[1st Allocated Day]
Considered in Committee
[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
That the order in which proceedings in the Committee of the whole House on the Finance Bill are taken shall be: Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clause 3, Schedule 2, Clauses 4 to 6, Schedule 3, Clause 7, Schedule 4, Clause 8, Schedule 5, Clause 9, new Clauses, new Schedules, Clauses 10 and 11.—(Mr Gauke.)
Main rate of corporation tax for financial year 2011
I beg to move amendment 11, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
‘(2) Subsection (1) shall not have effect unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid before the House of Commons a report on the extent of avoidance and evasion of corporation tax and on the measures he proposes to take to ensure the payment of tax which is due.’.
I almost feel like apologising for returning to the issue of tax evasion and tax avoidance, which I have pursued for a number of years since the debate that we had about the merger of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise to form Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The amendment is fairly straightforward in seeking that a report be prepared by the Chancellor of the Exchequer before corporation tax and capital gains tax measures are agreed by the House. I will not repeat myself in relation to amendment 12 to clause 2, although I will move amendment 12 formally. We have argued consistently about how to tackle evasion and avoidance and the investment required to do so.
Let me explain the rationale behind the amendment. I listened to the Second Reading debate into the early hours, including the discussions about Randalls of Uxbridge, which were enlightening at that point in time—
As my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, the discussions were refreshing, to say the least. I think there is another sale on at the moment.
The debate was about how to resolve the deficit that has arisen as a result of the credit crunch and the economic crisis that we face. Clearly, the division was around the level of reductions in public expenditure required and the time scale for their implementation. There was fierce debate about the level of public expenditure decreases and their implications for jobs losses, cuts in services and the impact on communities.
What was absent from the debate was a discussion of increasing tax revenues as an alternative to cuts. Everyone appreciated that the deficit needs to be reduced. There was some agreement, even across Benches, on some cuts, particularly with regard to ID cards and, perhaps, Trident. With regard to cuts in education and welfare benefits, however, there were strong differences. We need to look again at tax avoidance and evasion. There has been confusion about definitions in previous debates. Tax evasion is defined closely as the illegal non-payment or under-payment of taxes, usually resulting from the making of false declarations, or from no declarations of taxes to tax authorities, and can result in legal penalties. Tax avoidance is seeking to minimise a tax bill without deliberate deception, but contrary to the spirit of the law.
The difference is clear with regard to legality and illegality. The technical implementation of tax legislation can be complex, so people can misunderstand which side of the fence they fall. During earlier debates in the House, the Denis Healey quote was cited that the difference is a prison wall. The implementation of measures to tackle tax evasion in particular is critical to the sound management of public finances and, obviously, to probity in the management of tax resources.
I agree wholeheartedly. I shall say more about that shortly, because it is one of the issues that we raised—I think—four years ago at the time of the merger of the departments. We hoped at that stage for a more detailed report on personnel management and the number of staff who would be employed to deal with tax evasion in particular.
The fact that Her Majesty’s Treasury does not distinguish between evasion and avoidance in its global figures suggests that the Treasury itself finds the distinction difficult to define. I tried to find a clear Treasury quantification of what is generally described as the tax gap in order to draft an amendment that would have some purchase in the real world, especially the world of Treasury practice.
I am interested in the discussion of avoidance and evasion, but does the hon. Gentleman not agree that neither problem has been improved by his own party’s complication of the tax rules, to the extent that ordinary people require a professional to help them to interpret those rules?
Complication is certainly an issue. That is partly why I want the Chancellor to report to the House on the measures that will be used to tackle tax evasion and avoidance. We need a simplification of the process, but we also need to know how many staff the Government will employ for collection purposes.
I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. Does he agree with the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the terms of the Budget are likely to make the tax system more complicated, rather than introducing the simplicity that the Government claim is one of the objectives of their Budget?
Let me say as objectively as I can that I have not yet seen a Budget that simplified the taxation system, and I have been here for 13 years. I live in hope, which is why my amendment requests a further report that might indicate the path that the Government intend to take. I am merely a humble seeker for truth in this matter, as always.
I investigated various sources in my search for estimates of the tax gap. The latest HMRC estimate that I could find was £40 billion, but there is an element of uncertainty reflected in a reported memorandum circulated to staff in HMRC and the wider Treasury, asking people to come up with ideas for identifying and calculating the gap.
The HMRC estimate has been challenged by others. I chair a group called the Left Economics Advisory Panel, which brings together a number of Left economists including some who have been working with the Tax Justice Campaign. Over the years many Members will have worked with Richard Murphy and John Christensen, who are held in respect across parties because of the work they have undertaken in this sphere, and the advice that they have given to the Treasury and other organisations for a number of years. According to their estimate over the past year, the tax gap could be anything between £70 billion and £120 billion.
I can only say that that is one of the reasons why I have raised the issue so consistently. I hope that some Government will address it, and will do so effectively. It is also why I have sought to amend the Bill in a consensual way. All I am asking is for the Treasury to produce a report setting out our best current estimate of the extent of avoidance and evasion, and to propose measures that the Government could take. That would be a way for the Government to demonstrate that they are taking the issue seriously and tackling it.
There have been other estimates of the tax gap that go beyond that of Richard Murphy, some of which are as high as £150 billion a year. Interestingly in respect of the Treasury’s £40 billion figure, it estimated in a table it published earlier this year that corporation tax accounted for 16% of its tax gap and that capital gains tax along with national insurance contributions and so forth accounted for 6%, so the taxes this particular amendment addresses are significant contributors to the tax gap.
I fear that unless this issue is addressed we will continue to have a sterile debate in the House about cuts in public services, whereas if we tackled the tax gap we would avoid a significant amount of the public service cuts that will impact upon all our communities. I therefore urge that we have a serious debate and that the Treasury produces a report quantifying more exactly the levels of tax avoidance and tax evasion, and that we then look at possible measures—including, I agree, on simplification. Issues to do with what resources we apply to tackling tax evasion and avoidance are also of relevance, however, and that comes down to staffing.
Should we not recognise that tax avoidance and tax evasion are two very different things, and that although we can make a rational guess as to the extent of the former, tax evasion that is successful is not detected at all and therefore any estimate of it must be highly speculative?
I fully concur, which is why I think that HMRC must apply a lot more resources to tackling quantification. The estimates I have been given range widely from the £40 billion from the Treasury for both avoidance and evasion—its figures do not distinguish between them—to the £25 billion from the TUC solely for tax avoidance, to the higher estimates of anything between £70 billion and £150 billion for both evasion and avoidance. I know that Richard Murphy in particular has focused on evasion, which could account for anything between 40% and 60% of the budget deficit—the structural deficit as well—that this House has recently been debating, and dividing on almost unnecessarily it seems to me.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman both on raising the issue and on the manner in which he is doing so. He has made it clear that he has raised it under two Governments. Putting aside the tribal aspects of the debate, I agree that we need to bear down on this issue, and I have asked parliamentary questions on evasion and avoidance that are due for answer today. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is to be hoped that once we understand a great deal more about this issue, we will be able to close the loopholes, and address other issues such as where Treasury officials go and work after they leave the Treasury?
I fully agree.
I have not included any reference to VAT, which is one of the largest areas of tax evasion and avoidance. Interestingly, it appears from the responses we have had over the years from the Treasury that it uses different methodologies to calculate the different forms of evasion and avoidance for particular taxes. I find that extremely confusing.
The amendment has been described as not tribalist. Well, I am a tribalist, but I am trying not to be on this issue; instead, I am being as consensus-seeking as I can be. Even though I come from a class-based politics, I am trying to come at this from a straightforward administrative perspective, asking how we can arrive at a situation in which HMRC will report to the House—to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—on the extent of evasion and avoidance and the measures that are going to be pursued. The reason why I am making a link to the changes in tax measures is that I want there to be a time limit, so that we get a report back to the House; otherwise, this situation will continue year after year.
This issue does relate to that of staffing, which I raised with the previous Government and am raising with this one. I chair the cross-party PCS trade union group in Parliament, which regularly meets PCS members who work in HMRC and who are tax inspectors. It is clear that they have performed an excellent service to our country over the years, and their productivity has been increasing year on year. However, over the past three years job cuts totalling 12,000 within HMRC have been announced that specifically affect staff involved in tax generation. At a time when we are desperately trying to tackle the deficit through measures other than reductions in public expenditure and cuts in public services, we could do that by tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance. However, at the same time, we have the prospect of another 12,000 jobs being lost within HMRC.
That is an interesting point. Tax compliance should be a duty in law, so there should be a requirement on us all to pay our appropriate level of tax. Tax planning is perfectly consistent within the law and is appropriate for individuals and organisations in order to ensure that they pay the appropriate tax. However, such devices should not be used to avoid paying the rightful level of tax and certainly should not be used for the purposes of tax evasion, which is the illegal avoidance of tax.
As I was saying, my concern is that, just when we need staff to tackle tax evasion and avoidance, we are faced with the previous Government’s plan for a further 12,000 job cuts within HMRC. I urge the new Government to review the matter and to look again at the staffing level that will be required if we are seriously to address tax evasion and avoidance. That is another reason why my amendment calls on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to lay before us a report that sets out the measures he proposes to take
“to ensure the payment of tax which is due”.
In devising those measures, appropriate discussions will need to take place about the level of staffing and the qualifications and abilities required of such staff. Such factors will militate against the scale of job cuts that have taken place.
On another issue, but one that has certainly been close to the hearts of several Members over the past two years, such measures will need to take into account not just staffing levels but staff location. The closure in recent times of local tax offices has reduced HMRC’s ability to respond to tax evasion and tax avoidance on the basis of local knowledge, and to assist local companies and individuals in proper tax planning so that they can comply with the law. I request that any report that the Chancellor introduces deal with the implications of the closure of local tax offices and, therefore, the appropriate location of the staff themselves.
I have tabled two amendments, the first of which, amendment 11, deals with corporation tax.
Does my hon. Friend agree that any such report dealing with HMRC must also deal with the difficulties that arose on the amalgamation of Revenue and Customs because of the very different cultures within those organisations? We really must address those difficulties, which still reverberate around the organisation, even at this late stage.
I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend makes. I accept that there have been issues relating to a new department settling down over time, but I want to pay tribute to the staff involved for the excellent job they have done in the set-up of the new organisation, for the flexible way they have worked and for the co-operation that has worked across past agencies as they have come together. I accept that that might be an issue and it could be referred to.
I will not repeat the same speech when we deal with amendment 12.
May I say that there seems to be a big confusion between tax evasion and tax avoidance? The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to “avoidance and evasion” and treating them in almost exactly the same way. Clearly one of them, avoidance, is entirely legitimate—it is a basic human instinct for someone to try to hold on to more of their own money, which they have earned through their hard work—whereas the other, evasion, is an illegal activity. Would he not do well to focus on what might be the issue, rather than trying to confuse it?
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. My amendment tackles tax evasion, which is clearly an illegal activity, but we need to address a wider issue that goes beyond the normal tax planning: tax avoidance beyond the spirit of the law. In previous debates, we have tried to insert into the tax laws of this country a general duty of tax compliance, which exists in other countries. Such an approach puts an onus—as a duty in law—on the individual to comply and to try to emphasise that duty, rather than to look for every possible means to avoid tax. There is a gradation in these matters, but I tackle both these things because they are both legitimate concerns in wider society and will become increasingly pressing ones as individuals experience the public expenditure cuts that will take place as we seek to tackle the deficit.
The hon. Gentleman is making his case extremely well, but surely he should be pushing at an open door, given that the Red Book itself talks about changes
“to prevent avoidance of corporation tax using accounting ‘derecognition’ rules”.
It also discusses tax avoidance involving “the creation” of certain things “for corporate investors”, and mentions alternative investment funds, financial securities, inheritance tax on trusts and so on. There is also the possibility of a general anti-avoidance rule, as this is being considered informally by this Government as we speak.
That is why I was hoping my amendment would achieve consensus in this House, although that might be a first for me. I was hoping that it went with the flow of Government policy, as well as with past Government policy, if not with past practice under successive Governments. A number of practices of tax avoidance clearly incur public opprobrium. The hon. Gentleman has cited a number that are listed in the Red Book, but there are others. These are seen as instances where people are not doing the right thing within the spirit of the law, which is why, no matter how difficult it can be at times, we can identify practices that fall within either tax evasion or tax avoidance by the practical response from the community.
This is an issue whose time has come, particularly because of the current financial climate. There is clearly a concern among Members in all parts of the House about tax evasion and tax avoidance, and there will increasingly be concern about it in the wider community. Therefore, my simply asking for the Treasury to produce a report before this latest round of taxes are implemented—this would give an element of timetabling and immediacy to the proposals that will be introduced by the Treasury—is nothing but helpful and will be seen in the wider community as actually getting the Treasury to examine this issue with some seriousness in a way that may not have been happening under previous Administrations of all political parties. I cannot see how anybody could vote or argue against this, but I shall sit down and wait for the argument to come.
Thank you, Mr Hoyle, in your role as Chairman of Ways and Means and as the House sits in Committee to consider the amendments to this Finance Bill, for allowing me the opportunity to make my first speech in the House.
I intend to comment on two matters of importance today: the amendments to the Finance Bill and Lincoln, the constituency that I have been elected to represent. Before I discuss either matter, however, I want to pause to pay tribute to my parents, John and Brenda McCartney, who are here in the Gallery, along with my wonderful wife, Cordelia. I am pleased that she is still here, as I am indebted to her for so much, not least our two sons, Henry and Freddie.
Let me now return to the Finance Bill. What concerns me most is the lack of support for long-term share ownership that is eminently displayed by the current capital gains tax regime, which, ironically, now seems to be based on principles that are at odds with how we are to treat banker bonuses whereby an increasing proportion of their compensation is compulsorily taken in shares of their employing parent company. That has the quite admirable aim of encouraging actions that have at their centre the long-term interests of the companies for which they work. This is commendable.
Less commendable is the loss of taper relief, which encourages long-term share ownership and investment. Surely many on both sides of the House see the retention of taper relief as desirable. Also less commendable is the loss of indexation relief. Following a change introduced by the previous Government, payers of capital gains tax will continue to be taxed on illusory gains. A simple example might help to explain my concern. Let us say that the average price for a pint of beer is £2.50. Instead of buying a pint, one could invest that £2.50. If inflation averages 7% per annum for five years and the investment keeps pace, the beer will have risen in price to £3.50, as will the value of the investment. The investor would therefore expect that the investment would still buy a pint, except that it would not, because 28% capital gains tax would have to be paid and the investment would therefore be worth only £2.50 net of tax. That is clearly inequitable. Given the widespread acceptance that short-termism from investors is a problem faced by businesses up and down the country that are trying to attract capital for start-up funding, working capital and expansion, surely that is short-sighted.
I know that this matter is important to a number of people who are resident and work in the city of Lincoln. My fellow constituents are industrious and hard-working, and many of them either own their own business, want to start their own business or work for a small family-owned business. They know the importance of access to capital as an owner, a manager or an employee. Enabling measures that encourage investment is surely what this House should be about. What we have in place now enjoys the invidious merit of achieving the exact opposite and I hope that my senior colleagues will rethink these issues at the earliest opportunity. I know that we are where we are because of the utter mess bequeathed to us by Labour in the last Government, so I hope that as soon we have rebalanced the nation’s finances, we can reverse these measures, if we cannot do so now.
Let me now say a few things about the history of Lincoln and some of the main issues that affect the constituency. I shall summarise my thoughts and areas of interest, as well as detailing my predecessors and the military links that the constituency enjoys.
It is a privilege and an honour to represent the constituency of Lincoln. When I first embarked on the long and arduous B-road to selection, reselection and election, I did not imagine that I would have the privilege of representing such an ancient, traditional and famous constituency as Lincoln. I aim to show my constituents that they chose wisely, as a Jedi might say.
Lincoln is not just another name in the list of 650 constituencies. It is a city that plays and will continue to play a pivotal role in our nation’s democratic tradition. Naturally, I am proud to represent Lincoln and, as hon. Members might know, it is one of the oldest constituencies in the country. The Romans quartered a legion in the city and Edward III presided over a Parliament in our cathedral. The cathedral, which is one of the glories of English architecture, dominates the city and a large swathe of Lincolnshire. It is still as impressive today as when it stood as the tallest building in the world for 238 years—the only building in the UK ever to have held that title. If my Government ever feel the need, I am sure that Lincoln will be willing again to host a meeting of Parliament or of the Cabinet at a date of their choosing.
Although I am not an historian, I can safely reveal to hon. Members that the historical evidence for Parliaments before 1295 is quite patchy. Lincoln and York head the list of towns summoned to send Members in 1265 and, with the recent splitting of the city of York into two seats, it would seem that Worcester and Exeter appear alongside Lincoln in having a possible claim to being the oldest continuously existing borough constituencies.
Lincoln has so much more to commend it as a destination and as a place of history and worship than its two equally ancient constituencies. The cathedral is stunning and has proved a welcome sight and landmark for many travellers over the centuries and for our brave airmen in Bomber Command during the second world war. Lincoln is also home to one of only three existing original copies of the Magna Carta, the foundation of British, and therefore world, democracy. With our new Government’s plans for a great repeal Bill, we can see the relevance that the Magna Carta still has today, nearly 800 years after it was signed.
The city’s MPs have included the redoubtable Dick Taverne, who continues to sit in the other House, and the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), originally Miss Margaret Jackson in Lincoln, eventually Mrs Beckett. More recently, I am honoured to follow in the footsteps of the last Conservative Member for Lincoln, Sir Kenneth Carlisle, who served happily between 1979 and 1997 and for whom there is a mutual, deep affection for and from the city of Lincoln and its people. My direct predecessor was Gillian Merron, who worked hard for constituents and was incredibly photogenic, appearing in our currently daily paper with regularity—something that I fear I will not be able to emulate, not least because many of my friends say I have the perfect face for radio.
The people of Lincoln and Lincolnshire are proud to be yellow-bellies—a hark back to the original Lincolnshire “Poachers” Regiment, which is now part of the Royal Anglian Regiment, some of whom I met earlier today out in Westminster yard. They serve us well abroad and in many fields of conflict, and I know that the people of Lincoln are immensely proud of them and all the armed services associated with our city, which is linked with the RAF and the Grenadier Guards.
As well as the city, my constituency covers the lovely villages of Skellingthorpe, Bracebridge Heath and Waddington, where the RAF is based. RAF Waddington is one of the busiest and most varied operational air bases in the United Kingdom, as well as one of the longest established. It has played an important role in the defence of the country and in supporting and servicing our armed forces. Soon, Waddington is due to become the home of the Red Arrows, who are another well-loved and appreciated aspect of Lincoln life as we are often treated to their practice sessions in the skies above our city.
Despite its wealth of attractions both historical and current, Lincoln has poor transport links that have worsened over recent years. There is now, unfortunately, only a post-election promise of one direct rail link to London and there are inadequate connections to other places. The A46 is soon to be dualled from Nottingham to Newark and the knock-on effect might be that the A46 single carriageway and roundabouts that plague our western, and only, bypass might cope even less well than they do now. The only other route is through the centre of our city, using the single carriageway A15 or negotiating our High street with its famous level crossing.
I am not aware of any other city in our country that is being held to ransom by Network Rail, which is currently threatening the city with the closure of that level crossing for up to 40 minutes in the hour throughout the day to allow freight trains that are of no benefit to Lincoln to pass through. Lincoln needs investment in its transport system that will provide a vital benefit to the long-term prosperity of both the city and the whole county, such as the east-west link road that is currently proposed. On all these transport issues, the Secretary of State for Transport and his Ministers can expect continued representations from me and my fellow Lincolnshire MPs, I am sure.
Many experiences, people and types of employment have shaped my life so far, and I am a great believer in being the owner of one’s destiny. If individuals feel that the world owes them a living, it does not, but if they are willing to believe in their own self-determination, there are no limits to what they can do. Many individuals from both sides of the House are testament to that philosophy. I now have the opportunity and ability to help to make decisions that affect our nation and to question and challenge them properly in the House, with, I hope, the important addition of compassion. It is a privilege to have that opportunity, in tandem with serving the kind and generous people of Lincoln, who did me such a great service in electing me to represent them in this traditional and great place. Doing my best for our city will be a major preoccupation of mine for as long or as short a time as the people of Lincoln allow me the privilege of representing them in this House.
Let me start by saying a few words about my new hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney). I am sure that the House will join me in praising him for his speech and in wishing him every success now that he has joined us here. It is good to hear someone with a radio face with a passionate voice for his constituency. If he continues that, I am sure that his constituents will be well served. It was great to be reminded of the hugely important Lincoln cathedral, which many of us have visited and admired, and of the fact that Parliaments were once more peripatetic. In those days, there was probably less security and fewer people in the baggage train, so it was probably cheaper to take Parliament around the country than it would be today. I fear that he might have quite a long wait before the next Parliament at Lincoln.
We are here to debate tax avoidance and evasion. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but I think that the Committee is pursuing a will-o’-the-wisp if it seriously believes that there is £120 billion of tax evasion and avoidance generally, and that there is substantial tax evasion and avoidance in particular on corporation tax, which we are debating, that we can tackle and get the money in from. Every hon. Member would like to think that there is an easy way out of the financial crisis. If there were a great pot of money representing tax dodging that we could identify and bring into the Treasury, it would have been done by now. It is not a matter of party dispute. If there are tax evaders out there whom we know about, they need to be brought to book—we all agree with that. Labour spent 13 years trying to do it, but the hon. Gentleman does not think that it did it well enough, and is now urging the coalition Government to do it. The coalition Government will pursue it in similar ways, with similar intensity, to the outgoing Labour Government. I fear that they will be no more successful than the previous Government at finding that £120 billion pot of gold because, in all honesty, I do not think that it exists in the form that hon. Members wish that it did.
Let us take evasion—the more serious case. I am sure that everyone in the House agrees that if someone is deliberately evading tax, it is a criminal offence. The House has said that it is a serious offence, and made it a criminal offence, or series of criminal offences, and we wish to see those people pursued and prosecuted. In the case of corporation tax, for example, if a company deliberately misreports its income, and says that it receives less income than it earned—one way of misleading the tax authorities over corporation tax—the book should be straightened, the record corrected, and they should be prosecuted. If the company deliberately overstates its costs to try to suppress its profits—the other way in which people could evade corporation tax, if they were seeking to do so—that, too, should be something that the authorities can identify on investigation, leading to a correction of the accounts. False accounting would be involved, as well as the criminal offence of tax evasion, and there are methods of tackling it. The state has a range of powers, introduced by Governments of all persuasions, to allow company investigation, including second-guessing the audit, and going in if it is thought that crooked directors are misrepresenting their costs or revenues, and the auditors have missed it. I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers in the Treasury every success in trying to capture genuine crooks, because we do not need them in our community, and we need to flush them out.
There is another kind of failure to pay the amount of tax that the corporation tax authorities think is correct which, in some people’s language, could be evasion. A company may report honestly its revenues and costs, but comes to a different conclusion from the Revenue about what the taxable profit should be, given its income stream and costs. It attempts to understand the complexity of the law—it may well have its own tax advisers and auditors in support, because any medium or large company does not do this in isolation; the directors want the comfort of knowing that they have serious tax experts behind them, because of the complications of the law—and it makes its case to the Revenue, which disagrees with them. I do not think that that should be treated as a severe criminal offence leading to the imprisonment of the directors. What should usually happen—and what tends to happen—is a fierce exchange of views between the Revenue, which is trying for one view of the tax, and the company and its tax advisers with a different view. Eventually, agreement is reached. If it is thought to be a bad case, the Revenue has the power to impose financial penalties as well as to secure the tax that it thinks that it is owed.
I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s train of thought, but will he clarify something? Is he saying that there is no such thing as avoidance of corporation tax, or is he saying that anything that comes about is just the result of a misunderstanding?
Has the hon. Gentleman been in the Chamber while I have been talking? The first part of my speech was about bad cases of evasion in which a company has deliberately misrepresented its financial condition. Like him, I think that those cases should be taken seriously, and prosecution should result. I am going on to the second set of cases, in which evasion is thought to have taken place according to the Revenue, but when we look at what is going on there is a genuine disagreement between one group of tax experts, lawyers and company advisers and another lot advising the Revenue, which sometimes needs to consult counsel on these complicated matters to try to reach a conclusion. Such cases are often sorted out slightly more amicably, and rightly so, because the companies concerned were obviously not trying to do down the Revenue but to pay the minimum amount of tax to comply with the law, as most sensible people try to do, and there was a disagreement that had to be sorted out sensibly. That might result in financial penalties or in an agreement not to have financial penalties, but usually the Revenue has a certain amount of strength in having its way.
That is evasion, and then there is avoidance, which is much more problematic. I am sure that billions-worth of avoidance is going on all the time, because it is a perfectly legal approach; one man’s avoidance is another man’s sensible tax planning. That is why I asked the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington for an example relating to personal income tax, which is easier for people listening in to this debate to understand. Many small savers switch from tax-paying savings to tax-free savings, which is avoidance of tax, is it not? They realise that they can do better by having a tax-exempt savings product; surely we should not condemn that, because it is about someone trying to get the most for their money. Indeed, that is something that the Government positively encourage. They encourage tax avoidance because they say, “We have the unique power to provide tax-exempt products for savings, and we want you to buy ours rather than the taxed private sector product.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) asked a telling question, and I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman’s answer is. The question is this: does he deprecate any tax avoidance, or is he saying that as long as it is strictly in compliance with the law, anything goes? As he knows, there have been some very ingenious, and indeed expensive, schemes used by companies to avoid paying tax, clearly contrary to the spirit of the law but arguably in compliance with the letter of the law. Does he not deprecate that kind of activity?
I do not want to get drawn into the moral issue of deprecating or not deprecating: what I am interested in is the efficiency of revenue collection and the clarity of the law for the people having to meet it. It is the job of this House to have a clear tax law that people have to follow, and we often have these debates to try to carry out that task. Sometimes tax law is so complicated, or people outside this House are so ingenious, that there are ways round it that I might disagree with and the right hon. Gentleman will often disagree with, and that is when we come back to legislate again. We say, “We haven’t done our job well enough. People are avoiding tax more easily than we would like them to be able to, and so we’re going to add another complication”—or sometimes even a simplification or clarification—“to the tax law to try to capture that.” That is the job of this House. The shadow spokesman and I will sometimes agree that an avoidance scheme goes too far and we need to legislate to stop it; on other occasions, we will disagree. I will say, “That’s perfectly rational tax planning—don’t be such a party pooper”, he will say, “I don’t like people getting away with that kind of thing”, and we will have our disagreements.
Given the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks, does he agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that cutting the number of HMRC employees by 10,000 might not assist in the process that he is outlining of ensuring that those who take part in avoidance are brought to book?
It would clearly be a false economy to cut back on the number of staff needed to tackle serious cases of tax evasion; I do not think anybody wants to do that, and I certainly would not recommend it to Front Benchers. It would also be wrong, however, to exempt Revenue and Customs from pressure to improve efficiency and to do more with less at a time of enormous strictures on public spending. I hope that there will be ways to accommodate the hon. Gentleman’s wish for us still to have Revenue and Customs pursuing tax evasion and our coming back to legislate on tax avoidance that it thinks is going too far, as we have under past Conservative and Labour Governments, and that that will be done efficiently and effectively in the way that we wish to see.
To follow up on the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), are there any measures that the right hon. Gentleman would consider tax avoidance that should be brought within the purview of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, such as the large-scale offshoring mechanisms that corporations use to avoid tax? All that the amendment asks is for a report to be made about the measures that the Government will take on such issues.
I do not necessarily disagree about the need for us to consider another report on tax avoidance and evasion, but I am trying to set some of the parameters for that report and the framework of the debate. This is an opportunity to discuss why the matter is difficult, and why past Governments have not lived up to the hon. Gentleman’s expectations. I have no problem with having a report, although I do not want to link it to the particular corporation tax rate in clause 1, as his amendment would.
I am grateful for that response. Successive Governments have pragmatically examined the latest tax avoidance mechanisms and then sought to work through them systematically to address them. The amendment is intended simply to bring forward a report on those mechanisms so that the House can have more oversight of that process.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am all in favour of more oversight by this House, and the more informed a debate we can have about this and other issues the better. Public debate in Britain has been stifled in recent years for all sorts of political reasons that we need not go into. It is better if we can bring such debates out into the open, but we need collectively to think through what avoidance is and what evasion is. If we do not know that, we cannot hope to guess its scale or optimise our measures for dealing with the features of it that we do not like. I am trying to deal with avoidance, on which I believe there is more scope for disagreement than on evasion, which we are all against.
I return to the point that some people’s avoidance is a bad practice and other people’s is common sense. Let us take another example of a matter on which the Government encourage avoidance. I gave one from personal tax, but we ought to be concentrating on corporation tax. The previous Labour Government were keen to encourage avoidance of corporation tax because they wanted companies to invest—a perfectly worthy aim. They said to companies, “If you invest more than you otherwise would do, that is an allowance against your corporation tax so that you will be able to avoid some tax in order to invest more.” One debate that the Committee will have is whether this Government are cracking down too much on investment avoidance by removing some of that allowance and giving everybody the benefit of a lower rate. I hope that Opposition Members will see that they are not as pure as they think they are on avoidance, and that there are certain types of avoidance that they see as a very good thing. It is a well-known feature of many tax structures to encourage avoidance in order to encourage good works or change conduct.
The hon. Gentleman has made my point beautifully. I have just said that one man’s avoidance is another man’s tax incentive—that is exactly the point that I am trying to make. There are good types of avoidance and bad types. Sometimes all the parties in the House agree that a certain type of avoidance is bad, and then it is in our own gift, because we are the legislature, to table business on any day to stop that tax avoidance in its tracks by changing legislation explicitly and clearly to send a signal. At other times we come together to legislate in favour of tax avoidance, because there are things that we wish to encourage. As he rightly says, sometimes the best thing to do is to give people a lower tax bill to encourage such procedures. That is surely encouragement of tax avoidance of a benign kind and a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
Fine—that is a very good linguistic point, and if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to define tax avoidance more narrowly as actions that we all disagree with, we can do that and it makes the debate much simpler. However, he has to understand that there are a series of grey areas, and it is not a black-and-white matter. There is not a set of actions that everybody agrees are tax avoidance and another set that everybody agrees are perfectly reasonable incentives or sensible ways of paying less tax.
Let us get on to the more difficult corporation tax cases, having dealt with the investment one—everybody in the House thinks that investment is a good thing and that corporations should therefore pay less tax one way or another, either through the rate of tax or through explicit relief.
Let us consider overseas offshoring, which has already been mentioned. Multinational companies have some flexibility about where they invest, borrow and carry out their activities, and they regard the taxation regime as one of the important considerations in determining all those matters. If it is benign, they are more inclined to borrow the money, put up the facilities and earn the full profits in the country concerned by carrying out the whole process and adding all the value. However, if the taxation regime is more hostile to enterprise, they might make different arrangements. Any country that takes part in the multinational free enterprise world has a choice. It must decide whether it wants to be tax friendly, in which case it has to allow people to pay rather less tax, or tax tough, in which case those who stay will end up paying more tax, but there will not be so many businesses here, and some will decide to offshore more of their activities.
Offshoring presents a difficult set of cases. I am sure that Opposition Members can find examples of offshoring that we would all regard as unacceptable avoidance, but much other offshoring represents simple, rational business decision making because the country being offshored against does not have a favourable tax regime, and that is why our decisions tonight and on other occasions when we try to settle the corporation tax regime are terribly important to whether our constituents get more jobs, whether our businesses make more money and whether more action will take place here. Companies have many footloose decisions that they can make about where to borrow, where to spend, where to invest, where to create jobs and how much value to add.
I see nothing wrong with more parliamentary accountability and scrutiny. If my hon. Friends have more capacity to produce a report on tax avoidance and evasion, it would be useful. I hope that my remarks have outlined some of the complexities of trying to determine the elements of avoidance that are to be condemned and about which we need to legislate more, and those that are simply common sense, or even tax promotion schemes, which the Government are producing.
I remind the Committee that I have recorded in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests that I offer business advice to a global industrial company and to an investment company.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney), who made his maiden speech. Many of us remember his predecessor with great fondness, and we certainly notice the difference in appearance to which he referred. She was a popular Member here, as I suspect that she was in her constituency. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will do an able job in his time as Member of Parliament for Lincoln.
The thrust of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) is that the House should be able to scrutinise the Government’s actions on enforcement of corporation tax to avert some of the severe and harsh cuts elsewhere in public expenditure. The Red Book refers to the need to reduce all sorts of evasion. Indeed, paragraph 1.96 mentions the Government’s measures on corporation tax, which a later group of amendments tackles, and states the need to alter the rate of corporation tax to reduce the avoidance of payment. A practice has been created of people avoiding other forms of tax and paying capital gains tax at a lower rate to minimise the amount that they pay in tax. I therefore agree with the thrust of the point that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) made that there are times when we need to tweak the tax system to close down loopholes. In that sense, the tax system has historically been like turning a thermostat up and down. We introduce one set of regulations, that area overheats, the thermostat is turned down, another section of the tax system responds and people move in that direction to avoid paying tax.
With amendment 11, my hon. Friend is trying to ensure that the House can hold the Government to account for what they do to fulfil what they say in the Red Book, and thereby ensure that the Government maximise the amount of corporation tax that is paid.
The point, on which I believe we are all in agreement, is that everyone should pay the tax that they are due to pay. Amendment 11 proposes not that corporation tax should be raised or reduced, but that it should be paid, that the Government ought to take action to ensure that companies that are liable to pay it do so, and that the House should have the role of providing a check and balance to ensure that the Government are carrying out that function.
I could not agree more. If I were to start listing some of the harsher items in the Budget, such as the £1.9 billion that the Government are trying to take out of housing benefit or the overall £11 billion from the welfare budget, I would risk incurring your wrath, Mr Amess. I would also risk that if I were to point out some of the actions of the previous Government in relation to the medical tests that disability living allowance claimants were forced to go through. The coalition Government, supported by the Liberal Democrats, tell us that things will become even harsher for DLA claimants, so our discussion of minimising avoidance of corporation tax is absolutely relevant.
The hon. Gentleman makes a point that I could repeat. Cutbacks in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff make more distant the target of maximising the amount of tax taken. He may have joined me on the odd occasion when I voted against the previous Government, so we have been on the same side of such arguments from time to time. Some of us are sinners turned saints, and even as a loyal Labour Back Bencher, I might agree with elements of the criticisms of the previous Government.
We have been given instruction in tautology on the question of avoidance and evasion, but we are quite clear that we are talking about people whose actions are not within the rules. We need to ensure that action is taken so that they pay their fair share, because clearly, the increase in taxation—the VAT increase and other measures—and the cuts will hit the poorest in our communities first. That is why it is absolutely essential that we have discussions such as the one instigated by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a shame to let this debate go by without mentioning the activities of Barclays bank, and particularly its capital section? The head reputedly earned £90 million a year. We should consider that amount of money, because that group was set up to find ways for companies to avoid paying corporation tax, or indeed any tax.
My hon. Friend’s intervention needs no comment from me, other than to say that it is an excellent example of the sort of practices that we need to bear down on. We pay a plethora of accountants and financial advisers to advise on how to invest our money wisely, and that is a legitimate area of activity. It is right that people may order their finances within the rules to maximise their income, but if that becomes exploitation or unfair in terms of what people are contributing, we have to act. That is where the amendments that we have tabled on capital gains tax, which we will discuss later, come in.
The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) mentioned the cut in tax staff, and if we are going to see substantial cuts in staff, it will make it even more difficult for HMRC staff to perform their task on whatever tax they are pursuing, be it corporation tax or any other.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham seemed to dismiss the issue of tax evasion, suggesting that we could pursue evaders until the cows came home, but they would never pay the tax so we would not be able to close the deficit by pursuing them. He then went on to talk about the difference between evasion and avoidance, rather than focusing on what we can do—as the people who scrutinise legislation—to ensure that the Government are delivering on their words in the Budget.
My point is that that was the sum total of the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution on that subject. He then elaborated on other issues. The point is that the thrust of the amendment is evasion—people working the system in a way that breaches the rules and means that they do not make the contributions that they should make. Those are the people we should bear down on. In my intervention in his speech, he accepted that there was such avoidance, and that those people should be dealt with. It is how we scrutinise that that we are discussing now. It is the function of this House to hold the Government to account, and the amendment asks for a report to Parliament on what exactly the Government are doing.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington on his amendment, and I look forward to hearing what the Government have to say in response.
I shall try to be brief, as I was always told that brevity is a virtue. I am sure that many hon. Members will be brief in all their contributions this evening.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney), who painted such a stirring picture of the city of Lincoln that most hon. Members will be hotfooting it there at the weekend if their constituency duties allow.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), especially when he said that in his 13 years as a Member of Parliament taxation had never been simplified. I suggest that that is because of the 13 years of Labour Government during his time in Parliament; that is why the taxation system has got so complicated. To reduce tax avoidance we need to ensure that we have a simple and plain tax system. It might be a difficult concept to accept, but the less tax we have to raise, the less chance there is of having tax avoidance. It is beautifully simple, but beautifully true.
I honestly believe that the measures outlined in the Budget and the Bill will make an impact on encouraging all companies to pay their way, contributing the correct amount in their taxable allowances, thereby reducing avoidance. However, the simple reality is that we have had 13 years of incredibly complicated tax systems, which has acted as a massive disincentive for everyone to pay the tax that is due, because there have been too many opportunities to avoid tax. I believe that the measures taken will make a positive impact in setting that right.
The case for a simple tax regime is well made. Had the Government abandoned capital allowances and the annual investment allowance, that would have been simpler, but instead they just reduced and changed them. Can the hon. Gentleman explain how that simplifies the tax code in the way that he has described, rather than otherwise?
I am obviously far below the pay grade of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but I am sure that they have great plans to make the tax system much fairer and more equal, right across the board.
One important thing that my hon. Friends have done is reduce corporation tax, which will help so many businesses. Most importantly, they have helped small businesses—it is often small businesses that have had the most difficult time over the past few years—which is something that I warmly welcome.
I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) on his maiden speech. He launched some important claims on behalf of his constituents. I was interested in the case that he made for reintroducing indexation and taper relief on capital gains tax. I suspect that these debates will gain a new currency, given the increase in the rate of capital gains tax that the Bill introduces. I also welcome the evidence of independent thinking that he showed the Committee today, and I appreciate, as many will, his generous remarks about Gillian Merron, who was certainly a very popular Member of the House, as well as a popular feature in the local press in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for raising this issue. He has done us a service by raising some important points. I do not agree with his criticism of the previous Government in that respect, as I shall explain, but it is right that we should have this debate in this part of our consideration of the Bill.
I enjoyed listening to what the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) said a moment ago. What he was saying, I think, was that he was expecting the new Government to simplify the tax system. Well, maybe, although I do not think that there is much simplification in the Bill. In fact, there is a major new complication, as we will see when we come to clause 2. For the first time ever, the rate of capital gains tax is being changed in the middle of a year. That is a significant new complexity that the Bill introduces. Although I am touched by his faith, I suspect that he might find himself somewhat disappointed as time goes on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington was right to pay tribute to the work of Richard Murphy and the tax justice campaign. I want to pay particular tribute to Richard Murphy for developing, and first arguing for, the idea of country-by-country reporting. We are debating the avoidance, and indeed evasion, of corporation tax, and of course, that is a matter not only for the UK but for developing countries on a large scale as well. Richard Murphy was the first person to argue that companies should report, on a country-by-country basis, the profits that they make in each country and the tax that they pay in each country, so that everyone can see if there is a mismatch between the two.
The previous Government supported that call, and I am pleased that the OECD is taking the matter up. I think that we are now going to see some progress on that front, thanks to Richard’s efforts. I note from his blog that he has been on the receiving end of some unwarranted online harassment recently on account of his work. I certainly wish him well in what he is doing. However, I am not entirely persuaded by his criticism, or that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, of the work of HMRC on the tax gap. As my hon. Friend rightly mentioned, however, it is inevitable that any estimates in this area will be uncertain because no one knows precisely what is being hidden from the tax authorities.
Narrowing the tax gap was an important priority for the previous Government, and I was grateful for the comments made by the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) and by the Minister in the debate on tax avoidance that was held in Westminster Hall on 14 June. In that debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) set out the key elements of the progress that the previous Government had made on tackling the problem of avoidance. One of the initiatives that we took was to propose a voluntary code of practice for the banks, and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us more about this when he winds up the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) mentioned one of the banks a few moments ago. The idea was that banks would sign up to the code of practice and, in doing so, would agree to stick not only to the law on the payment of taxes but to the spirit of the law as well.
Having listened to the arguments put forward by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), I imagine that he would be opposed to that initiative, because he would feel that it should simply be a matter of asking, “Are you or are you not complying with the letter of the law?” and that, if a problem arose, the Government should legislate to close the loophole. The problem with that approach is that we can get into an arms race, as we have certainly done on many occasions, in which the Government and Parliament agree on changes to the law and everyone knows perfectly well what they mean, but the banks then commission ingenious accountants to find ways round the spirit of the law, even though the letter of the law is being complied with. If we were to stick with the approach for which the right hon. Gentleman is arguing, Parliament would then have to close the loophole, perhaps a year later, and the circle would continue to go round. He made an interesting case, but we have to find a way of breaking that vicious circle, because huge amounts of money are being spent by taxpayers and by HMRC, and, in the end, nobody benefits.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that there can be an arms race, but would he also acknowledge that, while quite a lot of companies accept that they need to pay a fair whack of tax, there are many judgments involved? Those companies seek advice on that judgment, but they do not always get the same advice as HMRC. It is not that they are all trying to cheat the taxpayer; these are complicated matters and a view needs to be taken on cost overhead allocation, transfer prices and so on. Judgments are reached and the Revenue disagrees, but these are judgment matters, and this subject is not easy to handle.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about that. I entirely accept that that often happens, but I hope that he will accept that there are also people who commission very highly paid accountants to find ways of getting round the law. Everyone involved in that practice knows perfectly well that they are going against the spirit of what Parliament intended, and that is the kind of damaging avoidance that we need to bear down on.
Clearly, we have laws, but people are also going to try to pay the minimum amount of tax that they can. That is an entirely rational thing for them to do. It is our job to frame the laws as simply as possible, so that there are no loopholes. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) pointed out, because there is so much more complication in our tax system, there are far more opportunities for loopholes. Surely the way to tackle the problem is to simplify the tax code, rather than pursuing people through the law courts or making the code even more complicated.
I am happy to subscribe to the view that the tax code should be as simple as possible, and I look forward to the new Government introducing measures along those lines. Simplicity is certainly a virtue, but, as I have said, those who are pressing for such measures might find that they have a rather longer wait than they would have liked. Let me also make it clear, in agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with tax planning or with people ordering their affairs in a sensible way from a tax point of view.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I am sorry, I should have said “the shadow Minister”—old habits die hard. Does he recall that it was reported last year that the majority of the top 100 companies paid no tax whatever? That was not a matter of the tax system being complicated; it was a simple matter of their going to enormous lengths—working with the worst culprit, Barclays bank—to devise systems and work through offshore companies to avoid paying any tax. Do not Members on the Government Benches get angry that ordinary people work hard and pay their taxes while multinationals and other large companies go to extreme lengths to pay no tax whatever?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are some flagrant examples of that, not least in the banking sector. Indeed, some of those examples were very well documented in the excellent series in The Guardian earlier this year. I would particularly welcome an update from the Minister on the progress of the voluntary code of practice for the banks, which could be an effective way of tackling the problem that he is dealing with.
Of course we all agree that we should seek the holy grail of a more simplified tax system, but what assessment did the right hon. Gentleman make of the announcement of 12,000 job cuts in HMRC, which we have discussed, and particularly of the breaking up of the compliance teams that were scrutinising the very areas of tax avoidance and tax evasion that we are now debating?
HMRC, for which I was responsible, has a very difficult task on its hands. I was persuaded, and remain convinced, of the case for HMRC being able to discharge its functions a good deal more efficiently in the future, thanks to the use of new systems and to a reorganisation into larger groups. In the past, HMRC was characterised by lots of offices with not very many people working in them. It is now clear that that was not very efficient or effective, and I think that the reorganisation will help. There is no escaping the fact that it has a tough job to do, but I think that it is setting about it in the right way.
The financial crisis since 2008 has led to a big shift in the approach to tax evasion and tax avoidance. Following the crisis, the previous Government made certain that the UK was at the forefront of the drive for change. Internationally, there was recognition that a lack of transparency in the international financial system had presented previously unrecognised but nevertheless significant systemic threats to the global financial architecture, that those threats had to be dealt with and that progress had to be made quickly. In the forum of the G20 and in the aftermath of the credit crunch, good progress was made, but that momentum needs to be maintained. I hope that the Minister will set out for us today how he sees it being maintained.
The previous Government measured the tax gap and published for the first time an assessment of it and a detailed breakdown of how it was made up. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington rightly referred to the £40 billion figure as the overall assessment, and a detailed breakdown of it was published at the time of the Budget in a document called “Measuring Tax Gaps”. I hope that the Minister will tell us that it is his and the Government’s intention to publish this assessment regularly, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured by that.
The figure in that analysis for corporation tax as a contribution towards the overall £40 billion gap is £8.9 billion, which is 16% of the total corporation tax—a very significant contribution. Indeed, 16% is one of the largest of the direct tax losses, although it is not quite as much a loss as that from diesel duty in Northern Ireland or hand-rolled tobacco duty. Apart from those, however, the proportion of corporation tax not being collected is the largest of the taxes set out in the analysis.
I believe that it is important, as the previous Government made clear was their continuing intention, to have the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G7. That is why we reduced corporation tax when we were in government, and when we come to debate the rate, as we will in a few minutes’ time, I will press the Minister to reiterate on behalf of the present Government the commitment that was made and indeed fulfilled by the previous Government—to have a competitive corporation tax regime.
No, we were successful in maintaining a competitive business tax system in the UK. It is true, of course, that if a company goes to Ireland, it will pay a much lower rate of corporation than it would in the UK, but that rate of corporation tax in Ireland is lower than in any G7 country. Our commitment was to keep the UK’s corporation tax rate the lowest in the G7, and that is what we successfully did. It was important that we did so.
There is debate about whether the £40 billion figure is correct. I believe that HMRC did a serious and careful analysis. I also think there should be more discussion with people such as Richard Murphy. I believe his figure for the tax gap on corporation tax was about £12 billion—not vastly more than the £9 billion or so in the HMRC figure. Richard Murphy also makes the point that there is uncertainty—perhaps more uncertainty—about that figure than some of the others that he estimates. Continuing discussion between people such as the tax justice campaign and HMRC is important so that we make these figures as accurate as possible. I very much hope that the Minister will confirm that it is his intention regularly to update the analysis that has been published, to be frank and robust in publication and to discuss the issues with the tax justice campaign, which takes a different view, and the TUC, which has also taken a close interest. Ultimately, it is in everyone’s interest to have the best possible information available. I hope that the Minister will reassure us on that.
The right hon. Gentleman has just admitted that since 1997, in respect of avoidance or evasion of corporation tax, the tax gap was reduced by only £3 billion. Does he not agree, then, that it is wrong to go around the country telling people that the entire deficit could be dealt with if we just got to grips with this one issue? It is, of course, important to get to grips with it, but it will not on its own resolve the deficit. Is it not wrong to tell people that it could?
I am sorry if I misled the hon. Gentleman into thinking that the figure was reduced by only £3 billion as result of the previous Government’s efforts. I did not say that at all. I would be happy to go through in more detail the efforts of the previous Government on this issue, but the crucial initiative was the disclosure regime, which we introduced in 2004 to great howls of protest, yet it has undoubtedly saved many billions in tax that would otherwise not have been collected. The total figure is certainly a great deal more than £3 billion. As to whether addressing this problem could be the sole solution to the problem of the deficit, however, I agree that it could not.
The shadow Minister makes a point about the success of the disclosure scheme. It has been successful, but does he now regret not implementing a pre-commencement validation system with the Revenue before such avoidance schemes were put in place rather than a post-commencement disclosure, when the money has to be clawed back through retrospective legislation? Is it not better to avoid any avoidance happening in the first place?
The hon. Gentleman, who knows a lot about these matters, is right that this is one of the subjects that will have to be considered in looking at a general anti-avoidance rule. The problem, I think, is HMRC having to respond quickly to potentially huge numbers of pre-clearance requests of that kind, which would be a massive additional burden. If I were in the Minister’s shoes, before going down that road, I would press very hard for some cast-iron assurances on the part of HMRC that those clearances could be provided quickly. The problem is that a lot of new bureaucracy would be required.
I understand the argument and I have heard it before—last year, in fact. I welcome what the shadow Minister is saying, but given the concept of promoters or introducers of these schemes—effectively a clear register of people who might engage in this kind of activity—might it not now be easier than it would have been even two or three years ago?
I think it would still be difficult, complex and cumbersome. A judgment will have to be made about whether it is the right thing to do—effectively, the benefit of reducing avoidance would have to be worth the additional complexity. I am sure that this debate is still to come.
Before responding to amendment 11, I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) for making his maiden speech earlier. He is rightly proud to represent that fine constituency, and I am sure that his constituency will be rightly proud of him. I hope he represents his constituency for many years to come. I will deal with the issues he raised about capital gains tax—as already noted, he shows great independence of mind on this point—when I respond to a later grouping of amendments.
I am very pleased to see the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) back at the Dispatch Box. It is good to see him returned here and I hope he is returning to good health. He is certainly a formidable person to face on the other side of the Dispatch Box, as he has great expertise and experience in this particular subject. He was a highly popular and effective Minister, performing the same role as I now perform. His are big shoes to fill and I am sure that there will be plenty of disagreements in the months ahead, but it is none the less a great pleasure to see the right hon. Gentleman back, well and in good form.
Amendment 11 seeks the publication of a report assessing corporation tax avoidance and evasion and setting out measures to ensure the payment of tax before the reduction in the main rate of corporation tax can be applied. The Government are committed to a competitive corporation tax rate, which will show that the UK is open for business and encourage growth. The amendment is narrowly focused on the role of evasion and avoidance, so I shall explain later and in more detail our reasons for the more general changes proposed.
Terminology was a large part of the debate on the matter. As we have heard, tax evasion occurs when someone acts against the law. Tax avoidance involves compliance with the letter but not the spirit of the law, and it is right that the Government seek to minimise that. Tax planning is a case of acting in both the spirit and the letter of the law. There is a distinction, although there will be occasions when the line is a little blurred.
The Government are committed to tackling robustly avoidance and evasion, which undermine the effectiveness of the tax system, distort competition and increase the burden of taxation on those who do comply with the spirit and letter of the law. The emergency Budget clearly sets out the Government’s strategic approach to reducing tax avoidance and evasion. As a number of my hon. Friends have pointed out, some matters relate to how we make tax law, and to ensuring that tax law has as much clarity as possible. At the time of the Budget, we produced a well-received publication setting out a more deliberative and consultative way to make tax law.
There is also a strong case for a more simplified tax code. Too many allowances and reliefs and too much complication within the tax system provide opportunity for tax avoidance, which we seek to address. We will address long-standing avoidance risks, and I have announced an informal consultation on the introduction of a general anti-avoidance rule. I appreciate that there are arguments on both sides, some of which we heard from the right hon. Member for East Ham. We will ensure that we make changes in the law in a way that prevents increasing complexity and reduces the need for frequent legislative revisions. We will also ensure that we build in sustainable defences against avoidance opportunities when undertaking policy reform. The Government have already closed specific loopholes to prevent the avoidance of corporation tax, and clauses 8 and 9 protect about £200 million of tax revenues per year.
The Government fully support the type of transparency for which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) calls in his amendment. As others have pointed out, that form of transparency already exists. The right hon. Member for East Ham pointed out that HMRC has published an assessment of corporation tax avoidance and evasion, although it deals with not just corporation tax but tax across the board. In December 2009, HMRC published the document, “Measuring Tax Gaps 2009”, which estimated the overall tax gaps across HMRC’s regimes for the first time. Alongside that statistical release, HMRC also published estimates of the tax gap by behaviour, including avoidance and evasion, as well as the actions being taken to reduce the gap. As we have heard, HMRC’s estimate for the tax gap as a whole is £40 billion, and the definition includes evasion and avoidance, debt and legal interpretation—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) pointed out, there are sometimes disputes between two parties, both acting in good faith.
HMRC estimates that corporation tax avoidance by large companies amounts to £3.4 billion, and that such avoidance by small companies amounts to £0.3 billion. We have heard a lot this afternoon about the TUC figures produced by Tax Research UK and by Mr Richard Murphy in particular. As I understand it, his figure for corporation tax avoidance is £12 billion. I note that the right hon. Member for East Ham disagrees with Mr Richard Murphy’s estimate of the tax gap. Mr Murphy’s calculations on corporation tax avoidance are on the basis of the gap between the statutory rate, which was 30% at the time of the assessment, and the effective rate, which was somewhat lower. That estimate does not take into account those reliefs and allowances that Parliament has determined should be available, for example capital allowances, to the extent that they are more generous than depreciation treatment would allow. Mr Murphy has acknowledged that point and is considering it further.
In addition, as far as we can see, no allowance is made for double taxation relief, which prevents a taxpayer from paying tax twice, in two different jurisdictions, for the same profits. The right hon. Member for East Ham referred to country-by-country reporting, and we continue to consider whether there is a practical way forward in that regard. If we are to have country-by-country reporting, however, double taxation relief becomes all the more important. As far as I can see—if I am wrong, I am sure that Mr Murphy will correct me in his lively and entertaining blog, as he follows these matters closely—the Exchequer cost of double taxation relief is £16.7 billion. It is not clear that that is taken into account in the distinction between the statutory and effective rates. Such a top-down approach does not work for corporation tax.
There are other flaws in Mr Murphy’s methods. For example, he does not appear to take into account any tax recovered through HMRC’s compliance activity.
My hon. Friend reinforces my point: avoidance covers a variety of different things. In this case, it seems to cover conduct that a Government are trying to encourage, as well as conduct that a Government are trying to repress or stop. That is why the House needs a little more humility instead of rushing into saying, “There’s all this tax being avoided.” Some of it is being avoided for reasons that the previous Government approved of.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who brings me to my next point.
The Government see the distinction between tax avoidance and tax planning, but those lines can be blurred, and sometimes use of the terminology is not as accurate as it might be. For example, I quote the “Missing Billions” report, produced for the TUC, which, after setting out a series of numbers leading towards the estimate for corporation tax avoidance, states:
“Much may be due to legitimate tax planning, but by no means all is. Some, undoubtedly, is due to tax avoidance.”
That seems to me to suggest a slight blurring of the lines. Again, I am sure that I will be corrected in Mr Murphy’s blog if I am wrong, but there does appear to be some confusion.
I am not suggesting that tax avoidance and tax evasion do not matter. The £40 billion figure is significant. However, it is also true that we cannot pretend that if we just address this problem, the deficit will go away. Although it is always tempting for a new Minister in a new Government to attack everything that happened before, I must point out—not purely out of fondness for my predecessor, the right hon. Member for East Ham—that, in international terms, £40 billion is not too bad as a percentage of tax revenue raised.
HMRC does not do particularly badly. Indeed, it tends to lead the field in this respect. Nor has it deteriorated during a period in which it has incurred substantial job losses, as a number of Members have pointed out. I believe that it employed 97,000 people in 2005, and the most recent figure is 69,000. It is a question of deploying resources as effectively and efficiently as possible.
None the less, to the extent that it is possible to go further in reducing evasion and avoidance, the Government are keen to do so, and I have set out some of the ways in which we intend to do so. I can tell the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington that we already assess the amount of tax lost through avoidance and evasion, and that we are committed to reduce those losses as much as possible. We will also continue to publish the tax gap figures as frequently as possible, to provide a focus for HMRC and to ensure that our debate is well informed.
I hope that what I have said gives some reassurance to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. Let me also remind the shadow Minister that HMRC introduced a banking code of practice in 2009, and HMRC’s annual report will provide anonymised statistics on the number of banks that have adopted it. We believe that the code encourages banks not to enter into, or be party to, avoidance arrangements, but we will of course continue to monitor and review its operation.
I am grateful for the Minister’s assurance that information on the tax gap will continue to be published, but my amendment also deals with when it will be published, and asks for further information to be given on the measures that will be taken to tackle the problem.
The hon. Gentleman’s points have been noted. Today’s debate is the second on this matter in which I have taken part in my present post—the first was in Westminster Hall—and I am well aware that it is of considerable concern to Members on both sides of the House. It has also featured heavily in Treasury questions, which will take place again tomorrow. Who knows? There may be a question on this very subject then.
The hon. Gentleman is right to hold Ministers and HMRC to account in regard to how we seek to reduce the tax gap. The Government are taking the matter seriously, and, in the spirit of transparency in which we operate, we will provide as much information as we can so that our debate is as well informed as possible. In the light of that assurance, I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that the amendment is not necessary and will withdraw it.
I think that the debate has been helpful to Members on both sides of the Committee. An attempt has been made to get out of the trenches, and to engage in a wide-ranging discussion of how we can proceed in a pragmatic way. I believe that this will become one of the key issues that people will expect us to address as the economic crisis continues. If they see public expenditure cut so that their local schools are not refurbished, and if they see a tax on welfare benefits, they will expect us at least to maximise the revenue from the tax that people and organisations should be paying. Justice and fairness in the taxation system will become critically important to more and more people.
Some of the arguments that we have heard today have been very helpful, and at times they have been entertaining. I am fascinated by the concept that reducing taxation reduces evasion and avoidance: that is almost an argument for no taxation at all, although it may not gain much purchase in the House. We all accept the arguments about simplicity, but the problem with simplicity is that it makes loopholes possible, and we then need complexity to tackle the loopholes. It is a circular problem. However, it is a joint venture for us to try to ensure that the legislation that we draft is appropriately simple.
I was talking about what had been experienced in the past, but we can all sign up to the pious statement that we will achieve as much simplicity as possible. I merely say on the basis of practical experience in the House that, unfortunately, when we have sought simplicity, people have argued for further complexity to tackle the loopholes. However, we will all aim for simplicity, and the onus is on us to try to draft legislation in a way that achieves it.
I welcomed the Minister’s statement about the continuation of, and consultation on, the commitment to the anti-avoidance rule, but I hoped that at some stage a future report from Government would enable us to engage in a wider debate on how we could install in legislation the duty to comply more simply and effectively. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) pointed out, the issue that arises time and again is the ingenious use of devices to avoid the spirit of the law. In other contexts, we draft legislation in such a way that when a device appears it can be seen to be a device, which is patently against the spirit of the legislation and whose effect can therefore be outlawed. I also welcomed the wider debate on the anti-avoidance principle to be installed in legislation.
This has been a helpful debate. I leave the Minister to the savagery of Richard Murphy’s blog: I am sure that Mr Murphy will respond to each of the points that he raised. Let me make this point, however: whether the tax gap is £40 billion or £120 billion, when people out there are experiencing cuts in public services and reductions in their pensions and are having to work for longer, they will expect us to collect those taxes. The subtle distinctions between evasion and avoidance will be lost on them. They will expect the House of Commons to produce legislation ensuring that HMRC is sufficiently staffed and sufficiently resourced to bring in the tax, and to deal with the significant part of the deficit that we have identified in the past few weeks.
On the basis of the assurances that we have had from both Front Benches of co-operative working on this issue, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment 21, page 1, line 6, at end add—
‘(2) The main rate of corporation tax for financial year 2011 will remain at 28 per cent. on the profits of banking institutions as defined by section 2 of the Banking Act 2009.’.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 34, page 1, line 6, at end add—
‘(2) Prior to this rate taking effect, the Chancellor will place in the Library of the House of Commons an assessment of the impact of this clause on the banking sector.’.
Amendment 50, page 1, line 6, at end add—
‘(2) This section shall not come into force until the Treasury has laid before the House of Commons as assessment of the impact of this section on—
(a) the banking sector, and
(b) all other sectors to which corporation tax applies.’.
My amendment is quite simple. It does not seek to alter the rate of corporation tax suggested in the Budget, except in one respect: it should not apply to banks and banking institutions. Surely few issues can highlight the unfairness and injustice of the Government’s Budget more effectively than the suggestion that, of all the sets of institutions that should benefit from more advantageous tax arrangements, the banks should be given such a windfall at such a time.
I was prompted to table the amendment by a flurry of reports that appeared immediately after the Budget statement, suggesting that the banks would be net beneficiaries. Deutsche Bank analysts were reported as saying that the Budget was a “good outcome for banks”, and John-Paul Crutchley, an analyst at UBS, expected that Lloyds and HSBC would benefit by 2012 as a result of, particularly, the cut in corporation tax.
We must look at this measure in the context of the other Budget provisions. While the Finance Bill is, I suppose, substantial to a degree, it addresses only one short set of Budget measures that presumably will be brought before the House in different Bills at different times in the coming year, and it is a shame in a way that we will not get a chance to address this corporation tax measure in that wider context. I do not think any Members are opposed in principle to the banking levy that the Chancellor announced, although many might question whether it is tough and stringent enough.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this cut will be unfair to small businesses in that while the major banks that got us into the financial mess two years ago will benefit from it, many small and medium-sized businesses will have to pay for it through the cut in the annual investment allowance from 2012?
Indeed, I think there is a set of unfairness issues that affect not only public services and our constituents, but business to business. Many small businesses will be incredulous at this giveaway to the banks, which are having their corporation tax cut. HSBC’s own banking analysts agreed that they would be better off. One of them was quoted in the media as saying:
“We’d expect most domestically-orientated banks, for example Lloyds, to be better off after four years than they were pre-Budget.”
Analysts at Redburn Partners said that Lloyds in particular would see a 3% rise in its earnings per share by 2012, especially as corporation tax is planned to be reduced to 24% over time. The measures in this Bill make only a 1% change in that tax from 28% to 27%, but as the years pass the banks’ gains clearly will accrue and become even greater.
It was no coincidence that the share prices of some of our leading banks leapt after the Budget statement, even though, paradoxically, it included a banking levy that they supposedly feared. Lloyds shares gained 2.7% the morning after the Budget, and others were similarly jumping for joy. The Daily Mail—a journal of great repute—reported that a city insider was privately very happy, saying that
“some banks will have a feeling of glee at the way this has worked out. But none would be stupid enough to say anything openly.”
It will be for the Minister to defend this measure of course, and I look forward to hearing him explain why, of all institutions, the banks deserve this windfall at this time.
The interplay between the banking levy and the impact of the corporation tax cuts must be at the heart of our considerations this afternoon, and I am glad that my Front-Bench colleague my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) have tabled amendments that also seek to probe that issue. My amendment would have the effect of not passing on the corporation tax cut, and theirs’ would insist that at the very least the Treasury conduct a review of these matters.
My concern remains that the banking levy was set at far too low a rate—starting at 0.04% and rising to the heady heights of 0.07%. I gather that might even be about half the level at which the Americans set their banking levy. The notion that this was all done internationally at the same level is absolutely not the case. For some bizarre reason, the Chancellor really held back. He made great play of this levy in the Budget statement because he knows the general public are angry about the situation the banks have left in this country. They are furious that the banks were the source and cause of many of our national debt problems and the deficit we face today. I am glad that the Government say at page 26 of the Red Book that they will consult on the final details of the banking levy, and I urge the Minister to think carefully about how that levy will play in relation to the corporation tax reduction, because if the banks are gaining from that, it must be possible to ensure that they pay their fair share at some point .
Does the hon. Gentleman regret his party’s position before the last election, which was that we should not have a banking levy unless everywhere else in the world signed up to it? Does he therefore applaud the current Government’s leadership in unilaterally putting forward a bank levy?
I may be wrong, but it is my recollection that a number of countries simultaneously came out with their banking levy arrangements, on the continent as well as America, and it was, of course, the natural point at which to introduce a banking levy. It is a matter of nuance whether we get a collection of large industrial countries to act simultaneously or we act on our own as a country, but I think it is necessary to have a banking levy that recoups all the payments that the banks took from our taxpayers.
My hon. Friend refers to page 26 of the Red Book, which states at paragraph 1.63 that
“the Government will introduce a levy based on banks’ balance sheets from 1 January 2011, intended to encourage banks to move to less risky funding profiles.”
The paragraph concludes by saying:
“The levy will result in a rebalancing of the burden of taxation between banking and other sectors.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that that actually supports his amendment, in the sense that we should not take decisions on the banks’ corporation tax rates before this levy is introduced?
I could not agree more. It would not be in order to stray too far from the topic of corporation tax, but it is important that we see this change in context. It appears that the Chancellor press-released the fact that he was taking, in some brave measure, an amount of money from the banks through the banking levy, but failed to publicise that he was also giving that back with the other hand through the reduction in the corporation tax rate.
We are talking about significant and serious amounts of money, and the Minister ought not to be so careless with this revenue as it is needed to repair our deficit and to protect our public services. I am very surprised that the Treasury did not take action to plug this loss of revenue, but chose instead to apply the reduction in corporation tax across the board.
We must not forget that the banks have already benefited from an enormous amount of largesse from the taxpayer more widely. The Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group had £76 billion of their shares bought by the taxpayer. The Bank of England had to be indemnified against losses incurred in providing more than £200 billion of liquidity support. There have been guarantees of up to £250 billion of wholesale borrowing by the banks to strengthen liquidity. Also, £40 billion of loans and other funds were made to Bradford & Bingley and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. There was insurance cover of more than £280 billion for bank assets as well. These changes were not unnecessary at the time; they were absolutely vital as a way of ensuring that our banking system—our credit system—did not collapse entirely.
Had the coalition parties been in power at that time they would have had to fulfil exactly those same commitments, assurances and undertakings to make sure that our banking system did not collapse. That is why it infuriates so many members of the public to hear Members on the Government Benches claiming that that was a partisan cause or that our spending such a large share of our national income on public services is the real cause of our deficit, when in fact responsibility lies squarely at the feet of our banking sector.
May I correct something my hon. Friend has said? Most of the measures the previous Government introduced to safeguard the financial system were in fact opposed at the time by the Conservative party, although it appears to have changed its mind. I also want to ask about the public concerns about the widespread reports from banking spokespersons in respect of this supposed levy. They are suggesting that there will be an opportunity during the consultation to weaken the legislation and reduce the amount of tax they pay. Does my hon. Friend deprecate such projects, and will he try to ensure that the Government stand firm against any such thing?
That is entirely so. Those with significant financial wherewithal—the corporate advisers, the consultants, the accountants—are always exceptionally adept at lobbying Ministers and making their points in their detailed ways, often with the general public entirely unaware that such measures are being put in place to their advantage. Clearly, the banks have been very aggressive in lobbying for these changes. It appears they may well have been successful in watering down the banking levy, while at the same time gaining benefit from this corporation tax change.
The Minister may argue, “Ah well, some of our banks made very significant losses in previous financial years, and because of the complexities of our corporation tax law, companies have certain rights to recoup some of those losses from the corporation tax they paid previously.” In my view, the banks should also be excluded from making such claims—or at least, their ability to do so should be lessened. I was unable to frame my amendment in that way—that takes a certain level of drafting—but we must ensure that the Treasury does not allow the exceptionally clever and highly paid advisers whom the banks can employ to find their way round the provisions and take even more money from the taxpayer.
That is especially true over the longer term, and, as I was saying, although clause 1 refers only to the financial year 2011-12, the Government clearly intend to go even further even faster.
There may well be a case for saying that all companies need to be treated the same and that it would be wrong to discriminate against a particular class, and the Minister may argue that there are other sets of corporations—large oil companies, the privatised utilities and so on—that the public would frown on if they regained a corporation tax benefit, for example. In my view, the public are getting wise to the cause of the reduction in public spending, some of which, naturally, is driven by Conservative party ideology. However, the reductions that are driven by the existence of the deficit are largely the result of the costs incurred in bailing out the banks and the subsequent recession. Because of the lack of credit available in the wider economy, we had fewer tax receipts. In fact, the real story of the deficit is not that we are spending so much on public services, but that tax receipts are considerably lower.
Is my hon. Friend as confused as I am by the Government’s trumpeted aim of rebalancing the economy, while at the same time they introduce a corporation tax cut such as this, which favours companies across the board—from retail to banking—but not manufacturing? In fact, the capital allowances scheme actually penalises manufacturing companies. Does not the generality of the Government’s approach contradict their own headlines?
Indeed. This is a very perplexing set of Budget measures and if we have the chance to debate clause 1 stand part, there are a number of other questions we might want to probe the Minister on. For instance, why, inexplicably, are the reductions in the “small profits rate” of corporation tax not in the Bill? It seems that the Government are very adept at putting at the head of the queue the large institutions that will bleat and shout the loudest. It is incredible to me that the Government are giving priority to those institutions, which should be more contrite and should contribute a fair share. It is the concept of a fair share that eludes both the banks and the Government.
Is the hon. Gentleman confusing a healthy banking sector that can contribute to the regeneration of a healthy economy with the issue of banks paying bonuses? I do not see what reducing the headline rate of tax that banks pay, which inevitably leads to healthier balance sheets and greater ability to lend to companies and is good for our economy, has to do with what I think he is talking about, which is the banks’ payments to themselves. I see those two issues as being very different. Perhaps he can explain.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady who, I am sure, would have wanted to declare an interest had she been in her previous guise. I understand that she was previously employed in the banking industry, although I may be wrong and I do not want to disparage her in any way. However, it is important to know.
I just wanted to place the hon. Lady’s comments in their particular context.
It is certainly true that the general public have a distaste for the excessive bonuses and remuneration of those in the banking industry, but such remuneration would not be possible were it not for the high profit rates that the banks were able to post and report on so many occasions. We are indeed all shareholders in many ways—either directly, or indirectly through our pension funds or as taxpayers—and Members on both sides of the House will hope that, over time, the banks will be returned to some level of normalcy. However, necessarily, they must not, as institutions, evade—or avoid; I want to use the correct parlance—paying their fair share.
It is not just the general public who feel that way. On 20 April 2010, the now Deputy Prime Minister—I think he and his party are still one and the same—called bankers “reckless and greedy”, saying that they have been allowed to hold a gun to our heads.
My hon. Friend is right. Before the general election, there was a lot of tough talk and rhetoric from both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Indeed, The Sun—a journal of great repute—said on 20 March that the then Leader of the Opposition
“singled out the banking industry as one example of ‘vested interests’ he is determined to confront and who he accuses Prime Minister Gordon Brown of failing to stand up to. ‘We had the biggest bank bail-out in the world. We can’t just carry on as if nothing happened’”.
I am afraid we may well be carrying on as if nothing had happened, especially if the banking levy is offset by this giveaway in corporation tax.
I would not want to set the hare running across the City of London that the long arm of the law is necessarily about to grab them on the shoulder, but I understand the frustration and anger of the British public more widely, and all politicians in this House should be angry. While it is fun and games for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats constantly to say, “Ah well, it was the Labour party that left us in this predicament”, they know very well that the root cause was the greed and excess of the banking sector, which ought to pay its fair share.
The banking sector is far from being given a free ride by this Government. We are absolutely not going to allow it to get away with past transgressions—far from it. In fact, it is this Government who are going to restore banking supervision and lender-of-last-resort powers to the Bank of England. The tripartite system that Labour put in place, and which led to some of the failings of the banking system, was a key mistake. This Government are not going to ignore those issues. We also have a commission to look at competition, which is key, because we have to re-establish fair competition in our banking system and get rid of the tendency towards ever larger and more consolidated banks. I agree, in part, with the hon. Gentleman, in that we have to take the banking system seriously, we have to improve it and we absolutely have to make it more competitive. However, I do not agree that we should consider a differential rate of tax, as that is simply uncompetitive.
The hon. Lady makes her case. We can all, in hindsight, say that regulatory improvements should clearly have been made. The British Government could claim that work should have been done to ensure that that was the case in America, in every country in Europe and all the around the world. It is absolutely true to say that the whole worldwide banking system ought to have been more closely regulated, but that was the first time I have heard a Conservative Member defend the reduction in the corporation tax rate—that is the specific measure that we are discussing. There may be a need to debate the regulatory changes that should apply to the financial services industry—I look forward to those proposals being made—but I still do not understand her argument about anti-competitiveness. It is important to hear why the Government believe that the banks deserve this particular cut.
The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) has just said that we should not have a differential rate of tax, but may I again cite paragraph 1.63 on page 26 of the Red Book, which comments on the introduction of the banking levy? Its final sentence says:
“The levy will result in a rebalancing of the burden of taxation between banking and other sectors.”
Is that not exactly what we are going to see here?
Quite, and this is important. We could send a signal from this House that we, as politicians and representatives of the general public, believe that that particular industry has to pay back the cost it is has left upon the shoulders of the general public. Is it not always the case that the general public—the ordinary working people—have to dig us out of the hole created by those affluent and comfortable individuals who work in the banking system?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because his probing is uncovering who is winning the arguments on the Government Benches. The Liberal Democrats went into the election calling for a 10% levy on banks, but the outcome is that what has been raised in the levy has more than been compensated for by the corporation tax cuts. We are seeing who is winning the arguments on the Government Benches on making the banks pay their fair share.
A few moments ago, you were talking about the banking industry that had received the “largesse” of the taxpayer, but your amendment deals with the whole banking industry, which includes those banks that did not come to the Exchequer asking for a bail-out. How do you differentiate between the two? Or are you quite happy just to nail the whole thing?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I have tried to define “banking institutions” by referring to the Banking Act 2009. I believe that I would thus exclude the building societies and other more mutual, co-operative institutions that I would not regard as being as culpable as the plc-based financial institutions. Irrespective of whether a particular bank received a direct sum from the taxpayer, all those banking institutions benefited from the implicit and implied safety net that the taxpayer provided. Were it not for that underwritten implicit guarantee, banks such as Barclays and others would have been in significant trouble. They may not have taken the handout themselves, but had the markets not felt that the Government of the day were prepared to act were they so requested or had it been necessary to do so, all those banking institutions would have been in an entirely different position.
I commend my hon. Friend’s response, because he has just said exactly what I was going to say about the fact that the whole sector, including those organisations that did not receive direct investment from government, benefited from the decisive action taken by the then Labour Government, which, I repeat, was vociferously opposed by the Conservative party.
That is absolutely the case, and it perhaps betrays the enlightenment of Government Members on this particular issue. Each and every one of them who votes against my amendment, or even against the other amendments on the Order Paper, will need to go back to their constituents tonight and explain why they feel that the banking institutions deserve this handout. This is an incredibly important point and it is very useful to have the chance to debate it.
I have been considering the hon. Gentleman’s amendment carefully and listening to what he has had to say. What I really need to hear from him is whether he has assessed its impact on the competitiveness of banking institutions in this country and on this country’s competitiveness in terms of attracting banking institutions to the UK to do their business? Without such an assessment it is difficult to know whether his amendment is going to do what I hope it would do.
I am delighted that that hon. Gentleman is thinking about supporting the amendment. That is incredibly important and a good step forward. I genuinely welcome his support this evening, because this could be a close-run thing. I have made an assessment, as far as I can as a humble Back Bencher. My assessment is that there are hundreds of millions of pounds at stake here that the banks could be gaining. However, I also support the amendments grouped together under this clause. We need the Treasury to undertake an urgent assessment. If the Minister says that he accepts the principle of my amendment but that he wants to do more work on it to get the details right, I would, like him, be happy to consider my position on pressing this amendment.
Yes I do, and at the outset of my comments, I quoted a series of highly professional and well-respected analysts from across the City of London. They were saying that this was a “good outcome”, that there would be “a feeling of glee” about the Budget measures, and that they expected
“most domestically-orientated banks…to be better off after four years”.
It is important to remember that the £2.5 billion supposedly gained from the banking levy is obtained only as it progresses to years four or five. At the outset, it generates an exceptionally small amount of revenue—I believe the figure is less than £1 billion.
If they are saying that the corporation tax cashback, as my hon. Friend says, will offset the levy, perhaps by less than the banking levy or perhaps by more, then I think this would be wrong. It sounds as though the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) is defending the cashback arrangement that he wants to implement—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says he is in favour of cutting the corporation tax rate for the banks. Government Members will vote that way. I am incredulous about that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is completely at odds with the rhetoric we heard from both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in the lead-up to the election? I hasten to add that the Conservatives went very quiet the nearer we got to election day.
Indeed. I cannot keep track of the turns and U-turns, with so many permutations, that the Government go through or of the chamaeleon-like arrangements of some hon. Members. There are honourable ladies and gentlemen in all parties—even in the parties opposite—and I appeal to them to consider the amendments carefully. These are incredibly important suggestions. I have not yet heard a case in the interventions—except, perhaps, for the competitiveness argument, which I shall discuss in a moment—for why there should be a corporation tax windfall, this boon for our large banks. Perhaps I shall hear one from the hon. Lady.
I want to clarify. It is to all our benefit to have a healthy financial services sector. Obviously, all parties agreed, when we had the financial crisis, that we simply could not afford to see our banking system go into meltdown. There is no doubt that that is precisely what would have happened. Nevertheless, through the banking levy the Government are seeking to make the banks compensate the taxpayer for the undoubted support that they received. If there were a reduction in corporation tax alone with no offsetting bank levy, of course the Opposition could say that the banks were getting a free ride. However, the existence of a bank levy means that the banks are paying compensation to taxpayers for their largesse while at the same time ensuring that we retain a highly competitive financial services sector that can encourage and help our economy to recover.
I am interested in the hon. Lady’s arguments. She is saying that it would be wrong for the banks to receive a corporation tax cut—that is an important concession—but that it is all right because they are paying the banking levy. As I reckon it, that puts them right back to the standstill that they were at in the first place. In other words, they would not be paying any more and there would be no reparations, as I see it, for the public at large. They would simply be standing still. It beggars belief that the Government, having talked tough before the election, are now going to give a free ride to the banks and offset some of the costs of the banking levy.
The hon. Lady mentioned earlier that there is, of course, the Government’s independent commission on banking. I understand that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is a promoter of it and I would be interested to hear his views on whether we should give a corporation tax cut to the banks. He has gone from saint to axeman in a matter of weeks, but it is the impact on public services that we are worried about most of all.
As I was saying, it is the unfairness of this measure that strikes home most of all. People who are in a comfortable position are lecturing the world about the cuts to our public services that are needed. What really sticks in the craw is the statement, “We are all in it together”, which hon. Members will have heard. Well, that is not the case for the banks. They are not in it with the rest of us.
It reminds me a little of the polite and well-spoken cat-burglar who sneaks in to one’s home as a thief in the night and tries to purloin all sorts of goods and chattels but, when caught red-handed, explains, “No, I’m not stealing from you. I’m just rearranging the furniture and decluttering the house.” It is a grab of the worst possible kind—a grab on the public services on which the poorest in our community rely. The revenue from this measure and from reducing the corporation tax on the banks is needed by our vital public services. I hope that the Treasury will take the amendment seriously. The banks have not earned the right to this windfall. They do not deserve it and I commend the amendment to the Committee.
On a point of order, Mr Amess. Has the Secretary of State for Education given you any indication that he wishes to come to the Chamber to explain some of the errors that have already come to light in his fifth list? Additionally, during questions this afternoon, the Secretary of State claimed that one individual had received more than £1 million in consultancy fees. The Department for Education has now admitted that that was £1.35 million of consultancy fees paid to KPMG as a whole over three years. Do you not think that the Secretary of State should be coming to this Chamber and have you had any word from him that he wishes to do so?
I want to speak in support of amendment 50, which is tabled in my name and those of my colleagues. I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on the manner in which he proposed his amendment. The broad thrust of the case that he seeks to probe and possibly to press to a vote later on—we do not know—is, I think, worthy of being probed. The House should obtain a great deal more information on the issue before we make a decision.
I have asked a large number of parliamentary questions on the subject and, more particularly, on the banking levy and the basis on which assessments have been made to set that proposed levy at the level at which it will be set. It is rather frustrating for many of us who wish to engage in the debate on corporation tax and to cross-reference it with the banking levy that both measures are not contained in the Bill. I understand, of course, that there will be a consultation on the banking levy before its implementation in January, and I am sure that the Minister will say that they could not both be contained in the Bill because it was proposed that the arrangements would be undertaken in such a manner. However, leaving aside the politics of the issue, the broad thrust of the argument, on which I understood that all parties were agreed, is that when we came to set the first Budget after the general election, those who dropped this country in it and caused the public finances to be in such a serious state would do most to help us to get out of it and to help to restore our public finances. We should be looking to those sectors that are most culpable to make the greatest contribution.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was absolutely right to conclude that what we should seek to achieve in the Budget is that those who can afford it most should contribute most, with the vulnerable protected. Although I do not want to return to a Second Reading-type debate and to relate this measure to all the other measures and to the public spending re-profiling or cuts that are due in the autumn, on which we are to get more detail, that is the context in which this issue has to be considered.
Amendment 50 is remarkably similar to amendment 34, tabled by the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). I tabled amendment 50 because we need to probe and fully understand the likely impact of the banking levy and the corporation tax cut on the banking sector. We need a better assessment of that. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Nottingham East, in response to proper and reasonable questions about the relationship between the impact of the bank levy, as opposed to that of the corporation tax cut, on the banking sector was unable to give a quantifiable answer. That is because the Treasury do not provide one. In the responses to the questions that I have asked on the issue, that relationship has not been clear. That is why it would be better for us to say honestly that if we are properly going to come to a measured conclusion, it would be far better to have the best possible estimates of the likely impact of both measures beforehand, so that we can measure one against the other and make a proper, balanced and reasonable assessment of the impact at the end of the process.
I do not wish to delve into the party politics of what people said and did not say prior to the election, although that adds to the excitement and interest in this Chamber, but the Business Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), was right in predicting a lot of what needed to happen and in encouraging the then Government to take the action that they ultimately took on Northern Rock and in relation to other interventions. The hon. Gentleman was wrong to place the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together in the previous Parliament as taking the same line on the issue. As a candidate in the last general election, I was particularly keen that we went into it seeking to ensure that the banking sector made a significant contribution to restoring the public finances. I was looking forward to that, and I was very pleased to see the banking levy in the Budget, along with a large number of other measures, such as raising personal allowance and the pension guarantee; the Liberal Democrats were pleased to see those. The hon. Gentleman is right, however, that one thing that came out the day after the Budget was the sense that the banking sector was breathing a sigh of relief.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman in advance for going back to what was said during the general election, but it is important in this context. The Liberal Democrats said that they were in favour of a banking levy, as he has just said, but they went further and said that it would be in addition to corporation tax. What we are debating is corporation tax that compensates the banks for the levy, cancelling it out. How can he possibly defend that position?
I am a free-ranging Liberal Democrat Back Bencher and I am quite clear that I want to probe this issue. I tabled my amendment because I want to ensure that we have the facts before we make what I hope will be a balanced decision on this important issue. If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will sidestep the tribal arguments.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a banking levy in the United States. Does he agree that if the banking levy in Britain is offset by the corporation tax reduction, our marketplace will reward bad bankers and encourage them to migrate here? At a time when the rhetoric is about creating a non-financial economy and building new strengths into the economy, we will be encouraging bad practice by rewarding bankers during the horrendous aftermath of what we have all had to witness, the costs of which are being paid by people across the country.
The hon. Gentleman’s point is, in a way, a development of an argument that was made earlier, when he was not here, regarding the contrast between the proposed level of the banking levy in the UK and that in the US. That potential osmosis of banking activity and investment may or may not happen. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) argued that having differential rates of corporation tax would be anti-competitive, but, at the same time, Members on the Government Benches are arguing for differential rates in the sense that the banking levy differentiates between the banking sector and all other sectors. One of the purposes of my amendment is to probe the issue further.
It is often only one, two or three days, or possibly even a week, after the Budget announcement that people finally get the opportunity to scrutinise the Red Book and consider the issues and what the financial press have been saying. I have to say that after the Budget, my initial euphoria at the announcement of the banking levy was somewhat dampened when I looked into matters further. On 8 July I received an answer from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to six questions that I had asked. Among other things, I asked about the discussions that the Treasury had had on this issue; the research that it had commissioned on the impact; the modelling it had done; the criteria that were used to determine the proposed rate of the banking levy; and the estimates that the Department had made of the revenue that would accrue to the Exchequer if the bank levy were set at various incremental rates from 0.05% to 0.15% over the forthcoming period. However, not much information is available in that regard. The Financial Secretary’s reply states:
“No external research was commissioned in respect of the bank levy prior to the financial statement. The proposed rate reflects the risks posed by the banking sector to the financial system and wider economy, whilst taking account of current economic circumstances and the UK’s competitive position.”
His answer also cites the Treasury’s costings that were published alongside the Budget and adds:
“No quantitative estimates have been made of the differential behavioural effects of setting the levy at these other rates. An impact assessment will be published alongside the forthcoming consultation document.” —[Official Report, 8 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 412-13W.]
Page 19 of the costings document addresses the post-behavioural yield of the banking levy. It states:
“The key behavioural changes that we have assumed will impact on the yield forecasts beyond the pre-behavioural effects are: a reduction in the tax base as a result of the potential incentive for banks to remove liabilities from the levy base; a further switch towards longer-term funding at a similar magnitude to pre-behavioural estimates; the levy will further reinforce existing incentives for banks to increase their capital positions in anticipation of expected regulatory reforms…in terms of avoidance behaviour we have assumed avoidance activity will decrease the yield by 5 per cent in each year of operation. This assumption is made to allow for appropriate margin in the public finances and does not represent an official estimate of avoidance.”
That goes back to an earlier debate. So, despite my having probed this matter by asking a number of questions, we do not have any clear answers on the balancing effects of the reduction in corporation tax against the banking levy.
I commend the hon. Gentleman on tabling the amendment, but will he clarify the reference to
“all other sectors to which corporation tax applies”?
Does he think it would be helpful if that assessment took into account, for example, the effect of the reduction in capital allowances when making judgments about whether that is a wise course to take?
I am not sure that I am qualified to advise, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right. If the Treasury could be encouraged to adopt this approach, I hope that it would at least ensure that it was sufficiently free-ranging to deal with any of the consequential behavioural activities that might arise as a result of such proposals.
Although we are rewarding the banking sector, the proposals on annual investment allowances, which are cut in the Budget from £100,000 to £25,000, will directly affect many small and medium-sized businesses. Surely it is wrong that we are rewarding the people who got us into this mess in the first place, but penalising small businesses, which are getting a double whammy, because they are penalised by the lack of lending from the very institutions that we are rewarding.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who has become a rather lonely figure on the Government Benches. Last week, he was the only Liberal Democrat who was not defending the indefensible, for which I pay him credit. At least he is prepared to come to the Chamber and argue against the measures in the Budget that will affect his very poor community in Cornwall, unlike some of his colleagues, who make comments in the press, but are absent from debates on the Finance Bill. I hope that on at least one or two occasions he will join us in the Lobby to stop the effects of the measure on his constituents and mine, although I know that he feels uncomfortable about voting against the coalition.
In 2008, in the run-up to the general election, bashing the bankers was something that everyone wanted to do. It is strange that we now have a Finance Bill that will reward them. There has been a change in the past few months from the stance that the Deputy Prime Minister adopted on 20 April, when he described bankers as “reckless and greedy” and holding
“a gun to the head”
of the country.
I support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), and the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for St Ives. I wish to deal with the effect on other sectors, which that amendment raises. We have discussed the banking sector a great deal, but it is important to look at other sectors, too. There has been a feeding frenzy, which suggested more or less that the previous Government got things wrong, and that we should be penalising the banking sector. That view was reinforced by the Prime Minister himself who, when he was in opposition, said on Channel 4 in December 2008 that
“more senior bankers should be sent to prison.”
On another occasion, he should that they should do voluntary work rather than earn large bonuses in the City. The Conservative party went very quiet at the election, possibly because, as the Deputy Prime Minister said—and I agree with him—it is
“completely in hock to the City”.
We have seen that position defended tonight.
A number of banks have clearly made huge profits. Barclays, as has been mentioned, had a 92% increase in profits in 2009, and stand at £11.6 billion. The Royal Bank of Scotland—remember that?—paid its investment bankers £1.3 billion in bonuses, despite making just £1 billion in profit. Lloyds has made a profit of up to £1 billion. The proposals in the Finance Bill to reduce corporation tax rewards the banks for the mess they got us into, and do not acknowledge the fact that the individuals in question have been carrying on regardless, even though, as several hon. Members have said, the people who have suffered will have their services cut. The members of the public who are the victims are somehow to blame for the financial mess that we are in.
I do not understand how—well, I can, because they are called Conservatives—in the lead-up to the election, people can speak tough words against the banking sector, but one of the first things they do is to reduce corporation tax and reward the individuals who got us into the mess in the first place. Those same Conservatives—this was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East—opposed all the measures that we took not only to ensure that the banking sector did not collapse but to protect the British economy.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely strong case for the amendments. Is it not the case that the Government absolutely have to try their best to pin the deficit on the Labour party, rather than, correctly, on the banking sector? If they took the latter course of action, they would have to increase the banking levy and would not make these changes to corporation tax. They are clearly not prepared to see justice done to those truly responsible for the situation we are in.
That is true. The Government’s drive to reduce public spending has very little to do with reducing the deficit. It is more an ideological move to reduce the size of the state. Unfortunately, like a boa constrictor, they have wrapped themselves round the Liberal Democrats, and will slowly squeeze the life out of them in the coming weeks, months and years. That is dawning on the hon. Member for St Ives, who does not want to be the mouse that gets squeezed at the end of the day. Let us hope that he will escape the clutches of the boa constrictor, which is slowly strangling the lifeblood from the modern Liberal Democrat party. I should not be too sympathetic to the Liberal Democrats, however, because I have spent a lifetime opposing them both in local government and nationally, so their demise might not be an unwelcome consequence of that strategy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East has tabled an amendment that suggests that there should be a 28% tax on the profits of the banking industry, as defined by section 2 of the Banking Act 2009. The reason for that is supported very well in the Red Book. Paragraph 1.63 on page 26, which is entitled “Bank levy” says that
“the Government will introduce a levy based on banks’ balance sheets from 1 January 2011, intended to encourage the banks to move to less risky funding profiles. The Government believes that the banks should make a fair contribution in respect of the potential risks they pose to the UK financial system and wider economy. Final details of the levy will be published later this year, following consultation. The levy will result in a rebalancing of the burden of taxation between banking and other sectors.”
We have seen a very strange Finance Bill this year, with a very short preamble to be followed later by major changes. If we are going to have a major change which, in the Government’s own words, is going to rebalance
“the burden of taxation between banking and other sectors”,
I cannot understand why they are allowing the reduction in corporation tax for this year to apply to the banking sector. To me, it would seem right to wait for whatever the banking levy comes up with. That fits in very well with what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East is proposing.
When people who are going to face higher rates of VAT and other taxation realise that this money is going to be given to the banking sector, they will find it very difficult to understand. Earlier, it was said that the banks will not get back all the money taken off them by the levy—no, but they will get a large portion of it back. [Interruption.] I will give way to the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) if he wants to intervene. Is he suggesting that they should get the money back pound for pound? If we are talking about rebalancing, it is not much of a rebalancing act to take money away from them at one point and give the majority of it back through the back door.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to intervene. He has just admitted something that the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) could not deny, but did not admit. After this Budget, because of the banking levy, the banks will be paying more tax relative to other sectors of the economy, and that is stated on page 26 of the Red Book. I am very grateful for that important admission.
No, I am sorry, we do not admit that. I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make or whether when he went into the general election in May, he had on his election leaflets, “Yes, we will be tough on banks for the rhetoric in the lead-up to the election, but if we get into power we will do a con trick where we take the money with one hand and gave it back with the other.” If, as the hon. Member for St Ives said, we do not know what the figures are, that makes it worse. We are asking the public to take severe cuts in public services and higher taxation, while at the same time the people who are still being paid high bonuses will get money back. That was reflected in a comment made earlier about the increase in bank share prices that took place once the Budget had been announced.
To correct the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), it is just not true to say that the banks are going to pay more. Deutsche Bank has said:
“Taking 2% off the 2012 tax rate for the five banks listed in the UK would increase profit by £1.16bn, that is it should almost offset all of the banks tax. Overall a good outcome for the banks.”
Similarly, HSBC said:
“We’d expect most domestically-orientated banks, for example Lloyds, to be better off after four years than they were pre-budget”.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention, which completely blows a hole in the myth that this coalition Government are somehow being tough with the banking sector. Not for the first time, we are seeing rhetoric overtaking reality. The spin and presentation that is the hallmark of the Prime Minister is clearly catching up with him now he is in power and able to help his friends in the financial sector.
This policy also has an effect in terms of the banking sector itself, because the banks that are being rewarded are the ones that got us into the mess in the first place. Most people will rightly be horrified by that prospect.
Does my hon. Friend agree that what makes it even worse is the fact that the banks are still not lending? We all have examples in our constituencies of businesses that have good business cases but are not securing the lending from these banks that are making massive profits.
That is a good point. We have heard about banking codes and other ways of forcing the banks into lending, but many small and medium-sized enterprises will be paying for this. They are facing a double whammy, because they are paying for it not only through the reduction in investment allowances but, as my hon. Friend rightly says, through not getting access to the lifeblood of working capital that they need.
That brings me to what the hon. Member for St Ives said about other sectors. Amendment 50 says:
“This section shall not come into force until the Treasury has laid before the House of Commons an assessment of the impact of this section on—
(a) the banking sector, and
(b) all other sectors to which corporation tax applies.”
That makes an important point about how this cut in corporation tax is being paid for—that is, through the reduction of the annual investment allowances, which from 2010 will fall from £100,000 to £25,000. That will affect a lot of SMEs in the manufacturing sector. One need only look at some of the comments that were made on Budget day. The Engineering Employers Federation, representing manufacturers, said:
“Reducing the corporation tax rate over time was in principle the right course of action. But financing it, in part, by cuts to investment allowances will be a heavy price to pay, especially for smaller companies. It might be a positive signal for large companies, but not for their suppliers.”
That reflects a key point made in the amendment—the need to look at the effects on other sectors of the economy and how they are paying for this.
Even members of the coalition are feeling some concern about the corporation tax plans. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills signalled a recognition that they could hinder the interests of British industry when he said in the Financial Times on 14 May:
“The one thing I would want to make sure is that the productive parts of the British economy are helped and not hindered by corporation tax changes…I will certainly make an input to the debate defending the interests of British industry and making sure there are proper incentives to invest.”
We are now seeing this time and again in policy areas. The Liberal Democrats can protest all they wish, but they are being overruled on every single occasion, and this is clearly another example of that happening.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the EEF have both criticised the Government for reducing investment and capital allowances. The IFS’s post-Budget briefing on business and capital taxes dated 23 June said:
“Biggest benefits go to low-investment, high-profit firms—banks and supermarkets rather than manufacturers”.
The Budget talked about rejigging the economy away from the public sector and the banking sector into manufacturing, but this will not assist the manufacturing sector in any way at all. One can add to that the pressures that are resulting locally from the abolition of the regional development agencies and the nonsense that is going on with the freezing of grants for business investment. For example, Geka Manufacturing in my constituency, which vitally needs such a grant to secure 130 jobs in Stanley, has had it frozen by the Government. Local manufacturing SMEs are not only being hit by the corporation tax changes in the Budget but affected by the winding up of the RDAs in terms of the small business support that is vital for their investment decisions.
If we are to consider the effect on other sectors, as the hon. Member for St Ives suggested, we need to ensure that that includes not only SMEs but the manufacturing sector. If the Red Book is to be believed, I do not understand how the levy will result in a rebalancing of the burden of taxation between banking and other sectors. Clearly the SME sector will pay dearly, and that is in addition to some of the other matters that will affect it.
The cuts in capital allowances will prevent many SMEs from investing in vital equipment. That is no way to grow the economy in the way that the Government are suggesting. Despite the rhetoric that we heard before the election about bashing the bankers—[Interruption.] I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran), who looks at me in horror, that I said “Bashing the bankers”. Instead, the Government are going to give back to banks the money that they will take from the levy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East pointed out, it would have been right to wait for the results of the 1 January review, whenever they come, before introducing the decrease for the banks.
I ask hon. Members to support the amendment, which makes sense. Once the public recognise what the Con-Dem Government are doing, they will be disappointed that the Government are basically letting the banks off scot-free.
That is not relevant. The hon. Gentleman can read the entry in the declaration of interests.
If we are to address the amendments properly and consider the changes to corporation tax that the Government have proposed not just for banks but for all companies, we cannot get away from the serious mess that the economy is in. As Members have heard on a number of occasions, as an inheritance from the previous Government, the Government are borrowing some £3 billion a week and our budget deficit is £155 billion, which is 12% of GDP—the highest in all G7 countries and the highest in Europe.
To address the issue, we need to consider how to restore growth to the economy and start paying back our debt. That will not just be through the changes in the Budget, such as raising extra taxes and cutting spending, but through restoring growth in our economy. That is at the heart of the changes to taxation, especially corporation tax, put forward in the Budget. The gradual reduction of corporation tax from 28 to 24% is all about giving business people and entrepreneurs incentives once again to take the risks that are always involved in starting and running businesses. It is such growth that will rejuvenate our economy and create the employment that we need to push up GDP and help us repay the debt that we have inherited.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is a banker, and therefore possibly a bit detached from the SME sector and others, but how can cutting the investment allowances of SMEs and rewarding bankers with cuts in corporation tax make sense as a way to generate and grow new businesses?
I am not detached from small business, because my father was a small business man, I grew up in a small business and I know what it takes to make a small business grow. As well as hard work, it takes low taxes, less regulation and a desire for Government to get out of the way of business people. That is what this Government are desperately trying to restore after 13 years of the opposite.
That is a misleading question, and it does not go to the heart of the matter. It is a nice try, but the right hon. Gentleman will really have to try harder than that.
To return to banks and how to get our economy going, as well as restoring incentives we need to get banks lending again. That was the only vaguely accurate or factual point that I could pick up from the speech of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). If we are to do that, we need to understand why they are not lending at the moment, and the major reason is a lack of capital for British banks. Banks across the world face the same problem. As a Government, we need to work out a way to restore the capital positions of banks so that they are willing to take the risks that are a necessary part of making lending decisions.
There are only three ways for banks to try to raise capital. The first is through the free capital markets, but today those markets are effectively closed to virtually all banks. Prior to the financial crisis, there were many instruments that banks could use to try to raise capital, including types of subordinated debt, hybrid equity instruments, tier 1 and 2 securities and common equity. Not only are those markets closed to banks today, but if Opposition Members have watched carefully what has happened in the financial markets over the past three or four months, they will know that banks cannot even raise senior debt effectively, let alone capital. Banks throughout Europe—especially those on the continent, but British banks included—are in many cases unable to raise that type of debt, let alone equity. The capital markets as an avenue to raise capital are closed.
The second option is for the Government themselves to give capital to banks. After the £70 billion-odd injection made by the previous Government, I do not believe that any Member of any party is advocating the Government injecting more capital into the banking system.
There is one final way left, which is to allow banks to hold on to some of their profits, if they are in a position to generate profits. No matter what Opposition Members would like to think, unless we create the conditions inside a bank that make it want to lend, there is no way to force it to do so.
No, not at all. We have to separate the two issues. The levy is about working towards a way of taking something back from the banks to build an insurance-type system, so that if things such as happened during the financial crisis happen again, the Government will have a mechanism to withdraw some capital from the banks. However, if we are to cut corporation tax on all companies, it would be madness to leave out the banks. They need to be allowed to build capital, not just for the sake of getting them lending again by putting them in a comfortable enough position to make that decision, but because of the impact on their competitiveness.
Whether we like it or not, our financial sector is a huge part of our economy, and it is much bigger as a percentage of GDP than that of many of our international competitors, even after the financial crisis. It accounts for thousands of jobs up and down the country, not just in the City but probably in each and every constituency. If we are to restore some health to our financial sector, it makes no sense to make it uncompetitive when compared with other sectors in our economy and with other countries. The banking and financing sector is one of the most mobile of all our economic sectors. If we have differentiated tax rates for one sector of the economy compared with others, that will only make matters worse. I therefore oppose the amendments.
I am grateful to the Exchequer Secretary for his kind remarks on my return to the Dispatch Box. He, along with many Members of all parties, was good enough to write to me after I was attacked and injured. I greatly appreciated all the messages of good will that I received, and I would like to put on record my thanks to all those from across the House who got in touch; I think that those messages have accelerated my recovery. I am grateful to the Exchequer Secretary for his words.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), in an excellent speech when moving the amendment, raised some important points. I was also encouraged by the comments of the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George). I am pleased that he described himself as free ranging, and I hope that his freedom of ranging includes joining us in the Lobby. I am particularly keen to have the opportunity to vote on amendment 34.
The Chancellor told us in his Budget speech that he was being tough on the banks. Listening to some Conservative Members’ speeches, I wonder whether they heard that part of his speech. He explained rightly:
“The failures of the banks imposed a huge cost on the rest of society, so I believe that it is fair and right that in future banks should make a more appropriate contribution, reflecting the many risks that they generate.”
At that stage, it could well be that the Chancellor’s words were consistent with the comment in the Red Book, to which the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) drew our attention. It states:
“The levy will result in a rebalancing of the burden of taxation between banking and other sectors.”
Who knows to what a “rebalancing of the burden” amounts? It could mean something pathetic and small. However, the Chancellor went further in his Budget speech. He said that the introduction of the bank levy would entail
“a greater contribution from the banking sector—one that far outweighs any benefit that it will receive from the lower tax rates that I have just announced.” —[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 175.]
The Chancellor told the House that the cost of levy to the banks would “far outweigh” any benefit that the banking sector received. Listening to the speeches of the hon. Member for West Suffolk and the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), I do not think that they heard that part of the Chancellor’s speech.
My hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham East and for North Durham (Mr Jones) queried whether the levy, in so far as we know about it—the hon. Member for St Ives told us something about it—would fulfil the Chancellor’s words and far outweigh any benefits that the banks receive from the reduction of corporation tax. It is odd, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East pointed out, that for all the appearance of toughness in the Chancellor’s speech, bank shares actually went up after his announcement.
The right hon. Gentleman may have misheard my earlier comment. Can he be surprised about the Chancellor’s comments when page 101 of the Red Book states that the bank levy raises £2.5 billion and the corporation tax cut in 2013-14 will cost £700 million? It is therefore no surprise that the bank levy raises more than the cut in corporation tax to the banks. That is precisely the point that I made earlier.
I am not sure about the figure of £700 million. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not telling us that the reduction in corporation tax will decrease that tax take by £700 million. That is incorrect—perhaps he was citing a partial figure. However, that is why we need a report. I would genuinely like to know the impact specifically on the banking sector of a four percentage point reduction—it was not long ago that the banks accounted for a quarter of all the corporation tax receipts that the Exchequer collected—compared with the £2 billion cost of the levy.
I am grateful for that clarification. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East described the background, pointing out the rather surprising fact that, after the tough talk, banking shares rose. He cited some of the analysts and mentioned the note from BNP Paribas, entitled
“UK Bank Levy: Bark Worse Than Its Bite?”
The note explained the reasons for that. It states:
“As things turned out for all the pre-election vitriol aimed at the UK banking system, the impact of today’s measures appears materially lighter than expected.”
The ratings agency Fitch said the levy would have “no impact” on the ratings of any UK bank. FT.com reported ideas being developed by the Swiss bank, UBS, to reduce the impact of the levy through some careful so-called “balance sheet management.” My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham pointed out that the banking levy is supposed to be based on bank balance sheets, so I suppose that it is no surprise that organisations such as UBS are thinking about what they can do to manage to balance sheets in such a way as to reduce the impact of the levy. That takes us back to our earlier debate on avoidance and evasion, and why legislation often turns out to be more complex than people originally intend: it has to address such behaviour.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East also rightly made the point that several banking analysts were quoted after the Budget as saying that the cut in corporation tax from 28% to 24% would “negate” the impact of the levy on bank profitability. We need to know the truth of the matter, and that is why the amendment calls for a report. It is certain that the amount payable under the levy will be offset—at least in part and possibly wholly—for banks making a profit by the reduction in corporation tax in the next few years. It is entirely plausible for the amount due under the levy to be more than offset for some banks—possibly for all banks—by the reduction in corporation tax under the clause, together with reductions over the next few years.
The Chancellor said in his Budget speech that the contribution under the new levy would “far outweigh” the benefit from corporation tax reduction, but to put it kindly, it is by no means clear that that will be the case. I would not favour a different, higher rate of corporation tax for the banks. That would raise several difficulties, but given that the Chancellor has made clear his view that the banks should make a larger contribution in the light of what has happened, that the increase in the tax they bear should “far” outweigh the reductions they enjoy—of which the clause outlines the first—I hope that the Exchequer Secretary will agree that a report along the lines suggested in the amendment, and in the strikingly similar amendment that the hon. Member for St Ives tabled, would be a valuable contribution to transparency and to understanding the impact of the Budget measures. I also hope that the Minister sets out as much information as possible to illuminate the impact of the corporation tax cut on the banks in comparison with the bank levy.
The nub of the issue is this: can the Minister substantiate the Chancellor’s claim that the impact of the bank levy will “far outweigh” the impact of lower corporation tax? If the Minister is unable to accept amendment 34, I should like to press it to a Division.
I shall keep this contribution extremely brief, given the hour. I was surprised by some of the arguments made by Opposition Members. I am not all that surprised that the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), the shadow Minister, does not support amendment 21, which was moved by the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), not least because before the election he said we would need any bank levy to be globally agreed. Indeed, the current shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), said:
“Countries can’t go it alone. It is very important that we do this internationally”.
Conservatives and Liberal Democrats campaigned during the election for a unilateral bank levy, no matter what happened in the rest of the world, so it is not surprising that we do not listen to Opposition Members who argue that they are now in favour of one. They have performed a U-turn in an extremely short time.
Another point I want to make is that the shadow Minister said that his party’s policy is that corporation tax should be the lowest in the G7, but Italy’s corporation tax is now 27.5% and Canada’s is set to be reduced to 27.2%, which means that Labour’s policy is to reduce corporation tax, including on the banks, as he just confirmed, without the bank levy. A bank levy would more than offset the corporation tax reductions, so Labour Members are in all sorts of a tumble on this.
Everybody will note the difference between the Government, who argued before the election that we needed a unilateral bank levy and who are delivering it within seven weeks, and Labour Members, who argued that we should not have a bank levy, before performing a U-turn within 10 weeks.
Amendments 21, 34 and 50 relate to the impact of the corporation tax cuts on the banking sector. Amendment 21 would leave the
“main rate of corporation tax for financial year 2011…at 28%”
“banking institutions”, disapplying the 1% decrease, and amendments 34 and 50 ask for an assessment of the impact of the rate reduction on banks.
The proposals are helpful. Understandably, there is a frustration with the banking sector and a desire that it pay a fair share. The Government share that belief. We think that banks should make a fair contribution in respect of the risk that they pose for the UK financial system, which we have seen in the past few years. That is exactly why we announced in the Budget the introduction of a bank levy from 1 January 2011. Tomorrow, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will announce a public consultation with a view to implementing the levy on that date, and the measure will be included in next year’s Finance Bill.
The levy is a surgical approach, intended to encourage banks to move to less risky funding profiles, and a contribution reflective of economic risk. A tax based simply on profits, such as corporation tax, is not related to risk and will not create the behavioural effect that we believe the banking levy will achieve.
The overall impact on banks of the proposed reduction in corporation tax depends on a number of factors, and I will provide some details in a moment. None the less, I should like to put it on record that it is entirely right that hon. Members ask such questions. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) made a thoughtful and probing speech, and I was also interested to hear the comments of the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). However, I wondered, given his concern about the impact on the banking sector, precisely which angle he was coming from. Those who remember the debate prior to the general election will recall, for example, the remarks of the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) who, in an interview on “The Andrew Marr Show” on 21 March, argued against proposals for a unilateral bank levy, saying that he thought it could work only if there were international agreement, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) said.
Of the Conservatives’ policy of introducing a unilateral bank levy, which was also a policy of the Liberal Democrats, the then Chancellor said that we were taking a hell of a risk, given that the banking industry employs more than 1 million people in this country. He seemed to be somewhat concerned that we were going to far and too hard. I do not know whether the shadow Minister is worried because the proposals are too tough on the banks, or because they are not tough enough.
I thank the Minister at least for that recognition, but I wonder whether he could take some time to justify the fact that the proposed banking levy is so low in relation to, for example, the American arrangement. Does he understand the incredulity and frustration that banks should be given this cashback bonus in the form of the corporation tax cut at this particular time? I want to hear him justify that.
Let me turn to the heart of this matter, because we have had quite a lengthy debate on it. We have heard concerns that the corporation tax would cancel out the effect of the bank levy or offset it, and that there would be a cashback bonus, to use the hon. Gentleman’s phrase. The shadow Minister asked whether the banking levy will “far outweigh” the benefit to banks of the cut in corporation tax. Perhaps the easiest thing I can do in response—there is much more one could say about corporation tax, and I will in future debates—is to refer to my answer to the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), who asked the
“Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the revenue from the financial services sector to be foregone by the Exchequer as a result of the proposed reduction in corporation tax in each financial year to 2015-16.”—[Official Report, 1 July 2010; Vol. 512, c. 610W.]
We have the numbers only until 2014-15, and I should point out that the financial services sector is somewhat broader than just banks. It includes insurance, pension funds and auxiliary financial services, so the numbers refer to the corporation tax cost not only for banks, but for other financial services. However, I will compare those with the bank levy yield. For 2011-12, the corporation tax costs will be £0.1 billion, whereas the bank levy yield will be £1.15 billion; for 2012-13, corporation tax costs will be £0.2 billion, compared with a bank levy yield of £2.32 billion; for 2013-14, corporation tax costs will be £0.3 billion, compared with a £2.5 billion additional yield from the bank levy; and for 2014-15, the corporation tax costs will be £0.4 billion, compared with a bank levy yield of £2.4 billion. Even in this last year, where the differential is at its narrowest, we can see that it has not been cancelled out or offset. There is no cashback, and the banks are not quids in as a consequence.
The test that the shadow Minister gave was whether the bank levy yield far outweighs the benefit of the corporation tax change, and the answer is clearly yes. Given that the proposal for a differential corporation tax rate in amendment No. 21 is not supported by the Front Benchers of the party to which the hon. for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) belongs, I urge him to withdraw it.
The Minister is saying that £400 million is a small amount to be given in cashback to the banks in this corporation tax giveaway, but that sum could offset the necessity to scrap the health in pregnancy grant. It could offset the need to reduce the maternity allowance to just the first child. Those are important for users of public services, and he surely understands that.
Our aim was to rebalance the tax system. We are requiring the banking sector to pay at least £2 billion more in tax as a consequence of these proposals. That is not a minor matter. Other sectors, including manufacturing, will benefit from the reduction in corporation tax, but the banks will not benefit because we are introducing the bank levy. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw amendment No. 21, given that his Front Benchers recognise the difficulties of a separate corporation tax rate for banks. I believe that I have satisfied the tests set out by the right hon. Member for East Ham, because the bank levy yield far outweighs the benefits of the corporation tax for banks.
I hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives—
The corollary to the corporation tax cut is the banking levy, but although I respect the information that my hon. Friend has given in his reply so far, he has not yet addressed himself to the criteria for the setting of the banking levy and why it has been set at the proposed level—[Interruption.]
Beginning tomorrow, we will consult on the bank levy. The intention is to find a means of discouraging risk, and that is why the targeted approach of the bank levy is appropriate. It will raise additional revenue, and it is right to do so. We think that we have the balance right in raising additional revenue while enabling banks to lend more, and we are also taking steps to encourage that further.
In conclusion, I think that I have satisfied the concerns underlying the amendments and I hope that the amendment will not be pressed to a Division.
Having heard what the Minister had to say, I am not convinced that he makes a case for giving away £400 million to the banks, especially as Members on the other side of the House constantly ask us where the money would come from and how we would reduce the deficit. That sum would offset the need to abolish the health in pregnancy grant. It would offset the need to reduce to the CPI the indexation of housing benefit. It would offset the need to scrap the maternity allowance for second children, and so on. I hope that my hon. Friends will remember the £400 million giveaway to the banks in this corporation tax reduction.
I recognise that the consensus in the debate is that it is important to test the right amendment this evening. I therefore wish to withdraw my amendment, but I hope that one of the amendments that would require the Treasury to justify and assess the impact of the corporation tax change on the banks will be tested. That is the least we should be doing.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: 34, in page 1, line 6, at end add—
‘(2) Prior to this rate taking effect, the Chancellor will place in the Library of the House of Commons an assessment of the impact of this clause on the banking sector.’.—(Stephen Timms.)
I beg to move amendment 49, page 1, line 6, at end add—
‘(2) In section 2(2)(a) of the Finance Act 2010, after “companies”, add “not meeting the condition in (c) below”.
(3) At the end of section 2 of the Finance Act 2010 add—
“(c) 26 per cent. on profits of companies whose taxable profits will be increased by more than 1 per cent. as a result of changes in investment allowances.”.’.
It is a puzzling feature of the Budget that, on the one hand, the Chancellor is gambling on a big increase in investment, and basing his Budget arithmetic on the belief that investment will grow in each of the next three years at a rate that has been achieved in only one year in the last 40. That is an heroic assumption about investment growth, and if it proves to be untrue, the Budget gamble will fail. At the same time as banking on that huge increase in investment, he has announced that he will drastically cut the incentives for investment. The rates of capital allowances will be reduced from 20% to 18%, and the annual investment allowance will be cut by three quarters, from £100,000 to just £25,000. It is hard to see how the forecast growth in investment can be reconciled with such a big cut in investment allowances. The Budget was billed as Britain being open for business, yet it will clearly reduce the prospects for growth, as the Office for Business Responsibility confirmed in its two projections, before and after the Budget. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund, in its projections last week, also downgraded its growth forecast for the UK economy as a result of the Budget.
We have here a collision of conflicting objectives, which we highlight in the amendment. We propose a lower rate of corporation tax for companies that lose out from the reduction of allowances above a certain threshold. The Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out before the election that the losers as a result of the Conservatives’ approach would be those making big investments and earning modest profits, notably
“in the manufacturing and transport sectors”,
and that the gainers would typically be in the financial sector.
We do not yet know what the legislation on allowances will say. The Chancellor said in his Budget speech that the change in the rate of capital allowances and the lower annual investment allowance would not take effect until 2012. Will the Minister confirm that the coalition Government are planning no reduction at all in investment allowances in the current financial year? Will the changes announced by the Chancellor in the Budget be in the Finance Bill later this year or will they be delayed until next year’s Finance Bill? I hope that the Minister will also comment on the principles underlying our amendment. How can it make sense to reduce so drastically the incentives for investment in a period in which the Budget depends so heavily on an unprecedentedly large and sustained increase in investment?
As I have already explained, the Chancellor or the Exchequer set out a business tax package in the Budget that included rate cuts and reductions in allowances that are good for business and growth overall. Amendment 49 proposes that clause 1 be amended to reduce the main rate of corporation tax to 26% for those companies whose tax bill will increase by more than 1% as a result of the reduction in investment allowances. That is a somewhat complex mechanism, but it provides an opportunity to raise the matter of capital allowances.
As part of a package to improve the UK’s competitiveness, it was announced that from April 2012 there would be reductions in the rates of writing-down allowances for plant and machinery and a reduction in the annual investment allowance. The Government will reduce the main rate of corporation tax to 26% that year—2012—and by that reduction, alongside changes to allowances, we will achieve the results that the amendment seeks. Furthermore, by not implementing the changes to allowances for two years, but reducing corporation tax rates next year, we are giving companies a full year to benefit from the reductions in rates, alongside current levels of allowances. Further reductions in the main rate of corporation tax follow in later years and capital allowances remain broadly in line with average rates of economic depreciation. To answer the shadow Minister’s questions, no changes are made to the so-called investment allowances in this Finance Bill and none is planned for the next financial year.
Why does the Minister believe that, if the Budget begins to work and we see businesses begin to pull the country out of recession, that is the right time for the Government to take away the incentive for further investment in business growth? That seems paradoxical to us all and to damage the very prospects of the recovery that he claims he wants to aid.
As I said a moment ago, the changes to capital allowances will take effect from 2012, and we believe that there is a substantial benefit for the UK economy in reducing the corporation tax rate. Indeed, it is a direction of travel that our predecessors followed when they reduced the rate from 30% to 28%, but we do not think that that went far enough. The point was raised in earlier debates that the UK has lost its competitive advantage in having a relatively low rate of corporation tax, as a number of other countries have cut their corporation tax rates much further than we have over the last 13 years. We believe that the lower rate sends a very clear signal that Britain is open for business and it is a demonstration of the direction of travel in which we are going. Assessment of the impact of Budget measures on investment over the next few years suggests an increase in investment of £13 billion.
The Budget thus provides a set of proposals and a set of reforms to corporation tax that will encourage further investment. As I say, it is a sign that Britain is open for business and a sign to investors and businesses throughout the world that the UK is a good place in which to do business. We believe that the package as a whole is well balanced and that it will aid a private sector recovery, partly funded through reforms to capital allowances and partly through the bank levy, as we debated earlier. Legislation is not required for the changes in capital allowances in this Finance Bill or indeed in next year’s, but we have set out a clear sense of direction that has been welcomed by business groups as a whole. We therefore urge the shadow Minister not to press the rather complicated amendment 49. It will not make any difference, because we will legislate to this effect in any event—without the complicated mechanism in the amendment. I urge him to withdraw it.
I am disappointed by that response. I am disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) did not get an answer to the telling point that he put to the Minister. There is a real issue about how this large increase in investment is supposed to be achieved at exactly the time that incentives for investment are being reduced. Nevertheless, I shall not press the amendment to the vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
We have had useful and important debates about the amendments to clause 1, but some important points remain to be discussed. I have no wish to oppose the clause, and I will not encourage my hon Friends to vote against it. However, we need to ask some significant questions, in particular about why the clause does not contain items that we might have expected.
Small companies will face a worrying and uncertain time over the next few months, and we would all sign up to the proposition that they are the lifeblood of the UK economy, yet the Bill does nothing to help them. The Budget did not do much either, but at least it included the 1 percentage point reduction in corporation tax. Inexplicably, that measure has been omitted from the Bill. Will the Minister tell us why? What was the basis for selecting the measures in the Bill? Is the Bill’s purpose simply to ensure that the increase in VAT is legislated for before Liberal Democrat Members have the opportunity over the summer to learn what their constituents think about it, or perhaps before their party conference has a chance to express a view in September? Were the other measures included just to make up the numbers and pad out the Bill? Alternatively, is there another criterion—urgency, presumably—for what is included in or omitted from the Bill? If so, why was it urgent to legislate for the large companies rate but not the small companies rate? The more we look at the Bill, the more it appears to be a rag-bag of measures to give an impression of substance, when in reality it is all about railroading the VAT increase through Parliament before the Liberal Democrats wake up.
Businesses of all sizes face a worrying time. As the National Institute of Economic and Social Research pointed out last Thursday,
“Fiscal consolidation, both in the UK and the euro area, will restrict growth”.
The IMF’s startling post-Budget growth downgrade for the UK last week made the same point. The Daily Telegraph expressed it bluntly on Friday, “UK austerity drive threatens to snuff out recovery, IMF warns”, and went on to summarise the IMF message thus:
“Britain’s fledgling recovery may be nipped in the bud by the savage cuts”.
A lot of other evidence points in the same direction. Last Monday, the monthly report on business confidence showed that, far from the Budget placing an “Open for business” sign above Great Britain plc as the Chancellor had hoped, business confidence suffered the biggest one-month fall ever recorded in June, the month in which the Budget announcements were made. With confidence on a sharp downward trajectory, the truth is that the Chancellor is taking an enormous and unwarranted risk with the UK economic recovery.
Our case is clear: in taking such an enormous and unjustified risk with the recovery, the Budget judgment was wrong. Businesses and their employees, as well as those who work in the public sector, will pay the price. As was mentioned earlier, small manufacturing firms will be hit particularly hard by the Budget, as the Engineering Employers Federation pointed out in its Budget response, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) referred. The EEF said:
“Reducing the corporation tax rate over time was in principle the right course of action. But financing it, in part, by cuts to investment allowances will be a heavy price to pay, especially for smaller companies.”
It might be a positive signal for large companies, but not for their suppliers.
The Budget significantly reduces the incentives for investment by small and medium-sized enterprises. I shall say more about that in a moment. Large companies will benefit from the proposed reduction in the corporation tax rate from 28% to 24% over the next four years, but small companies will not. They have been promised a reduction of only 1 percentage point in 2011, from 21% to 20%, and, inexplicably, even that has been omitted from the Bill.
It is perfectly true—as the Minister may well remind me—that before the election we proposed an increase in the small companies rate of corporation tax, rather than the decrease that I am now suggesting. However, we did not propose, as the Budget has, that the annual investment allowance should be cut by three quarters, from £100,000 to £25,000. We did not propose a cut in the rate of capital allowances either.
Now that we appear to have a firm commitment from the Government to reducing the main rate of corporation tax by four percentage points—although for some reason only one of the four is in the Bill, which I also wish to query—I hope that the Minister will be able to hold out the prospect of further reductions for small companies as well, beyond the 1 percentage point reduction announced in the Budget and, for some reason, not included in the Bill. I hope that the Minister can give some comfort to small companies that face great anxieties about what will happen over the next couple of years.
Let me return to the other puzzling omission. Given that the Chancellor made a great show of providing certainty by announcing annual reductions in the rate of corporation tax up to 2014, why does the Bill provide for only one year’s reduction, rather than all four? When I queried that on Second Reading, the Chief Secretary told me:
“the practice in Finance Bills is to legislate one at a time for the changes that are needed in the following years.”
I should be interested to know from the Exchequer Secretary the basis for that claim. When I queried it on Second Reading, the Chief Secretary—prompted, I believe, by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who was sitting next to him and who will respond to the debate tonight—told me that there were
“various technical reasons… which the Exchequer Secretary will explain in his closing speech. The basic point is that our method is more business-friendly.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 207-8.]
The Exchequer Secretary did not explain that in his closing speech. As I was not present for his closing speech, I will not complain about that, but I do ask him to explain it to us today. How can the Government’s method be “more business-friendly”? Certainty is key here, but in the absence of legislation there can be no certainty.
As I said on Second Reading, the precedent is very clear. Nigel Lawson, as Chancellor, announced a series of four reductions in the rate of corporation tax, from 50% down to 35%, and they were all legislated for in clause 18 of the Finance Act 1984. As far as I know, there is no other precedent for four successive annual reductions in the rate of corporation tax, so what the Chief Secretary said about practice in Finance Bills was clearly incorrect.
The debate in the House on 1 May 1984 makes interesting reading. Roy Hattersley pointed out that because the reduction in the rate was being funded by allowance cuts, there would be an increase in the tax paid by manufacturers. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) made a notable contribution. Speaking for the then Government, the Exchequer Secretary’s predecessor John Moore explained that
“The clause proposes a four-year programme of reductions in the main rate of corporation tax.”—[Official Report, 1 May 1984; Vol. 59, c. 274.]
So it is certainly not the case that the practice is to legislate a year at a time. I have been unable to find any complaints in 1984 that it was contrary to the interests of business to legislate in one go, and I find it hard to imagine that anyone would have complained. It seems much more likely that the Government simply could not be bothered to produce for the Bill the slightly longer legislation required alongside the very small clause to implement the reduction in the small companies rate of corporation tax because they were making such a headlong rush to get the all-important VAT rise on to the statute book before the summer.
One suggestion has been made for legislating only for the first year, namely the impact on deferred tax. I shall listen with great interest to the Minister’s answer as to whether it is the right explanation. Accounting standards require the declaration of deferred tax assets or liabilities at the rate that has been “substantively enacted” by the date at which a balance sheet is compiled. For companies with large losses to offset for tax purposes against their future profits, a reduction in the rate of corporation tax would require them to reduce the value of their deferred tax assets on the balance sheet. For some banks that could be a very large number, which is why, to refer back to what the Minister was saying, their corporation tax for the next few years will be a lot lower than would otherwise have been the case.
The Minister may therefore be balancing the advantages of providing certainty for inward investors—of showing that Britain is open for business—and the benefits of legislating now for the next four years and of supporting manufacturers against the headache that could be caused for some banks. When the Chief Secretary says it is more business-friendly to do this one year at a time, perhaps he just means that it is helping out some banks.
I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, and I rise to seek the following clarification. Am I right that it was in fact the previous Government who—sensibly—allowed unused tax assets to pay, at least in part, for the asset protection scheme to protect all of us against non-performing and toxic assets?
Indeed, and I am certainly not arguing against the long-established mechanism allowing tax losses to be used in that way. I am simply querying, just as a matter of fact, whether that is the reason why this Bill only makes one of the four promised year’s reductions in corporation tax. I have certainly not come across any other suggestions as to why the Bill is doing that in that way. People who have deferred tax liabilities—as opposed to the banks having deferred tax credits—would benefit from early enactment of the lower rate. Typically, that is people such as manufacturers. If that is the reason, this is, sadly, another case of helping out the banks at the expense of manufacturers.
Surely the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is right to say that
“to provide better certainty for businesses”
there should be legislation
“as soon as possible for the proposed reductions in the main rate of corporation tax”.
When will the Government legislate for the remaining reductions? Will they do so in the Finance Bill that we have been promised in the autumn? Are we really going to have to wait for four years of Finance Bills to complete these reductions, as the Chief Secretary suggested, or can we look forward to legislation in the Finance Bill No. 3 of 2010? If certainty for business is the aim, it surely must be done this year at least.
When do the Government intend to introduce their changes to the rate of capital allowances and the annual investment allowance? I listened carefully to what the Minister said about that and perhaps I missed the point but I did not quite grasp which piece of legislation he envisaged those changes being made in. Will they be in the further Finance Bill in the autumn or will they await next year’s Bill? By that time, I suppose we might have some further data on the actual change in business investment in the next 12 months and how that compares with the change on which the Chancellor is pinning his Budget arithmetic.
There is something else about which the Bill is silent but on which we might have expected some change: the differential compared with the main rate of corporation tax inside the North sea ring fence. The ring fence for North sea operations rightly prevents taxable profits from oil and gas extraction in the UK and the UK continental shelf from being reduced by losses from other activities or by excessive interest payments. The ring-fenced corporation tax rate was the same as the main corporation tax rate, until the previous Government reduced the main rate from 30% to 28% from 1 April 2008; we left the ring-fenced rate at 30%. Now that the main rate has been announced as falling to 24%, do the Government intend to leave the ring-fenced rate at 30% throughout the next four years, thus trebling the differential from two to six percentage points or is a reduction to the ring-fenced rate being considered, perhaps along with some other changes to the fiscal regime for oil and gas extraction?
Let me finish by asking one further question. As I reminded the House, it was the previous Government’s explicit aim that corporation tax in the UK should be the lowest among the G7 economies, and we succeeded in achieving that aim. That is one of the reasons why the UK has been so successful over the past decade in attracting so much overseas investment into our economy. Do the present Government intend to ensure that we continue to have the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G7? Will that commitment be maintained?
As I explained at the outset of my remarks, it is not my aim to oppose this clause, but I hope that the Minister will provide some explanation for the omissions I have highlighted, and in particular give an account of why the remaining reductions in the rate of corporation tax have been delayed, and say when the legislation for them will be introduced.
I am grateful, Mr Benton, that you have seen fit to allow a stand part debate on this important clause, especially at a time when every measure in the Finance Bill and the Budget as enacted needs sufficient scrutiny to ensure that the general public can have confidence in the fact that any revenue forgone is forgone for a good purpose. At a time when our public services are threatened and look set to be cut so significantly, it is very important that, if this country is to give away potential yield through changes such as the corporation tax, this is done for the right reasons.
It is important to note that we want a healthy economy and for our companies, by and large, to be profitable and doing well. I do not, of course, want to revisit in too much detail our debate on the banking sector, but I point out that it is necessary to have an environment in which our companies can be competitive on a global scale, and to ensure that they can succeed. While we want companies to be profitable, we also want them to reinvest a lot of those profits, so that they can improve the capital stock, improve the ingenuity and enterprising innovation that goes on within such companies, and have a longer-term profitability trajectory. It is for those reasons that I am perplexed by the drastic reduction in capital allowances, to just £25,000. Manufacturing companies—the institutions that produce the actual goods we can sell and export abroad—may well be disadvantaged relative to other sectors of the economy.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the predicated growth, contained in the Government’s figures, of the private sector generation of income into the Treasury over the next five years, and does he believe that that is compatible with the reduction in capital allowances that has been announced? In particular, would he care to comment on the timing of that reduction at precisely the moment when—if the Chancellor’s figures were to work out—the economy would be about to see the largest part of its expansion?
I am very disturbed that the Chancellor’s measures are coming at a time when our manufacturing industries are potentially just finding their feet and beginning to think about turning the corner out of the recession. Taking away some of those crucial allowances will not only affect those niche companies, which will, in turn, be the producers of the tool manufacturing equipment and the entrepreneurs whose work is so necessary and has perhaps been funded and supported by those allowances, but will, in a general context, potentially reduce the competitiveness of that particular sector of the economy.
It is a more general matter of debate whether some sectors of the economy benefit more than others from the corporation tax change. As I have said in previous debates, I am not sure whether my constituents would feel that the oil companies, the utilities and the banking sector should also have the gains from this corporation tax reduction. As I said in our debate some time ago, I am not convinced that now is the time to be giving away a £400 million windfall to the banking sector in this corporation tax cut.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend’s argument. Has not the largest single factor in this recession been, in effect, a private sector investment strike? I am talking about the fact that £6 out of every £10 of the fall in gross domestic product is attributable to a single factor, which is that the private sector some time ago decided not to invest. There are all sorts of reasons why that should be, one of which is the failure of the banks to provide the capitalisation to allow those companies to invest—that touches precisely on the point that he was just making. Given that level of inactivity in investment, are we not facing both an increasingly inefficient private sector and, as has been said, the cuts in the allowances, which will make things worse?
Indeed that is the case. I know that my hon. Friend has done a great deal of work on some of the analysis of these points. There are arguments to be made for reducing corporation tax to boost competitiveness, but clearly that is a way of encouraging profit-taking and, in turn, the removal of money from companies in the form of dividends. That, of course, benefits us all in some ways, because we are all members of pension funds and so on. However, if it is indeed the Government’s particular choice at this point in time, as we are coming out of a recession, to try to encourage companies to focus on their long-term profitability, might it not be a better strategy, in some respects, to retain some of those capital allowances to ensure that we can fix our banks such that they are able to supply much-needed credit to small companies, in particular, and to the wider industries across the board?
My hon. Friend rightly talks about the need for companies to pay dividends and the benefits of that for all of us in society, in particular pension fund holders. Does he appreciate that the portfolio of shares that our pension funds all hold can also increase in value by incentivising companies to reinvest in themselves? That happens by the increase in value of the company through the increased investment that it has made in itself. Is that not a more efficient way of doing things than paying out dividends, which may simply go into private pockets for consumption?
That is a moot point and I would not go to the wall to argue against reducing corporation tax in this way. All I am suggesting is that there are other strategies that I do not feel that the Government have properly explored. We ought to be focused on growth and on how business can contribute to it. Let us not forget that we have such a deficit situation in this country not because of so-called excessive public service consumption but because tax receipts have been so depressed. That has partly been caused by the credit crunch and the lack of credit available, which provoked the private sector investment strike that has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett).
When the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend talk about a private sector investment strike, I wonder whether it might not be because there has been negative growth in unused sterling credit facilities for the past 27 months. Businesses, large and small, have simply been unable to get the cash.
Indeed. There are liquidity problems across the economy and they remain. There are rumours in the air about the return of quantitative easing and that we might be entering into double-dip recession territory. All these things prove that the so-called independent Office for Budget Responsibility’s downgrading of growth predictions as a result of the measures in the Budget suggests that the Government had a choice in their hands to steer the economy in a particular direction and that they have chosen not the pro-growth path that the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party advocated before the election but, because of the damascene conversion of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills the day after the general election, the anti-growth path. They will take a whole chunk of money out of the economy by cutting public services so steeply and so massively in such a short space of time.
Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that there is no money for the private sector from the banks because of the legacy of the last Labour Government? The Government are borrowing £3 billion a week—there is no money left for the private sector.