Treasury Questions

17th January 2017

Ayrshire Growth Deal

1. What discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues on the Ayrshire Growth Deal. [908200]

 

We have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on how the Government can boost growth and productivity across Scotland and the UK. The Government are discussing city deals for Edinburgh and Stirling, and we are looking forward to receiving proposals from the Tay cities. The Government are focused on taking those deals forward as we look to agree city deals for all of Scotland’s great cities.

 

Would the Chief Secretary to the Treasury agree that the Ayrshire growth deal would generate investment and create the economic conditions to achieve a step change throughout Ayrshire, an area of huge potential? Will he commit today to working actively and constructively with the four Ayrshire MPs, the three Ayrshire local authorities and the Scottish Government to support the deal, to the benefit of the whole county of Ayrshire?

 

Up to this point, growth deals have been city growth deals and, by definition, have focused on cities. As I said earlier, we have made a lot of progress on all the Scottish cities. Of course, it is open to the Scottish Government to take forward projects to enable growth in the county of Ayrshire, if they wish to do so.

 

Science and Technology: Innovation

3. What fiscal steps he is taking to encourage investment in innovative UK science and technology projects. [908202]

 

As announced at the autumn statement, the Government are significantly increasing investment in research and development, which is rising by an extra £2 billion a year by 2020-21. That is the largest increase over a Parliament since records began in 1979. This includes an industrial strategy challenge fund, which will support collaboration between businesses and the UK’s world-leading science base. That will ensure that the UK remains an attractive place for business to invest in innovative research, and that the next generation of discoveries are made, developed and produced in the UK.

 

I thank the Minister for his answer. Scientifica, one of the largest employers in my constituency, won both business of the year and export business of the year for 2016 at the British Chambers of Commerce’s annual awards. I will be incredibly proud to join Scientifica when it opens the London stock exchange in March. Will he join me in congratulating Scientifica, and will he pledge to continue supporting such businesses, which export the best of British scientific innovation, collaboration and enterprise to the rest of the world?

 

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Scientifica, and I am happy to make that pledge. At the spending review, we committed to a £175 million reinvestment in UK Trade & Investment, now part of the Department for International Trade, to drive UK exports. We remain committed to ensuring that UK exporters receive world-class support. Indeed, as the Prime Minister will make clear today, maintaining the UK as one of the best places in the world for science and innovation is a priority for us.

 

On Friday, I visited Wirecard, an innovative financial technology company in the emerging payments sector; it is based in Newcastle. It is concerned that leaving the European single market, and in particular the passporting rights, will diminish investment in fintech, an area in which this country leads, and which is growing in Newcastle and the north-east. What reassurance will the Minister give Wirecard?

 

As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Prime Minister will have just begun making a speech on this matter, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will make a statement to the House later. Let me just say that the UK is in a very strong position on fintech, and on ensuring that this successful sector is a priority. Indeed, the Minister for Trade and Investment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), led a delegation of 33 companies to India, where the focus was, among other things, on this sector and promoting the best of British businesses. We will continue to ensure that the UK remains a strong place for the sector.

 

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that Cheltenham’s GCHQ cyber-accelerator is now up and running? Does he agree that that key element of the Government’s £1.9 billion national cyber-security programme will allow start-ups to gain access to GCHQ’s world-beating personnel and digital expertise to bring jobs and opportunity to Gloucestershire?

 

Yes. I certainly welcome what my hon. Friend said about the opportunities here. He highlights an important sector that has significant potential for the UK and for Gloucestershire.

 

What discussions have taken place in Northern Ireland with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that catapult projects will happen in Northern Ireland just as much as in the rest of the UK, to help our science and business development?

 

We are, of course, determined to ensure that all of the UK is a good place for these businesses to develop, and to encourage the development of technology and businesses that are based on it. The future of the United Kingdom has to be as a highly skilled, technologically advanced, outward-looking country. We have engaged with all the devolved Administrations to further that aim.

 

We Labour Members believe that encouraging investment is essential to making our economy more productive, and we recognise that that will be especially important post Brexit. Does the Treasury have a genuine indicator of how foreign direct investment has been affected by the referendum result, given that it was recently revealed that the Department for International Trade’s figures incorrectly include decisions taken before the vote for Brexit?

 

We are at an early stage, in terms of the impact on foreign direct investment. On the level of business investment since the referendum, the numbers have held up pretty strongly, although, as I say, it is early days and early data. The hon. Gentleman says he welcomes business investment in this country; he should listen to some of the things his party leadership is saying, which would do nothing but drive business out of the United Kingdom.

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Oxford to Cambridge Growth Corridor

6. What steps he is taking to develop the Oxford to Cambridge growth corridor. [908205]

 

At the autumn statement, the Government backed recommendations made by the National Infrastructure Commission to invest £140 million in the Cambridge/Milton Keynes/Oxford corridor. That includes development funding for the expressway road scheme and £100 million to accelerate construction of the east-west rail line. The Government support the commission’s ongoing work, looking at a range of delivery models for housing and transport in the corridor.

 

How does my right hon. Friend envisage that benefiting the economy in Northamptonshire?

 

It is worth pointing out that in the terms of reference for the National Infrastructure Commission’s report the Government noted that the area contained four of the UK’s fastest growing and most productive places—Oxford, Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Northampton. We agree with the commission that transport investment is key to maximising growth potential in the area. We will invest in the east-west rail line and the expressway, which will better connect parts of the region with one another and with the rest of the country, supporting growth and jobs. The commission will issue its final report later this year, including work on delivery options for housing and transport, and we will carefully consider those recommendations.

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Housing Supply

11. What fiscal steps he is taking to increase housing supply in (a) Peterborough and (b) England. [908210]

 

Progress has been made since 2010, with housing starts now at an eight-year high. However, the scale of the challenge requires us to go further. That was why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement that the Government will invest £5.3 billion in housing. This includes investing £2.3 billion in the new housing infrastructure fund, which will deliver up to 100,000 homes in high-demand areas, an additional £1.4 billion to deliver 40,000 new affordable homes, and £1.7 billion to deliver a programme of accelerated construction on public land.

 

Does my right hon. Friend agree that supporting the off-site construction of new homes, as we have been doing in Peterborough, is one important way to get more good-quality homes built quickly?

 

I do agree that we should explore the potential of modern methods of construction, including off-site construction. We should also ensure that the Government support new entrants into the market, particularly SME builders. The accelerated construction programme announced by my right hon. Friend the Communities and Local Government Secretary in October, which aims to speed up the build-out of homes on public land, will include an element of off-site construction. The Department for Communities and Local Government is actively considering ways of encouraging diversification in the house building market.

 

Several hon. Members rose—

 

Oh, we had better get the fellow in; otherwise he will be very unhappy. I do not like to see the hon. Gentleman unhappy. I call Mr Barry Sheerman.

 

As someone who chairs a national charity based in Peterborough, and also as the Member of Parliament for Huddersfield, may I back the people who have been saying not only that we need a more diverse housing market and better provision, but that the future must be lower-cost housing and off-site construction, and to a highly sustainable standard?

 

I thank that we can agree on all that; there is a consensus on this point. We do need to build more homes. Building more homes more cheaply, but of high quality and on a sustainable basis, is something on which I hope the whole House can agree.

 

In my constituency, we face high levels of proposed new housing. Can the Minister assure me that that will be matched with increased investment in our local infrastructure?

 

I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the housing infrastructure fund, which demonstrates the Government’s determination to ensure that when new housing is built in areas of high demand, we also deliver the infrastructure to support that housing. That will have a beneficial effect by getting more houses built, and also ensuring that the appropriate infrastructure is in place.

 

rose—

 

Order. This is about Peterborough and England, not Kilmarnock and Loudoun—or even Scotland. I am going to save the hon. Gentleman up for a later occasion. We look forward to that with eager anticipation.

 

For many in my constituency, home ownership is but a pipe dream, with more people renting privately than owning their own homes. What steps is the Minister considering to encourage private landlords at least to offer longer tenancies for these very many private renters in London and in Hackney South?

 

We look to put in place measures to support all sectors and all types of housing. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that private rented housing is a really important sector. However, I am sure that she agrees that we have to be careful about some of the proposals on rent controls that float around, which would be damaging for the private rented sector.

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Topical Questions

 

T6. Last week, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority began a statutory consultation on UK Government plans to cut final salary pensions across the nuclear estate, which will have an impact on 16,000 workers, including hundreds in my constituency. Is the Chancellor aware that this is a betrayal of promises made by Margaret Thatcher to nuclear workers when the electricity industry was privatised? [908195]

 

The Government and the relevant agency recognise the importance of the employees who work in this sector, but it is necessary to have terms and conditions that reflect the modern situation that applies across the economy as a whole.

 
 

T7. The Solent region has a deficit of 6% in its gross value added compared with the rest of the south-east. Much of that is due to the lack of investment in local transport infrastructure; for example, there has been no significant rail investment for 50 years. Can Ministers confirm that the new national productivity investment fund can be used to address that deficit? [908196]

 

I can say to my hon. Friend that the very purpose of the national productivity investment fund is to support economic growth across all regions of the country. Further details specifying how and where the fund will be invested will be set out by the relevant Departments and agencies in due course. The Solent will not be forgotten, and we are taking action to improve rail services, with a new franchise expected to deliver more services and quicker journey times on South West Trains.

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T9. The Government are investing in major infrastructure projects, including Heathrow airport, HS2 and, I hope, a new A36-A46 link road through my constituency. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that we provide sufficient funds so that this work can be conducted in a timely fashion? [908198]

 

The Government are committed to supporting the skills we need to deliver our national infrastructure. In the transport infrastructure skills strategy for 2016, we committed to creating 30,000 road and rail apprenticeships by the end of the Parliament. In addition, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is investing £40 million in the national college for high-speed rail, with additional funding for the college coming from local government and industry. Finally, Heathrow airport has committed to double the number of its apprentices to 10,000 by the time the new third runway is operational.

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T10. The Government will be aware that north Wales has among the lowest productivity rates in the UK, at about 73% of the UK average. With that in mind, what plans do they have to work with the six north Wales councils, the Mersey Dee alliance and the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership to deliver a local growth deal? [908199]

 

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that Treasury Ministers have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about how the Government can boost growth and productivity across Wales and the UK. At autumn statement 2016, the Government confirmed that the door was still open for a growth deal with north Wales, and we are committed to negotiating a city deal for the Swansea Bay city region in south Wales. I look forward to receiving proposals from partners in the north Wales region over the coming months.

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Given the Chief Secretary’s earlier comments about attempts to stimulate house building, can he guarantee that at the end of this Parliament the supply of rented homes will be larger than it was at the beginning?

 

We are likely to build more affordable homes in this Parliament than have been built since the 1970s.

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Dissolution of Parliament

I’m not currently a Member of Parliament as Parliament has been dissolved until after the General Election on 8th June 2017. This website will not be updated during the election campaign and is for reference of my work when I was a Member of Parliament.

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Surgeries

David holds regular surgeries at various places in the constituency, including Rickmansworth, South Oxhey, Berkhamsted and Tring. 

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