I beg to move,
That this House believes that a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million, to fund a tax cut for millions of people on middle and low incomes, should be part of a fair tax system; and calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for such a tax at the earliest opportunity.
Let us consider the contrast that now exists as a result of Government decisions. Those who are on low and middle incomes—that is, the vast majority of the British public—have seen their tax credits cut, their child benefits squeezed, their cost of living rise as a result of higher VAT and their wages fall in real terms. However, the richest 1%, including the lucky few who earn £1 million a year, will see an average tax cut of £100,000 in four weeks’ time, and banking executives will not have to pay that annoying bonus tax, all thanks to the Chancellor’s generosity. This is a tale of two societies, with hard-working earners on low and middle incomes paying for the Government’s failure to get the economy growing while the richest elite are being rewarded by the Chancellor with a tax cut worth nearly four times the average annual salary.
Where are they?
The hon. Gentleman really needs to focus on the issue at hand. If he is standing up for the millionaires’ tax cut, he should simply say so. It will take effect in about three weeks’ time, and a number of his constituents will be absolutely astonished that he has voted for an average £100,000 tax cut for millionaires while they have lost their tax credits, found themselves paying more and seen a decline in the quality of public services.
We certainly voted against the tax cut, and if we were in government now, we would not be cutting that 50p rate to 45p in April. Heaven only knows what other horrors the Government have in store over the next two years. We do not know what kind of situation we are going to inherit in regard to the deficit and to borrowing, so it is impossible to predict the tax situation that we will be faced with, if and when we inherit that position at the next general election.
I want to make some progress. I will give way in a moment.
The divide between the richest and the least well off is getting broader, not narrower, and the situation is getting worse. The Government are cutting taxes for one group this year—the very richest in society—with 13,000 people earning £1 million a year getting a tax cut. That is astonishing. Could any other policy better typify the twisted logic of trickle-down economics than that one?
I welcome the mansion tax as a step towards equality, but why will the Opposition not go further and tackle the absurdity of our council tax rates still being based on 1991 rates? A house valued at £1 million in 1991 pays only 0.3% of its worth, while a house valued at £40,000 pays 2.4%, which is eight times more. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is unfair and should be tackled?
It is important to listen to the Liberal Democrats’ proposal for a mansion tax. They believe that £2 billion could be raised in that way from properties worth £2 million or more to help those on low and middle incomes. In our view, any such revenue should fund the reintroduction of a 10p starting rate of income tax.
I would say to hon. Members, and particularly to Conservative Members who are struggling with the state of the current economic policy, that there are independent authorities and budget watchdogs to correct them when they wrongly assert that growth will not be affected by the cuts and the tax rises and that they are paying down the national debt, but they cannot pull the wool over the eyes of the public, who know what fairness is and who know that the choices made so far have been deeply unfair.
That is our view. We want to do more to help those on lower and middle incomes, and to ask those privileged and wealthy individuals in society—particularly if they have a property worth £2 million or more—to make a fair contribution. The debate today presents an opportunity and a challenge to Government Members to do the right thing and to back what some of them profess to believe in.
Let me remind Members what our motion says. It asks the House to resolve
“that a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million, to fund a tax cut for millions of people on middle and low incomes, should be part of a fair tax system; and calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for such a tax at the earliest opportunity.”
That is the extent of the motion. It is very simple and straightforward. Liberal Democrats who are in the Chamber today—for some are actually present—have repeatedly claimed to back a mansion tax. After going along with the Chancellor’s tax cut for millionaires, a failing economic plan, a VAT rise and a trebling of tuition fees, they finally have a chance to vote for something that was in their manifesto.
I shall put to one side the fact that the Liberal Democrats said one thing in opposition—about, for example, tuition fees—and have done completely the opposite in government. The hon. Gentleman should know that circumstances are now getting worse, especially given the millionaires’ tax cut which will take effect in April. We must do something to revive the fairness of the tax system, and that is why I think it important for the Liberal Democrats to stick to their 2010 manifesto pledge to introduce
“a Mansion Tax at a rate of 1 per cent on properties worth over £2 million, paid on the value of the property above that level.”
The hon. Gentleman speaks of fairness. The mansion tax that he proposes would be profoundly unfair on a great many of my constituents who have done nothing more than live in the same house for several decades in an area which, in terms of its property prices, has changed unrecognisably. That applies to many parts of London. I am amazed that London Labour Members do not make similar points. What the hon. Gentleman proposes is akin to a tax on living in London.
If the hon. Lady thinks that everyone in London lives in a £2 million property, she must be almost as out of touch as her party’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course there are ways of introducing a mansion tax that could take account of the specific circumstances in which people are asset-rich and cash-poor, but there would probably be very few such cases. The Liberal Democrats have thought very carefully about that particular proposition.
The public constantly tell us that they hate the infantile, Punch and Judy nature of politics. However, I read in today’s briefing paper from the Liberal Democrats that they will not back us because we have copied them. Is that not exactly the kind of behaviour that turns the public off politics?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We cannot win. When we oppose the policies advocated by the Liberal Democrats, we are attacked, and when we support those policies, they still attack us. It is difficult to know what to do—but I do know that honour and integrity matter to the Liberal Democrats, which is why I still think that they should join us in the Aye Lobby in a few hours’ time. After all, on 17 February, when asked whether the Liberal Democrats would support this proposition, the Business Secretary said:
“It depends entirely how they phrase it. If it is purely a statement of support for the principle of a mansion tax, I’m sure my colleagues would want to support it.”
We look forward to seeing them in the Lobby.
I am waiting to hear the shadow Minister mention that this Government have taken £2.2 million of the lowest earners out of tax altogether. Does Labour’s support for a mansion tax signal its return to high-tax policies, and a end to the new Labour project so admirably led by Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, which transformed Labour into an electable party? Are we now seeing signs of a return to the hard left, high-taxing Labour party of the past?
No. The hon. Gentleman is in a coalition with partners, whom he no doubt does not regard as hard lefties, who are advocating the very policy that we recommend in our motion. We took the advice of the Business Secretary, a Liberal Democrat, who said “Table a very simple motion, and we will support it.” According to any objective measure, even the hon. Gentleman can see that we have held back from party-political rhetoric. The motion is very plain and simple, as requested. We have tried to find some common ground. If those 57 Members of Parliament—and perhaps even some Conservatives; who knows?—were to join us in the Lobby tonight, that would make the mansion tax a reality.
We are minded to support wealth taxes, and we therefore welcome the motion, but it is a bit thin on detail. Can the shadow Minister reassure me that farmers will not be dragged into the new tax because of the value of their land, and not necessarily because of the value of their property?
That is an important point. I am glad that we have the hon. Gentleman’s support on this issue. Obviously there is a difference between residential and corporate arrangements, but our motion says that we want the Treasury to bring forward proposals at the earliest possible opportunity. We have seen the proposition set out by the Liberal Democrats and used it as the basis for our motion, but let us see what further options can be drawn together. We think that it would be a good idea, for example, for the Chancellor to commission the Office for Budget Responsibility to present detailed suggestions of ways in which the arrangements might work.
After the global financial crisis, we decided to introduce a 50p top rate of income tax so that those earning £150,000 and above would make a fairer contribution to society as a whole. Those people are the wealthiest 1% in society. How astonishing—how absolutely breathtaking—that in last year’s omnishambles of a Budget, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to go for the right-wing trickle-down approach and cut the 50p rate to 45p. I hope that that decision will be reversed in the forthcoming Budget, in respect of which I take it that the hon. Gentleman’s intervention constituted a representation to the Chancellor.
Will the shadow Minister remind the House how much was lost to the Treasury during the period of the 50p tax rate, and does he accept that 100% of 45% is more than 50% of 50%?
I am not sure about the hon. Lady’s maths, but we are still within the period of the 50p rate. Of course we want to see the details of what has been happening. However, while the Conservatives have the notion that for those who are very wealthy, the higher tax rates are a deterrent and create avoidance, they do not say the same about the poorest and the middle-income families in the rest of the country. They can pay VAT at 20%; they can pay higher taxes. The hon. Lady takes a view that is taken by so many Conservatives. There is one law for those who are very wealthy, but everyone else must suffer because of the Conservatives’ failure on revenue and borrowing.
Does my hon. Friend not find it strange that the Government do not seem to understand that taxes are an element of economic policy that can be adjusted in line with economic circumstances? During the first period of the Labour Government, the prevailing circumstances meant that there was no case or need for taxes to be increased, by means of a mansion tax or by any other means. When the need appeared after the economic collapse, compounded by the financial crisis, it became clear that we had to do something, and of course the Government did. The trouble with this Government is that they think policies need not to be adjusted in line with circumstances, but they do need adjusting. Does my hon. Friend not agree with that?
I agree. It is instructive to observe the different choices that the different parties are making on this issue. The Conservatives choose to cut taxes for the richest—the millionaires in society—and to increase everyone else’s taxes. The Liberal Democrats have said that they believe in a mansion tax. Indeed, a fortnight ago the Liberal Democrat leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, said:
“Victor Hugo observed that it is near impossible to resist an idea once its time has come. Last week, he was again proved right as calls for a mansion tax, first proposed by the Liberal Democrats in 2009, gathered new momentum…I offer certainty: the mansion tax, or a version of it, will happen…The Conservatives and opponents of fairer taxes have a choice. They can dig their heels in and remain stuck in the past. Or they can join with the Liberal Democrats and the chorus of voices seeking to make our tax system fair.”
Well, here we are today. What more can we do? The issue is on the table, ready for that momentum to make it happen, so how can the Liberal Democrats resist that idea whose time has come?
Is the shadow Minister going to acknowledge measures such as the raising of the tax threshold, the huge cut in pension tax relief and the huge rise in capital gains tax which have taken place under this Government? In a debate entitled “Tax Fairness” is his proposal really the only measure that his party could come up with?
Absolutely, and I think that the contrast between the political parties is becoming clear. Let us contrast the Government’s approach where they feel they can get away with levying higher and more punitive costs—the bedroom tax being a classic example—with the enormous windfall that those earning £1 million a year will be getting from the cut to the top rate of income tax in only a few weeks’ time. It is grotesque.
My hon. Friend may be aware of current estimates that 60% of high-value properties in central London go to overseas buyers, and Conservative MPs, when they are being thoughtful, recognise that that is a serious problem. So he is right to look at the issue of high-value property taxes and getting a balance. Does he agree that there is scope to ensure that the small minority of people who have lived for a long time in areas with escalating property values and who are asset-rich but income-poor can be completely protected within a scheme such as he outlines?
It is entirely possible to design this scheme in a way that deals with those exceptional circumstances—the Liberal Democrats have said so. It is an important question that has to be addressed, and the Deputy Prime Minister answered it in his “Call Clegg” radio slot on London’s Biggest Conversation, which I know is becoming a popular, regular and welcome fixture in the media diary. He said that individuals in such circumstances might be able to defer payments until the house was sold or to “leverage” the value of the property by remortgaging. I am not sure that that strategy provides the complete solution to the conundrum, but I do think that those in the Treasury should turn their minds to how to tackle these rare circumstances. That is why our motion calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for us to consider in more detail.
I have been listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said so far. He seems to have two tax policies that are not yet full commitments, one of which comes from a failed previous Government who brought us to the edge of economic collapse and the other of which comes from the Liberal Democrats. Is that really a great recipe for success on economic policy?
I do not think the hon. Gentleman should be so partisan; he should look at the issues on their merits, as we have tried to do in our motion. We have stripped out all that party political rhetoric and put clearly on the table the proposition, “This House supports the principle of a mansion tax.”
That was one of the solutions that the Deputy Prime Minister suggested. I think it is entirely possible to find solutions to deal with those rare circumstances. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman: what is he saying to all of his constituents who, like mine, face having to move out of their properties because of the bedroom tax that his Government are introducing in a few weeks’ time? Many of those people are probably still not aware what charge is going to hit them when the change to housing benefit comes in. He is expecting great upheaval—people having to move house—at one end of the spectrum but when the Deputy Prime Minister comes up with a particular solution his response is, “Oh no, that is entirely unworkable.” We need to get the Treasury and the Office for Budget Responsibility to think about these things in a detailed way.
We had hoped that Government Members would support the motion, but what does the Government amendment say? I urge hon. Members to pick up their Order Paper, turn to the relevant page and just look at the Government amendment—this pantomime amendment, whose logic is contorted. It proposes to delete the whole proposition of a mansion tax and replace it with a pleading defence of the different views held by different parts of the coalition. It would remove the resolve to back a mansion tax and retreat into a messy fudge as a means—I mix my metaphors—of brushing the whole issue under the carpet. It is an amendment that seeks to face both ways yet go nowhere. It is a push-me, pull-you amendment, and the Government should be deeply embarrassed at the drafting, which of course descends, as we can see, into a general attack on the Opposition.
Liberal Democrats need to grow some courage and stand up for themselves, for once. This measure is not just a bygone pledge from their now notorious 2010 manifesto; the Deputy Prime Minister made it the centrepiece of his leadership in the past few weeks. Kicking off the Eastleigh by-election last month, he called for
“taxes on mansions, tax cuts for millions”.
That is what is in our motion. He said:
“The mansion tax is an idea whose time has come.”
He said that opponents of it should
“join with the Liberal Democrats…seeking to make our tax system fair.”
Indeed, others have joined in that chorus.
On this Sunday’s “The Andrew Marr Show” Lord Ashdown said it would be “weird” if the Liberal Democrats did not vote in favour of the tax. The “Sunday Politics” had an interview with the Lib Dem president, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), in which an interesting exchange took place. Andrew Neil said:
“It’s a simple motion. Will you vote for it?”
The hon. Gentleman said:
“Well, let’s say, I mean, when all’s said and done, that is pretty much Liberal Democrat policy”.
Andrew Neil then asked:
“Well, what part of that motion do you disagree with?”
The hon. Gentleman said, “None of it.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Liberal Democrats are in danger of being highly consistent? Having been against tuition fees they voted for them; having been against a bombshell VAT increase they voted for it; and now they appear to be for a mansion tax but are going to vote against it.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about courage, so I wonder how far the official Opposition’s courage will go. Some £4.5 trillion is kept by the top 10% of wealthiest households, so the £2 billion that would be raised by a mansion tax, although welcome, is a tiny amount and would hardly bridge the chasm between the super-rich and the poorest. Given that, would the official Opposition support a genuine wealth tax?
I would be very interested to see the hon. Lady’s proposition, but I do not think it is necessary to go for that general approach that she takes. I say that because there are targeted ways in which we could try to build consensus on a property tax for high-value properties over £2 million and then use the revenue to help the vast majority of lower-income and middle-income families. That is the proposition before us today.
It was interesting to hear the remark by the Green Member of Parliament about the wealth tax and being brave. I looked at the list of candidates who stood at Eastleigh, where I thought it would be wide open for a Green to find a way through, and found that the party did not even put up a candidate—what courage!
There is time for those sinners to repent, and I hope that in three hours’ time they will re-examine the motion, seriously consider the outrageous stretch in the amendment, stick with their principles and support the motion. I accept that there is a need to flesh out the details of how the mansion tax arrangement would be designed. We need to commission the Treasury and the OBR to work on those particular details.
Some have suggested building on existing property tax systems, although that is not wholly straightforward. In New York City, apparently, a £2 million property owner can pay about £22,000 of property tax, but Lord Oakeshott, who, as we know, is a leading light in the Liberal Democrat firmament, argues against council tax banding as one way of approaching the question. He says:
“If you just put on one or two council tax bands, you can't make the superrich pay their fair share”.
Some Conservative Members, such as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), complain that a mansion tax is impractical, that it cannot be done and that it would be an administrative nightmare, but I simply refer them to their own Front Benchers. Unbeknown to most Government Members, Her Majesty’s Treasury is, with very little fanfare, actively talking about the viability of an annual charge on high-value residential properties and launched a consultation document last May entitled, “Ensuring the fair taxation of residential property transactions”. It contains a whole chapter about introducing an annual charge, as the Treasury calls it, as part of the regime to tackle the avoidance of tax on high-value residential properties, albeit for properties enveloped in non-natural person terms—in other words, those owned by a company or by partnerships or investment vehicles.
Let me draw the attention of the House to some sections of that Treasury publication, because it suggests that a mansion tax is entirely feasible. On page 8, it states:
“The aim of the new annual charge is both to deter avoidance and to ensure the owners of high value residential property pay their fair share of tax…The annual charge will be introduced in Finance Bill 2013.”
So, the measure is coming in the forthcoming Finance Bill at the other side of the Budget. The document states:
“The interest to which the charge will apply will be the freehold or leasehold interest”
and that the annual charge will be
“applied separately to the freehold (if valued over £2 million) and the leasehold (if valued over £2 million…)”.
It goes on to state that the value of the property interest is proposed to be the value determined on 1 April 2012 and, interestingly—let us remember that the document comes from the Treasury—states:
“Property valuations for the annual charge will be self-assessed by the persons liable to the charge and submitted to HMRC as part of their annual charge tax return. HMRC will have powers to enquire into returns and also to make assessments so that non-compliance can be effectively challenged… Properties will be re-valued every five years…The valuation required will be an assessment of the ‘market value’”.
It even goes on to give a helpful list of four bands of annual charge on properties worth more than £2 million. The Treasury knows in its heart of hearts—I do not know whether it has shared this with hon. Members—that the concept of a mansion tax has some feasibility.
That is tremendously welcome news, because clearly neither of the Government parties will vote for the amendment. I understand that the amendment suggests that the Liberal Democrats are in favour of the mansion tax but will vote against the motion, whereas the Conservatives are definitely against it so will on no account be voting for it. If they are both in favour of the tax, they can just support our motion.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous and I thank him for giving way a second time. He might not remember that the Liberal Democrat proposals for a council tax were at one stage for properties worth over £1 million, not £2 million. Is not the concern that a Labour Government, desperate to raise tax, would row back to £1.5 million or £1 million? Can he give a cast-iron guarantee that there would be no rowing backwards from a figure of £2 million?
Absolutely. That is not our proposal, as we think that it is possible to develop a mansion tax proposition for properties worth £2 million and above. We could develop and build on the Treasury’s suggestions for how it might work and we hope also to build on the carefully thought through calculations made by the Liberal Democrats.
Let us be realistic: the amendment was getting rather long-winded, as it is about four or five times the length of the motion. In fact, it looks like a bit of a trashing exercise and does not add to the substance of policy choices before the House. Our view is that the circumstances are very simple.
My hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way. Does he think that now the Liberal Democrats have been exposed, they will probably hold off from voting against our proposals tonight but that when the Government bring forward their proposals, the Liberal Democrats will be in the Lobby with them?
Yes—especially on issues such as the bedroom tax, tax credit cuts and increase in VAT. Of course, let us not forget the tuition fee decisions that the Liberal Democrats have made. That is a matter for them, however. They must account to the electorate and they must go back and explain how they have voted today.
Let me say a little about how we would use the money raised from the mansion tax. Our view is that a fair tax system should include a 10p starting rate of income tax. We support the increases in the personal allowance, but a 10p band would mean a different tax rate for those on middle and lower incomes from that for those on higher incomes, helping the move towards a fairer tax system. Some argue that the 20p rate is adequate, but I believe that a steadier incline moving from zero tax to 10p and from 10p to 20p could be the bedrock of a more progressive tax system, sending out an important signal that tax cuts for working people are a priority.
The 10p starting rate would provide a tax incentive to enter work, especially for those on lower wages. It was a mistake to remove the 10p rate in 2007, even though it enabled the then 22p basic rate to be reduced to 20p, where it stands today. Reintroducing a 10p rate would be the right thing to do and, if the Liberal Democrats are correct that the mansion tax could raise £2 billion, the Chancellor could make that change next week in the Budget.
Just as there is support for a mansion tax from Members on the Government Benches, there is ample support for the return of a 10p starting rate for income tax, although strangely some of those Members have chosen not to take their place in the Chamber today. The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) spoke about the 10p rate idea in his recent Adjournment debate, arguing that
“restoring the 10p rate would help the coalition to counter the war cry of its political opponents that it is only interested in cutting taxes for millionaires. It would prove to the public that ‘lower taxes for lower earners’ is not just a soundbite but that it can be a reality…the policy would be popular…it would be a symbol of the Government’s economic mission and…it would help to tackle the desperate stagnation in incomes that Britain has suffered”.—[Official Report, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 34-38WH.]
That argument was made by a Conservative Member.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the previous Government were mistaken to scrap the 10p rate, but under this Government the income that would previously have been charged at the 10p rate is now charged at a 0p rate. If he supports the increases in the personal allowance, why is support for those increases totally absent from his motion in a debate on tax fairness?
We wanted to focus on the mansion tax proposition, because the hon. Gentleman’s Business Secretary suggested that we keep the motion simple and that if we did so, the Liberal Democrats would support it. That is what the Business Secretary said. We support the changes to the personal allowance, but in our view it is important to have that graduated step up. People go from the zero rate to the 20p rate and it is important to consider introducing a more graduated step as a work incentive, which is something we ought to have in the system.
The hon. Gentleman seems to think it is all or nothing, but we think that a progressive tax system argument needs to be developed. If people move from paying zero tax straight to 20p, there is a cliff edge. We think it is important to consider smoothing the transition to work and making work pay more effectively. That is not part of the motion; it is our preference for what we would do with the revenues from the mansion tax.
What more can I say? I thought the hon. Gentleman supported the proposition in our motion, but clearly he does not. However cynical and defensive he may feel, Liberal Democrats should at least acknowledge that a principle of fair taxation is at stake today, and that it ought to transcend party differences as we try to create a more just society.
Does my hon. Friend share my fear that the Liberal Democrats may become an endangered political species? Before 2010, they were very popular in Swansea but following the tuition fees, VAT and deep cuts turnaround, they lost the council. If they do not support the mansion tax, which was part of their manifesto, does he not think there is a real danger that we will never see them again in the political sphere?
It would be a great loss for the House to lose some of the skills and contributions of Liberal Democrat Members. Perhaps at our next Opposition day debate a Liberal Democrat protection order should be on the agenda. They may cling on in a number of ways in different places.
I am surprised that the Liberal Democrats do not support the mansion tax proposition. It is hardly surprising that Conservatives do not support the idea. After all, half of them are in politics to defend the wealth of the wealthiest, and the other half will probably need to declare an interest before they speak on the issue.
Let us consider the mansion tax in relation to the other tax benefits that the richest 1% receive. If the Lib Dem design for a mansion tax were to be enacted, it would just recoup a mere fraction of the money being given away to high net worth individuals in the millionaires’ tax cut from April—the first of too many examples of unfairness. In the last Budget, the Chancellor took the decision to hit pensioners with the so-called granny tax, which is more accurately described as a freeze on the old age personal allowance and has caused widespread disgust, especially because the Government chose to use the money to fund a cut in the higher rate of income tax. That is not fair and it is not right, and it certainly should not be part of the society we want to build. Even Liberal Democrats must know that it is deeply resented across the country, yet the Government continue to clobber lower and middle-income families, whether by freezing the maternity pay of new parents, taking child benefit away in a fiendishly complex tax assessment process or reducing the value of the tax credits on which so many working people rely. They cannot even ensure that the money men pay their fair share, with a bank levy that for two years running has undershot the supposed target of £2.5 billion that the Chancellor claimed it would collect.
On maternity pay, the bedroom tax and the cuts to tax credits, the Government have their priorities all wrong. They are handing a tax cut to millionaires when millions of hard-working families pay more. Voting for the motion is an opportunity, especially for the Liberal Democrats, to tell the Government that they need to rebalance their priorities.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for introducing an admirable motion. Does he agree that it is not just about tax cuts for millions of people on middle and low incomes, but that it could also be an incentive for first-time buyers to get on to the first rung of the ladder? They do not want to buy a mansion, just a first house. Should the money be used for that too?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about finding ways to help those who aspire to own their home. I am certainly interested in discussing options for how that might be achieved, because it is important. It is becoming very difficult for people in those circumstances. They are the home owners that we really need to focus on. It is amazing that so many Government Members want to defend the massive super-wealth of those with properties of £2 million and above. All we want is that they pay their fair share, as the motion states in plain and simple terms. We are giving a timely pre-Budget opportunity for the House to express support for or opposition to a mansion tax as
“part of a fair tax system.”
It could not be more straightforward. The country is crying out for a tax system that focuses on helping the majority of the public and ensures that the wealthiest 1% pay their fair share.
First and foremost, Government Members have a duty to their constituents, who will be astonished if their MP flunks this opportunity to make real change because they are suppressing their principles in a bid to cling on to power.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
‘notes that this Coalition Government has cut income tax for 25 million people, taking over 2.2 million low income individuals out of income tax altogether, while at the same time increasing taxes on the wealthy, including raising stamp duty on expensive properties and restricting tax reliefs; further notes that both parts of the Coalition continue to support tax cuts for people on low and middle incomes; notes that the part of the Coalition led by the Deputy Prime Minister also advocates a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million, as set out in his party’s manifesto, and the part of the Coalition led by the Prime Minister does not advocate a mansion tax; and further notes that the top rate of income tax will be higher under this Government than under any year of the previous administration and that the rich are now paying a higher percentage of income tax than at any time under the previous administration, demonstrating that it presided over an unfair tax system where the rich paid less and the poor paid more in tax than now, meaning nobody will trust the Opposition’s promises on tax fairness.’.
After listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), we might have thought that it was the last Labour Government who increased stamp duty land tax to 7% on residential properties costing £2 million or more. We might have thought it was Labour that introduced a 15% rate of stamp duty for properties owned through a corporate vehicle. We might have thought that it was the last Government who imposed a cap on reliefs, limiting the extent to which the wealthy can drive down their tax rate, and we might have thought it was the last Government who deployed more resources to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to tackle evasion and avoidance, and closed down loopholes such as disguised remuneration that cost the Exchequer nearly £1 billion a year.
We might also have thought that the Labour Government had introduced the 50p rate of income tax in their first Budget, not their 13th. We might have thought it was the Labour Government who had taken more than 2 million low-paid earners out of income tax by raising the personal allowance.
Whatever the differences that may exist on the Government Benches, and there are differences on this matter, one thing is very clear: the Opposition are in no position to lecture the two parties on the Government Benches about how to put in place a fair tax system that provides support to working people and taxes the wealthy effectively.
At Treasury questions, one of the Minister’s colleagues said that the Government are focused on the causes of poverty. Can the Minister tell me how many of his millionaire friends getting a huge tax cut this year are actually pleading poverty?
In the last Budget package we increased taxes on the wealthy—higher rates of stamp duty, closing loopholes and putting a cap on reliefs. That is getting far more money from the wealthiest than a 50p rate that failed to do what income tax is supposed to do, which is raise funds to pay for public services. It did not do that.
One of the reliefs that has been reduced is on 40p tax, which went down from £37,000 to £34,000 and then to £32,000 this year. The Minister has squeezed the genuine middle class—the people earning just over £40,000—not the £400,000 a year middle class. That bit of cynicism will never be forgotten by those people.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is wrong. People earning just over £40,000 have seen tax cuts and a reduction in the total amount of income tax they pay, because the personal allowance has increased to more than compensate them. The higher-rate threshold has not increased as it might have done, because higher-rate taxpayers would gain more from the personal allowance than basic rate tax payers. Someone on between £40,000 and £44,000 a year is paying less income tax as a consequence of the Government’s policies than they would have done otherwise.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to confess that the reason why the Treasury predicts less will be generated by the 50p rate in the one year of its operation than the 45p rate is that he knows, as I do, that millionaires can move their money between tax years? As the rate only runs for one year, they will move their money to the lower tax year. He would raise more money if he kept the 50p going. It is a con for his mates.
There are two points. It is correct that the wealthy are often able to move income from one year to another, but the conclusion that HMRC and the Office for Budget Responsibility reached is that even taking into account the forestalling effect, the behavioural consequences of the 50p rate were so significant that it barely raised any revenue. That is the reality. It even takes into account the hon. Gentleman’s point about forestalling. That approach has been confirmed by the OBR. The 50p rate failed.
The message that the Government have repeated over and over again is that we are all in this together. Take the example of families in my constituency who live just one mile apart. One has been handed a tax cut as a result of the scrapping of the 50p tax rate. One mile in the other direction families will be handed a food parcel. Does the Minister think that is fair?
Let us look at what was in the last Budget in respect of stamp duty and the cap on reliefs. We could also look at what we have done with regard to capital gains tax. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has made it clear that the top 20% are affected most by the fiscal consolidation policies that have been pursued in this Parliament. Those with broadest shoulders are bearing the greatest burden. However, we have an enormous deficit that we have to get down—a deficit that we inherited from the Opposition.
My hon. Friend is right. The Labour Government were in office for 4,758 days. For all but 36 of those days, the highest rate of income tax was at 40p. Then it moved to 50p. There is a good question to ask the Opposition about why they kept it at 40p for so long. Why did they leave it until the fag-end of their Government, when it was clear that they would not be in government any more? The reason is that the 50p rate, predictably enough, did not do what it was supposed to do. It did not raise revenue, and an income tax that does not raise revenue is not something that a sensible Government would persevere with.
I turn to the mansion tax.
No. I shall make a little progress, devastating though the hon. Gentleman’s interventions so often are.
We have always been quite clear that the proposed mansion tax is an issue on which the two parties in the coalition have differing views. Our Liberal Democrat colleagues have supported the principle for some time. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster) will make that clear when he winds up the debate. In contrast, Conservative Ministers have very real concerns over such a proposal. We have concerns that a third of the properties in London worth more than £2 million have been in the same ownership for over 10 years, and that a mansion tax could hit asset-rich but potentially income-poor households, a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison).
My hon. Friend will know that £2 million does not buy a mansion in London, and certainly not in outer London, where I have a number of constituents who moved out from inner London decades ago. Their homes have increased in value beyond their wildest dreams over a very long period, but they are in fact cash-poor, quite often living on a modest pension. The thought of paying very large amounts of tax every year for the privilege of owning a home that they have had for many years would be extremely frightening. Can the Minister think of any practical way that an elderly person in that position could possibly pay that tax?
I noticed that that very point was one that the hon. Member for Nottingham East seemed to struggling with. He seemed to suggest that there were ways in which the Opposition would address that. I am not sure whether that was included in the costings they have produced. There is an issue for the asset-rich, cash-poor which would need to be addressed in the design and would obviously have an impact on the costing.
I am not going to debate at length the spare-room subsidy, which is an area of public spending constraint that we need to engage in. There is a genuine issue in respect of the asset-rich, cash-poor that the hon. Member for Nottingham East appeared to recognise and which would have to be addressed.
The mansion tax would be administratively burdensome for HMRC to operate, not to mention intrusive for the person having their home inspected. We would have concerns that in Labour’s hands, the starting level for such a tax would not stay at £2 million for very long. What began as a mansion tax would soon become a homes tax. To coin a phrase, it would become a tax for the many, not for the few.
I am surprised the Minister thinks that “the many” own properties worth £2 million and above. I wanted to ask him about the Treasury’s own proposition that residential properties of £2 million and above, albeit owned by a company, should have an annual charge based on a self-assessed valuation, with a banding process. Is he saying that his own policy is administratively burdensome?
Let us be clear. One of the weaknesses in the tax system that we inherited was the fact that people were able to walk around the paying of stamp duty. On very valuable properties, it was all too easy for people to arrange their affairs thorough corporate vehicles and not pay stamp duty. In the last Budget this Government introduced measures that will deal with that enveloping and deal with one of the unfairnesses in our tax system. One of the ways in which we are going to do that, as well as a high stamp duty charge for properties held in corporate vehicles, is to bring in an annual residential property tax. That is focused only on properties worth more than £2 million held by a corporate vehicle. It would apply to only 6,000 properties, we estimate. It is a very narrowly focused policy that will enable us to deal with an area of avoidance that was allowed to carry on for far too long under Labour.
As a tax that is much harder to evade or avoid, there is the land value tax. That is supported by one half of the coalition and by the OECD and the IMF. The IFS has said that the case for a land value tax is overwhelming because it is much fairer. Given that that is the case, can the Minister explain why his Government will not even do some basic research into it, as my private Member’s Bill requested?
We are left with the same issues of complexity of valuation across the board, and the issues of the asset-rich, cash poor. That is why my part of the coalition is not keen to proceed with that matter, but it is worth pointing out that we are raising more money from property. There is a stamp duty land tax of 7% on residential properties costing £2 million or more, a policy that is easy to administer and will not impact on existing home owners.
On the mansion tax, we have made no secret of the fact that the two parties disagree. If we did not disagree on some things, we would be one party, not two. But in the circumstances that we are in, it has been perfectly possible for two parties to work together in a sensible and mature way and to reach agreement on a host of measures that have made our tax system fairer, easier to understand and competitive. We heard much from the hon. Member for Nottingham East to the effect that we should do more to help low-income workers. May I just remind him and the House of the progress that we have made in raising the personal allowance? In 2010, someone on £6,500 was paying income tax at 20%. From next month, someone has to earn £9,440 before paying any income tax at all. Our measures on the personal allowance have provided a huge tax cut for millions of people and will take more than 2.2 million of the lowest earners out of income tax altogether. In fact, over the course of this Parliament, someone working full time on the national minimum wage will have seen their income tax bill cut in half.
Let us contrast our record with that of our predecessors. Let us remember that when the right hon. and absent Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) did his last Budget, rather than cut taxes for the working poor, he increased them. People talk about the scrapping of the 10p rate, but Labour did not scrap it, they doubled it. They turned it into a 20p rate. For example, someone earning £9,000 a year in 2007 would have heard a Labour Chancellor stand up and announce that a Labour Government were going to increase their income tax bill by more than £200. Last year, someone on £9,000 a year would have heard a Conservative Chancellor stand up and announce that a coalition Government were going to take them out of income tax altogether. Our constituents on £9,000 a year will soon be paying no income tax at all, saving more than £500 since the coalition came to power. Labour turned a 10p rate of income tax into a 20p rate. This coalition has turned a 20p rate into a 0p rate.
There is no particularly sensible reason why there should be a different personal allowance for someone who is 64, compared with 65 or 75. It is clearly a simpler and, I believe, fairer system that one personal allowance should apply to everybody. That was never an option available to the Labour party because the main personal allowance for someone under the age of 65 was so low. We have been able to increase it substantially so that one personal allowance can apply to everybody. That is a simpler and fairer way to deal with that issue. At the same time, we have increased pensions, thanks to the triple lock guarantee, by much more than we would have done if we had stuck with the plans that we inherited. Last year, pensioners saw their biggest increase in the state pension.
While my hon. Friend is on the subject of the last Labour Government, he will recall that in 2009-10, the last financial year of the last Labour Government, expenditure exceeded income by £159 billion, equal to 11% of the whole country’s income. Since he has been a Minister at the Treasury, have civil servants explained to him why that was allowed to happen, virtually bankrupting this country?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There is no explanation that civil servants can give for that. An explanation and an apology are due from the Opposition, but we await either of those. I think that they persist in the view that there was no structural deficit even before the crash—
Debt is the accumulation of deficits. We inherited the largest deficit in our peacetime history, and every measure that we have taken to reduce that deficit the Opposition have opposed, and then they complain that debt is rising. That is the most absurd position. We are criticised for not borrowing enough, and then we are criticised for our debt going up. There is no consistency or credibility in the Opposition’s position, just as there was no credibility or consistency in their treatment of low-paid workers. In government, they raised the rate of income tax; in opposition, they make promises that they will cut it. When we remember the reality, why should those on low incomes ever trust Labour again?
In fairness of taxation, another area where this Government have done a great job is on fuel duty. The fuel duty is now 10p a litre lower on the mainland and 15p a litre lower on islands than it would have been if the Labour party had still been in power. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue that good work and that in the Budget there will be an announcement that the September fuel duty increase inherited from Labour will not go ahead.
I will take that as a Budget representation. It is perhaps worth pointing out that there was a measure that the previous Labour Government had to reduce the deficit, which was substantial increases in fuel duty over the course of this Parliament. That is a measure that we have been able to stop, and quite right too.
Will the Minister explain why four out of five people feel that austerity is not working? Is it related to the downgrading of the economy yet again for 2013? Is it the shrinking of the economy in the last quarter of last year by 0.9%? Or is it that the OBR had to call the Prime Minister to task and give him an economics lesson?
This is a difficult time for all major economies, and the UK is no exception, but matters would be much worse if we were to abandon our desire to bring some control to the public finances. We must ensure that there is the political will to deal with the public finances, and that is what this Government will continue to demonstrate. The approach of ignoring the deficit, believing that this is all an issue that can be addressed at some future time, is economically irresponsible and unfair on future generations who will face the bill that they will have to pick up because we failed to address those problems now.
Is this not also about fairness? For instance, while the threshold changes that he has mentioned of £3,000, which deliver a saving of £11.50 a week to taxpayers, cost £9 billion, he will save half a billion pounds from inflicting that £11.50 on people for the empty bedroom tax. With a small amount of the money used to raise the tax threshold, he could have alleviated that for the very poorest. Is not this about values and not inflicting the most hardship on the most poor while giving a bung to the voters?
I take it from what the hon. Gentleman says that rather than raise the personal allowance, he would prefer us to spend more on the welfare bill. If that is the hon. Gentleman’s position, fair enough, but I do not agree. Raising the personal allowance, taking people out of income tax, and making sure that work pays, are all things that a sensible Government should do, and I am delighted that this coalition Government are able to do that.
I come now to the taxation of those on highest incomes, on which we have already touched. The top 1% of taxpayers, those with incomes of over £150,000 a year, will pay more than a quarter of all income tax, while the top 5% of taxpayers, those with income of £68,000 or more, will pay nearly half of income tax. We agree that it is important that we create a tax system that ensures that those who earn the most contribute the most, but it is also important that we create a tax system that works. Among other things, that means a tax system that does not damage our economy by undermining our international competitiveness.
The Government inherited a top rate of tax at 50p, a rate that our predecessors, who this afternoon have painted themselves as the party of taxing the rich more, had put in place for just 36 of their 4,758 days in power. The rate that they left us with was the highest top rate among major economies. The last Labour Chancellor had made it clear that it was temporary. It was also very clear that it was having an immediate impact on our competitiveness.
Let me say something that I hope is not controversial: the principal purpose of income tax is to raise revenue. So we commissioned HMRC to analyse just how effective the 50p rate was in raising revenue.
That HMRC report, laid before the House, set out thorough and compelling evidence on the impact of the 50p rate. It showed that the rate was uncompetitive, distortive and inefficient. Not only did it not raise much revenue, but it could even have cost the Exchequer money when the indirect impacts on other taxes were taken into account. This Government were not prepared to maintain a rate of income tax that was both ineffective at raising money and that left us with the highest statutory rate of income tax in the G20, so we acted, in the interests of the country, and the top rate of tax will fall to 45p from April this year. This will see our top rate of tax drop below that of Australia, Germany, Japan and Canada, which will send a signal to businesses taking decisions on investment and location that the UK is a competitive environment.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point in the context of the changes we have made to our corporate tax system. In 2009 KPMG commissioned a survey of tax professionals, asking them to name the three most competitive countries. The UK was nominated by just 16% of respondents. In 2012 KPMG undertook the same survey and the UK was nominated by 72% of respondents. That is a dramatic change, which we are proud of, and it will help our economy grow. We have also had the courage to reduce the 50p rate, which will help our competitiveness, too.
One thing we do know is that mansions cannot emigrate if the tax rate goes up. Earlier my hon. Friend the Minister said that the problem with the mansion tax is that it becomes a home tax. Does he agree that the council tax is also a home tax, and may I understand from what he has been saying that the Conservatives are coming round to the Liberal Democrat view that we should consider introducing a local income tax as an alternative for financing local authorities?
No, I think my hon. Friend would be wrong to reach that conclusion from what I have said. There is an interesting debate on the balance between property and income taxes, however, and I note his suggestion in that context.
May I now return to the topic of the 50p rate, as I know the hon. Member for Nottingham East likes to focus on it? The Opposition may think that in this day and age 50p is the least the wealthy should pay in income tax. I want to put to them the question raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin). In less than four weeks the 50p rate will have gone. The additional rate will be 45p. Will Labour seek to reverse that? I am happy to take an intervention on this point. Will Labour seek to reverse that after the next election?
That is very amusing, but of course I am not going to do so. I am fairly confident, however, that at the next general election the Conservative party will not be advocating a 50p rate of income tax. The hon. Gentleman is calling for a 50p rate of income tax, however. He will not tell us why. He is now saying, “Well, we don’t know what the economic circumstances will be.” That is fair enough, but does he think that his party will make a manifesto commitment at the next general election to introduce a mansions tax? Is that a commitment? I am happy to give way again.
It is very simple: now, in 2013, we can see the deficit rising and getting worse and we can see borrowing increasing, growth flat-lining and living standards falling, and the Minister is asking us to predict what we are going to do in two years’ time. How on earth do we know what other horrors are in next week’s Budget box or, heaven forfend, in the spending review of 26 June? Can he tell us what is in that spending review?
This is starting to get interesting, because we have now learned that the Labour party has moved a motion trying to persuade Liberal Democrats to vote in support of a mansion tax, yet Labour will not confirm whether it thinks a mansion tax is a sensible policy for the next Parliament. The position of the Liberal Democrats is clear and the position of the Conservatives is clear; what is not clear is whether the Labour party, after all, supports a mansion tax. Will it be in its manifesto? That is a perfectly clear question.
The Minister is being very generous in giving way, but I want to ask him what his Government are doing. I tabled a written parliamentary question to his Department asking about the average tax rates for different groups of people, and he may be astounded to know—as I am sure many of my constituents in Oldham will be—that 6% of people on incomes over £10 million pay under 10% income tax. What is he doing to address that inequity?
That is exactly why in the last Budget this Government brought in a cap on reliefs preventing the wealthy from driving down their tax rate to such levels—something the Labour party never did in 13 years in government. I note, however, that I get no answers to my question.
Let us be clear: we hear lots of complaints about the 50p rate being reduced to 45p, but we get no indication as to whether the Labour party would or would not reverse that if it were to win the next election. I can only assume that that is because deep down it knows that campaigning on 50p might look good on a leaflet but is lousy for the economy; after all, that seemed to be Labour’s approach when it was in government. We have also learned this afternoon that the Labour party is not committed to a mansion tax in the next Parliament, after all. So what do we have? We have opportunism on the 50p rate and opportunism on the mansion tax.
I am going to press on.
This is what we have seen from the Labour party, therefore: we have a party that increases the tax rates on the low-paid and then lectures a Government who take the low-paid out of income tax; we have a party that is in uproar at our reducing the additional rate of income tax to 45p but that will not promise to reverse it; and we have a party that did little, or nothing, to tax expensive properties more now being converted to a mansion tax for the purposes of this afternoon’s vote for transparently political reasons, but refusing to confirm that it will be their policy at the next election. That is pathetic. It is insincere, it lacks any semblance of credibility, and it deserves to be defeated. I urge my hon. Friends to defeat the motion and support the amendment.
What a load of codswallop we have been listening to since the Minister got up on his hind legs! Obviously, this motion is setting out a direction of travel. We are saying that those with the broadest shoulders should take the biggest load and the poorest should not pay the cost of the bankers’ recklessness.
The myth that is habitually recited by Government Members is “What a fine mess you’ve left us in,” so it is important to remind people of the facts. I recently met people from the Bank of England, and I have in my hand a graph showing that our growth rate rose continuously between 1998 and 2008, but then dipped when there was the financial tsunami. The GDP growth under Labour was 37% before that dip. We then had the fiscal stimulus thanks to our friend Mr Obama and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), which got us back to some fragile growth moving into 2010, but then the Tories came to power.
I also have a graph showing that two thirds of the deficit—the green bit—is from the bankers and the other third is the Government spending above their earnings in order to pump-prime, to avoid a depression and deliver a mild recession and a prosperous future for Britain. What happened? Obviously, George Osborne came along, announced that half a million people would be sacked but he did not say who they were, so public servants stopped spending—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. If 1 million more people are in work but there is zero growth—in other words, there has been no overall increase in production—that implies that people who had been in full-time jobs are now in part-time jobs and that aggregate production has not increased, which is a complete failure. It is symptomatic of Tory Britain, with people scratching around for anything they can find in difficult times.
There has been some discussion of the 50p rate of tax. As I have mentioned, the reason the Treasury thinks it would not make any money from a 50p rate is that it knows that millionaires can move money between tax years, which is precisely what they have done. They knew that their Tory mates would reduce the top rate of tax the next year and so simply shifted their income to that year. The point that I had wanted to make in another intervention—I appreciate that two were taken—relates to the idea that the 50p rate does not work and is therefore dead. However, people earning between £32,000 and £42,000 already pay 52% marginal tax—12% for national insurance and 40% for income tax—but of course no one talks about that. How does that change their behaviour, and why is it fair that they pay the higher rate while people on £150,000 do not because they have accountants? It is ridiculous.
I want to develop the hon. Gentleman’s point. We currently have a tax band between £100,000 and £115,000 in which people face a marginal tax rate of 62%, with the personal allowance and national insurance. Is he suggesting that that is somehow justifiable, or more justifiable than the top rate tax he is suggesting for those earning more than £150,000?
I am simply saying that those with the broadest shoulders should take the greatest weight, that there is a strong case for a 50p rate of tax and that some people already pay the 50p rate. I am not saying that they should pay that. Our tax system is not very fair, and I will move on to that later.
The problem we face is that there is no growth in our economy because there is no consumer demand, and although the deficit—the rate at which the debt is increasing —has gone down by 25%, as we are constantly reminded, the overall debt continues to rise to unprecedented levels. We are almost back to a pre-1997 situation in which we are paying people to stay on the dole and, at the same time, cutting services. That is the old Tory vicious cycle. We want to get back to Labour’s virtuous cycle, with people in jobs and paying tax and with unprecedented growth.
The other point that is always made is that the banks were unregulated and that is why everything went wrong. The reality is that the Financial Services Authority—I know that it has had a bad name—was introduced in the teeth of opposition from the Tories, who said that there was too much regulation already. Then, when the banks started going bust, the Labour Government said that we had better nationalise them so that people could still get money out at the hole in the wall. The Tories said, “No, let them fall.” That would have been a complete catastrophe. So in other words, the previous Labour Government did a very good job. We now have a situation in which, instead of confronting the deficit, which is what we should be doing, the Government have the wrong balance between growth and cuts, and within the cuts there is the wrong balance—80% cuts and 20% tax.
As for the claim that we are all in this together, we are now in a situation in which the poor are paying the most. I mentioned in a brief intervention—I also raised this in Prime Minister’s questions—a man who came to see me who had £20 a week, after utility bills, for food and clothing. He now faces a further hit of about £7 a week for having an empty bedroom. How will he survive on £2 a day? Allegedly, that change will save the Government about half a billion pounds, but of course it will not, because obviously people will move to the private sector, where rents are higher, and there will be empty houses in the public sector because councils will be forced to evict people. It makes no economic sense at all. However, if it did raise half a billion pounds, which is about one twentieth of what the Chancellor is investing in the tax thresholds, the hit to the very poorest will be similar to the gain to a very large number of people, and that will cost a great deal of money.
The point I am trying to make is that what will probably result in no savings will inflict enormous hardship on the most vulnerable, which is unnecessary and wrong. Those people, because they are very poor, have no option but to spend all their money locally, which helps to boost growth. If that money is redistributed from the very poorest to the squeezed middle, which is obviously good for votes—a callous and cynical manoeuvre in difficult economic times—then clearly that is not in favour of growth either. In so far as it will push money right up the income scale to the millionaires who live in mansions—the people we have been talking about—what will they do with the extra money the Government will have bunged to them? The threshold has gone up, so those at the top will also gain as a result. They will hide it away offshore.
There are therefore difficult issues to confront. We need to invest in our productive economy, but what is a fair way to do that in a—dare I say it—one nation way? Britain wants a one nation future that works and a future that cares, and the question for us all in difficult times must be how we deliver that. How do we invest, as I mentioned during Treasury questions, in super-connectivity for the city of Swansea? We do it on the back of investment in universities, electrified rail and communications and by marketing city regions, and indeed Britain, for inward investment. Those are all important. The Minister mentioned some of the issues about marginal corporate taxation, but the research tends to show that the major inward investment drivers are around research and development skills and access to markets, and we are well positioned on that.
On corporate taxation, there is a lot to be said—to be fair to the Minister, he mentioned this—for the idea of taxing economic activity where it occurs, whether we are talking about Google, Amazon or other companies. Amazon is local to my constituency and provides valuable jobs, but it needs to be fair and there needs to be a level playing field. If people are buying on Amazon rather than at a local shop, it is important that the local shop knows that they are all playing the same game.
Let us take the example of Apple phones and all the technology in the phone I am holding in my hand. The internet was invented here, and the other stuff, such as touch-screen and voice-activated technology, was invented in the national institute of science in California. So Apple is being taken to court by California for $26 billion because it does not pay any tax. Apple has taken innovation from the public sector, repackaged it, branded it, manufactured it overseas and got it taxed somewhere else. A big issue is that global conglomerates need to be brought to account and to pay their contribution to the public services where people are consuming their products.
Some of these people obviously live in mansions. The issue about the mansion tax, of course, is that it is part of a more general review of council tax, as other Members have mentioned, which has not been uprated. There needs to be a progressive system of taxation. Obviously the mansion tax, which is a Liberal Democrat proposal, had not been completely thought out in all its intricacies, but it is a direction of travel. If someone lives in a £2 million house, it is not that difficult to find ways of getting income out of it. It can be rented out and, with the rental income, the owner could have a palatial place in south Wales and a profit, so they could sit by the sea and enjoy themselves. For those people who are stuck in £2 million cupboards in London, allegedly, and we feel sorry for them, there are ways of releasing equity, as they could be rented out and people will pay the market rate.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman make some progress on the mansion tax. Obviously it is a Liberal Democrat policy, and I am really looking forward perhaps to voting for it later. Can he explain to me—I am keen to know—whether it will be in the Labour party manifesto at the next election?
Sadly, I cannot confirm that at the moment because I am not quite in a position to be writing the party’s manifesto, although I have ambition.
In difficult times we should focus on growth and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders take the weight and that we do not just squeeze the poor for the bankers’ mistakes. This proposal is part of a tapestry of opportunity to move forward on that, and we call on the Liberal Democrats to support us on what is, after all, their idea. Locally in Swansea the Liberal Democrats have been a very strong party with control of the council. Since 2010, they have been in a woeful state because people are worried about their broken promises on tuition fees and so on. This is their chance to redeem themselves so that there can be some glimmer of belief in a future for the Liberal party. If they do not vote for their own policy, what hope is there? Very little, I am afraid.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker—indeed, a man from Swansea.
It is a pleasure to speak in favour of the Government amendment tabled by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, because it reflects the realities of coalition Government. The amendment is completely frank about the fact that there are two parties in coalition and that one of them—my party, the Liberal Democrats—supports a mansion tax while the other, the Conservative party, does not. When we conducted our coalition negotiations back in May 2010, the Liberal Democrats were successful in getting many of our policies into the coalition agreement that is now being implemented by the Government, but the mansion tax was resisted by the Conservative party, and that is why the Chancellor has not, thus far, put it forward in his Budgets. We accept that position. Our amendment reflects the realities of the coalition.
I will come to that, if the hon. Gentleman is patient.
The key sentences in the Opposition motion and in the coalition Government amendment are those which refer to our support for tax cuts for people on low and middle incomes; we have that in common. However, it rather depends on what one means by that. We know what we mean by it. At the last general election, the Liberal Democrats said that the most effective way to cut taxes for people on low and middle incomes was to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000. That policy was accepted by our coalition partners and it has now been delivered by the coalition Government. I listened carefully to what the Leader of the Opposition said in his speech just a month ago when, lo and behold, Labour was converted to a mansion tax. The purpose of that conversion was specifically to right the wrong that the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) acknowledged was done in 2007—in other words, to reintroduce the 10p rate. That is what Labour’s policy is. The motion is not entirely clear about that, but we have heard the words of the Leader of the Opposition. We know that, yes, they are now in favour of a mansion tax, but specifically to fund a 10p tax rate, which we think will be completely ineffective.
Yes, it was. I said it on “Westminster Hour”, on Radio 5, on the “Daily Politics” show, and on other programmes as well. Indeed I could have written it myself. However, I know precisely what I mean by a mansion tax, but we have not heard spelled out in any detail what Labour Members think it should be. I know what I mean by a tax cut for low and middle-income earners, because that is what this Government are doing while we are in office. I am entirely clear what I mean by the text of the motion; the trouble is that it has not been exactly clear what Labour Members mean by their words.
We support the proposition that the hon. Gentleman has elucidated about a mansion tax, so, okay, we are clear about what we mean by a mansion tax. When the Business Secretary said that if the motion were
“purely a statement of support for the principle of a mansion tax, I’m sure my colleagues would want to support it”,
was he wrong?
The Business Secretary is never wrong; he is a very wise man. I do not see any great difference between what he said and what I said on the record several times yesterday and over the weekend. We know what we mean by a tax for low and middle-income earners. We know what Labour Members mean as well—a reintroduction of the 10p tax rate, and that is why we disagree with them.
I cannot give way again because I have now lost all my concessions.
The reason the Business Secretary—our shadow Chancellor, as he then was—proposed a mansion tax towards the end of 2009 was that property wealth in our country is woefully under-taxed. Our only property tax is council tax. In England, the top council tax band, band H, is twice the rate of the broadest band, band D, and three times that of the basic band, band A. That means, in effect, that in our only property tax the rate for a £10 million mansion is only three times the rate for a bedsit. That is clearly a ludicrous way to tax property. The band H top rate is only £320,000. Let us take as an example the royal London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, just along from where we are now. A £90 million mansion—I can see no other way to describe a £90 million house—in Kensington Palace gardens pays council tax of £2,151. That is the top rate of council tax that can possibly be paid in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea—exactly the same as the rate for a small flat in that borough. That is a nonsensical property tax. That is why my party, the Liberal Democrats, backs the introduction of a mansion tax on properties with a value of over £2 million, with an annual levy of 1% on the excess over £2 million. That means that someone who had a £2.1 million mansion would pay mansion tax of £1,000 tax a year, while someone with a £3 million mansion would pay mansion tax of £10,000 a year.
The Minister and several other Members have asked what would happen to people who are asset-rich but income-poor. We have always had a very simple answer to that. In those cases, the tax would be rolled up and would crystallise once the property was sold and then be met from the sale price. That is a very simple concept for a very simple tax. We have also said that it should be a national tax, not a local tax. We have not hypothecated it to any particular tax measure, and we have not tied it to the reintroduction of a 10p tax rate as the Opposition have, which is why we do not support their motion. However, it could take us to the final milestone of getting to the £10,000 income tax-free threshold that I am reasonably confident will be announced very shortly. It could certainly contribute to getting the Liberal Democrats to where we wish to go next—that is, to making sure that every adult on the national minimum wage, which is currently £12,071, should not be caught in the income tax net. We may be able to make progress towards that in the latter days of this coalition, but it will certainly be in the Liberal Democrat manifesto in 2015; we are completely clear about that.
Labour Members have linked their mansion tax proposal—at least the concept, as they have not fleshed out what it really is—to the reintroduction of the 10p tax rate. I think it is fair to have a little look at Labour’s record on the 10p tax rate. I love Budget debates, and I have been in the House for all of them in the eight years that I have been an MP. In March 2007, I was sitting just where the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) is sat on the Opposition Benches as I listened to last Budget speech of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) in which he announced the abolition of the 10p tax rate. That was met on the then Government Benches with wild cheers and waving of Order Papers because it was to finance a cut in the basic rate of tax from 22% to 20%. Why was that being done? What was so crucial about its timing? As we know, the then Chancellor was heir apparent to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. He thought that there was going to be an autumn 2007 general election and that an income tax cut for better-off people in society, financed by the poorest, whom he assumed would always vote Labour, seemed like a good piece of populist politics—but it backfired and blew up in his face. Six years on, we are asked to believe that Labour wants to make good for that mistake.
There was another tax change in 2007 that does not get much attention. A lot of Labour Members here today were not Members of the House at that time, so I will forgive them for not remembering, but perhaps someone else on the Labour Benches wants to remind us of the other tax change that the former Prime Minister introduced in 2007. I see that there are no volunteers, so I will tell the House, because I can see that Members are now in suspense: it was a doubling of the inheritance tax threshold from £325,000 to £650,000 in a double-income household. That is Labour’s record in government: tax cuts for the wealthy. We know that they were completely discombobulated by the then shadow Chancellor’s announcement to the Conservative party conference of a cut in inheritance tax and were keen to match it.
I am sure that Labour Members love reading Polly Toynbee’s column every week and that it is compulsory reading at the breakfast table in Labour households and in the Tea Room. In her column in The Guardian this morning dear Polly said:
“Labour barely dared breathe on the riches that soared upwards on their watch.”
I could not agree more. At the time of its abolition, the 10p tax rate taxed incomes under £7,455 at 10%, but since taking office we have taken such incomes out of tax altogether. Surely it is better to be taxed at 0% than at 10%, so the coalition has been much fairer to people on low incomes.
That is not all that the coalition has done. We have restricted pension tax relief. Up to May 2010 under Labour someone could put more than £250,000 a year into their pension pot, whereas this year under the coalition the figure is only £40,000. We raised capital gains tax from 18% to 28% and stamp duty on properties worth more than £2 million to 7%. We might not have been able to persuade our coalition partners on an annual mansion tax, but we have persuaded them on a mansion duty when properties of that value are acquired.
We have done more to tackle avoidance. We set up an affluence unit in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which will examine in detail the affairs of 500,000 of the most wealthy people, and placed a 15% charge on domestic properties bought via a company—a classic example of avoidance that the previous Government did little to block, just as they did not block and, indeed, voted against disguised remuneration when we proposed to tackle it in one of our first Finance Bills.
We have been through many Opposition days, both in government and in opposition. When the votes are counted at 10 past 4, very little will have changed. What are the origins of this motion? We know that it is based on a policy stolen from the Liberal Democrats. I understand the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband) also proposed it in his leadership bid, so one brother steals from the other as well as from the Liberal Democrats. This is pantomime politics, but nobody is laughing.
I apologise for the fact that, as I indicated to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall need to leave the Chamber at about 2.30 pm, although I shall return, so thank you for calling me now.
I support the motion, the fundamentals of which simply call
“on the Government to bring forward proposals for”
a mansion tax “at the earliest opportunity”. It is a proposal—nothing more, nothing less—that I should have thought the junior coalition partner supported.
I should like to remind the House, especially the Liberal Democrats, of a speech on tax and fairness delivered last month by the Deputy Prime Minister, in which he said:
“I continue to believe we should ask for what would be a modest contribution from the very wealthy, either in the form of a Mansion tax—a 1% levy on properties worth more than £2m—applied just to the value over and above £2m; my preferred option. Or, alternatively, we could introduce new council tax bands at the top end, again, affecting properties worth over £2m. . . Nothing could do more to demonstrate a commitment to greater fairness in our tax system. I will continue to make this argument, in this Coalition and beyond. My approach is simple: taxes on mansions; tax cuts for millions.”
Only time will tell whether there is the slightest hint of sincerity in those words.
We are debating the issue today only because our nation’s economic uncertainty and problems mean it is right that we do so. What is the current problem? It is squeezed living standards and a flatlining economy. Families are working harder for longer and for less, yet almost daily they witness prices going up and up. The talents of millions of our young people are being wasted and small businesses, which will drive our economy, are being held back by banks and a Government who are not on their side.
Yesterday evening I met representatives of a number of small and medium-sized enterprises based in the London area. They told me and other Labour Members that banks need to work for them and not against them, which has been their experience of the past two or three years: banks are not lending to the most entrepreneurial businesses, and in their eyes everything is going backwards. The economy is not growing and has flatlined over the past two years, and the deficit is going up. Government borrowing is increasing as a result of economic failure. Those of us who watched closely in the ’80s and early ’90s saw what economic failure did to the nation. We are witnessing nothing short of trickle-down economics: the middle is being squeezed and almost daily there is a race to the bottom.
The Government’s economic vision is of a race to the bottom in wages and skills, rewarding only those at the very top and leaving everyone else squeezed as never before. Next week taxes will be cut by an average of £100,000 for 13,000 people earning more than £1 million, yet millions of working families will be asked to pay more as their tax credits are cut.
The Government refuse to stand up to the energy and train companies that are squeezing family budgets. Debates have been held in the House over a prolonged period, but nothing has been done to protect some of our poorest families and communities.
From listening to everything said by Members on the Government Benches one would think that everything in the garden was rosy, but my hon. Friend makes a point that has been echoed by research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies: that under the measures in the Government’s autumn statement the poorest 40% in society are losing much more than the richest tenth.
My hon. Friend is correct: the figures given by the IFS are there for all to see and cannot be disputed. We are seeing real pain and suffering, hard as never before, in many communities. I am sure that constituents of hon. Members on both sides of the House are looking to their MPs for guidance and support. I fear in particular for young families. Those of us who are slightly more senior in years know what it is like to be told that we have to tighten our belts, but younger families find it difficult to cope with such comments.
Over the past two years the Government’s approach has been shown to be not working, but Labour Members know that it can never work. Prosperity will be achieved only when everyone plays their part in building the economy—a recovery made by many, not just a few at the top who believe they are aiding some recovery. That is the lesson of history. In the industrial revolution, which I know was way back, it was those who went down the mines, spun the cotton, built ships and constructed bridges who drove the economy forward. The nation is crying out for a fairer tax system, which we will put at the heart of our new priorities. As well as cancelling the millionaires’ tax cut and the changes to tax credits this April, a Labour Budget would tax houses worth more than £2 million and use the money gathered to cut taxes for working people. A fairer tax system would send a message about how Britain will succeed in the years ahead that says: “When you play your part and make your contribution to the economy, you will be rewarded.”
The Labour party would tackle vested interests. We need to act when working people are paying more than they should. We have said that we would break the stranglehold of the big six energy companies, stop the price rip-offs of the train companies on the most popular routes and cap the interest on payday loans.
Our country has to change. We must end the culture that says that university is always best and that vocational education is second class. That simply is not true. We see the need to create a new technical baccalaureate to complement A-levels. We see the need to give employers, for the first time ever, control of the money for training. We see the demand for Britain’s employers to step up and offer real apprenticeships and proper training.
Today, we are increasingly two nations with high-skilled, high-paid jobs for those at the very top, but low-skilled, low-paid jobs that involve long hours for too many people. A one nation economy needs to support businesses that create sustainable middle-income jobs by introducing a modern industrial policy.
I very much agree with the tenor of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, particularly in relation to fair taxation. However, I remind him that barely any of the sensible things that he wants to do were achieved in the 13 years of the Labour Government. Some of what he says is therefore rather galling to listen to.
The hon. Gentleman and others in this House have complained long and hard over many years about the investment that was made in this country by the Labour Government and the work that they did to stabilise and take forward the economy. There is a reluctance to remember what had to be done at the time of the crisis when the banks failed. We had to support the economy of this country by supporting those banks.
To conclude, I will return to the point that I made at the beginning of my speech. All we are asking is that the Government bring forward proposals for a mansion tax at the earliest opportunity. We are not asking that a mansion tax be introduced, but we need to engage in the debate. I would go further and say that what our nation needs and deserves above all else is an open discussion about taxation and what it means to our country. What can taxation deliver for the people of our nation? Our European neighbours have such discussions.
I hear what Liberal Democrat Members say, but any sincerity that they have must be shown in the Division later this afternoon.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown), who ingeniously addressed the topics of both of this afternoon’s debates and some even broader topics.
I will confine my remarks to the taxation of high-value property. The motion refers to a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million. A serious problem with the motion is that the Government have already brought in a range of measures to increase the incidence of tax on the owners of properties worth more than £2 million. No definition of “mansion tax” per se is provided in the motion.
The Leader of the Opposition hypothecated the revenues that would purportedly be raised by the mansion tax to reintroduce the 10% rate of tax, which was abolished by the previous Government. The cost of that would be some £7.3 billion. Research that was published recently shows that to raise that amount of money, a so-called mansion tax would have to be introduced not on properties worth more than £2 million, but on properties worth more than £415,000. It may be that the Opposition wish to tax people in that class of income more. Perhaps they think that they are rich, are benefiting too much and need to pay more to the Government. I look forward to their fighting the next election on that basis.
Meanwhile, our coalition partners have said that there should be a mansion tax that applies only to residential property worth more than £2 million. However, we have also heard from the Liberal Democrats—I am not sure whether it came from the federal policy committee or quite how they develop these policies—that it would apply not just to mansions above £2 million, but to property generally above £2 million. It is therefore just as important for somebody who has 10 flats worth £200,000 each to pay the extra tax as somebody who has a so-called mansion worth £2 million. Apparently, they are going to go further and inspect the contents of jewellery boxes and levy taxes on those as well.
My hon. Friend is setting various hares flying across the field. Of course, I am not in favour of hunting, but those hares need to be stopped from running. The jewellery tax is complete nonsense. As I have said many times on the record, we are not in favour of a net wealth tax that allows HMRC to look beyond people’s front doors. On the property portfolio, if somebody owned 10 flats, the nine that they did not live in would probably be attracting rental income and so would already be taxed. A mansion tax would apply to somebody’s principal residence if it was worth more than £2 million.
Who can tell with these things? My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) has given assurances, but the policy proposals that I cited have been submitted to the federal policy committee of his party. It is difficult as an outsider to judge how formal and important that is, but there are clearly Liberal Democrats who are talking about a broader tax on wealth and capital, including on jewellery. I think that would be a mistake.
It is unfortunate that the Opposition with this motion and our friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches have become so focused on the arbitrary sum of £2 million. The Government are doing very good things in raising tax from people who own high-value properties but have not been paying their fair share of tax. The Opposition and the Liberal Democrats seem to want to confine their efforts to rein in tax avoidance to those who own houses worth more than £2 million. I and my Conservative colleagues do not understand why we should be concerned about tax avoidance just when a person’s house is worth more than £2 million.
It is hugely welcome that the Government are bringing in the anti-avoidance measure of a 15% tax when homes that are worth more than £2 million are enveloped into a company, which is generally done for the purposes of tax avoidance. However, I am not entirely clear why we are doing that only for homes worth more than £2 million, except for the fact that that is the arbitrary number that has been chosen by the Liberal Democrats for such taxation. [Interruption.] The Opposition are calling out, but they did nothing about this matter for 13 years. It is a huge improvement that this Government are dealing with tax avoidance using properties worth more than £2 million.
If I may, I will continue for a while.
There have been consultation papers and draft legislation on how the anti-avoidance measure will be introduced. There will be self-assessment, so there will be no need for the great costs of revaluing properties. I am sure that the Minister is keen to raise more money, so will he say whether there is any hope that the Government will take action against people who avoid the 5% tax on a property that is worth between £1 million and £2 million by putting it into a company?
Perhaps the Minister will assist me on another point. Where people have enveloped houses into a company there will be an annual charge of between 0.3% and 0.7% of the property’s value, which is welcome. Many of the papers have suggested that the purpose of that is to encourage people—or in this case companies—to de-envelope their properties, and the measure will come in only after 1 April 2013. Do the Government expect stamp duty to be paid on those de-enveloping transactions, so that if the property’s value is more than £2 million there will be a 7% charge, or do they expect the sale to be from a controlled company to the person controlling that company, perhaps at a nominal rate that will not attract stamp duty, in order to recoup some of the avoidance they may have made over previous years? I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to that.
As well as dealing with tax avoidance on properties under £2 million, I would also like non-residents to make a fairer contribution. I was first alerted to the issue by the Chancellor when in opposition. He said that he found the situation extraordinary, and there was a great deal of resentment when he explained how it worked and about the exemption from capital gains tax for non-residents. I do not understand why a resident of this country must pay capital gains tax on the sale of their property—unless it is their principal residence—yet a non-resident is exempt from that tax.
A huge flow of overseas money has come to this country as people fear the break-up of the eurozone and there is a rush to safety, and much of that has gone into property in central London. We say to people who own those homes, “As long as you don’t live there and you stay overseas, we will give you a tax break and you won’t have to pay capital gains tax.” When we go to Mayfair or parts of Belgravia, it sometimes feels as if not many people are about. We are subsidising and giving a tax break to people as long as they do not live in this country, and I have never understood the purpose of that.
Given that the Labour party did nothing about that situation for 13 years, I was pleased that the Budget and Finance Bill contained measures to extend stamp duty to at least some overseas residents. The Government consultation states:
“The Government announced in the Budget that it will extend the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) regime from April 2013 to gains on the disposal of UK residential property by non-resident non-natural persons, such as companies. The measure creates a more equal treatment in the CGT regime between UK residents and non-residents, and brings the UK’s tax policy in line with that of other countries, many of whom already tax non-residents’ gains.”
If we want an equal regime between UK residents and non-residents, why are we extending CGT only to non-resident, non-natural persons—basically companies? Surely we should also extend it to natural persons who are resident overseas. Other countries are doing that; India and China have made moves in that direction, so why not us? Some industrialised countries do not do it, but none of those have such a pool of property that acts as a free piggy bank for overseas residents. We keep their wealth and capital completely secure in central London yet they pay no capital gains tax on it. Could we perhaps consider going further in that area and look at extending capital gains tax to overseas non-residents who are natural persons, rather than concentrating simply on companies?
I welcome what the Government are doing. The Liberal Democrats refer to a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million, but the Government are already doing substantial work to obtain a more proper tax take from such properties and we could look at whether that could go further. Obviously, I do not expect answers about what will be in the forthcoming Budget, but in some areas higher tax would be a good thing. I am not generally in favour of that, but where people avoid tax by putting houses into companies, even if they are worth less than £2 million, we should try to get the proper tax. Where overseas residents are doing nicely by securing capital in the UK but paying very little for the privilege, by taxing the capital gains they make on later sales of those houses it would be welcome to see them paying their share and doing a little to help us close the deficit, which, of course, is the great uniting purpose of the coalition.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) because much of this debate seems to have been spent in an argument between the two coalition partners about how they would define certain types of taxation, and the problem with the amendment is that it has to look two ways at once. The Liberal Democrats have been prepared to break rank on other issues, but this matter is clearly not one of those. Interestingly, it is often on crucial financial or welfare issues that they do not break ranks but keep voting with the Tory-dominated Government, which is regrettable.
These are issues of fairness. We have heard a lot from those on the Government Front Bench and the Liberal Democrats about the increase in the tax threshold, which they suggest is much better than anything else that could have happened—it is better than the 10p tax rate, so we should be satisfied with it. We must remember, however, that for many people that tax threshold was bought at the expense of big losses in things such as tax credits.
For many families, the net effect of such measures means not that they are better off but that they are worse off, and the Liberal Democrats in particular must face up to that. In order to get the tax threshold through —that was clearly part of the coalition agreement—the Liberal Democrats have had to accept some pretty unpalatable things that go with it and, on balance, a lot of low-income households are not particularly grateful for that. The increase in the threshold also has other consequences. It is an expensive way to help the low paid because of the way it goes to everyone, not just the low paid.
Indeed, and back in the beginning the decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives—rather than, for example, entering into a looser agreement —was to facilitate many of these measures. In crucial votes of the kind I have mentioned, the Liberal Democrats have not broken rank at all. We have heard a lot of warm words, particularly from the Deputy Prime Minister, about things such as the mansion tax, but when we get down to it, they turn out to be only warm words and not something that Liberal Democrat Members are prepared to stand up for in this House and within the coalition.
Fairness is a large part of what we must all be about. Over the past three years, the very poorest people, those on low earnings or those who, for example, are unable to work because of illness and disability, are bearing substantial contributions that we are told cannot be alleviated because our economic recovery will be put at risk. Over the past few weeks we have had heated debates about the bedroom tax. The issue has been raised on numerous occasions and we have been told time and again that it is essential to make those savings to reduce the deficit.
Given the under-occupancy subsidy—after all, a tax is where one earns money and the state comes and takes it away, but that is not what we are dealing with—does the hon. Lady have no sympathy for the quarter of a million people living in overcrowded accommodation and the 2 million families on the housing waiting list who are desperate for bedrooms that can be freed up through this measure?
I have great sympathy for people who are overcrowded and for those on the housing waiting list. The majority of people waiting for housing in my city are looking for small houses, so that could also cause certain problems.
Fundamentally, however, this is not a housing issue. If we want to make the issue about housing, we should deal with it as a housing issue and look at ways of encouraging and facilitating moves for people who want them. That is not necessarily happening. People have asked me, “Well, if I did move who would help me pay for this move? Who will reimburse me for the fact that I put my own kitchen into this house? My landlord did not quite get around to it, so when I was working a few years ago I put in that new kitchen. Is somebody now going to reimburse me for that? Are they going to help me with the cost of moving my things? Are they going to help me with the cost of setting up in a new place? I don’t think so.” If a local authority—some do—decided that it wanted to encourage people to move once they had outgrown their homes, it could do so. It might have a cost, but it would have a benefit.
If every single person suffering from the bedroom tax was able to move—
The point I was going to make in relation to the matter that was, after all, raised in an intervention is that if everybody moved successfully and reshuffled, there would be no saving, and that is odd because a saving is wanted. It is in that context that people are saying, “What sort of fairness is it that imposes such a great burden of trying to effect economic recovery on those who are least well off? Could we look at other measures to show that we really are all in this together?” That is where the mansion tax comes in.
The mansion tax enables us, in part, to really feel—as a community and as a country—that people are bearing a fair share of the burden. We have heard a lot about tax avoidance and tax evasion. It worries me greatly that the justification given for removing the 50p rate of tax is that people are not paying it. Instead of looking at why people are not paying it, and whether anything could be done to ensure that it was paid, we again hear, “Actually, we’ll just take it away because they aren’t paying it.” That is not a good message to put out.
We have also had reference—in relation to the mansion tax, Mr Deputy Speaker—to not wanting to have such a competitive tax regime that we risk people fleeing our shores. Reference was made to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report about competitive tax rates. There is an interesting coda to that report from some of those who were surveyed. The question then becomes: will the increased competitiveness lead to increased investment in this country, because that is what is really important? Many of the tax people thought it was crucial to turn improved tax relief on capital expenditure into investment in this country, and that it should be the No. 1 priority for the UK. In 2010, the Chancellor abolished capital allowances for investment in his first year in office. Perhaps he would like to look at the whole report, and not just the parts that suit him.
An argument has been made—as it always is with regard to rates and council tax—about people who are asset-rich and income-poor. It is usually raised as a reason for not putting up council tax banding, for example. In the old days, it was used as a reason for not making changes to the rating system. Yes, we can all come up with examples of people who are in that position. Usually, the example is a widow who cannot afford to pay. However, we cannot design our entire system of taxation around that, and there are ways it can be mitigated, as there are with council tax. If someone is genuinely as income poor as has been suggested, they would—at least until the Government decided to change the rules on council tax benefit—have been eligible for assistance with their council tax. There are always ways to help such people.
Earlier, I made what to some people might have seemed an unfair comparison. We were being asked to think about the widow who might struggle with a mansion tax. The 60-year-old widow I referred to is being asked to pay £13 per week out of an income of £71 a week, and the answer is that she should take in a lodger. If we want to be fair to both groups, we have to treat them with equal compassion.
As the hon. Lady will know, property values vary across the United Kingdom. A £2 million house in London may be the equivalent of a £500,000 or £750,000 house in Edinburgh. For the sake of fairness, does she think that there should be an additional tax on properties worth more than £750,000, so that people really do feel that we are all in it together and that this proposed tax will not just be borne by London and the south-east?
I am not convinced by that argument. If we were to enter into that, we would have do so in ways that I suspect the hon. Gentleman would not find particularly palatable.
There is nothing inherently wrong in levying a mansion tax. All the arguments made about the 50p tax do not apply to the same extent, because buildings do not disappear and cannot be shuffled around. It is a way of generating income and bringing in more tax revenue so that we can do all the things we want with public services, or, as we suggest, enable low-paid earners to have a 10p tax rate. Just because a mistake was made previously does not mean that we should not again consider a 10p tax.
This is a debate about fairness, as well as a mansion tax. Unemployment in my constituency has been higher every single month compared with the previous year since the coalition Government came to power. There are 4,293 on jobseeker’s allowance, and many more want to work. My local authority, Stockton-on-Tees—we do not have many £2 million mansions—will shed 1,000 jobs before the current massive cuts are fully implemented. Councillors are working hard, but problems persist.
The Cleveland fire authority, which I met on Friday, faces tough decisions that could reduce the number of firefighters in the highest risk area in Europe because of the cuts and a funding formula that does not recognise the risk we face on Teesside. Other hon. Members have mentioned the unfairness of energy prices, train fares and payday loan sharks, and all are unfair, but it is the tax cut for millionaires that sticks in the craw. People see millionaires getting a tax cut at a time when working mothers face a £160 loss in their income. I could go on at much greater length about unfairness.
I hear from a friend of mine up on Tyneside, Ian Wilson, that Champagne Fever won the first race at the Cheltenham festival today. The partner of the horse’s owner earned £44 million in pay and bonuses last year. He is a banker. I am sure he can afford the mansion tax.
My hon. Friend is much skilled in these debates and I take his point entirely.
Time and again, Government Members have challenged us to make clear what tax changes we would make to rebalance the unfairness in the tax system. I am delighted, therefore, that the Labour Front-Bench team has backed the Lib Dem policy of a mansion tax, while going further by saying that the money could be used to fund a 10p tax rate, which would bring immense benefit to the lowest-paid in our communities. It would be a tremendous boost to many of the lowest-paid people across Teesside and the rest of the country, including all the people who have landed one of these low-paid, part-time jobs that the Government gleefully boast about. Those people are to be praised and helped. Their pay is derisory, yet they want to work hard and be in a job, so we should do something to help them. They already face the prospect of a cut in income from the changes to tax credits from the end of this month, and today the Lib Dems, and others, could join us in helping to correct that unfair tax change and in recognising their commitment to hard work.
We need action to tackle the unfairness in the system, to sort out the big six energy companies, to stop the rip-off rail fares condoned by the Government and to stop the poorest people—the most vulnerable in our society—being ripped off by payday loan companies and loan sharks. Let more of those with the assets, rather than those with none, pay the taxes. There is real poverty in our communities. One illustration is the increasing number of food banks. I will be opening another one on Monday at the New Life church in Billingham in my constituency. We should not have to be doing such things. We should not need food banks. I know that their use increased even when we were in government, but they should not be necessary.If we had a fair income tax system, we would not need food banks.
The mansion tax might mean £5 a week for some families. That would not buy a small glass of wine in a Canary Wharf bar, but it could make a huge difference to the people at the bottom of the earning scales. It would buy enough bread from Asda for a family of four for several days, yet the Tories—and, more shamefully, the Lib Dems—would miss the opportunity to put bread in the mouths of poor families by failing to send a message to the Chancellor that he should adopt this mansion tax in next week’s Budget. I am sure that people who own property worth more than £2 million could afford the extra charge to help the poor. If not, they can move to a less expensive property and dodge the tax. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), I see a parallel with the bedroom tax. Thousands of people in my area are facing a cut in their income. The answer, apparently, is to move to a smaller property. Those with homes valued at more than £2 million but who cannot afford a mansion tax should do what the poor have to do and downsize.
I am one of those who supports higher taxes, particularly when people can afford to pay, so I plead guilty as charged. Earlier today, a Minister said that the Government were focused on the causes of poverty, but all the time cash is being shifted from the poorest to the wealthiest, just as the funds available to local authorities in the north of England are being shifted to the richer areas in the south. I said that unemployment was not falling in my constituency, but in some parts of the south it has fallen, albeit owing to part-time, low-paid jobs. The Government’s austerity measures have devastated local authorities in the north-east, and the contractors who build roads and houses and promote and deliver other services are the losers, being forced to pay off skilled workers who want to work and support their families.
Next Wednesday, the Chancellor will deliver his Budget for 2013-14. It is probably his last chance before the general election in 2015 to come up with a set of policies that could make a real difference to people’s lives. The biggest difference he could make would be to abandon his plan A, under which growth has stagnated, unemployment in areas such as mine has grown and deficit and debt reduction has become even harder, but we know he will not do it. He is tied to his ruinous plan A because he has staked his credibility on it—but there is no credibility in it. The Tories still talk about what will happen if the economy turns around, but if we return to growth, will ordinary people suddenly stop feeling the strain of higher costs and less money in their pockets? I very much doubt it.
This ignores the fact that the Chancellor’s plan has already failed on its own terms. Not only is the national debt far higher than it was when he took office, but he has failed, and failed again, on growth. The reason is that without a good level of growth it is difficult to reduce deficits and debt, and as the Chancellor’s own Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out last week, cutting spending and hiking up taxes for ordinary people has slowed and stopped economic growth. As the ratings agency Moody’s pointed out when it downgraded the UK’s credit rating, the country’s lack of growth has made it nearly impossible for the Government to meet the only real goal they set themselves, which was eradicating the structural deficit.
Although a return to growth would be welcome, only strong growth would be enough to make up for the lost years of economic stagnation under this Government and to keep up with the growing and ageing population. Unless economic growth is above population growth, we are all getting poorer. Add to that the fact that the Government are redistributing from the bottom to the top by cutting the top rate of tax for millionaires while capping welfare, increasing VAT and cutting public services, and the scale of their failure becomes all the more apparent.
In Stockton North, we know all too well the impact of the Government’s policies. Long-term unemployment has more than doubled in the past 12 months and youth unemployment remains stubbornly high. Next Wednesday, the Chancellor has a chance to change course, cut spending less quickly and focus on taxing obscene wealth in order to invest in young people. He is very keen to point to the past and the failures—as he sees it—of the Labour Government, but he has been in his role for nearly three years and has failed abysmally. There will be much for a Labour Government to do in 2015 to address the unfairness built into our country by the Conservative-Lib Dem alliance. I have talked about energy, rail fares and housing, and we are already making clear some of the things we would do. Today, Government Members can help us get our fairness agenda under way by backing a mansion tax and helping to fund lower taxes for those who need them most—I hope they will.
This debate is about tax fairness, with contributions from both sides having focused on that challenge. The year 2013 is not 2008 or 2001; we are in different times and facing different challenges and, therefore, different choices. We are undoubtedly in tough times, in difficult times; we are in a period of austerity, and, as a result, we have different choices to make.
Individuals also have different choices to make. I am being contacted, as I am sure every other right hon. and hon. Member is, by constituents living through these tough times and finding it difficult to make ends meet, owing to rising prices, fuelled by the hike in VAT, which was one of the very first decisions of this Conservative-led Administration. Despite describing it as a tax bombshell in the general election campaign, the Liberal Democrats sadly supported this most regressive of tax increases. Energy bills, fuel bills, food bills and rail fares are all rising, making it difficult for ordinary people and families to make ends meet.
Prices are rising and incomes are falling. Ordinary people are finding it difficult to make ends meet, because incomes are falling and people are losing their jobs or losing hours they want to work or reducing their pay in order to help businesses through these difficult times and to manage the situation together. That is what businesses in my constituency are doing—managing the situation with their work force—which often means reducing hours and pay, but keeping businesses and households afloat.
These are difficult times, with the squeeze on hard-working families worsened by the reduction in tax credit eligibility and the looming spectre of the bedroom tax, to which several right hon. and hon. Members have referred. People are struggling to make ends meet. They are doing their best to keep their heads above water. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) said, we see the number of food banks expanding and child poverty rising. In 2013, these are things that none of us would wish to see in the United Kingdom—one of the richest countries in the world—on our collective watch. These are tough times in the real world.
Yes, in tough times we have to make tough choices. I recognise that some of them are uncomfortable, but does the hon. Gentleman lament the fact that in 2007, when budget revenues were increasing and the economy was perceived to be booming, the previous Labour Government decided to put up taxes on the very poorest?
The hon. Gentleman will be alert to the fact that I came into this House only in 2010. We can all look back with hindsight and be critical of decisions made at different times. One of the issues for us all in these difficult times is whether with hindsight on the decisions we are making today people will say we made the right decisions.
Why does the hon. Gentleman think that between 1998 and 2010, in a period of sustained economic growth, the welfare bill under the party he supports went from £53 billion to £111 billion? Does that not speak to a failure to tackle endemic issues of welfare dependency, which this Government are addressing?
The hon. Gentleman is being exceedingly generous in giving way. As he has said, he is keen to talk about tax fairness. He referred earlier to the iniquity of reducing the top rate of tax for higher earners from 50p in the pound to 45p, which is coming up this April. Does he therefore not accept that, in his terms, the last Labour Government acted totally unfairly in having a top rate of just 40p in the pound right the way through until the last 36 days of his Government?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I have not yet said that—I am going to say it later, so I will come to his point when that is appropriate.
I was describing the difficult choices that hard-working families are having to make to keep their heads above water. The obligation we face—those of us who govern, as well as those on the Opposition Benches—is to make difficult choices about where revenue is raised. It is therefore right and proper to look at ways of taxing people who have significant wealth, such as people who own properties valued at more than £2 million. Therefore, it is right and proper to look at ways of ensuring that that part of our nation makes a contribution in these difficult times.
We know that people of great wealth are sometimes quite imaginative and inventive when it comes to avoiding taxes. I commend the work of Government over the ages to find ways of tackling tax avoidance—this Government have done a number of things that are to be welcomed. Property is obviously difficult to hide. One of the big advantages of a property tax—a mansion tax, as expounded over the years by the Liberal Democrats in particular—is that it is difficult to avoid paying, because property is visually identifiable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) said earlier—she is no longer in her place—60% of high-value properties in London are owned by people from overseas. Indeed, I note the comments of the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) on this issue. He made an intelligent and helpful contribution to the debate.
I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton) in his place and I very much welcome him to the House. I am sure he will continue to build on his excellent maiden speech and make good contributions to the work of the House. However, prior to the by-election, the Deputy Prime Minister, writing in The Observer, described the Prime Minister as being “stuck in the past” for opposing the mansion tax. The Observer commented that this came
“amid signs that the Liberal Democrats are ready to challenge the Tories more vigorously over key aspects of economic policy.”
Today’s debate is an ideal opportunity for them to do that. The Deputy Prime Minister attacked the Prime Minister in his article, saying that the Conservatives were instinctively against fairer taxation
“even as people on lower incomes feel the pinch”.
He said that the plan for a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million, which was being backed by the Labour party, was an idea “whose time has come”, and said it was a “certainty” that some levy on high-value properties would be introduced soon. He continued:
“The Conservatives and opponents of fairer taxes have a choice. They can dig their heels in and remain stuck in the past. Or they can join with the Liberal Democrats and the chorus of voices seeking to make our tax system fair. Far better, surely, to move with the times.”
I very much welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s rather prophetic contribution to this debate. It puzzles me that the Liberal Democrats who have spoken so far have indicated that they might not support the motion. However, a number of them have been here for a large part of the debate, so I hope they will be persuaded by the power of argument.
It is worth noting that the motion says:
“That this House believes that a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million, to fund a tax cut for millions of people on middle and low incomes, should be part of a fair tax system; and calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for such a tax at the earliest opportunity.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) said from the Opposition Front Bench, nothing could be simpler. Indeed, this is the sort of simple motion that the Business Secretary called for and that the Deputy Prime Minister called for before the Eastleigh by-election. Indeed, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) confirmed today that he could have written it himself, so one wonders why the Liberal Democrats cannot support it. One is helped to understand why they cannot do so by reading the rather entertaining amendment, the middle of which
“notes that the part of the Coalition led by the Deputy Prime Minister…advocates a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million, as set out in his party’s manifesto, and the part of the Coalition led by the Prime Minister does not advocate a mansion tax”.
We have a pushmi-pullyu Government, pushing in one way and pulling in the other. We have a real pantomime horse, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said, from a pantomime Government, but this is not pantomime time. It is a serious time, and a serious time requires serious politics. The Liberal Democrats have an opportunity to stand by their principles—to stand on the side of honest, hard-working people—by coming into the Lobby this afternoon to support our motion, which could have been written by the hon. Member for Bristol West.
First, I apologise for arriving late for the debate. I had another commitment that was inescapable, but I want to make a contribution to this important discussion. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton) on his election victory. I heard his maiden speech yesterday, and a very fine speech it was, too. Unfortunately, he left the Chamber—no doubt for a celebratory drink—before I had a chance to congratulate him, as it was my turn to speak. I remember that, on the day of the election, I was knocking on doors for the Labour party, as he would expect. We were delivering leaflets that said that it was a two-horse race. Sadly, Labour was not one of the two horses, but I was slightly comforted by the fact that the Conservative party was not one of them either.
Tax fairness is the subject of this debate, and I very much welcome the moves that our leadership is making in that direction. The decisions on the mansion tax and the 10p rate are important. They might be straws in the wind, but the wind is blowing in the right direction. The mansion tax is perhaps something of a slogan—an eye-catching, or thought-catching, idea—but I believe that property taxes are appropriate in a civilised society. Property has the advantage that it does not move, so we can always find it. As long as we can also find the owner, we can collect the taxes.
Property taxes, as with all taxes, have to be carefully designed. As the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said, we have to be careful to ensure that such taxes are equitable. If there is inequity between regions, that should be looked at. The taxes have to be carefully designed to ensure that equity. Personally, I would like to go further and talk about a wealth tax. My party used to talk about that some years ago, and I would like to see a more general tax on wealth in order to do something about the grotesque inequalities in our society. Those inequalities have grown enormously during the time I have been active in politics. Had I been told when I was first active in my party in the late ’50s and early ’60s that we would be in this position now, I would not have believed it. We have moved in this direction, however, and it has been a retrograde step.
No doubt some hon. Members will have read a book entitled “The Spirit Level”, which identifies a strong correlation between income inequality and a whole range of social ills. I want to see a society that is much more equal in income terms, in order to reduce those social ills and because it is right in principle. It is interesting to note that that correlation applies in all societies, whatever the income levels. It does not just apply in rich societies or poor ones. In any society, income inequality correlates with greater social ills. I hope that when my party gets into office at the next election—that is when, not if—we will seriously address that question and try to make Britain a much more equal society again.
Tax has to be progressive. We have to tax the better-off, and we should tax the less well-off either very little or not at all. I have to say that I was disappointed in the previous Government. I was one of a small number of Labour Members—I think there were six of us—who voted against the abolition of the 10p rate, and I am delighted that our leadership has now chosen to reverse that decision and to put us back onside when it comes to looking after the less well-off. That decision is very welcome indeed.
Income tax is the most progressive form of tax. It is adjustable and, in the case of most people, it is collectable. Most of us are on PAYE, so there is no problem with collection. There is a problem, however, with collecting taxes from those who try to evade or avoid paying what is rightly due from them. We have heard from the tax justice movement, and from Richard Murphy in particular, an assessment that the tax gap is something like £120 billion. Some suggest that it could be even more than that. Even the Government accept that the figure is in the tens of billions. Small advances have been made in collecting that tax, but if were really to make inroads in that area, we would not need to look at changes in the tax rate because there would be so much more income to enable us to solve our problems.
We have heard a lot of the language around dealing with tax avoidance and with high-income earners. Does my hon. Friend not find it disappointing that, at almost the first opportunity to take action, the Chancellor went to Europe to argue against a cap on bonuses?
The hon. Gentleman always makes a powerful point. Having served on the Public Accounts Committee and on the ongoing inquiries into tax avoidance, I concur with him. I am a defender not of crony capitalism but of popular capitalism. He might not agree with me on that, being slightly on the left. In order to tackle corporate tax avoidance, we need to look at multilateral, bilateral, international and domestic legislation, but would he acknowledge that the previous Government flunked every opportunity to look at those issues over 13 years?
We have seen successive Governments going in for what is called light-touch regulation on all fronts. I have never believed in light-touch regulation; I believe in tough regulation. I believe in employing thousands more tax officers to ensure that we collect the taxes. At the beginning of my time in Parliament, I visited our local VAT office, and the inspectors there told me that if they had more tax inspectors, they could collect billions more in tax. Each of those VAT inspectors collected more than five times their salary. I wrote about this to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, and got a letter back from a civil servant saying that the Treasury was trying to reduce costs by reducing staffing levels. That was a completely illogical non sequitur; it was complete nonsense. Reducing the number of tax officers will reduce income by more than the amount of their salaries.
I have made the point many times—and I shall continue to make it—that we need more tax officers and more rigorous regulation. We need more control over what the corporates and the fat cats get away with. The reality is that ordinary working-class people have to pay tax through PAYE. They cannot escape paying their tax, but the corporates and the fat cats can. So, I have agreed with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) on one or two issues, and I am pleased about that, although we have different philosophical views when it comes to economics.
I want to talk about the deficit problem, because that is what taxation is about. I do not think that we actually have a deficit problem. We do not even have a spending problem. We have a revenue collection problem. That can be addressed either by collecting tax in the way that we do now, or by changing tax rates, as proposed in today’s motion.
Tax collection is a serious problem, and we could make serious changes there, but I want to look back to a time when taxes were more progressive. During the previous Parliament, I made suggestions in this Chamber about the kind of tax changes that I wanted to see. I went beyond what our leadership is now suggesting, although I welcome its proposals. I think we should go further, however. In the 1970s, Denis Healey was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said that he wanted to
“tax the rich until the pips squeak”.
I cheered him for that, and we did not lose any votes because of his statement. In fact, a lot ordinary working-class people said, “Quite right too! We want those who can afford to pay more to do so. Those who can only afford to pay less should pay less.”
He did indeed go to the IMF, but I think it has now been recognised that that was unnecessary. We did not need to kowtow to the IMF or to impose those strictures. In fact, remarkably, the economy survived quite well during that time, although a mistake was made at the end. I shall not go into that now, Mr Deputy Speaker, because you would call me to order if I did, but it was the reason why things went wrong in 1979. Nevertheless, we survived the 1970s, although the oil price rose by five times in a very short period, which affected the whole world including Britain.
At that time, I was working for the Trades Union Congress and then in the trade union movement. I was an economist, and was lobbying the Government. I was at the TUC General Council when the £6 pay policy was agreed to. That was an historic moment. I thought it amazing that the trade unions had agreed to a cap on pay increases for everyone, but the reason they agreed to it was that it was fair. Everyone would receive a £6 pay rise. For someone with a low income that was a big rise, while for someone with a high income it was not very much, but it was fair, and was seen to be fair across the board.
Other Members are too young to remember this, but in those days the top rate of tax was 83p in the pound, and there was also a 15% surcharge on unearned income. Some of those whose income was entirely unearned, perhaps in property, were paying a 98% rate on the top part of their income. I thought that was pretty fair, but of course we cannot go back to those days.
My hon. Friend has been revisiting the 1970s. A remarkable statistic is that in 1979, the inequality gap in this country was at its narrowest since the second world war. Perhaps, if we think that reducing inequality is a good thing, something was right at that time.
Absolutely. I remember writing papers about the massive increase in inequality that occurred subsequently, during the 1980s, when there were big tax cuts for the rich along with rapidly rising unemployment. That resulted in the inequality for which we have not really been compensated since.
No, no. I live in the real world, and I suspect that even my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will not start considering 98% marginal tax rates.
George Bernard Shaw, a witty man but a socialist, who was paying 98%, said, “I consider myself to be a tax collector for the Government, in return for which I receive a 2% premium.” I thought that that was one way of putting it. Shaw was, as I said, a socialist, who no doubt accepted that wealthy people such as himself should pay substantially more than the poor.
I realise that we will not return to that rate, but I will say that during a Budget debate in the last Parliament, on a cold Thursday afternoon when it was raining and there were about six people in the Chamber, I suggested that we could consider a 50% rate for those on £60,000 a year—this was then!—a 60% rate for those on £100,000, and a 70% rate for those on £200,000. That would have taken us nowhere near where we had been in the 1970s, but it would have been a substantial change from where we were then.
I did not get much of a reaction in the Chamber, but the Deputy Speaker spoke to me privately afterwards. I am giving away no secrets, because she is no longer a Member of Parliament. She said, “I do so agree with you. Why do the Government not just do as you say?” Well, if only; but I had said what I thought, and I thought that would be a reasonable move. I suggested the 50% rate for those on £60,000 because at least it would mean Members of Parliament paying a tiny bit extra on the top part of their income. I thought that was right then, and I still think it is right.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins)
This has been a good debate on what is really quite a simple premise—that our taxation system should be based on fairness and equity—but there have been some disappointing, although I would also say unsurprising, contributions from Government Members. The Minister’s speech in particular seemed to confirm that the Government have their head in the sand when it comes to their disastrous economic policies and performance. Manufacturing has fallen by 3% since last year, business confidence and investment are plummeting, growth is flatlining, and the economy desperately needs some emergency care. Borrowing is going up, not down, and it is rising to pay the price of the Government’s failure. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) described the position very passionately.
The hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) complained bitterly that the Opposition had been stealing the Liberal Democrats’ policy. He now admits that it is his policy. In fact, he could have written it himself. I therefore still hope that the Liberal Democrats will go through the Lobbies with us today to support what will be a very measured step towards ensuring that the cost of deficit reduction is borne by those with the broadest shoulders as well as by those who can bear it least but who are, at present, bearing the brunt.
We gave a simple response to that question—[Interruption.] First, we challenged the Minister to say what would be in the Government’s Budget next week. He will not specify that, so we are not able to announce at this stage what will be in our manifesto in two years’ time. If it is appropriate and a mansion tax will seek to deal with the mess that we anticipate this Government are going to leave this country’s finance in, it is certainly something we will consider.
No. That illustrates why the Government were not giving away what they are going to do in next week’s Budget, but we have said clearly that if we were in government now, we would not be cutting taxes for millionaires. We would be looking to put in place a mansion tax, which the Liberal Democrats would support, and we would be using that to take a measured approach to deficit reduction. Unfortunately, we are not in government. The Chancellor is presiding over a flatlining economy, so we are suggesting a way for him to try to get some growth back into the economy —we hope that the Liberal Democrats will support us today and proposals will come forward.
My hon. Friend should take no lessons from Conservative Members, because when they were in opposition they refused to specify—apart from supporting Labour’s spending plans—any of the policies that would be in their 2010 manifesto.
I thank my hon. Friend for his impassioned slap-down of the hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride). What is clear from today’s contributions is the gap between what Labour Members—and, we hope, Liberal Democrat Members—believe to be the fair and right thing to do, and what many Conservative Members believe.
As I said, the Opposition motion is based on a simple premise: a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million should be part of a fair taxation system and used to fund a tax cut for millions of people on middle and low incomes. Let us be honest—I know that Government Members cannot stay in denial of this any longer—those people are finding that their household budgets are seriously squeezed. An increasing number of hard-working families up and down the country are reaching breaking point. A number of hon. Members gave heartfelt accounts of the difficulties that many of their constituents are facing: the rise in the use of food banks; the VAT increase; rising energy and fuel bills, rail fares; and other household budget difficulties.
The hon. Lady again mentioned the tax cut for millions of people on middle and low incomes, which is in the Labour motion and indeed the coalition Government’s alternative. Will she confirm that the tax cut in the Labour motion matches up with what the Labour leader said last month when endorsing our policy of a mansion tax and that the tax cut that Labour is talking about is reintroducing the 10p tax rate?
We have made Labour’s approach clear. We have said that we would like to fund a 10p tax rate for the lowest earners. We have not specified that that is what the Government should do with this; we have said that it should be used to fund a tax cut for those on low and middle incomes. So if the Liberal Democrats want to support us in the Lobby, they can then pressure the Government to use that money in any way they see fit.
So let me remind the House of the context of today’s debate. Many of our constituents are struggling to make ends meet, due to a combination of under-employment, stagnating wages, rising food, fuel and child care costs, and of course the Government’s hike on VAT. Our constituents will be further hit by a £6.7 billion cut in working-age benefits and tax credits over the next four years. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster)—the Liberal Democrat Minister—is groaning but that is the reality for many families up and down the country. At the same time, we read of hundreds of bankers at different financial institutions, including one owned by the state, earning more than £1 million per year. We have a Chancellor seeking but failing to use his ever-diminishing influence in Europe to fight against proposals to limit bankers’ bonuses to “just a year’s salary”. We have a coalition Government who will give the 13,000 people in this country earning more than £1 million a year a tax cut of £100,000 next month. No wonder people are angry and no wonder our economy is not growing when ordinary people cannot afford to spend and invest. We—or, more accurately, the Prime Minister—heard only last week from the OBR that fiscal consolidation measures have reduced economic growth over the past couple of years.
These arguments have been rehearsed many times and we have made clear our absolute opposition to cutting the top rate of tax at this time while slapping charges on the poorest in society. No wonder the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) has spoken of the Government’s need to neutralise claims that they cut taxes for the rich.
Let us look at the Opposition motion, because I think the Liberal Democrats are dancing on the head of a pin when they say that they cannot support it. It calls for the introduction of a charge on properties worth more than £2 million, a mansion tax that the Liberal Democrats have estimated would raise £2 billion. We say that it could be used to fund a 10p tax band of up to £1,000, benefiting 25 million basic rate taxpayers to the tune of £100. We believe that Liberal Democrat Members should put aside their loyalty to the Conservatives and vote in favour of a principle—the principle of tax fairness at a time when so little of it is in evidence from this Government.
How could the Liberal Democrats do otherwise? Only last month, they made the introduction of a mansion tax the centrepiece of their Eastleigh by-election campaign. Recent media appearances have certainly suggested that they will support the principle, with the Business Secretary declaring that if the Opposition motion
“is purely a statement of support for the principle of a mansion tax I’m sure my colleagues would want to support it.”
Asked again at the weekend which part of the Opposition motion he disagreed with, the Liberal Democrat president, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), replied, “None of it.” The former leader, the right hon. Lord Ashdown, declared that it would be “weird” if the Liberal Democrats voted against it. He is not the first person to call Liberal Democrats weird, but they have the opportunity to put that right today and to get on the road to normality by supporting their own policy.
Only yesterday, the hon. Member for Bristol West—I shall mention him one last time—said of the Opposition motion,
“I could have written it myself”,
yet today he complains that we have stolen his party’s policy. If such childishness gets in the way of the Liberal Democrats supporting their own policy in the Lobby, members of the public will be baffled and extremely disappointed.
I would give way, but I am running out of time.
We think that the Opposition motion presents those of us who believe in a fair and equitable taxation system with the opportunity to demonstrate that fact by voting in favour of it today. Will this be yet another example of the Liberal Democrats saying one thing to the electorate and doing something very different in government? What about their partners in crime—I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, I mean partners in government—the Conservatives? We know that an increasing number of Conservative Members fear that they appear out of touch and that some, most notably the hon. Members for Harlow, for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), all of whom are noticeably absent from the Chamber, have argued that a way to counter that impression would be to reintroduce a 10p tax rate.
I have argued before that the best way to neutralise the impression that the Government are out of touch and only cut taxes for the rich is to stop cutting taxes for the rich, such as the millionaires’ tax cut that will take effect from April. I also acknowledge that it was a mistake to get rid of the 10p rate in 2007, although it enabled the 22p rate to be reduced to the 20p rate that is still in place today.
We believe that the best way to fund a new 10p tax band is through the mansion tax. Many right hon. and hon. Members have expressed concerns about how the mansion tax would work in practice, about how properties would be valued and about how people who live in £2 million properties but are apparently cash poor would pay. We have also heard, however, that the Treasury is drawing up detailed proposals for an annual charge on high-value residential properties owned by companies, partnerships or investment vehicles. It demonstrates that our plans—Liberal Democrat and Labour plans—for a mansion tax, an annual charge on high-value residential properties owned by private individuals, are entirely feasible, entirely realistic and entirely possible.
Our motion calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for a mansion tax, so that they can be considered in more detail by the House. The Opposition motion is simply expressed; it responds to Liberal Democrat concerns, and we still hope they will support us by voting for it. It calls for a tax on individuals fortunate enough to live in a high-value residential property, to support a tax cut for millions of hard-working low and middle-income families up and down the country at a time when they desperately need our support to put money back into household pockets and demand back into the economy. The motion provides all Members with the opportunity to demonstrate their support for a tax system based on fairness and equity, and I commend it to the House.
I begin by thanking those Members who gave a welcome to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton). I join them by adding my own welcome.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) is absolutely right. The debate may have been robust, but it was genuinely thoughtful. It is thus a great disappointment that when she closed the debate and the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) opened it, they did not take the opportunity to apologise to the country for the Labour Government’s role in creating the economic difficulties in which we find ourselves. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) was right too. On the Government Benches and in the country at large, we say “What a fine mess you’ve left us.”
I congratulate the Opposition on their proposal, because one good thing happened today: after three years of opposing our revenue-raising policies, three years of opposing our cuts and three years of failing to propose a single solution for the economic mess they left us, I am glad that in the Chamber today they have at last put forward an actual concrete policy. As we heard, it is a Liberal Democrat policy, but I am delighted that Labour Members now support our mansion tax. I shall be even more delighted when it takes pride of place in my party’s election manifesto in 2015—something I can say but they apparently cannot.