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New Clause 1 — Annual report by HM Treasury

National Insurance Contributions Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:21 pm on 13th January 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

'Her Majesty's Treasury shall, following Royal Assent, provide an annual report to Parliament which will set out-

(a) the total sum of business expenditure saved under the secondary contributions holiday for each of the years of the scheme's operation;

(b) by constituency-

(i) the number of businesses availing themselves of the secondary contributions holiday;

(ii) the number of employees designated qualifying employees under the scheme; and

(iii) the total expenditure saved by businesses under the scheme.'.- (Mr Hanson.)

Brought up, and read the First time .

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 5, page 2, line 20, clause 4, leave out '2013' and insert '2012'.

Amendment 6, line 20, at end insert

'The Treasury will carry out a review of the Regional Secondary Contributions Holiday before 5 December 2011 and may extend the relevant period until 5 September 2013.'.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The clue to the proposed changes before us is in the words that the Clerk read out, "not amended in the Public Bill Committee". The proposals were reflected on and discussed in Committee, and I hope that the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury has had time, with a good break behind him over Christmas, to reflect on the common sense in them.

I would find it amazing if the Minister were not able to accept new clause 1, because it simply asks for information that, if he looks carefully, he knows I could table questions-with probably more work for him and his officials-to secure in due course. It is important that he assesses the scheme to ensure that we have a national insurance holiday, which, under the current Bill, includes the whole United Kingdom minus three regions-London, the east and the south-east.

The Opposition support, welcome and recognise the Government's objectives in seeking to use the mechanism of forgoing national insurance income to encourage businesses, but it is important that the Government, the Opposition and, indeed, the House, who endorse that proposal, know its impact over the relevant period.

New clause 1 asks the House to ensure that, following Royal Assent, there is an annual report to Parliament on the outcomes of the scheme, meaning that between now and 2013 we would potentially have three annual reports with the information outlined in the new clause. Essentially, that would include the total sum of national insurance expenditure saved by businesses under the scheme by constituency, but, if the Minister wanted to reflect on the proposal and have it brought back in another place, I would be happy for the information to be listed by sub-region or by region. The information would also include the number of businesses availing themselves of the secondary contributions holidays, the number of employees in each business and the total expenditure saved by businesses under the scheme.

I tabled new clause 1 for several reasons. It is important that we know the facts. The Minister said in Committee that he expects about 400,000 businesses to take part in the scheme during its operation. That figure is a valuable indication and a good benchmark by which we can judge the success of the scheme. When the Committee sat before Christmas, we were already effectively five to six months into the operation of the scheme and about 1,100 businesses had applied for it. An annual review to Parliament would not only have provided an indication of whether Parliament should pass the Bill but would have ensured that we know exactly the take-up of the scheme. New clause 1 refers to the fact that we would also know the take-up by constituency and by businesses.

That is important for two reasons. We need to know the trajectory of the take-up. Is the figure of 1,100 to date what was expected? What will the trajectory be for those businesses in 2011 and 2012? If we have our first annual report in, let us say, December 2011-when the scheme will have been operating for 18 months-what will the take-up of the scheme be? Is the trajectory for the remaining two years likely to mean we get to the 400,000 figure that the Minister has mentioned? An annual report would provide transparency and openness, to which the Government are committed, on those issues and those take-ups. There would be nothing in the report that I could not ask the Minister in a parliamentary question in December this year, next year or the year after. It would simply be good business for the Government to supply that information as a whole.

It is important to consider the number of businesses in each constituency, and we will return to the exclusion of London, the south-east and the east region when we discuss other amendments. Given the deprivation in many of the London constituencies represented by my hon. Friends in the Chamber this afternoon, we feel particularly strongly about that matter. The Bill will have a significant impact on 400,000 businesses across the remainder of the United Kingdom, but will it and the proposed holiday impact on areas that have the highest public sector employment, which is the Minister's primary objective, and areas of high deprivation and unemployment.

We discussed unemployment and deprivation in areas of the United Kingdom a number of times in Committee. For the purposes of explanation, I shall randomly look at constituencies that currently benefit from the national holiday under the scheme and will benefit if the scheme goes ahead. The annual report is important because unemployment in the Tatton constituency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about 2.1%, in the Richmond constituency of the Foreign Secretary it is about 1.8% and in the Rushcliffe constituency of the Justice Secretary it is about 2%.

It is important that we look at where the scheme ultimately is taken up and who will benefit. If businesses are opening in Tatton, Rushcliffe, Richmond and, indeed, other constituencies with low unemployment, that is all well and good, but it will not tackle deprivation in Manchester Central, Liverpool, Riverside or Newcastle upon Tyne East, which ultimately also might benefit from the scheme. For transparency, it is important that the Minister produces an annual report showing not only how many people and businesses have taken up the scheme, but in which constituencies it was taken up outside London, the south-east and the east region.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend is saying. One of the estimates we should perhaps make is whether the loss of jobs as a result of the VAT hike will wipe out any possible advantage of the Bill?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will know that the Opposition are extremely concerned about the impact of the VAT rise on businesses, on consumer confidence and on consumer expenditure. Although the measure is not directly linked to the VAT increase, its aim is to help businesses in difficult times. From the Minister's perspective, the measure is primarily designed to help businesses take up the slack caused by the massive 500,000 people who will lose their jobs as a result of public spending cuts. We will come back to the impact of that on London, the south-east and the east region, where many public sector related employment opportunities will be lost and there will be no benefit from the scheme.

It is important that the Minister not only takes on board where job losses will be but that he looks outside the three excluded regions at the benefits that the scheme will bring to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The production of an annual report will show with full transparency where the businesses are that benefit from and take up the scheme. If those businesses are in areas where there is already low unemployment and deprivation, or they are in areas in the rest of England or Wales where there is not high public sector employment, the objectives set by the Minister will not have been met. In the interests of transparency, it is important to have such a report.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

We support the Bill and the right hon. Gentleman's new clause because we fear that the measure will not go far enough and that an annual report would show the need for further countervailing measures. Does he agree?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The purpose of the Bill, which the Opposition support, is to consider how we give limited help to start-up businesses through a national insurance holiday, so that we can get employment going across the United Kingdom with the exclusion, which we are trying to tackle, of London, the south-east and the east region.

Micro and macro-economic policy will need to be looked at again in many areas. My hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins mentioned VAT. Hon. Members are concerned about the impact of public spending cuts on job losses. The issue of the economy generally is also extremely important, as are matters such as employment in west Wales. The annual report would clearly show where new businesses are commencing because of the scheme proposed by the Minister in the Bill and whether those new business commencements can be married to areas where there are high levels of public sector job losses, deprivation and unemployment and therefore where there is a necessity for new businesses to commence. If new businesses are starting up in areas where there is already prosperity, wealth and low unemployment, the loss of the £940 million of national insurance revenue that the Minister is proposing in the Bill could have been used elsewhere to meets the objectives of tackling deprivation and unemployment in a much more concerted manner.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour, Ilford South

My right hon. Friend will know that the temporary Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills represents a London constituency. Does he agree that it is deplorable that someone who represents a London constituency has not fought in Government for the interests of people living in London, including people in my constituency, who will be adversely by the measures?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

This is a Treasury-led issue, but it will self-evidently have an impact on businesses. I would have expected Vince Cable to use his Business Secretary responsibilities to bat very hard to ensure that the measure has an impact on London, the south-east and the east. Amendments that we will talk to later focus on those areas and show key issues that will be highlighted by the annual report, even if the Bill does not include London, the south-east and east region.

If I look randomly at the figures before me, I can see that the unemployment rate in the constituency of my hon. Friend Lyn Brown is 6.8%, compared with the 1.6% unemployment rate in the North Somerset constituency of the Secretary of State for Defence. His constituency will get the benefit of the scheme; my hon. Friend's will not. The annual report to Parliament will show whether businesses are being drawn to North Somerset at the expense of, for example, the micro-region of Somerset-Bristol and other areas-where there might be even higher levels of unemployment.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

In my constituency, sadly, unemployment is even higher, but I want to make a different point to my right hon. Friend. Is there not a need to provide this assistance where there is the greatest risk of companies failing in their first year? In some of the most deprived areas, people with the fewest resources face the greatest difficulties in setting up businesses, and their business failure rate in the first year is highest. If we are to be fair, we should not be giving so much money to areas where that does not apply, and that is another reason for looking again at the distribution of this measure.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My right hon. Friend touches on an important point to which I will return when we discuss the group of amendments on London's exclusion. She will be interested to know that the number of business deaths in London was 13.7% higher than anywhere else in the country. While business births are higher in London, at 12.6%, the figure for business deaths shows that there is a higher turnover and a greater loss of businesses in London than anywhere else.

London, the south-east and east region is not included in the Bill. However, even with the Bill as currently constituted, an annual report by constituency would clearly show where the business successes are, where new start-ups take place, and how many employees are being employed as result of the scheme-in other words, it would clearly show its success in meeting the Minister's stated objectives. Without the annual report, I will have to table questions to find out that information. The Minister will need to have the information to monitor the progress of the scheme and look at its take-up and distribution, but it will not be public unless we have an annual report.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

On business deaths and bankruptcies, does my right hon. Friend agree that we have yet to see the full impact of the cuts in the school building programme, which will affect many small sub-contractors who work in the construction sector-precisely the businesses that might have benefited from the Bill had they continued to exist?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Indeed; my hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The Minister's objective in the Bill is to help new businesses to develop to compensate for the loss and shrinkage of public sector businesses in other parts of the country; that is his main focus. The annual report would clearly show not only where new businesses are commencing but, through other information that we will be able to glean, where businesses such as construction firms are shrinking because of cuts in public expenditure on schools, hospitals and other major capital projects. I can think of building firms in my own constituency in north Wales that depend on public sector contracts in housing, education and health for their work. As my hon. Friend says, if that sector shrinks, those employment opportunities will shrink too.

I would be interested to know how many new businesses commence, and how many people are employed in each of them, in my own area in north Wales as a result of this measure, but I will not have that information unless I table parliamentary questions.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

I do not understand why one could not simply put a call through to Companies House. Why do we need a report from London about the minutiae of how British enterprise is developing as a result of this fantastic Bill?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

We are forgoing £940 million of taxpayers' money, in the shape of national insurance contributions, to pay for this scheme-£940 million that could be put into the Building Schools for the Future programme and hospital expenditure. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman was interested in where and how that money was being spent and whether it was being spent effectively. The annual report would show clearly how that £940 million of forgone expenditure was being spent, and which constituencies or regions were receiving the benefit and which were not. My main focus is to ensure, from my perspective and that of my right and hon. Friends, that areas of unemployment, deprivation and high public expenditure get that resource, not areas that already have low levels of unemployment and high levels of prosperity, and do not require this level of resource.

The House is bound to consider how we expend public resources, and it is incumbent on the Government to provide that information. The Minister will have it as he monitors and receives reports on progress on projects, as I did when I was a Minister, and I do not see why he cannot publish it. Ultimately we can drag it out of him through parliamentary questions, but it would be far better for him to be transparent and open, in accordance with this proposal.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

On the point made by Julian Smith, is it not important to disaggregate the statistics to show the specific impact of this Bill rather than taking them out of the general trends in small business creation and so on?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury) 12:45 pm, 13th January 2011

That is absolutely right. One of the key tenets of any objective in society has to be that if we set out on a course of action for which we have clear objectives, as the Minister has, then we need, at some point in time, to evaluate whether it has achieved what was claimed for it. The Minister's objective is to ensure that this scheme benefits areas with high levels of public sector employment that are losing jobs because of public spending cuts. The annual report would show progress towards that objective. This is not meant to be threatening to the Minister-it is simply meant to say to him that the information that he will have, we should have, as a matter of course, so that we know exactly what the scheme has achieved. There is nothing wrong with that. We support the scheme. We are not complaining about the scheme-we are simply saying, "Let's look at how it has operated in practice."

Amendments 5 and 6 deal with the same issue in a different way. I suggest in amendment 5 that we should consider reducing the end of the scheme's operational period from 2013 to 2012. That is not to say that we should stop the scheme in 2012, but that we should, as suggested in amendment 6, review it at the end of December 2011 and

"may extend the relevant period until 5 September 2013."

The Minister's scheme may well take off-the 400,000 businesses that he anticipates taking it up do so, and his objectives are being clearly and specifically achieved. However, it is also possible that only 200,000 businesses will have taken up the scheme by the end of the first or second year, and it might then be appropriate for him to amend it accordingly and consider widening its scope. Amendments 5 and 6 offer the Minister the opportunity, without scrapping the scheme, to evaluate it at a break point in December 2011. It is worth our examining whether the take-up he has promised has been achieved and, if not, whether we need to expand or modify the scheme accordingly.

The Minister has indicated that public sector employment is key to his objectives. The constituencies of Edinburgh South; Liverpool, West Derby; Glasgow North; Wansbeck; Wirral West; Blackpool North and Cleveleys; Plymouth, Moor View; Birmingham, Selly Oak; and Glasgow North East are in the top 10 on the scale of public sector employment. If, at the end of two years, there has not been business take-up in those constituencies, but there has been take-up in constituencies much lower down the scale, that would be a reason to review the operation of the scheme.

It may be appropriate to consider including London, the south-east and east region in the scheme. If the Minister cannot do that today through later amendments, he could consider doing so at a later date, and the proposed review point in the scheme would give him that opportunity. The Thames Gateway London Partnership, which is made up not only of authorities under Labour control but those under Conservative and Liberal Democrat control, says in a briefing sent to Members of this House:

"We urge the government to commit to an annual review of the National Insurance Holiday scheme. At this time should the minister find that some areas currently benefitting from the scheme already have a high rate of business survival and a low level of public sector job dependence we would urge him to consider retargeting the measure to allow some of the more deprived authorities in the Thames Gateway to take advantage of the benefits conferred by the scheme.

That reflects amendments that I will come to later. The briefing gives an example that is of particular interest to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham:

"At a Local Authority level, Newham, which has a public sector employment level of 33.6% would not be eligible for the proposed NI Holiday, however, Macclesfield, which has a public sector employment rate of only 11.8% will benefit from the National Insurance holiday".

Those issues could be reflected on and taken into account during the break in the operation of the scheme proposed in amendments 5 and 6.

The Minister would have my full support-even if he cannot accept including London, the south-east and east today-if he came back to the House in a year's time to say that the Government had reviewed the scheme, come up with an annual report, and as a result would like to extend it to Luton South, Walthamstow, Lewisham Deptford, Ilford South, Luton North and Leyton and Wanstead, to give but six constituencies of Members in the House today. I am sure that my hon. Friends would welcome that move from the Minister; they would even say well done to him, invite him to visit the new businesses in their constituencies and cheer him from the rafters. I know that he would appreciate that greatly. I see no reason why he cannot say that he will review the scheme, even if he cannot accept the inclusion of other regions under later amendments. If the review shows that the benefit from the national insurance holiday is going to constituencies with low levels of unemployment, deprivation and public sector employment, he should consider bringing in those other constituencies by extending the scheme to a wider area.

Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Labour, Luton South

Those figures might also draw out the effects on constituencies that border areas that are covered, where there might be a differential effect on job growth and creation, which is an issue that came up in Committee.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Indeed. My hon. Friend knows that there are issues relating to the borders between London, the south-east and east and other regions, because there could be differentials relating to new businesses. He made that important point in Committee, and Penny Mordaunt has made it in parliamentary questions to the Minister. On Second Reading, Government Members asked questions similar to mine on why the scheme was not applicable to their regions.

I am not being aggressive, but am trying to give the Minister a chance to listen to the case. I hope that he accepts that there is a case for producing information, so that he can evaluate it and so that we as taxpayers know how the almost £1 billion of resource has been spent: where it is going, who is benefiting from it and how, and what levels of employment it is creating and where. Amendments 5 and 6 give the Minister an opportunity to have a break after about a year to review the scheme formally and to consider the issues that we will discuss later, which are important to my hon. Friends.

It does not matter where one is unemployed, because an unemployed person is 100% unemployed. For the Minister to say that we do not need to worry if public sector jobs are lost in London, the south-east and east, or in other regions of high employment, and that the scheme does not apply there, is not a positive way forward. I hope that he reflects on the proposals genuinely. I know that he is a reasonable chap and that he will consider them positively. He knows that the Bill will be considered in another place and that these matters can be discussed there, if not agreed today. I believe that a sensible case has been made for the proposals-although I would say that-and I commend them to the House and the Minister.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

I did not have the benefit of sitting on the Committee, although I did attend Second Reading and I think that I made a short intervention on the Minister.

I will make a short contribution in response to the new clause. I listened carefully to the Opposition spokesman's speech, and to his closing remark that this is a sensible case that the Minister should accept. I ask the Minister to think carefully about the case that has been put to him. First, the full impact of the policy will inevitably not be shown after the first or second year. With such policies, there can be a significant cumulative effect, which is what the Government are looking for.

Secondly, it has been estimated that the scheme will have considerable benefits. The Opposition spokesman did not query the basis of the estimates made by the Government and outside bodies on the impact of the holiday. We have a pretty good assessment of its impact, so the Government should consider whether the annual report would add to that.

Thirdly, I ask the Minister to consider that the policy is temporary. Although it is a recurring cost, it is only for three years. Were the policy extant for a longer period, the Opposition spokesman's arguments might have more basis.

Fourthly, the Opposition spokesman made the point several times to the Minister that he could table questions. He did not say whether he thought an annual report would be cheaper than that. If he wanted to do so, he should have given a cost analysis. I fear that the proposal is an expensive way of getting at the information that he wants, and probably does not cover everything.

Finally, when the panoply of talent on the Conservative Front Bench was not as great, I spent four years as an Opposition spokesman. I spoke on various measures that, like the Bill, were extant for the life of the Parliament, such as the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007. I made similar requests for annual reports and, time after time, Ministers told me that such proposals would be costly and serve no purpose; that they would of course keep the scheme under review; and that there was transparency through other sources of information available to me. Therefore, before the Minister is tempted by the beguiling words of the Opposition spokesman on transparency and the need to review the policy, I ask him gently to remember that, freed from the responsibility of Government, the Opposition are not accepting the arguments that they made in government.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I welcome what was said by my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, and support strongly new clause 1 and amendments 5 and 6.

In the context of the current economic situation and the level of the cuts being imposed by the Government, the Bill is a relatively small reflationary measure. It is a supply-side measure, rather than the direct reflationary measure of additional spending that I would like to see. If I was in government and had £1 billion to spend-I would love that opportunity, but am unlikely to get it, at least in the short term-I would not spend it in this way. We could, for example, increase capital spending programmes in sectors such as construction and restore school building programmes. £1 billion would sustain a much larger capital programme as a measure of revenue support, so that is the direction in which I would go.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's argument. Has he noticed the latest academic evidence on the size of the public expenditure multiplier? It suggests that in an open economy, the actual size of the multiplier is something like 0.1%.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 1:00 pm, 13th January 2011

I have not seen that academic work, but I will be interested to read it in due course. I remain fairly convinced that spending capital funds on school building actually generates a lot of employment, certainly in my area. The cuts in school spending programmes will have a damaging effect on local employment in Luton. We can debate that in another economic seminar, perhaps, and we shall see. Nevertheless, the measures in the Bill pale into insignificance compared with the overall level of cuts that will be imposed. Some have suggested that the VAT rise alone will cause 250,000 jobs to be lost, which is a staggering figure and surprised me greatly.

In Committee, the Exchequer Secretary leapt on the fact that I was giving lukewarm support to a measure of tax relief, which is not normally my politics. However, it was lukewarm-I said that the Opposition had decided to acquiesce in what the Government were proposing, but that our Front Benchers had tabled substantial amendments. I still believe that tax reliefs are the wrong way to go. They tend not to be as reflationary as direct spending on jobs, particularly in areas where manual workers on relatively low wages tend to spend all their money, which is then circulated in the economy, causing the multiplier effect that Stephen Hammond mentioned. Tax reliefs tend to go at least partly, and sometimes substantially, into savings and have less of a reflationary effect, so I prefer direct spending to help job creation.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has suggested that there might be as many as 900,000 job losses in the private sector, which is a vast number. Added to the nearly half a million jobs being lost directly through public expenditure cuts, we are talking about 1.5 million jobs being lost. The Bill will go only a tiny way towards countering those massive losses. Indeed, the effect of those job losses, added to the 2.5 million people already unemployed, means that nearly 4 million people will be unemployed, which is a staggering figure. That will be deflationary, because people will become frightened of losing their jobs and stop spending in the shops.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would like to clarify the number of private sector job losses that he has just mentioned. Actually, we have seen in the past two quarters-the evidence from the following quarter is the same-that the private sector is creating jobs.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which gives me the opportunity to say what I have said many times in recent weeks and months. We are still benefiting from the pre-election reflation of the Labour Government. To save the economy from a massive depression, and perhaps from sliding into serious long-term deflation, Labour sharply reflated the economy, and it was absolutely right to do so. We are still benefiting from that, because of the time lag effect in economics.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

May I remind my hon. Friend that some time ago, leaked Treasury papers demonstrated clearly that unemployment in both the private and public sector would rise very sharply during this Parliament? When the Prime Minister was questioned about those figures on the Floor of the House, he refused to answer the question.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I am not at all surprised that the Prime Minister was not prepared to be drawn on that. What happens in a year's time, and in two years' time, as a result of what the Government are doing now will be the true measure of whether their policies are successful. I suspect that we will have a massive rise in unemployment, as forecasts suggest. That will tend to damage confidence among consumers, businesses and everyone else in the long-term future of our economy, so the Government are pursuing a dangerous policy.

The Bill, although welcome, is modest in comparison with what the Government are doing as a whole. The precise impact of what it will do needs to be measured and published, so that we can set it in the context of the rest of the economy rather than let it drift along, with the Government perhaps making exaggerated claims for its success.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour, Walthamstow

Does that mean that my hon. Friend agrees with the Minister, who told me in a letter that £940 million was a large sum of money to allocate for an uncertain benefit? That is exactly why we need to see the figures, to see whether the Bill is working.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and in the context of the current economic situation, the level of Government cuts and what the Government are spending on the European Union, bailing out Ireland and so on, £1 billion is a small amount of money, especially when it is spread over a number of years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn is right to insist that the new clause be inserted into the Bill, so that we can measure its true impact.

I will leave my comments there, although I will wish to speak to other amendments later. The Bill is modest, and, as my right hon. Friend has suggested, we must ensure that a true measure of its impact is published.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

It is a great pleasure to return to the Bill and to some of the arguments that were made many times in Committee, and indeed many times in the speech of Mr Hanson this afternoon. It is always fascinating to hear Opposition Members talk about the beneficial effect on employment of reducing employers' national insurance contributions, although to be fair, I should exempt Kelvin Hopkins from that comment.

I do not intend at this point to address all the points about regional matters and so on that the right hon. Member for Delyn touched upon, because we will return specifically to them later. I shall address new clause 1, which would require the Treasury, after Royal Assent, to provide to Parliament an annual report on the national insurance contributions holiday for new businesses. The report would be required to contain the total sum of business expenditure saved under the scheme and a breakdown by constituency of

"the number of businesses availing themselves of the secondary contributions holiday...the number of employees designated qualifying employees under the scheme; and...the total expenditure saved by businesses under the scheme."

I think it would be fair to say, as my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond did, that it is not uncommon for Oppositions to table amendments requiring reports on the implementation and operation of a Bill, and for Governments to resist them. I say to the right hon. Member for Delyn that I do not believe the new clause is necessary, because in Committee, I undertook to provide updates to the House and the public on the operation of the scheme after the end of the tax year, including information at regional level. His point that we should provide such information was entirely reasonable, and I can now give a little more detail about what we intend to provide.

We envisage a factual report that will state, regionally and nationally, the number of new businesses applying, the number of applications rejected, the number of qualifying employees for whom a holiday has been claimed and the amount claimed. The main difference between what I am saying we will do and the requirements of the new clause is that the latter would require a constituency-level breakdown, even though the scheme is regional in England and will not cover every English constituent.

The central point, which I made in Committee several times-Gavin Shuker also touched on it-is that the locations of people's work and of the businesses for which they work are not necessarily the same as the locations of people's homes. Many people travel to work, and operating specifically on a constituency basis could result in a somewhat misleading view of the way in which the scheme works. We could identify one constituency that falls within a relevant region, where many businesses that benefit from the scheme are created and have many employees, and where public sector employment or unemployment is not high, and the right hon. Member for Delyn might then say, "This is an example of the scheme not operating as it should. Money is going into a relatively prosperous area and is not well targeted." However, that ignores the fact that many employees who benefit from the scheme could live in neighbouring constituencies that are heavily dependent on the public sector, or where unemployment is high. I believe that looking at the matter on a constituency basis does not necessarily give a fair indication, and that examining it on a regional basis is better and more accurate. I therefore intend to prepare my reports on not a constituency but a regional basis. None the less, that should be helpful to hon. Members.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

The Exchequer Secretary seemed to say that even if an hon. Member tabled a parliamentary question requesting the information on a constituency basis, he would not provide it. That is unacceptable. Often, what happens to one's constituents is affected by the neighbouring borough or area where a small company sets up. That is of interest to us, and I think that we should know.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

I do not intend in any way to restrict what hon. Members ask, or the responses to the questions. My point is that it would be better for the Government report that sets out the working of the scheme to consider matters on a regional and national basis. I can understand why individual Members would want to ask about their constituencies. If information is available, it will be provided. I do not dispute that. However, when the Government provide an update on the scheme, it is right to focus regionally and nationally. I understand the hon. Lady's concern about her constituents, and the scheme will not apply in her constituency, but a regional or national approach is a more reasonable and reliable way of examining areas where it applies than trying to break it down into individual constituencies.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

I am most grateful to the Exchequer Secretary, who must clarify the matter, for giving way again. If an hon. Member tables a question requesting information about his or her constituency, will he be in a position to provide it?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

My understanding is that we will be in a position to provide the information. However, that would not be particularly helpful in understanding the full application of the scheme.

Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Labour, Luton South

Will the Exchequer Secretary confirm that the evidence we took in Committee shows that there are no technical restrictions on looking at the postcodes of qualifying businesses and therefore on providing that information? In other words, restricting the information would be an ideological rather than a technical decision.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

It is not an ideological position. I am finding it surprisingly difficult to convince Labour Members of my point-or perhaps they are not prepared to be convinced of the fact that people do not necessarily work in the constituency in which they live, and that it would therefore be wrong to try to make a big case about the number of employers in a particular constituency being low compared with the number of people living there, and their not benefiting from the scheme.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 1:15 pm, 13th January 2011

If the information is available, I do not see any problem with just publishing it. I represent some of the poorest wards in London-and that is against some pretty stiff competition. My constituency will not be subject to the holiday for start-up businesses, whereas some of the leafier areas in the north-west will benefit. Tatton, a wealthy area with low unemployment, springs readily to mind as somewhere that will be subject to the national insurance contributions holiday.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

We come back to the central point that we are acting on a regional basis rather than trying to break down the figures for wards, constituencies or boroughs because of the nature of the labour market and people travelling to work. I concede that several hon. Members will not accept that, but it is the right approach given the nature of the labour market.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson Conservative, South Staffordshire

Seventy per cent. of my constituents travel out of the constituency to work in neighbouring boroughs-in Wolverhampton, Dudley and Stourbridge. It is more typical for the benefits to come to those boroughs than to South Staffordshire, but people throughout the region will benefit.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

My hon. Friend is right, and that is why we are acting on a regional basis.

Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South

I want to respond to the point about Tatton. Many of my constituents work in Tatton, yet parts of Warrington are extremely deprived. Perhaps Labour Members will explain how publishing numbers specifically for Tatton would identify the impact on the deprived areas of my constituency next door.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He brings a great deal of business experience to the subject. Trying to pick out individual constituencies in the way in which the right hon. Member for Delyn intends will add little to our understanding of the operation of the scheme, but, as a Government, we are keen to put out more information and to make the scheme transparent.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Conservative, Central Devon

Does my hon. Friend agree with Mr Mitah from HMRC who pointed out in Committee that the greater complexity and costs involved in the sub-regional route would damage the scheme overall? He said:

"If you have a system that required us to operate a more complicated, or a narrower, range of areas, by reference to which we were giving relief, that would raise the costs of compliance substantially." --[ Official Report, National Insurance Contributions Public Bill Committee, 2 December 2010; c. 35-6, Q121.]

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Certain compliance problems would arise. Could we tell whether an address was for work or home? The scheme would become more complicated. Those claiming would need to ensure that they were in one particular postcode area or another, and there would be issues with boundaries. Distortions could be much greater than under the simpler scheme that we have introduced with essentially one boundary and three excluded regions. A host of difficulties would arise if we tried to follow the sub-regional route. Where would we draw the line? Would we end up considering boroughs, wards or polling districts? Exactly how would that work? We will revert to the matter later, but my hon. Friend is right.

Amendments 5 and 6 are aimed at providing flexibility to reduce the duration of the regional employer national insurance contributions holiday for new businesses. This would reduce the cost of the holiday to the Exchequer, and correspondingly reduce the benefit to new businesses. As I have explained, the Government want to target available resources to the regions most dependent on public sector employment. We do not intend to widen geographical coverage, and therefore have no need to find ways of reducing costs. We know that this scheme will reduce labour costs for new businesses, and has been widely welcomed by their representatives.

We have acknowledged that beyond this there is a good deal of uncertainty about exactly how the scheme will pan out in practice. However, introducing some flexibility to change the details of the scheme as proposed in these amendments would increase uncertainty for those who might potentially benefit, and could risk inhibiting decision making. This particular proposal could affect those who are already benefiting from the scheme, or those who are currently considering setting up a new business bearing in mind the Government's policy. For example, a new business set up this month, which plans to take on employees towards the end of this year, would not get the full year's holiday for these employees if we were to stop the scheme in September 2012.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Delyn would agree that we were right to start operating the scheme as soon as we could, in anticipation of legislation being passed. Had we not done so, the benefit to businesses would have been delayed, and new businesses that had planned to start operation might have delayed in order to benefit fully from the scheme. I am conscious of the fact that the scheme requires the consent of Parliament, and we have been very clear about that in our guidance to potential beneficiaries. We are not pre-empting the decisions of Parliament. However, I hope that hon. Members would agree that it would not be desirable to withdraw the benefits we had planned to give to entrepreneurs who have already decided to set up in business. That risk applies to these amendments, and I am advised that as drafted the amendment is insufficient to provide a mechanism for extending the holiday, and does not therefore meet the intended aim.

With the commitment I have made today on the reports, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw new clause 1 and, in the light of my comments, not press amendments 5 and 6.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

We have had a useful debate. I tabled the new clause and amendments to secure from the Exchequer Secretary a commitment that the expenditure that we are forgoing-some £940 million-will be monitored and reviewed for effectiveness, that a mechanism will be put in place by which we can judge where, for whom and how it is having a benefit, and that we will review take-up over the three years of the scheme. I am reassured that he has reconfirmed what he said in Committee and will produce information on take-up on a regional basis. I genuinely welcome that.

It might help if the Exchequer Secretary could indicate-he did not do this in his response-the current level of take-up of the scheme. In early December, at the end of the Committee stage, he mentioned that about 1,100 businesses had taken it up. One of our concerns was that his ambitious target of 400,000 over the duration of the scheme would not be met because of the slow take-up in the first six months. It would help initially if he could give that information now.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for letting me intervene. The latest number we have is 1,500, which has increased, obviously, from the 1,100 just before Christmas.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The key issue-this is one reason I have suggested an annual report-is that 1,500 is significantly less than the trajectory we would hope for and which is necessary to achieve a take-up of 400,000 by the end of the scheme. It is already six or seven months since the Exchequer Secretary announced the scheme, and we effectively have two years this September-until September 2013-before completion. A target take-up of 400,000 and today's take-up of 1,500 show that the trajectory is not there.

I intend to withdraw the new clause-the Minister can relax in that knowledge and take it as a helpful contribution to the debate-but I hope he will still reflect on the fact that one reason we have asked for an annual report is to ensure that we are able to know every year what the trajectory of the take-up is and in which regions and sub-regions it is occurring. If, for example, by the end of 2011, 30,000 or 40,000 businesses have taken up the scheme, and there is a capacity of 400,000 and just two years left of the scheme, a considerable effort would be needed to generate those new businesses in the two years.

If the Minister does not want to build in failure to his scheme, he needs to monitor that and, if need be, consider the suggestions we will make later about expanding the scheme into other regions, such as London and the south-east, to ensure that the 400,000 take-up that he wants is met. I will make the case later, supported by my right hon. and hon. Friends, that high levels of public sector employment in London and the south-east region will be hit by public spending cuts; without the necessary debate on those issues generally, that will happen as much in London and the south-east as in north Wales, the north-west, Yorkshire, Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom.

If we do not have the trajectory of take-up that the Minister anticipates, we might end up with a scheme that, after three years, does not deliver a take-up of 400,000. At the same time, colleagues in London and the south-east and eastern regions will have been impacted by public spending cuts, but their constituents will not have benefited from that scheme. In tabling the new clause and amendments, I was trying to give the Exchequer Secretary some flexibility to enable him to design the scheme, review it and bring back suggestions accordingly. More importantly, hon. Members on both sides of the House, including Stephen Hammond, whose constituency will not benefit from the scheme, can assess its impact.

We welcome the holiday and think it will have a positive impact, although it will not compensate for the things that my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins mentioned. We will have to consider what its outputs are, whether we achieve them and whether the scheme is successful, and we will return to these matters in parliamentary questions. I hope that the Exchequer Secretary will reflect on some of those issues before the Bill reaches another place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn .