[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:38 pm on 10th November 2020.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 3:38 pm, 10th November 2020

With the time constraints, I apologise but I am going to keep going.

Yesterday’s announcement about a vaccine is potentially exciting news and an amazing triumph for science, if it works in the timescale, but of course we are not certain and we have to wait to see what happens. For the moment, we must manage the situation as it is. My point is that good virus control is good economics. They are not in competition with one another, and I believe that the view that they are has led to some of the missteps of recent weeks.

Now that we are many months in, questions have been raised about some of the schemes, in the light of experience. I will end by putting some of those questions to the Minister. The bounce back loans were meant for genuine small businesses—the people that we all want to help to stay on their feet. The issue of fraud in the process has been raised. What does the Minister estimate the degree of fraud in bounce back loans has been, and how will he work with lenders and regulators to combat that? Nothing will annoy genuine small business people more than people setting up fake companies, or whatever scams have been done to try to get the loans.

It is inevitable, even with the best efforts, that a proportion of the loans will falter, and it will not be possible to pay them back. I appreciate that the Government have extended the repayment period from six to 10 years, but that postpones the problem, it does not fully eliminate it. Of the various options that have been canvassed for dealing with the problem of default, what has been ruled in and what has been ruled out? Have the Government ruled out writing off a proportion of the loans? Have they ruled out turning any of that into longer-term tax liability for firms, or into equity stakes in firms, if it cannot be paid back?

As for payment or leasing holidays for coach companies and similar businesses that we heard about in the debate, can the Government do anything to extend the six-month grace period that, for many small businesses, has either been used up or is coming to an end soon?

I have talked about the light of experience, and my final question to the Minister is what the Government can do for those who have so far been excluded from any kind of support. A large number of people have for one reason or another fallen between the cracks of the different support schemes that have been announced. As the pandemic goes on—and, while we are hopeful about the vaccine, we know it will continue into next year—those people’s situation becomes ever more difficult. Is there anything that the Government can do at this stage to help them?