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House of Commons Hansard
18 December 2017
Volume 633

    (Clauses 8, 33, 40 and 41, Schedules 9 and 11 and certain new Clauses and Schedules)

    [1st Allocated Day]

    Considered in Committee.

    [Mrs Eleanor Laing in the Chair]

    Clause 33

    Bank levy

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 1, in schedule 9, page 132, line 32, leave out from “in” to end of line 33 and insert

    “accordance with the provisions of section (bank levy: Part 1 of Schedule 9: pre-commencement requirements)”.

    This amendment paves the way for NC3.

    New clause 1—Review of operation and effectiveness of bank levy—

    “(1) Schedule 19 to FA 2011 (bank levy) is amended as follows.

    (2) After paragraph 81, insert—

    Part 10


    82 (1) Within six months of the passing of the Finance Act 2018, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall undertake a review of the operation and effectiveness of the bank levy.

    (2) The review shall consider in particular—

    (a) the effectiveness of the levy in reflecting risks to the financial system and the wider UK economy arising from the banking sector,

    (b) the effectiveness of the levy in encouraging banks to move away from riskier funding models,

    (c) the revenue effects of the changes to the levy made in Schedule 2 to the Finance (No. 2) Act 2015,

    (d) the effectiveness of the anti-avoidance provisions in paragraphs 47 and 48 of this Schedule.

    (3) A review shall also compare the effects of the bank levy with those of the bank payroll tax (within the meaning given by Schedule 2 to the Finance Act 2010) in relation to—

    (a) revenue, and

    (b) the matters specified in sub-paragraph (2)(a) and (b).

    (4) A report of the review under this paragraph shall be laid before the House of Commons within one calendar month of its completion.””

    This new clause requires the Government to carry out a review of the bank levy, including its effectiveness in relation to its stated aims, the revenue effects of the changes made in 2015 and the comparable effectiveness of the bank payroll tax.

    New clause 2—Public register of entities paying the bank levy and payments made—

    “(1) Schedule 19 to FA 2011 (bank levy) is amended as follows.

    (2) After paragraph 81, insert—

    Part 11

    Public register of payments

    83 (1) It shall be the duty of the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to maintain a public register of groups paying the bank levy and the amounts paid.

    (2) In relation to each group, the register shall state whether it is—

    (a) a UK banking group,

    (b) a building society group,

    (c) a foreign banking group, or

    (d) a relevant non-banking group.

    (3) In relation to each group, the register shall state the amount paid in respect of each chargeable period.

    (4) In relation to chargeable periods ending between 28 February 2011 and 31 December 2017, the Commissioners must public the register no later than 31 October 2018.

    (5) In respect of subsequent chargeable periods, the Commissioners must public the updated register no later than ten months after the end of the chargeable period.””

    This new clause requires HMRC to prepare a public register of banks paying the bank levy and the amount they have paid.

    New clause 3—Bank levy: Part 1 of Schedule 9: pre-commencement requirements

    “(1) Part 1 of Schedule 9 shall come into force in accordance with the provisions of this section.

    (2) No later than 31 October 2020, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay before the House of Commons an account of the effects of the proposed changes in Part 1 of Schedule 9—

    (a) on the public revenue,

    (b) in reflecting risks to the financial system and the wider UK economy arising from the banking sector, and

    (c) in encouraging banks to move away from riskier funding models.

    (3) Part 1 of Schedule 9 shall have effect in relation to chargeable periods ending on or after 1 January 2021 if, no earlier than 30 November 2020, the House of Commons comes to a resolution to that effect.”

    This new clause requires the Government to provide a separate analysis of the impact of Part 1 of Schedule 9 nearer to the time of proposed implementation in 2021 and to seek the separate agreement of the House of Commons to commencement in the light of that review.

    New clause 11—Review of effects of bank levy on inclusive growth and equality—

    “(1) Schedule 19 to FA 2011 (bank levy) is amended as follows.

    (2) After paragraph 81, insert—

    Part 10

    Review on inclusive growth and equality

    82 (1) Within six months of the passing of the Finance Act 2018, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall undertake a review of the bank levy.

    (2) The review shall consider in particular—

    (a) the effects of the levy on inclusive growth,

    (b) the impact of the levy on equality.

    (3) A report of the review under this paragraph shall be laid before the House of Commons within one calendar month of its completion.””

    This new clause requires the Government to carry out a review of the bank levy, including its effects on inclusive growth and inequality.

  • The Finance Bill makes changes to the bank levy, in particular restricting its scope to UK activities. These changes support our vision to help keep UK banks globally competitive. They reflect improvements in international banking regulation that reduce the risk of overseas operations to the UK, and they complete a set of changes announced in 2015 and 2016 that significantly increase the tax we raise from our banks.

    Let me be clear from the outset that this Government believe that banks should make a significant contribution to the public finances, beyond general business taxation, that reflects the risk they pose to the UK economy. That has been the record of Chancellors since 2010. As part of that, in 2011 the Government introduced the bank levy on the balance sheet equity and liabilities of banks and building societies, but this additional tax contribution made by banks has to support our broader objectives for the sector. It therefore needs to be responsive to international commercial and regulatory changes in banking. Any tax changes should ensure that we can continue to secure the additional contribution from the banks from a sustainable tax base, and they also need to ensure we retain a strong, stable and competitive banking sector that supports the wider economy by lending capital to both businesses and individuals.

  • Does the Minister agree that in pursuing the policies he has just outlined in a strong and stable way we can have sustainable banking that gives the significant contributions to the Treasury that are much needed, and that the policies espoused by the parties opposite would do great damage to our economy and our public services?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that perceptive and helpful intervention. There is no question but that a healthy banking system is absolutely central to a healthy economy, which is why we have invested so much time and energy since 2010 in making sure that the regulation of the banks is tightened up, which was, of course, part of the original rationale for the bank levy. The fact that we are reducing the bank levy over time from 2015 and moving towards taxing profits is in itself an indication of the health of our banking system.

  • Is the Minister satisfied that the banks have enough in reserve to cope with any emergency should there be a downturn in the world economy?

  • As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Bank of England carries out stress tests on our banking system. In the latest round, the banks came through very strongly—not a single one failed. The tests stress the system to a greater extent than the effect of the last financial crash in 2008, so we can be certain that the measures the Government have put in place, the operation of the independence of the Bank of England and carrying those things through are having the desired effect that he rightly seeks.

  • After 2008, a bank levy was needed because there was not much profitability in the banks to enable their assets to be taxed, but as we have improved regulation it is now worth moving to tax their profitability. Does the Minister agree that this is the right time to make this shift in raising revenue?

  • My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Government since 2015, and the coalition Government, oversaw the restoration of the banking sector to a healthy central part of our economy. He is absolutely right. The shift from the bank levy to the taxation of profits which was introduced on 1 January 2016 indicated that the risks themselves were diminishing under our stewardship, and that our banking sector was profitable enough to bring in considerably more tax revenue. Since 2010, under Conservative Chancellors, we have secured more than £44 billion in additional tax—I stress the word “additional”—from the banks, over and above the tax that we would be applying to them were they non-financial businesses.

  • In 2010, tax receipts from the financial services sector amounted to about £53 billion; today they amount to £71 billion. We are making the banks and the wider financial services sector pay their fair share, but we do not want a race to the bottom. We want the sector to be competitive, because tens of thousands of well-paid, highly skilled jobs throughout the country—not just in London but in cities like Nottingham, near my constituency—depend on it.

  • My hon. Friend is entirely right. The additional tax raised from the banks amounts to £9 billion between 2010 and the present time, and a further £25 billion is projected over the current forecast period. Far from taxing the banks less over time—as, no doubt, the Opposition will shortly have us believe we have done—we are securing more tax revenues than we did in the past.

  • As circumstances change, it is right for us to move from a bank levy to taxing bank profits. I am sure that, in due course, we shall hear a great hue and cry about how appalling it is to lose the bank levy. Is that not a little perplexing, given that Labour voted against its imposition in 2011?

  • That is a valid point. I am waiting with some interest to hear what Opposition Front Benchers have to say about that point in particular. Even my shadow, the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), is waiting expectantly to hear what he himself has to say, which is intriguing.

  • Did the big banks not lobby for this change, and are they not likely to benefit from the surcharge that has replaced the levy? Did not bigger, riskier banks pay more than other banks in the system?

  • When we consider who benefits and who does not, we must assume that overall, given that more tax is being raised than hitherto, the banks are probably paying more tax on average as a consequence of these measures. However, the measures will obviously have different impacts on different banks, depending on their profitability and on whether they are at or above the capital threshold of £20 billion at which the levy itself begins to kick in.

    In 2015 and 2016, the Government announced a set of changes in the way in which banks were taxed. We set out a phased reduction in the rate of the bank levy to 0.1% by 2021. We announced the changes that the Bill makes in the levy, reducing its scope so that it applies to banks’ UK rather than global balance-sheet liabilities. However, we also introduced an extra 8% tax on banks’ profits over £25 million, on top of general corporation tax. I hope that when the Opposition spokesmen respond to my comments and to the amendments and new clauses, they will at least recognise the important increase in taxation that has been applied to the banks since 2016.

  • I, too, look forward with great interest to hearing from Opposition Front Benchers. Has not part of the Government’s overall approach been to back the independence of the Bank of England? Has that not also helped the overall regulation of banks, and ended the situation which, under Labour, led to some of the problems in the banking sector?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think it would pay all Members dividends to consider the comments made by Mervyn King at the time of the last crisis, when he said that the Bank of England had very limited scope to deal with the issues that were faced at the time. Since then, of course, we have fundamentally changed the structure of the oversight of banks. We have ensured that the Bank of England is at the heart of it, and that the independence of the Bank and the other institutions that we have set up is paramount. That is partly why the position of the banks is so much stronger than it has been hitherto.

    We prevented the banks from reducing their corporation tax liabilities when they were required to pay compensation for misconduct, effectively applying additional taxes. The shift towards taxing profits means that the recovery in banks’ profitability will translate into higher tax receipts for the Exchequer, while also ensuring a sustainable long-term basis for the taxation of banks.

  • It is important that we raise record sums from the banks to pay for vital public services, but is there not a balance to be struck? We need healthy banks, not only to support small businesses and provide mortgages for first-time buyers, but to ensure that there are banks in our high streets.

  • My hon. Friend is right, and this is all about striking the right balance. We recognise that banks need to pay their fair share because of the systemic risk that they can feed into the economy, and because, some years ago, the British taxpayer stood behind the banking system. The other part of the balance is to ensure that our banking system remains competitive in comparison with others in the world, and can, in turn, leverage the competitiveness of our own industries through its lending.

  • My hon. Friend is making an important point. Rather than setting a tax rate for party political purposes, we should aim to maximise tax revenue while also securing economic growth.

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right, as we know from recent experience. For example, although corporation tax has been reduced from 28% in 2010 to 19% and then to 17% under this Government, the corporation tax take has increased by 50%. Labour’s policy is the reverse. It foresees raising taxation not just from banks but from all the businesses in the country, large and small, including high street businesses, which, as we know, often struggle.

  • A branch of Barclays bank in County Road in my constituency has closed, and I know that many other Members will have fought to keep local bank branches open. Are the Government willing to take any action—at least in the case of RBS, which we partly own—to ensure that high-street banking is still available to the most vulnerable and elderly constituents whom we all represent?

  • Conservative Members believe that it is better for commercial organisations to be left to run their own businesses. They tend to do it rather better than Ministers, dare I say—although I think I could be quite handy at running a bank or two; who knows?

    The issue of bank closures is very important. We are working hard to reinvigorate our post offices and to ensure that the banking facilities that they provide—which are available, typically, to more than 90% of personal and business customers—are promoted in all the 11,500 branches in the United Kingdom.

  • A constituent who came to my community surgery on Saturday made a simple suggestion that I thought might well work. Banks face structural challenges, and many are closing, especially in rural areas. Why do the Government not encourage three or four banks to work together to establish a single branch in an area where there are currently no branches? Such a collegiate approach would solve the banking problems of rural areas in particular.

  • The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting idea, but I would argue that that is already effectively in practice in the form of the post office: post offices are able to deal with the customers of the major banks, to take cash, and to offer banking services—albeit not the full range, but certainly the most basic and most important to local communities—and, as I said earlier, there are more than 11,500 of them across the UK.

  • All of us who represent rural constituencies are concerned about the issue of access to bank branches and closures, but does that not mean that there is an extra onus on providing access to fast broadband in rural areas so that people can access online banking? To that end, should we not welcome the announcement in The Sunday Times that there will be further help this week for speeding up broadband in the most hard-to-reach rural areas?

  • My hon. Friend raises an important point about connectivity, particularly in rural areas, including in constituencies such as mine where making sure there is good broadband is often one way of reducing sparsity and people being cut off from each other, and that is why we have invested so heavily in that area.

    These changes are expected to increase the additional tax contribution from banks by more than £4.6 billion over the current forecast period to 2022-23.

  • Will the Minister look into a situation that a number of us have had letters about? In the case of certain banks, including HSBC, where a person who is on a bank’s pension retires, that retirement pension is deducted because of their old-age pension. I do not expect an answer right away, but will the Minister look into that?

  • I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the ingenuity with which he has shoehorned in that question, which is possibly a Department for Work and Pensions matter, although I am not sure. But I will certainly come back to him on that point, and if it is not for me to respond, I will make sure the appropriate Minister in the appropriate Department does so.

    We expect to raise over £25 billion from the additional taxes that banks pay over this period, on top of the £19 billion that we have raised to date since 2011. By 2023 we will have raised more than £44 billion in additional bank taxes introduced since the 2010 election.

    I will now turn to the changes made by the current Finance Bill, and set out the reasons for changing the scope of the bank levy. Hon. Members will be aware that the bank levy aims to reduce the risk banks pose to the wider UK economy. It is currently chargeable on the global balance-sheet equity and liabilities of UK-headquartered banks, but overseas banking groups only pay bank levy on UK activities. However, regulatory developments currently being implemented across the G20 as a result of the standards set by the Financial Stability Board and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision will reduce the risk that overseas operations of UK banks pose to the UK economy, for example with stricter international standards on the need for subsidiaries to be independently capitalised.

    We have also made it mandatory for the largest UK banks to separate core banking services from their investment banking activities by 2019. This ring-fencing will help to insulate UK borrowers and depositors from failures arising in banks’ overseas branches, before the changes to the scope of the levy take effect. As such, there will now be less need for the bank levy to address the risks posed by overseas operations of UK banks, and as the bank levy is less necessary to cover these risks, we have an opportunity to boost the competitiveness of UK banks by reducing its scope.

    At present, UK-headquartered banks pay the levy on their worldwide operations, while foreign-headquartered banks only pay on their UK operations. We want the UK to stay at the forefront of global banking; we want banks based in the UK to compete and win business overseas, bringing jobs, prosperity and tax receipts with them. So we have decided that from 2021 the bank levy will apply only to UK balance-sheets for UK-based and foreign banks alike. This will allow UK banks to compete and win business on a more level playing field in these overseas marketplaces, and it is a change we are making as part of a package of reforms that secures revenue while boosting competitiveness.

    The corporation tax surcharge, the reduction in bank levy rates, and changes to compensation relief restriction were legislated in 2015. Following detailed consultation, this clause and schedule implement the final element of our plan: changes to the scope of the bank levy. The clause and schedule narrow the scope of the bank levy so that from 2021 it will be chargeable only on the UK balance-sheet equity and liabilities of banks and building societies. Broadly, this means that overseas activities of UK-headquartered banking groups will no longer be subject to the bank levy. However, the levy will continue to apply to the UK operations of UK and foreign banks.

  • Will the Minister re-emphasise the point he has just made: that the practical effect for our constituents of the move he is making today will make it much more attractive for important British international banks such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, who have a choice of locations in which to be registered—HSBC recently considered whether to move to Hong Kong or even mainland China—to remain in the City of London?

  • As is so often the case, my hon. Friend has hit an important nail on the head: in terms of improving our competitiveness, it is clearly deeply unattractive to have a situation where UK-domiciled banks are being taxed on their foreign operations whereas foreign banks are not being taxed by us on their foreign operations, but are only being taxed on their operations in the UK. He is right that the future of HSBC, Standard Chartered, Barclays and other banks, who make a huge contribution to our tax-take and our economy, are much more secure if they are not being disadvantaged by being taxed on overseas operations unlike their foreign counterparts. As part of these changes, the schedule also provides for a reduction in the amount on which the levy is chargeable for certain investments a UK bank makes in an overseas subsidiary.

    I shall now briefly turn to the amendments tabled by Opposition Members. For the reasons I have described, we believe that a combination of taxing profits and balance-sheets is the most effective and stable basis for raising revenue from the banking sector. The bank payroll tax was intended as a one-off tax; even the last Labour Chancellor pointed out that it could not be repeated without significant tax avoidance. I can assure the House that information about the bank levy will continue to be published as part of the normal Budget cycle. Official statistics are published on the pay-as-you-earn income tax and national insurance contributions, bank levy, bank surcharge, and corporation tax receipts from the banking sector as a whole. The Government have published a detailed tax information and impact note on the proposed changes introduced by part 1 of the schedule. We have also published information about the overall Exchequer impact of the 2015 package of measures for banks, and these figures have been certified by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

    Finally, new clause 2 proposes that HM Revenue and Customs should publish a register of tax paid by individual banks under the levy. Taxpayer confidentiality is an essential principle for trust in the tax system, and HMRC does not publish details of the amount of tax paid by any individual business. While this Government continue to consider measures to support transparency over businesses’ tax affairs, we must balance that with maintaining taxpayer confidentiality in order to sustain public confidence in our tax system.

  • Is it not right that these banks, some of which were bailed out by, and may well look in the future for bail-outs from, the public, are treated slightly differently from other companies across the UK economy, and that we should have a public register for that reason?

  • I would maintain that the banks are indeed being treated rather differently from other sectors of the economy, not least—as I have been at great pains to point out this evening—because they are being taxed far more heavily than other types of business. On a fundamental issue of principle relating to tax confidentiality, it would not be right to single out any particular bank, whatever its history, to make an example of it and treat it differently from other financial institutions.

    The changes in this schedule are part of a package of measures that provide a sustainable basis for raising revenue from the banking sector in the long term. These measures continue to apply additional taxes to banks, to reflect the special risk that they pose to the UK economy. They put the taxation of banks on a more certain and sustainable footing to ensure that the banks will continue to pay additional tax, and they reduce the impact of the bank levy on UK banks’ international operations. In doing this, we will ensure their continued health and competitiveness, which are essential for us if we are to go on raising yet more tax from our banking sector. I commend the clause to the Committee.

  • I rise to speak to the amendment and new clauses in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others. Banks have a crucial role to play in the proper and smooth functioning of our nation’s economic wellbeing. In addition, it is important to ensure that the banks are not all lumped together with a one-size-fits-all approach for the purpose of a bank-bashing session, as was suggested by Conservative Members. Further, it is neither reasonable, fair nor sensible to homogenise the people who work in the banking sector as either saints or demons. Neither beatification nor demonisation of the banks is appropriate; it does no credit to the complexity of the landscape facing us. It is important when dealing with fiscal issues relating to banks that we keep a sense of proportion during the process. That is why it is important to ensure that, in an objective sense, we examine the context in which the Government have decided to cut the take from the bank levy. So, what is that context?

  • Will the hon. Gentleman be fair enough to confirm at the Dispatch Box that since the Conservative party came into government in 2010, the tax take from the banking sector has increased, especially since 2015?

  • I will come to that in the course of my speech.

    I was asking about the context for these measures. First, there is the political context; then there is the ideological context. Politically, we saw a new low for the Government last week. We witnessed an increasingly weak and ineffectual Prime Minister being pulled between the troika of the Democratic Unionist party, her hard-line Front-Bench Brexiteers and, latterly, rebels on her own Back Benches.

  • The hon. Gentleman mentioned ideology. The shadow Chancellor is on record from 2013 as being a self-declared Marxist. Does the hon. Gentleman share that ideology? Is he a Marxist, too?

  • The hon. Gentleman is nothing if not persistent in asking that question. We are dealing with the bank levy, not the political opinions of the shadow Chancellor. I will be happy in due course to pitch our policies against those of the Conservatives.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman regret the fact that his party opposed the bank levy when this Government introduced it in 2011?

  • I will come to that in due course as well, if I may. I am beginning to think that my staff have been leaking my notes. I shall have to have words with them.

    Last week, in true one nation mode, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), among others, gave the Brexit Front Benchers every opportunity to acquiesce to his reasonable requests. In effect, he tried to give them a “get out of jail” card, but they could not take yes for an answer, and the remnants of the Government’s credibility went down the pan. There is a civil war going on within the Government, and this goes to the heart of the matter. The Government are throwing everything into the mix to try to distract us from the civil war that is going on in the Tory party.

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for talking about civil war. By contrast, in the interest of showing the solidarity among Labour Members, does he agree with the shadow Chancellor’s listing of his hobby in “Who’s Who?” as

    “generally fermenting the overthrow of capitalism”?

  • I know that the hon. Gentleman was disappointed when he was unable to ask that question last week because the Whips wound up his ability to do so. The reality is that that is of absolutely no relevance to the matter in hand. It does not matter; it is a complete irrelevance. We are in danger of getting swamped by red herrings.

  • On the topic of the shadow Chancellor, it was he who called for an independent assessment of the bank levy, the balance between fairness and competitiveness, and how the Government’s calculation was arrived at. Does my hon. Friend support the shadow Chancellor in that call?

  • Of course I am more than happy to support the shadow Chancellor, because that is the very point that we are trying to make—[Interruption.] I referred to red herrings a moment ago, and I hear Conservative Members mentioning Marxist herrings. That is very witty; it is nice to hear a witty comment from the Conservative side on occasions.

  • The hon. Gentleman refers to red herrings, but surely the views and political ideology of his shadow Chancellor are relevant. I will therefore give him another opportunity to answer the question: is he a Marxist, like his fellow shadow Treasury spokesman? Does he agree with that ideology, or is there civil war in the Labour party as well?

  • I think that the shadow Chancellor is more interested in Groucho Marx than Karl Marx, quite frankly.

  • It is very kind of the hon. Gentleman to take so many interventions on the trot. [Laughter.] This is not a minor issue. Let us not forget that Marxism destroyed the economy of half our continent. I very much admire the hon. Gentleman, but he did mention ideology in the first place. It is therefore not only in order for me to raise the question in his terms, but pertinent. Is he a Marxist—or is he perhaps a Leninist, a Bolshevist, or an adherent of one of the various other isms?

  • Order. It may be in order in the hon. Gentleman’s terms, but it is not in order in my terms. I should like to return to the bank levy.

  • Thank you for bringing us back to the land of reality, Sir Roger. I very much appreciate it.

  • Let us get real and say to the Government that at the end of the day, when we are in government, our Chancellor will carry out the policies of that Labour Government, whatever his personal views are. More importantly, many comments have been made about the previous Labour Government tonight, but the previous Chancellor said that it was not the Labour Government who created the financial crisis. If we had not capitalised the banks, many of those on the Conservative Benches would be in the poorhouse today.

  • As ever, my hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. The Government are so lacking in confidence that they are gerrymandering Public Bill Committees to reflect their control-freakery. We have to ask ourselves how long the Government can treat the House with such disdain. It is the kind of disdain that saw the Government ensure that there was no amendment of the law resolution, which has deliberately restricted the scope of the Bill and effectively limited parliamentary scrutiny and debate. [Interruption.] A Whip says from a sedentary position that that has happened before, but the procedure is used rarely and not in these circumstances. It is the Government’s control-freakery and fear of scrutiny that makes them do such outrageous and virtually unprecedented things.

    Perhaps if the Bill set out a bold plan—let us call it a long-term economic plan—to get the economy back on track, we could all put up with the Government’s guileful procedural gymnastics. However, as I said on Second Reading, there is little in the Bill to solve the growing problems facing our economy—from sluggish growth and slow productivity to a lack of investment in our infrastructure and our people. The Government have instead decided to dedicate their efforts to offering the banks another tax break by further limiting the scope of the bank levy, ensuring that from 2020 UK banks will pay the levy only on their UK balance sheets, not their overseas activities. It is the same old Tories looking after the same old interests.

  • I am very grateful. I want to give the shadow Minister another opportunity to answer the question. Does he regret his party’s decision to vote against the bank levy in 2011?

  • I will come to that in a moment. In future, if two hon. Members want to make an intervention at the same time, they should perhaps have a ballot.

  • I will take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.

  • The hon. Gentleman mentioned tax. If we had a Labour Government, by how much would corporation tax rise?

  • We discussed this issue last week, but the bottom line is that we are here to talk about the tax policies of the Government, not the Labour party. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads “Funding Britain’s Future”, which we call the grey book. As I said to one of his colleagues last week, I am not his research assistant. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority provides the hon. Gentleman with enough money to employ his own research assistant, so he should not need a shadow Minister to do his research for him.

    Labour’s position on the bank levy has been clear. We have consistently argued for a higher bank levy and pointed out that the levy, introduced in 2011, would raise substantially less then Labour’s bankers’ bonus tax. In short, we have always stood against the Government’s divisive austerity agenda. That was why we voted against the 2011 Finance Bill, which introduced the bank levy along with cuts to corporation tax and tax giveaways for the most well-off. That was also why we voiced our concern in 2015 over the Government’s cuts to the bank levy and the introduction of a corporation tax surcharge. It is why we will vote against the measures in the Bill.

  • Given the hon. Gentleman’s love of punishingly high corporation tax, does he not regret supporting the corporation tax surcharge on banks in 2015, when he was in the House?

  • No matter how many times Government Members ask rather tangential questions, I will not be drawn down that particular avenue, much as I would love to have that debate with the hon. Gentleman. The bottom line is that we have always stood against this Government introducing austerity measures at the same time as giving banks a tax cut. That is what it comes down to.

  • Will the shadow Minister give way?

  • No, I will push on for a moment.

    It is worth pointing out that the bank levy was not the brainchild of a Conservative Government. It was not introduced by the previous Chancellor after he had listened to the clear public outrage aimed at the reckless decisions made by some in the banking sector, who plunged the world into one of the greatest economic crises in modern times. As much as Government Members would like to blame the Labour Government for a world financial crisis, that is stretching credibility a little too far. [Interruption.] It is nice to see that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is shouting across the Chamber, but I cannot quite hear her, so if she wants to intervene—or shout a little louder—so that I can actually hear her question, I will be more than happy to answer. It is nice to see her in the Chamber.

  • It is probably right to look at the history, rather than listening to the made-up stuff coming from Conservative Members. Let us be clear that the financial crisis started with Lehman Brothers in America. We recapitalised the banks, and we kept our triple A rating so that we could borrow to bail out the banks in the first place. The Government are trying to take the credit for something that they did not do.

  • My hon. Friend is right. Conservatives always try to take the credit. They take responsibility for the good things and no responsibility for the bad things—it is the way they are made.

    The banking levy was not designed to ensure that the banks received enormous and unprecedented bail-outs from the taxpayer, such as the £76 billion of shares the Government purchased in RBS and Lloyds. It was designed to make them pay their fair share. In fact, the very concept of a levy was developed at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009. It was championed by the previous Labour Government, who subsequently introduced the bankers’ bonus tax. In the coalition’s 2011 austerity Budget, the Government decided to dump the bankers’ bonus tax and adopted the bank levy. At the time, Labour made it clear that the levy threshold was far too low in comparison with the money that would be raised if the Government stuck with Labour’s bonus tax. Instead, Ministers wilted under pressure from the banks and set the levy at a puny £2.6 billion.

  • The hon. Gentleman is talking about where the bank levy came from. I remind the Committee that it was actually Geoffrey Howe who introduced a deposit levy in a Budget in the early ’80s as part of his stabilisation of the financial system inherited from a previous Labour Government.

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for that history lesson.

  • If we are talking about the 1980s, let us remember that corporation tax spiked to over 50% in 1983 under a Conservative Government. Government Members are giving us lectures, but they should perhaps look at their own history rather than judging ours.

  • That is a fair comment.

    The threshold was established despite Treasury officials considering it to be far too low. Under the original plans, the levy would have raised £3.9 billion a year—nearly £1.5 billion more than £2.6 billion—but the Government of the few ensured that the threshold remains low.

    At 0.078% for short-term liabilities and 0.039% for long-term liabilities, the level set was—not to put too fine a point on it—an embarrassment when compared with that in other countries that introduced a similar levy. It was less than a third of France’s level, substantially smaller than Hungary’s, which was set at 0.53%, and even lower than that of the USA. They are all well-known Marxist countries.

    In 2015, under pressure from the Minister’s and the Government’s chums, once more the then Chancellor cut the bank levy rate, and the current occupant of No. 11 has continued on that sojourn. In so doing, he has ensured that, by 2020, the UK’s biggest banks will have received a tax giveaway worth a whopping £4.7 billion. That is £4.7 billion that could have been spent on our public services—notably on children’s services, for example.

  • It is all well and good for the hon. Gentleman to say what he is saying, but he is neglecting a simple fact. The financial sector is paying 35% more in tax today than it did in 2010 under a Labour Government.

  • Yes, because the sector returned to profitability after a Labour Government supported it throughout. That is why the sector has returned to profitability. Ultimately, if a Labour Government had not gone in and supported the sector, there would have been no banks, no profits and no tax whatsoever. I remind the hon. Gentleman of that one.

  • I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s potted Marxist history of the past 10 years. There seems to be a little bit of history that he has forgotten, which is of course the lax and inappropriate regulatory regime that the Labour party introduced under Ed Balls. That regime contributed to the terrible state in which our banking sector was left after 2008. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to remind the Committee and his party of that.

  • First, we did not regulate the banks in the United States, where it all started. I ask the hon. Gentleman—I have said this a number of times—to go and look at “Freeing Britain to Compete,” the document produced by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) for the shadow Cabinet in, surprisingly, August 2007.

  • They were not the Government.

  • “They were not the Government” is shouted across the Dispatch Box, but that brings me to the point I am making. The bottom line is that chapter 6 of “Freeing Britain to Compete” called for significantly less regulation of the banks. As I have said before, the right hon. Member for Wokingham effectively said in that document that the Labour Government at the time believed that, if we did not regulate the banks, they would steal all our money. Many people out there believe that that is, in effect, what happened. The taxpayer had to bail out the banks. Why did the taxpayer have to bail them out? Because of the lack of regulation. The shadow Cabinet at the time ratified a policy of less regulation. If we had followed the right hon. Gentleman’s exhortations, as ratified by the shadow Cabinet, we would be in an even worse state. I ask the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) to go and have a look at that one.

  • The hon. Gentleman is discussing the strictures and exhortations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who was then an Opposition Back Bencher. Surely the hon. Gentleman must recognise that it was the Labour party, in government, that deregulated the banks and took power away from the Bank of England. Whatever my right hon. Friend may or may not have said—he is an incredibly intelligent and learned person—he was not in government and was not making policy. It was the Labour Government who made the policy to deregulate and allow the financial crisis by taking away strength from the Bank of England at a time when it should have been strengthened.

  • If the hon. Lady wants to take back to the Conservative party the independence of the Bank of England, she should feel free. We will not support it— [Interruption.] That is what I heard her say. She was complaining about the independence of the Bank of England. So a new policy has been introduced by the Conservatives to take away the independence of the Bank of England.

    To offset the cuts to the bank levy, the Government introduced the 8% corporation tax surcharge, which they falsely claimed would offset the reduction. If we look at their Red Book and the forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, however, we can clearly see that the surcharge will not make up the fall in the bank levy. Under the forecasts, the surcharge is set to increase by £0.3 billion a year, while the receipts the Exchequer receives from the levy will fall by £1.7 billion a year, which is a £1.4 billion gap. That is a fact. That is in the Government’s own Red Book.

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for giving way. There is a lot of displacement activity coming from Conservative Members in the form of interventions. This is the second debate I have attended on the Finance Bill in which not one Conservative Member has mentioned living standards, wages, public sector pay or any real life conditions.

    I encourage my hon. Friend to carry on with his speech and to talk about the review that should take place into the bank levy and the real life consequences of this Tory Government’s policies.

  • I thank my hon. Friend for his advice, which I will take.

    In 2017, we are still feeling the effects and economic consequences of the actions of the banks. Every day we are told by the Government that there is no money to invest and that austerity must continue, yet the Government have gone out of their way to undermine any remuneration from the banks that caused this sorry state of affairs in the first place.

    Once again, the Opposition’s ability to amend this Bill is hamstrung and limited by the Government’s continued use of arcane and outdated parliamentary procedure. In football parlance, not only have they moved the goalposts but they have put boards across the goalmouths so that the Opposition cannot score any goals—a recreant act, if ever there was one, from a pusillanimous Government frightened of their own shadow.

    By tabling new clause 1, we seek, first, to require the Government to carry out a review of the bank levy, including its effectiveness in relation to its stated aims—Sir Roger, you will be glad that we are back on the bank levy. Secondly, we seek to establish the extent of the revenue effects of the cuts made in 2015. Thirdly, we seek to calculate how much would have been raised if the Government had stuck with Labour’s bankers bonus tax. Let us have the comparisons.

    Such a report would shine a light on the Government’s malpractice in cutting frontline services while offering tax giveaways to the banks. It would require the Minister to reassure the House directly that certain banking practices are not simply in hibernation. “Once bitten, twice shy” is a fair assessment of most people’s views, including many in the sector itself. A by-product of the process would be to show that far more would have been raised under Labour’s bankroll tax.

    We are also calling for a separate review of the changes introduced by clause 33 and schedule 9 and their overall impact on revenue and risky behaviour. That review would make the Treasury explain the rationale for further limiting the scope of the bank levy and forgoing billions of pounds while, at the same time, pushing for more cuts to departmental budgets and frontline services.

    It is, of course, unsurprising and indicative of the Government that they have failed to keep track of the banks that regularly pay the levy and a full list of what they have paid. That is why, in the name of transparency—a very novel concept for the Government—we would ensure fiscal accountability. The Opposition have tabled an amendment that seeks to create a public register for the bank levy.

    The Minister talks about commercial sensitivity. Well, that old chestnut is brought out time after time. When we supported the banks with billions upon billions of pounds, nobody talked about commercial sensitivity then. In this particular case, I am sure many in the banking sector would be happy to have such transparency. It is shocking that the Government consider this tax cut for the wealthy few to be a good use of nearly £5 billion.

    Alongside demanding that the Government change course, we must also understand the impact of the lower levy rate introduced in 2011, as well as the revenue effects of lowering the levy in 2015. That, among other things, is what our amendment seeks to tease out.

  • I am confused by the hon. Gentleman’s position on the bank levy. He says that he voted against it in 2011 because it was set at too low a threshold, but between 2011 and 2015 the then Chancellor raised the bank levy seven times and, on each occasion, the Labour party voted against it. Why did it do that?

  • I suggest that the hon. Gentleman goes back and reads Hansard when it is printed to see exactly what I said.

    Once we can see the true costs of the Government’s policies, we can grasp the extent of the choices they have been making and how they have favoured a small, wealthy group over the many citizens of this country time and again. Let us look at the example of children’s services. Only a week before the Budget, the chief executive of Action for Children, Sir Tony Hawkhead, described the “devastating cost” of cuts to children’s services, which he said have been left on a “dangerous and unstable” footing. These prevention and protection services are vital to provide proper care for our nation’s children, and the banking levy could help with that, yet we have seen deep cuts of 55% of funding for local government and a gap of £2 billion in funding by 2020.

    There is widespread talk and reports of local councils having to seek permission from the Government to raise council tax to cover the costs, in effect, of cuts to the bank levy—this money may have been available for children. So cuts to bankers and council tax up seems to be what we are being told today. As these services have been decimated over the past seven years, we have seen a doubling of serious child protection cases and twice the number of children put into care protection plans. Last year, 70,000 children were placed into care. The support for foster care, adoption and Sure Start children’s centres has all been reduced. Youth centres are closing and parenting classes are being axed. Short breaks for disabled children, provided by local councils to give their parents a little respite from full-time care, are being taken away and are under strain.

    Taken together, those cuts mean that some of the most vulnerable children in our country are paying the price for seven years of failing economic strategy. When are the Government going to change their strategy? It is still shocking to see the Government put the needs of others ahead of those of our youngest citizens, who are picking up the bill for austerity

  • Will the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that, as we have reduced the rate of corporation tax, so revenues have increased and there is now more money to spend on public services than there would otherwise have been? Does he not acknowledge that there is a real risk that, if his party were to increase corporation tax rates, there would be less money coming in, and cuts to public services and so on would be on his party’s head?

  • In short, no. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has made no link whatsoever between the rate of corporation tax and tax take. This is one of these myths that have been presented to the House time after time, which in the main we have tried to ignore, but at some point we have say that it is complete and utter claptrap, not to put too fine a point on it.

    The banking surcharge, supposedly introduced to compensate the taxpayer for this levy loss, will not come close to making good the difference. The Chancellor still has a choice though: he could reverse the cut to the bank levy and end the crisis in our children’s services instead.

    It is increasingly clear that the oldest political party has run out of steam.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman therefore think that France’s recent proposal to cut taxes for higher earners in order to woo bankers over to France is an incorrect policy, and that France has got it wrong because low taxes do not encourage investment and growth in a country?

  • The only thing that is going to attract people over to France is the shambles that the Government have made of their Brexit negotiations. That is a significantly bigger factor than, for example, the banking levy.

  • France has a corporation tax rate of 33%, so I am not entirely sure the point the hon. and learned Lady was making is valid. Would my hon. Friend care to comment on that?

  • My hon. Friend is right on that. Other countries, including the United States, have a corporation tax of 36% and the German rate is higher than ours, so even if we went back to the 2010 level of 26% that we had under a Labour Government, we would still have the lowest rate of all our competitors. That is the reality. Interestingly, they are doing much better than we are, notwithstanding that higher level of corporation tax.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Conservative party continues to cut corporation tax aggressively, but that perhaps next year rather than cutting it still further it might take that money to ensure that the WASPI women—the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—get a fair transition payment?

  • There are many, many calls on the taxpayer, and that is one of them. The Government would do well to pay attention to the exhortations of the hon. Gentleman.

  • I am more than happy to give way in relation to corporation tax, but it is important that I maintain the theme of the austerity project. It has not led us to prosperity. It has delivered misery for this country, yet the Government stick to the same old rules: tax breaks for wealthy bankers and cuts for the rest of us. It is like a stuck record.

  • I am sure that, coming from where he does, the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in the Republic of Ireland, a country he has not mentioned. Is he aware that, by keeping its corporation tax rate low, it has revolutionised its economy and become an export tiger, and that that has been a key factor in helping it to recover from the crash?

  • Huge amounts of support from the European Union have revolutionised the Irish economy. My forebears came from Ireland, but I do not think even the Irish would compare themselves as a small country of 3.5 million people or thereabouts with the United Kingdom with its 60 million—this is chalk and cheese. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that is a ridiculous comparison to make in the debate.

    Our amendment will finally help to demonstrate the true cost to the public purse of the Government’s favourable approach to some. In that way, we can understand exactly what the cost in revenue is. This should be all the evidence the Government need to change course—things simply are not working. Productivity is low, inflation is up, wages are stagnating, public services are in absolute decline and the NHS is under strain, as is social care, yet the Government just do not get it. They seem to think that we live in Shangri-la, but, unfortunately, we do not. We know that the Conservative party relies on support from vested interests for its own survival, but the question we must ask ourselves is: should the survival of a clapped out, atrophying, self-centred, out-of-touch, diminished Tory party take precedence over the needs of children? I know the answer, so I will simply leave Conservative Members to answer it in the silence and solitude of their own consciences.

  • It is my great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), whose speech was greatly entertaining, if a little devoid of something approaching accurate history. We were treated to a festival of revisionism on this country’s economic history over the past 10 years. I did agree with one thing he said—it was almost the first thing he said—which was that it is wrong to create a single category to describe bankers. He alluded to the fact that some may be called saints and others may be called sinners—he may have said that, but I cannot recall exactly the term he used—and that is undoubtedly the case, so to generalise about banking and bankers, as we often hear Opposition Members do, is extremely rash.

    As for culpability for the events from the end of 2007 to 2009, the hon. Gentleman may wriggle on the issue, but the fact is that the Labour Government were indeed culpable, as were other politicians of that time who were holding senior office in this country, including the then First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, who positively encouraged the Royal Bank of Scotland to engage in some of the more reckless initiatives that the leadership of that bank were engaged in. The result was that not only did they upend a great Scottish institution, but they nearly upended the whole United Kingdom economy.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman recall the shadow Chancellor at that time, the then Member for Tatton, calling repeatedly for the relaxation of what he described as the strict regulation that the Labour Government were imposing?

  • The important thing to remember is who was in government and whose hand was on the tiller at the time, and it was a Labour Government’s.

  • Does my hon. Friend remember the City Minister, Ed Balls, saying in 2006 that nothing could endanger the light-touch regulation of the banking system?

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that useful intervention because I absolutely do remember that. The reason why those words might linger in mind longer is because they came from someone holding an office of state. Cabinet members at the time were positively encouraging those whom they considered their friends in the City to become increasingly reckless, as was the First Minister of Scotland, as I have mentioned.

  • Now that the hon. Gentleman has demonstrated that his memory is fully functioning, will he answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas)? Does he recall the comments made by the former Chancellor, who was shadow Chancellor at the time? It appears that the views of shadow Chancellors are quite important to Conservative Members.

  • It might be a function of my age, but I must confess that I have no recollection of anything to which the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) referred. I apologise to the House for the lapse in my memory, but I am of an advanced age and it is perhaps a senior moment—I do not know.

    I support the Bill and the plan that goes with the banking levy, which is a fair way to ensure that banks make a fair contribution to the tax system and that they make the right contribution to society. The changes proposed in the Bill are fair. They provide for a level playing field for all banks, whether domiciled in the UK or based outside it.

  • Will the hon. Gentleman explain how we can know there is a level playing field and that such levies are fair if there is not complete transparency?

  • I was about to describe the level playing field as I see it. The Bill will remove any disincentive there might have been for banks to base themselves in the UK, which is important. I remind all Members of the reputation that our country and particularly the City has. I think we would all agree that the City is the financial capital of the world.

    With respect to the bank levy, the banks’ contribution must go beyond the paying of taxes, as outlined in the Bill. Given the banking sector’s behaviour—I referred to the comments by the hon. Member for Bootle about saints and sinners earlier, but I am generalising now—the banking industry does have a responsibility to make a fairer contribution to society, which is what the measures taken by the Government since 2010 and 2015 have made happen.

    Let me mention in passing the Financial Conduct Authority’s report on the Royal Bank of Scotland and its treatment of small and medium-sized business customers.

  • I do not want to distract my hon. Friend from his excellent speech, but he referred earlier to the former First Minister, Alex Salmond; does he recall the encouragement that Mr Salmond gave to RBS with respect to ABN AMRO and anything related to that purchase, which many people thought at the time was a risky investment?

  • I have a very bright recollection of that. There is a famous document that shows the First Minister wrote to the chief executive of RBS and added at the end some personal notes that went above and beyond encouragement.

    Given recent history, it is right that the banks make a more-than-fair contribution, and that is what they have been doing. I return to the FCA’s report on the RBS and its treatment of small and medium-sized business customers. I refer specifically to the conduct of RBS’s global restructuring group, about which the FCA’s report makes depressing reading. When I looked at the report, I lost count of the number of times the words “inadequate”, “inappropriate”, “systematic” and “failure” were linked repeatedly to a wide range of RBS’s activities, and particularly the global restructuring group’s conduct towards small and medium-sized businesses. The words I highlighted were appended to the description of how the group laid charges and managed loans and communications and to the description of its valuation practices. There is also the fact that the complaint procedures were completely ignored.

    Many Members from all parties will know of examples of how the systematic failings in RBS’s global restructuring group affected constituents and their businesses. My constituency is no different. I am mindful of ongoing investigations involving cases in my constituency and have no desire to jeopardise their progress as I address the issue of bank levies. I shall simply say that from the cases I have seen there remain many unanswered questions that RBS needs to address.

    Many Members present will be aware of RBS and the Bank of Scotland having closed their bank branches.

  • My hon. Friend reminds us that, what with Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland, there is clearly a theme among these great institutions that failed. Has he considered the fact that the bank levy is one function of a system in which ultimately the lender of last resort is the most important function? That system would simply not exist had Scotland gone independent and been left with massive liabilities to pick up. It would not have been able to cope.

  • My hon. Friend makes a first-class point. He provides me with an opportunity to remind the House that, thankfully, in September 2014, Scotland had the good sense to vote overwhelmingly to remain part of the United Kingdom. Part of the reason for that was, I am sure, the lessons we had learned as a country from our experiences between 2007 and 2009, particularly the recklessness of the Scottish National party Government and the First Minister at the time, Alex Salmond, in the way he conducted himself with respect to RBS.

    Just so that the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) is aware, I am talking about the bank levy in relation to bank closures. It is my firm belief that having bank branches in communities is part of the covenant between the public and their financial institutions, but that covenant that is clearly broken. People should expect the banking sector to keep businesses going with cash flow, loans, financial planning and so forth. People should also expect that bank branches are close by and serve the communities in which they live. Earlier, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) reminded us that high street banking is particularly important for people in our constituencies who are elderly or whose mobility is challenged in other ways.

    In Bannockburn, Dunblane, Bridge of Allan and the Springkerse estate in Stirling, RBS and the Bank of Scotland are leaving communities without adequate access to banking. It is important to state these things in the context of our consideration of the bank levy.

  • The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument about local banking. Does he therefore support the Labour party proposals for the introduction of regional banks? A nation such as Scotland could have its own banking system to serve local communities, rather than the incredibly centralised system we have now.

  • I am in favour of some fair competition in retail banking. We need to consider many important issues in the context of the future of retail banking, especially how it appears in the heart of our communities.

    RBS is closing its branch in Bridge of Allan, which happens to be the place where I live. In the past eight months alone, the Clydesdale bank, the Bank of Scotland and the TSB have all closed their branches, and now RBS is, too. That leaves the post office on Fountain Road as the only place where anyone will be able to do any over-the-counter banking.

  • Given that the Government are the major shareholder in one of the banks to which the hon. Gentleman referred that has closed and left his community devoid of proper facilities, does he not agree that it is time for the Government to step in and use their shareholder clout to ensure that bank branches stay open?

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment. In fact, I have made representations to Ministers—as have my colleagues on the Government Benches—because of the impact that the closure of the bank branches, particularly the recent announced closures of the Royal Bank of Scotland branches, will have on communities such as the one from which I come in Bridge of Allan. I do have concerns about the capabilities of the Post Office branches to be able to deal with the kinds of cash amounts that they will now have to handle. It is a different scale of operations that they will have to be prepared to lift themselves to. Yes, I have made representations, and I will continue to do so. In fact, there is an Adjournment debate on the subject following these debates.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman agree that using state money to keep banks open in local communities amounts to Marxism?

  • Well, I have mentioned what I did in my earlier years. In all those years, I was never accused of being a Marxist. I am concerned when communities become devoid of a basic service, such as a bank branch of any description. Frankly, I consider it to be unacceptable. These banks have had so much money from the British people and have been bailed out by them. I have already mentioned the recklessness of the banks, particularly of the Royal Bank of Scotland, for which I do not apologise.

    I should say that I did actually work for the Royal Bank of Scotland when I left school. Perhaps I should have mentioned that earlier. [Hon. Members: “Yes, you should.”] I was 16 at the time. I was a junior bank officer for RBS at the East High Street branch in Forfar. The Royal Bank of Scotland is a great institution. I just pause to pay tribute to its staff because they do a great job, and they have done a great job over these past 10 years in particular in very great difficulties. I pay them my compliments for that. Nevertheless, it does not excuse the Royal Bank of Scotland. In addressing the bank levy, it is important to remember that the greed and the calumny that they were guilty of means that they owe the British people something more. I fully acknowledge that that something more has been extracted and is being extracted, but I also think that there is a case for them having the social responsibility to maintain a presence in the communities of my constituency, such as in Bannockburn, Dunblane, Bridge of Allan and the rural parts of the constituency. I am afraid that a mobile bank does not quite meet the need.

    The other consequence is that many more empty units are appearing on our high streets. That is on top of the units that have been left empty by the Scottish Government and their inaction on business rates. I was about to say, Sir Roger, that I wish that I could show you the picture of King Street in Stirling, but, in retrospect, I am glad that I cannot, because there are so many empty units and so many “to let” and “for sale” boards. That is a situation that leaves someone such as me, who loves Stirling and the great history of my constituency and everything that it stands for, more than a little concerned. There is a feeling that we need to see a change in this respect. Certainly, when the banks, which are 72% owned by the taxpayer, decide to vacate these prime sites, it leaves a big hole at the heart of these shopping centres and communities.

  • I just want to be clear: is the hon. Gentleman asking for a further Government subsidy from either the Scottish Government or the UK Government for those institutions?

  • I do not think that I have mentioned the word “subsidy”. I am talking about corporate social responsibility. [Interruption.] Corporate social responsibility has nothing to do with subsidy.

  • I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman. He is talking about social responsibility, but I need to remind him that he should be talking about the bank levy.

  • I appreciate that reminder, Sir Roger. My comments about social responsibility are in the context of why we have a bank levy at all and why it has been an important part of the Government’s focus in, quite rightly, raising the billions of extra revenue.

    I promise that I will take only a few seconds more. There was some comment earlier about the effect of taxation. Someone mentioned the Laffer curve, which is well known to Members. It was certainly well known to the former Member for Gordon and the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, who used to regularly quote the Laffer curve in his models. He argued with great eloquence in many places—perhaps he even did so here, I cannot be sure—for lower corporation tax. That was one of the things that Alex Salmond absolutely stood for. The lack of any intervention on me means that I am obviously not going to be corrected on that score.

  • I read in the Scottish edition of The Sunday Times yesterday that Arthur Laffer has analysed the tax changes that the Scottish Government announced last Thursday in their annual Budget statement and found them wanting. He warns us that Scotland—[Interruption.] I am talking about this in the context of the bank levy, because bankers’ bonuses were mentioned. We are talking about the effect of taxation on incentive. Arthur Laffer warns us that Scotland is likely to be on a par with Greece—a place where enterprise and hard work are discouraged.

  • My hon. Friend is talking about Scotland, but is he aware that, in the whole UK, while we reduced corporation tax from 28% to 19%, the amount collected has increased from £37 billion to £50 billion during the period 2010 to 2017. Will he comment on that as well?

  • I am delighted to offer a comment on that, because that is exactly in line with the point that I am trying to make, which is that the Latter curve is exactly that—we increase revenue as we reduce taxation rates. It is very much at the core of what we believe on the Government Benches. At one time, it was what the SNP also stood by, but now the Financial Secretary in the Scottish Government has not even heard of Laffer. He told a Select Committee in Holyrood that he had never heard of the Laffer curve. That is where we are at in Scotland. When it comes to incentive, hard work and industry—I am referring this to the bank levy and the bankers’ bonuses that were mentioned by Opposition Front Benchers—we are now at a point where £33,000 a year is classified in Scotland as “rich”. I think that that is dismal. We are talking about not people with yachts in the marina bays of the west of Scotland, but doctors, teachers and middle managers—the working men and women of Scotland. Therefore, when it comes to the bank levy and to bankers’ bonuses, and we talk about incentives to work hard, to exercise initiative and to take a few risks, it is just not on in Scotland now. The Scottish Government are sending out a clear message, which I find dismal and dismaying, that that is not the kind of Scotland that they want. It is the kind of Scotland that I want. It is the kind of United Kingdom that I want, which is why I unreservedly stand to support the Bill.

  • You will be delighted to know, Sir Roger, that I will be talking about the bank levy and the new clauses that have been tabled both by the Opposition and by our party. I wish to start by saying that I have rarely been more embarrassed to be part of this House than I am this evening. This debate followed hot on the heels of a statement on bullying and harassment and we ended up in a situation in which there was a ping-pong between Government Back Benchers and the Opposition Front-Bench team. It just was not acceptable. I appreciate the fact, Sir Roger, that you intervened and brought Members back to the matter under discussion.

  • Will the hon. Lady give way?

  • No, I will not give way.

    The other concern about the tone of this debate thus far is that it has basically been a history lesson. Both sides have been talking about the history and how we have ended up in this situation. Very few people have spoken at any length about the future and about how the bank levy in the future will affect the tax take of the Treasury, as well has how it could be made to be more fair and ensure that we redistribute taxes and wealth in a positive way.

    The SNP has a manifesto commitment to support the reversal of the reduction in the bank levy. We stand by that commitment and have been consistent in our views on that. We have also been consistent in supporting the introduction of a tax on bankers’ bonuses.

    I am pleased with the way in which Labour’s new clause 1 has been written; there is a lot to commend it to the Committee. The suggestion of looking at the effects on revenue of the bank levy compared to the bank payroll tax is utterly sensible. It strikes me that this information should be in the public domain, so that we can all talk from a position of knowledge about the actual effects that this has had, rather than the projected effect that the Treasury thought it would have when it was first put in place or even thinks it might have now. It is totally reasonable for us to ask for a review of these things.

    We would be able to go further and ask for more drastic changes if the Government had proposed an amendment of the law resolution, which would allow us to be more flexible in tabling amendments. As I think I have said before—if not, I am quite happy to say it now—the fact that the Conservative Government are not proposing an amendment of the law resolution means that future Labour Governments will be likely to do the same thing, so this creates a situation whereby the House is less transparent and there is less Opposition scrutiny. It would be much better for all parties if there was an amendment of the law resolution.

    New clause 1 states that the proposed review would consider

    “the effectiveness of the levy in reflecting risks to the financial system and the wider UK economy arising from the banking sector”.

    That is key. Despite all that has happened since the financial crash, there are concerns about ensuring that banks continue to make less risky propositions and continue to be safe places for people to put their money. It is reasonable to look at the bank levy in the context of discouraging risky behaviour by banks, and the reference to the incoming revenue is key.

    New clause 11, tabled by the SNP, would deal with two things: inclusive growth and equality. We will hear an awful lot in the debate tomorrow about equality, and this should apply across all measures. The review proposed in our new clause would consider whether reducing the bank levy would disproportionately affect, for example, people of a certain gender or people who are not wealthy. People who work for banks are more likely to be male and wealthy. Therefore, reducing the bank levy is more likely to support them than it is to support groups that are disadvantaged in the first place.

    We in the SNP have been absolutely clear and consistent in our support of inclusive growth. We have also been clear that things such as quantitative easing—certainly since the first round of QE—do very little to support those people at the bottom of the pile or to inject money into the real economy, but actually have a disproportionate effect in organisations such as those in the FTSE 100. We will keep being clear that inclusive growth is important, which is why we have proposed progressive options for taxation. Particularly in this place, it is difficult to get any sensible answers from the Government about how their proposals will affect people across the spectrum. That is not necessarily because the Government have not done the work; they may have done the work, but they are unwilling to publish it. They do not produce comprehensive reviews of how the tax takes have changed as a result of the changes they have made to the tax system.

    Hon. Members will be unsurprised to hear me calling again for the Government to be more transparent, but that is what I am doing. I will also be very clear that we are keen to support new clause 1 if Labour decides to push it to a vote.

  • It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman). Interestingly, she mentioned inclusive growth, to which I will return shortly. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), whose speech was a real tour de force. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North criticised him for not talking about the future and dwelling on the past. Actually, he was talking about the present—the challenges facing his constituency today, in the here and now. The bank levy is incredibly important because it is all about the future prosperity of those constituents, so I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s comments.

    Interestingly, the Opposition’s new clause 3 gives us a good way of looking at the bank levy as it stands. Subsection (2) of new clause 3, which would affect schedule 9—the schedule that contains the details about the bank levy—states:

    “No later than 31 October 2020, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay before the House of Commons an account of the effects of the proposed changes in Part 1 of Schedule 9—(a) on the public revenue, (b) in reflecting risks to the financial system and the wider UK economy arising from the banking sector, and (c) in encouraging banks to move away from riskier funding models.”

    I accept that those three points are incredibly germane. In fact, let us not wait until 31 October 2020. Let us stand here now and think about how a review would fit under Labour’s very own new clause.

    Look at subsection (2)(a) of new clause 3, which is about the impact “on the public revenue”. What do we see? Well, the banking sector paid 58% more tax in 2016-17 than in 2009-10. That is under a Conservative Government. The average amount paid by the banks every year since 2010 has been 13% higher than under Labour. In 2016, the Government introduced an additional tax on banks—the 8% corporation tax surcharge, which we have been discussing—which will raise nearly £9 billion by 2022.

  • I give way to my Suffolk colleague.

  • In 2009-10, the banks were recovering from the worst position they had been in since the 1930s. In many cases, they went under and needed Government support to get out. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it would therefore have been extraordinary if the banks were not making more profit in 2016-17 than they were in 2009-10, that that is the reason why there is more take from the bank levy than there was in 2009-10, and that it is not simply because the Conservatives have reduced the amount of it?

  • I consider the hon. Gentleman to be a friend because we work together in Suffolk as MPs; we are always happy to do that. I will be coming to the issue of the crash and the way in which the banks went back to the 1930s, as he puts it, because I experienced that myself.

  • Is my hon. Friend aware that the total tax take from banks now is 6% higher than it was in the year before the financial crash?

  • My hon. Friend makes an excellent intervention and provides the rebuttal for me. The key point is that more tax is being raised now than before the crash.

    My point is that were we to apply now the test of the impact on the public revenue under Labour’s very own review as proposed in new clause 3, we could only come to one conclusion, which is that all the taxes we have put in place on the banking sector—not just the bank levy—have been raising significantly more revenue. The rising revenue has contributed to paying off the deficit and supporting UK public services. [Interruption.] The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), is shaking his head. I am happy for him to intervene and tell me that we are not raising more tax from the banks. He was very generous in giving way to me, but it appears that he is not going to intervene.

    Subsection (2)(b) of new clause 3 states that the review that Labour would introduce of the bank levy would look at

    “reflecting risks to the financial system and the wider UK economy arising from the banking sector”.

    I always find it amusing to see a Labour amendment—particularly from this Labour party—talking about risks to the financial system; indeed, I think the shadow Chancellor himself has referred to Labour as a risk to the financial system. One wonders whether, in its own review, Labour will be modelling what the impact of a run on the pound—let alone a run on the banks—would be on the banking system. I certainly think it would be most profound.

    The hon. Member for Aberdeen North said we are going back in time, but of course we have to go back, because the very fact of the bank levy was born out of what happened in 2008. The bank levy came from the crash, which has had very many wider impacts, but particularly on this aspect of our tax system.

    Let us remember the real bank levy—the real cost to the public. The cost of the bail-out of the banks was £850 billion. That was the figure the National Audit Office published in 2009 while there was still a Labour Government. That consisted of all kinds of costs. There was £107 million for City advisers—that’s right, a Labour Government spent over £100 million on City advisers. There was £76 billion to buy shares in RBS and Lloyds. There was £250 billion to guarantee wholesale borrowing to strengthen liquidity. There were many more hundreds of billions of such costs, including hundreds of billions for the Bank of England to insure itself in providing liquidity. People forget that. When we talk about the cost of the bail-out, we are not talking just about buying shares in the banks; this huge amount of subsequent activity that took place ultimately has to be accounted for, and it is borne by the whole of our economy and all our taxpayers.

  • Therefore, when we talk about Labour’s review

    “reflecting risks to the financial system”,

    we all have to reflect on the fact that it was the very crash in the financial system in 2008—that most epic of crashes—that brought us to this point in the first place, that cost so much and that put such a huge burden on the national debt and the taxpayers of the future.

  • I am very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman give us his rhetoric about history. What, at the time, were the suggestions from the Conservative party in terms of dealing with the impending crash? Anecdotally, I know that chief execs of banks were talking about money running out at cashpoints. What would the Conservative party have done differently in 2008 from what happened under the Labour Government?

  • I would say three things. First, the hon. Gentleman talked earlier about the shadow Chancellor, but I have to go back and quote the City Minister at the time—Ed Balls—who said in 2006:

    “nothing should be done to put at risk a light-touch, risk-based regulatory regime”.

  • If we are going to trade quotes across the Chamber, the then Member for Witney, who was the leader of the Conservative party at the time, said:

    “I want to give you…less regulation.”

    If we are talking about regulation and the state of the banks at the time, the Conservative party is as culpable as anybody else.

  • I am happy to have that debate. I will tell the hon. Gentleman what I said. I started a mortgage broking company in 2004—we have expanded since then, and I should declare that I still have interests in that business. I wrote an article for The Guardian in 2004 about the next general election. [Interruption.] Just a closet Marxist. At the time, the big issue being talked about was public services, but I said—this was in 2004—that the big risk we were not talking about was consumer debt. I knew that because, having just started a business in that area, I was stunned by what was happening in mortgage finance, which, of course, was the type of borrowing that laid the seeds for our destruction in 2008.

  • May I tell the hon. Gentleman how prescient he was in 2004? He was clearly right. Does he have the same concern about the rising level of private debt now?

  • The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and I will come back to that once I have set out the context of my remarks. The key point is this: there are some concerns, but in a growing economy, consumer debt will tend to rise, so we have to separate out that which is perfectly acceptable and that which may give cause for concern. I will come back to that point, but it is very fair.

    In respect of proposed subsection (2)(b) of the Labour new clause, which talks about

    “reflecting risks to the financial system”,

    we conclude by reminding ourselves that it was the very explosion of the financial system that created the need for this bank levy. As I say, we have to debate the past—why we are here in the first place and where this all came from—and the fact that we are on a journey. The reason this tax is being tapered off is that the banking sector is once again becoming profitable, and we are allowing it to flourish again as a free enterprise-based banking system, but, of course, in the context of very strict regulation and a prudential regime.

    Let me go back to the point about personal experience. It amazes me when members of the Labour party stand up and, like Pontius Pilate, wash their hands of the huge impact of that crash. At the time, many of us approached the regulator—the Financial Services Authority—which Gordon Brown launched early in the first Parliament after Labour won in 1997. He claimed that that would avoid future financial crises. We must remember that and have accountability.

  • Will the hon. Gentleman be reasonable or fair enough to acknowledge that while it is entirely possible to say that the system of regulation on the eve of the financial crisis was not adequate— no one is making the case that it was—surely it is illogical and ridiculous to suggest that the Conservatives would have been doing anything different. After all, the banks themselves were not aware of the level of risk they had undertaken, so it was no surprise that the regulator did not appreciate it. One cannot claim that the Conservatives advocated anything different from the overarching framework of regulation that existed at the time.

  • I entirely disagree. The absolute root cause of it all was not saving enough and having a bad culture of over-reliance on debt. I well remember that back in ’98 and ’99 when Francis Maude was the shadow Chancellor, he kept saying, with regard to the low savings ratio, “We are storing up problems for the future.” At every Budget, no matter how high Labour was in the polls, our shadow Chancellors and shadow spokesmen—people like Howard Flight—would say that the savings ratio was way too low and we were storing up problems for the future. We did warn, we did say it, and we were ignored.

  • The hon. Gentleman is making the case that people borrowed too much because they were somehow feckless or immoral. [Interruption.] He mentioned the poor savings culture in this country and said that people were unable to save. Actually, is it not the case that the picture has worsened since then, because the simple fact is that wages have been held down and people are now unable to save? How has his party in government fared on the issue that he has raised?

  • I never talked about fecklessness or being immoral. I was talking about the economic fact that the savings ratio was dangerously low throughout much of the Labour Government’s time in office, and they were warned about it. Labour Members are saying that we never said anything, and that simply is not true.

    The hon. Lady seems to think that Labour had good policies on debt. I remember when someone could get a self-certified mortgage, with no proof of income, on an annual percentage rate relating to bad credit, so they could have a history of failing to pay debt. Not only that, but it was interest-only, so they were not even repaying the capital. There was a whole menu of different types of sub-prime such as light-adverse, medium-adverse or heavy-adverse. As I have said before, basically the question was, “Do you have a pulse?”, and then one got a mortgage.

  • Will the hon. Gentleman simply acknowledge that in August 2007 the Conservatives had a policy of significantly more deregulation, including of the banks, and that was ratified by the Tory shadow Cabinet at the time?

  • I do not accept that. Those mortgages were being advanced. The FSA knew about them and the Government knew about them. The fact is that when you are in charge of the financial system, you have a responsibility to act in a prudent manner. The Governor of the Bank of England always says, “Your duty is to take the punchbowl away when the party gets started.” The problem was that when the party got started under the new Labour Government in terms of debt and borrowing too much, they did not take the punchbowl away—they came out with a new round of tequila slammers, and when that was not enough, they brought out the Jägerbombs, until in 2008 we had the biggest hangover in our history, with the crashing of our economy on the back of the most reckless oversight of financial regulation that this country has ever seen.

  • My hon. Friend is making a very strong case. However, he is relatively new to this place. May I remind him, and the Committee, that when I was on the Opposition Benches for 10 years, the then Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that he had abolished boom and bust? That is the political context in which Labour ruined the economy.

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The types of borrowing that I have talked about were the reality, but what have we done since? It is no longer possible to get self-certified mortgages. It is very difficult—almost impossible—to get interest-only mortgages as a residential purchaser.

  • Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

  • The hon. Lady did not give way to me, but because I believe in inclusive growth and equality, I will give way to her.

  • The hon. Gentleman is making a very sensible case about the issues there were with mortgages before, but there are currently issues with consumer credit. The Bank of England has raised concerns about, for example, the card credit that people are taking out, and the fact that half of households have less than £100 in savings. When is he going to take the punchbowl away?

  • I did say that I would come to the current position on credit. I want to finish on the analysis of the three tenets in new clause 22 under which Labour says that we should consider how the bank levy has worked. According to subsection (2)(c), we should look at it in terms of

    “encouraging banks to move away from riskier funding models.”

    It is quite amusing to see a Labour new clause that contains the phrase

    “encouraging banks to move away”.

    My colleagues will appreciate that the whole point of reforming the bank levy is not to encourage banks to move away, but to encourage them to stay here and create wealth and jobs. Let us not forget that in all the figures we have heard about, we have not heard the key one. Banks contribute £116 billion of value added to our economy, not including any of the tax take.

  • We have talked about the rewriting of history. The Shadow Cabinet at the time—we are talking about what happened at the time—said:

    “We need to make it more difficult for ministers to regulate, and we need to give the critics of regulation more opportunity to make their case against specific new proposals.”

    The Conservatives’ direction of travel at that time was towards not more regulation, but less. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that at all?

  • All the financial plans of that shadow Government would have been about fiscal prudence, and the context would have been completely different. The Labour Government crashed the economy on every single front, which is why we are where we are today.

    There is one final point I want to make. We had a wide-ranging discussion earlier about Marxism, which I thought particularly intriguing. We have to decide, as a country, whether we want to be a flourishing free enterprise economy or a centrally commanded one in which everything remains in, or is taken into, the public sector. When the banks were nationalised, they were bailed out on the basis of rescuing the economy from an extreme threat that could have left us resorting to barter. The point is that we have put the banks on a stable footing so that they can flourish again and become competitive businesses. The bank levy, to me, is about striking a balance but having a competitive financial services sector to drive our exports and growth, and that is why I will be voting to support it.

  • We have had an interesting, if not very factually correct, history lesson this evening. I want to bring us back to the question of how we spend £4.7 billion of taxpayers’ money, and the political choices that the Conservative party are making in this Finance Bill. Politics is about priorities, and I would like to talk, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) suggested we should, about the future and how we might spend the money differently. For my constituents in Bristol South, and, I think, for the country, the biggest issue in the Budget is productivity. I would like to think that we could use that money for something better, such as technical qualifications, to help to reduce the skills gap in my constituency.

    Of all the constituencies in the country, mine sends the smallest number of young people into higher education, and only 24% have a level 4 qualification. For a city that contains two universities and has two more close by, that is scandalous. Because of that, I have followed the apprenticeship levy very closely and supported the Government in its introduction, but the figures are hugely disappointing. Large employers are using the levy to train current executives, and small employers simply do not know how to navigate the system. That has led to the 62% drop-off in apprenticeship starts since last July. It is outrageous that in the Budget, the Chancellor could only give a nod to the apprenticeship levy by saying that he would keep an eye on it, at the same time as deciding to grant the banks a tax giveaway of £4.7 billion.

    T-levels have had very little debate in this House since they were announced in October, and they are mentioned only in passing in the Budget. I welcome the Government’s approach to trying to improve technical education as an alternative to the academic option, because it could really help social mobility in my constituency and those of many other hon. Members. The Government have said that T-levels were

    “the most ambitious post-16 education reform since the introduction of A-levels”,

    but if they are, the current signs are very worrying. Let us compare that £4.7 billion with the sums of money that the Government have committed to T-levels: £60 million in 2018-19, £445 million in 2021-22 and £500 million every year afterwards to ensure that the supposedly hugely ambitious T-levels are a success. However, while the overall investment is welcome, it pales into a rather small figure compared with the other sums we are talking about.

  • Further education providers have already raised concerns this year that the figure is not enough, and they are already facing reduced student numbers. They need the money now. In fact, our country needs that money now, because as we heard in the Budget, productivity is one of the greatest problems facing our country. As Lord Sainsbury has said:

    “Government, the education sector, industry, LEPs and Combined Authorities now need to put in the necessary resources and effort, and not wait until the last moment”

    to do something about this problem.

    It is disappointing that the Chancellor simply offered £20 million in staff development training for T-levels, which is in contrast with the £80 million in incentives to get more A-level maths students, for example. There is no clarity on what, where, how or who this will apply to, and there is a real lack of transparency about the process for choosing pathways and providers. So far, the tenders for the 2015 institutes of technology have been delayed, and teaching the first new T-levels has been pushed back to September 2020, with the delay of another year. Only one pathway from each of the three routes is likely to begin by 2020, and most of the providers do not look likely to deliver T-levels until perhaps 2024. After the problems encountered with the apprenticeships levy, which is due to help with our skills gap and to increase productivity in this country, there ought to be a much greater sense of urgency about getting this rolled out and helping FE providers to be prepared.

    In conclusion, I would like to know how and when the providers in Bristol South—indeed, I am sure many hon. Members would like to know this about their own constituency—can expect to access additional funding, for which subjects and at what levels so that people are prepared for those qualifications. I want the people of Bristol South to share in the greater prosperity in my city, and indeed in this country. I will support the amendments tabled by our Front Benchers in relation to using this money differently following a review of the bank levy.

  • It is a great honour to speak in the debate on this very important matter, and particularly to follow the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth). She made some very interesting points, and I am glad that she supports many of the technical education measures that the Government are bringing in. I entirely agree with her that this is one of the great challenges the country faces, and I applaud the Government’s work in setting out a framework for technical education in the future.

    I want to talk directly about the bank levy. All hon. Members on both sides of the House probably accept that it is very important for the banks to pay a fair contribution towards public services and the tax yield in this country. They are significant employers with significant operations and they are wealthy and profitable enterprises, but it is very important to have a balance. Such a balance throws into relief the fact that banks are responsible not just for being profitable and therefore for paying tax, but for introducing liquidity into the system and enabling us to borrow.

    If any hon. Member has ever borrowed to buy a car or a house or to invest in a business—many of their constituents will of course have done so—the money will have come from a bank in most cases. It is very important that banks are enabled to provide precisely that service, so there has to be a balance. Yes, they must pay a fair share towards the economy and society in which we all live, but that share should not be so large that their ability to lend is decreased. I suggest that this Government have got the balance right. In 2010, the Conservative coalition Government increased regulation, and in 2011 they introduced the bank levy, which reflected the risk inherent in the banking sector. It is an inherently risky sector because of the very nature of the way in which it operates, and the bank levy was introduced precisely to recognise that risk. It was introduced to incentivise the banking sector as it then was to invest in a way that was less risky than the ways in which it had operated up until that time.

    That spirit of balance, which is the keynote point of my few remarks this evening, is why we need reform now. There is a gradual shift from the levy to taxing profit, recognising that the regulatory regime globally, as well as in this country, has moved on considerably since it was introduced. Since 2016, we have had an 8% tax on bank profits—the corporation tax surcharge—which will raise £9 billion between 2017 and 2022. The bank levy rate will be reduced to 0.1% over the same period. Of course, there is the additional fairness brought by ensuring that the levy affects only UK balance sheets. UK-based banks must never be disincentivised from being based here, rather than being based abroad and operating here. We can make those changes now because of the improvements in global regulation.

    Members from all parts of the House should recognise that it is important that we, as politicians, do not become too fixated on the rate of taxation, but rather look at the revenue that is earned. I suggest that this Government have got that balance—that key focus—correct. That is the economic paradox of taxation rates. We heard about the Laffer curve from my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr). If there is 0% tax, 0% taxation is received. If there is 100% tax, 0% taxation is received. The point is where precisely the balance is struck. I suggest that the Government have got it correct.

    The measures that we have brought in since 2015 have introduced an additional £7 billion through to 2023, bringing in a total of £30 billion over and above what would have been brought in through corporation tax in any event.

  • I am not quite sure that the hon. Gentleman is correct about that, because the Institute for Fiscal Studies states:

    “Cuts to corporation tax rates announced between 2010 and 2016 are estimated to reduce revenues by at least £16.5 billion a year in the short to medium run.”

    Even the Treasury’s own figures show that the cost has been significant.

  • I simply do not accept that point, with the greatest of respect to the hon. Gentleman. It is quite clear that the reduction in corporation tax, which I am glad he has mentioned, has led to an increase in revenues over that period. It is accepted that GDP is expected to increase by 1.3% in the long run. The receipts have increased by 50% since the Government have been reducing the corporation tax rate, from £36 billion to £55 billion between 2010 and 2016. That is an increase to £55 billion going to the Exchequer over that period.

  • The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have seen the boost in spending generated by the proposed reduction in VAT on the hospitality trade in Northern Ireland before the measure even kicks in. I suggest that if the Government had the bottle to do away with air passenger duty—that would be an exceptionally good move—we would see even more air travel and an increase in tax take overall.

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for those excellent points, which reinforce the point I am making.

    Of course there has to be taxation, but we must strike a balance with the level of taxation. I know it is paradoxical, but sometimes when tax is reduced, there is an increase in the amount of tax that is taken because it sponsors the amount of work that business is able to do. When business is able to do more work, it earns more money, it pays more tax, it is able to employ more employees, those employees pay more tax and hopefully their wages increase. I am sure that Opposition Members will be glad to ensure that we have measures that increase wages. That is something we should all aim to do, not least because it increases the tax take and the funding for our public services.

    I suggest that the Government’s measures can in no way be described as a bank tax giveaway, because 58% more is being paid in tax than was the case under Labour. An additional £27.3 billion was taken through corporation tax, the bank levy, national insurance, the bank surcharge and income tax in 2016-17 than would otherwise have been the case. A 35% increase in the amount of taxes paid by the financial services sector since 2010 is an extraordinary figure. It has been made possible by this Government’s sensible tax policies.

  • My hon. Friend is making a very important point about tax fairness. Whether corporations or individuals, the top 1% of income tax payers pay more than double what the bottom 50% pay. It is a similar principle.

  • It is exactly the same principle with personal taxation. My hon. Friend makes an absolutely outstanding point. He is quite right and we must not forget that the principle is the same for personal taxation as it is for corporation taxation. Not only is the tax yield increasing, it is also borne by those who earn the most. It is indeed progressive and, I would hope, something all Members could support.

    I know other Members wish to speak, so I will conclude with this point. An Opposition Member suggested that no one on the Government Benches has spoken about wages, public services and so on. I would very much like to concentrate on them in these last few seconds of my speech. It is through our tax regime, the sensible taxation policies that this Government have put in place since 2010, that we are now able to see an increase in—

  • Given those sensible taxation levels and rates, will the hon. Gentleman explain why productivity is the lowest of all our competitors, inflation is higher than our competitors, wage stagnation is almost becoming endemic, investment is slower, and economic growth is on the floor? If having these so-called lower rates of tax is such a fantastic opportunity for businesses, how come we are still in this particular situation?

  • I am grateful, as ever, to the hon. Gentleman for making his points. He makes a number of them and it will not surprise him that I do not agree with him. We have record investment, an extraordinary economic miracle and a jobs miracle. We are still having to recover from the economic mess the Labour party left us in. There is absolutely no two ways about it: the Labour party left us with record levels of national debt.

    Our economy is seeing an increasingly benign environment. That has been made possible by the sensible taxation measures the Government have allowed to take place and have sponsored. It is through that tax regime that there is more to spend on public services: companies can look to increase wages, hire more staff, pay more tax and thereby fund the public services we all need.

  • The Chancellor, in his Budget speech, offered nothing at all for our vital children’s services, which are already struggling and stretched. He was, however, able to find £5 billion of tax relief for bankers, so it is certainly a happy Christmas for them this year. The additional new surcharge on banks and the changes announced to the bank levy mean that the amount received will reduce by a third over time.

    A less happy Christmas awaits the staff, parents and children who use the Riverside Sure Start children’s centre in my constituency. On Thursday, I was told that Kent County Council is considering plans to close this beloved centre. The council talks about making efficiency savings and bringing services in house, but we all know what that could mean: more victims of Kent County Council’s ruthless cost-cutting drive in line with this Government’s. When it comes to cuts, it seems to me that Kent County Council is doing its very best not just to throw metaphorical babies out with the bathwater, as real children and babies are being betrayed by this heartless agenda to keep the council in the black.

    Kent County Council does not know when to stop. Many families in my community and from local schools rely on the services provided by our children’s centre. Those services include stay and play sessions, vital family support and outreach for parents. They also include advice and help with all aspects of childcare, school choices, breastfeeding support, health visitor and midwife clinics, post-natal depression advice, parenting skills, and speech and language services. Furthermore, the centre threatened with closure in Canterbury also offers advice on employment and opportunities to engage in adult education and training. Riverside children’s centre celebrated its 10th birthday last year. Since it opened in 2006, almost 7,000 children have attended the activities provided and nearly 2,000 families have registered with the centre.

  • My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Given the comments that we heard earlier about recent history, does she agree that the brutal cuts to important children’s services such as those that she describes go completely against the rhetoric with which David Cameron and George Osborne came to this House when they went into government in 2010, after the events we heard described just a moment ago?

  • Order. As the hon. Lady continues, rather than concentrating on recent history, will she get back to the bank levy, which is what is under debate?

  • I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) for her intervention, but in the light of your comments, Mr Owen, I shall continue with my speech.

    These parents and children will no longer be able to meet or play together, and the children will be unable to socialise with children their own age in a safe, well-equipped space. Loneliness is a—[Interruption.] This is about real cuts to real people, affecting their lives.

    The problem of loneliness has been much talked about lately. New parents often experience feelings of isolation and can lack confidence, and that is especially the case for parents who have recently moved to a new area or do not have English as their first language. It goes without saying that they are helped enormously by being able to meet others in similar circumstances, sharing their common fears and trepidation at a time of huge life change. Taking away a lifeline such as Sure Start cuts them off from friends, health advice, skills sharing and their communities.

  • My hon. Friend is setting out in her excellent speech exactly the same point as that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth): reducing the bank levy will have a direct impact on community services. Could the services she has mentioned be saved if the Government were to drop their plans to cut the bank levy?

  • Absolutely. We have heard a lot about Marxism and some filibustering speeches, but the real people watching today are interested in cuts to services such as children’s services. That is why I am speaking about them.

    We know that two thirds of councillors from 101 local authorities that were surveyed said that not enough money was available to provide universal services such as children’s centres and youth clubs. How does the short-sighted and drastic cutting of the funding that children’s services need help the children and families of tomorrow? This short-term, household budget-style approach will leave a generation of communities bereft, isolated and without the many essential services that are so needed by parents and children.

  • I wish to support Labour’s new clauses 1 to 3, which call for a review of the change in the scope and rate of the bank levy, the funds from which should be invested in young people’s and children’s services. Given the desperate state of young people’s and children’s services across the country, I am surprised that the Chancellor has chosen to reduce the bank levy, effectively depriving the Government of funds that could be spent on those vital services.

    It has now been 26 days since the Chancellor delivered his Budget—his second Budget, and the 10th since the Tories took office in 2010, which is now nearly eight years ago. By coincidence, it is also nearly eight years since my baby was born, who is still my baby despite being eight years old. Every parent wants the best for their child and wants them to have every opportunity to fulfil their potential, but for the almost eight years of her life, we have seen her opportunity rationed and funding for children’s and young people’s services slashed. Sir Roger, I will quickly—[Interruption.] I am so sorry, Mr Owen.

  • You have been promoted, Mr Owen.

    I want quickly to draw the House’s attention to the funding cuts to Hull City Council’s children’s services budget since 2010 and to argue that rather than reducing the bank levy the Government should be properly funding children’s services. The headline figures for Hull City Council are as follows. Spending on children’s and young people’s services is down by £19.5 million, with more than a quarter of the spending power cut since 2010. That is just half of the £37 million that the council has to cut before 2020. The time taken to get a diagnosis of autism is up, with the average waiting time now at 14 months. The number of Sure Start centres in the city is down since 2010. Those centres were instrumental in supporting me when I had my two girls.

  • Is that not simply incomprehensible at a time when productivity is such a major issue for our economy? Is not the proven, evidence-based value of Sure Start early intervention involving children at the youngest age one of the biggest drivers for improving productivity, and is not cutting that totally detrimental?

  • I completely agree. The Education Committee has been looking into fostering. We know that in some of the most deprived areas of society the number of looked-after children is increasing, and we know that one of the reasons is that there is no money for social services departments to support families and give them the early intervention that they so desperately need. It is a false economy to pull funding away from early intervention, saying that that will save money. It will not; it will cost a lot more in the long run.

    Those horrendous headlines do not tell the whole story. They do not tell of the worry experienced recently by breastfeeding mothers in Hull who panicked at the possibility that their peer-to-peer doula support would be cut because the council could not afford to pay for it. The council is having to make impossible choices. If it supports those breastfeeding mothers, it will have to pull funding from somewhere else. That is simply not fair.

    Those headlines do not tell the story of the child in need who has fallen behind at school and finds it difficult to catch up again because of Government cuts in Sure Start’s speech, language and communication services. The Minister recently published an article in a newspaper complaining about the fact that children were starting school before they were school-ready. Why do the Government think that that is happening? It is happening because there is no money for the early intervention and Sure Start centres that are so desperately needed. Again, more potential is being missed and more opportunity wasted.

    As I said in my maiden speech, I do not want a single child to have their life story written on the day they are born. Can we really say that the Bill will create the conditions in which all children can be given the support that they need and the opportunity to fulfil their potential? Does it, as the Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street just after taking office,

    “do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you”?

    Until we can answer yes to those questions, a reduction in the bank levy is a luxury that we cannot afford. I urge Members to back Labour’s new clauses 1, 2 and 3, because the future of our economy, and our children, depends on them.

  • We have had a very wide-ranging debate. On occasion, we even touched on the matter at hand—the bank levy.

    The hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) was very generous in giving way, but less generous and less forthcoming in his answers. He was asked whether he recognised that we would be raising more tax from the banks. He said he would come back to that, but I do not think he did. He was asked why Labour had voted against the bank levy in the first place. On two or three occasions he said he would come back to that, but I am not sure he did. When he was asked whether he supported the overthrow of capitalism, he declined to answer. When he was asked by how much Labour would increase corporation tax, he told his interlocutor to go away and look it up. He was asked whether he was a Marxist. He was swamped by red herrings at one point, which caused my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) to say that he was the victim of too many interventions “on the trot”—boom boom!

    My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) stressed the importance of a fair playing field, which is exactly what the Bill is introducing for the banks. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) talked about the importance of less risky behaviour by banks. I certainly subscribe to that, which is why the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee has been conducting the stress tests to which I referred earlier. They have all been very successful, including one that is based on a no-deal Brexit scenario.

    My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk also took us through the amount of tax that has been raised from the banks under the Conservatives. He slightly ruined it all by saying that he had once written an article for The Guardian, and that he was, indeed, a closet Marxist at least.

    The hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) talked about the importance of productivity while my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) highlighted the importance of a balanced approach to tax so that the banks could lend and stay healthy. The final two contributions were on childcare support, on which this Government have a proud record: by 2019-20 we will spending a record £6 billion per year supporting childcare. On that note, I commend clause 33 and schedule 9 to the Committee.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 33 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Schedule 9

    Bank Levy

    Question put, That the schedule be the Ninth schedule to the Bill.

  • Division 74

    18 December 2017


    Ayes: 313
    Noes: 258

    Question accordingly agreed to.

    View Details

    Schedule 9 agreed to.

    New Clause 1

    Review of operation and effectiveness of bank levy

    ‘(1) Schedule 19 to FA 2011 (bank levy) is amended as follows.

    (2) After paragraph 81, insert—

    “Part 10


    82 (1) Within six months of the passing of the Finance Act 2018, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall undertake a review of the operation and effectiveness of the bank levy.

    (2) The review shall consider in particular—

    (a) the effectiveness of the levy in reflecting risks to the financial system and the wider UK economy arising from the banking sector,

    (b) the effectiveness of the levy in encouraging banks to move away from riskier funding models,

    (c) the revenue effects of the changes to the levy made in Schedule 2 to the Finance (No. 2) Act 2015,

    (d) the effectiveness of the anti-avoidance provisions in paragraphs 47 and 48 of this Schedule.

    (3) A review shall also compare the effects of the bank levy with those of the bank payroll tax (within the meaning given by Schedule 2 to the Finance Act 2010) in relation to—

    (a) revenue, and

    (b) the matters specified in sub-paragraph (2)(a) and (b).

    (4) A report of the review under this paragraph shall be laid before the House of Commons within one calendar month of its completion.””—(Peter Dowd.)

    This new clause requires the Government to carry out a review of the bank levy, including its effectiveness in relation to its stated aims, the revenue effects of the changes made in 2015 and the comparable effectiveness of the bank payroll tax.

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

    Division 75

    18 December 2017

    The Committee divided:

    Ayes: 260
    Noes: 313

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

    Clause 40

    Higher Rates for Additional Dwellings

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    That schedule 11 be the Eleventh schedule to the Bill.

    Clause 41 stand part.

    Amendment 2, in clause 8, page 4, line 16, at end insert—

    “(4A) Regulations under this section may not increase any person’s liability to income tax.”

    This amendment provides that the power to make regulations in consequence of the exemption from income tax in respect of payments of accommodation allowances to, or in respect of, a member of the armed forces may not be exercised so as to increase any individual’s liability to income tax.

    Amendment 3, in page 4, line 17, leave out from “section” to “may” in line 18.

    This amendment is consequential on Amendment 2.

    Clause 8 stand part.

    New clause 4—Review of Relief for First-Time Buyers

    “(1) The Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall undertake a review of the impact of the relief for first-time buyers introduced in Schedule 6ZA to FA 2003.

    (2) The review shall consider, in particular, the effects of the relief on—

    (a) the public revenue,

    (b) house prices, and

    (c) the supply of housing.

    (3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay a copy of a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons no later than one calendar week prior to the date which he has set for his Autumn 2018 Budget Statement.”

    This new clause requires a review to be published prior to the Autumn 2018 Budget on the impact of the relief for first-time buyers, including its effects on house prices and on the supply of housing.

    New clause 10— Annual Report on Relief for First-Time Buyers

    “(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must prepare and lay before the House of Commons a report for each relevant period on the operation of the relief for first-time buyers introduced in Schedule 6ZA to FA 2003 not less than three months after the end of the relevant period.

    (2) The report shall include, in particular, information in respect of the relevant period on—

    (a) the number of first-time buyers benefiting from the relief,

    (b) the number of purchases benefiting from the relief,

    (c) the average age of first-time buyers benefiting from the relief,

    (d) the effects on the operation of the private rented sector,

    (e) the effects on council housing and other social housing,

    (f) the effects on the supply of affordable housing, and

    (g) the effects on the operation of collective investment schemes under Part 17 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 in the provision of cooperative housing.

    (3) For the purposes of this section, “relevant period” means—

    (a) the period from 22 November 2017 to 5 April 2018,

    (b) each period of 12 months beginning on 6 April during which the relief is in effect, and

    (c) the period beginning on 6 April and ending with the day on which the relief ceases to have effect.”

    This new clause requires an annual report on the operation of the relief for first-time buyers, including information on the beneficiaries and effects on different aspects of housing supply.

    New clause 5—Parliamentary Scrutiny of Regulations Relating to Armed Forces’ Accommodation Allowance

    “(1) Section 717 of ITEPA 2003 (regulations made by Treasury or Commissioners) is amended as follows.

    (2) In subsection (3), leave out “subsection (4)” and insert “subsections (3A) and (4)”.

    (3) After subsection (3), insert—

    ‘(3A) No regulations may be made under section 297D unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.’”

    This new clause requires that regulations setting conditions relating to the availability of the income tax exemption in relation to armed forces’ accommodation allowance shall be subject to the affirmative procedure.

  • The Budget set out an ambitious plan to tackle the housing challenge—a plan that will raise housing supply by the end of this Parliament to its highest level since the 1970s. However, the Government also recognise that we need to act now to help young people who are trying to get on to the housing ladder. This Bill therefore introduces a permanent relief in stamp duty land tax for first-time buyers, which I will turn to shortly. Alongside that, I will also cover clauses 8 and 40, which respectively introduce an income tax exemption for accommodation payments made to members of the armed forces and make minor changes to the higher rates of stamp duty land tax.

    Home ownership among young people has been falling. Today, the average house in London costs almost 12 times average earnings, nearly 10 times average earnings in the south-east and more than eight times average earnings in the east.

  • Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the only solution to the housing crisis is to build millions more houses, not to pump demand into the demand side, which just pushes up prices in the end?

  • The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We announced plans in the Budget along the exact lines that he has suggested in order to free up the supply side and to increase supply to 300,000 units by the mid-2020s. In the last 12 months, we have achieved 217,000 new builds, so we are on our way, although it will take time. He is quite right that the supply side matters.

  • Does the Minister accept that, although it is important to increase the supply of houses, this measure has been welcomed by young people who see this as at least an opportunity for them to be able to get a deposit for a house and to have fewer up-front costs?

  • My hon. Friend is entirely right. The point about up-front costs—alongside the costs of conveyancing, surveyors and so on—is a critical one, particularly for young people getting on to the housing ladder.

  • Average wages in Stoke-on-Trent are £100 a week lower than the national average, and the average house price is only £123,282, so will the Minister tell me the tangible benefits of lifting the stamp duty threshold to £300,000 for my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent?

  • There is not an area or region of the country that will not see benefits for first-time buyers. [Hon. Members: “Yes, there is.”] No, I am afraid that that is simply not the case. This measure will benefit first-time buyers in every single region of the country. It is the case that property is a lot more expensive in some parts of the country than in others. Arguably, that is where the particular need is. As I have said, the average house price in London is 12 times average earnings, and it is 10 times average earnings in the south-east.

  • Can the Minister give us any indication of his Department’s estimate of the cost of this measure and of the incidence—how it falls— in different regions of the country? In other words, how much is it going to cost globally and what other housing could the Government have built with that money? Equally importantly, how much of this will be in the south-east and how much in other regions?

  • In addition to what I just said about every region seeing benefits, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the average benefit for the average first-time buyer will be around £1,700, which is a significant amount. For people purchasing a property at the £300,000 to £500,000 level, the benefit is no less than £5,000, which is a considerable sum.

  • Does the Minister disagree then with the Office for Budget Responsibility, which says that the measure will actually increase house prices by 0.3%? Is the OBR wrong?

  • As the hon. Gentleman may know, the figure of 0.3% takes a static view of this policy and its effect on house prices. It does not take into account the supply side changes that I have mentioned. As we increase supply, prices will inevitably begin to fall. There is no single solution to this challenge and no magic bullet.

  • Will the Minister give way?

  • Will the Minister give way?

  • I will make a little progress, if I may.

    The Budget announced an ambitious package of new policies to tackle the housing challenge, including planning reform; spending; and a new agency, Homes England, to intervene more actively in the land market. Together with the reforms in the housing White Paper, the housing package announced in the Budget means that we are on track to raise annual housing supply by the end of this Parliament to its highest level since 1970 and to 300,000 a year on average by the mid-2020s. That means that housing supply is on track to be higher over the 2020s than in any previous decade. However, it will take time to build these new homes, and the Government want to act now to help those young people who are aspiring to take their first step on to the housing ladder. That is why the Bill permanently abolishes stamp duty for first-time buyers purchasing a property for £300,000 or less. First-time buyers purchasing a house that is between £300,000 and £500,000 will save £5,000. To ensure that this relief is targeted at those who need it most, purchases above £500,000 will not benefit from the relief.

  • I thank the Minister for taking a second intervention from me. To my earlier point, though, there are fewer than 15 properties currently on the market in Stoke-on-Trent between the value of £250,000 and £300,000. I say again: the average wage in Stoke-on-Trent is £100 a week less than the national average. How will young people in Stoke-on-Trent benefit, when the housing supply does not exist and the wage level will simply not allow them to purchase a property of that value?

  • The figures the hon. Gentleman chose to use were, I think, a range between £250,000 and £300,000, and he says there are 15 properties in that category. Of course, stamp duty kicks in at £125,000, so it is the range from £125,000 to £300,000 that we would actually be considering in that example.

    First-time buyers are typically more cash-constrained than other buyers, and stamp duty requires cash up front, on top of a deposit and conveyancing fees, for purchases over £125,000. The Government think it is right to reduce the up-front costs that first-time buyers need to pay, giving them an advantage over the rest of the market.

  • I thank the Minister for giving way, but he simply did not answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar), who quite legitimately asked him where the money from this cut is going. The Minister talked about the average gain that will be made. Will he tell us the average benefit to a first-time buyer in the west midlands?

  • As I say, the average across the piece will be £1,700 per average first-time buyer. I also stated quite clearly that, in every region of the country, there will be those who benefit from this measure.

  • I thank the Minister for giving way, but surely his Department must have done an analysis, first, to convince the Treasury of how much this would cost and, secondly, to work out how much this would affect each region—in other words, how much benefit was going to the south-east, how much to London, how much to Yorkshire and how much to the west midlands. Why is he so reluctant to open up about those figures?

  • What I am able to tell the right hon. Gentleman is that, as I have said, the average benefit will be £1,700 for the average first-time buyer. Every region in the United Kingdom will see benefit from this measure, and those regions—particularly in the south and south-east—where the ratio of salaries required to mortgage levels is particularly high will especially benefit.

    However, the other thing we need to do as a Government, as I have already stated, is to make sure we get the supply of housing right. That is why we will be moving from the current level of 200,000 new builds a year up to 300,000 in the middle of 2020s.

  • It is important to put on the record that Northern Ireland probably benefits disproportionately as a result of this measure, compared with any other part of the United Kingdom. The average house price in Northern Ireland is £128,650—in some areas west of the Bann, it is about £109,000—so hitting house prices over £300,000 would involve such a limited market. Many, many people in Northern Ireland are going to benefit from this, and I welcome the move the Government have made.

  • I thank my hon. Friend for those comments, which illustrate the point that there are benefits accruing across all regions of the United Kingdom.

    The changes made by this Bill include the largest ever increase in the point at which first-time buyers become liable for stamp duty. This relief will help over 1 million first-time buyers who are taking their first steps on the housing ladder during the next five years. It provides immediate support while our wider housing market reforms take effect.

    The changes made by clause 41 ensure that over 95% of first-time buyers who pay stamp duty will benefit by up to £5,000, including 80% of first-time buyers in London. That means that over 80% of first-time buyers will pay no stamp duty at all, and it saves the buyer of an average first property nearly £1,700, as I have said.

    In summary, this change to SDLT will help millions of first-time buyers getting on to the housing ladder. Together with the broader housing package we have announced, we are delivering on our pledge to make the dream of home ownership a reality for as many people as possible.

  • Will the Minister give way?

  • I am going to make further progress.

    I will now move on to other changes relating to stamp duty. Clause 40 brings forward some minor changes to the higher rates of stamp duty land tax for additional properties, which will improve how the legislation works. The changes help in a number of circumstances, including in relation to those affected by divorce or the dissolution of a civil partnership, where they have had to leave a matrimonial home but are required to retain an interest in it, and in relation to the interests of disabled children, where a court-appointed trustee buys a home for such a child.

    We will also close down an avoidance opportunity. The Government have become aware of efforts to avoid the higher rates by disposing of only part of an interest in an old main residence to qualify for relief from the higher rates on the whole of a new main residence. This behaviour is unacceptable, and the Government have acted to stop it with effect from 22 November.

    Clause 8 introduces a new income tax exemption for payments made to members of the armed forces to help them to meet accommodation costs in the private market in the UK. The exemption enables them to receive a tax-free allowance for renting accommodation or maintaining their home in the private sector. The allowance will also be free of national insurance contributions. That measure will be introduced through regulations at a later date. By using the private market, the Ministry of Defence will be able to provide access to similar accommodation, but with more flexibility.

    Opposition Members have tabled amendments 2 and 3 to the armed forces accommodation clause, and I look forward to hearing about them in the debate. The amendments seek to prevent the Treasury from laying regulations that would increase the liability of a member of the armed forces to income tax. I am happy to reassure the Committee that the Government do not intend to use the power to increase tax liabilities either now or in the future. The regulation-making power is retrospective so that the allowance can be provided tax free before regulations take effect. As a standard safeguard, the Bill expressly provides that the Government would not retrospectively increase tax liabilities. I hope that, in the light of that, hon. Members will not press their amendments.

    New clause 5, also tabled by Opposition Members, would require the House to expressly approve any regulations made under the clause. The Bill provides for regulations to be made under the negative procedure. Regulations made under the clause will align the qualifying criteria for the proposed exemption with the Ministry of Defence’s new accommodation model once more details are available. Any future regulations will ensure that the tax exemption reflects changes to the model. It would be a questionable demand on Parliament’s time, particularly over the next two years, for it to be called on to expressly approve regulations in these circumstances. The negative procedure provides an appropriate level of scrutiny. I therefore urge the Committee to reject the new clause.

    The stamp duty relief for first-time buyers is a major step to help those getting on to the property ladder, and one that has been widely welcomed. The other changes made by these clauses provide relief from some tax costs associated with housing for several groups that deserve them. The clauses also tackle avoidance. I commend clauses 41, 40 and 8, and schedule 11, to the Committee.

  • This country is in the grip of a severe housing crisis that the Conservatives have allowed to spiral out of control over the past seven years. Making sure that people have a roof over their heads and can raise their families somewhere safe, decent and affordable is more than just a matter of sound public policy—it is surely a yardstick of a decent society. At the moment, we are falling short of this yardstick to a degree that is shameful for one of the world’s most affluent nations.

    Now, after seven years of Tory government, the Government say that they have noticed the problem, yet it is not on the brink of being resolved but rather exacerbated. The Chancellor’s autumn Budget, from which the measures in the Bill are drawn, falls woefully short in addressing the scale of what is needed. Since 2010, house building has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s, rough sleeping has risen year on year, rents have risen faster than incomes and there are almost 200,000 fewer homeowners in the UK.

  • Can the hon. Gentleman confirm whether Labour built houses when it was in office or house building fell when Labour was in office?

  • Labour’s record in office is 2 million more homes, 1 million more homeowners, and—something that is particularly important to me as a Labour councillor during some of that time—an incredible investment in social housing. In local government, we used to ask whether we could ever fulfil the backlog in repairs that the Thatcher and Major Governments had created, but we did, and it made a tremendous difference to people’s lives.

    The one headline-grabbing move that the Chancellor made in the autumn Budget was the abolition of stamp duty land tax for first-time buyers up to the value of £300,000. I acknowledge that this was a Labour policy included in our manifesto for the June 2017 general election, but we were very clear in that manifesto that the measure should be proposed only if there were accompanying measures to increase supply. Without these, stamp duty land tax cuts risk further inflating a housing bubble that is snatching the idea of home ownership out of reach for the younger generation.

  • In St Albans, we are very grateful for the Chancellor’s abolition of stamp duty. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Labour party is against it, and that he does not wish it to happen?

  • I have just explained that the policy was our idea to begin with, but it is effective only if it is accompanied by measures to increase supply.

  • The hon. Gentleman says that he will support the policy if it is accompanied by measures to increase supply. That is exactly what the Chancellor has introduced in the Budget, so will the hon. Gentleman support the measure, or is he against cutting stamp duty for first-time buyers?

  • No, we are not, as I have just explained, but there have to be measures that genuinely increase supply. I will explain to the hon. Lady that the measures in this Budget do not in any way contribute to that, and we will get on to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s definition.

  • The Budget states that 300,000 houses will be built every year. That is a measure to increase house building, so will the hon. Gentleman commit to supporting the stamp duty measure?

  • Members have become accustomed to the fact that the number of homes that the Government claim to build is not always the actual number that are built. I will get to some of that record of failure later in my speech.

  • Does my hon. Friend think it is a bit ironic that when a similar measure was proposed in 2015, it was derided as a gimmick by the then Chancellor?

  • My hon. Friend is entirely correct. As we know, sometimes the situation in the Government means that they tend to look around for ideas, and they often find best practice in the Labour party.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the additional capital that is being put into housing, the attack on companies that engage in land banking and the aid to enable small builders to build more houses are all supply side measures?

  • We will get on to whether those measures will be effective, based on the assessments that have been made. I am old enough to remember when a tax on land banking was described as Venezuelan-style socialism, so it is good to see some permutation of that idea among Government Members.

    The analysis by the OBR on the likely outcome of the policy shows that it will push up prices by 0.3% in 2018.

  • My hon. Friend is talking about land banking by the big house builders. Is not the evidence of that the utterly obscene bonus being paid to the chief executive of Persimmon, which is so outrageous that the chairman of the company has seen fit to resign in disgust?

  • My right hon. Friend identifies another feature of a dysfunctional market. That will be corrected only by a change in Government policy, but we have not seen one in the Bill.

    Conservative Ministers’ review of a previous stamp duty cut concluded that the tax relief, in itself, had

    “not had a significant impact on improving affordability for first time buyers”.

    That is why Labour has tabled an amendment calling for the publication of a review prior to the 2018 Budget on the impact of the relief on first-time buyers, including its effect on house prices and the supply of houses.

    The Minister, as usual, talked an extremely good game on funding for new housing, which he said would help to ameliorate the supply issue. On further scrutiny, however, we find that no measures in the 2017 Budget will directly increase house building. Only one third of the £44 billion announced in the Budget is genuinely new, and there is no extra Government investment in new affordable homes. That builds on a legacy of failure. Let us remind ourselves that not one of the 200,000 starter homes promised by the Tories three years ago has yet been built. That lack of action is having a serious impact across every part of our society. During the Government’s seven years in power, homelessness has doubled. Shockingly, recent statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that nearly 80,000 households were homeless in September; that includes 120,000 children. The situation is extraordinarily urgent.

  • Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the mistakes that former Chancellor Osborne made was the cap on rents, which threw into complete chaos the planning of social landlords and housing associations in budgeting for building new houses? It had the effect of reducing the supply, rather than increasing it.

  • Absolutely. A combination of policy measures—not just the failure on new housing completions, but a range of other measures—has contributed to this toxic situation. We see it perhaps most visibly in Greater Manchester—I live there and represent part of it—than in any other part of the country, and thank goodness that we in Greater Manchester have a Labour Mayor in Andy Burnham who is so determined to make a difference on this matter. If Labour was in power, we would set up a taskforce, led by the Prime Minister, to end this, and we would start by setting out plans to make available at least 4,000 homes for people with a history of rough sleeping.

    The homelessness statistics obviously include the hundreds of families who tragically lost their homes in the Grenfell Tower disaster in June, four-fifths of whom are still living in temporary accommodation. Although Labour welcomes the additional funding for mental health services for those affected by Grenfell, we have profound concerns about the fact that no new money has been allocated for fire safety throughout the country. The Government ignored calls to fit sprinklers to all social housing tower blocks in 2013, after the disastrous and fatal events that happened at Lakanal House and Shirley Towers, so it remains the case that only 2% of tower blocks in the UK have sprinklers installed. That figure should be of serious concern to us all.

    We can see that the measures included in the Bill fall far short of what is needed to fix the housing crisis in Britain. We want in particular to discuss one measure that the Opposition are concerned may be being used as a fig leaf for just another cut. This is in regard to clause 8, the income tax exemption for the armed forces accommodation allowance, which the Minister mentioned. The explanatory note to the clause states that this is

    “to allow members of the armed forces to give up their entitlement to accommodation in exchange for an allowance to be used to rent or maintain accommodation in the private market.”

    Labour is concerned that this manoeuvre is designed to force more servicemen and women into the private rental sector, as part of a Government shift towards selling off the military housing stock in which armed forces personnel would ordinarily be housed.

  • The hon. Gentleman has mentioned that Andy Burnham is the Mayor of the area he represents. Does he remember that, in 2010, when Andy Burnham was standing for the leadership, he said:

    “These issues are important, particularly stamp duty as it stands in the way of young people getting on in life”?

  • I commend the hon. and learned Lady for googling that so fast. I do not think that Andy Burnham’s resolution to tackle homelessness should be laughed at; it is admirable. As someone who has lived in Greater Manchester for nearly 20 years now, I see the scale of the social and urban decay on the streets around us. Anyone who travels to Manchester and moves a short distance in any direction from Manchester Piccadilly station will see what an appalling state of affairs we have reached. It is simply the case that every time the Conservatives are in power, they increase homelessness. For me, that is the most visible sign of a Conservative Government in office, and I commend any politician—Andy Burnham is leading on this for us in Greater Manchester—who makes the difference.

  • The shadow Minister is making an excellent contribution. I want to point out, as he has in relation to Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, that continual cuts to local government are forcing many local authorities to disinvest in their homelessness prevention services. For example, Stoke-on-Trent—a Conservative-run council—is cutting £1 million out of its homelessness prevention budget in the next five years. What does he say about such a situation, and what does he think could solve it?

  • I agree with the point my hon. Friend has made. The fact is that we know the impact that a series of Government measures have had, and we can reverse or improve on them. Fundamentally, we can change the availability of housing stock, but we can also create a policy framework that prevents people from being made homeless in the first place, and that is what we need to do.

  • Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the wider measures, such as forcing through universal credit and local housing allowance caps, are forcing large numbers of people out on to the streets?

  • Absolutely. There have been 13 consecutive cuts to housing association budgets, the cumulative impact of which is exactly as my hon. Friend describes. As constituency MPs, we are left requesting our local housing association simply to try to absorb the costs of this Government policy failure. In many cases, the housing association does so, but there is ultimately a cost. The cost is taking away available resources to build further houses, thus getting us into a situation in which the problem is never truly resolved.

    I will return to the armed forces accommodation allowance. The Ministry of Defence has a target in the 2015 national security strategy and strategic defence and security review to sell off 30% of its estate by 2040, but the Conservatives have a track record of making poor decisions on selling off service family housing in the name of short-term savings. Annington Homes bought most of the service family accommodation from the Ministry of Defence for £1.6 billion in 1996. A 999-year lease was granted back to the Ministry of Defence at a discount, with the stipulations that the MOD would be responsible for maintenance and that Annington Homes could terminate individual leases and had the right to include five-yearly rental reviews and a breakpoint at 25 years. The National Audit Office has said that the MOD has therefore not benefited from the rise in house prices since the agreement and, in fact, has paid higher rental costs to Annington Homes. In 2016, Annington’s annual statement estimated its property portfolio to be worth £6.7 billion.

  • Having tried to get out of the Annington Homes contract when I was responsible for armed forces housing, may I say that the situation is worse than my hon. Friend describes? The MOD is still paying not only for empty houses, but for houses that have been demolished. It was the worst deal possible for the taxpayer.

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing his expertise with the Committee. It truly is an appalling record of failure.

    As every Member knows, there are enormous problems in the private rented sector in respect of affordability, quality and security of tenure. By forcing service families into the private rented sector, we risk reducing the quality of their accommodation and their quality of life. It might therefore impact on recruitment and retention rates.

    The Government have so far offered little detail on which members of the armed forces will be entitled to the new allowance or what the rate will be and have not said whether the Treasury has done an impact assessment on local housing supply. The proposal ignores the fact that there is not a supply of affordable housing to buy or rent near many military bases.

    It seems clear that the Government are attempting to rush the proposal through to make short-term savings, without considering the potential repercussions. Labour is demanding more consultation with armed forces personnel and a full and robust impact assessment of any proposed changes. Clear communication with armed forces families must be a top priority throughout this process and their long-term interest must be considered, as well as the long-term value for money for the taxpayer. Committing to sell this Government-owned housing risks shackling the public purse to ever-rising rents, as well as poor outcomes for armed forces personnel.

    Given Labour’s concerns over the lack of detail over the armed forces allowance and any potential safeguards for members of the armed services in the private rental sector, Her Majesty’s Opposition have tabled an amendment that calls on the Government to publish a review of the measure to Parliament before it is enacted.

    Overall, the measure forms part of a housing package that barely scratches the surface in addressing the country’s housing crisis. All the measures are too minimal to make a serious difference to the housing pressures that people face and too late to make up for the Government’s lack of action over the past seven years.

  • It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. I only wish to make some very brief comments because I have already spoken this evening and I am conscious of the fact that other Members wish to speak.

    I will make a few comments about the armed forces exemption that we have just been discussing, because it has particular relevance to my constituency, where a great amount of the Royal Air Force is based at Brize Norton. We are awaiting the redevelopment of the two REEMA sites, which are particularly important. Already, a great number of Royal Air Force and Army personnel live either on the base or outside it, in particular in Bampton, Witney, Carterton and Brize Norton village.

    I am glad that the Government have proposed this welcome measure. It falls into a similar bracket as the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill, which we have discussed in the House over the past few weeks and months. It is important that we understand that expectations are changing. The armed forces offer must be able to stand alongside what can be received in the civilian world. This measure has the potential to provide exactly that.

    At the moment, there is the anomaly that if personnel live in Ministry of Defence accommodation, it is essentially provided tax free, but if an armed forces allowance is given, there is taxation on it. That is how the rules work at the moment, so clearly personnel would be disadvantaged. We have to accept that in many cases, armed forces personnel wish to live outside a base, perhaps close to where their spouse works or where their children go to school. I welcome the measure because it moves us a step along the road towards realising that.

  • The people who serve in our armed forces today—I have some experience of this—are looking for a different model and a different way of life for their families to grow up in. In the old days, they would have been in the garrisons or the ports. My constituency is further from the sea than anywhere else in the country, yet I have Royal Marines bringing their families up in the town. They are penalised for doing that because of the way the scheme works now. The new scheme will help them and they tell me that they are looking forward to it.

  • I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point. His constituency is very similar to mine in that respect. I welcome this measure and I anticipate that my constituents will as well.

    Those brief comments are the only ones I wish to make. I very much welcome this measure because it is in the interests of west Oxfordshire, in particular Brize Norton. It helps to bring forward the offer to which my right hon. Friend refers. We have to accept that there is a change in expectation on the part of many members of the armed forces and this is welcome.

  • I am concerned about the lack of impact that financial incentives for first-time buyers appear to be having on encouraging housebuilding. The recent pay-offs for Persimmon Homes executives are surely good evidence that a substantial proportion, if not all, of the Government’s money is going into exceptional profits for private housebuilders, rather than genuinely making homes more affordable. We need to know that any money or tax incentives that the Government put into housing will genuinely help people to achieve the housing they need.

    The cost of housing for residents is not just about the building itself, but the costs of running the building. New houses are still being built which make short-term savings for the builders at the cost of a long-term expense for their owners or tenants, and also at a long-term cost to the environment. Ipswich Borough Council had a substantial plan to install solar PV panels on all suitable roofs on its substantial council housing estate. It was all set to go in 2013 when the Government moved the goalposts and blew a hole in the business case. The Government seem to be willing to promise vast sums as guarantees for new nuclear powers stations, but they are not willing to use the extensive potential tax powers at their disposal either to incentivise housebuilders to install photovoltaics in original buildings or to adequately incentivise owners to install them on existing buildings.

    Increasing the number of solar panels on the roofs of this country would be one of the most cost-effective ways of generating the electricity we need. It would be more beneficial to the residents of those buildings. It would take effect far sooner than waiting for the construction of nuclear power stations and it would predominantly employ working people and small businesses in this country.

    Many of us were hoping that the Government would have found further substantial incentives for solar panels in the Bill. I can only hope that a review of the operation of housing finances and an equality impact assessment of the way the Bill will affect low-paid people might encourage the Government to look again at how they can make housing less expensive for those who live in it.

  • I want to talk about the cut to stamp duty for first-time buyers, but before I do so I would like to take the opportunity to briefly remind Ministers on the Treasury Bench that in March my constituency suffered a terrible disaster: the gas explosion in New Ferry. The Department for Communities and Local Government currently has Wirral Council’s plan for the rebuild. I trust that, in the context of discussing new housing, Treasury Ministers will look kindly on the plan should it come before them.

    I want to argue against the cut to stamp duty and for the Opposition amendment, which calls for a review of the policy, and a review of the place of first-time buyers in the housing market and the supply of housing. My argument against this specific policy is, first, that it looks set to fail against the targets the Government have set themselves; and secondly, that in the current economic context it is simply the wrong policy priority. Perhaps we might consider this policy if we were experiencing the same growth as other countries in Europe or we had dealt with our budget deficit, but even if it was not set to work against what the Government have tried to achieve, it would still be the wrong policy because it is not the country’s priority.

    I imagine this policy coming before Treasury Ministers during the Budget preparations and their thinking to themselves, “Well, this might be attractive on the face of it, but ought we not to ask our bevvy of economists here in the Treasury what the likely impact might be?” The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) just rolled his eyes at me, and he did so because he knows as well as I do—we have debated it often enough—that the advice from the OBR was entirely predictable.

    It was entirely predictable that anyone looking at the policy in the current economic climate would say that we have clear, credible evidence from previous changes to stamp duty that the value of this tax change will accrue not to first-time buyers but to those who already own properties. That is what the OBR says, and it is what advice from the specialists in the Treasury would have told Ministers. I do not know—I have no evidence of this—but I have confidence in the Government Economic Service and I think they would have told Ministers that.

    Furthermore, it is very unlikely that the Treasury does not have the full analysis requested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar). All Members across the House know in their own minds whether their constituencies will benefit from this, and all members of the Cabinet know whether constituents in their constituencies—which are largely in the south-east of England—will benefit. Those of us who have watched house prices in our constituencies barely grow at all in the past 10 years will know that our constituents will benefit very little from this very expensive tax change.

  • I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady, because obviously I have a constituency in one of the higher value areas. I am confused. The shadow Minister just said that the stamp duty cut was not appropriate because the right measures were not in place for affordable housing, whereas she seems to be saying that a stamp duty cut is not what she would like to see. Which is it? Does she think that the stamp duty cut should not happen at all? I would like a simple yes or no answer.

  • I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but I have already answered her question. I said that in better economic circumstances this might be something that we might want to do, but it is not a priority for now. I answered her question before she even asked it.

    Given what the OBR has said, I ask Ministers once again to look at that and at the evidence. The value of this tax cut will not go to first-time buyers. That is absolutely clear. If Ministers think that they can come back to this House after having a review and persuading the OBR that the Treasury is correct and the OBR is wrong, then fine, we can look at it, but I see no reason to think that, and here is why. When we asked the Chancellor about this measure in the Treasury Committee, he gave the same line as the Minister just gave at the Dispatch Box. He said, “Ah, yes, but the OBR assessment —their model—doesn’t take into account our reforms, which will make a huge difference to the supply of housing.”

    Anybody can look at page 28 of the Budget—at the Budget scorecard. This year, the stamp duty land tax cut will cost us £125 million. How much extra will we spend on the housing infrastructure fund? A big fat zero. Next year, 2018-19, the stamp duty land tax cut will cost us a whopping £560 million. How much extra will we spend on the housing infrastructure fund? A big fat zero. In fact, according to the Budget we will not spend anything on extending the housing infrastructure fund until 2019-20, when we will spend £215 million. In the same year, we will spend £585 million on the tax cut. And so it goes on, and on. We are frontloading a tax cut and pushing back spending on housing infrastructure. How can the Chancellor come to this House and say, “Oh no, the OBR has got it all wrong, because we are going to build all these houses and that will sort out the housing market”? Honestly, Mr Owen, I do not know what he is talking about.

  • Does the hon. Lady not accept that, for a variety of reasons—planning permissions, procurement, or whatever—the capital expenditure cannot be turned on immediately? There is always a delay. It is not a question of “pushing it off”; it is simply a fact of life.

  • The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that it takes a little bit of time for capital expenditure to get going. That is an argument for us to increase capital expenditure now, and wait until we have increased supply to make the tax cut. It is the front-loading of the tax cut versus pushing off our investment until sometime in the future.

    In proposing the stamp duty land tax cut, the Government have admitted that they have no further ambitions to rebalance our economy between the regions, and no further ambitions to tackle the disgraceful inequality between different parts of the country. In the north-west and the north-east, house prices have grown barely at all, whereas in the south-west, for example, they have shot up and wages have been held disgracefully low. This policy gives money to those who already have assets. It is a charter for inequality, and if it is ever to be implemented, it should not be implemented now.

    The number of children in poverty is due to increase by nearly half a million: there will be 400,000 more children in poverty over the period of this Budget. The Government may say, “That is unfortunate, but benefits have to be frozen, and we need to focus on investment so that we can build our way out of these difficult economic circumstances.” This tax cut, however, is not investment. It is just a revenue cut—a tax giveaway—at a time when we could be ensuring that child poverty does not increase. The two-child policy that the Government have stuck to is an absolute disgrace. It shames our country that we are saying, “If you are the third child in a family, in poverty, the Government have nothing to say and will do nothing to help you.”

    If the Tories who are now in power actually believed their rhetoric of compassionate conservativism, they would agree with me that if there were ever a time for this tax cut, it would not be now. Let me leave them with this comment. They may think that they can get on with this, and that they will have decent headlines on the front pages of the newspapers because newspaper editors might like the idea of first-time buyers being able to buy properties that they, perhaps, own. They may think that they will get a fair wind because tax cuts of this kind are popular.

    I will tell you what is really unpopular in our country, Mr Owen. As we heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), what is really unpopular in our country is having to step over rough sleepers while walking home. What is really unpopular in our country is having to watch other parents taking paper into schools because our schools cannot even afford the basic necessities. And what is deeply unpopular in our country is watching the number of food banks grow because jobs do not pay enough.

    People will remember that while all that was going on, the Tories were busy cutting stamp duty for people who could afford to buy houses. I do not think they will ever forget that.

  • I agree with the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) and the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) about the armed forces allowance. In my experience, as in theirs, the modern member of the armed forces, whether male or female, wants choice. I have nothing against that, but I think that this is the wrong way of providing it. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), the problem now is that much of our military housing stock was locked into what was a terrible deal for the taxpayer during the last year of the Major Government, who sold most of the housing stock in England.

  • May I correct my hon. Friend? In the last few months of the Major Government, Michael Portillo, in a hugely criticised deal at the time, basically gave Nomura the deal of the century.

  • My right hon. Friend is right: the taxpayer got about £1 billion and it has been a shoddy deal, because not only did it lock us into a long-term contract, but it locked us into a ludicrous situation whereby, once houses became surplus and were given back to Annington Homes, the taxpayer had to refurbish them and also in some cases—when they were having to be knocked down, for example—if they were within the wire of a base, we were still paying the rents on what were basically empty spaces. I had a look at this when I had ministerial responsibility in the Ministry of Defence, and I am sure my friend the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) did as well. We must not blame Nomura; it made a great deal for itself, but it was a bad deal for the taxpayer.

    The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) raised an interesting point: the way our armed forces operate these days has changed. Many more people travel long distances at weekends: it is not unusual for servicemen and women who live in the north-east to travel to the south coast at weekends and back again. When Labour was in government, we put a lot more money into single living accommodation; that was the way forward.

    We have been promised the new housing model by the MOD, but it has not yet materialised. I was working on that at the time, because I, like the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman, recognised that the fit we have at the moment does not work. The Army did not like it, because the Army—or a certain general—held the very traditional view at the time that we needed the regiment around the base.

    I cannot understand why this is being done in advance of that new housing model being brought forward. The hon. Member for Witney raised a point in respect of his area that I have also looked at: if we are going to bring in this change, we will have to bring it in over a number of years and provide housing locally, to ensure there is a supply of housing locally for those who want to live locally. We were looking at working with local housing associations and others to provide that.

    There is nothing wrong with the model of this housing allowance, therefore, but if it is done in the vacuum in which it is being done, it can lead to situations whereby people take their housing allowance and then find that they are at the mercy of the over-inflated local housing market in and around some of our garrison towns and ports.

  • The hon. Gentleman—my friend—and I agree on most things, but no one is going to force people into doing this. We must wait for the model to come forward, and I would not vote for something where we forced people into such a scheme, as the Opposition Front Bench claimed. But my friend is wrong to say we will have to address this just around the localities: we will have to do that, but these people often want to find accommodation in their own home towns, so they can be around their family structure. That is the way the armed forces are now, rather than just having the garrisons, and the super-garrisons, which are coming.

  • I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, but unless we do some work on where we are going to house these people and families, we will be throwing them out to the market. That is why the last Labour Government introduced the early support for members of the armed forces who wish to purchase their own property, a move that was cancelled in the first Budget in 2011. There is a mixture here: some members of the armed forces want to buy, while others will want to rent as they move around.

    To do this without any thought about how we are going to provide the housing behind it is a little strange, and I cannot understand why this measure is being brought in now. The right hon. Gentleman said people are not going to be forced, and I agree, but if they think it is attractive and then suddenly realise it is not, will they be able to go back?

    Instead of having a piecemeal approach like this one, or putting the cart before horse, we should have waited for the new housing model before this proposal was brought forward. As part of this mix, I would also like people to be able in some cases to opt not for rental allowance, but for support for mortgage payments; we introduced that, but it was cancelled in the first Budget in 2011.

  • I am doing the armed forces parliamentary scheme, which gives me the opportunity to speak to Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel. The issue that comes up all the time is accommodation for families. If we do not get the accommodation right for families, we will not retain the personnel. We need to retain the personnel, so does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to work on those issues and that the introduction of this policy could provide an opportunity to ensure that Army personnel can be retained and that the accommodation is up to standard?

  • I do agree with the hon. Gentleman. Anyone with a close involvement with the armed forces, as he has, will know that we rely on those men and women to go on operations and that a key issue for morale is to ensure that their families are supported during those times.

    I am a bit wary about this proposal for another reason. When the Australians introduced this type of rent allowance, they did it gradually, over a 10-year period. There was therefore a transition period with new starts and other people coming in. The proposals in the Bill seem a bit piecemeal, and if they are not done in a thought-out way, we could end up in a situation in which Annington Homes retracts the existing accommodation and people’s options become limited. Again, I think this is the right move forward but it is not being done in the right way. Anything that the Treasury can do to extract the Ministry of Defence from the Annington Homes contract would be universally welcomed—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead is shaking his head. He has obviously looked the same thing as me. Let us wait and see what the new housing model delivers, but let us hope that it adopts a joined-up approach that will be of benefit to members of our armed forces.

    I want to turn now to stamp duty. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) asked the Minister which regions would benefit the most from this proposal. The Minister, as usual, sidestepped the answer, but it is in fact quite clear. The average house price in County Durham is £138,000. In London, it is £488,000, so it is quite clear where the money will go. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) said, the Government are completely ignoring the idea of trying to eradicate inequalities throughout the regions. Indeed, they will actually increase them through these moves.

    There is a broader point, however. I passionately believe that people who aspire to own their own home should be able to do that, and we should be able to help them to do it. The problem with this Government, however, is that they have one trick in their armoury, which is the idea that the private sector should deliver all this. They believe that the only way to achieve the mythical 300,000 new homes is to allow the private sector to deliver them. Well, I am sorry, but if they are going to rely on the private sector to do that by supplying 300,000 new homes for purchase, that will not deliver the homes that we need in most areas—not just in London but throughout the regions.

  • Does my hon. Friend agree that the underlying problem is that the private sector supply side is becoming increasingly dysfunctional? Indeed, it is becoming an oligopoly, and many of the companies involved are no longer construction companies but just land banks.

  • They are indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) mentioned the example of Persimmon earlier. Many of those companies are no longer housebuilders in the traditional sense. They are employment agents who employ contractors to do things. In my own constituency, some of the complaints about new builds are pretty horrendous, and I think that that experience is shared across the House.

  • Where private developers are developing houses, they are all too often quick to run to the district valuer to argue that affordable and social housing makes development schemes unaffordable, so fewer affordable social houses are being built through private development.

  • My hon. Friend makes a good point. Added to that is the fact that the definition of “affordable” in London is completely out of reach for most people.

    The Government have this one idea that we are going to solve our housing problem through the private sector. I accept that it has a part to play, but the social sector, meaning both councils and very good housing associations, could step up to the mark and actually provide houses where we need them. If we look at the amount of money that is going into the subsidy, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South, we would not even have to spend money directly on social housing. We could provide new housing by just underwriting the debt of some of the social housing providers. In my area, Derwentside Homes and Cestria have now come together as an organisation called Karbon—I emphasise the k for the Hansard reporters, but I think it is a stupid name—which has been able to do small-scale developments by borrowing against its assets. If it had Government support for that borrowing, it could do a lot more.

    Helping local authorities to take a share in things by putting land into deals or by setting up their own corporations of social landlords and councils could lead to the development of the houses that we need. Social housing is not a static model. People think that social houses are just for rent, but Karbon has a good subsidiary called Prince Bishops Homes, which allows people to start by renting and then, as their circumstances change, purchase the house and convert their rental into a mortgage. We need to look at schemes like that. Are they expensive in terms of what my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South referred to? No, I do not think they are, and they will provide housing where we need it. I accept the particular pressure on housing in London, but there is pressure everywhere, not just from first-time buyers, but people who want to rent for the first time.

    If the Government put their ideological baggage away and said, “Are we actually going to do what we say and produce the houses that people need?” they could do things in a different way. The Minister can talk about 300,000, half a million or a million homes—I say the same to my Front-Bench team—and it is fine to pluck figures out of thin air, but delivering them is a different thing altogether. If we look back at the history of housing in this country, we only actually build large numbers of houses when we have direct Government intervention, and we need that direct intervention now. It is easy for the Government to argue that the previous Labour Government failed here, but we did not. We actually transformed a lot of social housing. Two housing associations in my constituency received over £100 million to bring their stock of homes up to a decent standard, which was transformative for residents and tenants. Houses with 40-year-old bathrooms had them changed. There were new rooms, new central heating systems, new kitchens and more energy-efficient measures. I am not going to shy away from talking about what the Labour Government did when we were in power to change the lives of many people in this country.

    Turning to land banking, there is evidence that certain companies are using land banks. In some cases, companies submit planning applications and then just sit on the land. I welcome any approach to deal with that, but we need to be a bit more imaginative about allowing local government to be a bit more forceful with their planning powers. When Labour was in government, I was a huge critic of something called the regional spatial strategy, describing it once as Soviet-style five-year planning. It was too blunt an instrument.

    We need to allow Country Durham and other areas like mine to expand housing, because we are increasingly becoming commuter belt for Tyneside and Teesside. Somehow restricting the allocation of housing to the urban conurbations fails to understand that, without new houses, a lot of villages and communities in my constituency will struggle to survive. More powers should be given to local authorities not only to form local plans but to implement them, too.

  • My final point would, again, be easy to implement. As a few other Governments have, this Government distrust local government, which should be given real powers to issue compulsory purchase orders on empty properties. One property in my constituency has been empty for nearly 10 years without any use, but it is a perfectly good house.

    I am not suggesting for one minute that we take houses off people in a draconian way but, where houses are sitting empty on somebody’s books after having been bought in a basket of property—where the houses are not a top priority—we need to give local councils the ability to try to bring them back into use. If it were done in a targeted and effective way, it could increase the housing supply in most areas without building a single extra new house.

  • I start by welcoming the service accommodation proposals. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on the short-term gain taken by the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury in a bid to shore up the finances of the Major Government, which did them absolutely no good in the 1997 election. Service personnel and their families have been suffering from the impact of that ever since.

    On the basic question of the stamp duty measure, I suppose that it could be welcomed, superficially, as a reversal of the intergenerational transfer of wealth, but in fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) said, the reverse is the case, as the main beneficiaries will be the existing owners of housing. In a tight housing market with a large amount of stock and limited flow, the net effect of adding extra liquidity into the system is most likely to be an increase in the price of housing.

    The other beneficiaries will be not just individual householders who seek to trade down, or even up, but private sector landlords who have been buying up property and forcing up prices. Many youngsters are not able to get together the sort of deposit that is now required unless they can go to the bank of mum and dad. With the average house price in London at nearly £500,000, they are having to find a deposit of some £50,000. We are targeting a considerable public subsidy towards one small group without actually dealing with the problem.

    It was very instructive that the Minister was unable—or probably unwilling—to give the figures I asked for about how much the measure will cost in aggregate and how the costs will break down by region. It is inconceivable that such analysis was not carried out as the policy was drawn up and ground through the mills of the Treasury. To save me from tabling a parliamentary question, I urge the Minister to come up with those figures in his winding-up speech. I think that the figures will show a considerable disparity between regions, which is not uncommon under this Government, much as they seek to hide it. Just recently, a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport told us that we had it all wrong and the average spend on transport was roughly equal between the north and the midlands, and London and the south. The only issue was, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham found out, that the Government had omitted to include the £32 billion—I believe that is the figure—for Crossrail from the London figures, because that had somehow been designated as a national scheme.

  • I can inform my right hon. Friend that it was actually worse than that, because the Government had also deemed the north as being the north-west, the north-east and Yorkshire.

  • I do not get involved in those arguments.

    In essence, we are seeing major transfers of wealth to areas that the Government see as their political homeland. However, let us also look at the big house builders, as they are euphemistically called—really they are land bankers and, as my hon. Friend said, employment agencies. They also indulge in a number of other unsavoury practices. Several of them have now been exposed for their involvement in the racket of escalating leaseholds, which they have now been forced to back down from. They have had to pay considerable sums to buy back those leases from individuals—speculators—who bought them and were then exploiting residents on that basis. Is that not a symptom and a symbol of the dysfunctional nature of our housing market? The Government are not tackling that in any particular way.

    Nor are the Government tackling the increasingly oligopolistic nature of the house building industry. There has been a significant decline in medium and small builders, who used to be the backbone of the building industry and of many towns. Building, by its nature, is subject to cycles, and banks have been incredibly reluctant to lend money to small builders, who have steadily either gone out of business, or been absorbed into the big builders. That has flowed into the lack of training that has taken place, because so many of the big house builders are mainly just the name outside a project and are not particularly interested in the small sites—brownfield sites—around our towns. With the breakdown in training, we then have the cry from those same builders that need to bring in more and more builders from abroad because of insufficient supply in this country. That is because over several years, if not decades, they have not been training people.

    Nor do the Government have any programme, as far as I can see, that is equivalent to the better homes programme which, as a number of colleagues have said, contributed enormously, not only to bringing many properties back into effective use, but to improving the lives of many of our constituents. Finally, what we see here is figures being plucked out of the air. This is reminiscent not of an efficient market, but very much of Soviet planning, with declarations of 300,000 houses but no visible means by which that will actually be achieved.

  • I will try to be brief, because we all want to get to the vote and then move on, but I will say that the measures we are considering are far too little and far too late. Homelessness has doubled in Britain, and in Brighton it has tripled, with 10% of adults now on the housing register. How do these proposals help them? The measures will increase house prices for first-time buyers. I know the Minister says that he has better data than the OBR, but I tend to believe the OBR, which was set up by the Conservative Government to provide independent analysis, over the books that are cooked in the Treasury—[Interruption.] Yes, the books that are cooked in the Treasury. What we need are clear supply-side measures—[Interruption.] The evidence for cooked books is that the OBR does not believe the Government’s figures. The evidence comes from the independent regulator. Let me get back to what I want to say, otherwise I will be distracted and we will be here for longer.

    We clearly have a problem with young people and first-time buyers getting into the property market. In my constituency today, only five studio flats are on the market for less than £200,000. With average earnings in Brighton lower than the average for the rest of Britain, the introduction of a stamp duty waiver will make not one jot of difference, because people cannot afford to raise money for a deposit and to go to banks to ask them to lend. What we really need is decent social and council housing so that people can move into secure tenancies. I asked the Prime Minister whether she would lift the housing revenue account cap. We see in the Bill that there will be a lift to the value of £1 billion, if councils apply, but of course £22 billion would be made available, at no direct cost to the Government, if they just lifted the cap completely. Why will they not? Because they are scared—they are chicken—to allow working people to have decent homes. Clearly they want to keep people subjugated and in poor-quality rented private property. That is the only conclusion I can draw from their miserable set of proposals.

    Another thing we need is planning regulation that is stronger, not weaker. Until very recently, I sat on my local council’s planning committee. Time and again we were toothless in enforcing the social and affordable housing requirements. We do not need to give councils less power to enforce those requirements; we need to give them more powers to enforce them. The measures in the Bill to try to deregulate the planning sector go in completely the opposite direction.

    I could make other points, but I am not going to talk anymore—let us go home. It is quite clear that I will be voting against the Government’s measures, because they are absolutely useless for dealing with homelessness and house building. In fact, they will make matters worse.

  • I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) in saying that I am proud of Labour’s record on housing. I am proud of how we invested in 2 million more new homes, increased home ownership by 1 million, and made sure that more than 1 million homes were brought up to a decent standard, fit for human habitation, which is what we need to see now.

    Since 2010, we have seen home ownership fall by 200,000 as house prices have risen by an average of 32%. Of those homes that have been built, less than 20% have been affordable, as councils’ rights to impose affordable limits have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) said, been taken away, with the rug pulled out from under their feet. What have we had instead? We have had £10 billion invested in the Help to Buy scheme, which even Morgan Stanley said has almost entirely gone towards raising house prices and increasing the share prices of the biggest house builders.

    In my constituency, those house builders are not content with all the assistance from Help to Buy. Almost all their new homes are sold on leasehold—or fleecehold, as it has been called—so people do not feel that they actually own the home in which they live, despite having paid an inflated price for it. They still have to pay ground rent; they are still being fleeced with maintenance charges; and they still have to pay fees to a third party. It does not feel like home ownership any more. This is actually private rental as well as home ownership.

  • With the lack of housing supply and the decrease in home ownership, we have seen the number of households in private rented accommodation soar to more than 5 million, and the figure is set to rise to 6 million by 2021. That would not be a problem if private landlords were forced to make their homes fit for human habitation and if, in an era when we are moving nearly 8 million households on to universal credit, we had landlords who had faith in the Government’s universal credit system. Landlords’ right of redress to reclaim rent arrears has been removed under universal credit, so it is no wonder that 73% of them do not feel comfortable that the Department for Work and Pensions will enable them to recoup their arrears.

  • I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me for interrupting her flow. She is making a precise and pertinent point. Would she not wish to encourage all people of good heart here present to support the Bill that has been presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on this very subject?

  • Absolutely. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will give their encouragement to that Bill so that we can make homes fit for human habitation.

    On the subject of universal credit, whether or not homes are fit for human habitation, unfortunately landlords are not prepared to rent. A representative of a lettings agency came to my surgery just last week and showed me the books for its tenants. At the moment, 20 tenants are on universal credit—we still have not seen it rolled out—of whom 18, or 90%, are in huge arrears. Nine of them—45%—have had to be evicted because landlords cannot get any redress for arrears. They cannot afford to see those arrears build up. Now that they no longer claim mortgage interest relief, they know that they will have to pay a big tax bill come the end of January, so they need to ensure that they can make their homes pay.

    This Government’s housing policy is simply racking up disaster on disaster. Homelessness is doubling and home ownership is falling, and universal credit is yet to come. We needed big ideas from the Chancellor, as the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government told him in no uncertain terms. We see nothing in this Bill but tinkering at the edges that will do nothing to help to solve the enormous housing crisis in this country.

  • We have been debating important measures. Clause 8 introduces an income tax allowance for members of the armed forces to help them to meet the cost of accommodation in the private market in the UK. Clause 40 makes sensible legislative adjustments to the additional rate of stamp duty land tax to ensure that people in some specific—often disadvantaged—circumstances are not unduly penalised. Clause 41 announces the Government’s abolition of stamp duty land tax for first-time buyers purchasing properties under £300,000. This key part of the Government’s drive to ease the burden on young first-time buyers will go a significant way towards levelling the playing field in those people’s favour. It is notable, and equally lamentable, that this particular policy, which predominantly assists the young, appears to be something that the Labour party rejects and indeed derides. I commend the clauses and schedule to the Committee.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 40 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Schedule 11 agreed to.

    Clauses 41 and 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    New Clause 4

    Review of relief for first-time buyers

    “(1) The Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall undertake a review of the impact of the relief for first-time buyers introduced in Schedule 6ZA to FA 2003.

    (2) The review shall consider, in particular, the effects of the relief on—

    (a) the public revenue,

    (b) house prices, and

    (c) the supply of housing.

    (3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay a copy of a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons no later than one calendar week prior to the date which he has set for his Autumn 2018 Budget Statement.”—(Jonathan Reynolds.)

    This new clause requires a review to be published prior to the Autumn 2018 Budget on the impact of the relief for first-time buyers, including its effects on house prices and on the supply of housing.

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

  • Division 76

    18 December 2017

    The Committee divided:

    Ayes: 226
    Noes: 313

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

    To report progress and ask leave to sit again.—(Graham Stuart.)

    The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

    Progress reported; Committee to sit again tomorrow.