There have been 14 exchanges between Jack Brereton and HM Treasury
|Wed 8th July 2020||The Economy||3 interactions (492 words)|
|Mon 20th January 2020||Economy and Jobs||3 interactions (921 words)|
|Thu 24th October 2019||The Economy||3 interactions (717 words)|
|Tue 11th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (68 words)|
|Mon 19th November 2018||Finance (No. 3) Bill||32 interactions (1,857 words)|
|Mon 12th November 2018||Finance (No. 3) Bill||3 interactions (1,279 words)|
|Mon 16th July 2018||Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill||3 interactions (143 words)|
|Mon 2nd July 2018||Saddleworth Moor and Tameside: Ongoing Fire||3 interactions (40 words)|
|Tue 24th April 2018||Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords]||8 interactions (1,127 words)|
|Tue 17th April 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (49 words)|
|Mon 8th January 2018||Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill||3 interactions (636 words)|
|Mon 11th December 2017||Finance (No. 2) Bill||5 interactions (1,378 words)|
|Tue 12th September 2017||Finance Bill||5 interactions (640 words)|
|Tue 12th September 2017||Finance Bill||3 interactions (744 words)|
I rise to partake in this debate in frustration, because at the start of March I highlighted in the Chamber during the Budget debate the fact that the oil price had collapsed and that the Government needed to provide support. Obviously, we then went into lockdown and the price collapsed even further. I raised concerns in the only way possible at that time, by writing directly to Ministers on numerous occasions, and I joined my colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), for Gordon (Richard Thomson) and for Angus (Dave Doogan), to do likewise. I have raised the issue at every possible occasion in the public domain. I raised it in the Public Bill Committee during the passage of the Finance Bill and I raised it in this Chamber last week and again earlier today, yet still there is not a word from the Chancellor in respect of an oil and gas sector deal. I cannot describe how frustrating that is in a manner that would not get me into a lot of trouble with you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The reality is that the sector has put £365 billion-worth of income into the Treasury. This is not just about protecting the jobs of the individuals in the sector at this moment in time; it is about what comes next. It is about being able to reach net zero. It is about being able to create an sustainable energy future for Aberdeen and for Scotland, be that through the hydrogen backbone across Europe, through an energy transition zone, or through the Acorn project on carbon capture and underground storage. So much could be announced, but to date the Government have continued to sit silent. The consequence of that has been job loss after job loss after job loss, and it is my constituents who are having to face that harsh reality.
On top of the challenges in hospitality and tourism, and all the other challenges that everyone else has in their constituency, the challenge facing Aberdeen because of the downturn in the oil price is huge. It is time for this Government to step up to the plate. I am fed up with asking them to deliver. What I am asking them to deliver on is their own manifesto commitment, nothing more, nothing less. They need to step up to the plate and do it now. If they do not, they need only look at the polls from Scotland to see that the tide is turning. The people of Scotland’s eyes have been readily awoken to how shambolic this UK Government are, and if they continue to ignore our needs we will respond accordingly.
This pandemic is hitting Blaenau Gwent hard. Its shockwaves are shaking our south Wales valleys now. An entire shopping centre is under threat. A logistics centre that supplies the drinks industry is facing redundancies. Our small-town high streets are under big pressures. Care workers are under the cosh. These heroes have put their lives on the line to look after our loved ones, but now some of them are seeing their hours cut, and others are losing their jobs completely. The whispers and rumours of redundancies are back, and while things are so uncertain, this will keep on happening.
The valleys have seen this before. People in my constituency remember the 1980s, when pit and steel closures hugely impacted our communities. We know how important early investment is during tough times. In 2018, the Government promised to launch the shared prosperity fund, but we are still waiting for it. That pot of money could help Blaenau Gwent to rebuild following this period of uncertainty. It could help to revive our economy, which is facing the threats of these dark times. It would build vital infrastructure, giving us the good-quality roads and the rail tracks that we need. We have waited too long for this fund. The Government need to step up and give us this detail as a matter of urgency.
We also need to invest in young people. Dubbed “generation covid”, they are facing the toughest job market in decades. The kick-start scheme is to be welcomed. At first sight, it resembles Labour’s successful future jobs fund, and I am glad that it is being revived. In Ebbw Vale in my constituency, Cyber College Cymru offers young people future-proof training in this growing sector. The project links up with major employers, helping young people to gain the work experience they need to get into the jobs market. It is a shining example that should be replicated across the whole country. Young people need these opportunities straightaway. Neither they nor our economy can afford to wait. Blaenau Gwent and its young people need a helping hand now—let’s get on with it.
I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I am going to go on to that topic next. To add insult to injury, not only is there the treatment of workers employed by Amazon, but there is, to be frank, tax dodging. The Guardian reported in September 2019 that Amazon UK Services, one of Amazon’s key British divisions, paid £14 million in tax despite making £2.3 billion in sales and £75.4 million in pre-tax profits. In March 2018, the Daily Mail reported that Amazon paid only £20 million across its eight British-based companies— £4.5 million in corporation tax—despite registering £2.9 billion in UK sales. The issue was also focused upon by the Public Accounts Committee, which found:
“Amazon has a reported turnover of £207 million for 2011 for its UK company (Amazon.co.uk), on which it has shown a tax expense of only £1.8 million, however it shows a European-wide turnover of €9.1 billion for its Luxembourg based company (Amazon EU Sarl) and a tax of €8.2 million.”
I could go on, but the figures are stark and tell the story to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. It is completely unacceptable. Amazon is owned by Jeff Bezos, one of the wealthiest men in the world, and shame on him that he presides over a company that treats workers in such a way on the one hand and dodges paying the tax on the other.
What should be done about this situation? I applaud the tremendous work done by the GMB in standing up for the workers of Amazon, and there is now a global network, because the problem exists not just in Britain, but in Amazon’s companies worldwide. The Government talk about the dignity of labour and respect. The Government talk about wanting to be the champions of working people. What are the Government going to do or say about how Amazon conducts itself? There is a set of commercial relationships between various arms of Government and Amazon, so where do the Government stand? Why not call upon Amazon to do what I proposed when I went into the giant Rugeley depot? I was told, “We are very interested in that idea,” but nothing was done about it. There have been 600 ambulance calls to that and other depots. Why not agree to the proposal that there should be an independent investigation conducted jointly by the HSE and the GMB into the health and safety practices? The Government have power, including the power of advocacy, but will the Government speak out?
In conclusion, I have certainly dealt with some bad employers throughout my life, but I have also dealt with many good employers, and I celebrate how they treat their employees. This country is seeing the growth of insecure employment, under which millions of people endure a difficult life, so the Government should not only bring forward the Taylor proposals, which do not actually go far enough, but speak out. When it comes to the response to today’s debate and to what the Government have to say to Amazon, I am not holding my breath, but I hope the Government say, “Amazon, you need to up your game in terms of your working practices and agree to sit down with the GMB and sort the undoubted and deep-seated problems within the company.”
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and to be called to make my maiden speech on behalf of my constituents as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Gordon.
Before I get under way, I draw Members’ attention to the fact that I am a member of the Aberdeen city region deal joint committee, and I confirm that I have supplied this information in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests because it is relevant to some points I wish to make towards the end of my speech.
It is a particular privilege to make my first parliamentary contribution as my party’s spokesperson on business and industry. Before I come to the substance of the debate, however, I take this opportunity to acknowledge the service of my predecessor, Mr Colin Clark. I first got to know Colin when we were both councillors in Aberdeenshire. I had particular reason to get to know him because his election as a councillor for Inverurie deprived me, as the council leader, of a working majority. However, whether in our dealings on Aberdeenshire Council, in my dealings with him when he was a Member or, subsequently, in our dealings throughout the campaign, I have always found Colin to be a very courteous and generous opponent. I wish Colin, his family and the team of staff who worked alongside him all the very best for the future.
Like many colleagues, it has been a privilege for me to have served in local government, and particularly to have had responsibility, as council leader, for all the local government area of Aberdeenshire. I will resist the temptation to say that I now represent the finest part of that historic county, not least because I have no wish to be assailed quite yet by indignant parliamentary neighbours, on whichever side of the Chamber they happen to sit.
Nevertheless, Gordon is a constituency of real contrasts. Geographically, despite its northern location, it sits right on the cusp of highland and lowland Scotland. It is a mix of city and country, upland and lowland, urban and rural. Starting in the north-west, taking in the historic town of Huntly and the villages and landscapes of Strathbogie and Strathdon, it heads eastwards into the fertile agricultural lands of the Garioch and Formartine, where towns such as Insch, Inverurie, Ellon and Oldmeldrum sit close to rapidly expanding settlements like Kintore and Balmedie. Finally, it sweeps down to the banks of the River Don, where the historic papermaking industry continues to this day—in fact, it is where much of the paper we use here in the House of Commons still comes from—and then into the northern suburbs of the great city of Aberdeen, taking in Dyce, Bucksburn, Danestone and Bridge of Don itself.
Many of my constituents still find work in the traditional areas of agriculture and food production. Many, of course, work offshore either in the oil and gas sector or in the burgeoning renewables sector. In Gordon, we brew, we distil and we grow. Through the offshore energy sector and the north-east’s world-leading universities, we extract, we harness, we innovate and we power. The strength of the private sector is complemented by the role of the public sector and those who teach, who care, who make, who mend and who help others to live the best lives they possibly can, whatever their circumstances.
Gordon is a constituency that not only makes things; it makes people. It is an area where people are hard-working, fair-minded and community-spirited. It is a welcoming place that embraces those who come to make their lives there, no matter where in the world they come from and no matter what their circumstances. It is a place that earns its prosperity, even if sadly still too few have the opportunity to participate in it. In short, we are a region rich in human and natural capital, and in the end markets for what we produce, we are an area that has always looked outwards to Europe and the world, and is determined to continue doing so.
My constituency is one that emphatically did not vote to “Get Brexit Done”—quite the reverse. People there are pragmatic and well understand the benefits EU membership has brought us, as well as the pitfalls of trying to leave under a Government seemingly without a clear idea of the terms on which they would like that to happen. Although my constituents can take political uncertainty in their stride, they understand well the need to progress on the basis of a realistic consideration of the problems that might occur. Watching supporters of the Government swaggering into television interviews and arguing about who is going to have the biggest set of bongs in the negotiations to come with our European partners leaves them, as it does our European partners, pretty well cold. This House, in its deliberations to come, would do well to heed the wise words of the Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen, when he observed that
“There are two kinds of European Nations—there are small nations, and there are countries that have not yet realised that they are small nations.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a small nation. I, like my colleagues, hope to see another one emerge on to the international stage in the not-too-distant future. When you understand, as we do, that it is possible to enhance your national sovereignty by sharing it and that it is possible to share it without anyone else getting it, you see that it is little wonder that EU membership has not ever seemed to provoke the kind of existential crisis in Scotland that it has elsewhere in the UK.
This is, of course, a debate on the economy and, in drawing my remarks to a close, I wish to highlight three challenges pertinent to my constituents in particular. The first relates to the energy transition. Of course North sea oil and gas will continue to meet our energy needs and provide employment for some time to come. However, we need to be preparing to enact a just transition to the low-carbon industries of the future, harnessing fully the skills and knowledge of our present industries. The best way to start would be to ring-fence the corporation tax receipts from that industry and invest the proceeds with that objective in mind.
The second relates to diversifying the local economy. We need to be growing other areas of our economy in the north-east too, whether that is in digital, life sciences, food and drink or tourism. This is something on which there is complete consensus throughout the north-east, so it remains a disappointment to me that when it comes to the Aberdeen city region deal and the subsequent side deal, the Scottish Government are still out-funding the UK Government’s contribution by a factor of 2:1. The Scottish Government are also still doing too much of the heavy lifting on broadband, given that responsibility is still in the purview of Westminster. I believe it is time the UK Government started to take their responsibilities for that seriously, while they still have them.
The final challenge relates to alignment with the single market. We can well see the contradiction between a Prime Minister who assures our colleagues in Northern Ireland that there will be no divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and a Chancellor who says that there will be changes. There is not so much as a chlorinated chicken whiff of a trade deal coming along that will compensate for the trade deals we are about to leave behind. We must remain in alignment with the single market and not allow the Prime Minister another chance to crash out, leaving others to pick up the pieces of that failure.
If the election brings us two comforts, they are these: first, the Prime Minister is now the master of his own destiny and so is responsible for and in charge of everything that now follows, with the resulting mess being his and his alone. Secondly, the people of Scotland have chosen my party to represent them in this place to defend their interests. That is a task I look forward with relish to carrying out, along with my colleagues.
Last week, union representatives from Rolls-Royce came to see my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and me. Rolls-Royce is one of the main anchors of the UK’s aerospace sector and has operations in no less than nine EU member states. They came to tell us about their worries, the most direct and immediate being the disastrous impact that a no-deal Brexit would have on their sector. They were also clear that avoiding a no-deal Brexit was not enough, and they left us in no doubt about the importance to the long-term health of their company and their sector of preserving the frictionless trade that is key to their sector’s success and which prevents the dislocation of the integrated operations of that company and its supply chains across the EU. In short, they echoed the very issues that the aerospace, food and drink, pharmaceuticals and automotive sectors had put to the Government in a letter just the week before.
Together those sectors employ more than 1 million people in this country and contribute £98 billion to the UK economy every year. They are very concerned about the downgrade that the Prime Minister’s political declaration will mean for the economic relationship between the UK and the EU—a downgrade not only from the close alignment we already have with the EU, but even from that envisaged in the political declaration brought forward by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). That downgrade was forensically exposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) in Saturday’s debate.
I will give a few examples. The first is aerospace. Post Brexit, the UK will either be part of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency or it will not. EASA is a mechanism for aligning standards that ADS, the aerospace industry body, describes as “vital” for the sector. But we still have no clarity at all about whether the UK will remain a member.
Chemicals is not only a key industry in its own right, but an essential part of the aerospace supply chain. Sixty per cent. of UK chemical exports go to the EU and 75% of the UK’s chemical imports come from the EU. Chemicals or products containing them are bought, developed and sold backwards and forwards repeatedly between the EU and the UK. That can only happen without checks and delays and because they are governed by a common set of regulatory standards held in place by the UK’s being part of the EU’s REACH—registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—safety programme. Will we stay part of that after Brexit? We simply do not know and the political declaration leaves us none the wiser.
The automotive sector is the UK’s biggest single exporter of goods. We know that WTO tariffs, which would immediately kick in in the event of a no-deal Brexit, would be a hammer blow for the industry. However, it is not just avoiding no deal that is important; it is also about having a common rulebook of regulatory standards that remove the need for checks on goods that move over national borders.
I say to Ministers that constantly repeating the mantra that they are looking to have a “best in class”—their words—free trade agreement just will not cut it. That will not cut it, unless they provide the real and specific answers that are needed to the real and specific questions that UK industry has put to them. Unless they do that, either we will be back to the disaster that a no-deal Brexit would mean for our economy, or we will end up with something so half-baked that UK competitiveness will end up in a not very slow- motion car crash.
The theatre of calling on Her Majesty to read the Government’s manifesto; the drama of Parliament being called to sit on a Saturday, when all the Prime Minister had to do was write a letter; the cost to the taxpayer—all that is nothing to the elites running their show, but to my constituents it was pounds and pence that they desperately need. They are paying a far heavier price, however, for a decade of failure, which was emphasised again in the Humble Address.
The Humble Address exposed two things. First, the list of Bills demonstrated that Brexit will not be “done”, and that this is the start of at least a decade of Brexit talks, pushing out legislative space to deal with our national crises. Housing—not mentioned; poverty—not considered; jobs—not offered; inequality, which is stifling talent and opportunity—not even on the agenda. We should be in no doubt about the stark contrast between this Tory programme and a Government who will say anything to retain power, and a Labour programme that seeks to do everything, in a fiscally responsible way, to address people’s very real needs. Labour has a robust programme to end poverty, sort out Brexit, fix our public services, tackle climate injustice, and grow the economy through the creation of good quality jobs.
The pursuit of Brexit, deal or no deal, will make my constituents poorer. Indeed, York will be the eighth worst hit place in the country should we leave with no deal. A deal will increase inequality in one of the UK’s most inequitable cities, yet the Government’s programme does not address how my constituents will survive this economic shock. That is why we need an economic impact assessment.
Secondly, I must draw attention to the sheer number of criminal justice Bills that are proposed, as they are symbolic in exposing how a failed decade of cuts has put my community at risk. More prison places is a sign of failure; more draconian policing is a sign of being out of control. This Queen’s Speech may result in more law, but it exposes no order.
When the wrong interests shape the economic priorities society breaks down, and this Queen’s Speech was not the antidote. Labour has long understood that, and just as when Keir Hardie set out Labour’s first programme of policies, or when Clement Attlee rebuilt our nation after the war, today Labour’s programme will fix the broken economy. The values are the same, the priorities are the same: building the housing that families need, fixing the services they use, and creating the jobs on which they depend.
Let us not pretend that the economy is working for all—it is not. In York, the boom in luxury housing means that my constituents cannot afford to live in their city, and they have to pay more than 10 times their annual wage for a home. Waiting lists in the NHS mean that my primary care mental health service is not just being cut but is being scrapped, despite the fact that we have some of the highest levels of self-harm, eating disorders, suicide and deaths from substance misuse in the country. We hear that millions and billions are being spent on the NHS, but that is not saving lives in my constituency. I know the fixes that York needs to function, and Labour’s programme will address them. When the pursuit of power is the only objective, the cornerstones to rebuilding our communities get lost.
Behind the boisterous bluster, there is a chilling, calculated populist pursuit for power. We have seen it before; I know the story. I have read the history books, and it does not end well. This nation must wake up and recognise the signs; and in this place, from these Benches, Opposition Members have a duty to call them out. Populism does not work; it does not build houses, it does not put money into schools, it does not create jobs and it does not tackle inequality. Populism will not save my health service, but Labour will, and that is why I am proud to speak from these Benches.
There is considerable analysis from the Bank of England and the Government’s analysis of the long-term effect of the different options, with a significant reference paper demonstrating the different scenarios and what lies behind them. The Government are seeking to deliver on the decision of the British people in the referendum in a way that maximises the opportunities for the British economy.
This Government are determined to make the UK the best place in the world to start a business. We are keeping taxes low and helping businesses and entrepreneurs to access the support that they need. We have cut corporation tax to the lowest rate in the G20 and made changes to business rates that will be worth over £13 billion by 2023.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. While the Labour party wants to increase taxes on business, including on small businesses, we are cutting them, and the increased annual investment allowance will enable businesses such as the one in his constituency to invest in plant, machinery and new technology to drive it to future success.
That is absolutely right. I will come on to some of the really worrying figures about how, from birth, our children are being affected because of the poverty that they are experiencing.
What about disabled people? Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people because of the extra costs that they face around their disability. We have seen their social security support become absolutely emaciated. Given that we are the fifth richest country in the world, that is shocking—absolutely shocking. Four million disabled people are already living in poverty, with many now continually finding that they are becoming more and more isolated in their own homes.
Since 2015, as analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others has shown that those who are in the lowest income decile have lost proportionately more income than any other group as a consequence of personal taxation and social security changes. That is the important thing. My new clause is not just about taxation. We cannot see that in isolation from how we then ensure, as a country, that we are supporting people on low incomes—and that support is completely inadequate. What was put forward in the Budget does not go anywhere near repairing the damage that was done in the summer Budget of 2015.
Last month’s Budget produces only marginal gains to the household income of the poorest, while reducing the number of higher-rate taxpayers by 300,000. The Government’s regressive measures have done nothing to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. When cuts to household incomes are combined with the cuts to public spending and services, the impact is even more dramatic, and again with disproportionate cuts to Government funding to towns and cities across the north, as evidence has repeatedly shown.
The effects of all this on life expectancy are now being seen, with health gains made over decades now falling away. Life expectancy has been stalling since 2011, and it is now flatlining, particularly in older age groups and for older women. In the same week—the very same week—that these data came out last year, the Government actually increased the state pension age. We know that our life expectancy is flatlining. For women—think about the 1950s-born women—it is going backwards, yet we are still putting up the state pension age. What is going on?
On top of this there are regional differences in how long people will live, with these health inequalities reflecting the socioeconomic inequalities across the country. Life expectancy for men in Windsor and Maidenhead stands at 81.6 years, while in my Oldham and Saddleworth constituency it is 77. Even within these areas, there are differences in how long people will live. Again, in the Windsor and Maidenhead local authority area, the life expectancy gap is 5.8 years for men and 4.8 years for women, while in my constituency it is 11.4 years for men and 10.7 years for women. These health inequalities are reflected right across the country. The gains Labour made in reducing health inequalities are now being reversed.
Similarly, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported last month that infant mortality has started to increase for the first time in 100 years. Four in 1,000 babies will not reach their first birthday in the UK, compared with 2.8 in the EU. These are the unacceptable consequences of austerity. I welcome the Department of Health and Social Care commissioning Public Health England to investigate the causes of this declining health status, but it is very late in the day. Public health specialists—renowned epidemiologists such as Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Professor Martin McKee and many others—have been calling for this for the past 18 months. We already know from the work that they have been doing that they are pointing the finger towards austerity. It is imperative that in addition to stopping austerity, and the misery and poverty that is being wrought, we tackle the inequalities within and between regions and communities.
An analysis of the effects of the Budget’s personal taxation measures is part of this, but it should not be seen in isolation. This would be outside the scope of the Bill, but the Government should be doing an analysis of their social security and public spending cuts. Reducing the gap between the rich and the poor is not just good for the economy. As evidence from totemic reports such as “The Spirit Level” shows, life expectancy then increases, as well as educational attainment, social mobility, trust, and much more. Fairer, more equal societies benefit everyone. Inequalities are not inevitable—they are socially reproduced and they can be changed—but to tackle them in all their forms takes commitment, it takes courage, and it takes leadership.
I share my hon. Friend’s thoughts about the increase in the personal allowance. Does he agree that one of the very significant positive things in this Finance Bill is also the—I am sorry; I will let him continue.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the national living wage is not actually a wage that one can live on, and that it does not apply to those under the age of 25? In fact, the gap for those aged 16 and 17 has been going up every year.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and giving me another chance. He mentioned inflation. Does he share my view that the fact that the annual deficit has been reduced by 80% since 2010 is another very significant piece of progress with regard to inflation?
As the hon. Gentleman is talking about borrowing, does he agree that the Tory party in the last eight years has borrowed more money than all Labour Governments put together?
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree with the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the cumulative impact of personal tax and benefit reform since 2015 has been that the bottom two thirds of society is far worse off and that the only people who are better off under this Government’s policies are the top third?
Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact we should be looking at is the fact reported by the OECD that the proportion of jobs that are low paid is at the lowest level for the past two decades? We should be celebrating that.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but if he is so convinced of his policies in relation to the issues he is talking about, why will he not support the provision in section 5 of this Act of an impact assessment on child poverty and equality? What has he got to fear?
Does my hon. Friend agree that for every £1 those on low income pay in tax, £4 of public spending goes towards them, whereas for those on higher income, for every £5 they pay in tax they receive only £1 back in public spending, and that is because we are a fair society, which means that well-off people contribute to helping those on lower incomes?
On a point of order, Dame Eleanor. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) suggests that I have used statistics inappropriately. I can cite all my sources of evidence; can he?
Order. The hon. Lady knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair; it is a point of debate, and, as I have said many times in here—and so has Mr Speaker—fortunately it is not the duty of the Chair to decide between one set of statistics and another. It all depends on how one applies the statistics, and the hon. Lady is perfectly at liberty to intervene on the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), as is he to take an intervention from her, where they can continue the argument between them, but I will take no part in it.
The hon. Gentleman must not misquote. We are looking for an assessment of entrepreneurs’ relief, and if he believes that what he suggests is good value for money for taxpayers he would support a review of that relief. What is wrong with that?
Does my hon. Friend agree that when we are talking about support for businesses, through entrepreneurs’ relief and all these other measures, we are talking not just about the people who own those businesses, but about the people working in them who have a job because of these measures?
I begin by reflecting on the purpose of our society—the purpose of our communities, locally and nationally. The great Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee said:
“No social system will bring us happiness, health and prosperity unless it is inspired by something greater than materialism.”
I agree with Clement Attlee. To me and many others in this House, the aspiration is to create and be part of a community and society that cares for one another and enables everyone to succeed in life, in whatever form success takes—a society that is safe and secure from cradle to grave and that provides accessible healthcare, quality housing, outstanding education and secure employment. A Government’s ultimate goal should be the wellbeing of its citizens, and there is much evidence to suggest that higher levels of wellbeing can lead to higher levels of job performance and productivity and greater job satisfaction. That is the society I want to live in.
Unfortunately, to say that that is not a reality under the current Government is an understatement. This Finance Bill does nothing to deliver the people of this country’s wellbeing. On new clause 2, a UN report just last week told us that the Government have inflicted “great misery” on our people, with
“punitive, mean-spirited and often callous”
austerity policies, driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than by economic necessity. This is from the United Nations poverty envoy. We are told that levels of child poverty are
“not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and economic disaster”.
The Budget was an opportunity to make some attempt to right those wrongs. Did it offer full and fair funding for our teachers and education service? No. Did it offer reassurance for those suffering the consequences of the cruel and callous roll-out of universal credit? No. Did it attempt to put an end to the causes of homelessness and destitution? No. Did it commit to funding our police services to help halt the massive increase in violent crime? No. Did it commit to funding our local councils, suffering 50% cuts, which are damaging the very fabric of our society? No. Did it do anything to relieve the hardship felt by so many women across our country? No.
Some 14 million of our citizens—our people; a fifth of the population—are living in poverty. One and a half million are destitute, with no money for even basic essentials. Up to 40% of children will be living in poverty by 2022. This Finance Bill is about lip service and rhetoric—pretending to care about the poor and vulnerable, but doing nothing substantial to address the misery and suffering felt by so many in our society. There is so much poverty and inequality in our country, and our country has never been more miserable or divided—divided geographically, generationally and economically. We have poverty in our cities, towns and villages, but under this Government there is a poverty of compassion, a poverty of empathy and a poverty of insight into what real, ordinary people’s lives are like.
My mum said to me a few years before her death, having lived through the depression in the 1930s and survived the Manchester blitz in the second world war: “I’m glad I’m at the end of my life and not at the start when I look at what this Government are doing to our society. They’re punishing people for being poor”. Enough now. The people of this country have had enough. Labour will keep up the pressure and fight for those who are stuck in poor quality housing, those who are struggling to feed their families and those who are not yet old enough to understand what poverty is and how it may impact their life. They deserve better.
I would like to finish with a quotation from the philosopher Thomas Paine:
“It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.”
It is interesting that the Government are currently facing so many questions and inquiries, both within this House and beyond.
I am not sure whether that was an intervention or a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Suffice to say, once again, that I will allow hon. Members to read Hansard tomorrow morning and reach their own conclusions.
In this centenary year of the women’s vote, what is missing from the Bill and the Budget most of all is anything for women born in the 1950s. That is a disgraceful omission. I am delighted that the Work and Pensions Committee has agreed to my suggestion to hold an inquiry so that we can get to the bottom of helping women born in the 1950s to get justice, to get their pensions and to get compensation.
We were told that austerity is over. It is not. We were then told it is coming to an end. It is not. For the poorest and most vulnerable in our society who have had to pay the price of austerity, austerity must end. That is why I will not be supporting a Second Reading for the Finance Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). This Finance Bill does not address the fundamental funding problems in our communities and public services. During the Chancellor’s Budget speech, he told us that the era of austerity was nearly over. He told us about the money for the “little extras” for our schools and that all would be rosy as he increased tax thresholds. Perhaps he was too distracted thinking up bad jokes to fully appreciate the effect of his Budget and policies, which mean that for many people the era of austerity is far from over. The Budget did not provide the substantial funding our public services need to be reliable and decent, and failed to invest properly in our public services. This is quite clearly a continuation of austerity.
My borough of Enfield has seen its funding cut by £161 million since 2010, which is well over 50% of its government funding, with other cuts still to come, and it is not alone. Like Enfield, most councils have been cut to the bone. Demand-led pressures on areas such as children’s services and adult social care will mean the council having to cut already-reduced services. Enfield has been affected by damping. The Government, having worked out what it needed, decided to take money away and move it elsewhere. I ask the Minister: when can we have that money back to fund the services that Enfield needs, and which the Government agree it needs? For such councils, austerity is not over, but will carry on for years to come. Is he pleased to see councils failing—councils such as Northampton—and going bust on the Government’s watch? The Government can fix this but choose not to.
Policing remains under-resourced. Last week, a 98-year-old man was seriously assaulted in his home in my constituency and now lies seriously ill in hospital, and today I learned there had been a stabbing near Arnos Grove station. What does the Minister have to say about the increase in crime and the cuts to policing in my constituency and across the country? Is austerity over for them? Yesterday, I spoke to the two police officers and one police community support officer charged with policing one ward of 10,000 people in my constituency. Does the Chancellor think that is sufficient? I invite him to come and listen to the concerns of local residents, victims of crime and those who live in fear. Why isn’t anything being done to reverse these cuts? Is the Minister happy with the level of police funding?
Education is another area of failure for the Government. The idea that £400 million for so-called “little extras” goes anywhere near to addressing the funding crisis in schools is insulting. I am a school governor at Eversley Primary School, in my constituency, and I am missing a governors meeting tonight to take part in this debate to let the Government know how schools are suffering with their budget cuts. In my conversation with the headteacher earlier today, she told me that the school was facing a £500,000 budget deficit next year and was now relying on the donations of parents and staff to pay for resources. Eversley is an outstanding primary school and is not alone in my constituency in facing a funding crisis that is a direct result of the Government’s policies. If the Minister does not believe me, he is welcome to meet me and headteachers in my constituency to look at their budgets for next year. He suggests there is more money for schools, but does he realise there are more children in our schools than ever before?
Even for school meals, the Government have taken no account of the increase in food prices or inflation since 2010, meaning that the budget for producing free school meals for all pupils from reception to year 2 has remained the same for more than eight years at £2.30 per meal. That makes it harder to provide a nutritious meal for children in their early school years. How is that joined up with the Government’s strategy on tackling childhood obesity? If the Chancellor wants to know where to find additional funding for education, he could look at the Education and Skills Funding Agency, which last year spent £17 million re-brokering failing academies to other academy chains. Why is there no scrutiny of this shocking waste of taxpayers’ money?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) mentioned so eloquently, in an attempt to shore up and support bookmakers, the Chancellor decided to give them more time to make more profits from fixed odds betting terminals—and thus more revenue for the Treasury—thereby condemning hundreds of people to the abject misery brought on by gambling addiction, with many suffering great personal harm and some committing suicide. What a shocking state of affairs.
There was no help in the Budget either for people on universal credit. The £1.7 billion put back in by the Government is less than a third of the £7 billion taken out. That is no help to a local resident losing £58 per week as she migrates from family tax credits to universal credit. The amount she is losing is going towards funding the tax cuts in the Budget. The Minister spoke of fairness in his opening speech. Where is the fairness for her?
The Chancellor issued a caveat in his statement, saying that the Budget would be all off if there were a no-deal Brexit. What the Bill aims to do is give the Government sweeping powers to amend tax legislation in such an event. It is another attempt at a power grab, which is something that we have become used to with this Government. Once again, Parliament is being sidelined.
The Government’s economic failure will continue with this Finance Bill. The Bill and the Budget are not fair. They are failing our communities by not replacing the police officers whose numbers have been cut since 2010, by not giving local authorities the funds that they need, by not providing what is needed for our schools, and by not helping the most vulnerable in our society.
A fair taxation system is for the common good, and should underpin shared prosperity through universal services. The Bill does not offer a progressive and fair tax system, and it means more austerity for the vast majority of the people. The Minister forgets at his peril that the people who benefit from tax cuts are also the people who are asked to make donations to cover the funding cuts in their children’s schools, who experience the burglaries that police no longer attend, who have seen a deterioration in public services, and who are worse off under universal credit. Austerity is not over for them either.
The Bill is not fair. It does not help our communities, including the most vulnerable, and it is not fit for purpose.
There is one minute.
Given that there may not be a Third Reading, I will start very briefly with some thank yous. I would like to thank Scott Taylor, one of our researchers. I would also like to thank the work of the Public Bill Office, particularly that of Colin Lee and Gail Poulton, who have been absolutely excellent in their support to all of us who have been here throughout the passage of the Bill.
I want to talk about the history of the Bill and how we got to this point. We had the Committee stage earlier this year. On the Saturday morning after it finished, and almost out of the blue, the UK Government announced that they would not be entering into a customs union. They clearly did not think it through, bringing out the announcement at the most stupid time: after all the debates in Committee. It was totally ill-thought-out.
We then had the Chequers agreement on 6 July. The White Paper was published on 12 July, which Members will note was the day after the amendments were tabled to this Report stage of the Bill—we all had to table our amendments before we had actually seen the White Paper. I thank the Minister for coming to Westminster Hall to give us some level of reassurance, but pretty much all the reassurance he could give was, “Please look at the White Paper that’s coming out on Thursday.” It has, therefore, been really difficult to prepare for the Bill. It has been really difficult to write this speech, trying to game exactly what is going to happen tonight. I am still not clear.
There are too many factions in this House. We have the UK Government, the Conservative remainers, the European Research Group, the Democratic Unionist party, the Labour leavers, the Labour remainers and the Labour Front Bench. The UK Government will not support things put forward by anybody who supports remain. The Labour Front Bench will not support anything put forward by the Conservative remainers. The members of the ERG will not support anything put forward by anybody except themselves. The Democratic Unionist party will support whatever the UK Government tell it to, on the basis that it is being paid to do so. It is a complete shambles. Trying to do anything sensible in this House is incredibly difficult, especially given that we know there is a majority for a customs union among the Members of this House. Despite that, we are going to end up in a situation where members of the ERG, who believe in the polar opposite of a customs union, are having their amendments accepted. When the rest of us put forward anything vaguely sensible, our amendments are not accepted.
This is certainly not about sovereignty for the people or sovereignty for Parliament; it is about sovereignty for a very small group of elite Tories who want to have their say. The Government are letting them have their say. I could not be more angry about the fact that the ERG’s amendments are apparently going to be accepted. I do not want to direct all my ire at those on the Government Front Bench. Those on the Labour Front Bench need to be absolutely clear on their position. They need to be clear that they will support the softest possible Brexit. If they are talking about a jobs-first Brexit, they need to recognise the benefits of the customs union and the single market. They have the opportunity to do that tonight by supporting some of the amendments that have been tabled by those who support a soft Brexit.
The Scottish National party does not support fully a number of amendments that we plan to vote for tonight. Our position is that Scotland voted to remain in the EU, so we would like to remain in the EU. Scotland supports remaining in the single market and the customs union, so the SNP will support anything that keeps us in the single market and the customs union. In the absence of those options being on the table, we will do what we can to protect the economic and cultural interests of the whole United Kingdom. Even though some of the amendments are not brilliant, we will vote for anything that makes Brexit slightly softer than the Brexit that is being proposed. I needed to make it clear that just because we support an amendment here does not mean that it is a preferred option. It means that it is not quite as bad as some of the other options.
I make it clear that I will press new clause 16, in my name and the names of my colleagues, and I would also like to speak in favour of our other amendments. The SNP position is crystal clear, as I said. The UK Government position is not. I welcome some clarity that is given in the White Paper that was published after Chequers, but I have major concerns about some of it. It mentions specifically a trusted trader scheme. On the trusted trader scheme that we have—the authorised economic operator scheme—I have raised concern after concern about it, and I am not the only one; organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce have, too. If there is to be an expanded trusted trader scheme, it needs to actually work. It needs to be applicable to small businesses and businesses need to be able to access that scheme. We are now at the stage that businesses should know what those schemes are. If the Government are going to bring them forward, they need to do so as quickly as they possibly can so that businesses can be clear on what basis they will be trading in future. That is really important.
I am pleased to see that diagonal accumulation has been recognised in the Chequers agreement. I have been talking about it for some time, and I am really glad that it has been recognised and that we will have a situation where we will possibly still be able to export cars to South Korea, because that is really important for our car industry. I am pleased that the Government have now made it clear that they are pursuing that.
Protective geographical indicators are also mentioned in the Chequers White Paper. I am slightly concerned about the way the Government are going on this. It would be very good to have more information around that. A PGI scheme that applies only to the UK and does not recognise EU PGIs is a bit of a problem, so we need more clarity from the UK Government on how they intend the PGI scheme to work. I know that there is a negotiation, but if we could have their point of view first, that would be very useful.
I want to briefly mention some of the other meat in the Bill and something that the British Retail Consortium brought to us. It encapsulated some of the issues with the Bill very neatly. It said that there are not yet agreements on security, transit, haulage, VAT and people and that we need mutual recognition on veterinary, health and other checks with the EU. It seems that the Government are pursuing some of this, so that is good news. We need investment in IT systems to deliver the customs declaration system. Again, I am still not convinced that this will come through in time, so if the Minister could give reassurance that it will, I would very much appreciate it. We need co-ordination between agencies at ports and borders, as well as investment and capacity and staff at ports. The Government have not done enough on both those things. They have not put the extra resource into ports. They have not told ports how they will be administering these things in the future. If ports are going to have to massively increase their staff numbers, they need to know now how they will do that.
On queuing, a two-minute delay at Dover will create a 17-mile queue, so it is not as though Operation Stack will just happen as normal. This will not be Operation Stack. It will be an incredibly large version of it, and Operation Stack was bad enough. The BRC also mentioned AEOs, particularly in relation to small and medium-sized enterprises. All those things are still concerns about the Bill and I will raise them on Third Reading, if we have a Third Reading debate, because I do not believe that the Bill is fit for purpose as it is.
I specifically want to talk about the new clauses from the ERG. If the UK Government are bound to accept them, we have a very, very severe problem. I have major issues with new clauses 36 and 37 and amendments 72 and 73. New clause 36 relates to reciprocity. Page 13 of the Chequers agreement says:
“At the core of the UK’s proposal is the establishment by the UK and the EU of a free trade area for goods.”
It then goes on to make clear on page 17 that
“the UK is not proposing that the EU applies the UK’s tariffs and trade policy at its border for goods intended for the UK.”
This new clause directly contradicts that.
What is the point in having a White Paper released on a Thursday if the Government are going to ignore it on Monday? I do not understand how we can be in that position. How can businesses know where we are going if the Government do not even know where they are going? For the Government to be accepting amendments by a group of around 14—who knows how many of them there are?—ERG members to get a hard Brexit is absolutely ridiculous. If there is going to be a Brexit, we need a Brexit that does what the Labour party suggests it should do: protects jobs. We need the Labour party to support a Brexit that protects jobs as well, not just us.
The Bill is a mess. It does not do what it set out to do, which is replicate the union customs code, and it does not now do what the Chequers agreement said it would on Friday. We need everybody in the House, from all the various factions I mentioned earlier, to get behind proposals that protect jobs and the sovereignty of the people, not just the sovereignty of an elite few.
On funding for the emergency services, I stated earlier that the core spending power of fire services increased this year, even though, as the hon. Lady knows, the number of fire incidents has fallen by 50% over the past decade. On the management of risk going forward, I am leading an exercise and speaking to every fire authority to understand their perception of future demand and risk, to inform decisions in the next spending round.
I am delighted to show appreciation for and thank, on the Government’s behalf, all the fire services that are involved in the support operation for these major incidents, as well as to thank my hon. Friend’s local service for the work that it does back in Staffordshire.
I wish to speak to amendments (b), (c) and (d) to new clause 9, which stand in my name. As the House might know, they arise from the work that the Work and Pensions Committee did on miners’ pensions. For most people, decisions about moving pension capital are made towards the end of their lives, but miners had to decide where they should safely put their pension savings as a result of the change in the ownership of their industry.
Given the warning from the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) that we may not get on to the second set of amendments, I should mention that I have some amendments in that group to raise with the pensions Minister. Perhaps I may address two points to the Economic Secretary, but first I thank both Ministers for the way they have engaged with the Work and Pensions Committee for our report and in our meetings. We are immensely grateful to them. On some issues, I have joined my Front-Bench spokesmen because we have been pushing the same measures and interests.
I wish to raise two points that I hope the Economic Secretary will say will be added to the Bill. First, not only should cold calling become unlawful, but any information that arises from it should not be used for commercial purposes—that is, in respect of pension savings. Secondly, would it not be sensible to use the opportunity presented by this Bill to add the Financial Conduct Authority to the list of bodies in the Government’s policing arm to counter activities that unlawfully undermine people’s pension savings by trying to persuade them to move their assets in one way or another?
In the interests of getting on to the second set of amendments, I conclude my comments.
On the British Steel pension scheme, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the FCA has been very slow to react, when it was clear in certain locations that there were many problems with the way some people were advising people to get out of the scheme?
My hon. Friend is giving an important speech. Some of the evidence that we received on the Work and Pensions Committee was from Citizens Advice, which suggested that 97% of the pension scams that had taken place in one year originated from unsolicited calls. Does he think that the measures that the Government are bringing forward in the Bill will go some way to combating that?
Does my hon. Friend agree that although the pension freedoms that were introduced in 2015 were a fantastic opportunity for our constituents, they have led to an increase in rogue scammers and cold calling? That is why new clauses 9 and 4 are so important for the Bill.
I point out to the hon. Lady that real-terms spending in the Home Office is going up. We are funding the Home Office, but the important thing is what we do with that money, and that is why the Home Secretary has outlined the serious violence strategy to deal with that issue.
In this Parliament, investment, including in infrastructure, will be at its highest sustained level since the 1970s, and our cities large and small are an important part of that strategy. We recently launched the £1.7 billion Transforming Cities fund to upgrade infrastructure, in addition to £345 million of funding for local road projects in England.
I quite agree: Stoke-on-Trent is exactly the kind of city that we designed the Transforming Cities fund to benefit. From the meeting we had, I know that my hon. Friend sees opportunity in Stoke—in Stoke station, at junction 15 on the M6 and in the proposal for a ceramics park. With the dynamic Conservative leadership in Stoke at the moment, we look forward to receiving that application.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), even though large parts of his speech were based on magical thinking.
I rise to address schedules 4 and 5, which propose the introduction of a new post-Brexit trade defence regime. Trade remedies enable countries to defend themselves against underpriced and state-subsidised goods, so they play a pivotal role in the rules-based WTO system. Governments would never have agreed to the radical trade liberalisation of the past half century were they not reassured that they could act to step in and defend their industries, if necessary. Trade defence remedies have therefore played a central role in tearing down the walls that prevent free and fair trade. How ironic, then, that this Bill is the work of a Conservative Government. The party that claims to be the voice of enterprise, free trade, business and industrial strategy has produced a Bill that, if passed in its current form, would fatally undermine the British manufacturing sector.
To illustrate my point, I wish to focus on what the Bill, in its current form, would mean for the British steel industry, which is centred on the Port Talbot steelworks in my Aberavon constituency. Over a third of the EU’s 92 trade defence instruments relate to steel, and over the years those 30-odd measures have played a vital part in stemming the flow of the dumped Chinese steel that almost led to the total collapse of the British steel industry. The Chinese Communist party owns 80% of that country’s steel industry. The party subsidises the industry to the hilt and sells the steel at well below cost on the global market. It is a well-established strategy that the Chinese state pursues relentlessly and ruthlessly in its bid to extinguish all competition and establish monopoly status.
The all-party group on steel’s “Steel 2020” report, which was supported and signed by Members who now serve in government, concluded that trade defence instruments exist not to unfairly protect certain sectors of the economy, but rather
“to support the free, fair and efficient functioning of the market.”
I will certainly not stand here and claim that the EU’s trade remedies regime works perfectly; it does not. It has often been too slow and bureaucratic, and it has unfortunately been hamstrung by the lesser duty rule. The fact of the matter is that the European Commission acts on behalf of 28 member states and 500 million consumers, so when it threatens action, even behemoths such as China sit up and take notice. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that were it not for the anti-dumping measures taken by the Commission at the height of the steel crisis, our precious steel industry would probably have gone under.
I speak today not only to raise concerns about the Bill’s implications for our steel industry, but to highlight the fact that this is about the future of our entire manufacturing sector. Indeed, the chief executive officers of the British steel, paper, ceramics, minerals and chemicals associations, along with their trade union counterparts, put it very well in their letter of 5 January to the Financial Times. They said:
“Without a robust approach to trade remedies the UK government will be unable to achieve its international trade or industrial strategy ambitions. The UK’s manufacturing base and tens of thousands of jobs around the country…will be at risk if parliament gets the bill wrong.”
I say to hon. Members on both sides of the House that if they have any form of manufacturing in their constituency, the Bill really matters to them.
As an MP who represents a constituency whose local economy relies almost entirely on manufacturing, I desperately want the Government’s industrial strategy to succeed, but the fact is that it will not be worth the paper it is written on if it is not underpinned by a robust trade remedies regime. It is in that constructive spirit that I urge the Government to undertake a radical rethink of schedules 4 and 5, with particular reference to five issues. First, the Bill contains very little detail about how the post-Brexit trade remedies regime will operate in practice. Instead it enables the Secretary of State to legislate for all-important details through statutory instruments. That really matters not only because it is yet another example of Ministers attempting to sideline Parliament, which has become a recurring theme of this whole Brexit process, but because there will be deep and widespread industry uncertainty until the secondary legislation is in place. Labour Members have raised the issue of steel in this place more than 300 times since 2015, but if this Bill passes in its current form, steelworkers and their families can kiss goodbye to the idea that they will have a voice in Parliament standing up for their interests and fighting their corner. We will not be able to do so because all the key decisions will be taken behind closed doors and implemented by statutory instruments.
Secondly, it is imperative that the Bill includes a cast-iron commitment to scrapping the lesser duty rule. This Government have been the ringleader of attempts to block EU moves to reform the rule, which means that we have only been able to impose tariffs of 13% to 16%, whereas the Americans, for example, can impose import duties of over 200% on dumped Chinese steel. An unreformed lesser duty rule must not be retained in UK law. We therefore call on the Government to state precisely how they intend to calculate the margin of injury to ensure that the process is at least as robust as the reformed EU system, and to lay out all that detail in the Bill.
Thirdly, the economic and public interest tests would create an unnecessarily high barrier to introducing any form of trade defence. None of those tests is required under WTO rules, so why are the Government intent on placing multiple obstacles in the path of an industry that wishes to file a complaint?
Fourthly, we need changes to the proposed remit and composition of the Trade Remedies Authority, bringing it in line with global norms and ensuring proper representation of trade unions and industry. Fifthly, the Bill must be amended to ensure that British courts are able to correct decisions made by the Government that deny British industry WTO-complainant rights that our competitors across the world enjoy. Without those changes, the Bill will fail in its essential task of establishing a fit and proper trade defence regime.
Once we have decoupled ourselves from the EU’s trade defence regime, it is simply beyond debate that we will have less leverage. Therefore, if anything, the post-Brexit regime that we create must be far tougher and more robust than the one that we have left. That is why we simply cannot allow schedules 4 and 5 to pass unamended. Unless the Bill is amended, it will deny us even those scant protections. For that reason, I urge hon. and right hon. Members to join me in the Lobby to amend and fix this broken Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and, preceding him, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), both of whom represent industries that are also very important to my constituency—steel and ceramics. I join them in pursuing a robust trade remedies mechanism, and in agreeing particularly with my hon. Friend that there is much work still to do to make sure that we get this right. I also join my hon. Friend in being very clear that we are talking about a level playing field and not protectionism. I think that on the Labour Benches there is considerable support—I hope universal support—for genuine free trade. Protectionism is not the way forward if we want to grow economically and play our part on the global stage.
This Bill, if passed, will fundamentally change our relationships, whether for good or bad, not just with our closest trading partners but with countries across the world. The EU customs union is without question one of the key pillars supporting the largest free trading bloc in the global economy—a bloc that in 2016 accounted for 43% of our exports and 54% of our imports. Yet we are debating a Bill that, in effect, confirms the Government’s intention to take us out of the customs union—a mechanism that is, or has been, integral to delivering our current trading profile. The Government are doing this despite the fact that leaving the customs union could cost the UK an estimated £25 billion every year until at least 2030.
Leaving the union will also further complicate our key trading relationships by necessitating customs declarations for EU trade. The National Audit Office estimates that the number of declarations per year will increase from 55 million to 255 million if the UK leaves the customs union. Sometimes one has to lay down the statistics as barely as that, because this is what it all means. We have to see the global impact of the decisions that we are taking here in this Chamber.
To put into perspective what is at stake, it is worth looking in a little detail at the food and drink sector, which is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK economy. It is an industry worth more than £100 billion to the UK economy. In 2015, UK food exports to the EU were worth £11 billion, while food imports from the EU were worth £28 billion. The British Retail Consortium has established that the average tariff on food products imported from the EU could be in the order of 22%, with tariffs on Irish cheddar, for instance, being as high as 44%. I will not go into the detail of the Environment Secretary’s view on what we should do about that; one is reminded of “Wallace and Gromit” as much as anything else. The overall impact of that tariff—the Environment Secretary could not answer this point at the Select Committee—could be an increase in cheese prices of between 6% and 32% for consumers in this country. This is about workers’ rights but it is also about consumers. It is about the impact on the prices of everyday food staples, and on consumer choice.
The food and drink sector relies on the efficient, just-in-time movement of goods between EU countries in the context both of finished goods and the industry’s complex supply chain arrangements, which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) mentioned. This is not just a “nice to have” arrangement; it is an essential part of modern manufacturing processes. Just-in-time delivery not only ensures high quality, especially of perishable goods—the freshness and quality of the products on the shelf—but is very important for customer service. It is the same in the steel industry: in my constituency, just-in-time delivery of supply chain components and of products out of the plant is just as important for customer service as the quality and standards of the goods.
The next-day delivery of highly perishable produce—this is particularly pertinent to the food industry—is currently possible, yet the Bill threatens to put up barriers to this remarkable aspect of modern-day European Union trade. It is therefore imperative that the frictionless movement of goods across our borders remains in place, especially as far as the land border with Ireland is concerned. Anything else will have a seriously detrimental effect on the food and drink industry.
Equally, the lack of a commitment in the Bill to remain in the EU VAT area may mean that UK businesses face cash-flow issues, as well as customs delays, at the border. Many other Members have mentioned that today, but the point cannot be reiterated frequently enough, because it is so important. UK businesses are incredibly worried about the impact on cash flow if we get this wrong.
This is the wrong Bill. There is no doubt in my mind that this should have been a Bill that confirmed an intention to keep us in the customs union to secure our economic future. While the country may have voted to sever its political union with the European Union, it did not vote to leave the customs union. I know that view has frequently been challenged by Government Members today, but I repeat the point that membership of the customs union and the single market was not on the ballot paper, and this country certainly did not vote to be poorer.
I recall the words of the Chair of the Treasury Committee, the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), who made the point in a debate in Committee on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that one of the responsibilities of this House is to deploy its judgment and to bear in mind that future generations will judge us on the judgments that we make. Many Members of the House believe that if we get this wrong—if we get this Bill wrong—future generations will pay the price, and that is not a risk that many of us are prepared to take.
Such is the importance of the Bill that it is absolutely imperative for it to have thorough scrutiny in both Houses, but the Government seem determined to avoid proper scrutiny by using the Ways and Means procedure to determine that this is a money Bill. I have no intention, Mr Speaker, of dictating what your decision should be. All I am attempting to do is to make the argument that this Bill is so important and so far-reaching in its implications that it would be a disservice to democracy for it to be characterised as a mere money Bill. This legislation is far from that: it is global in importance and profound in its potential impact on the UK’s economic future. On those grounds, I hope you will give serious consideration to ensuring that members of the other place get their chance to scrutinise the Bill meaningfully.
I am so glad a new Member has raised one of the legacies of having an amazing feminist MP like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) in Government, fighting for gender pay gap reporting in the Equality Act 2010. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) nodding, because it is wonderful to see the feminist soul of so many Government Members coming through. I hope we can tempt them to support these measures.
The reality is that if the Government do not measure something, they cannot be held to account on what they are doing about it. That is the challenge we have. Good data keeps Governments honest and on track. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that inequality in British society is about one single issue, or indeed about one single group. It is about understanding where inequality lies and where individual and collective policies will make a difference. That is why it matters. We do not live in an equal society, so particular policy measures, such as those that this Finance Bill introduces, will have a differential impact.
We might have the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Equality Act, but equal pay is stagnating in Britain. Indeed, the figures for the past couple of years suggest that the gap is widening, not narrowing—crucially, among not just older women, but younger women. Among black and ethnic minority women, the gap is 26% for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, and 24% for black African women. Women are twice as likely as men to receive the lowest pay. Only 36% of older women receive the full state pension. Therefore any finance measure that affects the tax and benefits situation in our country will have a differential impact.
Thankfully, organisations such as the Women’s Budget Group, the Fawcett Society, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Runnymede Trust have done what this Government have failed to do and started to identify the impact, so that we can understand just what the consequences are. Their research does not make happy reading for anybody who recognises that equality is one of the biggest economic motors we could have, and one of the best ways we could address the productivity gap in our society. Their figures show that this Government’s Budget will mean that women lose 10 times as much as they gain, with black and ethnic minority women losing 12 times as much.
What does that mean in practice? Forty-three per cent. of people do not earn enough to reach the tax threshold as it is—66% of them are women, and 41% of them have dependent children. When the Government raise the higher rate threshold, 73% of the beneficiaries are men. When we change corporation tax, we have to recognise that we do it in an environment in which shareholders, business owners and managers are disproportionately men. Men benefit more.
This is not about being a victim. This is not about pleading for special treatment. This is about understanding what measures the Government are introducing and how they are making it harder for us to unlock the potential of 51% of our society. It is about having a better economy and a better society, because there is a link between diversity and prosperity.
I am tired of people who eye-roll at this, and of Government Members who see this as being like foxhunting. Frankly, even if they do not get the strong economic or social case for this, they are legally required to do it. The public sector equality duty was introduced in 2011, and it means that the Government have to not just manage these things but do something about them. That includes being able to track the difference they are making, yet this Government have still failed to do any equality impact assessment, let alone a cumulative one. The only equality impact assessments that are published are in the tax information and impact notes, which have a sentence or two buried away in line 324b saying that most of the Government’s policies have little impact at all, or denying any impact. There has certainly been no impact assessment on things like alcohol excise duty rates or fuel duty giveaways—two policies that, again, have a differential impact on men and women.
We have not even begun to talk about the public sector pay cap, and Members on both sides of the House recognise that, when two thirds of our public sector workforce are women, a failure to pay the public sector properly clearly pushes more women into poverty. We can argue about the underlying inequalities that might cause the environment in which these policies operate, and we can argue about the policies’ impact, but we cannot let this Government get away either with saying that they cannot do these calculations when others such as the IFS have, or with arguing that any inequality caused by policies in a Finance Bill will be offset by spending in another Bill. It simply does not make sense. If they cannot measure it, how can they decide it is being offset by something else? That is why it is time that we had this data. [Interruption.]
I understand that the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), would like me to sit down. I am sorry to disappoint him, but 51% of this population are being held back by a Government who do not even know what damage they are doing, and 100% of us deserve better. The way we do that is by holding this Government to account on the public sector equality duty, which says that the Government have a legal duty before making any decisions. It is not enough to consider the impact on equality afterwards. The duty is ongoing, and it is about not just a buried report once in a while, but consistent impact assessments. The duty also says it cannot be delegated—that Ministers cannot leave it to somebody else to figure out what damage they are doing. It also says that, when a problem has been identified, the Government have to act, and that a lack of resources—having just set out where the Government can get some resources, I do not accept there is a lack of them—is not an excuse.
These are examples of how this Budget and this Finance Bill are failing this country. We are in denial of some of the major challenges we face on productivity. This is about having the information so that we can understand how we can make better choices, and about how we have a Government who seem unconcerned that they are breaching the public sector equality duty. That is indicative of a wider problem facing the British public. They have a Government who, right now, have run out of ideas, who are lacking in leadership and who are struggling under the weight of Brexit, but we all know who is going to pay. It is the men and women in our communities who are struggling with debt—the men and women in households who are being disproportionately hit by Government policy.
Inequality is expensive for us all. All of Britain is held back when talent is held back because it is living in poverty. I hope I have shown that there is money to be found and data to be collected if there is a political will. The Brexit Secretary says that he does not have to be very clever to do his job, but I believe the British public do need competency. If they cannot get it from the Government Benches, they can certainly find it on the Labour Benches.
The national living wage that the hon. Gentleman speaks of is not actually set at the national living wage rate. Does he agree that there needs to be a real national living wage that is available to everybody, including those under the age of 25?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). This Finance Bill has short-changed my constituents, the city of Bradford and the people of the north in ways too numerous to list in the short time I have available today. But there was one instance where the north was not just short-changed but plain snubbed: it was starved of the vital investment needed to unleash the potential of its people and its businesses. In this Finance Bill, Ministers did nothing to redress the imbalance in favour of London in spending on transport, whereby it gets seven times more per head than the north. That is illogical, given the Government’s much publicised commitment to rebalancing this country’s two-speed economy.
Modern and efficient transport infrastructure is a catalyst for growth, and improved regional transport connectivity is the key to unlocking prosperity in my home city of Bradford. It is essential to the fostering of wider prosperity throughout west Yorkshire and the whole of the north of England. It is fundamental to addressing the regional differentials in the economy. With clause 33 and schedule 9, the Financial Secretary has found the money to cut the bank levy, but he cannot find the funds for trans-Pennine electrification to fulfil the Conservative manifesto promise made ahead of the 2015 general election.
There is an uprating coming into place to allow the floor to increase from £1 million in due course. There used not to be a lifetime allowance, but it started at £1.8 million some years ago and has come down to £1 million.
The flexibility of SIPPs and the success of auto-enrolment are essential if we are to rebalance our savings rates, which have been fairly poor by comparison with those of other G20 countries. I am looking forward to seeing how lifetime ISAs will plug any holes in the pension market. We have had a lot of change, and even though much of it has been to the good, we are in danger of losing stability. People become rather unsure about what will happen in the pension market and whether the changes will affect them. The last thing we want to do is to deter people from saving for their pensions.
On IR35, much has changed in the last year, particularly in terms of personal service companies that provide services to public sector bodies. It has long been known that personal service companies and the IR35 rules have been abused—that was recognised in the House of Lords’ report—and so I welcomed the change that came in from April this year. It is not right that personal service companies, which are, by any other measure, a disguised form of employment, are not being taxed in the right way. I fully support what is happening, but I do think that we need greater clarity over employment status.
The rather complex process of recognition of whether a person is properly self-employed or properly employed is quite confusing for a small employer. That is still somewhat vague, and there is some gold-plating in the public sector because of worry about people’s status. I regularly see people who work through a proper personal service company and who are clearly self-employed, not in an employment situation. Out of fear, the public sector is tending to move everybody who works in such a way to an IR35 status, which adds to costs in the sector. It is a very difficult balance.
Termination payments have been discussed this afternoon. My worry about them is that the £30,000 level has been in place since the early 1990s. If it were more realistically upgraded in accordance with inflation to today’s values, it would be in the region of £70,000. Other changes are likely to bring more termination payments—most likely correctly—into tax.
I turn to the dividend tax changes. Dividend tax has been subject to huge change over the last few years. Just two years ago, it was announced that the first £5,000 would be completely free of tax, after which an individual enters the regime of 7.5% while they are within the basic rate band. I am concerned that we have moved so quickly to cut the allowance from £5,000 to £2,000. In doing so, we have not provided a stable playing field for people to get used to. I can certainly understand, from the Treasury’s point of view, that this has been an area of tax loss. It has long been known that owner-managers probably give themselves the lowest level of salary, but then pay themselves through a dividend route. People recognise that the situation has perhaps been too good for too long and that things now have to change, but I am concerned that it did not take very long for the allowance to be reduced from £5,000 to £2,000.
I realise that much of the Finance Bill—the provisions amount to some 300 pages— concerns the corporation tax loss regime and the restriction of interest. I will canter through this as fast as I possibly can. Brought-forward losses may now be used very flexibly, which is very good for the smaller company. The one complexity that the Bill will bring in is that there will be two lots of losses: old losses, which have to be used in the old way; and new losses, arising after 1 April 2017, which will be used in the new way. For the smaller company, that will add a level of complexity that we perhaps do not need. I therefore seek from the Treasury Bench some change, if possible, to allow smaller companies some degree of exemption.
All in all, we are in a very good place with our tax system. There could be more simplification, and I have previously raised with Treasury Ministers my concerns about various aspects of the system. I hope that we can look again at one concern that turns up regularly in my inbox, which is the restriction on landlord’s interest. That has been ill thought out and could be looked at again.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and I often discuss enterprise investment schemes and seed EISs. The sad fact is that the number of seed EISs, which should be a very flexible way of getting small amounts of capital into small start-ups, have not really been used as widely as they should have been. From my perspective of having tried to put them in place professionally, it is very unlikely that a smaller business can afford even the modest professional fees necessary for raising such a small amount of capital. Some flexibility is needed if we are to encourage seed EISs.
We need to continue to debate tax policy. Much was said by my hon. Friend about how we have a tax system that was designed with the 19th and 20th centuries in mind—trying to tax things or recognisable services—but the new digital economy means that the playing field is rather different. We need to think rather carefully, perhaps on a cross-party basis, about how we can tax the digital economy properly. We also need to discuss what our tax policy is trying to achieve. For too long, whenever we have tried to make a small change, it has either been howled down or the media have got involved, and I am afraid that we have become somewhat fearful of change. It is now time for cross-party working on what we are trying to achieve in raising the appropriate amounts of tax in the modern age.
Much has been said about productivity, but it is very difficult to measure—I am sorry to be so technical—especially in services, which are rather more prevalent in our economy than in those of other OECD countries. I know, however, that I would rather have lower levels of productivity and higher levels of employment than the massively high youth unemployment seen in other countries in the EU, which—by whatever measure—have managed to have higher productivity among those actually in work. I put that down to the more laissez-faire system under which we operate in the UK, where the employment rules are slightly more liberal. In France and Germany, employers dare not get it wrong, because they have very little flexibility in getting it right when they need to shed staff.
I will leave my thoughts on the tax system there, and I look forward to supporting the Second Reading this evening.
As I said earlier, median household disposable income has not increased; in fact, it is lower than before the financial crash. We have had 10 years of no increases in real household disposable income. The hon. Gentleman cannot say that just because people’s tax has been reduced, their disposable income has increased. That is not how it works.
As the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about working poverty and children in working households in poverty, what does he think of the Government’s proposals for universal credit, which will cut over £1,500 a year from 2.1 million working households?
Hang on a minute. I thank the Government Whips, who have turned out in force, for their advice. I do not know what fear you have put among them, Mr Jones. However, if they were really interested in filibustering, they would have asked you speak. The fact that they did not has probably saved the House. As you well know, that is not a point of order but you have put your point on the record.
It is an honour to follow the passionate and detailed speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton).
I am not sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, if, like me, you were reminded on reading the Bill of the reason you sought elected office: the desire to provide security and opportunity for our constituents. The Government have a proud record of 3 million extra jobs, Labour’s deficit cut by two thirds, and some of the strongest growth figures in the G7. The economy is in good shape thanks to the sound and responsible policies implemented over the past seven years, and we are delivering a strong economy with strong public services.
The Bill delivers an alternative to Labour’s black hole. It is about a fair taxation system that delivers for ordinary working families, that does not place a stranglehold on individual entrepreneurialism or burden people with tax bills they cannot afford, that is fair and robust, and that tackles tax avoidance and evasion. We have a good record on taxes, too. We have reduced corporation tax from 28% to 19%, meaning that SMEs, which are so important to our economy, including Wealden’s economy, can keep more of their own money. This has generated more income for the Treasury: corporation tax receipts have increased from £37 billion to £50 billion.
One nation Conservatism is perfectly explained by the raising of the personal allowance, which has given 30 million people a tax cut of £1,000 and lifted 1.3 million out of income tax entirely. In combination with the national living wage and the freezing of fuel duty for the seventh consecutive year, this means that ordinary families are better off thanks to a Conservative Government.
By contrast, over 13 years in government, Labour failed to deliver on tax avoidance. The tax gap—the difference between the taxes owed and the taxes received—stood at 10%, and it allowed the Mayfair loophole to go unchallenged, which let hedge fund billionaires off the hook to the tune of millions of pounds. Labour was weak on tax avoidance in the Finance Bill that the House debated before the general election, demanding that the measures we are discussing today be stripped from the wash-up Bill. Labour cannot be trusted on tax avoidance. Its Members occasionally talk the talk, but they will never walk the walk.
Where Labour failed, we are delivering. The Bill contains important measures to crack down on individuals and corporations when they do not pay what they owe. Tax avoidance by larger companies and wealthy individuals not only short-changes the Treasury, but short-changes the SMEs that drive the economy, and that is a message we are sending very clearly today.
Like every other Member in the Chamber, I have many small businesses in my constituency. It is our job to stand up for those businesses in this place. They are not able to use complex tax schemes and clever accounting to shuffle their money around the world, reducing their tax bills to near zero; instead, they pay their fair share. By 2020, the contribution that SMEs make to the economy will be more than £200 billion and, importantly, they will be employing more than 15 million people.
The Bill will deliver on our promises and commitments, helping to level the playing field. It will ensure that our public finances are in order, allowing us to invest more in our public services and better preparing our economy. Above all, supporting it is the responsible thing to do, and that is why I shall support the Bill tonight.