Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tuesday 6th February 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I will always look at anything that helps businesses to grow and expand. I set up and ran my own business for 14 years. Can I gently say to the hon. Lady that it is slightly incongruous to argue for lower taxes when the SNP has given Scotland the highest taxes in the United Kingdom?

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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4. If he will make an assessment of the potential impact of the loan charge on levels of bankruptcy.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Nigel Huddleston)
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I have heard the concerns expressed by hon. Members on the impact of the loan charge, and I have pushed His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for firm assurances on the safeguards that it has in place. No one will be forced by HMRC to sell their main home or access their pension funds early to pay their loan charge debts, nor has HMRC petitioned for bankruptcy, which would be only a last resort and is in nobody’s interest. There is substantial support in place to help people in debt, including agreeing time-to-pay arrangements with them.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and his engagement with the loan charge and taxpayer fairness all-party parliamentary group, including a meeting this evening with its officers. In an internal document that surfaced as part of the 2019 Morse review, HMRC admitted to around 100 bankruptcies from the loan charge. Can the Minister tell the House why that figure has never been given publicly by HMRC, and what the figure is today?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Again, I thank my hon. Friend for championing this area and his great concern for the human stories behind the difficult circumstances resulting from some of these schemes. As I have said, I am constantly seeking reassurance from HMRC on this matter, and my understanding is that where bankruptcies have occurred, it has often been because of requirements outside of the loan charge, not from HMRC; indeed, some people have declared bankruptcy of their own volition. However, if my hon. Friend has evidence to the contrary, I would like to know about it.

Loan Charge

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 18th January 2024

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I will do my best, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) not only on securing the debate but on the incredibly powerful and eloquent way in which he opened it—I entirely endorse his speech.

Indeed, alongside the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Baroness Kramer, I serve as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the loan charge and taxpayer fairness. It is through that lens, and given the many constituents of mine who are victims of the loan charge, that I have become profoundly troubled by what I can only describe as one of the most significant crises faced by British taxpayers, certainly in my living memory.

The loan charge has haunted, and is still haunting, thousands of our constituents throughout the country, bringing with it a train of despair and destruction that should weigh heavily on HMRC and all of us in this House. To date, an estimated 60,000 people have been affected by the loan charge. Tragically, as has already been said, 10 of those people have come to the tragic conclusion of ending their own lives. I invite the House to reflect on a retrospective HMRC tax policy that has led to 10 people—I pray no more—ending their lives.

Those are not numbers on a page; they are human tragedies. Each one is a poignant reminder of the injustices felt by individuals who are still grappling with the devastating consequences of the amount of money asked of them—in some cases, more than they earned in the first place—as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. The profound impact of the loan charge extends its reach far beyond mere statistics and financial repercussions. It is a devastating narrative that encompasses contractors, freelancers and agency workers from all walks of life. Those professionals, seeking compliance under IR35 legislation, took and followed professional guidance in good faith.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
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On the point about taking advice and being led by agencies and promoters, does the hon. Member agree that it is simply scandalous that none of those agencies has been pursued by HMRC for their part in this, and that that further heightens the injustice felt by those who are being pursued?

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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That is a point on which we have consensus. It is outrageous that promoters have not been pursued. The all-party parliamentary group has considered and taken evidence on that, and I will certainly continue to push that point in this debate and for the weeks, months and years ahead, in trying to get justice for all the victims of the loan charge and holding to account those who gave that advice, who, I suggest, knew what they were doing.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell (Watford) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) for securing the debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that protecting the coffers of the state should never take precedence over protecting the lives of our constituents?

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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My hon. Friend makes an incredibly powerful point with which I entirely agree. Part of the ask of this debate and of the all-party parliamentary group on the loan charge and taxpayer fairness is a fair settlement that people can actually afford to pay; that takes into account—dare I say it—reality; and that understands what people actually earn and that they acted in good faith and took the professional advice that I mentioned a few moments ago.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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One more time.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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The hon. Gentleman is being generous. Is it not the case that what we need is proper transparency in how Government bodies operate? When so many people see these problems again and again, that really undermines trust in Government.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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I agree with the hon. Lady. Of course we need transparency across all walks of life—Government or otherwise. The right hon. Member for East Antrim referred to the Horizon scandal and the Post Office. There is a clear similarity, and there needs to be an inquiry and serious action. How can a body of the state—the Post Office in the case of the Horizon scandal, and HMRC in the case of the loan charge scandal—be autonomous in being judge, jury and executioner at the same time? We simply have to take that away. Checks and balances must be built into HMRC if we are to see justice for the loan charge victims, as well as for victims of any other scandal that might well come about.

I could say much more on this subject, but I am mindful of the time limit that you have set, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his letter yesterday offering a meeting with the all-party parliamentary group. I hope that we can get that meeting in the diary as soon as humanly possible so that we can have meaningful dialogue on how to get to a settlement, a review of HMRC practices and justice for the loan charge victims. Given the colleagues whom I have seen bobbing, particularly from the Conservative Benches, I suspect that we will hear many more powerful stories and testimonies from victims of the loan charge, whose lives we should see as totally valuable and deserving of our attention and of justice.

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Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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My right hon. Friend’s powers of forensic analysis are second to none, but does he agree that it is actually slightly worse than that? He is entirely right in what he says, but there are also cases, particularly for those affected by the loan charge, where people have allowed themselves, against their better instincts and judgment, to make a false confession of guilt. They have gone through the process and ended up having to pay an extortionate amount of money and think the matter settled; then, HMRC has come back and gone after even more.

David Davis Portrait Sir David Davis
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Yes, my hon. Friend is right. I am afraid that one of the characteristics of miscarriages of justice—I have forgotten who raised this point earlier, so please forgive me for not referencing them—is that the victim at the beginning is probably the most unpopular person in society. They are thought to be guilty and may even doubt themselves over whether they have made a mistake. These people, by and large, have been compelled to do what we are talking about. They have been offered a job on these terms only, so they have had no choice, but then they think, “Well, maybe I should have known.” Then, like the sub-postmasters, they are persuaded by the people dealing with them that they are the only one.

Until our campaign started, all these people felt that they were the only one, or one of a few nasty tax evaders—not tax avoiders—so they gave in. Of course, it is like the Gestapo: confession never saves you; it is a step to execution. That is how it works, I am afraid. That is true of all big organisations full of people who are well-intentioned, but who defend the institution. That is why, answering my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, it goes on through Government after Government after Government. It is not the Ministers who do this, but the members of the institution.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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If the hon. Gentleman can give individual examples, I ask him please to let us know. It is, obviously, extremely important that we enforce this, but I should point out that we will increase the levels by 9.8% next year, which will make a significant difference to households up and down the country.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Is not the more fundamental problem with the question posed by Opposition Members the fact that the OBR’s forecasts are never right?

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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence of people behaving improperly or illegally, he should tell the police, and he will get the full support of this Government and the whole House in bringing the matter to justice. But let me just say to him that any responsible Opposition should understand that in a crisis there is a trade-off between speed and taking longer to prevent fraud, and we took the right decision to save as many lives as possible.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith  (Buckingham)  (Con)
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T3.   I am hearing from a concerning number of small businesses in my constituency that they are slowing down as they approach the VAT threshold, rather than doing what the whole economy needs them to do and going for growth. Ahead of the spring Budget, will my right hon. Friend look at substantially shifting the VAT threshold upwards?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Nigel Huddleston)
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My hon. Friend is a great advocate for small businesses. The Government recognise that accounting for VAT can be a burden on businesses, but that is why, at £85,000, the UK has a higher VAT registration threshold than any EU member state and the second highest in the OECD, keeping the majority of UK businesses out of VAT altogether. In the 2022 autumn statement, it was announced that the VAT threshold would be maintained at its current level until 31 March 2026. As always, the Government keep taxes under review.

Autumn Statement

Greg Smith Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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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)
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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
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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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tuesday 14th November 2023

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is doing his review at the moment to decide the correct amount by which to uprate benefits. If the hon. Gentleman looks at this Government’s record, he will see that we took the decision a year ago to uprate benefits by inflation, and we committed to £94 billion of measures to help families get through the cost of living crisis.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Food inflation will only get worse if our self-sufficiency in food production drops. Will my right hon. Friend consider fiscal measures to discourage the transfer of food-producing land to other uses such as solar industrial installations?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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My hon. Friend is right to say that our food industry is very important to food security. We need to keep the priorities constantly under review. Nature is a very important part of that, but so too is food production.

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Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend seek to fix the anomaly that sees man-made fully synthetic fuels taxed at the same rate as their fossil equivalents?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I shall be happy to look into that issue in detail and get back to my hon. Friend.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tuesday 5th September 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I can agree with the hon. Gentleman that the investment of £600 billion in infrastructure in all parts of the country to which the Government are committed is critical to easing the productivity challenge that has faced successive Governments, and the Chancellor will introduce measures in the autumn statement to address it further.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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HS2’s costs have ballooned since it was first conceived under the last Labour Government. As my right hon. Friend has said, owing to pressure from the Treasury the project has had to be rephased, and trains will now go from west London—not central London—to a station not in central Birmingham, which negates the benefits that the scheme’s proponents said it would bring. With costs ballooning still further, we just cannot afford it, can we?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I am sorry, but I do not agree with my hon. Friend. I certainly recognise that infrastructure investments of this scale and with this level of ambition are never easy to deliver. I have set out the changes to the profile of the investment, but all the key elements are still on track, and we will continue to work with the Department for Transport to ensure that that remains the case.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon). I join her in congratulating the hon. Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick) on bringing forward this important Bill, piloting it through its stages so far and, indeed, securing the important cross-party support that he has secured for this Bill. Co-operatives play a vibrant part in our economy, as others have said. They bring greater choice to consumers and greater choice to people who need the goods and services that they put together. I hope I maintain the spirit of cross-party support for the Bill when I say that the co-operative movement is part of a vibrant free market economy in the United Kingdom, and we should celebrate that.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), my constituency neighbour, commented, the more we can drive the ability for co-operatives to compete with their commercial counterparts, the stronger our economy overall can become. I particularly endorse the point he made about the importance of this being an opt-in Bill. It is not the state dictating or this House setting out a “how it must be” clause for co-operatives, friendly societies and so on to operate; it is something about which those organisations must make an active choice for themselves.

To go to the heart of the Bill—this is why I believe it to be an important Bill that, as the hon. Member for Preston said, brings the legislation up to date and moves the sector forward from its legislative origins all those decades, if not centuries, ago—the very hub or core of the co-operative movement is about people doing something because they want to create a better society, a legacy and, indeed, something lasting. When organisations fail or are forced into some form of closure we can see that that legacy can be lost all to easily if there is no protection around the assets. That is why I believe it to be so important, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury indicated, this is no small undertaking. The helpful House of Commons Library paper on this details how 7,200 co-operatives were employing 250,000 people across this country. That is no small thing; that is a significant part of our economy, stretching across 14 million members. My hon. Friend mentioned the Hughenden valley community shop in his remarks, and that is a wonderful example from Buckinghamshire. A simple search of the Co-operatives UK website indicates just how far reaching co-operatives, mutuals, and friendly societies are in my constituency.

The Buckinghamshire Community Energy company works across the whole county. It is registered in my hon. Friend’s constituency at Stoke Mandeville, but it enables schools, public buildings, and businesses across the county of Buckinghamshire to cut their carbon emissions. The wonderful Brill Village Community Herd, and the 335 square miles of the Buckinghamshire constituency that I am fortunate enough to represent, is without question the most beautiful part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, Brill common, which the Brill Village Community Herd serves, is among the top most picturesque parts on top of that. The work it does is so important to maintain not just the village of Brill, but the picturesque countryside, nature, and biodiversity of Buckinghamshire.

The Buckingham Rugby Union football club exists on this model—an important community asset. I was lucky enough to speak at its President’s Lunch the other week. Buckingham has had a poor season so far and they have not yet won a match. They were playing a team from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), but unfortunately there were no careless mistakes in the match, which led to Buckingham losing again. Nevertheless, it is an important asset. We have the Cuddington Allotment Society, the Kimble Allotment Society, Long Crendon Community Social Club, the North Marston community shop, Ickford village association shop—so many organisations, including Westbury community shop and café, Wing Allotment 1972 Society, the Royal British Legion, Winslow Rugby Union Football club, and Twyford village stores.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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I am learning a great deal about the hon. Gentleman’s constituency that I was not previously aware of, so I think him for that. I recognise what he is discussing because I, too, have such cases in my constituency. I wanted to ask about the building societies that we still have, and the diversity of our financial services sector. If we had retained more of the mutual building societies in the ‘70s, for example, would we still have had the same financial crash in 2008?

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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On the point about high street banks, it is noticeable across the Buckinghamshire constituency that in 335 square miles there is only one high street premises left standing, which is the Nationwide in the town of Princes Risborough. I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s projection that we would not have had the 2008 crash had we not seen the demise of so many building societies, as many other factors were at play there. Indeed, a note highlighting one of those factors was left by the former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury for the incoming Government in 2010. [Interruption.] If he would like another bite, I would be delighted.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
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Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could be more precise about the point I was seeking to make, which was whether we would have been more financially resilient in the financial services sector, and the public’s money more secure, had we had a greater diversity and spread of those sorts of institutions in our economy, as perhaps they have in France.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his clarification. I believe that for a successful economy, there does need to be that diversity and spread of different models and different institutions—fully commercial enterprises, co-operatives, friendly societies and mutuals. As a committed free marketeer, which I accept the hon. Gentleman perhaps is not, those are the building blocks for a successful economy, and I certainly would not seek to diminish the role of building societies and mutuals in securing that diverse, successful and buoyant economy. We can certainly find some common ground there.

Having highlighted the wealth of friendly societies, mutuals and co-operatives across my constituency and their value to the United Kingdom economy, let me say that this Bill is a welcome bringing up to date of the legislation. I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Minister confirm the Government’s full support for the Bill as it passes Third Reading and goes to the other place. I hope to see it receive Royal Assent before too much longer.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tuesday 7th February 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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No, Mr Speaker. The total tax take from that sector is £80 billion over five years, which is more than the entire cost of funding the police force. The shadow Chancellor can play politics, but we will be responsible because we want lower bills, more investment in transition and more money for public services, such as the police.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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T3. The Financial Conduct Authority is currently advertising for a personal assistant to its chief executive, to work alongside another PA, a chief of staff, a head of office, three private secretaries and a PA to the chief of staff. Given the largesse in their own affairs, what is my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary doing to hold financial service regulators to account?

Andrew Griffith Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrew Griffith)
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is why the Financial Services and Markets Bill rightly improves the accountability of regulators to Parliament. It is about not just the cost of regulation, but the speed and efficiency of it. I read with concern work from TheCityUK suggesting that 90% of industry respondents thought that the speed of authorisations was either “somewhat” or “extremely” detrimental.

Non-domestic Energy Support

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 9th January 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I would have to know the exact details, but, yes, I am more than happy to meet him. He will be aware that the care home could benefit from EBRS, which will become the eligible discount scheme after March, but I stress that there are 900,000 in England, Scotland and Wales without a direct relationship with an energy supplier, such as care home and park home residents. This month they will be able to apply online for £400 of non-repayable help with their fuel bills.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I very much welcome the package of support announced this afternoon and the enormity of the total support package, but may I push my hon. Friend a little on what is energy intensive? Padbury Meats, a butcher in my constituency, wrote to me over the weekend. It is a healthy business with a huge gross income per annum, it employs six staff and has no borrowings. Thanks to careful decisions, it managed to buy a freehold and therefore pays no rent, but it has seen a fourfold increase in its energy bills since the invasion of Ukraine and is not making a profit. The owner is personally subsidising the business through their own savings, which is not sustainable. Instead of looking at specific energy-intensive industries, will he look at the proportionality of energy bills to total revenue to determine which businesses, such as butchers who have huge fridges and walk-in freezers, need support?

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. The first part of my answer may disappoint him, but I want to be clear. The additional support, particularly for manufacturing, is not just about energy intensity but trade intensity. There are two measures that determine if sectors are entitled to support: whether they are above the 80th percentile for energy intensity and the 60th percentile for trade intensity. So, it may be that the sector does not fit in that category. But that is why—I appreciate the support is less generous, but it is still significant—alongside the additional support for the intensive users, there will still be a universal scheme offering a discount from April this year to March next year.

Autumn Statement

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I have had wonderful holidays in the hon. Member’s constituency and can attest to the high levels of wind and water there. It is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. The windfall tax rate on electricity generators is calculated to ensure that we tax only genuine windfall profits. It is reasonable to do that. Overall, these taxes will raise about £54 billion, and this year and next year we will spend more than £100 billion to support people with their energy bills. It will only kick in at £75 a unit, which is a generously high level.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend when he talks about the inflationary pressures coming from the aftershocks of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. We see that at the fuel pumps and, more significantly, our haulage and logistics sector sees it with the enormous level of taxation on diesel in particular driving inflation to get food and goods on to our shelves. As he prepares for the March Budget, will he look at the inflationary impact of fuel duty on top of the high cost of diesel and see whether we can reduce it?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I assure my hon. Friend that I will absolutely do that. We have a little time, and I know that fuel duty is an important issue to him and many other colleagues.