My Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Economy Statement

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): What will the impact of these measures be on the growth rate, and will we still avoid recession?

Jeremy Hunt MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer: I will publish the economic forecasts from the OBR when I make my statement in a fortnight’s time. I think it is better for me to wait until I hear that. The proper answer to my right hon. Friend’s question is that what we are seeking is a long-term sustainable increase in the economic growth rate. That is a central policy of the Prime Minister, which has my wholehearted support.


My Contribution during the Committee Stage for the Health and Social Care Levy (Repeal) Bill

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I disagree with new clause 2 and new clause 1. I welcome very much the legislation. One of the objectionable features of the original proposal was hypothecation, because I do not think it is possible to identify a single tax that just happens to meet the costs of a particular service, let alone a tax that would then have revenue growth at the right pace to take care of the needs of that service. This one was particularly misleading. There was no way that the amount of tax to be levied got anywhere near paying the full costs of social care. It was misleading to make people feel that social care might be as cheap as this particular tax, although the tax itself was burdensome on all those who go to work.

There are still strong elements of hypothecation in new clause 2, which I would equally object to. Again, we should not mislead people into believing there is a simple, relatively low tax that takes care of a huge problem—social care. Indeed, when the Government compounded the difficulty by saying that in the first instance the tax would be mainly used for the health service, and by some magic that would drop away and it would go to social care, it all became incredible to me. That is why I did not like the idea in the first place. It is very good news that we are sorting it out.

The challenge of new clauses 1 and 2 is a perfectly fair one, and I think the answer is straightforward. Social care does need more money to go into it, and it will need progressively more. If we fund our social care better and expand it, it will release some of the pressures on the NHS. There are some people who could vacate a bed quite safely and get better social care if that were available, so this is worthwhile expenditure from that point of view as well. Above all, it is worthwhile expenditure because people deserve better care and better treatment and that should be funded out of general taxation.

The Government are right now to abolish the hypothecated specialist tax, to give up the idea that there is a single, relatively low tax that solves all the problems, and to accept that social care and NHS provision together is a major claim on the general taxation of the country. If the general taxation of the country does not reach total spending—it does not seem to at the moment—it is also a claim on borrowing.

On that last point, we should remember that for the previous two years the Office for Budget Responsibility grossly underestimated the revenues that came into our economy, and we borrowed considerably less than it was forecasting. It may not be so wildly wrong this year, when it looks perhaps as if its borrowing forecast is a bit on the low side, but we must remember that the way to pay for these services is to grow the revenue. That was what we were doing last year and the year before, and that is what we must do next year, to take care of the need to spend more on the NHS and social care.

My interventions to the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary during the debate on UK Energy Costs

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that we are too short of energy but have plenty of taxes, and that if we had an over-supply of taxes, as the Labour party wants, we would have less supply of the things we were taxing?

Elizabeth Truss, The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The reality is that we cannot tax our way to growth. The policy that I am setting out today is all about helping people with their energy costs, as I promised, and making sure that we have the long-term energy supplies that we need for our country.

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Would the Business Secretary like to remind the House that the Republic of Ireland deliberately chose much lower corporation tax rates than the rest of the advanced world and collects a far bigger proportion of its economy in taxes on business than we do?

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: My right hon. Friend will be glad to note that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, from a sedentary position, is agreeing with him. My right hon. Friend is a higher authority on this than I am, but we know that the cut in corporation tax led to an increase in receipts. Higher taxation is not the answer.

Looking at the long term, we must fix our broken energy system. We must have energy independence and become a net exporter of energy by 2040. We cannot be held captive by volatile global markets or malevolent states. We must tackle the root causes of the problems in our energy market by boosting domestic supply. We will invest in renewable energy with vim and vigour, accelerating the deployment of wind, solar and—particularly exciting, I think—hydrogen technologies. To reassure my right hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), we will invest in nuclear technologies, which also provide us with cheap and clean electricity.

I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys MĂ´n (Virginia Crosbie) said that her constituency is known as energy island. That is exactly what we need in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) noted that not just Ynys MĂ´n but the whole of the United Kingdom is energy island. We must use all the resources available to us, including tidal energy, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said. This is a great opportunity.

My intervention in the Northern Ireland Protocol Committee (Day 3) debate

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Has the hon. Gentleman or his party ever once lobbied the EU in public or in private to shift its position to accommodate the very reasonable grievances and to deal with its illegalities under the protocol?

Stephen Doughty, Shadow Minister, Foreign and Commonwealth and International Development: I do not agree with the last part of what the right hon. Gentleman said, but actually I sat around the table with EU ambassadors and, indeed, the EU ambassador to the UK to discuss these very issues just weeks ago, so I have sat down in private, and we have said so publicly on a number of occasions. The right hon. Gentleman should be reassured on that point.

My interventions in the North Ireland Protocol Committee (Day 2) debate

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Financial Secretary confirm that the Treasury will never use the argument that we must not press ahead with the very necessary VAT cut on energy in the cost of living crisis because we cannot apply it in Northern Ireland? It could damage GB as well as NI if that argument were used. Will she promise that the Government will energetically pursue complete sovereignty over VAT?

Lucy Frazer, Financial Secretary to the Treasury: After this legislation has passed, we will be able to introduce VAT legislation across the UK in the interests of both GB and Northern Ireland. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the Treasury consistently looks at tax policies, including VAT, and the benefits and disbenefits of bringing in changes.

I turn now to amendments 37 and 41 in the name of Mr Lammy. I should note that this issue was addressed in a previous debate, so, in the interests of time, I shall aim to be brief. The amendments would restrict the use of the Bill’s powers to only make provision that is “necessary” rather than to make provision that the Minister considers is “appropriate”.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and I have said previously, “necessary” is a very strict legal test. The amendments would therefore remove the policy discretion for the exercise of these powers, potentially limiting Ministers’ choice of the right solutions to the problems caused by the protocol. Changing the test to an objective one will provide additional uncertainty to businesses and consumers and it would severely limit the ability to facilitate consistent VAT, excise and other relevant tax policies between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, as well as a domestic subsidy control regime that applies to the whole of the UK.

I want to comment on how that was expressed by the hon. Member for Hove, who suggested that Ministers could make changes on a whim. That is simply not the case and is a misrepresentation of the position that is clearly set out in the legislation. Clause 12(3) clearly states:

“A Minister of the Crown may, by regulations, make any provision which the Minister considers appropriate in connection with any provision”.

Therefore, he or she would need to consider those matters very carefully, as Ministers from across the House would do. The amendments might also prohibit the Government from responding in a flexible way to issues facing Northern Ireland. That, in turn, will have a negative impact on Northern Irish businesses and individuals, so I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Many hon. Members discussed the negotiations, and I hope that I have answered those points in my response to the intervention from Stephen Farry, The hon. Member for Hove talked about the single electricity market. The right thing to do is not to impact the single electricity market. As the Foreign Secretary has said, we want to cement the provisions in the protocol that are working, including the single electricity market. That is why this Bill does not seek to exclude article 9 or annex 4, which maintain the single electricity market. The Government are committed to preserving it and the benefits that it provides to UK citizens in Northern Ireland.

For those reasons, taken together, these clauses will ensure that the Government can set UK-wide policies on subsidy control and VAT, ensuring that those in Northern Ireland can benefit from the same level of support as those in the rest of the United Kingdom.

My contribution in the Northern Ireland Protocol Committee (Day 2) debate

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I welcome the notion of measures that restore our control over VAT and subsidies in Northern Ireland. It is entirely within the spirit and the text of the protocol, which says that both parties will respect the internal market of the United Kingdom. How can we have a proper functioning internal market if we have to have rates of VAT in Northern Ireland that are different from the rest of our internal market? And how can we claim that our country’s sovereignty is respected by this part of the agreement, as the EU originally said it would be, if we are not sovereign to change VAT in an important part of the United Kingdom? It is right that we legislate on this issue, because we took back control and we wish to restore the sovereignty of this Parliament. How can we say that we have a sovereign Parliament properly restored if our Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot change VAT in part of the UK? It is right and it is legal that we legislate within the terms of the protocol and the agreement, and it is essential that we do so. Those who favour a negotiated solution with the EU should recognise that a huge amount of time and talent has been put into negotiating with the EU in recent years on these matters, and it has been unwilling to be reasonable or to respect the spirit and even the letter of the protocol itself. It is time to legislate.

I say to those who favour a negotiated solution and still have this idea that the EU will, in due course, negotiate properly over one that it is far more likely to negotiate in a more sympathetic and realistic spirit if it knows that we have the firm backstop of clear legislation, which means we will do the right thing by Northern Ireland and the whole UK if the EU cannot be bothered to meet us and understand what it means for the communities in Northern Ireland.

The EU should also take on board the good advice from the Democratic Unionist party and other members of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. The whole fabric of the Good Friday agreement rests upon the consent of both communities. The EU says it fully signs up to that and sees it as of prior importance to the protocol, so the EU has to understand that there is no cross-community consent for the current position. The sooner we legislate to sort that out, the better.

My intervention during the debate on the Restoration and Renewal for the Palace of Westminster

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Do we not also need some common sense and realism? Surely the priority is to do those works that are essential to the safety of the building and its occupants. We have to understand the mood of the times and say to the experts that to allow this enormous escalation in the project’s cost, scope and timing is simply not acceptable.

Mark Spencer MP, Leader of the House of Commons: I honestly think we can do both. I think we can get to an understanding and a place where, with expert advice, we can get value for taxpayers’ money, where we can progress this as rapidly as possible and where we can take a more common-sense approach.

The Commissions have taken all these points on board, carefully assessed the options and sought independent advice on the best way forward. The Commissions, with cross-party representation and independent and external members, have taken a unanimous decision that it is necessary to revise the approach to the governance and mandate of the R&R programme.

We need a governance structure that is responsive to the requirements of the parliamentary context, is accountable to Parliament and is better placed to build the necessary consensus. The Commissions have judged that this can be best achieved through an in-house structure. The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act will remain in place and will continue to provide the statutory underpinning.

The current Sponsor Body will be abolished, and its functions under the Act will be transferred to two corporate officers who will become the statutory duty holders. The Act provides for this flexibility by allowing for the Sponsor Body to be abolished and for its functions to be transferred. The proposed in-house governance structure will consist of two tiers: a client board on which the two Commissions have strategic oversight; and a programme board with external expertise that will be central to resolving critical choices and priorities.

My Speech at the Westminster Hall debate on the UK’s Energy Security Strategy

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I welcome any measure to buttress our energy security. Ministers are right to be alert to the difficulties we face. I am concerned about this decade. Once again in this debate, we have heard many ideas about nuclear, wind and solar—new technologies that may make a great contribution in the next decade—but our task today is to reinforce all the things that the Minister is doing to keep our lights on for the next three or four years. Our more immediate task is to see what contribution the United Kingdom can make to getting Russian gas and oil out of the European system. We need to make our contribution, providing more of that supply from our domestic sources as part of our war effort. We need our people, who want to keep the lights on and the boilers running, to feel secure that we will make our contribution in case Russia turns the taps off.

Wera Hobhouse MP (Lib): It is simply not true that renewable energy projects will take until next decade to be developed. In fact, many of them are waiting; it is just that they cannot be connected to the grid. Can the right hon. Gentleman correct what he has just said about renewable energy projects?

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I am afraid that the hon. Lady, and other Members who have made similar contributions, do not understand that I am dealing with the problem of intermittency. In order for all the extra wind they want to be useful, there needs to be a way of timesharing the wind power. We already have days on which wind and solar together produce less than 10% of our electricity, and most of our constituents are not using electricity to drive or to heat their homes, so that is a very small proportion of our total energy.

The vision of wind requires mass battery storage—we seem to be years away from the technology and the investment required to do that—and/or conversion to hydrogen. Green hydrogen would be a perfectly good answer, but again, we are years away from the investment, the practicalities and the commercial projects that could turn that wind energy into hydrogen. My constituents would love it if they could get hydrogen today. They do not want to have to rip out their gas boiler; they would quite like to be able to route more hydrogen through the existing gas boiler and make their contribution to the green revolution.

However, MPs have to be realistic. Our prime duty is to ensure that our constituents can live in relative prosperity, keep the lights on and have access to decent energy for their requirements. At the moment, most of our constituents get to work and to the shops using a diesel or petrol van or car; most heat their homes and water with a gas, oil or coal boiler. Very few use electric technology for that. If there was the great popular electrical revolution that they have bought into, and they could suddenly afford the electrical products and liked them, we would have a huge problem, because we would be chronically short of electricity generating capacity.

The true electrical revolution on the scale that Wera Hobhouse would like would require an enormous investment in new electrical capacity. If everybody went home tonight and plugged in their car, which uses more electricity than the rest of the home, and heated their homes using electricity, there would need to be a big increase in capacity. The hon. Lady is shaking her head. She wants to get real! Does she really want to cut off her constituents because she so hates them using gas?

Wera Hobhouse MP (Lib): This is about choices. We cannot forever get stuck in the past, as we have just heard. We need to look forward to the future. Investment in renewables is the only way I can see as the right way forward. Yes, that needs adaptation; yes, that needs our constituents to come along. However, it is a necessity. We cannot bury our heads in the sand.

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Once again, the hon. Lady is in denial. She will not answer the intermittency problem. Does she ever look at the hourly and daily statistics on the grid to see, quite often, how little of our power is renewable-generated? That is because of physics and weather. We have to find technological answers to that. Now, there are technological answers, but at the moment they are not being adopted. They are not commercial and they have not been trialled properly; there may be safety issues and all sorts of things.

Peter Dowd MP (Lab): Yes, they have.

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): The hon. Gentleman says that they have been trialled. Why are they not there, then? Why can I not turn on my hydrogen tap now? There are all sorts of commercial issues and issues about how to route it to every home and so forth.

Peter Dowd MP (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is so fixed on this idea of commerciality. There will potentially come a point when the taxpayer—for the sake of argument—decides that the Government are going to invest. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has an ideological obsession with the Government not doing that. However, in the current situation, does he not agree that the state might sometimes have to do just that?

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): But that is happening. We already have one of the most over-managed systems because successive Governments have put in all sorts of subsidies, tax breaks, interventions, price controls and all the rest of it to try to send those signals. That is why we have the current mix—it is not the exact mix the market would have produced.

I fully accept that there is often a role for Government when we try to develop new technologies. I have no problem with that. However, it does require agreement on what that technology is, agreement on the scale of the effort needed and realism about how many years it would take. It is all very well for the Members present to say that they have a vision of everybody using an electric car and having a heat pump. However, if their constituents cannot afford it or do not want it, it does not matter what Members think—they have to deal with the world as it is. We cannot lecture our constituents into having a heat pump. They will have a heat pump when it is affordable, when it is a good product and when they think it makes sense, and they are nowhere near coming to that conclusion at the moment.

The crucial question in this debate is what more the United Kingdom can do at this critical moment. We have to help our allies and friends on the continent who are gas short and oil short and want to get Russia out of their supply system but cannot do so because it would collapse their industry, while Russia is financing a war by selling its oil and gas into Europe as well as elsewhere. I think there is a lot more we can do.

I urge the Minister to see it as both a patriotic duty and a crucial duty to our allies to work closely with our producers and owners of oil and gas reserves in the United Kingdom and maximise output as quickly as possible. Some of the output can be increased quite quickly; for others, it will take two or three years to get the investments in. Will the Minister do everything he can to expedite it? We owe that to our constituents, because gas and oil are too dear—every little extra that we can produce will make a little difference—and confidence in markets might be affected. Above all, we owe it to our allies, who will otherwise be financing Putin’s war.

My interventions in the debate on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on her very patient and good diplomacy. Will she confirm that this very moderate measure is completely legal and essential to the peace and good will of Northern Ireland?

Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs: I can absolutely confirm that this Bill is both necessary and legal, and the Government have published a legal statement setting that out.

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): The protocol makes very clear the primacy of the Good Friday agreement for peace in Northern Ireland and says that the EU will respect our internal market. The EU is doing neither. What is the right hon. Gentleman’s policy to persuade it to do so?

David Lammy, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Lab): Negotiate—just as Labour did to get the Good Friday agreement. We negotiate. We do not break international law and alienate our partners and allies not just in Europe but across the world, and the right hon. Gentleman should know better.

As we debate the Bill, we should ask ourselves some simple questions. First, will it resolve the situation in Northern Ireland? Secondly, is it in the best interests of our great country? Thirdly, is it compatible with our commitment to the rule of law? Let me take each of those in turn.

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend noticed how Labour always takes the side of the EU, even when, as in this case, the EU is damaging the Good Friday agreement and diverting trade expressly against the legal provisions of the protocol?

Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: My right hon. Friend makes a fair point. He will know from attending oral questions to the Northern Ireland Office that I have regularly had to listen to the hon. Member for Hove at the Dispatch Box taking the side of the EU—but then, the hon. Member wants to rejoin the EU, so I suppose we should not be surprised.

We should also be clear about the reality, when we hear about the flexibility of the European Union and the offer it has made, based on its October offer. That would be a backwards step from the current situation, which is already not working for businesses and people in Northern Ireland.

My interventions in the Opposition Day debate on the Delivery of Public Services

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Does the right hon. Member agree with me that if you wish to improve service you do not go on strike and if you wish to pay for higher wages you do not go on strike? Will he give that advice to the rail unions?

Pat McFadden, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Lab): I had anticipated one or two interventions on strikes, so let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that whoever’s responsibility the strikes are, it is certainly not that of a party that has been in opposition for 12 years. He and the Ministers he supports will have to take responsibility for the industrial strife they are presiding over. I say that to him in the anticipation of other interventions in the same vein.

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): When I asked representatives of the Health Department how many chief executives there were in NHS England, they said that they did not know. Has my right hon. Friend had any more success than I have in finding out how much senior management there is, how it is aligned with the interests of patients and how wisely it is going to spend the extra money he is giving it?

Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury: My right hon. Friend is right to say that with this budget for the NHS comes a responsibility for that organisation to be absolutely open and candid—in a way that, frankly, it has too often not been—about where its resources are deployed, and certainly to avoid funding a culture of managerialism at the expense of the patients. We have had recent success in securing some of the data that we have been looking for, but this is a subject where ongoing pressure from across the House for greater transparency is welcome. Certainly if there is any data that we hold that my right hon. Friend would like to see, I will do my best to facilitate that.