows that Northern Ireland’s budget over the past three years has been cut by £2.3 billion in real terms. On top of that slow decline, the UK Government have withheld millions in funding, forcing budget cuts on Northern Ireland Departments. Why does the Minister think it is okay to punish the people of Northern Ireland for the political impasse of their representatives?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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It is not our view that the people are being punished for an impasse. The reality is that the budget situation is difficult for all the devolved nations. The hon. Lady will know that in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, difficult decisions have to be taken in order to live within our means. This Government are taking the necessary steps to assist the Executive in balancing the books.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Whoever is responsible for the current stalemate in Northern Ireland, it is not young people in the country’s schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) has pointed to the desperate shortfall in funding. Is the Minister aware that teachers in Northern Ireland have not had a pay increase for three years, so effectively they have taken a pay cut that is now over 20%? Can he explain how that will help to maintain the proud record of education in Northern Ireland that he spoke about a few minutes ago?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I can assure the hon. Gentleman that teachers have not hesitated to impress that point on me when I have been in Northern Ireland. It is a matter that we have under active consideration, but I am unable to satisfy him today.

Robert Buckland Portrait Sir Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend has mentioned additional UK Government funding, and an important element of that is levelling-up bids. We on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee note with concern that no Northern Ireland application was successful in the recent third phase. Can he assure me that a sum of funding is being set aside for Northern Ireland projects? If so, can he give us an indication of the likely amount being set aside?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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My right hon. and learned Friend is right to highlight the issue. A number of things have been said about this matter that are not the case. The money will be made available in Northern Ireland, and it has been set aside. If memory serves, it is about £15 million, but I would need to double-check—if I am incorrect, I will write to him. The reality is that we need decisions to be taken by a restored Executive, and the Government are keen to work with Northern Ireland Ministers to that end. I am grateful to him for highlighting this point and giving me the opportunity to say that the money will be spent in Northern Ireland.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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Following on from that question, communities across Northern Ireland are angry about the Government’s decision to exclude them from the latest round of levelling-up funding. The Government have said that is because Stormont is not sitting, but that is a poor excuse, because round 2 funding was allocated to 10 projects in Northern Ireland in January this year, when the Executive were also not in place. Only £120 million of the pot of £5 billion has been allocated to Northern Ireland so far. There is a huge additional need in communities, but millions is being held back, as the Minister has just said. Will the Secretary of State commit to reversing this unjust decision with immediate effect?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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The hon. Lady makes her point with great force but, as I just said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), the money will be spent in Northern Ireland. We are keen to work with Northern Ireland Ministers to that effect. When it comes to the overall level of money required, the hon. Lady will know that we have just put more than £700 million into PEACEPLUS, which will help support Northern Ireland. The reality is that we are working hard to ensure that Northern Ireland has the funding it needs, but in order to sort out the problems that Northern Ireland faces, we need a restored Executive and, I am afraid, revenue raising. We need to be working with Northern Ireland Ministers to make sure that we get the public service reform that is so urgently needed.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks on the anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings? Our thoughts continue to be with all who are affected by that tragedy to this day.

The UK Government, as we have just heard, are holding back levelling-up funding for Northern Ireland, ostensibly because of the lack of a functioning Executive. However, the UK Government are seemingly content to bypass the views of the Governments in place in Edinburgh and Cardiff in allocating levelling-up funding. Is the point of consistency not about a desire to level up, but just that there is a shortage of Conservative MPs in Northern Ireland who need to shore up their re-election prospects with public cash?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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It is easy to throw out a cheap political line like that, but as the hon. Member has heard me say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) and the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), the reality is that that levelling up money will be spent in Northern Ireland. I can certainly assure him that none of that money has appeared in my marginal seat of Wycombe—even though the whole House will know it is undoubtedly the most deserving and most beautiful constituency in the nation.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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7. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the funding for flood recovery in Northern Ireland announced on 8 November 2023.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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The floods have seen devastating consequences for businesses and households, so the Government have worked hard to come forward with a substantial package that is consistent with our approach across the UK. In the absence of an Executive, we are making up to £15 million of support available through the reallocation of existing Northern Ireland funding. We have worked closely with colleagues in the Northern Ireland civil service and the Treasury to ensure that the Northern Ireland civil service and local councils can provide affected businesses with the support they need.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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I thank the Minister for that response. He will know that there are real concerns about whether that funding is adequate—I think he will hear about that in a moment—but can I ask about future adaptation and prevention? Such floods are often talked about as a once-in-a-century or once-in-a-lifetime experience, but we know that is not the case from England and that the communities will need protection for future occurrences.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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The hon. Member is absolutely right to raise that. She will know that such matters are mostly for the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. That is why we are so keen to get the finances on a sustainable basis and achieve the long-term change that is needed. That, of course, includes having a strategic plan for adaptation. I hope to have the opportunity in this role to work with a Northern Ireland Executive to those ends.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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I join the Secretary of State in his remarks about all those who lost their lives in the terrible Birmingham pub bombings. We remember them.

Last week, in Downpatrick, Newry and Portadown, I saw the terrible effects of the flooding on businesses and households, many of whom cannot get flood insurance and therefore face huge losses. Can the Minister assure us that once the initial £7,500 has been paid out to all businesses from the money that the Secretary of State announced during his visit, the Treasury will approve proposals for the use of the rest of the money quickly so that businesses affected can receive help and get back up and running again? If more is needed, will he provide it?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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The rest of the money is within the power of the Northern Ireland civil service to spend, because it is reallocated funding. Alas, the Treasury is not under my control—all I can say is that I look forward to the day.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn
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I thank the Minister for that answer. Traders will expect to see the money spent. There will have to be a review of what happened during the floods to learn lessons for the future, including things such as the need for a warning system—there is not currently one in Northern Ireland—better flood defences, and flood protection, which will all need funding in the years ahead. In the continuing absence of the Executive, which is really needed at a time like this, does the Minister agree that there should be a review? Does the Northern Ireland civil service have the power to establish such a review? If not, will the Secretary of State do it?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that a review is needed. I believe that it is possible for the Northern Ireland civil service to get on with that work under the powers that we have given it. If it transpires that that is not the case, I will write to him and put a copy of the letter in the Library. He is right—the insights he provides are wise and necessary—that we all want to work together to see a restored Executive, because it is for Northern Ireland Ministers to work with their Department for Infrastructure to deal with such matters.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
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8. What assessment the Government have made of the potential merits of introducing a fiscal floor for Northern Ireland.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Chris Heaton-Harris)
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I thank the hon. Member for the proposals that he and his party have shared with me regarding these matters, as well as those of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson). I read his article in The Irish Times earlier this morning with great interest, but he will know that such change is not exactly the silver bullet and will need some negotiation.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry
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I appreciate that there is a need for a negotiation. A fiscal floor is vital to Northern Ireland. Can the Secretary of State ensure that any fiscal floor is driven by evidence, based on the work of the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council, draws on the work of Professor Holtham in Wales, and properly reflects the devolution of policing and justice, as happened in 2010 around need?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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There is always some debate on the basis of need, and the Fiscal Council outlined what it should be in its eyes. In general principles, the answer is yes. A lot of conversations are to be had, and the Fiscal Council helpfully published a report earlier this year, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the proposal for Wales took over seven years to negotiate.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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10. What discussions he has had with the chief commissioner and the commissioner for investigations at the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery since their appointment.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Chris Heaton- Harris)
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To update the House, Sir Declan Morgan and Peter Sheridan have been identified as chief commissioner-designate and commissioner for investigations-designate, respectively. Sir Declan commenced work in June and Peter Sheridan is due to start in December. Formal appointments will take place only once the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery is legally established. The commissioner-designate and I have been in contact about a range of issues, mainly through correspondence, including in leading the search for the remaining commissioners.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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I am sure that when those meetings finally take place, the Secretary of State will take the opportunity to raise the numerous crimes committed in the Republic of Ireland against Northern Ireland, and challenge them over state-sponsored terrorism there. In his dozens of meetings with Sinn Féin, can the Secretary of State explain if he has taken the opportunity to challenge Sinn Féin about its boycott of the institutions here? When will he ask Sinn Féin Members to come back here and do their job?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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As you would expect, Mr Speaker, I meet all the political parties and their party leaders in Northern Ireland and here, where their party leaders exist. Everyone knows the views of this Government about people who do not turn up and take the oath in this place, but I have to work with all parties and will continue to do so.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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12. If he will have discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of allocating additional funding for teaching assistants in Northern Ireland.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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Pay policy in Northern Ireland is devolved, and it is not for the Government to make those decisions. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that such decisions should be made by the Northern Ireland Executive, with Ministers returned there.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I know that the Minister has a deep interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland, and in the wages of classroom assistants. Only last week, thousands of non-teaching staff went on strike from Northern Ireland schools. The action was called over an escalating row over pay, where thousands of people walked out. Will the Minister commit to investigating that in terms of the Barnett consequentials? Can he ascertain what can be done to support teaching assistants in Northern Ireland?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. We are actively considering representations made by trade unions. He raises an important point, and I know that he understands that it is a matter for the Executive. I hope that one day, he and I will be able to celebrate some progress on these issues.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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13. What steps his Department plans to take to help restore power sharing in Northern Ireland.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Sir Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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14. What recent discussions he has had with political parties in Northern Ireland on the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Chris Heaton-Harris)
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I will answer those questions from my beautifully tabulated pack. Our focus remains on delivering for the people of Northern Ireland, who expect and deserve locally elected decision makers to address the issues that matter to them. I will continue to engage regularly with the party leaders, and believe there is genuine willingness on all sides to re-establish the conditions for the devolved institutions to go back to work and to thrive.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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We have heard in this House today how disappointed Northern Ireland is at no successful levelling-up bids. I visited Coleraine football club, which was disappointed to be unsuccessful in round 2. Is the Secretary of State confident that the restoration of power sharing is close? Northern Ireland simply cannot afford to lose out on even more money.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I am glad that the hon. Lady went to Coleraine football club; I went there and had a wonderful experience with a great football team. I would have loved to referee, but I was not allowed. I believe that we are moving closer to a decision. Discussions are still to be had, and they are continuing at pace and at length.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Sir Robert Goodwill
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We have already heard today an example of how the people of Northern Ireland are disadvantaged by the lack of a functioning Executive. I would add to that list the deployment of the apprenticeship levy and the reform of the renewable heat incentive. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that civil servants in Northern Ireland face an almost impossible job in trying to steer the ship of state without co-ordinates set by the politicians elected there? [Interruption.]

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and his obvious popularity in the House. I agree with him. He is completely correct that there are a whole host of issues that require elected Ministers in Northern Ireland to take their place. I would like to place on record my thanks to the Northern Ireland civil service for the work they have been doing in such circumstances with the limited guidance we have given them, because they have been doing a sterling job on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister was asked—
Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 22 November.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak)
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I know the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families and friends of the four teenagers who died in a car accident in north Wales. I am sure we will touch on it later, but let me just say that we welcome the agreement reached overnight for a humanitarian pause in Gaza. This is something that we have pushed for consistently and is a crucial step towards ending the nightmare for the families of those taken hostage in Hamas’s terror attack and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald
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Today, the Prime Minister’s Government will say that disabled people have a duty to work from home or lose their benefits, as if a suitable job of this kind is something that can be conjured up at will. It should be obvious to anyone that this kind of punitive policy is not incentivising work; it is simply punishing disabled people who are already among the most marginalised in our communities. So can the Prime Minister do his duty and tell us now how many of the 137,000 jobs on the Department for Work and Pensions “Find a Job” website are roles that specify that you can work from home?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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It would not be right to pre-empt the Chancellor’s autumn statement, but let me just say this: I am proud of the Government’s record in supporting those with disabilities. Not only have we closed the disability employment gap and increased the number of employers who are now disability confident, we are also making sure that we support those who are most vulnerable in our society, not least with the cost of living payments this year, which include £150 for all those on means-tested disability benefits.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones  (Harrogate and Knares-borough) (Con)
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Q2.   Does the Prime Minister agree that the measures taken to get us through the economic shocks caused by covid and Putin’s war were right for that time, but they are not the blueprint for the long-term successful economies of the future? It is innovation and skills, and investment in them, such as the imminent rebuild of Harrogate College or the 12,000 local apprenticeships we have seen since 2010. Those are our foundation, and not the fantasy fairytale tens of billions of borrowing from the Labour party.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend is right. I am proud that since 2010 we have created 5.5 million apprenticeships. That is the difference between us. We now know that the Labour party wants to halve the number of apprenticeships if it is in office. Meanwhile, we want to make an apprentice Education Secretary. My hon. Friend is right. Labour’s plans to borrow £28 billion a year would just push up inflation, interest rates and taxes, undermining all the progress we have made on the economy. It is only the Conservatives who will give people the opportunity to build wealthier, more secure lives for them and their families.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Leader of the Opposition.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab)
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Like the Prime Minister, I know the whole House will welcome the agreement reached overnight. We repeat our calls for Hamas to release all hostages immediately. This humanitarian pause must be used to get the hostages out safely, to tackle the urgent and unacceptable humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, and to make progress to a full cessation of hostilities. In recent years, the international community has treated the two-state solution as a slogan, rather than a serious strategy. That must now change.

Like the Prime Minister, I am also sure that I speak for everyone in the House in saying that our hearts go out to the families and friends of the four young men from Shrewsbury who tragically lost their lives this week. It is a living nightmare for any parent, and I can hardly begin to imagine their loss.

This week, the Prime Minister unveiled the latest version of his five pledges for the country. Let us hope that he has more success with these than he did with the last ones. Did he forget the NHS?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Just weeks after I became Prime Minister, we injected record funding into the NHS and social care. We also unveiled the first ever long-term workforce plan in the 75-year history of the NHS. However, I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the five pledges, because as he knows, three of them are economic, and on a day on which we will focus on the economy, I am happy to report that we have indeed halved inflation—no thanks to the Labour party—that we have indeed grown the economy, and that we have indeed reduced debt. That is a Conservative Government delivering for this country.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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The reason the Prime Minister ignored the NHS, not only in his new pledges but just now, is that 7.8 million people are currently on the waiting lists. That is half a million more than when he pledged to bring them down nearly a year ago. The Prime Minister has just claimed that this is all about economic growth, so let me ask him this: if a labourer or a care worker is forced to wait a year for an operation, how are they meant to help grow the economy?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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We are doing an enormous amount to bring waiting lists down. We are expanding patient choice and rolling out new community diagnostic centres and surgical hubs, as well as putting more doctors and nurses on our wards. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about targets and waiting lists, I just hope that the Welsh Labour Government are not listening, because after 25 years in power, they are missing every single one of his targets. Were they not meant to be his blueprint?

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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More than double the entire population of Wales are currently on a waiting list in England. The Prime Minister really needs to take some responsibility. On his watch, 2.5 million people are too sick to work, with the majority also suffering from mental health issues, and that is on top of his failures on waiting lists. Can he tell us how many people are waiting for mental health treatment?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have injected record sums to expand the number of mental health treatments in our country. I have talked about the practical things we are doing, with community diagnostic centres and surgical hubs, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman also does not seem to realise that the union action, which he fails to condemn, and which his Members of Parliament support from the picket lines, has led to several hundred thousand cancelled appointments, all making waiting lists worse. He asked about Wales, and we can look at it. In Wales, more than 70,000 people are waiting longer than 18 months for treatment, whereas in England, thanks to our efforts, we have virtually eliminated 18-month waits. That is the difference between us: he wants to play politics, and we get things done.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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So raising the waiting lists by half a million is getting things done. It is “Through the Looking-Glass”, this one. I asked the Prime Minister how many people were waiting for mental health treatment. He knows the answer; he just does not want to give it. The answer is 1.2 million, and 200,000 are children. Some are waiting nearly two years to be seen. Would the Prime Minister accept delays of that kind if it were one of his family or friends?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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One of the key things that we are doing to bring down waiting lists is expand access to patient choice. It is a very straightforward idea to make sure that patients can choose where they are treated, and in that way we will bring down waiting lists for mental health and other treatments far faster. The Labour party’s policy on this is a total and utter mess. First the right hon. and learned Gentleman promised, in his words, to ban NHS use of the independent sector; then he said that he wanted more use of the independent sector, and his shadow Health Secretary agreed with that. But then the deputy Leader of the Opposition said that she would end it. As ever, you simply do not know what they stand for, and you cannot trust a word they say.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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As ever, no responsibility for the shocking state of the NHS. The truth is that the Prime Minister would not accept those waits for his family, and neither should anyone else. This morning I spoke to an NHS nurse. For many months, Cam struggled to find time to see her 14-year-old son Mikey until he became seriously unwell, and now he has not been able to be in mainstream education for over a year. Mikey’s mum is having to balance nursing with caring and being a parent. This is not a one-off. There are families up and down the country in exactly the same situation: working hard and trying to get through the cost of living crisis while desperately worried about relatives who cannot get the treatment they need. How does the Prime Minister think they feel when they see him refusing to take responsibility and boasting that everything is fine?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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We are doing absolutely everything we can to put money into the NHS to bring down the waiting lists, because I want families up and down the country to have access to the healthcare that they need. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right: they do deserve it, but it is incredibly galling to hear this from someone who, when there are strikes happening in our hospitals and people are being denied access to emergency medical care, not only does not have the strength to condemn it, but refuses to back legislation that would guarantee that access to all the families that he talks about.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is on the Prime Minister’s watch; it is his responsibility. Thirteen years in, and all he has to offer is trying to blame the Opposition for his failures over and over again. Mikey’s mum—[Interruption.] I will tell you what Mikey’s mum said to me this morning, shall I, if you so are interested to hear? She said that

“whatever spin the Government puts on it, you can’t hide the reality for ordinary working people.”

Those are her words. Worth reflecting on.

I am glad that in recent years real progress has been made in tackling the stigma surrounding mental health, but the fact remains that the suicide rate for 15 to 19-year-olds has doubled since 2010 and suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 45. These are not just statistics; every single one is a tragic loss to families and to friends. Politics has the ability to turn this around, but it means tough choices. If we were to scrap tax loopholes, we could have thousands more staff, more support in our schools, more support in our communities. That would allow us to treat patients on time, getting them back to work, back to their families and, crucially, giving them their lives back. This is about mental health. That is Labour’s plan. Will the Prime Minister back it?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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It was this Government that for the first time in the NHS’s history ensured that it had a long-term workforce plan, providing it with record funding so that we could eliminate long waits but also ensuring that it has the money that it needs to train record numbers of doctors and nurses while radically reforming how they work to improve productivity. That is because, the only way we will get everyone the treatment they need is to make sure that the NHS has the fantastic staff it needs, and it is this Government that have put that in place. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about records. This is something that no Government have done in the past, and it is something that I am proud we have done. Labour’s record on this issue is clear. It was a “disastrous failure” of workforce planning. Those were not my words. That was the verdict of the Labour-chaired Health Select Committee. It was Labour that did not train the consultants that we need now, that take 13, 14 or 15 years to train. It is this Government that are for the first time making sure that every family will finally have the doctors and nurses that they need.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double  (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
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Q3.   Access to housing that local people can afford is the biggest challenge we face in Cornwall. While we need to build more houses, we need to ensure that they are available and affordable to local people and meet the needs of our rural and coastal communities. Local knowledge, particularly from elected representatives, is an important part of ensuring that we achieve this, yet the Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that his intention is to ignore or override the views of local people in decisions on planning matters. Can the Prime Minister assure me and the people of Cornwall that, under his Government, the views of local communities will play a part in the planning process?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent campaigning on behalf of his constituents. I agree with him that housing must meet the needs of local communities. Our affordable homes programme is delivering hundreds of thousands of homes across the country. Crucially, on this side of the House we believe that local communities must be consulted, in contrast to Labour’s plan for top-down housing targets, concreting over the green belt and destroying our precious countryside.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP leader.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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I think all of us in the Chamber are united in our relief at reports that hostages are due to be released by Hamas in Gaza, but we cannot afford to lose sight of what will come at the other side of the temporary pause in hostilities that we are about to see. At the end of four days, will we simply see a return to the killing of children in Gaza every 10 minutes, or will we in this House choose instead to back a permanent ceasefire?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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We welcome the agreement reached overnight. As I said, it is something that we have consistently pushed for and is a crucial first step as we try to resolve this situation and, indeed, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Of course, we want to see all hostages released as quickly as possible, including British nationals, and I urge all parties involved to deliver the agreement in full. I also put on record my thanks to Qatar for its important role. We will continue to work with the United States and Israel to ensure the safe return of hostages and maximise the opportunity of this temporary pause to step up aid to suffering civilians in Gaza. It is something that we have pushed for, that we have continued to do and that the UK is playing a leading role in delivering.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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Ultimately, what we need is not a pause in the killing of children, but an end to the killing of children, and I can think of no better time than now for the Prime Minister to advocate a permanent ceasefire. Given that he will not currently do that, will he instead lay the foundations for a two-state solution by finally recognising the state of Palestine?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Actually, the agreement that has been reached demonstrates that it was not right to have a unilateral ceasefire. What was right was to do as we have done and consistently push for a pause that would allow not just for aid to reach the people in Gaza who desperately need it but for hostages to be released. That is what we have pushed for, and I am glad that that is now being delivered, versus a unilateral ceasefire that would have emboldened and strengthened Hamas.

Our position on the middle east peace process more broadly is clear: we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. I have spoken to President Abbas and met him to discuss this issue, and we are clear about strengthening the Palestinian Authority and reinvigorating efforts to find a two-state solution. Our long-standing position is that we would recognise the state of Palestine when it best serves the interests of peace.

Gary Sambrook Portrait Gary Sambrook (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)
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Q9. I welcome the Prime Minister’s Network North project, which will see the full £1.7 billion put into the midlands rail hub. That will reopen the central platforms at Kings Norton station, which have been derelict for so long. Will he bring forward the cash so that we can increase capacity on the line and improve journey times? Will he also look at my campaign to extend the new Camp Hill line to Longbridge? That would open up access to the new Longbridge business park, which he visited earlier in the year and will bring back manufacturing jobs to Longbridge for the first time since MG collapsed in 2005.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased that my hon. Friend’s constituency will benefit from the decision on High Speed 2 and benefit significantly from new Network North funding—an additional billion pounds to deliver the midlands rail hub in full. Decisions about Kings Norton are due to be made later this year, which should be good news to him. The extension of the forthcoming Camp Hill line services between Birmingham and Kings Norton and Longbridge will be assessed in due course, too. I hope that is helpful and I will ensure that the Rail Minister keeps him updated on progress.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
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I am sure the Prime Minister will join me and the communities I represent in sending heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends grieving at the loss of four young men in a tragic accident in Garreg Llanfrothen this week.

People in north Wales pay the highest standing charges on energy bills, at £340 a year—a third more than in London—despite having lower average incomes and living in older, poorly insulated houses. With a further increase in standing charges due next April, the Prime Minister must recognise that he cannot leave this to Ofgem. Will his Government tackle unfair standing charges before winter sets in?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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We have provided an extraordinary package of support for households across the country to help with energy bills, totalling almost £100 billion over the past year or two. The Ofgem price cap has also fallen to about £1,800 currently, and our price guarantee will remain in place until the spring of next year, which will provide further protection for families. Crucially, the Chancellor announced previously that we have removed the premium paid by households using prepayment meters until the energy price guarantee ends, bringing their costs into line with those paid by comparable direct debit customers, and we continue to provide considerable support for vulnerable families throughout the winter with their energy bills.

Liam Fox Portrait Dr Liam Fox  (North Somerset) (Con)
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Q10.   Setting strategic aims for the middle east requires us to be precise about the terms we use, and that includes the word “peace”. Peace is not just the absence of war or conflict, but the freedom from the fear of conflict, oppression or terror. Peace requires mutual respect, freedom from persecution and living without fear of destitution. It comes with self-determination and liberation from arbitrary justice. It needs hope and dignity, and enforceable rights. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only when all the people of the middle east can achieve all those things can any of us talk about having achieved peace?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend on that and thank him for what he says. I know that his advice will continue to be of value to the Government as we find a way for a peaceful, more secure future for everyone living in the region.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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Q4. The Scottish surcharge on energy means, according to Ofgem, that people in Scotland pay 50% more in standing charges than Londoners do, despite exporting 3.2 million hours of electricity to England in the past two months alone. Meanwhile, Scottish green energy producers pay higher charges than English power companies to connect to the grid. Does the Prime Minister think that that is fair to Scotland’s consumers and businesses?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I refer to my previous answer about the considerable support we are providing to families across the United Kingdom with their energy bills. The hon. Lady mentions Scottish businesses, and it would be good if the Scottish National party realised that it should support the 200,000 people employed in Scotland’s North sea oil and gas industry.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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Q12. The latest film from Torquay’s Unleashed Theatre Company, “3 Steps”, outlines the impact of homelessness. What further steps do the Government plan to take to ensure that everyone has a place of their own?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the important work of his local theatre company, Unleashed, and I wish it well in its future endeavours. We are investing an unprecedented £2 billion over the next three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, including by building thousands of move-on homes and implementing our landmark Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which has already prevented or relieved almost 600,000 households from suffering from homelessness.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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Q5. Why are 34% of children in my constituency living in poverty?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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It is this Government who, as a result of our actions, have ensured that across our country 1.7 million fewer people are living in poverty.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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That’s not true.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Yes, it is true. Not only that, but hundreds of thousands fewer children are living in poverty, and income inequality is at a lower level than we inherited from the Labour party. We do not want any child to grow up in poverty, and the best way to achieve that is to ensure that they do not grow up in a workless household. That is why the right strategy is to ensure that we provide as many children as possible with the opportunity to grow up with parents in work, and because of the actions of previous Governments several hundred thousand more families are in that—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Got it. I call Darren Henry.

Darren Henry Portrait Darren Henry (Broxtowe) (Con)
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Q13. I have a question about apprenticeships. It is vital that individuals of any age can train and retrain for good local jobs, further education and skills opportunities that are available. Will the Prime Minister work with me in my campaign to establish an apprenticeship hub in Broxtowe?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for all his campaigning on this important issue. In his constituency, we have delivered over 9,000 apprenticeships in great local businesses, including some in the hair and beauty sector that I visited as Chancellor. While we continue to invest in apprenticeships, the Opposition want to halve the number offered. That is the difference between us: we want to give people a hand up, but all Labour wants to do is to keep them in their place.

Andrew Western Portrait Andrew Western (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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With 316 arrivals by small boat this week, last week’s Supreme Court ruling on Rwanda has left this Government’s lack of a compassionate and functioning asylum system totally exposed, with refugees suffering as a result and chaos at our borders. Does the Prime Minister now intend to disapply human rights laws in order to continue wasting time and money on this cruel and discredited gimmick—yes or no?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad the hon. Gentleman mentioned the small boats arrivals because I am pleased to tell him that, thanks to the actions of this Government, the number of arrivals is down by over 33% so far this year. That is no thanks to the Labour party, which has opposed each and every measure we have taken to stop the boats.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q14. While the Labour leadership at Kirklees Council is looking to close Colne Valley leisure centre, hiking up car parking charges and being criticised by auditors for the way it has managed resources, there has been lots of good news for my bit of Yorkshire this week, including £64 million of levelling-up cash for Huddersfield market and the Penistone rail line upgrade, and the announcement of the West Yorkshire investment zone, focusing on the national health innovation campus at the University of Huddersfield. Will the Prime Minister continue to invest in West Yorkshire and come and see some of these fantastic projects?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What great news. I was delighted to hear that the third investment zone was announced in West Yorkshire, and about the regeneration money for the Penistone rail line upgrade and Huddersfield open market. My hon. Friend is right that while Labour-run Kirklees Council is not investing, and is closing things, this Conservative Government are backing communities across the north.

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

On Monday, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, told the covid inquiry that the now Prime Minister had not asked for advice regarding eat out to help out. However, on 9 March two years ago, he told the House,

“At all steps in this crisis, we have indeed taken the advice of our scientific advisers.”—[Official Report, 9 March 2021; Vol. 690, c. 642.]

Who is right?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is an ongoing statutory inquiry into covid. It is absolutely right that that process is followed. I look forward to providing my own evidence in the coming weeks and addressing all these questions. It was the case that the Government took advice from scientific advisers and that is exactly what the inquiry will go over.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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Since I recently shared my experience of birth trauma in this Chamber, I have been inundated by mums writing to me from across the UK to share their stories. Last week, I received an email from a Staffordshire mother who would like me to raise her concerns about Royal Stoke University Hospital. She also experienced birth trauma and has been told that the hospital will not be able to investigate her concerns because of the time that has elapsed. It is not acceptable that my constituents are not having complaints investigated by my local hospital, so will the Prime Minister urgently meet me to discuss this and will he include birth trauma in the refreshed update to the women’s health strategy? We must do better to provide aftercare to all mothers in this country.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue and for continuing to be a fantastic campaigner on birth trauma. I am pleased that the first ever debate in Parliament on birth trauma was held recently, in October. It was powerful and moving, and it highlighted the significant impact that birth trauma can have on so many women’s lives. The Department of Health and Social Care is working with NHS England to make sure we improve maternity care and related mental healthcare. I will ensure the Health Secretary meets with my hon. Friend so that we can get this right for all the women who are depending on it.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the last 13 years, the six oil and gas licensing rounds by the Tories have produced 16 days-worth of oil and gas for the UK. Will the Prime Minister explain how doubling the number of licensing rounds will have any impact on the insanely high energy bills my constituents are facing? If he cared about energy security, jobs or the environment, he would surely be better matching the Scottish Government’s £500 million investment in a just transition and providing a £400 rebate to bill payers.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is not £500 million; we are investing tens of billions of pounds in energy transition, not least for things such as carbon capture and storage, in which the North sea can play a starring role. The hon. Lady is just completely wrong. In order to have energy security, it is right to exploit the resources that we have here at home. Even the independent Climate Change Committee projects that we will still need oil and gas as we make the transition and in decades’ time, so the question for the hon. Lady is: are we better off getting that here at home, supporting Scottish jobs and businesses, or are we better off putting that money in the hands of foreign dictators and shipping it here with two or three times the carbon emissions?

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
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Today, I am hosting—here in the House of Commons—14 Ukrainian teenage children whose parents have been and are fighting the Russians in Ukraine. Six of them have been orphaned. They are up in the Public Gallery, but they will also be in the Inter-Parliamentary Union room from 1 pm till 2.30 pm this afternoon. I know that it is a busy and important day, but all colleagues are welcome to drop by if they are able to do so. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the parents of these children and take this opportunity to reiterate our steadfast support for the people of Ukraine in their fight for their independence, their freedom and their nation’s survival?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the parents of these children and many others. I also wish to take the opportunity to say that, while events in the middle east have been dominating the headlines, I can assure my hon. Friend that we and our allies are steadfast in our resolve to support Ukraine for as long as it takes for it to achieve victory. That is why the Foreign Secretary visited both Kyiv and Odesa last week to confirm the UK’s continued unwavering support for Ukraine. Putin cannot hope to outlast the incredible resolve or spirit of the Ukrainian people, and they should continue to have our support for as long as it takes.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner  (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q11.   A few weeks ago, the world cringed at the Prime Minister’s fawning welcome for Elon Musk. This week, advertisers are fleeing Musk’s platform after his latest vile outburst. What exactly did the Prime Minister think he might learn from an unelected, super-rich individual who had taken over a once successful organisation and plunged it into a death spiral?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is striking that the hon. Member for Cambridge—of all places!—absolutely does not understand the importance of technology sectors and companies to the growth of our economy. It is absolutely extraordinary. It actually illustrates everything that is wrong with Labour’s approach to our economy. What the rest of the world saw was the UK playing a lead in defining the regulations and approach to a technology that will transform how we live. It was a great example of the UK leading the way and an enormous tribute to our incredible entrepreneurs and businesses, many of which are being poorly represented by him in his constituency.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Today is Red Wednesday when we remember millions of Christians and others worldwide who are persecuted for their faith—people such as Margaret Attah, a nurse and a lovely young mother of four, who is here today from Nigeria. She hid behind the altar as her church service was attacked. One hundred were injured and 41 killed that day simply for being in church. Margaret lost both legs and an eye. Thousands more suffer similarly in Nigeria each year. Does the Prime Minister agree that the best way that we can honour Red Wednesday today is to commit to quickly implementing the good words of the new International Development White Paper, which was published yesterday, to ensure that UK development policies going forward are inclusive of those marginalised for their religion or beliefs?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for her continuing dedication as my special envoy on this vital issue. Red Wednesday is an important moment to demonstrate our solidarity with Christians and all those persecuted around the world for their religion or belief. Marking this event annually was just one of the recommendations in the Bishop of Truro’s report. I am pleased that today we will light up Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office buildings in the UK in red in support. I am also pleased to say that we have taken forward all 22 recommendations in a way that we believe is making a real change for those persecuted for their religion or belief.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That completes Prime Minister’s questions.

Autumn Statement

Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before I call the Chancellor, it may help the House if I set out how proceedings on the autumn statement will unfold. Once the Chancellor has delivered his statement, copies of the resolutions relating to the statement will be made available in the Vote Office and online. I will then call the shadow Chancellor and other hon. Members to ask questions. This will follow the usual pattern for a ministerial statement. At the end of questions on the statement, the Chancellor will be called to move a motion under section 5 of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968. The question on that motion must be put without debate.

We will then proceed to a debate on the autumn statement resolutions. A Minister will move the first of the resolutions and open the debate. The debate will take place over three days, concluding on Monday. At the end of the debate on Monday, the question on the first of the resolutions will be disposed of. The questions on the remaining resolutions will then be taken formally without further debate.

12:35
Jeremy Hunt Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Jeremy Hunt)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I come today with good news: it is my wife’s birthday and, unlike me, she is looking younger every year.

I turn to the statement. After a global pandemic and energy crisis, we have taken difficult decisions to put our economy back on track. We have supported families with rising bills, cut borrowing and halved inflation. Rather than a recession, the economy has grown. Rather than falling as predicted, real incomes have risen. Our plan for the British economy is working, but the work is not done. Others proposed a more short-term approach, but we have not made unaffordable pay offers to the unions, we have not stopped new oil and gas exploration, and we have not increased borrowing by £28 billion a year. That would have pushed inflation up just when we need to bring it down. Instead, under this Prime Minister, we take decisions for the long term.

In today’s autumn statement for growth our choice is not big government, high spending and high tax, because we know that that leads to less growth, not more. Instead, we reduce debt, cut taxes and reward work. We deliver world-class education, we build domestic sustainable energy, and we back British business with 110 growth measures. Do not worry; I am not going to go through them all—[Interruption.] Well, I will if you like! In summary, they remove planning red tape, speed up access to the national grid, support entrepreneurs raising capital, get behind our fastest-growing industries, unlock foreign direct investment, boost productivity, reform welfare, level up opportunity to every corner of the country, and cut business taxes.

The Office for Budget Responsibility says that the combined impact of these measures will raise business investment, get more people into work, reduce inflation next year and increase GDP, but Conservatives also know that a dynamic economy depends on the energy and enterprise of people more than any diktats or decisions by Ministers, so today’s measures do not just remove barriers to investment; they reward effort and work. I will go through the measures in three parts. In the first, I will use updated OBR forecasts to show the progress that we are making against the Prime Minister’s economic priorities. The second part will set out growth measures to back British business. Finally, I will conclude with measures to make work pay.

Before I start with the forecasts, I want to express my horror at the murderous attack on Israeli citizens on 7 October and the subsequent loss of life on both sides. I will remember for the rest of my life, as I know many other hon. Members will, being taken to Auschwitz by the Rabbi Barry Marcus and the remarkable Holocaust Educational Trust. I am deeply concerned about the rise of antisemitism in our country, so I am announcing up to £7 million over the next three years for organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust to tackle antisemitism in schools and universities. I will also repeat the £3 million uplift to the Community Security Trust. When it comes to antisemitism and all forms of racism, we must never allow the clock to be turned back.

I now move on to the OBR’s economic and fiscal forecasts, and I thank Richard Hughes and his team for their sterling work in preparing them. Three of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s five pledges at the start of the year were economic: to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt. Today I can report to the House that we are delivering on all three.

Let’s start with inflation. The shadow Chancellor did not mention it in her conference speech. My conference speech was before hers, so all she had to do was a bit of copying and pasting, which I have heard she is good at. But it speaks volumes that during the worst global inflation shock for a generation, it did not even get a mention. Well, if controlling inflation isn’t a priority for Labour, it is for us.

When the Prime Minister and I took office, inflation was at 11.1%; last week, it fell to 4.6%. We promised to halve inflation and we have halved it. Core inflation is now lower than in nearly half of the economies in the EU, and the OBR says that headline inflation will fall to 2.8% by the end of 2024, before falling to the 2% target in 2025. I will not take risks with inflation, and the OBR confirms that the measures I take today make inflation lower next year than it would otherwise have been. I thank the independent Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee for its crucial role in bringing inflation down, and we will continue to back it to do whatever it takes until the job is done. But as we do, we will continue to support families in difficulty, and today I add four further measures to help with the cost of living.

First, for those on the lowest incomes, I understand the concerns some have about the effect on work incentives of matching benefit increases to inflation, and I know there has been some speculation that we would increase benefits next year by the lower October figure for inflation. But cost of living pressures remain at their most acute for the poorest families, so instead the Government have decided to increase universal credit and other benefits from next April by 6.7%, in line with September’s inflation figure, an average increase of £470 for 5.5 million households next year—vital support to those on the very lowest incomes from a compassionate Conservative Government.

Secondly, because rent can constitute more than half the living costs of private renters on the lowest incomes, I have listened closely to many colleagues as well as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Resolution Foundation, Citizens Advice UK and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who said that unfreezing the local housing allowance was an “urgent priority”. I will therefore increase the local housing allowance rate to the 30th percentile of local market rents. This will give 1.6 million households an average of £800 of support next year.

Thirdly, although I am going to increase duty on hand-rolling tobacco by an additional 10% above the tobacco duty escalator, I know that for many people going to the pub has become more expensive. I have listened closely to the persuasive arguments on alcohol duties from my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), fierce champions of the Scotch whisky industry. I have also listened to defenders of the great British pint such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith), to Councillor Jane Austin who is a big supporter of the Jolly Farmer pub in Bramley in my constituency, and indeed to The Sun newspaper. So as well as confirming our Brexit pubs guarantee, which means the duty on a pint is always lower than in the shops, I have decided to freeze all alcohol duty until 1 August next year; that means no increase in duty on beer, cider, wine or spirits.

Finally, pensioners. The triple lock has helped to lift 250,000 older people out of poverty since it was instituted by a Conservative Government in 2011 and has been a lifeline for many during a period of high inflation. There have been reports that we would uprate it by a lower amount, to smooth out the effect of high public sector bonuses in July, but that would have been particularly difficult for 1 million pensioners whose only income is from the state.

So instead, today we honour our commitment to the triple lock in full. From April 2024, we will increase the full new state pension by 8.5% to £221.20 a week, worth up to £900 more a year. That is one of the largest ever cash increases to the state pension, showing that a Conservative Government will always back our pensioners.

Including today’s measures, our total commitment to easing cost of living pressures has risen to £104 billion. That includes paying around half the cost of the average energy bill since last October and amounts now to an average of £3,700 per household. We are able to do that only because we reduced the deficit by 80% ahead of the pandemic, which the Labour party might reflect on, having opposed us every step of the way.

Next, I turn to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s pledge to reduce debt. Before I took difficult decisions at last year’s autumn statement, debt was predicted to rise to almost 100% of GDP by the end of the forecast. Since then, the economy has outperformed expectations and I have taken difficult decisions to reduce borrowing. As a result, headline debt is now predicted to be 94% of GDP by the end of the forecast.

The OBR today forecasts that underlying debt will be 91.6% of GDP next year, 92.7% in 2024-25 and 93.2% in 2026-27, before declining in the final two years of the forecast to 92.8% in 2028-29. That is lower in every year compared with forecasts in the spring. We therefore meet our fiscal rule to have underlying debt falling as a percentage of GDP in the final year of the forecast, with double the headroom compared with the OBR’s March forecast. We will continue to have the second lowest Government debt in the G7—lower than the United States, Canada, France, Italy or Japan.

I turn to borrowing. The right hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) said that when it comes to borrowing, she “will take it up” by £28 billion a year. Indeed, she has opposed every decision we have made to reduce our borrowing. The Government will bring borrowing down, because, as the late Lord Lawson said, borrowing is just a deferred tax on future generations.

I see the Leader of the Opposition shaking his head. In fact, we have something in common: both he and I wanted to make a Jeremy Prime Minister. In fairness, his party and mine are probably equally relieved that we failed but, whereas this Jeremy is growing the economy, his Jeremy would have crashed it.

The numbers show the contrast. According to the OBR, borrowing is lower this year and next, and on average across the forecast by £0.7 billion every year compared with the spring Budget forecasts. It falls from 4.5% of GDP in 2023-24 to 3.0%, 2.7%, 2.3%, 1.6% and 1.1% in 2028-29. That means we also meet our second fiscal rule that public sector borrowing must be below 3% of GDP, not just by the final year, but in almost every year of the forecast.

Some of that improvement is from higher tax receipts from a stronger economy, but we also maintain a disciplined approach to public spending. As I set out in the spring Budget, resource spending will increase by 1% a year from 2025-26 in real terms, and we are sustaining the record 2020 increase in capital spending in cash terms until the end of the forecast. Within this, we will meet our NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence—critical at a time of global threats to the international order, most notably from Putin’s evil war in Ukraine.

We also support a group of people to whom we owe our freedom: our brave veterans. I will extend national insurance relief for employers of eligible veterans for a further year, and provide £10 million to support the Veterans’ Places, Pathways and People programme. I thank our excellent Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), for his championing of their cause.

We have shown that we are prepared to increase funding for vital public services, with record numbers of police officers, doctors, nurses and teachers. We are nearly doubling the numbers of doctors and nurses we train, having given the NHS its first ever long-term workforce plan, as I promised a year ago. We are also tackling the biggest single preventable cause of mortality that the NHS has to deal with by bringing forward plans for a smokefree generation.

However, alongside extra funding and support, we need to see reform. We need a more productive state, not a bigger one. That is why I want the public sector to increase productivity growth by at least half a percent. a year—the level at which the size of our state starts to reduce as a proportion of GDP. I have already announced plans to cap and reduce the size of the civil service to pre-pandemic levels. I pay tribute to the excellent former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), who started our brilliant public sector productivity programme. That will now be pursued by his formidable successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott), who has already been with me to meet police, fire and ambulance personnel to understand why bureaucracy is holding them back.

Through that vital work, we will ensure that, over time, the growth in public spending is lower than the growth in the economy, while always protecting the services that the public value. I will also provide His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs with the resources it needs to ensure that everyone pays the tax they owe, raising an additional £5 billion across the forecast period.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also promised to grow the economy. Since 2010, despite inheriting what was then the worst recession since the second world war, Conservative Administrations have presided over faster growth than many of our major competitors, including Spain, Italy, France—[Interruption.] Well, the Opposition do not like to hear this, but let me tell them the list: Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Japan. We have grown faster than all of them since 2010.

However, all those countries have faced a pandemic and an energy shock. As a result, last autumn the OBR forecast a recession in which the economy would shrink by 1.4% this year. Instead, it grew—in fact, it has grown faster than the euro area. Revised numbers from the Office for National Statistics now say that the economy is 1.8% larger than it was pre-pandemic. Looking ahead, the OBR expects the economy to grow by 0.6% this year and 0.7% next year. After that, growth rises to 1.4% in 2025, then 1.9%, 2%, and 1.7% in 2028.

If we want those numbers to be higher, we need higher productivity. The private sector is more productive in countries such as the United States, Germany and France because it invests more—on average 2 percentage points more of GDP every year. The 110 measures that I take today help to close that gap by boosting business investment by £20 billion a year. They do not involve borrowing more and ramping up debt, as some advocate. Instead, they unlock investment, with supply-side reforms that back British business in the following areas.

First: skills. No economy can prosper without investing in the potential of its people. Despite strong opposition, we took the difficult decisions to reform our schools. England’s nine to 10-year-olds are now the fourth best readers in the world, and since 2015, our 15 to 16-year-olds have risen seven places in the OECD rankings for maths— not least thanks to the efforts of my brilliant right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb). However, 9 million adults in England still have low basic literacy or numeracy skills, so last month the Prime Minister set out the new advanced British standard to ensure that all school leavers reach minimum standards in maths and English.

While the Labour party wants to reduce the number of apprentices, we want to increase it. Following engagement with Make UK and others, I am announcing a further £50 million of funding over the next two years to pilot ways to increase the number of apprentices in engineering and other key growth sectors where there are shortages. [Hon. Members: “Is that it?”] There are 110 of these measures, so be patient, folks.

I will move on to planning. It takes too long to approve infrastructure projects and business planning applications. Many businesses say that they would be willing to pay more if they knew their application would be approved faster. Therefore, from next year, working with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, I will reform the system to allow local authorities to recover the full costs of major business planning applications in return for being required to meet guaranteed faster timelines. If they fail, fees will be refunded automatically, with the application being processed free of charge—a prompt service or your money back, just as would be the case in the private sector.

Many planning applications are for house building. The Leader of the Opposition told us that he wanted to be a builder, not a blocker. That did not last long: just a few months later, Labour blocked reforms to the rules on nutrient neutrality, shamelessly preventing 100,000 houses from being built. Conservatives, on the other hand, are the builders, with more homes being completed in 2021-22 than in any single year of the last Labour Government.

Today, we take further decisions to unlock the building of more homes. We will invest £110 million over this year and next to deliver high-quality nutrient mitigation schemes, unlocking 40,000 homes. We will invest £32 million to bust the planning backlog and develop fantastic new housing quarters in Cambridge, London and Leeds, which will lead to many thousands of additional dwellings. We will allocate £450 million to the local authority housing fund to deliver 2,400 new homes, and we will consult on a new permitted development right to allow any house to be converted into two flats provided the exterior remains unaffected.

It is also taking too long for clean energy businesses to access the electricity grid, so after talking to businesses such as National Grid, Octopus Energy and SSE, we today publish our full response to the Winser review and the connections action plan. These measures will cut grid access delays by 90% and offer up to £10,000 off electricity bills over 10 years for those living closest to new transmission infrastructure. Taken together, those planning and grid reforms are estimated to accelerate around £90 billion of additional business investment over the next 10 years.

Next, on foreign direct investment, I am extremely grateful to Lord Harrington for his excellent report on how to increase foreign direct investment. We accept all his headline recommendations. In particular, we will put in place a concierge service for large international investors modelled on the best such services offered by our competitors, and we will increase funding for the Office for Investment to deliver it.

I now turn to reforms to pension funds that will increase the flow of capital going to our most promising growth companies in a way that also improves outcomes for savers. I will take forward my Mansion House reforms starting with measures to consolidate the industry. By 2030, the majority of workplace defined contribution savers will have their pension pots managed in schemes of over £30 billion, and by 2040 all local government pension funds will be invested in pools of £200 billion or more. I will support the establishment of investment vehicles for pension funds to use, including through the LIFTS competition—the long-term investment for technology and science competition, a new growth fund run by the British Business Bank—and by opening the Pension Protection Fund as an investment vehicle for smaller defined benefit pension schemes.

I will also consult on giving savers a legal right to require a new employer to pay pension contributions into their existing pension pot if they choose to do so, meaning that people can move to having one pension pot for life. These reforms could unlock an extra £75 billion of financing for high-growth companies by 2030 and provide an extra £1,000 a year in retirement for an average earner saving from 18. Alongside this, I am proposing further capital market reforms to boost the attractiveness of our markets and make sure the UK remains one of the most attractive places to start, grow and list a company. As part of this, I will explore options for a NatWest retail share offer in the next 12 months, subject to market conditions and achieving value for money. It’s time to get Sid investing again.

I now turn to measures to support our most innovative industries. In the last decade under the Conservatives, we have grown to become the third largest technology sector in the world—double the size of Germany and three times the size of France. We have the biggest life sciences industry in Europe, and we are Europe’s third largest generator of renewable electricity after Germany and Norway, and the eighth largest manufacturer in the world. When it comes to tech, we know that artificial intelligence will be at the heart of any future growth, and I want to make sure that our universities, scientists and start-ups can access the compute power they need. As such, building on the success of the supercomputing centres in Edinburgh and Bristol, I will invest a further £500 million over the next two years to fund further innovation centres to help make us an AI powerhouse.

Our creative industries already support Europe’s largest film and TV sector. This year’s all-Californian blockbuster “Barbie” was filmed in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell)—where, of course, the sun always shines. Even more could be invested in visual effects if we increased the generosity of the film and high-end TV tax credits, so I will today launch a call for evidence on how to make that happen.

British-discovered vaccines and treatments saved more lives across the world during the pandemic than those from any other country, and I am incredibly proud of our life sciences industry. To further support research and development, I am creating a new, simplified R&D tax relief that combines the existing R&D expenditure credit and small and medium-sized enterprise schemes. I will also reduce the rate at which loss-making companies are taxed within the merged scheme from 25% to 19%, and lower the threshold for the additional support for R&D-intensive loss-making SMEs that I announced in the spring to 30%, which will benefit a further 5,000 SMEs. And because 2028 marks the centenary of the invention of penicillin by Alexander Fleming, I am giving £5 million to Imperial College and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to set up a Fleming centre to inspire the next generation of world-changing innovations.

International investors say that the biggest thing we could do for our advanced manufacturing and green energy sectors is announce a longer-term strategy for their industries, so with the Secretaries of State for Business and Trade and for Energy Security and Net Zero, I am today publishing those plans. I confirm that we will make available £4.5 billion of support over the five years to 2030 to attract investment into strategic manufacturing sectors. That includes: £2 billion of support for zero-emission investments in the automotive sector, which has been warmly welcomed by Nissan and Toyota; £975 million for aerospace, building on decades of success from firms such as Airbus and Rolls-Royce; and £520 million for life sciences, building on the strength of world-class British pharma companies such as AstraZeneca and GSK. We will also provide £960 million for the new green industries growth accelerator, focused on offshore wind; electricity networks; nuclear; carbon capture, utilisation and storage; and hydrogen. Those targeted investments will ensure that the UK remains competitive in sectors where we are already leaders, and innovative in sectors where we are not. Taken together, that support will attract an estimated £2 billion of additional investment across our fastest-growing innovation sectors every year over the next decade.

One reason why we support our manufacturing and clean energy sectors is that they help to level up growth across the United Kingdom, so I now turn to further levelling-up measures. In the spring, I announced that we would deliver 12 new investment zones—12 mini Canary Wharfs—where Government, industry and research institutes will collaborate across the UK. Since then, the Exchequer Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies), has done outstanding work across Government to bring that vision to fruition. Following tenacious representations from my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie)—no Chancellor’s speech would be complete without a mention of my hon. Friend—and from the unstoppable Mayor of Tees Valley, I have today decided to extend the financial incentives for investment zones and the tax reliefs for freeports from five years to 10 years. I will also set up a £150 million investment opportunity fund to catalyse investment into that programme.

On Monday, I confirmed that there will be a new investment zone in West Yorkshire. Today, having listened to representations from the west midlands salesman-in-chief Andy Street, as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for Bury North (James Daly), I am announcing three further investment zones focused on advanced manufacturing in the west midlands, east midlands and Greater Manchester. Together, local partners expect that those investment zones will help catalyse over £3 billion of private investment and 65,000 new jobs. Having listened to my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), I can announce a second investment zone in Wales in the fantastic region of Wrexham and Flintshire, which I will visit tomorrow.

We are publishing new devolution deals with four areas, including Hull and East Yorkshire, and offering devolved powers to even more county areas. One of those areas will be the leafiest and most charming county in the country, namely Surrey, where of course the Leader of the Opposition grew up—we do not get everything right. On Monday, we saw the announcement of £1 billion of funding through round 3 of the levelling-up fund, supporting projects following the campaigning efforts of Members from Keighley, Dewsbury, Doncaster, Scunthorpe—and of course, Mr Speaker, Chorley. I can also confirm that we will proceed with over £50 million of funding for high-quality regeneration projects in communities such as Bolsover, Monmouthshire, Warrington and Eden Valley, all of which have particularly effective local MPs as their champions. Because we are proudly the Conservative and Unionist party, I am announcing £80 million for the new levelling-up partnerships in Scotland, £500,000 to support the Hay festival in Wales, and £3 million of additional funding to support the successful tackling paramilitarism programme in Northern Ireland.

I turn next to small businesses—I ran my own for 14 years, and have always known that every big business was a small business once. The Federation of Small Businesses says that the biggest thing I could do to help its members is end the scourge of late payments. We passed the Procurement Act 2023, which means that the 30-day payment terms that are already set for public sector contracts will automatically apply throughout the subcontractor supply chain, but from April 2024 I will also introduce a condition that any company bidding for large Government contracts should demonstrate that it pays its own invoices within an average of 55 days. That number will reduce progressively to 30 days.

Any small business will also say that the biggest frustration it faces is the tax it pays before making a penny of profit, not least business rates. The Government have already taken a third of properties completely out of rates through small business rates relief. We have frozen the tax rate for the last three years, at a cost of £14.5 billion; we have removed downwards caps from transitional relief; and for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, we have introduced a one-year 75% discount on business rates up to £110,000. Those measures have saved the average independent shop over £20,000. It is not possible to continue with temporary support measures forever, but while the standard multiplier—which applies to high-value properties—will rise in line with inflation, I have today decided that we will freeze the small business multiplier for a further year.

Following extensive discussions with the FSB and many colleagues in this House, I have also decided to extend the 75% business rates discount for retail, hospitality and leisure for another year. This will save the average independent pub over £12,800 next year and, at a cost of £4.3 billion, is a large tax cut that recognises the role of pubs and high street shops in our communities. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) and for East Devon (Simon Jupp) for their tenacious campaigning on this issue.

Finally, I turn to the smallest of all businesses—those run by the self-employed. These are the people who literally kept our country running during the pandemic: the plumbers who fixed our boilers in lockdowns, the delivery drivers who brought us our shopping and the farmers who kept food on our plates. As part of our plans to grow the economy, I want to reform and simplify taxes paid by the self-employed, so today I am announcing a major reform of one of those taxes. It is one most people have not heard of, but it is a big deal for those who have to pay it.

Class 2 national insurance is a flat-rate compulsory charge, currently £3.45 a week, paid by self-employed people earning more than £12,570, which gives state pension entitlement. Today, after careful consideration and in recognition of the contribution made by self-employed people to our country, I can announce that we are abolishing class 2 national insurance all together, saving the average self-employed person £192 a year. Access to entitlements and credits will be maintained in full and those who choose to pay voluntarily will still be able to do so, but this change simplifies and cuts tax for nearly 2 million self-employed people, while protecting the interests of those on the lowest pay.

Because we value their work, I am also taking one further step for the self-employed. They also pay class 4 national insurance at 9% on all earnings between £12,570 and £50,270. Today, I have decided to cut that tax by one percentage point to 8% from April. Taken together with the abolition of the compulsory class 2 charge, these reforms will save around 2 million self-employed people an average of £350 a year from April.

We are backing small businesses by freezing their business rates, extending retail, hospitality and leisure relief, abolishing compulsory class 2 national insurance payments and reducing class 4 national insurance by one percentage point in today’s autumn statement for growth. Small businesses work so hard for us, and a Conservative Government today are working hard for them.

I turn now to my final measure to back British business. As I have said, since 2010 we have seen the second highest growth in investment of any G7 country. However, if we are to raise productivity, we need to increase business investment further. In 2021, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister introduced the super-deduction for large businesses to further stimulate business investment, and this spring I introduced full expensing for three years. This means that for every £1 million a company invests, it gets £250,000 off its tax bill in the very same year.

The CBI, Make UK, the British Chambers of Commerce, Energy UK and 200 other business leaders from companies including BT Openreach, Siemens and Bosch, have said that making this measure permanent would be the “single most transformational” thing I could do for business investment and growth. The Centre for Policy Studies says it would

“maximise business investment, boost productivity and deliver…higher levels of GDP”.

But because it costs £11 billion a year, I made it clear that I would only do so when it was affordable. Well, with inflation halved, borrowing down and debt falling, today I deliver on that promise: I will today make full expensing permanent. That is the largest business tax cut in modern British history. It means we have not just the lowest headline corporation tax rate in the G7, but its most generous capital allowances.

The OBR says this will increase annual investment by around £3 billion a year and a total of £14 billion over the forecast period. We on this side of the House know that the way to back British business is not to borrow more or subsidise more, but to increase the incentives to invest. We do that today by introducing one of the most generous tax reliefs anywhere in the world, with a huge boost to British competitiveness in an autumn statement for growth—skills, planning and infrastructure reform, pension fund reform, support for innovation industries, levelling up, backing small business and full expensing.

Under Labour, business investment was 9.3% of GDP in real terms. Since 2010, it has been 9.8% of GDP. But today we go further because, taken together, the overall impact of today’s growth measures will be to increase business investment in the UK economy by around £20 billion a year within the decade—nearly 1% of GDP at today’s level. This is the biggest ever boost for business investment in modern times, a decisive step towards closing the productivity gap with other major economies, and the most effective way we can raise wages and living standards for every family in the country.

As well as backing business, Conservatives know that you need to back the people without whose effort no businesses can succeed: the entrepreneur taking risks, the builder working weekends, the nurse working nights, and the jobseeker leaving benefits behind. I will therefore conclude with three further supply-side reforms designed to improve the incentives to work in a modern, dynamic economy.

I begin with welfare, and I want to start by thanking the outstanding Work and Pensions Secretary for his help in developing these reforms. He builds on the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who introduced universal credit. Those reforms helped reduce unemployment, which has fallen by over 1 million, but Opposition Members, to their shame, voted against them 30 times. They think compassion is about giving money; we think it is about giving opportunity.

However, post pandemic, we still have over 7 million adults of working age, excluding students, who are not working, despite there being 1 million vacancies in the economy. Many can and want to work, but our system makes that too hard. In the spring Budget, I announced 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of one and two-year-olds. That plan, still opposed by the party opposite, starts rolling out in April. It will help tens of thousands of parents return to work without having to worry about damaging their career prospects.

Today, we focus on helping those with sickness or disability and the long-term unemployed. Every year, we sign off over 100,000 people on to benefits with no requirement to look for work because of sickness or disability. That waste of potential is wrong economically and wrong morally. So with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, last week I announced our back to work plan. We will reform the fit note process so that treatment rather than time off work becomes the default, we will reform the work capability assessment to reflect greater flexibility and availability of home working after the pandemic, and we will spend £1.3 billion over the next five years to help nearly 700,000 people with health conditions find jobs. Over 180,000 more people will be helped through the universal support programme, and nearly 500,000 more people will be offered treatment for mental health conditions and employment support.

Over the forecast period, the OBR judges that these measures will more than halve the flow of people who are signed off work with no work search requirements. At the same time, we will provide a further £1.3 billion of funding to offer extra help to the 300,000 people who have been unemployed for over a year without any sickness or disability. But we will ask for something in return. If, after 18 months of intensive support, jobseekers have not found a job, we will roll out a programme requiring them to take part in mandatory work placement to increase their skills and improve their employability. If they choose not to engage with the work search process for six months, we will close their case and stop their benefits.

Taken together with the labour supply measures I announced in the spring, the OBR says we will increase the number of people in work by around 200,000 by the end of the forecast period, permanently increasing the size of the economy. I know that some on the Opposition Benches would prefer to fill those vacancies in a different way; they hanker after a more liberal immigration regime or even dream of bringing back free movement. But Conservatives say that we should unlock the potential we have right here at home. We do that with the biggest set of welfare reforms in a decade in today’s autumn statement for growth.

If we are to incentivise work, we must also tackle low pay. People who get up early, put in the hours and work hard for their families deserve to be paid fairly. Since 2010, those on the minimum wage—now the national living wage—have seen their hourly wage go up from £5.80 an hour to £10.42 an hour. That is a real-terms increase of more than 20%. Because we have also doubled the threshold at which they pay tax or national insurance, their after-tax income has gone up not by 20%, but by 25%—more than for any other income group.

Today, I confirm that we will go further and accept the Low Pay Commission’s recommendation to increase the national living wage by 9.8% to £11.44 an hour. That is the largest-ever cash increase in the national living wage, worth up to £1,800 for a full-time worker. Since the national living wage has been introduced, the proportion of people on low pay—defined as earning less than two thirds of national median hourly income—has halved, but at the new rate of £11.44 an hour it delivers our manifesto commitment to eliminate low pay altogether. That means that by next year someone working full time on the national living wage will see their real take-home, after-tax pay go up not by 25%, but by 30% compared with 2010.

And that is the difference: the Labour party tried to reduce poverty by tinkering with benefits and tax credits—they wanted to move people from just below the poverty line to just above it—but Conservatives know that the best way to tackle poverty is through work. By reforming the welfare system, reducing the number of workless households and tackling low pay, we have helped lift 1.7 million people out of absolute poverty since 2010, because a central part of our plan for growth is to make work pay.

I move to the final supply-side measure in today’s autumn statement for growth. Because of the difficult decisions that we have taken in the last year, today’s OBR forecast shows that borrowing will be lower than forecast in the spring, debt as a proportion of GDP will be lower than forecast in the spring, inflation will continue to fall and our fiscal headroom has doubled. I said I would cut taxes when we could, but only responsibly and only in a way that did not fuel inflation. The OBR today confirms that I can deliver a package that does that.

For businesses, I have today delivered the biggest business tax cut in modern British history, with the most competitive investment allowances of any large economy. For the self-employed, I have simplified and reformed their taxes by abolishing the compulsory class 2 charge and cutting class 4 national insurance. But high employment taxes on 27 million people working in the public and private sectors also disincentivise the hard work that we should be encouraging. On top of income tax at 20%, they pay 12% national insurance on earnings between £12,570 and £50,270. That is a 32% marginal tax rate. If we want people to get up early in the morning, if we want them to work nights, and if we want an economy where people go the extra mile and work hard, we need to recognise that their hard work benefits us all.

So today I am going to cut the main 12% rate of employee national insurance. If I cut it by one percentage point to 11%, that would be an extra £225 in the pockets of the average worker every year. But instead I am going to go further and cut the main rate of employee national insurance by two percentage points, from 12% to 10%. That change will help 27 million people. It means that someone on the average salary of £35,000 will save over £450. For the average nurse, it is a saving of £520. For the typical police officer, it is a saving of £630 every single year. I would normally bring in such a measure for the start of the new tax year in April, but instead I will tomorrow introduce urgent legislation to bring it in from 6 January, so that people can see the benefit in their payslips at the start of the new year.

The OBR says that reducing a tax on work means more people in work, and it says that today’s measures on national insurance alone will lead to the equivalent of 94,000 full-time employees in our economy, because lower tax means higher growth. That is the difference between those of us on this side of the House and those on that side. In 13 years, Labour raised taxes in every single Budget, but Conservatives cut taxes when we responsibly can, and today we do just that. We cut taxes to help bigger businesses invest. We cut taxes to help smaller businesses grow. We cut taxes for the self-employed who keep our country running, and from January we cut taxes for 27 million working people whose hard work drives our economy forward.

The best universities, the cleverest scientists and the smartest entrepreneurs have given us Europe’s most innovative economy, but we can be the most prosperous too. In the face of global challenges, we have halved inflation, reduced our debt and grown our economy. As a country, we are sticking to a plan that is working. This autumn statement for growth will attract £20 billion of additional business investment a year in the next decade, bring tens of thousands of people into work and support our fastest growing industries, in a package that leaves borrowing lower, leaves debt lower and keeps inflation falling. We are delivering the biggest business tax cut in modern British history, the largest ever cut to employee and self-employed national insurance, and the biggest package of tax cuts to be implemented since the 1980s. It is an autumn statement for a country that has turned a corner; an autumn statement for growth. I commend it to the House.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

13:27
Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)
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Today the Chancellor has lifted the lid on 13 years of economic failure. We were told that this was to be an autumn statement for growth, but the economy is now forecast to be £40 billion smaller by 2027 than the Chancellor said back in March. Growth has been revised down next year, the year after, and the year after that too. The Chancellor claims that the economy has turned a corner, yet the truth is that, under the Conservatives, growth has hit a dead end.

What has been laid bare today is the full scale of the damage that this Government have done to our economy over 13 years, and nothing that has been announced today will remotely compensate. We see mortgages rising, taxes eating into wages, inflation high, with prices still going up in the shops, public services on their knees, and too many families struggling to make ends meet. As the sun begins to set on this divided, out-of-touch, weak Government, the only conclusion that the British people will reach is this: after 13 years of the Conservatives, the economy is simply not working and, despite all the promises today, working people are still worse off.

The centrepiece of today’s autumn statement is a cut in the headline rate of national insurance. I am old enough to remember when the Prime Minister wanted to put up national insurance. As recently as January last year he said:

“We must go ahead with the”

increase in the—

“health and care levy. It is progressive, in…that the burden falls most on those who can most afford it.”

Utter nonsense. It was a tax on working people, and we opposed it for that very reason. Yet again, the Prime Minister is left arguing against himself.

In response to last year’s autumn statement, I warned that the Government were pickpocketing working people through stealth taxes. I have long argued that taxes on working people are too high. Indeed, I said in my conference speech that I want them to be lower. From the Conservatives’ failure to uprate income tax or national insurance bands to their forcing councils to raise council tax, they have pushed the costs of their failure on to others. The British people will not be taken for fools—they know that what has been announced today owes more to the cynicism of a party desperate to cling on to power than to the real priorities of this high tax, low growth Conservative Government—so we can forgive taxpayers for not celebrating when they see the truth behind today’s announcements.

Going into the statement, the Government had already put in place tax increases worth the equivalent of a 10p increase in national insurance, so today’s 2p cut will not remotely compensate for the tax increases put in place by this Conservative Government. The fact is that taxes will be higher at the next election than they were at the last. This is the legacy of the Conservatives, and that is their record.

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have spent the last two weeks marching their MPs up a hill only to march them down again on inheritance tax. Let us not forget that when they realised that they had money to spend—[Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Mr Cairns, I have heard you chirping all the way through. Either go and get yourself that cup of tea or be quiet.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
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When the Government realised that they had money to spend, their first instinct was a tax cut for millionaires. In the end, even they realised that they could not get away with it in the middle of a cost of living crisis. Will the Chancellor tell the House whether cutting inheritance tax is a decision delayed or a decision abandoned?

This autumn statement for growth is now the 11th Conservative economic growth plan from the fifth prime minister, the seventh Chancellor and the ninth Business Secretary. What do those numbers add up to? According to the most recent GDP data, a big fat zero. That is zero growth in the most recent data for the third quarter of this year. The Chancellor mentioned some countries that we are outperforming in growth, but I could not help but notice that he failed to mention any of the many advanced economies that have grown faster than the UK. Over the last 13 years of this low-growth Conservative Government, the UK languishes in the bottom third of OECD countries when it comes to growth. There are 27 OECD economies that have grown faster than us in the 13 years since 2010: the US, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Slovenia and 22 others. In fact, over the next two years, no fewer than 177 economies are forecast by the IMF to grow faster. [Interruption.]

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
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They don’t bother me, Mr Speaker.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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It bothers me. I am not being funny. I expect courtesy to be shown to the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. Those who do not wish to give that courtesy, please go and find something else to do. My constituents are interested, even if yours are not.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
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Next year, we are forecast to be the slowest growing economy in the whole of the G7. When it comes to economic growth, under the Tories, we are more world-following than world-beating.

Let us look at how the Conservatives’ record on growth compares to Labour’s record on growth. Under the Conservatives, GDP growth has averaged 1.5% a year. With Labour, it grew by an average of 2% a year in the 13 years that we were last in office. Had the economy continued to grow at the rate it did under Labour, it would now be £150 billion bigger. What is the Government’s economic record? Lower growth and higher borrowing, with debt more than doubling—it is now at almost 100% of GDP. That is a product of their failures over 13 years. A Tory Government who have failed on growth, failed on debt, failed on levelling-up and failed on the cost of living, too. Now they expect the British people to believe them when they say they will turn it all around, when they are the problem, not the solution.

If we are going to grow the economy, we must get more people into work. Let me be clear: people who can work, should work. That is why we have long argued that the work capability assessment needs replacing, because right now it is discouraging people from seeking work. But there is a wider problem that yet again the Government are failing to face up to. Britain is the only country in the G7 where the employment rate still has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, with the increase in the number of people out of the workforce due to long-term health issues costing the taxpayer a staggering £15.7 billion a year. NHS waiting lists have swelled to 7.8 million—an additional half a million since the Prime Minister said he was going to cut them—and 2.6 million people are out of work due to long-term sickness.

A healthy nation is critical to a healthy economy. That is why Labour has pledged to cut hospital waiting lists, investing an additional £1.1 billion a year to deliver 2 million more appointments, scans and operations. It will be funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status and replacing it with a modern scheme for people genuinely living in the UK for short periods. But, once again, we see that that policy has been vetoed by the Prime Minister. The best way to get people back to work is to get our NHS working, but the reality is you can never trust the Tories with our NHS.

The Chancellor has made great fanfare about public sector efficiency and value for money. That is from a Government who have blown £140 million on a discredited Rwanda scheme and yet are not able to send a single asylum seeker there, £7.2 billion of money lost on fraud during the pandemic—all those cheques were signed by the former Chancellor, the current Prime Minister—and £8.7 billion on personal protective equipment that has been written off. High Speed 2 is costing £57 billion, with not a single piece of track going north of Birmingham. No one can trust the Tories with taxpayers' money.

It says it all that after 13 years of Tory Government, there are still nearly 12,000 NHS computers running on outdated software that is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Ten years ago, when he was Health Secretary, the now Chancellor promised a paperless NHS by 2018, yet today, in 2023, 26 NHS trusts are still using fax machines. Why on earth should people who experience deteriorating public services under this Conservative Government trust them to fix that, when his six years as Health Secretary make him one of the biggest architects of failure? Mr Speaker,

“if you put your hands into people’s pockets and take money out of them, and they do not see visible improvements in the services they receive, they get very angry indeed.”—[Official Report, 14 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 851.]

Those are not my words but the Chancellor’s words two years ago. I agree with him. The Tories have had 13 years to improve public services and they have failed. This is too little and too late.

I do welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of additional funding to tackle antisemitism and Islamophobia to keep our communities safe, as well as the additional money for the Holocaust Educational Trust. There is no place for hate in our society, and I know that across the House we will work together to eliminate it.

The Chancellor calls this an autumn statement for growth, but it is Labour that has led the agenda on growth. Today, we see that the Conservatives have released their own poor cover version of what we have already announced. The Chancellor is talking about unlocking capital by reforming pensions, but Labour would go further, encouraging investment in British start-up and scale-up firms and introducing measures to ensure the consolidation of pension funds, so that our pensions system gets better returns for savers and for the UK economy.

On planning, the Conservatives are following Labour’s lead on taking money off bills for communities that host grid infrastructure and on speeding up planning decisions. What has taken them so long? Labour will get Britain building again, with a once-in-a-generation set of reforms to accelerate the building of our country’s national infrastructure and to build housing, too. We will fast-track battery factories, our life sciences and 5G technology, to grow our economy and provide good jobs in every part of our country.

We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement that he will make full expensing permanent—another thing that we have been calling for. But that does not make up for the years of uncertainty that businesses have faced, with taxes going up and down like a yo-yo. Small and medium businesses, which play a pivotal role in growing our economy, are left exposed to the Tories’ economic volatility. Labour’s partnership with business will get our economy firing on all cylinders. That is why this week we established a new British infrastructure council, with key investors in the UK economy focused on unlocking private investment by addressing the delivery challenges that businesses face when investing in Britain. Through Labour’s new national wealth fund, we will work alongside the private sector to back the growth of British industries, so that we can make the crucial transition to a zero-carbon economy. For every pound of public investment, we will leverage in three times as much private investment, while also getting a return for taxpayers. Labour’s plan will boost our economy, get debt falling and make working people better off.

If we listened to Members on the Government Benches, we would believe that the cost of living crisis was behind us. But inflation is still double the Bank of England’s target rate. I know the importance of low and stable inflation from my time as an economist at the Bank of England. It is welcome that the Chancellor has accepted this year’s recommendations from the Low Pay Commission—which we set up—on the minimum wage, but the reality of the Conservatives’ record is that average wages for working people have been held back. Under this Government, real average weekly wages have increased by just 3% in 13 years, compared with a 27% increase under the last Labour Government—worth an additional £120 every week for someone going out to work every day. Today is Equal Pay Day, so it is important to recognise that the living standards of working women have also been held back by a gender pay gap that I am determined to close.

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister say that the cost of living crisis has been dealt with. Everything might look a little better 10,000 feet up in a helicopter, but down here on planet Earth, people are approaching Christmas and the year ahead with worry and trepidation. The cost of living crisis has hit us harder because Tory mismanagement has left us so exposed. Some 11 million UK households do not have enough savings to cover three weeks of living expenses if they need it. Working families have been skating on thin ice for too long. As their resilience has been eroded, so has our national economy’s. Let us not forget that this Government oversaw the closure of our critical gas storage facilities, which left our country more exposed to huge fluctuations in international energy markets. The former Prime Minister—that is, four Prime Ministers ago—cut energy efficiency programmes, leading to higher bills for homeowners.

Just last year, we saw the true cost of the Conservatives when their kamikaze Budget crashed the economy, leading to market turmoil, pensions in peril and a spike in interest rates. Some 1.6 million families will see their mortgage deals end this year. Those re-mortgaging since July have seen their payments rocket by an average of £220 every month. Next year, 1.5 million families will face a similar fate. The Conservatives’ economic recklessness inflicted a Tory mortgage penalty on families across the country. In Wellingborough, families with a mortgage will be expected to find an additional £190 every single month. In Richmond, north Yorkshire, homeowners face £200 more a month on their mortgage. In the Chancellor’s own constituency—though maybe not for long—families with a mortgage will see an average increase of £420 a month because of this Conservative Government’s economic failure. Given increased costs for landlords—the Chancellor knows something about that—renters are paying a high price, too.

The truth is that working people just do not have that sort of money lying around. This is what we have come to after 13 years of Conservative Government. This is the record upon which people will judge the Conservatives at the next election. Tory economic recklessness is not a thing of the past. The British people are still paying the price. We say, never again. Last week, Labour tabled an amendment to the King’s Speech to put our fiscal lock into law. It would prevent a repeat of last year’s economic horror show, yet the Tories voted against it. It is clear that today, Labour is the party of economic and fiscal responsibility. What have the Conservatives learned? Absolutely nothing.

The country is crying out for change. A decaying Government can change their personnel but they have failed to change the direction of our country. In 13 years, we have had seven Chancellors. He would not run a business like this; he cannot run a country like it, either. The Prime Minister cannot even promise that this Chancellor will be in place at the next election. We have all heard the reports: when they first came together, it was a fairytale marriage, but one year on, the relationship has hit the rocks. The pair have grown apart, with rumours running rife that the Prime Minister already has his eyes on someone else.

Whoever this Prime Minister picks as Chancellor, the truth is that Britain is and will be worse off under the Conservatives. They have held back growth, crashed our economy, increased debt, trashed our public services, left businesses out in the cold and made life harder for working people. Our country cannot afford five more years of the Conservatives. The ravens are leaving the tower when even Saatchi & Saatchi says that the Tories are not working. The questions that people will ask at the next election, and after today’s autumn statement, are simple: do me and my family feel better off after 13 years of Conservative Government? Do our schools, hospitals and police work better after 13 years of Conservative Government? In fact, does anything in Britain work better today than when the Conservatives came into office 13 years ago? We all know that working people are worse off under the Conservatives, with growth down, mortgages up, prices up, taxes up and debt up. Their time is up. It is time for change—a changed Labour party to lead Britain and to make working people better off.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid that the shadow Chancellor has shown once again that Labour has nothing credible to say on the economy. She tells the papers this morning that she will accept these measures, as one would expect from a copy and paste shadow Chancellor. In all sincerity, I particularly welcome her conversion to supporting full expensing, which she voted against in the House; copying and pasting in the national interest is welcomed on the Government Benches. She compared growth rates under Labour and the Conservatives, but she carefully omitted one fact: Labour inherited a golden legacy from the Conservatives, and proceeded to trash the economy before handing it over.

On growth, the right hon. Lady did not like it when I reminded her that, under the Conservatives, we have grown faster than any other major European economy. She says she is now converted to Conservative supply-side reforms on welfare, so I look forward to her voting with us in the Lobby on those, but her main policy is a demand-side boost to growth, increasing borrowing by £28 billion a year, with absolutely no plans to repay it. The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), does not appear to be in his place. This morning he asked for more action on inflation. Well, the first thing Labour could do is drop its damaging inflationary plan to ramp up borrowing.

On the NHS, despite our having more doctors and nurses, and more patients treated in good or outstanding hospitals, what the right hon. Lady did not mention is that the only place where NHS funding has been cut—not once but twice—is Wales, with the longest hospital waits in Britain.

Perhaps we should talk about what has happened after 13 years, when we repaired Labour’s damage: unemployment down, poverty down, crime down, low pay down, schools funding up, NHS funding up, jobs up, growth up. Conservatives know that lower tax is the path to higher growth and today we make a start.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. Before I call the Chairman of the Treasury Committee to ask a question, I want to make it clear to the House, because there is some confusion, that this is not the procedure we use for a Budget. This is the autumn statement; it is, therefore, a statement. Right now, we are taking questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Once that has concluded, we will go on to the debate. I have a list of people who want to make speeches—there will be some overlap and I am paying attention to that.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What a difference a year makes. We have seen a reduction in the rate of inflation from 11.1% this time last year down to 4.6% this month, and we heard yesterday from the Governor of the Bank of England that he expects inflation to return to its target over the course of the next year or so. I was interested to hear that there are 110 measures in the announcement today which will drive growth in the UK economy. I welcome the fact that the Office for Budget Responsibility is now forecasting that this year we will see growth in the UK economy, in contrast to its forecast this time last year of a recession. The Committee looks forward to examining the 110 growth measures in detail next week, when we hear from both the OBR and the Chancellor himself. Can the Chancellor tell the House overall how much his measures will improve growth and how much they will help to drive down inflation over the course of next year?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend, who speaks very wisely about the economy as Chair of the Treasury Committee. The OBR is very specific about that. It says that the measures I take today will permanently increase GDP by 0.3% and that the measures I took in the spring Budget will permanently increase GDP by 0.2%. Taken together, those measures will increase GDP by 0.5%.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the SNP spokesman.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Chancellor for advance sight of his redactions.

Madam Deputy Speaker, the Chancellor wants you to think he has pulled a rabbit out of the hat, but all he has done is pull the wool over many people’s eyes. Things are still getting worse for people. Inflation is still more than double the target, which means prices and costs for people in their homes are still going up day by day. The cost of living crisis goes on and people need help now. The economy, far from the cry of the Chancellor, is stagnating. On his watch, it is growing by nothing more than a sliver of a percentage. The Chancellor tries to take credit for things that he should be doing anyway and that the Government promised, or things they have already done and that they are now taking backwards steps on. I will come on to that in more detail.

The energy price cap goes up tomorrow and it is scheduled to go up again in January. Costs will continue to increase for people. I welcome some small measures—support for veterans, the national insurance class 2 abolition and the significant measure for business to make full expensing permanent—but the rest do not bear the scrutiny that I hope they will get from proper analysts over the next few days.

The burden is still high for people. The tax burden in the UK is still the highest it has been for seven years. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, even after the Chancellor’s measures, tax is higher than it was three years ago. In reality, the measures go nowhere near covering the cost of living crisis faced by people across the nations of the UK who are struggling with mortgages and rents, food bills and energy bills. We asked for mortgage interest tax relief to help those seeing their monthly bills go up and for measures to help renters. Why has the Chancellor ignored those people who are struggling? On food bills, we asked for action to help people at the checkout and reduce their costs, as France, Canada and Greece have done. Why has he chosen not to intervene on food and help people? We asked for a range of measures this winter to help people who will be facing even higher bills than they had last year, such as a £400 energy bill rebate, a lower price cap and a social tariff. Why has he chosen not to help those who will not be able to afford to heat their homes this winter? Will he at least rule out the planned increase in the cap in January?

We asked the Chancellor to commit to increasing working-age benefits in line with inflation next year. Will he commit to doing that? Once again he has chosen to punish the most vulnerable with his welfare changes. The nasty party is back in business for good. Not supporting people is a choice and we all know what that choice is for this Government. This Government are on the record as working to the principle, “Let people die”. We wanted to hear about VAT cuts for tourism and hospitality, and how to get skilled workers to fill our vacancies, but he has chosen to ignore those stresses on our sectors. We asked him to lay off the Scotch whisky industry, and it is good that he has frozen the duty, but—enormous pause—he has frozen it at the rate he already increased it to, so the Scotch whisky industry is still paying 75% in tax under this Tory UK Government. Isn’t it funny how Scotland is always told it is too poor until the Government need to raise money from our exports and natural resources? Then, miraculously, riches are found!

We asked the Chancellor to invest in net zero. He made some announcements, but when we work down all his green investment plans and what he calls “green energy” we will find most of the money going into nuclear, the white elephant of the energy sector. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) says, it is an absolute shambles. We asked the Chancellor to match the £500 million energy transition fund for the north-east of Scotland, but he has chosen to ignore those opportunities, highlighting again why we need the full powers of independence in Scotland.

We asked the Chancellor to deliver, across the UK, additional funding for public services to allow us to help councils, the NHS and more, and he has chosen to ignore that call. As I have said, he has chosen not to help people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis. He could have helped mortgage and rent payers, he could have helped those who are struggling to pay for food, and he could have helped people with their energy bills.

In the Scottish National party, our values lead us to want to alleviate poverty and strive to get rid of it altogether. We seek measures—now and in the future—to help people, and we are acting now, freezing council tax, investing in childcare and saying no to tuition fees. We are using limited powers to mitigate this nasty Tory Government’s cruel policies, such as the rape clause and the bedroom tax. We are keeping our water, our rail services and our NHS in public hands. We are not, like the Tories and Labour, holding the door open for private companies to rush in. We have previously stepped in where Westminster has failed to boost broadband coverage, to increase our renewables, and to champion the just transition.

We choose to put our people first. Those are our values—values that build a fairer, more prosperous Scotland. The Scottish Government have taken the steps that they can take to help to alleviate the worst impacts of poverty, offering people a degree of stability through the council tax freeze and a cap on rent increases. We would do more, but the fiscal powers that are needed are currently in the Chancellor’s hands. We would choose to help. Today the Chancellor had the power to help people, to lift a finger to right some of the wrongs of this Government that he has inflicted on them, but people are not this Government’s priority. We know who goes through their priority lanes.

Why are this UK Government fixated on tents when they should be worried about rents? They have little to offer Scotland. Our route out of the chaos that Westminster has created, and the perma-austerity of the cost of living nightmare that people are having to endure, is through independence and rejoining the EU. We must have that choice.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the hon. Gentleman prepared his comments for the autumn statement that he wanted me to deliver, rather than the one that I actually delivered. For example, he complained about the tax burden being the highest for seven years, but what he did not say was that in Westminster we have taken difficult decisions and cut taxes, whereas in Scotland the SNP ran out of money and had to raise them. He talked about punishing the most vulnerable, but just look at the measures that we have taken. He talked about renters, but did not mention the fact that we have increased the local housing allowance, which will mean £800 of help for 1.6 million of our poorest people. He did not mention the fact that we have increased benefits by 6.7%, which is double next year’s expected inflation, and have increased the state pension through the triple lock by 8.5%, nearly three times next year’s predicted inflation.

Here is the most uncomfortable truth for the SNP. They have been in power in Edinburgh for longer than the Conservatives have been in power in Westminster, but Scottish GDP is still lower, Scottish employment is still lower, and Scottish inactivity is still higher. The reason is for that is very simple. They focus on separation, while we focus on growth. I know what is better for families in Scotland, who will today see us getting growth going, cutting taxes, and backing Scottish business.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Father of the House.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Citizens Advice office covering my constituency will be grateful for that fact that the local housing allowance has been changed. The people who supply drink, and drinkers, will be pleased that alcohol duty is being frozen, at least for the time being. That will help drinkers, and will also not increase inflation.

I am glad that the Chancellor pointed out to the shadow Chancellor that the only time the Labour Government did really well was when they obeyed the Conservative rules between 1998 and 1999, before they let go of the valves and drove the economy to the point at which, when we took over, they were spending £4 for every £3 of Government revenue.

May I now ask the Chancellor to respond, not today but in time, to an injustice done to 500,000 pensioners overseas? Anne Puckridge, who was born five years before the Chancellor’s father, served in intelligence in the Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force during the war, and retired to Calgary on a pension of £72 a week. It is still £72, instead of £156. That is an injustice which needs attention, and I hope Anne Puckridge will get it and we will have proposals that will enable us to change this bad situation.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Father of the House for his comments, and I will look into the issue of overseas pensioners as he requested. If I may, I will write to him, but I am also happy to talk to him about it. May I also thank him for his comments about what happened in 1997? Then as now, the Labour party was trying to say that its economic policies were basically the same as those of the Conservatives, but the reality was quite different. Because Labour did not fix the roof when the sun was shining, the recession after the financial crisis was much worse.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Chancellor did not mention the freezing of tax thresholds, which is due to rake in £52 billion in the next six years. Was that an omission, or is he leaving the freeze in place?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have never hidden the fact that we took difficult decisions a year ago, such as freezing the thresholds, in order to get borrowing under control and in order to tackle inflation. However, because the economy since then has outperformed the expectations of nearly every independent body, we are able this time to reduce the tax burden, and I choose to reduce the things that will boost growth.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me first declare my business interests.

I welcome the measures to promote more investment and more growth, which is vital. We have lost about 800,000 self-employed people since February 2020. The national insurance measure will help a bit, but will my right hon. Friend look again at the way in which IR35 prevents them from expanding their businesses and getting contracts? The measures to promote the growth of small businesses are also welcome, but the VAT threshold acts as a strong disincentive to expand a business when it reaches a certain point.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend. I had extensive discussions with him in the run-up to the statement, including many discussions about the self-employed. Indeed, it was partly his advocacy of the role of the self-employed that made me so enthusiastic about making the national insurance changes that I was able to make.

I hear what my right hon. Friend says about IR35. We took our decision partly because of concerns about avoidance, but I am happy to look at that again. As for the VAT threshold, many other colleagues have made the same point. We do have the highest threshold in any major European country, and, indeed, any G7 country, but there is always this issue of the cliff edge, and my right hon. Friend is right to draw my attention to it.

Meg Hillier Portrait Dame Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
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Can the Chancellor confirm that living standards will drop by 3% in the next year?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What I can confirm to the hon. Lady is that a year ago they were predicted to fall by 3.7%, and now the OBR says that they will increase this year by 2.5%.

Alberto Costa Portrait Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The people of Blaby and Glen Parva were listening attentively to the Chancellor’s welcome statement. They will go to the polls on 21 December for two by-elections, a county council and a ward by-election. What positive message has the Chancellor for the residents, the businesses, the pensioners and all the people of working age in Blaby and Glen Parva about his welcome financial statement?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What I would say to the businesses in Blaby and Glen Prva is that for every single small business we have frozen business rates, and we are rolling over a 75% discount on business rates for every pub, restaurant and high-street shop for another year. We want to do everything possible to back small businesses, because they are the lifeblood of our communities.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This statement is a deception from the Chancellor after years of unfair tax hikes. Under this Conservative Government, economic growth is flatlining and public services are on their knees. This year, 400,000 people are still on NHS waiting lists, having been on them when the Chancellor made last year’s autumn statement. These people have been cruelly let down. In his statement last year, the Chancellor said:

“you do not need to choose either a strong economy or good public services.”—[Official Report, 17 November 2022; Vol. 722, c. 856.]

Will he look the British people in the eye and admit that he has given them neither?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that the hon. Lady should be careful with her language when she is saying things like that. I am very clear when it comes to growth. We have grown faster than any major European economy since 2010. Yes, while interest rates are higher—as they need to be, because we are bringing down inflation—growth is more subdued, but if the hon. Lady listens to, for example, those in the International Monetary Fund, who are independent commentators, she will hear them say that when we have got inflation back down to target, we will have higher growth than France, Italy and Germany. When it comes to the NHS, we put an extra £3.3 billion into the NHS budget in the autumn statement last year. With doctors’ strikes happening in most of the period since then, it has been difficult to make progress on waiting lists, and I hope that the hon. Lady will address her comments to those doctors if she is going to be consistent.

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to speak from the Back Benches for the first time in a while. I massively welcome the statement, and particularly the emphasis that the Chancellor has given to skills and the superb work that has been done by the Department for Education at the same time. In Herefordshire, we worry about the pollution in our River Wye. Will he consider talking further with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about whether some package could be put in place to support the long-term improvement of that river?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his sterling work as a Minister. When it comes to pollution in the River Wye, he will know that the Government have made changes requiring the water companies to invest more than £50 billion in the years ahead, but he, like me, wants to see faster progress and I will happily give him any support I can.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement on benefit uprating. It is not, as he claimed, a mark of compassion but it is at least delivering the essential minimum, and I congratulate the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on achieving that. For the past three years, the household support fund has enabled local councils to provide an important safety net for families facing the greatest hardship. Will there be a household support fund next year?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, there will.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That answer was quicker than I expected! My right hon. Friend proposes a whole series of planning reforms. One of the problems for local authorities up and down the country is a lack of planning officers to determine those planning applications, and it will clearly take time to recruit and train new people. There is also a risk that the premium service for large-scale developments will mean planning officers switching to those roles rather than determining the day-to-day planning applications. Does my right hon. Friend understand that we will need to recruit more people? Does this need legislation, and what is the timeframe for him to introduce these changes?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend asks an important question. I want to assure him that I have had extensive discussions with the Communities Secretary to ensure that we implement these reforms in a way that does not lead to unintended consequences. The most important thing is that by allowing the biggest applications to have full cost recovery with respect to local councils, we can start to get more resources, which will mean that we can train up more planning officers and avoid delays not just for the bigger applications but for all of them.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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Does the Chancellor agree that the Prime Minister was wrong last year to try to increase national insurance?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What the Prime Minister wanted to do then is what he has delivered as Prime Minister, which was to find a way to deliver extra funding to the NHS. What we as Conservatives believe is that taxing the economy more lightly will lead to higher growth, meaning that we can fund our public services better.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)
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I am sure that the people of the Cotswolds will welcome enormously many of the measures in this statement, but can I just mention one subject that is dear to my heart, the tourist tax? There was no mention in my right hon. Friend’s excellent statement of the tourist tax. British tourists going abroad spend billions of pounds, benefiting those countries, yet the figures show that we actively discourage high-spending tourists from coming from abroad to benefit our shops and hospitality venues.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I reassure my hon. Friend that we want to do everything possible to make our tourism and retail industry competitive. We want to encourage international visitors. We changed policy on this issue a year ago because it cost around £2.5 billion a year and we did not think we could afford to continue it, but we are looking again at the numbers in the light of the most recent data and we can see what has happened to comparative shops in Paris and Milan. We will review this to see if it is still that expensive, and I hope that it is not.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many of the measures in the statement today will have spending consequences that will apply to England and Wales. I welcome many of them, because they are growth measures, such as getting the long-term unemployed and long-term sick into work, helping the creative industries and supporting business rates. Will the Chancellor confirm that those measures will be subject to Barnett consequential payments, and if they are, will the freeze on Barnett consequential payments to Northern Ireland apply?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can confirm that for reserved matters there obviously would not be Barnett consequentials, but where matters are not reserved, there would be consequentials. Our priority in funding for Northern Ireland remains the restoration and return of a locally elected and accountable Executive, but in the meantime we will continue to support the Province in every way we can.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Has my right hon. Friend given any consideration to, and has the Treasury carried out any analysis of, the effect on economic policy of mistaken forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thought my right hon. Friend might ask a question of that ilk. I would gently say to him that not just the OBR found that its forecasts were wrong; nearly every commentator as well as the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund did too. I am pleased to say that, in every single case, they have found the British economy has outperformed their expectations.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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I also welcome the increase in social security uprating by September’s inflation rate, but I agree with the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), that it is the bare minimum. I am incredibly concerned about the proposals for a workfare approach. The Chancellor will be aware that Errol Graham weighed four and a half stone when he was found in his flat, having starved to death. That was because there had been no contact from Department for Work and Pensions officers and he had not been able to respond, so they just stopped his support. Given this, and given that so many Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions have said that we do not have a statutory safeguarding duty, what is the estimate of the number of social security claimants who will die as a consequence of these measures?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the hon. Lady would not ask me to comment on an individual case, but I say to her that what we are introducing is not workfare; it is support to help people into work. We are spending £2.5 billion over the next five years to help more than 1 million people. We think that that is the route out of poverty and away from dependency.

Robin Walker Portrait Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con)
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I welcome the Chancellor’s comment that a world-class education is essential for economic growth, and there are many measures to welcome, including the extra funding for the Holocaust Educational Trust, the £50 million for apprenticeships and the tax cuts of more than £600 for teachers. Of course, many people working in education will also welcome the nearly 10% increase in the national living wage, but it will put great pressure on schools employing teaching assistants and on our nurseries, which we are so keen to expand and support. Can I urge the Chancellor to engage closely with the sector and with the Department for Education to make sure that we can meet those pressures when it comes to funding high needs in our schools and to growing the early years sector?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is a big expert on education and I always listen to what he says. He is right to say that the average teacher will see an increase of £630 in their take-home pay next year because of the 2% cut in national insurance contributions. When it comes to the national living wage, I absolutely hear what he says, but for many schools and nurseries the issue is recruitment—finding people to fill the roles. This change will make that much easier.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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The Chancellor mentioned support for carbon capture and storage and for hydrogen, and the Prime Minister earlier spoke of support for the oil and gas sector. The Chancellor will be all too aware of this morning’s announcement of the intended closure of the Grangemouth oil refinery, which represents a huge 4% of Scottish GDP and provides hundreds of jobs. What discussions has he had with the Energy Secretary, with Petroineos or with the Scottish Government with the aim of trying to stop this closure before its disastrous impact can come to pass?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are obviously monitoring the situation extremely carefully, but it is our priority to support the oil and gas and refinery industries. We have made some big changes to do that, and we would welcome support from both sides of the House in doing so.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend the Chancellor for the compassion and enterprise incentives that shine through his statement. I thank him for the UK retail disclosure framework, although I have not seen the detail, and for the promise of a statutory instrument to resolve the legislative issues with cost disclosure for investment companies. Can he assure me that that will correct the over-zealous regulation that is making investment companies look unduly expensive and thereby restricting investment?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have had many discussions with my hon. Friend on this issue and he is absolutely right. There is a danger with over-zealous regulation that people are focused more on cost than on performance. Like him, I want to resolve the issue.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Chancellor talked about the creative industries but then announced only that he would look at improving film and high-end TV tax credits. The cultural tax reliefs continue to help our orchestras, theatres, museums and galleries to survive, and they protect jobs. At the 2023 Budget, he extended the uplifted rate of relief until March 2024, after which it will taper, but sadly he also introduced changes to limit what cultural organisations can claim for. Orchestra tax relief is a critical source of income; without it, some orchestras say they could fold, with musicians losing their jobs. Will he look not just at film and high-end TV tax credits but at all the cultural tax reliefs and how they can continue to support jobs in our creative industries?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Having only just delivered the autumn statement I do not want to pre-empt what might be in the spring Budget, but there will be another fiscal event before the end of the financial year in which all these things will be looked at. With respect to orchestras, which are fantastically important to our cultural landscape, I will just say that the typical person playing in an orchestra will get a £450 increase in post-tax pay next year, and that will help them greatly.

Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, which will make a significant difference to investment levels, employment and living costs, recognising that it is all in the context of the cost of covid and the energy shock brought about by the conflict in Ukraine—that is something we often forget. May I pass on to him the appreciation of the beer and pub sector? The freeze in duty and continuation of the reduction in business rates is exactly what the sector asked for, and it is an early Christmas present to the many of us who want to celebrate in great style as we approach the festive season. Will my right hon. Friend please continue to engage with those in the sector and listen to what they have to say, so that they can share their investment ambitions?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commit to my right hon. Friend that I will not just continue to engage with the sector, but continue to enjoy the odd glass of Penderyn, which is my favourite whisky.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Chancellor confirm that, after today’s tax cuts, we will still have the highest tax burden for 70 years—up £4,000 per household on pre-pandemic levels—when we go into the next general election?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What I can confirm is that after today’s measures we will have the lowest income tax burden for someone on average pay in the G7—lower than Japan, America, France, Germany, Italy and Canada.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our economy is growing rather than receding due to investment, innovation and millions of hard-working individuals across the country, as well as a Government who have focused on tackling inflation. Does the Chancellor agree that, on this side of the House, we get it that no country can spend its way to prosperity?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. High inflation is destabilising for an economy: it stops businesses investing, it stops families spending, and it causes misery to people who see the cost of their weekly shop go through the roof. That is why it has been our No. 1 priority. It would be great if it were Labour’s, too.

Keir Mather Portrait Keir Mather (Selby and Ainsty) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is frankly embarrassing that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have spent this afternoon celebrating inflation staying 2% above target, while families in Selby and Ainsty face 10% food inflation every time they use the supermarket. What message does the Chancellor think his celebrations send to those hard-working families?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is not celebrating that has halved inflation from 11.1% a year ago; it is hard work and difficult decisions, which unfortunately were mainly opposed by Labour.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend the Chancellor for his statement, which delivers for the people of Blackpool. Five thousand of my constituents will benefit from a boost to the national living wage and 12,000 pensioners in my constituency will be £900 per year better off, while those in work will be £450 better off as a result of the cut to national insurance. Does he agree that this is only possible because of the difficult long-term decisions that this Government have taken—an approach that stands in stark contrast to the tax, borrowing and spending offered by the Opposition?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The shadow Chancellor cannot hear these things too many times. She loves copying and pasting our policies, and there is another that she could merrily get copying and pasting. Here is the reason why my hon. Friend is absolutely right—[Interruption.] Let me tell the shadow Chancellor the reason—it is very straightforward. We had an economic crisis thanks to the energy shock and the pandemic; Labour had an economic crisis because of what happened in the financial markets. The difference is that we took tough decisions to bring back fiscal responsibility and they ducked every single one.

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

The biggest disparity in local housing allowance comes from the geography of broad rental market areas. In York, given the way these things are calculated, LHA is £650 but there is a £983 cost on top of that for a property. It is not working, so will the Chancellor review the BRMA?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to discuss that matter with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I recognise that the hon. Lady has campaigned on the issue sincerely for some time. I will say, though, that the decision to increase local housing allowance to the 30th percentile will help 1.6 million families with an extra £800. I hope she recognises that that will make a difference.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

From tax cuts for 27 million workers to incentives for business to grow, support for pensioners and a continued lifeline for our great British pubs and pints, I warmly welcome the good start that my right hon. Friend has made on reducing the tax burden as we recover from the pandemic and the energy shock. I thank him in particular for the recognition he has shown to the self-employed, not just by reforming class 2 and class 4 national insurance contributions to make them fairer, but by sending the signal that, just as the self-employed were an integral part of our recovery from the time the Labour party crashed the economy when they were last in government, we now need as many people as possible to take the step to start their own enterprise and help this country grow.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The whole purpose of our approach is to make it easier for people who are prepared to take risks to work hard, and no one exemplifies those values better than the self-employed. I thank him for being one of this country’s greatest defenders of the great British pint.

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

It really is a scandal that disabled people are being punished yet again for this Government’s economic failures, with today’s announcements of more cruel and callous cuts, and the announcement that they will be forced to work from home. Evidence shows that sanctions do not incentivise people to work but are harmful and counterproductive. The Chancellor’s plan will only further erode the social security safety net, following 13 years of austerity, the war waged against disabled people and the hostile environment. Does he not understand that his plan will only punish disabled people, pushing them further away from the labour market and leading to poorer health outcomes?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With the greatest respect to the hon. Lady, let me say that we introduced a plan to help disabled people to get back into work, as many of them say they would like to do, and in just four years it has got 1.4 million disabled people back into jobs.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome an autumn statement from the Chancellor that cuts taxes, invests in growth, seeks to shrink the size of the state and reforms welfare. It will go down well with the vast majority of my constituents who voted for a Conservative Government in 2019, and I very much welcome it too. I particularly thank him for his continued commitment to our east midlands investment zone and freeport, where he has listened to stakeholders in extending the time for and adding more investment to our major growth plans. Will he continue to work with us in the region to ensure that, alongside our development company and our new east midlands combined authority, we are able to properly harness these tools to deliver an amazing regional growth strategy and all the growth and investment that he wants to see?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his role in the transformation of the east midlands, through his other responsibilities in the councils there. Levelling up will work only if we harness the enterprise and ideas of local civic leaders, and he is a fantastic example of that.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Today is Equal Pay Day, which means, because of the gender pay gap, it is the day on which women, based on their average earnings, stop being paid compared with men, who continue to be paid to the end of the year. More concerning is the pension gap, which is 35% and means female pensioners stop being paid on 26 August. That is often because older women have chosen, and sacrificed their earning potential, to care for loved ones. When will the Government consider reforming carer’s allowance, which is currently an active disincentive to carers going into work? When we will start addressing this cliff edge, rather than making it shorter and sharper?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am always happy to engage with any hon. Members if they have concerns about the way the benefits system operates in terms of disincentivising people who would like to work but cannot do so. Caring responsibilities are an area that she has raised and I am happy to engage with her on that outside this House.

Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Cumulatively, Manchester City Council’s and Trafford Council’s cuts since 2010 have been £443 million and £288 million respectively. The Local Government Association says that the funding gap will be £4 billion in the next two years. Was there anything in this statement that will stop the continuing crumbling of our local services?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is omitting the fact that in the autumn statement a year ago, when I was having to make big cuts in public spending going forward, I found an increase of £4.7 billion from next year for adult social care, which will make an enormous difference to every council in the country.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to the Chancellor’s answer on Northern Ireland and Barnett consequentials, he will be aware that Northern Ireland is facing an unprecedented budget crisis. Will he therefore confirm that he is open to discussions on a fiscal floor and an invest-to-save transformation package for any potential restored power sharing Executive?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK Government will continue to do everything we can to support the restoration of power sharing in the Province. All I will say is that the Treasury is actively involved in all those discussions.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In recognition of the impact of electricity pylon development on properties, the Chancellor announced compensation of £1,000 per property per year for 10 years. Does the policy apply in Wales? If it does not, will the Welsh Government receive funding for developments where they have competence, such as the one in the Tywi valley in my constituency? Regardless of that, he knows that the fall in property values will be far more than the compensation, so would it not be better to remove detriment by cable ploughing, at a comparative cost to traditional pylon development?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My understanding is that this will apply to Wales in exactly the same way as it applies to the rest of the UK. As for how we do this, we need to work out the most sensible, proportionate and balanced way of solving the problem of having to double our electricity generation between now and 2050. We are going to have to do things differently as a result.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are in the worst cost of living crisis that we have ever seen. The key takeaway from the just four measures the Chancellor announced to tackle the crisis is not investing in deprived communities, ensuring the richest pay their fair share or spreading economic growth across the whole country, but a commitment to stop a pint getting more expensive. Just what is that supposed to do for my constituents, who face crippling mortgage payments, who are paying 30% more for food, whose wages are stagnating and whose homes have been unaffordable to heat?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the hon. Gentleman has looked at the statement selectively, because our support for people struggling with cost of living pressures has risen, as a result of my decisions, to £104 billion. Let me just go through this: pensioners are going to get an increase next year that is three times the rate of inflation; people on benefits are going to get an increase in their benefits that is double inflation; people who are renting and on low incomes are going to see an £800 increase, on average, through the local housing allowance; and anyone on the lowest legally payable wage, where they are working full-time, could see an extra £1,800 from increases in the national living wage.

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

As a so-called “prudent Chancellor”, he cancelled HS2 to Manchester because of the spiralling costs of that project. Yet despite the cost of the likes of Hinkley Point C rising from £18 billion to £33 billion, and the fact that there is no successful EPR—European pressurised reactor—project in the world, he has today confirmed yet again a blank cheque for the nuclear industry. Sizewell C is likely to cost £40 billion and he has a taxpayer 20% stake in it. If it is good enough for HS2, why does he not scrap Sizewell C and save us from that nuclear financial disaster?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Because if we want to get to net zero, we are going to have to have more renewable energy and, unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman and for me, there are days when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have the lowest investment in the G7; on the Government’s own figures, it has fallen further and further. Currently, public sector investment is scheduled to fall by £14 billion in real terms over the next five years. Without serious investment in public services, we cannot hope to improve productivity, which the Chancellor spoke about today. We cannot just demand that people go back to work, and work harder and harder to compensate for this. We need £10 billion to match the OECD’s average public investment annual spend as a share of GDP. I would like to hear from the Chancellor why he has not taken the opportunity today to align ourselves with the rest of the G7?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me gently remind the hon. Gentleman that business investment has grown by more since 2010 than it grew under the Labour Government; we have the second highest growth in the G7, with ours faster than any country’s except America.

Claudia Webbe Portrait Claudia Webbe (Leicester East) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The unionised manufacturing base of my constituency has long been diminished, having been replaced not by technology, innovation and good decent, modern jobs, but by fast fashion, sweatshops and unscrupulous employers. This is all exploited by brands like Boohoo and retailers who are in a race to the bottom for ever-increasing profits, all while their supply chains fail to pay the minimum wage. What action will be taken to regulate to ensure that brands and retailers are held to account for the sustainable outcomes of their products in their supply chains and for wage justice for the people who make their goods? What action will be taken to tackle those British brands and retailers who threaten to seek cheaper labour overseas in order to avoid paying the new minimum wage that the Chancellor has just announced?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the hon. Lady has any examples of people not paying the national living wage who are legally obliged to do so, she should tell the authorities and we will sort it out. I just say to her that we have just overtaken France to become the eighth largest manufacturer in the world. We are making progress in the right direction, and the measures announced today will mean that we go even further.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The prize for perseverance goes to Deidre Brock.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Chancellor announced £960 million for a new green industries growth accelerator focused on offshore wind; electricity networks; nuclear; carbon capture, usage and storage; and hydrogen. But there was no mention of reliable, clean, cheaper energy sources such as tidal or pump storage hydro. Why not?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are always open to investing in new technologies, and in this country we are extremely good at developing them. We will continue to look at all new opportunities, including things like tidal.

Provisional Collection of Taxes

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 51(2)),

That, pursuant to section 5 of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968, provisional statutory effect shall be given to the following motion:—Rates of tobacco products duty (motion no. 1).—(Jeremy Hunt.)

Question agreed to.

Point of Order

Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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14:39
Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions today, I asked the Prime Minister why 34% of children in my constituency live in poverty. Before the Prime Minister answered, the Home Secretary chose to add his pennyworth. I have contacted his office, advising him of my plan to name him, but sadly he has chosen not to be in the Chamber. He was seen and heard to say, “Because it’s a shithole.” I know he is denying being the culprit, but the audio is clear and has been checked and checked and checked again. There is no doubt that these comments shame the Home Secretary, this rotten Government and the Tory party. He is clearly unfit for his high office. Madam Deputy Speaker, will you advise me how I can secure an apology from the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box for his appalling insult and foul language?

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having given me notice that he intended to raise this point of order, and I am pleased to note that he has informed the Home Secretary of his intention to raise the matter. My understanding is that Mr Speaker did not hear any remark of the kind from the Chair at the time when the hon. Gentleman was asking his question of the Prime Minister, and I understand that the alleged words were not actually used.

Although I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, I think we all know that it is very difficult in the noisy atmosphere of Prime Minister’s questions to discern exactly what someone says, so I can make no judgment from the Chair as to what was or was not said—but I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I remind all hon. Members of the need for good temper and moderation in the language they use in this Chamber, and that the rules of decency should be observed, in particular when referring to other hon. Members, and to the constituents and constituencies that they represent.

The hon. Gentleman asked specifically how he can secure an apology. I am quite sure that, the Member in question being an honourable gentleman, if an apology is necessary, it will be issued to the hon. Gentleman, but I can make no judgment one way or the other. The hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Autumn Statement Resolutions

Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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We now come to motion No. 1 on the resolutions paper. It is on this motion that the debate will take place today and on succeeding days. The questions on this motion and on the remaining motions will be put at the end of the debate on the autumn statement on Monday 27 November.

Rates of tobacco products duty

14:43
Laura Trott Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Laura Trott)
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I beg to move,

That—

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

“TABLE

1 Cigarettes

An amount equal to the higher of—

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

£422.80 per thousand cigarettes.

2 Cigars

£395.03 per kilogram

3 Hand-rolling tobacco

£412.32 per kilogram

4 Other smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco

£173.68 per kilogram

5 Tobacco for heating

£325.53 per kilogram”.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a country, we are in a very different position from the one we were in a year ago. Back then, the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England were predicting a recession, but we have had growth. Debt was predicted to rise almost 100% of GDP by the end of the forecast, but headline debt is now predicted to be more than 5% lower. Rather than falling, average real incomes have risen.

None of that happened by accident. It happened because of the difficult decisions we have made, which have turned the economy around. We have learned the lessons of what happened a year ago, but the Opposition have not. Today, we set out a plan for the economy that will grow our potential, reduce debt and reduce taxes, yet all Labour wants to do is reverse this progress by borrowing £28 billion. It is the same old Labour party.

Let me begin with what we have achieved.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
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On that point, will the hon. Lady give way?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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Let me make some progress. It has been a difficult few years for all families, up and down this country. We have had to tackle a once in a lifetime global pandemic and another period of global turmoil, caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the pressure that put on energy prices, driving inflation around the world.

When the Prime Minister took office, inflation was at 11.1%, but because of the difficult decisions taken by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Bank of England, inflation is now down to 4.6%—a promise delivered. The OBR says that headline inflation will fall to 2.8% by the end of 2024 and we will therefore reach our 2% target by the middle of 2025, something I am sure that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) is about to welcome.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle
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I welcome the hon. Lady to her new post. I hope she has an enjoyable time at the Treasury, as I did when I was there. Will she confirm that figures show that this Parliament is the highest tax-raising Parliament since records began, in all our history, even after today’s statement?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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I am sure the hon. Lady will be interested to know that taxes for the average worker have gon