Loan Charge

Hywel Williams Excerpts
Thursday 18th January 2024

(5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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It is a pleasure to agree with so many right hon. and hon. Members, which I must say is a novel experience for me. Looking at the history of this scandal, it reminds me of the time when many of our constituents were claiming working tax credits. Sometimes those credits were overpaid, and they would receive letters from the Revenue, which were standard letters but had individual clauses stitched together to give the semblance of having been personalised. One such sentence is etched on my memory. It goes like this:

“Even though we told you that your assessment was correct, it was not reasonable for you to believe so.”

[Laughter.]Thank you. This, though, is an extremely serious matter. As I thought about how I would approach the debate, I thought that I would tell the story of my constituent, Rob Cowen, who was a victim of the loan charge scandal. I do, however, speak today for other colleagues in Plaid Cymru, and particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), who cannot be here, though she would wish to be.

While some people gained financially through the use of umbrella organisations and services, Rob Cowan was using the scheme on advice as a simple accounting service so that he could be paid legally and conveniently, as so many other people found. He had sought advice from accountants, who assured him that the product he was using was legal; only later did he find out that it was not.

Rob has suffered immensely since then. Back in 2011 when he was in his early 50s, he was considering winding down his business, changing his work pattern, moving from full-time to part-time work and enjoying the fruits of his work over many decades. He then started receiving communications from HMRC, informing him that he was liable to pay back thousands of pounds due to the loan charge. That forced him back into full-time work, but that aggravated a repetitive strain injury that he had developed over the course of his working life. Eventually, that led him to becoming disabled, so he could no longer work and make an income to pay back the money due under the loan charge.

At the age of 63, Rob found himself unable to work and unable to pay back the money that allegedly he owes, and he faces a very bleak future. He now has no savings and no ability to work. He cannot pay HMRC the money that it says he owes. He has suffered psychological and physical trauma from this ordeal, as have so many. To give just one example, which I am sorry to say is common, he told me recently that he was unable to switch on the heating during this very cold period. He cannot afford it, as so many people have found.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for sharing that powerful example. I have constituents in my Livingston constituency who have suffered and who have come to see me. As the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) spoke about the other scandals that we have faced and challenged in this place, I was reminded of the Primodos scandal, and the words of Baroness Cumberlege, “First do no harm”. It should be the duty of the Government of the day, and of this place, to first do no harm to our constituents. When harm is done and policies are wrong, as this one has been proven to be, surely it is the duty of Government and HMRC to take some responsibility, and not to put the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, my constituents and others through hell before they get the justice that they need. How many more folk need to die before this will be sorted out?

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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I thank the hon. Lady for that powerful point. It is an old saw, but justice delayed is justice denied, which is quite obviously the case in this matter.

My constituent also points to the stigma associated with what has happened to him, as other right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out. He feels that he is in the wrong; he is being made to feel that he did something wrong but he acted in good faith throughout, sought expert advice and followed the advice that he was given, because he had no intention of doing anything wrong. In contrast, as has been pointed out—I will finish on this point—the owners of the companies that ran these schemes have made considerable sums of money. Rob feels that he has been denied a fair hearing, while other people have got away with it.

As the hon. Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) said, HMRC is judge, jury and executioner in its own case, which is obviously wrong. People are receiving retrospective punishments even though they acted in good faith. There must be justice for Rob Cowen and the other victims of these schemes and of HMRC’s behaviour. I join the calls on the Minister to act quickly.

Public Sector Pay 2024-25

Hywel Williams Excerpts
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Beth Winter Portrait Beth Winter
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I do not think the situation is different in Wales compared with Scotland. Both devolved nations have been starved of funds from the UK Government over the past 14 years. The Barnett formula does not work and we are owed in excess of £1 billion in Wales—I am sure it is far more in Scotland. I therefore beg to differ.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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Just to answer that particular point, we are still waiting in Wales for the consequentials from the English settlements with junior doctors. Until we know how much money we are getting, it is difficult for us to decide on the rates of pay that we will award.

Beth Winter Portrait Beth Winter
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I fully agree. I will conclude because I am conscious that lots of people want to speak today.

My final point regards pay restoration. The TUC’s position is clear. As agreed by its affiliated unions, it wishes to see a commitment to funding pay increases for public sector workers that at least match inflation. More than that, it wishes to see above inflation pay rises that provide for pay restoration, and the Welsh Government have committed to that if they have the funds to do so.

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Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) made a very persuasive case, which I will add to. Public sector pay is crucial in Arfon and in Wales. According to a Bevan Foundation report on poverty in Arfon, which I commissioned and published last August, there were 11,300 public sector employees in Arfon in 2021—36.6% of all employees in the constituency. Public sector employment in the constituency is extremely important and is higher than elsewhere, and there have been many reasons for that. We have three major public health institutions—a local hospital, Bangor University and Gwynedd Council’s headquarters in Caernarfon—so that is why we have so many public sector workers. Arfon is twice as dependent on jobs in the public sector as the rest of Great Britain.

Public sector jobs have traditionally been seen as safer, better paid and pensionable. However, the median gross weekly pay of full-time workers living in Arfon is £20.10 a week less than a typical Welsh worker’s, and £58.80 a week less than the average worker’s in Great Britain. I would argue that this obviously has a bad effect on public services. There are particular issues in Wales, where, in many areas, we have a more dependent population because of age, illness, disability and the legacy of heavy industry. That is why we need proper funding to meet the needs of public services, and why the inadequacy of the Barnett formula is so acute.

To take the case of junior doctors’ pay, which I raised earlier, Plaid Cymru’s Health and Social Care spokesman, Mabon ap Gwynfor, said:

“The elephant in the room is that Wales is not fairly funded, meaning we’re unable to pay our public sector workers what they deserve.”

I have a question for the Minister, which I will repeat from earlier. Will there be a consequential effect on the settlement for Wales from the settlement with junior doctors in England, so that we have the wherewithal to pay the proper rate for the job? If there is to be a consequential, when will the Government tell us?

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Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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What I can say at the moment is that the Treasury will look at and seriously consider it. We hope to accept it in full, but I cannot make a commitment now. Obviously, I have not seen the recommendation.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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Will the Minister give way?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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I will, but I am running short on time.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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I will be very brief on a slightly tangential point. The Tories here have already spent the extra income tax that Wales could raise many, many times over—this time on junior doctors’ pay.

Cost of Living

Hywel Williams Excerpts
Tuesday 16th May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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I will start with some reflections on the remarks made by the deputy Westminster leader of the SNP, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black), in opening the debate. She was critical that there was only one Back-Bench Conservative MP speaking in the debate. I was then reminded how, in a recent Holyrood debate led by the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament on highly protected marine areas, the nationalist Benches behind the Minister were empty, despite it being a crucial issue for coastal communities up and down Scotland. When we debated the deposit return scheme, which is an absolutely dangerous scheme for businesses in Scotland, where were the nationalist MSPs that day? They did not turn up.

I have counted the number of SNP MPs in their places, and less than a quarter of the parliamentary party is here for its own debate on an issue that it says is crucial. I also noticed how the SNP’s Westminster leader, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), and his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), were here for the opening speech and then left. I am not sure whether they are out on the Terrace getting another picture to show us all how well they get on, but they did not stay in the Chamber for the debate.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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This is the UK Parliament. Will the hon. Member explain why no Tory MPs from Wales are here to speak this afternoon?

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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There are a lot of Conservative MPs from Wales, and I am sure that they are busy in other parts of the House. [Interruption.] Well, there are certainly more Tory MPs from Wales than Plaid MPs. When the SNP—[Interruption.] Yes, you are the only Plaid MP in the Chamber.

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Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan
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I know better than to disagree with my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right. We heard from the Minister when he spoke to his amendment—and perhaps the hon. Member for Moray, I am not sure—about how the Scottish Government have tax-raising powers and do not use them. Having some tax-raising powers is like having a set of spoons and being told to set the table. It is not going to work. They need the whole suite of fiscal levers to make a difference to the economy. My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) is right. We have one hand tied behind our back. We have domestic policy but we do not have the full suite of fiscal policy, and we will never dig into the root causes of the crises faced by communities and businesses in Scotland until we get independence.

The UK is a poor country. The Unionists in the House like to talk up GDP, which is an increasingly meaningless measure of wealth. It has its role, but GDP is largely irrelevant to the ordinary men and women in my constituency. The United Kingdom is so unequal that ordinary people working hard every day of every week of every year still cannot afford to feed their kids or pay their rent at the end of the month. That is not a meaningful economy working in the interests of ordinary people up and down these islands. It would be very different with a Scottish Government and an independent Scotland.

We have heard all about how this is entirely down to the illegal war in Ukraine and the covid pandemic. Interestingly, neither Labour nor the Tories want to lay any blame at the feet of the world’s worst unforced error and self-injury—Brexit. “Brexit has not done anything; it has been nothing but positive for the economy” according to those two delusional movements. In reality, compared with the pre-pandemic level, UK GDP in Q1 of 2023 was 0.5% lower. That contrasts with GDP in the eurozone being 2.5% higher than its pre-pandemic level. In the United States it is 5.3% higher and in Canada 3.5% higher. Among their chums in the G7, the United Kingdom is something of an outlier. I wonder what distinguishes the United Kingdom from those other countries: they did not take the most profoundly daft manoeuvre ever and exit the biggest trading bloc in the world.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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Does the hon. Gentleman share my surprise that the only Brexit benefit that the Government can identify in their amendment is the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act 2023? Where is the abundance that we were promised?

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan
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The hon. Gentleman is right, and I will get to that in my conclusion. It did not escape my notice that in talking up Brexit the Government came up with the most abstract and niche policy affecting almost nobody.

On future growth, the IMF forecasts that UK GDP will fall 0.3% in 2023—the lowest figure in the G7 and it is the only member expected not to see growth in 2023. Total real-terms pay fell 3% between December 2022 and February 2023 alone, largely due to inflation and low public sector pay increases. On trade, UK goods exports to the EU remain below 2019 levels, but imports of goods from the EU, despite Brexit, were 1.4% higher in 2022 than in 2019. If it is taking back control to end up with a £92 billion trade deficit with the trading bloc that those people were trying to extract themselves from, I am not certain Brexit is going as well as they would have us believe. I smell a rat.

If the macro numbers do not add up—which they do not—I only have to look to my constituency to see the real cost of the Tory Brexit, which Labour will not oppose, on my fishermen and farmers. Fishermen now have to jump through umpteen bureaucratic hoops to get the same fish, caught in the same grounds, exported to the same market in France as before, when they just had to put it on a lorry. The system is in a state of stability and is working but, as Government Members will know, increased bureaucracy is a drag on trade.

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Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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I will attempt to be brief, so that colleagues from the SNP can take part in the debate. Before I come to my own remarks, I want to note that this is a motion, albeit derived from the SNP, about the cost of the crisis, before the UK Parliament, and I think the empty Opposition Benches—with one honourable exception, the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe), who I am looking forward to listening to—will be noted in Wales and in England. Labour has no interest; it has only contempt.

The latest “Snapshot of Poverty in Wales” published by the Bevan Foundation found that more than one in eight Welsh households either sometimes, often or always do not have enough to afford the basics. The latest Rowntree Foundation figures show that 36% of children in my Arfon constituency live in poverty. That rate hardly varies across the constituencies in Wales, and even the generally better-off Vale of Glamorgan constituency has a child poverty rate of 28%.

We should be ashamed that people are being forced to make impossible choices between essentials, and that they have no option but to turn to charities and food banks for the very basics of existence. Food price inflation, much higher than the general rate, is behind much of the suffering we have seen over the past couple of years, and we know, as has already been said, it hits the poorest hardest. That is one reason why Plaid supports this motion, and in particular the call for an official investigation into “soaring supermarket prices” and suspected profiteering.

Can the Minister, in his winding-up speech, tell us what steps the UK Government are taking to ensure that, as wholesale prices fall, the savings are immediately passed on to customers? There is genuine concern that a failure to do so will mean that the current extortionate prices and, in some cases, immoral levels of profiteering will, I suspect, become entrenched in the economy.

Despite some Government help, energy bills remain sky high, in great contrast to other neighbouring countries, mainly in the European Union. Many Members will, like me, have received heartbreaking correspondence this last winter from people struggling with cold and damp houses because they could not afford to heat them. Given that energy bills are expected to increase by 17% this year alone and that households who have had to use up savings or take out debt in order to cope with high prices are now less financially resilient, I fear that this coming winter will be even more difficult.

However, there is time between now and next winter for the UK Government to put support measures in place. First, a fair tax on share buybacks, including the £3.18 billion-worth announced by Shell last month, could be used to increase support provided under the energy price guarantee; secondly, the energy bills support scheme could be redesigned to target financially vulnerable households; and, thirdly, another round of the alternative fuel payment could be guaranteed, set at a level that better reflects the increase in the cost of alternative fuels experienced by off-grid households—something that has been neglected in the past. I am concerned about the need for a fairer system of emergency help for poorer people, for families with children and for people with disabilities when the weather is particularly cold. Scotland has a better system, although it appears that this Parliament is not interested in it. Too many of my constituents in upland areas miss out by being on the wrong side of a notional weather line drawn up for bureaucratic convenience.

Looking beyond next winter, our system must be redesigned so that energy is affordable to all. One option would be to introduce a social tariff that provides a safety net for vulnerable customers. One group of people for whom such a safety net would be particularly important is people with disabilities. The high cost of specialist equipment, the higher usage of everyday essentials and energy, and the inadequate welfare system all make it harder for disabled households to meet the extra costs of their disability. Figures from Scope show that, on average over the 2022-23 period, and accounting for inflation, households with at least one disabled adult or child need an additional £1,122 a month to have the same standard of living as households without.

The UK Government reform outlined in the health and disability White Paper makes the situation worse by using the deeply flawed personal independence payment assessment process to determine eligibility for financial support for those who are not well enough to work. I call on the Government to rethink this matter, which is of particular concern in Wales, which has the highest level of poverty and proportion of disabled people of any UK nation.

Since Scotland gained certain powers over disability benefits, it has been able to chart a different course by committing to reducing onerous assessments for people with disabilities, removing the private sector from the decision-making process, and moving towards a person-centred approach that truly listens to the needs of people with disabilities. It is high time that Wales—and England for that matter—had the same powers as Scotland so that we can all begin to restore the dignity and respect that claimants with disabilities deserve.

Before I close, I will touch on support for small and medium businesses. They are at the heart of the Welsh economy, employing 62.6% of Welsh workers, so it is vital that they be supported through the crisis. Despite that, those businesses received in the Chancellor’s spring statement no additional support with their energy bills. Twenty-four per cent. of small businesses are trapped in fixed energy contracts that were agreed when prices were at their highest. The Federation of Small Businesses estimates that that issue affects up to 17,500 small businesses in Wales. Many are concerned that it will force them to downsize, restructure or even close, putting at risk the jobs and communities that they support. Will the Minister commit the UK Government to taking real action by requiring energy companies to provide opportunities for businesses to renegotiate their contracts to reflect current rates?

Finance (No. 2) Bill

Hywel Williams Excerpts
2nd reading
Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Murray Portrait James Murray
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My hon. Friend is a real champion for small businesses in his constituency and beyond. We meet small business owners all the time, and they tell us that what they want are stability, certainty and a long-term plan from the Government, but none of that is evident in the Bill.

Something else that is missing is any legislation to tackle non-dom tax status. Non-doms are getting another reprieve from the Government. Labour believes that those who make Britain their home should pay their taxes here, but while families across the UK face higher taxes year on year, the Government are helping a few at the top to avoid paying their fair share of tax when they keep their money overseas. The non-dom rules that allow this to happen cost us more than £3 billion every year, and ending that outdated, unfair loophole could fund the biggest expansion of the NHS workforce in a generation.

For most people, ending non-dom status is a no-brainer, although we know that some opinions to the contrary do exist. Last week, for instance, we learnt of a blog published by Evelyn Partners, a wealth management firm which supplies accountancy services to the Prime Minister. In that blog, the firm makes it clear that it

“would prefer not to see further tinkering with the system”,

and feels that non-doms

“will welcome some continuing stability.”

I am tempted to paraphrase Mrs Merton’s legendary quip by asking, “Prime Minister, what first attracted you to this non-dom-supporting firm of accountants?”

The Prime Minister’s accountants have not only welcomed Government inaction over non-doms; they have welcomed the changes to tax-free pension allowances in part 1 of the Bill. As the shadow Health Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) has made clear, we have long been calling for a targeted scheme to deal with the pension issue facing doctors, which is forcing some of them to retire early. We had thought that a sensible, targeted approach might even gather cross-party support. Indeed, the Health and Social Care Committee made the same call last year, when the current Chancellor was its Chair. In its report published last July, it said:

“The government must act swiftly to reform the NHS pension scheme to prevent senior staff from reducing their hours and retiring early”.

However, now that he has moved into No. 11 Downing Street, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) has failed in one of the most important responsibilities of being Chancellor, which is to spend taxpayers’ money wisely.

The Conservatives could have included in the Bill a targeted scheme to encourage doctors to work overtime and not to retire early, but instead they have introduced an expensive blanket change that will benefit all those with the biggest pension pots. This approach fails the test of providing value for money. In the middle of a cost of living crisis, a blanket giveaway for some of the most well-off is the wrong way to spend more than £1 billion of public money a year. As the British Medical Association has said, a scheme targeted at doctors could be introduced at a fraction of the cost. The policy is ostensibly about keeping people in work, yet as Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies says, it will cost in the region of £100,000 per job retained. We voted against the policy last week, and as our amendment today explains, the Government’s approach is a key reason for our declining to give this Finance Bill a Second Reading.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government’s proposal will have a differential effect geographically, when comparing economies with low wages such as my own in Wales with London and the south-east, for example, and that that is hardly conducive to levelling up?

James Murray Portrait James Murray
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment. The geographical impact of policies should always be considered, but we should also ensure that the Government consider targeting sectors. Rather than having a scheme that applies to everyone with a large pension pot, let us have a targeted scheme for NHS doctors, which is something we can all agree on.

Alongside the changes to the taxation of individuals’ pensions, this Finance Bill includes measures that will affect the taxation of businesses. Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, there is no sign of the fundamental reform of business rates once promised by the Conservatives. The Bill does, however, include changes to corporation tax and allowances. In fact, making changes to corporation tax and allowances is something the Government have become quite experienced in. Under the Conservatives, corporation tax has changed almost every year since 2010, and as the Resolution Foundation has pointed out, the introduction of the latest temporary regime for corporation tax represents the fifth major change in just two years. Businesses deserve better than this. When I meet businesses across the country, they are clear that they want stability, certainty and a long-term plan, yet after 13 years in office, this Government are incapable of providing those crucial foundations for success.

The truth is that Conservative MPs have become deeply inward-looking and riven by division, and their default when faced with difficult choices is to put party before country. No matter what they say, this means that Conservative Ministers are simply incapable of providing stability and certainty in government. We can see that reality in the policies they announce. As Paul Johnson of the IFS said in response to the latest temporary tweak to the tax regime for businesses:

“There’s no stability, no certainty, and no sense of a wider plan.”

Indeed, we can see that by looking at the Government’s decision to allow temporary full expensing for expenditure on plant and machinery. We know how important it is to get capital allowances right as the rate of corporation tax is being increased, yet, as the Office for Budget Responsibility reveals, the Government’s approach will make no difference whatever to medium-term levels of business investment. Rather than a long-term permanent change, this change is for only three years. As a result, it only brings forward investment rather than increasing its overall level.

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Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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The test of any Finance Bill should be this: will it improve living standards now and into the future? With living standards plummeting at the fastest rate since records began and incomes set to remain at pre-pandemic levels until 2028, this Bill is clearly inadequate. Indeed, set against these trends, the spring Budget was a clear missed opportunity to give people at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis some much-needed relief.

Instead, the Chancellor chose, for example, to prioritise a pension tax advantage for the few. Listening to the Chancellor, one would be forgiven for thinking that the crisis was over, but with four in 10 households in Wales not heating their homes, and typical energy bills set to be 17% higher next year, the lived experience of my constituents is very different from that of those whom the Chancellor is so keen to help: those who can afford to set aside up to £60,000 every year for their pension funds, and who are now able to do so without any limit on how big that fund can be.

Accepting the extraordinary pressures under which so many people are living as anything like normality is foolhardy in the extreme. There is an immediate need for additional targeted support, which the Government could deliver directly by, for example, extending the energy bills support scheme and guaranteeing off-grid homes and businesses in rural areas an additional round of the alternative fuels payment.

Immediate support should also be extended to struggling renters. The Government’s failure to increase local housing allowance rates since 2019 means that housing is increasingly becoming unaffordable for low-income renters in Wales, and indeed elsewhere. According to research by the Bevan Foundation, last month only 32 properties throughout Wales were available at or below local housing allowance rates. That is equivalent to just 1.2% of the properties advertised on the formal rental market. Only 32 homes at affordable rents were available across the entire country!

An overwhelming proportion of renters receiving housing allowance are having to redirect money that is required for other essentials, such as food, heating and clothing, just to pay the rent. The UK Government should increase the local housing allowance forthwith to the 30th percentile of market rents, which would lift 32,000 people in Wales out of poverty and save up to £2.1 billion net by easing the pressure on public services that has been caused by chronic poverty. However, the UK Government seem to be uninterested in taking such an obvious positive step. If that is indeed the case, they should transfer the powers and the money to the Welsh Government so that they can do so.

The Chancellor could also have used the Budget to release the £1 billion owed to Wales so far in Barnett consequentials from the £20 billion that has already been spent—I would say “squandered”—on HS2. It is wrong that HS2 is held to be an England and Wales project. Not a single inch of the track is being laid in Wales and, what is more, diverting prosperity away from Wales to areas served by HS2 will actively damage our economy. Over time, Wales should receive £5 billion in Barnett consequentials, which could be spent on improving our dire public transport infrastructure. But worse, if reports are accurate, the Treasury now intends to reclassify HS3 as an England and Wales project, even though, again, not a single inch of it comes anywhere near Wales. So the Chancellor can add a further £1 billion to the payments we are due.

Enough of that—what I at least consider to be—pie in the sky. Let us take a step back and look at the longer-term forecasts. This Finance Bill fails to address the broader questions of what we want our tax system to deliver and what constitutes a coherent delivery strategy. A ten-minute rule Bill tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) proposes establishing a tax reform commission to do just that. I think that might have been of interest to the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), who spoke earlier. My right hon. Friend’s proposal would provide an opportunity to have the required discussion, as a Parliament and as a society, about what we want our public services to deliver, how we are going to pay for it and what is the fairest way to raise the money and revenues to pay for it.

Personal taxation has been much discussed over the last week, and this has once again raised the question of why income from wealth is treated differently from income from work. If, for example, income from dividends and shares were treated in the same way as income from work, a certain Member on the Front Bench would have seen his tax bill for the last three years almost double. This is not about punishing the wealthy; it is about creating a system that raises money more fairly, to deliver our public services and reduce inequality. The wealth of the richest 1% is greater than that held by 80% of the population of the UK in total, while our public services are under severe pressure after a decade of cuts. It is clear that the tax system, as it is, is failing both to tax equitably and to tax adequately.

The spring Budget also missed the opportunity to remedy the dysfunctional Welsh fiscal settlement. A timely example this week is that Westminster has clawed back £155.5 million from the Welsh Government because of their underspending in 2021-22. That meant that they breached the Wales reserve—that is, how much funding the Welsh Government are able to carry forward from one year to the next. That reserve is currently capped at £350 million. At a time when so many are struggling and Welsh public services are so severely overstretched, that underspending is a damning indictment of the Welsh Government’s ability to plan. It is also one of the many consequences for Wales of being tied to this broken UK system.

Wales’s fiscal settlement not only allows the UK Government to claw back money; it also inhibits the Welsh Government’s ability to deliver large-scale, long-term infrastructure projects by placing strict limits on their borrowing powers. It also ensures that most Welsh taxes collected by Westminster and then sent back to Wales are based on population share rather than on actual need. Money is raised not to meet need but according to a wholly discredited formula, the Barnett formula, and this Government, like their predecessors of both main parties, are doing nothing about it. They are failing to achieve a fairer economic balance between the nations and regions of the UK and deliberately failing to level up.

I have laid out some of the much larger case as to how this Budget fails Wales and will continue to fail Wales. This Government could act differently but, after 12 years of failure to meet the requirements of my country, they clearly have little intention of doing that. So, as more and more people in Wales are realising, one way forward is for us to take responsibility for our own affairs as an independent country.

IMF Economic Outlook

Hywel Williams Excerpts
Tuesday 31st January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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I am happy to stress, for example, the hugely important Solvency II reforms that we will undertake, which will free up enormous amounts of investment in infrastructure. Of course, infrastructure is crucial to future growth. As the Minister with responsibility for alcohol duty, I am pleased to say that we will have reform in August, meaning that we could have a duty differential between pubs and supermarkets. That is only possible because of Brexit. I think the most important thing by far is that when we faced the pandemic—the greatest challenge outside war time—this country was able to move fast with an amazing vaccine programme because of its independence, which reduced deaths, freed up our economy and allowed us to reopen and get growing again.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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Today, the Bloomberg UK scorecard reports that, relative to London, life has got worse in areas that voted to leave the EU. That includes Ynys Môn, where the 2 Sisters factory has announced that it is closing in March, with 730 people losing their jobs—many of them from my Arfon constituency. There is no point in the Minister blustering with excuses about covid and Russia; that company says plainly that Brexit is partly to blame. No more excuses and apologies; what is the Minister going to do about it?

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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I am sorry to hear that. I do not know the specific circumstances. Obviously, we want to see strong investment and growth in this country, particularly in manufacturing. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, as he is aware, unemployment is about the lowest it has been for decades in this country—we are very proud of that fact. But where there are challenges, we want to look at them, and if he writes to me with the details of that case I will happily look into it.

Economic Responsibility and a Plan for Growth

Hywel Williams Excerpts
Wednesday 19th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. As I said in my opening remarks, the Government’s ideology is that the rich will get richer while the poor will suffer. That has been underlined over the past few weeks like at no other time in this place. The scales have fallen away—

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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I tried to intervene on the Minister on this broad point. Both he and his friends refer continually to growth, but I do not think I have heard any indication from him this afternoon, or elsewhere, as to how that growth will be spread beyond London and the south-east. Is that not a gaping gap in the Government’s policy? It will certainly affect the constituents of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), as it will my constituents and those in Wales, the north of England and Scotland.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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Again, the hon. Gentleman makes a fantastic point. The growth we are seeing from this Government is the growth in poverty and in inequality. That continues to rise and the Government are very good at driving it forward.

As I was saying, those off gas grid consumers are being given £100. Scotland is energy rich and a net exporter of energy. Renewable energy is six to nine times cheaper than the gas-fired power our prices are linked to. In Scotland we have the energy, but until we have the power our people will continue to be ignored over their basic needs and their potential.

After the Chancellor’s statement, the Scottish National party, through my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), tried to introduce some certainty for households terrified by the rising energy prices by tabling an amendment to the Energy Prices Bill that would have required Ministers to outline within 28 days how support after April would be provided to households. Labour failed to support that amendment. The Chancellor says that more difficult decisions will have to be made, which means cutting the funding for things that ordinary families and the most vulnerable rely on. We should note that the threat for those struggling by, many of them working people relying on universal credit, has not been lifted; there may be further reductions, on top of the fact that inflation has been three times higher than their last increase. Common decency demands that benefits must be fully uprated. Are the Government capable of that?

We should also remember that this Government still have not reversed the pernicious £20 a week cut to UC, yet the Chancellor had the cheek to say—this has been repeated today—that the Government’s priority will always be the most vulnerable. Does that include pensioners? This week, he was briefing journalists, including Robert Peston, who said this today, that the Government were abandoning the triple lock. With inflation rampant—today’s figure is 10.1%—this means further hardship for Scotland’s older people. Yet today, the Prime Minister says no. Is this another U-turn? Or is it like when she says that the energy cap will mean no family would pay more than £2,500 per year? Is it just—let me find some parliamentary language—questionable?

If the Government really mean that they care, they would reinstate the £20 a week to UC, scrap the bedroom tax, get rid of the odious rape clause and uprate benefits in line with inflation. They could choose to follow the progressive lead of the Scottish Government, who have brought in, among a wide package—[Interruption.] The Minister is laughing. The Scottish Government have brought in the Scottish child payment, which has risen now to £25 a week. That is helping to mitigate the callous cut made by his Government. They could choose to follow that progressive lead and to follow what the Scottish Government have done in doubling the December bridging payment from £130 to £260, at a time when families will need it most, in the depth of winter and at Christmas. The Government could pay for much of this by taxing the excess profits of companies that are clearly making them.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The energy price guarantee ensures that the average household pays no more than £2,500 a year. The hon. Gentleman is correct that that is higher than average bills this time last year, and that is why the comprehensive package was put in place earlier this year. It amounts to a further £37 billion, and ensures that households on the lower one third of incomes receive £1,200 per year, which pretty much fills the gap that he described. The energy price guarantee, combined with that £37 billion intervention, is the kind of thing we can do as a Union and as a United Kingdom. It is the kind of thing we can do together that would be so much harder apart, and that is one of the benefits of our precious Union. There is a lot more in the growth plan, but I will not labour the point because we are here to talk about the health and social care levy.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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Growth in Wales has for a long time—for many decades before and after devolution—been based partly on the idea of attracting high-worth individuals to invest in Wales. The mixed result of that gives me pause for thought as to that strategy. Does it do the same for the Minister?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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We will deliver growth if we encourage people across the whole income spectrum—people doing jobs on lower incomes, those on higher incomes, businesses big and small alike. We need to encourage the entire economy, which is why tax cuts in the growth plan are broadly based, like the tax cut we are debating now. We need to encourage them all, which includes companies and people who are internationally mobile. I used to be technology Minister, and most technology businesses have a choice about where they locate. They are very internationally mobile. They could go to New York, San Francisco, Singapore—they could go anywhere in the world. We need to ensure that every part of the United Kingdom is attractive to such businesses, and the growth plan intends to create those conditions that make us attractive as a nation.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. We are long-standing colleagues, and I look forward to working with him for many years to come. To be clear, the funding that was to be provided via the levy for both health and social care, which in the case of social care amounted to £5.4 billion over the three-year spending review period, is completely unaltered. There is no change to that funding at all.

My hon. Friend asked about funding for social care. The funding envelope for all public services will be set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on 31 October via his medium-term fiscal plan. We will ensure that we are responsible custodians of the public finances by sticking to the spending plan set out in spending review 2021. We will be disciplined about doing that. We will ensure that we generally exercise spending restraint, mindful of the fact that we cannot have public spending forever increasing at faster and faster rates. We will be disciplined about how we manage the public finances.

I also point to economic growth. If, or rather when, we are successful in delivering the growth plan’s mission to elevate trend growth from 1.5% to 2.5%, with an extra 1% per annum over a consistent period of time—for example, five years—by the fifth year that additional growth will deliver about £47 billion of extra tax revenue, as set out in the table on page 27 of the Blue Book that accompanied the growth plan. I hope that gives my hon. Friend a hint about our thinking, but really the medium-term financial plan on 31 October will provide the most complete answer.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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The Chief Secretary is being generous with his time. I should say that the table on page 27 shows a target, rather than anything that will stand closer examination. However, in respect of the decision to increase national insurance to pay for social policy—in England, I might add—the Welsh Government had no say whatsoever, just as they had no say in the now paused policy of scrapping the additional rate of income tax. Does the Minister not think that the Welsh Government, who are, after all, responsible for social care in Wales, warrant consultation on a fundamental matter such as this?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I do not think that the Government in Wales complained too loudly when they were provided with extra money to fund social care in Wales. On the hon. Member’s point about page 27 of the growth plan, he is right that it is a target, but it is a target accompanied by a plan to deliver it. There is a clear path to how we will achieve the increase in growth that I referred to.

Let me return to the repeal of the health and social care levy. To be clear, the Bill will repeal the legislation from last year, reversing the temporary increase in national insurance contributions from 6 November—in just a few weeks’ time. Additionally, it will ensure that no new levy comes into force in April 2023. Members will understand that it takes a little time for His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and businesses to prepare their systems for such tax changes. That is why we chose 6 November as the date of implementation, but that will ensure that the extra money gets into people’s pockets as quickly as possible.

That brings me to the rationale for why we are repealing the levy. First, it is so that people can keep more of their own money, particularly at this time when that is so critical with the cost of living. In Treasury questions earlier today, many Members on both sides of the House referred to the cost of living challenges, most of which follow from Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. By reducing this tax and urgently alleviating the tax burden on our constituents, that will immediately assist with cost of living pressures. I am not saying that it will solve them, but it will certainly assist with them.

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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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It was a little over a year ago that the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury told the House that this health and social care levy

“will enable the Government to tackle the backlog in the NHS. It will provide a new permanent way to pay for the Government’s reforms”.—[Official Report, 14 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 845.]

That was quite a spectacular U-turn on the Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto. Page 2, signed by the then Prime Minister, made a solemn pledge:

“We will not raise the rate of income tax, VAT or National Insurance.”

To be back here, just over a year later, seeing a reversal is really quite something. Describing it as a U-turn does not do it justice. An antisocial driver doing donuts in the car park of the local supermarket is the best analogy for how out of control this approach seems to be.

The UK Government published a health and social care levy policy paper when the levy was introduced, and I distinctly remember this quote:

“This levy provides a UK-wide approach which enables us to pool and share risks and resources across the UK”.

It was therefore highly enjoyable to listen to the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury claiming that, now the levy is being repealed, the reverse also happens to be true, in terms of the UK-wide approach to pooling and sharing.

I spoke in the debate when the levy was introduced, and I recall that there was a sparsity of Back Benchers prepared to provide political cover for their Government’s change of heart. Quite clearly, an awful lot has changed since then. We have a new Prime Minister, who makes much of the fact that she is prepared to be unpopular, which is probably just as well in the light of recent events. She also tells us, and the Chief Secretary repeated it today, that there is apparently a sinister grouping at work outside this place—the anti-growth coalition. I will not go through all the groups that supposedly comprise this coalition, but it seems to be anyone who has the temerity or the audacity to disagree with the Prime Minister, so it probably includes about half the Cabinet and most Conservative Back Benchers.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the Government’s assault with such frivolity. Does he know how one joins this anti-growth coalition? When does it meet? Does it provide lunch? Does one have to apply through the currently absent Minister? Is there a form on the internet, as there is for everything else?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I do not have any answers. From a Marxist perspective—a Groucho Marxist perspective—I would not want to be part of any club that would have me as a member. I am sure the T-shirts are being printed and will be available very soon.

The Government Benches were rather sparse in our previous debate on the levy. Judging by some of the contributions and the exceptionally well-targeted friendly fire, the Government clearly have some way to go to persuade their Members on not only the sincerity of their commitments on health and social care, but their broader approach to managing the economy.

Scottish National party Members had concerns about the levy at the time as a means of achieving the policy objectives outlined. In our view, it was unclear what the additional resource would be used for, other than in the broadest of terms. The near £13 billion levy seemed to us to be an arbitrary amount, unconnected to any clear plan for how the funds might be used to tackle the pressures in the NHS—far less for how that resource, and how much of it, would end up being passported through to meet the challenges in the care sector. We also remarked that there was no sign of the accompanying reforms that would be necessary to get better outcomes on integrating health and social care services in England, as has been done in Scotland and as will be built on through the establishment of a national care service by the end of the current Scottish parliamentary term. The levy was also introduced, and is now being withdrawn, without our having had any indication from the OBR—although we believe the work has been done—of the impact not just of this but all the other fiscal choices that now sit around it.

To say that the UK Government are in complete disarray in their approach not just to health and social care but to managing the economy, would be a kindness and an understatement. They are abandoning the national insurance rise in favour of increased borrowing, just as the Chancellor’s limited fiscal event has resulted in borrowing growing considerably more expensive. They are introducing tax cuts, which are intended to be funded in part by cuts to public expenditure, and those will inevitably feed through to pressures on the health and social care sectors that the levy was supposed to be bolstering. With the rampant inflation we now see in our economy, any resource that makes it through to the health and social care sectors will not travel as far as it would have done—those pounds will buy less. The huge post-pandemic health and social care problems that we face in common across these islands have also been made that much worse by the botched nature of the mini-Budget.

John Appleby, the director of research and chief economist at the health think tank the Nuffield Trust, is surely correct when he warns that the funding ball is now back in the Government’s court, saying:

“They will have to fund the commitment through some combination of borrowing and deprioritising other public spending”.

Let us be realistic about this: that is a far more likely set of outcomes than seeing the commitment being met through ambitions for growth, no matter how loudly and repeatedly they are stated.

To be clear, SNP Members never believed that a levy on national insurance was the way to achieve the objectives of meeting those challenges. It is tempting to go back to what was said on 24 March, when Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, called the Government to account in The Times newspaper, saying:

“Why promise to spend billions cutting the basic rate of income tax whilst going ahead with an increase in NI rates? That will make the tax system both less equitable and less efficient. It will increase the wedge between higher taxes on earnings and lower taxes on pensions and unearned incomes. And wouldn’t that money have been better spent sooner helping those most in need?”

That was an excellent question then and it remains so today.

Let us be clear that the funding challenge goes beyond the challenges of the economy, to meeting the parallel challenge presented by the growing and complex demands of an ageing population. In meeting that challenge, it is important that we are able to meet the demands and needs of patients, service users and staff with dignity and compassion, while making sure that the responsibility for contributing towards that financially is a burden shared fairly and equitably.

In financial terms, that is going to be met through a combination of revenue spend and capital spend. The way in which that cost is shared will come down to political choices over how much is to be borrowed and how the tax system is to be balanced over the longer term. We certainly wait with a mixture of bated breath and nervousness as to what the Chancellor will finally bring forward later this month. I make no apology for repeating this point: it must be fairer, as a general principle, to spread the burden by increasing income taxes across the board on both earned and unearned income, as well as to look again at areas such as inheritance taxes and capital gains, so that the totality of the wealth right across the nations of these islands can be taken into consideration when sharing that burden.

Instead, we seem to have a piecemeal and incoherent approach to reform from this Government, allied to an equally piecemeal and incoherent approach to taxation and the wider economy. It is often said of a person’s character that, when someone shows you who they are, you should believe them. My goodness, haven’t we in the past three weeks seen exactly what the essential character of this Government is when it comes to their priorities? We have seen that instinct revealed in the decision to unapologetically lift the cap on bankers’ bonuses. We see it in the attempts to cut taxes for the richest, to give least to those who need it most and to hack back on the public services that enable people to live the best lives they possibly can, irrespective of their personal circumstances. We see it in the resulting economic chaos and the fiction that out of that chaos growth will emerge, which somehow makes all of this additional borrowing affordable.

In some kind of conclusion, it is clear that the problems that led to this levy being identified as a solution in health and social care have not disappeared, even if the levy itself is about to. The Chief Secretary repeated the Prime Minister’s lamentable jibe about the “anti-growth coalition”. As the chaos that has emerged from the mini-Budget shows, the solutions to the myriad problems we face are not going to be found among the dangerous, disruptive ideologues who cause mayhem by supergluing themselves to the policy prescriptions of the Institute of Economic Affairs. They can be found only by building long-term value in the economy and making sure that the burden for doing so is shared equitably among all people and all businesses that can make the contribution that they need to.

Delivery of Public Services

Hywel Williams Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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That is my answer to all interventions on the issue, so let me proceed.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I remember seeing the driving down of waiting times and waiting lists in government, and never at any point did anyone say, “We can take our foot off the gas” because there might have been problems in Germany or somewhere else. We took responsibility for the system that we were running.

As I said, there have been large queues at the ports. The Government do not need to rerun the Brexit argument—Ministers should have realised that we can leave only once—but there are things that they could do. They could at least seek a veterinary agreement with the EU—even New Zealand has one—which would be a better deal for our farmers and our food industry and may cut the bureaucracy and delays at our ports.

Let us take the asylum system, which is of significant concern to our constituents. The number of cases taking more than six months to decide has been up every quarter since the Home Secretary took office, and the backlog has tripled in the last three years. That matters because delays cost money and leave everyone in limbo.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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On ports, another aspect of the problem is the decline in business through ports in Wales and western UK ports involved in trade with Ireland. In fact, trade through Holyhead is down 34% as a permanent feature. It seems to me—perhaps to the right hon. Gentleman as well—that the Government are doing absolutely nothing about that.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Well, the Government have chosen the route that we discussed in the Chamber last night. I do not want to repeat that, but other routes are available to them to reduce the bureaucracy experienced by our farmers and exporters.

The delays in asylum matter because they cost money. Seventy-five per cent of asylum claims are eventually endorsed, but, until they are decided, legitimate claimants cannot make a positive contribution to the country by taking up a job, and claimants who are denied cannot be removed from the country. It is neither in the interests of those who seek refuge nor in the national interest to have a system so beset by delays and backlogs. It is certainly not value for money for the taxpayer, either.

On passports and driving licences, people are being asked to wait up to 10 weeks for a passport—a standard that was itself breached more than 35,000 times in the first quarter of the year according to the Home Office. That is where backlogs beget backlogs. There are reports of travellers being asked to seek emergency travel documents because passports have not been issued, but now—this is the least surprising news ever—there is a queue for those documents, too.

Three quarters of a million drivers are waiting for their licences to be processed because of the backlog at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. A large proportion of those drivers have medical conditions and need specific permission to keep driving. That is where the backlog begets workforce issues, because, until those people get their new licences, they often cannot return to work. I appreciate that none of that may be as exciting as the latest wedge issue thought up in No. 10, but delivering on basic governance is the Government’s job, and it is time to do that job. The duty of service delivery does not go away. At the heart of this are two issues: getting the workforce right and making the most of new technology.

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Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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I take the view that 10 years of responsible government made sure that this Government had the financial resources available to unleash £400 billion of support for the UK economy in response to the pandemic.

On top of the issues with supply chains, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has significantly worsened the situation. I know that the House is united in the view that we should stay the course with Ukraine and stand up for freedom and democracy there in the face of this barbaric onslaught, but that comes at a cost. Domestic factors have also started to play more of a role. For example, although our very low rate of unemployment is welcome and good in its own right, that contributes to the relatively high rate of inflation.

Rising inflation poses a challenge for the public finances, as it does for family budgets. As in many other countries, high inflation is acting as a curb on growth. The good news, which I will come to, is that the Government have the tools and the determination to tackle inflation and boost growth—namely, an independent monetary policy, a responsible fiscal approach and a focus on supply-side reform.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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I notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not include Brexit in his little list. Last week, the Resolution Foundation said that by 2030, Brexit will cost the average worker more than £470 per annum in lost pay. Would he like to include that in his list?

Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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Well, there have been many projections about Brexit, many of which have proved totally wrong. I certainly do not regret my vote to leave the European Union. We managed the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe; we are able to create our new freeports; we are free of the European Court of Justice; and we are not sending huge sums to Brussels, and can instead deploy that money for the public good. Frankly, those are all reasons why this Government were returned with a thumping majority in 2019. Crucially, it is a settled question, and it would be well for this country to move beyond it. There are all sorts of debates to be had about how we can take advantage of our decision to leave the European Union; those would be a more productive use of this House’s time.

We have a plan to grow the economy sustainably, boost productivity and improve living standards for millions of households in the years to come. In the past two years, the Government have demonstrated our determination to lead this country through the worst crisis—indeed, crises—in living memory. We will do the same as we tackle the challenges of today. As I have mentioned, the Government have taken steps to address the cost of living challenges. We are putting £37 billion into helping households, and are targeting that support at those who need it most. The households most vulnerable to high inflation will receive an extra £1,200 this year, with the first payments coming next month. Everyone will benefit from our energy support package, which will provide £550 for 28 million households.

Downing Street Parties: Police Investigation

Hywel Williams Excerpts
Tuesday 25th January 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I can confirm that. The fact the Cabinet Office has passed matters to the Metropolitan police is proved by today’s news.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

Will the Minister explain to his less quick-witted colleagues that the claimed good works on covid are no excuse for breaking the law?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

No one is proved to have done what the hon. Member alleges.

Household Energy Bills: VAT

Hywel Williams Excerpts
Tuesday 11th January 2022

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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Energy prices are going to increase enormously. That is just a plain fact. The question is, of course, what we do about that and about the long-term cost of living crisis, which predates the pandemic, and particularly child poverty, which has been tragically high and indeed endemic in Wales for decades, since the deliberate destruction of our heavy industry for political reasons over 40 years ago and the neglect of manufacturing, all leading to chronic, deep poverty.

Nearly 20% of Welsh workers earn below the real living wage, earning essentially poverty wages. People are now indeed making the choice between whether to cook food or heat their homes. They are cutting back on spending for themselves and even having to cut down on spending for their children. On top of that, millions of people across Britain are already facing a rise in national insurance and are weeks away from a catastrophic rise in energy bills. We in Plaid Cymru agree with the Opposition proposal to cut VAT on energy bills, but this does not go far enough to cover the average estimated bill surge of £750, nor does it target support sufficiently at those who need it most.

The further top priority should be support for lower-income families, those unable to cut non-essential spending, all of whose spending is essential, and those who cannot draw on savings—they have no savings. We call for immediate Government action through the tax and benefits system. It is beyond belief that the UK Government have taken over £1,000 a year from the poorest through the £20 cut to universal credit. That direct attack on the poorest people in Wales and across the UK should be reversed both for those in work and those not working, for it has pushed 275,000 Welsh families even further into poverty.

The Government say that work is the answer to poverty. Forty per cent. of Welsh households claiming universal credit are already in work, and many are key workers, so the £20 uplift should be reinstated and extended to those on legacy benefits. Equally, we call for the warm home discount to be increased and the eligibility criteria extended to include all poorer working-age households. The cold weather payment should also be reformed, as per my private Member’s Bill in 2018, which was on an issue that I have campaigned on subsequently. However, in the long term we must end our dependency on fossil fuels and move to more renewables and, I should say, greater use of pumped storage, with retrofitting of our homes to make them more energy-efficient.