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House of Commons

Wednesday 5 December 2012

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Youth Unemployment

1. Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): What her policy is on tackling youth unemployment in Northern Ireland. [130904]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mike Penning): Specific measures to tackle youth unemployment in Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive. The Government’s efforts to reduce the largest structural deficit in our peacetime history and set the country back on the path of sustainable economic recovery will attract growth and help young people throughout the United Kingdom.

Ann McKechin: Given that almost one in five young people in Northern Ireland are currently unemployed, is it not time for the Minister to consider a national insurance break for small employers, which are predominant in the private economy in Northern Ireland, to allow them to take on young people and get them back to work?

Mike Penning: There will be a statement, believe it or not, later in the day in which the Chancellor sets out our economic measures—the autumn statement. I know that the hon. Lady speaks in good faith and cares about this problem, but it is not something that suddenly happened when the coalition Government came into power, or when the Northern Ireland Executive came into power; youth unemployment started to rise quite quickly in 2004 when her Government were in power, and that was in a time of boom before it went bust under the last Administration.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Will the Minister say what discussions have taken place with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, apart from the talks about corporation tax, about greater devolution of economic levers to give the Northern Ireland Executive greater authority in dealing with youth unemployment, which currently stands at one in 20 of the population?

Mike Penning: I meet Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive regularly to talk about a range of issues. They have not requested the devolution of specific powers in this area, but if they do, we will listen to them.

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Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Youth unemployment is an escalating problem in Northern Ireland. Last week, I hosted an event with Invest Northern Ireland to give young people the skills that they need to get into employment. Does the Minister agree that young people who are unemployed and marginalised, particularly those in areas of deprivation, can fall prey to unacceptable activity? Will he join me in condemning the major and reprehensible decisions of two councils in Northern Ireland last week—Newry and Mourne, and Belfast—that could worsen the situation and send us down into a cycle of unemployment and deprivation, rather than lift us out of it?

Mike Penning: As you can imagine, Mr Speaker, I will not be drawn into comments on individual decisions taken by local authorities in Northern Ireland. However, it is not all bad news. There are in excess of 11,000 youngsters in apprenticeships in Northern Ireland on more than 100 apprenticeship schemes. That is good news for them and we should not denigrate the good work that they are doing.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): First, will the Minister join me in condemning the violence in Belfast on Monday evening, which was wrong, unacceptable and without justification?

Does the Minister agree that young people will be the force behind further progress in Northern Ireland? What specific measures have he and the Northern Ireland Office asked the Chancellor to include in the autumn statement to tackle youth unemployment in Northern Ireland?

Mike Penning: The shadow Secretary of State is trying to draw me into territory that is way above my pay grade. Like the rest of the House and the country, I will wait to hear the autumn statement.

I join the shadow Secretary of State and shadow Minister in saying that what happened the other night was fundamentally wrong. Police and security officers were assaulted and battered while just doing their job. People may not have liked what was said and done in the council chamber, but it was done in a democratic way.

Vernon Coaker: From what the Minister has said, it appears that the Northern Ireland Office has asked the Chancellor to include absolutely nothing in the autumn statement to tackle youth unemployment in Northern Ireland. The Minister and the Secretary of State have to realise that the Government have a duty to young people in Northern Ireland that must be met. More than one in five young people in Northern Ireland are out of work. Westminster has a responsibility to act. There has been no action from the Government to date; are we to get nothing in the autumn statement later today? When will the Minister and the Government get a grip, not only on the economy in the rest of the UK, but on youth unemployment in Northern Ireland?

Mike Penning: The hon. Gentleman, who is a friend of mine, needs to get a grip on his comments and wait for the autumn statement. He will then find out whether we have done nothing or something. The autumn statement will clearly show what we have asked for and how much success we have had. Wait and see.

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Inward Investment

2. Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on attracting inward investment. [130905]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): Responsibility for inward investment is largely a devolved matter, but the Government have assured Executive Ministers that we will work closely with them and make every effort to help rebalance the Northern Ireland economy and secure inward investment.

Fiona Bruce: The “Lonely Planet” guide has rated Londonderry/Derry the fourth best city in the world to visit in 2013—the only UK destination in its top 10. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this could help boost tourism and investment in Northern Ireland and support the Londonderry-Derry 2013 UK city of culture programme?

Mrs Villiers: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Derry/Londonderry will have a great year next year, with its UK city of culture designation enabling it to project on the world stage what a brilliant city it is. It is also hosting the Fleadh. Such events demonstrate that Northern Ireland is forward-looking, and a great place in which to invest. I was in Derry/Londonderry last week and I was particularly interested in the plans for Digital Derry and the boost that the chamber of commerce wants to give the local economy.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): One of the main tools used to attract business into the United Kingdom is regional aid. On future regional aid guidelines, will the Secretary of State support our efforts to have all of Northern Ireland eligible for regional aid, just as we support the UK Government’s efforts to allow support to continue for larger companies?

Mrs Villiers: I believe that it is important that Northern Ireland continues to be able to offer regional aid, given the history of its economy. I have met Arlene Foster to discuss how I can help the Northern Ireland Executive’s efforts to persuade the Commission, when it makes decisions on assisted area status, that the interests of Northern Ireland and its economy should be properly defended.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Has the Secretary of State had a chance to look at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report, published last week, which identified air passenger duty as a stumbling block on the road to economic recovery in Northern Ireland? Will she consider accepting our central recommendation and discussing with the Treasury and the Northern Ireland Assembly the prospects of reducing air passenger duty on flights to and from Northern Ireland from Great Britain, or, preferably, removing that tax altogether?

Mrs Villiers: My hon. Friend’s report is strong and he is right to consider the importance of transport links. The Government moved swiftly when the Northern Ireland Executive requested devolution of long-haul air passenger duty. The possibility of reducing short-haul air passenger duty in future is made difficult, of course,

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by the record deficit that we inherited from Labour. However, the Chancellor is very much aware of the concerns about air passenger duty, and I have discussed the matter with Treasury Ministers on several occasions.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Coming back to the wonderful city of Derry or Londonderry, one of the best examples of inward investment is the Invista, formerly DuPont, plant in my constituency. It won that investment to be the only lycra-producing plant in Europe in worldwide internal competition within the company. Its ability to win future such investment could be compromised by proposed changes in the EU’s REACH—registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances—legislation. Will the Secretary of State use her position to influence her ministerial colleagues here to ensure that, at the Member State Committee meeting next week, the UK resists those changes?

Mrs Villiers: I am happy to work with ministerial colleagues to ensure that we get the right outcome on REACH. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. Although the underlying purpose of that directive—to ensure that chemicals are handled safely—is laudable, it would be counter-productive if it destroyed jobs and enterprise and simply exported them outside the European Union. I will therefore press my colleagues to ensure that we get a sensible outcome on REACH, which will not have the damaging impact that the hon. Gentleman fears.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): This is an unusual request, but I shall make it anyway. As part of the inward investment power of the G8 summit in Fermanagh next June, will the Secretary of State kindly meet my constituent, Mr Peter Meanley, who is a very distinguished craftsman and wishes to make beautifully glazed Toby jug replicas of all eight Heads of Government and State? It is an usual request, but will the Secretary of State please my constituent and the North Down MP by granting it?

Mrs Villiers: I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady’s constituent. It sounds as though he has an excellent project. Over the coming months, the Government will work hard to ensure that Northern Ireland gets the maximum possible benefits from the G8, which is an opportunity to showcase Fermanagh and the whole of Northern Ireland as a brilliant place to visit as a tourist and a brilliant place in which to invest.

Security Situation

3. Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement. [130906]

6. David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement. [130909]

10. Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement. [130913]

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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): The Government are committed to doing all we can to keep people in Northern Ireland safe. The threat level in Northern Ireland remains “severe” but the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its partners are working with dedication and determination in their efforts to frustrate the attacks planned by terrorists.

Gareth Johnson: Northern Ireland is as much a part of the United Kingdom as Dartford, so does the Secretary of State share my deep disappointment that the Union flag will not fly continuously over Belfast city hall, and does she agree with the principle that no law should prevent the Union flag from flying anywhere in the United Kingdom?

Mrs Villiers: I fully appreciate the strength of feeling on the flying of flags, but nothing could possibly justify the scenes of disorder witnessed outside city hall in Belfast earlier this week. Yes, there are serious and significant sensitivities about flag flying, but these decisions must be taken on the basis of sound, reasoned discussions and democratic votes, and not as a result of mobs seeking to beat down the door of city hall.

David Rutley: Given the upcoming G8 summit at the Lough Erne hotel near Enniskillen, which will be important for the whole country and not just Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that security plans are being drawn up to ensure that the summit is the success it truly deserves to be?

Mrs Villiers: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Planning is already very much under way. The Government are committed to working closely with the PSNI and its partners to ensure that the policing and security operations around the G8 are a success.

Mel Stride: As we have heard, Londonderry will be the city of culture next year. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the divisional commander of the PSNI, Mr Stephen Martin, on the exemplary way in which he and his officers have countered the terrorist threat locally so that we can look forward to a full cultural programme next year in that city?

Mrs Villiers: I certainly join my hon. Friend in that. I met PSNI officers from Derry/Londonderry just a week or so ago. They do an incredibly good job in very difficult circumstances with great bravery and dedication. They are determined to continue community policing close to the community. They will not compromise on that, but delivering it in the face of a continuing terrorist threat, and continuing attempts to target and attack officers, is extremely difficult. I am only too happy to join him in congratulating the police in Derry/Londonderry on the job they do.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The Secretary of State will agree that there can be absolutely no justification at any time for attacks on police officers or anyone, or for threats to elected representatives. Those of us who have been the subject of threats, assassination attempts and bombs in our constituency offices and homes know that very well indeed—and we have no time for it whatever.

Further to a previous question, does the Secretary of State agree that naming a playground after an IRA

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gunman, as Newry and Mourne district council did the other day, and tearing down the national flag at civic buildings in Belfast, do nothing for community relations and are deeply destabilising?

Mrs Villiers: As I have said, the flying of flags outside city hall is a matter for Belfast city council to decide. It is important that it is allowed to make that decision free from any kind of intimidation, including riots outside. I entirely join the right hon. Gentleman in condemning any attempts made to intimidate elected representatives or politicians from whichever party.

As to the decisions local authorities make on naming playgrounds, I do not think it would be sensible or wise for me to interfere in that discussion. We need to move towards a genuinely shared future in Northern Ireland, where such sensitive decisions can be taken on the basis of reason and mutual respect for the points of view of different parts of the community.

Mr Dodds: I welcomed recently the Secretary of State’s statement that she was not neutral on the Union. People in Northern Ireland will be disappointed that she cannot bring herself to condemn a decision to name a playground after an IRA gunman. A clear message needs to be sent out by the Secretary of State and the House that such behaviour and gestures are deeply destabilising and very damaging to community relations, especially with respect to those parents who will now not take their children to a playground where they feel intimidated.

Mrs Villiers: I entirely respect the right hon. Gentleman’s point of view, but I also totally respect the devolution settlement, whereby a whole range of decisions are now made locally in Northern Ireland. It is not for the Secretary of State to seek to interfere in those decisions, and I have no intention of doing so.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): Once again this year disputed parades have led to community tension and serious disorder. Has the Secretary of State recently held discussions with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister about plans to devolve the legal framework for parading in line with the agreement that they reached at Hillsborough castle in 2010?

Mrs Villiers: Parading has been one of the issues I have discussed with the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and other politicians in Northern Ireland. As the right hon. Gentleman points out, it was discussed as part of the devolution settlement. The Government remain entirely open to a devolved solution on parading, if the political parties in Northern Ireland can build a consensus to deliver it.

Afghanistan (Armed Forces Families)

4. David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): What practical support she can give to the families from Northern Ireland of those (a) serving in and (b) who have returned from Afghanistan. [130907]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mike Penning): I pay tribute to our brave armed forces who have served with such distinction in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. The MOD Service Personnel

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and Veterans Agency and many other service charities provide support and services to our 900,000-strong armed forces community and to their families.

David Simpson: I thank the Minister for his comments. Will he agree to meet a group of families in my constituency who have loved ones serving in Afghanistan, so that they can raise some of the practical issues themselves?

Mike Penning: It will be a pleasure and an honour to meet the families in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We are working very closely with the brigadier and his staff at 38 (Irish) Brigade to ensure that concerns are addressed.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Members on both sides of the House welcome the community covenant, which is a long-overdue recognition of the heroic sacrifice of our armed forces. Have the Secretary of State or the Minister given thought to naming an individual contact point for returning veterans—perhaps a community covenant champion, bearing it in mind that the Minister of State already has rather a busy job?

Mike Penning: I thank the hon. Gentleman, and my friend, for his comments. I have a very busy and a very important job, but correctly looking after those who have served their country, which the military covenant was designed to do, is exactly what I intend to do. I sit on the Prime Minister’s military covenant committee. When I was asked that question in the military covenant debate, I committed to having a round-table discussion on how we better help our servicemen and women when they leave the armed forces in Northern Ireland.

Mr Speaker: I have known the Minister of State for 20 years, and I have never regarded him as softly spoken. May I exhort him to speak up a bit?

Transferable Allowance (Married Couples)

5. Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the likely positive effects on families in Northern Ireland of introducing a transferable allowance for married couples. [130908]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mike Penning) rose—

Hon. Members: Come on!

Mike Penning: Well then, Mr Speaker! We are committed to finding ways, which were in the manifesto—[Interruption.] You’ve got me going now, Mr Speaker. Treasury Ministers have undertaken to consider a range of options, some of which we might hear later, and make proposals to support marriage.

Jim Shannon: I thank the Minister for his response. My party and that of the Minister of State support a transferrable tax allowance. Marriage in Northern Ireland has risen by 15% since 2001, which reinforces its importance and relevance in today’s society. Does the Minister agree that that must be reflected in the introduction of a transferable tax allowance to allow family units to obtain the benefit, rather than be penalised?

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Mike Penning: There are many ways in which we can support marriage within a tax allowance, and my hon. Friend will have to wait a little longer to hear exactly what is in the autumn statement—you never know, but we will wait and see.

Security (Cross-border Co-operation)

7. Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the level of cross-border security co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Siochana; and if she will make a statement. [130910]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): Co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Siochana has never been stronger. It has made a real difference in tackling terrorism and other forms of criminal activity. I have no doubt that it has saved lives.

Jack Lopresti: I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Will she assure the House that co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda covers not only terrorism, but other activities, such as organised crime, that help to finance terrorism? With that in mind, will she tell us what recent discussions she has had with counterparts in Dublin as part of our joint efforts to combat terrorism?

Mrs Villiers: I have had discussions with the Irish Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, and the Taoiseach about the importance of cross-border co-operation. As I said in my opening answer, that co-operation has never been stronger, and we are always open to options for deepening that co-operation in our joint fight against terrorism and criminality.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): After congratulating my right hon. the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) on reaching his 50th birthday, will the Secretary of State tell us when she intends next to meet representatives from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to discuss how they will tackle fuel and cigarette smuggling on a cross-party basis? It is depriving her Government of billions of pounds in lost tax revenue.

Mrs Villiers: I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in wishing the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) a happy birthday. I have met Treasury Ministers on many occasions, and my colleague, the Minister of State, has recently met representatives from HMRC and will be meeting them again soon. I am happy to do that as well. The Government are strongly committed to cracking down on tax evasion in all forms. We have devoted £917 million, and—who knows?—further announcements on cracking down on tax evasion might be made later this afternoon.

De Silva Report

8. Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): What representations she has received from the Finucane family in advance of the scheduled publication of the de Silva report on 12 December 2012. [130911]

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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I have not received any representations from the Finucane family since taking office, but my officials are in touch with the family’s legal advisers on the arrangements for publication of the de Silva review next week.

Valerie Vaz: I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. It seems that we take a long time to bring justice to grieving families, and I am surprised that the Government have been involved in checking the de Silva report. How does she intend to bring justice for the death of Pat Finucane, given that the family have not been involved in the review?

Mrs Villiers: I strongly believe that the de Silva review will reveal the truth. It has been a very serious exercise. One reason the Prime Minister and my predecessor chose the review process, as opposed to a public inquiry, was the experience of public inquiries taking many years. It would not have been right to wait that long or for the family to have to wait another 12 years to get to the truth. The truth is what counts, and I am sure that the de Silva review will reveal it next week.

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I thank the Secretary of State for her premature, but nevertheless welcome, birthday wishes.

The Secretary of State takes a great interest in the Finucane case, but will she cast her mind to the families of the 10 people murdered at Kingsmill in south Armagh, and will she note that one of the guns was found in possession of Raymond McCreesh, after whom a play park in Newry has now been named—shamefully—by the Social Democratic and Labour party and others? Will she cast her mind to those innocent victims who today are hurt by the decisions of Newry and Mourne district council, which frankly are a disgrace?

Mrs Villiers: It is important, both today in the House and next week when the de Silva review is published, to remember all the victims of the troubles. There were far too many despicable murders and tragedies, and the focus on individual cases should not blind us to the gravity of the suffering imposed on so many people across so many years. We will be emphasising that next week when we look at the Finucane case. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I remind the House that we are discussing extremely serious matters of life and death, and it would be appreciated if the House would respond accordingly.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): Does the Secretary of State agree that the Finucane case is not just about truth but about justice, and that there is a need to follow through and obtain justice, as much as truth, for the Finucane family?

Mrs Villiers: Of course, the review is about finding the truth and obtaining justice, but whether prosecutions follow will, of course, be a matter for the prosecution authorities, not the Government. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Let us have some order for Mr Bob Stewart.

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Dissident Republican Groups

9. Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the activities of dissident republican groups. [130912]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): Attack planning by these terrorist groupings continues. The level of threat in Northern Ireland remains at “severe”. These groups possess lethal intent and we remain vigilant. The Police Service of Northern Ireland and its partners are working strategically to tackle the threat, to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure.

Bob Stewart: In view of the continuing activities of the IRA under a new guise—the “new IRA”, and indeed the Continuity IRA—can my right hon. Friend assure me that she has done as much as humanly possible to identify long-term hides of weapons?

Mrs Villiers: The PSNI and its partners, including the Garda Siochana, are focused on suppressing terrorist activity. They are absolutely determined to keep people in Northern Ireland safe and secure. That means combating the efforts the terrorists are making to access weaponry, whether by seeking to import them, steal them or access hides from the past. This is an important priority for the PSNI, and it has the full support of Her Majesty’s Government in the brilliant work it does on these matters.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): Dissident groups have been responsible for bomb attacks on my party headquarters and party members. I thank the Secretary of State for the attention she gives to that issue. However, the most recent attacks on my party colleagues and our party offices—our constituency offices and our staff—with threats and intimidation, have come from loyalist sources. Will she confirm that all threats of politically motivated violence will be treated with the same vigour as dissident republican attacks?

Mrs Villiers: I was discussing this matter with David Ford, the Minister of Justice, this morning. It is unacceptable if elected representatives or their staff are intimidated in any way. I know that the Minister of Justice and the PSNI will continue to defend robustly the ability of politicians in Northern Ireland to carry out their duties without intimidation.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [131413] Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): What his strategy is to deal with any re-emergence of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after 2014.

The Prime Minister: Before I answer my hon. Friend’s question, I am sure the whole House would wish to join me in congratulating the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the wonderful news that they are expecting their first child. This is the perfect piece of news to end what has been an extraordinary jubilee year.

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Turning to my hon. Friend’s question on Afghanistan, the threat to global security from the al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan has been significantly reduced. This is in large part the result of the brave work of UK, international security assistance force and Afghan armed forces. We remain committed to Afghanistan for the long term, and we will continue to support the development of the Afghan national security forces after 2014 through continued funding and involvement in training. Our continued contribution to aid and the political process, combined with our armed forces’ efforts, underpin a state that is capable of policing its own lands. It is by this path that al-Qaeda will, I believe, be unable to re-establish itself in Afghanistan.

Dr Lewis: The Taliban have been told when most of our troops will be leaving, and they need to be told what sanctions to expect if they help al-Qaeda to return. What would those sanctions be and would an allied regional strategic base serve to make them credible?

The Prime Minister: The most important sanction for everyone to bear in mind is the fact that the Afghan national security forces are already at a level of 335,000 and are increasingly capable and increasingly able to police and secure their own country, but of course we will continue to be involved, not least through the officer training academy we will establish. The Americans will have a strong relationship—as we will have a strong relationship—with the Government of Afghanistan, and we will obviously want to help them in all the ways we can to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven of international terror.


Q2. [131414] Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 5 December.

The Prime Minister: This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to duties in my house—[Interruption]—I am sorry, in this House. [Laughter.] You would have thought I’d got used to it by now. In addition to my duties in this House I shall have further meetings later today.

Seema Malhotra: I visited my critically ill constituent Mrs Swaran Kaur Mudhar in hospital last week. There were only two nurses on a ward of 30 very ill patients. She has asked me to ask the Prime Minister why he has cut the number of nurses.

The Prime Minister: The number of clinical staff in our NHS since this Government came to power has gone up, and the number of managers is significantly down, but as my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has said, we are not the slightest bit complacent. There are parts of our NHS where standards of care and standards of nursing are not acceptable. That is why we are introducing things like the friends and family test to ensure that all hospitals come up to the highest standards of the best.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Following the publication of the Leveson report last week, does my right hon. Friend agree that what we need is a strong, independent regulator, preferably without statutory underpinning?

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The Prime Minister: I think this is a moment when we should try to maximise the amount of consensus in this House and in the country about what is required. Everyone agrees that we need strong, independent regulation along the lines that Leveson suggests. Everyone agrees that we need million-pound fines. Everyone agrees that we need prominent apologies and independently handled complaints. This is absolutely vital, and I have been encouraged by the meetings I have had with the editors of national newspapers that they will put in place that Leveson-compliant regulation. We should continue the cross-party talks and make sure that we can deliver a regulatory system of which this House, this country and, above all, the victims can be proud.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): Let me join the Prime Minister in congratulating the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their very happy news. They have the best wishes not just of this House but of the whole country.

The Conservative party manifesto, published in April 2010, said that

“we will increase health spending in real terms every year.”

However, the head of the UK Statistics Authority says clearly and unequivocally that this has not happened. So what is today’s excuse?

The Prime Minister: This Government are putting £12.6 billion extra into the NHS. Let me quote the right hon. Gentleman the figures directly from the head of the Office for National Statistics. In real terms, spending in 2010 was £104.2 billion. In 2011, it was £104.3 billion in real terms. That is a real-terms increase, and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that there will be further real-terms increases in 2012, in 2013 and in 2014, whereas there would be cuts under Labour.

Edward Miliband: Let me just say to the Prime Minister that, even by his standards, that was the most slippery answer we could possibly imagine. He is unbelievable. He has come to this House 26 times since he became Prime Minister and boasted about how he is increasing health spending every year of this Parliament—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Government Members are cheering, but he has failed to meet that promise. This is not an argument between me and him; we have a ruling from the chair of the independent UK Statistics Authority who says that that has not happened. I would be grateful if the Department of Health could clarify the statements made. Instead of his usual bluster, why does he not just correct the record?

The Prime Minister: It is a very simple point. The spending figures for 2010 were set by the last Labour Government. Those are the figures we inherited. All the right hon. Gentleman is doing is proving that his Government were planning for an NHS cut. We have taken that figure in 2010, we have increased it in 2011 and we will increase it again in every year of this Parliament. People do not have to look at manifestos for a contrast; they can look at what Labour is doing in Wales. The Labour party is in charge in Wales, and it has cut the NHS in Wales by 8%. As a result, waiting times are up, waiting lists are down, quality is down. That is what you get with Labour and the NHS.

Edward Miliband: The Prime Minister knows the reality, which is that he made a promise about every—

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The Prime Minister indicated dissent.

Edward Miliband: There is no point in him shaking his head and getting annoyed. He made a promise that he would keep the NHS budget rising in real terms in every year of this Parliament. Labour’s plan, which we set out at the election, was to increase the health budget in 2010-11, and he cut the budget. He knows the reality. Let me give him one more opportunity. He made a solemn promise to the British people of year-on-year increases in the health budget, including in 2010-11. He failed to meet the promise. Come on, why don’t you just admit it?

The Prime Minister: I do not know whether I need to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the general election was after the 2010 year had begun. This was Labour’s plan, and what we have done is increase the budget every year. If he does not believe that, perhaps he will listen to the Labour shadow Health Secretary, who gave an interview in the New Statesman, when he said, about the Tories:

“They’re not ring-fencing it. They’re increasing it.”

He went on:

“Cameron’s been saying it every week in the Commons: ‘Oh, the shadow health secretary wants to spend less on health than us.’”

The question was asked:

“Which is true, isn’t it?”

He said:

“Yes, it is true…that’s my point.”

There we have it, confirmed: it is official—Labour wants to cut our NHS. It would never be safe with them again.

Edward Miliband: No, the reality is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) left a rising health budget and this Prime Minister cut it—that is the reality.

Now, let me try the Prime Minister on another fact, which I am sure he will be able to give to the House. Can he tell us how big an income tax cut he is giving next April to people earning over £1 million a year as a result of the reduction in the top rate of tax?

The Prime Minister: I am not surprised the right hon. Gentleman wants to get off health. That was the biggest own goal I think I have ever seen.

On the issue of the top rate of tax, when the right hon. Gentleman’s Government put it up to 50p, what it actually meant was that many fewer millionaires paid it, as a result of which the tax take suffered by £7 billion. I remind him that under this Government the top rate of tax will be higher in every year than any year when he was working in the Treasury.

Edward Miliband: I will give the right hon. Gentleman the answer, because of course he did not give it to us. Next April, everyone earning over £1 million will have a tax cut of £107,000 a year—£107,000 a year! [Interruption.] It is no good the Deputy Prime Minister shouting from a sedentary position: he went along with it—the party of Lloyd George!

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The Prime Minister has not kept his promise on us all being in it together. Let us ask him about his central promise. Two years ago, he said that by 2015

“we will have balanced the books.”

Can he explain why he is so badly failing to keep that promise?

The Prime Minister: First, let me give the right hon. Gentleman the figures on the top rate of tax because it is important. In 2009-10, 16,000 people were earning more than £1 million, with a tax liability of £13 billion. In 2010-11, when the rate went up, this plummeted to 6,000 people with a tax liability of £6.5 billion. Therefore, his 50p election gambit cost the country £7 billion. When is he going to realise that setting tax rates is about raising money, not about punishing success? That is what Labour needs to understand.

In terms of the deficit, we have cut the Budget deficit by 25%, and the right hon. Gentleman will be getting an update on progress from the Chancellor in a minute, but let me ask the right hon. Gentleman this: how on earth can you deal with a borrowing problem by pledging to borrow more?

Edward Miliband: Let us be clear about the Prime Minister’s answer on the 50p rate. His answer to the problem of tax avoidance is to give the people doing it a tax cut. That is the answer he gave—give them another big giveaway. The reality that the Prime Minister could not get away from is that the deficit is going up, not down, on his watch. We all remember the posters, with his airbrushed face, saying,

“I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS.”

The facts speak for themselves: he has cut the NHS and he is not cutting the deficit.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is 100% wrong: we are increasing spending on the NHS and we are cutting the deficit. Yes, we have cut the deficit by 25%, there are a million more private sector jobs, businesses are starting up at a higher rate than at any time in our history, this economy is on the right track, we are equipping Britain for the global race and, unlike the Labour party, we are on the side of people who work hard and want to do the right thing. And what is the right hon. Gentleman’s answer? More borrowing, more spending, more of the things that got us into the mess in the first place.

Q3. [131415] Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): Three years ago, the NHS spent £500 million on Tamiflu without having seen all the data on effectiveness or safety. Given that, far from that being an isolated case, it is normal for the drugs industry to have almost complete control over the evidence base on which crucial public decisions are made, will the Prime Minister ask Roche to make available the full clinical study reports on Tamiflu, so that doctors, patients and taxpayers are not misled?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend does excellent work on behalf of the taxpayer, partly through all the good questions that he asks. He has raised an important issue, involving not only the cost to the taxpayer but the possible overstatement of benefits to patients. There needs to be more transparency in clinical trials data,

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and we are committed to ensuring that that happens. The European Medicine Agency’s work in this regard is supported, and from next year there will be a legal requirement to publish summary reports from clinical trials.

Q4. [131416] Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): This week we learned that, despite assurances that exhaustive checks were taking place, the UK Border Agency had made minimal attempts to trace 124,000 asylum seekers and migrants, and that 150 boxes of mail had been left unopened. Does that not demonstrate that the 20% cut in the agency’s budget has put our efforts to secure our borders at risk?

The Prime Minister: I think that this is a week in which to recognise that we said that we would cut immigration, and that, under this Government, net immigration is down by 25%. However, I want us to do far better in chasing up illegal overstayers and illegal migrants. Good work is being done in that respect, which also involves private sector organisations finding these people and getting them to leave. Of course we had to make reductions in the UKBA budget, as we have had to make them in all budgets, but the hon. Gentleman should have noticed by now that government these days is about getting more for less.

Q5. [131417] Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that Portsmouth has been the home of the Royal Navy and a working dockyard for more than 500 years. Given that the Business Secretary appears to have prejudged the findings of a study of the future of shipbuilding, what reassurance can the Prime Minister give me—and 1,500 shipbuilders—that Portsmouth will remain integral to the building and export of warships, and will continue to be the base port for our future surface fleet?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend quite rightly speaks up for Portsmouth, which is and will continue to be an excellent home for the Royal Navy. The Navy is fully committed to Portsmouth, and, whatever decision is made on the future of shipbuilding, the Navy will remain a major employer in the city, not least once the new carriers arrive in Portsmouth in a few years’ time. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also welcome the recently announced enterprise zone on the Gosport peninsula, a £25 million package which could create up to 1,200 jobs.

Q6. [131418] Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab): In June 2010, the Prime Minister said that despite the Government’s deficit reduction plan, he would ensure that there was

“ no increase in child poverty.”—[Official Report, 23 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 294.]

Does he still stand by that assurance?

The Prime Minister: We are doing everything that we can to tackle child poverty, and according to some estimates it has come down. What we have specifically done is increase the element of child tax credit that goes to the poorest families.

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): In the wake of the criminal convictions of staff who repeatedly abused people living at Winterbourne View hospital, is

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it not time that those who take the fees, employ the staff and then supervise those staff were themselves held to account through the creation of a new offence of corporate neglect?

The Prime Minister: I have listened very carefully to what my right hon. Friend has said. There have indeed been some appalling instances of completely unacceptable levels of care. Of course people working in such organisations are fully subject to the law, as they should be, and if the law has been broken, the proper consequences should follow.

Q7. [131419] Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): One of the main industrial issues in my constituency, and indeed throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is the price of electricity. What action is the Prime Minister taking to mitigate spiralling costs, especially in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister: For consumers, we have announced our plan to ensure that companies put people on the lowest available tariff, which I think has been warmly welcomed throughout the House and throughout the country. For business, given that there is an issue with the energy-intensive industries, the Government have announced their intention to exempt such industries from contract-for-difference costs under electricity market reform. That is subject to state aid clearance and further consultation, but I think it shows that the Government are working hard to help those industries and ensure that they continue to compete and succeed in Britain.

Q8. [131420] Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): The whole House does indeed join the Prime Minister in congratulating the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their excellent good news. Will the Prime Minister please confirm to the House that the Commonwealth has at last agreed—after many of us have been asking for this for years—to change the rules on royal succession? Will the Prime Minister undertake to bring a Bill before the House very soon, so that if this baby is a girl she can follow in the footsteps of her much-loved great-grandmother and become our Queen?

The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. I think I can answer positively on all the points she made. At the Perth Commonwealth conference, I chaired a meeting of the Prime Ministers of all the different realms and we agreed we should bring forward legislation to deal with this issue. All the realms have now agreed to do that. We will introduce legislation into this House very shortly. It will write down in law what we agreed back in 2011: that if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child is a girl, she can one day be our Queen. That is the key point. But it is important to explain that the changes will apply to a child born after the date of the Perth announcement of last year even if the birth is before the legislation is passed. I hope it will not take long—certainly not nine months—to pass this legislation, but, just in case, there would not be a problem.

Q9. [131421] Margaret Hodge (Barking) (Lab): I welcome the Government’s commitment to increasing their efforts to tackle tax avoidance. Starbucks has now caved in to public pressure and announced that it will

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review its tax arrangements in the UK, so naming and shaming clearly works. Surely it is time to stop companies engaged in tax avoidance hiding behind taxpayer confidentiality. Will the Prime Minister now commit to publishing the names of the companies found by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to have avoided paying their fair share of tax?

The Prime Minister: I very much welcome the right hon. Lady’s initiative on this and her Committee’s work, and I thank her for her warm words of support for what the Government have done thus far. We have recovered £29 billion of additional revenues from large businesses in the last six years, including £4 billion in the last four years from transfer pricing inquiries alone, which is one of the issues the press has covered in detail. I am certainly committed to doing everything we can to look at all the options to make sure that companies pay their taxes properly, and I agree with what the right hon. Lady said about public, and even some political, pressure. On some occasions I myself have made one or two remarks on this subject that were seen as rather controversial. It is important that people feel that companies meet their responsibilities and pay their taxes.

Q10. [131422] Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend do everything he can to ensure that education, health and social services work together to commission services jointly, in order to ensure that the very welcome reforms in the forthcoming children and families Bill will be workable on the ground?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We need to get away from the idea of Government—or, indeed, local government—operating in silos with different budgets and different departments not working together. My hon. Friend represents a Swindon constituency, and I know that Swindon borough council has taken huge steps in bringing the various agencies together, particularly in the area of problem families, and I commend them for the work they do.

Q11. [131423] Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Whatever announcements the Chancellor makes on pension tax relief shortly, is it not a fact that when this Government came to power, they made changes to pension tax relief that gave a tax cut of £1.6 billion to people earning more than £150,000? [Interruption.] I see that the Chancellor has to give the Prime Minister his crib sheet.

The Prime Minister: I am afraid the hon. Lady is wrong. We inherited a plan to raise £4 billion in taxes from the wealthiest people, and we raised that further. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make some further announcements in a moment.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The north-east of Scotland makes a major contribution to the UK economy through the offshore oil and gas industry. Will the Prime Minister commit to maximise investment in the industry so we get the maximum number of jobs and the maximum energy security and taxation for the future of this country?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend rightly speaks up for the North sea industry and for everyone who works in it in Scotland. I have been incredibly impressed

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when I have visited Aberdeen to see the health of, and the wealth generated by, that industry. What we have done, on decommissioning and on new field allowances, has helped to bring some certainty, and we should keep working on that to make sure that we recover as much oil and gas from the North sea as possible and make the most of this precious national asset.

Q12. [131424] Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Some 7,000 fewer nurses, longer waits in accident and emergency, and hospitals full to bursting, according to Dr Foster—the Prime Minister is cutting the NHS while the deficit rises. Will he put that on his posters for the next general election?

The Prime Minister: I think the hon. Gentleman was describing the situation in Wales, where Labour has put in place an 8% cut. Let me tell him what is actually happening in the NHS in England: we have got 1,350 extra clinical staff; we have taken down the number of managers by 6,700; mixed-sex accommodation is right down; the cancer drugs fund is making sure that many more people get access to those drugs; waiting times are down; the number of people waiting a long time is down; and the number of people waiting longer than 52 weeks to start treatment is at its lowest level since records began. He should be supporting this Government for their health policy and telling his Front Benchers to stop cutting the NHS.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend recall receiving a visit at No. 10 from the pupils of Market Field special school, which had been nicknamed “shed city” as there were so many demountables on its site? Does he share my delight that Essex county council has allocated £8.4 million to build a new school, and may I thank him for his support for that campaign?

The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I am a very big supporter of Britain’s special schools; I think they provide an absolutely vital service for parents and for children who have those special and sometimes quite acute needs. I am proud of the fact that this Government have invested in special schools and they are doing such a good job, including in his constituency.

Q13. [131425] Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): Following the Government’s new funding formula for universities this year, student admissions dropped by more than 50,000. Despite meeting its target, the university of Wolverhampton—my local university—suffered a cut in its core allocation and has been told that there will be another cut next year. What guarantees can the Prime Minister give that universities such as Wolverhampton’s will not suffer year-on-year reductions in student numbers as a result of this new formula?

The Prime Minister: The whole point is that this Government took difficult decisions to make sure we could maintain the number of people going to our universities, and the question really goes right back to the Labour party: if you don’t support a proper system of student contributions, how on earth are you going to pay for our universities? We have set out our plans, and they are actually working well. You don’t start paying

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back money until you earn £21,000, and you don’t start paying back in full until you earn £35,000. We have a method for making sure we invest in our universities; the Labour party has not got a clue.

Q14. [131426] John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Naomi House children’s hospice, which serves my constituency, receives just 10% of its funding from the Department of Health, whereas adult hospices receive rather more. This is especially difficult because, as private institutions, hospices have to pay for all prescriptions. Will the Prime Minister look again at the reasons for the different treatment of children’s and adult hospices, and meet me and Professor Aziz to discuss the different funding levels that they attract?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to discuss this issue with my hon. Friend. For many years, my family used a children’s hospice in Oxford that got absolutely no state support at all. What this Government have done is continue with the £10 million going annually to support children’s hospices, and this year we have added an extra £720,000. However, what we want to put in place, and what we are discussing with the providers of both adult and children’s hospices, is a per-patient funding system that would be for all hospices. I think that would bring a greater logic and consistency to how we support this absolutely essential part of both our health service and, I would argue, our big society.

Q15. [131427] Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister aware that Amazon, a global company, turned over £3.3 billion in the UK this year, paid not a single penny in corporation tax and yet was rewarded with a £10 million grant from the Scottish National party Government in Scotland? Does that not demonstrate that both our Prime Minister and our First Minister stand up for the wrong people? When will this Government move away from punishing the poorest in society and focus on those who avoid and evade?

The Prime Minister: The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that there is common ground between us, which is that we want those large multinational companies to pay proper taxes here in the UK. We believe that you do that by having low tax rates—and we have reduced the rate of corporation tax—and ensuring that they declare their income properly. On the specific issue of transfer payments, some companies have been pursuing rather strange practices to pretend that their revenues are not delivered here in the UK to run down their tax bills. As I have said, in the past four years we have recovered £4 billion in tax revenue in that way, but the Treasury and the HMRC very much know that there is more we can do.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Residents of Suffolk Coastal were very excited when the Energy Bill was published last week, because it gives a potential green light to the building of Sizewell C nuclear power station and many jobs. Will the Prime Minister commit to continuing to invest in apprenticeships and skills training so that Suffolk people can get the jobs that will be created?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The presentation of the Energy Bill to Parliament means that we can get out there and sell to all the energy companies the clear and stable framework that the UK

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has for offshore wind, nuclear, renewables and gas. It is a very positive development and there is a huge amount of potential pent-up investment, and we need to ensure that that results in British jobs and British apprenticeships. The Government are fully committed to making that happen.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): The Prime Minister obviously believes that within the Leveson report there lurks something that is bonkers. Given that, how would he characterise the views of his Planning Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles)—who has just said that over the coming months and years tens of thousands of new homes will have to be built on greenfield sites?

The Prime Minister: Let me deal with the question about the Planning Minister first. It is absolutely clear that yes, we should build on brownfield land and try to deal with the problem of empty homes, but we need a frank conversation about the need to build more flats and houses so that we do not have the situation we currently have, whereby if people do not have help from the bank of mum and dad they are in their mid-30s before they buy their first home or flat. I do not think that is acceptable in our country, so all credit to the Planning Minister for trying to fix the problem.

On the question of Leveson, I think there is a wide agreement about what a new regulatory system ought to look like. It is set out there in black and white in Leveson, and we need to challenge the press to introduce it. If they do not, we will obviously have to take further action.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): With more men in work than ever before, more women in work than ever before, a deficit that has been cut by 25% and interest rates at historic lows, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition’s plan B—code for more debt—would jeopardise all those achievements?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right; we are making progress. Of course it is tough when there are so many economic headwinds against us, but with 1 million more private sector jobs, the deficit down by 25% and a record number of businesses starting up last year, we are on the right track. It is quite clear that plan B stands for bankruptcy—that is what Labour would give us.

Mr Speaker: Last but not least, I call Ann Clwyd.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): A universal health care system free at the point of delivery is what the overwhelming majority of the British people want and is something to which I remain firmly committed. However, there are increasing complaints about nurses who fail to show care and compassion to their patients. What exactly will the Prime Minister do about that?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Lady speaks for the whole House and the whole country in raising this issue. I know how painful what she witnessed in her own life and her own family must have been. I am, as she is, a massive fan of our national health service and an enormous fan of the fact that it is free at the point of use and that we do not produce a credit card when we

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go to hospital. My family has had extraordinary care from our NHS, but we do not do our NHS or our nurses any favours if we do not point out that there are some very real problems in parts of our health and care system.

As a constituency MP, I see quite a few letters—particularly from elderly people and their relatives—who are not getting the sort of care that is appropriate in hospitals. I set up a nursing care quality forum that I have attended myself to discuss these issues with nurses and nurse leaders. There is no silver bullet and no magic wand, but some simple steps, such as asking every hospital to carry out a friends

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and family test, asking the patients and the staff whether they would be happy for their family or friends to be treated in that hospital, can make a real difference. So can hourly rounding, which is not something to do with statistics but the idea that the nurse should be there by the bedside of elderly patients once an hour checking that they have had water and something to eat, that they do not have bedsores and that they are properly looked after. We should not have to dictate those things, but a proper conversation with our nurses—who are angels to a vast degree—can get the situation sorted out for all our relatives.

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Autumn Statement

12.34 pm

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): It is taking time, but the British economy is healing. After the biggest financial crash of our lifetimes, people know that we face deep-seated problems at home and abroad. At home, we live with the decade of debt and the failure to equip Britain to compete in the modern world, and we face a multitude of problems from abroad—the US fiscal cliff, the slowing growth in China, and above all the eurozone, now in recession.

People know that there are no quick fixes to these problems but they want to know that we are making progress, and the message from today’s autumn statement is that we are making progress. It is a hard road, but we are getting there. [Interruption.] Britain is on the right track—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I ask the Chancellor to resume his seat. Let us be clear about this. Each side should be heard with courtesy. The House knows well enough by now that I will afford a very full opportunity for questioning of the Chancellor, but the more interruption and the greater the noise, the longer the session will take, and that cannot be right. So I appeal to Members please to give the Chancellor a courteous hearing, as indeed, if it becomes necessary, I will appeal to Government Back Benchers to afford a fair hearing to the shadow Chancellor. That is how it should be.

Mr Osborne: Britain is on the right track and turning back now would be a disaster. We have much more to do. The deficit has fallen by a quarter in just two years, and today’s figures show that it is forecast to continue to fall. Exports of goods to the major emerging economies, which were pitifully low, have doubled since 2009. Since this coalition Government came to office, 1.2 million new jobs have been created in the private sector. In a world economy where bond investors are fleeing countries that they regard as risky, investment is flowing into UK gilts, instead of flying from them. We have to keep it that way.

Two years ago, Britain was in the danger zone. Now we are seen as one of the safe havens, able to borrow money at lower interest rates than at any time in our history. Today’s forecast shows a £33 billion saving on the debt interest payments that it was predicted we would have to pay two years ago. That is as much as the entire defence budget. That is why in this autumn statement, we show that this coalition Government are confronting the country’s problems, instead of ducking them.

Today we reaffirm our commitment to reducing the deficit, setting out the details of our spending plans for 2015-16 and rolling forward an outline framework into 2017-18. We show our determination to do this fairly, with further savings from bureaucracy, the benefit bills and the better-off. We go on equipping Britain to succeed in the global race by switching from current spending to capital investment in science, roads and education. We offer new support for business and enterprise, so they can create the jobs we need. In everything we do, we will show today that we are on the side of those who want to work hard and get on.

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The Office for Budget Responsibility has today produced its latest economic forecast and it is a measure of the constitutional achievement that it is taken for granted that our country’s forecast is now produced independently of the Treasury, free from the political interference of the past. I want to thank Robert Chote, his fellow members of the Budget Responsibility Committee, Steve Nickell and Graham Parker, and all their staff at the OBR for their rigorous approach.

One of the advantages of the creation of the OBR is that we get not only independent forecasts, but an independent explanation for why the forecasts are as they are. For example, if lower growth was the result of the Government’s fiscal policy, it would say so. But it does not. It says that the economy has “performed less strongly” than expected and forecasts growth this year of minus 0.1%, but in its view

“the weaker than expected growth can be more than accounted for by over-optimism regarding net trade”.

The OBR had previously assumed that the eurozone would begin to recover in the second half of this year. Instead, of course, it has continued to contract, which has hit our exports to those markets and the net trade numbers. The eurozone crisis has also, it says, spilled over into “tighter credit conditions” and

“elevated UK bank funding costs”.

In its words, those problems will

“constrain growth for several years to come”.

There are also domestic problems that the OBR refers to. In the report today the contraction in 2008-2009 is now assessed to be deeper than previously thought, with GDP shrinking by a staggering 6.3%, the largest shock to our economy since the second world war. In the OBR’s view, the aftermath of that shock continues to weigh on the productivity of the UK economy, with credit rationing and impaired financial markets potentially impeding the expansion of successful firms. It says:

“GDP growth is now expected to be lower in every year of the forecast period, as credit conditions take longer to normalise and global growth remains weaker than previously expected”.

As a result, the OBR forecasts that the economy will grow by 1.2% next year, 2.0% in 2014, 2.3% in 2015, 2.7% in 2016 and 2.8% in 2017.

So the economy is recovering, and it is recovering more quickly than many of our neighbours. The International Monetary Fund estimates that next year the UK will grow more strongly than either France or Germany. Our credible fiscal policy allows for supportive monetary policy and, with the Bank of England, we are directly addressing the problems of tight credit through the £70 billion funding for lending scheme. In the OBR’s view, that has reduced UK bank funding costs, lowered interest rates in the real economy and will add to the level of real GDP.

One area where the British economy has done much better than forecast is in creating jobs. Since early 2010, the private sector has created 1.2 million new jobs—600,000 more than predicted—and youth unemployment has been falling. The OBR now expects unemployment to peak at 8.3%, instead of 8.7%. That is at a time when the unemployment rate in Spain is 26%, in France it is 11% and across the whole eurozone it is almost 12%. Employment, which is already at a record high, is set to go on rising each year of the forecast. For every one job less in the public sector, two new jobs are expected to be

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created in the private sector. Britain now has a greater proportion of its people in work than either the eurozone or the United States of America. More jobs means that the impact of the weaker than forecast GDP on the public finances has been less than some might have expected.

There have been three developments that have each had a significant one-off impact on the public finances, and the report we are publishing today shows clearly and transparently the impact of all three. First, there is the transfer of the Royal Mail pension fund to the public sector as part of its privatisation. That produces a one-off reduction in the deficit of £28 billion this year, but it will add to the deficit in the years after.

Secondly, the previous Government had classified Bradford & Bingley and Northern Rock Asset Management as off balance sheet. Today, they are brought on balance sheet, in line with the judgment of the Office for National Statistics. That adds around £70 billion to our national debt and reminds us of the price the country is still paying for the failures of the past.

Thirdly, the Government have decided, with the agreement of the Bank of England, to transfer excess cash held in the asset purchase facility to the Exchequer. This is sensible cash management, and it is in line with the approach of the Bank of Japan and the US Federal Reserve. I welcome the OBR’s verdict that this is, in its words, “more transparent” than the previous approach. I want to make sure that its impact on the figures is also completely transparent, so we have today published the forecasts for the public finances with and without the impact of the APF decision.

When we came to office, the deficit stood at 11.2%—the highest in our peacetime history. It was forecast to be the largest of any major economy in the world. In the past two years, the deficit has fallen by a quarter. Today’s figures show that with or without the APF coupons, the deficit is forecast to fall this year as well, and cash borrowing is forecast to fall too. Last year, the deficit was 7.9%. This year, with the APF coupons, it is forecast to be 6.9%, but that excludes the impact of the Royal Mail pension assets. It is falling and it will continue to fall each and every year, to 6.1% next year, 5.2% the year after, 4.2% in 2015-16, then 2.6%, before reaching 1.6% in 2017-18.

In 2009-10, the country was borrowing £159 billion. This year, we are borrowing £108 billion. That is forecast to fall to £99 billion next year, £88 billion the year after, then £73 billion in 2015-16, and £49 billion and £31 billion in the two years after that. These are the central forecasts published by the OBR, with the asset purchase facility cash transfer included. When the transfer is excluded, as we show in the document, the deficit also falls, from 7.9% last year to 7.7% this year, then 6.9% next year, and it falls in every single year after that—and cash borrowing falls in every year as well.

There are those who have been saying that the deficit was going up this year—indeed, I think I heard it in Prime Minister’s questions—but any way you present these figures, this is not what the OBR forecasts show today. It says that the deficit is coming down—coming down this year and every year of this Parliament. Yes, the deficit is still far too high for comfort—we cannot relax our efforts to make our economy safe—but Britain is heading in the right direction. The road is hard but we are making progress.

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Unlike the previous Government’s golden rule, the regime we have set up means that the Chancellor is no longer judge and jury of their own fiscal rules, and today the OBR has assessed us against those rules. First, the fiscal mandate: this is the commitment that we will balance the cyclically adjusted current budget over the coming five years. I can tell the House that the OBR has assessed that we are, in its words, “on course” to meet our fiscal mandate. In other words, we have a better than 50% chance of eliminating the structural current deficit in five years’ time—that part of our borrowing that does not recover automatically as the economy grows. This is true, again, with or without the transfer of the coupons, so we will meet our fiscal mandate. But the OBR assesses in its central forecast that we do not meet the supplementary objective that aims to have debt falling by 2015-16. The point at which debt starts to fall has been delayed by one year, to 2016-17, and the OBR’s central forecast is that net debt will be 74.7% this year, then 76.8% next year, 79% in 2014-15, and 79.9% in 2015-16, before falling to 79.2% in 2016-17 and 77.3% in 2017-18.

In short, the tougher economic conditions mean that while our deficit is forecast to go on falling, instead of taking three years to get our debt falling, it is going to take four. Confronted with this news, some say we should abandon our deficit plan and try to borrow more. They think that by borrowing more, we can borrow less. That would risk higher interest rates, more debt interest payments, and a complete loss of Britain’s fiscal credibility. We are not taking that road to ruin.

Then there are those who say that despite all that has happened in the world this year, we should cut even more now to hit the debt target. That would require £17 billion of extra cuts a year. Let me explain why I have decided not to take this course.

We have always argued that we should let the automatic stabilisers work. We have not argued that we should chase down a cyclical or temporary deterioration in the economy, particularly one that our own independent body says is largely driven by problems abroad. That is also the judgment of the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and the Governor of the Bank of England.

Our aim is to reduce the structural deficit—the permanent hole in our public finances that will not be repaired as the economy recovers. And we are—we have cut the structural deficit by 3 percentage points in the past two years, more than any other G7 country, and it is set to go on being cut at a similar rate in the years ahead. This lower deficit is delivered by our public spending plans and we are going to stick with those plans. Overall, we are not going faster or slower with those plans; the measures I will announce in this autumn statement are fiscally neutral across this Parliament. There is no net rise in taxes today—any taxes increased are offset by taxes cut.

In last year’s autumn statement, we committed the Government to maintain the same pace of consolidation for two further years beyond the end of the current spending review, into 2015 and 2016-17. In this year’s autumn statement, we extend the consolidation for one further year, into 2017-18. The OBR projects that, as a result, the share of national income spent by the state will fall from almost 48% of GDP in 2009-10 to 39.5% by 2017-18. The document shows that total managed expenditure will continue to fall, and will now be £4.6 billion

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lower in 2017-18 than if it had been held flat in real terms. No decision to cut spending is ever easy, but those who object must explain whether instead they would have higher taxes, higher borrowing or both.

I also provide further detail of the consolidation plans for 2015-16, the last year of this Parliament. I said two years ago that the correct balance for our fiscal consolidation between spending and tax should be 80:20. I can confirm that by the end of 2015-16, the decisions we announce today mean that we will almost exactly deliver on that 80:20 mix. Total spending will fall in the final year of this Parliament at the same rate as through the current spending review.

I can confirm today that the overall envelope for total managed expenditure will be set at £745 billion. We start with the working assumption that departmental resource totals will continue on the same trajectory as over the current spending review. The detail of departmental spending plans for 2015-16 will be set at a spending review, which will be announced during the first half of next year. What we are doing today is taking steps now to help deliver those spending plans and to go on reducing the deficit in a way that is fair.

This Government have shown that it is possible to restore sanity to the public finances while improving the quality of our public services—crime has fallen, hospital waiting lists are down, school standards are up—and this is with a civil service that is today smaller than at any time since the second world war.

We are today publishing the reports we commissioned from the pay review bodies on market-facing pay. We commit to implementing these reports. This means continuing with national pay arrangements in the NHS and Prison Service, and we will not make changes to the civil service arrangements, either; but the School Teachers Review Body recommends much greater freedom to individual schools to set pay in line with performance, and my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will set out how that will be implemented.

Through the efforts of individual Government Departments and the support of the Chief Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, we have already generated £12 billion of efficiency savings in Whitehall, but we believe there is room to do even more. If all Departments reduced their spending on administration in line with the best-performing Departments, such as Education and Communities and Local Government, another £1 billion could be saved. If all Departments made greater provision of digital services, rationalised their property estates, as some have done, a further £1 billion could be saved. Today, therefore, we are reducing departmental resource budgets by 1% next year and 2% in the year after.

We will continue to seek efficiency savings in the NHS and in our schools, but that money will be recycled to protect spending in these priority areas. Local government budgets are already being held down next year to deliver the freeze in council tax, so we will not seek the additional 1% savings next year, but we will look for the 2% saving the year after. Although the Ministry of Defence is included in these measures, it will be given flexibility on its multi-year budget to ensure that this will not lead to reductions in military manpower or the core defence equipment programme over the Parliament.

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A mark of our values as a society is our commitment to the world’s poorest. We made a promise as a country that we would spend 0.7% of our gross national income on international development and I am proud to be part of the first British Government in history who will honour that commitment and honour it as promised next year. We will not, however, spend more than 0.7% so, as we did last year, we will adjust the Department for International Development’s budget to reflect the latest economic forecasts.

In the medium term these savings across Whitehall will help Departments maintain the right trajectory for the years that follow the spending review and help us to pay off the deficit in future. In the short term, I am switching these current savings into capital—all the money saved in the first two years will be reinvested as part of a £5 billion capital investment in the infrastructure of our country. Despite the fiscal challenges we face, public investment as a share of GDP will be higher on average in this Parliament than it was under the last Labour Government. It is exactly what a Government equipping Britain to compete in the modern global economy should be doing.

We are committing an extra £1 billion to roads, which includes four major new schemes: to upgrade key sections of the Al, bringing the route from London to Newcastle up to motorway standard; to link the A5 with the Ml; to dual the A30 in Cornwall; and to upgrade the M25, which will support the biggest port developments in Europe. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for campaigning to achieve this.

We have already set out plans this autumn for a huge investment in rail, and my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will set out in the new year plans to take High Speed 2 to the north-west and west Yorkshire. I can today confirm a £1 billion loan and a guarantee to extend the Northern line to Battersea power station and support a new development on a similar scale to the Olympic park.

We are confirming funding and reforms to assist construction of up to 120,000 new homes and delivering on flood defence schemes in more cities. On top of broadband expansion for our countryside and our larger cities, we are funding ultrafast broadband in 12 smaller cities: Brighton and Hove, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Oxford, Portsmouth, Salford, York, Newport, Aberdeen, Perth and Derry/Londonderry. In addition to the third of a billion announced this autumn for British science, we are today announcing £600 million more for the UK’s scientific research infrastructure.

Since improving our education system is the best investment in a competitive economy, I am today committing £270 million to fund improvements in further education colleges and £1 billion to expand good schools and build 100 new free schools and academies. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will get their Barnett share of additional capital spending put at the disposal of their devolved Administrations.

On top of the £5 billion of new capital spending in infrastructure and support for business, we are ready to provide guarantees for up to £40 billion more. Today I can announce that projects worth £10 billion have already pre-qualified. We are offering £10 billion-worth of guarantees for housing, too. Our country’s pension funds will launch their new independent infrastructure

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investment platform next year as well, and we have today published full details of the replacement for the discredited private finance initiative. Since we can all see now that the public sector was sharing the risk, we will now ensure that we also share in the reward, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) for his work in this area.

Taken together, this is a revolution in the sources of finance for upgrading Britain’s infrastructure and equipping Britain to win in the global race. Annual average infrastructure investment, which was £29 billion under the last Labour Government, is now £33 billion.

Savings from Whitehall are not enough by themselves to tackle our debts. We need to find other savings, and we need to do so in a way that is fair. Those with the most should contribute the most, and they will, but fairness is also about being fair to the person who leaves home every morning to go out to work and sees that their neighbour is still asleep, living a life on benefits. As well as a tax system where the richest pay their fair share, we have to have a welfare system that is fair to the working people who pay for it.

Let me start with tax. The vast majority of people, rich or otherwise, pay their taxes and make their contribution. However, there are still too many who illegally evade their taxes or use aggressive tax avoidance in order not to pay their fair share. This Government have taken more action against those people than any before us. Prosecutions for tax evasion are up 80%. We will collect £7 billion more a year in tax that is due than the last Government. We are increasing by about 2,500 the number of tax inspectors going after evaders and avoiders. Next year, we will introduce the first ever general anti-abuse rule—something that never happened in the 13 years before we came into office.

Next year, for the first time in our history, money will be flowing from bank accounts in Switzerland to Britain, instead of the other way around. Because of the treaty that we have signed, we expect to receive £5 billion over the next six years from the undisclosed Swiss bank accounts of UK residents. That is the largest tax evasion settlement in British history.

We are taking further steps today. Hundreds of millions of pounds of tax loopholes are being closed with immediate effect, and we are investigating the abusive use of partnerships. HMRC will not have its budget cut over the next two years, unlike other departments. Instead, we will spend £77 million more on fighting tax avoidance, and not just for wealthy individuals.

We want to have the most competitive corporate tax system of any major economy in the world, but we expect those corporate taxes to be paid. We are therefore confirming today that we will put more resources into ensuring that multinational companies pay their proper share of taxes. We are leading the international effort to prevent artificial transfers of profits to tax havens. With Germany and now France, we have asked the OECD to take that work forward and we will make it an important priority of our G8 presidency next year. In total, we expect the action that we are announcing today to increase the amount of money collected from tax evasion and avoidance by a further £2 billion a year.

Fair and necessary as that is, it is not enough by itself to close the deficit. We need to ask more from the better-off. Punitive tax rates do nothing to raise money,

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and simply discourage enterprise and investment into Britain. Other countries on our doorstep are trying that approach and paying the price. We are not making that mistake. HMRC data reveal that in the first year of the 50% tax rate, tax revenues from the rich fell by £7 billion and the number of people declaring incomes of over £1 million fell by a half. A tax raid on the rich that raises almost no money is a tax con. We are going to have a top rate of tax that supports enterprise and we are going to raise more money from the rich. Here is a simple fact: the richest will pay a greater share of income tax revenues in every single year of the coalition Government than in any one of the 13 years of the last Labour Government.

However, to make sure that the deficit reduction remains fair, we need to raise more. We have already raised stamp duty on multi-million pound homes and next week we will publish the legislation to stop the richest avoiding stamp duty. But we will not introduce a new tax on property. That would require the revaluation of hundreds of thousands of homes. In my view, it would be intrusive, it would be expensive to levy, it would raise little and the temptation for future Chancellors to bring ever more homes into its net would be irresistible, so we are not having a new homes tax.

In this Parliament, we have already reduced the amount of tax relief that we give to the very largest pension pots. From 2014-15, I will further reduce the lifetime allowance from £1.5 million to £1.25 million, and reduce the annual allowance from £50,000 to £40,000. That will reduce the cost of tax relief to the public purse by an extra £1 billion a year by 2016-17. Ninety-eight per cent. of the people currently approaching retirement have a pension pot worth less than £1.25 million. Indeed, the median pot for such people is just £55,000. Ninety-nine per cent. of pension savers make annual contributions to their pensions of less than £40,000. The average contribution to a pension is just £6,000 a year.

I know that these tax measures will not be welcomed by all—ways to reduce the deficit never are—but we must demonstrate that we are all in this together. When looking for savings, I think that it is fair to look at the tax relief that we give to the top 1%.

I want to help the great majority of savers. That is why we are introducing a generous new single-tier pension, so that people know it always pays to save. That is why I will uprate next April the overall individual savings account limit to £11,520. We will also consult on allowing investments in equity markets for small and medium-sized enterprises, such as the alternative investment market, to be held directly in stocks and shares ISAs to encourage investment in growing businesses.

I have also listened to the concerns from pensioners about draw-down limits. I am today announcing that the Government will raise the capped draw-down limit from 100% to 120%, giving pensioners with such arrangements the option of increasing their incomes.

It is also fair to look at the way in which we uprate benefits and some tax thresholds. The basic state pension has this year gone up by the largest cash amount in its history. Next year, thanks to our triple lock, I confirm that it will rise by 2.5%, which is higher than either earnings or inflation. That takes the level of the full basic state pension to £110.15 a week.

When it comes to working-age welfare, we have already made substantial reforms. We have cut £18 billion a

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year from the welfare bill. Benefits are being capped for the first time, so families out of work will not get more than the average family gets for being in work. We have increased efforts to fight welfare fraud. Today, we announce further measures and checks to save more than £1 billion in the next four years by reducing fraud, error and debt in the tax credit system. Next year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will introduce the new universal credit so that it always pays to work. Today, we are setting the key parameters, such as the levels of earning disregards.

We have to acknowledge that over the last five years, those on out-of-work benefits have seen their incomes rise twice as fast as those in work. With pay restraint in businesses and Government, average earnings have risen by about 10% since 2007. Out-of-work benefits have gone up by about 20%. That is not fair to working people who pay the taxes that fund them. Those working in the public services, who have seen their basic pay frozen, will now see it rise by an average of 1%. A similar approach of a 1% rise should apply to those in receipt of benefits. That is fair and it will ensure that we have a welfare system that Britain can afford. We will support the vulnerable, so carers’ benefits and disability benefits, including disability elements of tax credits, will be increased in line with inflation, and we are extending the support for mortgage interest for two more years.

However, most working-age benefits, including jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance and income support, will be uprated by 1% for the next three years. We will also uprate elements of child tax credit and working tax credit by 1% for the next three years, although previously planned freezes will go ahead. Local housing allowance rates, which are a central component of housing benefit, will be uprated in line with the existing policy next April and we will then cap increases at 1% in the two years after that. For that measure, 30% of the savings will be used to exempt from the new cap those areas with the highest rent increases. The earning disregards for universal credit will also be uprated by 1% for two years from April 2014. Child benefit is currently frozen. It, too, will now rise by 1% for two years from April 2014.

Let me be clear: uprating benefits at 1% means that people get more cash, but less than the rate of inflation. Taken together, we will save £3.7 billion in 2015-16 and deliver permanent savings each and every year from our country’s welfare bill. To bring all those decisions on many benefits over many years together, we will introduce primary legislation in Parliament in the welfare uprating Bill. I hope that it will command support from both sides of the House.

We will apply a similar approach to uprating some of our tax thresholds to that that we are applying to welfare. The higher rate threshold will be increased by 1% in the tax years 2014-15 and 2015-16. So the income at which people start paying the 40% rate will go up from £41,450 to £41,865 and then to £42,285. I want to be completely clear with people: this is an increase; in fact, it is the first cash increase in the higher rate threshold in this Parliament, but it is not an increase in line with inflation, so it will raise £1 billion of revenue

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by 2015-16. Again, there are no easy ways to reduce the deficit, but from year to year, no one will pay a penny more in income tax.

In the same way, the capital gains tax annual exempt amount will be increased by 1% over the same period, reaching £11,100. The inheritance tax nil-band rate, which has been frozen since 2009 at £325,000, will be increased by 1% in 2015-16 to £329,000. Taken with the welfare uprating decisions, that is a fair approach to paying off Britain’s debts.

However, dealing with those debts is only one part of making Britain fit to compete in the global race. Countries like ours risk being out-smarted, outworked and out-competed by the new emerging economies. We asked Michael Heseltine to report on how to make the Government work better for business and enterprise. I think that it is fair to say that his answer has captured the imagination of all political parties.

We will respond formally in the spring, but here is what we will do now. First, Government spending should be aligned with the priorities of the local business community. We will provide new money to support the local enterprise partnerships, and from April 2015, the Government will place more of the funding that currently goes to local transport, housing, skills and getting people back to work into a single pot that LEPs can bid for. Details will be set out in the spending review. Before then, we are putting more money into the regional growth fund, which is helping businesses create half a million new jobs.

Secondly, as Lord Heseltine also recommends, we will support industries and technologies where Britain has a clear advantage. With the support of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, we will extend our global lead in aerospace and support the supply chains of advanced manufacturing. We are also taking big steps today to support British companies that export to new emerging markets in Asia, Africa and the Americas. I am increasing the funding for UK Trade & Investment by more than 25% a year, so that it can help more firms build the capacity of overseas British chambers and maintain our country’s position as the No. 1 destination in Europe for foreign investment. We are also launching a new £1.5 billion export finance facility to support the purchase of British exports.

Thirdly, we are addressing credit problems for companies. We are creating a new business bank, and today we have confirmed that we are providing it with £1 billion of extra capital, which will lever in private lending to help small and medium-sized firms and bring together existing schemes.

Fourthly, we are going to cut business taxes still further. Let me explain how. The temporary doubling of the small business rate relief scheme helps more than half a million small firms, with 350,000 paying no rates at all. The previous Government were going to end it in September 2011; we have already extended it to next April, and, today, I extend it by a further year, to April 2014. We also confirm today the tax relief for our employee shareholder scheme.

The Energy Bill provides certainty and support for billions of pounds of investment in renewable energy. Today, we publish our gas strategy to ensure that we make the best use of lower-cost gas power, including new sources of gas under the land. We are consulting on

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new tax incentives for shale gas and announcing the creation of a single office so that regulation is safe but simple. We do not want British families and businesses to be left behind as gas prices tumble on the other side of the Atlantic.

We are going to help our construction industry, too. The previous Government abolished empty property relief, and, as excellent work done by my hon. Friends the Members for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) and others shows, that has blighted development in our towns and cities. The proposal from my colleagues that we create a long grace period before newly completed buildings have to pay empty property rates is sensible, and we will introduce it next October.

The previous Government also planned to increase the small companies tax rate to 22%. We have cut it to 20%. However, I would like to help small and medium-sized firms more, and I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) and for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) for their thoughts on that matter. Starting on 1 January, and for the next two years, I will increase tenfold the annual investment allowance in plant and machinery. Instead of £25,000-worth of investment being eligible for 100% relief, £250,000-worth of investment will now qualify. That capital allowance will cover the total annual investment undertaken by 99% of all the business in Britain. It is a huge boost to all those who run a business and who aspire to grow, expand and create jobs.

I want Britain to have the most competitive business tax regime of any major economy in the world. I have already cut the main core rate of corporation tax from 28% to 24%, and it is set to fall further to 22%. That has helped British companies and frankly left other countries scrambling to keep up. They will have to try harder, for I am today cutting the main corporation tax rate again by a further 1%. In America, the rate is 40%; in France, it is 33%; in Germany, it is 29%. From April 2014, the corporation tax rate in Britain will stand at 21%. That is the lowest rate of any major western economy. It is an advert for our country that says, “Come here; invest here; create jobs here; Britain is open for business.”

We will not pass the benefit of that reduced rate on to banks, and to ensure that we meet our revenue commitments, the bank levy rate will be increased to 0.130% next year. Making banks contribute more is part of our major reforms to the banking system.

We also have to be on the side of those who want to work hard and get on. I know how difficult many families have found the cost of living. In dealing with the deficit, we have had to save money. However, whenever we have been able to help, we have. We have helped councils freeze council tax for two years running, and we are helping them freeze it again next year. We have put a cap on rail fare rises for the next two years, so commuters are not punished for travelling to work. We are forcing energy companies to move families on to the lowest tariffs for their gas and electricity bills.

We have also helped motorists with the cost of petrol. We have cancelled the last Government’s escalator, and I am moving inflation-only rises to September. Fuel is 10p per litre cheaper than it would have been if we had stuck to Labour’s tax plans, and I want to keep it that way, as I know do my colleagues, like my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). There is a 3p

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per litre rise planned for this January. Now, some have suggested that we delay it until April. I disagree. I suggest we cancel it altogether. There will be no 3p fuel tax rise this January. That is real help with the cost of living for families as they fill up their cars across the country, and it will help businesses, too. It means that, under this Government, we will have had no increase in petrol taxes for nearly two and a half years. In fact, they have been cut.

We have also helped working people by increasing the amount that they can earn before paying any income tax. When the coalition Government came to office, the personal tax allowance stood at just £6,475; next April, it is set to rise to £9,205.

Twenty-four million taxpayers have seen their income tax cut; 2 million of the lowest-paid have been taken out of tax altogether. Because of the difficult decisions we have taken today, we can go even further. From next April, the personal allowance will rise by a further £235. That means a total increase next year of £1,335—the highest cash increase ever. People will be able to earn £9,440 before paying any income tax at all. This is a direct boost to the incomes of people working hard to provide for their families. It is £47 extra in cash next year. In total, it is a £267 cash increase next year. People working full time on the minimum wage will have seen their income tax bill cut in half, and we are within touching distance of the £10,000 personal allowance. And at this time, I propose to extend the benefits of this further increase to higher rate taxpayers. That decision will stand alongside the decision I have had to take on uprating, meaning that, in real terms, a typical higher rate taxpayer will be better off next year and no worse off in total by the year after.

Today we have helped working people, but I do not want to distract from the tough economic situation we face in the world. The public know there are no miracle cures; just the hard work of dealing with our deficit and ensuring Britain wins the global race. That work is under way. The deficit is down. Borrowing is down. Jobs are being created. It is a hard road, but we are making progress, and in everything we do, we are helping those who want to work hard and get on.

1.21 pm

Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): Today, after two and a half years, we can see, and people can feel in the country, the true scale of this Government’s economic failure. The economy this year is contracting. The Chancellor has confirmed that Government borrowing is revised up this year, next year and every year. The national deficit is not rising—[Interruption.] I will say it again. Our economy is contracting this year; Government borrowing and the deficit are revised up this year, next year and every year; and the national debt is rising, not falling. It is people who are already struggling to make ends meet, middle and lower-income families and pensioners, who are paying the price, while millionaires get a tax cut—a £3 billion welfare handout to the people who need it least.

Let me spell out the full facts to the House—[Interruption.] Government Members should listen. They might learn something. In June 2010, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that our economy

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would grow by 2.8% this year. In March this year, it said there would still be growth, but revised it down to just 0.8%. Today, we learn that the Chancellor has not managed even that. Growth has not only been downgraded yet again, but he has confirmed, following the double-dip recession, that our economy is now forecast to actually contract inside this year, by 0.1%.

Let me remind the House what the Chancellor promised over two years ago in the June Budget. He said:

“We have provided the foundations for economic recovery in all parts of our nation”.

He said:

“We have set the course for a balanced budget and falling national debt by the end of this Parliament.”

And he said:

“The richest paying the most and the”


“vulnerable protected”.—[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 180.]

That was the promise, but far from the Chancellor securing our recovery, our economy has flatlined since the spending review in 2010. Over the past two years, he was expecting 4.6% growth, but he has actually achieved 0.6% growth, which compares with 1.7% in France, 3.6% in Germany and 4.1% in America. We are falling behind in the global race. We learn today that growth is being downgraded this year, next year, the year after, the year after, and the year after that too—the longest double-dip recession since the second world war now followed by the slowest recovery in the past 100 years.

The result of this stagnation—rising long-term unemployment and long-term damage to our economy, falling behind now as other countries move ahead—is that the Chancellor’s fiscal strategy has been completely derailed. The defining purpose of the Government, the cornerstone of the coalition, the one test they set themselves: to balance the books and get the debt falling by 2015, is now in tatters.

What we have learned today is that Government borrowing has been revised up this year, next year and the year after that. We now know that, compared with the Chancellor’s forecast two years ago, borrowing is now forecast to be well above the £150 billion of extra borrowing that he was forecasting in March—[Interruption.] Government Members should listen to this. The Chancellor has confirmed that the Prime Minister’s pledge to balance the books in 2015 is not met in 2015, it is not met in 2016 and it is not met in 2017. The fact is that there is more borrowing this year, next year and the year after.

The Opposition will look at the detail when we get the figures—it was disappointing that the Chancellor failed to give us the cash figures adjusted for borrowing this year, next year and the year after. The unusual thing is that, just a few weeks ago, the independent forecasters were saying that borrowing would be £6 billion higher this year. We will examine the detail of those figures to see whether there has been any dodgy dealing. We will find out in the coming hours. [Interruption.] I do not know because I have not seen the figures, but I do know that there is more borrowing this year, more borrowing next year and more borrowing the year after.

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The result is that the OBR shows more borrowing and higher deficits means higher national debt. The national debt—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister should listen to this, even if it might be rather shocking to find out. National debt will be higher at the end of this Parliament than the level inherited; it will be higher at the end of this Parliament than forecast in the plans he inherited; and it is no longer falling as a percentage of GDP in 2015. It is rising in 2015 and rising again in 2016, breaking the fiscal rule for falling debt upon which the Chancellor said his entire credibility depended. In last year’s Budget, the Chancellor said,

“our deficit reduction plan is on course…we will not waiver”.—[Official Report, 21 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 795.]

On course? Not waivering? He is not waivering, he is drowning.

The Chancellor is now trying to claim that his failure on growth, his failure on borrowing and the debt, and breaking his own fiscal rule, are not his fault—that no one could have foreseen it. What nonsense; he was warned. He was warned that a tough medium-term plan to cut the deficit, tax rises, spending cuts and pay restraint, which every country had to put in place, could work only if the Government first put in place a plan for jobs and growth. He was warned that it was a huge gamble to go too far, too fast, and to rely on exports to bail him out. He was warned that there was a hurricane brewing in the eurozone, and that it was not the time to rip out the foundations of the house here in Britain. Once again, the Chancellor is trying to blame high oil prices and the eurozone crisis for negative growth this year, but they affected all countries, so why, over the last—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting. Members must calm themselves. Mr Byles, I thought you were normally a model of restraint and civility. Good heavens man! I do not know what has come over you. Calm yourself—take a pill if necessary, but keep calm. Take up yoga.

Ed Balls: Growth down, borrowing up, debt up—they don’t like it, Mr Speaker, do they? They don’t like it at all.

Once again, the Chancellor is trying to blame high oil prices and the eurozone crisis, so let me ask him: why, over the past two years, has Britain grown at just one tenth of the average growth rate of the G20 countries? Why has growth here in Britain been even slower than in the eurozone? It is not the rest of the world’s fault—it is his policies that have failed. He claimed that rising VAT alongside accelerated spending cuts would boost confidence, secure recovery and get the deficit down, but they depressed confidence, choked off our recovery and borrowing has been revised up. Let me ask the Chancellor: whatever happened to his Treasury view—his theory of expansionary fiscal contraction? Expansionary fiscal contraction? It is the economy that has contracted and the borrowing and the debt that have expanded. That is the truth.

When the latest figures show business confidence falling, when the world economy is slowing, when the eurozone is in such chronic difficulty, and when on current plans the Chancellor’s fiscal straitjacket tightens further next year, it is simply reckless and deeply

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irresponsible of this Chancellor to plough on with a fiscal plan that we all know is failing on the terms he set. That is the truth.

What a wasted opportunity this statement was. Can the Chancellor confirm that the independent OBR looked at the measures he has announced today, and that its verdict is that growth is revised down this year, next year and the year after?

Let me congratulate the Chancellor on taking our advice and stopping January’s fuel duty rise, even though Government Members all voted against it just a month ago. We welcome the U-turns on flood defences, in part, on regional pay bargaining in the NHS, and on capital allowances. After churches, charities, pasties, skips, fuel and caravans, I think this U-turning is catching on, but whatever happened to the plans for the business investment bank? As for yesterday’s announcement on infrastructure spending, the extra money for schools is just a fraction of the cut from the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future.

We have been here before. A year ago, the Prime Minister boasted of a national infrastructure plan; 12 months on, not a single road scheme has even started. Why cannot he see that he will not get the deficit down without a plan for jobs and growth? Why is he not using the 4G money to get 100,000 new homes built? Why is he not offering a national insurance holiday for small firms? Why not have a temporary tax cut for families? Even the Mayor supports that. Why is the Chancellor not repeating the bank bonus tax? The Chancellor says he cannot do any of that because it would lead to higher borrowing. Even his political attacks are backfiring, because this Chancellor’s failed plan has given us more welfare spending, higher borrowing and higher debt too. That is the reality. The truth is that the Chancellor has failed on growth and the deficit, but what is his answer? More of the same.

Let me remind the Chancellor what he told the House in the Budget of 2011. He said that

“we have already asked the British people for what is needed, and…we do not need to ask for more.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 951.]

But 18 months on the Chancellor has come back for more, and who does he think should pay? Not the 8,000 millionaires set to get more than £100,000 each in April. I have to ask the Liberal Democrats: whatever happened to the mansion tax? Do they not realise that, even with the changes in the personal allowance, as a result of the other things they have supported the average family with children on £20,000 is worse off—and that is before the VAT rise?

The Chancellor claims that his decision to restrict pension tax relief will make the tax system fairer at the top. Can he confirm that the £1 billion he is raising is less than the £1.6 billion that he gave back in pension tax relief in June 2010? And it is just a fraction of the top-rate tax cut—a £3 billion top-rate tax cut at the same time as the Chancellor is cutting tax credits for working families, cutting child benefit for middle-income families, raising taxes on pensioners in April and cutting benefits for the unemployed.

We do need to reform and modernise our welfare state and reduce its cost. Those who can work should work—no ifs or buts. We support a benefit cap, done fairly, with a higher level in London, but let us be clear.

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The Chancellor claimed he would cut the welfare bill, but higher inflation and long-term unemployment mean that the benefits bill is forecast to be billions higher in this Parliament than he boasted. Let me help him: welfare to work—the clue is in the name. We cannot have a successful welfare to work programme without work, and we know that the Work programme has totally failed, with only two people in 100 going into permanent jobs.

We should require every young and long-term unemployed person to take a job—and make sure there is one there. Let me ask the Chancellor about a nurse, one of the thousands cut from the NHS in the past two years, who is now struggling to find a new job. For that nurse, he has announced today that he is cutting her jobseeker’s allowance for the next three years. How can that be fair when he is cutting the top rate of tax? How can it be fair when someone earning £228,000 a year will get a top-rate tax cut of £75 a week in April, which is more than the £71 the nurse gets to live on through JSA?

We learned today that the Chancellor is not just hitting those looking for work. The majority of people who lose from his cuts to tax credits are people in work—millions of families striving hard to do the right thing. What kind of Government believe that you can only make low-paid working people work harder by cutting their tax credits, but you only make millionaires work harder by cutting their taxes, Mr Speaker? I tell you: certainly not a one nation Government.

The Government must really believe that if taxes are cut at the top the wealth will trickle down. Let me remind the House what the Chancellor told the Conservative party conference in October 2009. He said that

“we could not even think of abolishing the 50p rate on the rich while at the same time I am asking many of our public sector workers to accept a pay freeze to protect their jobs.”

Those were the Chancellor’s words. He continued:

“I think we can all agree that would be grossly unfair.”

What has changed? Nothing has changed. It was all a con and the mask has slipped. We now know that this Chancellor cannot say, “We’re all in this together” without a smirk on his face. They wanted us to think they were compassionate Conservatives. Now we find out that they are the same old Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats have gone along with all of it yet again.

What a pity it is not to see the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) in her place, back from the jungle. She may not have succeeded in talking for the nation on many things but she did speak for the nation when she called the Prime Minister and the Chancellor

“two arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk.”

It is no wonder the Prime Minister keeps losing his temper, because his worst nightmare is coming true—not snakes and spiders in the jungle, but the Government’s fiscal rule broken, their economic credibility in tatters, exposed as incompetent and unfair. Yes, he’s the Chancellor; can’t someone get him out of here? Growth down, borrowing revised up and the fiscal rules broken: on every target they have set themselves, they are failing, failing, failing. They are cutting the NHS, not the deficit; they are borrowing more than £212 billion more than they promised two years ago; and they are cutting

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taxes for the rich, while struggling families and pensioners pay the price—unfair, incompetent and completely out of touch.

Mr Osborne: There is only one person in the Chamber who is drowning, and it is the shadow Chancellor. That was the worst reply to an autumn statement I have ever heard in this House. If one thing changes as a result of this statement, it might be a shadow Cabinet reshuffle.

The shadow Chancellor said one thing that was true. He said it right at the beginning—he said that the national deficit was not rising. It was a Freudian slip, but it betrayed the fact that he had written his response before he heard my autumn statement and before he looked at the OBR forecast. Let me tell him that we do not fiddle the numbers in the Treasury any more—that is what happened when he was there. We have an independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility, and that is the problem he has. His whole policy was about complaining that borrowing and the deficit were going up, but that is not what the OBR forecasts show. Indeed, his prescription is to borrow even more. He complains about debt, but he wants to put it up. It is completely hopeless.

The shadow Chancellor talked about the substance of policies. Here are some simple questions that the Labour party will have to answer. If it is against the cut in the income tax rate from 50p to 45p, will it reverse it? It is the simplest possible question. [Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition says it has not come in yet. It is coming in—it has been legislated for—so, if he is so against it and thinks it a moral outrage, will he commit to reverse it? Yes or no? That is hopeless position No. 1.

The shadow Chancellor railed at welfare benefits. I have another simple question. Will the Opposition support us or vote against a welfare uprating Bill? What are they going to do? Will they vote for or against the Bill? It is a simple question. For the first time, we have spending plans for 2015-16. He said nothing about whether he supported those plans, even though he hopes to be Chancellor that year. Does he support those spending plans? He talked about 3G. [Interruption.] They are shouting at me.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): 4G.

Mr Osborne: The 4G licence, yes. We are using the 4G licence. [Interruption.] May I say something about the 4G licence? The shadow Chancellor had 20 minutes to make his points, but he did not make any at all. We are using the 4G money, in part, for new capital spending, including building further education colleges, one of which is called the Leeds city college, in a town called Morley in west Yorkshire. I am not sure what the local MP would make of the shadow Chancellor’s decision that that is not the best use of the money, but he can look at himself in the mirror and ask that question.

The shadow Chancellor cannot answer these basic questions. He tries to claim that all the problems in Britain began in May 2010 and that they are all the fault of this Government. Literally only the people in the Brownite cabal claim that; there is not a single other person in the Labour party, in any business organisation or in any of the international bodies who believes that. The reason he has to maintain this completely incredible

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position is that if he admitted that the previous Government were responsible for the problems in our country, he would have to admit that he was responsible for them.

Out of necessity not choice, therefore, the Labour party leader has a shadow Chancellor who is more associated with the economic mismanagement that led to Britain’s problems than anyone else in Britain. He will not let his party move on. He is a man trapped in the past. The one thing the Opposition need to say is: “We’re sorry. We spent too much and we borrowed too much, but we won’t do it again”, but that is the one thing the shadow Chancellor cannot say. Until he does, though, the British public will never trust him or the Labour party with the public finances again.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): What the business community—the bedrock of economic recovery—needs most of all is stability, and I believe that what we have heard today delivers more stability. Does the Chancellor agree that businesses, particularly small businesses, need banks that lend? With that in mind, will he examine the radical options to achieve that—opening up banks to much more competition from new lenders, as the Treasury Committee has recommended; cleaning up bank balance sheets, as the Bank of England has advocated in the financial stability report; and possibly even breaking up one or more of the state-owned banks to improve their funding and hence lending?

Mr Osborne: My hon. Friend makes a good point: many of the problems in our economy are borne of the credit constraints and the elevated bank funding costs, which I talked about when I mentioned the OBR’s assessment of the economic forecast. There are several responses. The funding for lending scheme has brought bank funding costs down. That scheme, according to the OBR’s assessment, has had an impact, and it is an important part of our macro response. I agree with him that we must do much more to encourage competition in our banking system. We have some new entrants, but we can go further, and we need a much more competitive banking system that is able to serve the public better.

David Miliband (South Shields) (Lab): This time last year, the Chancellor told me not to worry about youth unemployment on the grounds that his Youth Contract would take care of it. Now we know that 450,000 young people have been unemployed for more than six months and that 179,000 have gone on to the Work programme but only 5,920 have got a job as a result. That is 3% of those going on the Work programme and less than 2% of the long-term youth unemployed. Will he now agree, without point scoring, to look at the level of the wage subsidy to incentivise take-up, at the structure of the Work programme, so that voluntary organisations are not squeezed out, and at the role of a part-time job guarantee to give hope to these young people?

Mr Osborne: The right hon. Gentleman often has interesting and intelligent things to say about welfare to work programmes, and I am happy to consider the points he makes. I read some of his work earlier this year—it was quite a good job application for being shadow Chancellor.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Given that we need sensible amounts of new money and credit to fuel the private sector recovery, will the Chancellor update us on when RBS might be in a position to

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increase its balance sheets again—prudently—in order to make those loans available and when it might start to make a profit for the taxpayer, and will he consider the comments of those of us who think it needs to be split up to have more competitive and sensible banking?

Mr Osborne: I very much respect my right hon. Friend’s observations on the problems in our banking system. There is an aggressive plan to reduce the bad bank elements of RBS, and that plan is on track, but, as I said earlier, I want more to be done. RBS is reducing the size of its investment bank quite considerably. It also recently received advice from the Financial Policy Committee, and I hope it takes that advice into account.

Mr Alistair Darling (Edinburgh South West) (Lab): If I understood the Chancellor correctly, the profile of rising growth that he announced today looks remarkably similar to the profile that he announced in 2010, but which singularly failed to materialise. That, of course, is one reason why he has missed his debt target. Will he tell us why we should have any more confidence in the next set of figures, which show recovery, albeit postponed for several years? Of all the capital projects that he announced today—which I think many of us would support—how many will start this year?

Mr Osborne: The first thing I would say to the right hon. Gentleman is that the forecasts we produce are independent—they are produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility. This is the OBR’s best estimate of what will happen to GDP over the next few years. As the OBR says, its forecast two years ago was wrong because of three things, which it talks about. One is that the impact of the financial crisis was greater than it had assessed. Secondly, there was an oil price shock in 2011, which hit all oil-consuming economies. Thirdly, there was the impact of the eurozone, which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken about at length. All those things have had an impact, not just on the GDP of this country but on every western democracy in the world. Indeed, they have also had an impact on some of the emerging economies.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point about capital investment. He speaks with experience: it is often difficult to get these projects out the door. We are speeding up the delivery of these projects—the road schemes are under way. The capital we have allocated is for the next two years. The road schemes and the like that I announced are due to start—because they have got planning permission—in the next two years.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Is the Chancellor aware that since he sat, down the markets—not the Opposition—have given their verdict? The answer is this: the latest 10-year bond rate for Italy is 4.5% and for France it is 2%—just over, in fact—while the rate for British bonds is only 1.8%. It is the markets that count, not the party that caused the problem in the first place.