Autumn Statement Resolutions - Rates of tobacco products duty

– in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 23 November 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 11:30, 23 November 2023

I think it is worth reminding right hon. and hon. Members of the statement that Mr Speaker made earlier about the importance not only of Members being here, obviously, for the opening of the debate, but of remaining in the Chamber for the majority of the debate—and certainly for at least the next two speeches—and, crucially, the importance of returning for the wind-ups from both the Opposition and the Government.

If anybody who is hoping to speak in this debate feels they may not be able to return for the wind-ups, they should please let me know now so that I can take their name off the list, rather than saying near the end of the debate, “I am terribly sorry, but I have to do something else that is more important than listening to the wind-ups,” because nothing could be more important than listening to the wind-ups.

It is also important that both the Minister and the Opposition spokesperson responding to the debate are here for the majority of the debate, so that they can respond to the points made by hon. and right hon. Members.

Debate resumed (Order, 22 November).

Question again proposed,


(1) In Schedule 1 to the Tobacco Products Duty Act 1979 (table of rates of tobacco products duty), for the Table substitute—


1 CigarettesAn amount equal to the higher of—16.5% of the retail price plus £316.70 per thousand cigarettes, or£422.80 per thousand cigarettes.
2 Cigars£395.03 per kilogram
3 Hand-rolling tobacco£412.32 per kilogram
4 Other smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco£173.68 per kilogram
5 Tobacco for heating£325.53 per kilogram”.

(2) In consequence of the provision made by paragraph (1), in Schedule 2 to the Travellers’ Allowances Order 1994 (which provides in certain circumstances for a simplified calculation of excise duty on goods brought into Great Britain)—

(a) in the entry relating to cigarettes, for “£393.45” substitute “£422.80”,

(b) in the entry relating to hand rolling tobacco, for “£351.03” substitute “£412.32”,

(c) in the entry relating to other smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco, for “£161.62” substitute “£173.68”,

(d) in the entry relating to cigars, for “£367.61” substitute “£395.03”,

(e) in the entry relating to cigarillos, for “£367.61” substitute “£395.03”, and

(f) in the entry relating to tobacco for heating, for “£90.88” substitute “£97.66”.

(3) The amendments made by this Resolution come into force at 6pm on 22 November 2023.

And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) 11:32, 23 November 2023

As someone who was in business myself, starting and scaling up businesses for 30 years prior to entering Parliament, it is a privilege to open this debate on behalf of the Government.

For any ambitious entrepreneur, “growth” is the most exciting word in the lexicon. The Chancellor’s autumn statement contains 110 separate measures to help businesses achieve exactly that. It will help to close the UK’s productivity gap by boosting investment by £20 billion a year in a decade. That is why I am wholly unsurprised by the positive response it has received from some of our most prominent business organisations.

The Federation of Small Businesses described the autumn statement as “game-changing”, adding:

The Chancellor and his Treasury team deserve credit for driving pro-small business change and…acting to help build future prosperity.”

UK Finance said the autumn statement

“demonstrates a continued commitment to growth”.

And the manufacturing trade body Make UK said:

“This was a bold statement by the Chancellor who has”— delivered—

“a transformational strategy designed to turbo charge investment.”

As the Chancellor rightly said, this is indeed an autumn statement for growth, but it is also clearly an autumn statement for business. I am very proud that my Department has been at the heart of developing these measures, which will have such a profoundly positive impact on this country. Our autumn statement will enable businesses to confidently invest in their futures. It will cut their costs through lower taxes and strip away burdensome red tape. Any of these measures in isolation would be a reason to be cheerful, but taken together, and alongside measures from the spring, they are expected to permanently increase the size of our economy, raise investment, reduce inflation, increase GDP and get more people into work.

On this side of the House, we know that the best way to grow the UK’s finances is not to embrace big government and high spending, but to boost businesses and boost competition—this is the so-called “supply side” of the economy. We will provide our innovators and risk takers with the right infrastructure, regulations and support, so that they can lead this country to greater prosperity.

As the Chancellor said yesterday, every big business was once a small business. For me, those words could not ring more true. This House will know about my passion for promoting the entrepreneurs, start-ups and independent shop owners that are the life and soul of our communities and economies alike. These businesses need investment so that they can flourish. They need freedom from overly burdensome taxes and regulations so that they can grow.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree

I am delighted with the feedback that the Chancellor has received from businesses, but analysis by the Resolution Foundation finds that households will be £1,900 poorer at the end of this Parliament than they were at the start of it. That means people in our communities have less to spend in these businesses. So is it not the case that families are worse off under this Government?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

There is no doubt that we have had to take some difficult measures because of the hundreds of billions of pounds—about £500 billion—we put into the economy to protect people from the effects of covid and the cost of living. Conservative Members know that money does not grow on trees; that money has to be paid back. We have had to take those difficult decisions but we are improving the lives of the people the hon. Lady mentions—for example, through the national living wage. It has had a record increase this year to a record level of £11.44. That will put about £1,800 annually on the table for some of the people she mentions. That minimum wage is now double what it was in 2010. We are doing many, many things, including raising the personal tax threshold. Along with her colleagues, including the Front Benchers, she has to reflect on what the Labour Front-Bench team are going to do about the tax thresholds—this is the impact she is talking about. Are they going to increase those thresholds? Please say—[Interruption.] It is no good just standing on the sidelines and criticising. You’ve got to say what you’re actually going to do. [Interruption.] The shadow Minister says he is going to do that, which is great. The cost of doing what we are talking about here is £25 billion a year by 2025, so you are going to do that? [Interruption.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am slightly worried that we are getting into a “you”, “you” exchange across the Chamber. As the Members know, they should speak through the Chair and when they say “you”, that means me. I think the Minister is trying to say “the shadow Secretary of State” and so on.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I do apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. Obviously, I am speaking through you—but I apologise. I was getting carried away, because this is such an important point. It is important that if people have different ideas about how we run the economy, they should explain exactly what they are going to do and how they are going to pay for it. The cost of the measures that are being proposed is £25 billion a year, and that comes on top of other spending commitments that the Opposition have made, including £28 billion a year in green investment. Labour Members should be clear about what their plans would be, rather than just objecting.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to being clear—so will he be clear and confirm that over this Parliament living standards are going to fall by 3%? That is the biggest hit to living standards on record. Will he be clear and confirm that that is the case?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

As I said, there is no doubt that we have been through difficult times, but the hon. Lady should look forward optimistically to the rise in the national living wage and the probability that inflation will be halved again by this time next year, having already been halved. She needs to take a more optimistic view about will happen in the economy next year. I am very optimistic that people will see better times ahead, which is what we all want to see, but the Government are realistic. We have spent £500 billion providing support, saving jobs and businesses, and helping people during covid and the cost of living crisis, but that money has to be paid back. The Opposition need to explain how they are going to do that, if they were ever given charge of the economy.

Small businesses also need protection from late payers, so that they can safeguard their precious time and resources. The measures in the autumn statement seek to achieve all that and more, transforming the fortunes of businesses up and down the country. The statement contains a multitude of measures that will give businesses easier access to investments.

The UK has been something of a start-up miracle—we are second out of the 39 countries in the OECD for start-ups and seventh for scale-ups, which is still a good performance in relative terms but one that we need to improve. Capital holds the key. This Government could not be clearer about that fact and have introduced measures in that regard.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his positive attitude in response to the measures that have been put forward, but I have a request on behalf of my constituents who work in the hospitality sector. Rates and alcohol duties have been frozen for another year, including those on spirits, meaning it will not cost people any more to go out to pubs and other venues in the hospitality sector, but Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster has expressed concerns about energy prices. Do the Government intend to do anything about them?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. I chair the Hospitality Sector Council and meet large and small hospitality businesses regularly, so I understand the pressure they are under. The hon. Gentleman has some such businesses in his constituency and I do too, so we know that is a problem. We have put a huge amount into supporting businesses with their energy costs, halving the cost of energy for most businesses. Energy is much more affordable than it was this time last year, which was an incredibly difficult time, but some businesses are locked into expensive energy contracts from the backend of last year, when prices were very high. If the hon. Gentleman has any examples of such businesses, he should bring them to me, as we have commitments from the energy suppliers, so we can challenge them and try to smooth the contracts over a longer period to ease the pain. I am happy to help him with any individual cases in his constituency.

On capital investment, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Business and Trade will host 200 of the world’s leading investors at the Global Investment Summit this weekend and on Monday, which I hope to attend. It will showcase the UK as one of the world’s best places to do business, and drive billions of pounds of new and strategic investment into every corner of the economy.

The autumn statement has a host of innovative measures that will unlock investment and fuel growth. For example, our pension reforms will help unlock an extra £75 billion of financing for high-growth companies, while providing an even better deal for savers. Plans include a new growth fund within the British Business Bank to crowd in pension fund capital to the UK’s most promising businesses.

Another example is our plan for further funding for two British Business Bank programmes, including the long-term investment for technology and science competition. That will make £250 million available to successful bidders to increase investment in key science and technology sectors, with the private sector contributing at least as much again. Not only that—we have made £50 million available to extend the future fund breakthrough scheme, which backs businesses focusing heavily on research and development.

Although the Chancellor did not mention it yesterday, we have also introduced important measures for equity investments, including a 10-year extension to the enterprise investment scheme and the venture capital trust scheme, giving investors and businesses the confidence, certainty and stability to invest, which underpins the system.

Secondly, this autumn statement contains a series of measures that will provide smaller businesses with practical help. As we prepare to mark Small Business Saturday next weekend—I am sure that Members across the House will visit their small businesses on 2 December—it could not be a more timely moment to announce our business rates support package. It will help high streets and protect smaller firms, which are the life blood of our local communities, saving the average independent pub more than £12,000 a year, and the average independent shop over £20,000.

In addition, the autumn statement will include measures to toughen our regulations to tackle late payments. I have seen at first hand how this scourge can crush even the most determined of business owners’ dreams, so it is right that we act.

The Procurement Act 2023 means that the 30-day payment terms, which are already set for public sector contracts, will automatically apply through the subcontract supply chain. From April next year, any company bidding for large Government contracts will have to be able to demonstrate that they pay their own invoices within an average of 55 days and that will reduce progressively to 30 days.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

I am grateful to the Minister for the steps that he has announced today, but of course the proof of the pudding lies in the enforcement. Sex discrimination at work has been illegal for almost 50 years, but it still happens. The Minister will be aware that, as well as calling for action on late payment generally, I have often raised an issue that we get in the construction and civil engineering sectors, where the main contractor is paid on time but keeps the money for an inordinate length of time. If the main contractor then does a Carillion and goes down, all the money becomes part of its administration and very often the subcontractors get nothing. Can we have legislation, a code of practice or something to protect small business subcontractors from being dragged down when the main contractor goes under?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I know that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned on this for some time and I have great regard for the work he does. It is worth him reading the “Payment and Cash Flow Review”, which was published yesterday alongside the autumn statement. It includes some references to retentions, to which he refers. There are other measures from the small business commissioner as well as more transparency on late payments. I am happy to engage with him further on this issue.

Although taxes pay for vital public services, this Government are clear that they must not stifle business owners’ ambitions. Quite simply, our economy relies on those ready to take risks and to innovate. Time and again, these entrepreneurs tell me that a simpler tax system would make life easier for them. This autumn statement will not just reduce tax but reform it, while putting more money into employees’ pockets.

The abolition of class 2 national insurance will save the average self-employed person £192 a year. Alongside the 1% reduction in the rate of class 4 national insurance, some 2 million self-employed people will be saving an average of £350 a year from next April.

In addition, from next year we will merge the existing research and development expenditure credit and the small and medium-sized enterprise R&D scheme. This will allow companies to claim back a proportion of their spending in this area through their tax bill, further simplifying the system and boosting innovation.

Finally, and very significantly, we have unveiled game-changing plans to make full expensing permanent. As the Chancellor set out yesterday, expensing aims to stimulate investment by giving larger companies £250,000 off their tax bill for every £1 million they invest. It was introduced, as hon. Members know, by the Chancellor in the spring and was set to last for three years, but it has been such a success, and the calls for it to continue have been so loud and clear that yesterday the Chancellor made it a permanent policy. This is the largest single tax cut in modern British history. It means that we now have not just the lowest headline corporation tax rate in the G7, but the most generous capital allowances too. That is hugely appealing to any business looking for a home in a global market.

The Office for Budget Responsibility tells us that this move alone will increase annual investment by around £3 billion a year, and by £14 billion over the forecast period. We are able to do this only because we have met our borrowing rules early, have more than halved inflation, and are seeing our debt go down every year.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

Going back to the tax regime in general, one of the measures in the autumn statement—line 50 of table 5.1—was entitled “HMRC: Investment in Debt Management Capability”. According to the statement, investment of £160 million into the debt management facility of His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will somehow unlock £1 billion a year in debt recovery. What is that investment, why was it not undertaken previously and how will it realise an extra £1 billion of income for HMRC?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

HMRC has a responsibility to be understanding and compassionate when it comes to business difficulties, but if debts are owed to the taxpayer it is only right that we seek to return them. Many more businesses may have that difficulty because of difficulties in recent years, but if the hon. Member is implying that we should not chase debts owed to the taxpayer—

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

Perhaps we should have a conversation offline about that. I think it makes perfect sense to invest in reclaiming debt owed to the taxpayer.

I wish to turn now to another of my Department’s spending measures: the advanced manufacturing plan. The UK is a global advanced manufacturing hub. Recently—this is not a statistic that is often quoted in the media—we overtook France to become the world’s eighth-largest manufacturing nation. What is not to like about that? While we have a strong story to tell, there is fierce global competition. Already my Department has been instrumental in attracting significant global investment to our key future-leaning industries, including Tata’s £4 billion gigafactory and a £600 million investment to build the next generation of electric Minis.

Our £4.5 billion advanced manufacturing plan will help to safeguard the sector’s future and seal our reputation as the best place to start and grow a manufacturing business and to invest in this industry. It includes over £2 billion for the automotive industry—the single biggest Government investment ever in the UK sector—alongside £975 million for aerospace and £960 million for a green industries growth accelerator to support clean energy manufacturing. In short, the plan will ensure that our manufacturing success story can begin its most exciting chapter yet.

This is a Government who know business. We are for business because we are from business. This is a Government who believe in business. This is a Government who back business. Our autumn statement could not be a clearer illustration of those facts. Have no doubt that it will provide our most promising companies with the capital, certainty and support that they need to thrive long into the future. That is why I commend its measures to the House.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade 11:52, 23 November 2023

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that you will not mind me saying, as someone born and raised in the north-east of England, not too far from Stockton, that it is unequivocally a beautiful part of this country. Anyone on the Government Benches who is not aware of that should visit it for themselves.

Yesterday’s autumn statement felt a bit like the season finale of this Conservative Government. While we might have been hoping for an uplifting twist in the tale, sadly what we were left with was a pitiful ending to an underwhelming story. It was an autumn statement made of pure fantasy: the Government Benches cheering a tax cut, when in fact taxes are higher than they have ever been; a Chancellor claiming to have delivered for working people, when in reality living standards face an unprecedented fall; the Conservatives desperately trying to address business investment, when in fact their chaos was what caused business investment to collapse to begin with.

I understand that it is tempting for Conservatives to buy into the Chancellor’s fiction, but in the real world people can see the cost of the Conservatives in their bank balance, mortgage bill, high street and public services. This country desperately needs hope for the future and a change of course. For all the spin from the Chancellor, people know that they are worse off after 13 years of the Conservatives. The statement confirmed that nothing that the Government will now do will change that. The Conservatives promised that it would be a statement for growth, but the reality is that growth will be down next year, the year after that, and the year after that. The Chancellor said that we have turned a corner, but all we got was confirmation that Britain has hit a brick wall.

Let us get one thing clear at the beginning of this debate: when inflation went up after the invasion of Ukraine, the Government said, “It’s nothing to do with us; it’s all global pressures.” Now, when some of those pressures have reduced and the Bank of England has operated monetary policy in the way we would expect, the Prime Minister wants personal credit for inflation falling. Do the Government really think they can get away with that?

On inflation, the Government oppose the single most important thing they could do, which is to reduce our exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices so that we are never again so vulnerable and exposed. Labour has a plan for energy independence and security so that Britain is never again so badly exposed to those volatile fossil fuel prices. That is the lesson we need to learn.

Let us also not forget that, while we all welcome lower inflation, it is still high, particularly food inflation. When I do the big shop in my local supermarket in Stalybridge, I wince when I see the price of some food items. Families are working harder than ever before, only to have to put the little things that they treat themselves with back on the shelf, or to cut back on what they would once have considered essentials. This is no time for Conservative Ministers to go around asking for a pat on the back.

On the Chancellor’s central claim that lower inflation means he can now spend money, he is simply not being straight with people. The public finances have not meaningfully improved. It is high inflation, not a stronger economy, that has led to higher tax receipts. It is the fiscal illusion of higher tax receipts caused by high inflation, but rather than using that to meet higher costs in the public sector caused by that inflation, he has chosen to spend it. The Minister mentioned his own business career and, as he knows, I personally admire him very much for that career, but if he had run his businesses in the same way that this Chancellor is running the national finances, I think he knows he would have gone out of business very quickly indeed.

There has to be a reckoning for what that will mean for schools, the NHS, the police and the criminal justice system. While the Prime Minister and the Chancellor may live in a different world, our constituents can see the public realm literally crumbling around them. That is the reality of Conservative Britain, and some fiscal trickery will not be enough to convince people that everything is fine. It is also important to say that the Chancellor’s fiscal headroom is now entirely dependent on things such as a large rise in fuel duty next year—and I imagine that very few Conservative MPs have come to the debate today to say that they support that.

Another major focus of the Chancellor’s speech was business investment, and I welcomed that. I enjoyed that bit of the statement because, as I have made clear, I believe that is a fundamental weakness that we must address. The UK, as the Minister knows, has the lowest business investment in the G7. When British innovation is so abundant, that is an appalling effort from this Government. Full expensing is not perfect, because there are issues with the scope of what is covered by the policy as it stands, but not making it permanent would have been untenable and our relative position in the ranking of attractiveness as a place to invest would have fallen off a cliff.

However, if the Government think that is enough to restore the business confidence that they have frittered away over the last 13 years, they are mistaken. The No. 1 thing that business leaders tell me they need is stability. I have been our shadow Business Secretary for two years, and in that time I have shadowed five different Business Secretaries, we have had four Chancellors and I think we have had three Prime Ministers. In the last 13 years, by my count, we have had 11 different growth strategies, and now it appears we are on to the 12th. We see that lack of consistency across every bit of Government.

Take HS2, which is a national embarrassment: billions of pounds wasted, businesses let down, regeneration plans lost, and a flagship Government policy that goes overnight when Parliament is not even sitting and is unable to ask the most basic of questions by way of scrutiny. Or take the phasing out of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030. There was a major announcement on the headline date, one not made at the request of business, that hugely undermines investment certainty, but without a corresponding change to the rest of the policy environment—the zero-emission vehicle mandate—that leads up to 2030. Therefore they lose the certainty and credibility of keeping the target, but do not gain any flexibility from moving it either. Businesses say to me time and again that they cannot rely on a word any Conservative Minister says, and they are right. What businesses need is a real industrial strategy that gives them certainty and co-ordination. They need real commitments on planning, to get Britain building again. They need politicians who are willing to say, “We need new homes and infrastructure, and we are willing to commit our political capital to deliver it.” They need reform of the apprenticeship levy, so that they have more flexibility over skills and training. They need a better trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union than the one we have at present.

On the energy transition, the Chancellor and the Minister spent some time attacking what Labour call our “green prosperity plan”—our policy commitment to ensure not only that the transition happens, but that the UK gets maximum economic benefits from it. We on the Labour Benches love wind turbines, but we are sick of seeing them built overseas. We love cars and vans, but we know that unless we build batteries for electric vehicles in the UK, we will not have an automotive sector in the long term. We want green steel, but we are not prepared to close down our blast furnaces and import virgin steel from the far east, as the Conservatives plan to do.

The key point is that the Government do not entirely disagree with us. In the last year, £0.5 billion in subsidy has been allocated to Tata Steel in Somerset. Similar sums have been promised for other steel. But what we want to know is what the Government will get for it. How do they get value for money if those are just ad hoc bilateral negotiations? How is public money protected? The difference between us is not the principle that the state will need to co-invest to deliver some of that private investment; it is a huge difference of ambition, transparency and effectiveness.

Labour will not respond to the challenges that we face through such panicked ad hoc announcements. We will face the future with confidence and with a full plan that delivers for British industry. That is what our national wealth fund will do: manage the investments that we will make and ensure that the British people see their money being well looked after. Fundamentally, we want to get the transition right rather than repeat the mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s, which still haunt many parts of the UK today.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

I agree with the principle of a sovereign wealth or investment fund. Look at Norway, which has a £1.1 trillion sovereign wealth fund—the largest in the world. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Westminster has missed a trick for successive decades by not creating an oil and gas fund, and is that not a damning legacy?

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade

Unsurprisingly, I agree with part of what the hon. Member said. We could have a lengthy and robust debate on the weaknesses of Conservative Governments in the 1980s and the consequences of their short-term decisions. I would—

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade

I would simply say to SNP colleagues that their own independence White Paper made the fair case for a UK-wide energy market. That is because, as in many areas of policy, a UK-wide energy market is the best way to deliver for my constituents in England and for the constituents of Alan Brown in Scotland. That is a reality that I think SNP colleagues do not accept.

I think the Minister would like a second bite, so let us bring him in to see what he has to say.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

On the point about industrial strategy, can the hon. Gentleman answer a simple question with a yes or no? Will he reinstate the plans for HS2?

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade

You have sold the land; you have salted the earth.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade

Absolutely. I apologise in full, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Government not only made that decision in their own short-term interests, which compares very poorly even with previous Conservative Governments, but by selling the land, they did so in such a way as to prevent a future Government from trying to correct it. That is the controversy that the Minister makes. Of course, we are still very much committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail—the Crossrail project for the north of England—which would be important for my constituency, but of course, that plan itself relies partly on what was going to be HS2 infrastructure.

As the Minister knows, his Government are making a series of quite bizarre short-term decisions, and trying to use those decisions to present themselves as the party of change at the next election. We all face the consequences, which is regrettable. If the Minister were being totally candid in private, I think he would acknowledge that the north of England has really suffered from those short-term decisions, which we should all very much regret.

The Chancellor spoke at length about long-term sickness yesterday, and again, he was right to do so. We are the only country in the G7 where the participation rate is still below pre-pandemic levels, with long-term sickness at an all-time high of 2.6 million. Unfortunately, all we got was the same old rhetoric and the same old policies. What we needed to hear are two things. First, we need to have some efforts to get people off NHS waiting lists. That is what we would do, by providing 2 million more NHS appointments from the revenue we would get from abolishing the non-dom rule.

Secondly, we need to focus on mental health. That is why we would guarantee people a mental health appointment within a month and make mental health support available in schools, paid for by ending the tax breaks for private education. That would be real support. They are better choices than those the Government have chosen to make, because we in the Opposition know that a strong economy, good public services and social justice are not competing demands; they are all integral to one another.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need for further investment in the NHS, which we on the SNP Benches would certainly support, but can he confirm the words of the shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting? Is it the intention of the Labour party to fight the next election on a manifesto that says it will

“hold the door wide open” to the private sector in our NHS?

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade

No, and I think the hon. Member is being a little bit mischievous there, and he is aware of that. What my hon. Friend the shadow Health Secretary has reaffirmed is Labour’s historic and enduring commitment to a national health service that is free at the point of use and is managed and run as a national public service. He has also said that there clearly needs to be reform of the NHS to take advantage of new treatments and new ways of doing things; some incredibly exciting developments in life sciences and genomics have to be part of that. I think we would all recognise from our own constituency experiences that the NHS could do better in terms of how it interacts with people and how it gets people the treatment they need in a timely fashion.

What is relevant to this debate in particular is that, as well as being important issues about people needing healthcare and how they get it, these are economic issues. We want to get waiting lists down because we want people to have the medical treatment they need, but we also recognise that with so many people out of work and wanting to get back to work when they are waiting for treatment, it is imperative to get those waiting lists down. Under the last Labour Government, we saw tremendous progress in using the capacity available out there as part of a nationally run and nationally managed national health service to deliver that. Having successfully done that before in government, we believe we can successfully do it again, and that is what we intend to do.

Yesterday really lifted the lid on 13 years of Conservative economic failure. It laid bare the full scale of the damage that this Conservative party has done to our economy, and nothing that has been announced will remotely compensate for those 13 years. Only the Conservatives could preside over the greatest fall in living standards and call it a victory. Only the Conservatives could burden the country with the highest tax bill since the war and then pat themselves on the back for a cursory 2p national insurance cut. Only the Conservatives could crash the economy and send mortgages, food bills and energy costs rocketing and have the audacity to ask the country to trust them on the economy ever again.

As the credits roll on 13 years of Conservative failure, the reviews are in too: business has lost confidence in them, the public have lost patience with them, and even those on their own Benches know that this will not be enough to save them. While the Tories try to kid themselves, I do not believe the British public will be taken for fools. They know that after 13 years, we are all worse off under the Conservatives, and the only way we can truly turn the corner on this litany of failure is with a new and Labour Government—a Government who would put working people first, get energy bills down and get wages up; a Government who would give business the confidence to choose Britain again; a Government rebuilding our crumbling public services and getting waiting lists down; a Labour Government with the ambition, the ideas and the energy to get Britain’s economy really moving and deliver the real change our country is crying out for.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 12:08, 23 November 2023

I tend to participate in these debates, because I think they are very important, and when we look at the Government’s record and certainly this Chancellor’s record, it is sometimes best to look back at the last three financial statements and Budgets. Twelve months ago, the Chancellor produced an autumn statement where the predictions were that Britain would have a major reduction in GDP and a recession. The Bank of England also produced similar forecasts, and I can remember the debate about the £50 to £60 billion black hole that the Treasury would have to deal with, which seems to have disappeared. The truth of the matter is that when we are dealing with very large figures and forward projections, we have to take them all with a pinch of salt. In all the time I have been in this House, we have been hearing that we are either about to go bust, or about to boom. The reality is that when it comes to economic forecasting, things are usually not as bad as people think, or not as good as they think.

The Chancellor is turning out to be a very good Chancellor: he is steady, he is solid, and the decisions he has taken have resulted in a better economic out-turn than people projected. What happened over the past year—did we have a recession? No, we have had growth. Even if we look at the OBR report, the balance of payments is showing signs of narrowing; post Brexit, that looks very hopeful, and we are doing a lot of very good trade deals. If we look at the overall situation in terms of business investment, although I was a little sceptical about the rise in corporation tax—I would prefer us not to do it—full expensing has led to more people investing more money, and extending that for longer and making it permanent is a rather good thing. However, I would still like to see the top rate of corporation tax reduced, because I do think there is a point at which we benefit from having a lower rate, as the Government in Éire do.

We have seen a fall in inflation. It has been a bit stickier than people expected, but that is partly because the economy has been a little bit more robust than people have expected, and in reality, things have not been too bad over the past 12 months. People talk about falling living standards, but the Budget projected a higher rate of falling living standards than we have at the moment, and from the previous iteration of the autumn statement a year ago, people expected it to be even worse. The gap is closing; it may well be that by the time we get to a general election, there has been no fall in living standards over the last period of Government. Inflation could well be lower—many of my friends who are monetary economists think that will fall rather faster than people expect—and we all know that pay settlements may be a little higher. Combined with the reductions in national insurance that the Government have implemented, we may well be in a situation where people are not that much worse off.

The reasons for the problems include covid—the Government protected people as best they could, which had an impact on the economy—and the energy price spiral as a result of war in Europe. Again, we protected people: let us not forget that we extended the energy price support by a further three months. That is the reason why living standards are not at a higher level. We can talk about the 1950s, but most Governments since the 1950s have not faced pandemics or major increases in energy costs, and Governments have to deal with the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. The important point is that living standards will rise for most of the next 12 months.

I think the OBR is too pessimistic about growth in the short term. I have a slight fear about what is over the horizon: I think that the Bank of England, by pushing interest rates up as much as it has and doing quantitative tightening at the rate it is doing it, is reducing monetary growth. M2 has reduced substantially and M3X has also reduced, so there is the possibility of credit getting quite tight in about 12 months’ time. If we have a better inflation outlook, we need to see interest rates coming down. I know that the Bank always pretends it is going to be stronger for longer, but it would not surprise me if in reality, we got back on track with interest rates at around 4% rather than 5%, which is what the OBR said in its previous report.

If we look at the result of the past 12 months, we can congratulate the Government on the fact that we made progress, but more progress has to be made. The reduction in national insurance is good: clearly, tax rates are going up because of the freeze on allowances, but I hope that this is the start of a process in which the Government are able to give more money back to working people, who have had to struggle over recent years. However, when we look at this in the context of the £104 billion that we put in to help people with the cost of living, still being able to reduce tax is quite a good result.

I support the triple lock. We made a pledge; we gave our word, and I do not believe in breaking our word. I have constituents who retire for 30 years. In the first 10 years, they have savings and pensions, and as life goes by, they may still have an expensive flat, but their ability to earn more money and their reliance on the state pension becomes much more important. As such, I am glad that the Government have kept their word on the triple lock.

I am also pleased that the Government are being realistic about energy policy, in terms of both nuclear and taking advantage of oil and gas. Today, 75% of our energy comes from oil and gas. It will remain a major factor—we will still need it after 2030—and it seems sensible that we produce it at home, rather than import it. At business questions, Neale Hanvey raised the possibility of the closure of refining capacity in Scotland. He made a very good point: if we are to continue producing oil and gas, we need to improve our refining capacity as well. In the recent energy crisis, we saw the shortage of refining capacity in the west and our reliance on some Russian refining capacity, which caused a problem with diesel.

The Government’s approach has been to help businesses by making full expensing longer term; to help smaller businesses by providing help with the uniform business rate; and to help working people through a reduction in their national insurance contributions. Generally speaking, those are all good things, and we have also done our best to protect the most vulnerable in society by uprating benefits and giving them special payments. I do not think the Government have anything to apologise for; if I have any criticism of the Government, it is that sometimes they do not make the best case for what the Treasury is doing, which is actually a pretty good job.

It is going to be an interesting year. I suspect most of the speeches in this House are going to sound like party political broadcasts about who is doing what and who can do things better, but we all know that to some extent, “It’s the economy, stupid.” At the end of the day—in October or November of next year, I suspect—the question will be whether or not the Government continue to make progress, as they are doing, and whether the people accept that and decide to hold on to nurse for fear of something worse, or believe the rhetoric of Jonathan Reynolds and others that they can do better. We have a very good political system—we have robust debate, and Britain benefits from that—but I still think that when it comes to deciding the future of our country, the British people will take a very sensible course.

I will end my speech with a couple of points. First, the flash purchasing managers’ indexes for the British economy have today been revised up to over 50, which means that we may well have higher growth. Secondly, the eurozone looks like it is getting into deeper trouble, so the relative position of the British economy in three months, six months or 12 months may look rather better than that of other economies around the world. Let us face it: there are problems, but they are problems that the French, the Italians and the Germans also have. We also have opportunities, and in many areas such as fintech and technology, we are doing pretty well as a nation. If we can do more of what we do best and less of what we do badly, I think we will meet with great success.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe) 12:18, 23 November 2023

As with any major political announcement, the Government clearly had a whole series of long-term and short-term objectives for the autumn statement. I am pleased to confirm that the statement has already achieved what was probably the Government’s single biggest objective: it got good headlines right across the front pages of the right-wing press. They were not true headlines—they were completely untrue —but when did that worry the present Conservative Government? On the one hand, we have The Sun, The Times, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express—all bastions of responsible journalism—celebrating a tax-cutting Budget, and on the other hand, we have the BBC, Channel 4 news, Sky News, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation all saying that it is a tax-increasing Budget and we are heading for the highest tax burden any of us can remember. Who do we believe? That is a difficult question: who do we believe?

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

On that point, is it not a godsend that we do actually have something from the OBR this time, when 12 months ago we had nothing? That was a determined effort by the then Prime Minister and Chancellor not to have anything, so as to deceive the public.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

I do not know if I am allowed to repeat the verb that the hon. Member used—perhaps we should make it “persuade” the public, rather than “deceive” them, which I do not think we are allowed to say in this place—but I think the covid inquiry has blown that wide open. We have a Prime Minister who, as Chancellor, deliberately avoided asking for advice from the experts when he knew he was not going to like the advice he would get. It is barely a year since the Government Benches were full of people denouncing the idea of having an OBR because, in their words, “Economic forecasts are always wrong,” but as soon as economic forecasts begin to suggest that things may be improving, they suddenly want us all to believe them.

It is clear that by the end of this period of Tory rule, people will be paying more in tax in real terms than they were before. I am not against asking people to pay tax if they can see some benefit to the general welfare as a result, but that is not what is happening. We are looking at the largest reduction in real living standards since the 1950s. I did a quick check, and that is before either I or the Minister was even born. Perhaps there are one or two Members here who were alive at that time—I will not look at anyone in particular—but there are not very many. This is what has been described to us in Scotland as the “broad shoulders of the Union”. However, the broad shoulders of the Union have delivered the biggest reduction in real living standards in Scotland since before most of us were born.

While there are some aspects of this statement that we certainly welcome, the good bits do not go nearly far enough and the bad bits go far too far. I welcome the cut in national insurance, but let us not forget that that puts back into the pockets of workers only a quarter of the amount they are losing because tax thresholds have been frozen during a time of high inflation. When people have been getting 5% or 10% pay rises recently, it has not been a pay rise; it has just been trying to keep up with rising costs. Leaving the tax thresholds where they are means that somebody who in real terms is getting less top-line pay than they were two years ago is still having to pay more tax as a result.

The Chancellor boasted about the national insurance cut giving back, in his words, “nearly £450 per year” to average earners. Somehow he did not have time to mention that that drops to just £36 a year by the time we take account of the increases in real levels of income tax. Of course, as of this morning, it has been wiped out completely by the increase in fuel bills that we are all going to face next year. So this is not a giveaway budget; it is a pickpocket budget. It uses the classic pickpocket technique of using a nice thing to distract us—a tuppence cut in national insurance—while someone slips around the back and swipes the higher fuel bills, the higher income tax and higher everything else out of our back pocket at the same time.

We could have seen real action to address what is still the single biggest crisis affecting tens of millions of people on these islands, which is the very real panic people are in every week over the cost of living. We could have seen a continuation of the £400 energy bill rebate for households. We could have seen the Government funding a council tax freeze in the way the Scottish Government have done, meaning that Scotland now has the lowest—yes, the lowest—average council tax in the United Kingdom. They could have followed the SNP’s example and brought in a UK child payment similar to the game-changing Scottish child payment, lifting thousands of children out of poverty.

I welcome confirmation that benefits and pensions will not be cut in real terms. They are not increasing; they are being pegged in real terms, and that is all. However, the fact that that was under serious consideration until about 24 hours before the Chancellor’s statement tells us everything we need to know about where this Government’s values lie, and they do not lie in the same place as the values of Scotland. Alternatively, maybe there was never any danger of that cut being implemented, and they were just threatening it so they could make themselves look good when they announced no change. In the words of the Child Poverty Action Group:

“Struggling families have been worrying themselves sick for months about whether an unmanageable…cut was coming in order to provide the government with a rabbit-out-of-the-hat moment.”

Just as over the last few years we have seen the Tories wanting to punish homeless people for daring to be homeless and wanting to punish asylum seekers for daring to flee certain death, they are now planning to punish people who are ill and people with disabilities for daring to want to have a living at the same time as being ill or having a disability. We know what we should expect and what is coming next. The press were all trained to respond today, so we can expect an avalanche of rhetoric in the right-wing press denouncing anybody on disability benefits, in the same way that they have denounced migrants and asylum seekers for years and years. They denounced them as scroungers and fraudsters, all to give cover to a brutal and inhumane attack by a brutal and inhumane Government.

The party that last year demanded that all civil servants returned to full-time office working immediately, because working from home is not properly working, is now saying that people on disability-related benefits will face the choice between taking up a—non-existent—working from home vacancy or literally facing starvation. Yesterday, the Prime Minister either would not or could not tell us how many vacancies currently being advertised in DWP jobcentres would be suitable for home working, or maybe he just did not care enough to bother finding out. The answer, incidentally, is that about one in 20 of those vacancies might be suitable for home working, which is not nearly enough to get the number off benefits that the Chancellor claims to think is realistic.

More than 100 disability organisations have warned that the Government’s inhumane policy could lead to unnecessary deaths, and that is not a blank threat. Last year, a study by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health and Glasgow University found that over 300,000 deaths in Britain could be attributed to Government austerity policies. Austerity is not an economic necessity. Austerity is unnecessary, and those 300,000 deaths were unnecessary as well.

I welcome some of the measures announced to support small businesses. As I mentioned in an intervention, we still need to see real action to protect small subcontractors involved in big infrastructure projects, so that they do not go down if the main contractor goes down. A lot of small businesses have now stopped bidding for that kind of work because they are worried that it may put them out of business, rather than keep them in business.

It is disappointing that, yet again, there is no movement on the determined calls from the hospitality industry to reduce or abolish VAT on that sector, even temporarily. A few weeks ago, I lost yet another award-winning small business café in my constituency, because such people just cannot continue working eight hours a day and earning less than the legal minimum wage. It is a bit ironic that the Government who caused rampant inflation now expect us to cheer when they start to bring it down. It is a wee bit like an arsonist expecting a medal for helping to put out half the fire.

We welcome additional support for green industries, but look what is happening among our competitors. In the UK, the figure is £960 million in total by 2030—yes, very nice—but the equivalent figure in Germany is €4.1 billion and in France it is €500 million every year, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research.

What has happened to the hydrogen town announcements we were promised in March 2023? I have world-leading work going on in my constituency as part of the H100 project, which is a much smaller-scale project to assist in conversion from natural gas to hydrogen. That is a chance for Scotland, for Fife and for Methil to be at the centre of one of the world’s leading industries. Whether a bid from Fife or a bid from somewhere else is going to be successful we do not know, and we do not even know who has bid yet. That announcement was due in March, and it is now too late for that work to be done according to the original timetable. Can the Minister give us an update, or are the Government planning to just walk away from green hydrogen in the same way that they walked away from wave and tidal power in the 1980s and 1990s?

By comparison, despite the fact that the Scottish Government do not have anything like the borrowing power or indeed the legislative power of this place, and despite the fact that more and more of Scotland’s funding is having to go into the funding holes left by the policy failures of the UK Government, we now have 1.2 million people under the protection of a Scottish benefits system that explicitly on its home page puts “dignity, fairness and respect” at its heart. Those are not words that many people who use DWP services would use.

As I have said, the Scottish Government have frozen council tax, and are lifting children out of poverty with the Scottish child payment. They are providing support to mitigate the additional heating costs that households with very severely disabled children and young people face through the winter heating payment, and free school meals to all children in primary 1 to 5 and eligible children throughout school. Scotland has a much more widespread and more widely available bus concession scheme than the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Child Poverty Action Group has calculated that these policies mean that the cost of raising a child in SNP-governed Scotland is £27,000 less in total than for an equivalent family living under Tory rule in England. Is it any wonder that the Tories have no chance of being elected any time soon, or any time ever in Scotland? The Chancellor could have extended those benefits to hard-pressed families in England but he chose not to do it. It is not that he could not do it; it just was not important enough to him.

People in Scotland cannot afford to wait for a change in Government policy in Westminster to make things better. One of the features of this autumn statement is that things look bad enough just now, but they will get a million times worse immediately after the next election, so regardless of what the Opposition think they are going to be able to do if they win it, their hands will be tied. The warning to people in Scotland is, “You might think you’re voting for a change, but if you vote Labour, you’ll be voting for more of the same.”

We are calling on the UK Government to transfer to the Scottish Parliament permanently the powers to act on energy, employment, welfare and the economy, so that Scotland gets the policies it votes for and that it needs. We must reinstate the £400 energy bill rebate, and follow the example of other countries such as France in taking proper action to bring food prices down. Increasing food prices are not making life any easier for farmers; they are losing out. They are not making bigger profits; the supermarkets might be but the farmers certainly are not. The Government could boost people’s incomes by introducing a proper living wage that is actually enough to live on. They could also increase benefits in line with inflation and maybe a bit more, and match the Scottish child payment UK-wide.

Those policies represent our values; they represent the values of the Scottish National party, because they are the values of Scotland’s people. It is becoming increasingly clear that no Westminster Government will ever deliver to Scotland the policies it votes for. The only way to have a set of Government policies that embeds the values of Scotland’s people is to put those policies firmly into the hands of an independent Scottish Government.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 12:31, 23 November 2023

In these unprecedented times, we stand at the crossroads of recovery and resilience, and the autumn statement gives us a clear road map for the challenging economic terrain we still find ourselves in. I have a lot of time for the shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Jonathan Reynolds, but I gently remind him that when we came to power in 2010, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne had left a note saying there was no money left. We have made a lot of progress since then and taken long-term decisions, and it was only thanks to that that we were able to pay for the substantial financial support we rightly gave to families and businesses during the covid pandemic. But we are still paying for that support and that is part of the challenge we face. Targeted support schemes such as the furlough scheme demonstrated a deep understanding of the challenges faced by businesses and employees, and I remind the House that no such scheme was put in place after the financial crash overseen by the previous Labour Government.

We still have an aftershock from covid at home in terms of economic productivity, but we are much boosted by the new trade deals that have been secured and I look forward to our taking advantage of that. The key issue, however, is the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Putin and the impact on energy costs. Again, we have given unprecedented financial support in the past few years to households and businesses. I was, frankly, somewhat shocked by Peter Grant; I never thought of him as a Putin apologist. To try to suggest that this Government stimulated the inflation is far from the truth, and he knows it is that energy challenge that has really made the difference. That is why it is right that the Government are investing in the energy of the future while also making sure that we can keep the lights on.

I welcome the measures in the Chancellor’s statement yesterday. They reflect a profound understanding of the evolving needs of our society and economy, highlighting the imperative to adapt and evolve.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

No, I will not.

The autumn statement unveiled a comprehensive plan that addresses immediate needs while also putting in place the foundations for long-term growth. The measures outlined in it serve as pillars of stability, fostering hope and laying the true foundations for a resilient and prosperous future. There are 110 measures, and I must admit that I have not read the entire Green Book, but some parts stood out to me, particularly those on backing business and making work pay. This autumn statement clearly sets the way for growth.

Given the challenges facing business, the full deduction is welcome and this is a good moment to make it permanent, especially as the UK will be hosting the global investment summit this coming Monday. I used to work for Mars, Incorporated and I know its investment in capital was pivotal to its manufacturing industry productivity and financial success, so I welcome this improvement and the long-term confidence in investment in manufacturing capital and other areas.

Businesses in my constituency, particularly those in hospitality and tourism, will welcome the business rates measure. It will help with cash flow, but I have heard today from Andrew Dalby, managing director of Brafe Engineering in my constituency, a very successful business largely driven by exports, and he has made a point to me that I want to share with the House. He says:

“The R&D tax credits…must run in parallel to see the development through to profitability to then permit the investment in the selected capital equipment needed to boost production efficiency.”

There are other substantial elements, but Brafe Engineering needs to make its components part of the system in providing skills and equipment to energy companies. It needs to enhance how it manufactures those complex components, but there is no grant system to support that and to help its customers succeed. For that business, I encourage my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to consider further work on the benefits of adjusting the R&D tax credit claims. I am aware that when they were introduced about 15 years ago, there was abuse of them, particularly by financial firms, so I think the Treasury will continue to be cautious, but we need to make sure that in R&D we focus not just on research but on development too, because that is where the value will come from.

I am thrilled that we are finally getting on with the reforms to solvency II. I remember a meeting in Downing Street just after COP26. I had been encouraging a lot of financial institutions there to raise this issue, and I am very pleased that—after some resistance, I think, from some of the institutions in Government because of the uncertainty it would bring, and indeed some concerns on pension fiduciary duties—we have found a way through, as we must unlock that investment for the long term. This has always seemed odd to me: we want things such as the local government pension scheme, so why do they not invest in the infrastructure they want if they believe it represents good value for taxpayers’ money? I am not just referring to local government. There are plenty of other insurers and others who can try to get a better return from long-term investment and long-term pension increases.

One of the big highlights of the autumn statement were the big tax cuts, for employees in particular. That is very welcome. I will be surprised if any Member votes against the legislation announced for next Thursday, because it is very important that we help people in these challenging times with more money in their pockets.

I welcome the announcements about stability in benefits and pensions. We have twice voted in this Parliament to set aside the earnings lock, recognising what happened with the dip in earnings where if we had not changed the law we would have frozen pensions. That would not have been the right thing to do, so we put in place our triple lock and lifted pensions then by 2.5%. That was followed by a year when there was a surge or spike—almost a covid-related distortion—when again the House agreed to set aside the normal earnings link. I was in the Government then and I did say that that would be it and we would apply the triple lock policy for the remainder of the Parliament. I am conscious that this is one of the biggest earnings uplifts that people will enjoy and it is right that pensioners share in that success. I am delighted we have kept to our commitments, therefore.

The Government have wisely recognised the need for a change to the local housing allowance. We made a shift during covid but then froze that change. Increasing interest rates have led to challenges in terms of rents, so I am pleased we have reinstated that. It represents a large sum of money. When we did this a few years ago, it cost an extra £1 billion just for the following year. There will be an extra £1.3 billion of spending, so I expect the amount of money taxpayers now pay in housing support will probably rise to about £32 billion or £33 billion a year. That is a substantial sum to help others, but I am conscious that there have been particular challenges with regard to local housing allowance and finding appropriate accommodation in various parts of the country.

The broader aspects of the back to work plan that have been announced and the reforms to welfare are welcome. Some of the catcalls directed at the Chancellor yesterday were completely undeserved. There is no greater dignity than being in work. Many people want to work, but feel that they cannot. They struggle to do so, and it is absolutely right that we help people into work. During my three years in the Department for Work and Pensions —we were in the covid pandemic for part of that—it was critical to try to help people’s mental health and wellbeing to support them to get back into work.

I am conscious of the issues that people have raised about access to mental health appointments and so on, but such things as the expansion of individual placement and support and other aspects of universal support go straight to the heart of trying to tackle some of the barriers that people face. Instead of focusing on some of the changes that will happen to fit notes, the whole focus has been—I worked on this for some time, and I am delighted that policies came through last year and we are seeing the funding to support them—on what people can do, not what they cannot.

I am conscious that GPs do not like to be the barrier to the gateway to benefits, but it must be good for their patients if, instead of just signing them off with even more time out of work, they were helping them to find a way through. If we wanted to be radical, perhaps the NHS budget should pay for disability benefits of people of working age. That would bring it together. I appreciate that may be a step too far at this moment, but it is about working together so that people have a fulfilling life. That is not only about being in work and away from social isolation, but the extra financial rewards that come from it.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

We are all in favour of helping people back to work, but is it not the case that by focusing on the punishment aspect, as the Chancellor and Prime Minister have done, we are talking not about helping people back to work, but about starving them back to work, whether or not they are fit to go back to work?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I am not sure why I gave way. I should have expected a low-quality comment like that.

In terms of the thinking about when we were coming out of covid, I worked with the now Prime Minister on the Way to Work, and we got 500,000 people back into jobs. A lot of that comes with support, but there were other aspects, such as bringing interviews into the jobcentres so that people actually turned up. I commend in particular our frontline work coaches. Candidly, if any Member of Parliament has not been to the jobcentre in their constituency or nearby, I strongly urge them to do so. They are a beacon of hope for people who are often desperate, but those who work there are frustrated by the fraud they experience, and they would like to do more about it. This sort of approach—not a stick, but a carrot—helps people. It gives a lot of time and support.

I note the expansion of the restart programme, which is to be improved, and that is good, but it has been successful in getting people back into work. There are a few ghosts, I suppose, within the benefits system, and it can be challenging to identify them. I am conscious that the Department for Work and Pensions considers the vulnerability of its claimants. It is a sensible approach and a step forward, and I know it will be undertaken with great care.

One of the other aspects I will talk a bit more about is planning and energy. I commend the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero and the Government more broadly on one aspect: finally, we will have a much more co-ordinated approach on the national grid. I have been trying to get that sorted for my constituents for six or seven years, and the proposed reforms have come too late for them. We still have a disconnected element and we still have projects that should have come in as direct current, where the infrastructure was built to support that and the developer then changed their mind. New infrastructure then had to be built for the same developer. There are no jobs that come with that. It is not about being a nimby, but about trying to make sure that we have a co-ordinated grid for the future, recognising the dynamic change that has happened, instead of the traditional coal and gas plants that we had. We have moved to a situation where a lot more of our energy will be coming in directly from the coast.

I encourage the Government to look again at considering existing brownfield sites where there are already energy connections, whether that is the Isle of Grain or Bradwell in Essex, rather than ploughing up acres and hectares of land that is otherwise used for agricultural production. Indeed, I recognise my constituents’ concerns about the change in status of a lot of this network to almost default approval; that goes against the normal way of doing planning. I understand why the Government are considering this, but it will be unwelcome in my constituency. We will be debating the national policy statements on energy at another time, so I will not dwell on that now. I understand that we have to move as quickly as possible, but I think that a more holistic approach, even for projects that are in the pipeline now, should be undertaken. My understanding is that that will not delay the connections in the future.

The port of Felixstowe is part of a freeport, and I welcome the extensions there, given the benefits. I ask the Minister to work with other Departments, particularly the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to ensure that the freeports are effective and flowing, and to listen to the feedback from people in East Anglia about how we think some aspects could be improved. We will discuss the local government finance settlement on another occasion, but when it comes to spending I am conscious of the challenge that county councils in particular face on social care, special education needs and disabilities, and transport to school.

Historically, a constituency like mine would be seen as exceptionally prosperous; it always surprises people when I tell them that the median salary is far higher in Liverpool—apart from in Liverpool, Walton—than in my constituency. That is because a lot of people come to my part of the world to retire. There is quite long life expectancy in the area, but people in the health system know that as soon as someone goes past 80, the likelihood that they engage the NHS and social care is much higher. This long life that people enjoy—I continue to welcome people who come to see the special coast of Suffolk Coastal—needs to be taken account of, rather than some of the traditional assumptions. Indeed, the chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty recently highlighted that in his annual report.

I encourage the Government to go even further on a few things, on top of their 110 measures. One is continuing to focus on supply-side reform. We have already seen what is being proposed for energy, and trying to get a connection timeline down from five years to six months is sensible because it can be very frustrating for people wanting to connect. But we should go further. Yesterday I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the apprenticeship levy. Let us also go a bit further on childcare; the Government have done some really good things, but let us go further and see whether we do need Ofsted to be the arbiter. Why can we not rely on our local councils, which already have a statutory duty for children and adults? We could consider that, as it would localise provision as well.

I could go further. I have a particular pet project for the Department for Transport, which the Transport Secretary well knows. People who passed their driving test before 1997 can drive a D1, which is basically a minibus not for hire, and a C1, which is a typical Tesco or Ocado delivery van; they are also used by many other firms, like Amazon, DPD and so on. A European regulation then required people to undertake the expensive tests needed for HGVs. I think that is unnecessary. At the time, I guess it must have been a Labour Government, or perhaps it was still a Conservative one; I cannot quite remember—[Interruption.] I apologise: it must have been a Conservative Government who thankfully negotiated to keep grandfather rights. I say that we should get on and repeal this unnecessary law, as that would allow many more people into the market to drive these sort of vans. This is a particular issue for rural communities, which do not have extensive public transport, because so much community transport relies on volunteers to drive minibuses so that people can get to a variety of activities, and those areas are currently having to pay quite a lot of money to train people to do that. This is a really easy win. I keep being told that primary legislation would be required, but let us do that, if that is what is needed to boost that aspect of productivity.

There is much in the autumn statement of which I am proud, and I commend the Chancellor and the Prime Minister on their extensive work on it. The autumn statement resonates with compassion and foresight. It acknowledges the hardships faced by individuals and businesses alike Our commitment to bolstering our economy while extending support to those most affected by recent upheavals is commendable and a clear demonstration of the principles of a Conservative Government. I commend the resolutions to the whole House.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

We use those terms, my friend.

I agree with the right hon. Lady on legislation about drivers of C1 vehicles. However, on Ofsted and whether local authorities could take on that responsibility, my authorities, Warwick District Council and Warwickshire County Council, have been stripped bare, and I fear that under yesterday’s announcement we will see a further decimation of our local services.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Just to get it straight, the Local Government Association has said that there is a £4 billion gap in local council funding, so there is no room for manoeuvre on additional services to be provided directly by local councils.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and I, and I am sure all of us, know the immediate pressures that local authorities face, whether in addressing homelessness or in addressing social care, so it is not within their current capacity to absorb any more; in fact, they are shrinking by the month.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I understand what the hon. Member says about bandwidth. Of course, any additional duties, if the Government were minded to take that forward, should be accompanied by new burden funding.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the right hon. Lady for that clarification. She is right but, as we saw through the pandemic, it was local authorities who did so much to make up for the failings of the over-centralised Government, who—through the covid-19 inquiry—we now understand were incapable of getting to grips with the pandemic in our communities. That is why local governance is so important. I will move on to my speech.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

On the delivery of net zero projects, does the hon. Member agree that local authorities are well placed to deliver on the ground and that, rather than having centralised delivery, it is much better for them to do that work?

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I absolutely agree. We should take pride in our local authorities. They understand the landscape and the needs of communities, but they must be properly funded to deliver these essential services. I am afraid that, as with the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete problem we see right now in our schools—two particular schools, Myton School and Aylesford School, in my constituency have RAAC—we see delays in rectifying problems because the Government have become so over-centralised.

If I may, I will move on to my speech—I am sure that everyone is waiting for it. I am afraid that, in the last 24 hours, we have seen holes beginning to appear in the Chancellor’s autumn statement. There are holes in the claims he made about lowering taxes, holes in its credibility and holes in the public finances, as my right hon. Friend John McDonnell alluded to. For the public, the manifestation of that is probably most often seen and understood through the holes in our streets and on our roads. That is the reality of the decay we face across our country.

What surprises and disappoints me is the Government’s chutzpah and the claim that they are making long-term decisions when just five weeks ago the supposedly cautious Prime Minister and his Chancellor stated that it was “virtually impossible” to make tax cuts. It now seems that the Prime Minister realises not only that has he got an election coming up soon but that he does not have many options, so it is best just to spend some money and run. His five pledges, even, have wasted away—they have reappeared as five long-term decisions. What will we expect next month on his five promises to the country? It is yet another reset—I think we have had 11 already.

As I mentioned in an intervention, we are a year on from the kamikaze Budget, which cost the country an estimated £40 billion—[Interruption.] Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker; my voice is quite weak due to a chest infection. At the time, I asked the then Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, whether he had

“not just fired the starting gun on a run on the pound”.—[Official Report, 23 September 2022;
Vol. 719, c. 964.]

He was utterly dismissive of my assertion, but of course that is entirely what happened, and that is what we saw on the financial markets within minutes of him speaking. Of course, that translated into higher interest rates, which in turn meant higher interest rates for mortgages, so this year we see 1.5 million households moving off their fixed rates and facing higher mortgage costs averaging a further £250 a month. Next year, we will see a similar number of households moving to higher mortgage costs. That comes at a real cost to households up and down the country.

The Prime Minister talks about inflation being a tax, which is a bizarre way of considering it, but we have to remind the public of why we have such high inflation— he may suggest that he has managed to halve it; he is claiming the success from it, although he did not seem to claim responsibility when it went up—and why we faced higher inflation than the majority of the major G7 nations. The truth is, we still face an inflation premium relative to the United States, Germany, France and all the other major nations purely because of what happened a year ago. That is costing our households and businesses. It is costing us all; and, indeed, it has massively damaged our reputation.

That comes on top of 13 years of austerity and failure, with people really feeling the costs on their lives of the austerity that the Government imposed on us. They see services collapsing around them and feel the fabric of society being weakened by successive Conservative Governments.

As we look at the economy and what was announced yesterday, I am reminded of a photograph that I saw a couple of days ago of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister at a further education college. I do not know whether hon. Members noticed how both of them were trying to hold a screwdriver, but it was almost as if they had never held one before. There is a real need to reskill this country, and we could start with some of the people in power. We have a former Prime Minister who, we are now told, could not understand graphs or data, and therefore struggled to interpret how we should react to the pandemic.

We now face a stagnant economy, as we are told by the OBR and all the balanced economic observers: it was flatlining at just above zero for the last quarter, and we are looking at absolute zero in the current quarter. But somehow the Chancellor wants us to applaud growth rates of 0.7% next year and, possibly, 1.4% in 2025—a huge downgrade on what was forecast earlier this year. The public are being duped by the claims the Government made yesterday that things are rosy and will be positive next year. The public know that they have suffered 13 years of mismanagement, in which the Government have failed to solve the productivity puzzle. I used to work in France, where the average worker is 20% more productive than the UK worker. Why is that? Is it down to employment legislation or the lack of investment incentive in this country? The harsh reality is that we all have to work much harder in order more or less to stand still versus the French.

The Chancellor quoted an aggregated growth figure in his statement, but any credible observer should have looked at growth per head, which is far weaker in the UK than in the US, Japan and Spain, and is fractionally ahead of France. In the real economy, people are feeling the impact of the last 13 years, and particularly the last couple of years. They have less money in their pocket, and the money is not going as far. They are suffering a real-term loss of income. We are told that next year their real-terms income will fall a further 1%. Energy costs now account for a much larger proportion of income, having increased by 50% over the last two years: gas has increased 60% in the two years since 2021, and electric is up 41%. Energy bills have increased an average of 51% versus 2021-22. This was not all necessary. We can talk about global energy price increases and inflationary pressures, but the UK suffered because we did not have the energy storage or resilience, particularly in low-cost onshore wind.

We also have some of the least efficient housing stock in Europe. People have to spend more to keep their homes warm, because their houses are inefficient. The houses built since 2016—1.2 million homes—should have been zero-carbon homes but, because all that legislation was torn up, they are not. Instead, they need more gas and electric, which means higher demand. Without that, total aggregate demand would have been brought down to a lower level.

Let me talk about the predicaments facing students. They face a much higher rate of inflation than the typical UK adult, but maintenance loans have not kept up with inflation. According to the House of Commons Library, there has been an 11% real-terms cut in maintenance loans. That equates to them being £1,200 worse off a year as a result of this Government.

I listened to the Chancellor on this morning’s media round. It was only a matter of time before being economic with the truth would give way to the truth about the economy. He was asked whether there were tax cuts when taxes continue to rise, and about his selective approach to cuts being undermined by stealth and concealed taxes, resulting effectively in higher rates of tax brought on by what economists refer to as fiscal drag. He was asked about the freezing of tax thresholds that will see 7 million people overall paying higher levels of tax: 4 million who have never previously been liable having to pay income tax, and 3 million who have moved from the lower to the higher threshold. His promises on lower taxes are empty, and the public will know that.

Let us not forget that this Conservative Government have imposed the highest tax burden in the post-war period, and the most regressive. The Conservatives like to present themselves as the party of lower taxes, but let us remember that when they came into power in 2010 the first thing they did was increase VAT, from 15% to 20% ultimately—33% up on the most regressive tax of all. There has been a whole raft of other stealth taxes, including on insurance. The public need to know that they face five years of further tax rises.

Let us be clear: the Chancellor is funding these tax cuts by tightening non-protected public services. Given the country’s experience over the past 13 years, the Government’s plans should ring alarm bells, because they sound remarkably like “Austerity II: the sequel.” Given the deep damage they exacted on our communities and our social fabric, that will come with a real social cost.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge a few welcome moves—plagiarism is the most sincere form of flattery. The NHS workforce plan was something that Labour proposed. Planning reform is welcome, but the Government do not seem as ambitious as the Labour party. Elsewhere, I welcome the expensing changes to encourage business investment, but I do not know why it could not have happened earlier, because we have not seen the scale of investment in the UK that we should have seen. On support for innovation and certain developments, I would like to see more, particularly on the role of universities.

The support for the UK automotive sector is particularly welcome for companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin and the myriad supply companies in my constituency. The Government talk about an advanced manufacturing plan, but where has it been for the last few years? They have not had any form of industrial strategy. In fact, the former Chancellor could not even bring himself to use those words when he was in post. I add my support for the Winser report and the rolling out of the grid. It is way too late, but we need to get on with it. It is essential that we electrify the UK economy.

Increasingly, this appears to be a Government without a cause. If they have a purpose, it is as a self-preservation society, as perhaps was exposed yesterday. At their heart is a weak Prime Minister. His King’s speech betrayed a lack of vision and substance; out of ideas and out of road. I am afraid that the public will be underwhelmed by this statement, and by a Government so utterly out of touch. As they say in examinations: compare and contrast the clear direction and purpose of the five missions forged by my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer with the soft, fluid aims of the current Prime Minister.

Overnight, analysis from independent think-tanks such as the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Resolution Foundation has underlined the inequality in the tax burden, where those on the lowest income and those least able are paying disproportionately more under the Conservatives. Overall, the average household faces a £4,500 increase in taxes in the period 2019 to 2028. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor may pat each other on the back, but in this Parliament alone they have presided over a £1,900 tax increase, according to the Resolution Foundation. After 13 years of failure, chaos and mayhem, when energy prices are rising astronomically and food prices dramatically, we now see changes to the tax threshold. The public are really hurting. I am afraid the Government just do not get it.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe 1:09, 23 November 2023

I welcome many of the announcements made yesterday in the autumn statement, in particular raising the minimum wage to £11.44, an increase of 9.8%, which will directly benefit those in my constituency. That means an increase of £1,800 in the annual earnings of a full-time worker on the national living wage and it is predicted to benefit over 2.7 million low-paid workers.

Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister to increase support for apprenticeships and back an apprenticeship hub in Broxtowe. Madam Deputy Speaker, I was delighted when, not 30 minutes later—and presumably because of my question—the Chancellor announced £50 million to increase apprenticeship training in engineering and other growth sectors. The two-year apprenticeship pilot will help create new opportunities for those who do not think university is the right option for them. In Broxtowe we have businesses, such as WEBS Training and Hairven, that are doing amazing work with apprentices. Adding a new apprenticeship hub to Broxtowe will mean people of all ages can train and retrain to join the huge variety of businesses and industries that we have in Broxtowe.

I welcome the announcements made in relation to veterans. As a veteran myself, I am passionate about increased support and making our country the best place in the world to be a veteran. The Chancellor announced £10 million to support the Veterans’ Places, Pathways and People programme, as well as extending national insurance relief for employers of eligible veterans. Those announcements will ensure that our veterans have the support they need, whether that is for seeking employment, or for housing or mental health support.

I would like to see more industries creating further entry pathways specifically for veterans. In Nottinghamshire, I was proud to champion and open the first ever military service leavers pathway into policing, which gives veterans a direct pathway into the police force through the police constable degree apprenticeship. It ensures that skills gained in the military are transferred to a new career that can be entered following a shortened training scheme. I would really encourage other industries to look at similar pathways.

As a Member of Parliament from the east midlands, I was glad to see the announcement of a new east midlands investment zone. The Chancellor announced that the new investment zones will help catalyse more than £3.4 billion of private investment and 65,000 new jobs. I look forward to seeing further information published.

Before the autumn statement, I, along with a number of colleagues, called for an extension of the 75% discount on business rates, up to £110,000 for retail leisure and hospitality businesses. I am therefore thankful to hear that announcement made yesterday. It will have a hugely positive impact on my constituents in Broxtowe.

I am sure the majority of my colleagues across this Chamber experienced the unique difficulties that the pandemic held for those who were self-employed. The self-employed income support scheme was fantastic in supporting businesses, but I am aware that some missed out and so I was particularly pleased yesterday to see measures supporting the self-employed, such as abolishing class 2 national insurance altogether.

I welcome the Government honouring the triple lock in full by increasing the state pension by 8.5%, which will be worth up to up to £900 or more a year. That means the basic state pension will be £3,750 higher than in 2010. The pension fund reforms will be promising news for my constituents contributing to their pensions. As the Chancellor laid out, the majority of defined contribution savers will have their pension pots managed in schemes of over £30 billion by 2030, and by 2040 all local government pension funds will be invested in pools of £200 billion or more. I welcome the consultation on the potential of giving savers a legal right requiring a new employer to pay pension contributions into their existing pension pot if they choose. I have previously spoken in the Chamber about the complications that can arise from multiple pension pots, so I hope this will simplify the pension scheme, meaning that people can move to having one pension pot for life.

Overall, I welcome the autumn statement and look forward to seeing the positive impact that the new measures have in Broxtowe.

Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham 1:14, 23 November 2023

The Government have presided over a crash in the economy of Titanic proportions. They saw the iceberg of stagnation, persistently high inflation and falling living standards, and they decided to head straight for it. Yet they refuse to do the one thing left that would be useful to the rest of the country: abandon ship.

The Chancellor talked a great deal about the need for growth and called this his “autumn statement for growth” yesterday, but what is the reality? The OBR has cut the growth forecast for next year to just 0.7%. In fact, it has cut the growth forecast for the next three years. If it is right—I remind the House that it was the Government’s decision to devolve forecasting to the OBR—we will not hit a 2% real GDP growth target in the foreseeable future. Worse still, this will go down in history as the only Parliament where living standards were lower at the end of it than at the beginning. How is that a policy for growth? I do, however, agree with the Chancellor on one thing, that strong public services depend on a strong economy, but on the official forecasts we will have neither. I do not think I could be any more damning of the Government’s record and the economic legacy they will leave than the OBR itself. It says that, faced with weak growth and the giveaways in this statement, the Chancellor’s spending plans rely on implausible levels of austerity in local government and public services.

Implausible levels of austerity mean enormous levels of cuts, when we know that local government spending has already been cut to the bone. That is why councils of every political stripe up and down the country are now facing bankruptcy. At the same time, our public services are in crisis. People are now more likely to be on an NHS waiting list than ever before and our schools are literally falling apart. I could go on. The Chancellor’s policy for the crisis of funding for public and local services is typically Conservative—even more cuts.

In passing, we should explode the myth that a pre-election bribe is anything but the most cynical type of politics. More importantly, the voters will see through it. The Foreign Secretary, also known as the former, former, former, former Prime Minister and his Chancellor Osborne had a one-off increase in Government spending and investment in 2014 and then reimposed austerity once they were re-elected in 2015. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor hope to emulate that con trick. The British public, however, will not be taken for mugs, not least because on the Labour Benches we will warn them of it. The reality is that this is part of another bout of austerity, just as the OBR warns. The shiny bauble of cutting national insurance is to get the Conservative party through to the election without tearing itself apart—then the axe will fall.

As for the carrots to business to invest, we know they will not work. One reason they will not work is that the Government are cutting public investment. Why does that matter? Because the state sector is the single biggest investor in the economy. The whole notion that it crowds out private investment is nonsense and one of the many idiocies of the Thatcher era. Government have been “getting out of the way of business investing” for well over 40 years now. As a result, we have an abysmal record on investment, one of the worst in the industrialised world.

It is hard to imagine that any of the measures in the autumn statement were properly assessed for their impact on equalities in accordance with any of our laws. Despite literally being lawmakers, the Government have a strained relationship with complying with any of them. To prove it, we do not have to look much further than the callous announcements regarding disability benefits. In a cost of living crisis of the Government’s own making, an estimated 370,000 people with disabilities and debilitating chronic health conditions will be forced to work from home in jobs that do not exist whether they are physically or mentally able to or not, or lose up to £5,000 in income a year. How are they expected to survive, and how much more inhumanity dressed up as policy can this Government drag through the House before the country has an opportunity to vote them out? In case we have forgotten, they obviously want to remind us that they are the nasty party—nastier than ever.

Any reasonable equality assessment in accordance with our laws would have the author of this Budget sent back to the drawing board. In any scenario in which real incomes and living standards are falling, those at the bottom—those who are already facing discrimination and hardship—will be even worse off. This is the Conservatives’ economic legacy, and it is a shameful one.

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons) 1:20, 23 November 2023

After 13 long years of Conservative economic failure, Britain is stuck in a cycle of low growth and high taxes, with working people across the country paying the price. This autumn statement was a chance for an economic reset, but instead we got yet another political reset. The Chancellor is, I hope, good at maths, so perhaps he can count how many there have been so far.

It is the Conservatives’ election strategy that has shaped this statement, not the needs of the country, but my constituents will not be fooled by minor tax giveaways in an election year from the same party that has raised their taxes 25 times since 2019—and they are minor giveaways, given that they represent less than a quarter of the personal tax rises that the Conservatives imposed on working people last year, with fiscal drag hitting millions of households. We should be under no illusion: the Tories are still the party of high tax if they massively hike people’s taxes, but then give them a little bit back before an election. Of course, the reason they are a high-tax party is the fact that their record on growth is so poor. If the economy had continued to grow at the rate that it did under the last Labour Government it would now be £150 billion larger, but instead growth in the UK has stagnated in the last 13 years, and is projected to be the lowest in the G7 next year.

When the Conservatives cannot generate the growth to fund public services, they raid the pockets of working people instead, but those people will rightly wonder where their hard-earned money is going, given that the NHS, our schools, local government and the courts are all on their knees. The situation for public services appears set to become bleaker still, given that yesterday's tax cuts are to be funded by a projected £19 billion of cuts in departmental spending—spending cuts that look eerily similar to those made by the now Lord Cameron. The Conservatives are not just resurrecting former Prime Ministers to serve in this Government; they are resurrecting their failed and discredited policies too. Perhaps the Minister can shed some light on how and where they envisage these cuts being made—or does he accept that, as the Resolution Foundation has said, the cuts are “implausible” and

“rest on the fiscal fiction” that higher inflation will not increase public spending? Is not the truth that there is no long-term commitment to these measures, that they are simply a pre-election cover, and that the fiscal black hole they create is likely to be someone else’s problem?

As the Leader of the Opposition asked yesterday, how can a labourer or a nurse contribute to economic growth if they are one of the 7.8 million people on an NHS waiting list in desperate need of an operation? A healthy society and a healthy economy are two sides of the same coin, but the NHS did not receive the support that it needs yesterday, and there are many other public services of which we could say the same. What of local government, for so long the poor relation, ruthlessly targeted by the Conservatives since 2010, with their Liberal Democrat friends complicit at the outset? I should state for the record that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Associations and a former chair of its resources board, as well as being a previous leader of my own local authority, Trafford Council.

For local government as a sector, the autumn statement was wholly depressing. There were no significant new funding announcements, there was nothing new on special educational needs and disability funding, and there was silence on the continuation of the household support fund. There was not a word about public sector pay. My local authority is assuming a 3% pay award, but higher inflation for longer has the potential to affect the 2024-25 pay negotiations. There was no mention of the impact of the living wage increase—welcome as it is—and what it will mean for social care contracts: a 9.8% uplift will blow a £2 million hole in my local authority’s assumptions.

Trafford’s position is not unique, but it is especially acute. Low levels of Government funding mean that we have the lowest spending power of all the 36 metropolitan districts. A recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that Trafford has one of the largest funding shortfalls in relation to need, equivalent to £35 million in comparison with national averages; and, unsurprisingly, it is one of the F20 group of lowest-funded local authorities, with the prospect of a £55 million budget deficit over the next three years. The delivery of meaningful services will become unsustainable in the short term if this position is not addressed for Trafford and councils like it, but it was thin gruel yesterday for local authorities up and down the land, to whom Trafford’s position sounds all too familiar.

It was thin gruel, too, for our broken housing market and our dysfunctional planning system. A desire to speed up business planning applications is welcome, but local authorities simply do not have the planners or the capacity to process the applications, a problem the Chancellor did not acknowledge or do anything to remedy yesterday. If the Government were serious about increasing housing supply, they would reverse their decision to scrap housing targets and build on parts of the green belt that offer nothing in environmental value, but plenty in economic potential. Perhaps we would then start to see the economic growth that we so desperately need.

There was some positive news on housing that I want to acknowledge: I do welcome the increase in local housing allowance rates. It is overdue, but it will be a vital tool in preventing homelessness. However, that is a silver lining among the very, very dark clouds of this autumn statement, because for all the bluster, there is no getting away from the most telling statistic to come out of yesterday. Between 2019 and 2025, families will experience the biggest drop in living standards since records began, and the tax burden as a percentage of GDP will be higher at the end of this Parliament than it was at the start.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

I commend the hon. Gentleman for picking up the point about the local housing allowance. Does he agree that if it is a good idea to unfreeze it for one year, it is not a good idea to refreeze it again in the following year?

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman has made his own case, but as a keen campaigner on all aspects of our housing crisis, I very much agree with his sentiment.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

We have heard from the Government Benches that the taxpayer’s bill for the local housing allowance is about £34 million. If the Government were finally willing to build a great many more social homes, the taxpayer would not have to face that enormous bill.

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Lady is right about social homes. A number of leading organisations working in the housing sector would say that we need 90,000 social homes per annum. However, let me gently point out that it is not just a question of the supply of social homes; the spike in rent that we have seen in recent years is also exacerbated by a broader shortage of housing supply of all types and all tenures. That is why my party has committed itself to a fundamental review of not just of our planning system but, importantly, the supply of land, and I hope that everyone in the Chamber who is serious about considering how we can build the homes that we need will commit themselves to a similar process.

I turn back to the thrust of my contribution. This autumn statement is a damning indictment of the Government, leaving people with a higher tax burden at the end of this Parliament than when they were re-elected in 2019. It is the latest economic failure at the end of 13 tears of national decline. It is time for change: a change away from high taxes, low growth and falling living standards; a change away from dodgy contracts, covid fast lanes and looking after their friends; a change away from the Conservatives.

The Labour party is offering that change, with a plan to cut household bills by £3,000 a year by investing in clean energy, building new homes and insulating the homes we already have; a plan to prevent another catastrophe like last year’s mini-Budget by putting a fiscal lock into law; and a fully funded plan for a healthy society and a healthy economy by investing an additional £1.1 billion a year to deliver 2 million more NHS appointments, scans and operations so that people are genuinely supported back to work. That is Labour’s offer and, if yesterday was the Conservatives firing the starting gun on the election, that day cannot come soon enough.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 1:31, 23 November 2023

Mr Deputy Speaker, you and I have been here for a couple of decades, and I have never known a second-day debate on an autumn statement to involve only one Government Back Bencher. The emptiness of the Chamber reflects that we are at the fag end of this Government, and people realise that. The seriousness of the Government’s intentions in the coming months almost warrants despair among their own supporters, as well as in this House.

I sat through the Chancellor’s statement yesterday, and he set the scene of an economy that has turned the corner and is looking for technology-fuelled sunny uplands. I have been here a while and have listened to previous autumn statements, so I can recognise a pre-election speech when I see one, and that is what it was.

The Prime Minister basically set out the Conservatives’ election strategy the day before, and it is not a novel playbook—it is one they have used consistently. It is the same old Tory strategy. First, there are tax cuts as a pre-election bribe, then it goes on to the scapegoating of some vulnerable group, before making ludicrous claims about Labour’s plans to try to petrify people into not voting for change. Even with the media that we have, I do not think that strategy is going to work this time.

On economic growth, the Chancellor’s image of the economy turning a corner was absolutely shattered when the OBR report was published as soon as he sat down. It massively downgraded the growth forecast for every year of the forecast period. I listened to him talk on the radio this morning about how his investment in the economy will increase GDP by 0.5% over the coming four years. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 0.5% produces about £7 billion of income tax returns to the Government, so there is no way this growth will somehow provide the resources we need to fund our public services.

I doubt any amount of tax cutting will restore confidence in a party that has doubled our debt, brought our public services to their knees and crashed our economy with the madcap escapades of the last two Prime Ministers. The cuts to national insurance were the headline proposal in yesterday’s autumn statement, but in the cold light of day, less than 24 hours later, the analysis shows that all the benefit has been swept away by the continuing freeze on tax thresholds. The IPPR analysis demonstrates that even the national insurance cuts will benefit the highest earners and the richest, and then the energy cap was lifted this morning. There is no way these tax cuts will restore a feelgood factor among the general public.

The most nauseating element of yesterday’s appalling announcement was the scapegoating of the sick, the disabled and those with mental health problems. It is gutter politics. The Conservatives first tried to scapegoat asylum seekers, but that has not worked because, actually, people recognise that asylum seekers are coming to this country from war zones across the world, and they empathise with them. So the Government have now turned on the disabled, the sick and people struggling with their mental health. Hidden in yesterday’s autumn statement is the reality that the Government are cutting £1.2 billion from benefits paid to people with disabilities. As my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy said, it heralds the return of the nasty party.

I met the Public and Commercial Services Union last week, and the chronic staffing crisis in the Department for Work and Pensions means that the implementation of last year’s sanctions policy is floundering because of the massive casework backlogs. Individual members of DWP staff have case loads of 2,000 cases, and obviously the system is collapsing. Loading more work on those workers will intensify the delays and will result—let us be honest—in more stress for the disabled, the sick and those with mental health problems.

Exactly as is predicted by a number of disability organisations, I fear this will push people over the edge. Those of us who were in the House remember what happened when the work capability assessment was first introduced. People were pushed so far over the edge that we saw a rise in the number of people taking their own life.

The Government have ludicrously claimed that Labour’s plan to borrow to invest in greening our economy will somehow push up interest rates and borrowing costs. That is a bit rich coming from the Conservative party, under which the country’s debt has risen. Let me be clear that Labour’s plan to borrow to invest will generate green growth in the economy. It is not like what the Tories have done in the past, which is to borrow for day-to-day expenditure—in other words, borrowing to cover the costs of failure.

The cost of borrowing £28 billion, even at the current high interest rates, is just above £1 billion, which is readily recouped—that is what investment is all about—as a result of the multiplier effect of this investment and the increased tax income it will generate. The comments of even senior Ministers have been inane in the extreme and lower the level of debate on the future of our economy.

I thought the real question yesterday was whether the Chancellor would do the right thing with the additional headroom that the OBR found as a result of inflation, interest rates and rising tax receipts, and where that additional money would go. Last week, I went to a concert by the brilliant Liverpool singer Jamie Webster. He sang a song called “Voice of the Voiceless”. Yesterday’s autumn statement made it clear to me that, as the Chancellor decided where to spend the new money that had been found, the voices of those most in need of those additional resources went unheard. I therefore think Members have a responsibility to be the voice of the voiceless in this debate.

I think we should be the voice of children. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, over 4 million children are currently living in poverty in the United Kingdom, the sixth richest country in the world. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that more than 1 million children are living in and experiencing destitution. Last week, I met people from Buttle UK, the charity supporting children in poverty, and they explained what destitution means. It means children going without the basic essentials needed to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean. That is why so many charities, religious groups, trade unions and others have called for a Government—any Government—to prioritise children in poverty for support. One straightforward suggestion is to lift the two-child limit, which would immediately lift 250,000 children out of poverty. This is why so many are campaigning for free school meals, to ensure that our children get at least one decent meal a day. It is also why many of us have called on the Chancellor to restore the £20 that the Government cut from universal credit after the pandemic.

We need to be the voice of disabled people, the sick and the mentally ill, who were under attack yesterday. The new onslaught against disabled people and the sick clearly provided evidence that their voices have been ignored again. If the Government were listening, they would have heard how those receiving benefits have already had to fight their way through a brutal benefits system to secure the help they have gained. The Government would have heard about many of the experiences with the work capability assessment, which has caused so much human suffering and harm—so much so that, as Members may recall, we discovered that the DWP was secretly monitoring coroners’ reports on the suicide of people on benefits. David Cameron has just been reappointed, so I hope he points this out in government now. I remember when a person whose benefits had been cut starved to death in his constituency. The coroner’s report related that to the withdrawal of benefits.

Disability groups are rightly predicting that, as sure as night follows day, this new round of dangerous threats to the benefits of the sick and the disabled, and especially those with mental health problems, will cause serious harm again.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

I am reluctant to intervene, as the right hon. Gentleman is, as always, giving a passionate and well-informed speech. Does he share my concern that one inevitable consequence of the propaganda onslaught is that people will be scared to claim the benefits they are entitled to, because they think they will be branded as cheats and fraudsters simply for claiming what is theirs by right?

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

A wonderful piece of work was undertaken about the role the media and politicians played in stigmatising disabled people. This resulted, exactly as the hon. Gentleman said, in people not coming forward to claim their benefits. It also resulted in their ostracisation in their own community and the hardship that that caused, not only to them, but to their children when they went to school—this stuff is all coming back.

The irony has been pointed out by Members from across the House: wherever someone can work, we want to encourage them to do so and give them all the support they need, but people are being targeted with threats when we have 7.9 million people on the NHS waiting list—these are the very people who are waiting for the treatment to enable them to get back to work. This approach is particularly illogical and brutal. I urge hon. Members to look at the figures: 4 million people are already looking for additional hours of work in our economy, and unemployment has increased by a quarter of a million since the last autumn statement. These people will be struggling to compete for work that does not exist.

I want to be the voice of carers as well. I chair an unpaid carers group; we come together regularly and we have published our manifesto. There are 5 million unpaid carers in our community who are looking after their relatives and living off a miserly carer’s allowance of just under £80 a week. As a result, many of them live in poverty and hardship. The last estimate, in the Carers UK survey, was that they save the country some £160 billion a year. That survey also demonstrated just how many of them are struggling to make ends meet. We did not hear a single word yesterday about these heroes and heroines; there was not a single measure in the autumn statement that will move forward their simple demand for a level of financial support that will lift them out of poverty.

We should also be the voice of the homeless. We now have 105,000 families in our community living in temporary accommodation. Some 131,000 children are being brought up without a secure roof over their heads, often in overcrowded and run-down accommodation—all of us have seen these places, some of which are dangerous to live in. Putting the local housing allowance back to the 30th decile, after freezing it for years and after it having been at the 50th decile only a few years ago, goes nowhere near to giving those families any hope of securing a decent and secure home. What we really need now, as an emergency measure, are rent controls. We also want a massive council house building programme, but what was offered yesterday, in the detail, was funding for 2,400 council homes, at a time when we need hundreds of thousands.

As others have said, we also need to be the voice for public services. The fact that there is no additional funding for them and instead a projected £19 billion cut confirmed that the voices of the nurses, doctors, paramedics, social care workers, teachers, council workers and council leaders themselves went completely unheard. As we have said, there is to be a £4 billion funding cut, which means the erosion of some of the basic services people rely on in order to have some form of quality of life.

To conclude, there is a lot of speculation that the autumn statement presages an early election, and I think it probably does. I pray that it does, because my community cannot take this any more. I have never witnessed such a level of disillusionment with politics, such a lack of hope that things can get better. It is not just generating anger; what worries me more is that it is generating absolute apathy among our communities. There is a great responsibility on our shoulders now to restore that hope and to do so soon. I urge the Government: bring on the election, let the people have their voice, and let us have it as soon as possible.

Photo of Samantha Dixon Samantha Dixon Opposition Whip (Commons) 1:47, 23 November 2023

It is an honour to follow such a passionate speech from my right hon. Friend John McDonnell.

As I listened to the Chancellor yesterday, the same thought kept racing through my mind: too little, too late. This Government have seriously let down working people for the past 13 years and now hope that offering breadcrumbs will solve everything. Staggeringly, measures announced yesterday are equivalent to handing back £1 for every £8 of the rise in tax since 2019-20. Worse, the Government probably expect people to be grateful for the announcements made yesterday. The Government are forgetting that they are the reason we are in this mess in the first place, and, sadly, their latest plan will not get us out of it.

Some of the measures mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech will be welcome, but soundbite headline announcements simply do not measure up to the reality of the challenges facing my constituents and so many across the country. After 13 years of economic failure under the Conservatives, working people are simply worse off. According to the Resolution Foundation, real average earnings are not forecast to return to their 2008 peak until 2028. This is a totally unprecedented 20-year pay stagnation. Meanwhile, prices are still rising in the shops and energy bills are up. Electricity and gas prices are 40% and 60% higher respectively than they were two years ago. Mortgage payments are still sky-high, which is a serious worry for the 28% of the residents in Chester who have a mortgage and now must cut back or find extra cash to make their payments. Figures show that around 9,500 people in Chester face an annual mortgage increase of £2,700 this year. Let us not forget that this Government crashed the economy just over a year ago, resulting in these increases and plunging many hard-working people into further uncertainty about their lives and finances.

The mess does not stop there. Taxes are the highest they have been for 70 years, with households set to pay a staggering £4,300 more in tax each year. As colleagues have already pointed out, household incomes will still be 3.5% lower next year in real terms than they were before the pandemic, which is the biggest hit to living standards ever. The Resolution Foundation has stated that this is the first Parliament in which real household disposable incomes have fallen—let that sink in. It is no good hearing the Minister tell us to be “optimistic”—we are actually going backwards. Latest inflation data shows food prices are up 10% compared with last year, with a rise of 30% over the past two years.

With figures like these, it is no wonder that finances are so precarious for many families, as there is simply no way to make their budgets stack up. Chester’s local foodbank recently reported feeding 170 people in just one week. One was a single mum, who was working and really well organised, cooking everything in batches and freezing it so the kids would have a hot meal every day, but then the freezer broke and everything was ruined. She was not being paid for another week, so literally had no way of recouping the loss.

Regular, hard-working people are turning to foodbanks because they can no longer make ends meet and make it to the end of the month. People have never been in this situation before. Things are dire. KidsBank, a local charity in my constituency that provides vital support to many in our local community, has reported a striking increase in the number of families using their services for the first time. So far, 1,659 children have been referred to them for support this year—a 23% increase from last year—and there has been a staggering 77% increase in referrals for school uniforms.

Behind each of these statistics is a family struggling to make ends meet and provide for their children, with real stories of heightened anxiety and mental health issues brought on by continued financial difficulties. Imagine being a mum whose husband has left, meaning a reduction in finances. Housing conditions are poor and the family faces anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, and then along comes Christmas. There is no money for warm clothing or Christmas presents. Small charities, such as KidsBank and many others who do brilliant work across the country, are their only lifeline and their only hope. It should not be like this, but that is the reality of many.

As I have said before, it is everywhere you look: our councils, schools, hospitals, police, fire service and courts are all starved of resources. Public sector services hardly got a mention in the statement, but they are on their knees and this Government intend to kick them harder. Britain cannot go on like this. My constituents cannot go on like this.

With Labour, families and businesses would be better off. Over the next decade, Labour’s Better Off Plan would help families save £500 a year by insulating homes to make them more energy efficient; save £900 a year by building cheaper, greener, cleaner power across the country through the creation of Great British Energy, a new, publicly owned clean energy generation company; save £400 a year by cracking down on unfair car insurance practices, such as subscription traps and unfair postcode pricing; and save £1,200 a year on mortgage bills, by building 1.5 million homes over a Parliament to keep housing affordable.

The last 13 years have proved that the Conservatives cannot be trusted with the economy, and the autumn statement has shown yet again that they are out of touch. Scraps off the table will not keep hunger at bay. We need change. We need a general election and a Labour Government who will deliver for my constituents in Chester.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 1:54, 23 November 2023

The United Nations has warned that we are on track for 3°C of global warming. That is unacceptable and would be a catastrophe. We urgently need to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C. We cannot pretend that the UK is safe from climate change. Last year, the UK suffered the most intense heatwave it has ever faced. Hospitals struggled to cope, there were around 3,000 more deaths among people aged over 65 and 20 % of operations were cancelled. These impacts will only get worse.

Sadly, our Government are in denial. The Chancellor speaks about economic growth, yet fails to understand that reaching net zero is an opportunity as well as a necessity. The green transition can encourage billions of pounds’ worth of investment, yet this Government are ignoring that unprecedented opportunity. The US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s green industrial plan will see a combined $670 billion of green investment. Even Canada, an economy smaller than ours, announced a package that offers nearly £50 billion-worth of tax credits for clean technologies. This autumn statement was an opportunity to equal the ambition of our international partners, but the Chancellor is explicit that the UK will not match the ambitions of other countries

If the UK does not invest now, we will turn our backs on investment worth potentially £1 trillion by 2030. I am pleased that the Government plan to halve the time taken to build new grid infrastructure, but why has it taken 13 years to see the problem? I am also pleased the Government will provide tax relief for meeting energy efficiency targets. However, why are they waiting until 2025 to put these measures in place?

All the dither and delay gives the Government time to U-turn on their commitments. Their record speaks for itself, including on transport. After months and years of defending HS2 and spending millions of pounds preparing for it to go ahead, the Government are now in chaos and without a vision. Transport is the largest emitting sector in the UK. Rail produces 76% less carbon dioxide emissions than the equivalent road journey. We must encourage a move away from polluting transport modes, towards greener public transport, such as trains.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I hear what the hon. Lady is saying, but instead of building the extra bit of HS2, the money will be used in a variety of ways, mostly on roads and the electrification of train lines. That is an important way of decarbonising our existing rail industry. Between 2010 and 2015, both Secretaries of State, including the current leader of the Liberal Democrat party, were Secretaries of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, so they were there when that policy was being developed in a variety of ways, early on in the lifetime of the Government.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I am not sure what the right hon. Member’s question is, but I am not denying that we need to invest more in all these sectors. The worst thing about HS2 is the dither and delay, the back and forth about decisions. That is what wastes the millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and is unacceptable.

The decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 will mean 500,000 more lorry journeys up and down the country. Meanwhile, as Dr Coffey has just said, the Chancellor plans to take £8.6 billion meant for the railway to support road use.

The Government also want to increase aviation. I was shocked to hear that Luton Airport has called for an expansion in passenger numbers to 32 million a year. Hertfordshire’s skies would become polluted with endless planes and noise. The plans directly contradict the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation of no net expansion in airport capacity. I urge the Government to do the right thing: listen to local people from Harpenden and Berkhamsted and block the Luton Airport expansion, which flies in the face of our climate commitments.

This Government have failed to invest in renewables, have failed to support greener public transport, and are now failing to keep our constituents warm. Last winter was devastating, with the average annual household bill increasing by nearly 178%. Many people had to make severe sacrifices in order to heat their homes. It is a scandal that some people had to restrict themselves to one shower per week. This was not a blip. The Government need to realise that, even under the energy price cap, annual bills this winter will be 69% above summer 2021 levels. People need help. Lowering energy bills must be a priority, yet there was nothing in this autumn statement to support my constituents from the increase in energy bills.

We Liberal Democrats propose that the Government implement a social tariff. This would bring in lower energy bills for vulnerable customers. The Government must also ensure that the warm home discount is made available to all customers in vulnerable circumstances. That would prevent a repeat of last year, when suppliers set limits on the number of people who could access this money.

The green transition is a huge opportunity. We need a Government with the political courage to treat climate change with the urgency it demands. The country needs a bold Government with a bold plan. This autumn statement is simply another missed opportunity.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East 2:01, 23 November 2023

Listening to the Chancellor yesterday, it was clear that his words were simply at odds with the lives of millions of people up and down the country. The Tories are acting as if the crisis is over, but the reality is that millions of people in this country are going through the deepest social emergency in decades. Beyond the myths and distortions put out by the Downing Street spin machine, the truth of the autumn statement is that growth has been downgraded—even after what has been called the worst period of economic growth in a century. Living standards have had their largest fall since records began 75 years ago. Wages are set to be no higher in 2028 than in 2008, which means two lost decades of wages for workers. Furthermore, even deeper public service cuts are planned for after the next general election, if the Tories win, deepening the austerity that has not only caused harm to key services on which people rely, but severely undermined growth in the economy.

When we have these big set-piece economic events in Parliament, the economy is talked about, but in such a way that is almost entirely divorced from the lives of people. We should remind ourselves that the economy is meant to serve people. How well it is performing should be judged by how well it is delivering for the vast majority of people. By that simple measure, the economy is failing.

We have a deepening social emergency. Some 14 million people are living in poverty, including 4 million children, in what is meant to be the sixth richest economy on Earth. One in seven people face hunger across the UK, according to the Trussell Trust, which is around 10 million people. We have more branches of food banks than we have branches of McDonald’s. Homelessness in our society is on the rise, as rents and mortgages soar, and of course that is just the tip of the iceberg, with many more families living in totally unsuitable, overcrowded and temporary accommodation.

Six million households are in fuel poverty, according to National Energy Action, and so are unable to afford to heat their homes to the temperature that is needed to keep warm and healthy. Sick people are unable to get the treatment they need because of the Government’s neglect of the NHS, creating record waiting lists.

This social emergency is not affecting us all. For some, the past few years have been boom time. Britain’s super-rich boosted their wealth by £31 billion over the past year alone, at a time when living standards have been under a near unprecedented attack for everyone else. This is no one-off; the wealth of British billionaires has increased by more than £430 billion over the past decade. Such vast fortunes are hard to imagine, so to put it another way, they have increased their wealth by £120 million every single day for the past 10 years. This soaring wealth of the billionaire class is the flipside of the weak wages that we see across society. As the share of the economy going to workers has gone down, so the share of the economy going to the super-rich has gone up.

Such soaring inequality is one reason why I have been campaigning for a wealth tax. Such a tax could create a huge social emergency fund to help people during this crisis. It could provide the much-needed funds to help rebuild the public services that have been hit so hard by a decade of austerity, and fund the investment that we need to build the infrastructure for a greener, fairer, high-wage economy. An annual wealth tax of just 1.5% on assets over £10 million would raise around £12 billion a year. It is worth pointing out here that this would apply only to wealth above £10 million. This is a measure that is backed by three out of four people, including more than two thirds of Tory voters.

Other reforms to tackle wealth inequality could also raise billions of pounds more. For example: equalising capital gains tax with income tax rates would raise up to £15 billion a year; tackling the non-dom tax break for the super-rich would raise up to £3 billion a year; and ending fossil fuel subsidies for oil and gas companies could raise £4 billion a year.

I wish to end my comments today on one sector that has been doing very well out of this crisis, and that is the banks. The banks, in my view, must now be made to pay their fair share. Just like the energy companies, the banks have used this crisis to line their pockets with windfall profits. They have done that by charging higher interest rates for loans but not passing the money on to savers—easy money indeed. Therefore, just like the energy companies, the banks should face a windfall tax on such unexpected and frankly unmerited gains. The pre-tax profits of the four big banks—Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC and NatWest—are up 79% so far this year, compared with the same period in 2022.

Spain’s progressive Government offer one example of what a windfall tax could look like. They introduced a 4.8% windfall levy on certain bank incomes above a threshold of €800 million. Replicating that here could raise almost £4 billion this year. But perhaps the simplest move would be to reverse the tax break for banks that the Prime Minister introduced. He slashed the surcharge on bank profits from 8% down to 3%, which has rightly been described by the TUC general secretary, Paul Nowak, as starving our public services of much-needed funds at the worst possible time. Reversing it could provide billions each year, for example, to introduce universal free school meals, to scrap the two-child cap, or to fund a proper pay rise for junior doctors. Let us not forget that the banks were bailed out when they were in trouble during the 2007 global financial crisis. It is now time for them to be taxed fairly, to help bail out our communities who are now in such difficulties.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree 2:09, 23 November 2023

My constituents in Liverpool, Wavertree have suffered immensely over the past 13 years. I listened to the Chancellor talk about “compassionate” conservatism yesterday—a truly disgraceful claim. Where is the compassion in implementing mandatory work placements for those on long-term disability benefits, or they run the risk of having their benefits cut off? The Government must think that we have forgotten the nightmare that came into force on 31 October this year when they lifted the cap on bankers’ bonuses. Where is the compassion in that? It is the same old story, just a different day.

The story of the first five years of this Government were of the very poorest under attack, with savage cuts to local government and continual blows to the frontline services that those living at the sharp end relied on. However, house prices continued to rise, and the middle were squeezed but largely shielded from the effects of austerity. Household debt rose too, and now we have come full circle. One of the key architects of austerity is back as our new unelected Foreign Secretary, while his Chancellor, the former Member for Tatton, is thankfully sticking to podcasts and museums.

In so many of our communities over the past 13 years, the state has been peeled back, yet as a country we now spend more, working people are taxed through the nose and, worst of all, we receive significantly less in the way of essential services. School buildings are crumbling, statutory services such as social care are on their knees, and people cannot see their GP or get a hip replacement. Put a bit aside for a rainy day? Not a chance—that is now being spent on increased mortgage payments. Splash out on that much-needed family holiday abroad? Maybe next year.

The sums simply do not add up. People feel ripped off because they are getting ripped off by a Government who have abandoned their self-proclaimed base and retreated to their friends amongst the 1%—a Cabinet of millionaires who look after millionaires. No one in my economically diverse constituency in south Liverpool is now immune to the effects of the Government and their economic dogma—the rising tide that sinks all boats, apart from the yacht.

In Liverpool, those on moderate to higher incomes do not vote for the Conservative party, and where Liverpool leads, others of course follow. People are awakening to the con elsewhere. Using the Conservative party’s own terms, it does not pay to be a striver under this Government. It certainly does not pay for someone to own their own home or be on a moderate income. No longer can Government Members sit there and hoodwink the British public. No longer can they take with one hand and give back with another.

I hope that my constituents tuned in to watch yesterday’s autumn statement, to see at first hand the unedifying spectacle and back-slapping that we witnessed on the Government Front Bench. While the Chancellor was as pleased as Punch with his cut to national insurance, it was simply to lessen the blow that, come January, the energy price cap will rise by 5%, meaning that a typical household will pay between £30 and £45 more per month. That is the difference between heating and eating, as we so often hear. It was yet more of the smoke and mirrors that we have become accustomed to from the Government.

In the real world, my constituents are making real-life choices about how best to provide for themselves and their family, day in and day out, to make their rent and mortgage payments and have enough left over for a trip to the cinema later in the week, or to buy that item on their children’s Christmas list that would induce a sharp intake of breath from any parent. That is what economics is. It is how ordinary people live their lives—the lives that they are afforded to lead, and the choices that they can make. Are they able to flourish, provide for their loved ones and lead a life with human dignity at its core? For many millions of our people, life is so difficult now, and the Conservative party bears the responsibility.

Let me warn all major parties of Government. The private rented sector is out of control and has lost all sense of proportion. While I welcome yesterday’s announcement on local housing allowance, the uplift in LHA is merely the Tories trying to rectify their own disastrous policies. Three years of freezing local housing allowance has resulted in a catastrophic surge in homelessness, with more than 130,000 children forced into temporary accommodation, and a soaring rise in destitution across the country. Never again can a Government freeze LHA without knowing that they are deliberately pouring gasoline on to the housing and homelessness emergency. To do so is not just morally reprehensible but economically illiterate. It shifts the responsibility to cash-strapped local authorities that are buckling under the strain of runaway costs in temporary accommodation, with the bill for England now sitting at a staggering £1.7 billion.

Behind the temporary accommodation figures are individual stories—over 100,000 human stories of trauma and despair. Children penned up in bed and breakfasts. Babies without cots, increasing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Domestic abuse victims languishing in hostels. Ex-offenders contemplating reoffending to spare themselves the indignity of years in a hostel. Like social care, the housing crisis is another elephant in the room. Until we have built the homes that this country needs, and brought the private rented sector under control, never again can we freeze local housing allowance. The consequences are simply far too grave.

Following yesterday’s autumn statement, everyone in this House, in the media, and among the public is clear that Government Members are gearing up for a general election, probably in May. The simple thing would be for them to put us all out of our misery and call a general election now.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East 2:16, 23 November 2023

It is a privilege to follow some excellent speeches, largely from Opposition Members. I wish that I could say different. Whether people agree or disagree with my right hon. Friend John McDonnell, I think that everybody would agree that he has considerable experience in the decades that he has been here. For him to say that this is the first time that he has seen the Government Benches so empty on the day after an autumn statement speaks volumes. It is a tragedy that we now have a Government who not only have delivered an autumn statement that will do nothing to address the real issues in our communities, but fail to turn up to defend it.

Like hon. Members across the House, on the weekends I try to be out and about in my constituency, talking to local residents about their concerns. Outside of an election period, I usually expect some friendly chat—not always, but usually—and for local issues around transport, education, policing or the environment to be discussed. Last weekend, however, conversations were largely about the autumn statement—people’s expectations, and their families’ struggles with the rising cost of living.

What was clear from those I spoke to was the sense of utter despondency and despair about their economic situation, and that of the country, even among those living in the parts of my constituency that are considered more well off, and those who identified themselves as previous Tory voters. They knew that, while their family grapple with the rising cost of living, the Government just tinkered around the edges or sat on their hands, making it clear that the autumn statement would not deliver for my constituents, make their lives easier or leave them better off than before, regardless of how hard they worked. If they watched the Chancellor deliver his autumn statement yesterday, they will have been bitterly disappointed, but they will not have been surprised. They will have been vindicated in their low expectations of the Chancellor and in their realisation that ultimately they will never be better off under a Tory Government.

After all, what was there in this autumn statement for those who have just about managed to get by over the past 13 years—those who have just about managed to make ends meet with rising energy bills, rising food costs and rising fuel prices, but who last year had their household finances pushed over the brink by the reckless budget of an ex-Prime Minister who still, bizarrely, thinks that the country wants to hear her economic ideas? The answer to that question is “Nothing”.

The four-point plan that the Chancellor announced yesterday to tackle the cost of living included uprating benefits, unfreezing local housing allowance and increasing the state pension. While those are all welcome measures, none of them are applicable to a typical family struggling with mortgage, fuel, food and energy costs, and if the Government think that the fourth measure, which means that a pint will not cost any more than it does now, is the priority for that family, that just shows how woefully out of touch they really are.

What that typical family needed to hear yesterday was a real plan to spread economic growth across the country: a proper windfall tax on oil and gas giants, who continue to make billions of pounds, a guarantee that the very richest will pay their fair share, as that family is doing, and a strategy not just to raise the wage floor with a rise in minimum wage, but to raise middle and average incomes, which have stagnated in real terms over the past 13 years. Instead, they heard more of the same steps, measures and announcements that they have heard over those years, the same ones that have led us to the economic mess of low growth, low ambition and low pay that we are in now.

Not only does the Chancellor’s autumn statement fail to support such families, but it fails to offer any meaningful support to those in Bradford living in poverty, in some of the worst deprivation in the country, who need the greatest help in overcoming the barriers placed in their way through no fault of their own. As I have had to say in this Chamber before, 50% of my constituents are now living in poverty, and I should not have to say this, but they did not choose to be in poverty.

The tragedy is that time and again from Conservative Members and from this Government we see a narrative that somehow people wake up one day and choose to be born into poverty or to live in poverty. We are the fifth-richest country in the world. It is disgraceful. It is disgusting. The poverty that we have in our streets today is sickening. The destitution we have today is disgraceful. It is disgraceful and sickening that children today are going without food, that people are being forced into homelessness and that mental ill health is now dramatically on the rise without any treatment whatever.

Let us be clear about what got us here. It is political choices, and 13 years of this Government, with their ideological austerity agenda and their attacks on the poorest, have contributed to that. What does this autumn statement do to address any of that? It does nothing. For the poorest and the most vulnerable, the Chancellor ultimately offered nothing—and in some cases, as other hon. Members have said, he even launched an outright assault on them.

The Chancellor may have increased benefits in line with the higher September rate of inflation, but not before dangling the possibility of a much lower rate, causing sleepless nights for 2 million households who have even had to turn their fridge or freezer off because of the cost of living crisis. He may have ended the local housing allowance freeze, but he has still not provided real investment to deliver social housing, which means that, while people will find it a little easier to pay their rent and put food on the table, many still will not have a table in their own home to put it on.

The Chancellor also failed to fix the vital welfare safety net, left broken by his predecessors, which is no longer able to guarantee the essentials for those facing hardship. He has also set in motion another wave of brutal austerity by front-loading his tax cuts and deferring the tough decisions, making it clear that not only is David Cameron, now Lord Cameron, back in Government, but so too is his brutal agenda of ideologically driven austerity cuts to services that the most vulnerable people rely on. The Chancellor has also deliberately ignored an opportunity to create a more compassionate system that is responsive to the needs of the less fortunate, and he has launched an outrageous attack on disabled people with his ill-thought-through plan to try to get them into work.

Last month, I spoke on a panel on how Governments can support disabled people in the workplace and into employment. The panel discussed improving flexible working arrangements, fixing a broken sick pay system and strengthening the rights of disabled people at work. It certainly did not discuss threats and coercion to force those who cannot work to take up employment. It is clear that once more the millions of disabled people across the country are being used as scapegoats by a Government that have lost their moral compass. All I have to say is, “Shame on the Chancellor and every Conservative Member who condoned this attack on some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

After the passage of 13 years, people across Bradford expected to be better off. They did not expect to be in a worse position than they were a decade ago. Yet, after this Government’s reckless mismanagement crashed our economy, that is sadly where we are. Instead of a real plan to fix the country and undo the mess that they have made while they have been in charge, all we got yesterday was a last-ditch effort from a Tory Chancellor to recover his own credibility and prop up the disastrous premiership of a Prime Minister whose fingerprints from his own time as Chancellor are all over the mess they have left us in.

I join the call, which I think the Opposition have made clear, for a general election now, so that the British people can have their say and remove this Government that have been in for too long, causing misery to people’s lives.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 2:28, 23 November 2023

It is a pleasure to follow Imran Hussain. I hope those on his Front Bench were listening to the contributions from him and some of his fellow Labour Members, because it is important that we talk about plans to remedy things and help the poorest in our society.

This is clearly a zombie Budget from a zombie Government —a Budget so good that, as others have said, the Back Benches on the Government side are practically empty. If it was meant to be a pre-election Budget, it is a pre-election Budget that is not generating any confidence among Conservative Back Benchers, because none of them wants to be here to debate it and try to talk it up.

It is a bold Chancellor who tells us that he is cutting taxes when we still have the highest tax burden in 70 years, with more tax rises on the way, and at the same time living standards continue to fall. Just today, Ofgem has announced that the energy cap will increase again in January—it will still be approximately double what energy costs were two years ago. It is little wonder that the OBR predicts that living standards this year will be 3.5% lower than before the pandemic.

The Chancellor was bold enough to talk about wage growth, but let us look at the detail. The Resolution Foundation confirmed that it will take until 2028 to get overall wages back to 2008 levels—two lost decades of wage growth. At the next general election, it will be the first time ever that household incomes have been lower at the end of a Parliament than they were at the start.

It is clear that the Budget does nothing for the approximately 6.3 million fuel-poor households. Ofgem has confirmed record cumulative energy debts of £2.6 billion, so we are still in the grip of a cost of energy crisis. The Tories tell us that we should be grateful for the energy support package, which cost in the order of £40 billion, but let us look at the example of Norway, which is drawing a further £30 billion from its sovereign wealth fund this year alone. That will not even make a dent in its £1.1 trillion sovereign wealth fund—yes, £1.1 trillion, which makes it the biggest such fund in the world. Energy-rich Scotland still exports six times more oil and gas than it consumes, and yet we are supposed to be grateful that the UK as a whole is planning to slightly reduce its £2.5 trillion debt. All those oil and gas revenues have been frittered away through short-term planning. Norway did not create its fund until the 1990s, so it is a disgrace that we do not have a North sea legacy to fall back on in these hard times.

We are also supposed to be grateful about the 2% cut to national insurance contributions, and that the Tories have—so they claim—reduced inflation from 11.4%, even though they were partly responsible for the high rate because of the disastrous mini-Budget and the impacts of Brexit. It is curious that the Government tell us that they are not responsible for high inflation as it is a global issue, and that high interest rates are set by the wholly independent Bank of England, but now that inflation is falling, we are to believe from the autumn statement that the Government’s actions have brought it down. The Government appear to be responsible for inflation rates only when it is good news and they are going down—that is quite a trick.

Let me return to household energy. It is a scandal that about a fifth of UK households are living in fuel poverty. It is a bigger scandal that energy-rich Scotland has fuel poverty at all, as well as the highest energy bills and some of the highest standing charges just to access the energy grid. Those standing charges mean people cannot afford to heat their homes properly. Indeed, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that 2 million people are switching off their fridges and freezers intermittently to save on energy costs. This autumn statement will do nothing to help those people—or, if it does, any money that goes into their pockets in January will quickly be removed in April as the tax threshold freeze means more people become liable for income tax. Households are paying on average £800 a year more on energy costs than two years ago, but the warm home discount scheme has increased from £140 to £150 a year. It is plain: the sums do not add up. However, the Government have also reneged on their pledge for a social tariff to help the most vulnerable with their energy costs.

Let us look at the national insurance cut in the round. Although hard-working people, especially those on the eligibility threshold, will of course welcome having to pay less, it is unfortunately no coincidence that the £19 billion package to support the cut will be offset by £19 billion of public spending cuts that are still to be determined. Who is most affected by public spending cuts? Of course, it is the lowest paid and the poorest in our society. Such spending cuts make a further mockery of the Government’s so-called levelling-up agenda. The budget of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities was halved in the statement, which says everything about levelling-up targets. If the Government introduce a tax cut via emergency legislation, only to pay for it through future departmental cuts, they cannot possibly claim that that is part of responsible Government taking long-term decisions for the economy. It is quite clearly a gimmick to capture headlines.

In Scotland, of course, we are also meant to be grateful for the Barnett consequentials, which have already turned out to be lower than was announced. The Scottish block grant itself is being cut in real terms in the autumn statement. Next year, the grant increases from £35.8 billion to £36.9 billion, but if we compare that increase with headline inflation from September, it is clearly a real-terms budget cut of about 3.5%, or £1.3 billion, for Scotland.

Then there is the capital budget allocated to the Scottish Government, which is being cut outright from £6.2 billion to £5.6 billion in two years’ time. That is not even a real-terms budget cut, but a hugely damaging slashing of the budget, at a time when the Scottish Tories demand that the Scottish Government invest in all sorts of infrastructure projects. I am sure that the Scottish Tories will recognise this conundrum of a cut budget, demand that the capital budget is restored, and recognise the pressures on the Scottish Government, let alone the inflationary pressures on projects that are already under way. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend Peter Grant points out, no Scottish Tories are even here to talk about the statement.

On infrastructure, we are yet again being let down by the lack of progress on agreeing an electricity cap and floor mechanism for pumped storage hydro. That means further delays to SSE’s Coire Glas scheme and Drax’s Cruachan dam extension. We keep hearing that the Government want to unlock private investment. In pumped storage hydro, private investment in the order of £2 billion to £2.5 billion would be unlocked by agreeing an electricity export mechanism for those schemes. That would create jobs in the highlands of Scotland and, importantly, provide better balance for the grid, reducing bills overall. Why the continued intransigence from the Government on pumped storage hydro?

Despite talk of investment in green energy, the statement and the Green Book do not mention energy storage even once—that is a dereliction of duty. Tidal stream, in which Scotland leads the way, is not mentioned either. Looking at the statement in detail, the so-called £4.5 billion manufacturing investment and the £960 million green growth accelerator do not have corresponding budget lines, so those announcements are clearly recycled announcements, in the finest style of this Government.

As we have heard, the indicative blank cheque for nuclear was mentioned once again. We have the fantasy of small modular reactors, but they are not actually small. First, they exceed the industry definition in terms of generation capacity, and secondly, they are the size of two football pitches, which is not exactly a small footprint. The terminology is designed to make them sound small and cosy when they are anything but.

Let us look at the evidence on the development of these projects. The most advanced SMR project in the world, NuScale in Utah, has just been shelved because capital costs have increased to $9 billion—the equivalent of over £7 billion. That is evidence that SMRs are too expensive to progress, but the UK Government are pretending they can deliver them for about £2 billion per reactor. That makes no sense, especially when nuclear technology is generally more expensive in the UK anyway.

We now come to my hobby-horse: Sizewell C. Despite the cost of Hinkley Point C increasing from £18 billion to £33 billion, the rampant inflation we still have and Sizewell C being built on an area subject to coastal erosion and flood risk, we are told that it will magically provide value for money and be cheaper than Hinkley Point C. It is truly delusional. No pension funds want to invest in Sizewell C, and the Government have the begging bowl out. Despite introducing the regulated asset base model and transferring further risk to bill payers, they are still struggling to raise finance.

It is time that the Government ended this charade. It is bad enough that over £1 billion has already been spent just on design development for Sizewell C. That is £1 billion that could have been spent on energy efficiency measures, infrastructure or even further energy support schemes.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Is my hon. Friend surprised or disappointed, or is it purely to be expected, that there is not a single word about insulation or energy efficiency measures anywhere in the autumn statement?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

All of the above. It is infuriating. If the Government were to listen, even the energy supply companies want them to invest more in energy efficiency and insulation. Right now, in the ECO4 scheme—energy company obligation 4—the companies cannot even find the requisite number of properties to upgrade. As that goes on, we are losing the supply chain instead of building it up.

If we really want green growth, green jobs and lower energy bills, it is perfectly obvious that more money should be spent on energy efficiency. Ironically, the Government never listen to that, but they should listen to the third sector and the energy companies who praise the Scottish Government for their direct investment in support of energy efficiency programmes. In contrast to the Government’s blank cheque for nuclear, Scottish renewable projects still have to pay the grid charging penalty, making it harder for them to compete in the contract for difference auctions.

This autumn statement means that we still have an incoherent energy policy. It does nothing for Scotland. Hard-working families are still going to suffer, living standards are still falling, and the disabled are now threatened with losing support unless they are forced into jobs not of their choosing. It is not difficult to choose a different path for Scotland—it is a path that other smaller countries in western Europe are already on, so why not Scotland? It is time we took that different route.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury) 2:41, 23 November 2023

I want to paint a clear picture of the economic landscape facing families and working people across our nation—a landscape marked by challenges and hardships under the current Government. This reality is not just my opinion but has been highlighted most starkly by the Resolution Foundation. Households are expected to be £1,900 poorer because of the policies implemented by this Tory Government. As the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend Rachel Reeves, eloquently explained, this is the first Parliament in which real household disposable incomes have fallen. This confirms what people feel in their pocket and see on their bank statements.

Today, as I close this debate on an issue of paramount importance for not only our economy but the lives and livelihoods of millions across our country, I am reminded of two words: thirteen years. The last 13 years have been not just unlucky for some but devastating for millions who are finding it harder to get by and for everyone using public services, which have literally been run into the ground. After 13 years of Conservative Government, this is where we find ourselves.

Globally, in the last 13 years we have seen technology leap from flip-phones to virtual reality, witnessed three World cups and three royal weddings, and seen humanity land a rover on Mars. Perhaps it is easier to explore other planets than it is for this Conservative Government to get our economy growing and improve the living standards of working people. Over the last 13 years, the Conservatives have weakened our national health service, made working people worse off, increased our rates of relative poverty, reduced opportunities and hampered economic growth.

As my hon. Friend Andrew Western rightly said, this statement reveals the scale of Conservative economic failure. Household incomes are set to be 3.5% lower next year in real terms than they were pre-pandemic—the biggest hit to living standards on record, as elucidated by my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy. Real wages are set not to rise but instead to fall this year by 0.7% and are almost flat next year. Real average earnings, according to the Resolution Foundation, are not forecast to return to their 2008 peak until 2028, marking a totally unprecedented 20-year pay stagnation—a point hammered home by my hon. Friend Richard Burgon.

Worse still, the highly respected independent Office for Budget Responsibility confirms that the worst is yet to come for mortgage holders, with rates peaking at far higher than previously expected. The Government’s economic recklessness means a Tory mortgage penalty right across the country now and in the future. My hon. Friend Samantha Dixon lamented the dire predicament faced by her constituents. Likewise, in my Slough constituency, families with a mortgage are now expected to find £290 more per month. I ask the Minister quite simply, where are they meant to find that in their already stretched budgets?

This Government’s rhetoric is at odds with their tax-raising reality over this Parliament, as explained at length by my right hon. Friend John McDonnell, who spoke with great passion and experience. Sadly, people cannot pay the bills with the boasts and hot air from Conservative Ministers. Let us not forget that in this autumn statement, despite their pledge to cut taxes and reward hard work, the Conservatives have introduced 25 tax rises—yes, 25—hitting working people and business. Are this Government the proud parent of this 13-year-long project? Growth has stagnated and opportunities have dwindled. As the shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds, remarked, growth has been revised down for next year, the year after that and the year after that as well.

While Ministers try to explain away their failures, let us look at our international standing. The UK economy currently stands in sharp contrast to the dynamism and potential seen in other sectors globally. The UK is set to have the weakest growth among the G7 in 2024, according to the International Monetary Fund. It is as if those on the Government Benches have entered the race but are still stuck in first gear. This failure to get a grip of our economy has serious consequences, including poverty, which my hon. Friend Paula Barker described in painstaking detail.

Under the Conservatives, the tax burden has risen by a staggering £4,300 per household. Despite the rhetoric of tax cuts, the reality is that this autumn statement has failed miserably to alleviate the burden placed on people by this Government. Going into the autumn statement, the Conservatives had already put in place tax increases worth the equivalent of a 10p increase in national insurance. Yesterday’s much-hyped 2p cut clearly will not compensate for the Government’s tax increases; neither will it compensate for higher monthly mortgages or for worse public services, which, as my hon. Friend Matt Western highlighted at length, have been decimated. The Conservatives are like a burglar who empties your entire home, but then expects you to be grateful when they give you back your toaster. The public will rightly see through what the Chancellor has presented in this autumn statement.

In an era where innovation should be flourishing, we are instead witnessing a climate of hesitancy and stagnation. Businesses—which are the backbone of the economy—feel this, and Labour rightly understands it. From my personal journey of building and growing a start-up construction business, I know full well the challenges that need to be faced in order to reach success. That experience in the growth economy contrasts starkly with the current economic climate under this Government. Yesterday, for example, the Institution of Civil Engineers highlighted the National Infrastructure Commission’s call to make faster progress on long-term goals for infrastructure. The ICE’s verdict on the Government was that

“for those looking for direction from the chancellor on how the UK will pick up the pace, today’s autumn statement was disappointing.”

It is right to be concerned.

The OBR projects that long-term business investment will continue to fall, with gross fixed capital formation by corporations now significantly lower than under the last Labour Government 13 years ago. That trend is only exacerbated by the autumn statement’s lack of a coherent industrial strategy—indeed, where is the Government’s industrial strategy? Their myopic policies fail to inspire confidence or stability in our business sector.

Some important and powerful contributions have been made in this debate, including that of my hon. Friend Imran Hussain, who encapsulated exactly why the British people have had enough.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

On the topic of construction and the hon. Gentleman’s connected point about industrial strategy, does he agree that instead of spending £30 billion to £40 billion on Sizewell C nuclear power station, that money would be much better invested in renewable energy, accompanied by an industrial strategy to create a proper UK-based supply chain?

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

The Labour party believes that we must see a focus on renewable energies as we transition the economy, which includes investment in the nuclear sector. The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted the construction industry; from my various conversations with leaders in that industry, I know they have been put in a very difficult position by this Government’s lack of direction, especially with regards to the building of housing. As many hon. Members have rightly highlighted, we have a housing crisis, so where is the Government’s investment to deal with that crisis and ensure that our construction industry grows, thereby providing more jobs for the hard-working British people?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Can the hon. Gentleman clarify the answer he just gave to Alan Brown? Sizewell C is in my constituency, so I just want to get clarity: does the Labour party support what the Government have done so far in investing in Sizewell C, and does Labour support its ongoing construction?

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I am not here to speak at length about the particular details of each project, including the sizeable project in the right hon. Lady’s constituency, but as far as the Labour party is concerned, we believe in various forms of energy, but they must come with value for money for the taxpayer. That is why we will have an office for value for money under a Labour Government.

To conclude—as I am sure you will be pleased to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker—it is clear that we need a new direction. After 13 years of missed opportunities and fiscal mismanagement, Labour is ready to write a new chapter for Great Britain, and one in which hard-working people are rewarded, not penalised. We understand the challenges faced and have a clear actionable plan. We will lift the barriers to business investment through our long-term industrial strategy and our green prosperity plan, resolving to create jobs, grow our economy and cut energy bills, as well as being transparent on economic management and always ensuring value for money for the taxpayer. Our country has phenomenal potential. Britain deserves better than the Conservatives, who over their 13 years in power, have made most people in our country much worse off. It is time for a change. It is time for a Labour Government.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies The Exchequer Secretary 2:55, 23 November 2023

I think this is my first opportunity to welcome Mr Dhesi to his position, and I wish him well in it, but obviously not too well.

I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake, who opened this debate brilliantly. He is someone who knows business because he comes from business. I also want to thank all right hon. and hon. Members from across the House who have spoken for their very detailed and thoughtful contributions, and I will try to respond to as many points as I can.

Before I do that, I want to reflect on the measures that we are here to discuss and which were set out in the Chancellor’s autumn statement yesterday. I take the view that everyone in this House wants the best for their communities and the people of this country, and I think we broadly agree on several points in that regard. I think we agree that we want a thriving economy, with well-paid reliable work available in every corner of the country for years to come. We want households to be better off than they were in years gone by, and we want opportunities for everyone to progress in life and to provide for the people they care about. If we can agree on that, I would hope that we all agree that this is an autumn statement that delivers, and principally delivers growth.

This autumn statement announces a range of measures to grow the supply side of our economy by supporting increased business investment. Taken together, these measures will build over time to raise business investment by some £20 billion per year and reduce the business investment gap that has grown to what we have today. It is because we are backing business—British businesses—that our economy and our investment levels will rise. It is business that creates jobs, which raise household incomes. It is businesses that design and build the technologies of tomorrow, and level up our towns, our committee and our villages. It is businesses that contribute billions and billions in tax revenue, which pays for our public services. To back our businesses is to back our economy and our country’s prospects for the future.

Businesses are vital to our future technology and our future ambitions when it comes to net zero, as was mentioned by Wera Hobhouse. The £4.5 billion we are making available to our strategic manufacturing sectors over five years will mean more zero-emission vehicles. It will mean more aerospace and life sciences technologies, and more green energy solutions built right here in this United Kingdom. We are providing £960 million for the green industries growth accelerator, pushing even further on our advantages in offshore wind, nuclear, CCUS and hydrogen. I just say to Alan Brown, who is a long-standing campaigner on energy, that we do need a balanced mix in our energy provision, and that is key to our national security as part of our energy security.

Businesses are vital for our high streets, so we have extended the 75% business rates discount for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses for another year, saving the average pub more than £12,800 next year. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Darren Henry not just for the speech he made, but for the campaign he led on that measure. Businesses are vital for spreading opportunities, so my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has extended the investment zones programme and the freeport tax reliefs from five years to 10 years. He announced plans to set up a new £150 million investment opportunity fund to capitalise further investment in that programme. That goes alongside the 13 new investment zones—in west Yorkshire, the east midlands, the west midlands, Greater Manchester, Wrexham and Flintshire and several other places—which will generate billions of pounds in investment and create thousands of jobs throughout the country.

However, what is most eye-catching for all businesses is that we have listened to the asks of the CBI, Make UK, Siemens and more than 200 business leaders and industry bodies who said that the single most transformational thing we could do for business and investment growth was make full expensing permanent, so that is exactly what we did. It is something we can only do because of the strong economic position we have built in this country, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey for her support for this measure. Every £1 million a company invests as a result of this measure means they will get £250,000 off their tax bill the very same year. This gives us the lowest headline corporation tax in the G7, as well as the most generous plant and machinery capital allowance anywhere. Again, the OBR says that this will make a huge contribution to our economy, increasing annual investment by £3 billion a year and a total of £14 billion in the forecast period.

While the United States, Canada and Australia are all dispensing with full expensing, we are making this a cornerstone of our economic approach, giving a clear welcome to international businesses that want to come here, set up and employ our people. Coupled with the headline recommendations of the Harrington review, this can make the UK a brilliant place for international investment—even more so than it already is today.

But our plans are not only for large businesses. By cutting class 4 national insurance by 1%—again, as referenced by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe—and abolishing the class 2 national insurance entirely, we are saving some 2 million self-employed people an average of £350 a year from April. Together with our national insurance cut for 27 million workers, this is proof that, whether people work for themselves or for someone else, under this Government work will always be rewarded.

We on the Conservative side of the House believe in the dignity of work and the security of a regular pay cheque. That is why we did not just cut national insurance; we have increased the national living wage by a record amount. But we know that inflation has hit families hard. It has hit individuals and businesses throughout this country. Inflation makes everybody poorer. It was caused by a global pandemic and a global energy shock, and although we have seen it come down, we need to keep on going.

Richard Burgon, John McDonnell, Peter Grant and others have all raised concerns about living standards, and I share them. It is why we have increased pensions by 8.5%, as referenced by my hon. Friend Sir Robert Syms, it is why we have uprated benefits by 6.7%, and it is why we have uprated the local housing allowance. That is on top of the £94 billion on energy support and the £900 cost of living payments that are going out throughout the country.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Is it correct that the prediction that we are going to see the biggest fall in living standards that most of us have ever lived through is after all the things in the autumn statement the Minister has just referred to, so even taking into account all the good measures he has mentioned today and his colleague the Chancellor outlined yesterday, people are going to be poorer, with the biggest drop in living standards that any of us has ever seen?

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies The Exchequer Secretary

As I have said, we know that families have suffered through a period of dramatic inflation. It peaked at 11%. We made a commitment at the start of this year to cut it in half and we met that commitment last week. The No. 1 thing we can do to make people feel better is bring down inflation. The provisions in the autumn statement will undoubtedly put money in the pockets of the people who need it most, but ultimately on this side of the House we believe in the dignity of work; we believe that the best route out of poverty is through a job, and the growth that we will boost through these measures will help achieve that.

We have made inflation our top priority and we have delivered on that commitment, as I just mentioned to the hon. Gentleman. I want to pick up, however, on one point raised throughout the debate, not least from the Opposition, who implied that the Government had done nothing to bring down inflation and that was nothing to do with this Government. I want to stress that the International Monetary Fund disagrees with them. The IMF has said that we have taken decisive action to bring down inflation, complementing the Bank of England. The Bank of England has the primary monetary policy tool of interest rates, but we in the Treasury and across Government have taken incredibly difficult decisions to ensure that we do not exacerbate inflation. We have also introduced measures such as the energy price guarantee, which essentially paid for half of people’s energy bills across the country. That, by the way, was referenced by the OBR as knocking 2% off headline inflation.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place. He was talking about the Government having a role in inflation and responsibility for it, but he must accept that the decisions made a year ago with that kamikaze Budget fuelled inflation. That is why we have an inflation premium compared with other nations.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies The Exchequer Secretary

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman raises that point, as I looked into it, and there is zero evidence for what he suggests. If he has evidence, he should provide it. We know that inflation was caused by two major factors, and I am happy to go through that in detail at another time. Global inflation was caused by global factors caused by the impact of a global pandemic. Supply chain shortages have caused prices to rise across the world, and then we had the war in mainland Europe, caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which caused energy prices to spike, and gas prices went up around the world. We in the UK are particularly dependent on gas, which is why inflation increased. It is also why we stepped in with the energy price guarantee to cut every constituent’s bills in half.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies The Exchequer Secretary

I do not know how they want to fight it out. I will take Peter Grant.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

On the question of dependency on gas, the Minister’s country might be dependent on imported gas, but can he explain to constituents in Scotland how a country that has more energy than it needs should be so badly affected when the price of that energy increases?

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies The Exchequer Secretary

I simply point out that that did not stop the Scottish Government accepting our energy price guarantee for Scottish households, where we paid half of energy Bills. However, the hon. Member makes a broader point about energy supply. We on the Government Benches fully support the Scottish oil and gas industry. We believe that we will need oil and gas for years to come, and we will support the 200,000 jobs that the industry supports.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies The Exchequer Secretary

I will make a bit more progress, if that is all right.

I also want to address the comments of Matt Western on France. It is a great country, but I have to tell him that since 2010 the UK has grown faster than France. Indeed, the IMF has forecast that the UK will grow faster than Germany, France and Japan by 2028, so I do not recognise his comparisons. However, he is right that productivity is a problem in this country, which is why we are investing in our businesses to grow and improve productivity, but in order to boost growth sustainably we need to focus on business investment, and that is what this statement does.

This statement backs business to create jobs, to innovate and to ensure that as a country we can go from strength to strength. That is why I will be proud to vote for its many measures to support the entire country.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Joy Morrissey.)

Debate to be resumed on Monday 27 November.