National Insurance Contributions Holiday - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 27th March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat 3:15 pm, 27th March 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to implement their commitment in the 2017 Conservative Manifesto to give a one-year National Insurance contributions holiday to firms that employ those from disadvantaged groups; and if so, when.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My Lords, we remain committed to delivering on manifesto commitments.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

We will set out any changes as part of the annual fiscal event process in the context of broader government work on employment support and the wider public finances.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

I am grateful for that Answer and delighted to hear that the noble Lord is “committed” to this. Small businesses very often bear the brunt of changes in our economy, so they know how to be flexible. The Federation of Small Businesses found that 95% have taken on an individual from a disadvantaged background in the past three years. With this small incentive, which is in the Minister’s own party’s manifesto, they would be encouraged to identify and utilise the talent that is sitting on their doorsteps. It makes good business, financial and moral sense. Will he and his party please consider carrying out that commitment and implementing their own policy?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The noble Baroness has looked at the Conservative Party manifesto, and I encourage her to read it all. On page 54, where this pledge is mentioned, it is under the heading, “More people in work”. Since the general election, 713,000 more people are in work— I call that quite a delivery.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, the noble Lord will have appreciated the rather derisive laughter that greeted his first comment that he was out to fulfil manifesto commitments. Since the general election the Chancellor, who the noble Lord speaks for in this House, has discussed two Budgets and two Spring Statements—the last of which was only a couple of weeks ago—with ne’er a mention of this fundamental commitment in the manifesto. The noble Lord is hoping to escape today without making any precise commitment for the future.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

I thought I said in my Answer that we are committed to delivering the manifesto commitments. The noble Lord talks about manifestos, but I do not want to remind him of his party’s commitments on student debt, which did not seem to survive the election campaign. The reality is that we are significantly increasing employment: employment is at record levels and unemployment is at a historic low; more young people are in work; and the rate of youth unemployment has been halved. These are all steps in the right direction.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

Does my noble friend agree that our manifestos—this applies to all parties—are far too long? Would it not be a very good thing if, in future, they were limited to far fewer than 54 pages? Would not four suffice?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend, but page 54 was not the end of the manifesto—you had to keep reading for a little longer. However, I totally agree with his sentiments.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy)

My Lords, setting aside the irony that this is a unfulfilled manifesto commitment, does the Minister recognise that small businesses, which are often the best place for someone from a disadvantaged community to start work because of the support available, often find it costly to take on someone who needs that kind of additional support? For those firms, this critical amount of a one-year holiday from national insurance contributions, which might not matter to a big company, is absolutely pivotal in making it possible for them to take on this extra load. Therefore, will he push for this element of the manifesto to be carried through?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The noble Baroness will recall that, when we were in coalition Government, we introduced the employment allowance, which effectively said that the first £3,000 of national insurance contributions for small businesses did not apply. We have also abolished national insurance for those on apprenticeships under the age of 25 and abolished national insurance for those under the age of 21. We are doing a significant amount in this area, but I accept that we need to do more.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

Americans have a saying that a platform is something to run on and not to stand on. Is that not relevant to this manifesto commitment?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

We are running very hard on this agenda. I mentioned the 713,000 more people in work, and I would have thought that that would be welcomed on all sides of this House.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

Is it possible to include people who are banged up at the moment? If we can actually get them into work when they get out of prison, as a disadvantaged group, the knock-on effects are enormous. People who have a job when they leave tend not to reoffend.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

That is absolutely right, and the noble Lord has done more than probably anyone else to improve the chances of people in those circumstances. That is one reason why we announced the rough sleepers initiative and why we have this new education network, which is being trialled with governors. But we cannot get away from the stark statistic that although care leavers represent only 1% of 19 to 21 year-olds, they represent 24% of the prison population. That has to be an area that we all focus on, on a cross-party basis.

Photo of Lord Dobbs Lord Dobbs Conservative

Does my noble friend accept that there are perils in store for parties that do not honour their manifesto obligations? He himself is probably far too young to remember “solemn and binding”; we all remember the terrible fate that awaited that particular pledge. But would he accept that, if both the Labour and Conservative parties failed to honour their commitments given in the last manifesto to respect and implement the will of the people—noble Lords knew I was going to get around to that—they would then run the severe danger of ending up in total parliamentary irrelevance, just like the Liberal Democrats?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

I was going to finish on a harmonious cross-party basis with the noble Lord, Lord Bird. However, manifesto commitments need to be honoured. The Prime Minister has been very clear about our manifesto commitment in relation to leaving the European Union. She was also incredibly clear that she wanted to create a country where everyone had the opportunity of work—that worked for everyone. That is a pledge that we all have to work towards.