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Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:45 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Simon Kirby Simon Kirby The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 10:45 pm, 13th March 2017

I will not give way.

Let me move beyond tax, because there are many other ways in which we are making Britain more productive and more attractive as a place to start or run a business. The big investment in skills—half a billion pounds a year—will benefit hundreds of thousands of our young people, giving them the best choice since A-levels were introduced 70 years ago and bringing forward the next generation of talent that businesses will rely on. The changes that we have made to invest in current and new schools and to make our technical education as good as our international competitors are important for everyone. Not only are they good for business, they will make a huge difference to the lives and careers of our young people. It is a good policy for everyone.

Something else that shows the world that Britain is open for business is the £23 billion investment package that we announced only weeks ago in the autumn statement: the national productivity investment fund. The Budget set out some of the important improvements that the fund will make, such as addressing pinch points on our national road network and investing in the digital infrastructure that modern businesses depend upon. There is much going on to establish Britain as a world-leading country for business.

The Government are ensuring that Britain plays its part at the forefront of tomorrow’s technology. More than half a billion pounds was allocated at Budget to help our innovators compete on the international stage, including support for trailblazing advances such as electric vehicles, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Investing in upholding the UK’s reputation as a world leader in R and D is not only a point of pride; it is a valuable boost to jobs and opportunities for British people.

I tell Emily Thornberry, my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy, and Tom Brake that we have protected the FCO’s budget in real terms to promote British interests around the world. I say to the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington that both trade and human rights are clearly important.

My hon. Friend James Morris raised the important issue of the Black country, making good points about productivity, transport infrastructure, and skills. To the hon. Members for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) and for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), I say that living standards grew at their fastest rate in 14 years in 2015 to reach their highest ever level and are forecast to have gone even further in 2016. My hon. Friend Jeremy Quin made a skilful speech and commended the skills measures in the Budget—the biggest change in post-16 education in 70 years.

Mr Lewis asked about uncertainty, and I should make it clear that the Prime Minister’s first objective in the negotiations is to provide certainty and clarity. Mr Shuker asked about the type of Brexit, but the Prime Minister has been abundantly clear that we are aiming for a comprehensive deal based on the highest levels of goods and services. My hon. Friend Maggie Throup made an important point and is clearly a strong voice for her constituency and her region. Dame Rosie Winterton raised the important issue of protecting workers’ rights. We are, after all, the party of workers, and we will do all that we can in that area.

I tell the hon. Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) that the Government have been clear that the UK will remain open for business, outward facing, and global looking. The benefits of immigration will be retained, but immigration will not be uncontrolled. My hon. Friend Robert Courts applauded measures relating to skills and R and D, and I thank him for doing so. Kate Green asked about the Budget’s lack of environmental measures. We will consult on a national air quality plan in a matter of weeks. Along with Mr Howarth and Helen Hayes, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston also asked about school funding, and I remind them that the Government are giving more money to schools than ever before, reaching over £40 billion this year.

To my hon. Friend Neil Parish I say that the Government remain committed to devolving powers to support local areas to address their specific productivity barriers. To Mike Gapes I say that the Government remain committed to controlling migration and living within our means.

On business rates, I point out to Members that the £435 million package is in addition to the £3.6 million transitional relief scheme. The Government are also reducing business rates for all ratepayers over the next five years—this is costing almost £9 billion—and that includes taking 600,000 businesses out of paying business rates altogether.

National insurance contributions were mentioned by the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). The Prime Minister has made it very clear that the changes to national insurance will require legislation later this year, which will be brought forward after we publish a paper explaining the full effects of the changes, along with the changes to rights and protections for self-employed workers.

We have heard questions about regional infrastructure, and as far as the north is concerned we have put in place £90 million to tackle congestion. Clive Lewis asked me about businesses relocating, and I can assure him that we will be seeking a bold and ambitious free trade agreement. Geraint Davies said that the Budget is not doing enough for Wales, but I wish to point out that the Welsh Government’s resource budget will increase by almost £150 million through to 2020. Brendan O'Hara mentioned an increase in alcohol duties. We do recognise the importance of the Scottish whisky industry and I am pleased that those exports have increased.

Dr Allin-Khan asked us to show her the money, and I would say that £2.4 billion over the next three years for social care is quite a lot of money. She, along with Melanie Onn and Liz McInnes, also asked about supporting women, and I wish to point out that the gender pay gap is at a record low and there are more women in work than ever before. Rachael Maskell talked about the economy shrinking, but ours was the second fastest growing major advanced economy in 2016. I wish to point out that the NHS is free at the point of delivery and that is not going to change.

In closing, let me say that as the UK takes a new direction, we are paving the way for a Britain that is economically strong and stable; a Britain that is open for business; and a Britain at the forefront of technological progress. In short, this is a Britain that takes its place in the world as a prosperous, forward-leaning, outward-facing country. It is a truly global Britain and a country that works for everyone.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Mark Spencer.)

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.