I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Finance Bill 2015 takes another step forward in this Government’s long-term economic plan. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in last Wednesday’s Budget statement, we have grown faster than any other major advanced economy in the world; more people have jobs in Britain than ever before; and the standard of living is rising and set to rise further. We are cleaning up the economic mess we inherited in 2010 and delivering a fairer economy for all.
This Bill will build on that success. It will help British businesses to invest and create jobs, help British households to work and save, and help ensure everyone in Britain pays their fair share of tax.
That will also have the effect of increasing complexity in the taxation system. Whatever happened to the tax simplification project?
We have established the Office of Tax Simplification and put in place a large number of its recommendations. I could spend some time talking Members through some of them. It is also worth pointing out that just last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced plans to take very large numbers of people out of having to pay income tax on their savings, reducing the need for them to be in the self-assessment system. Indeed, we have set out longer-term plans to simplify the operation of the tax system through a more digitised system with online tax accounts, which will make a substantial difference to many people. I should also point out that from April of this year we will have one rate of corporation tax, which means that we no longer need a marginal rate with some 50,000 businesses having to calculate what to pay in a more complicated way. The Government have taken a number of steps on tax simplification.
We are committed to all the tax measures that the Chancellor set out last Wednesday, but appreciating the constraints on the timetable we have deliberately held a number of measures back and published a shorter Bill than would otherwise have been the case. Unlike under previous Governments, legislation for Finance Bills since 2011 has been published in draft three months ahead of the final publication of the Bill. Under this new approach, we published more than 250 pages of draft legislation in December for technical consultation, again meeting our commitment to expose legislation in draft.
We are proceeding today on the basis of consent. The Opposition required us to remove five clauses from the Bill following discussions last week. The clauses concern a new tax exemption for the travel expenses of members of local authorities; a new statutory exemption from income tax for trivial benefits in kind, implementing a recommendation of the Office of Tax Simplification’s review of employee benefits and expenses; simplifying link company requirements for consortium claims under corporation tax; a separate rate of excise duty for aqua methanol; and changes to scheme rules for the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trusts. The Government would look to legislate on all five of those clauses at the earliest opportunity at the start of the new Parliament.
I will happily take further interventions this afternoon, but let me first set out the order in which I intend to discuss the measures in the Bill. I will begin by talking about those that will boost growth and enterprise. Next, I will cover those that tackle avoidance and aggressive tax planning and then I will cover those that help families and savers do more with the money they earn. Finally, I will talk about how the Bill, like previous Finance Acts in this Parliament, will help to deliver a simpler tax system.
Let me begin with the measures designed to boost growth and encourage enterprise. Hon. Members will be aware that our long-term economic plan is working and confidence is returning to businesses and our markets, but that growth would not have been possible without the hard work of businesses up and down the country. During our five years in office, we have created the right environment to help businesses start, grow and succeed. When we came to office, Britain had one of the least competitive business tax regimes in Europe. Now it is the most competitive. Next week, corporation tax will be cut to 20%, one of the lowest rates of any major economy in the world. By 2016, that will mean £9.5 billion savings for businesses across the UK every year. That is why more and more businesses are moving operations here, starting up here or growing here.
The Bill will also bolster support for research and development and the creative sector. We are increasing the research and development tax credit for small and medium-sized enterprises from 225% to 230%, increasing the rate of film tax relief to 25% for all expenditure and introducing a new children’s television tax relief. I am sure those are industries that Members on both sides of the House will support.
The Government will not sit back and let hundreds of thousands of jobs be put at risk thanks to falling oil prices. The Bill recognises the importance of the future of the North sea oil and gas industry, our largest industrial sector. With effect from the start of next month, the Bill introduces a single, simple and generous tax allowance to stimulate investment at all stages of the industry, giving investors early certainty for their long-term investment decisions. We are also cutting petroleum revenue tax from 50% to 35% to encourage continued production in older fields. Backdated to the beginning of January this year, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week, the Bill also cuts the supplementary charge from 32% to 20%.
My hon. Friend talks about the policies that are being put in place by the Government to help businesses. Does he share my view that the freezing of fuel duty has helped not just businesses but individuals, and will he tell us how much of a saving businesses and individuals make every time they fill up their vehicle?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Very often, the debate in this House is about the impact on individuals of the freeze on fuel duty, which has considerably reduced how much fuel costs. As a consequence of our measures, £10 is saved per tank full of petrol. He is also right to mention the impact on businesses, because many of them, particularly smaller ones, pay this tax. We can sometimes forget that in that debate. Fuel duty is now 16p per litre lower than it would have been under the previous Government’s plans.
Let me return to the provisions on oil and gas. The new cluster area allowance will support the development of one of the biggest fields in the UK continental shelf, which is expected to generate about 3,500 jobs and more than £3 billion in capital investment. As hon. Members can see, the Bill tackles some of the challenges facing our business community and our economy.
Now that I have set out such competitive tax rates, designed specifically to support our businesses, let me say that we expect those taxes to be paid. The Bill continues the Government’s firm action against the small minority who seek out unacceptable ways to reduce or delay paying the taxes they owe. Under the Bill, we will legislate to create a fairer tax system by clamping down on tax avoidance and ensuring that banks contribute their fair share. Taking effect from the start of next month, the Bill will introduce a new diverted profits tax of 25%, aimed at large multinationals that artificially shift their profits offshore to avoid paying UK tax. As part of the project, I can confirm that we are working with five other tax authorities to investigate and challenge how digital multinationals shift their profits to tax havens. For the first time, we are gathering a full global picture of the tax risks those companies pose that is invaluable in helping us take decisive action.
The Bill will also increase the bank levy to 0.21% and introduce new rules for banks on carried forward losses, to ensure that banking companies can use them only to relieve up to 50% of company profits. Combined, those measures will raise nearly £8 billion over the next five years. We have always been clear that banks should make an additional contribution that reflects the risks they pose to the UK economy, and now that banks are strengthening their balance sheets and returning to profitability, they should make a greater contribution to the economic recovery.
I welcome the increase in the bank levy. Does the Minister agree that it is extremely difficult for a bank to avoid the levy, whereas the tax on bonuses, for example, would be very easy to avoid?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Indeed, that is why the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), made it clear that the bank bonus levy could only really be effective for one year. It is important that we have something sustainable that can exist for much longer.
The Chancellor indicated to the Treasury Committee yesterday that he was minded to make the bank levy permanent. Will the Financial Secretary reassure the House that that is his intention?
We believe that the bank levy and the additional contribution from the banking sector are not just for the short term, but need to be sustainable, so I entirely endorse the Chancellor’s remarks yesterday.
My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. I welcome the diverted profits tax and I think that my constituents will very much welcome that measure. Will he confirm that it comes on top of all the work the Government are leading at the OECD and that, in September or later this year, we will therefore see further rules coming in to clamp down on base erosion?
My hon. Friend again makes a very good point. This Government have led the way in the establishment of the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting project. We are already implementing some of its conclusions, including in this Bill, but there is more work to be done. The diverted profits tax is consistent with the direction that we want the BEPS project to go in, which is to align economic activity more closely with taxing rights. That is the direction in which the international tax system needs to move, and the diverted profits tax is consistent with that approach.
The Bill legislates for corporation tax loss refresh prevention, which will stop companies obtaining a tax advantage by entering highly contrived arrangements to turn old tax losses into new, more versatile losses. We will close loopholes to make sure that entrepreneurs relief is available only to those selling genuine stakes in businesses. We are strengthening civil sanctions targeting individuals with hidden income, gains or assets overseas to ensure that taxpayers who do not pay their fair share are penalised. We are tackling avoidance by large businesses and wealthy individuals, and we are tackling tax evaders.
My hon. Friend is talking about fairness in the tax system, which we all want. Will he confirm that under this Government the top 1% of taxpayers will pay more in tax than they ever did under the previous Government?
My hon. Friend makes another excellent point. This year, the proportion of income tax paid by the highest earning 1% will be above 27%, higher than for any year under the previous Government. I dare say that we will debate that in a little more detail later this afternoon. On this Government’s record in ensuring that those with the broadest shoulders make the biggest contribution, the facts are very clear: they are doing so under us. A whole host of measures that we have taken, not least in areas of tax avoidance, have ensured that we are getting in that money.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case on the work that the Government have done to tackle tax avoidance. What is being done to throw the book at the promoters of tax avoidance schemes and people who continually try their luck by entering such schemes?
My hon. Friend—given his background, he is an expert in tax matters—has been a consistently strong advocate of taking tough action in this area. I can certainly reassure him that one of our very important strands of work has been to take on the promoters of tax avoidance schemes. Indeed, we are bringing in measures to place greater burdens on them to disclose the position they are in, as well as greater surveillance and supervision of them. During this Parliament, we have seen a dramatic fall in the number of tax avoidance schemes being promoted, which is very good news. There has been a real change in the climate, driven not least by the action that the Government have taken. I believe that we have a very proud record in dealing with tax avoidance and the causes of tax avoidance.
I will give way again, because I know that the hon. Gentleman does not have long left in this House. I am more than happy to give him another opportunity to intervene, but I must then make a little progress.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so generous with his time. The Chancellor has indicated that, if he is returned to government, he will look for £5 billion of savings from evasion and avoidance; yet in its Budget report, the Office for Budget Responsibility could find only just over £3 billion of savings among the Chancellor’s provisions, which leaves a gap. Will the Financial Secretary explain to the House how he intends to fill that gap during the next Parliament?
Given this Government’s record on the measures introduced in Finance Act after Finance Act, the support provided to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in additional powers and resources for this area and the fact that yield has increased very substantially during this Parliament—from £17 billion in 2010 to £26 billion now—we are confident that further savings can be found. Through a combination of measures dealing with tax evasion, tax avoidance and aggressive tax planning, we believe that £5 billion can be found.
I now turn to how the Bill will help hard-working families. This Government have a proud record of reducing tax for the lowest-paid. Not only will the Bill deliver our commitment to raise the income tax personal allowance to £10,600 from the start of the new tax year, but it will legislate to raise it to £10,800 in 2016-17 and to £11,000 in 2017-18. By 2017, a standard rate taxpayer will be £900 better off than under the previous Government’s plans and an individual on the national minimum wage working up to 30 hours a week will not pay any income tax whatsoever. That is a tax cut for 27 million people, and it means that this Government have taken almost 4 million of the lowest-paid out of income tax altogether.
We are passing on the full gains of that policy, so for the first time in seven years, the threshold at which people pay the higher tax rate will rise not just in line with inflation, but above inflation. It will rise from £42,385 this year to £43,300 by 2017-18. Under the Bill, the rate of the new transferable tax allowance for married couples will rise to £1,100, providing help for more than 4 million couples. We are legislating to exempt children from air passenger duty so that, together with measures introduced in the Finance Act 2014, a family of four flying to Australia will now save £194. The Government have made clear their commitment to support households in the UK and to put more of their hard-earned money back in their pockets, where it belongs.
Finally and briefly, I turn to tax simplification, which was touched on earlier. Under this Government’s new approach to tax policy making, we published more than 250 pages of draft legislation in December for technical consultation. As such, the majority of measures contained in the Bill have been drawn up following lengthy consultation with interest groups and businesses. The Bill continues to build on the excellent work of Michael Jack and John Whiting at the Office of Tax Simplification, and it includes a package of measures that will help to simplify tax administration for businesses in several ways.
I will give way one last time.
According to the Financial Times this morning, the Bill will add significantly to the complexity to the tax code. The number of pages in Tolley’s is going up and up. We are told that we now have the longest tax code in the world, having overtaken India some years ago, but the Financial Secretary is presenting this as if it were a simplification. This is contrary to the entire thrust of public debate on these issues. When will we get some tax simplification?
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to hear, or he may already be aware, that the Office of Tax Simplification has looked at what constitutes complexity within the tax system. One conclusion that it reached was that the number of pages in the tax code is not a particularly good barometer of complexity. For example, the rewriting of the tax code that occurred over many years lengthened it, but the intention was to make it simpler to understand.
I would make this challenge to the hon. Gentleman: which elements of the Bill would he not want? For example, there are 40 or so pages on oil and gas tax reform, which I believe all parties recognise is a necessary response to the current circumstances, but that will lengthen the tax code. A number of pages are being added to the tax code because of the diverted profits tax, but all parties recognise the need for such a tax to deal with artificially contrived arrangements. I appreciate his point and the spirit in which he makes it and I share the desire for greater tax simplification, but there are some challenges in that for a Government who also want to deal with avoidance and ensure that we have a competitive tax system for the oil and gas sector.
I do not wish to revisit old debates about simplification, but does my hon. Friend have a view about the future strategy on anti-abuse rules? I believe that when Graham Aaronson examined the general anti-abuse rule, he thought that after about five years we would be able to start to do away with individual anti-avoidance rules and rely on the GAAR. We could therefore remove some of the more complicated provisions and the loopholes that go with them. Does my hon. Friend think that could work, or does he think it should be ruled out and that we must have both the general and specific rules?
My hon. Friend does not want to revisit old debates, but I tempted to give a response that I suspect I have given him before. The general anti-abuse rule is a big step forward, and it was absolutely right that this Government introduced it. Other Governments had considered it but felt that it was not the right thing to do. However, it is there to complement the existing measures, and we will want to see how the GAAR works over time rather than rush to judgment. I do not believe that a future Conservative Government would want to risk opening up new loopholes because of uncertainty about exactly how the GAAR applies. It is of course an anti-abuse rule and sets a reasonably high bar for behaviour covered by it, and I suspect my hon. Friend agrees that that is right because of its broad nature. We will have to wait and see before I make any commitment to repealing various targeted anti-avoidance rules.
I give way to another Member who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), is a former member of the tax profession.
My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. May I turn to the provisions on oil taxation and the revenues from oil, given what has happened to the oil price? Does he have any idea of how big a black hole would be driven into the finances of an independent Scotland were there to be another referendum campaign fought by the losers from last time?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I believe that oil revenues are something like a 10th of what the Scottish National party predicted, but I will happily stand corrected if I am wrong. The fact is that a united kingdom is better able to absorb volatility in the oil price than an independent Scotland would ever be. Given what has happened to the oil price, it is clearly to the benefit of Scotland that those calling for independence were roundly defeated last year.
Will the Financial Secretary give way?
I will give way one last time, but I am conscious that many Members will want to speak.
I thank the Financial Secretary. I am sure that he would accept, having looked at the business case for the changes in oil taxation, that the economic effects of the oil industry are much wider than simply the winning of oil. In particular, the engineering and manufacturing industries in the north-east of England are pleased by the moves that have been made.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Particularly in the north-east of England, a number of businesses are ancillary to the oil industry, so I am grateful for his remarks.
The Bill takes further steps to deliver long-term, sustainable economic growth. It puts in place a more competitive environment for business, takes more people out of income tax, continues our reforms of the tax system and supports the continued success of our industries. I commend it to the House.
It is a strange moment in the life of this five-year Parliament to be here debating the coalition’s last Finance Bill. Obviously I have great disagreements with the Financial Secretary and his colleagues in the Treasury team, but I want to extend a little hand of friendship across the Chamber. I know that this can be a difficult, even frenzied time, trying to draft legislation straight after a Budget and get things together at the last minute. However, we all aspire to be good parliamentarians, and it is incumbent on us to do our duty to scrutinise the Bill’s provisions properly and ensure that they are considered fully.
We are in the dying hours of this Parliament, but the Bill’s provisions—as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) said, they will add to the tax code—are significant and will have a real impact on the economy and on many people’s tax and financial affairs. Ensuring that the Bill has proper scrutiny is therefore incredibly important. If we are honest, we have limped along in what has felt like a zombie Parliament in the past year in particular, with little going on. I am therefore a little surprised that there is a burst of energy all of a sudden, given that many of the Bill’s provisions could have been discussed, published and thought through at a more civilised pace. It is almost as though the Financial Secretary were doing one of those cycle races in a velodrome where it is all very slow until the last minute. There seems to be a bit of a panic in the Treasury.
The Bill contains 131 clauses of complex tax changes, affecting the energy generating sector, tax avoidance, pensioners and businesses, but we have been given only six hours to cover all of it. I accept that we have little choice about that because of how the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 works—in the fifth and final year of the Parliament we can see that Parliament will prorogue at a given point. Nevertheless, I want to put on record our disappointment that we have not found a better way of improving the scrutiny of this year’s Finance Bill. Normally we would have a Public Bill Committee, in which we could spend fun-packed hours going through every provision. Sometimes I feel that such Committees go all too quickly.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will; perhaps the Minister can say how we will compress that process into six hours.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s sense of loss that there is not the usual Committee stage upstairs this year. To be clear, it is necessary to pass a Finance Bill after Budget resolutions have been passed, and there is clearly a short period between those resolutions being passed and Prorogation. I am sure he recognises that there were discussions last week in the usual manner, and that clauses that the Opposition believed should be debated and dealt with in the next Parliament have been withdrawn. The clauses that remain are those that the Labour party accepted should be dealt with in the Bill.
I do accept that, and it is good that we have had discussions through the usual channels, treating the Finance Bill this year more in what is known as the “wash-up” procedure rather than our normal less-constrained procedures. Nevertheless, I think we should pause and dwell on the fact that in a fixed-term Parliament the date of the final Budget may have consequences downstream for the legislation that is spat out at the other end. Perhaps we should consider allowing a little more time between the final Budget and the end of the Parliament—obviously a Labour Government will be in power for the next five years, so this may be quoted back at me in five years’ time—so that we have a more considered approach.
Is it a Labour party manifesto commitment to have an early Budget in the last year of a Labour Government in a fixed-term Parliament scenario?
The hon. Gentleman must wait for our manifesto in which we shall reveal all those details.
Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am that there is so little distributional analysis in the Finance Bill, given the past five years in which the poorest in society fared the worst and our concerns about an increase in VAT looming in the not-too-distant future if the Government get back in?
My hon. Friend’s point about distributional analysis is a good one. We know that those on lower and middle incomes have been hit particularly hard: people on the lowest incomes do not benefit from many of the changes that the Government have made, and we must consider what data we need.
My point about parliamentary procedure is not just about the political dates of Budgets and so forth; it is also about the time that officials and civil servants have to draft some of the provisions and proposals. I do not understand why it has to be so last minute and by the seat of their pants. It is one thing to exclude one’s political opponents from the reveal moment of the Budget, but surely it would be good to ensure that proper internal arrangement are in place in the Treasury for drafting these arrangements.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has its concerns:
“we do not think that Parliamentary consideration amounting to only one day is in any way sufficient to consider and pass another significant Finance Bill that runs to 349 pages and contains a considerable amount of controversial legislation.”
An article in today’s Financial Times quoted Heather Self of the law firm Pinsent Masons. She said that the decision to rush through the Finance Bill was
“an abrogation of the parliamentary process…Legislation this complicated should not be going through without parliamentary scrutiny”.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton was right when he talked about Tolley tax handbooks—I know his walls are adorned with the tax code in fine, leather-bound tomes. He will know that when the coalition came to office, there were 17,795 pages in that tax handbook, but by the end of this Parliament that has risen to 21,414 pages. The Minister says that is not a good barometer. I suppose it is good for publishers and perhaps makes my hon. Friend’s library a little more expansive and extensive, but I suspect it makes things more difficult for people to understand and follow. I think that our constituents deserve better and want proper scrutiny of the Finance Bill, and we will try our best to do that. The House should bear in mind the fact that the Bill appeared in the Vote Office yesterday, so it is difficult even for my diligent hon. Friends properly to absorb and assimilate all the provisions and to do justice to the Bill. Nevertheless we will give it a go and try our level best.
Ultimately, the Finance Bill could not disguise the coalition’s failures of the past five years. There is a slow recovery, but it is not being felt far and wide. By the standards and tests that the Government set when they came to office and made their promises in 2010, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have failed, particularly on the public finances. They have failed to eliminate the deficit, which should have gone by now. In fact, in the autumn statement 2010 the Chancellor trumpeted that he would bring forward to 2014-15 the year by which the current structural deficit would be eradicated, yet we find ourselves with a £90 billion current budget deficit, which fell by only 5% on the previous year—not exactly the rate we were promised.
There are many other structural issues in the economy. I do not know whether my hon. Friends remember the Chancellor’s promise about the march of the makers, but I am afraid that this country’s exports have not lived up to the £1 trillion target set for 2020; we are already a mere £300 billion off course in achieving that. Before the last election the Chancellor set the litmus test of cherishing our triple A rating, but of course that was downgraded.
One thing in the Finance Bill that supports the Government’s fiscal strategy was the revelation of how extreme the cuts will be to public services over the next three years—twice as deep over the next three years as we have seen for the past five years. In the words of the Office for Budget Responsibility, the “rollercoaster” is about to go over the precipice, and public finances, social care, the police, defence and many other public services will be pushed over the edge of that cliff should the coalition parties Government have a further five years in office.
It is no wonder that when people look at the impact of deep and extreme cuts to what Government Ministers term “non-protected Departments”, and see how deep they will be, they say, “Well that isn’t going to happen; it’s impossible to countenance that they would end up taking 30%, 40% or 50% from some of those Departments.” It is no wonder that people then believe there must be another plan, either for raising taxes or for cutting other services that some assume ought to be protected, in particular the national health service.
We had the debate on VAT, but I find it difficult to take the Prime Minister’s words seriously. These days, he has a habit of shooting from the hip—about whether he is retiring or what his views are for the day—so I am not sure that people will necessarily say, “Oh well, the Prime Minister said he’s not going to do it. That’s that then.” That is sort of what he said before the last general election about having absolutely no plans to raise VAT, but it was only a matter of weeks before he got round to doing it.
My hon. Friend will know that the number of people earning more than £20,000 has fallen by 800,000 since 2010, and the slack has been taken up by more and more people on low pay and zero-hours contracts. Does he accept that we are facing these draconian cuts because the Government are overseeing a completely unsustainable business model and creating more and more low-paid people who cannot pay any tax? The revenues are not coming in, which is why they have borrowed more in five years than Labour did in 13.
As ever, my hon. Friend manages to sum up the Government’s record in a pithy and simple intervention. I had not heard those statistics about the number of people earning more than £20,000, but I shall certainly take a look at the points he makes. We shall perhaps look at those statistics in more detail.
My hon. Friend’s point about living standards is a good one that all Members should intuitively and properly understand. If we do not include everybody in the growth of the economy, if everybody does not have a stake or a share in it, if their consumer capabilities are not stronger, and if we do not tackle the sustainability challenge for growth in the future, we should not be surprised to find that we have an unequal recovery. Britain will only succeed if working people succeed. That is a catchy way of summing that up, and Government Members may well hear it a few more times in the coming weeks, but it is true.
Ultimately, our public finances are not determined in isolation, as though they are frozen in aspic. They cannot simply be dealt with in terms of cuts or changes in revenue: there is a dynamic, strategic set of issues that relate to what is happening in the real economy and the real world. The health of our economy will ultimately determine the health of our public finances. The Prime Minister and others say, “Why are you talking about living standards? Why are you talking about these things? That is not really the economy; it’s not about growth.” Of course it is. Ultimately, these things are related.
The low-wage economy the Chancellor has been heading us towards is a danger to our public finances. We are enduring an epidemic of job insecurity. The number of zero-hours contracts has ballooned by more than 20% in the past year alone. That is a problem for those who cannot plan even for the child care they need for the week ahead, let alone for getting a mortgage. It is also bad because it undermines the tax receipts the Treasury needs to sustain and pay for public services. It means that tax credits need to be higher to subsidise low pay and it is why the social security bill is £25 billion higher than the Chancellor expected.
Those living standards issues come up time and again in surgeries, meetings and encounters that my hon. Friends have with our constituents. Some 900,000 people are using food banks, and some 600,000 people have been hit by the cruelty of the bedroom tax. These issues will come back to haunt Ministers. They have attempted to deal with the deficit by hurting those on the lowest incomes. It has not worked; it has not succeeded; and it is a strategy that will just get worse in the coming years.
I was at a Budget briefing in Dunfermline given by a local accountancy firm, Thomson Cooper, on Friday. It was pointed out that those earning more than £150,000 a year under this Government actually have a lower marginal tax rate than those earning £100,000 a year. Does my hon. Friend think that that is a really good example of how the Government have got their numbers completely wrong? Those who can afford to pay the most are in fact paying far less.
It is in the very first clause of the Bill: it seems that the Government’s proudest achievement is to cut the highest rate of income tax for those earning £150,000. They want the rate to be 45p instead of 50p. That has been their priority. They regard that as something that the country has been crying out for and that will make a big difference to the economy. I suppose if one views the economy through a trickle-down prism and believes that tax cuts lavished on the very wealthiest in society will percolate down and everybody else will benefit as a result—
Well, maybe that is the logic of the Liberal Democrats in supporting these particular measures. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but he has to admit that it was an error to ensure that those earning more than £150,000 received a tax cut. Anyone earning £1 million this year will have benefited to the tune of £42,000 in tax cuts. He does have regrets about that, doesn’t he?
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Government he was a part of put up 100 taxes in 13 years, but rejected putting up the higher rate of income tax for the entire period until the day they left office? It was 40% then—those same millionaires were that much better off under his Government.
That sounds as though the hon. Gentleman was in favour of the 50p rate and regrets that it was not implemented earlier. That is the usual argument: why did the previous Government only put it up towards the end of the Parliament? The global banking crisis hit in 2008, when we were already a long way through that Parliament. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman seems to be a banking crisis denier. He seems to think that it had nothing to do with the fiscal situation. He must admit in his heart of hearts that the banking crisis created great pressures on our public finances. It reduced a number of revenues and caused the deficit we have had to tackle. As a consequence, the tax changes that followed the banking crisis were bound to come in 2009, and that was the period in which we chose to introduce the 50p top rate. He should not be surprised that it came in towards the end of that Parliament, because the banking crisis and all the ripples that flowed from it also happened at the end of the Parliament. Let us nail that one for a start.
The cut in the rate of income tax was the wrong thing for the hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party to have prioritised. I think many people in our country regard it as a real obscenity. It is a perverse set of priorities and we would reverse them because the public finances need the extra support. The public finances need those with the broadest shoulders to contribute a fairer share.
My hon. Friend will know the excellent work of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers in raising the profile of issues affecting workers in the retail sector, who are sometimes at the sharp end when it comes to serving the public. They do a very important job. I recently met members from across the north-east who raised exactly the points he is making about insecurity at work and the need to tackle zero-hours contracts. This is a major area of concern, and retail workers in particular feel that the Government are failing to act.
The retail sector is edging towards greater and greater insecurity, as companies feel that the only way to make that extra margin is by eroding standards of contract security for many of their work force. In that context, I have to reiterate the position of those of us on the Opposition Benches: someone who works regular hours deserves a regular contract. That is why we intend to abolish exploitative zero-hours contracts.
Following on from the previous intervention, in Scotland we are seeing an abuse of apprenticeship payments to young people in the retail sector. There are a lot skills involved in working in retail, but to call three months working in a shop an apprenticeship undervalues them. That does, however, help the Scottish National party to massage the figures.
My hon. Friend should bear that in mind when we hear Ministers trumpeting their apprenticeship numbers in aggregate, because there is always a story behind them. We need genuine apprenticeships to help the next generation obtain skills and career assistance, rather than what has been happening: the re-badging of many apprenticeship programmes, existing training courses and other arrangements that have been rebranded to allow tax support for applications for apprenticeships.
The Bill is not just divisive and unfair but a missed opportunity. There are several omissions. It is not just that the Chancellor could barely drag from his lips those three little letters, NHS, which I think got one mention in the Budget—Agincourt got twice as many. We should have had action to help the next generation, for example by reducing tuition fees to tackle the burden of debt facing students. Students graduate typically with £44,000 of debt, which is a burden not just on those individuals but on the national finances. Government Members should be very scared by some of the projections. Owing to their inability to collect tuition fees from some students, barely half of all tuition fees will be collected, which is adding to the national debt in the hundreds of billions of pounds. That needs to be tackled.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how his tuition fees policy will be paid for, given that his party has been clear that it supports all the measures in the Budget, including the personal savings allowance, for example?
We are delighted that the Government took a shine to our proposals for pension tax relief changes—I suppose that imitation is the best form of flattery. We will stick with our policy to reduce tuition fees to £6,000, and we will set out in our manifesto, in a matter of days and weeks, how it will be funded. Still at this late hour, the full costings in our manifesto are available for the Office for Budget Responsibility to audit and verify—if only the Minister had shaken my hand on that. I offered him the hand of friendship—was it on the “Daily Politics” the other day?—but sadly he could not do it. It is important that we have fully costed and funded manifestos and that all parties engage in the process. We will look closely at the Conservative party manifesto. The Conservatives have made some grand promises about tax which will cost at least £10 billion to implement, even in the final year of the next Parliament, yet we have not seen a dicky-bird—even in the Budget figures—on how they will be paid for. I am looking forward to reading that chapter in its manifesto.
I mentioned that low productivity was driving down wages. Is not the point of tuition fees policy to increase the number of qualified people, productivity and national wealth, to end the deterrence on going to university, to stop people having credit ratings that prevent them from buying houses and to stop them not wanting a pay increase in case they have to pay back more of their fees? Surely this makes economic sense, while the Conservative party’s unsustainable economics of low pay and austerity is sending us into bankruptcy.
My hon. Friend knows that the change from £9,000 to £6,000 would make an appreciable difference. Of course, it is still a significant fee, but we will only ever make promises we know can be kept and that are fully funded. I would love to do more on many other tax issues, but given the state in which the Chancellor will be leaving the public finances in only a matter of weeks, we must show students that we understand the burden of debt on them and the nation. The Government never appreciated that so many students would never be able to pay back their debts and that the bill would have to be picked up by the taxpayer sooner or later.
As well as measures on tuition fees, the Bill should have contained a proper bank bonus tax for the starter jobs that many young people who are having trouble finding employment need.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his statement about the Government not realising how many people could not pay back their tuition fees loan? If tuition fees were reduced to £6,000, under his party’s policy, at what salary would people start to pay that back?
The arrangements for the rate of payback were set out in the policy documents we published, but the hon. Gentleman should know that on current projections, by 2030, which is only 15 years away, £281 billion is expected to be added to the national debt now that we have reached the proportion of 49% of people who are incapable of paying back their tuition fees. It might have been a miscalculation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so perhaps he could blame the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary—that might be the function the Liberal Democrats fulfil—but whether it was the Business Secretary’s miscalculation or the Treasury’s miscalculation, I would urge hon. Members just to take a look at the projections.
I want to make some progress—I have several pages still to get through and I want other Members to contribute.
The Bill should have contained a bank bonus tax for starter jobs and measures to scrap the bedroom tax. Given today’s timetable, however, I must move rapidly to some specific issues in the Bill and ask the Minister some questions. It is not just that we have general objections to the 45p higher rate of tax for earnings over £150,000; we have anxieties about the plans for a married couples allowance that will benefit only one third of married couples and only one sixth of families with children, and although the increases in the personal allowance are a concession, rather than leap straight to a 20p basic rate, it would be better to start with a 10p rate, as a fairer and more effective way to ease people on lower incomes into income tax.
My hon. Friend makes an important case about the bedroom tax. The average cost of the bedroom tax is £700 per annum, and across Greater Manchester, 28,000 people have been affected. In my constituency alone, 3,038 families—the highest figure in the land—suffer from it, whereas in Witney in Oxfordshire, 300 families suffer from it. This has been of huge detriment to northern regions—across the country but mainly northern regions. Government Members have no understanding of its impact on our constituents.
This is always the dilemma. Do Government Members not understand—is it just a question of ignorance?—or have they just turned a blind eye? My hon. Friend has been a diligent campaigner against the bedroom tax and has managed to articulate very successfully the harm and difficulties that people have encountered, particularly those with disabilities who need the extra space in the house. Again, that should have been covered in the Bill.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, given that such an iniquitous tax raises so little money for the Exchequer, it would be simple for the Government to abolish it tomorrow?
Many studies suggest that it costs more than has been raised. Of course, the Government knew how unpopular the bedroom tax would be and came up with their “discretionary fund” to allow local authorities to ameliorate the impact, but it has not been enough and has certainly not been extended to many people who need it. My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) will also note that there has been no guarantee that the fund will continue into future years. The Government are hoping that this will go away and that nobody will notice, but our constituents will notice.
My hon. Friend feels strongly about this, so I will give way one more time.
I do feel strongly about it. I can cite, with his approval, the case of Mr Gunning from my constituency, which has five wards in Labour Manchester and three in Tory Trafford. He lives in Tory Trafford and was not given the discretionary payment. If he had lived in Labour Manchester, he would have got the discretionary payment, although by now it would have come to an end.
That is interesting. This sort of postcode lottery has afflicted many people, so my hon. Friend makes an important point. I now want to move on.
This Finance Bill contains a series of measures relating to vehicles and emissions. On clauses 7 to 9, will the Minister take some time in his response to explain the direction of travel—if he will pardon the pun—in the differential for different types of vehicle and different years of what is charged for ultra-low emission vehicles? Our reading is that there is a differential of 4% for the financial year 2017-18 and then 3% for 2018-19. If there is an explanation for that, I am not clear what it would be. We would be grateful if the Minister could seek some inspiration over the next hour or so and help us out with that. Similarly, why are the Government using the Bill to remove the incentive for companies to provide zero-emission vans over the next Parliament? Again, I cannot understand the logic behind the provisions as it appears in the explanatory notes, so it would aid the process of debate if the Minister could clarify it for us.
In clauses 13 and 14, the Government are legislating to protect two particular groups, carers and ministers of religion, who may suffer as a result of the Bill’s abolition of the £8,500 exemption on what are known as “benefits in kind”. That is obviously welcome for those who benefit from it, but will the Minister reassure us and confirm that adequate due diligence has been applied to ensure that no other categories of low-paid worker could be adversely affected by this change? The provisions are very specific in naming the particular types of occupation, but I always slightly worry when particular types of job have to be named that other forms of occupation or employment might be affected. I would like to know more about the process the Treasury pursued in framing the clauses in that particular way.
The Bill brings forward several clauses relating to tax avoidance. Everybody knows that the Government’s record on this is atrocious, given that the tax gap increased by £1 billion to £34 billion last year. We also know that Lord Green, the champion of the Tories on many of these issues, has his own track record at HSBC. In this context, any moves to tackle extreme tax avoidance and evasion are welcome—clause 33, for example, provides for anti-avoidance measures on carried-forward losses and there are provisions on entrepreneurs’ relief—but we have some questions that it would be helpful for the Minister to answer.
Clause 12 deals with the abolition of the dispensation regime. Is there a danger that, during the course of the simplification of expense reimbursement—a principle we support—some opportunities for abuse might arise? For example, a flat-rate expenses allowance could lead to some avoidance issues. Do the Government have some figures to show the amount of taxes collected through PAYE and the benefit audit from current companies?
We support the principle of clause 20 on intermediaries and gift aid, encouraging charitable giving and making gift aid a more attractive prospect by removing the need to send off the gift aid forms through the post. Donating online is obviously welcome, but can the Government confirm how they will prevent rogue intermediaries from seeking to profit from the gift aid market? How will the Government ensure sufficient understanding of this so-called “tax to cover” principle?
Do the changes outlined in clauses 26 and 27 undermine the original anti-avoidance intentions of the late interest rule? Could these provisions be rendered in any way redundant by the ongoing BEPS—base erosion and profit shifting—process? Will the capping of group interest deductions be covered? Labour Members want to hear that proper attention has been paid to this international process and that we are not unduly jumping the gun.
We have questions about the clause 28 restrictions on research and development relief, whereby the costs of materials incorporated in products that are then sold commercially will not be eligible for that relief. Have the Government considered any exemptions for companies selling items that they had not intended to sell—for cash-flow reasons, for example? What will be the impact on liquidation of a company? Would its R and D credit-containing assets be devalued?
Before leaving my assessment of the anti-avoidance measures, I want to draw the House’s attention particularly to part 3 on diverted profits tax, which tries to deal with artificially contrived arrangements. Opposition Members want arrangements to work effectively, but we worry about the haste and laxity of the drafting. In his opening remarks, the Minister introduced this new tax on diverted profits through counteracting arrangements by which foreign companies exploit the permanent establishment rules and prevent companies from creating tax advantages by using transactions or entities that lack economic substance. We were told that the draft clauses published in December would be replaced, but the first we saw of the new iteration of the provisions was when the Bill was printed yesterday. That provides insufficient time to scrutinise and assess such a large number of highly complex and potentially important measures. This, I fear, is a direct result of the rushed timetable with which we have been presented today.
These are my questions to the Minister. What is the expected impact on the base erosion and profit shifting process? What challenges is he expecting on the basis of EU law and how will he address them? Why is it still showing such a low yield in the Red Book, given that the UK turnover of the multinational tech giants is so significant? What research has the Department undertaken into the effectiveness of the proposed enhanced civil penalties for offshore tax evasion and will the increase improve compliance?
We welcome the measure on country-by-country reporting and common reporting standard issues, but the Office for Budget Responsibility has labelled the costings and related aspects as “highly uncertain”. I understand that the wording in the draft clause that we have seen would enable public disclosure of the country-by-country reporting rules, if the OECD updated its guidance to allow for it. Is that still the case for the clause before us today? Will the Government push for public disclosure or is the Minister trying to allow the disclosure only secretly for the Revenue authorities? Public disclosure is where we should be; if not, why not?
The clauses that extend capital gains tax arrangements to foreign individuals when they dispose of UK residential properties are welcome, but again the way in which the Government have brought them forward at the last minute means that we have little opportunity for proper scrutiny. It is worrying to those outside this place to see attempts to pass such provisions in this way. We understand that the Treasury might have further legislative proposals, but can the Government address the concerns raised by the Chartered Institute of Taxation about the complexity of the new rules and the perceived unfairness in how they apply to people temporarily on assignments overseas who would not normally be required to pay a CGT charge on their main residence?
On the simplification measures, there are questions about the correct penalty regime for the new reporting requirements in the Finance Act 2014. Removing the need for a tribunal process is one such arrangement, but there might be consequences from rushing through this legislation.
My shadow DEFRA colleagues would certainly want to ask the Government why they have not done more on flooding and flood prevention. The tax change to encourage private investment in flood prevention is certainly welcome, but is it not more of a fig leaf to cover the Government’s failures properly to support flood defences? The de-prioritising of flood defence investment that we saw at the start of this Parliament will be a legacy that many communities will not forget.
On the new tax reliefs for film, TV programmes and video games, the Minister will know of the history of scams, tax shelters and bogus arrangements that have been exploited in the past. Some have been convicted of abusing those arrangements. Will he assure us that proper due diligence has been done to prevent some of those abuses from happening again?
Finally, let me deal with the measures relating to the oil and gas industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) wrote to the Minister about the impact of the Bill on the safeguarding of the future of the North sea oil industry. The recent fall in global oil prices has put a number of jobs at risk in the sector, which is one of Scotland’s greatest success stories, and its current predicament requires a long-term solution.
We welcome the measures that will cut the supplementary charge and petroleum revenue tax, which were outlined in Labour’s “oil industry roadmap” in January. However, we have also consistently called for greater certainty for the sector, particularly because of the long-term nature of much of its investment. A simpler investment allowance should be delivered, as long as the industry can be assured that the transition from the current regime will not cause any interruption in investment.
The Finance Bill should be establishing a mechanism for joint reporting by the Treasury and the finance directorate to the United Kingdom and Scottish Parliaments on the fiscal risks of volatility, and how they will be managed in the future to maximise recovery from the UK continental shelf. I also urge the Minister to consider the need for a full assessment, in the round, of the impacts of tax reliefs and rates
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood will shortly have an opportunity to talk about other changes that we feel are necessary. Let me say now, however, that we should like to see a review of the impact of the rise in VAT in recent years, and of the changing of the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p. I hope that we can extract some more data and information from the Treasury. We should be finding ways of helping small firms with a cut in business rates, rather than always prioritising a small number of larger companies, as the Government are doing. Their priority is reducing corporation tax rather than cutting business rates in 2015-16 and freezing them in 2016-17, which we think would be preferable.
We should have had a Finance Bill that deals in the round with many of the problems that our country faces: the living standards that have been squeezed, and the fact that wages have been surpassed by prices for such a long time during the present Parliament. Our public services require revenues to help them to serve our constituents—particularly the national health service, which we have to conclude is at risk because of the Government’s extreme plans for cuts. Those plans go way beyond simply focusing on the deficit, as the Government have also done. The Office for Budget Responsibility have talked of
“a sharp acceleration in the pace of implied real cuts to day-to-day spending on public services”.
At the general election in, I believe, 43 days’ time, the country will have a clear choice between the failing plans, the failing Budget and the failing Finance Bill that we are debating today, and a better plan to put working people first and to save our national health service. We will raise living standards by increasing the minimum wage to £8 an hour, and we will try our best to fund 25 hours of free child care for working parents with three and four-year-olds by means of changes in the bank levy. Our plan will help to transform our NHS with a “time to care” fund, which we will support by asking those who are fortunate enough to live in properties that are worth at least £2 million to chip in a little more, and it will ensure that we balance the books fairly by reversing the approach of the Government parties. That would be a better Finance Bill and a better Budget, and I look forward to seeing it under a future Labour Government.
For someone who did not feel that we had been given enough time today, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) made an incredibly long speech.
I welcome the measures in the Budget, especially those benefiting business, and I am not the only one. At a lunch event on Friday, I spoke to members of the North East Chamber of commerce, and they also welcomed the Budget—particularly the measures involving oil and gas, which are very important for manufacturing industry and contractors in the north-east. The moves on corporation tax and support for business are clearly welcome. I do, however, agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is concern about the speed with which the diverted profits tax is being introduced. I congratulate the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills)—who has just left the Chamber—on triggering a Westminster Hall debate on the subject, during which we scrutinised it a little further.
There is significant concern, indeed alarm, out there among some of the tax professionals and accountancy bodies about the lack of adequate scrutiny. Does the hon. Gentleman share that concern?
As I said a moment ago, I do share some of that concern. The new diverted profits tax is quite complicated, and I agree that introducing it after so little time is risky. However, I also think that it is a very necessary tax. Far too much of our economic activity in the United Kingdom has been booked elsewhere, and too many of our profits are being shoved elsewhere. I therefore welcome the overall measures, and hope that they can be made to work.
I welcome the increase in the bank levy. It is clearly more sensible than taxing bank bonuses at a total rate of 115%, which is what I understand the Opposition to be proposing. That clearly would not work, and I think that their proposal shows a lack of competence. I welcome the fact that the rich are paying more. The hon. Member for Nottingham East used the emotive word “obscenity”. I think that there was something of an obscenity in the fact that people on the minimum wage were having to pay about £1,000 a year in tax under the last Government. The Liberal Democrats’ priority is to change that, and to raise the tax threshold. Our original target was £10,000, but I am delighted to say that it is now on the way to £11,000 as a result of our work in this Government.
The rich are paying much more in tax. Their income tax rate was held at 40% for 13 years by the last Government. When we came to office, the rate of capital gains tax was 18%, lower than even the basic rate of income tax; it is now 28%. People are allowed to put a quarter of a million pounds a year into pension schemes and receive full tax relief on them: the allowance is now £40,000. The lifetime allowance has been reduced again, to £1 million. I welcome all those measures. I am not going to become involved in a long debate about VAT, but it is worth noting that the VAT on a new Ferrari is £50,000. The idea that it is all paid by pensioners is clearly not right when we take account of the goods that are not subject to the standard rate of VAT.
The Budget raised stamp duty on property, and introduced yet more measures to deal with avoidance. Of course, there was industrial-scale avoidance under the last Government, and many cases are still coming to light, having arisen before 2010. I welcome the moves on the cost of living and on alcohol taxes, which support many of our important industries. I must declare an interest, as a cider drinker who greatly welcomes the reduction in cider duty. Overall, there is an inconvenient truth for the Opposition. Inequality has narrowed under this Government, whereas it widened under the last Government. People are better off than they were in 2010, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has been saying so since January. The £1,600 figure was never about the total; it was about average incomes, which have, of course, been affected by the huge fall in youth unemployment, the huge rise in the number of apprenticeships, and the huge fall in bank bonuses. The Opposition’s stance does not bear scrutiny.
I have been asked to be brief. Let me end by saying that my part of the world has gained huge benefits under the present Government. We have benefited from the regional growth fund, from the local enterprise partnership—which is highly successful—and from the fact that this Government have spent five times more on capital investment in the Tees Valley than the last Government did in five years. In the last year, unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 781. It is still too high, but we are heading in the right direction.
My party will support the Bill today.
Let me begin by expressing my disappointment that there is to be no Public Bill Committee. I have served on every single one in the present Parliament. I do not know what I did wrong in the Whips Office, but I feel that I am missing out on something.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales), who is, of course, a Liberal Democrat. Following the embarrassment of the Chief Secretary standing on the steps of the Treasury with his Fisher-Price lunch box, announcing a Liberal Democrat Budget the day after the real one that he said he had signed off, I admire any Liberal Democrat who can stand up now and defend the Government’s policies.
I want to say something about the Finance Bill and the Budget. This is the truth as I see it: for one hour, the Chancellor, simply because a general election is on the way, changed his tune from that of the Conservative party conference in October, when he told us swingeing cuts were on the way and we should prepare for an age of austerity. Now, 44 days before a general election, he tells us, like a latter-day Harold Macmillan, that we’ve “never had it so good.”
Those of us who are historians remember what happened after the complacency of that Conservative Government of the 1950s and the eventual devaluation of the pound in the 1960s. The problem is that for vast swathes of constituencies like mine across the country which are trying to deal with the post-industrial age the Government did not offer any hope or optimism for the future. Families in my constituency are £1,600 worse off than they were five years ago; that is the truth, and I challenge any Government Member to come to Islwyn, walk down the streets with me and go to the food bank in Risca where I was taken the other day. I could not get through the front door because so many people there were in need. Some might say they were there for kicks, but so many of them just needed help with benefits or the health service—they were there because there was nowhere else to go. That is a sad indictment of this Government’s policies.
Islwyn is a constituency dealing with the post-industrial age. Under the last Labour Government we attracted investment, but the problem is that this Conservative- led Government have created two Britains. There is the Britain of the affluent, who are enjoying a tax cut because we are in the grip of an economic theory that failed and only brought about deficits in the ’80s. That continues with the tax cut from 50p to 45p. We also see a different kind of Britain, however: a Britain of people gathered around the kitchen tables worried about paying the bills—about how they are going to pay the mortgage, how they are going to pay the rent. These are the people who deserve the tax cut.
It is all very well the Prime Minister committing today at Prime Minister’s questions not to put VAT up. He made that commitment before the last general election, yet VAT went up. It is only ever the Tory party that puts VAT up. VAT is regressive because everybody has to pay it, whatever goods they buy; whether they are a pensioner, a student, in work, a lord or a duke, they have to pay VAT. It does not matter what they earn. That is why VAT is a regressive tax.
The Government have forgotten who pays the bills around here. It is not the millionaires. It is not the business people. It is the people on the ground. I have nothing against anybody earning big money; I have no problem with success or aspiration, or ambition or achieving anything. However, if we give a tax cut to the very rich in society, they will employ accountants who will hide the money, but if we give a tax cut to people in the middle, they will spend it in the shops and businesses and get the high streets moving. That is not what is happening. That is not the reality on the ground.
We can talk all we want, but the simple fact is there is a problem with the word “conservative”. It means preserve or conserve—to conserve a way of life that never existed. If we want examples of how the Conservatives constantly look back to a golden age that never existed, we need only listen to the references to Agincourt. This is what I say: if we are looking back constantly, we are not moving forward.
The NHS is in crisis but the Budget says nothing about that most important public service in Britain. The Tories last week confirmed plans for extreme spending cuts in the three years after the election, which will put our NHS at risk.
I always enjoy listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speeches, but he ought to note that the Budget included a huge £1.25 billion for mental health spending in the NHS.
I welcome any money that goes towards mental health, and I think anybody suffering from a mental health issue would welcome that as well, but I have to say this to the hon. Gentleman: I am fed up, especially as a Welsh MP and a Welshman, at the way the Welsh NHS has been attacked by this Government. It is a shame because when the Government attack the NHS in Wales, they are attacking the nurses, the doctors, the cleaners, the porters—everybody who works so hard to provide the best possible health care to our patients.
The hon. Gentleman is making a passionate and powerful speech highlighting why it is such a travesty that he is not at the forefront of the Leader of the Opposition’s team, as he should have been. Does he join me in regretting the fact that the Leader of the Opposition seems to be planning a jobs tax were Labour to get elected at the general election?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments, and I have to say that over the years that we have served together in this House he has always been courteous to me and I count him as one of my friends from the other side.
The dark side.
Yes; I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, and admire his cheek in trying to get me into trouble. I shall move on quickly.
Working people know they are worse off than they were five years ago.
The hon. Gentleman must accept that five years ago the personal allowance was just over £5,500, and after this Budget it will be in excess of £10,000. That is an enormous tax break, putting money into the pockets of all our constituents, some of them on the minimum wage, some of them on the lowest pay. Surely he must welcome that when he talks about working people.
I would welcome it had VAT not been hiked up from 17.5% to 20%, which has affected many people and squeezed their wages down.
I do not have long left—[Interruption.] I hope I have longer in this place, but I do not have long left in terms of my speech. The people I speak to did not want the Chancellor to present an image of something that they were not experiencing. The statistics may speak differently, but for the many families I speak to who are worried about their job security and jobs being offshored, that was not their reality.
I want to end my last speech in this Session by thanking everybody on both sides of this House whom I have come to know for their various kindnesses and friendships. I have been immensely proud and honoured to represent the Welsh valleys that I was born in and grew up in, and I thank everybody for their help and advice over the years.
I want to make some brief comments on a number of issues that have come up in the debate so far: tax simplification, where the impression is being given that these measures will simplify taxation; avoidance and evasion, where there are major problems in delivering on the commitments the Government have given; welfare reform, where the Government’s track record is appalling; and the impact on income distribution, where it is being suggested that those on the top incomes are most affected by the Budgets over recent years, when actually it is quite different.
First, let me join in the chorus of concern about the lack of scrutiny under this wash-up process. There have been many comments in the media today from various experts—taxation bodies, chartered accountants and others—all expressing concern that, given the level of complexity involved in this Finance Bill, we simply will not get adequate scrutiny by rushing through all its stages in one day. I share that concern, and I am pleased to see that it is a concern that is recognised across the House. I would have preferred a much simpler Bill that included only a limited number of provisions. When we return and there is a Labour Government, we can have a Finance (No. 3) Bill, enacting proper measures to deal with the problems in this country.
I wish to discuss four issues and the impact this Budget and previous Budgets since 2010 have had. The first issue is tax simplification. It would be wrong to suggest that our taxation code is not getting more complex, and this Bill will add significantly to the complexity. I put it down simply to the way in which Whitehall operates; our bureaucracy is geared to the creation of legislation and of taxation measures. To take a perfect example, the Treasury is full of people who are there to guide and advise the Government on the latest taxation measures. Up against them we have a tax simplification project that consists of three nominated officials and a few civil servants. It is an unfair game; it is impossible for the tax simplification project to counter the further moves being undertaken towards complexity in our taxation system. It requires government—I include government on both sides—to address the real need, look carefully at whether all the taxation measures in our code are necessary, and take appropriate steps to reduce the number of codings and to make our taxation system simpler.
The second issue is avoidance and evasion. The Chancellor has said that his way of saving money over the next Parliament, should the Conservatives be re-elected, is to pencil in £5 billion-worth of reductions in avoidance and evasion. The first thing that has to be said is that that is an incredibly ambitious target. HMRC’s projection for the tax gap is currently about £35 billion, out of which about £4 billion is avoidance and £3 billion is evasion. So the total for avoidance and evasion, according to HMRC, is about £7 billion, yet we are being asked to believe that the Chancellor can deliver £5 billion through tackling evasion and avoidance in the next Parliament. That is a very tall order and we need to look very carefully at his proposals. The Office for Budget Responsibility has looked carefully at the suggestions being made, both in the Budget and in the consultation document released the day afterwards, and it can find only just over £3 billion-worth of savings. It has attached to those £3.1 billion savings either a “very high risk” or a “high risk” as to whether there will be delivery. So a gap is already opening up between what the Chancellor has promised and what he can deliver, and the OBR is suggesting that the task may be very difficult for the Government because of the high-risk nature of this. We can all recall the Swiss bank fiasco; it was suggested that £3 billion to £4 billion would be raised, but we now have a much more realistic figure, much below that. In order that that does not happen again, we ask that the Chancellor be much more ruthless and realistic in his appraisals about what can be saved by tackling avoidance and evasion—it certainly is not the £5 billion that he has suggested in this Budget.
Similarly, on welfare reform the Chancellor is suggesting that he wishes to save £12 billion. I will discuss how he is suggesting it will be saved later, but first let me indulge a little in recent history. Over the past five years the Chancellor has instituted policy changes that he said would deliver £21 billion-worth of savings, yet according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies the actual reduction in the welfare bill—the actual cash saved—was £2.5 billion. So there is an enormous hole in his accounting. He is suggesting he will save £12 billion between now and 2020, but he has indicated only where £3 billion of that will be saved—there is another £9 billion to go. We hope that over the period of the general election he will give the electorate some idea of how he is going to save such an enormous sum, recognising his total failure to save the money in this Parliament. His track record is not good. Given all the other imponderables—the things that are not under Government control that can affect the welfare budget—it is difficult to see how he can save that amount of money.
That leads us to the elephant in the room: if the Chancellor does not save money from avoidance and evasion or from welfare reform, where is he going to make up the difference in order to deliver the £30 billion-worth of savings? That is where we come back to VAT. That is where the Conservatives’ track record shows from the past, and that is where we will be scrutinising carefully the comments that are made. Tax rises are on the horizon. I am being asked to cut my remarks short so I do not have time to deal with the distributional impact, but let me just say that the Budget will not affect the highest paid but will affect those in the two lowest deciles of payment more than anyone else. It is a regressive, retrograde Budget, as previous Budgets have been.
This is my last speech in the Chamber. The experience has been great and I have met a wonderful group of people, on both sides of the House. I have enjoyed it immensely, and I retire having said my piece on this Budget.
It is a great pleasure and privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), who has been a distinguished Member of the House, particularly through his service on the Treasury Committee, which has added enormous insights into the deliberations of successive Governments. It is a great joy to follow my good friend and colleague.
I just want to make a few remarks. The budgetary process in the immediate run-up to the election has been very much a political stunt. The first thing to deal with is the illusion—or delusion—that there has been economic success and turnaround under the Conservatives. That is simply not the case; it is simply not borne out by the facts. The national debt is about £1.4 trillion—up 44%. Reference is made to the deficit and how much the debt is going up, but of course the current Government have borrowed more in five years than Labour did in 13 years—and we had to bail out the banks. The Government have lost the triple A rating. As I pointed out earlier, the number of people earning more than £20,000 is down by 800,000. There is a reliance on a fudging of the facts; this is a “fudge it” Budget, to make up for the fact that we have more and more low-paid people who cannot make a contribution towards the revenues in a sustainable way. Meanwhile, the Government continuously put up the tax threshold and say, “Who’s going to disagree with that?”, knowing everyone is scared to disagree. But that is the management of irresponsibility, because the money simply is not coming in to pay the bills.
So what we need is not a spat about tax and spend, but a serious consideration of how we generate productivity and growth, in order to have higher wages and a more sustainable plan for the future. Obviously, part of that was the debate about tuition fees and about enabling people to go, without fear, to university, so that we could get higher productivity and the students would not be hobbled by massive debt throughout their lives. Such debt can mean that they cannot get a credit rating and cannot get a house, and are scared of moving into a higher pay bracket because it pushes up their repayments.
Sadly, the Tories are creating a two-nation Britain. One nation will be the better off, who, lucky for them, own their own house, can get their sons and daughters into university and pass on money for them to put down a deposit on a property. There are others who may be equally or even more capable of going to university and of boosting the productivity in our collective economy but who are being stopped from getting houses in the future. We are at a turning point now. The party that gets elected will determine whether we have a more unequal or a less unequal future. I very much want us all to pull together as one nation to invest in the future.
The Conservatives have this massively political Budget profile, which has been described as a “rollercoaster”. Deep and savage cuts were going to take us back to the 1930s, but because that was pointed out by the BBC, the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an adjustment was made. Bank shares were sold off and oil prices went down so that the public service time machine was moved back only to the year 2000. None the less, we all saw the Tories in their true oils. They were happy to make those savage cuts until the BBC highlighted what they were doing. Then they said, “Oh no, we’re not going to do that.” But there will still be savage cuts until the final year of the next Parliament, 2019-2020, when there will be a sudden acceleration in public spending—the biggest spending increase for 10 years—presumably to try to get Boris Johnson elected as the next Tory Prime Minister. That is probably what will happen in the unfortunate event of the Tories getting in again in some strange alliance with the UK Independence party, which would be a disaster for Britain.
We must strike a balance between trying to achieve economic growth and having to balance the books, instead of scrabbling around trying to decide which poor people to clobber. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton pointed out, welfare cuts such as the bedroom tax raised only £400 million, which is small change compared with the numbers that we are talking about. Two thirds of the people hit by that tax are disabled. The cuts to tax credits are hitting people with children who are trying to work. It is ridiculous to try to squeeze more and more out of the poorest to make ends meet. Clearly, it is right that the richest pay more, whether those with more than £2 million pay the mansion tax—
They do pay more.
They need to pay lots more, not a bit more. Of course some of the very rich are paying more, but that is because they are getting richer and richer on massive pay awards. They are earning so much more than anyone else, and the situation is getting out of control
I will not give way to the rover from Dover, thank you very much. He is known as the Dover soul. [Laughter.] Obviously, that was the highlight of my speech.
Finally, I wish to comment on the rabbits that have been pulled out of the hat. Today, we were told, “Oh, there will be no VAT increases.” Is the Prime Minister going to commit himself to that in his five-year plan? A couple of days ago, we heard that another £46 billion was being spent on various railway connections in the north. There seems to be a desperate attempt to make things up on the hoof.
I do not necessarily disagree with this devolution of economic and service power to the north—to Manchester. We did that in Wales, but it was done on the back of an Act of Parliament and a referendum. In their haste to generate higher ratings at the polls, the Government are doing anything, including undermining the constitution and the economic balance and fragmenting the NHS in the process. Their recent track record, therefore, has not been impressive. The future looks bleak. I very much hope that we can focus on increasing growth. We should consider tuition fees, a cast-iron promise to stay in the EU, which is so important for inward investment, and procurement. The reality is that when it comes to procurement we should look at favouring, if we can, small British companies that pay British tax—corporation tax and income tax—rather than giving the work to foreign companies that do not pay our tax and do not contribute towards growth.
I will finally give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so generous in giving way to the rover from Dover. I gently point out that the reason why we cannot show a preference towards our own businesses in matters of procurement is to do with the European Union, which he loves so much.
Order. Believe it or not, that discussion is outside the scope of the Budget resolutions. But given that the hon. Gentleman had just acquired a nickname—although I will not be addressing him as such—I decided to allow him to intervene. Mr Davies, I should be grateful if you returned to the Finance Bill.
Clearly, I accept the ruling on the rover from Dover. I was simply making the point that, in our growth strategy, we should be encouraging small businesses. In Wales, something like 60% of procurement goes to small businesses, half of which are based in Wales. In England, the comparable figure is something like 25%. I am suggesting that, through encouragement rather than breaking EU rules on competition, we should make things easier for small businesses in order to help growth, tax, and supply chains. We should do that, rather than just say, “What can we do?” Labour increased this economy by 40% in the 10 years to 2008, before the banking crisis.
Order. Mr Davies, you are way out of scope now, so we will go to the concluding remarks of this debate, because we are running out of time.
I have only a short time in which to speak, so let me start by saying that we have heard some very good speeches today. The debate was opened powerfully by the shadow Chief Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie). My hon. Friends the Members for Islwyn (Chris Evans), for Edmonton (Mr Love) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) all spoke well. The rover from Dover will live long in our memories and trumps, I think, “Dover soul”, which is not really up to the mark in quite the same way.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton who made his valedictory speech today. I am sorry that he had to cut his remarks short, but I wish to put it on the record that he has had a very distinguished period of service in this House. It has always been a pleasure to sit in debates on Treasury matters and to hear him speak. I have learned a huge amount from him. His service on the Treasury Committee has been to his credit, and he has a record of which he can be proud. The House and his constituents will miss him greatly.
As my hon. Friend the shadow Chief Secretary said in his opening remarks, the Budget is as fundamental as it gets when it comes to the business of the Government, and the Finance Act—the legislation that enacts most of that Budget—is also fundamental. But, effectively, the vast majority of this Bill will go through without debate. I confess that the negotiations into which I entered with the Financial Secretary last week was my first experience of the wash-up. Although I acknowledge the hard work done by his officials and even by him in terms of the tenor with which he approached those discussions, neither of us can pretend that this is a satisfactory way in which to make very complex taxation legislation. In particular, we know that outside commentators have an eye today on the diverted profits tax. The Opposition have to make a judgment call based on often very little, or last minute.com, information. For example, we have to judge whether blocking something now so that we can do it better later would give a signal that it will not happen at all and so cause uncertainty or whether an appropriate reassurance can be made.
I know about the lively discussions outside the House about the diverted profits tax. Let me just say that we support the thrust of what the Government intend to do, but the Bill was being drafted at the end of last week, when the Minister and I were trying to conclude our negotiations. That is unsatisfactory, because the Bill is complex. In our first Finance Bill when we are in government, we will seek to remedy any defects that prevent that measure from being both effective and strong. I am happy to let it through not because I think that it is a completely 100% foolproof bit of work, but because I fear that the Tories in opposition might not be quite so keen to see the measure on the statute book. I wanted to ensure that we got it passed, and then we could fix any issues later.
Although we will support many of the measures now going through—later we will debate the measures that we think are missing—we think that the Bill is a missed opportunity, as my three hon. Friends who spoke from the Back Benches all said. The Government could and should have taken the opportunity really to start making a difference to the lives of our constituents across the country, but they failed to do so. Only a Labour Government and a Labour Finance Bill immediately after the general election will start putting those matters right.
It is a great pleasure to close this debate on Second Reading. I would like to thank everyone who has spoken for their contributions, particularly the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), who has served this House with such distinction. I wish him well. We have had an interesting debate. I should like to set it in the context of the Chancellor’s Budget last week.
A number of points about living standards have been raised. I reiterate that living standard will be higher in 2015 than they were in 2010, real household disposable income per capita will grow at its fastest rate since 2001 and, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, families are now set to be £900 better off this year than they were previously. That is all in line with our plan to fix the British economy, take us out of the dreadful mess we inherited back in 2010 and, quite rightly, give the British public the recovery they deserve.
The Bill marks the next step in that plan. It puts more money in people’s pockets, delivers further growth and puts fairness, which has been mentioned, at the heart of our recovery. We continue to put fairness at the heart of the recovery through our increase in the personal allowance. We will take people on the national minimum wage and working up to 30 hours a week out of income tax altogether by 2017. That is about rewarding work and raising living standards, which is what this Government stand for.
I will address a number of points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Edmonton spoke about £5 billion in tax avoidance. To answer his question, yes, it is a realistic achievement to bring in the revenue that has been spelt out. There is no reason to doubt that the Government can raise the figures we have already announced, so we will proceed with that. On the point about the tax code, we established the Office of Tax Simplification in 2010, and the Bill includes a number of measures that build on its recommendations.
Points were also raised about oil and gas. The Bill introduces radical measures to support the oil and gas industry, giving investors long-term certainty. We have been working very constructively with the industry to ensure that the package will provide it with the right fiscal environment.
On clause 12, which the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) mentioned, the exemption will not apply where expenses are paid under a salary sacrifice arrangement. That will stop employers artificially lowering their national insurance contribution bills by replacing some of their employees’ salaries with expenses.
Clauses 13 and 14 implement recommendations set out by the Office of Tax Simplification. On clause 20, which relates to gift aid, more details will be set out in regulations, which of course will improve donor understanding of tax to cover. On clause 28, I should like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that it applies to expenditure on consumable items only if the item is transferable in the ordinary course of the relevant person’s business.
Flooding was mentioned. In the spending review the Government committed an unprecedented £2.3 billion to tackle flooding and coastal erosion. In addition, clause 35 supports business contributions to alleviate the impact of flooding.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned clause 29, which sets out film tax relief opportunities. The structure of the current relief is completely different from that introduced under the previous Government’s scheme, which was prone to abuse, so there are no issues of avoidance in this case. He also mentioned zero-emission bands. Stakeholders have asked for rates to be announced four or five years ahead, and the Government have been committed to announcing rates three years in advance, which is why we have done so.
Let me move on to the whole issue of tax avoidance. The UK is demonstrating further leadership by implementing the diverted profits tax, which is also consistent with the principle of aligning taxing rights to economic activity. The Bill quite rightly ensures that everybody contributes fairly to the Government’s long-term economic plan. During this Parliament, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has secured £100 billion in additional revenue, thanks to this Government’s avoidance and evasion policies. Over a third of the Bill’s provisions will enact measures that go even further in tackling avoidance and evasion, including new measures on corporation tax and offshore evasion and avoidance and, of course, increases in the bank levy. That will raise nearly £8 billion more over the next five years, helping to reduce the deficit and strengthen the country’s economic recovery.
The Bill will help households up and down the country with the cost of living, make the country even more competitive internationally and, through the tax avoidance and evasion measures that we are putting in place, ensure that everyone pays their fair share of tax. The Bill marks the next step forward in our long-term economic plan, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, 24 March).