Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Committee and as amended in the Public Bill Committee.
New Clause 8
Report on the additional rate of income tax
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, publish a report on the additional rate of income tax.
(2) This report shall review the impact upon Exchequer receipts of setting the additional rate to 50 per cent. in the tax year 2014-15.
(3) The report shall review what impact reducing the additional rate for 2013-14 will have on the amount of income tax currently paid by those with taxable incomes of—
(a) over £150,000 per year; and
(b) over £1,000,000 per year.
(4) The report shall review what impact reducing the additional rate for 2013-14 will have on the level of bonuses awarded in the financial sector in April 2013.’.—(Cathy Jamieson.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The Government have previously declared that we are “all in this together”, and I want to develop that theme. I am sure the Exchequer Secretary will be listening intently. They have insisted that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden, but in Work and Pensions questions earlier, we heard that some Opposition Members are somewhat sceptical about that claim. Although the Government have also consistently told us that their priority is to cut the deficit by what they describe as “fair and reasonable means”, in politics it is actions, not mere words, that show priorities. The same Government, in tough times and against the backdrop of falling living standards—borrowing up last year, growth continuing to flatline and drastic cuts being made to benefits for hard-working families—have decided to give millionaires a tax cut. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) call out that that is nonsense. I am more than willing to take an intervention from him should he wish to justify the tax cut for millionaires.
I am delighted to intervene on the hon. Lady. She will be aware that the art of taxation is to extract the maximum amount of money with the minimum amount of hissing. Is she aware of the principle that a lower tax rate can often lead to a higher tax take, and does she think it might apply in this case, thus meaning that millionaires pay more, not less?
Before the hon. Lady comes to that principle, she will be aware that the 2012 Red Book confirmed that, according to the Government’s own figures, the change would cost £450 million. At the most basic level, whether we agree with that number or think it is too low, if there is £450 million going spare, it would be better to do something socially productive with it than to give it back to people who are already wealthy.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He and I do not always agree on every matter that is discussed in the Chamber, but on this occasion I accept what he says.
We have heard disagreement on the Government Benches with the point that I was making, but the reality is that as of this April, 13,000 people earning more than £1 million a year are receiving a tax cut equivalent to £100,000. Another 254,000 people earning more than £150,000 a year are also seeing their income tax bills go down. At the same time, if we take into account the changes that the Tory-led Government have made to tax, tax credits and benefits, households in the UK will be an average of £891 a year worse off. That is the reality that people face. As I have said in a number of previous debates, that may not seem a lot of money to the millionaires who are getting a tax cut from the Government, or to those on the highest wages, but it is a lot of money for my constituents and, I am sure, for the constituents of other hon. Members. I see some heads nodding on the Government Benches. It is a huge amount for constituents throughout the country, who are being ruthlessly squeezed to pay for the Chancellor’s economic failure.
It is indeed a lot of money for many of my constituents and my hon. Friend’s. Is she aware of the figures published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing that for a two-earner couple with children, the loss caused by the changes rises to £1,869.09?
Let me answer my hon. Friend’s point because it is important to understand the impact that this Government’s policies are having on families across the country. He makes the important point that a couple with children in such circumstances will face difficulties, and in some instances must make choices about how they will pay for things that we or our children perhaps take for granted. Government Members have simply failed to recognise or respond to, or in many instances acknowledge, that point.
I want to finish this point. If the hon. Gentleman can contain his excitement, I am sure he will have the opportunity to develop his arguments at some stage. It is important to recognise that the Government are doing many things that Labour simply would not do. We suggested a whole range of things that the Government could do to get growth back into the economy, and I will mention some of those today. It is important, however—[Interruption.] I hear the Minister from a sedentary position say, “Borrowing more”. Is that an admission that his Government are borrowing more than they set out to do, that they have not got the deficit down as planned, and that they have not brought growth back into the economy as they promised? I would be more than happy if the Minister wished to put something on the record at this point. [Interruption.] He does not, so I will give way to the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones).
The hon. Lady said that if Labour was in power now it would reverse the decision and reinstate the 50p tax rate, but there will not be a general election for the next two years. If the Labour party is in government in two years’ time, would it then reverse that decision and reinstate the 50p tax rate—yes or no?
I find it astonishing that Government Members never seem to take any responsibility for what is going on under their watch. Under their watch, the deficit has not come down as much as they promised, borrowing is higher than planned, and the Government have failed to get growth back into the economy.
The hon. Lady made some important and passionate points about the impact of being worse off every year by £800, which is a big amount of money for many of my constituents. Given that we have just broadly agreed public expenditure figures for the next Parliament, does she feel that if this is a point of principle it is beholden on her to answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) about whether a Labour Government would stick to their principles in the next election?
I can say to the hon. Gentleman that yes, we would stick to principles of fairness and equality, and we would not seek to advantage those who already have the highest incomes at the expense of those on lower incomes. Once again, I repeat what a number of Labour Members have said: at this point we do not know in what shape the economy will be two years from now, and as a responsible Opposition we intend to look in detail at where spend would be best put in the years ahead.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady; she always covers these issues with great interest. Why is the shadow Chancellor able to commit to following our spending plans, yet will not give any indication of tax rates? Surely that is the second side of the coin.
I always listen with interest to what the hon. Gentleman has to say, and I know from his contributions in the House and in Public Bill Committees that from time to time he scrutinises the Government fairly thoroughly. There is a difference between saying that the overall spending limit put on by the Government will be our starting point, and accepting their approach in full, which is not what the shadow Chancellor has said, of course. He has made it clear that we would look at that overall spend and see how we could allot resources more fairly.
Despite the fact that the Government tried to make much of fairness in the spending review, let us look at the millionaires who will benefit from the tax cut. First, 643 bankers earn more than £1 million and the combined tax cut will be worth £34.6 million to them—[Interruption.] There is a lot of grumbling and other muttering from a sedentary position by Government Members. If they wish to speak, they will be able to do so later.
My constituents want to know how the Government can justify that tax cut for millionaires at a time when those on middle and low incomes are being squeezed so hard. I can understand why the public are angry and why they do not feel that the Government are acting fairly. They see many people on massive salaries that ordinary people can only dream of and working in the very same banks that were bailed out by the taxpayer now receiving a handout from the coalition. People do find that difficult to understand. That is why our amendment would require the Chancellor to consider the effect that the tax cut will have on the level of bonuses in the financial sector. That is what the taxpayer—ordinary people trying to make ends meet when their living standards are being reduced—wants to know.
The hon. Lady makes a good point about the impact on bonuses. Does she welcome the recommendation from the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which the Prime Minister has accepted, which will change from very short-term bonuses to long-term ones? Would not that mitigate some of the very real concerns that she has mentioned?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the points that I have made. He will, of course, be aware of some of the discussion that took place in Committee on the Finance Bill and the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill. It is unfortunate that the Government chose not to accept our amendments to those Bills, and so far we have not seen legislation to enact the change that he mentions. I look forward with interest to further debates on that subject at a later date.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, but she has mentioned what makes the public angry. I think what makes the public angry is when they see members of a party opposing in principle, and expressing great moral outrage about, the bedroom tax—the spare room subsidy—or the 50p tax rate and then refusing to answer a straightforward question about whether they would reverse one or both of them. It is not good enough, and it is no wonder that the public think politicians are slippery and cannot be trusted.
The hon. Gentleman started by trying to pay me some sort of compliment, saying that I was making a powerful speech, but I simply do not accept his assertion that what outrages the public is politicians standing up to make passionate speeches on their behalf. The points that I am making are the very ones that have been made by my constituents, by the constituents of my hon. Friends and—I am sure—by many of the hon. Gentleman’s own constituents.
It is not good enough for Government Members simply to sit there and say, “What is the Labour party going to do two years from now?” when they are taking no responsibility whatever for what they are doing at the moment. It is a responsible position for us as the Opposition to say, “We understand that there will be an overall spending limit; that will be our starting point, but that does not mean that we have committed to it as an end point, and it does not mean that we are committed to doing exactly what the Government would do.” I am sure that as we move forward, a number of initiatives will be developed and outlined in greater detail.
Does my hon. Friend agree that what is going to annoy many of our constituents is that they were told three years ago that all the measures put in place then were for a purpose, that the deficit would be brought down by the end of this Parliament and that we were all in it together, when that has simply not happened?
Once again, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. When we heard the spending review announcements last week, many members of the public recognised that this was a spending review brought forward not because it was part of some grand plan by the Government or something that they were always going to do, but because of the Government’s own failures on the economy—their failure to get the deficit down as promised; their failure to deal with borrowing; and, indeed, their failure to get growth back into the economy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her excellent speech. Further to confirm her point so that everybody gets it, did not the Chancellor promise not to introduce another spending review before the next election, and is not the failure of his economic policies the reason why we needed to have that spending review?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Many members of the public will not look at the Chancellor’s spending review as a success—it is not—and they will recognise that this Government have, as we said at the outset, cut too far and too fast, so that we have had all the pain and none of the gain that the Government promised. [Interruption.] Conservative Members can sit and sigh, make all sorts of side interventions, look at the ceiling, look to their feet or whatever else, but the harsh reality is that the constituents we all meet on a day-to-day basis know that their living standards are dropping. They know that the money in their purse does not go as far at the end of the week, because prices are rising at a time when wages have stagnated at best, and are dropping at worst.
To return to the new clause, the bankers earning £1 million or more a year will benefit from the combined tax cut at a cost of at least £34.6 million. As I said earlier, we can understand why the public are angry and why they do not feel that this Government are acting fairly. Given some of today’s comments, I suspect that many of the people watching this debate will gain the impression that the Government are not listening to them, that they have no understanding of the issues they face and that, sadly, in many instances, if not all, they do not actually care.
Our new clause is a relatively mild-mannered amendment—one of the sort that we proposed regularly in the Finance Bill Committee, asking the Government to look at the impact of the policies that they are introducing. In this particular instance, the new clause asks the Chancellor to consider the effect that his tax cut will have on the level of bonuses in the financial sector. There 30 million taxpayers in the UK—30 million people who go out to work every day and have to pay their way—yet they realise that the Chancellor has decided to cut taxes for the richest among them. There is no getting away from that. That tells you everything you need to know, Mr Speaker, about this Tory-led coalition. Never mind the rhetoric of “We’re all in it together”, and never mind the risible attempts to paint themselves as the party of fairness as they tried to do in the spending review, because when it comes down to it, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are effectively topping up bank bonuses with a further tax cut. That is the reality of what is happening.
Labour Members believe that there is a better way. We have consistently said that we would use a tax on those massive bonuses to fund a jobs guarantee for every young person who has been out of work for a year or more. We would do that because the trends in long-term employment remain extremely worrying.
We have consistently said that we would seek to use the tax specifically to provide a jobs guarantee for every young person who has been out of work for a year or more. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, and indeed most Members in all parts of the House, will have met—or received e-mails, letters or telephone calls from—young people who are absolutely desperate to be given that first start, to walk through the doorway, to show what they can do, to use their skills and to learn more. Sadly, as we have heard, the guarantees provided under the Work programme have not met expectations, so it is important for us to think about what we could do. In March this year—
I want to finish what I am saying. In March this year, 167,000 adults had been out of work for more than two years. The figure has increased by 97% since 2012, and by 216% since 2011. We believe that the way to get people back into work is to tax the very richest. I am sure that Members in all parts of the House would agree—
I want to finish what I am saying, and I want to make progress. I think that I have been reasonably generous with my time so far.
I am sure that Members in all parts of the House would agree that returning people to work is the best way of reducing the benefits bill and getting the economy moving again. However, the facts speak for themselves, showing that the Government prioritise those at the top and leave everyone else to struggle. Let me return to what my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) said earlier.
No; I really do want to put this on the record. As my hon. Friend said, a two-earner couple with children are losing an average of £1,869 while a millionaire receives a tax cut. Would the hon. Gentleman care to explain to a two-earner couple with children in his constituency why that is fair?
I wonder whether my hon. Friend remembers two things. She may remember that, an hour before the beginning of the debate, we witnessed a lamentable performance by Ministers who failed to answer question after question about the Work programme, which is one of the worst and least successful programmes for the unemployed that we have seen for years; and I am sure that she remembers the future jobs fund, which was hugely successful in my constituency and returned hundreds of people to work. I think constantly about the people—nearly 1,000, including 195 young people—who have been unemployed for more than a year, and I fervently wish that we still had the future jobs fund, which was not only a successful programme but returned more than it cost.
My hon. Friend is right to mention the success of the future jobs fund. I still believe that, as we said at the time, the Government made a huge error in abolishing the future jobs fund. As I know from my own constituency, it gave young people an opportunity to get into the habit of going to work and learning skills, and gave the voluntary sector, the social economy, the third sector, call it what you like, an opportunity—
No. I am going to finish what I am saying, because I want to make clear the extent to which people are losing out. The future jobs fund gave opportunities to many young people and it was short-sighted of the Government to scrap it. It seemed to me that the Government did so simply because it was brought in by the previous Government. However, following questions in the House and elsewhere, we know that the Work programme has not delivered for many young people in our constituencies.
I go back to the fact that individuals and families are losing out in our constituencies. Not only will a two-earner couple with children lose on average £1,869, while a millionaire gets a tax cut, but a single parent who works and has tried to do the right thing in getting into employment and holding down a job, as well as meeting their caring responsibilities, will lose £1,226. At the same time, the millionaire banker about whom we talked earlier will see his tax bill cut. Two earners without children who are a couple will lose £672.
Those are remarkable figures. As I said earlier, they sum up the coalition’s warped sense of priorities. They are looking after those at the top, while making everyone else pay the price for their economic failure.
I will in a moment.
No wonder that people think that there is one rule for the richest and another for the rest. No wonder people are questioning why the Government believe that the way to motivate people on low incomes is to pay them less, and the way to motivate people on high incomes is to pay them more. In these challenging economic times, surely we should focus on supporting those who need it most. New clause 8 asks the Government to look at the issue again. We are asking them to undertake a proper assessment of the impact of the cut, as well as an analysis of how much the Treasury would gain if the additional rate were returned to 50% in 2014-15. That is not an unreasonable request. I hope that, on this occasion, the Government will accept the new clause and report back in due course, although I suspect that that may not be the case.
I outlined earlier why the Opposition think that the Chancellor’s logic is rather odd. He claims to find tax avoidance morally repugnant and to want to crack down on it, but this tax cut simply rewards the wealthiest. He appears to justify it on the ground that the behavioural response to the 50p rate was more avoidance. There seems to be a rather strange logic here. Instead of cracking down on the avoidance, he is rewarding it. Surely those are not the values that we want in the Government: one rule for the richest and another for the rest of us.
It is not what the Government used to say, before their façade of fairness began to slip. The Prime Minister no less said:
“I have been very clear—we have all been very clear—that we have to do this in a way that is fair so that the broadest backs bear the biggest burden.
That is why we haven’t changed… the 50p tax rate.”
However, the Government are giving those with the broadest backs a tax cut, while people on lower incomes are shouldering the bigger burden. I heard Government Members supporting what the Prime Minister said. It is a pity that they now seem to have gone back on that.
If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself for a few more moments, I would like to quote the Chancellor. I am sure he will want to hear what his own Chancellor said. Indeed, he may even have been at his party’s conference when the Chancellor said this:
“We could not even think of abolishing the 50p rate on the rich while at the same time I am asking many of our public sector workers to accept a pay freeze to protect their jobs. I think we can all agree that would be grossly unfair.”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that would be grossly unfair?
The hon. Lady will know that I have always consistently argued for lower tax rates across the board, so that is my answer to her point. I am also perplexed as to why she will not give an answer to my earlier question about the amount of money she hoped to raise from a bankers bonus tax, given that that is such a key element of her party’s fiscal plans.
Once again, it is rather strange that the hon. Gentleman does not seek to give any comfort to his own constituents or give any explanation of his own policies. We have put forward the idea of the bankers bonus tax to get young people back into employment, and I also think the general public would like those bonuses to be less than they have been over the past few years.
I want to go back to the point the Chancellor made. He said at his party conference that he would not
“think of abolishing the 50p rate on the rich while at the same time…asking many of our public sector workers to accept a pay freeze”.
I do not often agree with the Chancellor, but I do think he was right then—and that he is absolutely wrong now.
In the interests of balance, however, I should also quote what is perhaps my favourite of these interventions. It was made by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—the Lib Dem Chief Secretary. He summed things up quite neatly when he said:
“People who think that the priority for this Government should be reducing the tax burden on the very wealthiest are living in cloud cuckoo land.”
So in the words of the Government’s own Chief Secretary to the Treasury, this is a decision from cloud cuckoo land. I think that many members of the public would agree with that.
No doubt Government Members will protest and say that the higher rate was not raising any money—
No, I want to move on. I have been very generous in taking interventions, and it is important that I now move on to make the many points I have not yet had the opportunity to put on the record.
As I have said, no doubt Government Members will protest and say that the higher rate was not raising any money due to tax avoidance, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said:
“By giving out £3 billion to well-off people who pay 50p tax…the Government is banking on a very, very uncertain amount of people changing their behaviour and paying more tax as a result of the fact that you’re taxing them—”
I want at least to get to the end of that quote—that would be quite nice. I would like other Members to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate; indeed, I am sure the hon. Gentleman is gearing himself up for that as we speak.
Just in case anyone missed that IFS quote, let me make clear what it said:
“By giving out £3 billion to well-off people who pay 50p tax…the Government is banking on a very, very uncertain amount of people changing their behaviour and paying more tax as a result of the fact that you’re taxing them…There is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of risk on this estimate.”
I know that Government Members will from time to time quote the IFS and will, from time to time, doubt its figures. Just in case they do not accept what the IFS has said, let us look at what the Office for Budget Responsibility has said about this issue. It said that any decrease in tax avoidance from the reduced rate would be “highly uncertain”. A written answer from the Exchequer Secretary in the summer of 2012 stated that in 2010-11 70% of people earning over £250,000 were paying more than 40% in tax and 80% of people earning between £500,000 and £10 million were paying the 50p rate. Each and every one of those people is now in line for the tax cut.
As Government Members know, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs estimates of reduced levels of tax avoidance are based on only the first year’s yield, and there is real concern that the cut will incentivise people to bring forward their income. The first years of a new rate are no real basis for estimating the revenue raised by the 50p rate.
As it happens, I was going to say something different, which will not surprise the House particularly. I was going to say that history tells us that cutting taxes raises more money, and that is probably a better bet to working out what will happen than fishing around for convenient forecasts. In 1979 and 1988 tax rates were cut and revenue went up, and that is a pretty good basis for doing this again.
I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution in our future debates about the possibility of a mansion tax and a reduction to a 10p rate. I always listen with interest to what he has to say, but on this occasion I have to say to him that the first year of the new rate is not a real basis for estimating the revenue raised, or likely to be raised, by the 50p rate.
The Government should be tackling tax avoidance. We all want to see that, and we will be debating it more when we discuss later clauses.
I wish to take the hon. Lady back to the impact of the bankers bonus tax on getting young people back to work, because I do not think she had the numbers to hand. May I just indulge you with some statistics, in order to help the Opposition, Mr Speaker? Last year, the bankers’ bonus total was £5.2 billion. There are 61,000 young people who have been out of work for more than a year. Much of that £5.2 billion would have been paid to taxpayers who are not UK-resident—they will work for a UK bank but not be resident here—but let us assume that it is all paid to UK residents. An increase in the rate from 45% to 50%, as the Opposition are proposing, would yield £260 million a year—the equivalent of £4,500 per young person out of work. Is the basis of her argument that £4,500 is enough to employ a young person who has been out of work for more than a year?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his information; I gave way to him because I know he takes these issues seriously. As with a range of other issues, we would have to look—if the bankers bonus tax was brought in—at the circumstances at the time and how best to get young people into employment. Other hon. Members will have heard me speak about this issue before, but I can tell the House that we believe young people and those who have been out of work for two years ought to accept that there will be a compulsory jobs guarantee. From speaking to a number of small businesses and some of the larger ones, I know they believe that a range of things could be done to encourage them, as local companies and national companies, to take on young people and get them into employment.
Where the Government have done things that we think are helpful, for example, in relation to national insurance contributions, we have supported them. As has been said, we do not accept that the move away from the future jobs fund was the correct thing to do.
Does the hon. Lady not recognise the fatuousness of her argument that this money could somehow be ring-fenced for the less well-off, which has been exposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller)? The same applies to the next set of amendments on the mansion tax and the 10p tax rate—the figures are not well-researched. The proposition might be attractive to the public at large, but the comparison is fatuous and has been ably exposed by my hon. Friend.
I do not think that my constituents in Kilmarnock and Loudoun who are out of work and desperate to get jobs—including the 400 or so people across East Ayrshire and into neighbouring Lanarkshire who lost their jobs as a result of the collapse of Scottish Coal, the people who lost their jobs when Diageo moved out of the town of Kilmarnock and closed the historic bottling plant, which bottled Johnnie Walker whisky, and all the people who are out of work as a result of the squeeze on small local businesses—would believe that it is fatuous to suggest that a tax cut for millionaires is the wrong priority when cuts have also been made to working tax credit and when other things could be done to support people into work.
I want to follow up on the points made by the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) about the future jobs fund and to hark back to an impact analysis of the fund done for the Department for Work and Pensions, which found that society gained £7,750 per participant through wages, increased tax receipts and reduced benefit payments. Participants were calculated to have gained £4,000 and employers to have gained £6,850, with the cost to the Exchequer calculated at £3,100 a job. The figures the hon. Gentleman cited would cover the cost. Even better, two years after the start of their time with the fund, those former jobseekers were much less likely to go back to being on benefits. Is that not something we should be re-exploring?
My hon. Friend has made her point extremely succinctly and has put on the record why we feel that the future jobs fund was not only important but a successful initiative. I say again to Government Members who think that the proposal has no impact on the lives of ordinary people that all those who went through the future jobs fund programmes and who worked on them say that the fund was a valuable way of getting young people back into work. People in my area would certainly have liked it to continue.
Let me come back to the points about the new clause. As I said, the Government should be tackling tax avoidance—we will debate that further later—but that does not mean that we should compensate the wealthiest at the expense of those on middle and low incomes. I would have hoped, in the light of everything the Government proclaimed around the time of the spending review about fairness and ensuring that growth came back into the economy, that even at this stage they might have dropped the plan for a millionaires tax cut. That is a forlorn hope, however.
The decision to create that tax cut goes to the heart of the coalition’s political vision and beliefs—and by that I mean both sides of the coalition. We face a period of national upheaval at a time when resources are stretched. The Government criticise the Opposition when we take responsible decisions to think about the way forward while failing to explain their positions. At a time when resources are stretched, when people up and down the country are working harder and harder than ever before for less in their pockets and when public services are being cut so drastically, it is even more crucial that our Government should be a uniting force rather than a dividing one. In that context, I must ask again why on earth this is the time for a tax cut for the richest.
The Government try to talk a good game, but as I said at the outset, reality does not match their rhetoric. They do not seem to understand the need for a one nation approach to politics and they are not able to encourage a sense of national mission, no matter how much they talk about being “all in it together”. This Government will go down in history as the most divisive.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is being most generous in giving way. She said earlier that this matter is about action, not words, and has just said that it is about reality, not rhetoric. She is making an impassioned speech, but will she explain why she did not vote against the 50p tax rate and why, in addition, she is not committed to reversing the measure? Why, after the faux outrage over the spare room subsidy, is she not committed to reversing that either? People outside will think that this has a stench of hypocrisy about it.
The reality for my constituents and those of Labour Members is that they want to know why the Government made the change in the first place. They want to see action taken in the future, but there are two years until the general election—we will lay out how we intend to take things forward in good time for that—and I respectfully suggest to Government Members that we do not know exactly what sort of mess we will be left with. We see no responsibility taken by the Government for the situation that the economy is in at the moment and what has happened on their watch—
We have been asked that question over and over again. Had we been asked it two years ago, and had we based our answers on the projections that we were given by the Government, that answer would be very different from the one we would have to give now. That might well be the case in two years’ time.
My hon. Friend speaks words of wisdom. I have repeatedly said today, and it has been said by others, that while we have accepted that, come 2015 if we are in government, we will have to take as a starting point the overall spending plans that have been laid out, that does not mean that we would have made the same choices or that we would make the same choices in the future.
I would not expect my hon. Friend to set out our tax policies two years before a general election, but is it not important to emphasise that there is a question of priorities here? The issue is that the Government have chosen to clobber some of the lowest-paid workers in my constituency and in hers with a council tax increase caused by their changes to council tax benefit?
My hon. Friend speaks with great passion on behalf of his constituents and he is correct to identify the fact that we need, in difficult times, to talk the language of priorities. That is why on previous occasions—from the Dispatch Box and elsewhere—I have asked the Government why they believe that it is fair to give the tax cut to the richest and, on top of that, to give those very same people the winter fuel allowance even if they happen to be pensioner millionaires. To me, that does not seem to be fair and reasonable, and I am sure it does not to my hon. Friend either.
Even where a council tax freeze has been put in place, people are seeing local services that they rely on being cut to the bone. They are not able to access educational opportunities, leisure opportunities, support via social services, library services, the arts and culture. It is all very well having a freeze, but in a range of areas people feel that they are not necessarily getting the services in return.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but the situation is even worse than that for 2.4 million low-paid families, who are losing some, if not all, of their council tax benefit. That is an in-work benefit, paid not just to people who are out of work. Those families will, for the first time, be getting a tax increase, because they will have to pay council tax.
Once again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is a powerful advocate for his constituents and those on the lowest incomes. He is correct to identify the fact that, despite the rhetoric, the Government have, across the piece, consistently attacked the living standards of those in work and on low incomes. I need only refer again to tax credits, particularly for those working part-time hours. The Government seem to think it fairly straightforward for them simply to get additional hours of work, but we know that in many industries, it is not that easy; it is not possible to get the requisite number of hours. Many people who were, to use the Government’s mantra, doing the right thing—taking up employment, for however few hours and however low the wages, rather than doing nothing or sitting at home on benefits—found their working tax credits cuts. As my hon. Friend correctly says, that was compounded by changes to housing benefit, which mean that many of them are even worse off.
Let us look at the impact. I said that this Government will go down in history as a Government who divided; of the richest who are receiving a tax cut, 85% are estimated to be men, and about 70% of the revenue raised from direct tax and benefit changes will come from women. Some 52% of those benefiting are based in London and the south-east. I do not for a moment mean to suggest that there are not people there on extremely low incomes; of course there are, and many of my hon. Friends will no doubt wish to make that point. However, long-term unemployment, including in the north and Scotland, is on the rise.
My hon. Friend is being incredibly generous in giving way. She is right to emphasise the impact on low-income families, but the tax changes are also hitting moderate and middle-income families. She will be aware that the measures involve lowering the higher rate tax threshold to £41,450. Why is it that those on the lowest incomes and middle incomes are being clobbered, whereas those on the highest incomes are getting a tax cut?
Once again, my hon. Friend makes an important point, particularly in relation to many middle-income earners. The issue of the lowering of the threshold at which the higher rate of tax is paid has perhaps not had as much air time as some other topics, or other cuts that the Government are making, but the reality is that it affects many who would not see themselves as particularly well off, who have worked hard over the years and been promoted in a company or in the public sector, and who are trying to do the right thing for their family, and are feeling the squeeze.
To go back to the point about who will suffer most as a result of the Government’s policies, I emphasise that I know that in many places in London and the south-east, employment is not at the level that it is elsewhere, and incomes are being squeezed, but it is interesting to note the geographic spread.
Perhaps we should not be surprised to see the Tories operating in this way. I recall, on first entering this place, attending a debate on cutting and abolishing child trust funds. I was surprised that the Government thought that was the correct thing to do at that stage. They were once again attacking those who were trying to do the right thing and support their children and families. Under their approach, it is women and families— the very people they say they want to protect—who consistently suffer. The rhetoric and the reality are two very different things. We should perhaps not have been surprised by the Government’s proposals. It is an age-old Tory mantra that the poor—those on the lowest incomes—are expected to work harder; otherwise, they will be made poorer. At the same time, the rich will work harder only if we make them richer. In this instance, there seems to be one rule for the very richest and another for everyone else. This is arguably the same old out-of-touch Tories—this time, sadly, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats.
I always like to try to end on a positive note, however, and I come back to the point that the new clause is a relatively mild-mannered proposal. It seeks nothing more than that the Government should use their good offices to gather the necessary information to make an assessment of the impact of the changes and to produce a report. That does not seem an unreasonable request. Indeed, when the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury was in opposition, he regularly requested such reports and no doubt regularly tabled amendments and new clauses to that effect. He is nodding his head. I hope that he will remember those days, and remember why it is so important to have such reports and assessments. I hope that he will show that he is not only a listening Minister but a Minister who is prepared to act, and that he will accept new clause 8.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) has waxed lyrical at some considerable length about the iniquity of the Government’s seeking to reduce the higher rate of tax, but the question that kept occurring to me was this: if she and her colleagues felt so strongly about this, why were the Labour Government quite happy to keep a maximum higher rate of tax of 40% for their entire 13 years in office?
I should just correct my hon. Friend: there was one month in that 13-year period when the rate was different. Does he agree, however, that it would be interesting, if the Minister were minded to accept the new clause, to see a full analysis of that 13-year period?
I was going to go on to say that the Labour Government lasted 13 years, and that it was only in the last month that, under the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), they felt so strongly that they had to impose a 50% rate.
This is an important point. For their first 10 years, that Labour Government were led by Tony Blair. When he and Lord Mandelson were planning for that Government, they made a conscious decision not to replicate the old-fashioned language of class warfare that we have heard so much of today. They made a conscious decision that, if the Labour party was ever to regain the trust of the British people and regain power after 18 years in opposition, it would have to reach out to the centre ground. One of the principal ways in which they did that was to commit themselves, before getting into government, to accepting the spending plans of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), now the Minister without Portfolio. They accepted his spending plans and made it absolutely clear that they would not raise the higher rate of tax during their term of office. That was a very sensible thing to do.
In truth, the only possible justification for raising the higher rate of tax above 40% is a political one. It is political because it appeals to the argument, which we have heard repeatedly today, that a right-wing, vicious, unpleasant Tory Government are only helping millionaires. At first sight that might seem quite an attractive argument for the Labour party to adopt in opposition, but if it is so attractive, why did the right hon. Tony Blair, when he was in opposition and planning for the greatest election landslide in Labour’s history, not follow it? He did not follow it because he realised that it was nonsense economically and, ultimately, nonsense politically.
My hon. Friend is making the point, very cogently, that elections are won on the middle ground. The old Labour party, under Tony Blair, understood that. What we are seeing today, in this new clause, is the new Labour party moving to the left and seeking to introduce more taxes. When we turn over the page in the amendment paper, we see that its next new clause proposes yet another tax. Is not this just the start of a further leftward lurch by the Labour party to tax people more and waste public money?
I do not know why we are bothering to give the Labour party this friendly advice. Why are we trying to help it, when it is so obvious that its approach is increasingly to remain in its comfort zone on tax?
The speech we just heard was littered with the word “millionaire”. It is the old language of Denis Healey, going back to the 1970s, when they wanted to tax the rich until the pips squeak. It does not impress anybody, and one reason for that is that people think it is fundamentally hypocritical. The point has been made again and again: the Labour party is not making any commitment to reverse the changes. If Labour Front Benchers really felt so passionately about this matter, they could say now from the Dispatch Box that it is iniquitous and make an economic case against it.
Throughout the speech that we have just heard there was virtually a complete absence—a desert—of economic facts and justification on how much money would be raised. All we heard, constantly, was the mantra about millionaires getting richer. The truth is that the top 5% pay 25% of taxation. There is no evidence—Tony Blair understood this—that if we tax them more we will increase tax revenues for the Exchequer. All we would be doing is increasing avoidance. It is bad economically, bad politically and it does not make sense.
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. I am afraid that the impulse has been a political one. If there was any understanding of economics on the Labour Front Bench—perhaps there was in the brief glimpse in 1996 and 1997 to which he referred—those Front Benchers would understand the Laffer curve and its operation and that reducing headline tax rates will bring in rather more money. That was the case in the 1970s and 1980s, as was mentioned earlier in the debate, and I am sure that it will prove to be the case again when we look at the numbers in the year ahead.
We are all familiar with the Laffer curve and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). When taxes were reduced in the late 1970s and the 1980s, revenue increased. There is no economic case whatsoever for having a 50% tax rate. The only case, and I think it is very poor, is a political one. What I am seeking to argue—I do not know why I am seeking to help the Labour party—is that it impresses nobody.
One good point was made in the many interventions we heard from the Opposition side, and from the Government side: why are the Government dragging more people into the higher rate of tax at all? That is a fair point, and it leads me to an argument I have made many times: if we want to improve tax revenues and get more fairness in the tax system, we should move as much as possible towards a flat rate of tax. We have the longest tax code in history. If a Chancellor of the Exchequer on Budget day takes with one hand and gives with the other, and if has his little schemes to help investment or job creation, all he is doing is creating perverse incentives. A much better way of creating a modern, progressive and successful tax system would be to have as flat a rate of tax as possible, as is being done increasingly around the world. It is ridiculous that a deputy head teacher of a primary school, for example, has to pay a higher rate of tax. I think that shows some of the problems the country is in economically.
I do not want to repeat all the old arguments about who got us into this mess, but perhaps I will be forgiven for saying that unfortunately we have to pay our way, and the Government are therefore between a rock and a hard place. It is absurd to be dragging more people into higher rates of tax; what we should be trying to do, across the House, is to flatten the tax base and make it much simpler, much more coherent and much more understandable, so that people know that there is, to all intents and purposes, a single rate of tax. It does not matter whether they earn £30,000, £300,000 or even £3 million a year—they will be paying 35% of it in income tax. If we had such a modern tax system, it would generate a huge surge in productivity. The only people who suffered would be the chartered accountants, thousands of whom might lose their jobs; I pity the chartered accountants. I want to try to generate a modern, progressive tax system where people know that as they work harder they can increase the money coming into their family. If we are going to have a sensible debate as opposed to one based on party politics, these are the sorts of arguments that we should making. It is sad that we do not have the courage to do so.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with interest. I wonder what he would say in response to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which has pointed out that the rise in receipts may be due to wealthier people trying to avoid the 50p tax rate. It says:
“Receipts in April will have been boosted by high income individuals shifting income such as bonuses and special dividends from 2012-13 to 2013-14 in anticipation of the fall in the top rate of income tax from 50 per cent to 45 per cent.”
Is he suggesting that the right way to deal with people avoiding paying their tax is to reward them with a tax cut?
It is not a question of rewarding them. The truth is that the more complicated the tax system, the more it is the case that the only people who suffer are middle-income groups, often people in employment on pay-as-you-earn. The rich—the millionaires; let us talk about the group that the hon. Lady is always going on about—will always, through their expert accountants’ advice, seek to avoid paying tax, quite rightly, as it is perfectly legal and proper, and largely they will be successful. The people she is talking about—the millionaires—are precisely the sort of people who have income streams that are very mobile around the world. They are often foreign nationals. Does she honestly think that if we go on piling more and more tax on to these people they will just sit around doing nothing? Of course not; they will seek to avoid paying tax. It is a question not of rewarding avoidance but of accepting the facts of life. She might think it unfortunate—I do not—but we need these risk-takers, entrepreneurs and wealth creators in this country. Unfortunately we are in a highly competitive situation with other countries, particularly Ireland and other low-tax countries. Unless we attract these people here we will not create jobs and investment in the private sector.
We can go back to our comfort zone; we can lie in the warm bath of our own prejudices and dislike millionaires. We would probably all like to be millionaires. None of us are millionaires, unfortunately; we chose to go into public service and we are not going to become millionaires. We can have a pitch at millionaires and think that in doing so we are making ourselves popular with the rest of the population, but unfortunately they will not sit tight; they will simply leave and take that entrepreneurship and job creation away. That is what Tony Blair recognised and that is what we should recognise.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not including the most obvious millionaires in this country. Does he really think that the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs and the wealth creators do not include football players, many of whom are earning multi-millions of pounds? Frankly, the notion that we need all these wealth creators—these people earning fantastic amounts in football—does not hold up.
That is an absurd argument. I watched the Brazil match yesterday—did the hon. Lady? Millions of our constituents were watching it and enjoying it. I agree that these people are ludicrously overpaid, but they are men of 21 who have an amazing skill. What does it matter if they earn £1,000, £2,000, £3,000 or £100,000 a week or a month? It is none of our business; it does not matter. To claim that my argument is defeated because a few millionaires earn ridiculous sums of money and because there are footballers’ wives is such a ludicrous argument economically that it is barely worth answering.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being most generous. I must correct him on one thing, if he meant income tax when he said that 25% was being paid by 5% of taxpayers. In fact, 40% of the Government’s largest single receipt—income tax—is paid by 5%, and that includes footballers, rock stars and entrepreneurs, all of whom left this country in the 1970s, leaving us all poorer. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and other Opposition Members are lurching to the left and want to send them out of this country again. That would impoverish all of us, but most of all the low-income people in our constituencies who rely on receipts from such people.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way. He has highlighted the precise premise of the Opposition’s argument: they like talking about millionaires and football players because they realise that people perhaps do not like footballers and bankers earning lots of money. However, does my hon. Friend agree that, once they have started with bankers and footballers, they will then move on to judges, teachers and regional sales managers—the middle-income people who earn the money that produces the highest tax yield? Should we not all be aware of the danger in allowing Labour’s new tax policy to harm the middle classes and working people in this country?
Of course. There should be a huge health warning on Labour’s proposal. British people should be warned that it is not footballers or bankers who will suffer, but middle England—people who work really hard to create small and successful companies, who are halfway up the corporate tree and who are near the top of the public sector. Moreover, it is those precise people in the public sector whom we need to incentivise to make efficiency savings, if we are to have a successful economy.
People should not swallow the lie that this is only about bankers and footballers. They can look after themselves in any country—they always have and they always will—and if there is a Labour Government, I predict that they will get richer and richer. We should forget them and concentrate on middle England.
Finally, if the Labour party wants to get back into power it should remember what Tony Blair did. He was its most successful leader ever, because he realised that politics had to be won on the centre ground. At the moment, Labour is going nowhere.
It is always a joy to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). In a different life, when I worked for my predecessor, he was the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and I spent many a happy afternoon at the back of the room listening to him pontificating and taking on the tax dodgers and anyone else the National Audit Office thought was a little bit dodgy. I miss those days.
The more time I spend in this House and the more I listen to Government Members, the more I sense that all we do is talk about history and hark back to the past. Government Members like to talk about 13 years of Labour “misrule” and 18 golden years of Tory Government. The one conclusion that I have come to from studying economics at A-level and from listening to many hon. and right hon. Members speak in this House is that it is not possible to run the economy like a scientific discipline. It is not like that.
Hon. Members have mentioned the Laffer curve, which was meant to be the wonderful idea of its time. In 1980, a future US President—he was about to become vice-president at that time—said that trickle-down economics was voodoo economics. He was right then and he is right now. The hon. Member for Gainsborough gave the Labour party some advice and I want to do the same for his party. The Conservative party is still in the grip of an economic theory that failed.
I do not want to talk about history, even though I am an historian myself. I do not want to go back to the ’80s—there is no point in talking about that. It is a moot argument. I want to talk about the future, but in 1989 and 1990 we had the worst recession ever. That followed the recession in 1981, which, at the time, was the worst recession that we had had. Trickle-down economics is based on the mad belief that a tax cut for the very rich will somehow trickle down through society. It has never worked. Quite simply, that is common sense.
I just want to make a simple point. Every time the tax rate for the richest was cut under the previous Conservative Government, the amount paid by the top 10% went up in cash terms and in relation to what was paid by the rest of the population. In other words, every time the tax rate was reduced, the amount that the rich paid went up and the percentage of the overall pot that they paid went up. How does the hon. Gentleman explain that trickle-down effect?
The tool that the previous Tory Government used, which this Tory Government are using as well, was value added tax. Indirect taxation has always gone up under a Tory Government. Value added tax went up from 12% to 15%, and then to 17.5%. It is now 20%. This Government have also given a tax cut to the highest earners in society. The problem with indirect taxation is that everybody has to pay it. That is why the tax take always goes up. Such taxation is regressive. It does not matter what people are earning; everybody has to pay it. People who are very rich and have means do not have to worry about it, but those who are struggling at the bottom, such as those who are struggling to get by on the state pension, have to pay it, whatever the rate is.
As I was saying, there is a problem with trying to impose a scientific discipline on something that has nothing to do with science. I do not believe in that kind of economics. We have to take stock of the situation that we find ourselves in. That might have been a way forward in the ’90s, given the economic situation that was faced then. However, we do not know what we should do until we are faced with the economic situation.
It is almost impossible to have a debate when Opposition Members talk about the past but when questioned about what they would do just say, “We don’t know. We have no idea.” Presumably the hon. Gentleman will at least accept that if he is proposing a reduction in value added tax, given the state of the public finances, a future Labour Government would have to increase income tax. He must also accept that the yield on income tax comes from middle-earning people up and down the country. That is what a future Labour Government would do.
The hon. Gentleman is not listening to what I am saying, if I may be so bold. I did not make any commitment to reducing VAT. I was harking back to the economic theory of the Laffer curve and supply-side economics, under which indirect taxation is used to cut taxes for those at the very top. When the top rate of tax is cut for people at the top, they have mobility and can spend the money in different countries. We have heard that already. That applies to footballers as well. However, when the tax rate is cut for middle earners, they tend to spend the money on the high street and stimulate the economy in that way.
I do not want anybody in this House to think that I have a problem with millionaires. Like the hon. Member for Gainsborough, I have a lot of friends who want to be millionaires. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be something better. That is what the Labour party is about. I am sorry to hark back to his speech so much, but the hon. Member for Gainsborough said that that is what we understood in the mid-’90s. Human beings aspire to something better. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a millionaire. My point is that if we could find the money to give a 5p tax cut to higher earners, why could we not do that for middle income earners? A 1p tax cut for people under the top rate of tax would have done more to stimulate the economy than a 5p tax cut for higher earners, because they will spend the money elsewhere.
I also sense that this is a moral argument. Whatever I believe about cutting tax for the very richest in society, a lot of the people I talked to when the top rate of tax was cut were very angry, especially constituents of mine. They said to me that it is the people who are riding in limousines who are getting the tax cut, not the ones who are driving white vans and keeping this country working. Those are the people who are feeling the pain. We should look at the level of anger.
If we look at a breakdown of the figures, taking into account all the changes to tax, tax credits and benefits that have been introduced since 2010, we see that households in the UK will be an average of £891 worse off this year, or £17 a week. A one-earner couple with children will be a staggering £3,995.65 worse off this year. For a multi-family household with children, it will be £1,723.88. It is all very well quoting statistics—I do it all the time, and everybody is guilty of it—but I am sure that every family affected aspire to something better for their children. Yet the message they are getting from the Government is that they should be worse off.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. I hope that he tells his constituents the truth about where the Government have concentrated their efforts to lower tax. The main effort has gone into lifting the tax threshold. Does he support the fact that, under this Government, people can earn up to £10,000 and not pay any income tax, because the Government are determined to try to make work pay?
Surprisingly, I agree with the hon. Gentleman on his last comment—work does pay. At the end of the day, we can have any Government scheme we want to bring people out of poverty, but there is only one way out, and that is work. The only way out of the current difficulty is for people in work to pay their taxes. If there are even more cuts to the public sector, there will be even more people out of work and the welfare bill will go up, defeating the object of the exercise. It will lead to a high welfare bill, which will have to be paid for, and a low tax yield because of people being out of work.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that we have to wake up to the fact that the social benefits that we want to enjoy will come only from businesses being successful. We must do all we can to ensure that we have a fair, simple and transparent tax regime. How can we stimulate the economy when it seems that those in the middle are being squeezed?
The hon. Gentleman asks whether I talk to my constituents. I do, and those in social housing or council housing are concerned about the so-called bedroom tax. Some 80% of social tenants in Caerphilly county borough are in two or three-bedroom houses. That is not their fault, because no one-bedroom flats or houses are being built. After the war, when Aneurin Bevan invested in social housing, he invested in family homes so that people could bring up children and go to work.
We have heard from the Government, and from hon. Members today, about how much the cut in tax from 50p to 45p will raise. Everybody seems to be able to predict the future—every Government Member who has spoken today has done so, and even the Exchequer Secretary will be guilty of it. They seem to think that they are some sort of latter-day seer, guru or wise man who can see that in future, it will be wonderful under the Tories whereas it would be terrible under the Labour party. However, we do not know what is next. We might be lucky—we might find gas, or we might find oil off the Pembrokeshire coast or more oil in the North sea, which will stimulate the economy. On the other hand, we might have another financial crisis. We do not know. When we talk about what the tax cut will raise, we are basically licking our finger, putting it in the air and wondering which way the wind is going to blow.
To get back to the new clause, it is important that we have a review of the tax cut.
One thing that is predictable is that the bedroom tax, which my hon. Friend mentioned, is going to lead to a hit of about £4 million in Salford, which will be one of the worst hit places in the country. That money will be taken out of pockets and shop tills in our local communities. It is now predicted that the arrears that will be run up as a result will also run into the millions. In fact, it looks like it may well get to the point where it is not worth having made the change, because those arrears will not be counteracted and because of the £4 million taken out of our local economy. That situation is becoming evident as the weeks go by, and we can predict what the result will be in a few months.
I thank my hon. Friend for that wise intervention. Welfare reform is a warm and nice thing to say, especially for those of a right-wing bent who want to take out the scroungers and make them pay. But when benefits start to be cut and people are kicked out of their houses, it is a serious concern—I do not want to be melodramatic—that we could see the return of the workhouse.
In constituencies such as mine and those of my hon. Friends, I am fearful that we will see homelessness on a wide scale. The Government may have thought it was a good idea at the time to cap benefits and introduce the bedroom tax, but when we have a huge homeless population and emergency schemes need to be introduced to sort that out, I am afraid that it will be the taxpayer who picks up the bill.
Does the squeeze on benefits motivate anybody to go to work? If someone has arrears or debt and is seeing more of their pay go down the drain, why would they go to work? The Government should be motivating people to go to work; they should be tackling worklessness. Instead of cutting welfare, they should be stepping in to stimulate people to go to work, and talking to those people individually.
We talk about economics all the time, but it is not a scientific discipline—it is about people and how they react to certain circumstances. If I found myself out of work, my needs would be different from those of someone with a lower educational attainment or problems with reading and writing. However, we should be able to say to that person, “What is stopping you going to work? What are the barriers?” What can we provide to get people into work? Yes, that will cost money up front, but in the long term the country will win because of it.
Let me return to my point about putting a finger in the air and wondering which way the wind will blow. It has been estimated that 267,000 people who earn more than £150,000—including 13,000 people who earn more than £1 million—will receive an average tax cut of £100,000, according to figures from HMRC. In contrast, child benefit will be frozen for a third year, and tax credits and other working-age benefits will increase by just 1%, and these real-terms cuts will affect a shocking 9.7 million households. Can we understand that? My constituency has 56,000 electors, but 9.7 million households will be affected by this measure and each person will have an individual story and will have struggled.
The figure of 9.7 million in relation to benefits might conjure up an image of worklessness, but 7.3 million of those households—75% of all households claiming benefits—are in work. That is the crux of the problem we face. We talk about welfare reform and so-called scroungers, but the people suffering most are those we are trying to encourage—those who work hard and play by the rules but who are locked in an economic theory that has clearly failed. Some 2.4 million families will pay on average £138 more in council tax in 2013 as a result of cuts to council tax benefit. That is the ultimate failure of Government—six in 10 working people are claiming benefits. For all the talk of work paying, for many people work is not paying.
Let me return to what I said about the new clause. We need a report. I sat on the Finance Bill Committee with the Minister—I feel sorry for him, as I would for anybody who sat through that. Every day he felt as if he was batting off different reviews. However, this is such an important issue, and the coalition Government have made it such a cornerstone policy, that it needs to be reviewed. We have heard so much about it being wonderful, but we must test the theory: is it stimulating the economy, bringing money through and making work pay? We will not know unless we have a review. That is why it is so important.
I hope the Minister listens. I have a lot of time for him. As I have said, I was in Committee with him: he is sensible and takes a rational view of these matters—[Interruption.] That is the problem—we judge a man by his friends. This is such a cornerstone policy that I hope the Minister will give us some prospect of monitoring it.
I do not want to go into the history of the 1980s and tax cuts again, because I have touched on it already. But I am deeply concerned that we again face a Government who believe in an economic theory that ultimately failed the country. It was not just that we lost heavy industry in the valleys: I think of all the people in the 1980s who were motivated by the dream of starting a business or buying their own homes. By the end, their businesses went bust or they were forced into rented accommodation because they could no longer afford the mortgage. For all that Government’s lauding of their control of inflation, it was through the roof and interest rates hit 15%. We have heard recently from the Governor of the Bank of England that interest rates will go up next year, and I am deeply concerned that this Government will blindly follow the theory of supply-side economics, of Karl Popper and of leaving everything to the market.
Governments have responsibilities. They have a responsibility to create the environment for businesses to flourish and for people to achieve their dreams. I came into politics because I wanted people to aspire to something better, but the Government are giving the very rich a tax cut and everybody else is losing out—660,000 people will lose an average £728 a year under the bedroom tax. Why are the people at the bottom—the people we should be helping—feeling the pain?
I have said before many times that I do not want to knock the bankers. I worked in banking myself and I know how difficult the industry is. I have met my fair share of bankers and they are not all bad, and banking is the cornerstone of this economy, so I always tread carefully when we talk about bankers, but any industry has people who are guilty of criminal activity. In this case, the guilty have not been punished for their criminal activity. It is the Government’s failure that has allowed people to walk away.
When Conservative Members were talking about the Laffer curve, Ronald Reagan came to mind. For some reason, when the hon. Gentleman stood up, Ronald Reagan came to mind again, as I recalled him saying to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election campaign, “There you go again.” The person sitting tonight at their kitchen table, worrying about paying the rent, the mortgage, the gas bill or the electric bill, and watching this debate—although given the time they will probably be watching “Pointless”—[Interruption.] I walked into that one. They might be watching ITV instead—
I was just wondering what the man at the kitchen table was watching. I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. All we hear is the same old debate and the same charge that it is all the Labour Government’s fault, so let me challenge the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller).
This Government have been in power since May 2010, but can the hon. Gentleman provide one example of a criminal case of financial fraud relating to the banking crisis? I challenge him to intervene on that point. Can he give me one example? No. There has not been one, yet this Government have had three years. It might be said that the Labour Government should have acted on the problem. We had 18 months from the banking crisis through to the general election, yet Government Members have had three years. It is now four and a half years since the financial crisis started, but there is still no criminal case.
The hon. Gentleman talks about banking fraud. The laws that would have been broken would have been laws under the Labour Government, and most of us do not believe in retrospective legislation. I agree with him that most bankers are decent people, but there have been exceptions. Unfortunately, those people did not actually break laws; they simply took appalling decisions with other people’s money, which I agree is a disgrace. As far as I know, however, we have seen no accusations of banking fraud; I could be wrong, but that is my understanding.
To help the hon. Gentleman out here, if he had been in the Chamber this time last year, he would recall the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying in respect of LIBOR rigging that he had referred the facts in those cases to the Serious Fraud Office, which is, as we speak, still undertaking a review. Before the hon. Gentleman says, “Why haven’t the Government done anything?” let me remind him of the core principle under the British constitution of the independence of prosecutorial authorities from Ministers. Will he concede that?
Yes, but I should tell the hon. Gentleman that I was in the Treasury Committee when Bob Diamond came to give evidence about LIBOR and that I was in the Chamber when the Chancellor announced the investigation. I listened to it and it made me sad. It made me sad because I realised for the very first time that people do not trust anybody any more. That is the problem. It goes much deeper than economics, politics, banking or whatever. People simply do not trust others any more. [Interruption.] I know that I am digressing from the new clause, Mr Deputy Speaker, and that you are itching to stop me. I want to put it on the record, however, that I genuinely feel that people do not trust each other any more. That is the saddest thing of all about this issue. It does not matter whether we are talking about Conservatives or Labour, people just do not trust politicians, journalists, lawyers or others. This is a much deeper problem than anything else for our society.
That brings me to the issue of anger about what the family man or family woman will save from what is on the kitchen table tonight. When those people hear about the tax cuts for the rich, I am sure they will think of those bankers who may or may not have committed crimes, of the journalists who may or may not have committed crimes, and of the editors of national newspapers—people earning six-figure salaries—and they will believe that those are the people who will get rewarded. That may not be the case, but that is the perception, and as we all know as politicians, the perception is usually stronger than reality. What members of the public will think about this Government and about this place is that they are run by an elite who are more interested in helping out their friends in the City than anything else. That is the real tragedy of this issue.
I have sat here and heard all the arguments about the tax cuts. Yes, I have attacked what I believe is a failed economic theory, but the truth is that the Government won the election in May 2010. I do not like that personally, and I hope that we can turn that around in 2015. The Government have the right to put whatever they want into the Finance Bill, and we cannot change it, much as I would have loved to table an amendment to abolish this tax cut. I cannot, and all we can do is bring about a review. This review is crucial because it will allow us to see how much this cut for millionaires is affecting the British economy.
This may be deemed an aside, Mr Deputy Speaker, and you may call me to order, but let me ask the Minister one more question. When the Treasury was considering the 5p tax cut, did it also consider a 1p tax cut for those whose earnings were below the threshold? If it did not consider that option, why did it not do so, and if it did, why did it rule it out?
You are clearly champing at the bit, Mr Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you want me to wind up my speech, and I shall try to do so. [Interruption.] Do not get too enthusiastic, please!
We need a review. We need to know the facts, because this is so important.
We have heard a couple of rather lengthy speeches about a topic that is fairly familiar to those of us who have dealt with Finance Bills in the past. We discussed the reduction in the top rate of income tax at some length during the early, middle and late stages of last year’s Bill, and we have discussed it on a number of occasions during our earlier debates on this Bill. It is striking, however, that the number of Labour Back Benchers present during much of today’s debate so far has been three or perhaps four. Although we have heard some passionate and lengthy speeches, I am not sure that I need to make a lengthy speech in response, but a few basic points are worth making.
The Government agree that the wealthiest should make the biggest contribution to deficit reduction, and it will be clear to anyone who looks at our record across the board that we have stuck to that principle. In the 2010 Budget, the higher rate of capital gains tax was increased. In the 2011 Budget, we tackled a major area of tax avoidance, namely disguised remuneration. The Labour party opposed that measure in Committee, but we tackled the problem none the less, and our action has resulted in considerable extra revenue, particularly from high earners.
The 2012 Budget, which contained the measure that has provided the subject matter of most of today’s debate—the cut in the 50p rate of income tax—also introduced a new rate of stamp duty for high-value homes, measures to clamp down on stamp duty land tax avoidance, and a cap on reliefs used in the tax system, which raised an amount considerably larger than the cost of the cut in the 50p rate. The 2012 autumn statement provided for action to reduce the cost to the Exchequer of pensions tax relief, and the 2013 Budget contained further measures to tackle offshore tax evasion by, in particular, high earners.
We clearly have a strong record in this respect. We have gained additional revenue not only from capital gains tax and stamp duty, but—as is shown by the distributional analysis—from the income tax paid by the top 1% of earners. That was mentioned by a number of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who pointed out that we are receiving more from the top 1% than the Labour party ever managed to.
It is interesting to note that the proportion of income tax contributed by the top 1% exceeded 25% in only one year during Labour’s time in office, namely 2009-10, which was a slightly strange year because a large amount of income was brought forward so that the tax could be paid at a rate of 40% rather than 50%. In that year, 26.5% of income tax was paid by the top 1%, but in the remaining years the proportion was 25% or lower. We estimate that in 2013-14, with the new lower rate of 45%, nearly 30%—to be precise, 29.8%—of income tax receipts will come from the top 1%. The problem with the 50p rate was that it was not very good at doing what a tax is supposed to do—raising revenue. That is the Labour party’s essential difficulty in advocating a 50p rate of income tax.
My hon. Friend brings me to the point that I wanted to move on to: the report that the Chancellor of the Exchequer commissioned in Budget 2011 to evaluate the Exchequer impact of the additional rate of income tax. The report was published alongside Budget 2012. It concluded that the underlying yield from the increase from 40% to 50% was much lower than originally forecast, owing to large behavioural effects—it was possibly only £1 billion and could in fact be negative. The 50% rate also risked damaging growth and the UK economy if it had remained permanent.
The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) focused on our policies. The inconvenient truth for the Labour party is that it had the opportunity for 13 years to test the 50p rate to destruction, but we quickly saw the evidence of the Laffer curve, which shows that, as we lower tax rates, we can collect more revenue. The Government should be congratulated on finding alternative ways of trying to get the rich to pay their just deserts, if the Labour party wants them to do that. In fact the Government have collected more money from the rich by lowering the rate from 50p to 45p and by looking at other ways to collect that money.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point is not whether we should seek to get a significant contribution from the wealthiest; it is how we go about doing it. There is a real problem with a very high rate of income tax directed at the most mobile people, who have many more options in how they respond. Not surprisingly, the evidence that the HMRC evaluation discovered is that there is a significant behavioural response.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) said, “This is all tax avoidance and one should crack down on tax avoidance.” I agree: one does need to address tax avoidance, and we have more ambitious targets for HMRC than it has ever had before. We have made a number of changes to the law to address avoidance. I could go on at some length about the steps that we have taken, but the behavioural effect is not only about tax avoidance, it is also about behaviour that is entirely consistent with Parliament’s intentions. One might find people making bigger pension contributions, for which the House has determined tax relief should be available. One might find people retiring earlier or locating in other jurisdictions. All those things have an impact.
Therefore, there is a significant behavioural effect in this area, which brings me to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) made: the 50p rate is not an effective way of raising revenue, which is why, in my opinion, the Labour party will not give a commitment to bringing the 50p rate back. It knows it is bad economics and does not raise revenue. It knows it sends a bad message about the UK as a location in which to do business. That is why Labour had a 40p rate for 4,722 of the 4,758 days that it was in office. There was a 50p top rate for just 36 days at the very fag end of the last Government, when they knew with a fair degree of confidence that they were going to lose office.
I sympathise somewhat with the point of the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) about his and his party’s desire to target bankers, but if we want to create an entrepreneurial society, we must realise that not all the big wealth creators are bankers; they are also people in manufacturing, hi-tech industry and so forth. If we want them to settle in the UK, we must make our tax environment attractive and competitive internationally.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The challenge for any sensible Government has got to be how to ensure both that the wealthiest pay a fair share and that we encourage a spirit and culture of entrepreneurialism. The 50p rate simply failed to deliver that.
My hon. Friend is giving a thoughtful economic analysis, but he perhaps misunderstands where the Opposition are coming from, because I do not think they are particularly interested in the economics. The fact is that their position is now so desperate that they have their 36% strategy, they are entirely paid for by the union movement, and their desire now is to lurch to the left. They do not care if they get less money; what they want to do is appeal to a core vote which they hope will be enough to return them to power because of the invidious and unfair electoral system we have. That is what is going on, which is why we waste our time when we talk about entrepreneurialism or the benefits to public services, because they are not really interested.
My hon. Friend takes a sceptical view of the Opposition, and events may well turn out to justify it. I want to take a more charitable view, however—although perhaps it is, in fact, a different form of scepticism or cynicism. My view is that they are not really serious about the 50p rate at all; much though they talk about it, they will not, in truth, pursue this policy because they know it is so damaging and that it does not do anything to raise revenue. That is why, despite repeated questions earlier, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, who does like to be straightforward with the House, refused to say whether Labour would support a 50p rate after the next general election. She makes the argument that Labour will have to delay and wait to see what the state of the economy is, but given that we know this does not raise any substantial amount of revenue, it cannot be dependent on the state of the public finances; instead, it is a matter of political calculation. I hope my hon. Friend is wrong and that the Opposition are trying to edge away from a position that they saw as populist but which, in truth, is economically incoherent.
I am intrigued by the amount of advice being given to the Labour party by those on the Government Benches. Given that the Minister said he wanted to be in charitable mode, to return to the new clause, will he not concede that there is an argument for looking at the matter more thoroughly and having this review in order, as the Treasury Committee concluded in its report on the 2012 Budget, to discover what the actual impact of reducing the rate would be?
I am not persuaded by that argument. I hoped the hon. Lady would take that opportunity to provide some clarity on the Labour party’s position, but she did not do so. We do not need another review. We have evaluated the impact of the 50p rate. It was an economic failure. It failed to raise revenue. It in effect put up a “closed for business” sign over the UK economy. It was about politics, not economics.
I urge the Opposition to withdraw the new clause, and I hope they will also return to their approach of a few years ago. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough pointed out, when Tony Blair was in charge he was making pledges not to increase the top rate of income tax. That at least demonstrated a sense of where the UK needed to be and its place in the world, but that has, I am afraid, been long forgotten by the Labour party which just drifts ever leftwards.
Following the Minister’s example, I will be brief. We have had a useful debate containing some impassioned speeches, not least those from my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who, interestingly, sought to give advice to the Labour party. My hon. Friend gave an interesting critique of Laffer curve economics but related it, importantly, to what happens in the real world. He spoke with a great deal of passion and experience from his time working in the financial services sector. He was absolutely right to say that not everyone working in the banks was wrong, and many people working on the front line are trying to change things and to clear up the problems. These people did not adopt the principles that got the banks into such difficulty.
Earlier, I read out a couple of quotes from various hon. Members about cutting the top rate, but, to keep a balance across the coalition, let me cite one that I missed from the president of the Lib Dems. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) has said:
“Cutting the top rate was a stupid thing to do. It probably raised up to £3bn a year. We should pledge to restore the 50p rate at the next election. It’s not enough to be fair, you have to be seen to be fair.”
That has been one of the threads running through this afternoon’s debate. [Interruption.]
Again, I hear Government Members muttering from a sedentary position about what the Labour party is going to do. I outlined this earlier, but I will state it again: we will, of course, set out our manifesto in due course, in time for the general election—that is absolutely the correct thing to do—but we will not make false promises. We will not make promises that we will not be able to keep. Let me remind the House of that quote from the Prime Minister:
“I have been very clear—we have all been very clear—that we have to do this in a way that is fair so that the broadest backs bear the biggest burden.
That is why we haven’t changed… the 50p tax rate.”
As I outlined, that particular pledge was not kept and those with the broadest backs do not appear to be carrying the biggest burden.
The Minister said that he wanted to be charitable and to understand why we tabled the new clause, and I know from Finance Bill Committees that he does at least reflect on things. He rarely gives in to temptation to resist the advice he is given to reject all amendments and new clauses, but he does at least give the appearance of reflecting. In this case, I cannot understand why he will not accept a mild-mannered proposal that simply seeks to have a review of the impact of this measure and to bring forward further information for the interest of hon. Members across the House. That is a reasonable and sensible thing to do, and I know that the Minister, certainly in opposition, has regularly argued for this type of review. We have heard nothing from him today to explain why, suddenly—[Interruption.] Given the side conversation that is going on, I am sure that the Minister never got any of those reviews into the legislation at that time, but I say to him that there is a first time for everything. He could, even at this late stage, decide it was the correct thing to do to allow the review to go ahead and ensure that the House had further information.
I do not want to repeat all the points made earlier, as that would not be helpful at this stage. However, I simply remind the House that it is not only Opposition Members who are claiming or suggesting that there are concerns about this measure. To go back to the IFS, it stated:
“By giving out £3 billion to well-off people who pay 50p tax…the Government is banking on a very, very uncertain amount of people changing their behaviour”.
Much of the Government’s argument has been predicated on the notion that people will change their behaviour, but I have heard nothing from the Government that suggests to me that behaviour would be changed in such a way that there would suddenly be a huge influx of resource into the Treasury. The IFS went on to say:
“There is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of risk on this estimate.”
I am coming to a conclusion.
Let me finish by quoting the Office for Budget Responsibility, which stated:
“This is a judgement based on not even a full year’s data based in terms of how people have responded to the 50p rate, in particular in terms of those self assessment tax-payers.”
I have heard nothing from the Government that convinces me that we do not need to look at this issue in more detail. I am disappointed that they have not accepted the new clause and I therefore want to press it to a vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
New Clause 9
Lower rate of tax and mansion tax
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within six months of Royal Assent, lay before Parliament proposals for an income tax rate of 10 per cent. on a band of income above the personal allowance.
(2) The range of income covered by the 10 per cent. rate proposal in subsection (1) shall be determined by the Exchequer yield of a mansion tax.
(3) The full benefit of the 10 per cent. rate shall not be available to taxpayers paying the higher or additional rates of tax.’.—(Chris Leslie.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 9 calls for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, within six months of Royal Assent to the Finance Act, to lay before Parliament proposals for an income tax rate of 10% on a band of income above the personal allowance. The range of income to be covered by that 10% rate should be determined by the Exchequer yield from a mansion tax—a Liberal Democrat proposal that I used to think the Liberal Democrats stood four-square behind. Perhaps in a moment those Liberal Democrats who remain in the Chamber—they are diminishing in number—will tell us a little about where they stand on the issue.
We feel that the full benefit of that 10% or 10p rate of income tax should not be available to taxpayers paying the higher or additional rates—the £50,000-and-above levels, or higher rate payers. It should be targeted and focused on basic rate taxpayers. That is the logic of new clause 9.
We think that the measure would be welcomed across the country, and that all hon. Members, including Conservative Members, should consider it seriously, because living standards are being squeezed, and for most people, life is getting a lot harder, as is manifested by the fact that wages have fallen in real terms. In fact, at the beginning of the year, we saw the steepest fall in living standards since the 1970s. That is a direct consequence of the tax and spending choices and priorities of the Government parties—the tax credit cuts that have hit lower and middle-income households; the squeeze on child benefits; and the rise in the VAT rate to 20%.
What does the hon. Gentleman say to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which states that the latest Labour proposal to reintroduce the 10p rate
“has no plausible economic justification. It would complicate the income tax system and achieve nothing that could not be better achieved in other ways”?
I would say that the aim of the 10p policy should be to encourage people on low incomes to take higher-paid work, to work longer hours and to start the transition up the income scale. That is why it
“is right that we need to introduce a 10p tax rate in the interim; otherwise, people will go straight from their tax-free allowance to being taxed on any income above that.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 37WH.]
Those are not my words but those of the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), in a debate in favour of a 10p starting rate of tax that was held some months ago.
I will tell the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley) about some more of his colleagues who are in favour of a 10p rate. The hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) said in that same debate that
“a 10p tax rate would cost half the amount of an increase in the personal allowance. There would be an impact on more people. We should support the aim of securing a new 10p tax rate, because it would help the poorest paid but also emphasise the need for everyone who works to contribute to society”.—[Official Report, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 40WH.]
Another Conservative Member, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), said:
“A commitment to a 10p tax rate would send the clear message that we are indeed all in it together.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 44WH.]
A fourth Tory, the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) no less, who is a sage on these issues, said of the idea of a 10p rate:
“I believe that restoring the 10p rate would help the coalition to counter the war cry of its political opponents that it is only interested in cutting taxes for millionaires. It would prove to the public that ‘lower taxes for lower earners’ is not just a soundbite but that it can be a reality”.—[Official Report, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 34WH.]
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that
“it would help to tackle the desperate stagnation in incomes that Britain has suffered”.—[Official Report, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 38WH.]
Those four colleagues of the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds would recommend to him the concept of a 10p rate. I wonder whether he agrees with them.
I want to return to the question that I asked the hon. Gentleman. Most technical experts say that a 10p rate would complicate the tax system. Let me ask him once again: would not his proposal complicate the tax system? Indeed, was not that the reason why the Labour Government abolished the 10p rate in 2007?
I would be the first to concede that it was a mistake to abolish the 10p rate in 2007. I do not think that it creates complexity in the tax system. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has long been in favour of simplicity in the number of tax bands, but I believe that there is a genuine debate to be had about progressivity in the income tax system. The hon. Gentleman’s colleagues can see the case for a 10p rate, and I believe that it would be a useful way of introducing a transition from the tax-free personal allowance to the 20p basic rate of tax. A 10p rate would be an important staging post along the way. A tax cut for those on lower and middle incomes would be broadly welcomed throughout the country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is in the very nature of progressive taxation to have increasing marginal tax rates as someone earns more money? The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that there is therefore a genuine trade-off between social justice and increasing fairness, as people have more money, and tax efficiency. That is fair enough, and we should opt for progressive justice.
Indeed. Having a 10p band in the income tax scale ensures that we can focus on that sense of fairness. “Fairness” is a word that might not necessarily be recognised by some Government Members, but it is important in our tax system. We know that their idea of fairness is to cut the highest rate of income tax from 50p to 45p. They can justify that in their own terms, and to their own constituents, but we believe that it is far better to focus on giving help by introducing that lower rate straight above the personal allowance.
The hon. Gentleman wishes to pay for a 10p rate from the proceeds of a mansion tax. Will he advise the House of Labour’s definition of a mansion? Could it, for example, include an one or two-bedroom flat in central London that was lived in by people of rather modest means?
I think the right hon. Gentleman is thinking of the bedroom tax, and we can come to that in a moment. I will come to the details of what a mansion tax would look like. We have looked carefully at the well-crafted and evidently well-thought-through proposal from the Liberal Democrats. They have proposed that properties worth £2 million or more should attract an annual charge, saying that that could net approximately £2 billion. That would allow an income tax band of around £1,000, which would give a tax cut of about £100 to those benefiting from the 10p band.
It is interesting that the mansion tax could raise £2 billion. I wholeheartedly agree with such a proposal. If we could transfer that £2 billion from the pockets of the wealthy and give it to the poorest, it would undoubtedly find its way back into the economy. That is very much what is needed. We need to push more money into the economy, and to try as best we can to stimulate some kind of growth. We are seeing nothing at the moment.
My hon. Friend has touched on the other argument in favour of the proposal. This is not just a matter of fairness; there is also an economic imperative involved.
I apologise for boring the House about the need for growth and jobs in our economy. That seems to be anathema to some Members on the Government Benches. Many lower and middle income families have suffered increased taxes and cuts to their tax credits, and that is the price that they are paying for the failure of the Government’s economic ideology. The Government promised that all this pain would be worth while. The Chancellor promised that he had done all he needed to do, and that he would not need to come back and ask for more, but what did we see last week? He came back for yet more. That is the price to be paid for the Government’s failed economic plan. The economy is flatlining, and the Government have delivered barely 1% of economic growth since the fabled 2010 spending review in which they promised 6% by now. And let us not forget the rising deficit in the last financial year, up from £118.5 billion in 2011-12 to £118.7 billion in 2012-13. That is a rise in the deficit—
Following on from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) said, I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he shares my concern that many elderly people are asset rich but cash poor. How would his proposal deal with that particular challenge?
I am not sure how many elderly people would find themselves in that predicament, but such circumstances ought to be dealt with in the design of a mansion tax. The hon. Gentleman will therefore see the logic of our new clause, which seeks to encourage the Chancellor to introduce proposals within six months. Let us look at the design of them, and think about those rare circumstances in which someone might be living in a £2 million property but have no means by which to pay an annual levy. I imagine that that would be quite rare—it is perhaps quite difficult to believe—but such circumstances might exist. I am convinced that the hon. Gentleman’s Liberal Democrat colleagues have thought through all those points when they drew up their carefully crafted proposals. Perhaps there are channels between the coalition parties that we are not party to, and perhaps they exchange information on these matters. I am sure that such a tax could be designed correctly, if not by the Chancellor then by the Office for Budget Responsibility, if that would be a better way of doing it.
Is my hon. Friend as puzzled as I am by the Government’s opposition to this proposal? During the previous debate on the top rate of tax, the Minister and Government Back Benchers were suggesting that our proposal would not deliver revenue because people would avoid the tax system. They suggested that a higher rate system would not generate income, but they now seem to be opposed to a proposal for a tax on a fixed asset, which presumably would not move. My hon. Friend is making a valuable contribution and I hope that some Members on the Government Benches will join us in the Lobby later.
It is the oft-trotted-out claim of the Liberal Democrats that they are there to temper the worst excesses of the Conservative party, and perhaps they do exercise such influence. We all know that the Conservatives are there to defend the wealth of the very wealthiest in society—that is a given—but we want to see whether the Liberal Democrats in the coalition have managed to bend that ideology a little more towards the centre ground of politics and towards the space in which most people would agree that those with the greatest assets and wealth should make a fairer contribution. That would be a good thing to do.
I do not think that it would necessarily be £36,000. Again, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman talks with the Liberal Democrats, who have done some careful workings on this. He will be interested to know that the Government have introduced about 90 clauses in the Bill that relate to ATED—annual tax on enveloped dwellings—which is basically code for a mansions tax on properties owned by companies. I recommend that he reads through the 90-odd clauses. Essentially, the Government are introducing a tax on properties worth more than £2 million, with a new annual fee, to be assessed in a very detailed way. He will see that there is a set of bands for the value of the property, from £2 million to £5 million and right up the scale. The Treasury has therefore been doing a lot of work on the issue, and I think that it should be commended, because it is very worth while. When we debated the matter in Committee, we asked what would happen if the annual tax on enveloped dwellings applied not only to properties owned by companies, but to all those worth more than £2 million. That information would allow us to work out properly what the rates would be.
There is a real question of financial competence, particularly in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s boss, so can he substantiate his argument, because it is his new clause that we are discussing? He needs to give us answers. My maths is not so good, so can he tell me, if he wants to raise £2 billion, how much the levy would be for 55,000 properties?
That is precisely why we think the proposal needs the Treasury’s support—to ensure that we can see what the levy would be. To return to our new clause, we think that the Liberal Democrats make a reasonable point that £2 billion could be raised on properties worth more than £2 million. We have not included those figures in our new clause; we have simply said that the Exchequer Secretary should study the issue and consider a 10p income tax rate band, to be funded by the proceeds of a mansion tax. That obviously depends on how wide the 10p band would be, so it is obviously moveable and that would flow through into the figures on the mansions tax.
I am afraid that I am going to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. He says that the Labour party’s objective is to raise £2 billion. Our assessment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) has pointed out, is that there are 55,000 properties worth more than £2 million in the country. We have the finest minds in the Treasury working on this, and they have divided £2 billion by 55,000—it did not require a huge amount of work—and ended up with an average of £36,000 a year as the annual levy. That is an average, and there might be some cases where the hon. Gentleman would want a lower rate for those who are property rich but cash poor. Can we just have some clarity? Does the Labour party want an average levy of £36,000 on all properties worth more than £2 million?
That was a good try by the Exchequer Secretary, and I understand where he is going with that argument, but I am not an estate agent and do not have a figure for the number of properties worth more than £2 million. However, it is very interesting that the Government have started counting the number of such properties. He talks about how the £2 billion would be defrayed across that number, which I am not sure is correct, but of course there would be a banding exercise, with different bands for properties worth more than £2 million, and we would see how far that goes. That is precisely why we need the Treasury to share some of its calculations with us. I am sure that it must be more than a back-of-a-fag-packet calculation from the Exchequer Secretary. Let us do the work, publish the findings— [Interruption.] Well, I will give way to him if he will agree to publish that work. Will he publish the internal Treasury assessment of the policy, because it would be very helpful?
Short of showing the workings, £2 billion divided by 55,000 is £36,000. The hon. Gentleman says that there would be different bands, but we would still end up with an average of £36,000. He will also find that most of the properties worth more than £2 million are worth only slightly more—between £2 million and £3 million. He will not find huge numbers of properties worth between £5 million and £10 million and so on. He has all the numbers he needs. I think that we can move on to the next debate.
I know that the Liberal Democrats support the Government on that and note the sedentary remarks from one of only two Liberal Democrats in the Chamber today. It is typical of the Treasury to hold back key information on these facts and figures. We need to know where those properties are and what valuations have been made. The Exchequer Secretary has done the work on the annual tax on enveloped dwellings, but he did not say that he would publish those findings. I think that we might be about to reach some consensus on this, because he is suggesting that the Treasury has done some work on it secretly, rather like the secrets held back in the spending review document, which was so thin that we still do not really know where the cuts have hit. Why does he not publish that information and start telling us how that could work in those circumstances? Will he publish it?
Actually, I quoted the figure of 55,000, which appears to have come as a huge surprise to the hon. Gentleman, several times when we had a similar debate in Committee. Admittedly, he was not dealing with the matter; his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) was. The figure has been in the public domain for some time. Has he done any work on the matter?
I do not know how simple I need to make the point for the Exchequer Secretary, so I will do so very slowly and particularly. The new clause suggests that the Treasury—that means him, by the way—should publish some proper, worked-through evidence on where those properties lie across the country, how a banding proposal might work and what the options for the width of the 10p starting rate of income tax might be. By the way, he did not say a word about whether or not he supports a 10p starting rate of income tax.
Surely my hon. Friend will agree that the figure of 55,000 is a complete red herring. It is being said that housing wealth should be progressively taxed, and that the current council tax rates are out of date. Some of these properties are worth much more than £2 million, and perhaps even £10 million—we hear stories about Russian oligarchs and all the rest of it. Add to that the Chancellor’s strategy to generate more sub-prime debt by offering cut-price mortgage deals, and we will presumably have a progressive system of different rates and a thought-out new council tax regime that would be progressive, and we would not end up with everyone paying £36,000 at all, and the Minister knows it.
That is why we must ensure that we move the issue forward and get some proper workings from the Treasury—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate seems to think that he has all the answers, so why do the Government not publish them? What is going on with Government Members? They should share these things in the public domain. Do we really have to make a freedom of information request to Ministers in order to get those data?
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The Liberal Democrat 2010 manifesto—I know that he has his own signed copy—said that they would introduce a mansion tax at the rate of 1% on properties worth more than £2 million, paid on the value of property above that level. We looked closely at the workings they did on the issue. They suggested that £2 billion of revenue could be raised. If that was extrapolated through to the 10p band, the band would be roughly £1,000, but it might not be. We should look at the details.
I know that maths is not the hon. Gentleman’s strongest suit, because in Committee we heard that he could raise £2 billion from £1.85 billion in bonus taxes. The Minister has been very clear that £2 billion divided by 55,000 is £36,000 on average. Does the hon. Gentleman at least accept the principle that this is going to cost taxpayers £36,000 per household on average, not in relation to bands?
The Government have apparently undertaken their own valuation exercise, perhaps stealthily, so they could publish the information on the numbers of properties across the country. Perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister, with his 16 special advisers, fanned out across the country to look at the issue. I do not know how they found out the 55,000 figure. If the hon. Gentleman has that information and publishes it, I will be interested to see it, but I am afraid I cannot be certain that it is the correct figure. Labour Members have to be very careful and cautious in taxation matters. We want to make sure that all the figures are very clear and well worked through instead of taking the Exchequer Secretary’s back-of-a-fag-packet approach. I take it as a commitment from him that all this information will be published in the public domain, and then perhaps we can work on devising this measure in a less partisan way.
Does my hon. Friend find it extraordinary that Government Members appear to have been sitting down with their pocket calculators regarding the mansion tax, but none of them has come up with how much ordinary taxpayers who pay the basic rate of tax would benefit from the 10p proposal?
On the 10% tax rate, I understand graduated taxation in principle, but a lot of people who pay the higher rate of tax are not very rich. Paragraph (3) of the new clause says:
“The full benefit of the 10 per cent rate shall not be available to taxpayers paying the higher or additional rates of tax.”
That seems to be pretty unfair on some people.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s thought on this issue, but I disagree. I do understand that more and more people are being brought into the 40p rate. That is another stealthy move by the Chancellor as he broadens out the 40p band. In the interests of fairness, our concern has to be with basic rate taxpayers on the 20p rate. There are 25 million basic rate taxpayers, and if revenue is to be generated from a mansion tax, then most of our efforts should be focused on that group. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) said, that group in society feel under the most pressure and are finding it hardest to get by and to make ends meet, and they would therefore benefit most from this tax cut. It is an important point, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised it.
I wish to make a procedural point. Does not the shadow Minister accept that when a Minister asks his officials for some information and they research it, and he then comes to the House to impart that information to us, that is publishing the information? I know that that will come as a shock to a Labour shadow Minister, because Labour Ministers always made sure that somebody else was told rather than Parliament, but I rather like the fact that the Minister researches this, takes us seriously and tells us the answer. Why cannot we now work from the published answer?
Obviously I believe every word that the Exchequer Secretary utters, because it would be unparliamentary to do otherwise, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am asking for just a little bit more from him. I just want to see the detail that the Treasury has produced on the mansion tax proposition. It would be entirely possible for him to put that in the public domain. I am sure that even Liberal Democrats would like to see it and would find it of interest, as would other hon. Members.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we seem to have got involved in a debate that is certainly not the debate that the Deputy Prime Minister was engaged in as recently as February when he talked about the advantages of a 1% levy on properties over £2 million or the possibility of extending council tax bands? It seems a bit strange that he was in favour of that and, presumably, his hon. Friends are in favour of it. Perhaps that is what we should really be talking about.
On 24 February the Deputy Prime Minister said:
“Victor Hugo observed that it is near impossible to resist an idea once its time is come…He was again proved right as calls for a mansion tax, first proposed by the Liberal Democrats in 2009, gathered new momentum…I offer certainty: the mansion tax, or a version of it, will happen.”
We all know that when he is determined to get these things through, he is a very persuasive individual.
In clause 97—on page 57 at about line 27, for those who are interested—there is a table of the amount chargeable under the mansion tax for homes owned by companies, which is, in essence, what the Government are proposing. For properties worth between £2 million and £5 million, the annual chargeable amount would be £15,000 a year; for those worth between £5 million and £10 million, it would be £35,000; for those worth between £10 million and £20 million, it would be £70,000; and for those worth more than £20 million, it would be £140,000. That is the Government’s half-hearted attempt at a mansion tax. Thankfully, we have it in black and white—well, black and green—in this Bill. We tabled the new clause because we would like to see equivalent detail on how a mansion tax would work on a range of different widths of the 10p tax rate band, and then we can make a judgment about what change it is reasonable and prudent to implement.
My hon. Friends are right to start to focus on the other part of the pantomime horse. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats are sometimes in the lead on these issues in the coalition. They are in a very precarious position on the mansion tax. Having advocated it for so long, they have consistently found ways and means to vote against it whenever it has been presented to the House. I do not know whether the Liberal Democrat present in the Chamber, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton), wants to say how he is going to vote today, but I live in hope. In a spirit of cross-party consensus, I hope that he will agree with his noble Friend Lord Ashdown, who warned those in his party before the last time they changed their minds on this issue that it would be “weird” for fellow Liberal Democrats to vote against such things. The Business Secretary said:
“It depends entirely on how they phrase it. If it is purely a statement of support for the principle of the mansion tax I’m sure my colleagues would want to support it.”
That was like the version of the amendment that we tabled previously. We did not get very far with it on that occasion, so this time we have tried a proposal that explicitly talks about passing on the revenue to those who need it most of all through the 10p rate of income tax.
The proposal has not been plucked from the air. Other jurisdictions have equivalent property charges at certain levels. I gather that in New York City, which is hardly a bastion of socialism, owners of properties worth more than $3 million—roughly £2 million—can find that they need to pay the equivalent of £22,000 a year under their form of mansion tax. The Treasury’s own documents have blown apart the argument that the Exchequer Secretary used to deploy, which was “This stuff isn’t workable; it would mean mass revaluations of council tax.” All those things have been pushed to one side as the Government propose their brand-new tax—the annual tax on enveloped dwellings. That is clear as the light of day. It has four bands, which suggests that it is entirely feasible.
The documentation on ATED states:
“The aim of the new annual charge is both to deter avoidance and to ensure the owners of high value residential property pay their fair share of tax.”
We can all go along with that. The document continues:
“The interest to which the charge will apply will be the freehold or leasehold interest”.
So far, so good. It also notes that the annual charge will be applied separately to the freehold and the leasehold and that the value of the property interest
“which will be relevant for the annual charge”
will be its value on 1 April 2012.
The document explains how the Government’s new mansion tax could work:
“Property valuations for the annual charge will be self-assessed by the persons liable to the charge and submitted to HMRC as part of their annual charge tax return. HMRC will have powers to enquire into returns and also to make assessments so that non-compliance can be effectively challenged”.
It goes on:
“Properties will be re-valued every five years”.
If that applies to £2 million properties in a company-corporate wrapper—the enveloped arrangement—perhaps it could provide the basis of a broader application of a mansion tax.
The document goes on to say:
“To assist taxpayers in compiling their annual charge tax return HMRC and the VOA”—
the Valuation Office Agency—
“will offer a pre-return valuation checking service to property owners.”
It sounds as though the Treasury is gearing up towards a mansion tax. The Government’s approach to ATED suggests that the question about whether a mansion tax is feasible and can be delivered has been answered not only by Liberal Democrat and Labour Members, but by the Exchequer Secretary himself.
My hon. Friend will know that there is an increasing trend of international financiers buying London properties in particular as part of their asset portfolio in an uncertain world and that, at the top end of the market, an increasing share of them are owned by Russian oligarchs, oil sheikhs and so on. Does he agree, therefore, that this is a great opportunity to introduce a charge on foreign owners who invest in London—which is fair enough—in order to redistribute some of their massive wealth to the poorest people in Britain?
Yes, I agree. Governments often ask Oppositions how they will pay for tax cuts for those who need them most. We have given a clear example of one possible option. It is important to show that there is a fair way to give a tax cut to the vast majority of lower and middle-income households through the introduction of the new 10p band. The mansion tax is feasible and has cross-party support, as indeed does the 10p starting rate, and the Minister’s arguments are diminishing by the day, to the extent that we have managed to get him to lift the skirt of the data and publish more of them, which is what we want to see.
It is important to consider the arguments for fairness behind the 10p starting rate, which we think would provide a good tax incentive into work, especially for those on lower incomes. It is widely supported, especially by those Conservative Members who were champing at the bit only a matter of months ago when they tried to persuade the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to consider the proposal. Conservative Back Benchers have managed to get the Government on the run on their favoured topics, including an EU referendum and a tax break for married couples. They have the bit between their teeth, so perhaps we can persuade them to consider the 10p tax rate, too.
The principle of fair taxation is at stake in this debate. It should transcend party differences. We should be looking at funding a tax cut, not defending the wealth of the wealthiest. If the Government really mean it when they say that we are all in this together, the time has come for a mansion tax to help those most in need. The Government have a history of giving tax cuts to the wealthiest—they have already reduced the 50p rate, thereby giving millionaires a tax cut—and they have hit pensioners with what came to be known as the granny tax.
I did say earlier—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber—that it was a mistake to get rid of it in 2007. There were arguments. The Institute for Fiscal Studies looked at the issues. The basic rate of income tax had been reduced and calculations had to be made about how to pay for it. I think, however, that the right thing to do is to take these steps and have progressivity in the income tax scale.
It is wrong to hurt those in society who are most in need. They are paying the price and life is getting harder for them because the Government’s economic plan has failed. We need to concentrate on the contribution that the wealthiest 1% in society should make. They should pay a fairer share and we should make sure that that money goes to the vast majority—25 million people—on lower and middle incomes.
In essence this debate is about political choices and not just the technical efficiencies of marginal rates of tax. When this Government took over from Labour in 2010, two thirds of the deficit had been created by the banking community and a third by pump-priming in response to the financial tsunami after a history of sustained growth under the Labour Government. The new Government decided to focus not on growth, but on cuts to get down the deficit, which was a fundamental error that has led to a flatlining economy. They then had to decide who should bear the brunt in order to pay down the deficit—80% in cuts and 20% in taxes—and the answer that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats came up with was that it should be the poorest who were hit hardest.
The recent spending review and infrastructure plans replayed the same Tory agenda: the cuts will hit hardest in the poorest areas, including Wales and the north, and 80% of the investment in infrastructure for growth will benefit London and the south-east in order to shore up the Tory and coalition votes. This new clause is about making a move in the other direction so that the very rich make a slightly greater contribution, which will be redistributed to people in the middle and at the lower end of the income scale.
The hon. Gentleman may have read an Institute of Welsh Affairs blog today by Gerry Holtham, the well-respected Welsh economist, who was scathing in his criticism of the hon. Gentleman’s party for adopting Tory austerity policies. How concerned is the hon. Gentleman, on the back of his criticisms of the UK Government’s austerity policies, about the fact that his party has adopted the very same strategy?
A moment ago I talked about Arab oil sheiks and now I am going to talk about Welsh milk shakes. On a serious note, what the Labour party has said is that when we take over in 2015, should the people of Britain give us their confidence, as I hope they will, we will inherit—this is self-evidently true—the current Government’s spending plans for 2015-16, so we will carry them out. As we make progress, I hope that the focus will switch to growth more than cuts, as it did after we inherited the Conservative party’s spending plans when we took over in 1997. We ran with those plans for a year and then we had consistent growth. The economy grew by 40% from 1997 to 2008 before the financial tsunami caused by sub-prime debt. I imagine that we will do the same in 2015. We offer no apology that we will have fiscal discipline alongside a focus on growth and that we will get people into jobs to pay down the debt. We will also change the composition of cuts to the rich and poor in certain areas.
My hon. Friend and I arrived in this House in 1997. In government, Labour confined itself to the overall spending of the previous Government, but we had different priorities which we put in place. It is not as if we came to power in a golden era. There was a debt and servicing it cost the equivalent of what was being spent on transport and defence put together. There was no golden inheritance. We had difficult choices to make as well.
I am glad that my hon. Friend brings that point up in this debate about the mansion tax. In 1997, we had the same old Tory economics, which we are seeing again because history is repeating itself. There was massive unemployment and that was being paid for by cutting services for the poorest. There was a huge debt that the Labour party paid down. The interest on that debt was excessive. We all remember Black Wednesday. We made the Bank of England independent to keep interest rates low.
The Opposition are serious about keeping interest rates low and having fiscal discipline, but our priority is economic growth. That is what any sensible business would suggest. A business man in Swansea said to me the other day, “If I was running at a loss, the last thing I would do is sack my workers and sell my tools, because I would not have a business. I would tighten up and focus on new product development and sales.” That is the balance that we want. We want a mansion tax and a 10p rate, because if we can recover some money from the richest and redistribute it to make it more worth while for everybody to work, that has to be a good thing.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) brought out his violin and gave the heart-breaking story of the poor people who have a two-bedroom flat in Chelsea worth £2 million. He said, “Isn’t that awful. Surely you wouldn’t do that.” That is in sharp contrast to what Tory Members say about the person in the two-bedroom council flat who will be punished because their children grow up, get on their bike and get a job, as Norman Tebbit said, and vacate their bedroom. They say that there is nothing wrong with the forced evacuation of such people from London to a one-bedroom flat in a lower cost area; but they say that it is wrong that somebody who is living in a £2 million two-bedroom flat should have to rebalance their asset portfolio to generate revenues to pay the mansion tax. If someone has a £2 million Chelsea flat, it is possible for them to rent it out at enormous rents, live somewhere else in the countryside that is many times bigger, pay the mansion tax and make a handsome profit. That is not a heart-rending problem compared with the bedroom tax. However, it appears that Tory Members are more concerned about people who own £2 million properties than people in council flats.
A woman from my neck of the woods in Swansea came to see me two weeks ago and said that she had been on the waiting list for 11 years, asking to be moved from her two-bedroom flat to a one-bedroom flat, but the council does not have any one-bedroom flats. Why is that? It is because the local council has rightly been building for families in need with children. Suddenly we have the bedroom tax, which makes no economic or social sense, but there is no admission of that from the Government.
We have made the sensible suggestion, which has been thought through by the Liberal Democrats, that we should make the council tax more progressive.
We are all aware that house prices have gone up and down in different areas at different rates. In London, there is a skewed situation, because there is very quick house price inflation compared with elsewhere. People are making enormous capital appreciations. In essence, the financial disaster was caused by the bankers and sub-prime debt. That is likely to be repeated as we approach the general election because the Chancellor and his assistant, the Exchequer Secretary, have suggested triggering more sub-prime debt by covering people’s deposits. On the one hand, they are telling the banks to run a tight ship and to have enough capital reserves to cover their lending, because they do not want them to go bust again. On the other hand, they are saying that they will subsidise the purchasing of new houses. That is likely to happen in London, because people know that there is price inflation and will take a punt with a lower deposit and at a lower risk, hoping that they will recover their money through an escalation in house prices.
The very high-value property in London is being gobbled up by foreign speculation. The expensive property is being bought by people who want to get their money out of places such as Russia and by people who have huge accumulations of money from trade or oil surpluses. There are many cases of blocks of flats in London being bought outright. Nobody is living in them because the people who buy them know that they will make so much money through appreciation that they cannot even be bothered to rent them out. It is unbelievable.
We are asking, at a time of difficult choices and austerity, for a percentage of those transactions by multi-millionaires to be redistributed to make life easier for people who work in communities across Britain, not just in London. I accept that most of these properties are in London. For example, the constituency of the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) does not contain a £2 million house.
The hon. Gentleman is making some partisan points, so I want to add balance to the debate. I have been poor—dirt poor. I used to share my bedroom with my siblings and cousins. By modern descriptions, I would have been classified as homeless. His main argument is about foreign capital coming to the UK and London. Does he not think that that is symptomatic of people recognising that we have a Government who are making credible decisions and creating financial stability?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling me his economic background. It is useful that people of modest means come here and represent a range of views.
I am all for attracting foreign capital into infrastructure and productive opportunities. For example, Swansea will celebrate the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth next year and is on the shortlist to become city of culture in 2017. I am all in favour of encouraging foreign investors to invest in infrastructure that supports our cultural asset base. They would get a return from that over time, while generating wealth, tourism and jobs.
However, we are not talking about that. We are talking about people making speculative investments in house prices. They could just as easily be investing in aluminium futures or anything else. It just happens that London houses are on the up. If people have loads of money, they can buy a few of them and their money will grow. They know that that will continue because the Exchequer is irresponsibly putting taxpayers’ money into sub-prime debt to subsidise profits and further boost inflation. That will cause an imbalance in asset values and house prices between London and the rest of Britain. That situation is being stoked up by the irresponsibility of the Government, because they think that rising house prices in London will help them deliver Tory constituencies in the general election. That cynical ploy is unbalancing everything and encouraging foreign investors to take a punt.
That is not a symptom of the great stewardship of the Tories—far from it. The record of the Tory Government has been judged. The triple A rating has been torn up and thrown away.
I am grateful for your expert advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will move quickly back to the mansion tax.
At the moment, foreign investors are buying mansions for capital appreciation. A properly worked-out mansion tax would not be a simplistic flat rate of £36,000. That was the Government’s arithmetic—it was laughable, wasn’t it? It was, “Oy, what yer gonna do? ’Ave I got this roight? We want £2 billion, we’ve got 55,000 mansions, so you divoid it in—that’s it, it’s £36,000, innit? That’s what you’re gonna do.” Obviously, that would not be the strategy. It would be to have an escalating rate according to capital values, which would change over time.
The system would obviously have to be refined and played with, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) pointed out, the impact would depend on the delivery. To a certain extent, £2 billion is just a ballpark figure. That is why he asked for more detailed figures. There are various factors driving demand for such properties, and they have a range of prices in the marketplace, so the likely yield would change over time. We therefore need to consider a sophisticated system. However, it is clear that it is the right direction of travel for the very richest to make a contribution at the most difficult times, to make work pay for everybody else.
It is clear from international examples, such as in New York city, which already charges a mansion tax on $3 million properties, that the tax is tried and tested. We can learn from our friends and colleagues in America how to apply it correctly. We should come together—I know that the Liberal Democrats have always been keen on the tax, and I hope that they will join us in the Lobby to support it.
When the debates took place on whether the 50p tax should be changed, Government Members were keen to tell us that we could make up a lot of what was lost, and perhaps make even more, through various forms of property taxation. They obviously had in mind changes in stamp duty, ways of dealing with companies that buy very expensive houses and so on. We were told how much better a property tax would be than a tax on income, and that we would get far more money from it. However, when we follow that train of thought and suggest that there is merit in considering a mansion tax, we are suddenly told, “No, no, that would be terrible.” We are told either that it would be terribly expensive, and people would not be able to afford it, or that it would simply be the wrong thing to do. It seems that when we come to talk about something real, the Government run backwards as fast as they can.
We have had some figures thrown at us that are not mentioned in our new clause. They come not from anything that we have said but from what the Government have said, yet we are being told that we have to justify them. We are being told that figures such as a £2 billion yield and 55,000 houses are correct, which will mean people having to pay £36,000. I do not know whether 55,000 houses is the correct number of those that would be affected, but I do know that at the moment, according to Zoopla, there are 3,847 properties on the market for £2.1 million or more in London. That is not all the properties of that price but just those that are for sale. On that basis the figure of 55,000 is perhaps a conservative estimate, but the whole debate has been based on that figure.
In relation to the mansion tax, does my hon. Friend not think that there is too much looking at London and not enough looking at how the rest of the country would fare? It often strikes me that debates on legislation apply only to London, even though they matter to the rest of the country. I agree with a mansion tax, but the Government are split on it—the Conservatives do not support it; the Liberals do.
We had certainly always understood that the Liberals supported a mansion tax, but every time the opportunity comes up to consider it, vote on it or even speak about it, they seem conspicuously absent.
The differences between London and the rest of the country, on property prices and other issues, are a serious matter. The gap is increasing, and we should all be seriously concerned about the impact of that on the whole UK. It has happened during nearly all previous recessions, after which Governments of all parties have sought to restore some balance and encourage economic growth in places outside the south-east. We always seem to be running to stand still. The situation is serious, and we should consider it.
Jobs and people are being sucked southwards in quite a big way, and local government finance now works in such a way that there are huge differences. In many areas, for example the north-east of England, the loss of public sector jobs and income for local government means that there are no jobs for people who have just qualified as teachers, for instance. All the jobs are in the south-east. We should be worried about that. We should not wait for three, five or 10 years and then say that we have to do something to redress the balance.
Property taxes do have significant advantages over income taxes. We hear a lot about the mobility of income. One argument that has always been made against raising income tax rates—it was made against the 50p tax rate when it was introduced and has been made in favour of reducing it—has been that people will leave the country or not come here. It has been argued that, faced with that tax, people will simply move elsewhere and we will not attract people here. The one advantage of a property tax—it has been an advantage of council tax and its predecessor the rates—is that it is much harder to evade or avoid, because the property is actually there. There is a significant place in our fiscal balance for property taxation.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the mansion tax. Has she followed the Government’s argument on clauses 97 and beyond, which are about the annual tax on enveloped dwellings? Has she noticed over the past hour that Government Members have not made a single argument against the administration and operation of a mansion tax? All that they can come up with is particular cases and arguments about how many properties will be affected. The administration of a mansion tax would not involve changes to council tax or other such matters. The annual charge could be used as a broad foundation of a mansion tax.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful steer towards the point that it might not be as difficult as some people assert to implement something of that kind. The advantage of property taxation is that it is more solid than income taxation, as we have clearly seen. Worryingly, the biggest reason some people give for why the 50p tax rate does not raise as much as they thought it would is that people were able to move income forward and back. Income is quite mobile.
Using that argument, people have said, “Oh well, we’ll raise more with a 45p rate than a 50p rate” yet my hon. Friend will know that year on year, bankers’ bonuses went up 64%. Does she agree that bankers were moving their income from a 50p year into a 45p year, and that if we had kept that rate up we would have raised that money? We should have done that as well as the mansion tax.
It certainly sounds on the face of it as if some sort of income arrangement was possible. For a lot of us, including people on PAYE, that would be difficult to do, but it is easier for other people. I have advocated not running away from a tax on property too easily. Not long ago we had that debate at some length in Scotland after a proposal by the Scottish Government to move to local income tax—again, they decided not to proceed with that. Some of the problems with local income tax concern the mobility of individuals’ incomes and the fact that some wealthy people might be able to avoid paying that tax. Those of us in political parties in Scotland that opposed moving to local income tax argued strongly the advantages of a property tax. Interestingly, the SNP Government, from 2007, backed away from their proposal in the face of those arguments.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s enormous generosity in giving way. She may know that in the past two years, the top 10% have seen their income rise by 5.5% each year—that is 11% in two years while everyone else is being squeezed. The rich are getting richer and richer, and the Tories are cutting the top rate of tax. Given that people are buying bigger and bigger houses with the great huge buckets of money they are getting, is it not right that they should face a mansion tax?
I was looking through the property pages of The Sunday Times yesterday, and interestingly it was full of descriptions about valuable houses and how property prices are rising. Since property prices at the top end were rising so much—driven partly by investment from abroad—it was argued that that would be good for everyone because it would lever up property prices for all. The argument is that high property prices are always beneficial, but those who tried to buy homes up and down the country long before the credit crunch know that high property prices are a double-edged sword because many could not get on the property ladder at all. In many parts of the country, not just in London, the amount that must be earned to buy even an average-priced house is more than people can earn in that area.
There has undoubtedly been a huge increase in the private rented sector. When I was elected as a councillor and became interested in housing, all the housing authorities and textbooks said that the private rented sector had become a residual sector and was disappearing. It might perhaps be there as a niche for young professionals or students, but it was not expected to be an important part of the housing mix. Within a short period—probably 10 to 15 years—we have seen an explosion in the private rented sector and in private sector rents. That is another issue for young people, particularly those who might wish to settle permanently. They cannot afford to buy a home because house prices are too high or they cannot get a mortgage. In the meantime they pay very high rents, which makes it difficult to save. I am not entirely convinced that high property prices are always a great bonus, and we should be looking for a more stable property market.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s enormous generosity in giving way again. Is she aware—I am sure she is—that property prices in London have grown so much that some local authorities have greater asset value than the entirety of Wales? Therefore, the mansion tax is a sort of cap—
I was not aware of the figure to which my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) refers, but if that is the case, it is a fascinating reflection on the huge differences between different parts of the country. If we do not do something about that soon, we will regret it in the near future.
Labour Members are constantly berated about the fact that we—the previous Government—abolished the 10p tax rate. At the same time, the current Government do not seem that keen on reintroducing it. We are accused of changing our mind, but it now appears that the Government are changing theirs. When the 10p tax rate was abolished, they attempted to make great political capital out of the issue—fair enough; that is what politics is about—and they have done so since by saying that it was a bad thing for us to have done and should not have happened. Now we are talking about reintroducing a 10p tax rate, and suddenly that is a bad thing to do. For people in low-paid employment—of whom there are many—there are advantages in having a more graduated taxation system that enables them to build up disposable income as they go. As we know, disposable income has fallen for many households in this country, which is a serious matter.
Looking specifically at the new clause, I hope it is not unreasonable to suggest that we consider and study such a measure. It perhaps prompts the question of why the Government are so against it, because if they are sure that a study would show that it would not be practicable or successful, there is nothing much to lose. From what the Minister said during an intervention, it sounds as if the Government may have already done some work on the provision, and on that basis, it should not be so difficult. People in the country want to see whether the measure could be a feasible means of ensuring that those who have asset wealth pay their fair share.
It has been a number of weeks since we debated the provision in earlier stages of the Bill. My concern about the mansion tax policy, which I support in principle, is whether agricultural land would be included as a part of the estate that would be taxed. Does the hon. Lady agree that we must ensure that farmers are protected?
And Scottish farmers, I am sure, and so on.
A mansion tax—I think my colleagues on the Front Benches would agree—is about residential property, not business property, which is already taxed in various ways. Obviously, a whole raft of taxes are appropriate for businesses, and that would be the best way to deal with the issue, rather than a mansion tax. If a mansion tax is a way of ensuring that we can appropriately tax wealth, we should consider it very seriously, given that it is probably a better basis for taxation than income, which people can move around—I have yet to see a house be dragged offshore. That may not be impossible, but in this country we generally do not put houses on wheels and move them, unlike in the United States—at least, so we see in the movies. A mansion tax would be a way to help the low-paid, through the introduction of the 10p rate.
My hon. Friend has made a strong speech so far, but is she—as I am—completely bemused by the position of the Liberal Democrats? In February, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
“My approach is simple: taxes on mansions; tax cuts for millions.”
It is more like no taxes on mansions and tax cuts for millionaires.
I suspect that that policy got lost in the negotiations that are part of a coalition. I have also heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that he would flex his muscles on all kinds of issues, the most recent being the number of children that could be cared for. The Deputy Prime Minister was keen to tell the country that he had flexed his party’s muscles and prevented that change from being introduced, but he has not flexed them on the mansion tax. Either it is possible for the junior partner in the coalition to flex its muscles successfully or it is not. There are other areas in which the Liberal Democrats have seemingly not thought it necessary to use the muscle they claim to have.
In relation to the mansion tax we will doubtless hear a lot about income-poor people—how will they be able to affo