Live Treasury Questions House of Commons

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First, we have questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mick


Hammond, and his team. Questions to Mr Chancellor of the


Exchequer. Question number one, Mr Speaker. We have regular discussions


with Cabinet colleagues as to how the Government can contribute to


greater productivity across Scotland and the UK. The Government is


currently discussing city deals for Edinburgh and Stirling and is


looking forward to receiving proposals for the Tay cities. With


the honourable gentleman agree with me that the Ayrshire growth deal


will generate investment and create the economic conditions to achieve a


step change throughout Ayrshire, an area of huge potential? Will he


commit today to actively and constructively, working with the


four Ayrshire MPs, the local authorities and the Scottish


Government, support this deal to the benefit of the whole county of


Ayrshire? Well, up to this point, growth deals have been city growth


deals and by definition focused on cities. And we haven't made a lot of


progress, as I said earlier, in terms of all the Scottish cities. Of


course, it is open to the Scottish Government to take forward projects


to enable growth in the County of Ayrshire if it wishes to do so. The


Financial Secretary to the Treasury. With your permission, Mr Speaker,


could I group this question with question 12? The Government Beckett


knows is absolutely the key role that small businesses play in the


economy. That's why for example in the Autumn Statement, we have


allocated ?400 million for the British business bank to help firms


access finance. And there are other steps we have taken, including for


example introducing the enterprise investment scheme. I think the


minister for that response. Does she agree with me that independent


retail stores such as ones in my constituency add greatly to the


character and vitality of our towns in high streets and the Government


should do what they can to support them? As a former co-chair of the


all-party retail group, I could not agree with him more. Independent


retailers and retail generally is a vital sector, and he is right that


we want to support them on our high streets. From April, 600,000 of the


smallest businesses will not have to pay business rates again. That is


occupying more than a third of all properties. This is part of the


business rates package which will kick in over the next few years. I


hope you would agree that that is a really helpful bit of support for


some key local businesses. I recently attended my local Chamber


of Commerce breakfast meeting in Seaford and met with many small


businesses who are pleased the economy is doing so well and being


so expertly led by this government. However, they do have some concerns


around the introduction of quarterly tax returns and the impact that this


will have on costs on small businesses. They have suggested


maybe a threshold be introduced for the smallest businesses - would the


minister consider this? I thank my honourable friend for that question.


I also have a good relationship with my local Chamber of Commerce. Of


course we are not introducing quarterly tax refunds, but she is


referring to the tax digital project. And we do understand that


whilst the select committee recently said that the long-term future can


and probably should be digital, we do understand that we need to look


carefully at the consultation responses we've had, and at the


concerns from small businesses. We have already exempted a number of


small businesses from the threshold, but we are looking carefully at the


consultation responses and at the select committee's report. We do not


recognise the Federation of Small Businesses' figure on the costs, and


we have not seen the assumptions which underpin it. That would be


very helpful if I am to address those concerns. Small businesses in


Doncaster are facing a very worrying skills shortage. So, will the


minister support those businesses by impressing on her colleagues in the


DfEE the need for a speedy decision on Doncaster's university technical


college and give the go-ahead for the money? Will she have a word,


please? I am of course very happy to raise the issue with the right


honourable lady mentions with colleagues. More broadly, the


Government absolutely is supportive of the skills agenda, and we have


made this a real priority. If we are going to close the productivity gap


in this country, then clearly investing in skills and high quality


apprenticeships is key to it and we are taking a lot of action in that


regard. One useful thing which the Treasury could enforce more


manufacturers in my constituency is to announce an objective to stay in


the customs union. Up to now, the Treasury has been a beacon in saying


that they want decisions based on analysis, not rhetoric and ideology.


Can she assure the House that that is still under consideration? Well,


again, these are issues we are looking at very, very carefully. The


Chancellor has had a series of round table meetings with different


sectors of industry in recent months, as have all of us as


ministers. We are looking very carefully at some of those detailed


issues. Much more will be said on this in the House I'm sure data


today. For we are quite clear that we want to understand issues faced


by businesses, so that we can move forward to make our future outside


the European Union and resolve some of those practical issues that


businesses face in a way way which helps the British economy. Access to


capital is vital for small businesses. A refusal from a big and


should not be the end of the line. Will the minister continue to


support the bank referral scheme as an alternative source of finance for


businesses? Absolutely we will. The Government's finance referral policy


helps SMEs whose finance applications have been declined by


their bank and helps them to explore alternative options. It requires the


major banks to refer them if they are rejected for finance. And there


are a range of other things that we can do to support the very good


point which my honourable friend makes. I would encourage all


members, if they have SMEs in their area, who have had finance


applications rejected, to refer them to some of these schemes, because


they are making a difference. Many of the small businesses in my area


operate in the tourism sector. Given the Chancellor's reported comments


at the weekend, will the Government now look again at the opportunities


which could be presented by the tourism industry's proposals for a


lower rate of VAT on that sector? Well, Mr Speaker, the House will be


unsurprised to learn that the Treasury is having a number of


suggestions about what might happen to VAT in some future new


arrangements, when we are not members of the EU any longer. And


I'm aware of the representations made by the tourism industry. Indeed


I meeting with the Northern Ireland select committee tomorrow, and I


know this is likely to be one of the issues on their mind. But we are


still of the EU, and all of our legal obligations etc remain whilst


we are. Thank you, Mr Speaker. As announced at the Autumn Statement,


the Government is significantly increasing investment in R, rising


to an extra ?2 billion a year by 2021. This is the largest increase


over a Parliament since 1979. It includes an industrial strategy


challenge fund to support collaborations between businesses


and science, to ensure the UK remains an attractive place for


business to invest in innovative research, and that the next


generation of discoveries are made, developed and produced in the United


Kingdom. I thank the minister for his response. One of the largest


employers in my constituency, Scientifica, is a winner of several


awards. I will be in could be proud to join Scientifica when they open


on the London Stock Exchange in March. Will he congratulate


Scientifica along with me and will he pledge to support such


businesses, which export the best of British scientific innovation and


enterprise to the rest of the world? I'm delighted to join my honourable


friend in congratulate Scientifica and I'm very happy to make that


pledge. We committed to 107 to ?5 million investment to drive UK


exports in this area. And we remain committed to making sure UK


exporters receive world-class support. -- 107 to ?5 million. On


Friday, I visited and innovative telephone technology company in


Newcastle in the emerging payments sector. They are concerned that


leaving the European single market, particularly the passport in rights,


will diminish investment in their area. What reassurance will he give


them? As the honourable member will be aware, the Prime Minister has


just begun making a speech on this matter. And my right honourable


friend, the Secretary of State for the department for exiting the


European Union, will be making a statement to the House later. The UK


is in a very strong position in terms of Finn 1ft it is a priority


that we ensure that this is a successful sector.


We led a delegation to India, with a focus on this sector, among other


things, with the aim of promoting British businesses. We will continue


ensure that the UK remains a strong base for that Fin Tech sector. Will


he join with me in welcoming the fact that Cheltenham's GCHQ cyber


accelerator is now up and running? Does he agree with me that this key


project will bring jobs and opportunities for Gloucestershire?


I welcome what my honourable friend has just said in terms of the


opportunities. He highlights what is an important sector that has


significant potential for the UK and indeed Gloucestershire. Thank you


very much, Mr Speaker. Minister, what discussions have gone on with


the Department of energy and industrial strategy in Northern


Ireland to ensure that catapulted projects, just as much as the rest


of the UK, will happen in Northern Ireland, to help our science and


business development? I think what I can say to the honourable member is


that we are determined to ensure that all of the UK is a good place


for these businesses to develop, to encourage the development of


technology and businesses that are based on that. The future of the


United Kingdom has to be as a highly skilled, technologically advanced,


outward looking country and we will engage with all the devolved


administrations to further that aim. Jonathan Reynolds. On this side of


the house, we believe encouraging investment is essential to making


our economy more productive and we recognise this will be especially


important post Brexit. But does the Treasury have a genuine indicator of


how levels of foreign direct investment have been impacted after


the referendum result, given it was recently reeled that the Department


of International trade's figures incorrectly include decisions taken


before the vote for Brexit? I think we are at an early stage in terms of


the impact on foreign direct investment. In terms of the levels


of business investment since the referendum, the numbers have


actually held up pretty strongly, although as I said, it is early days


and early data. But I have to say to the honourable gentleman, he says he


welcomes business investment in this country. I think he should be


listening to some of the things that his party leadership are saying,


which will do nothing but drive business out of the United Kingdom.


Chris Davies. Thank you Mr Speaker, question four. Chancellor of the


Exchequer. Mr Speaker, the only way to reduce debt sustainable use to


return a public finances about and our new fiscal rules commit us to


doing that as soon as possible in the next Parliament. We have already


reduced borrowing as a share of GDP by almost two thirds from the


post-war peak that we inherited in 2010. We are forecast to borrow less


than 1% of GDP by the end of this Parliament. I think the Chancellor


for his answer. The government 's debt interest currently sit at


around 5% of overall government spending, which is nearly 20% of our


overall health budget. Would my right honourable friend consider


paying down our debt more swiftly in order to relieve the strain debt


interest is putting on the public finances? Well Mr Speaker, we are


committed to reducing debt, while at the same time we prioritise


investment in high-value infrastructure which will enhance


our productivity. But of course, the only way we can pay down debt is to


generate a current surplus. That means more tax or less spending. And


I think the trajectory that I set out in the Autumn Statement is the


right trajectory for this country in the circumstances it finds itself in


at the moment and I say to my honourable friend that I intend to


stick to it, and ensure we get the public finances back into balance as


early as possible in the next Parliament. Alison McGovern. Thank


you Mr Speaker, the total of our UK Government debt owned by foreign


investors now some is more than half ?1 trillion for the first time ever.


As the value of sterling tumbles, what assessment as the Chancellor


made of the risk of the cost of servicing our debt rising


unsustainably? Mr Speaker, the way it works is that the pricing of new


government debt is determined by the auctions around new issuance.


Clearly, new issue and is is bought at current extreme traits as far as


foreign purchases of debt are concerned. -- current exchange


rates. The honourable lady raises a good point and it is important that


currency volatility rather than the actual level of the currency does


introduce an additional dimension for foreign purchasers of UK


Government debt. I have said many times that the process that we are


now embarked on, of negotiating the exit from the European Union,


creates some uncertainty. We have seen some of that uncertainty


manifesting itself in the currency markets. The sooner we can get


through that period of uncertainty, to have clarity about our future


relationship with the European Union, the better that will be for


markets, for business and for people in this country. The purpose of the


speech the Prime Minister is making right now is to start to give some


clarity. Question five, sir. Mr Speaker, we have committed to return


the public finances to balance as soon as possible in the next


Parliament and to reduce the structural deficit to below 2% of


GDP by the end of this Parliament. As I have said already, I think it


strikes the right balance between restoring the public finances to


health and giving ourselves enough flexibility to allow us to support


the economy in the short term if necessary, as we go through this


period of greater uncertainty. We have also been able to commit an


additional ?23 billion to a national productivity investment fund, to


improve our economic productivity. Does my right honourable friend


agree with me that the resilience of our economy would be best served by


what the Prime Minister has said today, that Britain will be leaving


the single market with no ifs and no buts? Well, Mr Speaker, for six


months, we have kept open as many options as possible while we review


the way forward in this negotiation with the European Union. We have


heard very clearly the views and the political red lines expressed by


other European leaders. We want to work with them and we want to


recognise and respect their political red lines. That is why the


Prime Minister is setting out right now the position that she is...


Which is that we will go forward, understanding that we cannot be


members of the single market because of the political red lines around


the four freedoms that are the European leaders have said. -- other


European leaders have said. But expressing an ambitious agenda for a


comprehensive free trader dream -- free-trade agreement with the


European Union which will allow our companies to trade in Europe and


European company to trade in Britain, minimising disruption to


existing business patterns and minimising disruption to


pan-European supply chains. Thank you, Mr Speaker. EU banks use


passport arrangements in order to operate in the UK, providing jobs


and revenue to the Exchequer. Given what the Prime Minister is saying at


this moment, those arrangements are clearly at risk. How hopeful is he


that passporting will survive exiting the European Union? Well, as


the right honourable gentleman says, EU banks use passporting to operate


in the UK and vice versa. UK banks use passporting to operate in the


European Union. I think what is important is that banks, both in the


European Union are able to continue operating in the UK, and banks in


the UK are able to continue operating in the European Union. He


will know that City UK, the Leeds city pressure group on this issue,


have taken the strategic decision last week -- lead city pressure


group on this issue, took the strategic decision last week to stop


focusing on passporting and what I would instead describe as an


enhanced equivalence regime. The important thing is not the mechanism


at the end result. That is what the Prime Minister will be setting out.


The Treasury committee has challenged whether the OBR's


sustainability reports, and the latest was published just an hour


ago, are worth the effort, given they amount to 50 year forecasting.


Their latest effort does not even try to take account of Brexit at


all. The OBR are required to do this work by statute. Doesn't the


Chancellor think it might be a good idea to revisit that commitment?


Well, Mr Speaker, my honourable friend has a point in one sense in


that economic forecasters themselves admit that even on a five-year


forecast, there will be a high degree of uncertainty. --


uncertainty about the accuracy of the forecast. So one of 50 year


forecast, there will be a very high degree of uncertainty. -- on a 50


year forecast. But we will see how the debate goes around this fiscal


sustainability report that is published today. I suspect it will


provide a very... For discussing some of the really very important


strategic issues that we face as a nation, not in the sort of white


heat of immediate political debate, but able to think much longer term


over a 50 year period about where we go in the balance between public


spending and taxation and how we support our vital public services.


Thank you, Mr Speaker, given the Chancellor's comments on the single


market, the financial services industry employs 40,000 people in


Edinburgh alone. What impact does the Chancellor think the changes


around the single market, leaving the single market will have on jobs


in Scotland? Mr Speaker, my assessment is that by setting out,


as the Prime Minister is doing right now, our agenda, and setting out


clear objectives, we are meeting the first ask of our European partners,


which is to be clear about what we want. We are recognising the


political red lines that they have set out. We are saying that we will


respect them. And I think that is the first step to being able to have


a sensible engagement with our European Union partners, to come to


an outcome which is positive for the UK and positive for the European


Union. That of course must include the freedom for financial services


firms to continue doing their business. I was going to call the


honourable gentleman... Well done, get in there, man, Jim Cunningham.


What provisions at the Chancellor of the Exchequer made after 2020 in


relation to the universities in this country? Will he match pound for


pound the lack of EU money? What we have said is that where EU funding


is awarded projects involving universities, businesses, external


research Institute, farmers, between now the point of our departure from


the European Union, provided those awards meet with our value for money


criteria and have the support of the UK or devolved administration


responsible department, that the Treasury will underwrite those


awards. We expect that in any settlement with the European Union,


the commission will go on paying those awards after we have left the


European Union. But in case they don't, we will stand behind them.


Many small businesses in Kettering are supplied by other British firms


and they sell their goods and services to British consumers. Yet


all are affected by often unnecessary EU regulation. Will the


Chancellor joint effort supposed Brexit to reduce this burden as


quickly as possible? -- join efforts post Brexit? The remedy to the


problem that the honourable gentleman sets out will of course


lie in the hands of this Parliament once we repatriate it in the great


repeal Bill. In the seven years to 2014, Scotland's trade with the EU


rose by 20%. Twice the rate of growth in trade to the rest of the


UK. And vital for a resilient economy. Today's hard Tory Brexit


puts that at risk. But is this not also a kick in the teeth to many of


those who voted Leave, believing there would be an EEA, Efta


arrangement put in place to mitigate the damage done? I reject the


gentleman's analysis. I think this is engaging constructively with the


real world, recognising the political red lines of our European


Union partners because if we don't recognise them, frankly we Anyon our


heads against a brick wall. They have to recognise our political red


lines and we have to recognise that and then we have to work together to


find a pragmatic solution that works fall of the people of the UK within


those red lines and that is what we doing. -- for all of the people. ...


So long as trade with the rest of the world on the same time frame


grew by 50%, driven by EU trade agreements. Given it takes an


average of 28 months to conclude a single agreement, how many pragmatic


decades is the Chancellor -- does the Chancellor believe it will take


to put in place the trade agreements we need to mitigate the damage of


the hard Tory Brexit? You know, Mr Speaker, I'm disappointed to hear


the honourable gentleman resorting to the sound bite. He's normally


better than that. Let me say this, the discussions I have had with


third countries that currently have free trade agreement with the


European Union suggest that there is a strong appetite for a quick and


simple agreement with the UK so that as it leaves the European Union, we


are able to immediately enter into a successor agreement with those


countries like South Korea, for example, so we can continue trading


with them on the same terms. Mr Speaker, at the weekend, the


Chancellor told the German newspaper, notice not this house, Mr


Speaker, that he prepared to turn this country into a tax haven. If


that means competing with the likes of Ireland on the 12.5% corporation


tax rate, on top of existing Tory tax cuts, it means according to the


House of Commons library, giving away over ?100 billion to


corporations over the next five years. That is the equivalent to


almost 5p on the basic of income tax. How does the Chancellor ever


propose to solve the funding crisis in the NHS and social care then,


given that this morning, the OBR thinks the public finances are on an


unsustainable path? Well, let's just take that question apart, if I may,


Mr Speaker, two points. The OBR 50 year forecast this morning sets out


a possible outcome, if the government takes no action. As I


made very clear in the Autumn Statement, we are acutely aware that


action will be required in order to return the public finances the


balance. In terms of the interview that he referred to at the weekend,


what I said very clearly, and I'm sorry if it didn't come across in


the UK reporting, but he should read the original, what I said very


clearly is that Britain wants to remain in the European mainstream


with its economic and social model, but that can only happen if we get a


sensible Brexit deal for continued access to the European market. If we


don't, the people of this country are not going to simply lie down and


accept that they will be poorer. We will do whatever it takes to


maintain our competitiveness and to protect our standard of living.


The threat is there, on the record, that this will be a tax haven,


according to what he has said today. The Prime Minister is now saying


that she is intent on drawing up the drawbridge, leaving the single


market, and possibly, possibly, the customs union. We will be cutting


ourselves off from one of the largest markets on the entire


planet, threatening jobs and finances. This is not a clean


Brexit, it is an extremely Messi Brexit, with the consequences we


have already seen in terms of the rise in the rate of inflation. And


with real living standards squeezed by this policy announcement so far,


isn't it time, and I appeal to the Chancellor, he has the opportunity


then to reconsider his cuts to in work benefits, and in the widget in


March, withdraw them in full? No, Mr Speaker, what the Prime Minister is


setting up to day use an ambitious agenda for a Britain engaged with


the world and a Britain engaged with the European Union. What she is


setting out is a broad-based offer for future collaboration in trade,


in investment, in technical and scientific collaboration and many


other areas. We want to remain engaged with the European Union, and


I am confident that the approach the Prime Minister is setting up today


will allow us successfully to negotiate a future relationship with


the European Union. We need to speed up. Short replies, please at the


Autumn Statement, the Government backed recommendations... This


includes development funding for the expressway road scheme, and ?100


million for the express line. The Government supports the delivery


models. Thank you, Mr Speaker. How does my right honourable friend


envisage this benefiting the economy in Northamptonshire? It is worth


pointing out, in the terms of reference for the national


commission's report, the Government noted that the area contained four


of the UK's fastest-growing and most productive places, including Oxford,


Milton Keynes and Northampton. Transport investment is key to


maximising the growth potential in this area. We will invest in the


east-west rail and expressway, which will connect the region better with


itself and with the rest of the country. The commission will issue


their final report later this year, including work on delivery options


for housing and transport. We will carefully consider those


recommendations. Mr Speaker, the government absolutely recognises the


significant contribution to the UK economy which is made by the


chemicals industry. And of course, the complex supply chains which


exist between the UK and the EU. We heard the Chancellor's words just


now about the importance we attach to getting the best portable market


access, and the Prime Minister is obviously talking about that this


morning. We are looking at a comprehensive range of analyses, to


inform our position as we go into those negotiations. Clarity and


certainty are one of the industry's big asks. The chemical industries


Association Brexit manifesto shows how the UK as a location for future


investment can be enhanced, whilst playing a leading part in addressing


global and invite a mental challenges. Has the minister read


the manifesto, and what is she doing to reassure the chemical industry


that it's very specific needs are at the forefront of her mind as the


Government develops its strategy? Rather than just need the manifesto,


ministers have been meeting with the chemical industry. The department


for exiting the EU met with the association on the 17th of November.


I know that all of these issues were explored in some detail. While


welcoming her typical constructive approach, does she recall the


directive which destroyed much of the pharmaceutical industry in this


country overnight, including Pfizer's in east Kent? As I recall,


the original directive did have some negative effects, but I know that it


was improved on in subsequent negotiations in terms of making


improvements to make sure it did not have the same effect. Voters partly


backed Leave on the basis of a ?350 million economic boost that our NHS


is still waiting for. Where, therefore, is the democratic mandate


for this Conservative version of hard Brexit, leaving the customs


union and the single market which the Chancellor himself has admitted


damages the economy and puts jobs in my Tooting constituency at risk?


This was with particular reference to unemployment in the chemical


industry! I'm sure she meant to add that into her question! Mr Speaker,


as colleagues across the House recognise getting the best deal


Britain means getting the best deal for all of our main sectors.


Does my honourable friend agree that when we leave the European Union,


the fact that this Parliament will be free to redraw the Reach


regulation is, which have long been identified as some of the most


burdensome EU regulations, will be of enormous benefit to small and


medium-sized businesses in the comical industry, particularly those


who only operate within the UK? Well, he makes a very fair point. I


do know that a discussion about the Reach regulations was on the agenda


when my colleague, the Parliamentary undersecretary, met the chemical


industry, and of course will form part of our discussions going


forward. US banks operating in the UK are begin late it applied the


Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority, the


men facing -- booming facing regime applies to all banks operating in


the UK. There is a threshold of ?25 billion. Does the minister agree


with me that the likely rolling back of the act in the US, combined with


the watering down of banking conduct reform, could result in either


deleted American banks with high-risk lending patterns operating


in the UK? It's worth saying that the UK and US financial sectors have


significantly increased their resilience since the crisis, and the


PRA has the powers it needs to begin late overseas firms operating in the


UK, to ensure the stability of the UK financial system. What steps is


the Government taking to ensure that banks meet the 2019 deadline for


separating retail banking from risky investment banking activity? I can


tell my honourable friend, well under way and we are keeping a close


eye on it. Mr Speaker, households' financial situations have improved.


Household debt has fallen from 160% of household income to 144%. UK


households have undertaken the second largest amount of


deleveraging in the G7. However, we should be alert to signs of a recent


reduction in the level of household savings. The savings ratio is now,


in Q3 2016, at 5.6%, down from 6.6% in Q3 2015. Notwithstanding that,


household debt IS very high, and housing costs are a bit proportion


of household expenditure. Has the Chancellor made an assessment of


what the impact would be of an interest rate increase on growth in


the industry, given that that growth history than by consumer spending?


Yes, Mr Speaker. The Bank of England makes regular assessments of the


impact of changes in interest rates. It is a central part of the


modelling work that it does. He's absolutely right that one of the


drivers of the relatively high household debt levels in this


country is our housing model being a relatively high percentage of


household... Mr Speaker, the Governor of the Bank of England


identified that we for the most serious challenges to the economy


today are the levels of household debt and of course the falling


pound. Both of these are made worse by the widespread belief in the


general public that interest rates are not going to go up. What more


can the Government do, and the Governor of the Bank of England, to


signal to the public that interest rates RISE and not fall in the near


future? That's not a matter for the Government, because as my honourable


friend knows very well, interest rates are a matter for the Monetary


Policy Committee of the Bank of England. And it is up to the


Governor and individual members of that committee to do as this e-fit.


Analysis published last week showed that unsecured household debt is at


a record high. Even the Bank of England voiced concern yesterday


that the UK was relying upon consumer spending rather than


exports and investment to boost growth reach boded poorly for the


future. Does the Chancellor acknowledge that such high levels of


household debt are indicative of the fact that the government Jose


canonic strategy simply is not working, especially for most


families, who are now struggling to get by on their income is alone? No,


Mr Speaker, I do not accept that at all. What I do accept is that the


extra Audrey performance of the UK economy over the last six months


which has defied many predictions, has been largely driven by consumer


behaviour. And as I just set out in answer to the previous question, the


savings ratio has declined. So, consumers are feeling confident,


they've been spending money rather than saving it over the last six


months. I would invite the Chancellor to meet struggling


families in my constituency, and indeed across the rest of Britain.


Even the Office for National Statistics reported on the 10th of


January that non-retired households have less money on average than


before the economic crash. Chronic low pay, lack of opportunity and


government cuts to support means they are desperately trying to find


ways to make ends meet on a monthly basis, using debt. And the


Chancellor therefore confirm what protection he will offer these


families, should inflation rise significantly as a result of the


pound's weakness since Brexit and indeed in light of the Bank of


England suggesting yesterday that interest rates could go up? Mr


Speaker, the honourable lady is right of course that the declining


value of sterling will have an impact on inflation, and we have to


take that into account as it feeds through into the economy, and the


OBR signalled in its Autumn Statement how it expects that to


occur. We will get new reports from the OBR in respect of currency


movements since the Autumn Statement at the time of the budget, on the


8th of March. And I will report to the House again then. Banks are


required to treat customers fairly and ensure that vulnerable customers


have appropriate access to banking. My right honourable friend and I met


recently to discuss this, and I'm pleased to understand that both the


FCA and the BBA have offered to meet with my honourable friend to discuss


this. I am grateful to my honourable friend, who as a carer for an adult


son, manages his finances in the hope that he will be able to live as


independent a life as possible but has real issues trying to access his


online banking. Even the increasing number of carers in the country,


does he agree with me that the banking industry should do all it


scan -- should do all it can? I know the FCA and the BBA are both looking


at ways to make it easier for trusted friends or family to be able


to manage their money safely. And I wish him luck. Mr Speaker, as my


brother's appointee, after severe head trauma, I can see many avenues


in which the time of carers is taken up with dealing with red tape. Can


the minister explain how things such as online banking can be kept safe


but made more simple for carers, with regards to multiple usernames?


I thank him for the question. I can assure him that this is something we


have discussed and it is the very issue which my honourable friend


will be discussing both with the FCA and the BBA but the Government are


keeping a close eye on it. Number 11, Mr Speaker. Progress has been


made since 2010, with housing starts near at -- now at an eight year


high. The Chancellor announced in the Autumn Statement that the


Government will invest more than ?5 billion in housing, including a new


housing infrastructure fund which will deliver up to 100,000 homes in


high demand areas. ?1.4 billion will go towards affordable homes. ?1.7


billion towards a programme of accelerated construction on public


land. I thank my right honourable friend. Does he agree with me that


supporting the off-site construction of new homes, as we've been doing in


Peterborough, is one important way to get more good-quality homes built


quickly? I do agree with my honourable friend that we should


explore the potential of modern methods of construction, including


off-site instruction. The accelerated construction programme


announced in October, which aims to speed up the building of homes on


public land, will include an element of off-site construction. The


department of amenities and local governing is considering ways of


encouraging diversification in the house-building market. We had better


get the fella in, I do not like to see him unhappy! As someone who


chairs a national charity based in Peterborough, but also the members


of Parliament for Huddersfield, can hide back the people who have been


saying that what we need is a more diverse housing market, better


provision, but also say that the future must be lower cost housing,


off-site construction, but to a highly sustainable standard?


I think we can agree on all of that. The is a consensus on this point. We


do need to build more homes. Being able to build more homes more


cheaply but of high quality and on a sustainable basis is something that


I hope the whole house can... Thank you, Mr is bigger. In my


constituency Rochester and Strood, we are facing high numbers of new


housing being proposed. Can the minister assure me this will be


matched with the increased investment in our local


infrastructure? Well, I think I withdraw my honourable's --


honourable friend's attention to the housing infrastructure fund which I


think demonstrates the determination of government to ensure that in


areas of high demand, where new housing is built, we also deliver


the infrastructure to support that housing. I think that will have a


beneficial effect in terms of getting more houses built and


ensuring that the appropriate infrastructure is there. This is


about Peterborough in England, not kill Marnoch and Loudoun or even


Scotland. I'm going to save the honourable gentleman up for a later


occasion. We look forward to that with eager anticipation. Mick


Kearney. For many in my constituency, homeownership is but a


pipe dream with more people renting privately than owning their own


homes. What steps is the minister considering to encourage private


landlords to offer at least longer term tenancies for these very


private renters in London and Hackney South? Well, we look to take


measures to support all sectors and all types of housing and she's


absolutely right to say that the Private rented housing is a really


important sector. I'm sure she would agree with this but I think we have


to be careful about some proposals that float around in terms of rent


controls in this area which would be damaging for the private rented


sector. Fiona McTaggart. Number 13. Chancellor. The government does not


comment on currency movements and we don't target and exchange rate but


in the last few minutes, I will tell the house the pound has spiked while


the Prime Minister has been speaking. The vote to leave the EU


has obviously caused some uncertainty and movements in


financial markets. More generally, the fundamentals of our economy over


the last couple of years have been strong. I think what the Chancellor


means is that he does not comment on currency movement unless he does.


Fiona McTaggart. But isn't it the case that number ten's office


briefed that the pound would fall as a result of her remarks today? And


did they do that in a cynical attempt to get the sound bite that


he has just sought to achieve? Mr Speaker, first of all, I draw a


distinction between providing a house with information and


commenting on that information. I wouldn't dream of doing the latter.


The other thing I would not dream of commenting on is any operations that


number ten might undertake that are well beyond my pay grade. James


Morris. Mr Speaker, the depreciation of the pound in the last two months


has had a significant benefit the West Midlands exporters,


particularly outside the European Union. So would the Chancellor agree


with me that whatever arrangements we come to for access to the single


market when we leave the European Union, we must not constrain West


Midlands exporters from growing their trade outside of the European


Union? On the contrary, Mr Speaker, it must support West Midlands


exporters in that endeavour. We still have a very large


current-account external deficit. We need to bring our trade into better


balance and one of our objectives in concluding the exit arrangements


from the European Union will be to support that. Question 14, Mr


Speaker. Well, Mr Speaker, the independent National Audit Office


has in fact just publics -- published its report into HMRC's


contract with Concentrix, today and HMRC managers will be attending a


Public Accounts Committee hearing on the 25th of January where the report


will be discussed? Thank you, Mr Speaker, giving the report the


Minister referred to believe this morning, and given the fact the


holder buckle has caused undue stress to thousands of people across


the country, including in my own constituency, can I ask the minister


what specific lessons have the Department and herself learned?


Well, Mr Speaker, there are a number of things, as indeed I reflected


when we had the opposition Day debate when the front bench, I


accepted their motion on this. Of course, there are a number of


lessons we have learned. That includes four ministers in the way


that we monitor the concerns that colleagues have, for example, in the


way we deal with their concerns behalf their constituents. HMRC have


confirmed they are not planning a contract of this nature for this


particular operation going forward. But they will have more to say when


they respond, both in committee and to the report. Given the National


Audit Office is exit rating -- office's exit rating report on


Concentrix's failure to achieve savings targets, performance


targets, serviceable staffing levels, sufficient levels of


training, call handling accuracy, proficient contract management,


competent decision-making while unbelievably increasing commission


by almost threefold, wouldn't the Chancellor's time be better spent on


concentrating on getting HMRC into a modicum of efficiency, rather than


popping off to Davos for a winter soldier? The first thing I want to


say Mr Speaker is that there are many tens of thousands of people


working for HMRC and it would do their morale the power of good if


people in this house could reflect on their current excellent


performance and the improvements they've made on two years ago in


terms of customer service. I want to publicly compliment them on the


improvements they have made. Mistakes were made on Concentrix and


we have accepted that and that is the reason the agreement was


terminated. We will be reflecting more on that when we respond to the


National Audit Office report. Topical questions. Topical one. Mr


Speaker, my principal responsibility remains delivering near term


measures to ensure stability and resilient as the UK exit the EU


while also addressing the UK's long-term productivity challenge. My


immediate focus is preparing the last ever spring budget for delivery


on the 8th of March. Many of my constituents are concerned about the


future of the clean investment bank, the potential of asset stripping,


the worth of the shares and the suitability of the buyers. What is


the Minister's department doing to ensure that the UK taxpayer is given


a fair deal out of the sale of the bank and that it retains its green


focus? Those are two of the criteria that we have set, that there should


be value for money for the taxpayer, and that the bank's focus for future


operations should be retained and protected. We are reviewing the sale


process as it goes forward and we will make sure that those outcomes


are protected. Thank you, Mr Speaker. The latest fiscal


sustainability report was published by the Office for Budget


Responsibility just over an hour ago. Knowing what a Crick read my


right honourable friend is, what assessment has he made of the


implications for the long-term health of the public finances? Not


only a quick reader but able to read the report while also answering


questions in the house. The OBR's report actually shows that under


certain circumstances, the UK public finances will come under increasing


pressure over the next 50 years. As I said earlier, what this does is


create a catalyst for a discussion which we have to have about how we


maintain the sustainability of our crucial public services, looking at


the demographic pressures and other pressures that they will face. I do


believe this report has served a useful purpose and I hope because


the point, 50 years outcome is sufficiently far away, we will be


able to have a mature cross-party discussion about how we address


these issues. The Autumn Statement revealed Brexit bombshell that


growth will be a massive 2.4% lower than previously predicted. What


further in fact does the Chancellor expect leaving the single market


will have on GDP growth in years to come? Well, Mr Speaker, I think the


OBR has set out its projections under different scenarios at the


Autumn Statement. It is the OBR that makes the forecast. It will of


course produce a revised set of forecasts which will be published on


the 8th of March, budget day. Derek Thomas. Businesses including


restaurants and guesthouses in my constituency curtail their business


in order to keep within their budget threshold. This obviously has a


negative impact on economic activity and jobs in West Cornwall and the


Isles of Scilly. We'll be Chancellor consider increasing the VAT


threshold as soon as the opportunity arises? Well, I thank my honourable


friend for the point and I'm happy to discuss it when we have the


meeting. It is worth putting on the record that the VAT rate is ?138


billion towards the public finances, projected for this year and it is in


fact one of the highest threshold in the EU but I'm always happy to


listen to colleagues and I know the concerns of the tourism industry in


particular are to the fore of the minds of many. Last week, the


nuclear decommissioning authority began a statutory consultation on UK


Government plans to cut final salary pensions across the nuclear state,


impacting 16,000 workers, including hundreds of my constituency. Is the


Chancellor aware that this is a trailer promises made by Margaret


Thatcher to nuclear workers when the energy industry was privatised? Of


course, the government, indeed the relevant agency recognises the


importance of the staff and employees that work in this sector.


But it is also necessary to have terms and conditions which reflect


the modern situation and what is the case that applies across the whole


economy. The Solent region has a deficit of 6% in edge EVA compared


to the rest of the south-east, and much of that is due to the lack of


investment in local transport infrastructure, for example, no


significant investment in rail for 50 years. Can the Chancellor


confirmed the new national productivity investment fund can be


used to address that deficit? Well, what I can say to my honourable


friend is that the purpose of the national productivity investment


fund is to support economic growth across all regions of the country.


Further details are specifying how and where the national productivity


investment fund will be invested will be set out by the relevant


departments and agencies in due course. Of course, the Solent won't


be forgotten and we are taking action to improve rail services with


a new franchise expected to deliver more services and quicker journey


times on South West trains. Mr Speaker, it's simply not good enough


to throw Concentrix under the bus on this one. The NAA report today found


that HMRC were at fault in the writing of the contract, in failing


to monitor it, and in intervening to make things worse after a Paul


Clough -- poor performance in summer 2015. Who will be held accountable,


HMRC for these gross failings of this contract from beginning to end?


-- accountable at HMRC. Well, Mr Speaker, the Honourable Lady and I


have debated this usual and of course they are significant


criticisms in the report and we are looking at those and we have


accepted a number of the criticisms that have been made about the


handling of this but are not -- a lot of money has been saved in the


area for that exist in the tax credit system and HMRC will be


responding in more detail at the PAC hearing next week and I will look at


the report and consider it in detail. Nicola Halifax reports that


the of first-time buyers is that it ties into 2007. -- the Halifax. It


cites government schemes as hell to bide making a major contribution.


What can the government do to back aspiration more and help people get


on the housing ladder? Be helped by schemes have helped over 220,000


households buy a home, including over 180,001st-time buyers. Add the


Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced the government would


invest an additional ?1.4 billion in affordable housing to deliver 40,000


new homes for shared ownership, rented by and affordable rent,


bringing the total funding of the affordable homes programme to ?7.1


billion. Will the Chancellor state unequivocally the government's


commitment to the 0.7% aid target in this and future spending rounds? Mr


Speaker, as the honourable gentle minnows, the 0.7% target is


enshrined in primary legislation. -- honourable gentleman knows. The


government has no intention of changing that. The government is


investing in major infrastructure projects including Heathrow Airport,


HS2 and hopefully a new A36- 46 link Rd in my constituency. What is my


right honourable friend doing to ensure we provide enough funds to


make sure the work is conducted in a timely fashion? The government is


committed to supporting the skills we need to deliver our national


infrastructure. In 2016, the transport in the structure and skill


strategy committed to creating 30 Thousand Rd and rail apprenticeships


by the end of the Parliament. The Department for industrial strategy


is investing ?40,000 in the high-speed rail college with further


funding coming from local government and industry. Heathrow Airport has


admitted to double the number of apprentices to 10,000 by the time


the new third runway is operational. Changes to the regional funds for


solar power will mean that solar rooftop installations on schools and


hospitals could be increasing in cost by 68 times in April. Does the


Government realise the hugely damaging impact this will have on


organisations which have installed those panels in good health, and


also for the solar panel industry? The installation of solar panels is


of course only one of the factors which determine the rateable value.


The transitional relief scheme will support businesses which have an


increase in business rates bills and of course businesses with solar


panels will also benefit from these ?6.7 billion package to reduce


business rates, the biggest ever. The Government will be aware that


north Wales has some of the lowest productivity rates in the UK at


around 73% of the UK average. With that in mind, what plans does it


have to work with the six north Wales councils, the Mersey--Dee


Alliance and other organisations...? I can confirm to my honourable


friend that Treasury ministers have regular discussions with ministerial


colleagues as to how to increase growth and productivity across Wales


and the United Kingdom. In 2016 the Government confirm that the door was


still open for a growth deal with north Wales and it is committed to


negotiating a City Deal for the Swansea bay region in south Wales. I


look forward to receiving proposals from partners in the north Wales


region over the coming months. Is always very well briefed these


topical questions, reading out the screed, very good! IFS... What is


the Chancellor's strategy to ensure that growth in our economy benefits


everybody? Mr Speaker, we have seen income inequality falling, but of


course, we face issues as the depreciation of sterling works its


way through to inflation in the economy. That is an issue which we


will keep very much focused on and I shall address it in more detail at


the budget. Alongside other elements driving successful PMI is recently


was seven consecutive months of export growth. Will the Chancellor


agree this is a fine way to underpin our already record rates of


employment? I would agree. The survey has shown significant


resilience in the UK economy since the referendum, and the Prime


Minister has made it very clear recently that we will make a success


of leaving the EU. Given the minister's earlier comments about


attempts to stimulate house-building, can he guarantee


that at the end of this Parliament, the supply of rented homes will be


higher than at the beginning? What I can say to the honourable... To the


honourable gentleman, is that we are likely to build more affordable


homes in the course of this Parliament than has been done since


the 1970s. Currently, 87,000 ultralow emission vehicles on our


roads. , but a Committee on Climate Change says we need to have 1.7 by


2020. What more can the Treasury do to help us reach that challenging


target? I recognise his concern. As Transport Secretary in 2010, this


was on my agenda. The roll-out of ultralow emission vehicles has been


disappointing. It has not gone as fast as I would have hoped. And it


will be one of the issues that we look at as we seek to respond to


concerns about air quality, reinforced by recent court decisions


requiring the Government to review its approach to our quality. In his


last budget, the Chancellor stuck a 7 billion investment line on the


year 2022 which is actually beyond the remit of this Parliament. Can he


explain the purpose of that? I did not hear the first part of the


question. It's customary to present forecasts for fiscal events over the


forecast period, which as we progress through the Parliament will


stretch beyond the end of the current Parliament. But the way it


has always been done and I'm afraid it would not be hopeful to give


Parliament a shorter horizon. Mr James Berry. It is a London related


question. Major infrastructure investment will form a vital part of


our economy in post-Brexit Britain. Can my right honourable friend


confirm this in regard to Crossrail 2? Mr Speaker, the Government will


of course consider all proposals for infrastructure investment on their


merits. The industrial strategy green paper, when it is published,


will set out the Government's approach to prioritising


infrastructure to support the economy. When the Chancellor


considers the effects of bringing in quarterly reporting, will he look at


the figures which show that only 25% of our smaller businesses have


maintained electronic accounting records, and just 38% lack basic


digital skills? So will you listen to the committee which described


this as a potential disaster? Mr Speaker, I Will always listen to


what the tremens of the Treasury Select Committee says. It is a very


useful support and I am considering it carefully. They acknowledged that


the future digitisation of the tax service is the direction we should


be travelling in. But of course we are looking carefully at the impact


on small businesses, many thousands of whom we have already exempted


without current announcement. I think it is Lancashire's turn, Jake


Berry! Thank you, Mr Speaker. On the subject of berries, does my right


honourable friend the Chancellor share my concern that too many jams


are becoming jam tomorrow, with household debt? What will he do to


stop irresponsible lending by credit card companies and banks to


low-income households? Well, Mr Speaker, the Government does, the


regulatory authorities do take appropriate measures to prevent


inappropriate lending and to make sure that credit products are not


mis-sold. And we will continue to do so. Member for East Lothian, always


looks so happy. We will make him happier! Thank you, it is your


presence that makes me happy! While the Chancellor has been answering


questions, the Prime Minister in her speech has said that the UK will


most likely continue to pay into EU budgets. With the Chancellor have


something to say on that? Mr Speaker, we have always said that if


as part of our future arrangements with our former European Union


partners, we continue to collaborate in certain areas, scientific and


technical, research programmes, for example, then of course we'll have


to expect to contribute. All of this is for the negotiations ahead. What


the Prime Minister has done to date is set out a 12 point plan for


Britain's future relationship with the European Union, exactly what our


partners have been demanding from us. And I hope that this will no


signal the beginning of the serious engagement on Britain's future


relationship... I heard this morning that an overseas insurance company


had chosen Zurich over London as its European base because they felt the


Swiss authorities were much quicker to engage with them than the London


authorities. With the Chancellor have a look at, ensure that we are


the most competitive financial services market in the world and


that we really take overseas investment seriously? Of course, Mr


Speaker, I thought my honourable for was going to tell me that they had


chosen an EU location over London so I am interested to hear that they


have chosen Zurich, the only possible non-EU location over


London. But of course I will look at the issue. It is our objective to


have the most attractive location for inward investment for foreign


businesses to do their business on this continent. Inflation is still


below the Monetary Policy Committee's official target. The


economy has long been a more worrying risk in terms of deflation,


rather than inflation. Though he therefore seek to deflate the


Governor of the Bank of England from any notion of raising interest rates


which would inflict damage to the economy? No, Mr Speaker, it is not a


matter for me to persuade or dissuade the Governor of the Bank of


England with respect to this. But while the inflation figures


published this morning at 1.6% are below the Bank of England's target


rate, the OBR's forecast and indeed the Bank of England's forecast for


later on this year suggest that they will meet and exceed the target rate


later in the year. Over a year ago, the Treasury promised to consult on


breathing space, which would assist and protect people from interest and


other charges while they seek help. Will the minister commit to bringing


this forward as a matter of urgency in view of the high levels of


personal debt? We are looking very closely at, we will see some


progress in the vein of future. Statement, the Secretary of State


for Health man. -- the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.


Secretary James Brokenshire. Thank you, Mr Speaker. With permission, I


should like to make a statement regarding forthcoming elections to


the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the House is aware, Martin


McGuinness resigned as


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