Interesting little moment at Treasury topical questions today… Topicals are in the last fifteen minutes of departmental question time and you don’t have to say in advance what your question will be, i.e. nothing’s on the Order Paper. But obviously some advance discussions had been going on over on the Tory benches, as this exchange between a Tory new boy and my opposite number shows…
T5. Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): In my constituency, more than 7,000 jobs are directly linked to east midlands airport. I believe that it has been shown that there would be no environmental or fiscal gain from the introduction of a per plane tax, as flights would simply divert to other European hubs. Is the Economic Secretary willing to reconsider any plans for a per plane tax, and will she meet me as a matter of urgency to discuss that?
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Justine Greening): I will be very happy to meet my hon. Friend. The coalition agreement mentions the desire to reform air passenger duty and move towards a per plane duty. In the intervening period, I have had a range of meetings, including with airport owners, and I would be happy to add him to my list of people with whom I have discussed that policy.
The thing is… he said ‘she’… “Will she meet me….” Which means he revealed that he knew Justine Greening, not Osborne or Danny Alexander or the other two (male) Ministers was going to answer it. Rookie error.
I also got to ask my first Treasury Q at the Dispatch Box. (Well, as the Speaker said, I got to ask about four – quite a skill to doing that without being told to shut up and sit down).
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I am afraid that the answers that the Minister is giving are simply not good enough. Can he explain the logic behind the child benefit proposal, if there is any? Why is the assessment not being made on household income rather than just on the highest earner’s income? Will it apply to a cohabiting high earner or just to married couples, and why will there be a phenomenally high marginal deduction rate? Is it not true that this is just another “back of a fag packet” policy that the Government have not thought through at all?
Mr Speaker: There were four questions there, but one answer will do.
Mr Gauke: I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment to her shadow ministerial position, but I point out what her former colleague Alan Milburn has said:
“In times of plenty, giving child benefit to high earners is a luxury the country can afford; in times of want I don’t think it is. We would be wrong to oppose it. I can’t see it having an adverse impact on social mobility.”
I know Alan Milburn belongs to the centre ground, but the Opposition really should not abandon it.
Four questions, no answers.
Both Stephen Williams and I spoke briefly during the university fees statement. Link to the whole thing is here if you’re interested. And at the moment we’re in Committee stage of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – and about to vote on whether the AV referendum should be held next May or not.