Costs of Living: Households and Businesses

Wales – in the House of Commons on 25th May 2022.

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Photo of John McNally John McNally Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment)

What recent steps the Government have taken to mitigate the impact of rising costs of living on (a) households and (b) businesses in Wales.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

What recent steps the Government have taken to mitigate the impact of rising costs of living on (a) households and (b) businesses in Wales.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Scottish National Party, Airdrie and Shotts

What recent steps the Government have taken to mitigate the impact of rising costs of living on (a) households and (b) businesses in Wales.

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

To alleviate the immediate impacts of this global crisis, we have injected support worth over £22 billion in 2023. For businesses, we have cut fuel duty and provided help to high energy-using businesses. In the longer term, our Plan for Jobs will ensure long-term prosperity for Wales, including the development of the Wylfa nuclear power station.

Photo of John McNally John McNally Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment)

The Scottish Government introduced the Scottish child payment to tackle child poverty head on. That payment doubled to £20 and is set to increase further and be extended to children under the age of 15, resulting in 50,000 children being taken out of relative poverty. Given that Wales has persistently had the highest child poverty rate in the UK, does the Secretary of State not agree that welfare powers should now be devolved to Wales so that the Welsh Government can introduce a targeted child payment of their own?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

Even the Welsh Government have not made that argument to me. I think they fully recognise that the proper and fair distribution of welfare is done most effectively and cost-effectively on a UK-wide basis, but I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue because the money that the Scottish Government are using is available as a consequence of the Barnett formula, and the situation is the same in Wales.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

In relation to the cost of living crisis faced by people in Wales and across the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister told the Welsh Tory party conference that the UK Government would

“put our arms around the British people again as we did during covid”.

Based on the evidence of the Sue Gray report, they are more likely to be linking arms in a conga line. Can the Secretary of State for Wales tell me what discussions he has had with the Chancellor on an emergency Budget to help the poorest households in Wales and across the United Kingdom?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. and learned Lady rightly refers to the fact that the Chancellor may yet be making further comments about this particular issue, just as he did throughout the pandemic. For those who think that the Treasury is neither flexible nor conscious of these challenges, the fact is that there was ample evidence during the pandemic—and now, of course, during the current challenges we face—to disprove that theory. I can tell her, and everyone else in the House, that I have really regular conversations with Treasury Ministers and with the Chancellor himself about exactly these challenges.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South

Would my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to help people during the cost of living crisis is to make sure that we have a vibrant economy and a low rate of unemployment? Would he also agree that having the lowest rate of unemployment since 1974 is helping many families across Wales and the rest of the UK at the moment?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

Absolutely. I think most people believe that growing our way out of a cost of living challenge is infinitely preferable to spending our way out of a cost of living challenge. My hon. Friend is right to point out that we want to be flexible, rapid and generous. When there are occasions, as there inevitably will be for Members across the House, where individual constituents somehow do not fit the solutions we have, there are other measures that I hope local authorities will be able to deploy to assist them.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Conservative, Redcar

To what extent does the Secretary of State see investment in new nuclear as a way to help people with their energy costs in the long run?

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

We now know that the energy price cap is expected to rise to £2,800 a year in October, which means that typical household bills in Wales, having already gone up by £700, will go up by another £800.

It is now 138 days since Labour proposed a windfall tax on oil and gas producer profits so that people across Wales can get help right now. Every day the Government delay is another day they are letting down people in Wales and across the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State voted against a windfall tax last week. What is his alternative to help the people of Wales, and where is it?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

I suspect the hon. Lady reads the same news channels I read, so she will be aware that the Treasury will make a further announcement imminently. [Interruption.] She may be annoyed by my answer, but it is only reasonable that I suggest she waits until the Chancellor sets out precisely what his plans are.

May I suggest that the hon. Lady applies equal pressure to her colleagues in Cardiff? They have the power to intervene on things like business rates, council tax and income tax, which they have not done. In the meantime, however, they are thinking of imposing a tourism tax, costing Welsh taxpayers £100 million in the process. They are buying a farm that nobody wants and providing free musical instruments to young people under the age of 16.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Welsh voters gave their verdict on the Welsh Government in the election the week before last, and there is not a single Tory council left in the whole of Wales. The Secretary of State’s party was wiped out.

As the Secretary of State’s answer demonstrates, he does not have a plan and we have not had a plan from the Chancellor. Does he think that buying value supermarket brands, getting a better-paid job or riding around on the buses all day to keep warm is the Government’s answer to the cost of living crisis?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Lady clearly did not listen, or did not want to listen, to my previous answer. When we know the Chancellor is about to make a statement in the Chamber on all these issues, would it not be more sensible to allow the Treasury to spell out exactly what its plans are and how they will benefit businesses and individual families in Wales before making such highly politicised comments?

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

I add my party’s commiserations to everybody affected by the bus accident in Llanfair Caereinion.

The Oakeley Arms in my constituency is a superb inn located in a grade II listed building at the heart of Snowdonia national park. It is off grid, it is limited by regulations on energy efficiency measures and its owners now face a quadrupling in energy bills. Does the Secretary of State agree that small businesses need more support? Will he speak to the Chancellor about extending the price cap to our hard-pressed small and medium-sized businesses?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

I will definitely speak to the Chancellor, as I often do about these things. Perhaps I could suggest a deal to the right hon. Lady: I will speak to the Chancellor to get further information if she will speak to her leader in Cardiff to get him to call off the dogs by cancelling the tourism tax that the Welsh Government want to impose on businesses, causing further hardship for people in her constituency.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

If the Secretary of State kept to the powers he has in Westminster, perhaps he would have better support. There are now no Tory councillors in any of the Plaid-held councils along the west coast of Wales.

Rumours of an economic package are rife, not because the Government care about struggling households and businesses but because, of course, they want to distract from their own lawbreaking. Household energy bills will likely increase to £2,800 in the autumn, yet the Chancellor is sitting on his hands until it proves politically convenient. Is the Secretary of State not ashamed of his Government’s behaviour?

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart The Secretary of State for Wales

I despair sometimes, with the greatest respect. I urge the right hon. Lady to wait, for what should not be a great deal more time, to hear precisely what we have in store on the cost of living challenges. I remind her that, throughout the pandemic and the cost of living challenges, the Treasury has been unbelievably flexible, unbelievably adaptable and, in some respects, unbelievably generous. To try to pre-empt the Chancellor by making cheap political points undermines the value of what those contributions may be, and it does a disservice to the businesses and individuals that the right hon. Lady purports to support.