(Clauses 1, 4, 8, 189 and 209, Schedules 1, 23 and 33, and certain new Clauses and new Schedules relating to value added tax)
[1st Allocated Day]
Considered in Committee
[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
[Relevant document: The Thirtieth Report from the Treasury Committee, Budget 2012, HC 1910-I.]
Charge for 2012-13 and rates for 2012-13 and subsequent tax years
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 76, page 2, line 4, at end insert—
‘(1) The Treasury shall, within two months of Royal Assent of this Act, publish a report on the additional rate of income tax.
(2) This report shall make recommendations on—
(a) preventing the tax-avoidance measures employed by individuals to avoid making payments at the additional rate of income tax, and
(b) the impact upon Treasury revenue of setting the additional rate to—
(i) 50 per cent and
(ii) 45 per cent in the tax year 2013-14.’.
Amendment 7, page 2, line 5, leave out subsections (3) to (6).
Amendment 62, page 2, line 22, at end add—
‘(7) The Treasury shall, within two months of Royal Assent, make an assessment of the relative administrative costs of—
(a) making an additional charge to income tax payable by all individuals with an adjusted net income above a certain amount; and
(b) the measures in section 8 of, and Schedule 1 to this Act.’.
Clause stand part.
It is a great pleasure to be under your chairmanship, Mr Hoyle.
The legislation we deal with in this House can sometimes appear rather obscure or require a significant amount of interpretation. For financial legislation that is often true in spades, but not so with this Bill, because what do we have, straight off the bat, on page 1, in part 1, chapter 1, clause 1? A tax cut for millionaires—£40,000 for 14,000 millionaires, signed away in one short line, in subsection (2)(c), which cuts the additional top rate of tax from 50p to 45p. Let me be clear: our amendment would get rid of that provision. It would do what we as the Opposition are able to do and strike out from the Bill the change from 50p to 45p. Let there be no doubt whatever: we will be voting to remove paragraph (c) later today.
No; which is why I wanted to nose off on this point. Let us clear out of the way this obscurantist nonsense that we are hearing from those on the Treasury Bench—first from the Prime Minister earlier today and now from the Exchequer Secretary. He will know that protocol dictates that we cannot table an amendment that would straightforwardly put the rate back to 50p. That is what colleagues on the nationalist Benches attempted to do, and they were ruled out of order. However, what has been ruled in order by the senior Clerk responsible for this Bill is precisely what we have done, to try to get rid of the Government’s shift from 50p to 45p. The Government would then need to decide exactly what they would do with that rate, but our view is clear: it should be 50p, as it was previously. That is why we have tabled what we have tabled, on the Clerk’s advice.
I will give the Minister one more chance, but I warn him that he will listen to the country, and the country is telling him that it knows where Labour stands on this issue. We are in favour of keeping the rate at 50p. The Government are getting rid of the 50p rate; the rest is complete nonsense, and smoke and mirrors. If he wants to blow some more smoke, come on up.
The country is aware that Labour did not vote against the change to the 50p rate in our debates on the Budget resolutions, although the nationalists did. It is indeed the case that there would be two income tax charges as a consequence of the amendment that the hon. Gentleman is moving. I do not want to do his job for him, but if he wanted to achieve the objective that he is setting out, he could have tried to remove subsection (2) entirely, but he did not. He has kept the charge at 20% and 40%. If his amendment succeeds, we will have those two rates of income tax next year.
I am not going to indulge in this procedural nonsense much longer, because frankly the country is interested in the substance of the debate. However, if the Exchequer Secretary wants to intervene on me one more time, he can take the opportunity that the Prime Minister eschewed earlier today and correct the misleading comments that he made about the 50p rate, which he said raised no money. We know that it did raise money. We know that page 52 of the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs report makes clear how much money it raised and how much it would have raised in future. If the Exchequer Secretary wants to intervene on that point he can, but as for our amendment, drafted on the Clerk’s advice, we are confident in it, we are happy about it and we will debate the substance rather than the nonsense.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour from Pontypridd for giving way. He will know that my constituents, like his, find it inconceivable that the Government should be trying to reduce the tax rate from 50p to 45p at this time. Will he confirm that literally the only people in this House who can even table an amendment to put it back to 50p are Ministers of the Crown? That is what they should be doing today, rather than hiding behind the procedure of this House.
No, I am not going to give way.
The Government are the ones who could decide today to put the rate back up to 50p. They have chosen to cut it from 50p to 45p. We are not going to indulge in any more of this procedural gibberish. The reality is that we are here to debate the substance of the issue, which is the values and the evidence that underpin the decision.
My hon. Friend has referred to the fact that at Prime Minister’s questions today the Prime Minister said that the 50p tax rate provided no additional income to the Treasury. However, can my hon. Friend confirm what the actual loss to the Treasury would be from reducing the rate to 45p?
I would be absolutely delighted to confirm that, because we have got it in black and white, in the HMRC’s dodgy dossier, as I think of it these days. Page 39 of the HMRC paper says that the post-behavioural yield—that is, the amount of money realised—of the 50p rate for the one year in which it was in existence was £1.1 billion. The summary, on page 2, says the same thing. In answer to my hon. Friend’s supplementary point, the amount of money that would be forgone in forthcoming years, which is captured in table A2 on page 51, is £3 billion, rising to £4 billion over the spending period. That is the reality, there in black and white in the HMRC document. These are not uncertain numbers, like some of the other ones. I will now give way to the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis)—[Interruption]—who is looking off into the ether.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If he disputes the Government’s suggestion that his amendment would reduce the rate to 40%, can he say what it would reduce it to? Also if he thinks it so important that the rate should remain at 50%, why did his Government sit on their hind heels for 13 years before raising it to 50%?
I will answer the hon. Gentleman’s last point first, because I answered it on Monday, too. When we introduced the 50p rate, in the Budget for the year before it took effect—we first floated the notion in 2009, allowing a year for it to be implemented, as is good practice—the rationale was simple. We wanted the people with the broadest shoulders to pay the maximum amount, and to pay an amount that is fair and just. This Government have a different set of priorities.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. On the basis of the confirmation from the official HMRC report that the loss is indeed in excess of £1 billion, does he think that the Prime Minister should be asked to come back to the House and correct the record accordingly?
I do. It is absolutely extraordinary that the Prime Minister should have misled the House in the manner in which he did. However, it is in keeping with the misleading of the House that is writ large throughout the HMRC document, which has frankly come up with this £100 million loss—not flat, as the Prime Minister suggested—with the flimsiest of evidence and on the basis of economic modelling that I intend to take to pieces later on.
There are a couple of points to make. First, there is no uncertainty that 14,000 millionaires will significantly benefit from the change. Where there is uncertainty, however, is in the Government’s arguments about the overall impact on the Exchequer, in terms of tax gained and tax lost. The Select Committee on the Treasury has said today:
“The cost and benefits of reducing the additional tax rate to 45p are both highly uncertain”.
The Government have tried to make an argument, but they have not even got the facts right in the first place to make their argument stick.
The word “uncertain” is used so many times in the various documents that I have lost count. In fact, I must apologise to the Committee. On Monday evening, I said, perhaps with my dander up, that there were three instances in the HMRC document of the words “uncertain” or “uncertainty”, when there are in fact 32 such references—one for just about every page. I shall read out some excerpts from the document later.
The reason that amendment 6 was not selected for debate was that the House had already divided on that matter. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman’s party abstained on that occasion. On his amendment, it is my understanding from the Clerks that there must be an additional rate in the Bill. Is there not therefore a danger that the Government could use his amendment to drop the top rate of tax to 40p, thereby creating a tax break on a tax break? Several Members made that point on Monday.
I suppose that there is a risk of that happening, because the Chancellor has wanted to reduce the rate to 40p all along. He might even want to go lower; perhaps we will get an indication later of how low he and his Ministers think they can go on income tax. With respect to the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), the reason that he gave was not the reason that his amendment was not selected. It was not selected because it is only the Government who can choose to put up taxes—
We do not know—[Laughter.] Conservative Members might laugh, but I would like to see them present some evidence on this, instead of the flannel and rhetoric that we are hearing—[Interruption.] The Minister is waving the HMRC report. Will he point to the part of it that gives definitive data on the impact on competitiveness of any rate of tax? There is nothing about that in the report, which is why he is not getting up to point it out. Come on! Let him show me the part of the report that substantiates the point made by the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss).
Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) has only just walked into the Chamber. He cannot have picked up the debate quite this quickly. He might need a little more time to listen before he intervenes.
We should give the hon. Gentleman time to warm up, but if he wants to intervene to tell me where in the HMRC report we can find a definitive set of data on the impact on competitiveness of the various rates of tax, I will gladly sit down and wait for him to do so.
The document says that all this is highly uncertain. That means that there is a significant possibility that the 50p rate was losing the Government revenue. Would the hon. Gentleman therefore welcome support for his amendment from the Government Benches at 4 o’clock?
I am very pleased that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. His intervention has exposed the fact that Conservative Members do not read the documentation, even though they listen to the flannel from their Front Bench. I repeat that page 39 of the document shows, under the heading “Adjusted impact on 2010-11 tax liabilities”, that the post-behavioural yield is £1.1 billion. It is there in black and white. That is how much money the 50p rate raised. No one is disputing that, and I presume that the Exchequer Secretary is not going to get to his feet and dispute what is written on page 39, or indeed, what is written on page 2, in the summary. I do not think that he is going to do that.
I am not going to give way at the moment. I want to carry on with my speech, then I will give way again. Perhaps by then the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) will have warmed up and will be able to give us some evidence, instead of more rhetoric.
Much has been made of the effect of the top rate of tax on revenue and on competitiveness. Given that the Government have stated their intention to change the top rate of tax, is it not surprising that the Chancellor has said that he is going to initiate
“some real research into dynamic scoring, and what the broader economy effects are of changes to taxation”?
It seems that even the Government do not know the impact of the change in taxation.
I knew it would be worth while giving way to the Treasury spokesman for the Democratic Unionist party. His intervention offers a contrast to some of the more pedantic contributions that we have heard from Conservative Members. He is right to say that it was far too early to make a decision, ostensibly based on evidence, just one year after the implementation of the new tax rate. That is what the Institute for Fiscal Studies has concluded, and it is what the Office for Budget Responsibility has effectively concluded in suggesting how uncertain the conclusions are. It is also, unfortunately, what the country is concluding.
The information in the report shows that the cost to the Treasury of the tax cut will be £3 billion. That is rather conveniently predicated on behavioural change bringing in an extra £2.9 billion. Given that scorn has been poured on that figure of £2.9 billion, what confidence does my hon. Friend have that this tax change will not end up costing the Treasury far more than its report suggests?
I have absolutely no confidence whatever. My hon. Friend’s point goes to the heart of the dodgy economics in the dodgy dossier. The figure of £100 million is entirely predicated on the assumption that there will almost be a net offset of the £3 billion static loss as a result of the change to the 50p rate, through people deciding to work harder, save less, take their income in the current year, and hide their income less. Those are the behavioural changes that the Government are assuming will take place, but there is no real evidence base for the change. It is fundamentally dodgy.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we are debating the difference between those of us who do our economics using evidence and those on the Government Benches who do it using spurious theory? We should all be responsible; we should look at the evidence and report that evidence. That is why it is important that the Prime Minister should return to the House to correct the record.
I am tempted to say to my hon. Friend that the golden phrase “expansionary fiscal contraction” tells us all that we need to know about the ability of those on the Treasury Bench. Expansionary fiscal contraction! That is working really well, isn’t it? It is going splendidly.
If we set aside the shadow Minister’s amendment, which would leave us with a 40p top rate of tax—[Interruption.] Let us set that aside for the moment. My question to him is this: would he reverse the decision on the 50p tax rate if he were in office? A yes or no is all I require.
No, the hon. Gentleman has just heard my answer. Throughout this Parliament, we would not have done that. No tax rate is set in stone for ever, but the question of whether we would reverse that decision is irrelevant because we are not in government. You lot are, and you cut it, but that would not have been our priority. Neither was it the priority of the present Chancellor just 18 months ago. When we introduced the 50p rate, we said that we wanted those with the broadest shoulders to pay the most, in order to deal with the global turmoil—[Interruption.] Members should just listen for a moment. When he was shadow Chancellor, the present Chancellor said that he agreed with us. In October 2009, he said that
“we could not even think of abolishing the 50p rate on the rich while at the same time I am asking many of our public sector workers to accept a pay freeze to protect their jobs. I think we can all agree that would be grossly unfair.”
I still agree with that.
No, there is more from the Chancellor. Conservative Members ought to listen to this, because it is their very competent Chancellor speaking. A year later, in October 2010, he said:
“The public must know that the burden is being fairly shared. That’s why I said last year: we are all in this together. And I am clear…that those with the most”—
like those on the Treasury Bench—
“need to pay more. That is why… I have stuck with the 50p tax”.
Have I missed something over the past 18 months since this Chancellor has been in trouble? As far as I have seen, the economy has flatlined, growth is at absolutely zero, business investment is going nowhere and inflation is rising. The only thing that has fallen recently is unemployment. Thanks be to goodness that it has dipped today, but it is still at 2.6 million, and as I pointed out to the Minister on Monday night, 2,500 people were queuing for 200 jobs at a supermarket in my constituency last week. That is the reality of the economy under this Government, unfortunately.
I am grateful. How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile his enthusiasm for the 50% rate with the view of the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), who said that the 50% rate was temporary? How temporary is temporary for the Labour party?
The 50p rate was introduced, as I said earlier, when we were in the depths of the biggest global recession—[Interruption.] I add the word global, unless Government Members are still suggesting that the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the US was the fault of the Labour Government. Among the many risible claims of the present Government, that is right up there with “expansionary fiscal contraction”. While we are still asking the poor to pay the price for that global recession and piling misery upon misery on them, with VAT changes, increased job insecurity and wage stagnation, cutting the 50p rate is fundamentally the wrong thing to do.
My hon. Friend the shadow Minister has referred to several things that are uncertain, but has it not already become clear that two things are absolutely certain? The first is that the Prime Minister gave us a pork pie earlier when he was talking about how much the 50p rate would raise. Secondly, the only reason there have been so many cock-ups in the Budget and the Finance Bill is that the Government have had to try to justify to the public their cut to the 50p rate. The whole mistake of the Budget hangs on that one initial mistake in cutting the 50p rate.
My hon. Friend has done a very good job of demonstrating that the Government are not at all clear on the figures and the money that will be lost. Does he think that the Government have more clarity about the Mayor’s position on this issue? Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, made eight separate interventions to get this tax reduced, but made no interventions on VAT, no interventions on an increase for pensioners and no interventions on charities. He sought to intervene on behalf of the richest Londoners. My hon. Friend may agree that the Government ought to publish those interventions, so that we can be absolutely clear whether or not the Mayor has any evidence.
Again, I am pleased that I gave way, as I think that is an excellent suggestion, which we really should take up. Of course the series of interventions on the 50p rate from the current Mayor of London—I say current; I hope he will not be Mayor for much longer—and, indeed, the series doubtless coming from the Chancellor’s and Prime Minister’s other wealthy mates, backed up the ideological decision to get rid of it. In fact, I am tempted to say that the cut in the 50p rate gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “mates’ rates”.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that when, in November 2008—for the first time and 11 and a half years into the Labour Government—the suggestion was made to change the higher rate of income tax, the then Chancellor suggested bringing in a 45p rate. Might that rate have been suggested simply because it was felt it would maximise the tax take from it? Is that not one reason the hon. Gentleman is somewhat misguided in supporting this amendment?
No, and I shall get into the technicalities in my response, if I may. When the 45p rate was initially mooted, the recession was not as profound as it subsequently became, justifying the shift to the 50p rate. If we look at the calculations underpinning the suggestions of the 45p and 50p rates, we find that they were informed by the use of a taxable income elasticity number of 0.35, which shows that an even higher rate, nearer 56%, might have been the optimal level for imposing the tax. We did not impose that rate, and—before the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) bobs up and down excitedly—I am not for a minute suggesting we ought to impose it. What I am saying is that there is uncertainty about the optimal rate, which is why it is so foolhardy for this Prime Minister and Chancellor to hang their credibility, and the claim of fiscal neutrality at the heart of their Budget, on economic calculus and economic modelling that is inevitably uncertain. That is the word used 32 times in the document, and I am going to use it some more in a moment. Unfortunately, it shows the truth for this Government.
I entirely appreciate that the hon. Gentleman’s case applies to all sides—that there is much uncertainty about precisely the optimum rate of tax—but does he not accept that the 45p rate mooted three and a half years ago, which has now been put in place, was suggested simply because of the totemic effect of having to pay less than half one’s income at the highest rate of income tax? That totemic effect has a massive impact on both entrepreneurial spirit here and the international competitiveness that my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) mentioned earlier.
What I would accept is that the rate was raised to 50p in the end because we felt that there was still an overriding imperative to help through the period of recession the people in our economy who are the most vulnerable and to ask those who are the most fortunate in our economy to bear the broadest and biggest burden in order to allow that transfer to occur. That is the totemic rationale from our perspective. What is totemic for this Government, I fear, is the idea that the 50p rate is not approved of in the City or by the wealthiest people, but I do not believe that that provides a justification for making this decision—and nor does the Chancellor, which is why he eschewed the possibility of arguing from a political or ideological perspective to justify the cut to 45p. He argued that it was being done on the basis of evidence. In fact, that was the only Keynesian bit of logic in the Chancellor’s Budget speech. He effectively said, “The reason I no longer believe what I believed in 2009 and 2010 is that the facts have changed”, and he changed his view accordingly. In his view, based on the dodgy dossier, the rate was not bringing in the anticipated amount of money, which is what justified paring it back to 45p.
There appears to be an emerging cross-party consensus that there is great uncertainty in this area. Is it not therefore appalling that the Chancellor should go ahead at such short notice without any evidence base? Does that not confirm that he had made up his mind without looking at the evidence?
I hate to say it, but it is worse than that. What happened is that the Chancellor made up his mind, and then made the evidence fit his decision. [Interruption.] I am asked where is the evidence, but 32 times in the one exculpatory piece of evidence provided, the Treasury covered its behind by referring to uncertainty. I shall go through them in a minute, but that shows how often it was necessary to justify this damascene conversion.
I do not know how many times I need to keep telling the hon. Gentleman this, but the simple answer is no. He should turn to page 2 of the document, which clearly says that this rate raised £1 billion; he should turn to page 39, which says that it raised £1.1 billion; he should turn to page 51, which says that it will rise to £3.1 billion next year. These would be the static costs. It goes on to say—[Interruption.] No, £1.1 billion is the actual amount lost to the national accounts as a result of this change. That is a fact. It is not uncertain; it is a fact. The Treasury thinks that the money would have gone up to £3 billion, rising to £4 billion subsequently.
When we get close enough to the next election to write our manifesto, we will write it, and the hon. Lady will be able to see it then. That is the simple answer to her question. Can she tell us exactly what will be in her party’s manifesto at this stage? I do not think so, and I do not intend to tell her what will be in ours. We will decide.
I wonder what the Tory manifesto will say about the NHS and VAT at the next election. I suspect that it will not say that the Tories will look after the former or fail to increase the latter, because no one would believe them any longer, would they?
Let us be clear. The document says that £3 billion would be the static cost of a cut in the rate to 45p. It also says that the behavioural change based on the magic of Arthur Laffer’s cocktail napkin calculus would generate £2.9 billion. Unfortunately, as I have said, HMRC is not terribly certain about that, which is why it has covered its rear so often.
I promised to give the Committee a few examples of the use of the words “uncertain” and “uncertainty”, which occur more than 30 times in the document, and I cannot resist doing so, because they are so juicy. The document states that
“the yield estimates were highly uncertain.”
“There is considerable uncertainty over the true level of the elasticity.”
“The incompleteness of returns at this stage gives the results and conclusions a margin of uncertainty.”
In fact, there is so much uncertainty in it that there is a separate section entitled “Areas of uncertainty”. My personal favourite appears on page 38, where uncertainty is expressed about the uncertainty. In an attempt to estimate the behavioural effects, the document states:
“The level of uncertainty associated with this estimate is therefore driven by the uncertainty of all the other stages described above.”
Why is the document so uncertain? The reason, in short, is taxable income elasticity or TIE. The Treasury decided that the appropriate TIE for the calculation of a £100 million loss was 0.45; not the standard number that the previous Treasury had used, 0.35, and not—I look forward to an intervention on this point—the standard numbers used in the vast welter of academic research which puts a delta at between 0.12 and 0.4. The figure of 0.46, which is used in this Treasury document, is at the very top end of the possible delta. Even if it were true that 0.45 is appropriate, however, the uncertainty would still be enormous. All we need do is shift the figure slightly to 0.35, and what do we find? Not a £100 million loss, but a loss of £700 million. If we shift it nearer to the 0.12 that has been used in many United States studies, we see a loss to the tune of between £3 billion and £4 billion.
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told the Treasury Committee, whose report was published only today, that the Treasury’s
“central estimate… is incredibly uncertain, to the extent that we think that its estimate suggests there is only a two-thirds probability that a revenue-maximising rate lies between 30 per cent and 75 per cent.”
That is what the IFS had to say about what the optimal rate might be on the basis of the Treasury’s calculus. Mr Johnson continued:
“Those numbers are absurd in some sense, but that gives you a sense of the level of numbers of assumption and uncertainty that underlie what”
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the academic debate. May I refer him to page 20 of the HMRC document, which relates to the IFS study? It states that Brewer, Saez and Shephard estimated a TIE of 0.46 in 2008, and Gruber and Saez estimated a TIE of between 0.5 and 0.7. It also states:
“The TIE estimate of 0.35 used in the Budget 2010… estimate”
—which the hon. Gentleman described as “standard”—
“was deliberately at the low end of the academic elasticities surveyed.”
The 0.45 TIE is much more consistent with the academic position than the claims of the last Government.
I am thrilled to have given way to the Minister, because his intervention has revealed that, although he may have read the dodgy dossier, he has not read the academic literature. If he had done so, he would have read more recent publications such as that of Saez, Slemrod and Giertz, which is a review of all the pieces of work done on TIE. It concluded that many of the earlier studies, including the HMRC study, had relied on estimates that were excessively high owing to flaws in the data and the methodology used. Saez et al suggested that
“the best available estimates range from 0.12 to 0.40”.
That is the same Saez from whose earlier paper the Minister quoted. In his most recent paper, he changed his mind and concluded that between 0.12 and 0.4 was the generally accepted estimate. The Treasury has cooked the figures on the basis of one academic study produced as part of the Mirrlees review.
Absolutely. The key correlation is not between top rates of tax and GDP. There is very little evidence of that. However, there is evidence that top rates of tax have a massive impact on the distribution of wealth across the deciles, and are concentrated on the richest percentage of our economy. That is the truth, and that is why the Government ought not to have made the decisions that they made.
All this stuff may seem rather arcane, but it is central to the Budget. If the Treasury got it wrong—if the amount that will be lost is not £100 million, but a great deal more—the neutrality of the Budget is bust, as is the credibility of the Government. Who will pay the price of that bust? It will not be the 14,000 millionaires who are 40 grand better off as a result of the extraordinary largesse from this millionaires’ Government. It will be the pensioners, the unemployed, the vulnerable, and squeezed middle-earning and low-earning families throughout the country, who will be £500 worse off as a result of this Government’s activities.
We fear that that is the price that will be paid. We believe that written into clause 1 are the priorities and the politics of the Government, which are ideological, value-driven and fundamentally wrong: wrong for this time, and wrong for this country. That is why we will vote against the proposed change and in favour of our amendment, and we hope that Government Members will look to their consciences and do the same.
I am delighted to see the back of the 50p tax rate. Of all the shallow, politically motivated activities of the last Government, it was possibly the worst. They spent 13 years enjoying the fruits of the 40% top rate of tax that had been put in place by our reforming Chancellor Lord Lawson in 1988. It was a bold move at the time to create a top tax rate at that level, but, as we have seen, other countries around the world have been reforming their tax systems and tax rates in order to become competitive and to face the other countries—the emerging economies—that are now competing on the world stage.
The 50p tax rate was announced in the 2009 Budget, five weeks before the last general election—an election the Labour party knew it would lose. Can things get any more cynical? That was the ultimate scorched-earth policy, and it has done enormous damage to our economy. Labour knew the economics were flawed, and the increase in the tax rate from 40p to 50p raised only a third of the £3 billion it had predicted. Meanwhile, between £16 billion and £18 billion was moved forward into income in the previous year, diverting productive activity from industries that we needed to thrive in order to keep our economy going during the recession. The change to the rate was made purely for political motives.
I am not quite sure whether their amendment expresses what they wanted it to express. As with the HMRC report, there may be some uncertainty about what exactly the Opposition intend to do.
First, the introduction of the 50p tax rate diverted resources from the productive economy at a very important time—just as we were heading into the worst recession, thanks to the dreadful economic policies of the previous Government.
How can people postponing their income from one tax year to another, but nevertheless presumably still getting that income, prove so damaging to the economy? Is the hon. Lady suggesting that, having got the income a year early, they simply sent it abroad? Surely it can still be invested.
When income is artificially moved from one year to the next, it is not properly used for investing in projects. Under the previous Government, a lot of expenditure went into unproductive areas of the economy. Much of it went on excessive public spending and into the property industry, leaving us with the scorched-earth situation that we have had to address.
The signal that the previous Government sent to the rest of the world was that Britain was anti-aspiration, anti-business and anti-work. That happened at a time of increasing international competition, as it is now ever easier to move people and capital around the world because of improved technology and globalisation. Other countries were reforming their tax system, however, so as they were moving forwards, we were moving backwards.
Yes, and perhaps some Opposition Front-Bench Members should move to France, where they might find that such policies are more conducive to their way of thinking.
At this time of increased international competition and great movements of people and capital around the world, and with new economies rising such as in India and China, according to the World Economic Forum Britain is 94th in the world in respect of the effect and extent of our taxation. One factor in that is the top rate of tax under the previous Government, and another is the extremely long tax code, which is a result of their meddling with our tax system over many years.
The UK is 11% less productive than the G7 average, and our skills base is lower than that of the US, France and Germany. If we are to become competitive again and improve our productivity and skills, we need incentives for people in this country to work and to invest in their skills, and we need to rebalance the tax system away from income tax and taxes on work such as national insurance, which the previous Government increased. We also need to reform our education and welfare systems and take the 2 million lowest earners out of tax, in order to give everybody more incentive to work. We must also merge our income tax and national insurance system to make things simpler for employers. We need to get rid of the previous Government’s flagship 50p tax rate as well, as it has done so much damage to people in this country who are seeking to work, to invest and to be part of building our future economy.
The Government have made it clear that we want shareholders to have proper control over executive pay in their companies, and that must happen. People must be rewarded in line with the skills they use, the risks they take and the income they generate. We need incentives for people to set up businesses, and to create and produce more. We also need to look outside Britain and see what the rest of the world is doing. We need to move away from the myopic approach that it does not matter what is going on elsewhere. If our country takes that approach, we will not succeed.
I had not intended to speak in this debate, but the previous—[Interruption.] I am grateful for all the waves from Government Members. The contribution of the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) has prompted me to speak, however.
First, I want to talk about what my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) referred to as the constitutional shenanigans. For many centuries, it has been a convention in this House that only a Minister of the Crown can lay a charge or an amendment to a Finance Bill that increases or changes a charge and thereby adds a duty to the people of this country, but that is a mistake. The myth that we have a Budget needs to be exploded, too. We do not have a Budget. What we have is a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, followed by a Finance Bill and some Ways and Means resolutions. In addition, we have a separate process whereby Supply is granted. That system does not result in our properly evaluating whether we are raising money properly and fairly and whether we are spending it properly. I know many of these processes have existed for a very long time, but they lead to profound confusion in most ordinary voters’ minds about how we in this House conduct our business.
Does the hon. Gentleman therefore join Members on my side of the House in applauding the Government for establishing the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is conducting independent forecasting and analysis of the Budget, and for putting far more information than before in the Red Book about the distributional impact of tax changes on the people of this country?
Broadly speaking, yes, I do, just as I supported making the Bank of England independent at a time when the Conservative party was opposed to doing so. However, my point remains that this House does not really vote properly through the expenditure of the Government; we do not, in any sense, analyse it line by line. We also do not match expenditure with the raising of taxes, unlike nearly every other legislature in the world. Most countries that have based their system on ours have now amended their processes and have better processes than we do for budgetary matters.
I entirely associate myself with the comments made, because the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I hope that most Government Members would also agree with what is being said. He might also point out that it is probably difficult, given that we have a deficit of £126 billion, to match that expenditure with tax, and going down that route might well lead to the significant reduction in the deficit that many Government Members very much support.
I do not entirely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. However, if the Government want to take the country with them as they are taking through enormous cuts, it is important that they have a process in Parliament that people can understand. We simply do not have that, which is one reason why people are so angry about some of the cuts that are happening.
I commend the hon. Gentleman on what he says and associate myself fully with his remarks. May I ask whether the Opposition Front-Bench team would support amendments to Standing Orders to put our tax and spend process on the proper basis that he describes?
That is way above my pay grade. I am just speaking for myself in this regard, and I hope that hon. Members will take my comments in that sense, but I have made this argument for a very long time and tried to do the same when I was Deputy Leader of the House.
I just say to the hon. Member for South West Norfolk that my constituents do not particularly want very high rates of tax, either for themselves or for wealthy people. There is no sense of bitterness and a determination to grind the wealthy down among my constituents, many of whom have very noble aspirations to be wealthy themselves. They hope one day to be paying higher rates of tax, so the point for them today is not about whether a 50p rate of tax is ever the right thing; it is about whether that is the right thing now. I say to her that my constituents feel that the past few years have been very tough, not just the Conservative years, but the last two years of the Labour Government, because of the global financial crisis. People such as my constituents have suffered the most in that time and they do not see people in the City of London suffering—the sales of champagne have still been pretty good—but they do feel themselves suffering. In that situation, it is all the more incumbent on us to think very hard before lessening the tax rate for the wealthiest.
The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is a political one. Is not the crucial issue here the economics and what will actually benefit his constituents? Should he not be considering the issues of whether they will have jobs, whether new businesses will flourish and whether people will aspire to work harder? Rather than the political presentation, should he not be considering the economic case?
I will deal with the economic case, but this is where I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Lady ideologically. I do not think we can put economics and politics into separate boxes; the one drives the other. If we want a happier country, where people prosper because they feel that the whole of society is engaged in the same endeavour, we have to make sure that it feels as if everyone has equally got their—I am going to get my metaphors all mixed up—shoulder to the grindstone. I say to Government Members that in my constituency it does not feel that that is the case at the moment. It feels as if the poor are having a very rough time, and there is very little prospect of changing that. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd said that 2,700 unemployed people in his constituency were going for 200 jobs. The statistics are even worse just up the road in my constituency. It is not a question of someone getting on their bike and going somewhere else to find a job, which is why the politics matter. I am talking not about party politics, but about the sense of whether we are genuinely all in this together.
The hon. Gentleman has made a powerful point in comparing the incomes of people in his constituency with those of some in the City of London. But in order to raise the wealth and prosperity of people in his constituency and in every other constituency across the UK, particularly those in the north, Wales and Scotland, do we not need to attract investors and to attract the best brains in the world? That 50% rate is extremely important in respect of providing investment to his constituency, my constituency and others of hon. Members across this House.
I do not want a 50p rate to last for ever and I accept that the City of London plays a very important role in the whole UK economy, but I tell the hon. Gentleman that I feel anxious that this country’s economy depends far too much on what happens in London and the south-east. My fear about the way in which this policy has been developed in the past few months is that the Government intend to increase that dependency, rather than undermine it. I know that there are logical arguments to say that we should have different pay rates for public sector jobs in different parts of the country—
Just one moment. However, I say to Government Members that if they do that, they will further exacerbate the gap between peripheral parts of the economy—places such as the Rhondda and the Vale of Glamorgan—and the south-east of England and London. That will undermine the very competitiveness that the hon. Member for South West Norfolk is trying to advance.
I also disagree with the move that the Government are making because, politically, it sanctions the process of avoiding paying tax, in which some wealthy people have engaged. I have not been in this place for that long—just for 11 years—but in that time I have heard an awful lot of Chancellors say, “The solution to this is to close a tax loophole.” However many times we try to close these loopholes, wealthy people will still employ accountants to try to minimise how much tax they pay. I would prefer to live in a country where the vast majority of wealthy people said, “You know what, I am a wealthy person and I want to contribute my fair share. However easily I can legally avoid paying tax, I actually want to pay my fair contribution.”
If hon. Members bear with me, I will give way. I have already promised to give way to the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), so I will do so in a moment. I just say that the message coming out of this is, “Frankly Mr Wealthy Person or Mrs Wealthy Person, if you have not got an accountant and you are not trying to minimise how much tax you are paying, you are pretty daft.” That is a bad place for us to be in ethically.
I apologise for stopping the hon. Gentleman in mid-flow on two occasions, but I would like to ask him whether he accepts that for people in business, who are creating wealth and—we hope—employing a lot of people and investing money, a very high personal income tax rate is a disincentive to doing that. Does he accept that however public-spirited business people are—in my experience, most people do take the view that he put forward and they are prepared to pay a reasonable rate of tax; they do not try to avoid paying every penny and they want to contribute to society—a high tax rate is a disincentive and would lead to a lot of people saying, “I am just not going to do the extra and employ more people”?
Broadly speaking, of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman; a very high tax rate could act as a disincentive to many people and, as the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) was intimating, could make this country uncompetitive compared with other countries. However, I just ask two questions in return, the first of which is: what counts as a “very high” tax rate? That is a judgment call; it is about our rate relative to that of others and whether we have the balance right. My second question is: given that, when is the right time to change? I just say to hon. Members that now is not the time, because this country will gird our economic loins and start seeing economic growth only if everybody does genuinely feel we are all in it together. This move undermines that precise point.
The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech and some serious points. He talks about the relativity of the level at which we set income tax, but of course we must not forget that it is not just 50p because there is national insurance on top, taking one over the 60p mark to 62p. Some of the things we need to look at are the behavioural changes we saw when income was moved to avoid the 50p rate when it was first brought in, and the disparity between corporation tax and capital gains tax. When income is taxed at 62% but capital gains and corporation tax rates are much lower, those very wealthy individuals who are creating wealth have options to move money around, so there will be behavioural change as we go up the income tax scale and create that differential.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Broadly speaking, I agree with elements of what he said. For example, it is a mistake, as hon. Members have said, to seek to tax people solely via their income because that is not the sole determinant of wealth and therefore of what one should put into the national pot. Similarly, I am quite critical of those in my constituency who say, “Mrs Jones down the road—she’s never paid tax.” Nobody never pays tax because everybody pays VAT in some shape or form; everybody makes some kind of contribution. My fundamental point is that now is not the right time to change the top rate. We are living in austere times and if the country is to gird its economic loins, we need everyone to be on the same side, but this measure is relatively divisive.
I am not going to give way to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) again—[Interruption.] No, he gestures that his intervention would be short but the last one went on for ever, so I am going to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) instead.
May I draw my hon. Friend back to his remark about the ethics of this issue? The ethics of whether people feel as though we are all making a contribution turn very much on what is happening around this rate of tax. Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said:
“The truth is we still do not know the true effect of the 50p rate on revenues.”
Does not this make it extremely difficult to make the right political and ethical choice at this time?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, I think she must have been reading my notes, which were very close to her face, because they say that it is completely uncertain how much this will cost. That is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd said, at the nub of this. The Government have no idea how much this is going to cost them or how much would have been raised had we continued with the 50p rate of tax for another five years. That rate has not been in place long enough for us genuinely to see how it has affected people’s behaviour. Sometimes, when a new rate of tax is brought in it has a sudden impact that then evaporates two or three years later. There is absolutely no certainty and I say to Government Members, who I am sure are going to march loyally through the Lobby with the Exchequer Secretary this afternoon not because he is persuasive but because they believe in this—[Interruption.] He may be persuasive, but I do not think he is going to persuade me. I say to them that I think this will end up being a divisive measure.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I want to draw his attention and that of the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) to a point about ethics. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government intend to increase the tax take from the wealthiest in this country? Where ethics are concerned, it is appalling that people have deliberately used a company to buy a multi-million pound house simply to avoid paying stamp duty. Does he accept that taking measures to ensure that people pay what is a reasonable and acceptable level of tax is a better method than trying to enforce something that is very easily avoidable for many people?
Well, I am really impressed by the hon. Lady. I can understand how my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South read my notes but not how the hon. Lady managed to read them from over there. I was going to come to exactly the point she makes but not quite in the same way. Yes, there is an ethical clash about whether this is the right time to introduce this measure for political and economic reasons, but my concern is that because the Chancellor had, I think, personally decided that he was going to cut the 50p rate to 45p, so many other elements of the Budget had to follow that change. A prime example is the fact that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor wanted to be able to say that the rich would pay five times more tax after the Budget than before—I think that is, broadly speaking, the point that the hon. Lady is making. I am not opposed to some of the measures that will increase the amount of tax paid by people who have wealth in a variety of circumstances, but I think that some of the measures in the Budget and the Finance Bill ended up there only to try to shore up that argument, and I do not think that due diligence was done around them.
Let me take one example—I note the look in your eye, Mr Hoyle, and I shall bring my remarks to a close very soon. I think that the measure about capping the tax relief available for people giving money to charities is in the Budget solely so that the Government can argue that the rich will pay more. It is not based on fact or research. There might be perfectly good things we could do on whether charities outside this country that are not covered by the Charity Commission should be removed from the system or on whether greater powers should be given to the commission, but I think that the only reason that the measure was in the Budget was so that the Government could say that tax has increased. This has left the Chancellor and the Prime Minister somewhat double-faced—I shall not say two-faced, because obviously I could not. On the one hand they are saying that the top rate of tax should go down and the rich should not pay so much and, on the other, they are saying that the rich should pay more.
I hope that I have persuaded all the hon. Members on the Government side to change their mind. I see that I have persuaded the reckless Member over there, the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), to support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd.
I do not think it is necessary for me to speak to amendment 1 because my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) and others have, in their interventions, destroyed the Opposition’s argument. I recall that the TaxPayers Alliance organised a wonderful celebratory dinner not long ago, in the Guildhall I think, at which the guest of honour was none other than Dr Laffer of the Laffer curve. I am delighted that the Treasury is now paying more attention to the principles behind the Laffer curve, which, in my view, are well represented in the argument for reducing the top rate of tax back to 40%, rather than 45%. I hope that in due course my hon. Friend the Minister will explain why someone like me should not be tempted to vote for amendment 1 on the basis that it would reduce the level to 40%.
Dr Laffer did not bring any visual aids with him; he was able to command his audience without them. I remember being surprised by how relatively youthful he was—it seemed that his principles and his curve had been talked about for so long that I had assumed he was going to come in with a walking stick, but he did not. He was very lively in mind, body and spirit so I think he is someone we can continue to listen to in the months and years ahead.
I want to use my short speech to comment on amendment 62, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless). It calls on the Treasury to
“within two months of Royal Assent, make an assessment of the relative administrative costs of…making an additional charge to income tax payable by all individuals with an adjusted net income above a certain amount; and…the measures in section 8 of, and Schedule 1 to this Act.”
The background is my concern that the provisions in clause 8 and schedule 1 relating to child benefit—the income tax charge for those on higher incomes—introduce enormous unfairness and complexity. There must be another way to meet the Government’s avowed objective to ensure that those on higher incomes contribute more to deficit reduction than they have hitherto. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs produced a technical document to accompany the Finance Bill and the Budget. In the section headed “Child Benefit: Income Tax Charge for Those on Higher Incomes”, it states under “Policy Objective”:
“In order to address the fiscal deficit the Government believes that it is right to ask those on higher incomes to contribute more.”
I do not disagree, but the document does not say that it is right for those on higher incomes with children to contribute more while those on higher incomes without children do not. As it is not possible to table an amendment to increase a charge in the Budget, but only to propose to reduce taxation or to oppose the Government’s proposals, I thought the best way to introduce discussion was to ask the Government to produce a report on the relative administrative costs for the option of going ahead with clause 8 and schedule 1, or for introducing a uniform charge for all those earning more than £60,000.
On Second Reading I gave some rough figures. The Government’s proposals would yield about £1.5 billion a year, but if instead there was a charge on all those earning more than £60,000 a year, the yield would be £2 billion. Not only would the yield be higher, but the costs of administration and collection would be much lower and the opportunities for confusion, fraud and evasion much reduced. I hope that my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary will tell us that the Government will look into whether it is right that we should increase the complexity of the tax system when the Government’s avowed intent is to reduce it.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the estimates of administrative and staff costs the Government have given us for the higher income child benefit charge are actually somewhat higher than the entire revenue that they estimate, with some uncertainty, we will lose from reducing the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p?
Is my hon. Friend concerned that the estimate is likely to be somewhat conservative? Many people are employed as consultants, so they do not know from one year to another whether they will be earning between £50,000 and £60,000. Huge costs will be involved in trying to collect the money, and I dare say a massive amount will have to be written off year on year if the charge goes through as proposed.
My hon. Friend makes a series of good points that are recognised in the HMRC document to which I have referred. It says that the definition of a partnership will be the same as the one in the Tax Credits Act 2002, yet we already know that the Act and the technical manual that flowed from it resulted in an enormous administrative burden for those trying to work out who formed a couple, or when partnerships began or ended. There is a great file of documentation on how to interpret the tax credit definitions of partnership when people are cohabiting, whether or not they are in civil partnerships. The complications of the child tax credit system have resulted in a lot of fraud.
If we apply new rules to a fresh group of taxpayers and for the first time introduce in the tax system definitions of couples and partnerships, we shall create an enormous administrative burden. The document notes that the overall impact will be that HMRC will have to spend approximately £100 million on staff resources. If we say that that is £20 million a year—although it is actually more—at an average cost of £30,000 for a member of staff, we should be taking on 650 extra staff just to administer the removal of child benefit from 1 million families who currently enjoy it.
That is not the end of the story. We also have the problem that 500,000 tax-paying families who previously have not had to make a tax return will now have to do so. That is not mentioned in the cost analysis, but it is a cost on the tax-paying public that will not be borne by the Exchequer.
The proposal is highly flawed, as the Treasury Committee has recognised. Paragraph 23 of its report on the Budget notes:
“We recognise that the Government needs to take difficult decisions to tackle the Budget deficit. Nonetheless, the Government’s latest proposals for reform of Child Benefit solve only one of the two main problems identified with its original policy. They add further complexity.”
That conclusion is based on evidence the Committee received from the Chartered Institute of Taxation, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales and other experts. They all drew attention to the complexity involved, and some of them pointed out the odd distinction between the child benefit charge and the justification articulated by the Chancellor for removing the age allowance for the over-65s. During the Budget debates, the Chancellor told us that the main justification for removing the age allowance was to bring about simplification, yet that will be the reverse of the added complexity that he is introducing through the child benefit tax charge.
I hope we shall have a bit of give from the Government. If they want everybody on a higher income to make an additional and fair contribution to deficit reduction, will they tell us why their proposals are targeted on those on higher incomes with children, while those on higher incomes who do not have children are excluded? I hope the debate will give us the opportunity to get answers from the Government on those points.
Does the hon. Gentleman also hope to have clarification from the Government of why, if the measure is about deficit reduction, they have refused to say that it will be reviewed or revised when the deficit is reduced? It will not necessarily be temporary, whereas the Chancellor was very clear that the 50p rate, while he adhered to it, would only be temporary.
Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. He may be of an age to recall what happened in the 1970s when we had the International Monetary Fund dictating to the then Labour Government what they should do to bridge the fiscal deficit that existed then. One of the measures that was introduced as a result was, in effect, an income tax surcharge which was retrospective for a year, but everybody who had been paying tax at a particular level had to pay a surcharge to help deficit reduction.
It would be possible for the Government to do something similar in this Budget to put a time limit on that, but the problem is that because of the enormity of the mess that the previous Administration made of things, we will not begin to reduce the debt until well on into the next five or seven years. In the meantime our debt will go beyond £1.5 trillion, so I am not sure that if we introduced a time limit, it could be an early time limit. It might have to be reviewed by Government in about 20 years. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. Before he intervened, I was about to conclude my remarks as I know that many more colleagues wish to lay into the Opposition on their wholly misconceived amendment 1.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Hoyle, and to contribute to the debate. I shall speak to amendments 7 and 76, in my name and that of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), relating to the cut in the additional rate of income tax, and consequential amendments. I intend to press amendment 76 to a Division at the appropriate time unless, of course, it is accepted by the Treasury.
Despite heavy lobbying over the past year to remove the 50p additional rate of tax, the switch to a lower rate of 45p was one of the more surprising announcements in the Budget last month. It had been assumed by many that the Government mantra of being “in it together” meant that it would be politically necessary to show that all parts of society were paying more tax and facing the same level of public service cuts. Many therefore assumed that the 50p rate would be with us for at least as long as the Government maintained their plan A for cutting the deficit. After all, pressing issues such as Barnett formula reform have been conveniently parked in the name of the war on the deficit.
For my party, the issue is a matter of principle, irrespective of the timing and the state of the wider economy. Those with the broadest shoulders should bear the burden of taxation. A progressive taxation system based on the Scandinavian model is part of our political DNA. Someone who earns at the additional rate of £3,000 of taxable income per week is clearly in that category. Only a handful of people who earn that kind of money reside in my constituency. We therefore support the maintenance of the current 50p additional rate.
As I made clear in my speech on Second Reading on Monday, my opposition to this tax cut is on the record, as I voted against it during the Budget votes last month. The income tax rates for 2013-14 were one of the founding resolutions of the Budget, and offer very little scope for change today. My amendment 6, which would mean that the additional rate would be 50%, appears on the amendment paper but was not selected.
Hon. Members can therefore imagine my surprise that the official Opposition did not join my colleagues from a variety of smaller parties in opposing this measure on 26 March. That was the vote against a cut in the additional rate, but the Labour party unfortunately abstained, apart from two honourable exceptions. The hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) representing the official Opposition kindly allowed me to intervene on her during the debate on Monday. I asked her to confirm whether this was a deliberate or a tactical abstention. Her response was that the Opposition had voted against the whole Finance Bill and that was sufficient.
The hon. Lady’s answer would have been a semi-appropriate response, were it not for the fact that, if my memory serves me well, her party divided the House on resolution No. 8 on higher income benefit. Clearly, some resolutions were more important than others that evening.
Just to clarify, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) made plain, we had already voted against the whole Bill. There was a further reason for not supporting the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, which was that unfortunately it would have wiped out all the rates of taxation, not only the 50p rate.
May I help the hon. Gentleman? The motion on which he voted against the Government related to the tax charges for 2013-14. With apologies to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), it would not have wiped out all the tax rates for this year. It was specifically for next year. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) is right. It would not have had the impact that the hon. Member for Pontypridd suggested.
I am grateful for that clarification.
The idea that the Tories would offer a tax break to millionaires would surprise nobody in my constituency—in fact, they would expect it—but that Labour would abstain after announcing it would vote against it has led to a great deal of confusion. I have had a lot of fun on the doorstep in the past few weeks explaining that, while campaigning for the local authority elections. It is similar to the way the official Opposition announced the policy of a temporary cut in VAT last June, then two weeks later abstained on the Finance Bill when I and my colleagues proposed such a measure. A lack of consistency and clarity on economic matters explains why it is so easy for the Government to continue to pin the blame on the official Opposition for the UK’s economic mess in spite of the flawed and ideological cuts programme which is destroying the fabric of the economy.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that 12 months ago there was a similar set of circumstances, when the Labour Opposition said on three occasions that they opposed the rise in VAT, continued to say that they were opposed to the rise in VAT, but on three occasions failed to vote against it?
The issue was not invented there so the Opposition could not vote for it, whereas although I disagree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), I credit him with being principled, and principled in his voting, rather than trying to have it both ways, like Labour.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I am very fond of him, so may I give him a tip? It is not to believe what he reads in newspapers, not to believe what he reads by Guido Fawkes—most hon. Members would agree with that—and not to listen to Liberal Democrats, who will support and vote for the cut from 50p to 45p, but to focus his anger on the Government, who are introducing this change.
I am grateful for that intervention. I am coming to that. Unfortunately, the papers did not report Labour’s shameless record on some of these issues.
Monday’s Second Reading saw Members from both sides continuing to trade a barrage of figures to explain why the additional rate should be cut or remain as it is. I thought the contribution from the hon. Member for Pontypridd on Monday night was excellent in explaining the political and economic value of the 50p rate. It is clear that there is no agreement over the mechanics of the issue, and given that Labour’s agreement to the 50p rate in the first place was based on revenue-raising rather than principle, that is a very important fact.
The Treasury should therefore instigate a report on the income-shifting and avoidance measures used to lower the amount of tax paid under the additional rate, and on possible revenue from a 50% and a 45% rate, taking into consideration the outlying factors that always impact heavily on the first year of any tax innovation. Such a report would clarify the situation and allow the House to make a considered judgment one way or the other in the next Finance Bill. As always, the majority of people pay the tax that they should, but there are some who will always try to avoid as much as possible.
The artificial shock of the Chancellor at the scale of tax avoidance suggests that he takes Members of this House for fools. Although I accept the argument for a relationship between a lower taxation rate and economic growth and perhaps larger revenues, I find that argument counter-intuitive for income tax rates on this occasion. The majority of those who seek to avoid paying income tax at 50% will, I suspect, also seek to avoid paying it at 45%—and, as the Government contend over the 50% rate, they will have the resources to avoid doing so.
My amendment 76, which would require a review, neatly coincides with the Opposition’s amendment, so I assume that when my amendment is pressed to a vote they will join us in the Lobby. After all, they have already signed up to my amendment 7, which, I shall explain for the benefit of the Committee, is consequential on the additional rate changes relating to dividend and trust payments, the transferring of retirement benefits to a non-additional rate tax payer and the notional tax credit attached to some capital payments. We look forward to dividing on amendment 76 at the appropriate time.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) and, of course, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who should take heart from the fact that although our initial reaction on the Government Benches perhaps disproves the adage that everybody goes crazy about a sharp-dressed man, we agreed with some of the points he made, which were valid. I will cover in my speech some of the points on which I perhaps do not agree with him.
Not on purpose.
We were told during the dying days of the previous Labour Government that the 50p tax rate was always intended to be a temporary measure. That remark came from very near the top level, as it was made by the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling). Many of us suspect, however, that at the top of that economically discredited Labour Government, the then Prime Minister, who is now much missed in his absence, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), had a more political plan, perhaps with three prongs. First, the 50p tax rate was a bone to throw to the Opposition’s political masters who run the unions. It said, “Look how we are clobbering those who earn—or should I say ‘are paid’—slightly more than you.” Secondly, it was part of the Labour party's scorched-earth policy, a desperate act up there with the protectionist decision of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath further to increase the indebtedness of our armed forces’ budgets by ensuring the most watertight contract, despite the fact that Whitehall lawyers are not renowned for their prowess in closing legal loopholes, for two new aircraft carriers, which funnily enough were not to be built in English or Conservative Members’ constituencies.
Not at this stage.
Thirdly, the 50p tax rate was designed to be something that any new Government would have to address at some time early in the next Parliament and to reduce to an acceptable level to ensure the competitiveness of our nation in the international marketplace.
In a minute.
One hopes that the Labour party knows and realises that the 50p tax rate it introduced for spurious reasons made our country economically uncompetitive, but it has never let the truth get in the way of a good soundbite, has it? It is not fair to say that the reduction in the 50p tax rate and other measures announced in the Budget are a tax break for the wealthiest because, in total, the measures announced will see the wealthiest paying many times more.
Order. I think we are having a few too many interventions. I say to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that although the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) might have broken his leg, he obviously did not break his tongue, which he ought perhaps to hold a little more.
Thank you, Mr Hoyle for letting me continue. I feel I ought to correct what might be an untruth: I did not break the leg of the hon. Member for Rhondda. I gave him quite a good pass—not even a hospital pass—on the rugby field and the two large gentlemen who were about to tackle me then tackled him.
The independent Office for Budget Responsibility agrees that the 50p rate raises only a fraction of what was supposedly intended. So, one of my questions to the Chancellor and his Ministers is whether they know of any reason why any Member would disagree with the highly respected OBR other than for disingenuous political gain.
The 50p rate is bad economics. The previous Labour Government’s Chancellors and Prime Ministers and the Labour party’s current shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), are well aware of that privately but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge it publicly. Ultimately, it is the highest tax rate in the G20. Our Government are clear where they stand on the 50p tax rate: it has not raised anywhere near the revenue expected as many individuals cleverly engaged their own or their accountants’ knowledge to bypass the rate and lower their tax bills. The Government have now sent out a clear signal to the international community that Britain is open for business and will no longer have the highest tax rate in the G20. The same clear signal cannot be said to be coming from those on the Opposition Benches.
Not at this point.
It has been interesting—and would be again—to hear from the Chancellor or his Ministers what positive signs we have seen from businesses after he announced the change. Once again, why does the Labour party fly in the face of business leaders’ opinion? As I have said, the 50p tax rate raises only a fraction of what was intended and is bad economics. It is better to put the British economy first, ahead of cheap headlines, but then that was never the Labour way, was it? One would have thought by now that Labour might have learnt some economic lessons.
The cut in the 50p tax rate was never a priority of this Government. Raising the personal tax allowance and helping low and middle income earners has always been the No. 1 priority tax cut for the Government and that is what we have done. This is a Budget to be welcomed by all with far-reaching tax reform that Labour should be embarrassed it never even considered. It announces the largest ever increase in the personal tax allowance, which will benefit 24 million ordinary families up and down our country. Most basic rate taxpayers will gain at least £220 every year. In total, this Government will have taken 2 million low paid people out of tax altogether.
Labour spent much of the aftermath of the recent budget indulging in photo calls in unfamiliar territory for Labour Members—any pasty shop they could find. Even an unannounced visit to my own constituency of Lincoln by the photogenic brother of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), featured such a stunt. Among all this new-found fondness for pasties, but perhaps notably not for one bottle of a famous brown sauce, the Leader of the Opposition has strongly criticised the decision to cut the top rate from 50p.
The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) made a laughable claim when he said:
“After today’s Budget, millions will be paying more while millionaires pay less.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2012; Vol. 452, c. 809.]
He is the true heir to Blair, is he not? Soundbite, not substance—and not even basic mathematical understanding. After this Budget, not only will millions of people pay less tax, but many low earners will pay little or no income tax. If, as we know, the 50p top rate raised only a fraction of what was intended and in addition harmed our international competitiveness and, as other Budget changes have ensured that the direct cost of the reduction to a top rate of 45p has been mitigated many times over, that should surely be welcomed by Members on both sides of this House.
The hon. Gentleman asks whether I am sure. The record is open to scrutiny. In local government in Northern Ireland, when the Democratic Unionist party is in control of any council its rates are the lowest. In the Northern Ireland Administration at Stormont, where again we have control of the finances, we have more generous tax allowances for manufacturing industry and we have held local taxation frozen at the same point for the past four years and for the next three years. The hon. Gentleman asks from a sedentary position whether we are sure, but we stand on our record. When we have the ability to influence or the possibility of influencing taxation, we want to be a party of low taxation.
My comments in this debate are predicated on such policy and should be set against that background. I want to address the reduction in the top level of tax from 50% to 45%, which I believe is a huge political mistake for the Government. More importantly, I believe that it will impact on the ability to deliver sound fiscal policy and economic policy across the United Kingdom while getting people behind the measures that are required to get us out of our dire present situation.
The Government’s main argument has been that this is a good, sound economic policy and that it is necessary for a number of reasons. It is necessary, first, because the 50p rate of taxation has not worked: it has not raised the intended revenue. Indeed, the Prime Minister today claimed that it had not raised any revenue, but if he had read the documents that his own Chancellor endorsed he would have found that that is not true.
Although the Office for Budget Responsibility and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs point out that the increase may have been less than expected, and they talk about it having been perhaps £1 billion less, they do not say that the measure did not raise any revenue. Part of the reason the figures for this year do not show the increase in revenue that the Government expected is that, as the HMRC report points out in paragraph 6.3, £16 billion to £18 billion of income was pushed forward: it was forestalled. But it cannot keep being pushed forward for ever, so, if we had looked at the figures over another year, we would have found that the revenue started coming in as the forestalled income started to be taxed. So the first argument that has been made—that the measure did not raise revenue—is not backed up even by the Government’s own published figures.
The second argument, which is being made here today, is that the change will raise more revenue because of the way in which people will change their behaviour. But, again, if we look at the figures that HMRC has published, we find that they are factual because they are based on what is happening at present with the static cost, and, then, that there are predicted figures—those that are based on what are called behavioural changes, about which there has been much discussion today.
The one thing that we do know, because we can be absolutely sure of the figures, is the revenue that will be forgone as a result of the change. The forgone revenue is not up for debate, because we know what was collected and what people normally paid—which they are not going to pay any longer. The figures are clear: in the next financial year, 2013-14, £3.01 billion will be forgone; in the year after that it will be £3.35 billion; in the year after that it will be £3.7 billion; and in the year after that it will be £4.19 billion. That is what we know is going to happen, because those are the static figures, as the Minister has said from a sedentary position, and the Government hope that that will be offset by behavioural changes, but, even by their own admission in their own document, those changes are fraught with uncertainty.
In evidence to the Treasury Committee, Mr Chote of the OBR said that there had been an “heroic exercise…to disentangle” all the factors that would be included in those behavioural changes, and that it was one of the six “areas of particular uncertainty” that had been identified. The changes are uncertain because—without getting into the technical phrase that has been used—“income elasticity” is uncertain. The income elasticity figures are so uncertain that, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the rate of taxation that could maximise the Government’s revenue—the top rate of taxation—varies between 30% and 75%. Again, in evidence to the Committee, it was said that that the numbers are “absurd” in some sense, because the variations are so wide.
So before we talk about a concrete, cast-iron economic case, let us just look at the assumptions behind the model and the assumptions on which the revenue that the Government boast about raising are based. Once we start peeling them away, we see that the figures for the behavioural effects, which conveniently just about offset the static cost, are less than certain.
The third argument that has been made is that the change will help us to become more competitive because the high rate of taxation has had an impact on investment, on job creation and on the willingness of people to work harder and to declare their income in the United Kingdom. There is an odd thing about that argument, however, because if the Government are so certain of it why has the Chancellor, in answer to a question on the issue, indicated that he is going to initiate research into its broader macro-economic effects? One would have thought that, if we were absolutely certain that it was what we needed to do to improve the performance of the UK economy, we would have done the research, known the dynamic effects and ascertained the macro-economic impact. That has not been done.
The Government are only now, after making the change, indicating that they are prepared to initiate the research into it. So we hear all the certainties, that we did not raise the money that we wanted to, and that we will raise the money that we want to from this new tax, but, if the Government are so certain of that, why are they not introducing it this year? If we are in such perilous times and they actually believe that the measure will raise more revenue, they should be rushing to introduce it, but they have delayed it for another year. The economic case for the change has not been made.
As I said at the start of my speech, I am not against lower taxation. In Northern Ireland we have kept the tax regime—given what powers we have over taxation—as low as possible and sought to make adjustments by looking at administrative changes. Indeed, I am quite proud of the fact that in Northern Ireland this year we have cut the cost of the administration of government by 3.8%. Rather than raise money through taxation, we have looked for efficiencies in many different ways.
When the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) talked about the political aspects of the change, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), who is no longer in her place, said, “We should not be concerned about the politics of it; we should only be concerned about the economics of it.” I do not believe that any economic decision can be made in isolation from the political context in which it has to be made, and the political context in which the decision to reduce the top rate of taxation is being made is one in which the Government are saying to people, “We are in a difficult economic situation, we have to reduce the deficit,” and I agree. We have to get the economy back on a stable footing and to make sacrifices to do so. If one is in the public sector—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and sorry for interrupting him mid-sentence, but in welcoming you, Mr Hood, to the Chair, I should like to ask him this question. Does he believe, as I do, that there are circumstances in which economic beliefs have to take precedence over political ones? Governments have to consider what they believe to be good in the long term for the country, for the economy and for growth, not just what might appear in newspaper headlines.
I do agree, but if the hon. Gentleman had been listening he would have heard that the economic case—that we did not raise as much revenue as we should, that we will raise more revenue than we were doing and that we will improve the competitiveness of the UK economy through this new measure—has not been made. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman laughs, but on the basis of the Government’s own publication, the economic case has not been made.
To be clear, that is not what I was asking. I accept that the hon. Gentleman does not believe that the current economic policy is the right one, but does he accept my view that in many circumstances Governments have to consider what they believe to be the best economic case over and above the politics of the situation?
That may well be the case. However, if a Government have to make that decision—and, yes, there are occasions when that has to be done— they must first convince people that the economic case is sound, and on the basis of the Government’s own published information, that is not so. Indeed, even the Prime Minister did not seem to know what his own Government’s information said when he was answering Prime Minister’s questions earlier. It cannot be argued that there are times when the economic case is more important than the politics and so the right decision has been made, because the Government have not made a sound economic case.
We have a political context in which the Government are saying to people: “Make sacrifices. If you’re working in the public services, take a pay freeze. If you’re a motorist, you’re going to have to pay more for your petrol. If you’re a pensioner, you must have your tax allowances frozen for some time so that allowances can catch up, with the result that you’re collectively going to lose £1 billion a year. You’re going to have to do this because we’ve got a deficit that we’ve got to address.” I could go through a whole lot of other measures. If people are going to be asked to follow a policy that is designed to reduce the deficit and to accept those impacts on their standard of living, they must understand that the weakest are not being selected for the heaviest burden. This decision is not only economically flawed but politically flawed because it will call into question the Government’s sincerity when they argue that we all have to make sacrifices together.
I have another role in Northern Ireland as Finance Minister. We have frozen wages. We have stopped all bonuses in the public sector where that has been possible and there are no contracts. We have said to people that there will be no recruitment or promotion within the public sector. We have said to people who work in the private sector, “You’re going to have it tougher because we’re going to be spending less on public sector contracts and so on, with the impact that that has on people’s jobs.” We have said about new house building and a whole range of other things, “This can’t be done.” We have said to voluntary groups and community groups, “You’re going to get cuts in your grants because we don’t have the money to do this.”
By and large, I have found that most people accept that when they see that it is evenly spread. People stop me in the street all the time and talk about the impact that it is having on their lives. They say, “We don’t like it, but if we have to put up with it because we know we can’t carry on spending money we don’t have, we’ll do it.” Nothing undermines the argument made by those of us who wish to be responsible about the budget deficit more than the news that the Government are saying to people, “Make sacrifices”, while those who are earning more than they need to live on will get a 20% or a 10% tax cut. That is why the politics of this is all wrong. The economics is not sound and the politics is not sound, and for that reason we will vote against it.
Thank you, Mr Hood, for calling me to contribute to this debate on amendment 1. It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). I accept some of his points about the importance of the economics, but I certainly do not agree with his conclusion. I will comment on the weakness of the argument presented by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) a little later.
That is clearly not the situation, as I will seek to demonstrate in the next few minutes.
The starting point of any Budget has to be the scale of the national debt, and the debate must take into account the legacy of the deficit that has been inherited, the scale of public spending, and the projections that can be made in a situation that is uncertain because of the volatility in the economy in the UK, in Europe and across the rest of the world. There is also an important central element about the setting of personal tax rates. We need to create an environment where the economy is growing and this country is attractive to international investors and to investors who reside in the UK. We want to recreate a business-friendly environment where wealth and jobs are created, and where that is spread across all parts of the UK.
The 50% rate is absolutely key, and an awful lot of attention has been paid to that. The hon. Member for East Antrim talked about the economics and the politics of it and claimed that both were wrong, but in fact both are right. If one thing in the Budget sent a positive message to every investor and every mover of capital around the world, it was the reduction of the 50% rate to 45%, which said that Britain is once again open for business.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s point. In fairness to him, he has presented a respectable view. I disagreed with it, but I expected him, as a columnist in the Morning Star, to present that sort of image. On that basis, he would want to tax as much as he can and spend as much as he can—something that I disagree with. There is a difference between the respectable point that he made and the unrespectable point made by the hon. Member for Pontypridd because of the confused message that he is presenting because of the uncertainty.
With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have absolutely no idea what his last sentence meant, but I will move on. If this was such a good Budget for business, why did the OBR conclude that over the next year business investment in Britain will go up by 0.7%, which is down by almost 8% on last year’s estimate? If business is supposed to be spending lots more money as a result of the 50p rate cut and many other measures in the Budget, why is that not shown in the OBR figures? Why is GDP going up by only 0.1%?
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman is extremely selective in whom he quotes and when he quotes them. He chooses to quote the OBR’s figures when it suits his argument on one occasion, but chooses to quote the HMRC’s figures when it suits his argument on another occasion. That relates back to the uncertainty that I mentioned.
I have a couple of points. I always understood that the issue of the 50p rate was not in our manifesto because the previous Government said that it was temporary. It therefore did not need to be in our manifesto, because it was always meant to be a temporary measure. On the nonsense that Opposition Members have spouted about business investment, has my hon. Friend seen paragraph 3.62 of the OBR’s “Economic and fiscal outlook”, which states:
“We therefore expect only moderate growth in business investment this year as the heightened uncertainty from the ongoing euro area difficulties limits firms’ investment plans”?
It is not the UK that is at fault, but the eurozone, which the Opposition wanted to take us into.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Once again, he makes a cutting point that exposes the weakness of the argument of the hon. Member for Pontypridd.
The politics of this measure is that it sends a message to international investors that Britain is once again open for business. The 50% rate needs to be added to the national insurance rate. People could well be paying a tax rate well in excess of 60%. For some individuals, it is as high as 68%. What sort of message does that send to international investors? The politics of this is extremely important in relation to how it is interpreted by the people we want to attract to this country, because they will bring their capital with them.
I am not sure what Government Members are saying is causing the lack of investment. Is it the situation in the eurozone—I agree with the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) about that—or is it because of the high rate of taxation? The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) seems to agree with both propositions.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that there is no silver bullet. I suggest that there is a range of issues. It is partly to do with the eurozone, partly to do with the debt that we inherited from the previous Government and partly to do with the global environment. Thanks to the Chancellor and the Treasury team, we are putting Britain on the road to the recovery. The reduction of the rate from 50% to 45% is central to that because of the message that it sends to every investor around the globe, as I have outlined.
We must recognise that we have had the highest tax rate in the G20. That has an effect when international companies consider where to invest. The G20 countries are in the top league of where international companies spend their money. Obviously, I want us to be seen as the most competitive nation in the league, not for us to be at the bottom of the league. That is the situation that we inherited.
The message of the Labour party consists of nothing more than envy. Labour fails to recognise that the top 1% of earners pay 30% of the income tax in this nation. The marginal rates are exceptionally important, as has been mentioned. We need to create an environment in which Britain is open for business and make it an attractive nation to investors from the UK and from elsewhere.
The argument presented by the hon. Member for Pontypridd is hollow. He misses a number of points. First, the 50% rate was intended to be a temporary rate in the first place. In response to interventions, he said that he did not think that the temporary rate should be adjusted just yet. How temporary is temporary? He gave the impression in his response that the rate should remain at 50% for the remainder of this Parliament. That would take us up to eight years of this temporary tax. He said in another response that he could not predict the Budgets that would happen after the next general election. There are three years remaining in this term. He cannot have it both ways. He says that the temporary tax should last for eight years, but that he cannot predict what will happen in three years’ time. The reality is that the Labour party is merely presenting the politics of envy. It wants to be the tax-and-spend party once again. It was the tax-and-spend party when it left office, and it has done little to move on from that position.
The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that there is no envy on my part of him or other Government Members. I did not imply what we would have done in my speech; I stated explicitly that we would not have got rid of the 50p rate for the duration of this Parliament. The reason for that was equally clear: the Opposition are still asking for an equitable distribution of difficulty in these difficult times, as opposed to the Government, who are giving a tax bung to millionaires. We would not have done that and we think that it is the wrong thing to do. He clearly thinks that it is the right thing to do.
The hon. Gentleman has repeated that by “temporary”, the Opposition mean eight years and that it could be even longer. On the one hand, he is not prepared to make a commitment for three years’ time, but on the other, he is prepared to make a commitment for the next three years. That is another inconsistency in his argument.
The Opposition’s strongest argument is about the uncertainty over the change in income when the rate changes from 50% to 45%. To be kind, one would say that the hon. Member for Pontypridd has been selective; some might say that he has not been wholly honest. Everything is uncertain. There is no guarantee about how the economy will grow, nor about how the European or the global economy will grow. There was exactly the same uncertainty when the previous Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), introduced the 50% rate. He predicted that it would bring in three times more than it has brought in.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because I can answer him directly. Exactly the same uncertainty that there is now existed when the previous Chancellor increased the rate from 40% to 50%. The economic situation has changed. Therefore, there will obviously be uncertainty in all the data, be they from the OBR, HMRC, the Institute for Fiscal Studies or any other independent forecaster. The Chancellor needs to make a judgment based on the data that are presented. [Interruption.] I will happily give way if the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene.
I just want to point out that we know how much money was raised by the 50% rate. That is not in dispute or uncertain. It raised £1.1 billion. That is there in black and white on page 39 of the HMRC document on the 50p rate. It is the projections that are uncertain. It is uncertain that £100 million will be the loss to the Exchequer. However, we know that the static cost, if there is no behavioural change, will be £3 billion. We know all that.
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. The increase from 40% to 50% raised only a third of what was projected when it was introduced. That is how uncertain things were. If it is a bad tax and is not raising what it is intended to raise, let us get rid of it and have a sensible tax that is a lot more business-friendly and attractive to international investors. If that is the Opposition’s best argument in opposing the reduction of the rate from 50% to 45%, it demonstrates how weak they are.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I did not get a chance to say this earlier. The notion that the rate raised only a third of what was anticipated is another half-truth that was included in the Budget speech. In the year when we set the rate, we anticipated that it would raise £1.3 billion. That is there in black and white in the Labour party’s final Budget. It raised £1.1 billion. That is not a third of what we anticipated, but £200 million shy of it.
There are uncertainties about the drafting of any Budget at any time. There will be uncertainties in the Budget next year and the year after, as there have always been for any Chancellor writing a Budget. In the end, it comes down to the fact that a Chancellor has to make a judgment. This Chancellor had to make a judgment about whether a marginal tax rate in excess of 60% was right for Britain to attract investors and create wealth within the nation. He did so on the basis of information from the OBR, HMRC and the Institute for Fiscal Studies that at a time when we needed growth more than ever, that marginal tax rate sent the wrong message to other nations, and that a reduction in the headline rate of tax from 50% to 45% was exceptionally important.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly forceful and passionate argument. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) said that according to the HMRC report, the 50% rate had raised £1.1 billion. He is playing fast and loose with the figures, because in the 2010 Budget, Labour said it would raise about £2.6 billion extra. It is an ever-disappearing amount of receipts. Is it not the case that when the rate is cut, it normally ends up increasing the take?
My hon. Friend obviously makes an extremely strong point. It underlines the argument that the last Chancellor faced the same uncertainty as the current one. The last Chancellor made a judgment that he should increase the rate of tax, and the current one has made a judgment that he should reduce it. That is the core difference between the Labour and Conservative parties. We want to create wealth, unlike the Labour party, which is the party of envy and wants to punish people and spend their money instead of giving individuals greater choice.
The hon. Gentleman rightly says that because of the uncertainty about all these figures, the Chancellor had to make a judgment. Was that judgment a political one, casting doubt on the Government’s claim that it was made for purely economic reasons? It was not an economic decision; it was a political one.
It was quite obviously an economic judgment, but we cannot ignore the politics, which is what international investors interpret when they are considering placing their money and creating jobs in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency or mine. They consider how much they, their senior management, their greatest innovators and their scientists will have to pay under the top rate of tax. The politics cannot be ignored, but the economics, as demonstrated by the Chancellor and the Treasury team, is sound according to figures from the OBR, the IFS and HMRC. I absolutely accept them.
We back amendment 1. As the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) said, it is the only way in which we can score out the cutting of the 50p rate of tax. Government Members have made some obscurantist points, as he described them, about why the amendment may not do precisely what is intended, but we would expect the table showing the 2013-14 rates to appear in the 2013 Finance Bill, as the equivalent table does in the Finance Bill every year, whether the amendment succeeds or not.
We believe it is wrong to remove at this point the temporary 50p rate for those earning more than £150,000 a year. I want to say a little about the context in which that extraordinary tax giveaway is happening. The Government say that we are all in it together and point in their various documents to the fact that every decile in society will be worse off and take some share of the burden. However, they then tell us that, almost uniquely, the personal tax-raising measure of the 50p rate is now deemed ineffective in bringing in much-needed revenue to tackle the deficit and debt, which is their primary objective, and in bringing down their borrowing requirements, which they see as an essential part of their plan.
The Revenue has produced an assessment of the impact of the change, which I am certain the Exchequer Secretary will pray in aid to justify the Government’s case. I will come back to that assessment, but first I shall explain why the removal of the temporary 50p tax rate proves that we are not all in it together, and why that single tax cut amplifies the unfairness of the Government’s plans. I hope to expand on the points that the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) made in his very good speech.
For those on low and fixed incomes, pay cuts, wage freezes and now a shock rise in inflation have meant the erosion of their living standards over some time. They will see no benefit from a tax cut for millionaires. For families in receipt of working tax credit, the new rules mean that their household income will fall by up to £3,800-odd a year if they are unable to find an extra eight hours of work a week. We know from our constituencies that such work often simply does not exist. They will see no benefit or fairness in cutting the 50p tax rate.
Of course, the families who face a fall in working tax credits are those who tend to earn only about £17,000 a year in total. They will see no benefit from a tax cut for millionaires. Indeed, real middle-class families earning £40,000, £50,000 or £60,000 a year—not somewhere over £250,000 a year, as I suspect the Government assume middle-class families earn—are about to have their child benefit removed, even with the taper changes to be proposed.
Before a Liberal gets up to tell me that there have been moves to increase the basic personal allowance from £6,475 in 2010 to £9,205 by 2013, an increase of £3,000 leading to a saving of some £600, I point out that the threshold above which one pays the 40p rate will go down from £37,400 to £32,245 in the same time frame. That is a fall of £5,000, so the fall in the threshold at the top end is larger than the increase in the allowance at the bottom. The net impact is that by 2013, the percentage of people paying the 40p rate will go up to 15% of all taxpayers, or some 5 million people earning more than £41,500. We have never had such a percentage of our taxpayers paying that rate before, and they will see no benefit from a tax cut for millionaires.
That is before we even consider the tax changes for older people. The changes to age-related allowances—the so-called granny tax—will have an impact on some 40% of pensioners. Those above the basic tax and pension credit threshold but below the £30,000 level at which they would not benefit anyway, or some 4.41 million older people, will be worse off. They will be singing in the streets of Raith, as they say, at the millionaires getting a tax cut that they are paying for.
The Government are providing a tax cut for millionaires that is being paid for by those on fixed incomes hit by inflation, poor working families whose tax credits are being cut or removed and middle-class families earning just over the ever-reducing 40p tax threshold. It is hardly fair, it is not right, and we are definitely not all in it together.
How precisely do the Government justify that? It is an inevitable consequence of a financial plan that is seeing the Government fetishise debt and deficit levels to the extent that they plan to take £155 billion a year out of the economy by 2016-17 for fiscal consolidation, through cuts and tax rises. To understand the Tory priorities, we need to understand how the proportion of spending cuts to tax rises is changing, which is very instructive. I hope some Tories will find it instructive, because their constituents will soon be knocking on their doors asking why it is happening.
In 2011-12, spending cuts were planned to be 56% of the total consolidation, the rest of which would be tax rises, which is a pretty reasonable balance. However, the Government are increasing the proportion of the consolidation that is cuts through the next few years to 62%, 69%, 74% and 79%, and up to a whopping 81%—only 19% of the consolidation will be tax increases by 2016-17.
In addition to those comments, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a geographical dimension? Those likely to benefit from the tax cut are clustered in certain locations in our country, and those who lose money, as he has described—they will also suffer from public spending cuts—cluster in other areas.
That is absolutely right, but I want to be careful in answering. It is not good enough to say that people in the north or Wales or Northern Ireland or Scotland will lose, because unemployment and poverty in London is enormous. The geographical areas are not the ones traditionally described in lazy journalism—it is not that the north is poor and the south is rich—because pockets of poverty and of wealth exist in every single constituency in the country. The hon. Lady is right, however, that there are such pockets.
Even with all the pain and austerity, and the social and economic problems that the Government’s plans will cause, the Chancellor has been able to find a tax cut for millionaires. How does he justify it? Whatever his justification, the measure does not make sense economically, to answer the points made by the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), who seemed to think that the measure is economically robust.
The Government’s fiscal rules—that the structural current deficit should be in balance and that debt is falling as a share of GDP in the final year of the forecast—are under enormous pressure. The problem—this is the evidence we ought to look at—is that the deficit in this Budget was forecast in the 2011 Red Book for 2011-12 to be £90 billion, but it is now forecast to be £98 billion. That is £8 billion worse than planned. The net borrowing requirement in the 2011 Red Book was forecast for 2011-12 to be £122 billion; it is now £126 billion. That is £4 billion worse than planned. The national debt or the treaty ratio that was due to peak at 87.2% of GDP—£1.25 trillion—in 2013-14 is now expected to rise, on the same count, to 92.7% of GDP in 2014-15. That is up again; it is worse than the Government’s forecasts. Everything is going in the wrong direction, so this is the wrong time to forgo revenue yield.
The hon. Gentleman has set out the figures for the overarching macro-economic situation very well, but is it not clear from the OBR that the effect on business investment will be minus 6.8%? The Budget incentivises no one in terms of the real growth that we require.
The points on business investment are incredibly well made. The Government’s targets were based on heroic rates of growth over four and five-year periods, but the 2011 Budget forecast for 2011 business investment growth was 6.7%. By the time of the 2012 Red Book, the forecast was 0.2%. The 2011 Budget forecast for 2012 was 8.9%, but as the hon. Gentleman says, that has been marked down to only 0.7%. Of course, that makes it even more extraordinary that there is a net fall year on year of central Government consumption and investment, which in normal circumstances in normal countries would be called an automatic stabiliser and would compensate. Of course, this country does not have that.
That means that for the Government to stay on their course, they almost certainly need the revenue yield that the 50p rate would have delivered. There is a debate on precisely how much that yield is. It could be the £360 million over four years forecast in the Red Book, or it could be the higher £3 billion a year static forecast we have heard cited. Whatever the actual figure, given that all those other metrics are going in the wrong direction, it is extraordinary that the Chancellor is prepared to forgo any revenue yields, whether they are in the hundreds of millions of the £1 billion range.
However, I am most concerned that the Treasury has chosen to reduce the temporary rate now on the back of a review of one year’s self-assessment returns, which may well have been lower in any case because of the recession and flat economy. I am concerned at the over-reliance on behavioural change metrics, which have allowed the Treasury dramatically to recast the expected yield and minimise the nominal loss—it is a loss—of real yield, and I am concerned about the Government’s reliance on the argument of substantial forestalling to justify this change.
The hon. Member for East Antrim made the point that the Revenue report says:
“The uncertainty regarding the extent to which the unwinding of this forestalled income depressed incomes in 2010-11 makes isolating the true underlying…response to the additional rate challenging.”
I shall translate: the Government do not have a clue. It would have been better—surely—to have allowed the temporary rate to continue for another year or two, or at least until the economic indicators were pointing in the right direction, rather than butchering the public sector to fund the millionaires’ tax cut.
It is a political decision to give a tax cut to very wealthy people and to pay for it by increasing the value of cuts to Government expenditure and increasing the ratio of cuts to tax increases. The Government have done it in a way that threatens their fiscal plans and that is extraordinarily unfair. Low incomes are being squeezed by inflation, pay freezes and wage cuts; for many, working tax credits are going; 4.41 million pensioners will be worse off because of the granny tax; 5 million middle class, middle earners are being dragged into the 40p tax bracket; and there is a tax cut for 14,000 millionaires. That is not credible, and the Scottish National party and other parties will be delighted to support amendment 1.
Much of the discussion on the 50p rate has been on whether it is an economic decision or a political one. My viewpoint is very simple. If we wanted a nice, easy time, and if our Ministers wanted a nice easy ride on the “Today” programme, where all those nice, gently liberal-leftie, metropolitan BBC people would congratulate us on doing nothing whatever, we would have left the higher rate at 50p. I am sure the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) would have approved and been happy to congratulate us. If, on the other hand, we wanted to take action and do the right thing economically—the one thing that really matters is getting this country growing as quickly as possible—even if it were politically hard for us to sell, we would support the entrepreneurs, wealth creators and aspirant people who create the jobs and money that make this country go. For my money, that is the bottom line. The economics trump the politics.
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman that getting the country growing is the most important thing. The trouble is that that blue book he was waving around a moment ago, taking into account the 50p rate cut and all the other measures, says that the Government will increase GDP by 0.1%. Are they not failing?
I completely disagree. The Government are doing a great job. We have had the most difficult year, in which recovery was effectively postponed because the European and eurozone crisis caused massive uncertainty. I will not shirk from the point: that uncertainty has caused businesses to delay the business investment that was expected by about a year. The OBR, in the blue book that the hon. Gentleman says I am waving around, makes that perfectly clear. I will happily take him on on the issue of business investment. The situation has come to pass basically because of the eurozone. Also, the OBR says that business investment for the fourth quarter can be a bit lower than expected but that it often, statistically, bounces. It also says that the Government’s pioneering reduction of business taxes will have a positive effect in helping the country to grow.
The bottom line of economics is that we need to ensure more jobs and money as quickly as possible to help the country to grow faster despite the chaos and financial mismanagement in the eurozone. Let us not forget that Labour, if it had had its way, would have taken us into that chaos and into the euro. If Labour had won the election, it would also have carried on spending at an unsustainable rate and rapidly taken us the way of Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland, which would have put us in an extraordinarily difficult position.
On the revenue numbers, Labour’s central argument is that we should not cut the 50p rate because, first, we need to hit the rich and squeeze them until the pips squeak and, secondly, we are letting money go that would otherwise be brought into the Exchequer and are looking after our rich friends. That is its analysis. However, the summary in paragraph 4.7 on page 84 of the OBR report states:
“The Chancellor’s decision to cut the”
“has an estimated direct cost to the Exchequer of £0.1 billion, excluding the impact of ‘reverse forestalling’ as people shift…income from”
one year to another
“to take advantage of the lower rate. The figure is small because the additional rate is now assumed to be close to its revenue-maximising level.”
In other words, it does not make much difference—£100 million here, £100 million there, out of a total budget that I believe is getting on for £700 billion, is a small amount, particularly given that it sends a positive message to aspirants, entrepreneurs and the people who work hard to deliver so much value-added for our country.
We can all pick selectively from the OBR report—I have referred to it quite a few times—but this is a comment based on the Government’s own estimate that there will be an inflow of £2.9 billion from increased activity by those who pay the 45% rate. There is absolutely no fact behind that yet. It is basically a comment based on a prediction by the Government. In other areas, again and again since they took office, they have been very wrong. It is a hope, not a statement of fact. The actual cost will be £3 billion until the money comes in that the OBR has accepted from the Chancellor’s estimates.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing me on to my next point. The hon. Member for Pontypridd is fond of saying, “Ah, look at the HMRC impact report. It brought in £1.1 billion but the estimate was that it would then have brought in much more.” [Interruption.] Some £3 billion, he says. That was the estimate in the March 2010 Budget, which mentioned an additional £2.6 billion. In the June 2010 Budget forecast, that increased to £2.7 billion. However, when we look in detail at what happened and how much was brought in, it appears that the OBR and HMRC now estimate the figure to be £0.6 billion in 2012-13.
I will explain to the hon. Gentleman why there is a step from year 1, when we anticipated it would raise £1.3 billion but when it actually raised £1.1 billion, to the subsequent figure of £3 billion. The explanation, of course, is that it gets far harder to bring money into earlier years. It gets far harder to forestall the income. That is what happened in the first year, but it would have been increasingly difficult to do so afterwards.
The hon. Gentleman makes that assertion. Let us consider the detail of what the OBR says, leaving aside forestalling. Page 108 of its report, which considers this matter in great detail, states:
“These steps might include labour supply responses (e.g. working less”—
working less hard, basically—
“taking a lower paid job, retiring early, or leaving the country)”.
As we know, many people have given up, upped sticks and gone—driven away by the anti-business, anti-aspiration policies of the Labour party.
I am simply reporting what the OBR has said. I will not pretend that I am an expert on immigration to and emigration from this country. I might represent Dover but that does not mean I count everyone in and out. I have to trust the OBR. Having said that, in the past decade my constituents have complained that an awful lot of people seem to have come in. They are very upset about that and think there could have been more border security. But that is not the key point of this debate.
Very much so. My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is also in the OBR report. These are the forestalling measures—[Interruption.] Labour assumes that people forestall for only one year and that the income will suddenly pop up the following year. That is not what really happens. Often people will take a long career break. [Interruption.] I shall give the hon. Member for Pontypridd, who is chuntering from a sedentary position—
I will give the Committee an example. Let us say that I earn £150,000. Obviously, as a Member of Parliament, I do not, but let us assume that I did and that I did not feel like paying the 50p rate. What could I do? People’s response—the market response, if one likes—is to set up things such as personal service companies, and then we will not see the 50p tax rate again. They will shove money into their personal service companies and pay the small companies rate of taxation. They then sit tight and pay a very low dividend rate of taxation when they get the money out as and when they see fit. Alternatively, they do this trick where they loan themselves lots of money and pay an extraordinarily low beneficial loan rate of tax. I think that such behaviour is wrong. The Labour party ought to know about this not just because of Ken Livingstone but because others of them are up to it as well. They should come clean and be a bit clearer with the Committee about their understanding that people will avoid and forestall for good.
With the 45% rate, there is less utility and less maximisation of revenue from doing so. Of course, it is marginal, but the unacceptability of paying—paying, not avoiding—at 45% is less than it is at 50p. People resent 50p and think, “These people are trying to stuff me and take all my money away.” The 40p rate was well settled and people’s behaviour was sort of booked in. The judgment is that the most revenue will be raised halfway between the two because, on the one hand, people will think it acceptable—they will not go the extra mile to avoid it—and, on the other hand, they will not think they are being fleeced as they were under the so-called temporary 50p rate, which Labour is now saying was not temporary.
I have already answered that three times in this debate, so I am not going to repeat myself. Yes, the rate was temporary, although we would not have got rid of it for the whole of this Parliament. However, let me remind the hon. Gentleman what the Business Secretary’s response was to the argument, which he has just made, about the equanimity with which people will pay full tax at the 45p rate: “Pull the other one”.
The Business Secretary is well known for having strong and principled positions from which he never resiles. The hon. Gentleman makes a fascinating point, although I do not know the detail of that quotation.
Let me turn to tax planning, and avoidance and evasion. As I have said, people set up personal service companies and, quite frankly, fiddle the system. To be honest, we need stronger anti-avoidance legislation to stop that kind of thing. However, the important point is that we need it if the rate is at a level at which people regard it as socially acceptable to pay, and do not feel that they are being completely fleeced.
That is a really interesting question. In practice, it is incredibly difficult to distinguish between the person who is setting up a personal service company simply to play the system and the person who is in business and is genuinely using such a company so as not to go bankrupt. It is difficult to draw the dividing line to distinguish the husband and wife who are simply trying to play the system—that often happens—from the genuine business that is acting for true commercial purposes. It is quite invidious to separate the two.
It is better to set the rate at a level where, as the OBR would put it, the willingness of high-earning individuals is such that they regard it as slightly more socially acceptable to pay. Indeed, the OBR was not just the Exchequer’s patsy on this issue; rather, it was independent. As the OBR says on page 109 of its report, it reviewed in considerable detail what the HMRC report said about what the revenues would be, in considering whether to reduce the tax rate to 45p. It looked at the methodology used by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the Mirrlees review, at the work of Brewer et al, while also adjusting for forestalling—a point the hon. Member for Pontypridd raised—and at the HMRC study on the underlying behavioural response. Therefore, a lot of work has been done on what exactly the position is.
It is true, of course, that things are quite uncertain. The cost to the Exchequer might not be £100 million. Indeed, students of tax history will know that when the rate originally went from 80% to 60%—a massive cut—the revenues did not fall, but rose dramatically. Did receipts fall when the tax rate was then cut from 60p to 40p? No, they rose dramatically. My understanding of the history, therefore, is that if we reduce the rate, we up the take. There is real risk and massive uncertainty. Indeed, rather than costing the Exchequer £100 million, this measure may well make the Exchequer up to about £500 million. From the history, it seems far more likely that we will have an increase in the take, which will mean improvements for our schools and hospitals, and in our ability to pay down the massive debt that the previous Government saddled us with. I therefore think this is the right policy at the right time.