I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a great pleasure to present this year’s Finance Bill—a Bill that further demonstrates the Government’s commitment to creating a tax system that is fairer, simpler and more transparent, and one that will promote growth and reward work. Unlike the Opposition, those of us on the Government Benches recognise that we have to address the fiscal mess left us. That means that we have to resist the voices of those wanting to engage in a further splurge in borrowing. But we can take steps to make ourselves more competitive and help people with the cost of living, and that is what we will do in the Bill. I will happily take interventions this afternoon, but to give some structure to my speech it is perhaps worth while my laying out to the Chamber the order in which I intend to discuss the Bill. First, I will talk about the measures that will support growth and enterprise, then the measures that will tackle avoidance and evasion, and then the measures that will increase fairness. Finally, I will talk about the way in which the Bill will help to deliver a simpler tax system.
On the issue of avoidance and evasion, the press reported over the weekend that Britain and its dependencies have more tax havens than almost any other country. Will the Government tackle evasion and avoidance seriously, and save us an awful lot of money?
As I was trying to make clear a moment ago, I will turn to the subject of evasion and avoidance later on in my speech. The Government have a proud record of taking steps to reduce evasion and avoidance, with legislative measures, support for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and what we are doing at an international level to encourage greater co-operation between jurisdictions to ensure that the net is closing in on those who wish to evade their responsibilities. We will continue to take positive steps on that front.
The Labour Government set capital gains tax at 18%, which is somewhere near the revenue-maximising rate. This Government put CGT up to 28% and, predictably, their own figures show that revenue is lower. When will they promote enterprise with a lower rate that will generate far more revenue, something we clearly need?
One has to look at the tax system as a whole, including capital gains tax, and I am not sure that I necessarily agree with my right hon. Friend’s interpretation of the period as a whole in relation to CGT revenues. In the year in question, there was certainly a reduction in deals done and transactions completed after the increase in the rate of CGT, but subsequent CGT revenues have picked up. We also have to bear in mind the relationship between CGT and income tax. I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend that it is important to have a competitive tax system that encourages enterprise and growth—indeed, I will turn to that now.
One of the most important questions facing the country is this: at a time when much of the world is still coming to terms with the consequences of the financial crash, when many of our export markets face significant difficulties, and when international competition is becoming greater, and, because of the recklessness of the previous Government, we cannot afford to borrow more, how do we put in place the conditions for growth? In the specific context of the Bill, how do we ensure that we have a tax system that helps us to achieve growth and encourages businesses to locate and invest in the United Kingdom? As the Chancellor has made clear, our objective is to have the most competitive tax system in the G20.
How can the Minister square the statement he has just made with the fact that all his predictions for borrowing are on the way up? Three years ago, we were assured that the Government’s policies would resolve this problem. If we are borrowing, would it not be better to borrow to invest, rather than to deal with failed economic policy?
Borrowing is down by a third from the position it was in when we came into office—that is the reality of the situation. We have to remember that if we had the policies advocated by the previous Government, borrowing in this Parliament would be £200 billion higher than it is going to be.
I do not know whether the Minister did not get the memo, but the Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed that, compared with the Government’s predictions for the 2010 spending review, borrowing is predicted to be £245 billion more. The Minister needs to get a grip on the fact that borrowing is getting higher. I dare him to say that the deficit is being reduced in this financial year as compared with the previous financial year, because that is just not happening.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that borrowing levels are higher than predicted by the OBR three years ago, but that is not the same thing as saying that borrowing is higher now than it was. The fact is that at the last Budget the OBR forecast that the deficit was going to be lower this year than it was last year.
The reality is that, had we pursued the policies the Opposition advocated at the last general election, let alone now, the deficit would be much, much higher. In fact, the Opposition are not standing behind any of the deficit-reduction policies they advocated at the last general election. For example, I think they support what we are doing on the fuel duty—it was one of the few measures the previous Government had in order to reduce the deficit.
That is not actually what the OBR numbers at the last Budget showed, but clearly we are faced with difficult economic conditions. It is striking, however, that whereas, when the previous Government faced difficult economic conditions, the deficit ballooned, we have taken tough action to ensure that we continue to reduce it. Would we like to be reducing it more? Of course we would. Why is that not happening? The difficult economic conditions clearly apply. But is the right approach to these difficult economic conditions to go on a borrowing splurge, as the Labour party consistently advocates? The answer is clearly no.
If the Finance Bill is such a success in stimulating additional growth, will the Exchequer Secretary explain the statistics on page 103 of the OBR’s fiscal outlook, which reveals that since its December forecasts, forecast income tax revenues are £6.5 billion lower for 2014-15, £6.9 billion lower for 2013-14 and £7.1 billion for 2015-16? Not much of a success, is it?
If the hon. Gentleman looks through the OBR’s analysis, he will see its explanation for growth being lower than it had anticipated, which has an impact on the fiscal numbers. It is more than explained by the disappointing performance of our export markets and the fact that we have not been able to export as much as the OBR had anticipated. The question is: how do we respond to that? Do we try to put in place a competitive tax system that makes businesses and industries want to locate and invest in the UK? We have heard nothing from Labour on that front, whereas this Government’s record is very strong.
In passing, may I say how hypocritical it is of Opposition Members to say what they have been saying about debt levels? Had they not left us with the debt level we inherited, we would not have this problem.
Despite what my hon. Friend might be hearing from the banks, my constituents tell me that they are lending only when they can get copper-bottomed, personal guarantees and that the lending they are getting is becoming ever more expensive. Will he look into the cost of export credit finance, which is a great hindrance to small and medium-sized businesses exporting?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to do what we can to ensure access to finance for those strong, viable small businesses that want to expand. That is why we have taken measures such as the funding for lending scheme and why we want to ensure that we have a business-friendly environment. I am grateful for his observations on export guarantees. He will be aware of some of the measures that the Government have taken over the past two or three years to try and support those exporting businesses. I note his comments and calls for us to go further.
I appreciate that the Minister has to deal with an incredibly difficult situation that is not made any easier by this constant battling over borrowing figures. We all know how serious the situation is, and for my part I will not be spending my time blaming the last Government, which is unhelpful. We must look to the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) rightly pointed out the importance of export guarantees. If we are to get trade moving again, it is essential that we ensure a much more efficient export guarantee process, particularly with small and medium-sized enterprises. We must appreciate—I hope that the Minister does—that part and parcel of the guarantee is recognising that some of those guarantees will not come off and so will have to be paid for by the Government. If we are to break into developing markets, however, we need to do so with some aplomb.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. It is right to say that exporting is important. It is one area where, as an economy, we have not performed as well as we would have liked over many years, although we are making striking progress in some of the major developing economies. However, we face difficulties, in particular with the eurozone, which is our biggest export market.
Let me return to what we are doing as a Government to ensure that we meet our objective of having the most competitive tax system in the G20. We have already made considerable progress. As evidence, let us look at the KPMG annual survey of tax competitiveness, in which senior tax professionals were asked to name their three most competitive tax jurisdictions. In 2009, just 16% named the UK among their top three, but by 2012 the UK was named by 72% of respondents, ahead of every other jurisdiction. Since that survey was undertaken, the corporation tax rate has fallen from 24% to 23%, but we will not be complacent. Clause 4 will cut the main rate of corporation tax to 21% from April 2014. As we announced at the Budget, we will then reduce the corporation tax rate by an additional one percentage point from April 2015—a measure in clause 6 that will mean that the United Kingdom has the lowest business tax rate of any major economy in the world.
Given that before and after the Budget the corporation tax rate in France was 33%, while in Germany it was 29% and in Britain it was 21%, why is it necessary to reduce it to 20% and in so doing to get rid of 5% of the corporation tax yield? How long will it take to get that 5% back? Will we produce 5% more inwardly investing businesses or will the size of the business community grow by 5% to make it up? We are already extremely competitive on that front, so how long will it take to make up that money, which the Minister has given away for no apparent reason?
I hope the reduction to 20% will have all-party support, but I am sorry if it does not. The advantage of 20% is that we will have a corporation tax rate that is consistent with the small profits rate. It is the lowest in the G20 and sends a clear signal to businesses around the world that the UK is open for business. That is something that we in this Government are proud of and that we believe is putting in place the conditions for growth. I hope that the Opposition will support this measure, although Labour in government did not make as much progress in reducing corporation tax rates as it might have done and we lost a competitive advantage. This Government are restoring that competitive advantage, which is something we are proud of.
It is not just corporation tax rates: clause 34 will introduce the new above-the-line credit for large company R and D investment from April 2013—a measure that will make the level of support more visible to those making investment decisions and thus more beneficial to foreign-parented multinationals looking to invest in R and D in the United Kingdom. This Government have also made a clear commitment to support the creative industries through the tax system. Building on the success of the film tax relief, which last year supported investment in more than 300 British films, clause 35 introduces new corporation tax reliefs for the animation, high-end television and video games sectors. The new reliefs will be among the most generous in the world, encouraging investment in these highly skilled and innovative parts of the creative economy. They are measures that will bring jobs to the United Kingdom and funds to the Exchequer.
This Government recognise the need for a broad industrial base, and measures in the Bill will support a wide variety of sectors. Clauses 77 to 90, for example, provide certainty over decommissioning relief on the UK continental shelf. Clause 7 supports small business by increasing the annual investment allowance for two years and clause 56 provides for an extension of the capital gains tax holiday. Those measures send the clear message to businesses, entrepreneurs and investors across the world that if they want to come to the UK, invest in the UK and employ people in the UK, they will be very welcome in the UK.
I strongly support the corporation tax move, which will be extremely helpful to Britain’s competitiveness, but when people are thinking about where to locate their businesses, they worry not only about profits tax but about personal tax. Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the current inherited income rates and capital gains tax rates, a lot of the high earners in those companies do not want to be anywhere near London because the taxation rates are still very heavy?
My right hon. Friend makes a valuable point. This underlines the fact that the Government were right to reduce the 50p rate of income tax, because it was out of line with the vast majority of our international competitors. We have to look at the tax system as a whole. I believe that we have made striking progress in delivering that, and in ensuring that we are open for business. It is also striking that, since we have embarked on our package of reforms, the flow of businesses leaving the country has already been stemmed. Indeed, we have seen many businesses either returning to the UK or coming here for the first time. They include WPP, Lancashire, AON, Rowan and Seadrill, and I believe that more will follow.
I give my hon. Friend credit for what he has done for the animation and video games industries in my constituency. As he will know, there has been a long-standing campaign for such provisions, and I am by no means the only Member of Parliament who has lobbied for them in recent years. Will he ensure that we will be able to act as nimbly as possible if our tax rates become uncompetitive, for whatever reason, for those internationally competitive businesses? Such action might need to be applied to a whole range of industries, well beyond the IT and animation industries. As he has rightly pointed out, it is very easy to lose such jobs nowadays, and we need to ensure that they come back to these shores at the earliest possible opportunity.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government recognise that capital and investment can be very mobile, and that they are more mobile in some sectors than others. We have demonstrated a willingness to listen in this regard. Our principal policy in this area has been to adopt a lower rate, but we have recognised that in certain areas of considerable mobility, we need to respond to what is happening. We have done so through the measures in the Bill, and through the patent box in last year’s Finance Act, which was important in further ensuring that the UK is an attractive location for investment. I shall now give way to another Member of Parliament with a constituency interest in the video games industry.
I welcome some of these targeted measures, particularly those relating to video games. I think that they are sensible. I also welcome the tenfold increase in the annual investment allowance, but does the Minister not think it odd that that increase will last for only two years? Given that certain capital investments will take some time, is it not ludicrous that in two years’ time, the general annual investment allowance will revert to £25,000 a year? Might not that create uncertainty? Would it not be better to maintain the general annual investment allowance rate at a higher level, to encourage medium-term investments not only for two years but for three, four and five years?
There is a balance to be struck, and we have rightly focused on bringing down the rate of corporation tax, not only for larger businesses but for smaller ones as well. Let us remember that the small profits rate was set to go to 22% when we came into office, and that it is now 20%. We have increased the annual investment allowance for that two-year period to try to stimulate investment at a time that is not necessarily the easiest for many businesses. That is part of what we have done to help small businesses during this difficult period. Taking steps to bring the rate down is important; it is a tradition, if you like. It has been our direction of travel in the UK over many years, and I think that we have now got the balance about right.
I have here a letter to the Chancellor from the Admiral group in Swansea—the biggest business in Wales. It expresses disappointment that Swansea was not included as a city with super-connected city status in the last Budget and asks that it continues to be considered in future. Will the Exchequer Secretary positively consider that request? Business is asking for the infrastructure tools to succeed, particularly so that large businesses can connect worldwide with suppliers and prospective clients. We obviously welcome the investment in the creative industry, which is also very important.
I shall certainly take that intervention as lobbying in support of the proposal. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight our super-connected cities policy, which is further modernising our economy and further benefiting a number of cities. I appreciate the case he makes for Swansea, and I am sure that it will be properly considered.
The tax breaks for the video games industry are a fantastic opportunity to create swathes of new jobs, but it is essential that the Minister continues to apply pressure to address the shortage of computer programming graduates or we shall miss out on a fantastic announcement.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that point on the record. He will be aware of the efforts made by the Government to strengthen our capacity in that respect, and I am sure his remarks will be noted carefully by my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
I turn to tax avoidance and evasion. Although we believe in a competitive tax landscape, we are not by any means a soft touch on tax. As a Government, we have made very clear our expectations of businesses. We expect businesses to pay tax in accordance with the law, but we also want to ensure that aggressive, artificial tax avoidance is dealt with, which brings me to the second key theme of the Bill.
The vast majority of individuals and businesses pay their fair share of tax, but the Bill takes determined action against those who choose not to do so, by introducing a further package of measures to tackle tax avoidance.
When people engage in practices where assets are bought and sold for different prices—for example, film rights were headlined in a recent case—it is actually tax evasion, and prosecution should follow. Does the Minister agree with that analysis?
Where there is an element of dishonesty, it is clearly tax evasion, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has indeed been successful in bringing prosecutions in a number of high-profile cases. Under this Government we have seen the number of prosecutions by HMRC increase fivefold, which is a reflection of how seriously we consider tax evasion and of our determination to assist HMRC in addressing it as much as possible.
A theme I have raised many times in the Chamber is the number of staff in HMRC. I am sure the Minister knows that every additional tax officer collects many times their own salary, and in the case of business taxation, it can sometimes be hundreds or even thousands of times their salary. Do we not simply need a substantial increase in the number of professional staff in HMRC to make sure we collect all the tax?
The hon. Gentleman and I have debated that point on a number of occasions. The important thing is to ensure that HMRC has the right expertise and skills, and the right people doing the job. In truth, there has been a significant reduction in HMRC staff over recent years, the vast majority of which occurred under the previous Government. We are increasing the numbers working in the enforcement and compliance area, but a lot of the answer is about ensuring that HMRC can work in the most effective way. I was struck by the increase in the number of tax professionals being trained by HMRC. We do want to invest in skills within HMRC. This is not simply a numbers game but, as it happens, the number of people working for HMRC in enforcement and compliance is going up, not down.
While I strongly support the move in the Budget to reduce corporation tax, it is no good encouraging companies to come to this country if they then avoid paying corporation tax. Is it not important that big multinational companies pay corporation tax on the profits that they make in this country? Equally, is not my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister absolutely right to ensure that, through the G8, we have international agreements so that multinational companies cannot go around the world, especially to third world countries, and make profits without paying the relevant corporation tax?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want an international tax system that ensures that economic activity is taxed where it occurs. That involves working internationally, and he is right to highlight the Prime Minister’s ambitions while we have the presidency of the G8, which will feed through to the G20 and the work that the OECD is already doing, which we support. It is right to have an international tax system that reflects the reality of how multinational businesses work.
Clauses 203 to 212 introduce the UK’s first general anti-abuse rule—GAAR—which will provide a significant new deterrent to abusive avoidance schemes and strengthen HMRC’s means of tackling them. On top of that, we are taking action to close a further 15 tax avoidance loopholes, which will increase tax revenues by almost £1 billion up to 2017-18, as well as protect future revenues. The Chancellor gave a clear warning in the 2012 Budget that the Government would take action on aggressive stamp duty avoidance. The Bill follows up on that warning by legislating against those who continue to avoid tax on property transactions. All these measures will stop people exploiting legislation to gain tax advantages that were never intended, and they will also encourage fairness.
While the Minister is on the subject of companies that might not pay their fair share of corporation tax, will he confirm that the banks received a substantial corporation tax cut in the past financial year and the one before that, yet he has done nothing to correct the situation?
No, I cannot confirm that, because it is not correct. The reality is that the reductions in corporation tax falling to banks have been more than offset by increases in the bank levy. We have sought on every occasion to offset the decreases in corporation tax through increases in the levy.
I had a feeling the Minister would say that the corporation tax reduction had been offset by the bank levy. However, although the Prime Minister promised that the levy would raise £2.5 billion, it raised only £1.8 billion in 2011-12—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is getting an answer to this point from the Economic Secretary. In the past financial year, the levy raised only £1.6 billion, so there is a massive shortfall compared with the amount that the Prime Minister said it would raise. How on earth does that offset the corporation tax cut for the banks?
We were clear that our objective was that the bank levy would collect £2.5 billion, on a permanent basis, which is more than the bank payroll tax ever collected. When the amount has fallen below our expectations, we have adjusted the levy, and the independent Office for Budget Responsibility anticipates that the bank levy will raise £2.5 billion this year. We have made adjustments largely because the banking sector has continued to be afflicted by economic difficulties throughout the world, as a consequence of the crash, so fragile global conditions have played a part. I am not going to be preached to by the Opposition on the taxation of banks. We have introduced a bank levy; the Opposition had 13 years in which to do something about that, but failed to do so.
Perhaps the Minister will remind Opposition spokespeople that corporation tax is payable only on profits. Many banks that were forced into disastrous mergers by the previous Government are still turning in losses, which might account for the shortfall in the figures given by the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie).
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that helpful point.
Turning to the wider issue of fairness, in addition to the steps that we have taken on avoidance and evasion, the Bill builds on previous coalition policy by ensuring that individuals and businesses will make a fair contribution, while the Government continue to support those on the lowest incomes. We continue to reward work and help hard-working families with the cost of living, and the Bill therefore increases the income tax personal allowance to £9,440 from this month. That represents the biggest ever cash increase, and the Chancellor has announced that the threshold will rise again, to £10,000, from next year.
This announcement is extremely welcome, but most people simply do not know how much the changes will help them. Does the Minister agree that any changes, good or bad, should be displayed on payslips, in the same spirit that changes in council tax or business rates are displayed in the annual bill?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He will be aware of the steps that the Government have taken to introduce personal tax statements that will make the tax system much more transparent. It will be clearer to people how much tax they are paying, and how that money is being spent. We believe that those are helpful steps, and those tax statements can demonstrate the way in which we have made great progress in increasing the personal allowance.
The Minister may be reluctant to offer real transparency on the impact of the Government’s changes because of the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the average family will be £891 a year worse off as a result of the cumulative effect of the changes under his Budgets over the past three years.
I do not recognise those numbers. We have taken steps to try to get the country out of a significant fiscal hole. We have taken steps to reduce the amount of tax that millions of households will pay as a consequence of the increase in personal allowance. We have reduced income tax for 25 million people. That is something we are proud of, and something that we did not see when the Opposition were in power.
What the Minister fails to appreciate, in saying that he does not recognise those figures, is the fact that the increase in the tax threshold has been wiped out for many families, particularly those with children, by the changes in tax credits. At the same time, the cost of increasing the tax threshold is £9 billion, so it is not the best way of targeting help on the low paid.
The Minister is keen to discuss the change in the basic rate allowance, but he is rather less keen to discuss the 40% threshold, which has gone from £37,000 to £34,000, then to £32,000. The Government have dragged an extra 670,000 people into the 40p tax rate, which used to be for the rich, and that is before this year’s changes. He is rather less keen to discuss that. I wonder why.
The vast majority of those people will pay less income tax in total as a consequence of the measures that we have introduced. As a result of the change in thresholds, most support has been focused on basic-rate taxpayers and people who have been taken out of income tax altogether. For the vast majority of people who now find themselves in the higher-rate band, the gains that they have made from the increase in the personal allowance more than outweigh the additional tax they will pay on the higher rate.
In that context, it is worth highlighting the steps that we have taken to ensure not only that we protect the poorest but that the wealthy pay their fair share of tax. Clause 16 will legislate to cap previously unlimited income tax reliefs at £50,000 or 25% of an individual’s income, whichever is greater. That will prevent those reliefs from being exploited unfairly, so that individuals, many with very high incomes, cannot use those reliefs to reduce their income tax bills to zero year after year. As announced in the Budget last year, clauses 91 and 172 will legislate for an annual tax on enveloped dwellings. That is a charge on residential properties valued at more than £2 million held by certain non-natural persons. To complement that measure, the Bill includes the extension of capital gains tax to certain non-natural persons disposing of UK residential property valued at over £2 million. For too long, the well-advised wealthy have found ways around paying stamp duty land tax. The Government have acted to address that.
Clauses 47 and 48 legislate for the further reduction of lifetime and annual allowances for pension contributions. That is not an easy measure to introduce, but it will leave the vast majority of those saving for retirement unaffected while curbing the rising cost of pensions tax relief. Other measures in the Bill will curb unwelcome rising costs. The Government understand the costs that have the biggest impacts on families and businesses every day, and as such, we have taken action in the Bill to help those individuals and businesses that have been impacted by persistently high pump prices. Under clause 177, fuel duty will be frozen at current levels, meaning that it will be 13p per litre cheaper than under the previous Government’s plans.
The Bill will cut the cost of the average pint of beer by 1p. Not only is that good news for the beer drinkers among us, but it represents excellent news for the brewing industry and for pubs. The reduced duty under the small breweries relief has helped to build a thriving brewing industry, which demonstrates that lower duty can lead to growth, investment and jobs. That 1p cut will be a further step to supporting a successful British industry.
It is the Government’s belief that the most effective tax policy is that which is devised in the most transparent fashion, and as such, the majority of measures in the Bill have been formulated following lengthy consultation with interest groups, business and the public. Thirty-six formal and eight informal consultations took place last summer. In December last year, over 400 pages of draft legislation for the Bill were published for technical consultation, alongside explanatory notes, tax information and impact notes. We received more than 400 comments on the technical consultation, which has helped to make sure that the measures in the Bill are as easy to understand as possible, and thus as easy to comply with as possible.
I am grateful for the Minister’s enormous generosity in giving way a third time. On the issue of transparency in pensions, does he accept that the people who are going to be hit hardest are the current young, who are the future old? They are also paying much higher student loans, they face debts, they will need much higher deposits for their mortgages, they will have to pay higher rents so they cannot save, and they face much greater uncertainty about job prospects. Downstream they will be hit again by the pension changes, which are not transparent to them, partly because they are not thinking about that now because they are young.
I will try not to digress too much. If I can be helpful to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think he is concerned about the proposals in the Bill, which will apply only to those who make the biggest contributions to their pension fund and receive tax relief for that. He makes a number of important points, but those are not necessarily relevant to the proposals on pension tax relief. If he is concerned about that, I look forward to hearing his concerns over the course of the many debates that we will have.
The Bill is substantial. Building on the invaluable work of Michael Jack and John Whiting at the Office of Tax Simplification, it delivers a number of important reforms to simplify the tax system, including the implementation of recommendations from their reviews of small business tax and tax-advantaged share schemes. This is a significant Bill. It is a clear statement of our ambition to secure a tax system that restores the competitiveness of our private sector, clamps down on avoidance and evasion, and helps to build a fairer society for those who want to work. It is a clear statement that we remain committed to reducing the deficit and building a prosperous economy in the United Kingdom once again. It is a Bill that will energise business and support hard-working people, and it is a Bill that I wholeheartedly commend to the House.
The Minister’s job was clearly to drill down into the technical details, rather than focus on the big picture of the Budget and the Finance Bill. [Interruption.] There is heckling already. It would have been nice to see a bit of life from the Minister during the debate. How to draw the sting from a Finance Bill? Send for the Exchequer Secretary. It is true that he is less provocative than the Chief Secretary to the Treasury; I will give him that.
It is true that the Government wanted to kill off any interest in the Bill and put it on the back burner. Towards the end the Minister tried to arouse the enthusiasm of his colleagues on the Back Benches for the Bill by saying that it was about building a fairer society and energising Britain, but it is not a Bill for building a fairer society or energising business. It is not a Bill for the economy. It is not about what is best for the country at all. It is a Bill totally designed around what the Chancellor thinks is best for him. As the weight of evidence mounts that his plan is failing, he flails around desperately to justify his strategy, casting around constantly to blame everyone and everything else for the fact that everything is going so badly wrong.
The Bill gives us a glimpse of just how desperate things must be getting inside the Treasury. For the Treasury team, it is all about the politics, but what about the economics? Let us be clear. There is no positive impact on economic growth from the Bill. The Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility on page 46 of its report on the Budget states that it will have
“no impact on the level of GDP at the end of the forecast horizon.”
The OBR also says that
“these measures reduce GDP growth”
in 2013. After all that effort by the Chancellor, culminating in the Budget and this weighty Finance Bill, what is the impact on economic growth in this calendar year? It is negative.
It is no wonder that the Treasury’s plans and the OBR forecasts are on a slippery slope, constantly and continuously downgrading their projections for the economy while upgrading the size of the deficit. Those grandiose plans and supposedly tough decisions that the Chancellor set out three years ago have seen economic growth of just 0.8%, compared with the 5.3% that they forecast and promised at the time. All the while, our international competitors are moving forward, leaving us behind. Only two other G20 countries have grown more slowly than the UK since the 2010 spending review—Japan and Italy.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am pleased to see that he has departed from the vaudeville act that we normally see from the shadow Chancellor, and instead adopted the posture of Eeyore. Has he failed to notice that the IMF has projected that the growth in the UK for this year and next will be greater than that in both France and Germany?
I am sorry if I am upsetting the hon. Gentleman by having to emphasise some of the things that are going wrong in the Government’s plan, but somebody has to wake up the Back Benchers after the scintillating comments that were made from the Government Front Bench. If the hon. Gentleman thinks he has the capability to stand up and defend his Government’s record on economic growth, we would all be impressed. He must surely accept that it has been a massive and total failure and a disappointment which has not only hurt all our constituents, but has made the public finances far worse than the Government were predicting.
The Government said that they wanted to rebalance the UK economy, but look at the latest trade statistics, which showed our trade deficit increasing by £1 billion between January and February, with the balance of payments deficit for our country now at £36 billion. Despite the depreciation of sterling, our exports are shrinking, and despite the problems in the eurozone, our exports to other non-eurozone countries, such as the United States, are getting worse as well, and all that from the Chancellor who two years ago promised he would deliver
“a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers.”
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the global situation, particularly among the eurozone countries, makes it incredibly difficult for us to achieve the export-led growth that we would all have liked over the past three years. Will he give credit to the Government for the fact that more than 1 million private sector jobs have been created over the past three years? That should be welcomed and should counter some of the pessimism emanating from his speech.
If I can try to be optimistic, I hope that there will be a sustained increase in employment, but I am getting worried. The latest figures showed that unemployment is rising again. We must look at the underlying situation reflected in the productivity gap and the capacity problem in the economy, which the Treasury is worsening. The Minister spent a large part of his speech trumpeting the reductions in corporation tax that the Treasury have put into the Bill as the big solution to those problems. Of course we want the UK to be seen as a good place for investment, but the Treasury has not produced any analysis of how those further cuts in corporation tax will feed through into economic growth. We hope they will, but it is time we saw some clear proof that inward investment and business growth are flowing from that approach, and that we are not just stacking up corporate surpluses which are locked away because businesses fear that they will not be able to access bank credit.
My hon. Friend will know that the debt to GDP ratio will have grown from 55% in 2010 to 85% in 2015, and that the way to sort that out is by confronting the debt and/or confronting the GDP—namely, growth. Does he accept that even though 1 million more people are in jobs, overall production has not gone up, so their average productivity has gone down? Does he agree that it is time to invest in infrastructure, super-connectivity and skills, and to make Britain more productive and make it grow?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is not a good sign that it is taking more and more people to produce the same amount of output. In the long run that is not a sustainable strategy for our economy. Ministers need to look more seriously at that issue. The problem is not just the fact that the Bill neglects economic growth.
I am slightly puzzled that the shadow Minister cannot see the link between the reductions in corporation tax and attracting businesses to this country. He should get out more. Is he not aware of a number of companies which have relocated from the Republic of Ireland, for example? Bank of America has relocated £50 billion worth of its trading business to the City of London. Firms in my constituency are bringing business back from Denmark to this country because the corporation tax rates are much more beneficial for them. That sends out a clear message that this is the place to do business.
I am afraid that the former Minister’s suggestions are not borne out by the evidence. Ultimately, corporation tax benefits a company only if it is turning a profit. I am yet to see action being taken in the Bill to help businesses now, particularly those struggling to get back into the black. Those are the steps that are needed to help the businesses that are finding the current economic conditions very difficult indeed.
It is not just the failure on growth; the Bill does not contribute to deficit reduction either. The deficit is already set to be £245 billion larger than the Government planned. The OBR reacted to the Budget and the Finance Bill with some stark predictions. In fact, it stated on the first page of its Budget analysis that the deficit reduction plan has now stalled. The £121 billion deficit recorded in 2011 will turn out to be the same for 2012, and the OBR predicts that it will be the same for this financial year. I challenged the Minister earlier to stand up and say that the deficit is still falling. He tried to claim that the OBR figures pointed in that direction. Well, they point in that direction by less than one tenth of 1%—a fig leaf of £100 million. The claim that the Government still have a deficit reduction strategy is not credible. The deficit reduction strategy is gone.
The Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer both promised that they would balance the books by 2015, so what has happened to that promise? Their explanations for the failure become more and more desperate. They blamed the snow, the royal wedding, Europe, the banks and the unemployed. The blame has been laid at everyone’s door except where is belongs—No. 11 Downing street. The time has come for Ministers to take some responsibility for their failings.
The OBR also predicts—these are pretty shocking figures—that real wage levels will fall by 2.4% over the course of this Parliament. Wages are forecast to fall most steeply this year, relative to prices. The cost of living it increasing, but it is getting harder and harder for people to keep pace.
Where are the measures in the Bill to create a fairer society? The Budget and the Bill are deeply unfair for millions of hard-working families who will be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) said, on average £891 worse off this year because of the changes introduced since 2010. In fact, the Institute for Fiscal Studies statistics show that a lone-parent household in work will lose £1,206 this financial year, a couple with children where both parents are earners will lose £1,869 and—this is the most staggering statistic—a couple with children where only one parent is an earner will lose, typically, £3,995 this year as a result of the changes the Government have announced since 2010.
On that point about families in which one parent is an earner, will the hon. Gentleman therefore commit his party to supporting a transferable tax allowance for married couples, which, as well as sending out a strong message, would specifically help those couples where one person goes out to earn and the other looks after the children?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman will be tabling amendments on that issue and look forward to seeing how he will frame them. I know that Ministers are looking forward to seeing those amendments, because they will spark a useful debate within the Government ranks. Personally, I do not think that is the best strategy. I think that it would be better to look at the damage his hon. Friends have been doing to the tax credits system. It is women and families, in particular, who are paying the price for the Chancellor’s economic mistakes. In fact, the Government have cut support for parents by reducing statutory maternity and paternity pay so that by 2015 it will be worth £180 less than it would have been had it been uprated in line with inflation. I think that the hon. Gentleman needs to look at that point. The Prime Minister once promised—I know that this is something the hon. Gentleman feels keenly—that he would lead the most family-friendly Government ever, but it is ordinary families across the country who are paying the price for the Government’s failed economic strategy.
The Finance Bill will make Britain less fair. We are definitely not all in this together. For example, let us look at the Government’s “shares for rights” scheme, set out in clause 54, which I know we will be considering again in the Chamber. The Government’s view of a fairer society is one in which businesses are allowed to force new employees to give up their rights at work, including the right not to be sacked unfairly and the right to redundancy pay, something so unpopular that even former Conservative Ministers voted against it in the House of Lords. It is not even as if the business community is asking for that power. Of the 184 businesses that responded to the official consultation, only three said that they wanted to use the scheme. Ministers are totally out of touch with employees and employers on that issue.
Whatever rosy picture the Minister tries to paint, the public can tell that living standards are falling, not rising. The Government just do not seem to understand how extreme austerity has hit consumer confidence, how it is sapping business confidence and how precipitous cuts and tax rises have had the opposite of their intended effect. Let us take the study published only last week by the Financial Times showing that they are harming the prospects of recovery for some of our most fragile local economies, especially in poorer areas of the country, by removing £19 billion of spending power from their residents. It is the regions of the UK most in need of regeneration and private sector investment that are feeling the heaviest impact.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly important point about the uneven effects of the Government’s policies. In some parts of the country people have been able to return to work, according to the much-vaunted statistics on unemployment in recent months, but across East Northamptonshire 126 more people this year are on employment and support allowance because of the Government’s failure to get our economy growing overall and their particular failure to help those communities that have suffered most in recent years.
Where is the regional economic strategy from the Government? Where is their attempt to revitalise those parts of the country that have suffered most of all? I am sorry if I sound a little like Eeyore to Government Members, but somebody has to say, as my hon. Friends have been saying, that Government policies are just going to harm those parts of the country that are in desperate need of regeneration and will make the situation worse for them. My hon. Friend makes that point well.
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the Government’s biggest failures has been not to resuscitate consumer demand, which would stimulate growth? It is the poorest in our communities who spend the highest proportion of their income, because they cannot afford to save. By hitting the poorest the hardest the Government are hitting growth overall and making a more unbalanced economy and a more divided society.
It is the politics of shooting oneself in the foot. The difficulty is that the Chancellor does not even understand that his strategy is making his task far harder in the long run. It is not just the fact that people on lower and middle incomes are suffering as a result; it is the unfairness when they compare it with what the Government are doing for those parts of the economy and of society that they favour. The banks are still getting away with not paying their fair share. A tiny corner of the country is doing very well out of the Chancellor. The banks, whose actions created the deficit, are not contributing their fair share towards repairing it. In fact, astonishingly, they are benefiting from the Chancellor’s generosity. This Bill fails to get a grip on the contribution the banks ought to be making. It is still too weak on the very institutions that had to be bailed out by the taxpayer because of their perilous self-indulgence. We have debated in the past, and we will do so again, the fact that Ministers have failed lamentably when it comes to tackling bonuses. In opposition, the Prime Minister promised:
“Where the taxpayer owns a large stake in a bank, we are saying that no employee shall be paid a bonus of over £2,000”.
My hon. Friends probably remember that comment. However, when I express my dismay about the Bill’s weakness, I am not just talking about the lack of a bank bonuses tax. The Government said that the bank levy, as a charge on bank balance sheets, was their answer to clawing back some of the costs for the taxpayer.
The Prime Minister said in 2011 that once the levy was “fully up and running” it would raise £2.5 billion each year—in fact, he said that it would raise £9 billion over the spending review period. We now see that the Government have totally failed to live up to their promise and that the banks have swerved to avoid the bank levy; they have not paid anything like the amount mentioned. In fact, the Chancellor has raised nearly £2 billion less from the banks since the Prime Minister made that promise just two years ago. Those are not my figures, but the latest figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility and HMRC.
The Government repeatedly claim—the Minister did it again today—that the bank levy will raise £2.5 billion a year and that the cuts in corporation tax will not benefit the banks; the Minister said that those corporation tax cuts would be offset by increases in the levy. However, the OBR figures, published alongside the Budget, estimate that in the financial year that has just ended, 2012-13, the bank levy will raise just £1.6 billion—a massive shortfall. We have then to deduct a further £200 million because of the generous corporation tax cut. All in all, the banks have paid £1.1 billion less than Ministers promised. That is even worse than in the previous financial year of 2011-12, when the combined shortfall was £800 million less than the Minister promised.
What on earth is going on? Why cannot the Minister get a grip of the issue? The bank levy strategy is haemorrhaging money when it should be boosting the Exchequer far more significantly. I ask my hon. Friends to think of what that nearly £2 billion could have achieved in the past two years. This is the third or fourth attempt by the Government to get the issue right, but each time they have failed to raise what they promised. The Minister has to go back to the drawing board now and come up with a policy that will actually work, rather than something designed to pass a press release test.
The Chancellor is making bad decisions because he is getting deeper into difficulty, proving time and again that saving his own skin comes before getting the judgment right. It did not take long for the world to see, for example, that the Government had not properly thought through their flagship Help to Buy scheme after it was announced in the Budget. That was hailed as the boost that we needed for housing, but focusing only on demand without any corresponding action to supply more affordable homes is only a half-policy partially thought through.
I hope that the scheme succeeds, but why on earth cannot the Government ensure that funds are not siphoned off for second-home purchases? By contorting the scheme so that it does not count against the deficit figures, do they not realise that they have added complexity that might hinder take-up? After all, the Government promised that 100,000 people would have used last year’s NewBuy scheme by now, but only 1,500 people have become involved so far.
We will undoubtedly be able to judge the success of these issues, but there are some deeper flaws in the design of the Help to Buy scheme; we will debate that issue in more detail this week. It all reeks of a policy that has not been thought through properly—designed in haste and yet again not having the intended effect.
Understanding what the Government have put into the Finance Bill requires an understanding of what they have not put in. This was the Budget and the Finance Bill that were supposed to learn the lessons of the 2012 omnishambles Budget and Finance Bill—the pasty tax, the granny tax and the caravan tax. Here is the product of all the Government’s care and vigilance this year; I am sure that the Minister’s officials will be proud of him. The Government have painstakingly avoided anything that will have a positive and significant impact on growth, meticulously evaded any measures that might stimulate job creation and sidestepped anything that might repair the mess that they are making of the public finances.
In fact, the only real aspiration in the Bill is to get through it without any more U-turns. But by avoiding the bold action that we need to stimulate the economy, the Government have created a Bill bereft of the major reforms we need. So many measures are conspicuous by their absence. The Government have cut public investment, and now they are cutting back on policies, too.
I had hoped that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury would be here today; normally, he would open the debate on the Finance Bill. I do not know whether his not being here is a deliberate strategy or whether he has a decent reason; the shadow Chief Secretary has a decent reason for not being here, but that could not apply to the Chief Secretary.
We had hoped, before the Budget, that the Liberal Democrats would stick to one pledge—their pledge to support a mansion tax. We even tabled a one-line motion for Lib Dems to vote for, but they did not want to offend the Conservatives. But they should not worry because we will give them another chance to support their own policy later in the week—a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million to deliver a tax cut for lower and middle-income households. We favour a 10p starting rate of income tax as the best way to do that and we think that should be in the Bill.
Why have the Government not legislated for their child care voucher extension, which has been pencilled in vaguely for some time after the general election? Where is the national insurance help for small businesses that we have been calling for and which the Chancellor should be acting on sooner? Why is that not in the Bill? It is not good enough for such provisions to be in black and white in a Budget book; it needs to be in the Bill. There have been so many promises in the media, but they have not been seen through in the Finance Bill.
The Finance Bill could be the moment when the Government change their mind on the bedroom tax, and it should be the legislation that repeals their lovely gift of an average £100,000 tax cut for Britain’s lucky millionaires through the cut to the 50p tax rate. As I have said before, it seems that with this Government there is one rule for the rich, but only one room for the poor.
Where do the Government get such a gratuitously unfair sense of priorities? The language used to validate a cruel, harsh, selfish approach is breathtaking—they insist on the caricature of the “spare room subsidy” and bristle at the term “bedroom tax” because they know that the public can see the policy for the disaster it is proving to be. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who is not here, wrote in The Sun on Easter weekend that he wanted to tackle the “bedroom blockers”—that from a Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary who could and should have blocked the bedroom tax in the first place.
Like me, the hon. Gentleman represents an inner-city seat. He will know from his own mailbag that the biggest housing issue is overcrowding. I find that in my constituency, and I cannot believe for one moment that the hon. Gentleman does not get similar letters from constituents. That is what is behind the so-called “bedroom tax”. We are trying to ensure that more vital social housing resource is made available to those in genuine need.
The Government are not putting any of those resources into building affordable social housing. Kicking people out of their homes will not help people in that way. We have already seen evidence that nine out of 10 of those affected by the bedroom tax have no option of going anywhere else at all. The Government have totally neglected the supply of affordable housing. They have not prioritised that.
Then we come to the grotesque spectacle of a Chancellor of the Exchequer demeaning his office—using the case of a multiple child killer to argue for his changes to the welfare system. We knew that Conservatives relish any opportunity to do down social insurance protections and that the Government’s policies are actually pushing more people into welfare—not helping them out, but pushing up the welfare bill to record levels. However, we did not know the depths to which the Chancellor would stoop. The nasty party is back.
The Chancellor certainly grabbed the headlines, but I say to Government Members that what he said diminished his standing in the eyes of millions who rely on benefits—those in work relying on tax credits as well as people looking for work, pensioners and the disabled. Those millions have absolutely nothing in common with Michael Philpott whatever and were all sickened by the evil behind those crimes. In his speech at the beginning of the month, the Chancellor had the audacity to castigate his critics for their “shrill, headline-seeking nonsense”—he said that without a hint of irony. He suggested that those who dared to criticise his plans
“always complain, with depressingly predictable outrage”
and are just another bunch of “vested interests”.
Let us just think about that accusation—“vested interests”. Putting to one side for a moment the fact that the Chancellor knows a thing or two about defending positions of privilege, is he really saying that those who care about defending the well-being of some of the most vulnerable in society are “vested interests”? Well, for the record, yes—we are interested in, and deeply concerned about, the impact that the bedroom tax, the withdrawal of council tax benefits and the changes to disability benefits will have. However, the more important question is why the Chancellor is not interested. Why does he think it makes sense to tell 660,000 people, most of whom have a disability, that they need to give up a spare room but leave nine out of 10 with no option of moving anywhere smaller? Why does he think that some of the poorest and most vulnerable can cope with significantly higher council tax bills as a result of the withdrawal of council tax benefit, the arrears from which could end up costing a fortune to collect? Why does he think it makes sense to penalise working people by cutting their tax credits at a time when we should be making work pay?
The Chancellor is not concerned because for him this is a political game. He is not serious about helping those on welfare; for him, and for the Conservatives’ new spin supremo, Lynton Crosby, this is all about ideology and tactics.
My hon. Friend will be aware that housing benefit costs have doubled in the past 10 years, but is he also aware that 70% of that increase is due to private sector rents because rents have been inflating and we have not been building enough houses? Does he accept that if we built more houses we could lower average rents, sort out housing benefit and give people stable communities and more chance of getting a job as well?
Looking at the situation in the round, that is exactly the sort of welfare reform that we need. If we are going to get to the root of these problems, we must have serious reforms to our welfare system, and we need a Government who are serious about delivering them.
The Chancellor and his Ministers are not serious about solving these issues; all they want to do is to stoke up fear and prejudice, blame the unemployed and the welfare system, and deflect attention from their own woeful failures to repair public finances. Serious welfare reform has to be a continuous process to fit the modern circumstances of society. Reform is never just a “job done”, nor should it aim only at being headline-grabbing. We should crack down harder on fraud but also on tax evasion, we should better reflect the contributory principle, and above all, we should focus relentlessly on getting people back into work so that they are making a productive contribution while also paying taxes again to bring in those much needed revenues.
A Work programme where only 2% of participants find themselves in sustained employment is a humiliation for these Ministers. They should never have scrapped the new deal, and if they were genuine reformers they would immediately set out a compulsory jobs guarantee, using the repeat of the banker bonus tax to fund a minimum-wage job placement for all young people unemployed for a year, and using the money saved from reducing the pension tax relief for the richest 1% to fund a job for all adults who are long-term unemployed for two years or more. No excuses: if they turn down those decent and properly paid job opportunities, they should forfeit unemployment benefits. Languishing on the dole for the long term must end, but we need to treat those looking for work with respect and give them a decent and real job opportunity, not cast them aside.
My hon. Friend rightly highlights the importance of helping the long-term unemployed back to work and the new deal’s success relative to the Government’s Work programme, which is a contradiction in terms. Does he recognise that in my constituency, which, according to independent surveys, is the most difficult place in the country for young people to find work, we need approaches such as the future jobs fund, which the Government scrapped as one of their first acts of vandalism on coming into office? We need those programmes, which we have proposed.
This is the answer to Ministers who were saying earlier from a sedentary position, “Where are your policies?” The difference between the parties is that they do not understand that jobs, at the heart of welfare reform, are the way to get revenues flowing into the economy. If they neglect economic growth and do not recognise that growth has an effect on the wider prosperity of society as well as on public finances, they will never repair the deficit as they claimed they would, and they will never have the fairer society that the Minister had the cheek to mention when concluding his speech. Ministers talk about fairness: tell that to the families who are losing £891 this year—households who are in work—when at the same time they see these Ministers giving away £145 million in the Budget to hedge fund managers by abolishing stamp duty reserve tax on some unit trust investments; tell that to those who are forking out 20% VAT and losing hundreds of pounds through higher taxes while the banks are let off the hook; and tell that to our constituents who we see, all too frequently, left with only £60 per week to live on while Ministers lavish on millionaires an average £100,000 tax cut in this financial year by scrapping the 50p top rate.
The Chancellor either does not understand fairness or does not care that he is creating unfairness. The Finance Bill will make the rich richer but do nothing to help the vast majority to secure a better standard of living. Worse still, the Bill will harm the prospects for our economy this year. Just at the moment we need measures to stimulate growth, the Government have produced this misguided Bill. They give a little away with one hand but take away so much more with the other. Their tax rises and cuts more than offset what they have promised in several years’ time on child care or changes to the personal allowance. Taking a penny off a pint of beer does not go very far when they have added 5p a pint through higher VAT.
Why is this such an inappropriate Bill? It is because the Chancellor does not prioritise the British economy or the prosperity of the British people. His No. 1 priority is himself: his own political reputation. It is all about reviving his own fortunes and trying to shore up his ideological credentials. This Budget and this Finance Bill were not about anyone else’s job but the Chancellor’s. That explains the fudging of the public accounts to make it look as though the deficit was falling when it is plainly as high as the year before. It explains the Chancellor’s refusal to budge from a failing strategy in case he had to admit his mistakes and swallow his pride, it explains the ever-widening net of blame for why things have fallen so off course, and it explains why the country’s fortunes have been downgraded while he carries on regardless. It is time that the Chancellor’s reputation was not the be-all and end-all of Treasury policy. It is time that we put the boost that our economy needs at the heart of everything we do. This Bill is bereft of the bold steps we need to kick-start Britain’s economy. I urge my hon. Friends to oppose it because Britain deserves better.
If there is one small area where I would agree somewhat with the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), it is that the Chancellor’s room for manoeuvre was incredibly limited as he delivered the Budget four weeks ago. There is no doubt that many of those constraints come as a result of global events. The latest stage in the eurozone debacle as Cypriot banks have been underpinned is a contemporary case in point, and we see ongoing problems in Portugal that I fear will deteriorate as the weeks and months go by.
However, it has become ever clearer that in the coalition Government’s first Budget in June 2010, they were, I accept, complacent about growth. The short pre-election boom following the 2009 VAT reduction and the very large early rounds of quantitative easing lulled the coalition, on assuming office, into believing that the growth that had come about in the two or three quarters before the 2010 election was baked into the system and would somehow do the heavy lifting when it came to deficit reduction. The coalition’s plans to eliminate the structural deficit required the gap between revenue and expenditure to be narrowed by some £159 billion by 2014-15. Tax rises were expected to contribute £31 billion and spending cuts £44 billion, and the remaining £84 billion was meant to come from compound growth of 2.7% throughout the Parliament.
Unfortunately, however, as we now know, the coalition ended up with possibly the worst of all worlds. It has received unwarrantedly relentless criticism from Labour Members for so-called harsh austerity measures when, in reality, it has too often lacked the political will to execute the levels of savings required. For all the rhetoric, we are still overspending by some £300 million every day. We are borrowing, not spending, that amount each and every day, and that means that we will continue to have to borrow to the tune of some £120 billion year on year.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that the Conservative coalition Government had the benefit of Labour’s reflationary strategy, which was implemented before the election, but then reversed it so that things have got worse ever since. Should they not simply have carried on with Labour’s strategy?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good case, I suppose, but we all know that the reality was that the short-term boost of VAT reduction and the early batches of QE was unsustainable. They were a pre-election boomlet, but, as I have said, the entire political class became rather complacent and thought, somehow, that the worst was behind us after the crash of 2008. We now know that that simply was not the case.
In 2010 the entire political class should have looked the electorate in the eye and been clear about the magnitude of the task that lay and, I am afraid, still lies ahead to rectify the public finances, but we are where we are. I personally take the view that talk of radical tax cuts from some on the Government Benches is perhaps unrealistic. I fear, for a start, that confidence is so low that until it is restored almost any tax give-aways are more likely to be squirreled away by individuals and companies than pumped back into the economy.
I also think we would run the serious risk of the markets losing faith if we were to play even faster and looser with public borrowing. In spite of the recent loss of our triple A rating from Moody’s, the Chancellor’s great achievement—it should not be underestimated—is that we are still able to borrow in international markets at such low interest rates. The lesson of both 1931 and 1976 is that once the markets turn, all is lost.
My main hope for the Budget and this Bill was that the coalition would take some of the longer-term decisions that the British economy requires. I am pleased that resource is being set aside for key, shovel-ready infrastructure projects. I had hoped that cash would be accompanied by decisions and leadership on aviation and energy infrastructure. We cannot let these sensitive political footballs be kicked once again into the next Parliament. I think that the UK, as a trading nation, requires certainty on those issues, not an endless parade of commissions and reviews.
I am pleased, however, that the Treasury has helped out small business. The march towards ever lower rates of corporation tax, as the Exchequer Secretary has pointed out, is highly welcome, as are assurances that small firms will be given a chance to bid for Government contracts under the small business research initiative.
The extent of capital gains tax relief to attract start-up capital for new limited companies is also very good news. Best of all, however, is the knocking off of the first £2,000 of employer national insurance contributions for small and micro-sized businesses. That will, I hope, begin to chip away at the worryingly high levels of youth unemployment by lifting some of the obvious disincentives to taking on new staff.
I am afraid that I am a little less sanguine about the Chancellor’s flagship Help to Buy plan. I appreciate its raw politics, underpinned as it is by a desire to help struggling younger people on to the housing ladder, many of whom are paying much more in rent than they would as part of a mortgage, if only they had a deposit. Nevertheless, I ask the Treasury to give considerable thought in the consultation period to what we are trying to achieve. Let us look carefully at supply rather than just finance, since I suspect that the latter will simply help keep prices out of the reach of the very people whom we wish to serve, as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) has said. I do not wish the taxpayer to be on the hook for the consequences of a reinflated property bubble. Let us not forget the US experience that lay at the heart of the financial crisis.
I, like many other Members, am also disappointed that the Office for Budget Responsibility’s predictions for our economy as recently as the autumn statement on 10 December 2012 were proved, only 14 weeks later in the March Budget, to have been so considerably off beam. Few doubt that economic forecasting is an especially dismal science. However, the OBR’s intervention in December proved essential in buying the Chancellor crucial breathing space at a time when many commentators had assumed that we were about to flunk our plan to reduce the deficit year on year. To that extent I accept what the hon. Member for Nottingham East has said. Many even-handed people will regard that as a sleight of hand, but, more importantly, the scene was set for cynicism and deep disappointment when aggregate borrowing for the next four years was projected at some £49 billion higher only 14 weeks after the autumn statement.
It is worth saying, however, that that is part of a tradition during all my 12 years in this House. Every single Budget between 2001 and 2007 forecast that public finances would move back into surplus in about three or four years’ time. Instead, as the hon. Gentleman will remember, debt and the annual deficit rose inexorably while the Treasury conjured the illusion of fiscal stability. Similarly, at every autumn statement since June 2010, the OBR has, I fear, been forced to downgrade growth out-turns while continuing to hold somewhat optimistically to the notion that the public finances will be transformed by robust growth in two years’ time.
The establishment of the OBR was meant to herald a fresh era of forecasting credibility, but it now seems all too reminiscent of the previous Administration’s discredited financial projection. I think that observers are beginning to wonder whether we should have any regard for the OBR’s latest set of predictions or, indeed, take with anything more than a pinch of salt assurances that recovery is only around the corner.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his position? Is he suggesting that the OBR—which was hailed as a great independent organisation that would keep us right—has somehow gone wrong, rather than that it is his Government’s policies that have lead the OBR constantly to downgrade its predictions?
I am expressing the concern that the OBR was somehow seen as a panacea of independence in a lot of its projections when it has got things uniformly wrong almost every time. As I have said, that is partly because of international events that one cannot exclude. We live in a global economy and are a great global trading nation. The problem is that we have not been able to get the export-led growth that we all want and as a result there has been constant downgrading.
There was some good news in the Budget, as the Exchequer Secretary has said, about the co-operation between the Treasury and our Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man on new financial disclosure agreements. As an adviser to the law firm Cains, I am pleased that our Crown dependencies have led the way with the FATCA—Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act—arrangements. That is to the Treasury’s credit. We saw at ECOFIN only last weekend that we are also looking to bring on board the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands to ensure that there is more transparency. It is very easy to berate a lot of the international financial centres—many of which have long-standing historical links with not just the City of London, but the UK—but the importance of the liquidity that they bring into play should not be underestimated. It made a big difference in the immediate aftermath of the crash of September 2008 and might yet do so at some point in the future.
I am a little more concerned that the Treasury is not making entirely clear what is considered abuse and avoidance when it comes to tax arrangements. The earlier exchange between the hon. Member for Burnley and the Exchequer Secretary brought that to mind. [Interruption.] I apologise: it was the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales)—my view of the hon. Gentleman means that it was an all too easy mistake to make. Without clarity about what amounts to avoidance as opposed to abuse, we risk throwing a veil of uncertainty over the UK’s business environment.
I speak to firms large and small in my own constituency. I say to those on the Treasury Bench that, suddenly, for the first time ever, global corporations are beginning to consider the almost unthinkable prospect of a certain amount of political risk being attached to the UK. Foreign direct investors would be right to feel aggrieved if legitimate tax-planning activities suddenly were deemed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to be aggressive tax avoidance, with punitive fines and damaging public relations to follow.
On that note, I should like to raise a specific instance of retrospection that is causing financial hardship among some of my constituents. Section 58 of the Finance Act 2008, brought in by the previous Government, was designed to close down certain tax-planning arrangements with retrospective effect. I am afraid that it has left some residents in my constituency with demands for huge amounts of back tax, which in some extreme cases is leading to threats of bankruptcy.
The Exchequer Secretary is aware of those concerns, because he has responded to my correspondence on them. Unfortunately, however, some of those affected by section 58 are not convinced that he is properly listening to the argument. One constituent advised:
“The tax arrangements I used were not only legitimate and openly declared, but expressly considered, debated and approved by parliament back in 1987. This means that according to the HMRC’s declaration, I was not engaged in aggressive and abusive tax avoidance but simple, legitimate tax planning.”
Although I accept that HMRC wants to bring more money in and to close down aggressive tax avoidance schemes, if it has known that arrangements or schemes have been in place for 25 years and has made no move to close them down, it cannot be right for retrospective activity to take place. My constituents therefore request the repeal of section 58.
I would be grateful if the Treasury gave serious consideration not only to the arguments of the campaigners, but to the message that retrospective legislation sends to business people who are trying to act in a lawful and transparent way in planning their taxes. The Exchequer Secretary rightly pointed out that we should be proud of being a country that is open for business, but we must ensure that what we do and what we say in that regard coincide.
To conclude, if I have one message for the Treasury as we consider the Finance Bill in the days ahead, it is to forget about the pressure for quick fixes and transient boosts, and instead to focus relentlessly on delivery and longer-term measures to make the UK an ever more tempting prospect as a place in which to do business. If the UK economy is not to get substantial growth before the 2015 election, let the coalition at least get some credibility for doing the right thing for the nation and giving our people a genuine sense of hope for the future.
If there was one test that the Government put in place from the day that they got into power, it was reducing the deficit. Three years on, what do we see? Borrowing is increasing by £245 billion and there is no chance of the deficit being paid off by 2015. By 2016-17, debt as a ratio of GDP will be 85.4%. Those are damning figures.
On 23 April 2012, the Prime Minister said:
“We’re involved in an economic rescue mission, but we’re not just a bunch of accountants dealing with a deficit, there’s also a driving passion and vision to change this country and make it much more on the side of hard-working people who do the right thing.”
Unfortunately, those who work hard and play by the rules have seen the top earners in society get a tax cut of 5p. I will not denigrate success: there is nothing wrong with people striving to work hard and enjoy the fruits of their labour; aspiration is what the party I represent is about and it is something that we should believe in. However, if the Government could find a tax cut of 5p for the highest earners, why could they not do it for the middle-income earners, for the families who are worried about their jobs and for the people sitting around their kitchen tables today who see the price of their groceries going up all the time, inflation going up and real wages dropping by 2.4%? Who is standing up for them? Nobody.
We hear wonderful words and statistics from Government Members, but the simple fact is this: we are still stuck in the grip of an economic theory that failed. We were told that tax cuts for the very rich would trickle down through society. We were told that the highest earners would somehow create jobs. What did we see by the end of the ’80s? We saw a record recession in 1990, with more houses repossessed and more businesses going bust than ever before, all because of the belief that we should be on the side of those who ride in limousines, rather than those who go to work every day in their vans.
I believe in one thing. It may be old-fashioned, but I believe that work is the only way out of poverty and the only way to reduce the ills of this country. Having people in work and paying their taxes is the only way to reduce not only the deficit, but the national debt. It is up to this Government and to any Government, whether they be red, blue, yellow or whatever blue and yellow are when they come together, to create jobs and to reduce all the barriers to people getting into work.
What does the Bill do? We have heard Government Members lauding the right to buy scheme. We have heard them talk about getting more people on the property ladder, even though rents are through the roof and it is hard to get a deposit. The average age of a person buying their first house is now 37. At that age, my mother and father had already had two children and got divorced—they had already lived their life. Now, people of that age are still struggling to get on the ladder.
What is the problem? It is not home ownership or high rents, but the lack of housing in this country. Instead of following the pledge of the Labour party to build 100,000 new houses using the sell-off of the 4G spectrum, the Government have ignored the problem completely. How many people will take advantage of the right to buy scheme? Will it go on failing like it is? Only 1,500 people took advantage of it last year. That is not a scheme that will create a nation of home owners; all it does is provide warm words. Whether we are on the right or the left, we have to get to a point in this country where the best ideas are used. Surely, the best idea is to use the money from the 4G spectrum to invest in homes and thereby create jobs.
The next matter that I want to talk about is barriers to work. We can quote statistics all we want, but the simple fact, as Harold Wilson said, is that it does not matter what the employment rate is in the country; for an unemployed person, the unemployment rate is 100%. Most of the people with children whom I talk to in my surgery and around my constituency say that the biggest barrier to getting back to work is child care issues. That is the elephant in the room. We can talk about job creation schemes all we want, but if people have child care issues, their priority is to look after their child.
On 19 March, a Treasury press release lauded the
“New scheme to bring tax-free childcare for 2.5 million working families”.
When I saw that, I applauded it and thought that it was the way forward. However, I then found out that the scheme will not come in until 2015. That means that people who have child care issues now face cuts to their child tax credit. A family with two children have already seen a cut of £1,500 a year in their child care funding. There is not only a cut in child care funding; since 2010, there are 400 fewer Sure Start centres and early years budgets have been slashed. That affects the economy, because if parents cannot go back to work, whether they are mums or dads, it adds to the welfare bill. I genuinely believe that it is economic madness to cut jobs or not allow people to go back into work if it creates a welfare bill that adds more and more to the deficit.
I will move on to another barrier to work. Like many hon. Members, I am bombarded by e-mails and letters from the FairFuelUK campaign. That must be the campaign from which I have received the most e-mails, letters and communications. However, those communications are coming not from a national campaign, but from the ordinary motorist in work. He is struggling to get to work. Again, the Government laud their freezing of petrol duty in September and say that they are on the side of hard-working families and people who need their car for work.
I thank my hon. Friend, because I was building up to that point.
The Conservatives like to tell people that they are the party of low taxation. They might have cut income tax in the ’80s, and cut it now from 50p to 45p, but the one thing they have used over and over again is value added tax. Under the Conservatives, VAT has risen from 15% to 17.5% to 20% as it is now. That is the tool they have always used. It is all very well someone being taxed on what they spend or buy, but everybody has to pay VAT, whether they are a struggling pensioner, a student who needs clothes or equipment for university, or a single parent. Everybody has to pay VAT, whether they are a duke or on the bins.
When VAT is put on petrol, it is instantly put up by 3p. The Government’s proposal means absolutely nothing. This Government could show some bravery and leadership by reducing VAT. I know they will say that once VAT has been put on some goods it has to stay, but that does not mean it has to stay at 20%. When the Labour party was in power in 1997, we reduced VAT on fuel bills to 5%. It has been done before; a precedent has been set and it can be done again.
When I look around my constituency I see so many hard-working people who are being squeezed. The most heinous thing, which I hear all the time, is people being demonised because they claim benefits, even though six out of 10 people who claim benefits are in work. That says one thing: work is not paying. What do the Government do? They make a tiny increase this week to the minimum wage. For me, the minimum wage is the cornerstone of welfare reform—a decent living wage. I am sick to death and tired of hearing my constituents be demonised and criminalised because they find themselves unemployed. They are all pushed together in sweeping statements; they are called scroungers, and being from the valleys that hurts me, because I know how proud is the tradition of working. That is the most heinous thing.
One thing the Government could do to prove that we are—to use a phrase that has not been heard for the past two years—“all in this together” is repeal the bedroom tax. That is close to my heart, because the average person in Islwyn will pay an extra £91 for having an extra bedroom. There will be pensioners who have lived in the same council house all their lives, brought up a family and made a home, but who are being kicked out because they have a three-bedroom house. What are they to do—bring in a lodger or someone they do not know? No. In my constituency of Islwyn in Caerphilly county borough, 80% of my constituents who are renting will be affected for the simple reason that in 1945 the Labour Government did not build council houses just to house people: we built family homes. We built two and three-bedroom houses in which families could grow and thrive in a safe environment. That was a cornerstone of Aneurin Bevan’s vision as Housing Minister—a contribution that people often forget.
I am concerned that ordinary people are getting squeezed all the time. The Finance Bill represents an opportunity for the Government to show that they can be caring and compassionate, but this opportunity has been wasted. It was not a steady-as-you-go, as-you-were Budget, and the figures bear out the situation. Growth in this country is anaemic; it is flatlining and needs investment. The Prime Minister’s mantra at Prime Minister’s questions every week is the same: “All Labour wants to do is borrow more money; it wants to go the same way as Greece and spend it all.” To me, however, it is an absolute no-brainer. We are already borrowing £245 billion, so what is wrong with trying to invest that in creating jobs and building new houses?
I oppose the Second Reading of this Bill because it does nothing for the people we seek to represent. This is not about steady-as-you-go; the Government have failed in their primary aim of reducing the deficit, and therefore the Bill does not deserve a Second Reading.
I welcome most measures in this Bill, particularly the rise in the personal tax threshold to £9,440 this year. That is already cutting in half the tax bill of people on the minimum wage, and next year the threshold will rise to £10,000 and 24 million people will receive a tax cut. That is the No. 1 Liberal Democrat priority, and I am delighted to see that it is being delivered by this Government.
We hear a lot about millionaire tax cuts, but I think that when the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) decided to raise taxes in the last month of his failing Government, he knew that it would be the gift that kept on giving in terms of headlines. Unfortunately, however, it was not the gift that kept on giving to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as figures have shown. Millionaires will pay £381,000 more in income tax and national insurance in five years of this Government than they paid in the last five years of the previous Government.
What does the hon. Gentleman think about HMRC saying that the tax would actually have brought in £1 billion? The problem is that we had it only for the first year when people prepaid it, and this year when people will postpone it, but we did not bother to watch what happened in that middle year.
HMRC is well aware that people with those sorts of income levels have many choices about what they do with their money, and we have seen the effects of that. Once tax gets to 50%, people do other things, and that is what we have seen.
I wish to mention one or two relevant changes to pensions. I welcome the cut in allowances for pension savings. It is incredible that under the previous Government someone was allowed to save £255,000 a year for their pension and receive full tax relief worth £127,000. This Government have cut tax relief to £50,000, which will fall to £40,000, so the taxpayer cost of £127,000 will be £18,000 by next year—a huge change that will bring in, I believe, £4 billion. I also welcome the steps for 1992 Equitable Life annuitants. I have a number of constituents who felt very unfairly treated, and although the £5,000 they will receive does not go all the way to meeting their needs, it at least recognises the trauma they have experienced. I welcome the increase in the allowance for draw-down pensioners. That was also painful for some who took a big cut in their income when the Government Actuary changed the figures.
The Minister mentioned tax avoidance. I will not replay the debate in this Chamber from last January, but it had lots of content and I am pleased to see the Government acting on some of that. However, there is still a lot more to do on the internet and international businesses, and I look forward to seeing further measures. I also feel that the lines between avoidance and evasion are getting more blurred. Cases such as that of the bogus charity that was headlined in The Times only a couple of months ago are not just about avoidance and when HMRC should take people to court to get the tax—people need to end up in jail as a result of such schemes. It is high time that we were clear about schemes that are entirely fictitious, and things such as assets changing hands at different prices at the same time need to be viewed as criminal activity.
The Labour party has spoken a lot about the growth measures—or lack of them—in the Budget, and both I and the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), who is no longer in his place, would like to see an export-boom recovery. One problem is that under the previous Government manufacturing went from 22% to 11% of our economy. That amazing fall means there are a lot fewer makers in the march—we all want to see the march of the makers. I welcome the steps the Government are taking to do something about that, including the regional growth fund, which has given out large amounts, mostly to manufacturing industry; the fact that the Government will act on the Heseltine review, which made many of the same points, such as the need to support regions such as mine in the Tees valley; and the tenfold increase in capital allowances from £25,000 to £250,000, which will encourage manufacturers to invest, which we badly need. The new employment allowance of £2,000 will help the smallest businesses to make a bit more money and encourage them to take on more people.
There are measures on infrastructure investment. The Budget plans contain a map of the country featuring the different infrastructure projects, so it is wrong to say that infrastructure investment is not happening. I welcome the Government’s targeting of strategic sectors that they have identified for success, such as automobiles and life sciences. A lot of work is being done on that, and along with the investment in supply chains, which seeks to get our supply chains back onshore after so many disappeared, it is already paying dividends—car parts manufacturers are coming back to the UK and so on. I believe that many of those steps are in the right direction.
On carbon taxes, all hon. Members understand the need to take care of climate change, but we must also ensure that our energy-intensive industries remain competitive. The Government are taking steps in that direction, but there is a lot more to do. We have increases in the climate change levy and the carbon price floor, both of which perhaps send the message to our heavier industry that it is not welcome here. We need to take steps to ensure that that is not the case.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said that we do not want retrospective changes. One specific example is the climate change levy for combined heat and power organisations such as Sembcorp in my constituency, which invested millions in new equipment on the expectation that the regime would remain until 2027. The regime changed retrospectively and, all of a sudden, its investment case was gone. I have written to the Minister on that, and it needs considering specifically. It is no good expecting people to invest in green technology if we do not make the ground rules clear. If people start to believe that the ground rules will move, they will not invest.
I welcome the announcement in the Budget on the two areas that will benefit from carbon capture and storage. I would liked to have seen Teesside on the list, but I recognise that the decision was based on energy. I welcome the Government’s recent heat strategy, which specifically mentions the need for carbon capture and storage for industry. I hope that future Budgets cater for a project on Teesside to do exactly that. Teesside has an excellent business case for the Government if they take into account enhanced oil recovery and the revenue that will flow from petroleum revenue taxes as a result of the CCS projects. I hope the Treasury considers that carefully in future.
Generally, the Government are taking many steps towards encouraging green investment. I hope only that they can take the one extra step, which is to ensure that a lot of the investment that goes into new energy projects results in UK manufacturing and supply. Too much of the manufacturing has so far been offshore, including for a wind farm going up right outside my house in Redcar.
I have listened carefully to the speeches today, including those from Opposition Members. I understand some of their points but am confused by others. The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), in one of his characteristically passionate speeches, mentioned VAT. I believe that this is the wrong time to introduce a measure that gives the most to those who spend the most—the richest get the most out of cuts in VAT. Most people at the lower end of the scale do not spend much on standard rate VAT items, so the measure he proposed would involve borrowing £12 billion to, for example, cut the price of a Ferrari by £4,000. This is the wrong time to do that. There are much better ways to spend £12 billion if that is what he wants to borrow.
Under the previous Government, three gaps widened: the gap between rich and poor, the gap between north and south, and the gap between the north and the south of the region where I live. That is a shameful record. I and the Liberal Democrats want a stronger economy and a fairer society, and I support the Budget.
I should like to address the comments of the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) about capital allowances. I, too, welcome the Government’s capital allowance proposals, but they are a U-turn—the Government reduced pre-2010 Labour levels of capital allowances to 25% of what they were, but have since returned them to pre-2010 levels.
The north-east leads the way on exports. Government Members have said that the export recovery has not occurred, but the north-east already had very good exports from industry. Compared with other regions in the country, the north-east leads the way. For example, Cleveland Potash at Boulby in my constituency today announced a £300 million investment, which will create 120 new jobs and secure more than 1,000 existing jobs in the potash pit. That occurs on the one-year anniversary of the recommencement of iron and steel production at the Redcar blast furnace at the Teesside Cast Products site, which is under the joint operation of Sahaviriya Steel Industries and Tata. That is a victory for the campaign of local people on Teesside, of which I was proud to be a part, as was the hon. Member for Redcar. Success is now synonymous with Teesside, and people in Teesside are proud to say that they are a success. We look forward to a future built upon the industrial development and manufacturing legacy of the 13 years under Labour.
Organisations such as the North East of England Process Industry Cluster were created in conjunction with the Labour Government and One North East. NEPIC centred on the north-east’s assets, particularly in the chemical and steel industries, and the heritage of shipbuilding—TAG Energy uses the Haverton Hill site, formerly a shipyard and dock, to produce monopile construction units for the offshore wind turbine market.
By contrast, the words “double dip”, “double debt” and “credit rating downgrade” are synonymous with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Government. Since the autumn statement, growth, which was estimated to be poor, has halved in just over three months from 1.2% to 0.6%. The accrual of debt by this downgraded Chancellor from 2010 to 2015 is more than the total debt accrued by the previous Labour Government in their entire 13 years. Despite that and the overwhelming evidence, the Chancellor affirmed in his Budget that borrowing is falling. Public borrowing shows that the Government books were in the red to the tune of £121 billion last year. They are forecast to improve only marginally to £120.9 billion in 2012-13.
Tax revenues have fallen £5.1 billion short of the predictions in the autumn statement, despite the hailed employment figures. That is largely owing to the fact that, despite increases in nominal employment, productivity has fallen massively. That is matched by a huge fall in tax take. The irony is that we have always been told that the private sector is more efficient. Supposedly, we have 1 million more private sector workers, and gross domestic product is falling, so more people are doing less. That is a re-unbalancing of the economy if I ever saw one.
Similarly, the increase in the number of employed women is largely due to the fact that fewer women between the ages of 60 and 64 have retired. Women are working to a later age because state old age pensions have changed. That has undoubtedly helped employment figures. The Chancellor was able to massage his borrowing down only by persuading the OBR that Government Departments would spend £3.4 billion less than their allocated budgets this year. Only three months after the previous forecast, the budget deficit is expected to be an average £11 billion worse throughout the five-year forecast period. In cash terms, the problem lies with poor tax receipts, which have been hit by disappointing revenues this year, and vastly reduced forecasts for nominal gross domestic product, which is now at one seventh of the original growth expectations set in June 2010.
On the other hand, Robert Chote and the OBR assume the economy has the scope for rapid catch-up growth of 2.3% of national income even after April 2018. But with so much slack in the economy to be assumed for the rest of this decade, it is strange that the OBR does not show inflation falling below its target level of 2% at any time. Are Ministers concerned by that? If the OBR admitted this to be the case, it could no longer live within the Chancellor’s demands and would probably have to admit not £9 billion, but something more in the region of £17 billion a year of tax rises or spending cuts, as a result of earlier Government inaction.
The nation’s debt and the Government’s borrowing are completely dependent upon the Chancellor’s “monetary activism”. However, minutes of the Bank of England’s latest meeting show that the new Governor, Mark Carney, failed to win any support for his case for further quantitative easing. Most of the MPC look worried about the potential damage of a run on sterling, and the effectiveness in any case of further asset purchases as banks and households look to clear debts. However, without further QE, the Chancellor cannot keep his borrowing rates down, as the borrowing at low rates to buy gilts in order to borrow at low rates is the true reason for low interest rates, not the heavily front-ended, growth-strangling cuts we have witnessed to date.
Furthermore, big businesses continual deleveraging will not be turned into sudden investment with further corporation tax cuts. Corporation tax cuts will just aid business to further deleverage debt. It has never been so cheap for the state to borrow, and the Chancellor is neither using this cheap accessible capital to pump-prime the economy nor persuading banks and big business to free up their substantial reserves and corporate funds. The Chancellor’s language and tone set the mood music for the economy, and his constant message of national deleveraging has sent everyone into a deleveraging frenzy. Banks are hoarding excess capital and large corporate companies are simultaneously paying out large dividends to shareholders while sitting on excess capital, with the explicit purpose of holding it in case they need to make future debt clearances rather than investments.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, certain programmes, such as the Government’s rebuilding schools programme—which has been delayed for a year in one school in Guisborough in my constituency—are dependent on PFI arrangements, which raise capital from the bond market. We had a slightly different arrangement for the Building Schools for the Future project. We now have the sudden realisation that the cancellation of such capital projects, in the first two years of this Government, has sent the economy into a spiral.
The real issue for me, especially in the north-east, is connectivity. We want to develop our economic base, but rail electrification will go only as far as York. What we want is access to capital funds to get electrification done as soon as possible. I hope that that will yield some results, but it is already too late. We have already had nigh on three years with little investment, and now the situation is desperate. Capital is still very slow in coming from Whitehall, exacerbated by the lack of agencies in the region to assist businesses, even given the regional growth fund. How we solve that, given that those agencies have been dismantled, I do not know, but we need to do more.
Added to the Chancellor’s mood music and the deleveraging frenzy, we have a Government delaying the payment of bills to hide borrowing. The delaying of these payments—largely to big businesses—leads to deleveraging big businesses, with vast sums under the corporate mattress, using smaller businesses as an extra line of credit. Current unpaid bills to small and medium-sized enterprises total £36.4 billion, with some small businesses writing off bills to the tune of £10,000. An illustration of this is the 7% year-on-year contraction in construction, which has its lowest growth rate since 1987.
The Chancellor is aware of this issue. In the north-east, according to the regional Federation of Small Businesses, banks cannot apparently give a regional figure for the take-up of the funding for lending scheme for business. We need to hold banks to account for that. The north-east has 134,000 businesses—I mentioned two of the larger ones earlier. A thousand employ more than 50 people, while 96,000 are sole traders, who by and large do not pay corporation tax. This April, real-time information will be introduced, but apparently only 25% of FSB members know what RTI is. I suggest to Ministers that small businesses should be given a proper period of slack on the introduction of RTI. The Government have allowed six months, but extending this to 12 months might be necessary so that businesses can adapt properly. However, the closure of local HMRC tax inquiry offices in the north-east—a region with a large sole trader community—means that we will be far more exposed to transitional difficulties.
The sole traders, market town traders and small businesses on our high streets will not only have RTI to contend with. The national minimum wage is lower now, in real terms, than it was in 2004. It was raised by 1.9% today, but the consumer prices index is at 2.8%, so it is a real-terms cut. Small businesses and their customers in the north-east will see working tax credit freezes from this April, meaning those working under 30 hours will lose between £303 and £428. That is £303 to £428 less to spend. Benefits being capped at 1% rather than CPI will mean that small businesses’ customers lose up to £150. That is £150 less to spend. The bedroom tax—a housing benefit cut of between 14% and 24%—will mean they lose between £624 and £1,144. That is £624 to £1,144 less to spend. The benefit cap, to be rolled out nationally from September, will mean small businesses’ customers will lose on average £4,836, which is an average of £93 a week. That is £93 less per week for their customers to spend. The council tax benefit cut—the Tories’ new poll tax—will mean that 700,000 people in employment will lose between £250 to £600 each, meaning small businesses’ regular customers will have between £250 and £600 less to spend. This will no doubt compound an already obvious demand crisis.
After the mummy tax and the granny tax, the end of the pregnancy grant, and VAT being increased again by a Tory Government, there will be obvious consequences for sole traders and small business in general. How do the Government think these reductions in the disposable income of small businesses’ most frequent and dependable customers will resolve this country’s economic growth problems? In the autumn statement, private consumption was expected to be a crucial driver of Britain’s growth in the years ahead. The OBR expected growth in 2012 to come from private consumption. Indeed, it revised it up to 37.5% of all growth after last year’s omnishambles Budget. Of course, it did not happen. The promised—albeit simultaneously derided—consumer growth was not delivered. Page 100 of the Red Book assumes a jump of 0.7%, from 0.5% this year to 1.2% next year, in household consumption, even though it simultaneously predicts unemployment increasing in 2013-14 and the claimant count increasing from 1.58 million to 1.63 million in the same period. The Chancellor also failed to inform the nation that 400,000 disabled people on severe or enhanced disabled benefits will now have to pay council tax for the first time ever.
In conjunction with what I illustrated earlier, these are demand-sapping policies on a monumental scale. Are they being taken because the Government fear that their other policies will bring about inflation? Are they attacking demand deliberately in order to control inflation? We know that Mark Carney, the new Governor of the Bank of England, will be constrained by a 2% inflation target. However, we also know that inflation crept up to between 2.5% and 3%—around the 2.8% mark between January and February—this year. That inflation rise, at the same time as pay freezes, local real-terms pay cuts and benefits reductions, has seen families subject to an unprecedented cost of living crisis. According to uSwitch, Britons collectively owe £637 million to energy firms— £159 million more than last year’s projections. Some 20% of all energy customers surveyed are in debt, a figure that has risen by 14% since last year.
In conclusion, with falling disposal income levels and increasing household outgoings, the temporary retail or consumer growth we are currently seeing is very small. As well as being derided in the first place by Government Members as the wrong type of growth, given the Government’s other policies, it is unsustainable in the medium and long term. The Budget is fundamentally unfair: it does not address growth, it doubles the debt and it does not deal with the deficit—it actually makes it worse. It fails on all the original criteria set out by the Chancellor in June 2010.
May I start by making two observations? This ought to be the keynote debate on the Government’s annual flagship Finance Bill, but there are only five Government Members in the Chamber—two Ministers, a Whip, a Parliamentary Private Secretary and one solitary Liberal, who I suspect will leave at the earliest possible opportunity—none of whom is now standing to speak. It is a terrible indictment of the Government that even the normal cheerleaders are not here to back the Chancellor. That probably indicates that many Government Members consider the Budget to be as miserable as we do.
I was struck by the fact that the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) chose to defend the millionaire tax cut. One reason he gave rather explodes the “we’re all in it together” myth, which, as someone else has said, is rarely used by Government Members these days. Even if this year’s Red Book is right and the cost of the millionaires’ tax cut is only £500 million in the next five years, I think we would all argue that if £500 million is going spare it would be better to spend it on direct capital investment, capacity for the future, and job and GDP creation, rather than give it to people who are already wealthy.
The Finance Bill is a consequence of the March Budget. Apart from some measures I welcomed relating mainly to business tax, it was a pretty miserable Budget. It was miserable because, by and large, it merely continued with the Government’s failed policies. We know they have failed because the Chancellor told us that they have failed—they failed by every measure he set. The net borrowing requirement, which was due to fall to £92 billion, has gone up to £121 billion. The national debt, which was due to peak at 92.7% of GDP—£1.36 trillion—in 2014-15 on the treaty calculation, is now expected to peak, on the same calculation, at more than 100% of GDP. National debt on the treaty calculation is due to reach 100.8% of GDP, or £1.58 trillion, by 2016-17. Therefore, when we hear that the deficit is lower and debt will fall, it does not really bear any scrutiny, even by the Chancellor’s and the OBR’s own numbers. The Chancellor has failed to meet his own targets on his original time scale for his own fiscal rules: that the structural current deficit should be in balance in the final year of the five-year rolling programme, and that debt should fall as a share of GDP. Of course, according to the OBR those objectives were highly dependent on GDP growth, which, as we have seen in previous Red Books, was based on incredible, unbelievable, unmet and frankly unmeetable rates of business investment growth.
Let us remind ourselves that in 2010 the Government suggested that business investment had to grow by between 8.1% and 10.9% a year for five years. By the time we got to the OBR’s fiscal outlook the next year, growth in business investment had actually turned negative, which was extraordinary, and so it went on year after year after year. They were at it again this year, forecasting future business investment rates of between 6.4% to 10.2% from 2013 onwards. I suspect that nobody, even in Government, believes that those targets will be met. The Chancellor, or some other poor Minister, will be back at the Dispatch Box at some point in the near future explaining why this was all somebody else’s fault.
The Chancellor also failed because the Budget and the Bill continue down the path of deep cuts and tax rises. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) is no longer in his place. He gave a customary thoughtful speech, in which he suggested that perhaps we had all not been honest and that the cuts should be deeper. However, last year’s Red Book told us that the total cost of fiscal consolidation—discretionary consolidation; that is, tax rises and cuts—would be £155 billion a year from 2016-17 onwards. As I pointed out on Budget day, that 2016-17 figure of £155 billion of discretionary consolidation, tax rises and cuts had somehow been deleted from the Red Book, and there was no forecast for 2017-18.
It is fair to say that the Government have made a U-turn and that the fiscal tightening will continue to be the equivalent of approximately 7.5% to 8% of GDP stripped out of the economy in tax rises and cuts. It is extraordinary that they think they can cut their way to growth at the best of times, but that they think they can do so while pursuing a policy which, according to their own numbers, will see fiscal consolidation, discretionary tax rises and cuts of the equivalent of between 7.5% and 8% of GDP in demand stripped out of the economy. If they can cut their way to growth on the back of that, they should be given a Nobel prize. The problem is that none of us believes it will happen. Of course, the overall impact of 4:1 cuts to tax rises tells us exactly who will bear the brunt of these austerity measures.
I said at the beginning that I do not want to be wholly negative—there were some measures to be welcomed. Earlier, we discussed briefly one of the most potentially significant measures, which is the tenfold increase in the annual investment allowance to £250,000. That is for two years only, however, and the Government need to understand that even at this level investment decisions may take some time to be agreed before businesses are able to use the benefit. I therefore ask the Government to look again at the temporary nature of the increase. While we would certainly argue that it makes sense to have targeted tax allowances such as this—it makes sense for businesses to be allowed to keep more of their own money to invest, particularly when banks are still refusing to take the full share of the risk they should take—the real problem with the Budget, the Red Book and the Bill is that the Government continue to set themselves against direct capital investment when the economy needs it most, which is right now.
To understand just how damaging that is, let me give one example: the UK Government argue that they have given Scotland an additional £279 million in capital over the next two years. It is debateable whether that is true, as I will come to, but even if it is, it would still imply a 20% real-terms cut to the Scottish capital budget over the four-year spending review period. But it is not real capital expenditure: £266.5 million is classified as a financial transaction, meaning that it can be used only to fund loans or equity investments. That is a straitjacket. It is accompanied by £103.5 million cut in hard cash from the resource budget, half of which— £56 million—will be cut this year from already agreed budgets. This is not just daft; it is economically really, really silly. I despair that the Government think it makes sense to be putting administrations—public bodies of one sort or another—into a straitjacket, while removing hard cash and discretionary spending.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves too far on from capital spending, will he say why his party in Scotland is imposing even more draconian cuts on local government than the parties in government here, cutting public sector construction projects in Scotland and contributing to the 40,000 construction jobs lost in Scotland since his party took power?
The problem with that question is that it comes straight from the Labour party central office briefing note. The Scottish Government quite rightly re-profiled revenue spending into capital to make up for the capital cuts from the UK Government. We did that because we recognised that—I think there is unanimity on this—direct capital investment had a 1:1 impact multiplier in terms of GDP growth. That is extremely important, because the problem is that we do not have enough economic growth, so the Scottish Government were right to re-profile revenue into capital spending.
As I said earlier, the 4:1 ratio of cuts to tax rises under this Government, plus their smoke-and-mirrors approach to direct capital investment, shows just where their priorities lie, and it is not with people, jobs or growth. We can all probably agree that plan A has failed, and with the UK still teetering on the brink of a triple-dip recession the Chancellor seems to want to continue to do the impossible, which is to cut his way to growth. It has not worked and it will not work; and this Finance Bill will not help.
The Bill does, however, make provision for personal tax changes, and the increase in the basic rate threshold to £9,440 is welcome. The Government are right to try to take as many people as possible on low and modest incomes out of tax, and the savings from that increase, added to the £326 of savings from basic rate taxpayers, whose personal allowance has risen from £6,475 in 2010 to £8,105 last year, makes sense, but that is only part of the personal tax story. As I have said, the Government are also foolishly ploughing on with a tax cut for millionaires, which at their own conservative estimate will cost £500 million.
It is those in the middle who are really being squeezed. The tax relief in terms of the 40% band used to be £37,400, but that was decreased to £34,300 last year, so for every £326 changed up in the Budget, at 20p in the pound, people have had to shell out an extra £560 at the 40p rate, before this year’s changes. So although the change in this year’s basic threshold is welcome, we must recognise that the Chancellor pulled the same trick in the middle again by pre-announcing another cut to the 40% threshold down to £32,010 last year. That means that in three years the Government have taken the proportion of taxpayers paying the 40% rate from 10% to 13% of the total taxpaying public—up 670,000 in three years. Over 25 years, the proportion has doubled to 2.1 million extra people now paying a tax rate that was previously only for the rich. With hundreds of thousands of people now paying a 40p tax rate that was never designed for low and middle incomes, it is safe to say that the middle is not so much being squeezed by the Government as garrotted.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the first two changes in the 40p band were to ensure that 40% taxpayers only got the same amount out of the threshold increase as a basic rate taxpayer? In other words, it was a measure of fairness across the spectrum.
I recognise that an increase in the basic threshold from £6,400 to £9,400, which is a £3,000 rise, implies a saving of about £600, but a fall in the 40% threshold from £37,400 to £32,100, which is £5,000, implies a cost of £2,000. If one was paying 40% before, they still will be, while many hundreds of thousands more who were not, and who ought not to be, now will be. I do not see the fairness that the hon. Gentleman speaks of. I suspect that when we get to the next election, that might be part of the Liberal party’s campaign against their current Tory friends.
I want to turn to one of the most damaging small parts of the Finance Bill, which is the planned increase in air passenger duty. APD has become increasingly unpopular in the aviation industry and is now the most expensive in Europe. We know that standard rates vary from £13 for a short-haul flight to £94 for a long-haul flight. The rates were increased by RPI on 1 April this year, as announced in the 2012 Budget, and will be subject to a further increase by RPI next April, as announced in this Budget. We have consistently made the case for devolution as a means to improve connectivity and to give the aviation sector a competitive edge.
As the Minister will know, the Scottish Government Deputy First Minister wrote to the main airports in 2012 reaffirming our intention to press the UK Government to devolve APD as soon as possible. We do so because it makes economic sense. The study “The economic impact of Air Passenger Duty”, published only this February, confirmed that. It suggested that abolishing APD entirely could boost GDP by 0.46% in the first year, with benefits continuing to 2020, and that the GDP boost to the UK economy would amount to at least £16 billion in the first three years and result in almost 60,000 extra jobs over the longer term. We would argue, therefore, that the time for continually increasing APD has gone and that the time to devolve it is now.
We also welcome the support of Scotland’s four main airports for the devolution of APD. It is safe to say, however, that we have become increasingly frustrated with the UK Government’s continuing prevarication and the impact on Scotland and Wales of the further increases in rates from April this year and April 2014. To be fair, the Government have recognised, in devolving APD to Northern Ireland, that a one-size-fits-all policy might not be appropriate, but increasing APD throughout the rest of the UK and not devolving it demonstrates that the Government do not understand the differences in the UK aviation sector, the connectivity challenges faced by Scotland or the needs of passengers. This is a matter that we hope to return to in the Committee of the whole House.
The Finance Bill is utterly inadequate and ignores the pressing need for investment and growth. I am happy to say that the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru will oppose it tonight.
Whatever else can be said, it is quite clear that this Finance Bill will not sort out the public finances. As a result, we have got all sorts of efforts to distract people’s attention.
We have got the Work and Pensions Secretary going on about new punishments for people involved in benefit fraud. I am against benefit fraud, but I am against all fraud. Let us try to get things into perspective. In the last year for which figures are available, benefit fraud cost £1.2 billion. A recent study by Oxfam says that in the last year for which it has figures, tax fraud cost the taxpayer £5 billion. Needless to say, the Treasury said it did not recognise that figure, which is officialese for: “I can’t think what to say; I’ll have to find out what the boss says.” However, the Treasury has to acknowledge—because it produced this figure itself—that in the last year for which official figures are available, £4 billion was lost to tax fraud. It also produced figures for that year showing that tax avoidance—not tax evasion—cost the taxpayer £5 billion. There was a further loss of £4 billion for what is called “non-payment”—in other words, businesses making sure that when something went wrong, it was not the taxpayer who got any of the money. That makes a total of £13 billion lost in one year, mainly as a result of the desire and effective efforts by the rich and big businesses not to pay tax. That means that the taxpayer was swindled out of £13 billion in one year alone.
To be fair, that is partly because this House is notoriously bad at producing tax laws that actually work. That might be partly an effect of the fact that for years the Treasury has been advised on such matters by the very banks and accountancy firms that are doing the swindling in the first place. However, there is little real conviction in the idea that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will do a good job of getting the money that we have voted should be taken. In fairness to HMRC, tax avoidance has become a major British industry. It is not a sideline of the big four banks or the big four firms of accountants; it is a major part of their industrial activity. They are not exactly big taxpayers themselves: in one year, Barclays paid just 1% of its profits in tax.
Then there is the massive and disgraceful involvement of the British financial sector in tax havens round the world, usually in British dependencies. When the British empire was at its zenith, the slogan was “Trade follows the flag”, and it still does, because the British dependencies, flying the British flag, are the major tax havens all over the world. The mighty British empire has been reduced to a scatter of sordid tax havens, where most of the fiddling is done by British banks and British firms of accountants. They are there helping the tax avoiders and helping the rich freeloaders to avoid the tax they should be paying here and in other countries. Let me give one or two examples. Barclays has just over 1,000 subsidiaries, 36% of which are located in tax havens. HSBC has 1,500 subsidiaries and, again, 36% are in tax havens. The Royal Bank of Scotland is slightly better—only 31% of its 1,300 subsidiaries are located in tax havens—while just 21% of Lloyds’s subsidiaries are located in tax havens.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech, but I am sure he is not suggesting that all this has arisen in the last three years. Can he remind the House of any steps that his Government took in this regard and does he welcome the steps that this Government are taking? They have resulted in, for example, Barclays closing down its structured capital markets department, which was basically about tax avoidance.
I never said for a minute that it started recently. It has been going on for donkey’s years. I am not sure about the Lib Dems, but I cannot remember an organisation when Labour was in government called Tories in Favour of Stopping Tax Avoidance. Perhaps the minutes will be produced by someone, but it seems extremely unlikely, because everything the Tories ever said when they were in opposition was about Labour being too nasty to the finance industry and proposing things that might damage it. So we trundled on, until the finance industry damaged the rest of us. It is worth remembering that the banks’ wrongdoing has cost us £700 billion in lost production since the crash. That is what we have all lost.
These British banks and firms of accountants are not just organising tax avoidance in the tax havens for all the swindlers. We now know—from prosecutions and from agreements that they have come to with the American authorities—that they have been organising money laundering from massive drug dealing, gun running, people trafficking and busting sanctions on places such as Burma.
I think the British banks should be doing something a bit different. I think they might possibly have done a bit of investing in this country. In the past, small businesses all over the country could go and see their local bank managers at one of the big banks and talk to them about their problems. They knew one another and knew what their prospects were. People could borrow money that way, and it worked. Then the banks started centralising all the funds, so nothing is left with the local bank manager and local firms now have to be interrogated by an algorithm—that is what it boils down to—in the banks’ headquarters. They have not been investing in this country. We have to ask ourselves why a large proportion of the industries that were privatised are now owned by foreign owners, such as Électricité de France or the Australian outfit that owns Thames Water. Could the British banks not have invested in British businesses? Was there not enough profit for them? Does that mean that the profits in the tax havens and from all sorts of derivatives activities were going to raise them more money? That may be so, but what has happened demonstrates just how awful the performance of the British banks and finance industry has been.
I do not think this Finance Bill, any of the proposals the Government have put forward or even the one or two they have started implementing reflect the scale of wrongdoing that needs to be put right—the swindling that involved British companies and the damage that does to us as a trading nation with, until recently, a reputation for honesty and fair dealing. At its core—I say this with some care—this is a corrupt set-up. We have a banking industry and an accountancy industry that are involved in criminal and semi-criminal activity all over the world, yet we say to countries such as Bangladesh, “There’s too much corruption in your country.” If we are going to start trying to sort out corruption in other places, it is about time we did it here and where British companies are operating. We need transparency, and we certainly do not need tax havens, especially those that fly the British flag. Their objective is not transparency but the complete opposite: it is to be as obscure as is humanly possible in order to keep the tax authorities out.
Another point that is constantly made is that, if we were to change the rules on banking and accountancy, the very clever people in the City would simply get round them. That is unacceptable. Why should such behaviour be acceptable in the finance industry? We would regard it as totally unacceptable if the building industry said, “You can rely on us to get round the building regulations,” if the aviation industry said, “We can get round the safety rules,” or if the pharmaceutical industry said, “We won’t carry out the proper checks that are required. We can get round those rules.” We ought to regard it as totally unacceptable when people representing the finance industry say, “Whatever you do in the House of Commons, we’ll get round your rules.”
It certainly should. I am astonished that no one in this country has yet been prosecuted for the fraud involved in the LIBOR rate-rigging, including the British Bankers Association, which was, after all, running the LIBOR system. People were defrauded, so why has no one been prosecuted? I do not know, but someone should be.
Another excuse for not sorting out the problems in our banking industry is that we must not go it alone because that would put the industry at a disadvantage compared with others. We are told, for instance, that we cannot possibly be the first country to introduce a financial transaction tax—a Tobin tax, a Robin Hood tax—because to do so would put our banks at a disadvantage. However, Germany and France have now proposed an EU-wide financial transaction tax, yet our Government still say no. What are they frightened of? The rate of tax proposed on derivatives transactions that the 11 countries led by Germany are establishing in Europe is 0.01%. Apparently, our financial services industry is so pathetic that it would be driven to ruin by a transaction tax rate of 0.01%.
In fact, we already have a transaction tax in this country: it is called VAT. Nearly every other business in this country is paying a transaction tax of 20%. If everyone else is deemed capable of paying 20%, why should the financial services industry be deemed incapable of paying 0.01% on its transactions, 85% of which are carried out within the industry, between its various constituent parts, rather than with anyone else. That is pathetic, and it is about time that we recognised that a substantial amount of money could be raised for the taxpayer in this country, even at a rate of 0.01%.
Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the House what the Labour party’s policy is on the so-called Robin Hood tax? My understanding is that the shadow Chancellor is opposed to introducing one.
Let me make it absolutely clear that we should have a Government who are arguing for a financial transaction tax. We need to ensure that we get New York, in particular, on board, but we now have evidence of what will happen in the European Union, and there is no doubt that there is a very strong case for such a tax.
Yes, indeed. I have been advocating such a tax for some time, and I shall continue to do so.
I have asked Treasury Ministers several times how much money would be raised for the taxpayer by a 0.01% tax on financial transactions, but the great Treasury mandarins have always said that they have not worked out the figure. If that is the case, how can they possibly conclude that the money that would have to be paid out would damage the finance industry? If they do not know how much such a tax would raise, how can they know how much the industry would have to pay out?
We continue to find ourselves in the absurd situation in which the banks and their friends, and the big accountancy firms and their friends, are advising the Government on the taxation system that should be applied to them. We do not—as far as I know, anyway—have criminals advising the Home Office on criminal law, and I do not think that an industry with such a disreputable record should be advising the British Government on how it should be dealt with.
It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate. This week, of all weeks, is an appropriate time to reflect on economic and fiscal policy, and particularly on the legacy of the free enterprise revolution led by the great Lady Thatcher. There is much in the Bill that will continue this Government’s work to revive the successes of Lady Thatcher’s approach to business, free enterprise and growth. I was fortunate enough to meet Lady Thatcher on the general election nights in 1983 and 1987. She inspired me and many others on this side of the House. She was a towering figure who was well respected across the world, and she richly deserved those election victories back in the 1980s. More than anything, she understood that individuals and Governments needed to live within their means, and that businesses were best placed to create jobs and deliver economic growth. She trusted them to do that, and created the right conditions for them to succeed. That is the proud legacy that the Bill seeks to build on. Indeed, there is a clear focus on freeing up small businesses from the burdens of tax.
As a member of the Treasury Select Committee, I have had the privilege of interviewing and putting to the test various former permanent secretaries. Lord Turnbull springs to mind. He worked in the Treasury under the Labour Government and supported Labour Ministers, and he is on record as saying that after those 63 successive quarters, what he called wishful thinking crept in—
According to the permanent secretary at the time, wishful thinking was prevalent across the Labour Government, and it led to the hyperbole that it was possible to bring about an end to boom and bust. Of course that did not come to pass; none of that Government’s work did. We are about sustainable growth and putting forward the positive action plan that was included in the Budget—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) wishes to intervene, she should please do so.
If the hon. Lady had listened, she would know that I did not say that. The phrase about wishful thinking came from Lord Turnbull—one of Labour’s permanent secretaries, speaking for himself. The groupthink that pervaded the Treasury at the time led to the tragic results that we are having to clear up, and the Bill is taking steps to do that.
The Bill is a fitting tribute. It will promote competition and reduce barriers to entry for the ambitious and aspirational people of this country, who simply want the chance to work hard, compete and get on. The Chancellor’s Budget speech made it clear that the Bill will be followed by future measures that continue these efforts to free enterprise and remove the roadblocks to economic growth. That is a clear commitment from the Government.
It is worth reflecting on what enterprise actually means. It does not mean that people are on their own as some critics allege. As John Donne wrote:
“No man is an island, entire of itself.”
He could have written the same thing about enterprise, because free-market economics is not an atomistic pursuit, but recognition that we all advance by pooling our comparative advantages in a common free economy. We should remind ourselves of the common value and purpose of enterprise as we lay the foundations for future growth. It is not about state intervention, as Opposition Members suggest.
Business transactions must involve at least two parties—the supplier and the consumer—and the very word “enterprise” is derived from joint undertakings: enter from the French “entre”, meaning “between”, and “prise” from “prendre,” to take. It is suggested, perhaps rather dubiously, that President George Bush once said, “The problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur.” Forgive my French, Mr Deputy Speaker, but although we do not have a word for entrepreneur, we on the Government Benches understand the meaning of enterprise, which is literally the joint seizure of opportunity for mutual advantage. The Bill sets out how the Government will encourage it.
Enterprise is voluntary, and therefore it carries for suppliers involved in business the element, and excitement, of risk that consumers for the service or product may not be found. Suppliers need to be flexible to survive and thrive in competitive markets where consumers, even usually loyal ones, are free at any time to say no. That is why the Government need to ensure that there is the freedom to be flexible and the confidence to be bold for enterprise to thrive and succeed.
In 2014. [Interruption.] We have to take a stepped approach to rectify the changes Labour put through. The allowance is important and will be welcomed, and the other measures we are taking on the supply side, such as the reduction in corporation tax, will all help to create a platform for economic growth.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the enterprise allowance will be partly funded by the substantial increase in national insurance contributions that employers and employees will pay as a result of the flat-rate pension? That has been brought forward by a year—even though the Select Committee was told that it would be logistically difficult—to produce that extra income. In fact, the Government are just moving things around and a lot of people will find themselves a lot worse off when those higher national insurance contributions kick in.
It is sad to see such gloomy faces on the Opposition side of the Chamber. I accused the shadow Minister of being a bit Eeyore-like and I think it is catching on the Opposition Benches. Labour Members should cheer up a little and look at the reaction to the Budget. The Federation of Small Businesses says that it
“asked for a budget for small businesses and this is what has been delivered. This Budget opens the door for small firms to grow and create jobs.”
Would the hon. Gentleman write me a letter, which I could circulate among the young people in my constituency who are desperately trying to find work and the people hit by the bedroom tax who face poverty and homelessness, advising them to “cheer up a little”? Would he write to me in those terms? I would gladly circulate it and we could see what my constituents think.
In a spirit of co-operation I suggest that for a change the hon. Gentleman leaves Croydon—[Hon. Members: “ It is Corby.”] Wherever it may be —beginning with a C. The hon. Gentleman should come up to Macclesfield and see what we are doing with apprenticeships and our local college to encourage young people to get into work. It is about human endeavour and getting on with the job, not moaning and groaning as the Opposition are doing.
The Forum of Private Business speak of the Chancellor being “spot-on” with his “basic common sense” decision to freeze fuel duty. I hope Opposition Members at least welcome that. The Association of Convenience Stores welcomes measures that
“will benefit consumers and reduce some of the pressure on local shops.”
What would the hon. Gentleman say to the convenience stores in my constituency who are going to lose £4 million from our economy in Salford when the bedroom tax hits? That is £4 million less that people will have to spend in convenience stores and local shops. That is the real hit.
We have to tackle the deficit that faces this country. We know that welfare payments have spiralled out of control and we recognise that there is huge demand for scarce rooms. We have to address those things. I will give the hon. Lady a chance to say what she would do to tackle the welfare budget, but I have heard nothing. Does she want to stand up and tell us what Opposition policy will be?
I will happily respond. We would actually bring some growth to the economy and get some of our young people back to work. We would use a levy on bankers, not in the way that the Government propose in the Bill, but to build houses and to get young people back to work. We would guarantee work for young people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. Going back a few years—I do not think the hon. Gentleman had been elected at that point—we had the future jobs fund in my constituency and in Salford. That gave hundreds of jobs for young people. Then there was a future and they had hope; now they have nothing.
Much as I enjoy going to Salford and the hon. Lady’s constituency, some honesty is required about how growth should be funded in the north-west. I am sure Mr Deputy Speaker has a view on that too, but he cannot express it in the Chamber. Under the previous Government, in the 10-year period to 2010, 100,000 jobs were created in the public sector in the north-west. During the same period, there was a net reduction of 25,000 jobs in the private sector. That is completely unsustainable. What we are trying to do in the north-west and throughout the whole economy is to have a more sustainable approach to job creation, which has led to the creation of more than 1 million jobs in the private sector. That is a far better record than anything from Labour when it was in power.
No, I have given way enough. We have all enjoyed the debate, but I shall now finish my speech.
In Macclesfield, we have one of the highest rates of self-employment in the UK, and among women Macclesfield has the highest rate of self-employment in the north-west. This year, the Budget was above all for small businesses and entrepreneurs like them. The Bill is the first step to realising the series of measures that will be delivered by the Government, such as the widely welcomed—at least on the Government Benches—employment allowance.
Not just small businesses welcome the return to a solidly pro-enterprise, pro-competition, lower tax environment. The Institute of Directors and the CBI both welcomed the clear progress in the Chancellor’s continual, and continuing, efforts to lower corporation tax. Clause 4 of the Bill provides for a corporation tax rate of 21% in financial year 2014, which is the lowest in the G7. Perhaps it is part of Lady Thatcher’s legacy that these days clause 4 is something to be celebrated as useful to the economy and progressive for growth.
The Chancellor has gone one better. Under clause 6, we will see Britain’s main rate of corporation tax reduced to just 20% in financial year 2015, the lowest in the G20. This is a clear, determined agenda to incentivise business activity for jobs and growth. It is precisely that clarity and determination that gives businesses certainty and confidence that enterprise is worth conducting in the UK, and that, as the Chancellor said, Britain is once again open for business.
It is a mark of how vastly over-complicated our tax system has been allowed to become that there are far too many opportunities to avoid and even evade taxation, and that very complexity has made a general anti-abuse rule inevitable. Of course, the Government are well aware that they must take great care that such a rule does not undermine the certainty and confidence in the tax system that we need. It would be sad if the GAAR became an excuse for HMRC to become sloppy when drawing up future tax rules in the knowledge that, if it did not get the desired results, it could always apply the rule. I am sure that the Treasury is determined to avoid such a situation.
I am pleased by the Government’s commitment to simplifying the tax system at the same time that the anti-abuse rule is being planned. Fighting complexity with complexity is not a long-term solution, so I look forward to progress on simplification. It is encouraging, and to the Chancellor’s credit, that in just three years the Government have taken the UK from near the bottom of the KPMG league table of competitive tax regimes to the top. That is progress, and I applaud it. Ministers should also be praised for not only explicitly recognising that there is yet more to be done, but setting a path for getting that done, not least by increasing the personal allowance to £9,440 this tax year, with the clear target of hitting £10,000 next year.
The Bill includes a significant commitment under schedule 14 to research and development credits, even for those companies with no corporation tax liability. The Chancellor’s decision to increase to 10% the rate of credit for above-the-line R and D, as well as the new £700 million annual patent box, will help to tackle under-investment in knowledge-based industries. That is important for the life sciences sector, which is critical to Macclesfield’s local economy and vital for our national competitiveness. Those measures are in addition to the tenfold two-year increase in the annual investment allowance for qualifying investments in plant and machinery from £25,000 to £250,000, which will boost much needed business capital investment.
The global race is not a sprint, but a marathon, and the Government are wise to recognise that it will be easier for businesses to run without hurdles and barriers in their way. To be blunt, if we want businesses to thrive, we need to tax them less and minimise the bureaucratic burden. The result of that approach is real sustainable growth and new employment opportunities. This is not about Thatcherite dogma; it is actually happening and it is delivering positive results, such as by enabling private sector employment growth of more than 1 million jobs since 2010. That is a great achievement for the Government—
I congratulate my hon. Friend on making a positive speech and recognising that we have a coalition Government who are determined to clear up the mess made by the previous Government. All we hear from Opposition Members is whingeing and whining, and talk of more borrowing and debt, but that would exacerbate the problems that they created.
I cannot, because Mr Deputy Speaker is giving me dagger looks, so I need to make progress and finish my speech—[Interruption.] I know him well and he is not always like that.
The Bill meets the ambitions of those who want to work hard and get on. It cuts taxes and incentivises business to create jobs and economic growth. It is a plan of action and a signpost giving a clear direction of the work yet to be done. That work will be done by this Government, and I give the Bill my full support.
I cannot resist commenting on one of the points made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley). He suggested that businesses are somehow more competitive because we have a better tax regime, yet our trade deficit is in a terrible state, and getting worse. If everything is so brilliant, we should be doing better on international trade.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point: when we go to a hospital, we find that no one is there, because those in such jobs are not real people. Indeed, I might add Members of Parliament to that list.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) was desperately trying to be positive about the Budget, but in the process he effectively damned the Chancellor with faint praise. If we had pressed him hard enough, I think he would have conceded most of our points.
The Bill will clearly do nothing to transform our economy. We are in a desperate state—an ongoing recession. The Chancellor says that his Budget is fiscally neutral, but when 2.5 million people are unemployed and we have low or negative growth, we do not want a fiscally neutral Budget. We should have had an expansionary Budget to promote growth, but of course even a fiscally neutral Budget could inject growth into the economy by raising taxes and spending more, rather than doing the opposite. If taxes on businesses and the wealthy are reduced, they tend to save their money—indeed, they put it in tax havens—whereas if ordinary people are given jobs, the first thing they do is to spend their money, and that money goes directly back into the economy and starts to generate demand through the multiplier.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster was right that forecasting is difficult. I remember that in 1990—I am older than everybody else in the Chamber—when The Sunday Times carried out a survey of forecasting organisations, it found that the London Business School was bottom of the league, scoring nought out of 10 for its forecasts, although of course that was the forecasting body adored by the Conservative Government under Mrs Thatcher. The best forecasts were by the Cambridge Economic Policy Group, a left-leaning Keynesian group, which got six out of 10 to come top of the league. The then Government were so annoyed by the Cambridge group that they took away its Government grant because they did not like people telling them that they were wrong, although they were.
Demand for the things that people produce is a crucial factor if an economy is to succeed, because although Governments can cut taxes for businesses and introduce all sorts of supply-side measures, if no one is buying anything, the economy will not grow. An equally crucial factor for sustaining that demand is an appropriate exchange rate. Successive Governments have ignored the exchange rate at their peril, but there have been times when the depreciation of our currency has had dramatic results, and I can cite three examples under a Conservative Government. Following Golden Wednesday and the collapse of the exchange rate mechanism, the economy grew strongly after a substantial depreciation. By the time that 1997 came along, the Conservatives were still being condemned for the collapse of the housing market and the people voted Labour—thank goodness for that—yet the Labour Government benefited from the strong demand generated by that depreciation. In 1979 Mrs Thatcher was praised for her economic policies, but the 1979 Budget, masterminded, if I can describe it like that, by Geoffrey Howe, resulted in a catastrophic collapse in demand. A fifth of manufacturing disappeared and unemployment soared to 3 million. It was only when those policies were reversed that there was a recovery, and on Nigel Lawson’s watch—I do not necessarily agree with everything he did—the pound depreciated by over 30%. Again, the economy grew strongly and unemployment came down.
Going back even further into history, in the 1931 crisis, a Labour Government mistakenly tried to sustain sterling on the gold standard, and tried to keep its parity up. The Government fell apart, and effectively a Conservative Government with a nominally Labour Prime Minister came in straight afterwards. The first thing they did was take the pound off the gold standard and depreciate, and the recovery began. That was only part of it; other factors were necessary to sustain recovery in the 1930s. We had to spend a lot of money, and towards the end of the ’30s the country built thousands—indeed, millions—of houses, and that was how we recovered. That is what we ought to do now.
In other countries, Germany built arms and autobahns; in America, there was the new deal—spending money on all sorts of public works, which created the demand in the economy that brought about recovery. It was not fiddling around with tax rates and supply-side measures. That did not work then, and it will not work now. The exchange rate is therefore absolutely crucial, and the exchange rate at this time is too high. Part of our recovery should depend on a significant depreciation. An erudite and informed book by my friend John Mills has been written about this, and I have quoted from it in the Chamber. It makes a detailed case for such measures.
The trade statistics are disastrous, and some of us have been worried about manufacturing for a long time. Our manufacturing sector is about half the size of the German manufacturing sector as a proportion of our economy, which is disastrous. We should be a similar economy to Germany in many ways. Historically, we have been very similar in all sorts of ways, but our manufacturing has collapsed. That was partly because in 1997, when Labour came to office, there was at the same time a substantial appreciation of the pound, which began to damage manufacturing. We were sustained by an asset price bubble, which carried on, and thank goodness, we had a relatively strong economy for some time. However, manufacturing did not do well, because of the relatively strong pound. It was only the crisis of 2008, when there was a significant depreciation, that saved us. Had we been stuck in the euro, we would be like Spain now—it would be absolutely disastrous—so we must applaud my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) for keeping us out of the euro, despite pressure from the then Prime Minister. I was one of those who supported my right hon. Friend very strongly at the time.
I agree with a number of the hon. Gentleman’s points. The Government talk a good game about rebalancing the economy geographically and sectorally, and about an export-led recovery, but they will not achieve those objectives unless they tackle the exchange rate.
Indeed. We have to use all the weapons and measures of macro-economic policy to make sure that we recover. Fiddling around with supply-side measures is no doubt the sort of thing that the London Business School talked about in 1990, but it will not solve our problems.
The macro-economic measures that we must take include, first, tackling the exchange rate. Secondly, we must inject demand through additional public spending, and we can pay for that in various ways without necessarily increasing the deficit. We could raise taxes on the rich very substantially. For example, we could begin seriously to close the tax gap and collect the tax that has been avoided or evaded, perhaps sending a few corrupt bankers to prison in the process. That would concentrate their minds, as I said earlier.
We need to begin to spend in areas of high labour intensity. If we can get people back to work quickly by spending in those sectors—construction and the public services, which have been cut by the Government—we can bring down unemployment. People pay tax when they are in jobs, they do not claim benefits, and the economy begins to recover. At the same time, we can build millions of houses that we need, particularly local authority houses, and we can provide all the nurses we need in hospitals. Hospitals are under stress because of a lack of staff on the wards. We can develop other areas too: local authority services, children’s services, and social services for the elderly, all of which are under stress and are things on which we should spend to generate more employment. We generate employment directly by spending money on areas with high labour intensity.
There is another great advantage of spending money in such areas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who has left the Chamber, said, the rich do not spend money: they put it in banks and tax havens. But ordinary people, especially if they have been unemployed, spend every single penny of their money on supporting their families, dealing with their debts and so on. They spend their money. They have what the economists call a high marginal propensity to consume. We should give as much money as possible to those who have that high marginal propensity to consume, not to those who stuff it in banks and foreign tax havens. That would help to regenerate the economy.
Another great thing about public services and construction is that they put demand into the domestic economy, not into the foreign economy. If I were given extra cash, which I do not need—I think I should pay a bit more tax—what would I do? I would have another foreign holiday. I might buy another case of French wine. That does not help our economy at all. But if construction workers have extra cash, they go out and spend it in the shops on food, their homes and their family. They spend it in the domestic economy. They do not, as far as I know, buy large quantities of French wine or have fancy foreign holidays, especially when they are just coming out of unemployment. They would spend their money in the domestic economy.
The great thing about construction is that it has a low import content. Most of what is used in construction comes from the domestic economy. Again, the demand goes into the domestic economy so the spending by construction workers in their new jobs becomes someone else’s income within the domestic economy. We get the multiplier effect of one person’s spending becoming another person’s income going around in a big circle and the economy is regenerated.
That is what we need—pure Keynesian reflation, but we have other measures to deal with that. If it necessitates some serious tax increases, so be it. The majority of the population have said in opinion polls, I understand, that they would prefer tax hikes to spending cuts. That is absolutely right. We are frightened of saying that we should have higher taxes. Francois Hollande in France decided to introduce a significantly higher tax rate for a substantial proportion of the population. Some people will squeal about it and no doubt the right-wing media in Britain would squeal about it, but there should be a bit more tax, even on MPs such as myself. I have suggested that the first tax rise should be the 50% rate not at £150,000, but at £60,000, so that I would pay a little more tax. I am talking about me as well as about other people. It is easy for us to make changes that affect other people, not ourselves.
Such a change could be made, if need be, but in the short term we do not need to do that. We need to collect the taxes that should be paid and which are the subject of tax avoidance and tax evasion. We need a radical economic strategy, including all the components that I have suggested, to get us out of the mess we are in—and we are in a mess. In his Budget speech, the Chancellor looked like a frightened man. He looked very worried. Clearly, his strategy is not working. He does not know what to do without doing a complete U-turn and adopting a completely different strategy—the kind of strategy that I am talking about—which would mean political humiliation for him. He should worry less about political humiliation than about doing the right thing by the country.
It has felt like a very long four weeks since the Chancellor delivered the Budget, not least because of the terrible tragedy of the death of Jade Lomas-Anderson by a dog attack in my constituency, so when I came to write my speech today, I had to wrack my brains to remember what the Budget was all about. My overwhelming memory is of the Chancellor sitting on the Front Bench looking like a little boy lost, with no idea what to do about the flatlining economy, no idea what to do to stop a triple-dip recession, what to do about the loss of our triple A status, or what to do about the level of borrowing, and no idea how to balance the books. So he delivered a Budget that did none of those things, sitting on his hands, hoping that things will just happen.
Of course, things are just happening. Unemployment in my constituency, Bolton West, is up. One in 10 people in Greater Manchester skip meals so that other family members can eat. Nationally, homelessness and rough sleeping are up by a third. Shelter says that every 15 minutes another family is made homeless. The economy may be flatlining, but people’s income and spending are not. The OBR has said that in 2015 people will be worse off than they were in 2010. Wages are £1,200 lower than in May 2010. This year a family with two children and one earner earning £20,000 a year will be at least £381 worse off, and next year will be £600 worse off. Inflation, of course, is still running at 2.8%. Behind those figures are real people having a desperately hard time—people who are losing their homes, having to choose between heating and eating and relying on food banks to feed themselves and their children.
Tinkering at the edges will not solve the problem, and neither will blaming the poor for the situation they find themselves in. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 6.1 million people living in poverty are in working households, 6.4 million people lack the paid work they want and 1.4 million part-time workers want full-time work, the highest figure in 20 years, and 100,000 of the so-called new jobs pay no wages whatsoever. The churn of people in poverty or out of work is substantial. While 18% of people are on a low income at any one time, 33%—one in three of us—experience at least one period on a low income in a four-year period, and 11% of people are on a low income for more than half of those four years.
In 2012, 1.6 million people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance at any one time and 4.8 million had claimed it at least once in the previous two years. Those figures show that the Government’s desperate efforts to categorise people as skivers or strivers are a travesty of the truth. Some 2.5 million people, including 1 million young people, are not shirkers or skivers; they are people who need the Government to take action to create jobs. But there was no mention in the Chancellor’s Budget speech of what he would do and there has been no action; he simply hopes that something will happen.
What do we get from the Government parties? We get a tax cut for millionaires, paid for by the poor. What excuse have they given for cutting tax for millionaires? They say that the millionaires were not paying it. If only we could all get a tax cut just because we did not want to pay tax. The Government failed to tell people that they do not actually know how much money the 50% tax rate would raise, because in the first year people brought forward their income and this year people will delay it, but HMRC has said that it could raise £1 billion. If people are avoiding paying tax, surely we need to shut down the avoidance schemes, not cut the tax rate in the hope that they will stop using the schemes now that they have found them. It is a shame that the Government have not shown the same concern for people earning £41,000, who, without any pay rise, will now find themselves in the 40% tax bracket. Hundreds of thousands of hard-pressed families will now be paying more tax, without a thought from the Government.
There were one or two promises of jam tomorrow, such as help with child care in two years’ time, a single-tier pension in 2016 and capped care costs in 2016. I was interested to read Age UK’s briefing after the Budget. It welcomed the earlier implementation of the care costs cap and the higher upper means-tested threshold from April 2016, but it said that that would do nothing to help the 800,000 older people who need help with everyday tasks but receive no formal state support. Since the Government came to power, £700 million in real terms has been cut from social care funding.
Age UK also stated:
“The Chancellor may have confused”—
“in his speech by referring to raising ‘the threshold of the means test on residential care from just over £23,000 to £118,000’. He was in fact referring to the upper means test threshold and older people will have to make contributions based on a sliding scale towards the cost of their social care if they have assets between the two amounts.”
It went on to say that the Budget offered no proposals to improve pensions for current pensioners or to reduce pensioner poverty, which currently stands at 1.7 million people. It was also disappointed that the Government are not doing nearly enough to help tens of thousands of older people whose income, health and well-being are being affected by the cold weather.
My hon. Friend is making some great points about social care. Before she moves on, would she like to comment on the fact that, according to Carers UK, 1 million people in this country have given up work or cut the hours they work because of their caring responsibilities, which can have a real impact on the economy? She has laid out that social care has been cut and that that means a real struggle for many older people, with 800,000 people not even having enough care, but it is also a real hit for the economy. Some carers might still be struggling to keep employed, but does she agree that, as services disappear, life is getting much harder for them, too.
I absolutely agree. On Saturday, I met a couple; the husband was the carer, looking after his wife. They, of course, are about to be hit by the bedroom tax as well. He said to me on the street, “I’d love to be working. I gave up my job to look after my wife.” If he had not done that, the cost to the economy of residential care would have been far higher than the benefits that that couple are getting. We have to do much more for carers rather than keeping on punishing them as the Government seem to.
I go back to Age UK’s response to the Budget. It had much more to say, but on the question of whether the Chancellor had delivered for older people, its answer seemed to be a resounding no.
The Government did reduce tax on beer by 1p, which, of course, is welcome for the pub industry, although it probably would have preferred action on the tie, which the Government appear to have shelved. The Government’s increase in VAT actually put 5p on a pint, and I hope it will take a long time for beer drinkers to sup the 300-odd pints before they get their free one.
It is also good that the Government cancelled the planned rise in fuel duty, but again the VAT increase wiped out any benefit that that may bring. I get annoyed when Government Members talk about how much they have “saved” the motorist, given that fuel has gone up by at least 10% on their watch. They also ignore the truth that the previous Labour Government cancelled or postponed planned fuel duty rises on 13 occasions, depending on the cost of fuel at the time. They also cancelled any rises at the height of the global financial crash—note that it was a “global” financial crash, not one made in Downing street where recessions now appear to be made.
However, tinkering at the edges will not give my constituents a job or increase their incomes. The Government made great claims about their proposals to help people buy a home and the Prime Minister claimed last year that their NewBuy scheme would assist 100,000 people to buy their own homes. What happened? Instead of 100,000 people, just 1,500 people benefited.
What about this year’s proposals? Instead of welcoming them, experts believe that they will simply lead to house price inflation. The Government cannot say whether people will be able to use the scheme to buy a second home. Someone in social housing with a so-called spare room will pay the bedroom tax, but the state will help someone who wants a spare house to buy one—not a cheap one either, but one costing up to £600,000. I do not see too many people on the minimum wage being able to service that sort of loan, even with the paltry increase announced today.
Why do the Government not get on and build homes? House building would do more for the economy than any of the gimmicks that they announced in their so-called Budget. Even their grandly announced increase in infrastructure spending of £2.5 billion does nothing to restore the cut of £7.7 billion to infrastructure spending that they have made over the past three years. Let us hope that they make progress this time by building something rather than making announcements that never seem to come to fruition.
The people of Bolton West are struggling. Many are more than struggling; they are finding it hard to survive day to day. The Government blame them and are hellbent on making the situation worse. They say that they have to cut the welfare budget but neglect to say that the majority of that budget is made up of pensions and in-work benefits. That does not fit the picture that they try to portray of the skivers who are ruining the economy. They forget to say that jobseeker’s allowance accounts for less than 5% of the budget and to tell us that cutting benefit not only forces people to food banks but harms the economy. They forget to tell us that the private rented sector is far more costly than social housing. They will do nothing to introduce fair rents and nothing to curb the cost of private rented accommodation—they simply cap benefits in the hope that that might just bring down those rents.
I am no economist, but even I know that if we cut jobs and benefits, we get into a downward spiral of more business failure, more people out of work and less money in the economy—on and on downwards. The only way to reverse that spiral is to invest in jobs and pay a living wage, to build houses for people to live in, and to take action to rebuild our economy. Instead, what do we get? A double-dip—thank heavens for the Olympics, because otherwise it would have been a triple-dip—recession, a doubling of debt, and a deficit that is not reducing. Instead of blaming the poor and giving a tax cut to millionaires, this Government—instead of sitting on their hands—should take action and not give us the non-Budget that they have given us this time.
Members have been addressing two questions in this debate: first, where we find ourselves and why; and, secondly, what we should do about it. In 2008, 63 consecutive quarters of economic growth in this country came to an end with the onset of a global recession that started in America and spread quickly across the world. The Conservatives and their supporters at the Daily Mail like to blame the previous Labour Government for the global crash. Was it Labour that was selling the sub-prime mortgages in America? Of course not.
The response to that unprecedented crisis was to take very significant action, first to arrest it and then to bring some relative stability. Crucially, the previous Government chose to invest in our economy to keep businesses growing and to keep people in work.
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that economic performance prior to the crash was based on unsustainable personal debt bubbles and asset price bubbles, with personal debt in the UK equivalent to 100% of gross value added—far higher than in any other modern democracy?
The previous Labour Government’s record of 63 consecutive quarters of growth is absolutely unarguable. Of course, lessons must be learned by Members in all parts of the House, including those in my own party, about the economy at the time, and I will go on to say a little more about that.
The alternative to investing in our economy to keep businesses going and to keep people in work was to go back to the experiences of the recessions in the early 1980s and early 1990s. Twice, 3 million people were unemployed, with the country being told that unemployment was a price worth paying. My own family know that it was not. They were impacted when the steelworks at Corby closed in 1980 and 10,000 people were put on the dole. People from communities such as mine, where the films “Brassed Off” and “Billy Elliot” seem more like documentaries, know the effects of unemployment and know that it is a personal tragedy for families and communities and is never a price worth paying. This year alone, 126 more people in my constituency are claiming employment and support allowance.
Let us not forget that the Tories supported the measures that we took in the recession—the same Tories who had warned against more regulation of the banks. Now they want to rewrite history. They are convincing people that our investment and the borrowing that underpinned it was more like a credit card debt than a mortgage. One of those is short term, bad debt and irresponsible; the other is about investing in our future. It is about the decisions that responsible businesses make to borrow to invest—the decisions that responsible Governments all around the world, and the UK Government, made in the depths of that last recession.
To win an election, the Prime Minister claimed that he would “balance the books” by 2015. In 2010 he told the CBI that his Government had a plan that would secure the credit rating. So what has happened— what did they do? They cancelled the future jobs fund, which was really helping to get people back to work in my constituency. I know that was happening in Northamptonshire because I was close to that work. They stopped the Building Schools for the Future project, scrapping plans for 715 schools to have improvements, including Lodge Park in my own constituency. That affected not only the students and their parents and families, and future opportunities to develop skills in the town, but the people who were going to build the new unit at the school. The children are now in mobile classrooms, which I am ashamed to see in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
This Government took all the life and confidence out of an economy that was growing when they inherited it from the previous Labour Government. They stopped housing developments such as Priors Hall in my constituency, on which a lot of our economic future rested. Tata Steel laid off people in my constituency in 2011, and when I asked why I was told not only that it was about operating in a challenging global environment and about energy prices, but that all of the tubes from Corby went into infrastructure projects around the country which had been hugely affected by the stopping of road-building programmes and Building Schools for the Future.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The story of the decision to close the steelworks in Corby in 1980 has now come full circle and been shown to be short-sighted, given that the steel is now coming from Port Talbot. Some of Tata’s steel is now coming from abroad, because it is so difficult for it to compete in this country. I called for measures in the Budget—I spoke about this in a recent Adjournment debate—to support the steel industry in the UK in order to mitigate the impact of high energy prices around the world. The contrast between this country and others is stark and instructive of this Government’s approach. Germany, where the economy is growing—it now has more than 3% growth—has a £5 billion mitigation package for energy intensive companies, while this country has a £250 million mitigation package and we are not even clear about its details.
My hon. Friend led a strong Adjournment debate recently and I was proud to join him in it. Does he not find it extraordinary that the Business Secretary admitted in the New Statesman in March that
“the fiscal consolidation achieved through reduced capital spending has had economic consequences”?
The Government’s lack of coherence is extraordinary: one side is arguing, like us, for increased infrastructure spending, while the others are doing little about it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I will say more later about capital spending in this country.
It was not just Tata Steel that shed jobs in my constituency; Argos also did so and Aquascutum closed. Those companies were affected because nobody had any confidence and nobody was spending. That happened because the Government chose—they made a deliberate political choice—to talk our economy down. It was a political strategy without any real regard for the damaging effects it would have on our economy. When they got hold of the levers of power, they revealed their real purpose: an ideological attack on the state and on the poorest in our society.
The accumulative impact of the Government’s Budgets, including this one, will have an effect on individuals. The Institute for Fiscal Studies tells us that the average family will be £891 a year worse off, but that figure tells only part of the story. The other part is how the cuts to services will impact on all residents, particularly those who most rely on public services. Buses have been cut in my constituency, the ambulance station in Corby is due to close and children’s services, particularly for those with special educational needs and their families, have been decimated. Respite care has been lost and there are fewer police and police community support officers than when this Government came to office, and there is a real threat of cuts to my local hospital. The huge impact of those cuts to services on families means that they are worse off.
The Government’s policies have impacted on those who most needed their help—the children plunged into poverty and the disabled people hit by the bedroom tax and the pernicious Atos reviews that this Government have failed to intervene in and stop. Those out of work and unemployed in my constituency have been stigmatised by this Government and left desperately chasing the few vacancies that exist.
The Government say that there are more people in work, but that is not true in my constituency. Moreover, what sorts of jobs are being created? They are part-time, low-paid jobs for underemployed people in my constituency —fragile employment for people working through agencies on zero-hour contracts and on the margins of the labour market, there to be exploited. And the Government say that that is okay.
In the last couple of weeks, I received an answer from the Cabinet Office on the private sector jobs that have been created. The Government now talk about 1.25 million private sector jobs and for a long time spoke about 1 million. Is my hon. Friend surprised to learn that, in fact, between June 2010 and September 2012, the figure is only 750,000?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the huge problem of unemployment under all Governments. Is he aware that in his constituency, between 2005 and 2010—that is, under the last Government —the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants rose by 103%, whereas the number has risen by just 8% for the duration of this Government?
If the hon. Gentleman is being honest, he knows that the figures that he is quoting reflect the impact of a huge global economic crash in 2008, which had a big impact on my constituency, not least because it is a manufacturing constituency. [Interruption.] The Economic Secretary is suggesting that because the figures go from 2005 to 2010, they reflect the Government’s record across the whole period. Government Members fail to say that the economy was growing for much of that time. We all acknowledge that a global crash happened in 2008 and that that caused unemployment. The critical thing is what we do about it.
My hon. Friend is right. Of course, unemployment is also higher in Corby. My constituents will think that Government Members have a cheek to raise those figures in the way they have today.
My constituents will be appalled by the comments of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) and others, who have told them to stop whingeing and moaning. They are talking about people who are trying desperately to find work and whose situation has been made worse, not better, by this Government. The Tories do not understand the lives of those people. They do not understand the margins of the labour market or the margins that many of the poorest in our society live on. They understand the marginal impact of their millionaires’ tax cut, which is about £100,000—after all, many of them will get it—but they do not understand the marginal impact of their policies on people who have very little to live on. Fourteen pounds may be half a bottle of claret to the Chancellor, but for people in my constituency, it means choices about food, heating, fuel and new shoes for the kids.
The Government’s Budget was a chance to get back on track after three wasted years in which the UK went back into recession and lost its credit rating. The best that the Chancellor could do was to say that he hoped that we would not have another quarter of negative growth. He has his fingers crossed that he does not become the triple-dip Chancellor. Borrowing is going up not just this year, but next year and the year after. We are now told that there will be deeper cuts to services and the living standards of people in this country. While George and his friends get a tax cut, my constituents are told that things will get worse. Since the Chancellor’s spending review in 2010, the UK has been 18th out of the G20 countries in terms of growth. It is worse than the USA, Germany, France and Turkey, but the Government refuse to change course and recognise that we will get on track only if we get our economy growing.
I was incredibly disappointed that in the Finance Bill the Government rejected our proposals to use the 4G receipts to fund house building, for a proper tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund a jobs guarantee for young people and to bring forward infrastructure investment. Only 14% of the 576 projects in the Government’s national infrastructure plan have started.
In their first three years, the Government spent £12.8 billion less on infrastructure than the previous Government had planned to spend. The Chancellor has been told by the International Monetary Fund, the CBI, Sir John Armitt, some of his Back Benchers and Lord Heseltine that the Government should boost the economy with greater infrastructure spending. They make announcements such as that about the A14—part of which runs through my constituency—which is now not set to start until 2018. The electrification of east midlands trains to Corby was announced with great fanfare. What will fund it? It is the same amount of money in the next Parliament that the Government cut from what we would have spent on infrastructure in this Parliament to upgrade our railways.
In the previous Government’s plan for 2012-13, we were due to spend £48.4 billion this year on infrastructure. This Government say they will spend £41.7 billion on infrastructure. We were planning to halve the deficit during this Parliament, but this Government said that they wanted to go further and eliminate the structural deficit. What is the effect of that? They are spending £13 billion less on infrastructure—precisely what we need to get our economy growing—and £13 billion more on social security. It all sounds familiar to people in my constituency who remember that when Margaret Thatcher, the architect of this kind of trickle-down Reaganomics, came to office, 2 million people were on out-of-work benefits. When she left office, 6 million people were on out-of-work benefits and we see it all again. The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer, and many are paying the price of economic and social failure. Meanwhile, in countries such as America, which should be instructive to the Government if only they would raise their sights, the stimulus has been maintained and there has been growth of more than 4%.
What do I want now? If the Government will not listen to my hon. Friends as they present the way forward for our economy nationally, I want action locally. The south east midlands local enterprise partnership bid in my constituency is focused on housing, and at last money from the Government’s Get Britain Building fund has gone to meet some of the infrastructure gap, particularly as the council and others have had to renegotiate section 106 agreements, which became too expensive for developers to move forward. After three years, some of that money has just begun to trickle to my constituency. If the Government support the SEMLEP bid, there is a real opportunity to substantially reduce the gap in budgets for infrastructure, which we need now that we are renegotiating the section 106 agreements. We are not asking for additional money; we are asking for flexibility such as an increase in the borrowing cap.
I want help for local firms—I mentioned Tata Steel and I have invited the Minister to come and help—and I want targeted help for young unemployed people in my constituency. The City Minister, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), for whom I have a great deal of time, has shown that, relative to his colleagues across Government, he is willing to take action and listen to local areas. He has taken action in cities around the UK to help fund social innovation. I would like the Government to talk to people in Corby about how we can help young people in the most difficult place in the country in which to get back to work.
I hope that the Government will listen and stop telling my constituents to stop whingeing. They must stop stigmatising those most affected by their wasted three years, and stop trying to divide people at a time when we need the country to come together with a Government who are backing our workers and businesses to get Britain growing again.
The Bill is a weak Finance Bill that matches the current depressed state of the UK economy. It fails the test of promoting increased demand now for cash-strapped households. It does not promote additional demand for Britain’s retail and services sectors, comprising three-quarters of our economic output, and neither does it sufficiently boost output in construction by adopting more immediate measures to increase the supply of housing—or any new infrastructure investment—now, rather than having to wait until 2015.
The Bill fails to reverse the impact of previous Finance Acts from this Parliament on the incomes of ordinary people, with the cumulative impact in Scotland of the Government’s prior measures on pay, tax and benefits being the removal of £1,488 a year by 2015 in the spending power of the average household. That is at a time when the Office for Budget Responsibility is expecting private and Government consumption to make up a larger share of GDP than it forecast in December. The pound is a fifth lower in value than in 2008, and exports are down by 7%. That is the scale of the failure over which this Government have presided .
The Government have not only presided over that failure, but the Bill fails the even greater test of rebalancing the economy more in favour of skilled service and manufacturing output. It also fails to recast the welfare state around pro-employment and growth-friendly policies such as extending child care provision or a jobs guarantee for the long-term jobless. That is badly needed in Scotland, where the employment rate is 3.2% below its pre-crisis peak of 2007, and 1.6% below the rate between October 2008 and September 2009. It is estimated that a further 850,000 jobs need to be created in the UK to match the employment rate of 2008.
The Bill does little to address the growing crisis of falling living standards, which are faced by millions of people across the country. The median wage is some £3,200 a year lower than it was in 2009. Real wages will fall more quickly this year than the OBR predicted just five months ago and will be stagnant next year. Business investment is forecast to be 1.5% lower on average than the December 2012 OBR forecast, despite the Exchequer Secretary lauding the effect of the corporation tax proposals earlier in the debate.
The truth is that the Bill is less than the sum of its parts, and even the OBR does not believe that its overall impact will be an increase in UK growth this year, next year or any year to the end of its current forecast period. The new US Treasury Secretary last week recommended that eurozone countries should ease fiscal policy to boost demand if they can. That call should resound in the UK Treasury too. The Obama Administration tackle wage stagnation and declining living standards, so we should not put up with the defeatism we have heard from the Government and, this morning, from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Before developing those points, let me address the individual clauses and schedules that deserve some degree of welcome—overall, the Bill is a deep disappointment to Scotland and the UK. I welcome the fact that the Treasury has listened to the strong campaign launched by the city of Glasgow council, Members of the House representing Glasgow constituencies, and the organisers of the 2014 Commonwealth games. Clause 9 provides that Glasgow’s Commonwealth games will have the same taxation treatment as the Olympic games in London and other major sporting occasions held in the UK. That concession will mean that the organisers can attract the very best athletes from the Commonwealth to participate, and make the games the sporting and economic success for Scotland and the UK that they will undoubtedly be. Procurement contracts already decided and in the process of being awarded are likely to benefit the economy in Scotland to the tune of £350 million.
The above-the-line R and D tax credits are strengthened by clause 34 and schedule 14, which is welcome, but it is revealing that UK R and D expenditure rates are still way below those of our international trading partners. According to the World Bank, the UK’s 2011 R and D expenditure, at 1.79% of GDP, and Scotland’s, at 1.56% of GDP, are way below the most recent OECD average of 2.44% and the 2011 EU average of 2.03%. We spend less than half the share of GDP that Finland or Sweden spend on R and D. That is a particular problem in Scotland, where business R and D spending is only 0.56% of national income, which is half that of the pathetic UK total. The Scottish Parliament could use powers in that area of policy for the benefit of Scottish business and the Scottish people. I also give a guarded welcome to the provisions on tax relief for television production and video games development in clause 35 and schedules 15 and 16, which will provide some boost to these industries in Glasgow, Dundee, and other parts of Scotland.
On living standards, the Bill will do nothing to counter the regressive effects of the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Act 2013 or previous Finance Acts, which have devastated household incomes among the working poor, who receive nearly 21% of the entire welfare budget. The poorest four deciles of the population in Scotland were hit three and a half times harder than the wealthiest two deciles by the introduction of the 1% benefit and tax credits cap last Monday. This measure alone will take £47 million out of the Glasgow economy every year, and will cost working-age adults in the city an average of £114 a year. Overall, 55,700 working-age households in Glasgow will lose on average £109 a year through the cumulative cuts to tax credits made during this Parliament, and nearly 16,000 Glaswegians will lose on average £24 a week because of the Government’s wicked and iniquitous bedroom tax.
By cutting tax credits, which sustained family living standards through financial crisis—with the UK spending the joint third highest share of GDP on family benefits in 2009—the Government will further reduce economic demand. The effects on the Glasgow economy alone will be to take away £269 million in demand a year, or £647 from the average household in the city. In terms of clause 1, four times as much will be taken away by higher VAT during this Parliament from the poorest people than will be handed back through raising the personal tax allowance, three quarters of the benefit of which will go to people in the upper half of the income scale. With the introduction of universal credit, two thirds of any benefit from a higher personal tax allowance will be lost through deductions in credit, which will be assessed on the basis of net income, not gross. The further squeeze on real wages in 2013, down by a further £200 on average over the course of the year, will cost ordinary families on average four times as much as the Government will hand back through the increase in personal allowance to £10,000 from next year.
The Government have been guilty of another offence in the preparation of the Bill. They have attempted to conduct a debate on welfare by arguing that a majority of benefit recipients are scroungers or layabouts, in a way that is deeply irresponsible, divisive, and corrosive of the social solidarity that exists in Glasgow, Scotland and communities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Some psychologists, such as Cass Sunstein, have referred to this phenomenon as an availability cascade, whereby a simple idea takes root and goes viral, quickly becoming the new received wisdom. One wonders whether the Chancellor had that at the heart of his thinking when he began his campaign against the poor. Others may be reminded of the work of George Lakoff when he said that framing an argument in the lived experiences of others is critical. One part of the coalition seemingly wants to turn neighbour against neighbour, and shift their focus away from the skyrocketing wealth of the super-rich, or from the role that the Government should legitimately fulfil in ensuring the conditions for greater equality in society, which is now seen in studies by the IMF as critical to lasting economic growth in any democracy. But the recent study by YouGov and Cambridge university shows that this campaign of vilification of welfare recipients is not having the desired outcome for the Chancellor, because it found that people in the UK were more likely to empathise with the suffering being inflicted on the poorest by these most regressive welfare cuts than voters in Germany, France or the US. We need facts to drive this debate, not simply assertion from the Treasury Bench or the peddling of prejudice. The constituents I meet, who struggle with low paid, part-time work in a weak jobs market, are being forced on to housing benefit because of high rental costs and declining real wages. That, and the fact that we have 2.5 million people officially unemployed but more than 6 million people desperately seeking full-time work, are the reasons why the benefits bill remains stubbornly high.
According to the OECD only last week, the UK is spending 5.9% of GDP on cash benefits, but we spent more in 1980—6.4% of GDP. In comparison with other major countries, the UK is neither a particularly large nor low spender on welfare. Only three of 19 major OECD states spent less than the UK on cash benefits in 2009 in the depths of the downturn.
We need to recast the debate on the welfare state, a debate that should have been recast in the Bill, in three main areas: full employment, higher pay and stronger family services. Simply to restore the employment rate to its pre-crisis levels, we need to create 850,000 additional jobs now. To reduce structural unemployment to 3%, we need active labour market policies, such as the jobs guarantee policy being promoted by Opposition Members, to help the long-term jobless—a plan that put Sweden back to work in the 1990s, at the same time as cutting its deficit too. A jobs guarantee, paid for by restricting pensions tax relief for higher rate taxpayers, would help 600 long-term jobless people in my constituency who have been out of work for two years or more to get the right to employment now. It would also begin to boost tax receipts, which are forecast by the OBR to be £55.2 billion lower between now and the end of its forecast period since its December projections, with £2.8 billion of that shortfall directly attributable to the Budget that the Bill seeks to enact. It is only by increasing the levels of participation in the jobs market that we will be able to generate the growth and the tax revenues required to restore our public finances.
The key to achieving that is to raise the number of women in employment. The biggest barrier to becoming economically active that as many as 1 million women face is the poor availability of affordable child care. Shifting resources into providing households with more extensive child care or early years education at an affordable cost should be a priority for a pro-growth and pro-equality welfare reform and finance Bill. We know that child care costs take up as much as a third of families’ after-tax income in the UK, compared with just 9% in Denmark. In 2009, the UK, under the previous Government, was spending the joint third highest amounts in the OECD as a share of GDP in terms of cash benefits to families, but the Nordic countries were spending much more on supporting child care. That is where policy on welfare will need to change.
On pay, nearly a third of my constituents earn less than the level for a living wage, leading nearly 10,000 households to need subsidies through the tax credit and housing benefit systems to reach any kind of an acceptable standard of living. The median wage is £3,200 lower in real terms now than it was in 2009. Welcome though the announcement today on the increase of the national minimum wage in October by 12p to £6.31 an hour is, that will represent the fourth successive year of a real-terms fall in the level of the national minimum wage. It will be returning to levels it was last at in real terms in 2004, and comes at a time when the coalition appears severely divided in its commitment to the national minimum wage. According to a study published by the Resolution Foundation this morning, the top 1% in our society are earning on average £60 a hour, taking home at least £123,000 a year on a 40-hour working week. Someone on the minimum wage would need to work 24 hours a day for 830 days in order to match the annual earnings of a person in the wealthiest 1% of our society. The failure to deal with that surging inequality under this Government means that the Finance Bill has to be opposed tonight.
In response to this growing crisis of low pay, the Bill could have considered giving the Low Pay Commission a wider remit to consider an affordable wage, sector by sector, bringing the living wage into those parts of the economy where it will work. The benefit would have been a boost to demand and reduced staff turnover. Our focus has to be on welfare and fiscal policies that reduce joblessness and inequality, not a politics of division peddled by the Chancellor and pitched at the very worst sentiments of human nature. As the Social Market Foundation reported just last week, cutting in-work benefits again and again impedes the operation of the automatic stabilisers, which is something the Chancellor promised he would not do in his early months in office.
This should have been a Finance Bill that properly taxed the bonuses and profits of the banks, instead of perpetuating the nearly £2 billion windfall they have received under this Government through corporation tax cuts. It should have been the Finance Bill that reversed the millionaires’ tax cut, which is handing 643 bank employees a tax cut of £54,000 a year, while 5.1 million working-age people are struggling with a 1% cap on in-work social security. It should have kick-started growth and increased demand, but it has instead cemented the reputation of this Government as the no-growth Government, setting a course for a lost decade in the British economy. There is another way, and Opposition Members will not rest until we have put it with conviction to the British people at the general election that this country so badly needs.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), who is no longer in his place, will be rather disappointed, because I cannot share his view that we have the best of all possible worlds. Perhaps his name is really Dr Pangloss. I hear an awful lot of Panglossian politics in Scotland, where it takes the form of, “If we were only independent and we waved our magic independence wand, everything would be wonderful,” but to get it here is astonishing.
The other surreal aspect of today’s debate, which would astonish anyone listening who cannot see the Chamber, is that we have heard from a grand total of three Government Back Benchers prepared to speak up for their own Government’s Budget. They were not so shy about coming forward last week to recall what were to them the glory days of Lady Thatcher’s Government. They were all very keen to come down here especially to talk about it. Many of my constituents thought we should have talked about that today, and perhaps we should have, since Government Back Benchers clearly did not think it worth debating the Finance Bill. Much effort and money could probably have been saved.
I was not one of those who came last week, because I spent most of the recess talking to my constituents. If this were the Government’s first Budget, not their fourth, we would be better placed to believe the words they keep using. We were told in 2010 that this would work—that we had a terrible financial crisis and that we all had to tighten our belts and get through it together, but that it would be worth it. Just how long do we have to wait? These Budgets and these Budget debates and debates on the Finance Bill are turning into groundhog day. The Government say all the same things and, I have to admit, they will no doubt say that Opposition Members all say the same things, but that is because the debate has not moved on. On this, the Government’s fourth Budget, we are indeed saying the same things. Perhaps that is why Government Back Benchers did not feel it worth coming—because they know perfectly well that there is no point in saying the same things because the Government’s approach is not working.
The Government’s answer to many of the criticisms of their policies—particularly their policies to reduce tax credits and benefits—is that people can get around those cuts by working more hours. In fact, they even defend a lot of their measures by saying that they will put a rod into people’s backs and get them out there working those extra hours. The assumption seems to be not just that unemployment is, as they allege, a lifestyle choice, but that under-employment is apparently a lifestyle choice too and that, really, people have to get up and go out there, and everything will be fine.
My constituent Joe—one of the many people I talked to in the recent recess—is affected by the bedroom tax because he was housed by the council in a two-bedroom house. It was not his choice; that is where he was given a house. He went to his supermarket employer to ask whether it would increase the 15 hours a week he works in his job to help to pay the extra amount. His employer said no. That might have been partly because, at 15 hours a week at the minimum wage, he is nicely underneath the threshold for paying national insurance. Doubtless his employer prefers to have another part-time employee at that level. However, even if his employer offered him more hours, at whose expense would that be? Would it mean that another employee got fewer hours or, if Joe was given full-time work, that somebody else would not have a job at all? Unless the supermarket wants to employ people to stand around doing nothing, one has to presume that it has calibrated its work force according to the work that needs to be done. It is not a charity. His employer is not there to give him a few extra hours so that he can pay his bedroom tax. It needs only the workers it needs. It is therefore a myth to assume that people such as Joe just have to get out there and everything will be fine. That sums up exactly what is wrong with this Government’s economic policy. Austerity reduces demand. Indeed, it has reduced demand all over Europe, which is one reason why we are not coming out of this recession through exports—one of the promises made to us in 2010—because everybody is in the same boat.
As Joe’s current employer will not give him the extra hours, he could, I suppose, find out whether there is another job out there. Perhaps he should see who else is hiring for his type of work in the city. I would stress that, compared with many other areas—such as that represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain)—Edinburgh does not have high unemployment. In fact, the unemployment rate in my constituency is only 4.8%, which in a lot of people’s terms would be very low. I thought, “I’ll look at the Government’s great new innovation,” which is a website called Universal Jobmatch. I do not know whether any Member present has looked at Universal Jobmatch—I have, on several occasions—but I put in “shop assistant, Edinburgh area” to see what would come out the other end. If I had been Joe, things would have looked quite hopeful at first, because there appeared to be four pages of jobs. There were 25 on each page—I counted—so I thought, “Well that’s 100 jobs. That’s not bad.”
In fact, there turned out to be 76 job entries, because the last page had only one entry, so things were not quite as healthy as I thought, but when I looked, I saw that 57 of those 76 entries were for a firm offering jobs taking out catalogues and trying to sell things door to door—the archetypal job that people often have to take during a recession. In fact, we can read all about that from the 1930s, which is where we are again—it is not the 1980s; in fact, it is the 1930s. Most of those 57 entries were not even for jobs in Edinburgh, and in my view they were not proper jobs. Maybe Joe should see whether he can make the extra hours by selling whatever it is he would have to sell. It is absolutely extraordinary, however, that 57 of the 76 job vacancies advertised in the Edinburgh area—which, by the way, stretches to Fife and to Falkirk—were what most of us would probably describe as non-jobs. Of the others, only six were actually in the city. If Joe were to apply for a job just outside the city, he would have to take on board the fact that it would cost him money to get there, and that that might negate all or part of any extra income he might earn. So there were six jobs in retail in Edinburgh, a city in which, we are told, unemployment is really not too bad and we should not worry too much about the state of the economy. That is not a growing economy. It is not a healthy economy. It is, however, the reality for Joe and many others like him.
I also spoke yesterday to a constituent who clearly understood how economics should work. She told me that she and her husband had already lost £85 a month in tax credits; their income had gone down. Her husband is a self-employed taxi driver, and she told me that because people were pulling in their horns, spending less and having fewer nights out, he was getting less business. His earnings were dropping. He was out driving on Monday and Tuesday nights last week, for five or six hours each night, yet he took in only £55 a night, from which he would have to take off his costs. She reckoned that people were not spending because they did not have sufficient income, either because they had lost their jobs or because they were on shorter hours. That is what low demand means. It has a ripple effect through a local economy, and people like that taxi driver who are working and who want to earn more cannot do so. He cannot make people take his taxi if they do not want to.
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he has not been here through all these hours or taken part in this important debate.
We have heard a lot about extra jobs being created in the economy. The Economic Secretary, who I understand is going to respond to the debate, tweeted during the recess that job creation in the three years of this Government was running higher than during 10 years of the Labour Government by a factor of 2:1. Those figures just are not true. They seem to have been plucked from a work of fiction. People are being told over and over again that that is what is happening, yet their own personal experience is very different. Joe cannot get extra hours in his job, and if he looked on Universal Jobmatch, which is where people are told to go to find jobs, he would find only six jobs in his field in his city. The numbers simply do not add up.
We know that some of the so-called jobs are unpaid jobs, and that some are jobs that have been translated from the public sector to the private sector. The real world is one of no growth. All the commentators have clearly stated that this Budget will not create more growth, as has the Office for Budget Responsibility, the organisation that we were told would be totally independent and correct. A Conservative Member even said earlier that he no longer believed in it. Actually, it is telling the truth.
As you know, Mr Speaker, I took the time to pay my tribute to Baroness Thatcher last week. I asked whether she had lived up to her own terms of reference and brought harmony where there was discord and hope where there was despair. I came to the conclusion that she had not, and that she had created a more divided and unequal Britain. Given the contents of the latest Budget, I fear that that is the kind of Britain we are now hurtling towards again.
A man who came to my surgery on Friday told me that he had £20 a week to spend after paying his utility bills and bus fares. At that rate of disposable income, he could take 10,000 years to get to the alleged cost of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. When the empty bedroom tax hits, he will be down to £2 a day, so he would have to keep going for 15,000 years. In the Budget, the very poorest are being squeezed hardest to give some money to the squeezed middle to encourage them to vote Conservative, while millionaires are being given tax breaks when the top 10% in Britain have seen their average income go up by 11% over the last two years alone, simply through the machinery of the marketplace.
There were a few bright spots in the Budget. There were the mortgage deposit schemes, but according to people in the financial world, there is a real risk that they will generate the sort of sub-prime debt and irresponsible lending that banks are not supposed to be engaged in if we are not to encounter a problem, as we did in 2008. There was the 1p beer give-away. There was rejoicing in Swansea, because outside one pub, a sign said, “Buy 299 pints of beer and get one free.” People were very excited about that. However, the general situation is that we have no growth, as people have mentioned. The problem is the debt to GDP ratio. Debt as a proportion of the value of the economy was 55% in 2010, and it will be 85% in 2015. There are two ways of sorting that out: to increase GDP—the size of the economy—as Labour did in the 11 years from 1997 to 2008 when it went up by about 40%; and/or to attack the debt.
The total focus is on attacking the debt. In 2010, when the Chancellor announced that he was cutting half a million jobs, what happened? People, particularly in the public service, stopped spending. The savings rate went up, consumer demand went down, growth was flattened, so debt as a proportion of GDP is rising, and more and more people are doing less work. We hear about the extra million jobs, but they are producing no overall extra output, so average productivity is down.
We need to invest. People make a big joke about that. They say, “You’ve got to borrow to pay off your loans,” but there is a difference between investing in productive capability—in skills, infrastructure and marketing and in super-connectivity; I mentioned earlier that Swansea had put in a bid for super-connected city status—which would help the economy to grow, and simply spending and borrowing to pay people to do nothing and keep them on the dole. That was the old problem for the Tories pre-1997 and we are going back to that situation.
In other countries, there is enormous investment in research and development, particularly in emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India. When we study the behaviour of multinational companies, we see that they are drawn to R and D clusters, not just to ever-decreasing levels of corporation tax. Obviously that is one of the criteria, but reducing corporation tax from 21% to 20% and reducing the yield by 5% does not make much sense. The money would be better spent on super-connectivity for all our smaller cities, including Swansea. In Swansea, there is massive investment by the European Investment Bank in a second campus, which is creating an R and D cluster that is attracting the involvement of companies such as BP, Tata and Boots. That will create real international global value.
Aside from that, the focus has been on clobbering the poor. If money is cut for people who are already poor, growth will be cut overall. If cuts affect better-off people who are saving, they are not investing their earnings in the local economy either.
The bedroom tax is a cruel inefficiency. Housing benefit has doubled in the last 10 years, but 70% of the increase was caused by private sector rent growth. People are being put into the private sector because not enough council and social housing is being built. In Wales, 29,000 families are affected, but there are only 400 empty single-bedroom units of accommodation, so there is nowhere for them to go. Two thirds of the people affected are disabled. In Swansea, moving someone from a three-bedroom council house to a two-bedroom private sector house would cost 50% more, so housing benefit will go up again. A lot of these measures are counter-productive and destructive, but that particular one encourages people to have more children, even if they were not going to, to fill up the rooms. Meanwhile, the overall benefit cap encourages families to break up so that there are two units that can come up to the £400 threshold. The policy has not been thought out, and we are seeing an awful return to a Dickensian view of the worthy and unworthy poor, the shirkers and the workers, and the strivers and the skivers.
We need to refocus on growth, capacity, exports and jobs. Jobs and growth are the only things that are going to pull us back on the right track to balance the books and make Britain strong again. We want a Britain that cares and a future that works—a one nation strong and united, not a weak nation divided by the Conservatives.
We have had a surprisingly good debate despite what was, frankly, a disappointing and lacklustre Budget. I use the word “surprisingly”, because the lacklustre nature of the Budget was no more evident than in the opening speech made by the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have powerfully put the case for securing growth in our economy, and I especially want to commend several of the contributions made by Labour Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) made a powerful speech about aspiration that included a poignant reminder of the words of Harold Wilson that it does not matter what the rate of employment is because to a person who is unemployed, that rate is 100%.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) made a characteristically forceful and insightful speech about the impact of the Chancellor’s failing plan on economic development in the north-east, which is a region close to my heart. He reflected on the double-dip, double-debt and double-downgraded Chancellor.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) reflected on the banks simply not paying their fair share, while my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) gave a colourful insight into the Bill’s historical context. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) reflected on her memory of Budget day and a Chancellor who simply looked lost as to what to do about his flatling economy and failing plan.
My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) made a passionate speech about the real impact of the Chancellor’s failure. The amounts involved under the bedroom tax might be worth just half a bottle of claret to the Chancellor, but to the people affected, they make the difference between heating and eating.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain), like other hon. Members, talked insightfully about the Chancellor’s campaign against the poor and the divisive nature of his economic policies. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), with her insightful wit, put Government Members to shame for their failure even to show up today to defend their Chancellor’s Budget. We have just heard my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) reflecting on the divisive nature of the Chancellor’s failing plan.
We heard good speeches from the few Government Members who bothered to attend the debate—[Hon. Members: “Three.”] I am reminded that we heard three speeches from Government Members, and I was surprised by how few of them turned out to support their Chancellor’s Bill. The Exchequer Secretary claimed in his lacklustre speech that the Bill will inject energy into our economy, but it has not injected any energy into Government Back Benchers, so it is even less likely to inject any energy into our bumbling economy that is staggering under the weight of the Chancellor’s complacency.
The emptiness of the Government Benches has been stark. For most of the time, we have seen only the Minister, his Parliamentary Private Secretary and a token Liberal Democrat. Are Government Members too ashamed to defend their downgraded Chancellor? Even the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has not shown up today.
It is a shame that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) is not in the Chamber because he made a compelling speech in which even he lamented, to use his words, the Chancellor’s “sleight of hand” in manoeuvring to bring his borrowing down to just under £121 billion. That represents a rate of deficit reduction of not 1%, nor even 0.1%; at that rate, it would take 1,000 years to reduce the deficit. He acknowledged that debt will not fall in this Parliament, so the Chancellor should at least focus on the long term, instead of quick-fix gimmicks. That was sound advice.
The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) defended the Government’s failing plan, and suggested that a VAT cut would simply benefit the well-off. Has he even noticed the Chancellor’s tax giveaway to millionaires? The hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) proudly declared that the Chancellor’s plan was a continuation of Thatcher’s legacy, and told people to cheer up and stop moaning. He should try telling that to the 2.5 million people who are unemployed.
Deep down—perhaps it is evident from their poor attendance—even Government Members know that the Chancellor’s Budget failed to deliver what is needed to get us out of this economic mess. Let us consider the situation facing the Chancellor as he composed his Budget last month. What were the key economic indicators to which any genuinely in-touch Chancellor would want urgently to respond? Before we consider the current economic situation and this year’s Budget, let me take the House back briefly to the Chancellor’s first Budget—the June 2010 so-called emergency Budget—which, according to him, was necessary to deal decisively with the country’s record debts and produce a credible plan to deal with the record deficit. Right hon. and hon. Members may recall that the Chancellor used that emergency Budget speech to predict that the UK economy would grow by 1.2% in 2010, 2.8% in 2012, and 2.9% in 2013. He was dreaming. As a result of his failure, we have had a double-dip recession and the economy is stagnating, with just 0.8% growth since the 2010 spending review, compared with 5.3% forecast at the time. He consistently blames factors beyond his control, but only three G20 countries have grown more slowly than the UK in the same period.
The independent OBR has halved its predictions for 2013, anticipating growth of just 0.6% this year, compared with the 1.2% forecast in December, a mere four months ago. The most recently published figures suggest that industrial production in February was down 2.2% on the year before, while the UK’s trade deficit has widened to £9.4 billion following a worrying 4.7% fall in exports to non-EU countries. Indeed, over the past two and a half years, lack of confidence created by the Chancellor’s failing plan has seen business investment fall by £3 billion, compared with the OBR’s forecast of a £24 billion rise. Of the G20 nations, only Italy and Saudi Arabia have experienced a sharper fall in investment in that period. As a consequence of the Chancellor’s economic failure, Government borrowing has risen, not fallen, with the coalition set to borrow £245 billion more than the forecast in autumn 2010. [Interruption.] I am astounded that Ministers shout that we would be borrowing more; they are borrowing more.
The Chancellor’s promise to balance the books by 2015 will not be met, and the national debt will not fall until 2017-18 at the earliest, which has resulted in the downgrading of Britain’s triple A credit rating by Moody’s. More recently, Fitch has put the UK on negative watch—the very cover that the Chancellor used for his accelerated spending cuts in 2010. What does that economic failure mean for ordinary people up and down the country? Who is paying the price for the downgraded Chancellor’s economic plan, which lies in tatters? The most recent figures, published on Budget day, show that unemployment has risen again, and the trends behind the employment figures are increasingly worrying. Long-term unemployment remains far too high, and the risks have become dangerously entrenched while youth and female unemployment is up again.
Ministers regularly claim—and Government Members have done so again this afternoon—that the coalition has helped to create more than 1 million private sector jobs, but about 200,000 of those were created as a result of the reclassification of further education and sixth-form colleges in the private sector. Half the jobs that have been created since 2010 are part time, and almost 1.4 million people who want full-time work can only find part-time work. People who are in work have found that their wages have simply not kept pace with inflation. There is also the deeply worrying phenomenon of falling productivity, with more people apparently producing less. Is it any wonder that we have seen a disturbing rise in so-called zero-hours contracts, with recent media reports suggesting that almost a quarter of larger employers are recruiting staff in that way?
This is the reality for many people in this country—not for the Chancellor’s millionaire pals, but for the millions of ordinary people in this country who are facing the reality of unemployment and, for those in work, squeezed living standards, under-employment and increasing insecurity. The truly startling but unsurprising reality, confirmed by the OBR, is that people will be worse off in 2015 than they were when this Government came to power.
What was the Chancellor’s response to this dire situation on 20 March? A package of measures genuinely and urgently to kick-start our flatlining economy, boost confidence, stimulate investment and create jobs? No. A recognition that his plan has completely and demonstrably failed? Again, wrong. What this country urgently needed was a Budget with the X factor. Instead, we have a one-direction Chancellor who clearly believes that it is impossible to admit that he got it wrong and to change course. We got a more of the same Budget from a more of the same Chancellor, who would rather continue down the same path no matter what long-term damage it does to our economy and to local communities than come clean with the British public.
Of course, there were some welcome measures. The Opposition have consistently called for a tax break for small firms taking on new workers and the Chancellor is now set to introduce a scheme. Let us hope that it has a better success rate than his previous policy which, at the last count, has created 70,000 jobs, which is to be welcomed, but which is just a little shy of the original prediction of 800,000. On tax avoidance, the Government are consulting on how to clamp down on abusive payroll services based in tax havens, as well as confirming their intention to strengthen the tax disclosure provisions introduced back in 2004 by the Labour Government. Again, those are both areas where the Opposition have been calling for urgent action for some time.
Despite all the tough talk on tax avoidance, we continue to get a series of mixed messages from the coalition and a lack of real action. We repeatedly hear the Chancellor and the Prime Minister claiming to be leading on international tax avoidance action at the G8, yet days ahead of the meeting the Exchequer Secretary boasted that the UK has moved ahead of Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland in “tax competitiveness”. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), who is not in his place at present. He rightly pointed out that the UK needs to be careful of promising competitive tax rates if companies get away with not even paying them. He also rightly pointed out that we need to analyse what impact tax avoidance has on developing countries. We will introduce amendments to that effect.
Perhaps the most mixed message of all is the coalition’s incredible decision, announced in last year’s omnishambles of a Budget and confirmed in this year’s Budget document, to give some of the wealthiest people in this country an average £100,000 tax cut this month. A Chancellor who claims that he finds tax avoidance “morally repugnant” is determined to carry on with his game of “Who wants to bung a millionaire?”, reducing the 50p rate of income tax because the “behavioural response” was “larger than expected”. No doubt he will have phoned a few friends last weekend to remind them of his good news. This means, in effect, that top earners have been so nifty at shifting their income to minimise their tax liability that this Government, who talk tough on tax avoidance, are rewarding them by cutting the rate. Liberal Democrat colleagues will be telling themselves that this indefensible decision does not matter and that everything is okay because of the much-trumpeted increase to the personal allowance. But they have not quite owned up to the fact that families on average will be £891 worse off in this tax year, and cuts to tax credits and benefits have been introduced since 2010.
Indeed, the small rise in the personal allowance is hugely outweighed by the cuts to tax credits and child benefit, the bedroom tax, the granny tax and the increase in VAT, which the Liberal Democrats campaigned against so vociferously before it was announced in June 2010. The straight fact is that the dire economic situation in which we find ourselves is of the Chancellor’s making and that of the coalition Government, but the brunt is being borne by millions of ordinary people and local businesses—
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 41A(3)),
That, at this day’s sitting, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to the Motion in the name of Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer relating to the Finance (No. 2) Bill (Carry-Over).—(Anne Milton.)
Question agreed to.
Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The dire economic situation demanded an urgent response from the Chancellor. Indeed, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, John Longworth, said:
“We are at an unprecedented moment in our economic history, and the government should be doing everything in its power to get the economy moving. Many of the Chancellor’s measures are positive but may come too late, particularly for smaller and medium-sized companies. We need urgency, scale and delivery today.”
We agree, but what we got from the Chancellor and what we have before us this evening is a bit of tinkering around the edges and more of the same. It is just not good enough and Britain deserves better. That is why the Opposition will vote against this inadequate Budget from an inadequate Chancellor who is increasingly out of touch and totally out of his depth.
In debating the Finance Bill and the economy, one is reminded of the late noble Baroness Thatcher. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) said, let us never forget that she rescued the country from a permanent sense of decline and restored economic strength and prosperity. She was our greatest peacetime Prime Minister. May she rest in peace.
We have had a lively and wide-ranging debate, with particularly thoughtful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), for Redcar (Ian Swales) and for Macclesfield. The best I can say about the contributions from the Opposition Benches is that we heard a lot of warm and fluffy talk about motherhood and apple pie but not a single idea on how to rescue our economy from the mess the Labour party created. This Government inherited a shocking legacy. The country will never forget the consequences of 13 years of Labour government: the largest deficit in the G20; the deepest recession since the second world war; and the world’s largest banking bail-out. We have taken action to cut the deficit, stimulate the economy and create a fairer and more efficient tax system. The Bill continues along that path.
Let me focus first on growth and competitiveness. The Bill builds on previous Bills by introducing a range of measures demonstrating the Government’s commitment to supporting growth and enterprise. Against the background of external challenges, such as the continuing crisis in the eurozone, it is vital that the UK tax system attracts investment to this country and does everything possible to ensure that UK businesses can compete in the global economy. The Government have already significantly reduced the tax burden on business. In 2013, corporation tax will be 23%, significantly lower than the 28% inherited from the previous Government.
Since we embarked on those reforms, we have seen a number of high-profile businesses returning to the UK or coming here for the first time, including WPP, Lancashire, Aon, Rowan and Seadrill. But we want to go further. The additional reductions set out in clauses 4 and 6 mean that the corporation tax rate will reach 21% in April 2014 and just 20% in April 2015, the lowest rate in the G20, and lower than any comparable EU member state.
But competitiveness is about more than just the rate of corporation tax. That is why the Bill also includes measures to give targeted support to the innovative sectors that will drive growth in the 21st century. Clause 34 delivers an above-the-line tax credit for large companies’ R and D expenditure, with an increased rate of support of 10%. That will provide a more visible and certain relief and greater cash flow support to the wide range of companies engaging in groundbreaking research in the UK.
Clause 35 legislates to bring in new tax reliefs for the UK’s world-leading creative industries, including animation and high-end TV. That will be among the most effective reliefs anywhere in the world.
The Bill also includes measures to support small and medium-sized businesses, which are the bedrock of our economy—points that were made very well by my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield and for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field). Clause 7 introduces a two-year increase to the annual investment allowance that has been in place since January. That will make it easier for firms to bring forward capital investment in plant and machinery, helping support businesses to grow and invest.
Clause 56 implements an extension of the successful capital gains tax holiday for the seed enterprise investment scheme, to support investment in new and early-stage firms to help give them the support they need to grow. Clause 63 enhances the tax advantages available under the enterprise management incentive, helping smaller, higher-risk companies to recruit and retain high-calibre employees. Low corporation taxes, support for innovation and help for small businesses—this Finance Bill sends the clearest possible signal that Britain is open for business.
We are also taking action to support the UK’s oil and gas industry. Clauses 77 to 90 support a new contractual approach to provide certainty over decommissioning relief on the UK continental shelf. The Government will sign contracts this year allowing the sector to unlock billions of pounds of additional investment, helping to create thousands of new jobs in Scotland and beyond.
My hon. Friend is making an important point about the Government’s assistance to the oil and gas industry. Does he acknowledge that that has contributed this year to the biggest single investment in North sea oil and gas since they were discovered?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am convinced that there will be further significant investment in that important industry because of the measures in the Bill.
I turn to fairness, which is at the heart of the Bill. The Bill helps families with the cost of living while making sure that the best off in our society pay their fair share. The increase in the personal allowance in clause 2, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar and others, will set the value at £9,440 for April this year, an increase of £1,335—the largest ever cash increase. It will save a typical basic-rate taxpayer £267 in cash terms and it is a tax cut for 24 million people. That is a major step towards the Government’s commitment to raise the personal allowance to £10,000 by the end of this Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the Budget that that goal will be reached next year, a whole year ahead of schedule.
Taken with previous increases in the personal allowance, the Government have taken 2.7 million people out of income tax altogether, providing real help for low and middle earners and rewarding work by enabling workers to keep a greater share of what they earn.
The Government also recognise the rising cost of fuel and the pressure that that puts on the finances of households and businesses. That is why we have decided to cancel the increase in fuel duty planned for September 2013. Clause 177 will freeze fuel duty at current levels, maintaining the longest freeze in fuel duty for 20 years. Under this Government, average pump prices are 13p per litre lower than if we had implemented the plans that we inherited from the previous Government.
When ordinary households are experiencing real pressure on their incomes, it is particularly important that tax reliefs are well targeted and cannot be used without limit by those on the highest incomes to reduce tax bills. Clause 16 legislates for a new cap on certain unlimited tax reliefs from this April to curtail excessive use of those reliefs. The cap will be set at £50,000 or 25% of the relevant person’s income, whichever is the greater, ensuring that the reliefs cannot be exploited unfairly. The cost of pensions tax relief is rising and has doubled in a decade since 2001. This Finance Bill therefore legislates to reduce pensions tax relief lifetime and annual allowances to £1.25 million and £40,000 respectively to limit the amount of relief available to the top 2% of pension savers.
Fairness is also about making sure that everyone plays by the same rules. The vast majority who pay their taxes will, rightly, not tolerate non-compliant individuals and businesses not paying the tax that they owe, and this Government agree. To that end, the Bill includes a major package of measures to crack down on tax avoidance by a small minority who refuse to pay their fair share. Clauses 203 to 212 and schedule 41 legislate for the UK’s first general anti-abuse rule, or GAAR. This is one of the most significant changes to UK tax law. It will have a strong deterrent effect on those concocting abusive tax avoidance schemes or considering using them, and where they persist it will give Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs an effective new tool to tackle these schemes.
Let me say to my hon. Friend and to those on the Treasury Bench that his announcement about a general anti-tax avoidance provision is hugely welcome, particularly in London, where people have seen companies get away with not paying taxes for many years—something that no previous Government have adequately dealt with. It is very welcome and we look forward to it becoming law as soon as possible.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s support for the measure.
This Finance Bill includes measures to close 15 loopholes that have been used to avoid tax. Nine of these provisions have immediate effect from Budget day, and one—on tackling stamp duty avoidance—is backdated to the previous Budget, following the Chancellor's clear warning in 2012. This demonstrates the Government’s continuing commitment to fast, effective and targeted action to tackle avoidance. In addition, we are strengthening the successful disclosure of the tax avoidance schemes regime to increase the information that promoters of tax avoidance schemes have to provide about the users of their schemes. Together with the GAAR, these measures will increase tax revenues by almost £l billion by 2017-18, as well as protecting future revenues. In addition, the Government are investing almost £1 billion in HMRC’s compliance activities in order to raise additional revenues of £22 billion per annum by the end of 2014-15. This represents £9 billion more in compliance revenues—a 70% per cent increase since 2010-11.
This Finance Bill introduces a package of measures to ensure that owners of high-value properties cannot avoid paying their fair share of tax by placing their property in a corporate envelope. From April, residential properties held by certain non-natural persons that are worth more than £2 million will be subject to a new annual tax on enveloped dwellings. The Bill also introduces a new capital gains tax charge on these non-natural persons disposing of such high-value properties from April 2013.
Allow me, Mr Speaker, to draw my remarks to a close. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I thought that that would bring a cheer. Finance Bill 2013 is a Bill for growth and fairness. It encourages investment, it supports innovation and entrepreneurs, it provides real help to families and working people, it tackles avoidance, and it asks those who are better off to pay more. I commend it to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Bill read a Second time.
Finance (No.2) Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)).
That the following provisions shall apply to the Finance (No. 2) Bill:
1. The following shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House—
(a) Clauses 1, 3, 16, 183, 184 and 200 to 212;
(b) Schedules 3 and 41;
(c) any new Clauses, and any new Schedules, first appearing on the Order Paper not later than Tuesday 16 April 2013 and relating to tax measures concerning housing; and
(d) any new Clauses, and any new Schedules, relating to value added tax or the bank levy or air passenger duty or the subject matter of Clauses 1 and 16 and Schedule 3 or the subject matter of Clause 3 or the subject matter of Clauses 203 to 212 and Schedule 41.
2. The remainder of the Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Committee
3.–(1) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House shall be completed in two days.
(2) Those proceedings shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the first column of the following table and in the order so shown.
(3) Each part of the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second co