15 September 2020
Treasury Questions

Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, answers MPs’ questions on topics including the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, support for retail businesses, consideration of an online sales tax and support for Northern Ireland businesses as they prepare for the end of the transition period.

Eat Out to Help Out Scheme

Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) (Con)

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the eat out to help out scheme in supporting the hospitality industry. [906047]

Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the eat out to help out scheme in supporting the hospitality industry. [906054]

Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the eat out to help out scheme in supporting the hospitality industry. [906064]

Dr Jamie Wallis (Bridgend) (Con)

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the eat out to help out scheme in supporting the hospitality industry. [906066]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

By 31 August, over 84,000 UK businesses had registered for the eat out to help out scheme and more than 100 million meals had been claimed for. By getting people back into the habit of enjoying a meal out, the scheme has helped to support nearly 2 million jobs in the hospitality sector and has played an important part in the Chancellor’s wider plan for jobs.

Joy Morrissey

My right hon. Friend’s eat out to help out scheme was also hugely successful in Beaconsfield, where 88,000 discounted meals were enjoyed. I cannot say what percentage of those meals were enjoyed by me personally, but one can wager. What reassurances can my right hon. Friend provide to the House that he will continue to support the hospitality industry through reductions in VAT on food and attractions until next January?

Jesse Norman

I am delighted that the eat out to help out scheme has been so enthusiastically taken up in Beaconsfield, as it has been around the country, and I thank my hon. Friend for her personal service in this important area. She will know that the Chancellor’s plan for jobs and support for over 150,000 businesses and the effort to protect 2.4 million jobs are all part of a ​package. To them, of course, as she will know, the Government have also added a reduced rate of VAT for tourist attractions, which will run through to 12 January next year. It all fits together as part of a wider picture of support for these very important sectors of the economy.

Steve Double

In St Austell and Newquay, almost 250,000 meals were eaten—not all by me—as part of the eat out to help out scheme, which put around £1.3 million into our local economy, so on behalf of businesses in mid-Cornwall, I thank the Chancellor for his support. August has been incredibly busy in Cornwall, but the hospitality sector faces a big challenge as we head into winter. Will my right hon. Friend consider a similar scheme to be run in the winter to help as many businesses as possible survive the winter and be here next summer?

Jesse Norman

There is a danger of a bidding contest between colleagues over the number of meals eaten under the eat out to help out scheme. I would dissuade them from that. In answer to my hon. Friend’s question, however, I would say that there is this wider package. Of course the Treasury keeps all its measures under review, but it is a pretty formidable combination of VAT reductions, business rates relief and billions in tax deferrals and loans.

Karl MᶜCartney [V]

Given the great success of the eat out to help out scheme in Lincoln and Lincolnshire and across the country, which has led to higher spending in restaurants, will my right hon. Friend now consider further targeted support for struggling industries, such as the arts and tourism, which are drivers of the Lincoln and county economy of my constituency, not least the excellent Usher Gallery and under-pressure Drill Hall in Lincoln?

Jesse Norman

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has highlighted the great work of the Usher Gallery and the Drill Hall. As he will be aware, the Government have announced a £1.57 billion package of support for the culture sectors, which is designed to support, and will support, thousands of cultural and arts organisations across the country, including theatres, galleries, museums, heritage sites, live music venues and independent cinemas. I think that he will also know that, within that scheme, priority is given not just to organisations with a national or international reputation but to those that are central to the cultural fabric of our towns and regions. That is a very important further component.

Dr Wallis

Eat out to help out has been a massive lifeline for many pubs and restaurants in my Bridgend constituency. Some have told me that, because of it, they could remain afloat and keep people in work. What assessment has been made of the number of people and businesses in my constituency supported by the scheme?

Jesse Norman

I can tell my hon. Friend that 67 local businesses registered for the scheme and that it was used 53,000 times in Bridgend, which, while not like the heroic figures we have seen elsewhere, will have provided a very important boost to the local economy. I am sure that he will have had the experience that Members across the House will have had of walking into a café or ​restaurant and having the proprietor say, “Thank you so much. It has made a vital difference at a critical time of year for us.”


Covid-19: High Street Businesses

Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support retail and high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [906050]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

As the House will be aware, in recognition of the extreme disruption caused by the pandemic, the Government have delivered one of the most generous and most comprehensive packages of support around the world. That response is so far totalling close to £200 billion. In addition to affordable Government-backed loan finance, the job retention scheme and deferred VAT, retail businesses have also received specific support, including a 12-month business rates holiday for all eligible retail businesses in England and retail, hospitality and leisure grants worth £10,000 or £25,000.

Duncan Baker

Since being elected, I have raised on many occasions the issue of the economic and social loss that online trading is having on our towns, cities and high streets, and the pandemic has accelerated that problem. Surely, must not the Government now start to consider a VAT-style online sales tax?

Jesse Norman

As my hon. Friend will be aware, many offline businesses are also extremely effective online businesses; as Adam Smith almost said, we are a nation of virtual shopkeepers. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government are committed to a fundamental review of business rates. We published a call for evidence in July and invited views on reform and on potential alternative taxes, including an online sales tax. Our intention is carefully to consider the merits and risks of introducing such a tax, and I encourage all Members, including my hon. Friend, to contribute their views.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)

While a number of wealthier inner-city areas have received over £100 million each in rate relief and small business grants, many constituencies in the midlands and the north have been left behind, with some receiving barely a fifth of that support or even less—Dudley North, Rother Valley, Blyth Valley, Don Valley, Penistone and Stocksbridge, Wolverhampton North East, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Redcar, Sedgefield; I could go on. Is that what the Government meant by levelling up?

Jesse Norman

As the Chancellor has already highlighted, the Government’s intention has been to support vulnerable people, vulnerable businesses and vulnerable families ​across the country. As he has also pointed out, the evidence appears to be that we have been very successful, with the most targeted support being most heavily felt at the lower end of the income spectrum. If numbers in the aggregate do not please the hon. Gentleman, let me simply tell him the reaction of one chief executive of a retail business in this country, who said to me that without the furlough scheme, that company alone would have laid off 30,000 people. With the furlough scheme, it has been able to continue and recover.


Online Sales Tax

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on introducing an online sales tax. [906052]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

The Chancellor has regular discussions on a range of topics with Cabinet colleagues. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are committed to a fundamental review of the business rates system in England and have launched a call for evidence inviting views on reform. That review will also consider the merits and the risks of introducing an online sales tax.

Mr Carmichael

Online shopping offers a range of choice and opportunities for many of my constituents and other people throughout the highlands and islands that they simply cannot get from local shops, but it ​often comes with the whammy of delivery charges that make the purchase itself look small, or a refusal to deliver at all. An online sales tax could be an opportunity to give a small tax break to those making online sales who deliver as a universal service with a single price across the whole country. Will the Minister consider that along with his other considerations?

Jesse Norman

I am very grateful for the suggestion. Now that the right hon. Gentleman has placed it on the public record, I will ask my officials to look more closely at it and to engage with him on it. He will know that we have already introduced, in a quite different context, a digital services tax. We are open to these potential ideas. We will be looking very carefully at this area. Intelligent and well thought through feedback is always of great interest to us.


Export Costs: Northern Ireland to Great Britain

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)

What discussions officials from (a) his Department and (b) HMRC have had with businesses in Northern Ireland on potential additional costs for exporting goods to Great Britain from Northern Ireland under the withdrawal agreement. [906055]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

The Government have been actively engaging with businesses and fully committed to providing them with the information and support needed to prepare for the end of the transition period in Northern Ireland. As was set out in the Command Paper, the Government’s position is that there should be no additional process, paperwork or restrictions on Northern Ireland goods arriving in the rest of the UK.

Sammy Wilson

While I welcome the provisions of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill debated yesterday, they do not cover the issue that the EU is demanding that goods coming into Northern Ireland have tariffs imposed on them until it is proven that they have not left Northern Ireland and gone into the EU. This is damaging to business, because it requires additional paperwork, will affect cash flow, and will put up costs. Given that the Government are committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the UK customs union, that the Act of Union says that there should be no tariffs on trade between countries within the United Kingdom, and that 75% of goods do not leave Northern Ireland once they enter anyhow, will the Minister give a commitment to ensuring in the Finance Bill that the EU demand for those tariffs to be collected will be removed so that Northern Ireland businesses are not disadvantaged?

Jesse Norman

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, these topics are currently very live matters of discussion between this country and the EU, and I am not going to comment on that. However, we are, as a Government, very engaged with this issue across a number of different Departments, and we will be looking to support the principles and positions set out in the protocol as we go forward.