(Clauses 1, 5 to 7, 11, 72 to 74 and 112; Schedule 1; any new Clauses and any new Schedules relating to tax relief in connection with the costs of childcare, or income tax allowances for parties to a marriage or civil partnership, or air passenger duty, or the rate of the bank levy, or the subject matter of Clause 1, or the subject matter of Clauses 5 to 7 and Schedule 1.)
[1st Allocated Day]
Considered in Committee
[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
Charge for financial year 2015
I beg to move amendment 2, page 3, line 28, at end insert—
‘( ) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall undertake a review, within six months of the passing of this Act, on the impact of an additional cut of one per cent to the main rate of Corporation Tax for financial year 2015-16, with particular reference to—
(a) the impact on businesses with fewer than 50 employees;
(b) the impact on investment by businesses with fewer than 50 employees; and
(c) alternative tax measures, including non-domestic rates, which would have a greater benefit for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
( ) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must publish the report of the review and lay the report before the House.’.
This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to publish a report on the impact of a cut of one per cent to main rate Corporation Tax on businesses, including small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
Our amendment would require the Chancellor to publish a review of the impact of an additional cut of 1% to the main rate of corporation tax for 2015-16 with reference to the impact on businesses with fewer than 50 employees, their levels of investment and the impact of alternative tax measures such as a reduction in non-domestic rates—business rates—which we believe would have a greater impact on small and medium-sized enterprises, which tend to be businesses that have fewer employees and in the main occupy premises with a rateable value of less than £50,000.
Our amendment and our approach highlight the difference between us and the Government when it comes to business taxation. The Government have made a number of significant cuts to corporation tax. The main rate has been cut a number of times, and is due to be cut again from 21% to 20% next year. The main rate is paid by companies with profits of more than £1.5 million—about 40,000 or so businesses. The small profits rate is paid by companies with profits of under £300,000, and there is a marginal rate, which applies to companies with profits between £300,000 and £1.5 million.
The Government have announced cuts to the corporation tax rate in almost every fiscal event that we have had since 2010, with the rate falling from 28% in 2010 to 20% in 2015-16. This has brought the UK rate lower than most developed economies. As I said, the Government are planning another cut for April 2015 from 21% to 20%, at a cost of £400 million in 2015-16, rising to £785 million the following year, and £865 million the year after that. The cumulative corporation tax cut over this Parliament has been in the region of £10 billion. The Government’s central argument for cutting corporation tax is that a lower rate makes the UK more attractive as a destination for businesses to locate. They claim that a reduction in the main rate of corporation tax will reduce capital costs for businesses and promote higher levels of business investment.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that Labour Members are passionate about business and our policy of a business rates cut for small and medium-sized businesses, which I will come to later.
The Government’s impact assessment says that the 1% cut in 2015 will lower the bills of 40,000 businesses that have profits of more than £1.5 million and pay the main rate of corporation tax. It will also benefit a further 41,000 businesses that have profits between £300,000 and £1.5 million and pay the main rate of corporation tax but receive marginal relief.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimates that the UK has 4.8 million private sector businesses, the majority of which, around 3.6 million, are sole proprietorships, and a further 1.02 million have fewer than 10 employees. That means that if 81,000 businesses benefit from cuts to the main rate of corporation tax, fewer than 2% of the total businesses in the UK are benefiting.
I would be grateful if the hon. Lady explained how the Treasury should go about making the calculations that she wants it to make. How would the Treasury know the consequence of that one particular tax change, and how would it know what it would be like without it?
I will come to the point about the different tax choices that we make and measuring their impact. Unlike the Minister, I do not have access to Treasury officials, so I am not versed in their methodology, but I do not deny that the Government’s corporation tax rate cuts in this Parliament, which we have supported, have benefited 2% of businesses. I will come later to the 98% of businesses that have not benefited from the cuts to the main rate of corporation tax, but which are struggling with the costs of running their business. The Opposition believe that the Government can and should go further in helping those businesses cope, in particular, with the business rates that they have seen increase.
I will come to the Government’s record in helping small and medium-sized enterprises.
As I said, we have supported the reduction in the rate of corporation tax in this Parliament, except to raise concerns, which I am sure the Exchequer Secretary will remember, well before I was in my current post, about the financing of that change at the start of the Parliament by getting rid of investment allowances on which the Government have recently U-turned. But as the figures show, the change to the main rate of corporation tax, the central policy for business taxation, does not help 98% of business in this country. How are they faring under this Government?
Everyone agrees that SMEs are the engine of growth, a phrase that we hear regularly in the Chamber and the House, and it is also fair to say that they are part of our national life. High streets and corner shops are part of the very British way of life that we enjoy in this country. I have a personal affinity with these enterprises, as when I was younger, my parents had a corner shop. My first job was helping my parents by serving customers in our shop after school and at weekends, doing the stock-take and going with my dad to the cash-and-carry. Even if one did not grow up in such a business, they are easy to call to mind because there are so many of them. As I said, there are almost 5 million, and they are the heart and soul of our villages, towns and cities. They also provide about 47% of private sector jobs.
As for everyone—SMEs are no different—times have been tough, and SMEs have been struggling with a number of issues during this Parliament and I will come to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. The first of those issues has been access to finance. Every time we discuss SMEs, access to finance is one of the key issues raised. It is fair to say that the Government have failed to get lending going to businesses. They are in their fourth year of office and their many schemes keep failing to have a significant and game-changing impact on the access to finance landscape. For example, business lending fell towards the end of last year as banks continued to squeeze funding for SMEs, despite attempts by the Bank of England to boost finance to the sector. Bank lending figures also show that businesses paid back £4.3 billion more than they had borrowed in the three months to the end of November. SMEs were the worst affected by that particular brake on lending, and that is despite the tweaks to the funding for lending scheme announced by the Bank that were designed to try to ensure that loans to smaller businesses would be favoured.
Although larger businesses can access the growing market for debt financing in the bond market, there is a problem for small businesses that are reliant on high street banks and specialist finance and lending businesses, which have become much more conservative in their lending practices since the global financial crash of 2008. SMEs have consistently reported that credit is either refused or offered at very high prices by the major lenders, as Members on both sides of the House must regularly hear from businesses in their constituencies. There has been much talk in this Parliament about the problems of access to finance for SMEs, but despite several different schemes being announced, the change in practices that is required if SMEs are to have the finance they need has not been seen.
That issue has also been considered by the Public Accounts Committee, which made a number of worrying findings in relation to the landscape for SMEs. It said:
“The departments’ schemes are managed as a series of ad hoc initiatives that are launched to address particular weaknesses in the market, rather than to act as a coherent programme.”
That is a real problem. The lack of a coherent programme from the Government, despite what I am sure are the best efforts of the Business Secretary and the Chancellor, has led to piecemeal action—a little bit here and a little bit there, but no overall drive to action, only some good rhetoric for set-piece debates in the Chamber, leading to not very much at all.
The hon. Lady seems to be arguing that banks should be less conservative, which implies a greater degree of risk, and says that she wants a more coherent, less piecemeal programme. I infer from that that she wants the banks to take a greater degree of risk, and the taxpayer to pick that up. Is that what she is saying?
As I set out, the issue is not just the risk taken by the banks, which have been very conservative in providing SMEs with access to finance. Members in all parts of the House accept that good businesses that have the capacity to grow, create more jobs and be successful are failing to get the finance they need. In my constituency, a number of successful, viable businesses are still failing to get finance from the banks. That is not a result of banks being a little bit conservative in their risk taking; they have significantly curtailed their lending, which is having a negative impact on SMEs and their capacity to grow and increase jobs.
The Public Accounts Committee also found that investment overall had declined and that Government Departments could not demonstrate whether their schemes had addressed the market failures that they had been set up to correct. There was no mechanism, the Committee said, for evaluation of the various schemes and no obvious goals were set for the schemes, making it easier for the Government to hide any failures. Goal setting of the kind envisaged by the Public Accounts Committee would make the failure of such schemes much starker, but would also lead to greater and quicker action to correct them and ensure that desperately needed finance reached SMEs.
An additional problem in the Government’s approach, according to the Public Accounts Committee—I think we can all agree on this—is the difficulty of raising awareness of the schemes available for SMEs, which are often small operations, one-man or one-woman bands. It is difficult to balance all the responsibilities of running a business, and often people do not have the time to engage with Government policy and how it affects them. They may hear about schemes randomly and it is not always easy to learn from Government websites what is available for small businesses. The Public Accounts Committee felt strongly that the Government lacked a clear strategy to ensure that SMEs were aware of the funding options available to them.
I noted at the weekend that the employment allowance introduced by the Government has been rolled out. Millions of letters have been written to businesses to make them aware of the £2,000 allowance that has come into effect. That goes to show the extent of the awareness raising that is required. I am sure that there was also a political advantage and motive to the writing of those letters. Writing to businesses telling them what change has occurred and how they might benefit is a good thing, but it shows the effort required to get the message out. Such effort was not necessarily apparent in the case of other Government schemes relating to access to finance.
Perhaps the hon. Lady will understand my confusion and clarify this point for me. She has spent much of her speech suggesting that the Government were doing nothing for small business. Then, when they contact businesses and tell them how they can benefit from the Government’s policies, she seems a bit disappointed. Can she explain the contradiction?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not a matter of my personal disappointment. The Government have announced a number of schemes, which everyone agrees have failed to get lending to the rate that is necessary to have a game-changing effect on the landscape for small and medium-sized enterprises. The employment allowance, which we supported—the hon. Gentleman served on the relevant Bill Committee—came after the national insurance contributions regional holiday, a scheme that was in place for three years and almost from day one failed to meet the ambitious targets that the Government set for themselves. Throughout the life of that scheme, we called on the Government to change course, which they did not do until the scheme came to the end of its three years, at which point they introduced the employment allowance.
The employment allowance will help SMEs, and has been welcomed by them, but it has come late in the day. We are in the last year of this Parliament. The Government could easily have accepted the failure of the NICs regional holiday scheme and perhaps introduced the employment allowance earlier. We debated that at length some months ago when we were discussing the Bill that brought in the employment allowance. Where they have changed course, the Government have done so late in the day, and where they have not changed course, their schemes are still not having the booster effect that is needed for access to finance for SMEs.
The second area in which SMEs are struggling is exports. The Government set themselves an ambitious target for the increase in exports that they wanted to see by 2020, but we now know that the Government’s two flagship export schemes for businesses announced a couple of years ago are yet to help a single firm. The £5 billion exports refinancing scheme was launched in July 2012 as part of the Treasury’s UK exports guarantee scheme. At the time, Ministers claimed it would be up and running by the end of 2012, but answers to parliamentary questions reveal that it has not helped a single business and is not yet operational.
The Government’s £1.5 billion direct lending scheme launched seven months ago has not helped a single firm either. So far 15 inquiries have been received and just one firm has put in an application for support under the scheme, which was first announced in the 2012 autumn statement. Both programmes were supposed to help more firms export. Following the failure of the Government’s previous flagship programme designed for the purpose, the export enterprise finance guarantee scheme was abandoned by Ministers after it emerged that it had assisted only five firms.
We know that last year UK Export Finance spent less than a fifth of the £25 billion of financial support made available to businesses. More than £20 billion was left gathering dust in the Government’s coffers. When this record was brought to light, a Government spokesman said that steps were announced in the Budget to make both programmes
“more accessible to small businesses”,
and that the changes would help firms to “realise their export potential”, but the verdict of the Institute for Fiscal Studies was that they were
“relatively small and are unlikely to make a substantial difference to the weak performance of UK investment and exports”.
Media reports have suggested that civil servants are privately admitting that the Government’s promise to get 100,000 new companies, primarily small firms, exporting by the end of the decade is not going to happen.
SMEs have real problems in accessing finance and exporting. They are also struggling with energy prices. This is a topic on which there has been a great deal of debate in the Chamber over recent weeks. We know that energy prices are a problem for businesses as much as for families. Our proposals for an energy price freeze would save the average business more than £5,000. In the meantime, energy prices continue to impose a burden on SMEs.
The hon. Gentleman is welcome to see our detailed calculations, which I can provide to him and are a matter of public record. If he really wants auditing of manifesto commitments, he should support our call for the Office for Budget Responsibility to be allowed to audit parties’ manifestos. We have nothing to hide on the policies that we have announced and the numbers behind them. We are very happy for the OBR to look at all that and to prepare a report for the benefit of the public so that they can see that what we are saying is based on good numbers and is deliverable. If the Government—both parts of the Government—have nothing to hide, they should fully support our proposal on the OBR audit, which is a good one. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me a chance to remind the House that it is not Labour Members who are scared to have their numbers looked at.
I will not give way; I am going to make a little more progress.
As hon. Members will know, the level of business rates is set by the Treasury, although the revenues are collected locally. Business rates increase with inflation, and the rate of increase each April is set according to the rate of retail prices index inflation in the previous September. In September 2013, RPI was 3.2%, so business rates were due to rise by 3.2% this year. Of course, that was before the Government made their autumn statement announcement, which capped that increase at 2%. Business rates have risen rapidly during this Parliament because of high inflation. More than one in 10 small businesses now say that they spend the same or more on business rates as on rent. This April, businesses have been hit by a rise of £270, on average, at a total cost to business of £45 million.
The hon. Lady spoke very passionately, and rightly so, about her parents’ corner shop business, which she is right to be proud of. In citing these numbers, however, she overlooks the fact that because of the Government’s extension of small business rate relief, anyone with a rateable value of less than £6,000 is not paying anything at all, as I found out when I went down my local high street and heard how grateful people are for this support. We need to keep some context when talking about these numbers.
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s point, which I will come to later in my remarks. On the action that the Government have taken in the round, he will not be surprised to hear that my criticism is that it does not go far enough. By comparison, our alternative proposal, which is a Labour manifesto commitment, goes much further and would result in a cut in business rates and a freeze the following year.
The only choice for many shops, workshops, start-up businesses and others who pay business rates is to pass the increases on to their customers, primarily through higher prices, which of course makes things difficult for those customers. They also face a continuing squeeze, which many of them complain means that they can no longer afford to stay in business. This is having a real impact, as I know from my casework in my constituency surgery. I have met many constituents with family-owned businesses whose stories are not dissimilar to the story of my own family, whose elder relatives came to this country in the ’60s and ’70s and set up businesses that they have passed on to their children and, in some cases, grandchildren. They are now terrified that the squeeze from the exponential growth in business rates might put their family-owned businesses out of business. I have seen constituents break down because every time the business rates bill comes they fear that many years of hard work, which is tied absolutely to their conception of what it is to be British and to enjoy the freedoms offered by this country, might be going down the drain.
Given how much businesses are struggling and given the collection of issues that SMEs are facing, we have said that the next Labour Government would cut business rates in 2015 and then freeze them in 2016. In 2015, we would cut business rates on properties with an annual rental value of less than £50,000, taking the rates back to the level of the previous year, and then freeze them for such properties in 2016. As we have said, we would pay for that by reversing the additional cut in the main rate of corporation tax due to go ahead next year, when it will fall from 21% to 20%. The main rate is paid by companies with profits of over £1.5 million, while companies with profits between £300,000 and £1.5 million pay the rate on a sliding scale, and companies with profits of less than £300,000, which pay the lower rate, will be unaffected by the cut.
All the money raised from the corporation tax increase that we envisage—that is, a rise from 20% back up to 21%—would be spent solely and exclusively on paying for our policy on business rates. That is an important point given some of the debate that has taken place in the House in the past week or two, when we have been speaking about the Budget and attitudes towards business taxation. Even at 21%, our corporation tax rate would remain competitive, being second lowest in the G8 and second lowest in the G20. Government Members often say that any corporation tax rise will have a negative impact on our country’s capacity to do business, but I disagree, because, as I said, even at 21% it will be the second lowest in the G8 and the G20. The headline rate of corporation tax is not the sole reason that businesses choose to come to this country to invest and create jobs. It is an important factor—no one can deny that—but it is part of a picture of support for business that those wishing to come to this country look at, or are advised on, before they make their decisions. I do not believe that putting corporation tax back up from 20% to 21% would have too great an impact on our capacity to attract businesses to this country.
I do not think it does send that message. Business people are much more sophisticated than that: they do not simply look at announcements about the headline rate. They will receive advice from their advisers—their accountants and lawyers—when they are making their decisions about where to base themselves and where to go to invest and grow their companies. It will be explained to them, and known to them, that this policy is designed to support a different type of business that benefits all of us who are interested in the business landscape.
We have been very clear that this is the only change to corporation tax that we envisage during the next Parliament and that we are doing this not because we want to put people off coming to this country, or prevent them from doing so, but because we want to use all the money to pay for a cut and then a freeze in business rates. We have also said very clearly that any choices we make that differ from what the Government are doing will be fully costed and fully funded. As I said, we are happy for the OBR to look at our figures and audit our manifesto, and to do so for all political parties ahead of the next general election to make sure that the public are as well informed as possible about the different choices being made by parties that want to be in government.
Given the extreme volatility of corporation tax collections for decades, how would the hon. Lady deal with the unpredictable nature of the amounts collected? Will whatever is collected one year be applied as a discount on business rates the following year? If the revenues were below the expected amount, would the hon. Lady go back to businesses to ask for more in business rates? She should consider the unfortunate, difficult and unpredictable nature of the issue. Business needs certainty.
I agree that business needs certainty. All our figures are based on analysis from the House of Commons Library. That is the best we have to go on and it is, of course, a respected source for making projections on the likely cost of cutting the rate and how much will remain for business rates. As I have said, all the money raised will go towards our business rate policy, which applies to 2015-16 and 2016-17. We will, of course, consider the circumstances in the early part of the next Parliament when deciding what to do about business rates.
During the Budget debates, Government Members tried to argue that our proposal to increase corporation tax back up to 21% meant that Labour was all about increasing business taxes. It is interesting that that argument has not been repeated since those debates. It quickly fell apart when it was pointed out to Government Members that, given that all the revenue from our corporation tax policy would be spent on cutting and then freezing business rates for small businesses, their argument did not seem to consider small businesses to be real businesses. I am glad that Government Members appear to have dropped that particular line of attack and I would warn them against trying to run it again, because it was insulting to small and medium-sized enterprises.
Under this Government, local authorities will be able to retain an uplift in business rates as part of local government funding. Has the hon. Lady considered the impact of a business rate freeze on the ability of local governments to benefit from an uptake in business rates, and on local government finance in general?
Our policy is fully costed. We do not envisage any loss of revenue for local government. Our key priority is to give practical assistance to businesses as soon as possible, so that people such as those who visit my constituency surgery to say that they are fearful that they will have to close their business get some relief from what is becoming a very real business burden.
Last week the Secretary of State for Education suggested to the British Chambers of Commerce that our policy on corporation tax and business rates pits businesses against each other, which is complete nonsense. The idea is not to tell one business that it is going to suffer while another business does really well; it is to get a better balance with regard to the landscape of business taxation.
As I have set out in detail, corporation tax cuts over the life of this Parliament amount to some £10 billion and 2% of businesses in this country have done very well with their tax bill. It is fair and right to consider what is happening to the other 98%, understand the struggles they face and make choices that the 2% might not like, but that will offer support to smaller businesses and that will go some way to ensuring that they can remain in business and continue to grow and do good for the economy.
Even if the headline rate of corporation tax increases from 20% to 21%, it is important to remember that it will remain competitive. I do not believe that the change would be destructive or damaging to UK plc. In fact, I think that it and the moneys that will go to businesses as a result of a cut and then a freeze in business rates could do real good, not just for SMEs but for the economy as a whole.
I am really disappointed that the hon. Gentleman has not been listening to my speech. At what point did I bash big businesses? It was not something I said, and nor was it suggested by my tone. I have made it very clear that we supported the cuts to corporation tax in this Parliament. We are simply suggesting a switch spend—it will be in our manifesto for the next general election—which amounts to making a different choice on corporation tax in order to get practical and immediate help to smaller businesses that will make a real difference to them.
Given that the 2% of businesses that are larger have benefited by about £10 billion over the life of this Parliament as a result of a number of changes to their taxation, it is fair to switch our attention to a part of the business market that has been rather ignored. Although the Government have a number of schemes to help smaller businesses, those schemes are not going far enough or achieving the Government’s aims.
Our suggested switch spend is fair. It is not about pitting one business against another or valuing one above another. It is a simple recognition of the fact that 98% of businesses in this country have not received the practical help they need. They are desperate for change on their business rates and we will deliver it. The policy will be in our next manifesto.
On support for small businesses, does the hon. Lady regret the fact that when her party was in office, it planned to increase the corporation tax rate for small businesses from 21% to 22%? Does she also regret the previous Government’s plans to increase employers’ national insurance contributions and fuel duty, which would have affected small businesses?
What I primarily regret is that, as a result of the choices they made, this Government choked off the economic recovery that was under way when they came to office. That is the most regrettable thing: it led to three damaging years of flatlining, and it is ordinary people who are paying the price.
Following a vocal campaign by a number of business groups, ahead of the autumn statement the Government decided not to go ahead with the planned 3.2% increase in business rates and decided instead to cap them at 2%. The Government also announced in the autumn statement that they would provide additional help to retailers. That was action—it was relatively late in the day but it was action—but it does not go far enough, and the Government’s policy does not compare favourably with ours ahead of the next general election.
Ultimately, business rates are still set to rise this month by an average of £270. The Government’s autumn statement offer of £1,000 business rate relief was welcome for retailers, but it excluded workshops and offices used by high-tech start-ups. I particularly have in mind small jewellery makers in my constituency, which is famous for the jewellery quarter at its heart. Such businesses will not benefit from the Government’s announcements in the autumn statement and, as I have said, a significant rise in business rates is still envisaged for small businesses.
Our proposal for a switch spend from corporation tax to business rates is a much more comprehensive measure that would offer genuine and more far-reaching support to small and medium-sized enterprises. Given the scale of the problem, our policy seeks to offer practical help that would truly make a difference on the Witton road, the Coventry road and the Soho road in my constituency. The Exchequer Secretary will be pleased to know that it would also make a difference in his constituency. The Office for National Statistics report “UK business: Activity, Size and Location 2013”—a great read—tells us that more than 80% of the 5,750 VAT or PAYE-based enterprises in South West Hertfordshire employ no more than four people, while almost 75% of them have a turnover of less than £250,000. They are therefore not affected by the changes to the main rate of corporation tax, which he himself oversees; they are more likely to be in properties with a rental value of £50,000, and are therefore more likely to benefit from Labour’s proposal to cut and then freeze business rates in 2015-16.
In conclusion, we believe that our policy is the right one for helping small businesses. It meets the scale of the challenge that they face on business rates, and it makes the right choice about how to pay for the policy. We will want to vote on our amendment later this afternoon to highlight the impact of this Government’s decisions and the imbalances in their approach.
I remind the House that I offer advice for an industrial company and an investment company, although not on these subjects.
I thought that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) started her speech very promisingly. I admire her background, and I can think of a former great Member of Parliament who came from a very similar background and who deduced some very sound principles about how economies and shops work. I thought that the hon. Lady was going to develop in that style. I was delighted when she said that she is now a convert to tax reduction. She said that she and the Labour party now think that taking corporation tax down from 28% to 21% was right. It is wonderful news that we seem to have cross-party accord on the fact that lower tax rates can bring businesses to Britain, keep more profit in Britain and, if we let such policies fructify for long enough, even lead to more revenues and help to promote the economic growth that we all want.
The hon. Lady went even further and thought up another tax reduction that she wants. I am not normally one to let a tax reduction opportunity go by, and she said that a reduction in business rates would be a very good idea. She said that it would be good to find a way to make a further reduction in business rates, because that would be very welcome after years of increases.
I was then disappointed, however, because the hon. Lady said, “Oh, you can’t have too much of a good thing. It might start to work. You’ve got to have a tax rise, as well as a tax reduction.” She did set one part of the business community against another, although she claims that she did not do so. I find that rather curious, because we are meant to be debating the Opposition’s amendment 2, which does not propose a reduction in business rates or an increase in the corporation tax rate, although she says that that is their policy. The amendment allows us to talk about that because it is very wide ranging. We can talk about any kind of tax because it invites us to look at alternatives to corporation tax in ways that she spoke about.
We have a contradiction: the Opposition say that they have a settled policy to put up the corporation tax rate for larger companies and to cut and then freeze business rates. However, we are asked to vote on a much weaker amendment, which just says that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should conduct a review of the impact of cutting the corporation tax rate from 21% to 20%, as well as of other options, presumably including the one that the hon. Lady has already adopted.
I wonder whether Labour Members are in a bit of a muddle. Why do they need a review if they have already made up their minds about its answer, and if they have not made up their minds, why have we been given a clear policy for once, given that they usually use the advantages of being in opposition to be rather shy about coming up with clear policies?
Let me address the policy that Labour recommends the House to adopt, rather than the one that it might put to the electors—that we need a review to be carried out in the six months after the passage of the Bill. In other words, the review of the tax reduction would be conducted before we knew the results of the tax reduction. That is curious: if we were going to conduct a review into the consequences of an action, we might have thought that we would want to see the action first, but no, Labour thinks that we can conduct a thought experiment on the action. I am not against thought experiments; an awful lot of policy has to be based on them or on history.
There is a contradiction in that the review would have to be done in advance of the action, while there is also the contradiction that Labour has apparently settled its policy without needing a review. I therefore wonder whether the review is just a waste of time and a bit of a waste of money; whether it is some kind of smokescreen or whether there is some muddle between Front Benchers about whether or not they have a settled policy. Having started by feeling very warm and sympathetic towards the hon. Lady, I am now reluctant to vote for the amendment. I am not sure that it is a very serious proposal, because it seems already to have been prejudged by what Labour is offering in this debate.
In thinking about other options, as amendment 2 invites us to do, we should bear it in mind that if we are clever with our taxation policies, we can actually cut a rate and increase the revenue. That is the kind of tax cut that I like at the moment, because I want to get the deficit down. It makes intelligent sense not to pursue a policy of jealousy, but to decide how we can get money out of rich companies or individuals who have money—one obvious point about taxation is that we have to tax people who have money; we cannot tax those who have not got any—by setting rates that they are prepared to pay, that they are prepared to stay and pay or that they are prepared to come here to pay because the rates are more attractive than those elsewhere.
There is already some evidence for such a review in that the Government have now got round to cutting the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%, and the latest revenue figures for the nearly completed financial year show that there has been an extraordinary surge of £9 billion of extra revenue this year compared with the previous year from payers of the top rate of income tax. That is an astonishing achievement.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the primary cause of that increase in revenue is income shifting from one year to the next? Many individuals held back income in the year when the rate was 50%, and brought it forward when the rate was reduced to 45%.
I do not accept that at all, because the revenue in the previous year was very similar to the figure for the year before that, which was before people knew that there might be a cut in the tax rate. I suspect that next year will also see good levels of revenue. I do not expect a sudden reduction of £9 billion in revenue in the financial year we are just starting. As always, the hon. Gentleman is peddling misery for no good reason. Labour Members should rejoice and accept the fact that if we cut a rate, we sometimes get more money. They always want to spend other people’s money, so surely they should listen to how we can maximise the amount we get out of people.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain where, following the rate change, this money has suddenly come from if it is not re-phased income? Is he suggesting that people have somehow avoided tax or that people have suddenly come into this country to pay it? He must have some reason for the increase, if he does not accept the one given by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love).
We are talking about people who are a serious amount richer than any of us on MPs’ salaries, and if the hon. Lady meets such people occasionally she will discover that they have many more freedoms than other people on when and where they earn income, what they invest in and where they organise their affairs. Some of them were not in this country before and came here when the rate was lowered. Some have some money in one country and some in another, and they can quite legally shift their money around and decide where they are going to earn more income. That is what companies do, as she has discovered and sometimes complained about. Rich people have a lot of flexibility, which means that a country that sets sensible tax rates attracts and keeps more of them and gets them to do more things.
There is also a disincentive effect, because someone who is legally here and keeps all their money here might not do extra work—why should they, when they are going to be taxed at too high a rate? Or they might not take an extra risk with their investments—why should they? If it works they will get taxed, and if it does not work they will take 100% of the loss. We can therefore change the climate by setting a competitive rate to encourage more confidence and action.
I do, because I want to explore the Arthur Laffer effect. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that if we reduce income tax, we increase the amount of money we take. How far would he take that? Would he make income tax 40p in the pound, or 35p? Would he abolish income tax entirely and raise even more money?
The hon. Gentleman is now being completely stupid, is he not? There are two rates of tax that will raise no money—0% and 100%—and there is a curve between the two, which, as he rightly said, was first drawn by Mr Laffer, I believe on a napkin. Most people, including the Treasury, accept that there is a Laffer curve, and that it is a question of judgment where the rate is that maximises revenue. It is quite clear from the evidence in this year’s Revenue and Customs figures that 50% was too high a rate to maximise revenue, and that 45% gets us more revenue than 50%. I believe that 40% would get us more revenue than 45%. I am pleased to hear today that a Liberal Democrat, of all people, is writing a book on the subject. I welcome that and look forward to more progress in coalition talks about the maximising rate of income tax. If it were taken down to 20%, we would clearly lose a lot of money, so somewhere between there and where we are now is the maximising rate, and getting it right is partly science and partly trial and error. We can be sure that we are now moving in the right direction, having gone in the wrong one previously.
It is interesting that the previous Prime Minister, during all his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer, never took the top rate above 40%. I do not think that was because he liked rich people or wanted to be unkind to the left wing of the Labour party. I believe it was his judgment that anything over 40% would have cost him revenue. As a modest man, I therefore accept that there was something about which he was absolutely right—he was correct in not raising the top rate of tax above 40%.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a case about corporation tax and about the top rate of income tax being reduced from 50p to 45p. Would he apply the same logic of Laffer to indirect taxation? It would be interesting to hear his comments about the raising of VAT to 20%.
It is clear from the figures that the raising of the rate to 20% increased revenue. Yes, there is a Laffer effect in VAT, and 20% is clearly below the optimising point if our only interest is in increasing revenue. Going from 17.5% to 20% has not got us to the point where it costs us revenue. If it had, I would have been the first to tell Ministers that it was a ridiculous idea. I understand their need for more revenue, because they inherited such a huge deficit.
Indeed, there are timing issues with VAT, as the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not really see how that affects the argument about whether putting the rate up brings in more money. That is in the figures.
I fear that we are drifting a bit far even from the wide subject of the amendment, but I suppose the alternative options to help business could include cutting VAT. However, it is clear that if we cut the rate of VAT again, there would be a substantial loss of revenue, whereas we have just cut the income tax rate and there has been a colossal revenue gain. We should learn from those points.
I think the shadow Minister suggested that there would be no loss of revenue to local government from cutting and then freezing business rates. I do not know whether she wants to intervene, but that was my understanding of what she said. I think the Labour party has been converted to the Laffer effect. It now asserts—I do not know on what evidence—that if we cut and then froze business rates, we would collect the same amount of revenue. I would need persuading about that, because I am not sure that business rates are at that point yet, but if they were, it would be a sensible proposal for the coalition Government to take up. It would make it an even bigger pity that Labour has not bothered to table a proposal along those lines for us to vote on today, which might even have drawn me into the Lobby against my own party’s Front Benchers if the case had been well made and I felt that the Laffer effect of lower business rates was well established. I have profoundly shocked my Front-Bench colleagues now, having earned myself a brownie point through my earlier remarks. As they are well aware, they are quite safe, because there is no proposal on the amendment paper to cut business rates. [Interruption.] The Whip has just found that out—she needs to do a little more homework before coming to these debates. [Interruption.] Now she is complaining that she did not say that. As she will be in the record as having said nothing, who am I to disagree?
Before I get into any more trouble, I will conclude my remarks by saying that I will not support the amendment. I do not believe that a review would help, and I do not understand how it would be judged. Nor does it seem that it would have any impact on Labour policy. I am perplexed by the fact that when Labour has a clear policy for once, it has not tabled a proposal so that we can debate it fully and vote on it. I strongly support lower corporation tax rates, which will be very helpful.
It is a great pleasure to speak briefly in this debate. There is everything to be said for reviewing the effects of changes in tax rates, but to do that one must eliminate all other factors. A great surge in demand over a certain period, with unemployment going down and output going up, and all sorts of other factors can affect tax revenues. It is not just tax rates. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) said, if there was a direct relationship between lower tax rates and increased revenues, a zero tax rate would mean big revenues and a higher tax rate would mean lower revenues. It is just not like that.
I also suggest that marginal changes to tax rates will not make much difference. Everybody in business likes lower taxes, and no doubt most citizens do. It is in the nature of things, because they have more money in their pocket. At the same time, in a civilised society—I like to think that we still have some remnants of a civilised society—taxation is vital to pay for the things that make it civilised. I would personally like higher revenues, so that we could spend more on the things that make our society worth living in. Over the past few decades, there have been some regrettable cuts in tax revenues. Perhaps we should not go back to the 98% top rate of the 1970s, but when Nigel Lawson got rid of the 60% rate and brought in the 40% rate, it led to substantial income for better-off people.
Would the hon. Gentleman not accept that cutting the top rate from 83% to 40%, or from 98% to 40% for so-called investment income, meant a huge surge in revenue? Rich people not only paid more in cash terms and real terms but paid a bigger proportion of total income tax. What’s not to like?
We can argue about particular cases, but when we measure the impact of tax changes, we have to ensure that we are not measuring other factors. I met some people in the City just after Nigel Lawson cut the tax rate, and a lot of them were aghast at the Budget, saying, “Why has he cut the taxes? We don’t need the money.” They were clearly not of the same mind as the right hon. Gentleman, but they were civilised, decent people who thought that good tax revenues and higher taxes were a good thing.
The hon. Gentleman’s argument, interesting though at first it may appear, is totally busted when we look at France. Hordes of rich French people are coming to pay tax in this country rather than in France. The net effect is worse than if the taxes had been lower in the first place.
I am one of those who would like to see a little more insulation between countries on financial matters, rather than a free flow of finances across borders, but I am a traditional leftist and Keynesian. I am not of the same mind as those who believe in breaking barriers and people having complete freedom to do exactly what they like with their money anywhere in the world. I hope that one day we will return to a more sensible approach.
The problem with tax is not the tax rates but the collection. For a long time we have seen vast amounts of tax not just avoided but evaded. The thick end of avoidance is the thin end of evasion. The precise line between avoidance and evasion is ill-defined, and I would like stricter rules so that a lot of what is now called tax avoidance is defined as tax evasion. If we sent one or two of the big tax avoiders and tax evaders to prison, it might concentrate a few minds and bring in more tax. The research on behalf of the TUC by Richard Murphy shows that, in his view, the tax gap is in the order of £120 billion a year. If we collected a fraction of that sum, we could solve all our problems, including the famous deficit. I am very much in favour of reviewing the effect of tax changes.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have called many times in this Chamber, including in the past week or two, for more tax officers to be employed. Every tax officer collects many times their own salary. A VAT officer told me that, even for VAT on small businesses, tax officers collect some five times their own salary. When it comes to the big corporates, if we had a good chief tax officer, Vodafone might have paid a few more billions, as it should have done. We could then start to solve our problems. We have to focus on the big corporates, which are getting away with murder.
I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s comments on HMRC staff, which I raise frequently on the Public Accounts Committee, but surely he must regret the cut in 10,000 compliance staff when his party was in government and welcome the addition of 2,500 compliance staff under this Government.
I made exactly the same speeches when my party was in government. I demanded that the previous Government employ many more tax officers. There has been a conspiracy between Front-Bench Members for some decades to get away from being too unpleasant to the corporates and to let them have their way. Well, I do not want to let them have their way; I want them to pay their taxes so that we can pay for the things that ordinary people need, particularly those who are less well off and those who are more vulnerable.
I note the hon. Gentleman’s comments on wanting to have more HMRC staff, but surely the most important point is that HMRC’s yield should increase. Has he noted that the forecast yield over this Parliament is almost double the yield over the previous Parliament?
That is very welcome, but I do not believe in the immutability of a certain level of tax revenue and that, whatever we do, we cannot change that level because somehow the world will not produce more than 38% of GDP in tax. It is just a question of collecting that tax and enforcing the tax rates to ensure that the big international corporates, in particular, pay their taxes. When we do that, we will see a substantial increase in revenue. Of course there are countries where overall tax revenues are substantially higher than ours, and they are not necessarily countries that are doing badly economically; they are countries that are doing well, but a higher proportion of their economy is in the public sector. Those countries have higher taxes and higher public spending, and they are civilised societies, too. The countries with the lowest levels of tax and public spending are often some of the poorest, where the gulf between rich and poor is much greater and, generally speaking, life is less pleasant, particularly for the poor and the less well off.
I look forward to more enforcement and a higher tax take by enforcing the existing tax rates and ensuring that people, particularly the corporates, pay their taxes. When it comes to taxation, the behaviour of the economy is crucial.
My hon. Friend has said that we should look at tax avoidance. There are negotiations between the Inland Revenue and multinational companies in which the Inland Revenue estimates what it thinks the tax should be, rather than collecting the real tax.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The recent head of HMRC is now a tax adviser to corporate companies, but when he worked for HMRC he seemed to have had a cosy relationship with some of the biggest corporate companies and was doing deals over lunch on what those companies should pay. That was wholly inappropriate. He should have said, “You have to pay your taxes, and we are going to chase you until you do.” That is what I want to see—HMRC staff at the highest level who view their job first as being a public servant who collects taxes for the state, the public and the ordinary citizen, rather than letting the international corporates, and indeed the domestic corporates, get away with what is effectively appalling tax fiddling. I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) for saying that we should have a review of the effect of tax rates from time to time.
This is not the first time that I have agreed with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that taxes are collected according to the law, not an individual’s opinion of what the figure ought to be, but does he concede that the situation is as it is because the tax code is far too complex?
I am not an expert on tax codes, but taxation is too complex and could be made much simpler, although I think tax should remain progressive. The idea of a flat tax, which the UK Independence party is talking about, is complete nonsense. I fundamentally oppose UKIP not because of its views on the European Union, on which I might have some sympathy, but because of its views on everything else. UKIP is extremely right wing. It wants to get rid of rights at work, privatise the health service and introduce a flat tax. Frankly, UKIP is barking and I will oppose it at every turn.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood talked about a review of the impact of tax changes, which is absolutely right and I support her.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the debate so far. I am astonished by the ground that we have covered, because we are solely here to address corporation tax, which has not been explored anywhere near enough in the light of the Labour party’s amendment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) said, the amendment would create uncertainty and put jobs and future investment at risk—there is no doubt about that. The Labour party wants to reverse the Government’s low business tax approach by putting up corporation tax, which would send out all the wrong messages to the business community. It is farcical that Labour Members are dressing up their so-called policy as a way to help small businesses with business rates. They are cynically trying to pitch big business against small business. The Government have clearly shown that we can help all businesses, both large and small, by cutting corporation tax and, importantly, easing the burden of business rates, which the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have done.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She gets to the heart of the debate and shows why Labour has no credibility. Labour Members cannot claim to want to help small businesses when, as the Minister pointed out, at the last general election, when they were in government, they proposed to increase the small profits rate of corporation tax from 21% to 22%. We have also heard about the Labour party’s so-called interest in small business, but in government it presided over the closure of 6,000 small post offices. There is fuel duty and energy costs for small businesses, too. On many issues, Labour lacks credibility. We should put things into context and beyond doubt.
No. We heard from the hon. Gentleman earlier.
The last Labour Government ignored the benefit of expanding trade. Exports came up in the discussion. This Government have gone out of their way to expand overseas trade. The Chancellor is in Brazil this week at the beginning of export week. We are doing everything right to sell Britain overseas, and to encourage overseas companies to come here and benefit from the low rate of corporation tax, which Labour wants to destroy.
Putting up corporation tax does nothing to help small business, contrary to what Labour says in its shallow and feeble amendment. That only goes to demonstrate that the Opposition have no plan to expand our economy or create more jobs, growth and prosperity—creating those things is exactly the right approach that the Government are taking.
Amendment 2, which I obviously do not support, is completely irrelevant to the wider national debate currently, which is about sustaining growth in our economy, and expanding our economy with jobs, growth, prosperity, inward investment and exports. On that point, I heard a terrible diatribe earlier—an hon. Member said we are not exporting enough. In my county of Essex, the Essex chamber of commerce has helped more than 1,000 local firms, including many small and medium-sized businesses, in processing export documents and giving practical assistance. The value of those exports is well over £300 million. That is the message we want to send out to business of all sizes in the UK. I have no intention of supporting the amendment and support what the Government are doing.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel). I concur that it is great news that the Chancellor is drumming up business for Britain in Brazil, but I wonder what first attracted him to the Copacabana beach.
I know debates in the House can sound like statistical conventions, but we have only to look at the statistics to realise that the debate is important. Some 99.9% of all private sector business in the UK is in SMEs, which also account for 59% of private sector employment and 48% of private sector turnover. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) said, SMEs account for 47% of all private sector employment. Labour Members will know that growing private sector trade unions such as the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and Community the union are picking up on that growth.
I was intrigued by my hon. Friend’s story about starting out in a corner shop. I want to tell a story about a firm in my constituency. In 1985, a young woman—a housewife called Kamal Basran—was bringing up a young family and preparing food for them in her kitchen. She was fed up that she could not buy quality Indian cuisine from any of the major supermarkets. She took out a £5,000 bank loan and started supplying food to local restaurants and businesses. In the past nearly 30 years, she has grown that business and hopes to post a £50 million profit this year. It has grown year on year despite the recession. She now has 220 employees. As a new MP, I had the great honour of visiting that business in my constituency just a couple of weeks ago. The package I got as I left was superb. I do not declare an interest—I distributed the goods to parliamentary staff and constituents afterwards.
That success story is an example of why SMEs matter so much. In polling up to the last general election, people said that their work prospects were the most important things to them after health and crime—work prospects were always No. 3 or No. 4 on the list. That is why the debate is important.
Amendment 2 highlights the divide between Labour and the Government on help for business. The Government have focused on the top corporations. The latest statistics show that there have been £10 billion tax cuts for multinationals and large companies, but not enough help for SMEs. That is critical. Labour Members have said that, instead of going ahead with the Government’s planned additional cut in corporation tax, the money would be better used to cut and freeze business rates for the 1.5 million SMEs.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a review would be important? A corporation tax cut would be welcomed by the business community, but it is not the priority in certain sectors. For example, energy-intensive industries are more concerned about capital allowances—the Government have had to U-turn on getting rid of them—and the carbon price floor, which affects the chemical and steel industries.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Government Members have said that amendment 2 would create uncertainty, but if the Committee agreed to it and to a review, businesses would welcome it, because a review would be part of the ongoing debate.
The amendment would require the Government to publish a report on the impact of the planned cut in corporation tax in the 2015-16 financial year from 21p to 20p. The amendment calls for the assessment of the impact specifically on SMEs.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Chamber—this is the first time I have heard him speak. The amendment mentions “fewer than 50 employees”. Can he help me to make sense of that? Mainstream corporation tax would apply only to firms making more than £1.5 million profit. Is he suggesting that the amendment includes small companies that make more than £1.5 million profit? That is how it reads to me.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. Most SMEs have fewer than 50 people working for them, and a medium-sized enterprise is usually defined as one with fewer than 250 employees.
I welcome the fact that Labour Members want to cut business rates on properties with an annual rental value of less than £50,000 back to the level of the previous year. We would then freeze business rates for those properties in 2016. That can be paid for by reversing the additional cut in the main rate of corporation tax from 21% to 20% in 2015.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. If there is one attraction to the amendment, it is that it allows a broad-ranging debate on any tax measure one can think of. Perhaps I could talk about the impact that a carrier bag tax would have on small businesses, especially a tax on bags that would allow the biodegradable element to get into the recycling stream, which damages recycling businesses in the plastics industry. That would perhaps stretch the debate a little too far away from the main rate of corporation tax, even though hon. Members might agree on such a measure.
We are going in exactly the right direction in trying to get the main rate of corporation tax down to 20%. That has been the direction of travel for this Parliament and it is the right place to be. I suspect that, if we get it to 20%, that will be the end of the journey, for the very good reason that having a corporation tax rate lower than the basic rate of income tax creates lots of interesting tax planning opportunities, as the previous Government found out when they had a small companies rate of 10%. Lots of strange people incorporated themselves as businesses—they looked a lot like one-man bands who ought to have been self-employed and made interesting tax deferrals or savings when pretending to be companies.
If we get to 20%, that is the end. I suspect that that is why we can no longer have a small companies rate of corporation tax that is lower than the large companies rate. If we lower one rate, we encourage behaviour that we do not want to encourage. It is right that we get both rates down to 20% and to have one rate of corporation tax. We can then scrap the hugely complex marginal relief calculation and everyone will know what rate of tax they pay on their profits. That has to be the right situation. A small growing business, whose profit increases during the year and suddenly hits more than a quarter of a million pounds, will wonder what tax rate it will pay in that year, so losing that whole calculation completely is a huge advantage.
One of the issues in Britain is that not enough companies are starting up and then growing. One of the reasons for that is that we do not have enough symmetry and the tax system is too complicated. Does my hon. Friend therefore think it would be a good idea to get some simplicity into the system?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I think many Members, not least the Minister, know of my commitment to tax simplification. I was tempted, knowing that we were debating corporation tax, to table my amendment yet again on rewriting the whole corporation tax code to one that is more understandable and less complex.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that we might need a different policy mix for small businesses and for larger businesses. May I therefore invite him to reject the idea that the amendment somehow splits off small businesses from large businesses? We need a different policy mix.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is eminent sense in having a lighter-touch tax regime for small businesses, with perhaps lower taxes in some areas for small business. We clearly do that: there is a separate regime for filing accounts. There is less expectation on small businesses, and, if only in the business rates field, there are exemptions for the very smallest businesses. I think we actually have that graduated system.
Notwithstanding small business rates relief, does the hon. Gentleman accept that for a significant minority of small businesses, business rates are now greater than the rental payments they have to meet, and that therefore there is some merit to the proposal being put forward?
I might be tempted to agree that there is some merit in looking at the level of business rate cost, but I am not sure there is much merit in the proposal we are debating here this afternoon for yet another review. I welcome the measures the Government have taken to reduce business rates, or least reducing the increase through the 2% cap and discount for high street businesses. I think we are all very keen to see how we can help our high streets grow. That reduction has to be the right way forward.
Returning to the earliest of the series of interventions, on a 20% capital gains tax rate, companies that realise a capital gain will be paying at 20%. It is only individuals who will end up paying the higher rate. There is sense in having symmetry restored to that situation. I wholeheartedly support getting the corporation tax rate down to 20%. We could trumpet it around the world that we have one of the lowest rates in the G8. That long-term direction of travel has to be one of the most powerful ways to encourage investment in this country by the large corporations we want to see operating here. It would perhaps stop them setting up their headquarters in Switzerland, Ireland or elsewhere. This is now a trend we can see: large corporations choosing to bring more jobs to, and paying tax in, the UK.
I am always a little nervous talking about Hitachi and rail, as I am from Derbyshire. I support Bombardier and want it to get rail contracts. I am sure that it is great news for the country and the north-east that Hitachi has chosen to do that. However, I clearly say that Bombardier is a far better make of trains and that it fully deserves the Crossrail contract it got in recent weeks. I look forward to healthy competition between the two. It would be great to have two well-regarded, highly skilled train makers in this country. Just to be clear: Bombardier clearly has the trump card on that.
It would be a terrible message to send out to the rest of the world, having seen us go so far in the right direction by reducing the rate of corporation tax from 28% down to the planned 20%, to suddenly start reversing that journey and saying, “Perhaps we’re not quite so sure that that was the right thing to do. Let’s have that extra revenue back and not support those businesses.” That would be the wrong thing to do.
I am sure my hon. Friend’s maths are absolutely right.
If we are to review taxes and rates, I am intrigued by the idea of having, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) said, a wide-ranging dynamic assessment of tax rates. Let us have a look and work out exactly the right rates for various taxes. Are we in the right place, or are we throwing away revenue and destroying business activity by having certain rates in the wrong place? I would like to understand the impact on small businesses of the jobs tax or employees’ national insurance. I would be keen to know the impact of fuel duty rates and of the tax on energy bills. I suspect those measures are doing far more damage to our small businesses, and the number of jobs they can support, than other things. A wide-ranging study of the impact of tax on small business could be an interesting exercise and could direct the way forward for policy. I suspect that it would not go in the area the Opposition want. They seem to want an expensive hike in the indirect taxes on manufacturing that do so much damage.
We ought to welcome people moving in the right direction. In 13 years in government, Labour favoured property taxes via the council tax. They hiked it up thinking that people would not notice. It is intriguing that they have now realised that it is extremely unpopular for those taxes to get too high, and that perhaps it is easier to try to focus on direct tax rates.
In conclusion, the Opposition amendment is in many ways a complete waste of our time. It is absolutely right to get the corporation tax rate down to 20%. I suspect that that is the end of that journey and then we can look at various other measures to support small businesses. Reducing the main rate down to 20% will not stop our support for small businesses. Let us get on and do it: it is the right thing to do.
For those who have already made the decision that they want to reduce corporation tax in this way, it is easy to characterise the debate as one group of businesses being pitted against another. The debate has to be taken in context. On the basis of that argument, it would be very difficult to suggest any changes, because somebody would always be able to say, “Ah, but you are pitting one group against another.”
We hear a lot of warm words about small businesses in this House. We are told frequently that they will be the driver of the economy and that the economic recovery depends on them. It is therefore disappointing for this proposal to be so quickly dismissed as irrelevant or inappropriate. If the amendment asked for it to happen without further review, Government Members would no doubt be telling us that we should not make such suggestions without looking at the impact. If we ask for a review to look at the impact they will tell us, “Well, that’s no good; you should just be doing it if you really believe in it,” rather than engaging with the issue.
Small businesses find that business rates are a large element of their costs, particularly when setting up and trying to get their businesses off the ground. A constituent of mine, with a friend, was setting up a fitness business—a very competitive market—from scratch, with a particular appeal to women. They called themselves “Fitness Chicks”. I thought that that might perhaps put off older women, but nevertheless they had a real ambition to get the business off the ground. They said that rates were the biggest thing holding them back as they were setting the business up.
Small businesses do not tend to pay so much in corporation tax. That is not the main burden they suffer—that is the burden of business rates and payroll taxes. Will the hon. Lady therefore join me in welcoming the action that the Government have taken on business rates and payroll taxes, which will really help small businesses?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is interested in business rates, the subject we are discussing. Our suggestion is that in order to make a real difference to those businesses, we can go far further in the way we deal with business rates.
Rather dramatic statements are made that a suggested change of 1% in the rate of corporation tax will result in companies—on the basis of that alone—changing their plans, leaving the country or not coming here. These statements are made but it is not clear whether there is evidence for them. The impact of the 21% to 20% change in corporation tax is not—or so it would appear in the initial period at least, according to the OBR report—to increase take from corporation tax, but to decrease it.
Does the hon. Lady agree that there is some certainty on business rates because we have the cap of 2% and a reduction in costs for those with rateable values under £50,000? That is something of which businesses can be certain. In the meantime, we need to make sure that larger companies can be certain of the tax regime in this country. Having a review will only create uncertainty, which is the one thing that businesses looking to invest really do not like.
We must review constantly what we do to get it right. The suggestion is that a review in itself causes uncertainty, but there are many uncertainties in business. The constant discussion about the EU, Britain’s place in it and whether there should or should not be a referendum is an uncertainty. I am sure that many people who feel strongly about that nevertheless feel it is so important that they are willing to risk that level of uncertainty.
The Labour Front-Bench team made a great deal of the need for banks to lend more money to small businesses being crucial to their future. How would an increase in the corporation tax rate and a special bank levy on payroll help? Would not that mean that the banks had less money to lend?
We still see high levels of remuneration and bonuses at banks while small businesses are told that there is no money to lend. Sometimes, of course, we are told the opposite is the case: banks allege that it is not a lack of money, but that businesses are not coming forward and do not want to expand. For a lot of small businesses who want to borrow, it is galling to find that banks are still seemingly able—despite all the difficulties they allege they have—to pay out so much in bonus payments.
To review these matters and to make a genuine attempt to provide additional help for the small businesses we all say we want to help would be useful. The terms of the amendment would enable us to get details of the impact of the cut in corporation tax to see exactly what the impact has been and what the impact of the suggested minor and very small increase might be before a decision is made.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is interesting that Conservative Members are talking about a 20% rate of corporation tax, which is a direct tax on profit, but have no qualms about how a review might interplay with things such as value added tax, which many, if not all, small businesses pay and is paid prior to profit?
Value added tax has been a difficulty for a lot of individuals and for small businesses. The amendment is an opportunity for us to review these matters. If Conservative Members are right that such a change would be harmful, a review would show that. It has to be demonstrated to the small businesses of this country why a proposal of this kind is thought to be harmful to our economy.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark, and to respond to the first of what will no doubt be many detailed debates over the course of this year’s Finance Bill. It may be helpful if I set out a little context as to what the Government have done in terms of corporation tax.
When we came to office in 2010, the main rate of corporation tax was 28%, and the small profits rate was 21% but was due to rise, under the plans of the previous Government, to 22%. In 2010, we set out the corporate tax road map. We set out our ambition to give the UK the most competitive tax regime in the G20. We wanted a corporation tax system that would support, not hinder, growth and would boost investment to support the economic recovery, so we reversed the previous Government's planned increase in the small profits rate and cut it to 20%, and embarked on the biggest reduction in the main rate of corporation tax since the 1980s. Last week, the rate was cut to 21%. Next year it will fall to 20%— the joint lowest rate in the G20.
The cuts in corporation tax were a central plank of the Government's economic strategy, a strategy that is working. Jobs are up and business confidence is increasing.
It may be helpful if I inform the House of the news that we have heard from the IMF this afternoon. The IMF has revised the UK’s growth forecast for 2014 and 2015 to 2.9% and 2.5% respectively, an upward revision of 0.4 percentage points in 2014 and 0.3 percentage points in 2015. Those are the largest increases for both years among major advanced economies and among the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—for both years. The UK is also forecast to be the fastest-growing major advanced economy in 2014. I make the point to the hon. Gentleman that the plan is working. Business investment has grown for four consecutive quarters for the first time since 2007. The OBR has forecast that investment will grow very strongly over the next two years—by 8% in 2014 and 9.2% in 2015.
More and more businesses are moving operations here, a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills). Just in the past two weeks, we have seen Hitachi Rail—referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ian Swales)—and Brit Insurance announcing moves to the UK. Siemens has announced a £160 million investment in the Humber. Business surveys reflect the positive impact of the corporation tax reforms. For the past two years, the UK has ranked highest in the KPMG survey of international tax competitiveness, with business leaders putting us ahead of countries such as the USA, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Indeed it has. I will say more about some of the other measures we are taking to make our tax system more competitive, but overall it is clear that our tax system—in terms of being open for business—has moved in the right direction over the last four years. It is important that we maintain that momentum and do not put it at risk by trying to reverse some of the progress we have made.
Indeed I did, and I heard the head of the BCC make the same point in a radio interview this morning. We are moving in the right direction, and this afternoon’s figures from the IMF are extremely significant. I hope that Members in all parts of the House welcome the news that the United Kingdom is the fastest-growing major advanced economy this year.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that there will be no net increase in net trade, so the export-led recovery simply will not happen. It has also said that the recovery is too dependent on consumer expenditure, and that as long as real wages do not increase—and it predicts that they will not increase very fast—that simply cannot continue.
Again, we are seeing movement in the right direction. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced additional support for exports through the expansion of the direct lending scheme. Moreover, in 2012-13 British business received £4.3 billion of support from UK Export Finance, which was a 12-year high.
The Government are taking steps to ensure that we can export more. We recognise that we need to export more, and that we need more business investment. However, the way in which to ensure that that happens is not to try to avoid a competitive tax system, or to turn our back on the progress that we have made. All that would put the recovery at risk, and I fear that it is what we would get from Labour.
I do not think that the Minister has yet addressed the lack of balance in the growth that is being shown, and the concern that has been expressed about that by the IMF and others. If policies such as the reduction in corporation tax were intended to boost manufacturing and exports, I should like to know why that still does not appear to be happening to the degree that would convince people that this is a balanced recovery.
As a result of our corporation tax reforms, businesses are moving their headquarters here. The north-east of England, for instance, has benefited from Hitachi’s investment. However, if the hon. Lady’s point is that the job has not yet been done and that further steps are needed to make our economy more productive and competitive, I entirely agree with her. That is why we must stick to the long-term economic plan.
Indeed I do. As ever, my right hon. Friend brings great expertise to the debate.
Clauses 5 to 7 provide further evidence that we are continuing to make progress towards the delivery of a simpler and more competitive tax regime. They charge corporation tax for the financial year 2015. They set the small profits rate and the ring-fence small profits rate for 2014 at 20% and 19% respectively. They fix the ring-fence rates so that we need not reconfirm them every year in the Finance Bill. That is consistent with the way in which we handle the supplementary charge, the 32% tax levied on profits from oil and gas production. They set the fractions that will be used for businesses to calculate their marginal relief: the standard fraction is set at one four-hundredth, and the ring-fence fraction at eleven four-hundredths.
I apologise to Members if that final measure sounded fairly complex, but I can reassure them that next year this section of the Bill will be far simpler, because the clauses also provide for the unification of the small profits rate and the main rate of corporation tax. Next year, there will be a single headline rate of corporation tax. That will bring about a major simplification of the tax system. For those outside the ring-fence regime, it will mean the end of the complex marginal relief system that currently captures 45,000 companies. It also gives us scope to abolish the complex “associated companies” rules and replace them with a much simpler rule based on 51% ownership of a firm, as set out in schedule 1. In unifying the rates, we are adopting a recommendation by the Office of Tax Simplification, led by John Whiting, and the move was commended by the Chairman of the Treasury Committee when we announced it last year. The Chartered Institute of Taxation welcomed the abolition of the “associated companies” rules when we announced it in the autumn statement.
Of course, it is only possible to unify the rates because we have cut the main rate to 20%, which, as we have heard this afternoon, the Labour party would not do. Labour has said that it will increase the main rate of corporation tax to 21%, which would make it the first party to increase the main rate of corporation tax in more than 40 years. It was last increased in 1973, although, to be fair, that was part of a restructuring that was revenue-neutral; it was back in the 1960s that the British Government last sought to increase the yield from corporation tax. No other G7 country has increased its corporation tax since 1997, and those increases were reversed within a year or two.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) about the signal that Labour’s proposals send and the uncertainty that they create. Notwithstanding the reassurances that we have heard this afternoon, businesses are likely to fear that this is the thin end of the wedge, and that if Labour can increase corporation tax once, it will do so again and again. Under the last Labour Government, the UK’s tax competitiveness fell in the league tables. In 1997 we had the ninth lowest rate in the EU27, but by 2010 we had fallen to 20th in the league. At least by 2015 we will be back up to 11th, but that would be put in jeopardy if Labour were to pursue its policy.
Labour has said it would use the increase to reverse the 2015 business rates increase and freeze business rates in 2016 for all properties with a rateable value below £50,000. In other words, Labour would take money from one set of businesses to give it to another. By contrast, we want to cut taxes for large and small businesses, so, instead of raising one tax to cut another, we are cutting both corporation tax and business rates.
The point was made to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) that the amendment would set off one business against another. Her response was that that was nonsense, but I can tell her that the point has been made not just by Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament, but by business leaders. John Cridland, the head of the Confederation of British Industry, has said:
“I just think it’s divisive to take from one part of the business community to give to another.”
He has also said:
“I think the key point though is what it says about the Labour Party’s pro-enterprise credentials...Whether you are small, medium or large you need to invest as a business and grow as a business and higher taxes don’t do that.”
[Interruption.] The shadow Chief Secretary, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) says mockingly, “Oh, that is what we would expect from the CBI”, so let us hear from the Institute of Directors. Simon Walker, director of the IOD, says:
“The government has spent three years telling the world that we are open for business, and reductions in corporation tax have been a key part of that strategy. It’s a dangerous move for Labour to risk our business-friendly environment in this way”.
He also says:
“it creates a false distinction between small and larger businesses…The main corporation tax rate is paid not only by multinational corporations and FTSE100 companies but by medium sized companies and smaller firms.”
I will also quote John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce:
“Labour must realise that you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul…we question why a freeze or cut in business rates for smaller firms should be offset by a delayed reduction in corporation tax...The notion that you can offset cuts in one tax with changes to another doesn’t deal with the real problem…Ultimately, companies of all sizes need to be clear on taxes and rates bills, so that they can generate jobs and wealth with certainty.”
The Exchequer Secretary speaks about a positive business environment. Business rates have increased by £1,500 on average since his Government have been in power. Does he think that that has led to a positive business environment for those businesses affected?
It is worth pointing out that business rates have increased in line with RPI, which is exactly what the previous Government planned to do, and, indeed, exactly what the previous Government did when they were in office. What we have done, however, is double small business rate relief for every year of this Parliament, saving small businesses over £1.5 billion on their business rates bills to date. In the autumn statement we introduced the biggest business rates cut in over 20 years. This package of measures was larger than that proposed by the Opposition. Their proposal would have been worth significantly less than the £1 billion our package cost. Of that £1 billion, over 90% is going to businesses occupying small premises and targeted support is going to help the retail sector on the high street and bring empty shops back into use. The combined effect of the measures is to freeze, or even reduce, business rates bills for 35% of the smallest rate payers. This Government’s business rates measures are both more generous and better targeted than those proposed by the Opposition and benefit all businesses.
Amendment 2, tabled by the shadow Chancellor and his colleagues, proposes a review of the impact of the additional cut in corporation tax with particular reference to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. I understand from the comments made by the shadow Chief Secretary in last week’s debate that what is driving this amendment is a concern about the business environment for small businesses. The Government have done far more for small businesses than the Opposition would have done, including making it easier for small businesses to create new jobs by introducing the £2,000 employment allowance, which will benefit up to 1.25 million businesses and charities in the UK. We are lifting 450,000 small businesses out of employer national insurance contributions altogether. We have made it easier for small firms to invest and grow. We have doubled the annual investment allowance to £500,000 per year so that 99.8% of businesses will receive relief on 100% of their investment in the first year, and we have increased the small business research and development tax credit to the maximum level available under EU law. We have cut costs for small businesses by delivering the longest fuel duty freeze for 20 years and through the £7.1 billion package announced in the Budget to reduce energy costs for businesses and households.
It is worth pointing out that the rate reduction for corporation tax will lead to large firms investing more, with huge benefits for SMEs in their supply chains. Economic modelling by HMRC has shown that the corporation tax cuts introduced in this Parliament will increase long-run business investment by 2.5% to 4.5%. In today’s prices that is an extra £3.6 billion to £6 billion every year, a boost for the whole business community. As John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said last year:
“All companies will cheer the news that Corporation Tax will fall to 20% by 2015.”
This is just one element of what we have done. If Members look at what we have done on business rates, the employment allowance and energy costs, it is clear that this is a Government who are supporting business. I am afraid, however, that, as always, what we hear from the Opposition is policies that are anti-business and that will drive away investment and growth, and no realisation of how the world has changed. The UK needs to compete for jobs and investment. The best way of doing that is through a competitive tax system. I am afraid that the biggest risk to our achieving a competitive tax system and economic growth is the Labour party.
These clauses see us continue to make progress towards delivering a simpler and more competitive tax regime that supports investment, productivity and growth. I urge the House to support the clauses and to reject the Opposition amendment.
We have had a very good and interesting debate. I was a little horrified when the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) began his remarks by making what sounded almost like positive comments about me, but he very quickly moved on to comments that better reflected both his politics and mine. He raised a point that I did not hear clearly, but I am sure it was a withering put-down about me not doing my homework. On his criticisms of both the amendment and what it seeks to achieve, I say to him as gently as possible that if he had done his homework, he would know that the Opposition are somewhat constrained in the amendments we can table to Finance Bills and the impact they could have on the Exchequer, so often the best way for us to get a good debate on what we seek to achieve is through asking for a review. I hope that that settles his mind as to the nature of our amendment.
There has been a great deal of discussion today about our proposals to increase the headline rate of corporation tax from 20% to 21%. We would use every penny of the revenue from that tax increase to cut business rates for small businesses in 2015 and to freeze them the year after. Nothing that Government Members have said today has shown that they understand the true impact that business rates are having on small businesses up and down the country. The Government are not prepared to make choices or spending switches to support those small businesses, but that is what the next Labour Government will do in 2015. We intend to press our amendment to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided: Ayes 219, Noes 289.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 1 April).
The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).
Clauses 5 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
New Clause 4
Report on increasing the additional rate of income tax to 50%
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall make arrangements for conducting a review of the impact of increasing the additional rate to 50%.
(2) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of the report of the review mentioned in subsection (1) before each House of Parliament within three months of the passing of this Act.’.—(Jonathan Edwards.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss:
Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
‘( ) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, publish a report on the impact of setting the additional rate of income tax at 50 per cent.
( ) The report must estimate the impact of setting the additional rate for 2014-15 at 45 per cent and at 50 per cent on the amount of income tax currently paid by someone with a taxable income of—
(a) £150,000 per year; and
(b) £1,000,000 per year.’.
Clause 1 stand part.
I should inform the House that due to an administrative error some names in support of new clause 4 were omitted from the amendment paper. A revised version is available from the Vote Office with all names correctly reproduced.
I am grateful to you for that clarification, Ms Clark.
New clause 4, tabled in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends in Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party, would have the effect of requesting the Treasury to commission a report into reinstating the 50p tax rate for earnings above £150,000 a year, or £3,000 a week, as I prefer to explain the policy to my constituents. I look forward to pressing the new clause to a vote at the appropriate time.
This is an example of bad timing, as I understand that the President of the Republic of Ireland is about to address Members of the Commons and the Lords in the other place. I am disappointed to be missing that. However, there is little doubt that the decision in the 2012 Budget to scrap the 50p top rate and reduce it to 45p is the signature fiscal policy of the current Administration. However, I recognise that the 50p rate existed only for the dying weeks of the previous Labour UK Government, even though they were in power for more than 13 years with a top rate of only 40p. That of course leaves the impression that it was merely an election gimmick for the 2010 general election rather than a matter of deep principle.
Labour’s 13 years of the 40p rate reflected what Lord Mandelson said on behalf of the Blair Government about being
“intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”.
None the less, it was expected that the 50p rate, which existed for the first half of this coalition Government, would be set in stone while the UK Government maintained their plan A fiscal strategy of cutting the deficit. Despite disagreeing with the UK Government’s fiscal strategy since entering the House, I accept that the “We’re all in it together” slogan coined by the Chancellor was politically very successful. It was based on the notion that all parts of society were equal partners in a moral crusade to reduce the annual fiscal deficit of the state; that rich and poor, young and old would have to feel the pain as the only remedy for the excesses of the past—or so the story went.
The decision to cut the 50p rate was therefore a political miscalculation in my mind because, whatever way it is dressed up, the Chancellor offered a tax cut for those earning more than £3,000 a week. The notion of “We’re all in it together” was blown apart with one act. How can the Chancellor and the Treasury expect the most disadvantaged in society to stomach reductions in their social security support while the richest get a tax cut? It was an act that confirmed that we are not all in it together.
Let us not forget that in the 2012 Budget a further cut of £10 billion in the social protection budget was announced from 2013 onwards, on top of those announced in the 2010 emergency Budget. Those are the cuts that we are living with today, leaving the clear impression that the tax cut from 2013-14 onwards for the highest earners in society was being paid for by cuts in welfare provision for the poorest.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is the scale of the tax cut that is most galling for our constituents, when on average it will be a £100,000 a year tax cut, which is something beyond the imaginations of most of our constituents?
It is not only the fact that income tax has been cut but that further cuts to social provision are envisaged. So into the future, people at the bottom of the pile and who face disability and sickness will be seeing cuts to their benefits while the very rich will be seeing cuts to their tax.
I am sure that my hon. Friend’s surgeries, like mine, are filled weekly with individuals who face problems with reductions in the support that they receive. With all that in mind, it is difficult to look them in the eye and support a tax cut for those on the highest incomes. It undermines the case for the moral crusade I alluded to earlier and public support for the fiscal policy of the current UK Government.
The hon. Gentleman is making some good points. Does he agree that, while there are technical issues in determining the exact point at which the Government will gain more or less from a tax, there is a significant signal from the 50p tax rate, which is that we are, at least to some extent, all in it together? His constituents are not far from mine, and the average median wage in the Ogmore valley is less than £21,000.
The hon. Gentleman always makes very intelligent points. I believe that he is talking about the Laffer curve. I will discuss the optimal rate of taxation later, but I agree wholeheartedly with his comments.
A report for the Office for National Statistics entitled “The Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income, 2011/12”, which was released in July 2013, showed clearly that, while income tax is progressive, as it should be, the effect of indirect taxes such as VAT means that the bottom fifth of the income groups pay the most out as a percentage of their gross income at 36.6% in taxes, while the top fifth pay 35.5%. The overall tax system is therefore still heavily weighted in favour of the highest earners. Plaid Cymru believes in progressive taxation irrespective of the timing and state of the wider economy. We believe that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the burden of taxation. A Scandinavian model of progressive taxation is part of our DNA.
The House has voted on this measure only once, during the resolution votes following the 2012 Budget debate. I am delighted that it was Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party Members who called that vote. The shadow Chancellor must have been having an off-day, because the entire parliamentary Labour party abstained, apart from two honourable exceptions, the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and for Newport West (Paul Flynn), if my memory serves me correctly. Although Labour Members voted against the Government’s 2012 Budget, which reduced the 50% rate to 45%, they missed the only vote that we have been able to have directly on the reduction of the top rate.
I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that what happened to the Labour party that evening was cataclysmic. Does he have any explanation as to why the Labour party missed that vote that evening? Something from the Whips Office suggested headless chickens, but that would be showing disrespect to headless chickens. Does he have any idea why Labour abstained on what was one of the key policies at that point?
Unfortunately, I cannot enlighten my hon. Friend, other than to say that the Western Mail informed me that senior Labour staff described it as a “balls-up”.
To be slightly more serious, I was happy that, in response to an intervention from me last week on Second Reading, the shadow Chief Secretary, who is in his place, said that should Labour form the next UK Government, it would restore the 50p top rate for the duration of the next Parliament. I would certainly support that, and I look forward to doing so if there is a Labour Government. My understanding before his answer was that Labour was proposing a temporary increase in the top rate, so I welcome that development. I hope that during today’s debate, the Labour Front-Bench spokesman will confirm that that will be its policy at the next election and beyond.
Owing to the manner in which Finance Bills are processed, it is impossible to press to a vote amendments to alter tax band rates, which is why both new clause 4 and Labour’s amendment 4 call for a review from the Treasury of the impact of re-introducing the 50p rate. The 2011 Budget included the provision of a review to reduce the 50p rate. As I said, nobody foresaw the Treasury introducing such a policy within a year. In other words, the 2011 Budget provisions were a sop to Tory donors that their party was minded to reduce the top rate at some point in the future. The following Budget then introduced the policy.
Proponents argue that the reduction in the additional rate to 45p has led to a windfall for the Treasury because of reduced avoidance and evasion. I noticed in the lead-up to the Budget last month that some Tory Back Benchers were making the case for a reduction to 40p for this Budget based on higher than expected tax receipts—some £9 billion—following the top rate changes. In the newspapers this morning the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) was making a similar call for his party to adopt the 40p top rate come the general election. He is not in his seat, so perhaps he has been told to go somewhere else. I find that argument difficult to swallow as individuals seeking to avoid tax at a 50p rate would surely be minded to do so with a 45p rate. The higher than forecasted tax receipts used to justify a further cut in the top rate was surely as a result of higher than projected economic performance, and therefore a 50p rate would have brought in even more receipts for the Treasury.
That is an important point about forestalling, which I will talk about in more detail later.
I note that the Office for Budget Responsibility’s March 2012 “Economic and fiscal outlook” states on page 110 that
“the revenue-maximising additional tax rate is around 48%.”
Again, that blows a hole in the Government’s argument that their reduction of the additional rate was based on sound economic and revenue-raising evidence. That is why they should now commit to carrying out a full report, as the new clause would compel them to do. I would argue that 48 is slightly closer to 50 than to 45.
The Chancellor told the House in 2012:
“The increase from 40p to 50p raised just a third of the £3 billion that we were told it would raise.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 805.]
I know my A-level maths is a little shaky, but that still makes £1 billion, a significant sum to the good people of Carmarthenshire and the good people of Wales and the rest of the UK. The Chancellor’s justification for the tax cut for the super-wealthy was that they would avoid the tax, they might leave the UK, it raised only £1 billion, and the reduction would lose the Government only £100 million. Having brought forward their income to avoid the 50p rate in the first year, the rich delayed it in the final year to benefit from the reduction to 45p. That forestalling and deferment will have cost the Treasury billions that could have been used to avoid some of the worst cuts to those on low incomes, such as those resulting from the bedroom tax.
Recent claims by some on the Government Benches that the tax cut for the richest has yielded more revenue conveniently gloss over the increased likelihood of those with an accountant being able to move their income into the following year, given the Government’s indication a year ahead of time that they were enacting the tax cut. My advice to the Government would be to enact the proper closing of loopholes to ensure that the super-wealthy pay their fair share, instead of the fig leaves of action that the Government have offered previously. They have still not introduced proper measures to make up the HMRC estimate of £35 billion lost each year through avoidance and evasion. Other estimates put the figure much higher. Claims that the rich were fleeing because of the 50% rate are also not very well grounded. Research by the TUC, using HMRC figures, indicated that 59% of those paying the 50% additional rate were employees, most working in banking and therefore unable to leave.
Does the hon. Gentleman understand the disconnect between those who are super-wealthy and the argument that he is making, when I, my constituents and my family, who rely on public services, the national health service and so on, see the sense in paying progressively higher rates of tax, myself included, to make sure that those services are available? Why is it that the super-wealthy do not see the sense in providing for public services? Is it, perhaps, because they do not rely on them?
That is certainly one argument, and I shall talk about how, with such an attitude, the super-wealthy are cutting off their own noses, and how a progressive taxation system would benefit them as well as people like the hon. Gentleman and me, who earn far less than those who get hit by the top rate.
As the 2012 HMRC paper that examined the effect of the 50% additional rate of income tax noted,
“there was a considerable behavioural response to the rate change, including a substantial amount of forestalling: around £16 billion to £18 billion of income is estimated to have been brought forward to 2009-10 to avoid the introduction of the additional rate of tax.”
This is a massive sum which would arguably have been included in taxation had the measure been announced with immediate effect.
The most recent figures from HMRC revised liabilities up by £2.8 billion in 2010-11, £3.3 billion in 2011-12 and £3.5 billion in 2012-13. This means that HMRC says it earned a total of £9.6 billion more than previously thought from the 50p tax rate. These are of course projections of taxable income, but that makes the case for the new clause which I am pushing.
Does the hon. Gentleman want a review or does he want a higher tax rate? What would he do if that review demonstrated that 45p, 47p or 48p—anything less than 50p—was the point at which the Laffer curve tipped over? Is he interested in maximum receipts to the Treasury or in some sort of moral argument about equalising the distribution of income?
That is a very valid intervention. My political position would be to support a 50p rate, but let us have the evidence to make the decision. As I am outlining, the evidence suggests to me that 50p would be a better top rate than 45p, and certainly better than 40p.
That is the key point. If we have effective anti-evasion and avoidance measures, an increased rate of tax will inevitably lead to a higher yield.
We are living in very worrying times where wealth inequalities at geographical and individual levels are unprecedented. Parts of London have gross value added 12 times higher than parts of Wales. While London has the highest GVA per head of any area in the European Union, west Wales and the valleys has one of the lowest. The contemporary history of geographical and individual disparities has been truly depressing in this regard. Successive Governments do not have a good story to tell, with rebalancing promised but never delivered.
At the heart of the argument for a reduced top rate of tax is the trickle-down theory that underpins much of the now-discredited neo-liberal economics that the Thatcher and Reagan era ushered in. It was always sold to us that the newly re-empowered financial elites would spend their money and it would trickle down, and the people at the bottom would become wealthier as a result of this benevolent spending. But what has happened over the past 30 years? Inequality has, in fact, grown massively. Instead of the wealth of the super-rich flowing down, the rich, especially the super-rich, have got steadily even richer and hoarded their money. That money is not simply made out of the sweat and toil of their own good fortune, skill and brilliance, but often on the backs of those who work hard on the bottom rung but gain little financial reward for the true value of their efforts.
We often hear the super-rich whine that they have made their money, so why should they pay a lot of awful tax on it? Well, that tax goes towards paying for important services such as schools, to educate the work force of the next generation, and hospitals, to maintain the work force in good health. It also pays for a police force that keeps our communities safe, and a legal system that ensures that the law operates smoothly and in a trusted way to allow for a broadly prosperous economy and a society free from corruption. We erode these provisions at our peril. Taxes do not exist in a vacuum; they provide the services that create the whole that enables individuals to go on to enjoy the freedom of being able to make money and enjoy relative prosperity. That is what the proponents of the trickle-down effect have forgotten and wilfully ignored over the past 30 years, as the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) said.
My new clause would pave the way for the additional rate to be raised to 50%—a small rise of 5%—primarily because that would be symbolic of a move towards a more equal and just society. Only last month, the International Monetary Fund released a report that concluded that the more equal societies stand a better chance of long-term sustainable economic growth. Of course, the IMF is the high priest of austerity which, throughout the 1980s and ’90s, forced developing-world Governments to privatise their publicly owned industries wholesale and enact wildly free-market policies in exchange for international loans. The result was the plundering of those countries’ natural resources by global multinationals, with little benefit being felt by the poor local populations and the elites doing handsomely. It is therefore quite a turnaround for the IMF to conclude that income inequality impedes growth and that efforts to redistribute are positive.
This is the real political challenge that will face us over the next generation. That is why we should be ensuring that those with the broadest shoulders bear the burden in what will continue to be very hard times for those at the bottom of the income scale, given the massive cuts that this Government are still intent on inflicting. Let us remember that a vast tract of the austerity programme has yet to feed into the system. An additional rate of 50% would help to ensure that the super-wealthy bear the burden and pay their fair share. I urge the House to support the new clause.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark.
I represent areas that, I am sure, are not dissimilar to those of Members who have already spoken and intervened and where there is a great deal of deprivation. Anybody who wants to learn about my constituency can look at the long article about it in the business section of last weekend’s edition of The Sunday Times.
The amendments tabled by Opposition Members forget some important things. The Labour party kept the top rate at 40% throughout its time in office, until its very last day in power. The only day the rate was 50% was 6 April 2010—the day Parliament was dissolved for the general election.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) have both questioned how principled the former Prime Minister and the former Chancellor, the right hon. Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) and for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), were in their commitment to raising the rate to 50%. One thing is for sure: a general election was approaching and they probably knew that the increase would be the gift that kept on giving in terms of headlines. They had levied taxes in any way they could and they knew that going up from 40% was a dubious move in terms of raising revenue; otherwise, they would have done it earlier. What it did do was lead to more headlines.
Millionaires are paying £381,000 more in income tax in this Parliament than they did in the previous Parliament. Having said that, cutting the rate was not the top priority for me or my party. Our priority was to cut taxes for ordinary working people and we are very proud of the large moves we have made in that direction.
We should also remember that taxing the rich is not only about the headline rate of income tax. Let us consider some of the other measures this Government have already taken. Withdrawal of the personal allowance on incomes of more than £100,000 means that there is already a 60% tax rate on incomes between £100,000 and £120,000. On capital gains tax, anybody lucky enough to make a capital gain of £1 million will pay £100,000 more tax under this Government than they did under the previous Government. The 18% rate of capital gains tax under Labour meant that City operators who made capital gains paid less tax on them than their office cleaners paid on their income, which was truly outrageous. People with a pension contribution of £250,000 are now paying £94,000 more tax on it. If anyone is lucky enough to have £1 million to spend after all those taxes, they will pay £25,000 more in VAT, if they spend it on standard rate items. Tax avoidance has also gone down; Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, with its extra resources, is clamping down on it. The idea that this Government are sitting around allowing the rich to do whatever they want is absolute nonsense.
Labour’s proposal to put the rate back up to 50% has already been thrown into doubt by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. I am the first to admit that £100 million is a lot of money, but that is all that would come out of it and the IFS has said that it is not a good way to narrow the deficit. HMRC has already said that what the rise to 50% would actually achieve is doubtful. If hon. Members want to review it, we already have real experience of rates of 40%, 50% and now 45%. The Treasury and HMRC conduct regular reviews and a similar review could be conducted on real, existing data. There was a 50% rate for a period, so a real review could be conducted. It is also worth remembering that national insurance is currently 2%, so the marginal rates that people are paying to the Government are not 45%, but 47%.
We have to be careful. The experience in France is fascinating. There has been a wholesale exodus, with the actor Gérard Depardieu taking the extreme step of moving to Russia to avoid what he regards as extreme tax rates. There is no doubt that people with such incomes and that kind of money can, largely, live wherever they like these days. We need to bear it in mind that the population is more fluid than it used to be.
The Red Book makes it very clear that the top decile pays far more tax than it did. That is right because, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr said, people with the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest burden; and they are doing so, because of all the changes that have been made. Despite the fact that the amendment suggests otherwise,
“income inequality is at its lowest level since 1986”,
as the Red Book states. I find the idea that income inequality widened under a Labour Government abhorrent, because such Governments should have narrowing it in their DNA. My four grandparents, who all helped to launch the Labour party, must have been spinning in their graves during the 13 years of the previous Government. I am deeply cynical about Labour’s commitment: they cut taxes for millionaires every year that they were in government.
I look forward to discussing this further in Committee. I do not have a particular argument with reviews, but they do not need to be specified in Bills.
We touched on this issue in the earlier debate. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), who is no longer in his place, told me that I probably did not mix with many very rich people, which I suspect is probably true. My whole life and the constituency I represent have not been chock-full of people living in millionaires’ row and having lots of money in their pockets. However, his points, which other hon. Members have mentioned, about whether the recent rate changes—from 40% to 50% and back to 45%—are a good test do not bear much weight. It is quite clear, in such a short space of time that people, could rearrange their affairs in various ways first to forestall the income and then to ensure that the tax due in previous years was paid last year.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has said the same—that there has been an increase in payments, but that it was largely due to the fact that people could arrange their income in such a way as also to arrange their tax. When my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) intervened on the right hon. Member for Wokingham to suggest that people had rearranged their finances to suit the current tax regime, he was told that that was not the case. However, the right hon. Gentleman then talked about how those with high incomes—the rich, in his words—have plenty of ability to rearrange their affairs, so he in fact made precisely our case.
The argument that because something was not done during a certain period, it is not a good idea does not bear scrutiny either. Such a line does not relate to the financial situation in which we found ourselves. We hear a lot about the need for deficit reduction, as we have throughout this Parliament, and we know that the rate of deficit reduction has been far lower than was originally promised and planned for. Many of the changes—to tax credits, to benefits, to local government funding—were justified as absolutely essential for reducing the deficit. Under the previous Government, the reason for introducing the 50p rate was largely about that as well. It was and it remains our belief that we need a better balance when we are trying to reduce the deficit.
We all accept that there is no great virtue in running a long-term deficit. The debate has been about not whether to do something about it but the pace and efficacy with which we do something about it. Within that, there are choices to be made. There is a balance to be struck between taxes and spending cuts, and the Government have chosen to place a lot of emphasis on spending cuts and far less on tax. The 50p tax rate could have been sustained throughout this Parliament as part of the process.
However much coalition Members, particularly Liberal Democrats, wish to say that raising the tax threshold was all about helping the low paid, let us not forget that it had a substantial cost—already more than £10 billion in tax forgone to date—and that three quarters of the benefit has gone not to the lowest paid but to those on above-average earnings. The main beneficiaries are not the low-paid people about whom everybody professes to care so much. At the same time as the Government reduced tax, many lower-paid people lost housing benefit payments and tax credits, so they were worse off than they had been.
Now, 17% of those in employment are below the tax bracket, and the Government are offering them nothing. If they got any benefit from the first rise in the tax threshold, they are getting no benefit from the further increases, which are costing the Government money. Every time the tax threshold is raised, it has a substantial cost, and the benefits go substantially to those who are better off. There is an unequal division, and if we wanted to spread the load, the 50p tax rate could have been part of that. We have to measure things over a longer period, rather than looking purely at a period of three or four years when people have been able to rearrange their tax affairs in a way that suits them.
The 50p tax rate was not the be-all and end-all of reducing the deficit or of tax policy, but many of my constituents cannot understand why reducing the rate was made such a priority. They are finding the cost of living difficult, and they are suffering losses, including to local services. Many people end up having to pay more, because councils are making up for a loss of funding by charging for many services. That affects people, and they are puzzled about why a Government who said “We are all in this together” have made such a tax cut their top priority. It is not at all unreasonable to examine the impact of that and to be willing to listen to what people are saying about their cost of living.
I am following the hon. Lady’s argument about the tax changes, and I have two questions. First, does she object to the raising of the threshold to £10,000? Secondly, will she oppose her party’s policy of adding a 10p rate? She seems to feel that such things do not help the people she wants to help.
We have to be honest about the tax threshold. The primary driver behind the change is constantly presented as being concern for the low paid, but the major part of the benefit has accrued to those who are better off. The change also has a substantial cost, at a time when we are told that money is tight. It is worth considering what would help the less well-off in a more concrete way. When the threshold was raised, tax credit rules were changed, tax credit rates were lowered and child care help for people on tax credits was slashed. At some undefined point in the future, the threshold will again be increased, but that is not a lot of help for those who, for the past four years and for however long it takes to establish universal credit, have had their help with child care cut.
The threshold is not what it seems, and we have to be clear about that. If we genuinely want to help the low-paid, we have to consider the model that we use. Many commentators have suggested that, for example, we should consider child care costs and work allowances within universal credit. One change that the Government have made to universal credit since it was first proposed—not that many people are on universal credit yet—is to reduce the work allowances, which means that people lose universal credit faster as their earnings rise, so the low-paid will again suffer. It now turns out that the introduction of assistance covering 85% of child care costs for those on universal credit will have to be paid for from another part of universal credit, so people who, by definition, are not very well off will be paying for that child care assistance. That is rather strange because I do not believe that the tax relief for child care will necessarily be funded in quite the same way. If we really want to help the low-paid, it is worth considering other proposals and no longer simply arguing that raising the tax threshold is helping the lowest paid and will always be the best way to do so.
On the 50p tax rate, I contend that there has been a series of decisions that have heavily affected those who earn the least and are struggling the most, and no number of graphs showing that people at the high end are now paying more tax, or that the proportion of tax changes that affect their income is at least as high as the proportion affecting the low-paid, can show otherwise. The reality is that five percentage points off the tax rate for those on very high incomes is very different from five percentage points off the tax rate for those on very low incomes; it is the difference between parents being able to pay for their children to go on a school trip or being able to think about taking the bus into town because those things cost. A five percentage point difference for someone on a very high income might be the same numerically, but it does not have the same consequences for people’s lives.
I am following the hon. Lady’s argument carefully, and she is straying from tax into welfare, which I understand is a real concern for her. She makes a good point on the effect of proportionate tax rates. The cut in tax through raising the threshold has actually reduced the tax and national insurance bills of people on the minimum wage by some 70%. If we are talking percentages, does she welcome that figure? Does she also accept that anyone working 30 hours a week or more on the minimum wage is earning £10,000? Finally, will she answer the question about the 10p tax rate? Will she oppose that policy?
The hon. Gentleman suggests that it is irrelevant to link welfare and tax, but I do not agree. Welfare and tax are intimately linked in a very practical way for someone who may have seen their tax bill go down but who has also seen their benefits go down substantially and so are either no better off or are actually worse off. That is a very real link, because raising the tax threshold has a substantial cost; it is not a pain-free, non-costed policy. At £10 billion, the policy costs a considerable amount of money that could have been spent in some other way. I am not convinced that the net effect for the lowest paid is such that they benefit. Given that so much of the benefit goes to people who are better off, I would have thought he would want to question that policy.
My hon. Friend makes a good argument. How much more does the increase in VAT affect people on low pay than the very rich? An average family loses £1,350 a year because of the increase in VAT. How can they be helped by the Government’s measures given all the other cuts they have imposed?
VAT, like a lot of indirect taxation, is extremely regressive. Before 2010, the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) campaigned vigorously against an increase in VAT, calling it a tax bombshell. He thought that at one point and might continue to think it.
Those policies have an impact, one on the other. Tax is not isolated from spend. As I said at the beginning of my speech, in decisions on dealing with the deficit, we must look at both. The balance we strike is extremely important. Increasingly, the burden is falling on spending cuts, which include cuts on various benefits and tax credits. The cuts to local authorities have been extremely important for many people who rely on the services that councils provide. They have found either that services are withdrawn or that the charges levied for them—for example, charges for social care, whether for people at home or in residential care are rising—are a big burden, as they are for a lot of families. We cannot look at those things in isolation. The Opposition have made proposals, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but at this stage, new clause 4 proposes having a proper look at the 50p tax rate. Labour has made its position clear: we would reinstate the 50p rate.
I will do my best to abide by your ruling, Ms Clark—you probably want me to do more than my best.
Reference has been made to the fact that an historic event is taking place elsewhere in Parliament. I am sure that my colleagues will represent the Democratic Unionist party very well, but I have to attend this important debate. As a Unionist, I would have loved to see the President of the Irish Republic giving a speech to both Houses of Parliament with King Billy looking over his shoulder—I understand that King Billy is somewhere behind him while he gives his speech. Even better, tomorrow a republican will sit down to dinner with the Queen.
Things have changed in Northern Ireland, but the debate on the 50p rate has not changed. It is again a political football between Labour and the Conservatives. I want to make something clear at the outset. I do not wish to engage in a debate with some kind of class motive, or from the point of view of bashing the rich by imposing taxation on them. My party and I believe in lower taxation. Our record in Northern Ireland, where we have very limited power over taxes, has been one of keeping tax low. My basic philosophy, which may differ from that of some on the Opposition Benches, is that we should allow people to keep as much of their income as possible and to spend it as they see fit. That is the first point I want to make.
My second point is that we can become distracted from the crux of the argument by the accusation that this is a bit of a cynical exercise—after all, for all the time the Labour party was in power it kept the tax rate at 40% and only put it up on the last day. The essence of the argument then becomes not whether we should have a higher rate of taxation for those who are better off, but whether this is some kind of political stunt which, as the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) said, can be milked week after week and headline after headline, but has no real substance. If we allow the debate to rest at that level, we miss a number of important points.
Any taxation policy must be predicated on two things. The economic impact on the policy is very important, but equally important is the political context in which the policy is introduced. If the Government cannot see beyond the fog of the amount of money the policy brings in and how, or whether, it helps to deal with the deficit—two points I will come on to later—to the political context, they are sadly out of tune with the people across the United Kingdom.
There is something to be learned from the experience in the Irish Republic. The austerity measures there have been much harsher than those in the United Kingdom, yet there has not been the same groundswell of opposition. One reason for that is that it was in much more desperate straits, but there was also an understanding that, to use the phrase that gets bandied around time and again, the policies ensured that they were all in it together: they were applied across the broad spectrum of society.
The hon. Member for Redcar talked about some of the tax policies introduced that have hit the rich more than the poor—capital gains tax and a number of other changes—but the truth is that people look at the headline issue. The headline issue in this context is what has been happening to income tax. Those on middle incomes have found their income being squeezed. Tax bands have not increased with inflation, so more people have been pulled into the 40% rate. At the lower end of the scale—I do not want to wander into welfare reform—welfare reforms have had an effect on the poorer groups in society, and the wage freeze has had much more of an impact on people on lower incomes. There is a belief that we are not all in this together.
A cynicism has developed as a result of ignoring the political context in which this policy change has been introduced. In the Budget the Chancellor told us that the years of austerity will last until 2020 and maybe beyond. Given that, it is important for the country that if people are to be told that difficult fiscal times still lie ahead, they understand that the burden of those difficult times is going to be shared. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) explained why he had not gone for an immediate change in the new clause: it cannot be done at this stage of the Bill. He has called for a review, as have the official Opposition, so that there could be some indication that Parliament is not ignoring the appearance of a gap when it comes to the burden sharing of the ongoing austerity measures. I have no doubt, given the level of debt and of ongoing annual borrowing, that there are difficult decisions to be made. However, if the Government really believe that, it is surely in their interests to show to the broad spectrum of the population that no one will be excluded and that there will be no privileged groups when it comes to dealing with this issue.
The argument from Conservative Members is that this is a necessary measure to deal with the deficit. “After all,” they say, “if we bring the rate of taxation down at the top level, fewer people will flee the country, fewer people will try to avoid tax through fancy schemes, and people will be given an incentive to work harder. As a result, we will bring in more money.” The first thing to ask is how accurate that assessment is. There are two ways of looking at it. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr talked about the Laffer curve and the point at which tax take can be optimised. If it were as simple as getting a formula and saying, “That is exactly the rate at which we will maximise tax revenue,” I suppose the Chancellor could sit down and coldly calculate the rate of taxation that should be set.
The truth is—this is why economists get these things wrong so often—that there is no exact science. If we are making predictions and we have to feed into an economic model assumptions that may or may not be right, the outcome can be radically different from what was originally expected. If we look at the elasticity of tax income, we see that the variations are large. Some estimates put it as inelastic whereas some put it at quite elastic. The Treasury have settled for somewhere in between, but let us bear it in mind that it is an estimate. It is not exact. The variations are large, so one cannot say with any degree of certainty that in theory the tax take should go up and that this is therefore a good policy which helps to reduce the deficit.
The additional thing contained in the figures is the behavioural aspect. Whether we are talking about the way in which people will try to avoid tax or the number of people who will not flee the country, as opposed to the number who did flee the country in the past, we are introducing a huge element of uncertainty, because we cannot accurately predict the way in which people will respond in certain circumstances. There are so many factors that will influence their behaviour.
I apologise for having left the Chamber. I had to address some young constituents.
The hon. Gentleman has made a number of good points. May I now ask him a question that I asked earlier? Why is there such a disconnect in the moral compass of the super-wealthy that they feel they would rather flee the country than pay a couple of extra pennies in income tax? Why do they imagine that they live in a different world, and that they do not need to sustain the public services on which everyone else relies?
That is a very good question, but the fact is that we do not even know whether that is the way in which people behave. As has already been pointed out, many of those who pay the top rates of tax are employees, and many have their roots here. Their children are at schools here, they are involved in their communities here, and they have their families—their grannies, their mummies, their uncles and so forth. The assumption that people will suddenly cut all those ties when the marginal rate of tax is raised is extremely tenuous. I have not so far seen any figures that suggest that that happens. I can understand that if the marginal rate were raised from 45% to 90%, there might well be some incentive for people to leave, but when it is raised by only a few percentage points, is there really an incentive for people to avoid taxation by becoming exiles, given all the disruption that that may cause?
Ministers frequently refer to tax take predictions based on economic models, but it should be borne in mind that such predictions cannot specify the exact impact of tax changes with rapier-like incision. Their other argument is that, if the theory and the models cannot provide an exact picture, we should look at what has happened to tax revenue in practice over the past few years, because the proof of the pudding is in the eating. No doubt the Minister will give figures showing an increase in tax revenue from this particular income group, in which case we must ask whether it is possible to separate the various elements that have led to that increase.
I believe that the Government made a rather cynical attempt to ensure that they would achieve the result that they wanted by announcing the tax reduction a year in advance, knowing that that would give people an opportunity to defer the tax that they pay, thus enabling the Government to point to an increase in tax revenue in the first year of the new rate. Of course, if people are given advance notification and a chance to delay their payments, we will see the predicted outcome. I suppose it would be best to see whether the trend continues over a longer period, because we do not have any figures yet.
We know that while the incomes of certain groups have been frozen, incomes have been much more fluid at the top end of the income scale than at the bottom end, where there has been a blanket 1% increase. Indeed, there have been wage decreases in some parts of the private sector, especially at the lower end of the scale. How much of the increase is attributable to the fact not that there is more tax take from the same level of income, but that there is more tax take from increased incomes because there has been greater fluidity at that end of the income scale? Even after consideration, it cannot be said with absolute certainty that the reduction in the level of income tax has led to the increase in revenue.
There are a lot of uncertainties, and it is for that reason that I make the following argument. The Minister could be correct when he says the public purse has benefited, but given the uncertainties as to whether that has been due to rising incomes, deferred tax payments or a range of other factors, against the political impact this has had and will continue to have as austerity measures have to be applied in the economy, serious consideration needs to be given to the proposal that the situation be reviewed.
In an intervention it was asked whether we would persist in going back to the 50% rate if the review showed that 48% is where we maximise. Given that there may well be a marginal difference, I think some of these decisions have to be made on what people believe, and the politics of the decision will dictate that as well. That is why I believe this is an important amendment.
One thing I have found in the context of Northern Ireland is that headline rates of taxation can have a very important psychological impact. In a previous occupation, I had many discussions with the Minister about a reduction in corporation tax in Northern Ireland. The problem we faced was that there was a 12.5% rate in the Irish Republic and we had a much higher rate in Northern Ireland. In fact, however, with all the concessions, firms in Northern Ireland probably paid less corporation tax than those in the Irish Republic. That was not the important thing, however. The important thing was that when businesses looked at corporation tax—
The point I was trying to make, perhaps at too great a length, was that the important thing was the headline rate when people were looking at places to locate their businesses. It is the same with income tax. While there may have been other tax changes that have affected the rich, when people make a judgment on the Government’s sincerity about austerity, they will look at the headline rate, and what they see when they look at the headline rate for those on middle incomes, for those on lower incomes—not in terms of the headline rate of income tax, but in terms of what has happened to their income—and for the most well-off in society is that there is a disparity, and that breeds cynicism. I believe an amendment such as this one will at least help to restore some confidence that when this House looks at what lies ahead, it is genuinely trying to make sure the burden is shared equally.
I apologise to the Committee for being absent earlier; I was with a group of young people from my constituency who are interested in politics and in what is being debated in the Chamber today. I am glad to have a few minutes now to say a few words.
The new clause and the amendment are innocuous and harmless proposals. They simply ask the Government to be transparent and to produce a review within a few months to show the effect of a 50p tax rate on those whose taxable income is between £150,000 and £1 million a year. I have struggled to find many such people in my constituency. I have tweeted about this on social media, asking people whether they think our amendment would be a bad idea, but, unsurprisingly, no one has come forward to say that they earn that much.
It is in the Government’s interest, as well as ours, to have this transparency. It is also in all our interests to tell people that we get the message about proportionality and contributing to public services. There is an emerging trend among the Conservatives to describe themselves as being the party of the working class and of working families. If that is the case they should support our proposals, because they would create full transparency and allow a debate to take place on whether we should set a tax rate of 50%, 49% or whatever. The proposals would also allow them to explain to working people—not the ones who earn between £150,000 and £1 million a year, but those who earn about £20,998, the median wage in Ogmore Vale—and to Conservative supporters why they think it is not a good idea to say to people, “Pay your share. We are genuinely all in this together.”
The hon. Members for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) and for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) have made good contributions to the debate, and I made a couple of mischievous interventions on them earlier. I have faith in the wealthy and the super-wealthy in this country. We will not have many Gérard Depardieus fleeing the country and heading off to Russia, or wherever the British, Welsh or Scottish equivalent might be. They will say, “We have respect for the communities that we work and employ people in, and it will not bankrupt us to stay here. We are not going to flee overnight to another country like some carpetbagger. We are not going to up sticks and relocate our premises.” That is not going to happen; it did not happen before, even when taxes were at much higher levels. It is a discredit to those people to suggest that it would happen.
In preparation for the debate, I looked into a few examples of people who had said that a return to the 50p tax rate would be a disaster. I was about to say that it would be wrong to name them, but one of them, the chief executive of Kingfisher, has been very outspoken in saying what a terrible detrimental effect such a measure would have. He has said that it would be a disaster for the country, and that entrepreneurs and businesses would flee. Well, okay, it might be just a coincidence that Ian Cheshire is an adviser to the Prime Minister as well as being the chief executive of Kingfisher. It might also be just a coincidence that he was knighted in the new year’s honours list. I am sure that that is pure coincidence. However, he clearly has a direct influence on the Government. When he says, “This is not good”, things happen. It is not only him, however.
It was fascinating to note the reaction of one other person, when this debate was raging about 18 months ago. I will not name this individual, but people can look him up in the Daily Mail. It is pretty obvious who I am talking about. He had said that he objected to a 50p tax rate on the basis that people like him would no longer be inspired to go out and earn money. He was reported in the Daily Mail as being about to sell his £3 million mock-Tudor home. He was explaining that he was now in a great place but when he had previously had trouble expanding the property, he had solved the problem by snapping up the property of his next-door neighbour. This was in an area inhabited by rock stars, football players and other highly paid celebrities. He had snapped up the house next door so that he could put in a swimming pool, a games room and a garage block for his Bentleys. We do not have many garage blocks in Ogmore. The properties were in a patrolled, gated community with private security.
My constituents who are on less than £21,000 a year think that that is another world. They think, “Why doesn’t that guy think he should be paying a couple of pennies more to keep the national health service going, because I can’t afford to have private health care or to send my children off to private school? I need what the state provides.” I know that this is like an old comedy sketch—“I look up to him because he is better than me.” But, that is not the case. The person I am talking about was one of those hardworking Tory supporters who some Government Members would like to appeal to now as the working Tory voter. Let us have a reality check. To those who say, “We feel really unhappy about this change, and it will drive us off”, I say, “Go.” They should subscribe to the values and ethos of this country—from each according to his ability to each according to his need. If they do not, they are not living in the country in which I was brought up. They should think twice about saying that they will go. Most people will sensibly recognise the skills and the quality of the work force, the good environment here for building up companies and our position in the European Union, and they will stay in the country and continue to work. All this amendment asks is that at a certain point in time, not too long in the future, we should be told what the impact is on those who are earning £150,000 or £1 million. Be transparent and tell us.
I represent a constituency with similar income levels to that of the hon. Gentleman. However, does he regret the fact that a senior member of the Government he was in described himself as being “intensely relaxed” about the situation that he has just described?
I would never use that same phrase. I do not find myself intensely relaxed about this. Sorry, what I mean is that someone playing for the Ospreys rugby team might not earn as much as a premiership footballer, but good luck to them. Let them make a lot of money. Let them do well for their families. Let someone travel to France and play for Perpignan and earn four times the money. Good luck to them, but I want them paying their taxes. When they are back here, I want them to contribute the right amount. I want to encourage the people in my constituency, and say, “If you have the abilities and the skills, and if you are willing to put in the effort, don’t accept that job that you are doing now. Work your way up and do what you can do. The sky is your limit.” But I want them also to contribute. I do not want this ludicrous situation in which people can say, “I tell you what, at a certain point I will leave the country.” I do not believe that they will leave the country. It will not happen. I have much more faith in them than that.
One of the major hedge fund operators, again a Conservative donor, told the Financial Times:
“There probably aren’t many votes in cutting the 50p top rate of tax, but among those that give significant amounts to the party, it’s a big issue, and that’s probably why it’s a big issue for the party too.”
Four months after he said that to the Financial Times, the Budget happened and we had the cut in the tax rate. It is probably just a coincidence again.
Let us look at the impact of this policy and the Government’s current policies on the wider population—beyond the wealthy and the super-wealthy. The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ figures on net income changes by 2014-15 show that overall, households are £974 worse off; a working lone parent is £1,335 worse off; a working couple with no children is £438 worse off; a working couple with children is £2,073 worse off. What about the millionaires? They get this enormous tax cut so that they can go out and buy a couple more Porsches. The Minister might say, “No, it is so that they can reinvest it in this, that and the other.” What about reinvesting in public services? Why does the Minister think that they want to escape from that obligation that we all have to each other to contribute? It may be 47p, 48p or 49p, but there is a message—there is clarity—about us all being in it together that comes with saying that it is 50p. If that 2p seriously makes a wealthy individual say, “We are leaving this country because it is a disgrace that any Government should come after me”, I would say that it is a disgrace that they are even thinking in that way. I have more faith in those people who have made wealth in this country. I believe that they will want to stay here and genuinely help us climb out of this economic morass. They will want to build jobs, grow the economy, skill the economy and lift up the wages of some of my constituents.
I rise to support amendment 4, which stands in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Our amendment seeks to require the Chancellor to publish a report on the impact of setting the additional rate—the top rate—of income tax at 50%, but unlike new clause 4, our amendment requires that the report must also estimate the impact of the top rate in 2014-15 if it is set at 45% and at 50% on the amount of income tax currently paid by someone with a taxable income of £150,000 a year and of £1 million a year. Our amendment therefore seeks to prescribe somewhat more than new clause 4 what the report that must be prepared by the Chancellor of the Exchequer should include. We intend to press our amendment to a vote at the end of the debate.
The Labour Government introduced the 50p rate, which came into effect in 2010-11. We have had a number of debates on the top rate of tax ever since, particularly since this Chancellor’s decision to reduce the top rate from 50p to 45p. That decision is an important indicator of both the Chancellor’s and his Government’s priorities. While ordinary people have been struggling with the cost of living crisis—based just on a measure of wages, they are £1,600 a year worse off, or, taking into account tax and benefits changes, they are £974 a year worse off—the Chancellor has seen fit to give a tax cut worth an average £100,000 to millionaires in our country.
When the Government came to power, they did not say anything in the coalition agreement about abolishing the 50p rate. In 2011, the Chancellor said that he was going to ask HMRC to look at the yields from the 50p rate. In 2012, with HMRC’s report, “The Exchequer effect of the 50% additional rate of income tax”, to back him up, he abolished the rate. The Chancellor knew that he needed cover for that deeply ideological decision and so was desperate, in my view, to claim that the 50p rate raised as little money as possible. Of course, if he could say that, he could justify with more of a straight face giving a tax cut to the richest in our country at the same time as knowing that on his watch ordinary people, those on middle and low incomes, have paid the price for his economic plan, which is failing on the terms he set himself when he came to power in 2010. This was a highly political decision driven by a desire to give a tax cut to the richest people in our country.
Reports at the time suggested that the Chancellor wanted to go further and cut the top rate back down to 40p, but was blocked from doing so by his coalition colleagues. As a compromise, 45p was settled on. Of course, we know that the Conservative party is chomping at the bit to see the rate lowered from 45p to 40p and it is a shame that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) has not been in the Chamber for this part of the debate, although we did cover some of his views in this regard in the earlier debate on corporation tax and business rates. As a result of his comments and use of figures, we have in the past week seen efforts to try to bolster the case for reducing the rate back to 40p. I note that the Government have not explicitly ruled out such a change.
We know from the Government’s own assessment that the cost of cutting the rate from 50p to 45p was more than £3 billion, excluding all behavioural changes. Given that the sum is so large, how does one justify the tax cut? The Government say that most of that potential £3 billion revenue would effectively be lost as a result of tax avoidance. Once they have assessed revenue lost as a result of tax avoidance and other behavioural change, the Government go on to say that the cost to the Exchequer is only £100 million. That implies that this is a neat and exact science, but nothing could be further from the truth.
I will come on to the point about tax avoidance. One option open to the Government to protect revenue from the 50p rate was to do more on tax avoidance. This is a Government who like to trumpet their record on tax avoidance, but they certainly ducked the opportunity when it came to dealing with potential avoidance in relation to the 50p rate.
I will not, because of a lack of time.
The HMRC report says that all the analysis and estimation is highly uncertain, as does the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The scale of behavioural change is ultimately decided by Ministers, and it is primarily based on an assessment of taxable income elasticity—TIE. The IFS says that there is a huge margin for error. Staying within that margin, one could easily say that, depending on the TIE, cutting the rate could cost £700 million or could raise £600 million. That gives us an idea of the range of figures that we are talking about and how uncertain the projections are.
It might have fitted the Government narrative for them to imply that they knew for certain that the 50p rate would raise only £100 million, but even on their figures and HMRC’s report, there is a huge margin for error and this is all very uncertain. That is not the only thing that was wrong with the analysis. The HMRC report was based on only one year’s worth of data—the data related to 2010-11—which is a weakness in itself. It came too early. Given the history of the introduction of the rate and the Government’s decision to cut it, the reliance on year one is a further weakness in the Government’s argument, because we know that incomes were taken earlier to avoid the 50p rate and as a result incomes in 2010 and 2011 were artificially lower, suggesting a lower yield. Hence our request for a review.
The original HMRC analysis does not give a true picture, was done too soon after the rate had been introduced and was based on only one year’s worth of data. Income figures for that year were lower than otherwise might have been the case because people brought their income forward to 2009-10 before the rate came into effect. No one has redone the analysis so we are still going on the figures from the 2012 Budget. The Government should, at the very least, update the analysis based on the more recent data and prepare the report that our amendment and new clause 4 call for. A comparison of 45p and 50p rates for those on incomes over £150,000 and £1 million would be instructive to the public debate about the top rate, especially as some Members on the Government Back Benches want to reduce the rate to 40p.
The hon. Lady is generous in giving way. When her party announced that it would reintroduce the 50p rate in the next Parliament, she wrote in the New Statesman:
“latest figures from the HMRC show that people earning more than £150,000 a year paid almost £10 billion more in tax”
than was taken into account in the assessment that HMRC made. Is she happy to put on record the fact that the HMRC assessment took into account the numbers that she was talking about, and that the claims that she and her colleagues made at the time of the announcement of the 50p policy were in fact wrong about that?
Our analysis was based on projections that were available to us at that time, and on those projections that analysis was correct. The truth is that everyone accepts that all analysis in relation to the 50p rate—HMRC’s analysis and everyone else’s—is uncertain because we did not have the rate in place for long enough to make a full and thorough assessment. Now HMRC has available to it records for the following two years when the 50p rate was in place and it could update the report that was used for Budget 2012. That would give a much clearer picture to all of us who are relying on other figures and forecasts.
Just as people shifted income into 2009 and 2010 to avoid the 50p rate when it was introduced, once the Chancellor had said in his 2012 Budget that he would abolish it the following year in 2013, unsurprisingly people effectively decided to delay their bonuses and income until the new tax year 2013-14 began so that they could avoid paying 50p and pay 45p instead. That is what accounts for the revenue from 45p being higher, which in our earlier debates Government Members sought to rely on in support of cutting the rate further to 40p. The Government clearly reward tax avoidance at 50p with a tax cut to 45p, and their Back Benchers are now calling for 40p on the basis of revenue that they know is inflated owing to income shifting, which may well have cost the Treasury millions in lost revenue—warped priorities if ever there was a case of them.
The Chancellor is on record as saying that he considers tax avoidance to be “morally repugnant”, but as I have just said, he has rewarded a particular form of tax avoidance with a tax cut. I wonder if that has ever happened for people on middle and lower incomes. I think not. This is a Government who always tell us how proud they are of their record on tax avoidance, but I wonder how much effort they put into thinking of ways in which they could protect revenue from the 50p rate. The Government have introduced the general anti-abuse rule, the GAAR, which may have helped. They could have thought about a targeted rule. They could have looked to HMRC to do more. I understand that no specific measures are taken within HMRC to protect revenue from the 50p rate. Before rushing to abolish the rate, the Government could and should have looked at protecting revenue first. The truth is that there was no justification for giving a huge tax cut to the richest in our country. Bonuses, we now know, are up by 83% for those in the financial sector, while ordinary people are worse off now and will be worse off in 2015 compared with 2012. That certainly makes a mockery of the now not very often repeated phrase, “We are all in it together.”
I think the Government have been hoping that if they keep going on about the increase in the personal allowance, people will forget that they have made a political decision, a political choice and a political priority to cut taxes for the richest in our country. The truth is that the Government have given with one hand and taken away much more with the other. As I said, if one looks at wages, ordinary people are £1,600 a year worse off, and the combined effect of tax and benefit changes means that households will, on average, be £970 a year worse off.
This cut to the 50p rate cannot be justified at a time when the deficit is high and will not be eliminated towards the end of the next Parliament. Labour in government will increase the rate back to 50p to help us to get the deficit down in a fairer way. Just as we have said that we want the OBR to have powers to audit manifestos ahead of the next general election, because we believe that scrutiny will add to public understanding about the choices that are being made, so too we think that a review as envisaged in our amendment would help the public to understand the impact of the top rate of tax so that they can make up their own minds about who is standing up for them and other working people like them. Therefore, we will press amendment 4 to a vote.
It is a great pleasure, Mr Amess, to serve under your chairmanship. Before I deal with our annual debate at this stage in the Finance Bill on the 50p rate, I want to say a word or two about clause 1, which is included within the group, which ensures that income tax will be collected in 2014-15. Income tax is the Government’s biggest revenue source and the annual charge legislated in the Finance Bill is essential for its continued collection. There will be around 30 million income tax payers in the UK in 2014-15, and clause 1 states that these taxpayers will pay income tax this year at the same rates as in 2013-14. The basic and higher tax rates remain at 20% and 40% respectively, and the additional rate is 45%.
Clause 1 also means that the Government are meeting their commitment of raising the personal allowance to £10,000 one year ahead of schedule. The increase of the personal allowance to £10,000 reduces the income tax bills of another 255,000 low earners to zero and gives 25 million taxpayers an average gain of £50 in real terms. In other words, increasing the personal allowance by £560 will put an extra £112 of cash in the pockets of typical basic rate taxpayers in 2014-15.
Allow me to explain how these changes will help the Government to meet their objectives. When this Government came to office, the personal allowance was only £6,475. In 2010, everyone, including those working on the national minimum wage, had to pay income tax at the basic rate on incomes above this low threshold. Let me give an example of what this meant in practice. Someone working full-time on the October 2010 national minimum wage would have had to pay over £860 in income tax in 2010-11 alone. Thanks to this Government’s increases to the personal allowance, this year someone working full-time on the higher October 2014 national minimum wage will pay nearly £500 less than that.
We have enabled people to keep more of the money they earn to reward those who work hard for their families. The gains from our personal allowance increases are spread widely. Altogether, this Government will already have taken more than 3 million low earners out of income tax by the end of April. That number will further increase to more than 3.2 million by April 2015, when the personal allowance will be more than £2,800 higher than under the previous Government’s plans.
Ministers have talked a lot about low incomes, and that is all very well, but is not the reality that the better off people are and the higher the rate of tax they are on, the more they benefit, so in fact higher-rate taxpayers benefit more than lower-rate taxpayers?
That is not correct, because of the way we have done this. I will not spend a lot of time on the matter, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in preparation for this speech I have seen various responses from those raising concerns about higher-rate taxpayers not benefiting from the increases in the personal allowance in the way that basic-rate taxpayers have. Indeed, those earning more than £100,000 a year do not benefit from increases in the personal allowance because it starts to be taken away.
The reality is that basic-rate taxpayers have benefited most from the measures that we have taken in increasing the personal allowance. More than 26 million taxpayers will be up to £570 better off in real terms in 2015-16 as a result of this Government’s changes. In 2014-15, basic-rate taxpayers already pay up to £700 less income tax than they would have done four years ago. By 2015-16, the Government will have cut their income tax bills by over £800 per year. Together, all the personal allowance increases since 2010 mean that this Government have cut the number of income tax payers more in five years than any Government in a similar period since records began.
Amendment 4 and new clause 4, tabled by Opposition parties, deal with familiar matters that we debate every year. They propose, once again, that within three months of passing the Finance Act, the Chancellor should publish a report reviewing the impact of setting the additional rate at 50%. In addition, amendment 4 asks for an assessment of the impact of setting the additional rate for 2014-15 at 45% and at 50% on the amount of income tax currently paid by those with taxable incomes of over £150,000 and over £1 million per year. Needless to say, such an analysis, in order to be credible, would need to take behavioural impacts into account, as did the HMRC report on the additional rate published at Budget 2012. When increasing taxes, it is not enough merely to look at theoretical income tax liabilities. Let me assure hon. Members, once more, that this Government already consider the impact of any policy decisions taken. The HMRC report on the additional rate concluded that the underlying yield from the introduction of the 50p rate was much lower than originally forecast due to large behavioural effects. It even said that it is possible that the 50p rate could have reduced income tax revenue instead of increasing it. It would be illogical and unfair to reintroduce a tax rate that is ineffective at raising revenue from high earners and that would end up making ordinary taxpayers pay more and risk damaging growth.
I genuinely thank the Minister for trying to explain that to me, but he has just described the top-end tax cut as a theoretical tax cut when my understanding is that it is a very real tax cut whereby 13,000 people who are millionaires or richer have each saved more than £100,000 per year. At this very moment, my constituency is digging deep as a result of cuts to school transport. Will the Minister confirm that the tax cut is not theoretical, but real, and that 13,000 people who are millionaires or richer have each saved to the tune of £100,000 as a result of it, when the median wage in my constituency is sub-£21,000?
Let me see if I can find a point of consensus with the hon. Gentleman. We want—and I suspect he wants—to ensure that the wealthiest make a fair contribution towards reducing the deficit, and the challenge for any Government is to work out the best way of doing that. Let us look at this Government’s record on raising money from the wealthiest. Budget 2010 increased the higher rate of capital gains tax and Budget 2011 tackled avoidance through disguised remuneration—a policy that was opposed by the Labour party, even though it addressed avoidance by high earners. Budget 2012 raised stamp duty on high-value homes and autumn statement 2012 took action to reduce the cost of pensions tax relief, while Budget 2013 and autumn statement 2013 announced further measures to tackle offshore evasion by high earners. In 2013-14, the richest 1% of taxpayers contributed a larger share of income tax receipts than in any other year, including every year under the Labour Government.
The point is how we raise money from the wealthiest. The 50p rate is not the most effective way of doing that, because the behavioural effects are so strong that it fails to raise money. Now that growth is finally picking up, the Government will not consider any actions that might put the UK’s recovery at risk. Despite reducing the additional rate, the richest now pay more income tax than they did in any year under Labour.
The Minister was generously trying to find a point of consensus and I want to build on that, following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies). The Minister talked about what might be raised by closing avoidance loopholes for the very richest, but what about the 13,000 honest millionaires who my hon. Friend says have benefited from a tax cut of £100,000 each? Will the Minister address that specific point and confirm that those honest millionaires—this is not about avoidance and loopholes—will each benefit from a tax cut of £100,000?
I suppose we are talking about the people who for almost the entire time the Labour party was in power were paying a lower rate of income tax, a lower rate of capital gains tax and a lower rate of stamp duty. I hear the Labour party’s position. [Interruption.] If we are trying to build consensus, let us look at what some Labour politicians have said. The noble Lord Myners, a former Treasury Minister, has said:
“The economic logic behind Ed Balls’s thinking would not get him a pass at GCSE economics,”
“Ed Balls takes us back to old Labour and the politics of envy.”
Lord Jones, the former trade Minister in a Labour Government, described the policy as “lousy economics”.
To be fair, Lord Jones was a Minister in a Labour Government. The Mail on Sunday has reported a key supporter of Tony Blair as saying of Labour Front Benchers:
“The trouble is they are economically illiterate and have no understanding of business or profits.”
The hon. Gentleman gives us examples of people arguing that the policy is economically illiterate, but we are politicians, not economists. I will try to reach consensus with him by saying, although perhaps I should not, that the policy is in his party’s interests. The biggest segment of those who donate to the Conservative party—providing more than half its donations—are from financial services. To say to them, “We are all in it together. You will have to accept a little bit more pain”, would be a good political signal, let alone an economic one.
I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his political advice. I cannot but notice that he talked about wanting to uphold the values of the British people and then quoted Karl Marx—but there we go. My point is that the wealthiest are making a bigger contribution in income tax, capital gains tax and stamp duty, and that this Government are taking further action to deal with avoidance and evasion more effectively than any previous Government have done.
I suspect that my hon. Friend may well be right, so I am grateful to him on that point.
Clause 1 will help the Government to achieve our aim of a tax system that is fair for everyone, while rewarding those who want to work hard and progress. We will achieve those goals by cutting income tax for the vast majority of income tax payers, including those in greatest need of support, while making sure that the tax system remains easy to understand. I again stress that the reports proposed in amendment 4 and new clause 4 are entirely unnecessary. The impact of reducing the additional rate of income tax has been examined in great detail. The 50p rate was ineffective and meant risking the recovery for which everyone in this country is working hard. I therefore commend clause 1 and urge the House to reject the amendment and the new clause.
We have had a very interesting debate. We heard excellent speeches from the hon. Members for Redcar (Ian Swales), for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and my good friend the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), as well as from both Front Benchers.
My new clause 4 is rather harmless, if I may say so. It calls for a review that might make the case for the Government’s policy—they might want the evidence to back it up—or the case for my party’s policy of a 50p top rate. With all three Westminster parties signed up to continuing austerity, whoever wins the next Westminster election, we need transparency to ensure that the wider public are confident that everybody is paying their fair share. I regret that because the Government have not accepted my new clause, I will have to divide the House.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 1 April).
The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).
Charge, rates, basic rate limit and personal allowance for 2014-15
Amendment proposed: 4, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
‘( ) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, publish a report on the impact of setting the additional rate of income tax at 50 per cent.
( ) The report must estimate the impact of setting the additional rate for 2014-15 at 45 per cent and at 50 per cent on the amount of income tax currently paid by someone with a taxable income of—
(a) £150,000 per year; and
(b) £1,000,000 per year.’.—(Shabana Mahmood.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
I have to report to the Committee that the tellers for the Noes in the Division on amendment 2 have reported to the Chair that they wrongly reported the number as 289 and not 288. I will call for the record to be corrected accordingly, showing 288 Noes.
New Clause 1
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must undertake a review of ways in which changes to the tax and childcare systems could be used to increase the affordability of childcare before April 2015, with particular reference to—
(a) the cost of childcare for parents in work; and
(b) the cost of childcare, including the impact of changes in the tax and benefits system during this Parliament.
The Chancellor must publish the report of the review within six months of the passing of this Act and lay the report before the House.’.—(Catherine McKinnell.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be now read a Second time.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. New clause 1 draws attention to the rising costs of child care for working parents since 2010, and seeks to commit the Government to addressing their failure in that regard. It also seeks to establish ways in which the tax and benefit systems could be used to make child care more affordable before April 2015, so that hard-working families experiencing a cost of living crisis can have the help that they need now, especially in the light of the challenges that they face as a result of changes made by this coalition Government.
The new clause gives us a welcome opportunity to explore one of the most pressing issues that face millions of parents throughout the country, and to address the fact that millions of families are facing a child care crunch. It is important to set the issue in context by revealing just what has happened to child care costs on this Government’s watch. The average bill for a part-time nursery place providing 25 hours a week has risen to £107, the highest level in history. The cost of nursery places has risen by 30% since 2010, five times faster than pay, and the average weekly cost of a full-time place has risen to £200 or more. That means that parents working part time on average wages would have to work from Monday until Thursday before they had even paid their weekly child care costs.
The point of putting the issue in context is that the rise in child care costs since 2010 is astonishing, and has made child care unaffordable for many parents. I shall say more later about the number of parents, particularly mums, who feel that the cost of child care prohibits them from going to work. I think that rather than questioning the statistics, Government Members should get real and do something about that. Waiting until 2015 to make a promise for tomorrow is just not good enough, which is why we tabled our new clause.
According to alarming new research from the Family and Childcare Trust, families are paying more on average for part-time child care than they are spending on their mortgages. They are handing over a staggering £7,500 a year or more for child care for two children, which is about 4.7% more than the average mortgage bill. Rising prices have been matched by the fall in the number of child care places. The number of places provided by nurseries and childminders has fallen by more than 35,000 since 2010, at a time when the number of four-year-olds has actually increased. Most worrying of all, there are 576 fewer Sure Start children’s centres than there were in 2010, which means that an average of three are being lost each week. At least, that was what we were seeing before the Government took their database down.
The point about children’s centres is really important. Many of those centres have simply reorganised the way in which they work, and now have operational entities in different places and a single administrative centre. That is why the headline figure suggests that children’s centres are closing. In fact, very few have closed, and those closures have been due to rationalisation rather than cuts. I find it very upsetting that Labour Members insist on making an assertion that is not correct.
The figure that I gave is correct. It is from the Government’s own database, before they took it down. Goodness knows what the number is now, but we know from our local communities that even the Sure Starts that remain open are offering reduced services, and that a huge number of Sure Starts are under threat as local authorities struggle to meet their current budget requirements.
Government Members might like to know that Salford city council, owing to the budget cuts amounting to £100 million that have been forced on it, will have to cut eight Sure Start centres this year, leaving us with only four. Government Members must stop being in denial about this issue.
Yes, I agree that it is important that Government Members stop being in denial, because it will be a dreadful indictment of their being out of touch with reality if they fail to address this issue and instead stand by and watch our network of Sure Start centres disappear.
Very much connected to that point is the recent ASDA-mumsnet survey which reveals that seven out of 10 stay-at-home mums consistently say going back to work simply would not make financial sense because the hefty child care costs would leave them worse off, and 52% rely on household salaries for child care and 35% rely on their family for child care. In this context it is still disappointing, if not surprising, that the Institute for Public Policy Research recently published a report showing that the UK’s maternal employment rates are far lower than those of our OECD competitor countries.
Does the hon. Lady agree that for many people with children if they did not have their grandparents or their aunties, the cost of child care would be too great for them to return to work? Does she feel that while the Government have made some concessions on child care, they have not given enough of an incentive for those people not to need to depend on their grandparents and aunts in order to be able to continue to work?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. There is a heroic army of grandparents out there providing that much-needed support within families to ensure that those really struggling with the cost of living crisis can still be in work, but unfortunately some people do not have that luxury. There are an awful lot of people who cannot rely on that support and who find the current cost of child care too prohibitive to go to work or find that, despite working all hours, they cannot put food on the table.
While it is right to recognise that families will decide on the best ways of making arrangements and that grandparents and other family carers have an important role, do not children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds benefit the most from having access to formal child care, whether in a nursery or with a childminder? That gives them the best start in life and we need to do more to target families from the most disadvantaged backgrounds so that they can access child care.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. There is a multitude of reasons why we should support parents and enable those who want to work to do so, one of which is the benefits for children of being in that child care setting. That is why Labour has made one of our key pledges—and we call on the Government to take it up in this Budget—to extend the free child care that is available for three to four-year-olds. We call on the Government not to wait until 2015, but to do it now and to pay for it through the increase in the bank levy that we have suggested and which the Government should take up—or at least they should certainly undertake the review we are calling for today to look at the viability of that in this year’s Budget.
Does the hon. Lady genuinely think it is realistic and practical to implement that policy right now bearing in mind that the Government are already rolling out their offer for two-year-olds and nurseries are already under pressure from the implications of the influx of two-year-olds?
The amendment is perfectly reasonable. I know the hon. Lady cares about this issue and I am sure she would want to see her Government doing everything they can to provide support and to help parents up and down the country who we know are struggling with this important issue. That is why the amendment we have tabled today calls on the Government to
“undertake a review of ways in which changes to the tax and childcare systems could be used to increase the affordability of childcare before April 2015”.
It is a perfectly reasonable amendment and I see no reason why Members on both sides of this House would not support it if it could bring about the changes that parents need today, not in 2015.
Returning to the issue of maternal employment rates, for mothers whose youngest child is aged between three and five that rate is currently 64% across the developed world, yet the rate in Britain is six percentage points lower at 58%, which is the equivalent of about 150,000 mothers not being employed. The rate in Sweden is 80%.
As the interventions today have demonstrated, it seems that Government Members prefer to gloss over the uncomfortable facts and figures that do not fit with their messages when they boast about the record numbers of people in employment, much as they do when they ignore the fact that almost 1 million 16 to 24-year-olds are out of work, a quarter of them for 12 months or more.
The child care crunch, like youth unemployment, is bad not only for families but for the country and the economy. Parents who want to work should be able, and supported, to do so. There have been consultations and numerous announcements—and, indeed, re-announcements —about the Government’s new flagship child care scheme, but we see absolutely nothing in the Finance Bill that will address the spiralling costs that families face now, rather than in 18 months’ time.
Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that the Government announced in the Budget that the tax-free child care cost cap will be raised to £10,000, which will be worth up to £2,000 per child? I know that 6,000 families in Solihull will be grateful for that.
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s point, but that help for families will not arrive until 2015 and beyond, after the next election. Many families could do with some support over the next 18 months, not just beyond 2015. There are also serious concerns about whether parents will actually be better off when the Government’s policy is introduced. I will say more about that later.
I shall turn now to the second part of new clause 1, which focuses on the impact of the tax and benefit changes introduced in this Parliament. Just last week, the Opposition published an analysis of figures produced by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, along with analysis by the House of Commons Library, which showed that working families with children, and one-earner families in particular, had been the hardest hit by the changes introduced since 2010. Those changes, which were voted through by Government Members, mean that on average, households will be a staggering £974 a year worse off by the next general election. It is worth listing what those tax and benefit changes will mean for families with children. The constituents of Government Members will no doubt be paying close attention to their household budgets when it comes to casting their vote in May 2015.
Will the hon. Lady tell us whether that analysis includes fuel duty? Does she agree that if this Government had kept the Labour fuel duty escalator going, petrol would cost 90p a gallon more today, the equivalent of £450 a year for the average family?
On average, by the time of the next general election, a family in which both parents are working will be £2,073 a year worse off. A family in which one parent works will be a staggering £3,720 a year worse off, and a family in which no parents work will be £2,114 a year worse off. A lone parent in work will be £1,335 a year worse off, and a lone parent who is not working will be £1,901 a year worse off. These changes are in addition to the impact of wages falling in real terms, which has left working people an average of £1,600 a year worse off since 2010. Households have faced 24 Tory tax rises over the same period. However, while millions of families have seen their real household incomes go down since 2010, millionaires have been given a huge tax cut by this Government. The top 1% of earners—85% of whom just happen to be men, by the way—have been given a £3 billion tax cut worth an average of £100,000 for those earning more than £1 million a year.
The hon. Lady is well aware that we have a budget deficit that needs to be addressed. This Government promised to balance the books by 2015, but look set to be way off that target. Of course the increase to the 50p rate was part of a balanced deficit reduction programme that Labour would have put in place. Instead, this Government came in and made cuts that slowed growth and resulted in three years of a flatlining economy. The only people who seem to have benefited are the top-rate earners who have been given a tax cut by this Government.
Going back to the subject under debate, the same tax cut came from a Conservative-led Government who, in their 2010 manifesto, promised to make Britain
“the most family-friendly country in Europe.”
“We will help families with all the pressures they face: the lack of time, money worries, the impact of work, concerns about schools and crime, preventing unhealthy influences, poor housing.”
Of course—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) groans from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. The Liberal Democrats claimed in their party’s 2010 manifesto:
“Liberal Democrats believe every family should get the support it needs to thrive, from help with childcare through to better support for carers and elderly parents. Liberal Democrats will improve life for your family.”
Oh, how they disappointed!
The hon. Lady is being very generous in giving way. Will she welcome the fact that one of the major newspapers today reports that wages are growing faster now than they have been in the past seven years, and that there are 1.6 million workers in private sector employment since 2010, which means that many more families are now able to afford their weekly household bill?
Any good news on the economy will always be welcomed, not just by Members of this House but by those out there who are struggling with the cost of living. No matter what good news we see in the coming months, it will not outweigh the fact that we have had three years of a flatlining economy in which wages have been squeezed and prices have risen much faster than wages, particularly in this area of child care costs. People will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010. We know that a family in which both parents work will be £2,073 worse off by the next election. Perhaps the electorate will just have to add that to the ever-increasing list of Liberal Democrat broken promises.
The Prime Minister is currently touring the country, boasting about the rise in the personal allowance—I am surprised that Government Members have not raised that yet. Incidentally, the Deputy Prime Minister claims that the Conservatives were dragged kicking and screaming to every meeting on the personal allowance. The simple truth is that working families are thousands of pounds worse off now than they were in 2010 thanks to tax and benefit changes, falling living standards and rising child care costs, all of which this out-of-touch Government have continually failed to get a grip of, and all of which contribute to the fact that child poverty is set to increase rapidly under this Government. After an unprecedented reduction in child poverty under Labour, the IFS now predicts that an extra 400,000 children will be in relative poverty by the end of this Parliament and it is clear why that is. It says:
“Tax and benefit reforms introduced since April 2010 can account for almost all of the increase in child poverty projected over the next few years.”
As we know that families will be significantly worse off by the next general election, let me turn to the Government’s proposals for tax-free child care, which were lauded in the Budget but which are missing from this year’s Finance Bill. Parents would be forgiven for thinking that they are in for a £2,000 subsidy of their child care costs, based on what Ministers have been claiming in interviews and articles in recent weeks. Let us be absolutely clear about this. Although any new money to help families facing soaring child care costs is undoubtedly welcome, this coalition will not fool mums and dads. When we scratch beneath the surface and go beyond the headline figures of £2,000 and 1.9 million families, we find that the facts very quickly come to light.
Only one in five families will receive help through tax-free child care, yet that one family in five would have to incur child care costs of £10,000 per child to get the maximum £2,000 that Government Members have been boasting about. Ten thousands pounds per child per year! How many families in Britain could possibly afford to spend the £8,000 required to receive the maximum support from the Government? Well, the latest annual child care costs survey by the Family and Childcare Trust suggests that over a year a British family spends an average of £5,487 for a nursery place for a child of two and above, which, incidentally, is £1,298 more than it cost in 2010, so in reality most families will receive at best just half the support being parroted by Government Members—[Interruption.] I am pleased that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) has been enlightened by that, as he was so horrified when I enlightened him about the reality of this Government’s policy.