I call the Minister to move the motion.
Is the Minister not present? [Hon. Members: “No.”] In that case, I call the Minister for Pensions to move the motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, pursuant to section 5 of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968, provisional statutory effect shall be given to the following motion:
Stamp duty land tax (residential property transactions)
(1) Part 4 of the Finance Act 2003 (stamp duty land tax) is amended as follows.
(2) Section 55 (general rules on calculating the amount of stamp duty land tax chargeable) is amended as follows.
(3) In subsection (1) for “a percentage of the chargeable consideration for the transaction” substitute “determined in accordance with subsections (IB), (1C) and (2)”.
(4) After subsection (1A) insert—
“(IB) If the relevant land consists entirely of residential property and the transaction is not one of a number of linked transactions, the amount of tax chargeable is determined as follows—
Apply the rates specified in the second column of Table A below to the parts of the relevant consideration specified in the first column of that Table.
Add together the amounts calculated at Step 1 (if there are two or more such amounts).
Table A: Residential Part of relevant consideration Rate So much as does not exceed £125,000 0% So much as exceeds £125,000 but does not exceed £250,000 2% So much as exceeds £250,000 but does not exceed £925,000 5% So much as exceeds £925,000 but does not exceed £1,500,000 10% The remainder (if any) 12%
Table A: Residential
Part of relevant consideration
So much as does not exceed £125,000
So much as exceeds £125,000 but does not exceed £250,000
So much as exceeds £250,000 but does not exceed £925,000
So much as exceeds £925,000 but does not exceed £1,500,000
The remainder (if any)
(1C) If the relevant land consists entirely of residential property and the transaction is one of a number of linked transactions, the amount of tax chargeable in respect of the particular transaction under consideration is determined as follows—
Apply the rates specified in the second column of Table A in subsection (IB) to the parts of the relevant consideration specified in the first column of that Table.
Add together the amounts calculated at Step 1 (if there are two or more such amounts).
Multiply the amount given by Step 1 or Step 2, as the case may be, by—
C is the chargeable consideration for the transaction, and
R is the relevant consideration.”
(5) In subsection (2) for the words from the beginning of that subsection to the end of Table A substitute—
“If the relevant land consists of or includes land that is not residential property, the amount of tax chargeable is the percentage of the chargeable consideration for the transaction determined in accordance with Table B below by reference to the amount of the relevant consideration.”
(6) In subsection (3) for “subsection (2)” substitute “subsections (IB) and (2)”.
(7) In subsection (4) at the beginning insert “For the purposes of subsections (1C) and (2),”.
(8) Omit subsection (7).
(9) Section 74 (exercise of collective rights by tenants of flats) is amended as follows.
(10) In subsection (1A)—
(a) in the opening words, for “rate” substitute “amount”,
(b) in Step 2—
(i) for “rate of tax and the” substitute “amount of', and
(ii) for “subsections (2) and (3)” substitute “subsection (IB)”,
(c) in Step 3—
(i) for “rate of tax and the” substitute “amount of”, and
(ii) for “subsections (2) and (3)” substitute “subsection (IB)”, and
(d) in Step 4 for “subsections (2) and (3) do” substitute “subsection (IB) does”.
(11) For subsections (2) and (3) substitute—
“(IB) Where step 2 or 3 of subsection (1A) requires the amount of tax chargeable to be determined in accordance with this subsection, it is determined as follows.
Determine the amount of tax chargeable under section 55 as if the relevant consideration for the chargeable transaction were the fraction of the relevant consideration calculated under step 1 of subsection (1A).
Multiply the amount determined at step 1 by the number of qualifying flats contained in the premises.”
(12) In section 75 (crofting community right to buy) for subsections (2) and (3) substitute—
“(1A) In that case, the amount of tax is determined as follows—
Determine the amount of tax chargeable under section 55 as if the relevant consideration for the chargeable transaction were the fraction of the relevant consideration produced by dividing the total amount of that consideration by the number of crofts being bought.
Multiply the amount determined at step 1 by the number of crofts being bought under that transaction.”
(13) In section 77(l)(b) (notifiable transactions) for “which tax is chargeable at a rate of 1 % or higher” substitute “any part of which tax is chargeable at a rate of more than 0%”.
(14) In section 77A(2)(a) (notifiable transactions: exception of certain acquisitions of major interests in land: interpretation) for “1% or higher” substitute “more than 0%”.
(15) In section 80(2) (requirement to make return where contingency ceases, or consideration is ascertained, and tax or additional tax is payable etc)—
(a) in the opening words, after “before” insert “(calculated in either case according to the effective date of the transaction)”, and
(b) omit paragraph (c), but not the “and” at the end.
(16) In section 80(4) (cases where less tax payable) after “in respect of a transaction” insert “(calculated according to its effective date)”.
(17) In section 81ZA(l)(c) (alternative finance arrangements: additional tax where reliefs withdrawn to be calculated by reference to effective date) for “by reference to the rates in force at” substitute “according to”.
(18) In section 81A(1) (requirement to make return in consequence of later linked transactions where tax or additional tax is payable etc)—
(a) in the opening words, after “before” insert “(calculated in either case according to the effective date of the earlier transaction)”, and
(b) omit paragraph (c), but not the “and” at the end.
(19) In section 109(2)(b) (general power to vary Part 4 of the 2003 Act: power to alter descriptions of transaction chargeable at any existing rate or amount) after “amount” insert “, or in respect of which tax is calculated in accordance with any particular provision”.
(20) In section 122 omit the entry for “rate of tax”.
(21) In paragraph 3(l)(b) of Schedule 4A (certain high-value transactions not linked to other transactions for purposes of section 55(4)) for “55(4)” substitute “55(1B), (1C) and (4)”.
(22) Schedule 6B (transfers involving multiple dwellings) is amended as follows.
(23) For paragraph 4(1) substitute—
“(1) If relief under this Schedule is claimed for a relevant transaction, the amount of tax chargeable in respect of the transaction is the sum of—
(a) the tax related to the consideration attributable to dwellings (see paragraph 5(1) and (2)), and
(b) the tax related to the remaining consideration (if any) (see paragraph 5(7)).”
(24) Omit paragraph 4(4).
(25) For the italic heading before paragraph 5 substitute “The amount of tax chargeable”.
(26) For paragraph 5(1) and (2) substitute—
“(1) For the purposes of paragraph 4(l)(a), “the tax related to the consideration attributable to dwellings” is determined as follows—
Determine the amount of tax that would be chargeable under section 55 on the assumption that—
(a) the relevant land consisted entirely of residential property, and
(b) the relevant consideration were the fraction produced by dividing total dwellings consideration by total dwellings.
Multiply the amount determined at Step 1 by total dwellings.
If the relevant transaction is one of a number of linked transactions, go to Step 4.
Otherwise, the amount found at Step 2 is the tax related to the consideration attributable to dwellings.
Multiply the amount found at Step 2 by—
“CD” is the consideration attributable to dwellings for the relevant transaction, and “TDC” is total dwellings consideration.
(2) But if the amount found at Step 2 of sub-paragraph (1) is less than 1% of total dwellings consideration, for the purposes of paragraph 4(l)(a) “the tax related to the consideration attributable to dwellings” is an amount equal to 1% of the consideration attributable to dwellings.”
(27) For paragraph 5(7) substitute—
“(7) For the purposes of paragraph 4(l)(b), “the tax related to the remaining consideration” is the appropriate fraction of the amount of tax which (but for this Schedule) would be due in respect of the relevant transaction.
(8) In subsection (7) “the appropriate fraction” means—
“RC” is the remaining consideration for the relevant transaction,
“TDC” is total dwellings consideration, and
“TRC” is total remaining consideration.
(9) For a transaction that is not one of a number of linked transactions, “total remaining consideration” is the remaining consideration for that transaction (see paragraph 4(3)).
(10) For one of a number of linked transactions, “total remaining consideration” is—
(a) the total of the chargeable consideration for all those transactions, less
(b) total dwellings consideration.”
(28) In paragraph 6(1) (change of circumstances after relief given) for paragraph (c) substitute—
“(c) had the event occurred immediately before the effective date of the transaction, more tax (calculated according to the effective date of the transaction) would have been payable, whether because the transaction would not have been a relevant transaction or otherwise.”
(29) In paragraph 6(3) (requirement to make return where more tax payable than was paid) omit paragraph (c), but not the “and” at the end.
(30) In paragraph 8(1) of Schedule 7 (acquisition relief)—
(a) for “rate” substitute “amount”, and
(b) for “0.5%” substitute “an amount equal to 0.5% of the chargeable consideration for the transaction”.
(31) In paragraph 4B(1) of Schedule 9 (shared ownership transactions) for “rate” substitute “amount”.
(32) In paragraph 12 of Schedule 9 (shared ownership trusts) for “rate” substitute “amount”.
(33) In paragraph 30(2) of Schedule 15 (partnerships) in paragraph (a) for “rate of tax chargeable under that section is 1% or higher” substitute “amount of tax chargeable under that section is not zero”.
(34) In paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 17A (leases that continue after a fixed term: additional tax to be calculated by reference to effective date)—
(a) in the opening words, after “before” insert “(calculated in either case according to the effective date of the transaction)”, and
(b) omit paragraph (c), but not the “and” at the end.
(35) In paragraph 4(3) of Schedule 17A (treatment of leases for indefinite term: additional tax to be calculated by reference to effective date)—
(a) in the opening words, after “before” insert “(calculated in either case according to the effective date of the transaction)”, and
(b) omit paragraph (c), but not the “and” at the end.
(36) In paragraph 7(1) of Schedule 19 (old linked transactions relevant to rate of tax) for “rate” substitute “amount”.
(37) In paragraph 9(4) of Schedule 19 (exercise of option or right of pre-emption acquired before implementation date) for “rate” substitute “amount”.
(38) In consequence of amendments made by preceding provisions of this Resolution—
(a) in the Finance Act 2006, omit section 162(1),
(b) in the Finance Act 2010, omit section 7(1), and
(c) in the Finance Act 2012—
(d) omit section 213(1), and
(e) in Schedule 35, omit paragraphs 2(4) and (6) and 5(3).
(39) The amendments made by this Resolution have effect in relation to any land transaction of which the effective date is, or is after, 4 December 2014.
(40) But those amendments do not have effect in relation to a transaction if the purchaser so elects and either—
(a) the transaction is effected in pursuance of a contract entered into and substantially performed before 4 December 2014, or
(b) the transaction is effected in pursuance of a contract entered into before that date and is not excluded by paragraph (42).
(41) An election under paragraph (40)—
(a) must be included in the land transaction return made in respect of the transaction or in an amendment of that return, and
(b) must comply with any requirements specified by the Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs as to its form or the manner of its inclusion.
(42) A transaction effected in pursuance of a contract entered into before 4 December 2014 is excluded by this paragraph if—
(a) there is any variation of the contract, or assignment (or assignation) of rights under the contract, on or after 4 December 2014,
(b) the transaction is effected in consequence of the exercise on or after that date of any option, right of pre-emption or similar right, or
(c) on or after that date there is an assignment (or assignation), subsale or other transaction relating to the whole or part of the subject-matter of the contract as a result of which a person other than the purchaser under the contract becomes entitled to call for a conveyance.
(43) In paragraphs (40) to (42)—
“land transaction return”, in relation to a transaction, means the return under section 76 of the Finance Act 2003 in respect of that transaction;
“purchaser” has the same meaning as in Part 4 of that Act (see section 43(4) of that Act);
“substantially performed”, in relation to a contract, has the same meaning as in that Part (see section 44(5) of that Act).
And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.—(Steve Webb.)
I am, frankly, stunned. I am not entirely sure what is meant to happen in the House of Commons when a Minister is not present. However, I am sure that the Minister would have spoken in favour of the proposals that were introduced in yesterday’s autumn statement—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As far as I can see, no Minister is present. [Interruption.] I mean that no Treasury Minister is present. Is this normal practice? How can my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) proceed with her speech when there is no Treasury Minister here to respond?
Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, on the strength of having been in the House for 17 years, that I have from time to time observed quite a lot of things that do not constitute normal practice. Let me also say to him, for the avoidance of doubt, that government is seamless in procedural terms, and any Minister can move the motion on the Order Paper.
Is it commonplace for the Minister who has direct responsibility to be absent at the material moment? It is not, although, in fairness, it having happened now under this Government, I should point out that it did happen on one occasion under the last. It is an irregular state of affairs, but the Minister who should be here will, as I have said, be immensely grateful to the Minister for Pensions, both for his presence and for his quickness of mind and fleetness of foot in taking to the Dispatch Box. I think that we will leave it there for now.
It must be said that this sort of thing is to be deprecated—very strongly deprecated—but it does not happen very often, and I hope that it will not happen again. No doubt words can be had. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep an eye on the Annunciator. The Minister has a duty to be present at the appointed moment, and the appointed moment can be a movable feast. It is the responsibility of the Minister and the Whips to make sure that the Minister is present. He or she was not present, but the Minister for Pensions has helped out.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is indeed a day on which we are witnessing parliamentary events that are not very common.
One possible reason for the Minister’s not being here on time is that he was caught unexpectedly—surprised—by the fact that only one Member of the Opposition asked a question in response to the statement by the Minister for Pensions. It is the first time in all my years in the House that I have been present when Opposition Members—apart from the Front-Bench spokesman—have had absolutely nothing to say in response to a statement. Is it not possible that the Minister was held up because he expected the statement to last for the normal length of time?
The hon. Gentleman is not only dexterous in parliamentary terms, but he is, in my experience, an unfailingly loyal man, and he has done his best to rescue those on the Treasury Bench in the current circumstances. All that I will say is that Ministers, in any Government, should not be surprised. They must not allow themselves to be put in a position in which they are surprised, and therefore not present. The Minister has not spoken, and therefore if the Minister turns up—and we are grateful to him or her if he or she does—the Minister will have an opportunity to speak.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I, on behalf of the Government, unreservedly apologise to you if any indiscretion has been performed or any bad opinion has been made? This is not intentional. My Ministers and I will see this debate through to its conclusion on behalf of the Government.
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State. We will see whether the Treasury Minister turns up, but the willingness to help of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is noted and appreciated, and I thank him for his typical courtesy in what he has just said. Let us now proceed in a pragmatic way and listen to Shabana Mahmood.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am not sure that I can respond to an opening speech that I have not heard. [Interruption.] Well, the case has not been made by the Government—the motion has only been made formally—so may I take some guidance from you, Mr Speaker, on how best to proceed?
Yes, the hon. Lady is welcome to take guidance from me, and it is this: the hon. Lady’s responsibility is to speak to the motion on the Order Paper rather than to any particular speech that might be made, so while I understand that this is an unusual state of affairs, the responsibility is to speak to the motion. The hon. Lady knows what the purport of the motion is, so she should not unduly trouble herself by trying to anticipate what the Minister might say if he were here—because he can’t, because he isn’t.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday we heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about a change to stamp duty land tax on residential property transactions, and I notice that the information he gave yesterday is set out at step 2 of the motion before the House. Would it therefore be in order for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), in making her speech and her remarks, to go through those points which are already clearly on the record and are contained in the motion?
It would be. It would be perfectly orderly, and it is good of the hon. and learned Gentleman to offer to help, but I think we can get by without his assistance for now.
I hope my guidance to the hon. Lady is clear. I realise this is an unusual situation for her to face, but if I remember rightly she is a product of Lincoln college, Oxford, so she is what they call prodigiously bright, and I am sure she can cope with the situation.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and forgive me for seeking clarification on just one further point: I wonder whether it might be more helpful and conducive to bringing the debate along if I come in later, once the Minister has been able to present himself in the Chamber.
The answer is that the hon. Lady would need the leave of the House to proceed in that way, but my strong sense is that the leave of the House would be forthcoming. [Interruption.] I am in receipt of intelligence on this matter—[Interruption.] The Minister is here! I was just about to say he was a minute away. The Minister is with us and we are grateful to the Minister. [Interruption.] Order.
Mr Docherty, calm yourself. You are aspiring to be a statesman, but you have got some distance to travel.
If the Minister is content, he can now speak to his motion and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), the shadow Minister, can then respond. I think that will be the most orderly way to proceed. I am trying to give the Minister, who has rushed to the Chamber, a chance to recover his breath. In fairness to the Minister, I should say that he came to see me about these matters the other day, displaying his usual courtesy, which was much appreciated by the Chair, and I know that it is inadvertent on his part that he is late. These things happen. We do not need to dwell on it. The Minister is here, and I thank him for that, and in the hope he has now recovered his breath, I look forward to him opening the debate on his own motion.
Inadvertent though it may have been, may I begin by apologising to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House for my late arrival for this debate? May I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions for moving the motion and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) for permitting me the opportunity to address the House on this important matter? May I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for your encouragement and support on delivering this important reform and for having the opportunity to discuss the parliamentary procedure in advance?
Yesterday, as we have heard, the Chancellor, in his autumn statement, announced an important reform to stamp duty land tax. Moving from a slab to a slice arrangement is right in terms of fairness and economic efficiency. As the Chancellor set out, 98% of people who pay the tax will benefit, and the previous economic distortions in the system have been removed, benefiting the housing market generally.
The Minister will be aware that in north Hertfordshire house prices are challenging for first-time buyers. I believe that 91%-plus of people will benefit from this reform and that the relief for the purchaser of an average house costing £275,000 is as much as £4,500. I do not know whether he can confirm that, but I just wish to pay tribute to the reform, which will help a lot of people to get on to the housing ladder.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his thoughtful and timely intervention. He raises an important point and is exactly right in saying that the purchaser of a house worth £275,000, which is the average house price in the UK, will pay £4,500 less in stamp duty land tax than they would have done under the old system. The purchaser of a property worth the London average of £510,000 will pay £4,900 less SDLT, and in every region, nation or city of the UK people will pay less in the vast majority of transactions.
I am delighted that the Treasury has been persuaded of the argument I have been making for some time. I recall saying to the Minister that this would be on my Christmas wish list for my constituents, and I have already received e-mails congratulating the Chancellor and his Department on doing this. It is going to save a lot of young people a lot of money when they are trying to get on in the difficult housing market.
I am keen that this does not become a Hertfordshire-dominated debate, but let me thank my hon. Friend, who has been tireless in campaigning on this issue. Indeed, she attracted attention to it in an Adjournment debate earlier this year, expressing her views clearly. In particular, she made the case for helping those who want to get on to the housing ladder, and I know that is a big issue in her constituency, as it is in mine, where house prices are above the average. She has made some important points in this area.
I stand to speak on behalf of my constituents of Gloucester, providing the geographical diversity the Minister was seeking, where the average house price is about £165,000—considerably less than the national average of £275,000. So the vast majority of my constituents buying houses will benefit from either a zero rate of SDLT or the 2% rate he has mentioned. Does he agree that it would be helpful if the Treasury were able to provide information to all of us as to what the savings will be for our constituents, based on the average house price?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting and important point, and we could provide information on the basis of local authorities figures. What I can tell him is that in the Gloucester local authority area—I am not sure whether it is coterminous with his seat—more than 99% of those who pay SDLT will pay less as a consequence of these changes.
It is striking to note the diversity of commentators who have been positive. Estate agents, professional bodies and others have all shown support. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has called it a “long overdue” reform. The director-general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders said:
“This fundamental reform has been a long time coming...the vast majority of mortgaged transactions will benefit from lower tax as a result of this move.”
The Building Societies Association has welcomed the announcement. It said:
“It will help individuals and families buy their own home, and smooth out the crazy tax jumps buyers have suffered around the top of each band.”
This is a principled reform that exemplifies the Government’s commitment to a fairer and more efficient tax system.
The previous SDLT regime created distortions in the housing market, imposed perverse incentives and made it harder to get on and move up the property ladder, or indeed move down the property ladder for those wishing to downsize. This major and, as some have argued, overdue reform demonstrates that even in the past six months of this Parliament, we are a Government who are continuing to make radical change for the benefit of the British people.
We realise that this is a big change, even for those who will benefit at such a significant moment in their lives. We have ensured that the changes have been properly explained. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has produced full guidance on the Government website, including a calculator that compares the old and the new systems. As of 9 am this morning, that calculator had been used almost 500,000 times, with no significant delays reported, showing the level of interest in this reform among the public. Critically, HMRC’s specialist call centre was manned until midnight last night when the changes took effect, and is open now. HMRC specialists responded to around 250 inquiries by telephone and all but 3% were resolved immediately, and the remaining handful are being followed up.
Will the Minister confirm that, under the Labour party’s mansion tax proposals, it would take more than five years for a person in a £2 million property to pay the same amount of tax that they will pay on a single transaction under these proposals? Is that a recognition that people in those properties are simply not paying enough tax?
The point I would make, as the hon. Gentleman draws me into that issue, is that it is better to collect this tax at the point at which people are entering into transactions, the revenue is available, and there are not the same cash-flow difficulties and problems with the asset-rich cash poor. This is a much better policy than a mansion tax, which would create very significant difficulties—a point that was repeatedly made by a number of Opposition Members who represent London seats.
My hon. Friend talks about Opposition Members, but they are not here in the Chamber. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) is the only one and he has come in to moan about a policy that will help 98% of homebuyers. What sort of party is that?
The other point that the hon. Gentleman fails to realise is that the mansion tax that Labour proposes would be on top of this measure, so therefore he is doubly worried about the millionaires whom he wishes to protect. On top of that, Labour would roll up the mansion tax into a death tax for millionaires.
As my hon. Friend has raised that point, I will make this observation. Labour says that more money should be raised from properties worth more than £2 million. In 2015-16, this measure will raise more than £300 million from such properties. Obviously, that is a useful sum for the Exchequer, but if the view is that Labour wants to raise £1.2 billion from the mansion tax on those properties, will it drop that figure down to £900 million? That is a question that the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be seeking to respond to later.
This policy was hugely welcomed in my constituency—Newark and Bingham, two of the fastest-growing towns in the east midlands, have lots of first-time buyers—but will the Minister provide some reassurance over rates? Will the rates, which are very high at the top, keep pace with rising house prices? We do not want reasonably affluent people on middle incomes being drawn into these rates in five, 10 or 20 years.
We have set out the rates as they stand. If there is to be any uprating, it will be a matter for future Budgets and autumn statements, but I stress that across the country 98% of transactions where stamp duty is paid will see a reduction in SDLT. My hon. Friend raises a matter that might be an issue in the future, but in every city, town and county the majority will benefit.
So far, I have touched on the administrative transitional steps for the major reforms introduced yesterday and on HMRC’s support. We have also put in place arrangements for individuals who have exchanged contracts but not yet completed. When the new system came into force, transitional rules ensured they would not lose out compared with what they expected to pay in SDLT. In those cases, people have the choice to choose the lesser of the tax rates under the old and new systems. That is only fair.
I look forward to debating the reforms in full as the stamp duty land tax Bill progresses. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made clear earlier, that discussion will begin on Second Reading next Wednesday. However, today, I would like briefly to explain our rationale for introducing the measures via two motions under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968. First, it was important to act quickly, because reform to SDLT was long overdue. Usually, the measures would have formed part of the annual Finance Bill following a Budget, which is why the stand-alone Bill I am introducing today is premised on the same financial motions as those that would follow a Budget. The first motion, which the Chancellor moved yesterday at the end of his statement, gave effect to the changes from midnight. That was important to give people certainty and to avoid forestalling.
Secondly, hon. Members will understand that the measure was subject to strict confidentiality. Given the potential impacts on the housing market of a tax change of this significance, it was right that the measure was announced first by the Chancellor to the House. We ensured that the motion passed yesterday was available in the Vote Office immediately the Chancellor sat down after his main speech and then voted on at the end of questions and answers. The motion is effectively the Bill I hope to introduce in a few moments. For the reasons I set out, it was necessary to have two motions under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act and today to allow for a fuller discussion.
I look forward to discussing the Bill in greater depth next Wednesday, but today is also an opportunity for the House to debate the matter, and I commend the motion to the House.
With the leave of the House, I wish to respond to the Minister’s speech. I thank him for eventually making it to the Chamber to move his motion and introduce the debate—just when I thought I had this place sussed out, something else happens to remind me of the many different ways of interpreting parliamentary procedure and rules. I have learned something new today, for which I am grateful.
As we indicated yesterday, once the Chancellor had made the autumn statement, we will support the measures today and the Bill next week. I have seen the draft clauses and explanatory notes—there are only two clauses and one schedule—and we will consider the technical detail ahead of the debate next week, but in the meantime I have a few questions for the Minister. If he cannot answer them today, I hope he will give us further details in time to inform our debate next week.
The reforms to SDLT apply only to residential properties; the previous stamp duty system—the so-called slab system—remains in place for commercial properties. Beyond mere electioneering, what is the Government’s reason for focusing the proposals on the residential market? As he knows, in Scotland, where the Scottish Government will take control of stamp duty next April, the land and buildings transactions tax will apply to both commercial and residential properties, meaning that Scotland will have the system for both types of property, whereas we will retain two different systems. It would be helpful to understand the Government’s thinking and any assessments the Treasury has done on having two different systems.
In the context of corporation tax possibly being devolved to Northern Ireland, where different circumstances apply, have the Government done any modelling on the potential for unhealthy tax competition if we have this differential in the way in which stamp duty operates on commercial property in Scotland and England? It would be helpful to know how much work the Government have done on that point and whether they plan to introduce further proposals.
What assumptions have the Government made regarding house price increases as a result of the stamp duty changes? It looks like we are seeing a 1.4% increase in prices against a 1% reduction in stamp duty at the lower end, and it seems also that the tax take from stamp duty will rely on a 5% annual increase in property prices. Have the Government assessed whether that might price more people out of the property market? As the Minister will be aware, the OBR’s assessment accompanying the autumn statement states that house prices will continue to rise faster than incomes, which will risk pushing home ownership further out of reach for many people. Will he share with us the Treasury’s assessment and modelling in relation to the stamp duty changes and the impact on home ownership and prices?
The last time the Minister and I debated stamp duty—in a debate introduced by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) in Westminster Hall—it was one of the only debates the House has had on stamp duty in recent times. It was a good opportunity for Members to raise issues of concern, and we discussed at length the difficulties with the system of stamp duty that the Government have now changed—the slab structure and so-called cliff edges, which no doubt created significant price distortions around the thresholds.
Many Members from all parties, housing specialists and commentators have long complained about the structure of stamp duty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Mirrlees reviews and others all agreed that the tax was badly designed. Furthermore, it has undoubtedly been an increasing burden on buyers. From 1997 to 2005, house price inflation averaged more than 10% a year, and the proportion of property transactions attracting stamp duty rose from about half to more than three quarters over roughly the same period.
Measures to alleviate the burden focused primarily on thresholds and stamp duty holidays: the threshold was doubled in 2005; temporarily increased by £50,000 for one year in 2008; and doubled again for first-time buyers for three years from March 2010. Stamp duty has continued to be a significant burden, however. It has increased by 30% between 2009-10 and 2013-14. We have seen continued growth in the housing market and more people have been brought within the higher tax bracket, all of which have increased the burden significantly. This is therefore a sensible measure, and we will support it.
Measures to alleviate the burden on buyers are welcome, but we are experiencing the worst housing crisis for a generation, and we need much more action on housing supply if we are to get our housing market into better shape and help more young people and families to realise their dream of home ownership. I made this point to the Minister in the Westminster Hall debate as well. I am sure the Government will say that they are taking action on supply through the measures in the autumn statement and in their national infrastructure plan, but most of the announcements made in the flurry of activity over the past couple of days were in fact reannouncements of existing schemes and money, and many of the projects are already in the planning system.
The truth is that this Government have presided over the lowest levels of house building in peacetime since the 1920s. We are not even building half the homes we need to keep up with demand. We also know that home ownership is at its lowest level for 30 years and that, in the next few years, the average deposit is going to rise to £72,000, a sum that is far beyond the reach of many of our constituents, and certainly of my constituents in Birmingham, Ladywood. We needed to see much more action from the Government yesterday on getting homes built as well as on dealing with the issues on the demand side. We have set out our proposals, including a policy of getting 200,000 homes a year built by 2020. It would have been good if the Government could have taken a similarly ambitious approach to house building in their autumn statement yesterday. We also need to deal with the underlying causes of the housing crisis.
I find it interesting that Government Members are happy to plead global circumstances to explain their failures in Government yet conveniently forget that we had a global financial crisis in 2008. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman made that point in a slightly petty way.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government said in their autumn statement that everything was on course. If the finances are in such a good state, why will they not adopt an ambitious programme of house building? Until we have action on the supply side, we will not be able to get to grips with this lop-sided housing market.
We need to get more homes built, and we also need to deal with the underlying causes of the crisis. For example, we know that too much land is being held as a speculative investment even though local people need homes, and that the trickle of new developments that are being built are snapped up long before people from the area can benefit from them. We also know that our country’s capacity to build homes has shrunk drastically. Fifty years ago, the public and private sectors between them built more than 300,000 homes a year; now we rely on a small number of volume house builders and, as a result, we build far fewer homes.
A number of measures are needed to deal with the underlying causes of the housing crisis and to get the number of homes built that this country needs. We have proposed new powers for local authorities, as well as a help to build scheme to run alongside the Government’s Help to Buy scheme, which we support. We particularly want to see an increase in the role of small and medium-sized construction firms, because the resulting diversity in the market would help to get more homes built and deal with the underlying causes of the crisis. As I have said, we need to see supply-side measures in conjunction with the proposals on stamp duty and the Help to Buy scheme. That would help us to get to grips with the crisis and arrive at a position where the dream of home ownership was not so far out of the reach of our constituents across the country.
I also want to mention our proposal for a tax on high-value properties—the so-called mansion tax. We believe that that is a necessary measure to get an annual sum of money into our national health service, which is in crisis and in desperate need of further, stable funding. It is interesting that the Chancellor has accepted, in his stamp duty proposals, the principle that very high-value properties in this country are under-taxed. Earlier in this Parliament, he introduced the annual tax on envelope dwellings—the ATED—which is described as a kind of mansion tax for high-value properties held by companies in a corporate envelope. Now, the Government are characterising the new stamp duty changes as their version of a mansion tax. I wonder why, as they creep towards an actual mansion tax, they will not make that final leap and simply adopt our proposal, thereby guaranteeing an annual sum for our national health service.
The Prime Minister is reported to have remarked some time ago that the Government could never introduce a mansion tax because the Conservative party’s donors would not accept it. I wonder whether that is the only thing holding the Government back. The truth is that they should go further and adopt our proposal. There is a difference between what they are doing today and our proposal. Stamp duty is a transaction tax, but our tax on high-value properties would be an annual charge that would provide a stable source of revenue for the national health service.
One of the Government’s regular criticisms of our proposal is that it would hit those who were asset rich but income poor. However, we have already set out how that could be dealt with through a system of deferral for anyone with an income of less than £42,000 a year—in other words, a basic rate taxpayer. That would be a perfectly sensible and adequate way of helping those people. We could then fairly and progressively introduce a tax that would help to get the national health service’s finances back on track.
I should like to ask the hon. Lady a practical question about her policy of excluding from the mansion tax those with an income below £42,000. She will be aware that some of the richest people in this country live off their capital rather than their income. Does she acknowledge that such people could conceivably fall within the proposed exemption?
Order. We need to be a bit careful here. We should not really be discussing the policies of the Opposition. The debate is about stamp duty. We have already had a difficult start, and I do not want things to get any more difficult.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would be happy to discuss those technical details with the Minister on another occasion when we would not fall out of order.
I reiterate that we expect our policy to raise the £1.2 billion that, according to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, internal Treasury modelling has shown it could raise. We have seen nothing to change our assessment of those figures. As I was saying, the NHS is in dire straits. There is a crisis in accident and emergency, and it is getting harder to see a GP. This Government have made things worse with their £3 billion top-down reorganisation of the NHS. If that money was available at the beginning of this Parliament, it should have gone into front-line services. We therefore need an annual source of revenue to help to deal with those issues, and a tax on the highest-value homes—the so-called mansion tax—will help the next Labour Government to do that. As I said at the outset, we believe that the proposed changes to stamp duty represent a sensible measure, and they will have our support today and next week when the proposed legislation is formally brought forward.
I am delighted to speak in this debate and am pleased that the Treasury has been persuaded of the need to do this and to find a way of doing it, which was the crucial point. I know that there is no great pot of money out there to throw around, but this measure is vital for young people struggling to get on the housing ladder and for people across the country. Having looked at the average house price in the UK, I know that it will help many families in many constituencies, including my own. If I was being very greedy, I would have said that I would have liked the bands to have been moved up, but I shall rest happy with the fact that we have now got rid of the hated slab structure that caused what I called zombie prices, which no family ever paid. Nobody paid £251,000 for a property, because it incurred an enormous jump in the tax they had to pay.
I believe that one of the reasons why the Help to Buy scheme was not taken up well inside St Albans was that our average house price is so high compared with that in the rest of the country. I found one property at the time that was under £125,000, and that was a studio. Barely any properties came under £250,000. If people cannot save up a deposit, how on earth will they afford to save the tax as well?
This measure is hugely welcome. I am sorry to say to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary that Lori, who served me my coffee this morning in Lori’s Café, said that her new pin-up is now the Chancellor, because he will save her thousands of pounds when she moves into her retirement bungalow early next year. I said that I would give Lori’s good wishes to the Chancellor, because she has had a happy Christmas present from him.
I share the hon. Lady’s sentiment that this seems to be a very progressive measure, but is she not slightly concerned that the result might be increased house price inflation?
I think that house prices will even out. If there are more transactions and people put house prices up, there will be house price inflation, but I believe that the Government are trying to tackle that by having a big house building programme. The measure will stop the pressure on people who fall around the bands. People have been told that they cannot charge a certain amount for their house, even if they have put a conservatory on it or improved their kitchen. Some have not made those improvements because they would have been pressed into a different band that would have incurred a large amount of tax.
One point that has not been mentioned so far is the possible knock-on effect on other industries. People were telling me that they were reluctant to put in double glazing, to build conservatories or to do any improvements to their houses, that they were struggling to find enough money to buy furniture as well as to pay the deposit because they had to save for the tax, which they could not roll up into their mortgage if they were first-time buyers, and that they were struggling with the multiples. People were telling me that they were struggling with the concept of the high fees that they would have to pay and worrying how on earth they would buy anything else to do with their property. I think that people selling home improvements, bathrooms, kitchens, carpets and so on will suddenly find that people who were expecting to pay a large tax bill have a little bit extra in their pocket, thanks to the Treasury, that they can afford to use to improve their house. They will say that it is worth their moving house, as they will not have the deterrent. This will free up the market and there will be a lot of knock-on benefits.
We have to be mindful of house price inflation, because it excludes a lot of people from the market, but I am absolutely certain that in my area the majority of people who will benefit will be young first-time buyers who are desperately trying to save that awful combination of a very large deposit, solicitors’ legal fees and a large bung to the taxman. I am truly grateful that the Treasury was persuaded of that argument.
I have crunched a few numbers, and I know that somebody asked whether the Treasury would do this. In St Albans, a young couple buying their first flat would have paid an average of £8,132 in the stamp duty levy and they will now pay £4,597. That is a large chunk of money when people are starting out in life. Similarly, in a terraced property they would save just over £2,000, in a semi-detached property nearly £5,000 and in a detached four-bedroom property nearly £2,500. At every level of average house prices, people will save thousands of pounds. Many young people, unfortunately, are having to try to rely on the bank of mum and dad. There will be quite a lot of relieved mums and dads who have been digging deep and helping with these heavy burdens who will be grateful about the measure.
I raised this issue with the Prime Minister in April and asked whether he would use his good offices to influence the Treasury on the question of places like St Albans, with barely one house worth less than £250,000. I thank the Prime Minister if he did that.
I accept that people higher up the ladder will not find this good news. In a high-value area such as mine, people will say that if they were to move up from their £1.5 million house or even to move down to a £1 million house, they will pay higher stamp duty. As I said, there is no golden pot of money out there to throw around. I hope that coming in to the next general election we as a party will say that we are acting responsibly and that we have looked at where help is most needed, which is where it is being delivered. Unfortunately, there must be a bit of give in the system somewhere and, unfortunately for the people affected, the give in this case is at the higher end of the market.
I would like to think that stamp duty was originally meant to target higher-value houses and was never meant to catch the people it is catching, including, in my constituency, young people starting out on the ladder and people on the lower income scales. Although I regret that some people will find the measure not to their liking, especially just before Christmas, the majority of people trying to get on the housing ladder—in my constituency, the figure is something like 97%—will find it a huge bonus. The people who sell double glazing, carpets or kitchen and bathroom improvements whose small businesses have been struggling as people have not been making the investments that would push them over the threshold will, I hope, find that people are now making those investments.
I wholeheartedly welcome the measure and the only Scrooge-like bit that I would add at the end is, as colleagues have mentioned, to ask that we keep an eye on the drag. I would not like to think that other people would soon be sucked in to the wrong bands. I say the wrong bands, because I think at the heart of the Treasury’s proposal is a wish to deliver home ownership to lower income families, young families and people starting out while expecting those with the broadest shoulders to pay a bit more. I welcome these changes.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who has set a superb example to those on the Treasury Bench of how to extol this policy. She also secured a Westminster Hall debate, which was useful in pressing the arguments for it.
Notwithstanding today’s procedural issues, the Treasury deserves credit for introducing this measure. It has taken four and a half years of this Government, but the previous Government had 13 years and the one before that had 18 years without introducing this overdue but incredibly important and beneficial reform.
The hon. Member for St Albans has done a lot to push the argument forward and so have other Members. I recall having a conversation with the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps)—at that stage at least, he was my friend—in which I made the case for reforming this tax, and he said very clearly that, if we were to do it, it would need to be revenue neutral. However attractive the reform might have been, the number of losers would have made it difficult without the £700 million or £800 million a year that the Treasury is putting in, so there has been a change. If that money oils the wheels of a reform that gets rid of substantial distortions, such as those under the previous tax system, that is a good use of it, and I believe that the Treasury has made the right choice.
My constituents will benefit. Much of our housing stock has been around the £250,000 mark, with rather less around the £500,000 mark. At both levels, the fixed charge of £5,000 once people move past those points has been a significant problem for the housing market and, as the hon. Member for St Albans has said, a lot of the subsidiary industries based around it. That has never been more the case than with the mortgage market review and the general reduction in appetite for some of the riskier lending among banks that has made it difficult for young people and those on the early steps of the housing ladder. They are often capital-constrained and having to find the extra money for the stamp duty almost invariably means that it cannot be spent on something else. It actually often leads to those transactions not happening.
I would criticise, not the Treasury, but the Office for Budget Responsibility for the lack of detailed workings and the lack of comprehensiveness in its forecast for the housing market and how that relates to its estimates for the cost of the stamp duty measure. The OBR has estimated that transactions would rise by 1.1% on account of the reform; I am sure that is a great underestimate. Similarly, the OBR has made an assumption—or a forecast—of a 0.2% increase in residential investment relative to GDP, yet it has assumed that that will be offset by reductions elsewhere in the economy, which it fails to particularise or explain.
I am not impressed, in this area or in others, with the three-men-and-a-dog approach that the OBR has often taken. No wonder it cannot be expected to take on the Opposition spending proposals as well, not least because it just looks at parts of them, casts its eye over them, scans them a bit and says, “That sounds reasonable,” and nods them through. On the housing side, it has not come anywhere near to taking into account the positive impact that the stamp duty reform will have on the economy, in freeing up transactions and increasing labour mobility, especially around the £250,000 and £500,000 pinch points.
I think that the reform will be very significant. The cost estimates are £365 million for this year, £760 million for next year and £840 million the following year. An assumption has obviously been made of a rise in transactions that leads to the annualised costs falling off once we get into the next fiscal year, because there will have been time for the lags to work through and we will be witnessing a rise in transactions on account of the reform. My strong suspicion, however, is that that rise in transactions will be quite a lot more than the OBR has stated, and as the hon. Member for St Albans said, there will be significant add-ons to other industries that depend on the housing market. In my view, as a result of getting rid of the significant distortions that we have had, there will be dynamic, positive impacts on the economy, which the OBR and—as so often—the Treasury have not taken into account. Such thinking has held back good reforms of taxes in these areas.
The hon. Gentleman rightly said that labour mobility would increase. People have told me that they were deterred from moving into higher house value areas because they would not only have to take on a higher mortgage but find the tax—almost a tax on their ability to find a job—if they moved to a place where there were more job opportunities but higher house values.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and that requirement comes when people are most capital-constrained, especially in the current mortgage market. So charging the tax in that way restricts mobility, restricts spending on moving home and leads to fewer transactions.
I have had constituents who have moved from St Albans to Rochester and Strood, attracted by our better-value housing stock. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) made a forecast that my return to the House as the UKIP Member for Rochester and Strood would lead to falls in house prices across my constituency. I am not sure that that will happen, and in any event, I strongly welcome this real supply-side reform. When the Government do the right thing, particularly in an extremely sensible supply-side reform that should free up the market and lead to significantly greater economic activity around the housing market, I am happy to support that reform, for my constituents and for my party.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who made some good wider economic points. The key point about this reform is that the Government are making a very large cash input, in effect, to make the housing market more liquid and help people move house when they want or need to.
The Government and the Treasury should look at every system where there are huge slab effects, whether on the tax or the benefits side. Slab systems, by their nature, produce cliff edges; and cliff edges, by their nature, produce strange behaviour. We see that in the current benefits system, where interactions between benefits can produce behaviour that was never intended. In this case, those boundaries have led to elaborate avoidance. Overpricing of carpets and curtains is commonly used to reduce the apparent house price to below a threshold. Smoothing out the profile of stamp duty charging reduces the necessity to engage in such above-board avoidance, or nefarious avoidance, which I am sure has gone on as well, owing to the large sums of money involved.
I very much welcome the changes. I should declare an interest, in that my daughter, who lives in Basingstoke, is likely to benefit from them very soon. The reform could have been carried out in a cash-neutral way, but would have been difficult to implement because of the losers involved, so I welcome the injection of money that has enabled it to be framed in such a way that 98% of people will see no change or a saving.
This progressive reform is another example of how the Government are making the people with the broadest shoulders bear the biggest burden. Houses sold at over £937,000 will incur an increase in stamp duty, and a £5 million house will incur a stamp duty increase from £350,000 to half a million pounds—so an extra £160,000 on a large house.
May I put on the record a correction in relation to figures that were mentioned earlier in the debate? Purchasers of houses between £937,000 and £1 million lose out. Then there is another quite significant area from £1 million up to, I think, between £1.15 million and £1.2 million that will benefit from the reform.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. It is not something that I have examined closely, given the nature of my constituency, which I shall mention.
The reform is yet another example of increasing tax on millionaires, which has happened on so many fronts under this Government, including capital gains and pensions contributions. Also, with the exception of the very last day of the previous Government, income tax is 5% higher than it was in their 13 years. I welcome that; it is important that we make those who are most able to do so pay more, and this is yet another measure by which we are doing that.
There are some oddities. People will gain all the way up the chain, but for those buying at exactly £250,000 and exactly £500,000 there is no gain.
The effect in my constituency of Redcar is pretty good. I do not think that there is a property worth £937,000 in the entire constituency, so every one of my constituents will benefit from the change. I have to welcome it from that point of view. I simply ask the Minister for clarification on the point that we always have to raise on Treasury measures: whether there is any possibility of avoidance. Will these arrangements be applied clearly to overseas buyers? Will they be applied to corporate buyers when the house is being moved through a share transfer—and is that loophole being, or has it been, closed? Will they be applied where the house is being bought to let, either by individual landlords or a corporate structure?
With those few questions on avoidance, I fully support these measures. Making the housing market more liquid will lead to a stronger economy, and the way in which the reform is being implemented leads to a fairer society.
I warmly welcome the motion. I congratulate the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor on the help that they are giving to home buyers. I thank the Financial Secretary for listening, not just to the concerns of Members, particularly on the Government Benches, about stamp duty, but about how the Government may implement the policy. The Government have done absolutely the right thing to effect this policy immediately.
Back in the dark days of the great recession under Labour in 2009, when I was conveyancing residential property, the property market was on its knees. The Government of the day brought in a very welcome stamp duty holiday. That said, there were six or seven weeks between its announcement—at the Budget, I believe—and its implementation, depressing further an already very depressed property market. So I welcome what the Government have done and my hon. Friend’s taking on board those points.
The Government have taken the right approach to dealing with the problems associated with stamp duty. The major problem was the slab rate and the effect that it had, not just for people buying property who have to pay the stamp duty, but for people selling property. Those selling property at an asking price of £255,000, £265,000 or £275,000 have for some time been faced with the prospect of either having to do some dodgy deal involving carpets, curtains and other chattels, in which after the Finance Act 2004 and changes to stamp duty legislation most firms of solicitors were not willing to participate, or changing their price, often having to reduce it considerably, below the £250,000 mark, where 1% stamp duty would be payable and the buyer would have to pay £2,500 rather than £7,500. The reform will make a massive difference to people selling property.
One of the most persuasive points that we were able to make to the Chancellor when we lobbied him was that there were bands in the market where there were effectively no transactions at all because people could not get buyers to pay that little bit extra. That was distorting the value of their homes.
Again, I agree. The old system created nothing but distortion in the property market. What will happen now—as I said, I am glad it is going to happen straight away—is that people buying at £250,000, although that is not a realistic price, will pay just 1%, the same £2,500 as before, and 5% only on any amount above that, which will make a massive difference.
My hon. Friend is right and that was the fair thing to do. We must have sympathy, though, for people who completed transactions before yesterday. The new system cannot be made retrospective, which is a great shame for them, but it is a bonus for people in the process of buying property and for future buyers, especially as it will allow some people to free up some money so that they can go ahead and buy things that they will need for their new home or undertake improvements.
I have many buyers in my constituency who are buying at a price between £125,000 and £250,000, and the reform will make a massive difference to them too. They will not have to pay the full slab rate of 1% on the whole purchase price. The measure will have a major effect not just in the south-east, but in the midlands and the north of the country. Over the years many people, especially those selling and buying on, have added the stamp duty cost to their new mortgage, so they were paying the stamp duty to the Government at whatever rate, and paying that money back over 25 years or for however long their mortgage ran. On a large scale, that would cause a massive cost. The new system should reduce that burden too.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the way in which the stamp duty land tax is administered. From the Finance Act 2004 onwards, a very simple process became extremely time-consuming and convoluted, which increased the cost of conveyancing to many buyers. My hon. Friend the Minister may want to consider examining how Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs deals with these matters, to see whether some simplification may reduce the administration costs for buyers.
I thank members of the Treasury team for the action that is being taken. It will be a great help for first-time buyers and for people who want to move on. It is a policy for people who work hard and have aspiration. I welcome it in its entirety.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), who made a range of important points in typically common-sense language.
I, like others, welcome the Chancellor’s autumn statement. Like business rates reform, which is another aspect I wholeheartedly welcome, a major overhaul of stamp duty is long overdue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who has conducted a tenacious campaign for major substantive reform of stamp duty. If the experience of our hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) is anything to go by, she will shortly be elevated to a senior rank. I am sure she will be thrilled by that.
I am delighted that the Chancellor is taking action against what was one of Labour’s most arbitrary stealth taxes. The way it operated was a pretty vindictive assault on aspirational low and middle-income savers. The point has been made that, economically, a well functioning housing market should enable people to engage in mutually beneficial transactions, and make efficient use of housing stock. That is extremely important. A family in a small house should be able to move to a larger one, if they need to do so because of a growing family or if someone is earning more following a promotion. Older couples should be free to downsize when they want, not least to free up cash for other needs. Stamp duty has been a poorly designed tax that has undercut social mobility upwards and downwards.
In my constituency, we have felt that burden disproportionately. Of course, there are many families living in Elmbridge who are on very high incomes, but that does not mean that across the board it is some kind of land of milk and honey. For many of the residents whom I come across, their home is a nest egg built up after many years of saving. They may be asset-rich but income-poor. They may want to downsize to release cash for income or even the costs of care. Stamp duty has had a totally arbitrary impact on them. We also have a problem with key workers, who are vital for the delivery of local public services. They find it unaffordable to live locally and stamp duty has exacerbated that problem.
Above all, we have a wide range and large number of middle-income families, working hard, saving and facing very high cost of living pressures, and affordable housing is a major factor. As of the second quarter of last year, the median house price in Elmbridge was £445,000. That price has almost certainly risen substantially since then, but it does not buy a mansion. I can say that as someone who lives in my constituency. Typically that price would buy a two-bedroom home, which under the old regime would land the buyer with a massive stamp duty bill of over £13,000. According to the most recent market data, a family in a small home looking to buy a larger one would be left facing a bill of £13,000 or more for the average two-bedroom property, and £23,000 or more for the average three-bedroom home.
The cumulative bill is staggering. In 2012-13 my constituents paid £56 million to the Exchequer in stamp duty on residential property, which is more than the total paid in the whole of the north-east of England and a third of the figure for the whole of Scotland. Of course, Esher and Walton is just one area, and there are obviously geographic differences in incomes as well as house prices, but they do not necessarily match up, and they certainly do not tally neatly or consistently in my constituency. Elmbridge is just one example of stamp duty’s geographical unevenness. London accounted for 41% of residential stamp duty in 2012-13, and the south-east of England accounted for a further 22%. England as a whole accounted for 94% of UK stamp duty. It therefore has a very particular geographical burden, and it is not filtered according to income.
Stamp duty is not an economically efficient tax, as we have heard time and again. Stamp duty on residential property distorts the whole structure of the housing market. In particular, the slab structure, under which the relevant rates apply to the full sale price, not just the part above the relevant threshold, has created huge cliff edges, as we have heard this afternoon. It is worth dwelling on the impact of the slab structure. I think that the Chancellor made the point exceptionally well yesterday. A £1 increase in the price of a home, from £249,999 to £250,000, triggers an extra £5,000 tax liability. That cliff edge has been shown to be harmful to home owners and would-be buyers. It is worth remembering that stamp duty is a tax on transactions, so it impacts on the purchaser and the seller.
Property experts London Central Portfolio, together with the Cass business school, have put together an analysis that estimates that close to 14,000 home owners a year are forced to reduce the asking price for their home in order to get under a stamp duty threshold. Other would-be sellers are either unable or unwilling to reduce their prices to below the nearest threshold. That causes bottlenecks in the market and a drought of available properties in certain price ranges in certain areas, which is very harmful to the market and has important social as well as economic impacts.
It is little wonder that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has described stamp duty as
“a strong contender for the UK’s worst-designed tax”,
with a “perverse” and “absurd” structure. The director of the IFS argued earlier this year that in the modern era of broadly based taxation, the case for maintaining stamp duty at all is “very weak indeed”.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who along with me secured the stamp duty debate in September and who has raised these matters on numerous occasions in the media. Does he share my concern that that debate was very poorly attended by the other parties? Indeed, it was very much Members on the Government side who were concerned about the matter.
My hon. Friend, as usual, makes her point powerfully. As is so often the case, the real democratic debate and scrutiny is taking place on this side of the House, but at least the Labour party accepts these changes. I hope that in due course it will reflect and put paid to some of its ridiculous notions about a mansions tax, which is really about the politics of envy, rather than sensible economics or social fairness.
I want to move on to the impact of stamp duty, because it has also proved socially unfair. When the additional 3% and 4% rates were introduced in 2000, they were designed for the wealthy. Had the threshold risen in line with house price inflation, only properties worth £1.3 million would attract 3% stamp duty today. The Chancellor’s reforms will make a vital difference and I fully support the direction of travel. The move from the slab structure to marginal rates is far more economically efficient. It will unblock bottlenecks in the market, which also have a negative effect on housing supply and stock. I wholeheartedly welcome this move.
Likewise, I recognise that the vast majority of home buyers, and as a result sellers, will benefit. The tipping point at which buyers will pay more as a result of the reform kicks in at just under £940,000. I have two points to make about that. First—this relates to my earlier point about house prices varying dramatically across the country—there are plenty of three-bedroom homes in my constituency, as I am sure there are in London and in other constituencies, that will already be caught by the new system and will end up paying significantly more. They are not mansions owned by the super-rich; many are owned by people who have saved and so are asset-rich but income-poor. Again, London and the south-east will feel the burden. I do not think that we can always assume that it will hit only those with the broadest shoulders; it will also hit those who have saved and planned their finances over the long term, and it will have a significant impact.
Secondly—this is the missing piece of the jigsaw—given the forecasts for house price inflation, buyers of average-priced homes in many parts of London and the south-east will in a relatively short time find themselves paying substantially more. Over time, the higher rates will, by stealth, hit more and more middle-class buyers and sellers. In London and the south-east, median home buyers could be caught by the new 10% rate within 10 years, depending on how the forecasts for house prices turn out. To be clear, that means that within a decade—more or less—average home buyers could be hit by the 10% rate. Recent experience with the 3% and 4% rates of stamp duty under Labour shows that what starts as a tax aimed at the rich, within a relatively short period of time if we are not very careful ends up clobbering the middle classes. I hope that in the immediate or not too distant future Ministers will address that point square on by indexing the thresholds for all rates to house price inflation. That way, we can learn the lessons and avoid the mistakes of previous Labour Governments.
If we do not address fiscal drag now, and instead kick it into the long grass, we risk ending up over time robbing middle-class Peter to pay working-class Paul, and I do not think that we should be engaged in that, as a matter of sound economics, social fairness, or indeed long-term sustainable politics. Instead, we should be ensuring, as part of our long-term economic plan, that over the long term all low and middle-income aspirational savers and home buyers benefit from these important and welcome reforms.
It is a pleasure to reply to this debate. I am grateful for the warm support for this measure. I am sometimes so enthusiastic about these changes to SDLT that I am almost breathless, but thankfully on this occasion I am not. A number of points have been raised about this measure. Of course, there will be an opportunity to debate the legislation on Second Reading next Wednesday, when we might pick up some of those points. However, I will attempt to address some of the issues that have been raised in the debate.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) asked why we are not reforming non-residential SDLT at the same time. The argument I would make is that the market for non-residential property is very different, and the urgency for change is not the same, so I think that a different case needs to be made in that regard. We are not persuaded by the need to change that at present. Of course, all taxes are kept under review and the Government will consider that ahead of future fiscal events.
The hon. Lady also asked about the impact on the housing market. As I have said, our reforms will change the amount of SDLT due for the majority of homes, leading to a cut in the cost of moving home in the vast majority of cases. That will have a small impact on house prices overall, although the size of that effect is expected to be lower than the usual fluctuations in the housing market caused by many factors that occur year on year. I am not denying that there will be an effect, but there are many factors that come into play when it comes to house prices—
Was the Minister citing his own view just now, or merely regurgitating that of the OBR, because the major change in its forecast, of course, is that it has just changed its forecasting method from assuming that it will be average earnings in future to employing a model that it had only used in earlier years?
The hon. Gentleman brings me to his points about the OBR assessment. I was interested to hear what he said about modelling. He argued that the consequence of the changes we are implementing would be more beneficial for the economy than the OBR has set out in its projections. It is right that the OBR is independent and reaches its own conclusions. If the numbers are of a cautious nature, as he argues, then it is better to err on the side of caution. He made an interesting argument. I believe that these changes will have a beneficial effect in terms of labour market mobility and so on, and should therefore be welcomed. In putting the numbers into the public finances, it is right that we follow the independent body.
As I said earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) has been very prominent and persistent in making the case for reform of stamp duty. I am pleased that she welcomed these reforms so enthusiastically. I shall certainly ensure that the Chancellor is made aware of the views of Lori, her constituent, who is putting up a poster of him as a consequence of the reforms. I am very pleased that they have pleased Lori, and, I am sure, many other residents of St Albans. My hon. Friend made an important point about “zombie zones”; I think the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood referred to “bunching”. The OBR statistics on how the pattern of transactions can be distorted are interesting. For example, there are 30 times more transactions in the £5,000 band below the £250,000 threshold than in the £5,000 band above it. That gives an indication of the scale of the distortions in the previous regime.
The hon. Members for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) and for Redcar (Ian Swales) asked whether cash-neutral reform would be possible. It would have been very difficult to make these changes without some cost to the Exchequer in terms of forgone revenue. That might answer the question, “Why do this now?” As a consequence of other measures brought forward in the autumn statement, we can afford to fund these reforms, and it is right that we took that opportunity.
The hon. Member for Redcar referred to avoidance. Stamp duty land tax was being avoided far too often. One of the significant achievements of the Government and HMRC in the past few years is that we have managed to address that in relation to the number of SDLT schemes marketed by tax avoidance advisers, if I may put it that way—promoters of tax avoidance schemes. The amount of that avoidance has reduced very sharply. We have brought in a number of effective measures. For example, the annual tax on enveloped dwellings has played an important role. We have made great progress on this. For that reason, we are able to get the revenue that we will get because of the changes affecting high-end property.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) highlighted the reasons for ensuring that there is no gap between announcement and implementation. That is why this is a PCTA motion. I remember him making that point to me in private some months ago, so he may well have influenced the way in which the Government have proceeded, given the need to move forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) made a very thoughtful speech, and I am grateful for his observations. He is a long-standing critic of the stamp duty regime, and he has been very energetic in highlighting some of the failures in the system. He talked about future uprating. He was also the first speaker to use the expression “long-term economic plan”, so I congratulate him on rectifying a grievous omission from the debate until that point. On future uprating, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), we have set out the bands. We have not set out plans for indexation or future uprating, but future Governments will clearly wish to return to that in the long term. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton said, we will no doubt have this debate on a number of occasions. I dare say that he will be very energetic in campaigning for uprating in future, and I look forward to receiving his representations.
I thank the House for its support for this measure, and reiterate my apology for not being here at the very beginning of the debate. I hope that the motion will have the support of the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Ordered, That a Bill be brought in upon the foregoing Resolutions relating to Stamp Duty Land Tax (Residential Property Transactions);
That the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Danny Alexander, Secretary Eric Pickles, Mr David Gauke, Priti Patel and Andrea Leadsom bring in the Bill.
Stamp Duty Land Tax Bill
Presentation and First Reading
Mr David Gauke accordingly presented a Bill to make provision about stamp duty land tax on residential property transactions; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 132) with explanatory notes (Bill 132—EN).